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Invisible Storage

I’m a big fan of minimalism and decluttering. I love empty floor space and blank walls, and I agonize over gift choices because I don’t want to give a friend anything that will just become clutter. I even have trouble buying things that I actually want, just because they are things… And things take up space.

But as it turns out, life, and especially family life, requires stuff. Lots of stuff. Things you really do need to keep around, like winter blankets during the summer, clothes that your kids will grow into, the supplies for your hobby (for me that means lots and lots of fabric and thread and ribbon), your kid’s toys and books, and the books your kid will want to read when he’s older….
Maybe your house comes equipped with plenty of closets, attics, and cabinets for all your storage needs. If it does, then lucky you!
If not, here’s a few ideas for hiding storage around your home so that you can keep the things you need without having piles of stuff laying around your living room, or piles of cardboard boxes permanently stacked in your bedroom.

Storage beds

There’s a few different ways of using your bed to hide storage. The most basic (and ugly) method is just to tuck those cardboard boxes or plastic totes under the bed. If you have a bed skirt, no one ever needs to know that under it you have sizes 3 months to 3 years boys’ clothes, three totes of fabric, and your entire set of oil painting supplies.
If you want to take it up a notch (and not have to slither around on your stomach next time your kid outgrows a size of clothes) there are under-bed drawers on wheels that work well on hard floors. When you want something, you just roll the drawer out and get it. It’s like a Captain’s bed, but not built in. Though built in storage beds are pretty cool too!

If you have a thick carpet in your bedroom, or a very small space so that your bed has to be against the wall, pull out drawers are not your best option. Then what you really need is a set up where instead of a box spring, you have a hinged box under your mattress. You can buy them ready made, or it can be a fun DIY project too. My husband and I made one for a twin bed and it’s been really nice. It gives you quite a bit of storage space, and it’s pretty easy to access.

Living room storage

Marie Kondo says that everything should have a place. And that place should be as near to where it will be used as possible. And some things get used in the living room. I like having a few extra blankets, some toys, and some books hiding in my living room. (Sadly, they are more likely to end up all over the floor than neatly tucked away, but knowing that there is actually a place for them to live at least makes me feel better.)
Bookshelves full of books are fine in almost any room, but it can be harder to find places for things like blankets, toys and games–things that will be used in the living room.

Here’s a couple of ideas for hiding your storage in plain sight.

Under the sofa

Sofas often have a few inches of concealed space underneath which has a habit of swallowing your kid’s shoes and toys and the book you were reading a moment ago. A way you can take advantage of that space would be to get some shallow plastic totes and put toys or games in them. Then all you have to do is shove them underneath and the sofa’s skirt covers it up.
Of course, not all sofas have skirts, so sometimes you have to get more creative.

Multi-purpose furniture

One of my all time favorite pieces of furniture is the storage ottoman. It looks just like any other footstool or ottoman, but you can store things inside it. Some of the really cool ones double as a coffee or end table as well.
I did once hear someone suggest string stacks of emergency canned food in your living room with a board on top instead of a coffee table, but I wouldn’t recommend it. If you must prep for an apocalypse, I suggest the basement. Dead storage–storage of things that are accessed only rarely–has no place in your living room.
Other concealed storage options for the living room include end tables with cabinets or drawers in them. But try to only keep living room things in the living room.

Storage spaces

When looking for more storage space, though, the first place to look is in the places that are designed for storing things: closets, pantries, attics, cabinets, etc.
So before deciding that you need to get a bed with drawers, or replace a favorite piece of furniture with a more versatile one, why not first see if you’re storing things that have outlived their usefulness, and then, once you’ve decided what needs to stay, examine your closets and cabinets to see if the storage space you already have is actually used efficiently?

Often closets have a lot of wasted space near the ceiling. It’s a pain to get to, but if you’re storing something you don’t need to get at very often, but will most likely need again–for me, that would be newborn size baby clothes–that’s okay. Installing an extra shelf up high in a closet will often make the closet much more useful.
Cabinets are sometimes the same way. Adding a shelf will increase the surface area on which you can set things.
You can make drawers much more efficient by putting in dividers, or just changing the way you stack things.
I adopted something similar to the Marie Kondo method of folding shirts, and discovered that I could fit twice as many shirts in a drawer if I stored them vertically instead of stacking them on top of each other. An added benefit of this is that you can see at a glance what you have, instead of having to look under things. (It is also a fantastic way of packing a suitcase. I packed this way for a week-long summer camp and kept my suitcase in perfect order the whole week with almost no effort.)

Even if your house has very little official storage space, you can usually find ways to store the things you really need to keep around–if you use a little creativity.

Do you have a favorite method?

Some amazing storage methods:

These are affiliate links and I get a commission for qualifying purchases, at no extra cost to you.

Captain’s bed: Pricey, but so wonderful


A lift bed. Also a great idea. It’s amazing how much you can fit under a bed.


Storage ottomans are a great place to put extra throw pillows and blankets, not to mention kid’s toys.

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5 Tips for Better Dinner Conversations

You’ve just put the finishing touches on supper. It’s nutritious, delicious, and artistically presented in attractive dishes. Your spouse and all the kids are ready to share another wonderful family meal. You know how important family meals are, after all, and you want the best for your children. So, you sit down to dinner ready for wonderful conversation and family bonding time.

“So Johnny, how was school today?” You ask your son brightly.

“Ok.” Johnny says, shoveling another mouthful of mashed potatoes into his face.

Not a very interesting answer, but you try to take comfort in the fact that at least he obviously likes the meal you prepared.

“How did your classes go, Jenny?” You ask your teenage daughter.

“I have a paper due tomorrow. Can I go?”

You nod, sighing internally.

Finally, you turn to your husband. “How was work?”

“It was fine.” He says. “Can you pass the salt?”

“Mom,” your younger daughter interrupts, just as you’re about to pick up the salt. “Johnny just kicked me under the table. Can you make him stop?”

You sigh… family dinners are supposed to be great bonding time…after all, studies show that more family dinners means healthier, more successful, happier children and teens. But aside from good healthy home cooked food, what really makes or breaks the family dinner is the conversation that goes with it. If the conversation goes well, you will likely have a happy family experience overall. If the conversation is a disaster, you likely have other problems in your family.

Here are five tips that should make your family meal conversations more satisfying and enjoyable.

Ask open ended questions

Yes or no questions are good for some things, but dinner conversation is not one of them. If you want to get a conversation going, you have to ask a question that requires your conversation partner to bring some information to the table. If you ask, “How was school today?” “Fine” is a perfectly legitimate answer, but it gives you nothing to talk about.

Instead of asking how school went, or if it was ok, try asking questions like, “What was something interesting that happened at school/work/home today?” Then your conversation partner has to actually introduce some information into the conversation.

Ask followup questions

You sit down to dinner. “Johnny, what was something interesting that happened at school today?”

“We played a new game at recess.” Johnny says.

“That’s interesting.” You say…and the conversation dies.

Conversation is like a game of tennis. You serve the ball to get in into play–this is like the preliminary question. Your partner returns it, by adding something new. And you need to return it again, once again by adding something of your own, or by asking a follow up question.

If Johnny tells you he played a new game at recess, you should ask, “What game was it?”

Then, when he tells you what game it is, you now have a real topic of conversation. Your whole family could get involved. You could share stories of when you played that game, discuss the rules, and eventually end up going on glorious tangents about ball manufacture, game theory, and the Olympics… which brings me to the next tip.

Bring up interesting topics.

You are probably very busy, but try to spend at least a few minutes each week learning  or doing something interesting just so that you can share it with your family and broaden your and their horizons a little. I think most of what I learned as a child, and much of my joy in learning, came from conversations around the dining room table. My parents read, my brother read, I read; and we discussed all of it over our meals. We almost always had something new and interesting to talk about.

It doesn’t really matter what the topic is–as long as you are interested in it, you can probably get your family interested too… with a few exceptions.

Avoid depressing topics.

Many families have some topics that are banned for discussion during meals. Common forbidden topics include snakes, worms, and anything gross or gory. Besides your own family’s forbidden topics, I would suggest avoiding any topic that is likely to result in a sense of hopelessness or fear. This would include conspiracy theories, the end of the world, the three days of darkness, and probably about half of what was in the latest newspaper…

Conspiracy theories are sort of fun–you get a perverse sort of thrill from discussing how “they” –depending on your political affiliation and interests, “they” might stand for the Illuminati, Big Business, The Government, the Communists, the Jews, the Freemasons, the Democrats, the Republicans, the Left, the Right, the Far Left, or the Far Right–are controlling everything, and have been controlling everything for the last few decades/centuries. Discussing conspiracy theories gives you the feeling that you are special, you are not deceived like the rest of men, you have the secret knowledge that will make you powerful–except that in practice it does nothing but make you fearful and hopeless.

If “they,” whoever they might be, really have as much power as your theory says they do, then there isn’t really much point in trying to make the world a better place–and that is the message your children will imbibe with their spaghetti and meatballs.

It is good to discuss politics and history and sociology with your family. But these conversations will form your child’s world view possibly more than anything else, and so be sure that the world you show them is the one you want them to see.

Any since it is important to discuss different topics, it’s inevitable that disagreements will arise, which brings me to my last point.

Practice good manners

Talking to people is one of the most important skills you can teach your children. And being polite is a vital part of that skill. So a few ground rules are in order. Here’s a sample list of rules that will help your conversations stay respectful and enjoyable.

  1. Listen to the other person’s full thought before answering.
  2. Swallow before talking.
  3. Make sure other people get a turn to talk.
  4. Stay on topic, unless everyone is okay with changing the subject.
  5. If you disagree, respectfully explain your reasons for disagreeing, rather than insulting the other person.
  6. Keep voices at an appropriate indoor volume.

Hopefully these five tips will give you what you need to make meal time with your family a relaxing and stimulating experience.

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Books to Read While Stuck at Home

If you’re stuck at home worrying, or just bored, here’s some good books to read that will not only help you pass the time but also make you better for having read them. They only have two things in common: I’ve enjoyed them all, and they all discuss boredom and confinement.


(The pictures are affiliate links that will take you to Amazon to buy these books. Buying through these links will give me a small commission at no extra cost to you.)

Crime and punishment

This is a great classic to read anyway, but it’s a particularly good book for now, since it shows exactly how not to react to living alone and never going anywhere, and what might happen to your mind if you spend too much time alone brooding. So buy a couple of books and read them instead.


This is a short, fast read that will make you feel fortunate that you have the internet, books, etc and maybe even other people, or at least a phone to ward off boredom.

He Leadeth Me

This is the true story of a priest in Soviet prison during the cold war. It tells how his hardships and imprisonment led him closer to God, and how grace and prayer sustained him through those difficult times. Inspiring and encouraging. It is the companion volume to With God in Russia, which is also a great read.

The Price To Pay

This autobiographical book is absolutely thrilling. I read the prologue and I was hooked! I was reading it in another language and needed a dictionary to get through it, but I still couldn’t put it down–that’s how exciting this book is.

It’s the story of an upper class Muslim man in Iraq in the early 2000’s who decides to convert to Christianity, despite the fact that it is against the law for a Muslim to convert. He faces imprisonment, torture and near death for his new-found faith–and all that before he’s even get baptized.

The Count of Monte Cristo

A classic story of revenge and redemption. Always a good choice, but it’s particularly good for if you are bored and stuck at home for long periods of time. Firstly because it’s very long (over a thousand pages if you get the unabridged version, which is definitely the way to go.) So you won’t have to find another book too soon. And secondly because it’s partly about how one man deals with long term confinement…. Although plotting comprehensive revenge on all your enemies might not be the best choice of how to spend time at home. But it’s an exciting book.

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Lent, Pandemic, and Reassessing our Lives

Every Lent begins with a reminder that we will die. “Remember, man, that thou are dust, and unto dust thou shalt return.” St Jerome and many other saints are often depicted with a human skull, to show that they were conscious of their mortality. St Benedict told his monks, “Keep death daily before your eyes.”

Some people think this Catholic fascination with death is morbid and depressive. Quite the opposite. We are supposed to remember death, not so that we will forget to live, but so that we won’t. Your life is whatever you are doing right now, not some dream vacation in a vague future someday. Your life is your current habits, not your future reformed self, once you are old and retired and have time for holiness. Remembering that we might die reminds us to live.

The Catholic Church understands this, and invented Lent to help us remember that “unto dust we shall return.” Lent is almost over, all but the last, most sacred week. But this year, even if we failed to make a good Lent, we have another God-given reminder that “real life” is ephemeral.

A month ago, none of us would have imagined that everything could just close down—jobs, restaurants, schools, events. Plans changed overnight. Suddenly people aren’t going to work. Suddenly kids aren’t going to school. Suddenly people’s weddings are canceled, graduation is canceled…parties, social events, even Mass is canceled. COVID-19 has taken over everything, canceled everything, and definitely made for a more penitential Lent than most of us were probably planning on.

The timing is providential. Lent is there to remind us that the important things are not here, but in God. That we are not in control, but God is. And if Lent failed, then perhaps COVID-19 will succeed.

Reassessing Sundays

It’s hard enough for Catholics to be told that they can’t go to Mass on Sunday. The idea of spending Easter alone at home is heartbreaking; not just missing out on the beautiful Easter liturgy, but also not having the opportunity to celebrate Christ’s resurrection with friends and family.

For many of us, going to Mass on Sundays had been just a soulless fulfillment of a legal requirement. The Church says we have to go to Mass, so we go to Mass. But the real point is to keep holy the Lord’s day. We might have been going to Mass on Sundays, but were we really keeping them holy? Were we really understanding them as the day set aside for the service of God? And if not, what can we do to serve God on Sundays?

Reassessing Relationships

Sunday observance isn’t the only routine that could use reassessment from time to time.

The COVID-19 situation is forcing many people to spend longer periods of time alone with their spouses and families, which can be hard to deal with, even in the most loving and supportive of relationships. Lock any small group of people together in an enclosed space and dump some stressors on them, and their faults will become very evident very quickly.

As anyone knows who has tried it, taking care of very young children is hard enough even when you can get a babysitter for an occasional night out, or invite a friend over for a play date. If you add in social isolation and the fear of pandemic and its possible economic effects, you’re going to have some real challenges.

But on the other hand, this challenging time–and the fact that you now have no one to depend on but your spouse–is a reminder of how important it is to invest in your marriage. Marriage is a partnership where two people agree to take responsibility for helping each other find God. Once entered into, that relationship is your single most valuable possession, emotionally, spiritually, and even materially. So if quarantine conditions reveal weaknesses in your relationship, that is a great opportunity to invest in strengthening those areas. A kind word here, a loving touch there, a date night in, just listening–simple things that you might have been forgetting to do–can go a long way to building the foundation for a happier and stronger family. It might require a little creativity, but that’s kind of the point. We have to think outside the box now, because all the tidy little boxes we built for ourselves are gone now.

Whatever else it might be, this pandemic is a wake-up call for each of us, a reminder that what is really important is not our plans, our schedules, or our careers–a microscopic nuisance can change all of that overnight. What matters is our relationships with God, and with the people God has put in our lives.

Lent and COVID-19 are here to remind us to reassess our priorities. Life is now, and we only get one try. What are we going to do with it?

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Quarantine: A Blessing in Disguise?

Unless you work in the medical field, it’s likely that you’ll be spending a lot more time than usual at home over the next few weeks. And if you’re like a lot of other people, you’re probably wondering what on Earth you (and your kids, if you have any) are going to do to stay sane.

Watching videos and movies might help relieve the tedium at first, but it doesn’t take long before a steady diet of sitting around staring passively at screens makes you feel physically and mentally dull, grouchy, and irritable. So how to stay sane while self-quarantining? (Or as a stay-at-home-mom on a regular day. Has anyone else noticed that life is not really all that different for a lot of people? It’s just now there’s lots of stay-at-home parents.) Here’s a few ideas that might help ward off boredom.

Step 1: Clean Your House

You’re going to be spending a lot of time there so you might as well spend some time trying to make it more pleasant. (Besides what else are you going to do?)

Think about rearranging your furniture to facilitate the activities you actually want to do and discourage the activities you want to avoid. As an example, if you want to do more crafts and watch less TV, you could consider rearranging your living room so that the chairs don’t face the screen, and setting up a permanent craft station.

Also, take a walk-through of your house for things that have been irritating you, like clutter piles, much-delayed repairs, and half finished projects, and make a list of them.

Step 2: Make a Plan

The problem with free time is that you don’t know what you’re going to do. So a vital step toward avoiding insanity is to make sure that you have a plan. In one large family I know, a couple of the older siblings took inspiration from summer camps they had attended and when school was cancelled, decided to set up “St Corona camp”  for their younger siblings. They divided them up into three teams and arranged activities for them, including basketball, a bonfire, and household chores.

Now most families don’t have enough children to organize a “camp.” Some people live alone, but whether or not you have kids, planning out your day in advance can really help you be productive and make you feel happier. Whatever the cause of the current situation, and whatever the outcome will be, let’s take this time right now as a “reset moment.” Life is on pause for many of us, and it’s a good time to reassess our schedules, our habits, and our goals. We want to become better and stronger as individuals, as families, and as communities, so now is a good time to determine whether we are currently heading in that direction or not, and make a course correction.

So turn off the news, get off Facebook, stop worrying about the past and the future that you can’t control, and look at your own life: what can you do to live well this hour, this day, this week.

Schedule activities

Schedules help. And I don’t mean scheduling every minute of every day. Some people might enjoy that sort of thing, but most find it stressful to maintain and therefore ineffective. A better method is to focus on a few “anchor activities” each day. These will help your day have structure and prevent you from drifting into a morass of idleness, boredom, and despair.

Regular mealtimes are a good place to start. They can serve as a framework for the rest of your day. Next, think about planning at least one major activity in the morning between breakfast and lunch, one between lunch and supper, and one in the evening after supper. I personally find it helpful to plan the day the night before, but other people might find it works better to plan the whole week in advance or to plan first thing in the morning.

There’s an endless list of activities to choose from, but a good place to start would be to make sure to get one of each of the following categories each day. Of course these categories overlap. Fixing a meal is a chore, but if you pick the right recipe you might find that cooking is also fun, and if you do it with your child, or if you are learning a new skill, it also classifies as self-improvement. And I suppose you could even call it exercise depending on what you’re making. Rolling out tortillas or pie dough can be quite strenuous. (If you don’t believe me, try making pie crust for 200 mini quiches some morning. I did it once and I was sore for the next three days.)


This can include meal preparation, cleaning and repair projects around the house. These are things that have to be done but which can either be put off indefinitely or end up taking up all of the available time; neither of which are good options. Scheduling these sorts of activities helps keep them under control. (Here’s where that list you made in step one comes in handy)


Anything that you do that’s enjoyable. It’s important to plan fun this could include watching movies, playing card games or board games, dancing to music, playing with your children or any other activity that you particularly enjoy. (I’ll post some idea resources at the end)


Exercise is extremely important for maintaining mental and physical health. It helps to ward off depression and makes your immune system stronger. You don’t need a lot of equipment to exercise. Even though you can’t go to your gym and work out on the machinery, you can do bodyweight exercises at home, look up a workout video online or go for a walk if the weather is good. Making exercise a regular part of your day will help you avoid frustration and make you stronger and healthier.

Self Development

If you are unable to do some of your usual work, you might find yourself feeling useless and frustrated. But now is a good opportunity to engage in self-development, to learn things you’ve always wanted to learn how to do things that you’ve always wanted to do. Read a good book you’ve always wanted to read, take a free online course in a subject you’re interested in, learn a new skill or craft, start writing a book or story, or teach one of your kids one of the skills that you already have.

There are absolutely unlimited options in this category. Potty train your toddler. Start a family custom of reading out loud (This is supposed to be the absolute best thing you can do to encourage literacy in your children) But whatever you choose to do will be especially helpful if it’s big and ambitious. Don’t read just blog posts, read real books. Take a real course. Learn how to draw, and practice practice practice. Start a personal business. If you can commit to a big project, and keep progressing on it, it should ward off frustration and make you feel like you are going somewhere and doing something worthwhile, even if you can’t go to work.

(Coursera offers piles of online courses, many of which are free. Some even have college credit. (This is not an affiliate link and I do not necessarily endorse all of their courses)

Social Interaction

You might not be able to go visit your friends, or meet them for coffee at Starbucks, but you still need to talk to people and keep in touch with your friends. It’s also perfectly fine to invite a friend or two to go for a walk with you. Scheduling time to call friends and relatives helps build your social capital and also alleviates cabin fever. Texting, emailing, and good old fashioned letter writing work too. (When was the last time you wrote a real, handwritten letter, and sent it to a friend?) You can even host conference calls and have virtual parties over Skype or FaceTime.

And if you have family with you, now is a great time to build stronger relationships with them.

People are worried, and that’s understandable. Scary things are happening, however you look at it. But the important thing is to not let fear or worry keep us from the things that are important. As Gandalf says, “All we must decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

They say if you’re given lemons, make lemonade. But what we have been given is time. Time is a measure of change, so with the time that has been given us, let’s make positive changes in our own lives, so that when this is all over, whenever and however that occurs, we will be better, stronger and happier as people, as families, and as communities.

Just a couple ideas for fun with your family:

I know, I know… But this is one of my favorite board games ever.

This is a fun and brainy game. You get to learn a lot about how your family members think. I have spent many hours playing this game.

I haven’t used this exact kit, but I remember really enjoying it when my parents did these with me when I was little.