Travel Mugs

I am an avid hot-tea drinker, averaging 4-6+ cups a day (a tea snob, really, but that’s another post).  I’m also a frugal problem-solver.  I’ve been making (and carrying) my own tea in travel mugs for a while.  But I’m also a little on the clumsy side.  And I spill things A LOT.  So I needed a Creative Solution for a Spill-Proof Travel Mug.  


The Contigo Travel Mug is truly one of my favorite things.  People who have them rave about them in cult-like fashion.  I have four of the 16 ounce travel mugs; my husband has two.  I drink twice as much tea as he drinks coffee.

Why I love Contigo Travel Mugs:

  • They do not leakIMG_0623
  • They are dishwasher safe.
    • The lid is 100% dishwasher safe.  No valve to clean or gasket to worry about ruining.
    • It’s recommended that you hand wash the bottom so that the color doesn’t chip off the mug.  Notice the chipped paint on the red mug?  That’s from 2 or 3 years in the dishwasher, which doesn’t bother me at all.  So putting the whole thing in the dishwasher may affect its aesthetic beauty, but not its function.
  • They keep hot stuff hot for a really long time.
  • They also keep cold stuff cold.
  • Sometimes we like to bring an adult beverage to the pool in the summer… or the park… or wherever… and in the Contigo travel mug offers a multi-faceted Creative Solution on this front.

Amazon has them in a variety of colors, so when I prepare my different varieties of tea, I know which flavor is in which mug.  And/or (gasp!) how to tell the difference between my tea and my husband’s coffee.  The lids are also color coded, so his coffee stained lid doesn’t ever touch my lips.  

Amazon offers single 16oz mugs for $20, single 20 oz mugs for $22   or a two-pack of the 16 oz for $38.95.

Tea Caddy

IMG_0620So because I’m me, I have a designated little tote to carry all my tea mugs.

I use a cute, fun, and functional “Littles Carry-All Caddy” from ThirtyOne for $12 (plus shipping; and you can get it monogrammed if you’d like).

If you’re interested in this handy little tote, may I recommend my friend Stephanie, who is a ThirtyOne consultant.


I have a few of these Carry-All Caddies… One hangs on a hook by my back door with all the sunscreen and bug spray bottles.  When we went camping, we used one to hold the toilet paper, towel, and handsoap as a “bathroom caddy.”  They’re just the perfect size and shape.

Responsibility Charts

Here’s a Creative Solution that attempts to decrease nagging and yelling by using Responsibility Charts.

My oldest has a lot of ADD (ADHD-inattentive) tendencies, so remembering to follow directions (or follow through… or focus…) is an ongoing struggle.

We have the expectation that everyone in our home contributes to the responsibility of maintaining the home, and we also want to raise self-sufficient kids.  For a kid who can’t-gotta-wanna focus, this is very hard.  For his Mom, this involves a lot of yelling.  My basic problem was that too much of my interaction with a kid I love involved yelling–just to remind him to do the things he knows he needs to do.

I needed a Creative Solution to help remind my focus-challenged kid.  Writing down a list helps tremendously.  It focuses attention on the things that need to be done with clarity.  Thus was born the Responsibility Charts.

Basically, I…

  • brainstormed a list of the things I need each kid to do,
    • in different rooms,
    • at different times of the day,
  • printed them up (with words and a small clipart image to act as a visual prompt),
  • laminated them, and
  • hung them throughout the house using Command 3M hooks.

And it worked.  Kind of.  In a better-than-before-but-not-perfect kind of way.  It helps remove my nagging voice from what needs to be done.  Both kids have a better grasp on what needs to be done.  I do still need to remind them to check their lists, but it all involves significantly less negativity.

Brainstorm a List

Think through your day with the beloved kiddo; what are the things he/she needs to do (that you end up having to remind him/her to do)?

To get you started, here’s a look at mine.  Use them as your baseline.  If you’d like a copy of any chart, contact me and I can send you either a PDF or a Word doc that you can edit and come up with your own Creative Solution.

In the bedrooms, one side has “Morning/Bedtime Responsibilities” and on the other is “How to Clean Your Room.”

IMG_1443  IMG_1444

For the bathroom…

IMG_1447 IMG_1446

In the Playroom, one side walks the boys through every thing that needs to be picked up, and the other side includes a list of jobs the boys could do (to earn extra money).

IMG_1438  IMG_1439

In the Kitchen, I post their mealtime responsibilities as well as what they need to do before they are allowed to play.

IMG_1437  IMG_1436

Recently, I created a new variable responsibilities chart, for things that they may or may not need to do in the morning.  Instead of me leaving a note, this is reusable.  Sometimes they need to shower in the morning; sometimes they shower at night.  And at this moment in their lives, they need every reminder to hang the gosh darn towel.

IMG_1441  IMG_1442

Laminate & Hang

Because I am an office supply geek, I have a laminator (which is technically called a laminating machine and sounds much less super-hero).  I got mine on a super-amazing deal on Amazon and paid $17.49.  Currently it’s $30.  I also buy the generic laminator sheets from Amazon… 100 sheets for $9.78.  If you are not an office supply geek, it’s ok.  You don’t need the laminator.  Mine makes me happy.  Live and let live.  (If you live close by, I’m happy to lend you mine!)

If you want a sign that can have two sides, a laminator is helpful.  Other options include using a sheet protector or simply stapling/taping it to the wall.

Once I laminated it, I punch a couple of holes in the top, loop some ribbon or yarn through, and hang it on a 3M Command hook.

Getting Rid of Stuff

Do you have stuff that you know you should get rid of?  If so, then this Creative Solution is for you.

My cousin Theresa messaged me the other day: a truck was coming to take her donations, and she asked for any words of wisdom.  What I admire about Theresa is that she is really grounded in her reality.  So as I offered suggestions for…

  • How to determine what to keep
  • What to consider selling
  • How to develop practices to keep up the donating

…she knew right away what would and wouldn’t work for her.  So as I offer my Five Suggestions for Getting Rid of Stuff, feel free to adapt them into your own Creative Solution.

Tip 1: Visualize the Space You Want

Start with the space you have.  

  • What is your current storage solution?
  • What is working for you?
  • What is not?

Then, visualize the space you want: less clutter, less stuff you don’t need, more space to give attention to the stuff you really use and love. Let that vision be your guiding principle.  

Tip 2: Adult Clothing 

When you have limited closet space, it’s a good idea to rotate through a seasonal wardrobe.

Storage Bins

I use two 18 gallon plastic Rubbermaid bins – one for my husband and one for me.

When I change seasons, I get excited about being able to wear certain clothes. Changing seasonal wardrobes is a really good time to set things aside to donate.  The three criteria that I use are:

  1. If I don’t LOVE it, donate it.
  2. If it doesn’t fit right (and doesn’t have the reasonable expectation of fitting for a long time), donate it.
  3. If I don’t actually wear it, donate it.

Storage Hangers

One way to determine what you actually DO wear is to turn all your hangers around so the hook is hanging backwards. Once you wear it, turn it right side (hook facing in). After a while, use that “unworn” criteria to prompt you to donate.

If you’re nervous about donating something that you “might need one day,” then get a special “purgatory” container that stores clothes and shoes for no more than 2 years. If you haven’t worn it in 2 years, it’s probably not gonna happen. Get rid of it. In years and years of doing this, I have only regretted one decision (donating a pair of black flats).

Storage BasketsI purchased these baskets from Michael’s to increase and organize storage space in my closet.  I like how tall they are… lots of stuff can get thrown in there.  I also like that they are opaque, so I can’t see the stuff (so my closet looks very neat, clean, and organized).  My “purgatory” clothing container is the middle basket on the top shelf.

Tip 3: Kids Clothing

Determine a place for “kids-clothes-that-don’t-fit” so that as they inevitably grow and you notice something not fitting them, it gets removed from the wardrobe rotation and put into the donate (or hand-me-down) pile. Lots of kids will toss what they don’t want to wear (or what doesn’t fit) into the laundry (so it’s not in the closet/bureau as an option). Some kids (like mine, for instance) need to be disavowed of this practice.  We also have a bin for “ruined” and “not-my-favorite” clothing that should be used as “art smocks.”

On their closet shelves, I have a variety of bins, including one for outgrown-clothing and another for art smocks.  When you constantly have a designated place to store these items, it takes a lot of the prep effort out of donating/off-loading the stuff.


Under-the-bed storage is also an option for donations-in-waiting.  We use our under-the-bed storage for the kids’ out-of-season and will-fit-into-this-size-next-growth-spurt clothes.  Pro-tip: measure your bed height before buying one of these.

Closet 2

Tip 4: Toys

Before any new toys come in to the house (like Christmas or birthdays), have the kids “make room for new toys” by determining which ones they don’t LOVE. Getting the kids involved with donating their old toys to “children in need” is a good practice of charity to get into. I am also a HUGE fan of Craigslist, buying and selling whatever toys I can at more than half the retail value. So, if the kids have a toy that they’d like to SELL and use that $$ to purchase whatever new/used thing, I’m all for it.  I keep a Rubbermaid bin in the garage for Craigslist and garage sale-able items.

Should I sell or can I just donate?” Many people have a hard time with selling items; it creates another time-consuming step.  Here’s the thing: do what you need to do.  I often have more time than money, so buying and selling used toys works best for me.  Find the Creative Solution that works for you.  If you struggle with having the time to offload the stuff, consider using one of the donation places that come to you.

Closet 3

When my kids were younger, I would rotate the toys in and out of the playroom.  You know how kids go through cycles of interest?  They’ll play with it daily and then not touch it for a while.  You know they’re not done with the toy, but it’s taking up precious shelf space.  So, I would store these toys in clear plastic bins in the attic.  Every so often–like every 3 months or so–we’d rotate the toys.  Rotating toys keeps interest fresh.  My kids would act like it was Christmas morning all over again.   And on a daily basis, there was less stuff and more room to play.  If a toy was undesired for a couple cycles, it was time to sell or donate it.

Now that they’re older, we still have some toys (like Lincoln Logs) that are only played with every-so-often.   We’re not ready to get rid of them, but because they’re not regularly played with, they don’t get precious shelf space in the playroom. Toys that have a place in the playroom are toys that get played with daily.  My b-list toys formerly lived in my attic, and are now in a hall closet.   The kids understand that we only have “SO MUCH” space, so we can only have “SO MANY” things taking up that space.

What about saving toys for future grandkids?” I tend not to get sentimental about toys, so I haven’t set aside any of my kids’ old Thomas the Trains for future grandkids to play with.  We’ve taken pictures for memories.  Instead of storing these toys, I prefer to sell them and will happily buy pre-owned toys when that time comes.

If you want to keep certain toys for sentimental reasons, here are some tips:

  • Be realistic about the actual storage space you have; limit the amount of space you’re willing to give to sentimental-toy-storage.
  • Long-Term Sentimental-Storage needs to be out of the way so that it doesn’t interfere with short-term, daily life function.

Tip 5: Trash

Throw out any toys that are broken. Throw out tchotchkes – the crap they get as party favors that never gets played with outside of that 15 min ride home post-party. Just trash it. And never look back.

Some parents attack the playroom or bedroom with a big green trash bag while the kids are away or asleep.  Most note that kids do not miss the broken/crap toys.  Feel empowered to do what you need to do.

However, if you’d like to throw a little Love and Logic into the mix, consider using the enforceable threat: “You can clean the playroom your way [by ___ time/date], or I can clean it my way.”  Demonstrate to the kids that there are consequences of not cleaning: if you don’t pick up after yourself, you lose the privilege of choosing what stays and what goes.

What Works for You?

Do you have a Creative Solution for getting rid of stuff?  Leave a comment and let us know what it is and why it works for you!

LEGO Storage

Organization, containers, storage of things… these are a few of my favorite things!  One of my boys’ favorite things is LEGOs.  This Creative Solution offers suggestions for LEGO organization and storage.

Rather than a “formal living room,” we use this space as the kids’ playroom.  THIS is where they play with toys.  Not in the family room.  Not in the bedrooms.  For toy storage, we use some old bookcases that line the walls.  That’s my starting point.

Now, a reality check.  My kids’ playroom almost always looks like this:

photo 3

It is very,very played in.  Actively.  Always.  By my two boys and their friends.  Let’s be real: organized does not mean “always clean.”  So as I offer these organizational strategies, remember that it’s not going to miraculously translate into a tidy room.  What it will be is a room that should be logical to straighten up in about 20 minutes.

Reality check in place, let’s ground ourselves in a few guiding principles:

  1. Location: The goal should be that everything has a place  so that when it’s time to clean up, there IS a place for everything.
    • If kids need to dump stuff out to find the thing they’re looking for, unnecessary mess is being made.  Ideally, I like to avoid that.  So when I suggest “a place for everything; everything has a place,” there is a golden zone of efficiency that we’re aiming for.  Less dumping; more playing.
  2. Self-Sufficiency: The kids should be able to easily find what they’re looking for and put it away themselves
  3. Form and Function:  The storage containers you use matter.  For the most part, I’m going to recommend clear containers that are not too tall/deep.

We have a lot of LEGOs.  Here’s how we organize them:

Loose Bricks

IMG_1075One of the two ways we organize loose bricks is by color.  I bought a bunch of these storage bins at the Dollar Tree a while ago, and have since ripped the lids off each box (I’ll explain why in a moment).  Clear shoebox sized containers should also work for this.  It’s important that the bins are clear so kids can see what they’re looking for without pulling things out.  It’s also helpful to label the name of the contents.  In addition to colors, we have one box for wheels and pieces of vehicle (like steering wheels), another for trees and flowers, and another for doors, windows, and glass.


The second way we organize loose bricks is in one big box called “Random LEGOs.”  This really helps make cleaning up random bricks on the floor quicker and easier.

photo 1 (1)

Why even bother to sort by color?  We have far too many bricks to for us to just have boxes of “Random LEGOs.”  Additionally, sometimes a set will fall apart and my older son–the 7 1/2 yr old Master LEGO Builder–will need to rebuild.  Or while building a set, one piece will get lost.  Have you ever spent an extended period of time looking for a gray piece the size of your pinky finger nail… the one that’s the flat slant… or the square with the u-shape connector that goes sideways, not up and down?  Right.  That’s why we primarily have color sorting… for FINDING those pieces.  Our house rule is once the Random LEGO box gets full, it’s time to sort into colors.

Some criteria for a good “Random LEGO Box” 

♦ A clear box – so if it’s on a shelf, it’s easily recognizable.  Avoid fabric bins.  

♦ Low sides – makes it easier and more functional for smaller hands to reach in, grab what they want, and build.  (Less dumping.)

♦ Large surface area – while you don’t want it to be too deep, you do want as much surface area space as possible.  Way easier to find what you’re looking for.  Avoid shoe-box sized containers… too small.

The most ideal container I have found for the Random LEGO Box is the Snapware Snap ‘N Stack Sqaure Layer Storage Container, 12-Inch by 12-Inch.  I purchased mine at JoAnn’s on one of their regular 50% off sales for $17.49.  It comes with one lid and three latching containers.  (We use the lid and the other two latching containers for keeping their LEGO train sets safe from “rough play” when not in use.)  Like I said, we intentionally limit the Random Box to one bin because that’s the Creative Solution that works for us.  Maybe all you need is one of these for three bins of randomness?  

Pro-tip: if you’ve got regular LEGO builders, do not try to store the lid on the Random LEGO Box.  The kids will rip it off and leave it on the floor.  It gets in the way.


photo 5We have lots of sets.  I’ve got two boys who have basically requested LEGO sets for every gift for every holiday from everyone for the past four years… and spent their own money on sets… and have sold old toys to buy sets…  My boys play with their sets in-tact.  Some kids enjoy building and destroying.  Mine enjoy building and playing with the buildings. It doesn’t matter which ethos your kid employs.  Just organize around their preference.

When a set is not being used, store it on a shelf.  We have added a layer of shelves to the bookcases to make better use of the unnecessary “tall” space.

photo 2 (1)

We have also hung random shelves at varying heights for additional “safe” storage.

photo 3 (1)  photo 4 (1)

Instruction Manuals

photo 1

If you’ve got sets, you’ve got instruction manuals.  Originally, in my “less unnecessary stuff” mode, I’d suggest tossing the manuals after the initial build, and just accessing them (if needed) through the LEGO website.

We currently have over 3300 building instructions available online which date back to sets packed in 2002…

To search, enter 4 or 5 digit set number or a keyword e.g. airplane, car or hero.

You don’t have to know the set number… just enough descriptive words for you (or your kid) to recognize the set through their website.

For us, sets break all the time, and it’s a lot easier for my 7 1/2 yr old to be able to grab the instructions book when he needs it.  So alas, we are using them and I must store them.  First I stored all the books in one box.  Now we are at three categories: City, Creator/Technic, and Star Wars/Ninjago/Characters.  We have them in three open lid bins.

A side note about the instruction manuals and LEGO customer service.  If you’re ever missing a piece, you can find the piece part number in the back of that manual where it lists all the pieces.  Then call customer service or use the website.  Sometimes they’ll mail it out for free.  Sometimes you’ll need to pay a nominal fee.


My kids play with mini-figs like they’re action figures.  They. Love. Them.  We have so many that get played with so regularly that they need a place to live.

photo 1 (2)  photo 2 (3)

I am just using an old box that possibly had a Melissa and Doug toy in it years ago.  The separate compartments might be good in theory (if your kid is like me and likes organizing… my boys could care less about that, so they all just get thrown in together).  But what’s most important is that the edge of the container is only a couple inches high.  The kids can see what they’re going for, which means less dumping on the floor.

Ideas Evolving to Meet Needs

My organization of LEGOs has definitely evolved over time as our collection has grown.  Deciding how to adapt these ideas to work for you begins with assessing:

  • What’s your starting point
  • What’s your goal

My goal of a clean playroom needed to be adapted to become a playroom that could be cleaned (or significantly straightened) in 20 minutes.  Every time we encountered an obstacle to that goal, we work on finding another Creative Solution in response (hang another shelf, find another box, etc).  It has evolved, and keeps evolving.

With that said, I hope you find a Creative Solution that works for you!

A Fun and Functional Key Box for the Dr. Who Fan

Have keys?  Need a more Creative Solution for knowing where they are?  We have had a basic wooden key storage box that we got from IKEA several years ago:  IKEA Pavo

Hanging by the back door, looking plain, it needed a makeover.  Something much more FUN!  My husband is a huge Dr. Who fan, and has had us watching and re-watching episodes with 11th Doctor (Matt Smith).  So when I looked at the rectangular box, I immediately saw a TARDIS.



Making this Key Box into a TARDIS was actually pretty easy:

  1. Paint the box blue with black and white details.  Going with the “intentional homemade” look means there’s no need to worry about crooked lines.
  2. Mod Podge: When I painted my husband a TARDIS tissue box last year, I discovered that it was easiest to paint the black outlines and white windows, but print images off the internet for the “FREE for use of PUBLIC” sign and the triangle top with the lamp.  The “FREE” sign was printed on regular printer paper and mod podged to the door; the triangle was printed on photo paper and mod podged on to the wall.

Free For Public UseTARDIS Top

Since this box actually opens (and it is bigger on the inside), Peter found an image of the T.A.R.D.I.S. Console, which was printed on photo paper and mod podged to the inside of the key box.


ConsoleTARDIS 2

3. Finish with an interior varnish or poly.


Now, what used to just be functional is also fun!   A very Creative Solution!

Tiffins: Unique Lunchboxes

With back to school prep, this Creative Solution is on the environmentally friendly, zero-waste lunch containers called Tiffins.

Traditional Tiffin Lunch Boxes

Traditional Tiffin Lunch Boxes

Tiffins are a lunchbox system from India.  The Discovery Channel has a fascinating clip of the use of tiffins and the complex lunch delivery system in India.  While they come in all shapes, sizes and materials, traditionally tiffins are made of stainless steel, and stack any number of tiers with a self-latching lid.

Top three reasons why I like them:

  • Environmentally friendly, zero-waste: you put the food directly in each tiffin tier.
  • Dishwasher Safe
  • Perfect portion sizes

We are a gluten-free, dairy-free family (which will be the topic of an upcoming post), so our lunches consist of fruits and vegetables.  My boys also like a PBJ sandwich and ants-on-a-log (celery, peanut butter, and raisins).  When I make the lunches, I lay out the tiffins and distribute according to everyone’s preferences.

Our Lunches in Tiffins

Our Lunches in Tiffins

Packed up and ready to go!

Packed up and ready to go!

Notice the stickers?  It is a lot easier to tell whose is whose when they are personalized.  I love it when my husband asks, “Am I the red dinosaur?”  Many stickers will wash off, but I have found that certain clear-outlined stickers from Hobby Lobby will work.  Sure, they’ll fade over time, but you’ll get a couple years out of them.

Stickers with clear background

Use stickers with clear background

Tiffins range in price from $10 to $30+

I have five of these from World Market.  They are only 2-tier, and they are thinner than any others I own, but they are only $10.   Purchased 3 or 4 years ago, only one has broken (the latch on the bottom fell apart… but we still use the top).

Hammered Metal Tiffin Lunch Box | World Market $9.99

Hammered Metal Tiffin Lunch Box | World Market $9.99

We have two of these  Stainless Steel Food Containers: To-Go Ware 3 Tier Food Carrier, purchased from Amazon.  The quality is fantastic, and the three tiers are roomy.  I love that the top tier can be used separately, with its own latches.  My husband doesn’t like the long side arms, and both of my boys complain that the top tier is difficult to open.


We also have a LunchBots Uno Stainless Steel Lunch Container (in green).  Pros: great size and shape for a salad.  Cons: leaks pretty easily.




Rome 3-Tier Belly Tiffin

We also have a tiffin that our family calls “The Dalek,” which is a Dr. Who reference.  Several years ago, a friend sold me hers since its design wasn’t working for her family.  My husband loves the size of the compartments, but he hated the cage it comes in.  So my oldest son has claimed it as his.  We have a 2-tier version, which I cannot find on Amazon, so here is the 3-tier version.

Unless we are packing lunches for an outing that involves the tiffins sitting in the car or the sun, I don’t worry about putting them in another container with an icepack.  The fruit and veggies are perfectly fine coming to (an air conditioned) room temp.

Tiffins are a Creative Solution that works well for our family.  While they might be a little expensive at first, their longevity and environmentally conscience design makes them worthwhile.

Dishwasher: Clean or Dirty

Sometimes – like after having pasta with marinara sauce – it’s easy to tell if the dishwasher is clean or dirty.  Other times, you get halfway through emptying the silverware before noticing the dried food on the forks.  Or you have to answer theIs it clean or dirty question twelve times a day.

My sister had a scrap paper with cleanand dirty” scribbled on either side, adhered with a magnet to the dishwasher.  I loved the practicality of that idea, but the “form” wasn’t working for me.  Sure it worked, but it looked sloppy.

And yes, you can buy a special magnetic piggy that tells the tale, but usually those are so country kitchen that I’d prefer the scrap paper.

So here’s a Creative Solution: Make your own Dishwasher Clean/Dirty Magnet.  

Start with your own tastes. We like to play Scrabble, so I liked this idea that I saw on Pinterest:

Except I didn’t like:

  1. Upside down letters (my OCD can’t cope)
  2. Needing to use actual Scrabble tiles… I don’t happen to have those lying around.  They’re either part of an actual game or they’re not in my house.

But what I could do is print a copy of the Scrabble tile letters!  So I Googled images until I found this one.

I printed the image on 5×7 photo paper (at home) and cut out the letters: C-L-E-A-N and D-I-R-T-Y.

From another project, I had some of magnets like these from JoAnn’s or Michael’s or Hobby Lobby:

Using double sided tape, I placed the pictures of the letters in the proper order, taped them to a small piece of printer paper, and then adhered the whole thing to the magnets.  First C-L-E-A-N on one side and then D-I-R-T-Y on the other.  Afterwards, I wrapped the whole thing in some clear packing tape so it has a chance of withstanding the wear and tear of life in our home.


Of course, I made one for my sister so they could trash the scrap paper, and kept the other for myself.


My only tip is to arrange the words so the back is upside down… thus when the magnet gets flipped, it is already properly aligned.

So that’s a Creative Solution that doesn’t involve a country kitchen pig.