Multi-Purpose Closet Organization

Simple tips to help organize those crazy multi purpose closets

When our home was first being built, my husband and I visited the site multiple times a week to check on the progress.  We were walking through one day during the framing phase and noticed what looked like a closet where we weren’t expecting one.  This was really exciting for us because you can never have enough closets!
After we moved in, we couldn’t decide what to put in this closet.  Over time though, it’s become a multi-purpose storage area.  Kind of like a junk drawer, but on a much larger scale.  (See how I organized ours HERE!)  It’s got crock pots (yes, multiple), an ice cream maker, rice maker and pressure cooker, as well as the kids playdough, coloring books, crayons/markers/pencils, educational workbooks and so on.  There is a ton of stuff in this closet!  As you can imagine, things can get a lot little disorganized.

Simple tips to help organize those crazy multi purpose closets

I opened it the other day to pull something out and had to move five things just to get what I wanted.  I decided I’d had enough.  I started pulling everything out of the closet and pretty soon my counter was full.  It gave me a chance to declutter, group similar items together and see what didn’t belong and needed to be moved.  Once that part was done, I determined that I needed more storage bins.

Bins are a great way to keep things looking organized and they aren’t very expensive.  I already had a couple of plastic ones and a couple of pink canvas ones I found at Target a few years ago.  Before I left to the store, I took a few pictures of the things that needed to go in bins so I could have a visual when I was there looking at the different sizes.  I also measured the height, length and depth of the shelves so I knew what size of bin to look for.  I spent about $10 on four more bins of various sizes at Walmart.

Simple tips to help organize those crazy multi purpose closets

When I got home, I moved the bigger items, like the small kitchen appliances, onto shelves since those obviously weren’t going in bins.  Then I used the bins I bought to organize the other things: kids craft supplies, small electronics, etc.  Before I started putting the rest away, I thought about what I had and the shelves I had and what made the most sense for me and my family.

Simple tips to help organize those crazy multi purpose closets

For example, I put the playdough, coloring books and kids games on the bottom shelf so that my kids could reach them easily.  However, I didn’t want them to be able to get into the crayons/markers/pencils, glue and scissors without my help so I put those on a higher shelf.  (This closet also has one of those childproof doorknobs so they need my help to get into the closet in the first place.)

Simple tips to help organize those crazy multi purpose closets

Simple tips to help organize those crazy multi purpose closets

Simple tips to help organize those crazy multi purpose closets

It was a little bit of a puzzle trying to get everything to fit without looking crammed.  Again, the bins helped with this.  When I was done, I took a step back and gave myself a pat on the back.  Multi-purpose closets aren’t easy to organize, but I think I did a pretty good job.

Simple tips to help organize those crazy multi purpose closets

Here are a few tips for organizing a multi-purpose closet:

  • Use bins!  This will make organizing so much easier because you are able to pull out one bin, find what you want and put it back in the closet.  In addition, it helps you keep only the things you want stored in the closet, in the closet.  If it doesn’t fit in one of your bins, get rid of it, or find somewhere else to store it.  (Obviously not everything can go in a bin, but you see my point.)
  • Think about who is using the closet.  For us, we have small children who need to have access to certain things and other things we don’t want to them to be able to get to.  Take this into account when placing your belongings.
  • Ask yourself this question: Does {fill-in-the-blank} belong in this closet or does it need to go somewhere else?

So there you have it!  I hope seeing what I did in our closet will inspire you in organizing your own!

How To Host a Successful Yard Sale

How To Host A Successful Yard Sale--10 tips for organizing, advertising and running a money-making yard sale

Each summer, my mom would hand us boxes or bags and tell us to go through our room and get rid of the things we no longer liked or used.  She also had us help with going through other rooms in the house.  Then we’d price the items we wanted to sell so we could put them in our yard sale.  We had to get up early on the day of the yard sale and help set up, try and sell things to our friends and then take it all down and give away anything that didn’t sell.  For as long as I can remember, we did this every single summer.  Even after I moved away to college, I could count on my mom holding a yard sale.  I learned how to let go of unwanted/unused items, how to price to sell, how to count change and many other skills.

So when my in-laws decided they wanted to sell the home they’d been in for 26 years and needed help getting rid of stuff, I volunteered to help sell it.  I had sold plenty of my own items using Facebook yard sale groups (a post I will do soon!) and knew I could help make them some money as they purged.  As their unwanted items continued to accumulate, I knew I was going to need to do a yard sale.  The thought kind of excited me because I love the challenge of selling things to others (although I am definitely not a sales person and could never be one).

For the last two weeks, I’ve had two words on my mind: yard sale.   Eat, sleep, breath, yard sale.  Eat, sleep, breathe, yard sale.  Slowly our garage filled up with all the things they wanted to get rid of.  Finally, this last weekend, I held a yard sale at my house and made over $1100.  How?  Let me tell you.

Advertise Like Crazy  If you’re going to spend the time that it takes to sort through your stuff, price it and set it all up in your yard, you better make sure that as many people know about your yard sale as possible.  I am part of 15+ Facebook yard sale groups and two neighborhood Facebook groups.  In addition, my city allows you to submit your yard sale information and they will post it in their yard sale listings for free.  So when it came time to let people know about the yard sale, I posted in every single yard sale group I belong to, the two neighborhood groups, the city listings and my personal Facebook page.  That is over 20 listings that expose 1000s of people to the date, time and location of my yard sale.  The day before the sale, I posted in each of the groups I just listed and also included pictures of some of the best items I was going to have for sale.  Items such as furniture, tools, baby clothes and home decor are great because people are always looks for good deals on those things.

*Extra Tip: Clean the items you’re selling to make them look as nice as possible, both before taking pictures and during the yard sale.  People will pay more for something if it looks clean.  Even if what you have is nice, if it is dusty or has cobwebs on it from being in storage, people won’t look as closely at it.  If they do look close, they might not want to pay as much as it’s worth because it’s dirty.

How To Host A Successful Yard Sale--10 tips for organizing, advertising and running a money-making yard sale

3 B’s: Big Signs, Big Words and Balloons
Part of advertising for a yard sale is making it as easy as possible for people to get to you.  This year, I bought two pieces of white poster board and three yard sale signs with a place to write my address on them from the dollar store, as well as balloons (all the same color).  During the summer, there are a lot of people who do yard sales.  If you want people to come to yours, you have to do two things: 1) get their attention and 2) tell them where to go.  When making a yard sale sign, I only include the following: the words YARD SALE (or MULTI-FAMILY YARD SALE or MOVING SALE), the date, the time and the address, and usually in that order.  Use black sharpie and make your words big and bold.  I generally write in all caps.  Don’t get fancy.  The mistake a lot of people make is trying to fit too much in a small area and then you can’t read anything because you don’t know what to focus on.  Give people the basic information they need to know and they will come.  Another way to get a person’s attention is balloons.  How often do you see balloons attached to a sign and wonder what it’s for so you look when you pass by?  Other people do the same thing.  Be consistent so people can follow your signs.  (This is why I use all the same color poster board, markers and balloons on each sign.)  Place your signs at crossroads (like a four way stop) and at the entrance(s) to your neighborhood.  Include arrows on your signs so they know which direction to go.

Organize Items Into Categories
This tip might sound like a no brainer, but if you’ve ever been to a yard sale where anything and everything is just thrown haphazardly onto tables or blankets, you know this is important.  Whenever I do my yard sales, I always put similar items together: home decor, tools, craft supplies, games/toys, holiday/seasonal, jewelry, kitchen, etc.  As I’m sorting and pricing, I try to keep the same things together in bins or boxes.  Then, a day or two before the sale, I set up tables in my garage and start sorting the bins/boxes into tables so I know exactly how much I have in each category.  This year, I had a ton of home decor stuff so I found that I needed two tables to display it.  Kitchen items also needed two tables.  Yard and tools needed one.  And so on.  Doing this makes set up go a whole lot smoother the morning of the sale.

How To Host A Successful Yard Sale--10 tips for organizing, advertising and running a money-making yard sale

Up Off the Ground
One of the best tips I can give for hosting your own yard sale is to borrow as many tables as you can.  I borrowed at least 12 from family and friends (in addition to the two I already had) and I still didn’t have as many as I would have liked.  The reason having tables is important is because stuff sells better when it’s on a table as opposed to the ground.  It displays better and it looks nicer.  When you couple this with organizing items into categories, you will have more people buying things because it’s easier to browse through and it’s more visible.  They don’t have to stoop down to sort through what you have.  Get your stuff off the ground.

Make Signs
Another nice touch is to make signs for each of the tables indicating what is on them.  Some people come to yard sales with specific categories they are looking to browse through.  If you make it easy for them to find what they are looking for, they may be more willing to buy what they find.  I’ve had plenty of customers come up and tell me they liked how organized everything was.  People will notice if you take the time to add little touches like signs for your tables.

Label Everything
This is definitely my least favorite part of prepping for a yard sale.  It takes a long time to label everything.  But if you decide not to label your items, you’ll be frustrated during the sale when you have people constantly coming up to you asking what the price is for this or that.  The only things I don’t label are clothes.  Instead I put the price on a sign: $1 for long-sleeve shirt, $.50 for pants, etc.  If you make signs for a group of items, be sure to have a list of the prices with you at checkout.

*Extra Tip: If you are hosting a group yard sale, I would suggest color coding or marking each label with the seller’s initials.  Section off a few pages in a notebook for each family/person participating in the yard sale.  Have the notebook with you at checkout.  Take off the price stickers as you total their purchase.  Then put each sticker in the notebook on the corresponding page.

Greet People When You See Them
If you’ve ever worked in retail, one of the most important things they teach you is to try and greet every person who walks in the doors.  The same goes for yard sales.  When you see someone come up, try and catch their eye and say ‘hi’ or ‘good morning/afternoon’.  It lets people know that you saw them come up and they will feel good they were recognized.

Make Friendly Conversation
I always make an effort to talk to the person who is checking out.  I will comment on the items they bought or compliment them on their shirt or purse or ask them what they plan to do with the item they purchased.  It (generally) puts people at ease and it passes the time while you are totaling up what they bought.  Smiling and being friendly will go a long way and people will feel good about their experience.

How To Host A Successful Yard Sale--10 tips for organizing, advertising and running a money-making yard sale

Sell Baked Goods and Drinks
If you have kids, and even if you don’t, selling baked goods and drinks at a little homemade stand just makes people feel more comfortable.  We had a lemonade and cookie stand at our most recent yard sale with a cooler full of soda pop and bottled water.  Last year, I had muffins and banana bread next to me at checkout and I had a lot of early morning shoppers buy some for their breakfast.  It’s an easy and inexpensive way to provide something that people want or need, especially on a hot day.  Plus, if you have cute kids manning the stand, you might get the neighborhood kids coming too!

Be Willing To Negotiate
It might be tempting to want to sell your things for exactly the price you marked them at, but when it comes down to it, you need to be willing to negotiate.  You have to get into the mindset that you put these things out in your yard to sell and if you want to get rid of them, you might have to take a little less than you’d like.  If it’s a decision between a few dollars and selling the item(s), just sell it for less.  For example, I had a family purchase a ton of stuff, mostly small items, but it was about $85.  This was a great deal for what they were getting.  They asked if they could get a discount for buying so much stuff.  I offered to knock off $5 and make it $80.  And then, rather than asking, “Is that ok?”, I said, “Does that seem fair to you?”  By forming the question this way, they had to think about what they were getting in proportion to what I was offering to do for them by lowering the price on already low priced items.  There are always exceptions of course.  We had a handful of things that I wasn’t willing to negotiate on.  One was a Christmas tree from Costco that my in-laws had bought for $350 and used it one year.  I had it marked at $75, which was a fantastic deal.  There were a few people who offered $40 or $50 but I turned it down because I knew the tree was worth more and I knew that if I didn’t sell it at the yard sale, I could sell it online through a Facebook yard sale group.

So there you have it!  My recipe for success!  While I can’t guarantee you’ll make $1000 at your next yard sale, I can tell you that if you follow these tips, you’ll have a much better chance of getting there.

**Also, if selling items online is your preference, or you just don’t have the space or enough items to host a sale, you can check out these great posts about how to sell your stuff online.  It’s a four part series which goes over the following:

Good luck! 

Craft Room Organization {Using Chalkboard Labels}

Sunshine and Munchkins: Craft Room Organization {using Chalkboard Labels}--an easy way to quickly organize your craft room!

When my husband and I started to work on finishing the basement, my only request was: “Can I please have a craft room?”  Knowing how much craft stuff I have, and how much my husband dislikes when I spread it all over the kitchen counters, he made sure that I had a space dedicated to my craftiness.  (He still likes to call it an office, but we both know it’s really my craft room.)

Please note that I received product for my review.  All opinions are 100% mine.

This post contains affiliate links which means if you click on them and make a purchase, I will receive a small commission at no additional cost to you.  Thank you for your support!

I’m still working on getting it completely organized before I reveal it to you all, but one thing that needed some serious organizational help was my tall cabinet of craft drawers.  This was on my list of “must-haves” when I was designing the space. I purchased it from IKEA from their Alex collection.  I love how many drawers it has.  Seriously, this thing is a dream.  Oddly enough, this is also one of the things that makes it so hard to organize because I can never remember which drawer has what in it.  Half the time I need something I have to go through two or three drawers to find it.

Sunshine and Munchkins: Craft Room Organization {using Chalkboard Labels}--an easy way to quickly organize your craft room!

*UPDATE 4/7/2017 – The chalkboard labels used in this post are no longer available via Amazon.  I received some different chalkboard labels for my review and I am recommending these chalkboard labels instead (plus they come with 2 chalk markers).  I have replaced the links in this post with the new labels.

So when I was asked to review some chalkboard labels, I knew exactly where I wanted to use them: my craft room!  The labels come in a variety of shapes and sizes, making it so easy for me to pick just the right one out.  Plus, there were six sheets of chalkboard paper that I could cut out into any size or shape I wanted.  (My Silhouette Cameo would be perfect for that.)

Sunshine and Munchkins: Craft Room Organization {using Chalkboard Labels}--an easy way to quickly organize your craft room!

To write on the labels I used regular white chalk as well as these cool chalk pencils.  They look just like colored pencils and they sharpen just like colored pencils, but they are chalk.  It made writing the words out on the labels so much easier and more legible, plus it added a little bit of color and character, which I liked.  Another thing I really liked about these labels was that the chalk came off when I wiped it.  I had to redo a few of the labels to get them the way I wanted and each time it rubbed off great.

Sunshine and Munchkins: Craft Room Organization {using Chalkboard Labels}--an easy way to quickly organize your craft room!

When it came time to place the labels on the drawers, I pulled out my ruler (I only had to check two drawers before I found it) and measured the center so I had a good idea of where to place the label on each drawer.  Then I peeled them off and put them on each drawer, trying to bend the label a little towards the middle and then outward as it stuck.

Sunshine and Munchkins: Craft Room Organization {using Chalkboard Labels}--an easy way to quickly organize your craft room!

TA-DA!  I love the way it turned out!  So nice and organized and labeled.  (My husband even peeked in and said it looked good.)  Chalkboard labels are a great way to organize your craft room (or any room really).  I like that they are permanent in that they stay on the drawers, but provide flexibility to move things around if I need to change out what is in each drawer and just rewrite what’s on the label.  Easy peasy.

Sunshine and Munchkins: Craft Room Organization {using Chalkboard Labels}--an easy way to quickly organize your craft room!

What are your favorite ways to use chalkboard labels?

9 Things I Wish I’d Known Before Going to Disneyland the First Time

9 Things I Wish I'd Known Before Going to Disneyland the First Time--great tips that will help you plan your vacation more thoroughly!

In a previous post, I talked about what I learned as I planned our family’s first vacation to Disneyland.  We went and had so much fun and now that we are back, I have more tips to share that will make your experience at the park even more magical and stress-free.

This post contains affiliate links which means if you click on a link and make a purchase, I will receive a small commission at no additional cost to you.  Thank you for your support!

Prepare Snacks/Packs the Night Before  Going in, we knew we could take outside food into the park so we brought a ton of snacks with us from home.  This worked out great for us and we didn’t buy any snacks in the park besides a Dole Whip (yum!).  That being said, I wish we’d done a better job of prepping our snacks the night before or possibly even at home.  The next time we go, I’m going to bring a box of sandwich bags with us and portion out the snacks beforehand and put them in the bags we are taking to the park.  I feel like half of our morning was spent getting ourselves ready and the other half was spent getting snacks into bags and sandwiches made and into coolers before we walked out the door.  It would have made our mornings run so much more smoothly if we’d done just a little more prep.

Lots of Snacks
As a kid vacationing with my parents, I remember them telling us to eat a big breakfast before we left for whatever it was we were doing that day so that we’d be full.  I was a growing girl and I liked food, so eating a lot wasn’t a problem for me, but my metabolism was.  About two hours after my huge breakfast, I would be hungry and asking for something else to eat.  When we were looking for a hotel this time around, we wanted to stay somewhere that had a continental breakfast so we could try and fill up before heading into the park.  My kids are pretty good eaters, but even so, they didn’t eat a ton at breakfast and I knew they’d be hungry sooner than later.  We literally lived off of snacks during our time at the park.  (You can find a huge list of snack ideas in this post!)  We didn’t want to spend $5 on a small bag of popcorn or $2 on a banana.  So we packed up our little cooler with sliced apples, sandwiches, granola bars, peanuts, fruit snacks, raisins, applesauce, goldfish…and it would be gone by the time we went back to the hotel for a rest and nap time.  Then we’d load it all up again for when we went back later that day.  With the exception of a few things, all the snacks we had were brought from home, which saved us a lot of money.  This is a benefit of driving versus flying (which I discussed in my planning for Disneyland post).

9 Things I Wish I'd Known Before Going to Disneyland the First Time--great tips that will help you plan your vacation more thoroughly!

Bring A Variety of Flavored Water
A great tip I learned while planning our trip is that you can ask any restaurant or drinking station with fountain drinks for a cup of ice water or to fill up your bottle.  We went into the park with full water bottles/sippy cups and we filled them up throughout the day.  But here’s the thing: I got kind of tired of drinking just water.  Not all the water we got was cold (like from drinking fountains) and after sitting in our bags in the hot sun, it got pretty warm and not very refreshing.  My husband ended up going to a local Walmart and picking up some Vitamin Waters for us to drink and let me tell you: it was a lot easier to down an entire bottle of that than it was a bottle of lukewarm water.  The next time we go to Disneyland, or any other theme park, I’m going to bring some of the individual packets of flavor crystals, like Crystal Light, or the liquid flavors, like Mio, to put in our waters.  I know my kids will drink an entire juice box in a matter of minutes, but getting them to drink that much water in the same amount of time can be hard.  We went during the second week of October and with humidity it was at least 90 degrees.  Staying hydrated is essential.

Getting to the Park
Parking at Disneyland is expensive.  It costs $17 per day!  So when we were planning our trip, we chose a hotel that was close enough to the park that we had the option to walk or take the shuttle.  We tried out both options to see which we liked better.  On our first day, we hopped on the shuttle in the morning and it took us 7-10 minutes to get to the park.  However, it took us 20 minutes to get back to our hotel in the afternoon because we found out that it was one of the last stops on its route.  After the kids had rested up, we decided to walk to the park and see if we preferred that over the shuttle.  It was later in the day and cooler and we made it to the gates in 12-15 minutes.  The second day, we walked each time and didn’t ride the shuttle at all.  My recommendation would be to find out what your options are for any of the hotels you are interested in staying at.  I simply called the hotel’s front desk and asked them.  Some hotels offer complimentary shuttles, while others don’t.  For us, the fee to ride the shuttle one-way was $3 for adults and $1 for kids while a day pass was $5 for adults and $2 for kids, with multi-day discounts.

9 Things I Wish I'd Known Before Going to Disneyland the First Time--great tips that will help you plan your vacation more thoroughly!

Strollers and Stroller Parking
Bringing our double-stroller with us was one of the best decisions we could have made.  We have a Sit n’ Stand by Baby Trend and love it.  It held both kids, our cooler, my diaper bag, drinks, sweatshirts and anything else we needed to throw in.  The kids were in and out of it throughout the day, eating snacks or resting or riding as we moved between rides/parks.  At night, they both fell asleep in it as we walked back to the hotel.  If you’re debating about bringing a stroller, just do it.  You will be glad you did.  (If bringing your own stroller isn’t an option, you can also rent strollers at the park.)  You can also check out this link for some other great car seat and stroller combos.

One other tip about strollers:  There are various places around the park for you to park your stroller, generally around the fences by the rides.  I was a little worried about leaving my bag and other items but I didn’t have any problems with my stuff being taken.  We did have a couple of times where we couldn’t find our stroller but it was because it had been moved by a cast member.  If you come up to a place where you see cast members moving strollers around, you can ask them if there is a spot they’d prefer you put your stroller so it doesn’t get moved around and it’s easier for you to find when you come back to get it.

Download the Official Disneyland App
A friend of mine who has annual passes for her family highly suggested downloading the official Disneyland app on our phones.  This app gives information on wait times for rides, the location of characters and restrooms, dining locations and menus, parade and event information and photo passes.  My husband and I both downloaded it on our phones before we went into the park and referred to it multiple times throughout the day.  It was especially helpful when my daughter all of a sudden said she needed to use the bathroom and we needed to find one quickly.  It was a lot faster than trying to look information up on our phones and much more efficient.  (If you want to keep it on your phone after you leave Disneyland, it’s a fun way to show your kids where Mickey Mouse or their favorite princess is.)

9 Things I Wish I'd Known Before Going to Disneyland the First Time--great tips that will help you plan your vacation more thoroughly!

Special Visit Buttons
I read about special visit buttons you can get for free at Disneyland when I was planning our trip.  They have First Visit, Happy Birthday, Happy Anniversary and others.  According to what I read, you could pick them up at the Guest Services building.  When I went to go pick some up, there was a 10 minute wait at Guest Services, but the cast member told me that I could go to any store and ask for one.  I’m sure I read this somewhere, but I didn’t remember.  I had to stop by a couple of stores because they had already run out and it was only 9am.  So if you want one, try and get it first thing when you get to the park.

Also, if you’re child is wearing their button in the park, the cast members and characters generally try to make a point of saying something about it which makes it even more special for them.

9 Things I Wish I'd Known Before Going to Disneyland the First Time--great tips that will help you plan your vacation more thoroughly!

Visiting with Characters
Princesses: My daughter specifically wanted to see as many princesses as possible on our trip so I tried to find out as much as I could about seeing them before we got there.  There are two places where you will be most likely to find princesses: at the Royal Hall (to the left of the castle) and by the Snow White fountain (to the right of the castle).  If your child wants to see Anna or Elsa, you will only be able to visit them at California Adventure, but there are a couple of shows you can watch them in within the Disneyland side of the park.

Other Characters: By using the Disneyland app, we were able to find different characters whereabouts in each park.  There is always a cast member close by the line if you have any questions about the character you are going to see.  For example, a couple of times we got in line to see the character that was there, but the cast member told us that if we got in line that we’d be seeing a different character, or if we wanted to see that same character they told us when they would be back at that location.  Another time we got in line to see a character and the cast member told us that that particular character would be leaving but that another character would be coming at a different location so we could get in line there.  It was so nice to know ahead of time if we’d actually be seeing the characters we were getting in line for because then we could choose if it was someone we wanted to see.

*Note: If a character is out in one park, he won’t be out in another park.  For example, we saw Goofy in Disneyland so we knew that he wouldn’t be out in California Adventure.  Disney is very good about being consistent this way and not having the same character out in more than one park or at more than one location of the same park.

Take Time to Rest
Since we have small children (ages 3.5 and 18 months at the time of our trip), we planned out a portion of each day as a time to rest/take a nap at our hotel.  I know some kids who can sleep anywhere and others who need to have a quiet room.  My kids fall into the latter group.  So around 1pm we went back to the hotel.  Even though we missed out on about 3 hours of time at the park each day, by allowing our kids (and ourselves) time to rest, we were able to stay a little later at the park and our kids were much happier.  Plus, it was pretty hot during the day so we avoided some heat exhaustion by staying cool during those times.

*Note: We had a two day pass which we used consecutively, but you don’t have to do it that way.  Disney allows you to use your tickets for 13 days after the first visit.  This means we could have visited two times within a two week period since we had a two day pass.  Same thing goes for a 3, 4 or 5 day pass–you can use up your days any time within 13 days of the first use.  So if you have the time, you can definitely break it up a little so you don’t get burnt out.

What advice would you give to someone going to Disneyland for the first time that you wish you’d known beforehand?

7 Things I Learned Planning Our First Family Trip to Disneyland

7 Things I Learned Planning Our First Family Trip to Disneyland--tips from a first time Disneyland planner that will help your planning go more smoothly!

We recently went on our first family vacation to Disneyland.  The last time I went to Disneyland was about 15 years ago when I was in junior high so I didn’t do much planning (besides finding ways to make money to spend).  In addition to this being our first vacation to Disneyland, it was also our first big family vacation with our kids.

While trying to figure it all out, I didn’t really know where to start, so I turned to Facebook and asked my friends for their best Disneyland vacation planning tips.  Then I went to my Disney Pinterest board to look through my saved pins.  I was working within a short time frame (less than 2 weeks to plan it all out) so I needed to get as much information as possible as quickly as possible.

Keeping in mind that our family currently consists of me, my husband, my 4 year old daughter and 2 year old son, I had to tailor the trip to work for our family.  However, I know many families with similar dynamics as mine choose to go to Disneyland so I thought I’d share my process with the hope that you might find something here that will help you as well.  Some of these tips are helpful across the board, while others are more specific to families with young children.

7 Things I Learned Planning Our First Family Trip to Disneyland--tips from a first time Disneyland planner that will help your planning go more smoothly!

Isitpacked.com
A friend of mine suggested checking out the website www.isitpacked.com.  This is a great website to check out if you are planning a trip to (almost) any theme park across the US.  It gives you information on how busy the parks are at any given time of year and helps you plan your trip accordingly.  As with most vacation spots, there are peak times and off-peak times and knowing which it is at the park you’re attending is very good to know.  Since we had about 5 days total for our trip, we tried to be flexible and fit our park days into the less busy days as shown on isitpacked.com.

7 Things I Learned Planning Our First Family Trip to Disneyland--tips from a first time Disneyland planner that will help your planning go more smoothly!

This isn’t an official website for any of the parks, but it is based on real-time crowd tracking and historical tracking information and is pretty accurate.  It “crowd meter” has four levels: Ghost Town, Hey it’s Alright, Yup it’s Packed and Forget it.  One of the days we went was a “Hey, it’s Alright” and the other was a “Yup, it’s Packed”.  Knowing beforehand that one of the days was going to be more crowded helped us know which rides to try and get into the day before, which ones to get fast passes for and overall, just not be as frustrated by the amount of people in the park.

Park Hopper or One Park A Day?
One of the biggest decisions we had to make in our planning was how many days we wanted to spend at the park.  As part of that, we had to figure out if we wanted to do Disneyland only (no California Adventure), a park hopper, or one park per day.  I’m not kidding when I say that I spent multiple days and talked to multiple people trying to figure it out.  We ended up not even buying our tickets until the day before we went to Disneyland!  But ultimately, we chose to do a 2 day park hopper ticket. Why?  Because we wanted to experience the rides and the atmosphere of both parks.  We don’t know the next time we’ll be back to Disneyland.  So we decided to do a little bit at both parks.  Plus, it only cost an extra $114 for 3 tickets for 2 days, which equaled out to $57 per day or $19 per ticket per day.  When we were already spending as much as we were on tickets, paying a little more to experience an additional park made sense to us.

7 Things I Learned Planning Our First Family Trip to Disneyland--tips from a first time Disneyland planner that will help your planning go more smoothly!

Discount Tickets through University or College Alumni Association
It’s fairly well-known that discount tickets to Disneyland are hard to come by.  Not to mention that Disney raises their ticket prices on a regular basis (and will be again soon due to Star Wars Land), it’s just expensive to get into the parks!  So it’s tempting to try and get as much of a discount on tickets as possible.  However, there are very few reliable places to get discount tickets.  A friend from college told me that I could get discount tickets through our university’s alumni site.  So I checked it out and–lo and behold!–she was right!  I had no clue that discount Disney tickets were a benefit to being an alumni.  For our family, we needed (2) age 10+ tickets and (1) age 3-9 ticket.  We went 2 days and also did a park hopper.  Here is a breakdown of my savings:

Disneyland Theme Park official website: $662
Get Away Today official website: $656 ($6 less than Disney)
Alumni official website: $624 ($38 less than Disney)

I would guess that my university isn’t the only one to have a deal with Disneyland on discount tickets so if you or your spouse are part of your college/university’s alumni association (which you would be if you graduated), it’s worth looking into!

7 Things I Learned Planning Our First Family Trip to Disneyland--tips from a first time Disneyland planner that will help your planning go more smoothly!

Find a Hotel and Book It
As I mentioned earlier, we were working within a limited time frame for our trip.  Because of this, our options for a hotel within our price range were also limited.  I looked on Expedia to see which hotels in the area still had available rooms that fit within our parameters (2 beds, continental breakfast, etc).  I found a great one for just over $100/night and within a short walking distance to the park.  Perfect!  However, they only had one room available for the nights we wanted.  I decided to double check another website to see if I could get the room for any less, but I couldn’t.  So I went back to Expedia and the room was still available so I booked it as fast as I could.  Put my credit card number in….hit submit…and…someone else had beat me to it!  Ugh!  I was so frustrated!  (Plus it was really late at night.)  So I had to spend another 30 minutes going back through and finding another hotel.  If you are also trying to book a trip to Disneyland on short notice, try and book the hotel first, before anything else.  Transportation to the park, food and tickets can all be worked out later, but hotels book up fast in that area and if you snooze (or get greedy like me and try to save a couple extra bucks), you will lose.

Hotel Location
Along the same lines, figuring out where you want to stay when you go to Disneyland can be challenging.  For us, we were ok with staying further outside the park to save some money.  The hotel we stayed at had a Disneyland shuttle (for a fee) about 200 feet from the entrance so that was one option for getting to the park without driving there ourselves (parking is $17/day).  In addition, our hotel was only about a mile away from the entrance to the park and was basically a straight shot along Harbor Blvd (one of the streets bordering Disneyland) and my husband and I felt comfortable walking that distance since our kids would both be in a stroller.  Ultimately, being within walking distance to the park was one of our deciding factors in choosing a hotel.

7 Things I Learned Planning Our First Family Trip to Disneyland--tips from a first time Disneyland planner that will help your planning go more smoothly!

Flying or Driving?
Originally, my husband and I had talked about flying out to LA and then renting a car.  But the short notice made the round-trip flights too pricey for us so we decided to drive (about 9-10 hours each way).  We knew how big our gas tank was and about how many miles we could get out of one tank.  Then we figured out which cities we’d need to fill up in.  We looked at the website gasbuddy.com to see the price of gas and estimated our total cost.  It was much more cost effective to drive, even though flying would have saved us some time.  In addition, we had a lot that we needed to take with us: a double stroller, two car seats, a pack n’ play, suitcases, a cooler, snacks and electronics.  The thoughts of hauling all that around an airport and then hoping our rental car was big enough to fit it all were not exactly encouraging.  So if you are within driving distance, maybe 12 hours or less, consider driving over flying.  It was challenging for sure, but worth it to us.
 
Do Your Research and Decide What’s Best for Your Family
Between Facebook and Pinterest, I spend a lot of time researching everything about Disneyland, from where to eat, to how to use a rider swap, to the best location for parades/fireworks.  It’s so. much. information.  My brain started to hurt.  I wanted to plan the best trip I could for my little family, but I was getting overwhelmed.  Finally I had to take a step back and remember that while my intentions were good, I needed to pick out the essentials.  The information that was truly relevant to my family.  For example, I asked my daughter what she wanted to do at Disneyland: “See the princesses.”  So I looked up information on seeing the princesses so we could fit as much princess time as we could into our visit.  She didn’t care about seeing Goofy or Peter Pan, so I didn’t waste my time trying to figure out how to see them.  Another example: I know my kids don’t generally eat a lot for breakfast, so while a good continental breakfast was important to my husband and I, I knew that I’d need to pack a lot of snacks to take into the park to keep them full and happy.  So I researched information about taking food into the park.  Every family is different and what is important to us, may not even be relevant to you.

And when it all comes down to it, you’re going to Disneyland!  It’s pretty difficult not to have a great time making memories and experiencing the magic that is Disney. *wink*

What tips would you share with someone planning their first trip to Disneyland?

Meal Planning: How Do I Stick with It? (Part 2)

Meal Planning: How Do I Stick with It?--simple tips on how to follow through with meal planning

Last week I posted about how to get started with meal planning.  I got a good response so I decided to do a little follow up post about how to stick with it once you’ve started.

Like with many good intentions, we start out strong.  But after a while, we can fall into the trap of complacency.  Life happens.  Other things take priority.  I totally get it!  However, I think it’s easier to stick with something when we think about our “why” or our reason for doing it in the first place.  Maybe your “why” for meal planning is to put healthier meals on the table.  Or maybe it’s that you want/need to stick within a budget.  Whatever it is, if it’s important to you, then you can remind yourself of your “why” when it comes time to do your meal planning each week (or however often you do it).

In my “how to get started” post, I mentioned a few tips that help make my life easier when planning out my family’s meals and I wanted to go into a little more depth and explain how each of these help me stick with meal planning.

One tip I gave was to make a list of meals that you/your family like to eat.  By having a running list of meal options, it makes choosing what to make each week easier because you don’t have to think about it.  There have been weeks that I’m sure I wouldn’t have taken the time to meal plan if I didn’t have a list of meals to choose from.  I also have a few Pinterest boards that I refer to when I want to try something new.  If it works out and we want to make it again, I just add it to my list.

Meal Planning: How Do I Stick with It?--simple tips on how to follow through with meal planning

Another one I mentioned was my dry erase calendar.  It’s a five week calendar and I just fill in the dates and meals.  I like having a monthly calendar because it shows me what I’ve planned in the weeks prior so that I’m not repeating the same meals too often.  It helps me introduce a little more variety into our meals.  Plus, if there was a meal I didn’t make the week before for some reason, I can usually move it to the current week because it’s likely I’ll have all the ingredients needed.  One other way the calendar is useful is that I can put certain events on it that might require me to plan a different kind of meal based on time available.  For example, we had a movie night last week with our church group that started at 6.  My husband gets home at 5:30.  So when planning meals out at the beginning of the week, I knew that I either needed to make a meal ahead of time (like a crock pot meal) or it needed to be a low-prep meal (like breakfast for dinner).

Lastly, I try to do my meal planning and grocery shopping at the same times each week. We get our local grocery ad on Saturdays.  So on Saturday I will browse through the ad to see what kind of sales they are running and circle anything we need.  Then, when I sit down to meal plan–usually Saturday or Sunday–I have my ad with me and I can see if there is anything else I need to purchase based on the meals I’m making that week.  Monday is a double ad day, so I keep the ad from the week before to refer to as well.  It’s totally possible that there is an item in the previous week’s ad that I didn’t need last week, but I do this week.

Each of these tips helps me streamline my process so I get my meal planning done faster and it doesn’t feel like such a big task.  At first, it might be difficult to implement these changes into your schedule, but if you stick with it, I’m sure you’ll be glad you did.

What is your “why” for meal planning?

Meal Planning: Where Do I Start? (Part 1)

Meal Planning: Where Do I Start?--tips for starting your own weekly meal plan

When my husband and I first got married, I didn’t know much about meal planning.  I was used to cooking meals for myself and sometimes my sister, who was also my roommate.  What I made totally depended on what I happened to have on hand that week and more often than not it was a can of soup, pancakes (or some other breakfast food) or maybe a casserole if I was feeling ambitious and needing leftovers for a couple days.  It’s not that I didn’t know how to cook, but when you’re cooking for one, it’s just not super motivating to spend a lot of time in the kitchen.

Fast forward to 2016.  I’ve been cooking for my family of two, then three and now four for the last 7.5 years and it wasn’t until about a year and a half ago that I finally decided that I needed to start meal planning.  My reasons were simple: 1) I wanted to make sure my family was eating well, 2) I hated hitting 4:00 or 4:30pm and realizing I had no idea what I was making for dinner that night and then rushing to figure it out, and 3) I wanted to save money.  I decided that I have enough things on my plate as a mom, wife and adult, that if I could make my life a little simpler by planning out our meals for the week then I should do it.

I’ll save the process I went through to get where I am now for another day, but suffice it to say that I feel good about my current process and how it works for us.

Here’s what I do:

  1. Each week I get the ad for my local grocery store and browse through it, circling items that we are out of that are on sale.  (Obviously not everything we need will be in the ad, but if I can save a little money and time by knowing ahead of time what’s on sale, then why not?)
  2. I pull out a list of meals that my family likes to eat on a regular basis.  It’s just a list I’ve written out on a sheet of lined paper that I can add to as we find more meals we like.
  3. Then I take my list and put it next to the grocery ad so I can see what meals I can make using items that are on sale that I don’t have.  For example, this week I had written down that we needed teriyaki sauce, which was on sale.  Also on sale were broccoli and cauliflower.  Looking at my meal list, I can make teriyaki chicken with steamed veggies and rice because I already have carrots, chicken and rice.
  4. I have a dry erase calendar that I use to plan our meals for the week.  Knowing that it takes about 30 minutes to make, I can check our week and schedule it depending on what’s going on in the evening during the week.
  5. I repeat this process until I have meals planned out for each day of the week.  
Meal Planning: Where Do I Start?--tips for starting your own weekly meal plan

My main goal when planning out meals is to use as much of what I already have as possible and only buy what I need.  Some meals don’t require me to buy anything if I already have it all on hand and others I need a few ingredients.  This way, I know exactly how much I need of each item and approximately how much I’ll be spending.

Once I’ve got it all planned out, I know I have a little flexibility with moving the meals around because I know I’ve got everything I need to make whatever meal I’ve planned.  Some weeks I follow it to a “t” and other weeks I move the meals around if something comes up or I just feel like making something else that night.

A couple of other tips:

  • I try to plan my shopping trip for the same day every week (usually Mondays, since I can double up on ads).
  • I always keep easy no-prep meals on hand, like frozen pizza and freezer meals, for days I just don’t feel like making the effort what I’ve planned.

What has stopped you from meal planning for your family?