Creating a Life Free From Chaos

How to Curb Kids’ Screen Time

How to Curb Kids' Screen TimeMy kids (and I) spend way too much time on screens. I know it. And I’m fully aware my kids got this habit from me since they always see me and my husband with our iDevices, all the time. The screen time is out of control.

My kids have had a lot of access to the Hulu, Netflix, Xbox, mobile devices, computers, and video games, and it’s taking its toll. (YouTube OMG.) Screen time seriously went through the roof when the boys got their own iPhones. It doesn’t help my anxiety to see them on their screens while my mind is racing with fears of online bullying, pornography, and worse. It really doesn’t help when I hear them parroting questionable language they’ve heard on YouTube or talking about mature subjects they stumbled onto on television.

Ninety-eight percent of households with children 8 and under have access to a mobile device, such as a tablet or smartphone. That’s an increase from 52 percent just six years ago, according to a nationally representative parent survey from Common Sense Media, a nonprofit organization. Kids are spending an average of two and a half hours a day on a screen. For 8- to 12-year-olds, the average daily screen time was four and a half hours, according to a 2015 Common Sense Media report.

The American Academy of Pediatrics warns that overuse of digital media can put kids and teens at risk of obesity, sleep problems, cyberbullying, and poor performance at school.

I know all these statistics, and yet I still get lazy and let them loose with their devices. Part of the problem is that I work from home full time, and when the kids are around, I’ve defaulted to letting them watch TV and or play video games so I can work in relative peace. Bad habit. I also have a chronic illness and tend to wear myself out during the day, so I’m just plain done by the time the kids get home from school.

In a much-needed effort to get control back of the screens, I’m going to start curbing TV time in part by setting regular work hours for myself, something I’ve never really done. I work a regular work day, usually 9 a.m. to around 5 p.m., but then I often keep my devices with me “just in case” I’m needed. I’m never really off. My office is *right there* plus my laptop can follow me anywhere. If I have some better boundaries with solid work hours, it’ll be easier to come up with screen-less activities for my kids to do while I’m busy, and hopefully it will preserve some of my energy to actually interact fully with them when I’m not working. This is going to be even more important in a few weeks when the kids get out of school for the summer (cue the horror movie music).

The boys will also have a screen time “cap” per day. They will need to earn that screen time with daily chores + outdoor time + homework, and if no homework from school, they’ll get to do a few pages of grade-appropriate workbooks. (Those workbooks arrived yesterday. Needless to say, the kids were NOT amused!) I’m also going to encourage them to go play in their rooms — you know, with all those toys they never touch. The way I played when I was a kid… analog.

A tactic I used when they were younger is the Tech Ticket. You may have seen Tech Tickets or TV punch cards elsewhere, and I got this idea from Pinterest. I created my own Tech Ticket, with spaces for 10 30-minute sessions where the kids can play video games, surf on the computer, or watch TV, whether it’s Netflix, a DVD, or Hulu. Basically, it’s 1 hour a day, 5 days a week.

We’ve used the Tech Tickets for weekdays during school weeks, though it would be great to implement before summer. I thought I was going to be met with resistance, but both my boys were intrigued with the idea. I did offer a “surprise” if they could get through the week without using all their punches. tech_ticket.indd

I’m offering my Tech Ticket as a pdf download below — just print it off and cut the tickets apart, one ticket per kid. There are 8 tickets per page. Use a hole punch or marker to mark off each 30-minute increment the kids use. I printed mine on random colored cardstock to make it fun.

What are your best tactics for curbing kids’ screen time? How have your kids gotten into the habit of being screen-free? Share in the comments!

How I Answered the Call to Give Up “Stuff” and Gained Freedom in the Process

Photo by Austin Chan on UnsplashThis is a guest post by Nicole Akers.

Recently Sandy asked us to take part in her Lenten Challenge and, regardless of whether you’re a Christian or not, we all probably have extra stuff lying around. Some of it is holding you back. Wouldn’t it be great to be free of it?

Before I share our story, I need to put this in proper perspective: it’s important to know that we’re weird. My family took a backpacking trip a few years ago, and we’ve been longing — aching really — to get back to the place we feel we belong. We took Sandy’s challenge because our lease is up and we’re on the move again. Our challenge results were astounding!

So you’re probably wondering what we did, sold, or got rid of at bake sales and garage sales to create such amazing results. Here’s how we embarked upon our Modern Simplicity downsizing decluttering detox of “stuff.”  

Clothing and Accessories

We quickly went through all closets with a precursory “pull and bag” approach. Speed is key here. Don’t overthink it. The criteria was simple. If we haven’t worn it in a year or more, it goes in the bag.

At the beginning of each calendar year, we turn our hangers backward. As we wear and launder clothing, it gets hung up properly. We took a quick run-through, and anything that faced backward got bagged quickly.

Next, we went back through the closets and took a tiny bit more time. The criteria this time is do I really like this piece? If it’s something hanging around because the kids, the spouse, parents, or in-laws gave it to you, and you keep it because you feel obligated to wear it when you see them, it’s time to bag it. Don’t let that stuff hold you back. Someone will buy it at Goodwill.

We took a short time to go through kids clothing we thought would be passed down from one kid to another and re-evaluated usage. This kid hates jeans the other one loved. The jeans are gone, along with anything else that no longer makes sense.


I can’t tell you how many email lists I unsubscribed from during this time. The criteria:

  • Is this information really valuable?
  • When did I last open this email?
  • Will it cost more time to unsubscribe than it will to keep hitting delete?

My inbox has information I consume and that alone is a valuable time-saving feature. What if I want information about that one topic? Google will help you find it within minutes when you need it.

We are a family that loves books. We cuddle together and read most nights. We have young kids, and reading together is one of our favorite past times.

The criteria:

  • Will I ever read it again?
  • Do I really need it?
  • Will I be able to borrow it from the library?
  • Do I have a digital copy?

If it didn’t fit the criteria, it got boxed for Goodwill or given to the church. We also made a substantial donation to our local library and received tax receipts in return for multiple donations. The most special books we want to keep, including kid’s favorite early readers, have been downsized into one box.


We live in a 997-square-foot apartment. We don’t have a lot of extra stuff. We still managed to sell three desks, all IKEA-style furniture. A flat surface with legs on one end and placed atop a cabinet on the other side to assemble a desk. Both girls had one in the house we sold and another was my sewing desk. I sold the sewing machine earlier this year and the girls share a bedroom now. They were disassembled and in the back of a closet. We sold every one of them on the 5-miles app.  

We sold other things too. My husband’s Grateful Dead prints, guitars, and amplifiers are gone. We sold knife collections, plate collections, coats, and a keyboard. We sold our Canon cameras, lenses, and tripods. Who carries a camera these days anyway? Don’t you use your phone? My phone isn’t the latest generation, and it has an 18-megapixel camera. It’s better quality than the cameras we sold, and it fits in my pocket. We also sold sewing accessories and the couch.

Are you thinking whoa, we went too far? The couch didn’t fit well where it was placed. It was a 13-year-old leather La-Z-Boy piece. It was broken and repaired in a previous move, and it is unlikely to survive another move. $400 for a whole couch is better than storing or moving a broken one. What do we sit on now? The love seat. We usually all cuddle together after dinner for story time, and we brought out the lay bags for times we all want more personal space. Trust me, no one is suffering. The girls love their lay bags.

The bathroom and kitchen

We went through the bathroom cabinets and pantry in the same fashion and acknowledged that we need to stop buying a lot of things at warehouse stores. There are certain foods that we can’t eat due to food triggers, and there was expired medicine. In rapid-fire-motion, we disposed of anything that cannot be used. It was fun too. It’s a lot of work to go through this process, so have some fun with it. We played basketball as we aimed items toward the garbage bag. Sometimes the bag moved or needed a rebound player. Have fun and everyone wins.

We brought useful items into plain sight. Extra bottles of body wash were inventoried and removed from the shopping list. Medicine, especially kids’ medicine, got moved to the kitchen. When the kiddo spikes a fever while you’re out, you don’t stop at the corner convenience store if you know three bottles of acetaminophen are at home. You beat a path home as fast as possible, administer medicine, and order rest.

We made really creative recipes to consume other ingredients in the kitchen. Dry beans, quinoa, rice, and a can of pumpkin were used in delicious, unexpected ways. We sold small kitchen appliances like the pasta maker.

Sentimental items/kid stuff

If it still matters for the right reasons and isn’t holding us back, it’s probably worth keeping. The most helpful item we purchased was a tiny scanner. It cost a couple hundred dollars and saved infinite amounts of space.

We eliminated more than 10 years of tax forms. They have been scanned and sent to the cloud. Paid off notes, mortgages, deeds, all scanned and shredded.

A thrilling rainy weekend was spent going through old photos and scrapbooks. We laughed and cried at events and weddings we’ve attended. Milestones for the girls were re-visited. Special occasions were re-lived. We haven’t looked at some of these pictures for many years. We experienced freedom as we took pictures of drawings and school projects. Once digital copies were uploaded to the cloud, we let go of the physical items. We have them at our fingertips and can pull them up anytime, anywhere.


We gave up stuff until it hurt, then we kept going. Things that hurt were fabric remnants I was holding from creations I made the girls. I kept a bit of fabric from every article, blanket, and book I ever made them. It was going to be made into a hodgepodge quilt. It’s a one of those days project that was about me. The important part is that the girls remember that Mom made one-of-a-kind creations with love. I am confident they will remember Christmas, Easter, birthday dresses, and other special creations.

My dad recently gave me the leaf collection he and I made together in sixth grade. The time we spent together must be memorable to him too because the album is in mint condition 30-some-years later. I didn’t send it to Goodwill. I am offering it back to Dad for safekeeping.

The same with my college scrapbook. It is being offered to Mom along with a quilt I made. She will cuddle under it every night and feel like she is getting a hug from me.


If we tripped over it or didn’t use it, we sold it. We are significantly lighter and our wallet is heavier. We earned more than $1,700 and that’s after a road trip back home for Spring Break to visit family. We paid cash for any trip expenses from stuff we sold.

Is there irony in the 1600+ word count to share a story about downsizing stuff? Probably so.  

If you had the opportunity to trade your stuff for money and freedom would you do it? Tell us in the comments.

Nicole AkersNicole is founder of and spends her time helping writers grow their audiences through crowdsourcing readership. She’s also a health advocate at WeTalkHealthy who helps you tip the scales in your favor through healthier living. You can connect with her on Medium, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn.

Yes, I’m Asking You to Get Rid of Your Books

Yes, I’m Asking You To Get Rid Of Your BooksIf I asked you to declutter your books, would your first reaction be horror? Books are the single most controversial category of any decluttering project, whether it’s home or office. For some reason, we can’t bear the thought of getting rid of our books, even if we rarely pick them up and read.

Books hold a sacred space in our hearts, and in our homes. But it’s important to recognize that books can, and should, be decluttered with every other category in your home.

Why is it that books are so difficult to part with? Maybe it’s because books hold so much knowledge. Maybe it’s because they can take us to new and exciting worlds. Or maybe it’s because books can be comfortable friends in hard times. Maybe it’s all three.

But books are just objects, and we shouldn’t let them have some supernatural hold on us when it’s time to clear away the excess. Unless it’s a one-of-a-kind volume or a first-edition autographed copy, it can be easily replaced. Or even better, borrowed, should the need arise.

Pass them on

The best way to part with the books you’re finished with is to pass them along to someone else. Give them to a friend who’d appreciate them or pass children’s books along to younger friends. It’s so much fun to enjoy a special book and then share it with someone you love.

Passing books on singly can take forever, especially if you have a lot to unload or there isn’t anyone you think would enjoy or use them. There are fantastic ways to pass on books in bulk in ways that will still be meaningful.

My favorite way to pass along books is to the local library. I have a special place in my heart for libraries — one of my first jobs as an adult was as a marketing editor and designer in a metropolitan library, and I loved it. Libraries are often looking for funding, so donations of books are much appreciated. Books that can’t be added to the library’s collection are often sold in used book sales for library funds.

Sell them

Do you have some rare or expensive volumes you no longer need? Selling could be a good option, either to a local used bookstore or online to a collector. There are websites where you can list your books for sale using the ISBN and set your own price. Textbooks that are current and in good condition can be sold to students or student bookstores.


I know, the mere mention of trashing books is sacrilege, but hear me out. Some books are just too worn to pass along or sell, maybe missing pages or with a broken spine. Some books are out of date, with outdated information that is no longer useful. Think of those old sets of encyclopedias in the attic. There are much easier ways to get more accurate information that pawing through old encyclopedia volumes. In these cases, recycling may be the better option.

Kids books

Kids go through books almost as fast as they outgrow clothes, especially if your kids are avid readers. A wonderful place to donate children’s books are school libraries, after school or church programs, and preschools. Kids’ books take a beating, so these places are always looking for replacements.

Go digital

So you still want to keep “all the books!” There IS an easy way to have your books and easily store them too. I love books as much as anyone (I am a writer after all), and I’ve chosen to go mostly digital with my books. I lost many of my hard copy books in a house fire, and it was a great comfort to realize that my Kindle library was untouched. Since then, I’ve defaulted to the safety and security of digital books. You can read more about my house fire, as well as how others have been impacted by similar tragedies, in this guest post I wrote for Becoming Minimalist.

With the variety of e-readers available, it’s easy to find one that is a comfortable read for you. I read almost everything on an iPad Mini, which is my constant companion. I went Mini so it would fit in my purse but still be large enough to read comfortably. The screen is about the size of a standard paperback, plus I can adjust fonts, text size, even the color of the background, to suit however I’m feeling. I can still highlight lines with the benefit of being able to unhighlight at any time. I can make notes or add bookmarks. The simplicity and minimalist nature of digital appeal to me on every level.

It’s an incredible marvel to me that I can carry an entire library, hundreds of books, in one device. Add in the security of backing up books to the cloud and the eco-friendly nature of going paperless, and I’m hooked on digital.

Do I still have paper books? Of course! A few favorite volumes, autographed copies from many of my favorite writers and author friends, and books I expect to read and pass along. I love libraries — the smell of the older books and the nostalgic feeling I get wandering the stacks. Sometimes, the greatest pleasure is cracking open a new book. But let’s not put books up on some pedestal that can’t be decluttered.