Home Decor

A Busy Mom's Guide to Back to School Cleaning (+ Free Checklist!)

A Busy Mom's Guide to Back to School Cleaning | Writing Between Pauses

Back to School season is officially here! While I know many schools in the United States have already started, here in Oregon, school never starts before Labor Day. (And I am still thrown by those mid-August start dates from my friends!)

For many moms, back to school season is time to get everything back in order. The kids have a schedule again (that you don’t have to set yourself!), you have a little more free time or wiggle room in your schedule, and you’ll spend about 50% less on groceries now that you aren’t having to feed them 400 snacks a day. (I always thought that joke about kids snacking constantly in summer was a myth. Then I had a kid of my own and they really do snack more in summer.)

Even if you’re not a mom, there is just something about September, isn’t there? The weather is changing; summer is over; it feels like time to get serious again.

Every September or October, I do a massive deep clean on my house. I mean massive. Moving furniture. Shampooing carpets. Washing all my rugs. Organizing the closets that I’ve been throwing things into and closing the door on with my eyes closed. It makes a huge difference to how my home feels once the holidays roll around.

I wanted to share my tips for taking on a big, back-to-school (or just September!) deep clean. I know cleaning isn’t everyone’s forte. Some people hate it; some people just don’t think about it. But there is nothing like a clean, organized home for your mental health. Some people just are naturally messy or disorganized, but getting your house cleaned up can be great for feeling more productive or overcoming a mental health speed bump.

For me, cleaning is a stress release. It makes me feel better. An overly cluttered home makes me feel incredibly stressed. However, I’m also not perfect; sometimes I find it easier to take advice from people who are doing their best (and have a few messy rooms they let go because, why bother?! I’m busy!) and finding ways to be happy without it being 100% clean 100% of the time.

If this is the same for you, let me provide my guide for a big, massive deep clean to start your Fall and Winter right.

1. Start with a Game Plan

I’m a planner. I like to start everything with a list and a plan to make sure I have all my ducks in a row and everything in order. When it comes to my big back to school (or pre-holiday, if you will) deep clean, I like to have a specific plan in order to make sure I don’t have anything that could distract me from my purpose. Basically, here’s a rundown:

  • Schedule a week to spend deep cleaning. For me, this is either the second full week in September or the first week in December. Historically, that’s what it’s worked out to, because it’s when I have childcare & Danny is back at work. (Funny how Danny is a bigger distraction than Forrest!) Making sure I have a week off where I am not working has always been the most important part of my deep clean. Yes, I could probably cram it into a weekend… but it’s much more fun to have time off. Plus, scheduling it in advance means I’m more likely to do it.

  • Make arrangements to have a babysitter. If you have a child, then get that babysitter or childcare lined up! Paying for a babysitter for a week, if you’re a SAHM, or keeping your pre-existing childcare, if you work, is important for making sure you have no distractions. Plus, it’s so nice to have time for yourself to tidy your home. Maybe you can sneak in some self-care or trashy TV too.

  • Make a priority list. Usually, my deep clean has a focus. I want to get everything looking amazing for the holidays; I want to reorganize the living room; or I want to make sure our closets and garage are ready for a big clean out. Whatever it is, I make a list of my priority rooms and areas.

  • Download a few podcasts, audio books, tv shows, or movies. I like to have something playing while I clean. While I fold laundry and clean out my appliances, I often listen to podcasts or new music that I’ve been intending to. While I’m vacuuming or really getting into scrubbing, I like a movie or TV show that I don’t need to follow 100%. No matter what you like, get some media ready and lined up so you can listen and enjoy while you work.

2. Work in Order of Room

Everyone has a priority list (as discussed); now, make your list in order of those priorities. For me, I feel like my house is most clean when my kitchen and living room are in order, because those are our most used rooms. After that, it’s pretty much workspaces, bathrooms, and bedrooms. So, here’s the order I usually deep clean in:

  • Kitchen

  • Living room

  • Kitchen pantry & entryway closet

  • Office

  • Bedrooms & bathrooms

  • Garage

  • Other closets

This helps me, again, have a game plan. I might split it up into days. Say I have 3 days off from work to get it done. I’ll focus on the kitchen, living room, and pantry the first day. The second day, I’ll hit the office and bedrooms, as well as the bathrooms. Then on the third day, it’s time for the garage and closets, which often are the most tedious (because it’s just cleaning out). If I have an extra day, I’ll do all the laundry I cleaned out, bag up Goodwill stuff, and do Goodwill runs all day. Otherwise, that’s stuff I can do at home with Forrest.

To me, knowing the order I want to go in keeps me from getting distracted. Say I’m empty the dishwasher and putting stuff away, then remember we have some water glasses upstairs; I’ll run up and grab those, then remember I need to grab the dirty towels for the laundry; I’ll throw them in the washing machine, then notice a basket of clothes that need folded; I’ll carry those downstairs and start cleaning up the living room because I hate sitting in the living room when it’s messy; then I’ll notice how dusty the TV is and start dusting… and on and on until an hour later, I realize the dishwasher is still half emptied.

3. My Favorite Products

When it comes to cleaning products, I like to keep it simple. Yes, you can find some really good specialized products out there, but when it comes down to it, having a set of the basics is just so much easier than buying tons and tons of stuff and having to organize that as well. Here is everything I keep on hand for my day-to-day cleaning and my big deep cleans.

  • Mrs. Meyer’s Everyday Cleaner - I use this for everything. Instead of bleach or similar cleaners, I like this for my counters and appliances. We have stainless steel appliances, so once every few months, I might use a specialized stainless steel cleaner. But I have found that this works just as well for my cooktop, sink, and more.

  • Mrs. Meyer’s Lemon Verbena Window Cleaner - I love a good window cleaner and this one is my favorite, plus it smells amazing.

  • Lysol Toilet Bowl Cleaner - I have tried every all-natural cleaner (like Mrs. Meyers & Method) and none of them work quite as good as Lysol. I try not to clean my toilets more than once a week, as I try not to put too much chemical cleaner into the water table, but I also want stuff clean, you know? Plus, I found that sometimes the scented Mrs. Meyers toilet cleaners made me gag. I don’t know what that was about, but… better safe than sorry.

  • Method Foaming Bathroom Cleaner - For showers & tubs, this really can’t be beat. The Eucalyptus and Mint scent is so good. I also use it on my kitchen sink every once and a while.

  • Method Squirt & Mop in Eucalyptus Mint - This is one of my favorite cleaning products of all time. I hate mopping, but our entire downstairs is hardwood now, so I have to mop at least once and while. This makes it easy! No bucket, no heavy mop. I usually just wrap a towel around my usual Swiffer and spray this, then mop over. Easy as pie.

  • Swiffer Dusters - the best dusting device out there. I use the heavy duty ones, but the regular ones work great as well.

  • Swiffer Heavy Duty - since we have a large inside dog, we need to use a Swiffer a lot. I have found that a Swiffer is much more effective than vacuuming hardwood floors. The heavy duty ones pick up a ton of dog hair and make it so, so easy.

  • Mr. Clean Magic Eraser - We have hard water, so our sinks and showers often need extra scrubbing. Magic erasers are really the only thing that works without me having to break my back.

  • Scrub Daddy Sponge Daddy - These are the best spongers ever made. I don’t like the classic smiley Scrub Daddies. These ones are sponges with a scrub on the other side. I seriously love them.

That’s it! That’s my tried-and-true, every day arsenal, not including basics like laundry detergent, a vacuum, rags… you know, basic stuff.

4. Keeping It Clean

Once you’re done with your deep clean, here’s the thing: it is possible to keep it mostly clean. Here are a few of my tips

Establish a schedule throughout the week.

Every day, I try to do little things to keep my house clean. Daily, I wipe down my kitchen counters, wash dishes, and empty the dish strainer (put the dishes away, basically), as well as clean my living room and wipe down the bathroom sinks. Every weekend, I vacuum upstairs, Swiffer downstairs, vacuum the rugs, and run the dishwasher and do laundry.

Little cleaning, often, is more effective than waiting weeks to deep clean.

That bit about the schedule? Doing little cleaning tasks every week will keep deep cleans from being stressful, awful affairs. Cleaning toilets once a week, wiping down the shower when you get out, wiping down your appliances, and cleaning your fridge once a month means you won’t have a monster growing somewhere waiting for your next deep clean.

Find storage solutions that work for you.

I hate prescriptive storage blog posts; what works for me and my closets won’t necessarily work for you and your closets. My recommendation is to assess what you need to store in each closet, then find a solution for you. I typically buy all my organization stuff at the Dollar Store; no, it won’t be as cute as something from elsewhere, but ultimately, it’s not about how cute it is… it’s about it working in your space. Plus, it’s a closet; no one is even looking in there!

Decorate your space.

Having your space look exactly how you want it goes a long way towards you feeling proud about it. So, decorate! Really focus on making the space yours, even if it’s not trendy or what you see on Pinterest. As long as you love it, that’s what matters.

5. Download my cleaning checklist.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed and need a place to start with cleaning, I’ve made a handy-dandy checklist for a few major rooms in your house. Click below to download!

3 Best Candles for Autumn

3 Best Candles for Autumn | Writing Between Pauses

It’s finally here: Blogtober (and October). This is the month I look forward to most throughout the year: it’s my birthday month, the start of the holiday season for me, and include Halloween, one of my favorite holidays. I love the colors of falling leaves; I love pumpkin patches; I love warm, spicy scented candles, orange holiday lights, thick scarves, and boots. I love everything about Autumn.

I’ve been looking forward to Blogtober for ages. It hasn’t been far from my mind since the beginning of August. Yep, that’s when I started making graphics, drafting posts, and getting everything scheduled. I know that seems quite early, but posting every single day takes a lot of advanced effort!

Without further ado, let’s jump into the first post: 3 candles perfect for your home, apartment, or bedroom this season. When picking scents, I stuck to my favorites: I like sweet, spicy scents, as well as more herbals scents. I hope you love these ones as much as I do! And don’t forget to leave me your favorites in the comments.

1. Leaves from Bath & Body Works

If I had to say a favorite candle from Bath & Body Works, it would be this one (or maybe Kitchen Spice, which they don’t make anymore). Leaves is scented with apple, nectar, and clove spices, making it the perfect almost apple cider scent: not too apple-y, not to sweet, very Autumnal. To me, this candle can also smell very pumpkin-like, as well as that smell of crisp leaves. Nothing gets me in the Fall spirit quite like this candle!

2. Hickory Clove from Decoware

My husband picked out this candle--and he picked a winner. I’m a huge fan of the smell of clove; it is so perfectly spicy. It reminds me of gingerbread! This candle promises “musk-infused oakwood” scent with “warm amber, spiced evergreen, and autumn herbs alongside clove and vanilla bourbon.” It reminds me a lot of the Spiced Bourbon candle that I got at Bath & Body Works last year! It is absolutely lovely. We’ve been enjoying having it in our bedroom the last month or so.

3. Sage & Citrus from Yankee Candle

I rarely buy Yankee Candles full price; you can often find them at stores like TJ Maxx for about half off, which is pretty decent. That’s how I found this Sage & Citrus scented candle. This is a less stereotypical Fall scent, but if you’re looking for something that is a little more herby and light, it is absolutely perfect. I love the smell of citrus, but especially around Autumn, I like for everything to be more orange-scented. This candle has notes of lavender, as well as patchouli and musk, so it’s perfect for a more “masculine” scent.

Product Review: Maxwell USB Floor Lamp from Brightech*

Product Review: Maxwell USB Floor Lamp from Brightech* | Writing Between Pauses

A few weeks ago, I got an email from Brightech** asking if I'd like to test out one of their lamps.

Home decor is one of those areas I really love, but with a toddler, is one of the areas of my life where I feel everything is severely lacking. We still have a combination of college leftovers (the two bookshelves in my photos are both hand-me-downs that I had in my apartment in college!), hand-me-downs, and things purchased purely out of need, rather than aesthetic design. 

We have recently been trying to clean up our house and get rid of our mish-mashed furniture. Our dining room table finally matches our china cabinet, for example; our entertainment center in the living room is finally a functional piece of furniture, rather than something that was falling apart. It has been a slow and steady process, mainly because we don't really have the money to buy all new furniture! 

One thing we needed in our living room was some kind of additional lighting--which is why that email from Brightech felt very serendipitous! 

With a toddler, we don't like to have table lamps, as they can be easily pulled down (and the more cords we have, the more problems). We wanted to get a floor lamp that we could eventually transition to another part of our house or repurpose later on. 

So, that's what led me to pick the Maxwell USB Floor Lamp** in white from Brightech. 

I haven't mentioned this much, but Danny and I are going to be moving in about a year's time to a new house. I know, I know... it's very overwhelming. So everything we have right now isn't forever. We chose the Maxwell USB Floor Lamp with the intention of having it in our living room for a bit of extra light in the mornings; Forrest wakes up at 5:30 or so every day and our overhead lights are very bright. Not a gentle wake up for anyone! The Maxwell gives us a good bit of light while also being very functional. 

In the new house next year, I plan to put the Maxwell lamp in my office; I already have a vision for what I want my new office to look like (yes, I'll get my own dedicated office!) and the Maxwell fits in perfectly. I like that it can be both incredibly functional and part of the design of a room itself. 

Right now, I don't love where I have it in our house; however, again, with a toddler who is running at top speed with little foresight to something like cords, we didn't want to have it beside our couch (where I originally wanted). I knew that Forrest would trip on it!

Brightech Maxwell lamp
Lamp with USB Charger

However, my favorite part about is the USB charging ports on the top. There is a plug in, which means I can use it for some Christmas lights in the next few months; there are also USB ports for cell phone chargers. This makes it super handy to listen to podcasts or books while folding laundry, cleaning the living room, or just playing with Forrest. 

Brightech has lots of great lamps that are just as beautiful and functional as the Maxwell; they eve have a great selection of string lights**. When we move into our house next week, we have some big plans for a backyard and I'm really excited to get some Edison lights**. 

Even better, shipping from Brightech was fast (like, really fast) and assembling the lamp went really easy as well. Putting together furniture is always a test of a marriage and we didn't fight once while putting together the Maxwell. If that's not a testament to good instructions, I don't know what is! 

If you're looking for great, functional and beautiful lighting, I can't recommend Brightech** enough! 

Disclaimer: As usual, an asterisk (*) in the title of this post indicates a sponsored post. I received the Maxwell USB Floor Lamp from Brightech in exchange for review. However, all opinions remain my own! As well, links marked with a double asterisk (**) throughout this post are affiliate links, which means I receive a small commission for any purchases through that light. This helps me keep the lights on here at Writing Between Pauses! For more information about my disclosure policy, click here

Product Review: Photowall*

Product Review: Photowall* | Writing Between Pauses

If you're like me, you have photos of just about everything. I have more photos of Forrest than I truly care to admit to (it's numbering in the 10,000 range, ok?) and I have a lot of them printed. I am a little obsessed with creating collages of all kinds. I love being able to see photos throughout my house; I think it makes a house feel really warm and lovely to have photos everywhere. Plus, I just like showing off our cute little family!

So when I was approached by Photowall to review a product from their website, I jumped at the chance. 

Photowall is a Swedish-run website that produces wallpaper and canvas prints. They have hundreds of designs available, plus you can upload your own photos and have a canvas printed with that photo! There are lots of websites that do this and I have used them before--but I'll be honest, Photowall is the highest quality canvas I've ever received!

Photowall Review 1 | Writing Between Pauses

It took me what felt like forever to choose an image for my canvas! I originally wanted to have a family portrait printed, but I couldn't decide on one, many of my photos (being from my iPhone) were just a bit too low resolution, and I really hemmed and hawed. Then I started browsing Photowall's catalogue of available prints and realized there were so many options! I almost got a floral design; I almost got a print of Portland, OR's skyline; and then, I found this one. 

It's a grove of aspens with yellow leaves. As we all are probably aware of at this point, I love Autumn--and I have a grey painted wall in my living room. I love grey and yellow together; my kitchen is grey and yellow themed. So it seemed perfect to get this canvas and do a little redesign in my living room. 

Ordering was super easy; you choose your print, or upload a photo, choose your sign, pay, and that's it! Shipping was super fast too. I ordered this on a weekend, I believe, and it arrived on the following Friday. 

When it arrived, my husband said, "this is way too small for a canvas!" That's because Photowall ships with everything for you to stretch your canvas yourself. You have a roll of canvas and a few pieces of wood for the frame, plus screws to secure it together and a hanger for mounting on the wall. Putting it together was super easy and the instructions were very clear. It was also really fun! 

In the future, I think I would go bigger; I got the smallest size canvas, as I just wasn't sure how it would look in the space (it's a little less than 16 inches). I definitely wish I had gone 24 inches or larger, I think it would work just as well! But I really love how it looks and I feel like I'm slowly but surely sprucing up our living room to look like grown ups (and not just a toddler) live here. 

If you'd like to try Photowall, just visit their website here and use my code MichelleLockeCampaign2018 for 20% off your order. My code is only available until the end of April, so order soon! 

*Disclaimer: As always, the asterisk (*) in the title of this post denotes that I received product from Photowall in exchange for a review. However, all thoughts and opinions remain my own. I really love Photowall and hope you will too! 

3 Ways to Spruce Up Your House for Autumn

3 Ways to Spruce Up Your House for Autumn | Writing Between Pauses

Every year, I take on a few Autumn crafts. Mainly, it's just fun to make something to decorate your house with. I keep a collection of potential crafts throughout the year and then once Autumn roles around, I pick my favorites. 

This year, I'm sticking to some kid-friendly crafts so Forrest can help me with them. However, here are 3 that I'm going to take on in the evenings sans Forrest! 

1. Paper Leaf Wall Hanging

This is so cute! It uses watercolor paper (perfect for older kids to take on) and then a cutting machine to create them. However, I really think you could just use a larger leaf pattern and cut them out by hand. Click here

2. Autumn Candle DIY

This is a super easy craft! You can buy the supplies for it at the dollar store too, which is really cool, and it would make a great Thanksgiving centerpiece. Click here

3. Autumn Embroidery DIY

I'm really into embroidery lately and this craft would definitely be a little bit more of a challenge for me! It's so cute and would be perfect for the entirety of Fall and Winter. Click here

Things I Love: Seasonal Scents

Things I Love: Seasonal Scents

A few weeks ago, I posted a thread on Twitter about the scents I like in my home during specific seasons. I, luckily, live in a place with 4 distinct seasons and for that reason, I'm very particular about home decor and smells during those seasons. I get very caught up in the whimsy of changing seasons and what each one represents. If you want to see my original Twitter thread, click here. (And share your favorite scents with me there too! Why not!?) 

I thought it would be fun to do a round up of my favorite candles, air filters, and more to help bring these seasonal scents home. Here they are. 

Summer

My favorite scents in the summer are fruity, citrusy smells: lemon and orange, specifically, but also pineapple and coconut, as well as mint, eucalyptus (very clean), and even something kind of smoky, like a musk or bergamot. 

Fall

Fall is my favorite season and, therefore, contains my favorite scents: flannel shirts, crunchy leaves, foggy early air, cinnamon, caramel, sandalwood, and bergamot. Deeper, rich, spicy scents alongside smoother, sweeter ones. 

Winter

Winter is my second favorite season, so, obviously, these are my second favorite scents. Because I celebrate Christmas, a lot of my scent memory comes from Christmas. That means, evergreen trees, pine needles, cloves and ginger, coffee, cinnamon rolls, and the smell of wrapping paper. One of my friends on Twitter pointed out one of the smells of Winter: that smell when you first turn the heating on in your car or house after a long time. It's that dusty, dry, warm smell. It's so distinctly wintery. 

  • From Yankee Candle, the Winter Glow candle is so perfect. Oranges, rosemary, cedar, amber, and spruce combine to give that perfect light, winter smell.  
  • Another Yankee: Soft Blanket has bergamot, blackberry, vanilla, rose, amber, and musk for that perfect mix of sweet and subtle. Great for a classy party. 
  • From Archipelago, the Black Forest Diffuser is a perfect moody winter scent. It combines black currant, ebony wood, and douglas fir tree for a luxurious, cozy smell. 

Spring

Spring is not my favorite season. It's very ho-hum for me. However, there are still some scents I love, that make me think of Spring and Spring only. I always think of lemon soap (different from lemons!), roses, linen, rain, and the smell of wet roads. 

  • From Archipelago, the Magnolia Diffuser has the perfect smell of a magnolia flower tree. It's also very classy looking and perfect for hiding up on a shelf. 
  • From H&M (really), the No. 9 Tulip candle is a light, sweet, floral scent--very reminiscent of the Tulip Festival in Oregon every year! 
  • The Mineral Springs candle from Bath & Body Works is a really unexpectedly amazing smell: mineral water, water lily, and a dash of lime. It's fresh without being over scented.