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I can be a stickler when it comes to ‘stuff’. My husband regularly finds me filling garbage bags with forgotten toys and oft-ignored clothes to be donated, and I’m the first one to recommend tossing something left out on the counter too long.


The fact is—my family’s ‘stuff’ gives me anxiety.

While I dream of gliding through a neat-as-a-pin kitchen, nary a toy or migrant sock to be found on the floor, my real life seems to consist of a near constant stream of scooping up dress-up clothes and dog toys and biting my nails every time a new toddler-sized armful of stuffed animals makes its way onto the ottoman.

Without even getting up from my computer, I can tell you that I have 12 bins of baby clothes in the basement that my daughter has outgrown taking up two full-sized wire racks against one wall.

The fact that I could have another baby who is a boy, meaning I saved all those clothes for years for nothing, actually makes my eye twitch if I think about it too hard.

The day-to-day mess of motherhood usually starts small—a discarded pair of pajamas thrown over the back of a chair. A handful of Magna Tiles scattered across the living room rug. A rogue horse figurine peeking out from under the kitchen table.

Within a day (or sometimes hours), though, the ‘stuff’ has taken over. It seems as though no surface has escaped my family’s “decorating,” with unopened mail and dirty cups littering the countertops while a half-filled coloring book and a pack of uncapped Color Wonder markers mingle on the floor near the couch (which has recently been shaken down of its normally neat throw pillows).

While the rational part of my brain knows this family clutter is par for the mama course, the fact remains: I’m seriously stressed in my own home.

I love organization. I could spend hours in the Target storage section. I thrill at decluttering, and I have a box of color-coded labels in my home at all times. (It’s labeled: “Labels.” No lie.) I harbor a secret dream of one day being a true minimalist.

But somehow this whole “real life” thing seems to keep getting in the way.

Sometimes it feels like the only part of motherhood that I don’t enjoy is the amount of stuff it has foisted upon me. The toys and crafts and strollers and blankets and equipment. And I say this as someone who makes a conscious effort not to buy anything I don’t truly need. Because, truthfully, the ‘stuff’ saps my joy.

The irony is that, as a semi-professional organizer for friends and family, I am regularly preaching the effects clutter and ‘stuff’ has on the brain. Our brains crave areas of calm and “white space” to relax—constant stimulation is a recipe for constant stress. My clients often tell me they didn’t even realize how much anxiety their stuff was bringing into their lives until it was suddenly gone.

The truth is, I know my life will probably never be perfectly organized. And the amount of pure joy and satisfaction my family brings to my life will always outweigh the happiness a freshly tidied room brings, anyway. So I’m trying to relax.

I have found some peace. The minimalist mama movement is a breath of (uncluttered) air to me because it has allowed me to let go of any guilt I have about limiting my daughter’s toys.

I truly believe that having less to clean up frees me to be a better mother because it gives me more time to dedicate to my family—and also because it let me be a happier, less anxious person (and therefore a much better mom and wife).

By paring down toys, gear, clothes and even decorative items in my home, I’ve created a system that, even at its most cluttered, takes about 10 minutes to restore to order.

For my daughter, we’ve whittled things down to one visible (pretty!) basket of stuffed animals in her room and a shelf hidden in her closet with toys we take out on a rotation to keep them feeling new. The living room only has small blocks, drawing items and books we can keep in simple baskets on the book shelves (that also make it easier for her to clean up her own toys). Plus a beautiful dollhouse from her grandparents that matches the room’s aesthetic.

For my husband, I create simple organizational systems that fit his patterns—including hooks and baskets near the front door so he can crash land neatly after work. To avoid driving him completely insane with my type A tendencies, I’ve resigned half of the basement as his “man cave,” where he can be as messy as he likes because I rarely go down there. (Okay, I organize it every three months, but that seems pretty fair to me!)

For myself, well...I try to take a breath. While I fully buy into the benefits of living simply and doing what I can to keep the ‘stuff’ at bay, I also recognize that spending every waking second stressing about keeping things clean is not going to help my anxiety. I’ve learned to revel in the moments of disorder, not just because they typically result in a happier family, but also because learning to find that joy results in a happier me, too.

I’d love to say that, as time goes by, I’ve learned to let go of the mess. To not make a mountain out of a molehill of dirty laundry. But, for me, pretending not to care about the mess means just sitting in a house of hodgepodge horrors while my mind leaps from one mess to the next, wishing I could just clean it up.

Honestly, I’d rather just live my truth (Hi, I’m Justine, and I’m a chronic organizer) and find systems that work for me and my family.

The ‘stuff’ might always make me feel a little anxious, but the peace that comes when it’s all in its place? That’s pretty neat.

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Starting your child on solids can be a daunting process. Between the mixed advice that seems to come from every angle ("Thanks, Grandma, but pretty sure one dessert is enough…") to the at-times picky palates of our little ones, it can be tough on a mama trying to raise a kid with a sophisticated palate.

But raising an adventurous eater doesn't have to be a chore. In partnership with our friends at Raised Real, here are eight tips to naturally encourage your child to nibble and taste with courage.

1. Keep an open mind. 

As the parent, you set the tone for every bite. So stay positive! Raised Real makes it easy to work new and exciting ingredients into every meal, so you'll have plenty of opportunities to practice modeling open-minded eating. Instead of saying, "You might not like this" or "It's okay if you don't like it" from the start, keep your tone upbeat—or simply serve new dishes without any fanfare at all. (Toddlers can smell a tough sell from a mile away.) Either way, let your child decide for themselves how they feel about new dishes.

2. Show mealtime some respect. 

Spend less time in the kitchen and more time together at the table with Raised Real meals, which come prepped and ready to steam and blend. They're even delivered to your door—because they know how busy you are, mama. Think about it: Do you enjoy a meal you've had to rush through? Keep meals relaxed and let your child savor and taste one bite at a time to take any potential anxiety out of the equation. (This may mean you need to set aside more time than you think for dinner.)

3. Serve the same (vibrant) dish to the whole family.

Don't fall into the "short-order cook" trap. Instead of cooking a different meal for every family member, serve one dish that everyone can enjoy. Seeing his parents eating a dish can be a simple way to encourage your little one to take a bite, even if he's never tried it before. Since Raised Real meals are made with real, whole ingredients, they can be the perfect inspiration for a meal you serve to the whole family.

4. Get kids involved in prepping the meal.

Raised Real's ingredients are simple to prepare, meaning even little hands can help with steaming and blending. When children help you cook, they feel more ownership over the food—and less like they're being forced into eating something unfamiliar. As they grow, have your children help with washing and stirring, while bigger kids can peel, season, and even chop with supervision. Oftentimes, they'll be so proud of what they've made they won't be able to wait to try it.

5. Minimize snacking and calorie-laden drinks before meals. 

Serving a new ingredient? Skip the snacks. Hungry kids are less picky kids, so make sure they're not coming to the table full when you're introducing a new flavor. It's also a good idea to serve in courses and start with the unfamiliar food when they're hungriest to temper any potential resistance.

6. Don’t be afraid to introduce seasoning!  

Raised Real meals come with fresh seasonings already added in so you can easily turn up the flavor. Cinnamon, basil, turmeric, and cumin are all great flavors to pique the palate from an early age, and adding a dash or two to your recipes can spice up an otherwise simple dish.

7. Make “just one bite” the goal. 

Don't stress if your toddler isn't cleaning their plate—if he's hungry, he'll eat. Raised Real meals are designed to train the palate, so even a bite or two can get the job done. Right now the most important thing is to broaden their horizons with new flavors.

8. Try and try and try again. 

Kids won't always like things the first time. (It can take up to 20 tries!) If your child turns up her nose at tikka masala the first time, that doesn't mean she'll never care for Indian food. So don't worry. And be sure to try every ingredient again another day—or the next time you get it in your Raised Real meal box!

Still not sure where to start? Raised Real takes the guesswork out of introducing a variety of solids by delivering dietician-designed, professionally prepped ingredients you simply steam, blend, and serve (or skip the blending for toddlers who are ready for finger foods)—that's why they're our favorite healthy meal hack for kids.

Raising an adventurous eating just got a whole lot simpler, mama.

This article is sponsored by Raised Real. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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I wasn't supposed to be a stay-at-home mom.

Or, to put it another way, I wasn't supposed to be a year-round, stay-at-home mom. My husband and I live in Los Angeles, and our rent and monthly bills require two paychecks.

By the time our son Ryan was born, I had been teaching for seven years. And there was no question that I'd continue to teach. Other teacher-moms told me that teaching was the "perfect" career for parents.

"Once he starts school, you and your son will have the same hours each day."

"You'll always be available when he's got a random day off from school."

"You'll spend vacations together."

"You know what your schedule is year-round. It's not like other jobs, where your schedule changes on a weekly basis."

Like my husband's schedule. Paul's retail career didn't provide the same consistent schedule, week after week, that my teaching career did. While Paul's schedule could be erratic, I would provide Ryan with a reliable, fixed routine.

And my colleagues were right.

Aside from a few exceptions, such as Parent-Teacher Conferences and Back-to-School Night, Ryan and I would have dinner together each night. I imagined us doing "homework" together each afternoon—Ryan doing actual homework, me grading my students' homework.

Because there are 180 school days, theoretically, that means that the other half of the year, I'd spend with Ryan. But again, there were some exceptions. I usually spent quite a bit of time each summer attending conferences, workshops, and professional developments. I always returned to my classroom several days before the start of the new school year to get everything ready.

Still, teaching would continue to provide our family with a needed second income, feed my passion for teaching, and allow me the opportunity to spend considerable time with my son each day, all year long.

If Ryan attended the same small, local elementary school where I taught, I'd never have to choose between my students and my son. We'd come and go to school together, I'd watch him walk with his class in our school's Halloween Parade, and he'd watch me walk with mine. I'd hear him and his class sing holiday songs during our winter performance, and he'd hear my class.

That was the plan.

But while Ryan was a preschooler, the plan changed.

I got sick with a "mystery illness" that took doctors almost a year and a half to diagnose. Eventually, my rheumatologist determined I suffered from Undifferentiated Connective Tissue Disease, an autoimmune disease. I tried to pretend that my disease didn't impact my life or require any major lifestyle changes. But I couldn't keep up the pretense. So, in 2013, after a 12-year teaching career, I retired due to a disability.

I wasn't merely forced to give up my career. I had to give up my passion. I was now thrust into the role of year-round, stay-at-home mom, and I wasn't completely sure how to do it.

Thankfully, my disability check would continue to provide us with some income and the matching schedules Ryan had grown accustomed to would continue as well. But there were a lot of changes.

I had never before been the person to take Ryan to preschool. That job had always fallen to either our nanny or Paul. Now, I had to learn the timetable for breakfast, and the morning routine of getting washed, dressed, and out of the house.

I also had to figure out what to do after preschool. When I was teaching, I came home in the late afternoon. Ryan and I had some play time and shortly after that, we would begin our nightly evening routine. Now, with preschool ending at two o'clock each afternoon, we would have hours together before it was time for dinner.

How would I fill that time?

I knew how to lesson plan for a class of 30-plus students. I knew how to fill school days with a mix of whole-group instruction, independent work, and cooperative group work. I had a pacing plan to adhere to, standards and concepts that I was mandated to teach on a

timetable to prepare my students for periodic assessments and yearly standardized testing. But how would I organize a single day that involved just Ryan and me?

Many colleagues told me to find the silver lining. I had a disability, but I had also been given a gift—the opportunity to be a full-time, stay-at-home mom. While that was true, it came at a price.

I felt confused because I wasn't accepting my new role with complete enthusiasm and pure delight. I alternated between feelings of guilt, anger, and frustration because it wasn't my choice. My doctor and the state of California told me I could no longer teach. And when someone tells you that you can or cannot do something, it means something entirely different than when the choice is your own.

While I love my son and am honored to be his mother, I didn't know how to reconcile the fact that mothering had now become my primary job every day. I wasn't sure how to accept and make sense of my new identity. Disabled woman. Former Teacher. Stay-at-home mom.

I've slowly come to realize that I'm still a teacher, but now my student roster consists of one, my son, and my classroom isn't always a room. Sometimes it's the library. Sometimes it's our kitchen. Sometimes it's our backyard.

Sometimes it's enough. Sometimes it isn't. But it is always an adventure.

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In the moments after we give birth, we desperately want to hear our baby cry. In the middle of the night a few months later it's no longer exactly music to our ears, but those cries aren't just telling us that baby needs a night feeding: They're also giving us a hint at what our children may sound like as kindergarteners, and adults.

New research published in the journal Biology Letters suggests the pitch of a 4-month-old's cry predicts the pitch they'll use to ask for more cookies at age five and maybe even later on as adults.

The study saw 2 to 5-month olds recorded while crying. Five years later, the researchers hit record again and chatted with the now speaking children. Their findings, combined with previous work on the subject, suggest it's possible to figure out what a baby's voice will sound like later in life, and that the pitch of our adult voices may be traceable back to the time we spend in utero. Further studies are needed, but scientists are very interested in how factors before birth can impact decades later.

"In utero, you have a lot of different things that can alter and impact your life — not only as a baby, but also at an adult stage," one of the authors of the study, Nicolas Mathevon, told the New York Times.

The New York Times also spoke with Carolyn Hodges, an assistant professor of anthropology at Boston University who was not involved in the study. According to Hodges, while voice pitch may not seem like a big deal, it impacts how we perceive people in very real ways.

Voice pitch is a factor in how attractive we think people are, how trustworthy. But why we find certain pitches more or less appealing isn't known. "There aren't many studies that address these questions, so that makes this research especially intriguing," Hodges said, adding that it "suggests that individual differences in voice pitch may have their origins very, very early in development."

So the pitch of that midnight cry may have been determined months ago, and it may determine part of your child's future, too. There are still so many things we don't know, but as parents we do know one thing: Our babies cries (as much as we don't want to hear them all the time) really are something special.

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Jessica Simpson will soon join the mom of three club! The singer-turned-fashion mogul announced on Instagram today that she is expecting a baby girl.

"This little baby girl will make us a family of five," said Simpson, who shares 6-year-old Maxwell and 5-year-old Ace with husband Eric Johnson. "We couldn't be happier to announce this precious blessing of life."

The news may come as a surprise to Simpson's fans, considering she's been pretty vocal about feeling as though her family was complete. "I have two beautiful children, and I'm not having a third," she told Ellen DeGeneres in 2017. "They're too cute. You can't top that."

Earlier this year, Simpson revealed to Entertainment Tonight she had developed a case of baby fever, but said it would "definitely have to be a miracle" to have a third baby. Today's joyful announcement is proof that plans can change and that's part of the fun of life. All that really matters is that Simpson's family—including the two big siblings—certainly seem excited.

Besides, the designer of a line for Motherhood Maternity shouldn't have any problem with being just as fashionable as ever through her third pregnancy. 😉

Congrats to the growing family!

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Pumpkin spice lattes are here and the weather is getting chillier. That can only mean one thing—Halloween is near! Whether you're a fan of the holiday or not, there's simply nothing more precious than dressing up your baby or toddler in an adorable costume.

Today only, Target has up to 40% off Halloween costumes for the entire family. We rounded up the cutest picks from the baby + toddler departments—check 'em out. 😍

Toddler Halloween Costumes: Shark

Shark costume, $15.00 (was $25.00)

BUY

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