Frozen Fish Sticks & Creating Order in Disorder

I think what’s in your bag can be quite telling about your current season of life.

I’m at Starbucks because the internet hasn’t been set up at our new house. (Maybe it will be turned on tomorrow, I’m hoping.)

So I’m standing in line at Starbucks to order my drink, and when I reach into my tote bag to get ready to pay, I find a bag of frozen fish sticks in there. There are fish sticks in my bag! It’s not my snack. They’re not even cooked, they’re frozen! It’s just so ridiculous, and of course I can’t be subtle about it, I have to show them to the cashier who has probably seen worse but he laughs anyway.

When I sit down at my table the power cord for my computer has a piece of blue painter’s tape stuck on it from all the painting we did last week. I have to get a picture of this. What you don’t see is my purse full of receipts. It’s just a traveling file folder for this home renovation.

We haven’t moved into our house yet because of the construction; we’ve been staying in the nearby town. With all of the traveling we did this year, we’ve lived out of suitcases for most of the last nine months. It will good to get into our own home again. The movers are bringing our stuff on Thursday. There are a few things we’ve missed, and we’ll be happy to have our own kitchen where we’ll cook more than frozen fish sticks.

I’ve come to rely on basic routines so much this month as we drive back and forth between houses, storing necessary things in the trunk of the car, trying to keep some basic organization in place as school starts. School brings so many more small things to do, it’s unbelievable. Trying to remember everything such as how the school library books need to be returned on Fridays, and she needs white t-shirts for field trips. I need a place to put all the papers that come home every day. I don’t even have a table for her to do her homework.

What has helped me is the routines that I knew before but didn’t need so desperately until now. Things like:

Transferring all the information from school flyers to my personal calendar so I have a few less papers to keep up with.

The after-school routine of checking her take-home folder and starting homework right away.

Trusting my decisions to act on information instead of stacking up papers and waiting until later.

Making do with only five outfits for each of us and getting the clothes ready for the week on Sunday night.

Keeping our clothes organized in the packing cubes from our trip while we’re staying at other people’s houses.

Twice-weekly visits to the library for more kids’ books and movies.

Putting the kids to bed an hour earlier to compensate for the early wake-up call.

Night-time showers and baths so we can get out the door before seven a.m. without feeling hurried.

Chicken taquitos.

Knowing this won’t go on forever. Neither Doug nor I want to live in a project. We want to get it all done so we won’t have home improvement projects to do every weekend for years. We’ll unpack our stuff and have furniture and places to sit. It’s almost ready.

What basic routines do you rely on when you need them the most?
About Rachel

I write about practical tips that will help you simplify at home. Connect with me on Pinterest and Twitter.


  1. Right you are! I look into my purse lately and wonder how I became Mary Poppins. No one needs to be THAT prepared for any emergency especially if it means I need a forklift for my purse. Here’s to settling into your new house and a giant exhale.

    • I love the Mary Poppins reference! That is exactly how I describe myself most the time.

      I personally have a love-hate relationship with the state of my purse. I love being prepared for the important things, yet rarely remember to take them out when they are no longer important. I’ve gotten into the habit on Saturday mornings to clear out my work week clutter and then Monday mornings clearing it out again from the weekend kid stuff. It’s a fine balance.

  2. “If things are bad, and getting worse
    Keep some fishsticks in your purse.”

    When things get frazzled in my brain (which is often these days), I grab onto a few small sure-things, the basic routines. Like, throwing a load of laundry in the wash right after breakfast, or having one no-brainer dinner available for the week, or knowing that after the kids are in bed and I’ve showered, I’m gonna sit down undisturbed and have nutella covered graham crackers and a glass of Silk.

    I like your list.

  3. Not having a routine can be really difficult, and September is a month that really requires hyper-organization (I’m a substitute teacher, so I get it).
    Sounds like you are doing great considering the circumstances, and you can only be expected to try your best. :)
    Can’t wait to see more home reno photos. Moving in is so exciting!

  4. I give you credit for being able to handle that! Not me! Bravo :) Let us know when you figure out how the fish sticks got in your purse…haha! Reminds me of the time I took our remote to school with me.

    Jenna´s last post…Simply Prudent

  5. I have a night-time routine that I do before bedtime. I wrote all the steps down on a piece of paper one time and stuck it up on the fridge. When I check the list, I often realize I’ve forgotten something. It makes getting out the door in the morning so much easier and quicker.

  6. Bravo to you for being able to handle that! I couldn’t :) Let us know when you figure out the fish sticks mystery. It reminds me of the time I accidentally brought the remote to school!

    Jenna´s last post…Simply Prudent

  7. I smile when I see a new post from Small Notebook at the top of my reader. I totally get the fish sticks in the pocketbook and it makes me feel like I’m not alone.


  8. Right now we’re packing for a move from Seattle to Oklahoma where we’ll temporarily live with my parents (YIKES). So trying to organize what goes in the storage pod, the unload at my parents pod, and what to pack in our two cars for the two week road trip (plus trying to keep out what we need day to day with a 6 week old baby) is quite the challenge! We have no schedule other than trying to take Tatum into the bedroom around 10 to wind her down and hopefully get her to sleep by 11ish…that’s about it! I’m excited for the adventure ahead, but I know I have 3 weeks of unpredictable-ness with no hope of a routine, lol!
    Kait Palmer´s last post…Bath time: A study of expressions

  9. On one of my last days at work I reached into my purse for a pen, and instead pulled out a fork. But frozen fish sticks takes the cake!

    I’m amazed that you’ve been able to live out of suitcases for so long. Hang in there, the end is in sight!

    Also if you have a magical secret for how you got your kids to go to bed an hour earlier, please share!
    Jessica @ Quirky Bookworm´s last post…Like Jane Austen, but funnier

  10. Hee hee! Maybe the fish sticks just wanted to see the outside world? Life’s so weird that all you can do is laugh–we’ve all been there!

    I rely on planning my outfits for the week on Sunday and making extra lunches and dinners on the weekends so I’m cooking less during the week. And a family calendar where everyone can see it is essential.
    Sage´s last post…Inspiration Monday: Rachel Bilson

  11. This has nothing to do with your post, really. I just wanted to say, as a former starbucks employee, I would have loved to interact with a customer willing to show me her fish sticks in her purse. Baristas live for that! Well, at least good barista do :)

  12. knowing this won’t go on forever (so true!)
    reading (nearly finished with Anna Karenina :-))
    walks every day, running every other day

    I love your posts! Thanks for sharing!
    Eliz. K´s last post…[a day that will always be in the present]

  13. My basic routine starts with a small but manageable checklist for the morning. If I can get dressed, read my Bible, fix a pot of coffee, and start a load of laundry before my son’s morning nap (or better yet, before he gets up!), then I’m doing pretty good.
    Amy´s last post…Get Prayers Answered!

  14. I love using the mom planner (a chorelist with check-offs) from I know that if I get overwrought, I can just go to the list and start doing something there, and I’ll get back on track. And I LOVE that it includes stuff like “clip children’s nails”.

  15. Running in the morning to start my day early and calm down my (almost four year old) puppy for the day.
    Making love to my partner.

  16. Karen van Zon says:

    I am actually laughing out loud here! Once, in a restaurant, my husband reached into our nappy bag (a rucksack which doubles as my handbag) for a bib. He first pulled out a U-shaped veg peeler. That confused him somewhat and the eyebrows came down. Then he pulled out a carrot and his eyebrows lifted and he nodded as if to say “Of course. That makes sense.”
    Only in a family with pre-schoolers…
    PS You will feel SO nice when you get into your new home. The nomadic life is fun for a while but it isn’t truly simple, especially with kids. Hold on, you’re getting there.

  17. Being in state of transition is such a challenge–you sound amazing under the circumstances. Homework in K? Yikes. That alone would put me over the edge.

  18. I understand. I just now started feeling energetic after 2 years living under our new-to-us home which is old and needs lots of work still. We have 3 kids. The youngest goes to kindergarten next year and I am so happy to have him home I cherish as many moemnts as I can. Hang in there. It gets better and you will find your niche.

  19. You are such an inspiration. I’m always so happy when you show up in my reader.

    Last week at work I was rummaging through my purse for something and found one of my 3 year old daughter’s socks. Just one. No idea how it got there and no idea where the other one was.

  20. I had a rolling-pin in my purse last week. Good luck with your move!
    Joanna´s last post…Stinky, Dirty Dishcloths Be Gone!

  21. Reading this I started wondering if I need to start implementing some routine in my life. Sure, there’s the “hit the snooze until I have five minutes before I have to leave for work” routine, as well as the “grab tuna, mayo, and bread to make lunch at work” but these “routines really aren’t working for me. Due to a sewage backup at our condo in May my hubby and I have been living in a hotel for the past four months. It gets very hard at times, and it’s only just us! I’m sure though if we implemented some routines life might be just a little easier and less stressy. Thanks!
    Amanda´s last post…Trying to juggle

    • Do you drink coffee? I found setting my coffee maker to go off 5 minutes before my alarm meant I woke up to the sound and smell of coffee brewing. It was much easier to get out of bed instead of hitting snooze so much when I had that to look forward to, even after I switched entirely to decaf.

      My trick for a while (when I had a 7am class and required a minimum of 2 hours to get ready in the morning due to blood sugar, medication and eating requirements) was to cook a breakfast casserole every Sunday, and store it in serving sizes for the week. I could pop a dish in the oven and it was done reheating by the time I’d finished my first cup of coffee and my stomach was settled enough to eat–and better yet, no microwave needed. But if I did nuke it and/or was running late, it only took as long as I needed to use the bathroom and fix my coffee.

      Really it just boils down to this: Mornings are better when breakfast doesn’t require brain cells.

  22. Awesome. I’ve written so many posts about this very thing because we’ve been in transition pretty much this entire past year. It feels good to finally be able to settle down and move a bit slower.

    Unfortunately, I lack a strong sense of rhythm when it comes to life. I find that if my apartment is tidy, I’m much more organized so that is usually the first thing to be done. Other than that, I just try to go with the flow, do as much as I can get done, and leave the rest for tomorrow (with no guilt).
    Jennie´s last post…How To Be a Really Good Grown-up

  23. Your getting it done ability is simply amazing – fish sticks are the last thing to think about!!! You are totally renovating a house and still living your life amazing and getting out of the house by 7 am is staggering!!!! Maybe if I spent a few months in Italy then I would be up by 7… No. You really are just so very good at doing what you do!!! I am sure you can’t wait to feel settled!!!
    se7en´s last post…Saturday Spot: Roald Dahl Inspiration Tray and Peachy Insect Shadow Bugs…

  24. As a teacher, my ENTIRE day relies on routines. I can also attest to how much most children rely on predictable routines. When routines and expectations aren’t clear and consistent, you’re just asking for trouble.
    Tonya´s last post…Moving Day

    • Oh boy, is that ever true. In my home there never seemed to be a routine from day to day or week to week, except for a few specific things (church on most Sundays, swim practice when in season, dinner started at 5:30 sharp when mom was working, and 5:30-6 if she had the night off). Problem is that now as an adult, I still have trouble with setting and keeping routines (and people make fun of me because I feel it’s so important for my partner and I to eat dinner together every night, even though we don’t have kids–I guess no one ever told them that having routine and eating together forms bonds for adults too).

  25. Love this post! I am drawing a blank on the most unique thing I have found in my purse. Having raised 4 kids, and then 3 grandkids for several years, my life was definitely on the chaotic side for a while.
    Not exactly the same thread, but a good friend of mine, mom to 8, could not find her camera anywhere. Several days later she finally found it, in the FREEZER! I don’t let her live that one down!
    Successful Woman’s Resource Center´s last post…How Productivity Can Lead to a More Fulfilling Life

    • My mom once lost her keys only to find them in the freezer! now when she loses something I tell her to check there first :)

  26. I haven’t found anything as funny as fish sticks in my purse, but I have recently lost something in my purse — my car keys (Perspiration time. I’m blaming it on routine changes.) I had to retrace my steps and go back to the last store I shopped at. THANK GOODNESS… they had found them & saved in their locker. Now all I need to do is get a better purse.

    Doing the laundry, dishes, and other chores seem mundane many times, but they help with the grounding effect. Also, important things like eating meals together and getting up at specific times helps a lot too!

  27. Random question: are those Van’s fish sticks? With a food-allergic son, I’m actually not surprised if you’ve stashed allergy-free foods in your bag — even if you’ve forgotten they’re there.

    Food is a common thread in planning out the days at our home. With a not-always-organized meal plan, ongoing grocery list, and snacks at the ready, I generally feel prepared for even the craziest of days.

  28. When I was working with a small child in daycare, the floor of my car was a sight to behold, as I would grab N with whatever he was holding to get in the car. Whisks, nail varnish, boxes, toys, necklaces etc etc. I also one day realised I had a dummy/pacifier in each pocket of my coat, bag and trousers – I think I had 6+!
    I always have at least 1 random sock and possibly a pair of child’s underwear in my bag. Unfortunately I don’t always have the things I need – wipes, purse and so on

  29. Tasmanian Minimalist says:

    Ah the things found in your bag ! I often take something like a jar of olives to work with my in my hand bag or scarily, my daughter’s underwear . Oof.
    Tasmanian Minimalist´s last post…Tasmanian Minimalist’s Latest Giveaway

  30. Routines, my kids and my sanity thrive on them. My son started kindergarten and my daughter pre school. Showers are every night, clothes are laid out, backpacks and shoes waiting by the closet door when they come downstairs. Our kids dress themselves right after they wake up, breakfast is next, then teeth brushing. It makes school mornings go by smoothly (once in awhile a meltdown over something will occur). I’m trying to get a routine going for the mornings both my kids are in school.

  31. “Neither Doug nor I want to live in a project. We want to get it all done so we won’t have home improvement projects to do every weekend for years.” I moved two and a half months ago and there was a fervor to get things painted and carpeted and “finished” so we could move in quicker then we were planning but now it’s all stopped…I fear I will live in a project for the rest of my life…my husband doesn’t seem to mind it….

  32. The weirdest thing in my purse lately? Someone else’s keys. I was helping someone redecorate her house; her husband came in and apparently thought he was tossing his keys in a chair, but they landed in my purse. I found them at the bottom of my purse (because of course everything sinks to the bottom!) late the next afternoon. And the worst thing is that this happened twice in one week!
    Tanya´s last post…Homemade mixes to the rescue

  33. Some things I stick to every week to make life easier:

    – pay bills as soon as they come in the mail so I don’t lose them
    – pack items for the next day right after dinner each night – AJ’s daycare items, my dodgeball clothes/uniform, putting the mail in my purse so I remember to drop it off
    – put groceries away with ingredients grouped together for each meal I’ll be making (check my blog for a picture)
    – put away laundry as soon as I have a clean basket of it, and wash/dry loads as soon as I have a full basket of dirties – this way I don’t end up with a whole house of dirty laundry
    – invite my husband to every event I add to my Google calendar so it shows up on his calendar too – this way, we never have to discuss schedule unless one of us doesn’t agree with it
    Kaylen´s last post…Restaurant Review – Market BBQ, Mpls, MN

  34. I love this post! It reminds me of our life last year. We decided not to remodel our house. Instead, we would sell our house and buy a new one. It was a great plan until the buyers of our house backed out 12 hours before closing, just as we were closing the door on our moving truck! We spent a summer in a complete state of chaos. We had to move back into our house, try to sell it again and find a new house to buy. About 75% of our belongings were in storage. I’m surprised I did not find frozen fish sticks in my purse! Like you, I kept up with the little routines to keep my sanity, keep my family intact, keep on top of my job and keep my kids on top of their school work. Meal planning was a very key strategy. My kids had no toys for three months so they made their own out of paper! Just remember, that this is not forever and you will feel so incredibly good when you move into your house. I often re-read the post I wrote when we moved into our new house to remind me of just how vitorious we felt!

  35. Amazing what we find ourselves carrying around. We don’t have the added stress of a home remodeling transition but the contents of my bag can be pretty questiobable. if only Kate spade knew what I find in my bag sometimes. I would probably be banned like the “situation” is from Abercrombie. Ive been slowly trying to implement systems in place and clean out my bag and wallet each night so I don’t end up with a 3 day old banana in a pile full of sticky cheerios and coins…

  36. haha I love your honesty! I often find random things in my purse too. And I love it when my lip gloss is full of slobber nice. The joy of little ones. But I’m sure little ones AND a renovation WOW! Looks like you are in great spirtis!

  37. My husband often tells me that I will find Jimmy Hoffa in my purse, as I seem to lose everything I put in it to the depths of nowhere.

  38. I was just reading a post on on how the writer has no routine to his day. He seemed to think it was a wonderful thing, but if I didn’t have certain routines in place I think I might lose my mind! My routines include:
    – Empty the car of miscellaneous items and trash each time I get home.
    – Stock my bag each night before bedtime with diapers, wipes, and check my notebook to add or cross off anything.
    – Clear off the dining room table each night. It seems to attract stuff and having it clear every morning is a good start to my day.
    – Walk about the house every night and put things away. This includes the books my baby girl has yanked off the shelves, the dirty socks my eldest son always leaves at the back door and the the scattered toys under the furniture in the living room.
    – Set up the coffee maker before bed. This one is really important!
    Here’s hoping life doesn’t give you surprise fish sticks soon.

  39. Routines are what save this family who moves every couple of years. When we moved here to the Netherlands, we lived in a tiny bungalow with just a kitchenette, living area, bedroom, and loft. Without most of our stuff, we clung to things like homemade dinners (whatever we could make in the kitchenette), book reading, and bike riding. These days an hour can pass by unnoticed, and we need our after school routine so the whole evening doesn’t slip by before homework and baths. Nice to see I’m not the only one who occasionally loses their minds…or who actually takes solace in picking up toys and having a clean kitchen in the morning.
    Tracey@ControlTheChaos´s last post…WORKS FOR ME WEDNESDAY – MORE APPLE MAGIC

  40. It will be so good to be settled in – hang in there for this last bit of time. It’s giving you a great perspective!
    Natalie @ Maple Leaf Circle´s last post…A Homeschool Day in the Life of . . .

  41. Since we had our second baby 3 months ago, we’ve been doing night time showers and baths too :) Otherwise I’d never leave the house before 10am..

    The other thing working in our house at the moment is to make and freeze a loaf of ham and cheese sandwiches once a week, so I know no matter what happens in the day, everyone has a filling lunch (or dinner!) ready to eat at a moment’s notice.
    Marissa @ Beautifully Organised´s last post…5 ways to find more hours in your day

  42. Oh Rachel! How you made me laugh!!! I can so relate. My pocket book is an LL Bean tote bag…and not the smallest one…if that gives you some idea of the stuff I have to carry around.

    I am so intrigued by your paking cubes. Do you put those in a suit case?

    Looking forward to seeing more pics of your renovation, hope all has went well for you.


    Mary´s last post…Ouick Tip – Little Bags of Bacon

  43. Monday night is always “Beauty Night” for my kids (DS12, DD10, DS 8) – clip and clean nails, shampoo, q-tip ears, full body lotion for everyone, good flossing, check for warts (ugh!), etc. It helps me to get it done all at once.

  44. Yeah, I am coming to my mid-20’s and just starting to realize how important a couple of my routines are – mostly just getting laundry done on Sundays, getting the kitchen cleaned up (at least somewhat) before bed, and walking the dog 3 times a day. If I keep up with those things, I feel like I can keep up with everything. I’m sure when we have kids, these routines will take on even more importance.

  45. I can so relate. We are packing and preparing for a huge sale at the same time. I am ready to let go of my stuff, so all but our personal items and a few sentimental items have a price tag on them. It is amazing how stuff has accumulated over the years. Your blog is such an encouragement for me to simplify.