Keep your summer organized

Summer flies by crazy fast—which can be good or bad, depending on the day, the weather, and the kids. For the first time in I don’t know how long, I’m actually looking forward to the summer (give me spring in Austin any day, but I’m happy to not be there from June through September).

My kids are continually thinking of things they want to do to relish the next few months, and it gets me excited, too. I’ll be working less, painting lots of walls in our new fixer-upper, and hopefully getting some cast-aside sewing done—and I’m eager for their camping, pool, and library suggestions, too.

I’m in the school of thought that the best sorts of summers are those that rest in-between planned and spontaneous—I want to go to the library every week, but why not quickly toss dinner in to a picnic basket when the weather begs it?

I think it helps to organize just a bit on the front end of the summer, so that the rest of the season can be more spontaneously enjoyed. Here’s how we’re doing it this year.

1. We’re creating a summer bucket list.

There’s more than enough summer fun lists on Pinterest, so we’re not short on ideas. I’ve collected a lot of our ideas on my summer Pinterest board, and we’re jotting down ideas on a big piece of butcher paper and keeping it on the fridge. The whole family can pipe in when an idea strikes.

A sampling of our ideas:

• Weekly library visits
• Swim at the local pool
• Go rafting down the river after church
• Have picnic dinners
• Have friends over to watch July 4th fireworks from our deck
• Go camping at Crater Lake
• Go camping in the backyard
• Make homemade popsicles
• Have a water gun fight

This way, I’ll refer to the list when the “I’m booooored!” choruses begin.

2. We’re sorting the supplies.

We have it happen all the time, and I bet you do, too—a fun, spontaneous “let’s go to the pool!” suggestion morphs into an hour-long prep session because you’ve got to gather the towels, the floaties, the sunscreen, and the hats. By the time you’re in the car, you can’t wait for the pool to cool off from all that sweating.

I’ve created a few grab-and-go bags for our most recurrent summer outings, and they’re stored right by the garage door. When it’s pool time, I just toss the right back in the car or the bike basket, and we’re off.

Here are a few things in our bags:

For the pool

• sunscreen
• hats
• beach towels
• floaties (deflated, of course)
• goggles
• a few swim diapers
• swimsuits—we usually change into them before leaving, but this way, we always know where they are
• plastic bags, for wet suits

For picnics

• bug spray (I like California Baby)
• sunscreen (I’d rather have a small bottle in each bag than to hunt down one larger bottle)
• a picnic blanket
• napkins
• plastic utensils
• plastic, reusable cups
• a frisbee, and a few other small outdoor toys
• plastic bags, for trash or other incidentals

You can also use a picnic basket or backpack—we like this backpack also.

For road trips

We’ve got another longer road trip planned this summer, but we’re also all about the day trips when we have the itch to get out of Dodge. This bag works for both shorter and longer car rides.

• two small zippered pouches of markers, crayons, and pencils (one for each of our older kids)
• clipboards with blank paper
• spiral notebooks with lined paper
• a license plate dry-erase game—a friend made us this sweet and simple game: arrange license plate images alphabetically by state, print, and laminate.
• books
• headphones
• bug spray
• sunscreen
• plastic bags
• wipes
• a few diapers
• water bottles

3. We’re sticking to a somewhat normal routine.

Just because it’s summer doesn’t mean I get to goof off at the pool at day. We grownups need to get work done, too, and I’ll honestly go nuts by August if I tried to be our Summer Cruise Director.

Our sitter is still coming over twice a week so I can get work done. I’ll still keep to a simple, rotating menu plan for dinner (right now I’m enjoying Natural Health at Home’s Whole Foods Meal Plan). and the bedtime routine is still there, although bedtime is a wee bit later.

I’m completely okay if the kids get bored, because that’s when real magic and creativity happen. We’ll keep art supplies within reach in the craft cabinet, a few outdoor toys in the backyard, and cold water in the fridge. That’s enough for a childhood summer.


This giveaway is now closed. Check back soon for the winner!

Target and Container Store want to help one of you get organized this summer, so they’re giving away a $250 gift certificate each. I’m sure you can find a way to use $500 at these fabulous stores, right?

How to enter

Simply answer this question in the comments below: What’s something on your family’s summer bucket list? (If you’re reading this via email, you must click over to the blog post to leave a comment.)

This giveaway will end on June 24, and I’ll announce the winner soon after. I hope you win!

This post is sponsored by the makers of Clorox® Disinfecting Wipes, the quick and easy way to clean and disinfect your home!

Contest Rules

Tsh Oxenreider

Tsh is the founder of this blog and just finished traveling around the world with her husband and 3 kids. Her latest book is Notes From a Blue Bike, and believes a passport is one of the world's greatest textbooks.

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  1. Ashley C says:

    Picnics in the park, splashing in the kiddie pool, tending to my allotment, homemade popsicles, and the list goes on…

  2. Jessica says:

    We are hoping to spend as much family time together -outside- as possible this summer! So, bike rides & picnics, day trips & camping- but I’m also planning on a lot of home improvemts projects this summer! Yay summer!

  3. We have a once in a lifetime opportunity to take a trip to Italy, so we are trying desperately to make it happen!

  4. Lots of pool and beach time!

  5. I hope to get my 2.5yo son comfortable in the pool and maybe even swimming by the end of the summer!

  6. Cousins…need I say more?

  7. Katelyn Harrison says:

    We’re having our first baby this summer! Definitely one off our “lifetime bucketlist”

  8. Raychlp03 says:

    Definitely to go to the beach!

  9. Complete the library’s summer reading program

  10. My family’s summer bucket list includes:
    To go on a weekly mountain hike with the kiddos.
    Lots of outdoor play.
    To catch enough salmon and halibut to stalk up my freezer for the winter.
    To go clamming with the family.
    To have each person read two books a month (we’re big readers, but not in the summer).
    To finish up our yard landscaping.
    To successfully plant and harvest a vegetable garden.
    To spend more time at our cabin in the middle of nowhere, away from modern conveniences.
    Last but not least, just to be happy and healthy together.

  11. Vacation Bible School. Always in the summer to-do list. And I’m glad that my 4-yr- old-turning-5 is (still) enjoying it.

  12. Jenny Runyan says:

    so excited! our summer bucket list includes trips to the zoo, camping, and lots of picnics!

  13. Jennifer R says:

    Baby #2 coming in July! Plus swim lessons for the first time for my toddler 🙂

  14. michelle says:

    Read Harry Potter 5 together.

  15. Lots of trips to the beach!

  16. manizor says:

    taking the kids to the san diego zoo! we’ve almost lived in southern california for two years and still haven’t gone yet!

  17. Chillin at the pool every chance we get!

  18. beach trips for us, please!

  19. Playing outside on sunny days and preparing for new baby arriving in the fall top our list.

  20. Gretchen says:

    We are all looking forward to pool time, visits to the local parks, the zoo, museums and my favorite the farmer’s market. I love the idea of homemade popsicles so I am adding that to our to do list.

  21. Lots of walks outdoors, brunches outside and trips to the farmers market with our new baby

  22. Haha! Moving from Japan to California and a three-week trip to the East Coast to visit all the family. Not exactly an easy, laid-back summer but that’s life sometimes 🙂

  23. 1. cleaning out my room at my parent’s house so that they can actually use it as a guest room instead of my storage unit
    2. lots of bike rides
    3. camping!

  24. Great ideas – you are so organized!
    My bucket list – lots of yoga and riding.

  25. Our oldest is moving out to his own apartment, the two others have a week each at camp, and we want to finish raising support to start on the mission field!

  26. Going to the beach ( we live in Boston, car-free, so this is not the easiest thing to do!)

  27. On our little farm, we have more work to do than ever in the summer, but we get a lot more visitors and spend a lot of time sitting under the maple trees sipping lemonade, or climbing trees, or reading, or crafting. Somehow, summer is both busier and slower all at the same time. But no one ever complains they are bored. I’ve got a list of extra chores a mile long, and if any child at any time complains they are bored, I just say in mock horror, “Oh, no! You’re bored?! Well I need you to {insert chore here}, and if you’re still bored when you’re done, we’ll think of something else you can do.” The rare child who forgets I do this quickly finds her own entertainment. 🙂

    Hope I win the gift cards! I’ve got a wish list at both stores. 🙂

  28. Hiking a couple of new trails with all three kids after making the big move to Colorado!

  29. Our summer bucket list includes playing in the creek, going to the pool at least weekly, a pajama ice cream ride, and much more! Looking forward to a great summer with my family!

  30. Settle the family debate: is corn better grilled in the husks or in foil? Looking forward conducting taste tests with friends and family!

  31. We will be continuing our family tradition of finding rest at White Clay Creek State Park – and enjoying the Wednesday night summer concert series.

  32. Our city does Blues in the Park every Monday night. We went to the kickoff of the event this past week and my almost 2 year old LOVED it. We’re planning to make it to this free event several more times this summer!

  33. This Midwestern girl is planning to go to California for the first time!

  34. We want to make a few things to enter in our local fair this summer!

  35. We built an 8′ x 4′ sandbox in the backyard so that we could have a lot of fun at home. We also are going to the zoo a ton so we bought a membership. Other things on the list are camping at the beach and fishing for the first time with my littlest boys who are 1 AND 3.

  36. Karen J says:

    We are taking a road trip to SC for fun, family and a whole lot of R&R.

  37. Kristen says:

    We want to do lots of swimming and bike riding this summer!

  38. Lots of walks in the park with me and our new little one in her carrier and my husband holding a leash in each hand.

  39. We are hoping to go camping for the first time as a family, play lots of badminton, water gun fights & beach days:)

  40. For my first summer home with my 8-month-old son (I’m a teacher), I plan to do a mix of weekly library trips, fixing up our backyard for some playtime, and day jaunts to the petting zoo and spray park near us. I love your organizing tips, because “getting ready” is such a time suck! I absolutely cannot wait for summer. Thank you!

  41. ElizTwelve says:


  42. Every summer we say we will go to the open-air drive in movie
    “theatre” and then don’t do it. This summer we will!

  43. Jen Pazdur says:

    Trips to the library and then reading outside in the shade!!!

  44. Honestly we’re not making too many plans for this summer, as I’m due with our second child at the end of July. 🙂 But my 2-year-old daughter and I do want to try and continue making weekly trips to the library and park!

  45. I guess painting the fence doesn’t count?

    This summer I am trying to build as much white space into my schedule as possible to allow for lots of pool time, long walks with the dog when the evening is cool, picking flowers, and reading books together. We are also making a road trip to FL to visit family.

  46. This summer I want to take the kids to some age-appropriate museums and activities they haven’t seen before. It will be a nice change of routine to add some interest and spontaneity to our summer. I plan to give the oldest a camera and see the some of the world through his eyes and priorities when we get home.

  47. Family bike rides, hiking, and picnic suppers at the park are at the top of our list!

  48. Bethany says:

    Our family of two is heading to the Big Apple this summer. A major bucket list item for this Midwestern girl!

  49. Pool time, arts and crafts, hikes and getting the playroom cleaned out!

  50. At some point we’d like to go to the beach. We’re waiting for the baby to learn how to walk first though

  51. Visiting the farmers market more often!

  52. Our summer bucket list consists of having a baby 🙂

  53. Elizabeth says:

    swim in Lake Michigan!

  54. Lots of camping and hiking! And maybe a picnic or two, as well.

  55. Philip Shimer says:

    Since my wife has been reading your book we have nothing left in our house. Just empty rooms. She took simple to the extreme 🙂 OK that may be a little over the top but she has done A LOT of organizing and moving things in to my garage so our bucket list includes having a garage sale!

  56. Our summer bucket list includes baby #2 due the first week of July & hoping to sell our condo, but I also hope to fit in some concerts in the park.

  57. We are taking our 3 kids (ages 4, 6 and 8) on our first-ever kayak trip! We are very, very excited to try this!

  58. Lauren M says:

    We’re taking our 10 month old daughter to the beach for the first time in 2 weeks! 🙂

  59. Danielle says:

    This summer, I’m going to find fun, creative ways to spend time with my kids without spending a lot of money. I plan to take them to the Farmer’s Market and the Art Museum (on the free-to-the-public days), teach them to paint the fence with water, take them to the various city parks across town, etc. So far I’ve been doing exactly as you advised of having a plan but going with the flow. It’s working out really well. I am prepared at any time to do a variety of impromptu “field trips.” Also, this is our first year to do the Super Summer Challenge. So far it has worked GREAT!

  60. family celebrations!

  61. Jamie Woodbury says:

    Grandma is coming to visit for 3 whole weeks this summer! We are very excited!

  62. Going up to the lake for 2 weeks always makes our summer! 🙂

  63. Peter S says:

    Partial family anyway – road trip for summer camp, visiting family, and generally enjoying the summer.
    Whole family – go swimming at least once a week.

  64. Now we are finished with our school year, our first summer plans are to pick blueberries and go camping before it gets too hot. Breakfast picnics at the park, $1 kid movies at our local theater, and puddle jumping in the rain are a few other plans for our summer. Cannot wait!

  65. Shawnna says:

    Our list includes:
    -weekly library day with Older Boy
    -swim lessons for both Older Boy and Younger Boy
    -Hiking + picnic
    -organizing craft supplies to make rainy day activities easier
    -visting the Y Pool

  66. Sue Mitchell says:

    We are moving this summer and also my husband is starting a new job. So on our bucket list is to explore our new area and get our house organized. Not very exciting but oh so necessary!

  67. A trip to Michigan!

  68. We have recently moved to the DC area and so our summer bucket list is chock full of sightseeing in the nation’s Capitol!

  69. Jermaine D. says:

    Have more picnic lunches!

  70. We are reading lots of books for the Summer Reading Program at our library. We are also planning to have a few backyard camp-outs!

  71. family sunday night movies at home and making our own outdoor chalkboard-finally!

  72. We are going to take all the baby steps we need to prepare my soon to be fourth grader for her school camping trip next year. Not an easy task for my bug phobic homebody. We just built a tree fort that should last us for years to come.

  73. Well NOW something that’s on my summer bucket list is “Win an awesome giveaway from Simple Mom.” 🙂
    But my first grader has a goal of reading 50 books this summer. I’m trying to pick up a book as often as he does.

  74. Carrie Pennington says:

    Amish country with the family!

  75. Our biggest item on our summer bucket list is to vacation in Maine! We haven’t been in a few years and are counting the days until we are lake-side.

  76. Spending time on the grandparents’ farm, fishing for crawdads in their creek, and chasing fire flies. I just want to be outside as much as possible and enjoy nature.

  77. I’d love to go camping. I’m used to northern summers so I’m having a hard time with summer now that we’ve moved south. It seems hard to get outside when we know we’ll be sweaty and hot within seconds…suggestions?

  78. Bike trips to the beach, picnic dinners in our beautiful garden, and camping.

  79. Bubble table play, swim lessons and a trip to Ikea are all on our summer bucket list!!

  80. We are visiting our family and friends in Europe after two years of not seeing them. My second youngest will improve on her swimming. And we want to see the 4th of July fireworks at Westpoint. They are supposed to be fabulous!

  81. bike rides to friends house, walk to the donut shop, playing at the park, swimming at the pool, visits to the library

  82. We want to go pick blueberries from Petals from the Past in Jemison, Alabama

  83. Swimming lessons, our AWESOME library’s summer reading program and a family retreat in Northern Minnesota.

  84. One thing that is on our bucket list this summer is to incorporate an “unplugged” day to the week. Our kids are looking forward to going hiking and to the beach, and I think having a family day of unplugged living would be lovely.

  85. Wendi S says:

    Lunch at the library. Our library has a beautiful outdoor covered deck and we are allowed to eat out there…so this summer I want to be intentional about taking packed lunches for me and the kiddos before we head out for our weekly library visit.

  86. I’ve got lots of cleaning and painting tasks on my list, as well as regular exercise classes. My husband and I are planning on a meandering road trip in July with the top down on the MG. My kids are looking forward to going to the water park, the pool and the library.

  87. We don’t have a bucket list this summer – we are moving at the end of this month & then spending a week at my parents’ house by the sea at the beginning of next month, and I figure anything we do beyond that is probably a bonus… xo

  88. Go to an outdoor movie night in our local town on a Friday night with a picnic supper!

  89. On my family’s bucket list for summer: Give birth to a healthy baby boy, and enjoy his “sip and see” hosted by my family in Florida. Today’s my due date…I hope he comes soon so I can cross one thing off of my bucket list! 🙂

  90. It’s early, and I haven’t finished my coffee, so all I remember from our bucket list is: ride the carousel at the local arcade and play in the splash pad at the park.

  91. The kids are going to visit grandma’s house for the first time together this summer!

  92. We’re swimming, camping (with s’mores, of course!), and participating in our local library’s summer reading program. Fun, lazy days!!

  93. We are moving to another city so it will be a lot of fun to explore a new place over the summer. Specifically one thing on the list is to build a fort in the backyard. Sleeping in it will depend entirely on the humidity! Thanks for all the ideas!

  94. I would love to win this prize to help pay for so many of the ideas that are on your list as well. We plan to take my daughter on her second camping trip this summer and could get a lot of use out of the Target card for that. We’re going to be making Summer Jars with a lot of these ideas on Popsicle sticks so when my daughter gets the “I’m Bored” whine, she can just go choose an activity for us to complete. Thanks for the opportunity to win.

  95. Sandi King says:

    Camping! We used to do it alot (pre-divorce) but I’ve avoided it since then. But this summer, I’m ready to tackle it again since the kids want to go so badly. I can do this!

  96. Camping! We’ve camped in our backyard but not away from home as a family, so we’re all looking forward to it.

  97. we are hoping to find a time for sea world!

  98. My man and I work hard… and with owning my own business which we both work for, we bought a boat since we won’t be able to take a real vacation for awhile. My summer bucket list is to actually enjoy the boat instead of being too busy working to use it! I don’t want my best days owning a boat to be the day I bought it and the day I sell it like people like to say 🙁

  99. Michelle says:

    This summer we are planning a road trip up north to visit family, a road trip to the appalachian mountains to visit nature and lots of pool time!

  100. We want to get to the zoo! (It seems like our house is a zoo most of the time but it would be nice to see some animals other then my three little wild ones!