Meet Gretchen Fleener, 34, from Mound, Minnesota. She is an Industrial Designer, Web Designer and face painter. She runs her own business, Junk Mail Gems, where she sells fun items that she makes out of junk mail. She is also an awesome momma to her two sons, who are three and five. Gretchen took time out of her busy schedule to talk to me about how she manages everything, and what she wants her sons to learn from her business.
Gretchen got into junk mail art when she was making magnets from junk mail to preserve patterns that she liked in a functional way. She heard over and over again that she could sell her magnets, but it wasn’t until her sister urged her to start selling online. And that is where Junk Mail Gems was born, six years ago.
“She and I came up with the Junk Mail Gems name because the magnets looked like little gems. I had a lot of fun designing the logo, then website, and coming up with more things to make out of junk mail to fill my store!”
Although it may not be for everyone, Gretchen says that being the boss is the best part of running her own business. She loves that she can work when it fits in her life, rather than having to wait for work to be over to enjoy life. A life-long multitasker, she can be found packing items during a commercial break.
As for most small business owners, finances are a worry of hers. Fortunately, she has an incredibly supportive husband whose stable job covers the important bills, allowing her to work from home. He fits her business schedule into his and will come home early to watch the boys if she needs to go to a face painting job or a client meeting.
“He never talks down about my businesses or makes me feel less important because I don’t work 9-5 in an office anymore.”
Before she had her sons, doing anything creative or artistic gave her the most fulfillment. Now, she gets the most fulfillment from using her artistic skills (and revenue earned through them) on her boys.
“My kids blow my mind with the things they create already at age 3 and 5 and it’s so cool to see that part of me in them.”
As you might imagine, her boys love crafting with her, and her five-year-old has even caught the bug for turning junk into something he can use and play with! To help cultivate her boys’ creativity, Gretchen labeled a Rubbermaid bin “the project box” and throws odds and ends that the boys can use for their crafts. She also keeps all the kid-friendly crafting supplies at their level so they can create on their own.
“I love coming up with projects to do with them, but my favorite thing is to let them loose and see what they come up with on their own. One of my 5 year old’s most used Christmas gifts is his collection of brightly colored masking tape rolls that my sister gave him. He is constantly rescuing things form our recycle bin and turning them into things…rocket ships, monster trucks, and houses for his stuffed dogs!”
Not only do her boys love crafting with her, they also love going to yard sales and thrift stores, too! Gretchen says that she talks to them about not wasting things or money, which has also taught them to be patient when they find brand new toys in a store, as they will probably end up at a yard sale or thrift store in a matter of time.
Much like her children, Gretchen loved going to yard sales as a kid and quickly became a big collector. Her collection is now limited to what she can use to decorate her house, and what her family can actually use. I feel your pain, girl. Her vintage finds came in handy last year when she redesigned her kitchen and decorated it with her scores from the 50’s. After facing the normal collector problem of acquiring more than she could use, she set up an Etsy shop.
“This gives me the thrill of the hunt, without the worry of collecting too much. I love to imagine people looking through my site and getting as excited about finding the perfect thing for their kitchen as I do for mine!”
Gretchen says that she finds inspiration from everywhere – like an oil slick on the street or an old brick building. She also finds inspiration from surrounding herself by other creative people.
“I take TONS of photos and am always collecting inspiration for art, graphic, design or craft projects!”
As an Industrial Designer, Gretchen likes to stay current and is always looking into current and future trends. However, when it comes to her personal style, her love for the ’50s does not stop at kitchen utensils. She also leads a life that is deemed old-fashioned by many people today.
“..Staying home with my kids, canning stuff from my garden, baking cookies, making things by hand and cooking a family dinner each night!”
While Gretchen has always considered herself a motivated person, she says that she is now motivated by different things – like getting her work done early so she can spend more time with her family.
“I know that if I get overtired or overworked, I won’t be as good of a parent or spouse, and my family come first. So in a way, getting in a little “me” time or letting the laundry sit there one more day can be better for the family and everyone’s mood! “
Gretchen credits her ability to get everything done to multitasking and creating lists, just like she used to make fun of her mom for doing years ago. Along with that, she stays super organized, and will rework how shes does something if she feels she’s not doing it efficiently enough – often finding a tool or an app that will help.
“But the one thing I don’t compromise on is sleep. I just can’t function well on any less than 8 hours a night, and when I get enough sleep, being super productive comes much easier during the day!”
Although Gretchen says that she doesn’t really feel like her work is “work,” she does like to get outside and go fishing, biking and gardening. Living on a lake doesn’t hurt, either. She also likes to paint and work on something creative that is related to her businesses. One craft that she would like to practice more is knitting.
“I’ve done a little, but I love to crochet and really like how much faster it goes! I’d love to learn how to make my own soaps or candles. And I’d really love to learn Henna. It seems right up my alley and would be a great addition to my face painting offerings!”
Gretchen also runs as a series of “Momtreprenuer” Interviews on her blog, as she says that she is always encouraged by hearing how other moms run their businesses and homes.
“So, I thought others might enjoy them too! It’s also one small way that I can help support fellow moms by spreading the word about their businesses.”
She hopes that her Junk Mail Gems business gives people a new way to look at “junk.” She shares tutorials on her site for various recycling projects, so that people can get new ideas for their own projects.
“I hope to inspire them to find a way to do what they love and maybe even make a little money doing it! I am always so happy to hear from people who were inspired to try a project I’ve shared too.”
Since Gretchen’s sons will be in school full-time pretty soon, she plans on adding more jobs to her line of work (as if she doesn’t have enough already) like freelance retail fixture design and body painting. She also wants to expand the merchandise section of her online face painting store and seek out more retailers for Junk Mail Gems.
“Right now I have no desire to go back to the corporate gig, but have a huge list of things I’d like to do to grow all of my businesses”
If you are feeling inspired by Gretchen like I am, you can connect with her through Junk Mail Gems and ID Mommy and can also find her on Facebook and Pinterest. If you know someone who would be a good fit for Yo Momma Monday (your beautiful self included), post in the comments and on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Find more Yo Momma Monday inspiration on my Pinterest!