If you are like me – and I would guess that most of you are – organizing is the last thing on the to-do list. Between work, sports, school, church, grocery shopping, cooking, and climbing Mt. Laundry (Does that count as exercise, by the way?) – we barely manage the basics. It is a huge accomplishment if the kitchen sink and counters are reasonably empty and free of sticky goo before we fall into our unmade beds at night.
Is it any wonder that we open closets with one hand while cradling our heads with the other in defense of the tsunami of “stuff” that is sure to come crashing down on us someday? Who knew that all of those elementary school tornado drills where they taught us to crouch down with our hands over our heads would really be preparing us for the hall closet!
I will admit that I am kind of a slow learner at times. It took me years of letting things pile up until I couldn’t stand it anymore, then collapsing into a fury of “mommy tirade” where my family was thrown into an entire weekend of organizing frenzy where everyone ended up in tears before I figured out that if we spend a few minutes every day, it is a whole lot easier to keep the household running more smoothly.
Here are some tips and tricks that I’ve picked up over time:
1. Baskets and boxes are your best friend…
…but you have to empty them once in a while. I have baskets strategically placed around my house. Look around and see where clutter tends to collect, then put something there to hold it. For example, I have a basket for each family member by the back door to hold mittens, hats, and scarves. It keeps them out of sight, but still accessible and avoids the “I can’t find my mittens” phenomenon that attacks on mornings when you are already running late for school. There is also one for homework and notes on the kitchen counter – backpacks get emptied when they are hung up by the back door and papers are deposited on the way to the snack cupboard. Same for the top and bottom of the stairs. The rule is if you are going up or down, you take the basket and empty it by putting the things in it away.
2. Prevention is the best medicine.
I try not to bring things into the house that are going to have to go right back out. Mail gets sorted in the driveway, and junk mail goes directly into the recycling bin. My yoga mat lives in my car so that it is ready for my next class. I set up auto pay for as many bills as possible, and the few that I can’t pay online go into a tray with stamps, the checkbook, envelopes, and pens. I tend to immediately get rid of things when they have outlived their purpose rather than storing them. If I notice something is too small for the kids, or is worn out while I am folding laundry I either put it in a Goodwill box by the back door or throw it away.
3. Start with the small stuff.
I will pick one drawer or cabinet in the kitchen to deal with while the kids are at the table doing their homework. By the end of the week, all of them are done. I do the same with their drawers and closets – one shelf while they are brushing their teeth and I am waiting to tuck them in. A closet while they are watching a show. That way I am still where they are, but I can also fairly quickly get something accomplished. Doing this on a regular basis keeps things from getting overwhelming.
There is a great website that can give you some daily tips for organizing called Fly Lady. I have used many of her tips!
4. Everything needs a home.
Period. If it doesn’t have a designated place, get rid of it. If you need it, get rid of something else to make a spot for it. The only things that should be out and visible are things that you use daily, or that make you feel good when you look at them. Rule of thumb is if it isn’t useful or something that you love, it goes.
5. LABEL! LABEL! LABEL!
Especially if you have younger children. It creates a sense of pride and fosters independence in children, and it increases their self –esteem when you aren’t nagging them constantly to take care of their things. There are lots of creative and attractive ways to label shelves, baskets, or bins to help your family put everything in its place. Consider using pictures on clear plastic bins for children’s toys, or chalkboard tags on baskets that are used for rotating storage.
Like this great one from Pottery Barn…
Or this one from Target…
6. Reward yourself and your family for a job well done…
…but not by buying more stuff! Use the extra time that you didn’t have to spend digging for that other ballet slipper or hockey glove by going out for ice cream, or for a family walk. Treat your tired hands to a home manicure now that you can find your nail supplies, or just find a clean quiet spot to rest your eyes while you enjoy a cup of coffee!