Oct 202008

In my opinion, true frugality requires planning and organization, because disorganization is expensive. Disorganized people waste a lot of time and money. They waste time looking for misplaced items. They waste money replacing items they know they already have, but can’t find. They pay expensive late fees because their bills are buried in a giant paper mountain on the kitchen counter.

People today spend a lot of money trying to get organized. They buy books, forms, checklists and palm pilots, and they subscribe to online calendars and reminder systems. While these things can and do work for some people, most people who ask me for organizing advice say that they’ve “tried everything,” and nothing worked. Why?

Because most organizing systems and tools are just too complicated. If it’s not simple and easy, most people won’t stick with it for the long term.

Today, I’m going to share my 3-part “system” for getting and staying organized. It’s quite simple and inexpensive, and for the last six years it has worked well for me.

I have always been a person who needs to write stuff down. I feel safer and less anxious when things are on paper, instead of rattling around in my head, waiting to be forgotten. In the past, people have tried in vain to convert me to high tech ways of organizing, but I have no interest. I prefer the simplicity of an old-fashioned pen and paper…which brings me to Part One of my system:

I carry a small notebook like this everywhere I go.

I buy these notebooks in 3-packs at Staples, and start a new one at the beginning of each year (during super-busy years, I might need two). I like the size (7 1/2″ x 5″) because they’re small enough to fit in a purse, diaper bag, or even coat pocket, but big enough that I can fit a lot of information on each page. I keep a pen stuck in the spiral, and I write everything down – appointments, lists, reminders, birthday party plans, blog post ideas. Everything.

I’ve actually saved all of my notebooks over the years, because they’re fun to look through. They’re like a diary of the minutiae of our daily lives.

The second part of my organizing system is the family calendar and whiteboard, which is kept on the fridge:

My calendar is a week-over-week dry erase calendar, which is made up of 4 one-week strips, instead of the standard, square, monthly calendar. This is my favorite kind because it doesn’t limit planning to the current month. When a week is over I can simply erase it, move it to the bottom, and write in the next week’s dates. On my bulletin board next to the fridge, I keep a regular, 12-month calendar for long-range planning, as well as school and activity calendars. This makes it easy for me to transfer important dates. If I make appointments while I’m out, I write the details in my trusty notebook, and transfer them to the master calendar when I get home.

Next to this, I have a dry-erase board. The left column is for messages and reminders, and the right column is my running grocery list. It should be noted that I write items on this list when they’re low, but not completely gone. I always keep extra toiletries and household essentials (ex: toilet paper, shampoo, soap, plastic wrap, aluminum foil) on hand. When I open the last package in my inventory, I write it on the list. This insures that I never have to make a special trip to the store to purchase an essential item. Everyone in the family knows that if they need me to buy something, they’d better write it on the list or they won’t be getting it.

The third part of my system is my Home Management Guide. I’ve kept a binder for home management, in some form, for about 6 years. It’s the most valuable organizing tool I have. I call my binder the Home Management Guide, because my goal in making it was to have a detailed reference to guide me through my work week as the manager of our home. Also, because I was on bed rest for 6 weeks during my second pregnancy, I know that during times of illness or crisis, it may be necessary for someone else to step in and take over the management of my household. My detailed, organized binder is an excellent reference tool.

I used to have a 2-inch binder, but I quickly outgrew it after Bee started preschool. Now I use a 3-inch binder that I got for 50 cents at a garage sale. It has clear front and back pockets, and I made a pretty cover for it:

Inside, I keep a zipper pocket for pens, post-its, a calculator, and other supplies:

Each section has a pretty, personalized title page, and is labeled with a stick-on index tab. I believe that when a system is pretty and personal it becomes fun to use, so you’re more likely to stick with it. My whole family has come to love the Home Management Guide. Bee loves to look through her section, and my husband likes that he can easily find anything he’s looking for, without having to rummage through files. He even tells other people about what a great system it is. He takes pride in The Guide!

In my binder, I have the following categories:

Prayer & Bible Study
Finances (if you’re the manager of finances in your home – if not, you
can still keep your household budget here).
Parenting (with a sub-category for each of my daughters)
School & Activities

These are the categories that I recommend for all Moms. I also have categories for my blog and other online accounts, gardening, hobbies, and home improvement & maintenance, but these are personal, and don’t necessarily apply to everyone.

Everything that I could possibly need to run our home is neatly organized in this binder – my Bible reading plan, work schedules, master grocery list, financial statement, budget, price book, bill payment calendar, school schedules, and much more. If you’d like to make your own Home Management Guide, my Inside the Guide post further details the contents of mine. Putting together a binder like this takes time, but I found that I really enjoyed doing it. Over the years, my efforts have not only saved time and money, but they’ve given me the peace of mind that comes with a calm and orderly home life.

It was time well spent.