I’m sorry that I’ve been absent from blogland this week. With the beginning of the new school year only two weeks away, I’ve been very busy with the usual back-to-school preparations – school supply and shoe shopping, check-ups, haircuts for the girls, and lots of cleaning and organizing. A few days ago, we completed a major cleanup in the girls’ room, which included dusting, vacuuming, cleaning under beds, and organizing drawers and closets. It took 5 hours, largely because my children don’t seem to throw anything away.
When we were working on this project, I talked to the girls about organization, and our discussion got me thinking about one of the most common questions I receive….
“How can I be more organized?”
I’ve mentioned before that I’m not naturally organized, and that’s the truth. The ability to organize things comes naturally to me, but the ability to keep things organized does not. This is something that I really have to work on everyday, because I have a tendency to get things out and not put them away, and about every 2 days I have to clean up what I refer to as my “clutter spots.” These are the top of my desk, the kitchen counter by the microwave, my nightstand, and the floor on my side of the bed.
If you stopped by my house, unannounced, on any given day, you would find it messy. It just is, because I have 3 little kids, and I’m usually in the middle of some project, and life keeps happening. However, because I’ve taken the time to implement basic organizational systems, I can restore my house to reasonable order, with a minimal amount of effort, before I go to bed each night.
The key is, I have to actually do it.
A severely messy house doesn’t just happen overnight. It starts with small things. For example, you might be really exhausted one night, so you don’t get the dishes into the dishwasher. Then there might be a day when you don’t get all the groceries put away. Or maybe you’re not feeling well, so you don’t get to the laundry. Or you’ve had a long, tiresome day, and you just don’t feel like harping over and over, so the kids’ toys don’t get picked up. If this repeats ad infinitum, one day you’ll look around, and feel so overwhelmed that you won’t even know how to begin cleaning up.
My #1 tip for maintaining organization is to work at it, every single day, and these are some more tips that work for me:
2) Minimize. I can’t stress this enough. Keep only what you have space to neatly store, and no more. It’s important to learn how to distinguish between your needs and your wants, and the first step toward lifelong organization is making those tough decisions about what to keep, and what to let go of. Be merciless.
3) Learn to say no. To yourself, and to your children. I’ve mentioned before that my children do not ask for things in stores, because they’ve learned from experience that they won’t get them. On the rare occasion when they do ask for a toy, I always ask, “When do we get presents?” and they reply, with resigned acceptance, “On Christmas and birthdays.”
4) Set small goals. Create a daily task list for yourself, and if that’s too overwhelming, try just writing down the three most important tasks that you need to accomplish. Have a plan for your day, instead of aimlessly wandering around, wondering what you should do first.
5) Do it now. As you know, I’m a terrible procrastinator, so when I think of something important that I must do, I don’t write it down for “later,” because that’s just another way for me to procrastinate. Instead, I try to just get up and do it.
6) Contain. Keep laundry hampers in every bedroom, trash cans in as many rooms as possible, and keep laundry baskets handy for quick clean-ups (see Contain and Conquer).
7) Have a place for everything, and put it there. If you run out of places to put things, you have too much stuff. Don’t pay for more storage – get rid of more stuff.
8) Simplify your life. When you’re always insanely busy, it’s very easy to let basic home maintenance slide, and before you know it, you’re living in disaster. This is why I limit extra-curricular activities for my children, and my husband and I have few activities outside the home. Prioritize your life, take control of your time, and make no apologies for it.
9) If you get it out, put it away. I know this sounds simple, but many people, including me, fail to do it.
10) Deal with mail right away. Paper is one of those things that seems to breed and multiply, so it’s important to have an organized filing system, and a system for handling the daily influx of paper.
11) Write it down. I always tell my husband and kids, if you need me to do something, write it down, or it won’t happen. (See My Simple 3-Part Organizing System).
12) Think before you buy. Ask yourself, “What am I going to do with this? Where will I put it?” If you don’t know the answers to these two questions, don’t bring it home.
13) Break big projects up into small, manageable pieces. Don’t write on your to-do list, “clean out kitchen cabinets and drawers,” and then attempt to do it all in one day. Instead, spread this task out over the course of a week, and work on it for a half hour each day, because if you become overwhelmed and discouraged, you’re likely to just give up.
14) Take action. Ignoring your mess will not make it go away. Instead of indulging in various forms of escapism, such as outings, TV, talking on the phone, or the internet, get up and do something. Even if you only manage to clean one small area, you’ll feel much better than if you do nothing.
15) Train your children to be responsible for their own things. Be patient, offer lots of gentle reminders, help them when they need it, and give them the tools they need to be organized. For more information, see 10 Tips for Helping Kids Get, and STAY Organized.
16) Veto kid meal toys. This is one of the best decisions I ever made. I made a rule that unless the toy is something that they absolutely LOVE (ie: Barbie, Polly Pocket, My Little Pony) it can’t come home with us. To further eradicate these cheap, plastic pieces of junk, limit restaurant meals (especially fast food – yuck!) This will save you a lot of money, too.
17) Clean up your kitchen after every meal, but especially after dinner. Take a half hour to load your dishwasher, wipe down counters, sweep, and tidy up. The kitchen is probably the most heavily-used room in the house, and small messes can escalate very quickly. Also, it’s very discouraging to wake up in the morning to a messy kitchen, because you start your day off “behind the 8 ball,” as my husband is fond of saying.
18) If you need help, ask for it. You don’t have to do it all, so don’t be a martyr. Trying to do everything yourself will just make you angry and resentful. I find that if I ask my husband for help, in a calm, respectful manner, he’s always more than willing. However, he needs direction. He wants me to tell him specifically what I need him to do, and most children need that kind of guidance as well. It might seem like it’s easier to just do it yourself, but investing some time in teaching and direction will pay off in the future.
19) Find your motivation. Why do you want to be organized? Maybe you want a calmer, less stressful life, or you want to have more free time, or your children need space to play, or you want to save money. Whatever your reasons, write them down, and refer to them whenever you need a boost.
20) Pray to your Creator. Whenever I get tired or depressed, my state of mind is always evident in the state of my house, and when I fall into a slump, I ask God to help me get back on track. I sincerely believe that anyone who wants to be organized can achieve that goal, because we’re God’s children, and He made us in His image. Your desire to achieve order is no accident. It’s an intrinsic part of who you are, because God himself is orderly. His masterfully designed world, and his systematic approach to its creation are evidence of this, and the book of Proverbs contains many verses that stress the importance of planning and organization. God will help you achieve success in this area of your life, but you must turn to Him in prayer.
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” Phillipians 4:6
So the next time you’re feeling discouraged, remember what I always say – you can get organized. You just need to take that first small step.