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7 Secrets of a Well-Organized Home

7 Secrets of a Well-Organized Home

When my husband and I were still newly married, we were looking for a replacement vehicle.  (Trust me.  This has a lot to do with a well-organized home.) His car had just quit driving and we needed something fairly quickly.  We walked into one dealership and saw the cutest little red car.  It was clean, shiny, and had features we had never had on a car before.  I loved it!  And then we started driving it around the block.  It started coughing and sputtering before it finally just stopped.  It was a beautiful car that wasn’t working.  We ended up buying an ugly car that was mechanically sound and did exactly what we needed it to be doing for us: driving my husband to work.

Our homes are a lot like those cars.  It’s in our nature to judge how orderly something is by how it looks, not by how it functions.  And that’s fine if you are looking for a prop for a play, but not if you need it to actually work for you.  We are often confusing how something looks, things like décor and decorating schemes, with how it is working.  For awhile shows on home organizing were very popular and after watching those shows you would have been convinced that the secret to a well-organized home was in painting the walls or installing new shelving.  Decorating and organizing are complementary, but not the same.

Regardless of the décor, a well-organized home has solid organizational “bones”, a solid structure for order and containment firmly in place. These “bones” support the life of the family living in that home.  The structure and support that these ”bones” are providing is the difference between something succeeding or failing.

So, what are the “bones” of a well-organized home?

Pattern and Placement

You’ve heard the expression “a place for everything and everything in its place”?  That’s the idea here, but it’s not simply declaring that something should be kept somewhere specific.  That’s just half the equation and won’t stand on its own.  It needs the other half of the equation, pattern, in order to work effectively.

When I was in college, a new building was erected and sidewalks were poured.  All paths led from the parking lot to the building…only most of the students lived on campus and the dorms were a different direction.  Over time, deep wear patterns were created in the grass as new, direct paths were cut through.  You could see where people were supposed to walk, and where they actually were walking.  That is a picture of “Pattern and Placement”.

It is worth the effort of becoming observers in our own homes.  (We talk about this in the post on laundry.) As we are watching what our families are doing naturally, we can be making decisions about where to keep things.  If backpacks are being dumped by the back door, then insisting on everyone moving their stuff everyday may be about as easy as swimming against the current.  Instead, embrace the fact that this is where their backpacks will be living.

Creative Solutions

This might require some creativity in your thinking.  For years I was keeping my vitamins in the kitchen cabinet because that’s where you were supposed to keep them.  The social norm is that vitamins are part of breakfast, so it should be as simple as pulling them out and taking them while you eat, right?  Only I was always forgetting.  I was going weeks without remembering to take my vitamins.  Even putting it in my planner as a recurring reminder didn’t help– I was still forgetting!

I couldn’t understand why I remembered to put my deodorant on every day but was forgetting my vitamins.  Until I had my “a-ha” moment of realizing that I kept my deodorant in my underwear drawer.  Changing my underwear was part of getting dressed, so when I was grabbing my clean pair out of the drawer, I was also retrieving the deodorant I kept in that drawer.  By adding my vitamins to that same drawer, I was no longer forgetting and was now taking my vitamins every single day.

Simple Step for a Well-Organized Home

Pick a moment of your day – meal prep, dressing your kiddos, kids transitioning home from school – something specific, and then notice it through the eyes of an observer.  You might need to do this more than once.  What patterns do you begin to see?

Containment

I love walking into the Container Store.  It’s so clean, bright, and organized.  It smells of hope, promise, and potential.  I’m ready to buy every single problem-solving product.

If a well-organized home was as simple as buying a cute basket, organizer, or container.  But unfortunately, it requires more information before you can be the customer standing at the check-out counter buying all the pretty new things.

The purpose of a container is to contain something.  We want things contained for a variety of reasons including keeping a space clean, making it easy to find what we are looking for, and to protect the things we own.  Just like when we were purchasing a car, you need to have a good understanding about how you want your container to work and where it is going to be used before you can decide what it will look like.

To help you in deciding what container is best for you, there are a few questions that need answering:

  1. Where is this container going to be kept? And how big is that space? (This would be a great time to be measuring the space so that you know that answer.)
  2. What a I keeping inside the container? And what is the size of that object?  (This is another opportunity for measuring)
  3. Is this container going to be visible, like on a shelf or table, or will it be hidden, like in a drawer or cabinet?
  4. Does this container need to have a lid?
  5. How sturdy do I need this to be? Will I be in it every day, or just occasionally?

Once you are finished answering those questions, you are in a position to start finding your container.

Let’s talk about some examples in practice:

Blankets in the Family Room

You have several throw blankets that you are keeping in your family room and while you try keeping them folded neatly, every time you turn around, they’re unfolded and on the floor. Every time!  Your family uses them often so you don’t want to pack them away, but something has to change.

Two observations:  1) your family is actively using them, and 2) they are not currently folding them. Based on this, you want a solution that will keep things looking neat without requiring a lot of effort.  A few options are a large basket where blankets can be tossed, a wicker hamper basket with a lid where they can be tossed and visually concealed, or a storage ottoman.  If we’re talking 2 blankets, any of these options are more than sufficient.  If we’re talking 12 blankets, then you need a much bigger basket or ottoman.

Simple Meal Planning - Plan to Eat

Board books

Your kiddos are acquiring quite a collection of board books but are not yet skilled at putting them away neatly on the bookshelf.  They love to look at their books and love reading, but it always makes a mess.

Two observations: 1) There are a significant number of books on the shelf, and 2) neatly stacking books may not yet be age appropriate. Based on this, you want a solution geared toward keeping the books contained and accessible.

A couple of options come to mind.  One is to install a higher shelf for storing most of the books, and then pulling down only a few at a time.  Another option is to put a container on the shelf and just let the books get tossed into the basket which is serving to keep the bookshelf neat and orderly.

Other things to consider

Containers can be used to turn shelf space into drawer space.  Things that wouldn’t fit on a shelf otherwise can now be stored and accessed easily turning that shelving into much more useful space.  This strategy has been the most transformational in our home.

Cabinets can house containers as well.  Using the idea of turning shelves into drawers combined with a cabinet to conceal, a pretty space and be highly efficient as place for storage and easy retrieval.

Lids can deter someone from using a container properly.  The more effort something requires, the less likely it will be used. You might notice that things are being put on top of something rather than inside, and that is because the lid quite literally is in the way.

Bonus tip: keep measurements on your phone and carry a tape measure with you so you can avoid purchasing the wrong container by getting it right out of the gate.

Simple Step for a Well-Organized Home

Choose one place where containment would help and measure the space and the items that need to be contained.

Vertical Space

A well-organized home takes advantage of all its resources, and one of the most overlooked are vertical spaces — walls and doors, refrigerator fronts and inside cabinet doors, and even hanging things from the ceiling – things like that.  We’re not talking about covering them, but properly taking advantage of them.

There are a variety of tools that can make these spaces highly efficient.  You can purchase hooks, specialized holders, shelving, baskets, bins, or hanging pockets — you name it, you can probably find it. In practice, these are just another type of container. Hanging hooks on the inside of the closet door for the broom and mop keep them off the floor thereby keeping things from falling when you open the door. Some things, like fruit baskets or lamps, can hang from the ceiling which is another way to use vertical space.

Simple Step for a Well-Organized Home

Identify one vertical space that is currently underutilized. What could you try adding or hanging to begin using that space differently?

Balance

Margin has become a buzz word, and while the word may be trendy, the idea behind it is timeless.  It’s the idea of leaving ample space so that there is room for __________.  Fill in the blank with whatever you choose.  Room for spontaneity, sleeping in, unexpected emergencies, unexpected visitors, reading in the hammock, and so on.

This idea is most often applied to our time and how we schedule it, but it is just as applicable to our physical space – our homes and the stuff inside them.  It’s about deciding how much is enough and leaving space in containers so that things can be easily added.  It’s not overstuffing bookshelves so that we can be reading favorites and adding new finds and having room in toy boxes to make playing more fun.

When we keep our things in balance, with margin, we don’t live in an overcrowded space.  Things can be put away with ease and retrieved just as easily.  And when those margins are getting thin, purging that drawer, closet, or container to bring it back into balance.

Simple Step for a Well-Organized Home

Start looking in your spaces to assess if they are too full, or just right.  If they’re too full then cull them back to a balanced amount.

Simplicity

Every year on Thanksgiving families across America pull together an amazing spread.  In many homes cooking starts happening in the days leading up to Thanksgiving. The day itself is built around that meal as we think about having a something lighter for breakfast as we save room for the good stuff.  After the meal you’ll find kids playing and adult napping or cleaning up the kitchen.  It’s an occasion for sure!  Now imagine trying to pull off a Thanksgiving meal every day.   After a day or two you would probably give up and start ordering in.

When it comes to a well-organized space, we have a similar tension.  Simplicity in organization invites us to learn and use a system.  The more complicated we find ourselves making something, the less likely it is to do consistently.  There are times and places for something that requires more time and attention – things like cleaning out the backyard shed – but when it comes to the daily tasks that keep our homes running well, the simpler the better.

Simple Step for a Well-Organized Home

What is something that you would like to be doing every day that could be simpler?  What changes will you try making?

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Buy-In

You can have the most efficient, well designed system for a well-organized home, but if the people sharing your home don’t participate, then it might not matter.  You might find yourself thinking “this isn’t working.” And you’re probably going to be correct in that assessment.  Because it will only work if you have their buy-in.

I’m not talking about their approval or their permission, but they need to move from resisting to participating.  The best way to do this is by helping them understand the benefit to them.  When our kids are little, this is actually much easier to do because they are still very much wired to accept mom and dad as the authority.  But as they get older and begin thinking for themselves it can feel like they are pushing boundaries and pushing back a whole lot more.

It can be as simple as a family meeting discussing what the challenge is and working together on creating the solution.  As you are guiding the discussion, you can guide it toward the plan you were intending all along.  By including our kids in the process, we are empowering them with a sense of ownership and responsibility, and that will instill buy-in more than simply instructing them to do something.  The formula is simple:  start by sharing a problem or challenge (the dishwasher is always full of clean dishes and the sink full of dirty dishes), share the negative impact (meal prep and clean-up takes so long that there’s less time to go to the park), and the benefit for it working well (more time at the park after lunch or dinner).

Simple Step for a Well-Organized Home

What is one chore thatisn’t working which you could tackle with your family?  How could changing things lead to a solution that everyone is willing to help implement?

Practice

We’ve all heard that practice makes perfect.  We hear that and automatically think that phrase is focused on a perfect end result.  While we certainly want a good outcome, that statement is actually less about an outcome and more about the power of consistency.  Doing something consistently makes it routine, and the more routine something becomes, the less energy and brain power we have to put into it to make it happen.  A well-organized home has solid routines that are practiced consistently. 

As with most things we are learning to do, a new routine can feel clunky and time consuming.  Awkward.  Using a checklist to help with remembering all the steps you want to take is a great way to help make it second nature.  From something as simple as a visual checklist for helping a toddler get dressed or a detailed list of steps for cleaning the bathroom, a checklist takes the pressure off of trying to remember as we are building consistency around a new routine.

Simple Step for a Well-Organized Home

What is one daily task that would be improved with a checklist? Will making it with pictures help with your family following it?

Bringing it home

These “bones” are the structure on which almost everything in our home is built.  When something stops working well or isn’t being done properly, chances are pretty high that one (or more) of these things is missing.  As we create homes that work for us, these 7 things will become old friends and give us what we need to shift our focus from “doing” to “being”.

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These 5 Daily Routines Will Set Your Home on Cruise

These 5 Daily Routines Will Set Your Home on Cruise

When you get into your car, what’s the first thing you do?  Buckle-up!

It’s something that has become deeply ingrained and we just do it without even thinkng about it.  It’s just automatic.  If for some reason we forget, our car even beeps at us to remind us to do so.  Plus, we don’t even start to move the car until we know our kids are buckled or tighly strapped into their car seats. 

Why do we buckle up? To prepare for the unexpected.  The unexpected tire blow out.  The unexpected pot hole.  The unexpected fender bender.  Buckling up minimizes personal injury.

Buckling up anchors us into our seats.

As we move from living in the shadow of overwhelm to managing the stuff of life we need to prepare for the unexpected, so we have our own series of seat belts that we “keep buckled”.

We buckle-up with 5 simple daily routines.  When we practice these routines when life is good, we can expect to enjoy the smooth sailing. But when the inevitable unexpected happens, having these daily routines 

firmly in place will help us stay anchored and minimize the impact of those events.

Daily Routine #1: The Evening Routine

On the north shore of Chicago there is a Jewish owned Mexican restaurant that is quite popular.  It’s a Friday night favorite.  But in Jewish tradition, each day starts at sundown.  It’s not really a big deal…until sundown Friday night.  This is when Shabbat, the Jewish day of rest, begins and all work ceases.  So, this restaurant closes each Friday before sundown in order to observe Shabbat.  During the winter months this restaurant closes early, and in the summer when there is more daylight, they stay open later.  The moving target of closing each Friday at sundown makes scheduling a Friday night dinner interesting for sure, but the idea that the day starts the night before is a fascinating principle!  And it’s one that we can really benefit from embracing because in reality, our day really does start the night before.

Depending on what you include in it, the evening routine doesn’t need to be a long process.  This daily routine is simply a time to check and make sure that the next day doesn’t hold any surprises.

A few simple things to consider including may be:

  • Checking the calendar to see what appointments and obligations you have the next day
  • Checking the weather for the next day
  • Laying out clothes to match the weather and your appointments
  • Glancing over the meal plan for the next day and then pull out anything from the freezer that you need to thaw
  • Prepping anything that pertains to the next day’s activities – paperwork for a doctor visit, permission slip for a child’s field trip, books to return to the library, and so on
  • Preparing the coffee maker for delayed star

 

Daily Routine #2: The Morning Routine

You’ve probably been around people who were just difficult to be around and someone has said, “Geez! Someone got up on the wrong side of the bed!”

Well, the morning routine is like getting up on the right side of the bed every day.  The morning routine should include things that help you step into your day on the right foot.  Things like:

  • Enjoying a hot cup of that pre-made coffee while reading the Bible or meditating
  • Exercising
  • Checking account balance and paying bills
  • Checking and responding to email
  • Prepping your crockpot for dinner
  • Eating breakfast before the kids get up

 

Daily Routine #3: The Menu

There are plenty of systems and processes to help with this (if you don’t have a system that is simple and elegant, I highly recommend checking out Plan To Eat).  20-minutes of planning out a week’s worth of meals will result in:

  • Eliminating the guesswork out of meals since you know what is planned for each day
  • Simplifying the grocery list so nothing is forgotten or overpurchased
  • Keeping you within your budget
  • Helping your family know what to anticipate
Simple Meal Planning - Plan to Eat

Daily Routine #4: The Mail

Every day the mail comes in and too often it piles up somewhere in out homes.  And when we need the counter space or the table, we move the pile.  And sometimes move it again.  Each time we move it we risk losing something.  We don’t need to respond to all of the mail when it arrives, but if our daily routine is to process it we can avoid paper piles or lost mail by:

  • Opening all the mail
  • Putting the junk in the recycle bin
  • Putting bills where you pay them (in a file by your desk, in a folder in a kitchen drawer, etc.)
  • Putting things that require a response or action in a designated spot so that you can respond appropriately when you do those things (perhaps during your morning routine?)

Daily Routine #5: The Laundry

Laundry has it’s own regular routine for actually being done and we talk more about that in this post.  The daily routine I’m talking about here is actually quite simple. Each night you are simply:

  • Making sure that all dirty clothes are in a hamper and not on the floor

 

When we simply keep the laundry gathered into a hamper each day, you keep the floors picked up, reduce clutter, and position yourself to be ready to do laundry when it needs to be done.

Does it Really Matter?

So what does this look like in real life?  Have you heard the expression “You don’t know what you have until it’s gone?”  These 5 Daily Routines are like that.

Let me share with you what it looked like recently when I didn’t follow these daily routines.

I helped organize our neighborhood garage sale.  I was the “map” house so I was committed to being open the entire time the sale was advertised.  Since I knew we would have good traffic, I wanted to make sure that I maximized the experience and I spent a great deal of time doing a thorough purge of our home.  This meant that I had a lot of items to price, and a lot of items to set up.  It was a long week.

And that week I did not follow my routines.  As a result, things didn’t run smoothly.  It started with me not folding laundry at the beginning of the week like I typically did.  This meant that no one had clean clothes in their drawers, so they rummaged through the laundry baskets.  Dirty clothes were left on the floors and started to mix in with the clean clothes.  The mail was brought in each day but piled up on a table rather than being sorted.  I did not look ahead each night to prep food for the next day, so we scrambled for dinner each night because the food was still frozen. All of these things made an already tiring week even more challenging.

The good news is that these routines are simple enough that when you miss a day or a week, you can jump right back into them and reclaim the upper hand. The great news, is that they work!

Ready to set your home to cruise?  Let’s go!

5 Things Every Mom Needs

5 Things Every Mom Needs

The laundry is piling up.  You forgot to change the loads and are re-washing it.  Again.  Dinner didn’t get pulled out of the freezer so it isn’t thawing but it doesn’t matter because the dishwasher isn’t running so there aren’t clean dishes anyway!  The finger-painting keeping the kids occupied so nicely while you were talking on the phone was holding their interest because they were creating a mural on your living room wall.  It’s a swirl of chaos.

Suddenly you feel a hug on your legs and hear these words.

“I’m going to be just like you when I grow up, mommy.”

Melt my heart!  You can be in the middle of the worst day ever, and when sweet, innocent eyes look up at you and that little voice says those words time stops and everything melts away.  It makes it all worth it.

In that moment, being a mom is The. Best!

Unfortunately, those moments can be more like cameos than they are leading roles.  But what if I told you that we can lay a foundation that would make the joy of those moments become something that becomes a more regular part of being a mom?

Then, read on…

Thinking about my kids wanting to be just like me when they grew up, made me panic.  What if they did grow up to be just like me?  It struck me that I was creating a childhood for them full of the importance of cleaning and cooking but I wasn’t really building into them relationally.  I want my kids memories of their childhoods filled with doing things together and enjoying each other.  I want my kids rememberng these “mommy moments” and I knew I needed to be creating more of them than I was currently giving.

If you know my story, you know that I was deep in the depths of overwhelm.  Enjoying each other was not something that was happening.  My kiddos had a stressed out, burned out, checked out mama.

As I tried to climbing my way out of overwhelm I was assuming that I was the problem.  ‘What’s wrong with me?’ I asked myself. Often.

Imagine my surprise when I realized that nothing was wrong with me.  The problem wasn’t me or my desire to do all the things of being a mom.  The problem was that I didn’t have the right structure in place tomake doing the things moms need to do run smoothly.  The things that would let me simply be mom.  Wanting to be a mom who rocks at being a mom, I knew I was needing to make some changes.

What do moms need? Here are 5 things:

1. Relationship

Relationship is what being a mom is all about.  This includes relationships like those with our spouse, our friends, and our own moms, but when it comes to our kids, intentionally nurturing a relationship isn’t always on our radar.

When it came to parenting my kids, intentional relationship wasn’t something that I had ever consciously thought about until we adopted our youngest kids.  As we were learning about the steps that we needed to be taking to intentionally develop and nurture attachment, frankly it added to my overwhelm.  But the more I was learning, the more I began realizing that this was actually the heart of being a mom.

Simple Meal Planning - Plan to Eat

It was all about the relationship.  A lot of effort during the toddler years is what would be providing the framework to better navigate the teen years.  Why? Because of a deep-rooted relationship.

I began applying this to my older kids, and the changes, though slow (have you ever tried to redirect an ocean liner?) are noticeable.  Things like focusing on what they did right rather than what they were doing wrong, learning to say yes more and saying no less, listening to understand and not just for responding, and stopping to look them in the eye when they were talking to me.

When relationship is the goal, it puts everything else into perspective.

2. Operations

When we were moving into our house almost six years ago, our move was “squeezed in” between a lot of life that couldn’t be slowed down or postponed.  The day after our move I had a fundraising gala that I was organizing.  The kids still had six more weeks of school in 2 different buildings with 3 different schedules, so my days were spent driving and in the car rather than unpacking.  

And then we left on a 2-week trip just days after school ended.  It was literally months before I was able to start to settle our family into our home.

Settling in is more than unpacking and hanging pictures.  It’s just as much about learning patterns and rhythms that work in your space and with your people.  Noticing where coats are dumped, where the mail is naturally being set down, and how convenient it is put clean dishes away in a cupboard are all part of settling in.  Settling is is about operations.

When the operations of the home are running smoothly, the things that build relationship (and memories!) begin happening without becoming major productions themselves.  Last minute invite to the beach?  No problem.  The gear is where it needs to be, and the tasks of the day can be quickly assessed.

3. Cleaning

Everyone loves a clean space.  But cleaning that space is not always very fun.

Why?  High expectations and low appreciation.

When I was in High School, I was hired to clean someone’s home. While I was learning a lot, but I didn’t enjoy it at all.  The list of things needing to be done was lengthy (who dusts their baseboards every week?) and after I was done cleaning, I was told everything I did wrong or missed.  Even though I was rewarded with cash, it was still discouraging.

Whether you hire someone to do this, delegate to your kids, or do it yourself, cleaning is simply part of life.  So why is it overwhelming?

Most likely for the same reasons I dreaded my job – high expectations and low appreciation.  (High expectations are not the same as high standards; Expectations are about quantity and standards are about quality.)  Most often it is literally expecting too much.  There are too many steps.  One job could be broken down into 3 jobs.  Then once it’s done, no one notices when it’s done right, just what was missed. And if no one is going to appreciate your effort, why try?  That’s when standards slip and the whole thing falls apart.

After battling with our kids about dinner clean-up, we finally took that one large task that was taking them 90-minutes or more to do, and broke it into 3 smaller tasks, none of which typically should take more than 15 minutes.  It cut the time in half!

And by using a simple checklist [link to checklist] to outline the expectations, when it’s done, we can focus on what is done well and work on improving specific steps.  Our kids begin to take pride in their work.  And the cleaning becomes a natural part of life.

4. Kitchen

Have you ever seen the meme that says something like “If you could choose to never do one of these things again for the rest of your life, what would you choose?” Following it is a list of things like cooking, cleaning, yard work, and other tedious chores.

I always choose cooking.

Similar to cleaning, cooking just has to happen.  Eating is something people like doing.  And while we have choices about ordering in, eating out, or cooking from scratch, whatever we choose has an impact on our time, money, and long-term health.  No pressure, right?

But similar to cleaning, there are too many things wrapped up in cooking.  It should really be called “Kitchen” because it involves planning meals, shopping for meals, managing food inventory, prepping for meals, and then the actual cooking.

It’s a lot to process at 4:00 in the afternoon.  And that’s why I always chose cooking.  It was too overwhelming to wing it.

Breaking this down into the smaller parts and learning to make those part of your family’s rhythms can flip this on its head and make the kitchen run effortlessly.  (I’ll even let you in on my secret weapon: Plan to Eat.)

5. Simplicity

This feels like a no-brainer, right?  But it’s not as simple as it seems (see what I did there?).  When something is simple, it works.  Most of the time something doesn’t work because it’s too complicated.  And, funny enough, most of the time it just requires a simple tweak to make it less complicated.

Simplicity is the key to success. And success is the desired outcome pretty much across the board. So, don’t overcomplicate things.

Want to be a mom who ROCKS?  Join me on this journey.  Start by downloading your 9 Things You Can Do To Raise a Confident Kid.

 

 

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