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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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