Redefining Home Management

Category Archives: Organization 101

Practical Solutions… Wrapping it Up


Today I want to briefly cover a few last topics that I think are foundational and practical things to remember in most organizational projects.  After today, I’m excited to start showing some projects in my house that put the philosophy and solutions of all my previous posts into action!


Sentimental Stuff

This topic needs an entire post for sure!  I have boxes, bins and baskets with various memorabilia items for all of us, and will break those systems down in future posts.  For now, I would like to briefly set out some basic guidelines for sentimental items in our home.  Let me clarify that by sentimental items I don’t just mean cards, ticket stubs, schoolwork and art from your children.  I consider sentimental stuff to be much more!  It is all of that stuff in your home that you don’t use.  You keep it for an emotional attachment.


I am all about keeping things that will remind me of my children in their youth, precious memories and good times with family and friends.  But, many of us need to work on detaching ourselves from things. Things won’t keep your kids young, bring back a loved one, make you an all-star athlete at the age of forty… If something is truly important to you because of the memories it brings back, the stories you can tell your children about it, the loved one it reminds you of… then do one of two things:


1.) Find a place to display that item so you can see it, use it, or enjoy it on a regular basis.

2.) Store it in a way that you can easily find it, and it will be in good condition when you want to use it or share it with someone someday.



These are examples of how I display my kids artwork on a regular basis, because I love seeing it and watching them share it with pride.  I have 2 pieces of art for each child in our upstairs hallway outside our bedrooms. There are 2 frames for each child and the mat is a solid off-white color so that their artwork can be a variety of sizes, colors & shapes.  The art sits on top of the mat, protected behind glass. It looks pulled together, but the kids still get to show off their creations! This isn’t the only artwork I save, but I’ll talk about that in another post.


What do you do with your children’s artwork? cards? photos?  Are they displayed in way that your family and guests can enjoy them?  Are they in piles on a desk or counter?  Are they hanging on a refrigerator that is so full no one can clearly identify anything on it?  I really believe less is more when it comes to sentimental belongings.


If you have so much sentimental stuff that you can’t enjoy or preserve it, then you need to get rid of some things. Again, set boundaries of how much stuff is reasonable to store in your home (not a rented storage unit, unless you plan to move to a larger home in the near future) and force yourself to prioritize and sort down to that boundary. If you can’t do that alone, ask a friend to help you or hire someone.



Maintaining Order – An Ongoing Commitment:

No matter how perfect your systems are, there will be busy days, busy times of the day, crazy weekends… A realistic goal is spending 15 minutes each day ridding your home of clutter. Remember that doesn’t have to mean you dealt with everything – just that it is in its temporary or long term home.


Set aside 15-20 minutes, 3 times per week to maintain your order. Use this time to sort food in your pantry, throw away toiletries or medicines that are old, clean out your junk drawer, sort a stack of papers, get rid of everything that doesn’t belong in the mudroom, pick up the garage… It does take time to maintain order – we all have the days that things just get tossed somewhere. But, if you are consistently using small amounts of time to straighten one area, nothing will get out of hand and you shouldn’t find yourself needed to overall a space you have spent time ordering and putting systems in place for.


Conquering a BIG Project

If you do have a big project – break it down. You can do all of the steps in one day, or if you’re like many of us that isn’t always possible with our other obligations. Don’t wait for a free weekend to organize a disaster zone in your house – it may never happen.


Start by clearing the space, and putting everything in one of 4 piles: Keep, Toss, Donate, Relocate. The relocate pile is for items that you are keeping, but they don’t belong in the space you are working on. i.e. you find your favorite sweater in your daughters closet, tools in the mudroom…


-Deal with the toss pile immediately.

-Give yourself 2-3 days to empty the donate and relocate piles.

-Then, evaluate what you have, and develop a plan for putting it back in place.


Start working on putting things back in the space, rounding up found or purchased items to finish the project. Set a deadline of finishing the project in 7-10 days. You may be someone that has time to have one of those types of projects going at all times. But, it is also a very reasonable goal to complete one of those projects once every two months. That would still be 6 large projects every year – not bad! I know, at that pace some of you feel like you may never have an organized home. I think this is one of those times that it is important to not hold ourselves to a “Hollywood” standard and remember our real priorities. If you still feel like you need a temporary boost in your productivity – consider enlisting some help.


But remember too that setting aside regular small amounts of time to maintain that order will be necessary. If you spend a week organizing your pantry to find it is a disaster again in 6 months, it feels very defeating. Make the commitment to set aside time periodically to maintain the spaces you have worked hard to order.


Coming soon: A post on how to order and maintain a pantry. This was my pantry about a month ago. I’ll give you some tips on how to get a pantry under control & maintain order.  Then! I’ll share my “kinda big project” to make it so much prettier, after I was inspired by the photos in this post.

Practical Solutions … A Home for Everything


I have been a bit slow in getting this next post up, but let me tell you the fun things keeping me preoccupied!!  My dad has been at our house, working furiously to finish our basement!!  I know, I’m spoiled – I have a dad and father-in-law that can do all things handy!  (love him as I do, my husband and I seem to be lacking those genes!)   I’m sure you all will be getting lots of before and after photos, but I had to share this one!  I know it is a little uninspiring right now – but I’m ecstatic about it!  Someday the alcove above the fireplace will house a tv, surrounded by pretty tile. So, sorry for the delay in this post, but I’ve been busy!  Really, my dad has been busy and I’ve been making his life difficult with my crazy requests, and occasionally I pick up a broom or tighten some screws!



O.k. back to organizing!  Stuff that has no home is our worst enemy.  I have two homes for a lot of things  – a temporary home and a long-term home. I don’t agree with the argument that you should only touch any item once. Although that sounds lovely – heavenly actually! it isn’t always reasonable or even a good use of  time.  Having a short-term and long-term home for some items will help save you time, and it will keep that growing pile off your kitchen counter.


Everyone has busy days when just getting the kids in the door, fed, changed and back out the door in the time allowed is a mighty accomplishment.   I can deal with items quickly on those busy days if I stash them somewhere in a temporary home.  The key is that this temporary home is orderly enough that things can still be found, they are not getting destroyed and I know where they go when I have time to put them in their long term home.


Do you remember these before pictures of my house after a crazy busy day from “this post“? (Including groceries to put away and breakfast dishes in the sink at 4pm!) I had about 25 minutes to get my kids a snack, my daughter in her ballet clothes, and the house in order. Then I had to get out the door to dance, and back home to make dinner. If every item strewn about had to go to a different room and I had no idea where to even put some of it, my clean-up job could have easily taken an hour or more – not time I had that evening.



When the clean up job seems overwhelming or would take too long, we often throw up our arms and say “forget it!”.  This is where a temporary home is helpful.  By stashing things to go upstairs in my stair basket, mail in my bin, homework folders in their bins…. I can do a quick clean-up that returns my home to order.  This clean-up took less than 25 minutes start to finish – including snacks , washing dishes and getting Addi dressed for dance.  I know some of you think that is because of my caffeine intake!  but really it’s just about systems that work for containing my clutter.   This feels good when I walk in the door to make dinner and enjoy my evening with my family.  And right or wrong, I think our house being in order for the evening makes Jason and I feel better about what I did all day while he was hard at work.



Here is one of my temporary homes that I find very helpful on a regular basis!  I have two boxes in my junk drawer – tucked in that right back corner.   One is for miscellaneous hardware, screws… that I have no idea what they go to but I don’t think I should toss them. I have a second bin for all the really small kid toy parts and game pieces I find laying around. You can see all the random things I find, but don’t know what they go to or don’t have time to get them put away in the right place.


2-3 times a year I clean my junk drawer out, sort those boxes and deal with what is in them. It usually takes 15-20 minutes to go through them, toss what I have figured out is trash or broken, put away what is simply misplaced… and I’ll end up with a handful of things that go back in the drawer because I still don’t know what they are!  This is a good task for one of the times you can do a 15-20 minute project but don’t have time to start something major.  I often find  myself doing this kind of thing at the counter while my 2 year old takes “forever” to eat a simple lunch!


The other thing I love… when my husband asks me if I’ve seen “the octagon shaped white plastic piece missing off an appliance” I know exactly where to find it!  Kinda makes you feel like a rock-star housewife!   And when the kids need a missing game piece I don’t have to try and figure out where I tossed it in a hurry because a guest was on the way. This is what I mean by everything has a home – maybe a temporary and long-term. Yes, in an ideal world I would pick up every marble, bingo chip, dice… and put it neatly in the correct game box each time I find it. That’s not my reality – and half the time I don’t even know what game it came from!


I have a “temporary home” for a lot of things in my house.  For those of you that think my house is always spotless – it is not!  All of the floor space, counter tops and tables are usually free of any clutter (because that clutter makes me cranky!).  However, if you find my stash zones you will find a pile of stuff NOT “put away” most days!  I am big on a house being calm, and peaceful to live in, but don’t translate that to perfection.  Your house can feel orderly and calm, without it being perfect.



This relates back to boundaries too.  I have a temporary home with a boundary, so that my quick clean up times don’t get out of control.  On a regular basis I have to take to the time to put everything! away in its proper place. Above are some of my “temporary homes”.


The goal is that you don’t have to deal with everything immediately when it comes in your door.  You can do a quick sort (which makes it easier to deal with later), and then put items in a safe place so your house isn’t cluttered until you have time to deal with it completely. (Which for some items might honestly not be for months! – like those cards, pictures, sentimental items.)


Once your counter,desk, floor, table… are clean it is much easier to be motivated to keep them that way. I must admit, waking up to a house where all the clutter is gone and everything is in its place is a joyful and peaceful start to my day!  It definitely motivates me to stay organized!


Practical Solutions … Boundaries

Setting Boundaries

I am BIG on setting boundaries – for everything! Setting a boundary for our clutter forces us to deal with things, at some point. Make your boundary reasonable, but stick to it! I love baskets and bins! I have baskets for toys, hats & gloves in the mud room, clothes in our closets, papers, pending projects, junk to take to the 2nd floor…  Today I want to share some ways that I have set boundaries in our home.  I have boundaries to prevent us from accumulating too much stuff, and boundaries that make us deal with our messes before they get completely out of hand!


Shortly into the toddler years I began to find that small toys were trying to take over our playroom, living room… house.  A boundary was needed!   I used a basket, but a good option would be to use a plastic shoe box for each child. (or recycle the real cardboard one that came with your shoes) Only allow each child as many random small toys as will fit in that box. Think: happy meal toys, party favor trinkets, Chuck-E-Cheese prizes… the toys that have the potential to drive us crazy!  When the lid won’t fit your kids have to sort and toss.  This allows you to save things for a time, but not let them get out of control.  I also think this is a good lesson for kids to learn to keep what they can reasonably play with and not develop the habit of just keeping everything.



These are some of my favorite products! The black canvas bin is from Michael’s, they also carry them in white. Between black and white, you can make them work in almost any space! They are in the craft storage area and are just like the Closetmaid bins you can get at Target, Walmart… The difference is, if you wait until Miachael’s has their craft storage on sale (which is at least once a month) – you can get them for between $2.50 and $3!

The clear bins are a line from The Container Store of Clear Storage Boxes. They are $1.69 and up – depending on the size. Why I love them: 1) They are semi-transparent so they mask items inside, but you can still see what is in them. 2) They have multiple sizes for various purposes, but still look cohesive when used in the same space. 3) They are reasonably priced, and very durable. I have used these for toys for years – hot wheels, legos… My kids have USED! them, and they are durable.  Costco also has a similar plastic shoe box  by Iris in a bulk pack. (14 for $19)



I use these clear bins to coral things under my bathroom cabinet, keep my tea stash together in the kitchen, and as a handy backing caddy with all of my small baking supplies.  (I actually have many more of them, as you’ll see in future posts!)  When I’m baking I can quickly pull out the whole box with baking powder, vanilla extract, food coloring, chocolate chips…  This helps me keep all of these items under control as well.   It is easy to buy a couple extra food colorings or bags of chocolate chips (just to have on had).  Having a boundary in my cupboard helps me only buy what I really have room for, which also means I can find it and remember that I have it when I need it.


I also use the shoe box size containers in my bathroom to organize my cabinet.  Having this boundary forces me to use my almost empty products and throw them away before getting a new one out – because that’s the only way it all fits in my box.  Setting boundaries helps us use what we have, know where it is, and not accumulate way more than we need.


I think boundaries also help us deal with things quickly when we need to, and then sort and put them away correctly at a later time – without just having piles of junk everywhere!



This is my basket of random toys laying around the lower level. When I do a quick pick up this is the home of the stragglers – think of the inevitable super annoying little stuff that’s always left behind, even after clean up. Instead of taking them to each child’s room, the playroom, the basement …I just toss them in this basket – which is hidden behind closed doors! When the basket is overflowing I know I need to sort and put things away in their proper place. The kids also know if a toy goes missing – this is the first place to look!


I also don’t like making a million trips upstairs every day with all the things I find on the first floor that don’t belong there.  I use the common strategy of “pile it on the stairs”.  It can get a bit out of control – where the pile technically is upstairs, it just starts downstairs!  So, I finally broke down and bought this super functional and cute basket from Ballard Design.



Notice how the basket is made for stairs, and utilizes the full depth of the two stairs to contain stuff.  The big area on the bottom holds books, shoes, clothes….  The smaller, divided compartment above allows me to also safely stash smaller items:  jewelery, hair clips, trading cards… without them being lost or broken from being mixed in with the big stuff.  And yes, my pile does extend waaaaaaay beyond this basket sometimes, but it is working better as a reasonable boundary.  It is a mental check for me that when the basket is overflowing, I’m neglecting a job.



I also use a simple basket to keep a handle on the mass of magazines and catalogs I get.  This basket sits in my main floor bathroom.  It is close by for me to toss them in the basket when they come in the door with the mail.  It is also a place where much of my family likes to find a little “light reading”!  When this basket is full, I don’t start another pile elsewhere.  I force myself to sort through what I have and toss some items to fit the new stuff.  I usually find three versions of the same catalog and at least two magazines that are completely irrelevant – last season’s InStyle, or the Valentine edition of Good Housekeeping…  I also know that if I keep more magazines than this basket can hold, I won’t ever have time to read them all anyway.  I am able to find a good magazine to read when I want one, locate the catalog I’m looking for if I want to order something, and magazines aren’t cluttering up counters and desks.  This boundary helps me use and know what I have.


Something else I tend to accumulate is toiletries – especially the stuff in cute little bottles!  Use a shoe box or ziplock bag for all the small toiletry items you’ve gotten from hotels or stocking-suffers… When the bag or box is full, toss something old or just don’t save anything else until you’ve used some of what you’ve got on hand.  If you just keep saving, it becomes overwhelming and you really won’t ever use it all anyway.


This is a sampling of my boundaries, but what I really want to share is the concept.  Each family needs they’re own boundaries, but I think it is a great place to start if you are feeling overwhelmed.  I  also know it is hard to throw things away or donate them, but sometimes it is actually more responsible and being a better steward of what you have to let some stuff go.   So many of us have a hard time throwing anything away – the result is that what we do have becomes impossible to use or loses its value. Have less, but set out to take care of and use what you do keep!



Practical Solutions… Time Management

Now that you all understand a little bit of what’s going on in my head as I pick organizational projects, set a budget, get to work and try to maintain that order, I’d like to share some practical stuff I think applies to many projects. The next series of post topics relate directly back to the “what is hindering you” questions of my last post. If you just have too much stuff – your favorite post may be “Setting Boundaries”. If you lack systems “A Place for Everything” might be more helpful. For all of us, a great place to start is time management


Time Management

In the book “Creative Counterpart” Linda Dillow talks about being a wife and mother. She says, “A Creative Counterpart is a woman who having chosen the vocation of wife and mother decides to learn and grow in all areas of this role and work as though she were aiming for the presidency of a corporation.” Regardless of our work status outside of the home, I love the idea this quote represents. It recognizes the work and attitude required to manage a busy home, it is no small task!


How many of us look at our weekly schedule and fit in activities wherever it seems we have “free time”. But what about laundry, grocery shopping, cleaning, managing schedules & forms & bills… All too often as busy families we just assume we will find time for those tasks, and they end up stressing us out on a weekly basis! These basic tasks that are required in life are time consuming and important to the functioning of our families! How do I stay on top of all this stuff – I schedule it into my week like a Dr.’s appointment. And, if an appointment or activity threatens that time slot – I say no to it.


Each Sunday, I sit down for 5 minutes with my calendar and look at my entire week ahead. Notice that I don’t include details – it is a very quick outline. I plan out when I will do all of my tasks that week given any appointments, activities, school functions, meetings… I may have. I set aside time for cleaning, laundry, going to the grocery store, other errands, working out. Here is a sample schedule from a few weeks ago…


A Sample of My Weekly Plan

(click on image to download blank template)


These are the things that a lot of us don’t schedule and just think they’ll get done. If I don’t prioritize these things and set time aside at the beginning of the week it becomes stressful to fit them in. I’ll get sidetracked, distracted and over-committed because I say yes to stuff before thinking through what I really need to do to feel on top of the basics of life.


Completing the weekly plan also allows me to plan for each day the night before in less than a minute or two.  I glance at my day and know if I need to take my work out clothes with me, returns, receipts, get a grocery list together.  Without this schedule I end up frustrated and stressed out when my day seems to fall apart.


This is how it looks for me: I run out the door in a hurry to the the gym right after taking my son to school so I can make my favorite Pilates class. I realize while working out that I need to run errands but am lacking the list, coupons, returns, present I was supposed to mail… I don’t have time to go home and get the stuff and still do my errands before getting my daughter to preschool. The bigger frustration comes when I realize that with the rest of my week and being stuck at home for my youngest son’s afternoon naps I have no time to run my errands. I end up dragging tired and hungry kids to stores at crazy times, rushing around and getting frustrated that they don’t feel my urgency to get the groceries and then tack on one last errand after the kids are in bed – missing my chance that week to lay low at home with my hubby.


Sound familiar – this isn’t hypothetical for me – I’ve had this scenario and it always leaves me wishing I’d paid better attention to my weekly schedule.


Note that this is my short version after doing this for many years. I don’t write down getting the kids ready for school, feeding them lunch, nap routines, regular checking of my “to do” file for urgent items…. There is a lot in my day that I don’t write down, but I’ve learned what I can handle on top of my daily routine in the morning, afternoon, and evening. I have 1-2 hour chunks of time throughout the day that when planned for and used properly, I can get cleaning, laundry, shopping, managing papers & schedules… done. When I don’t have that time planned for I forget what I need to do, get distracted by the t.v. or internet… Wasting little 30 minutes slots of time here and there can completely derail an otherwise manageable week.


A side note is the *. This is a way for me to prioritize my life – it’s the stuff I’d like to do, but won’t if I can’t get the other stuff in first. Also, I don’t usually plan dinner that well. I often have 1-2 meals planned for the week and rely on my stand-by’s for other nights. More on managing meals another time – notice I didn’t call it meal planning. I don’t meal plan, I’ve tried – it doesn’t work well for me – kudos to those of you that can!


Time-management is something I am so passionate about and would encourage you to explore if you are frequently feeling overwhelmed. Mapping out your week not only makes you proactive in using your time wisely, it also helps you identify if you are over-committed or wasting time on things that don’t line up with your priorities. If you feel overwhelmed and don’t know how to change it, map things out for a few weeks. At the end of each week evaluate how the week went and make a few notes on the back of your schedule. Save your weekly plans, and after a month go back and review where your time has been spent. How do you feel about it? How does your family feel about it? Do you need to scale back your commitments or be more intentional with your time?


If you would like to dig further into this topic, I love this article from Dr. G. Harry Leafe, Jr of Scriptel Ministries on Time Management.


As I am spending more time pursuing this dream of an organization blog and business, I am myself encountering new challenges in my schedule. My life has looked roughly the same for about 7 years, since my first son was born. However, as I take all of the responsibilities I have for my home and add in the writing of posts, working with clients in their homes, and researching and shopping solutions for others; I am having to evaluate my time management. I have a new priority in my life, and I’m loving it.  But, I’m still evaluating what that looks like.


In all of this, I am once again really having to rely on my weekly schedule to use my time efficiently and for the right things.  My hope is that I can stay true to my priorities and let the other stuff go without guilt. Lofty goal I know!!!

What is Hindering You?

My hope is that by this post some of you are excited about the changes that could occur in your life with a little more organization – or a lot! I am excited to get to the projects that will help you with the “how to”. But, before the projects… I have one more issue to raise.

READY! What is holding you back, preventing you from being organized? Ugh, tough one! I know that one isn’t fun for most of us! But, I think it is so important to understand. Not that you are going to fix it tomorrow, or maybe ever! However, understanding what is hindering us will help us evaluate if our WHY? is really important enough to STAY! organized, and if so HOW! to do it. So, don’t hate me, but more tough questions for you to ponder.

Like the “why” questions of before, does one of these questions really hit you? Did you feel a little twang of “ugh” when you read one of them? If so – awesome! Why awesome you ask, because once we know what is hindering us we can do! something about it. In my next post I’ll have some thoughts for you on what to do with each of these hindrances – some real & practical stuff!


OR, are you unsure about the answers to these questions? Are you struggling with why all of your good intentions and hard work aren’t leaving you with a sense of order in your home or life? Do you feel at a loss with today’s question: What is hindering you? Are you like one of my dear friends that tries to be organized, is really on top of things in her life, and wants to be organized but just feels like she falls short? Maybe you need someone that loves you to give you a little tough love. Ask a sister or close friend (maybe NOT your husband, unless you are a bigger person than I!) to be real and honest with you about what they see.


My friend asked me one day, “I can take it, really, what is hindering me?”. We continued to have a conversation about the things in her life that consume her time and make it difficult for her STAY! organized to the level she desires. In that conversation she realized that she had some very good priorities (and so did her husband) that made it difficult for her to be as organized in her home as she desires. I can’t tell you that she has since become one of the most organized people I know, but I think (I hope!) she at least walked away with a little less guilt and a little bit more of a realistic view of her reality, at this point in her life. The cover of Good Housekeeping is probably not in her near future, however she is excellent in her role as a mother and housewife. Her top priorities are where her efforts fall, and at times that leaves a little to be desired in the organization department – all for good reason.


I encourage you to really look at what is hindering you, is it good stuff, stuff that shouldn’t change? Maybe you need to let go of some guilt and keep about your business. Even though organization is “my thing”, there are times that no one would know it from the looks of my home. But many of those times have also been a result of a favorite weekend with my family, the end of a wonderful week just playing with my kids, or a valuable day of doing something for someone else. Some of you may find good tips and inspiration on this blog to get order in your home or you may just find small projects that make life a little easier in your already orderly home. Others may find that you just feel less guilty when you read my posts – and I’m totally ok with that -whether your guilt is lifted as you see how messy my house can be or how messed up my priorities can get if I’m not careful. Either way, I hope you join me again!


This is really the end of my super serious/philosophical/not-so-practical posts. For those of you still reading… THANKS for sticking with me!!! My first hope is that you have been able to analyze your organizational tendencies and find some focus. I really believe that if we know WHY! we want to be organized and WHAT IS HINDERING! us we are well on our way to getting it DONE!


If you have a clear understanding of these two things you can start using some of the tools and systems that we are smothered with from websites, television shows, books, magazines and maybe even this blog! to get organized. You can evaluate for yourself which things you will be motivated to keep using and doing for the long haul, and which things address your greatest hindrances. Then you can take that all important final step of STAYING! organized.


Here are some of my favorite sources of inspiration and organization products!

You can also follow me on Pintrest, but I warn you I start dreaming of projects and get a little pin-happy sometimes!  Also, at this point my Pintrest boards are really about inspiration for me, my home and my family.  You won’t find a wealth of organizational inspiration – at least not yet! – but you will see what interests me, what I would love for my home to look like…

Have you had an “oh my gosh” moment of why you want to be organized or what will seriously motivate you? Are you thinking about organization more, becoming more aware or your personal strengths and weaknesses?  Please, share your thoughts with me! Are you struggling to find motivation in anything that you think will really STAY!  I’d love to hear from all of you! Email:, or comment on this post.