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Redefining Home Management

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Ordering & Saving Heirlooms & Memorabilia

One of my favorite things about working with clients is that I get to know them as individuals.  Through the organization process we purge, sort and categorize.  Most clients share numerous stories about where their belongings came from and why they are important to them or another member of their family.  During this process I am able to learn so much about the individuals and families I work with.  Sometimes the family stories and treasures we uncover are fascinating. 

I have been working with a fun couple for a few months now.  We started in their garage, moved to the basement and have now worked throughout most spaces in their home.  Their entire home has remnants of family history and things that were once important to my client’s parents, grandparents and other family members.  It can be so hard to let go of these treasures, especially when they are also really cool antiques.  I have to admit I even wanted to keep some of the cool things we found and they have no sentimental meaning to me!  However, keeping all of the things that hold memories of people, events and stages of life we never want to forget, can leave us with a house so full of clutter we do not have space to make new memories.   

My goal with clients is to help them identify the things they enjoy looking at and put them on display, store a few treasures in a way that they can be enjoyed for years to come and then hold onto the memories and let the weight of the rest of the clutter go. This is especially important if you are looking to downsize or move frequently. 

One way I recommend that clients preserve memories without hanging on to all of the physical clutter is through pictures.  As you sort through boxes and furniture, set a few things aside to display or store in a way that they are well preserved and can be enjoyed when you want to look through them or pass them along to the next generation.  Take the rest of the items and take photos of them. 

A trunk that has been passed down through my husband’s family.

To take good photos, find a spot in your home with natural light and some space to work.  Lay out a large, pressed white sheet or piece of white paper and place items on the white backdrop.  The back side of wrapping paper provides a nice wrinkle free backdrop.  Snap a photo of the object and then put it in a box to donate or sell. 

 

A music holder of my grandfathers that I use for magazines.

 

After you have gone through all of your belongings, gather the pictures and create an online photobook through a site like Shutterfly.  You can add captions or stories with as much or as little detail as you would like.  You can then let go of the physical item and know that the memories of that object that bring you joy are not lost and will not be forgotten. 

 

Photo books aren’t just for portraits, they can be so much more!

 

The object and the story of your memories can be preserved in a thin, easy to store, and easy to share photo album.  If you are working with family heirlooms after the passing of a parent or grandparent, you can even do this and make multiple copies so that all family members can have one.

Often the object we hold tight is not what we can’t part with, it is the memory we associate with that object.  We fear that if the object is gone, we may forget the memory, person or event we associate it with.  Taking photos and storing them in a meaningful way allows us to hold on to those memories and have space in our homes for new memories.

Strategies for Maintenance

Clients frequently ask me for strategies to maintain order in their home, especially this time of the year.  We are all trying to regain order for the new year, and our families are inside more than ever with frigid temperatures.  It is one thing to set up systems that look pretty and work when we first set them up.  We can all get behind tossing junk and buying pretty bins – right!  It is entirely different to set up a system that works for a busy family with kids that are not highly interested in helping maintain those systems.  And yes, there is typically one spouse that has a drastically different definition of tidy than the other.  So, how do we set realistic expectations for ourselves and our family to keep our home ordered and running smoothly?

 

First, let’s look in the mirror.  I see homes where one person (it’s not always the woman!) has an unrealistic view of perfection that can’t be achieved if you have a busy family and keep your priorities in order.   I meet countless families that want their houses to be ordered and running smoothly but are too busy to ever be there.  Managing our homes requires us to be both physically and mentally present for a significant period of time on a weekly basis.   And of course, there are the families that just have too much stuff.  Remember that it doesn’t just take money to buy stuff, it takes time to manage it no matter how organized we are.  Before implementing new systems and strategies carefully evaluate why you think prior efforts have been derailed.

 

If you are investing time in managing your home, have a reasonable amount of stuff and a realistic expectation of what order looks like I think even the busiest family can maintain an orderly and well managed home with a few good strategies.

 

This chart provides a basic framework for setting up systems and then working to maintain them with some simple daily and weekly strategies.

 

Set Up A System Maintain Daily Maintain Weekly

•Everything must have a home  

•Sometimes we need a home for a “category”

•The hub of your home, including the kitchen counters should not be the “home” of anything

•Labels can help keep your family on the same page

•Quick tidy

•Everyone must get belongings to their personal space or its home daily

•Sweep the kitchen floor and wipe off counters & table

•Tidy & sweep mudroom

•Kids’ Rooms: clothes off the floor

•Each family member resets their personal spaces with everything in its place

•Reset whole home of weekly visual clutter, twice a week is helpful 

•Work on one or more “closed space(s)” for about 20 minutes

•Clean toilets & sinks

 

Without a good system that gives everything in your home a place to belong, it is hard to pick up quickly.  Those “I have no idea what to do with this” items are the ones that derail us the quickest.  Find a home for everything and store very little in the hub of your home.  (think kitchen, living room, dining)  For my family, nothing belongs in the hub of our home except the items our family uses together to eat and enjoy our time together (games and puzzles).  This means that every day you can require each member of the family to take their belongings to their own personal space and all clutter should be picked up. 

 

I don’t make my kids keep their rooms spotless every day.  And let’s be honest, there are many days that I can’t see the floor in my 16 year old’s room.  But… that’s the freedom and grace I give him to be his own busy person during the week.  However, once per weekend he is required to get his room in order according to mom’s standards.  He still has more “clutter” that belongs on his desk and shelves than I would like but I just require that all of his belongings are put away and well taken care of.  He also has to vacuum and dust his room and clean the bathroom he shares with his brother twice per month.  I clean it at least once a month as well, because he’s 16 and I want my house to be clean when he moves out in 2 years! 

 

Now I know requiring your kids to pick up daily and clean their rooms well once a week sounds like torture, but I am a firm believer that the real benefits of these habits go WAY beyond a clean home.  Our kids need to learn to take care of their own belongings and be good stewards of their blessings.  Almost every client I have ever worked with has high standards for their kids to work hard at school, sports, music or whatever extra-curriculars they are interested in.  But we also need to teach our kids the life lesson that we must work hard at home too.  We often want to let our kids off the hook at home because we know they are such good students and dedicated athletes or musicians, but we aren’t truly helping them if we have no expectations of them contributing to the efficient management of the home in which they live.

 

The last, and I would argue most important reason to consistently require our kids to help us maintain order, is that it provides an opportunity at the youngest age and the oldest to teach and reinforce the principle that obeying your parents is not an option.  When our kids learn at a young age that obeying our house rules is a consistent and non-negotiable expectation the entire family dynamic is more peaceful – not just the living room!

 

By requiring my family to pick up their own belongings each day on the main floor, the spaces I live in regularly are not overwhelming for me to keep picked up and clean.  If picking up at the end of the day meant picking up after my entire family of 5, I would never do it.  Because I just pick up my belongings, do the dinner dishes, wipe off counters and sweep the kitchen and mudroom it only takes 20-30 minutes a day.  

 

Weekly my family must get their personal spaces in order and help with their laundry.  Remember they have been allowed to manage their own personal space throughout the week, so sometimes this takes a long time on the weekend, sometimes it is super fast.  Let your kids have some freedom for how they manage their own belongings and space, within some reasonable boundaries.  Once a week I spend at least a few hours tidying and deep cleaning our home as well.  Now I’m a weirdo, my ideal Saturday is snow falling outside and me organizing and cleaning my house all day.  I know many of you lead much more exciting lives than that, but reality is… maintaining our homes takes time.  I also spend a couple of days a year (usually after Christmas in January and after summer break in September) resetting larger spaces like the storage room, purging clothes in my closet and kids’ closets and the pantry.

 

Do a little bit each day, a better job once per week and reset whole systems a couple of times a year.  This will keep your systems running smoothly and your home in order all the time.

 

 

Organizing for the New Year

Fun fact…  If you Google “organizing new year” you will get over 2.4 billion articles.  Wow!  I’m not sure how valuable all of those articles are, but that one little statistic tells us everything we need to know.  Millions of people want to be organized, millions of people want to make money off helping people get organized, and I am highly unlikely to write an article with any tips or tricks that haven’t already been written about.  You can find plans to follow, calendars to schedule your tasks and seminars to give you the tools and get you motivated.  

First, let me be clear that some of those resources are amazing.  I’ve read some of them and even stalked a few bloggers over the years.  However, I have also worked with a lot of people that wanted to be more organized.  Some of those people were actually really organized to start with and others were, well not so much!  The common thing about every single one of the people I have worked with is this…  they all set aside personal resources to get more organized and create a more peaceful space in their home.  That is the key.  No one can get organized without either committing the time to the task or money for someone else to do it for them.  If you want to commit some time to getting organized this year, I’ll share a few suggestions about the process and what I typically work on each January in my own home.  

There are plenty of articles including some of my own posts about how to approach getting organized.  Many times we read the articles and plan the fun products, and then have no time left to actually get organized.  Unless you feel like you have set out on an organization mission many times without success, I wouldn’t spend time reading plans, getting inspiration and shopping product.  I would just get started!  However, if you want to read some of my original posts on my philosophy of organization, how to get started, and other tips of general organization you can follow this link.  OH! Organization 101 

Last weekend was my reset weekend for our house, and I made some significant new year organization progress.   The first key to my success was that I did very little last weekend, except spend time in my house organizing and cleaning.  I maybe even went unacceptably long without a shower!  I know that sounds way more fun to me than the average person, but really it is required of any of us to make good progress.  When we are only home for a few hours here and there we deal with the big glaring stuff that really bothers us but so many little details get pushed aside.  What I find is that the accumulation of a million little things that I need to deal with but avoid because they seem hard end up overrunning a space until I set aside a chunk of time to force myself deal with them.   So, I started with one small space in my house that had a million little things that needed to be addresses:  my office.

My office is always my stash zone, and it never fails that I look like a hoarder instead of an organizer by the end of the holiday season.  This year I had a pile in the corner of work things (like shredding), returns, small but daunting mom projects (sewing Jase’s favorite stuffed animal), unused home decor from August, Christmas returns and more.  The middle of my office was a pile of leftover randomness from Christmas, work papers, an old computer that needed backed up, books and cards I stashed for the last 2 months…  Then there was the closet… it was overrun with office supplies, memorabilia, and too many categories that fit when we moved 4 years ago but have now overwhelmed the space.  I truly needed a whole weekend to deal with all of those little piles that together became a big project.  

One of the things that can make it hard to get through those small projects is uncertainty of what to do with them, how to fix them, guilt at throwing them away, and the sense that they just aren’t important enough to take up my precious spare time.  As I worked through my office I forced myself to deal with every single item and did not leave anything “for later”.  I did small annoying tasks (like sewing and shredding), I sorted through files and papers and tossed the outdated items, relocated some categories from my closet that no longer fit, and put every.single.little.annoying.thing that was out of place in my office back where it belonged.  As much as I dreaded each of those little tasks and put them off, it felt so good to have my office back in order for the new year ahead.  And I’ll be in here a lot!!

If you feel overwhelmed by all the little things you see throughout your house that need to be dealt with, commit to getting one or two spaces really organized.  Set aside a significant amount of time and start going through every little thing as you work your way around the room or through a closet.  


My office was really my trouble spot this January and included most of my other January priorities, but I usually find myself addressing the same things at the start of every new year: 

I purge file folders on my desk, sort paper piles, purge office supplies, sort and store cards and other memorabilia, address the Christmas overflow and work through project piles that accumulate in my office. 

I try to wash all of my blankets and linens while I’m working and “stuck at home”. 

I reset my gift wrap and greeting card supply – getting Christmas tucked away and refreshing my stash for birthdays. 

My refrigerator always needs cleaned out and I am brutal with purging the holiday excess from the pantry. 

When we take down the Christmas tree, we reset the storage room and make sure everything has a home. 

I used to also make my kids help me clean out their toy room and bedrooms before putting away their Christmas gifts.  This was super helpful when they were younger as they were more motivated to purge old toys when they had just gotten all of their new ones.   


Because I organize a little all year long, I am not overhauling spaces in the new year.  Overhauling a space that has been neglected for years can be overwhelming and you may need help.  I usually need about 3-4 good days at home to get Christmas taken down and new year organization projects all accomplished.

I love solitude, so I am quite happy with my coffee and my music, but if you thrive in the presence of people – phone a friend!  Work together, 2-3 days in each of your homes, sorting, organizing and even enjoying some coffee or a favorite carryout lunch.  It doesn’t have to be miserable… you just have to set aside time and set your mind to it.  I promise you will find joy in the final product!  I organize for a living and I keep walking by my neat and tidy office and thinking “it looks so nice in there”. 

Find some time, pick a space and Happy Organizing in 2022! 

I Kinda Miss Paper Clutter

Our family drove home from our summer vacation in Colorado on Monday.  I am always sad to leave my home state of Colorado with its beautiful mountains and crisp cool air, but this week’s humidity and heat has me ready to boycott Iowa in August!  On a more relevant note, a good portion of the 9 hour car ride was spent sorting through emails that I had neglected for about 8 days.  I CAN NOT believe how long it took me to simply organize my family’s life for the next couple of months!

 

I really do miss the days of paper clutter, when everything I needed to know for my kids came home or through the mailbox in paper form.  I feel like the information was limited and a bit more concise.  These days I feel like I get at least five emails a day, per kid, with a mix of really important and almost useless information.  In order to decipher what is important and not completely ruin my kids’ lives, (yes a little dramatic) I have to read all 900 emails, download all 15 apps, complete and sign 20 different documents and enter no less than 300 events in our family calendar.  I was completely exhausted by Monday night, and I literally sat in the car the whole day!

 

I wish I could tell you I have a fabulous strategy to circumvent the time drain of reading all of those emails, but I don’t.  I do have a system that allows me to make sure all of the information in those emails is properly dealt with and filed away for reference if needed in the future, without it being a full time job.  

 

The first thing I do with email is let the guilt go!  Just because someone choses to send me an email on Monday does not mean that I must prioritize what was important to them that day and respond to that email the same day.  I will respectfully read and deal with emails that are sent to me, especially those sent by teachers, coaches, ministry leaders…  However, I set aside time each week or so to keep my family’s schedule and life in order.  Much like ignoring my cell phone during family time, I often ignore my email until I can sit down and properly deal with its contents.  

 

When I sit down with my email, I also have a notebook, my calendar and these days… my credit card.  I work through all of the emails in my inbox and deal with whatever issue must be addressed… signing forms, completing registrations, responding to requests, entering events on our family calendar…  When I am done with any “call to action” items in an email it is filed away as a reference email only to be looked at again if something triggers a question or recollection of something I need to review.

 

My email has numerous folders, arranged much like a file cabinet.  I have a main folder for each child, with subfolders for school and their major activities.  For example my daughter has a file named after her (her general folder), and sub folders for DMCS (her academic and general school info), School Sports/Activities  (info for extracurriculars at DMCS), VSA (soccer, her big commitment), and Church (her small group and other church related).   My folders for her look like this…

 

ADDISON

       DMCS

                Sports/Activities

        CHURCH

         VSA

 

When I am done reading and responding to emails for her I file them away in one of her categories or under her general folder (Addison).  I no longer have all of those reference emails cluttering my inbox, but can easily find them if needed.  I use this method for each of my kids and have other folders for bills, online orders/receipts, work emails….)

 

My email Inbox is truly only for emails that I still need to take action on.  This prevents me from opening the same email a million times to see if I have dealt with the important items, or letting important emails get so far down in my inbox list that they are forgotten until it is too late to deal with them properly.  

 

One additional thing that I regularly do to help with my kids’ folders is using the “pin to top” or “flag” options.  For example, the email from my daughter’s soccer team mom with our season game schedule is flagged and “pinned to the top”  so that it will be the top email in her VSA folder until this season is over.  When we get emails for the upcoming week or tournament I flag those emails  so I can quickly refer to them for details I don’t want to include in my family calendar… like jersey color, link to the tournament website and game results…  The weekend of the tournament I can quickly find the email I need and then I simply unflag it when the weekend is over.  

 

It may sound like a lot of work to set up email folders, but I promise it brings so much peace of mind to know you have dealt with all the important stuff and reference information is easily accessible!  If you have thousands of emails in your inbox and this feels daunting… don’t go back and sort or delete them all.  Simply create an Archive July 2021 folder and move everything from your inbox that is from July 2021 or older into that archive folder.   You haven’t deleted the emails or lost them forever, but you will eliminate the crippling inbox clutter that prevents you from knowing you have all your emails under control.  You will have an inbox that you can manage and keep clutter free from August 2021 forward!

Summer Focus: Kids!

Have you ever heard me say, “cleaning the house in the summer is like brushing your teeth while eating Oreos?”  I heard that saying a few years ago and it stuck with me!  I know many moms get really overwhelmed by trying to keep up with everything around the house in the summer.  It can be overwhelming year-round, but adding in kids being home to feed three times a day and trying to deliver them to all of their activities can make it feel impossible!   

 

I am all about keeping the house clean and ordered and truly believe that promotes better family life and mental health for moms.  However, I have worked with kids on several organizing projects over the last few weeks and have been reminded that order is important, but it is not the most important thing.  Each of these projects started in a home with some pretty significant chaos… we were working to uncover beds, couches and floor that had become completely covered in laundry and clutter, making it almost impossible to use those spaces for their intended purpose.  

 

I’ll be honest, my first thought on the first couple of projects was… “this is going to be a long day working on such a big project with kids that clearly have no structure.”  OH MAN! I was WRONG!  In all three projects I worked with middle or high school aged kids that were incredibly helpful, polite, and  respectful towards me and their mothers despite several hours of being asked to help sort, carry, distribute stuff and even work on loads of laundry. 

 

It was such a good reminder to me of something we all forget as moms…  Just because our house may be cluttered or even downright dirty, it is not a reflection of who we are as a mom.  And when it comes down to our priorities… wouldn’t we all rather have successful, polite, obedient and amazing kids than a perfectly cleaned and ordered house.   It has been such a great reminder to me that spending time parenting my kids and growing a relationship with them is so much more important than my house… especially in the summer when they have more capacity for building a relationship with me.

 

The other thing I was reminded of in working with these three awesome families, is that kids are REALLY good at organizing and TOTALLY feel the same satisfaction as we do when the project is complete.  These kids engaged in the process, helped sort and categorize belongings, and expressed the satisfaction they felt in all they had accomplished. 

 

One boy said, “my sisters are going to be so excited when they get home.  We are going to be able to sit on the couch and enjoy the living room tonight.”   As I left he thanked me several times for all of my help.  His pride in what we had accomplished excitement for his family was so fun to see!

 

In another project we had been organizing a girl’s room with little involvement from her mom.  As we were nearing completion her mom came upstairs to check on us and the girl yelled at her, “Stop, don’t come in!  We’re almost done and I don’t want you to see it yet.”  Her face had a huge smile and she was so excited as she showed her mom her new clean and organized space that she had worked so hard on.  She told her mom, “I am going to keep my room so clean and organized from now on”.  We all know that may not be entirely true, but she realized what she had accomplished and was so proud and excited!

 

In yet another project, a high school girl worked with us in her parent’s room for several hours sorting, hanging up clothes, distributing things around the house…  None of the work was for her and almost none of the stuff was hers.  She cheerily helped the entire time without any complaints and grumbling.  She found joy in helping her mom and seeing a space in better order for her mom to enjoy.  What an awesome daughter with such a sweet heart. 

 

Seriously!!  3 amazing kids that reminded me how much our job as moms is NOT about our houses!

 

These projects also reminded me that we can make progress in our houses over the summer, and our kids CAN help us!  If you want to tackle a kid’s room, playroom or teen hang out space over the summer, set aside a few hours to work with one of your kids.  You will have much more success working on-on-one.   You can celebrate your success with a trip to the pool or an ice cream shop!  I know, sometimes it is easier if they know someone is coming to help and they have to be on good behavior because a guest is in the house.  However, most kids really do enjoy the final result of an orderly space to spend their time in at home.

 

Here are a few tips when organizing with kids.  

1. Start by sorting into 4 categories: Keep, Donate, Relocate & Toss.  Do it fast and keep it simple

2. Resist the urge to distribute “relocate” items while you work.  Just make a pile, or fill a box or bag and distribute all of it at the end.

3. Don’t micromanage the process.  Hold up clothes or toys and just ask them the category it goes in.  Throw it in the right pile and keep moving.  Hold back on sharing all of the stories you associate with their stuff… stay detached from the stuff and help them sort.

4. If they want to get rid of something and you don’t think they should… set it aside to asses at the end.   More on this in a minute..

5. Once you are done sorting, look at what is going to go back in the space and create a space plan.  

    1. What is used the most?
    2. How much do you have of each thing?
    3. Create zones for storing clothes, toys, sports equipment… zones help kids remember where things go  and recognize when something is out of place.

6. Evaluate if you need any new storage pieces to coral belongings.  Never buy before you organize… always sort & create a plan and then buy product.

7. Labeling items will help older kids remember the system.  Taking photos of the finished space and printing them out for younger kids will help them identify where everything goes when it is time to pick up and reset the system going forward.

 

Back to disagreements about what to keep…  One of the biggest challenges I see when kids and parents organize together is that they have different priorities of what should be kept and what should be “on display”.  If you tend to be sentimental and they aren’t… you can keep a small amount in their closet on a high shelf.   If you want to keep a lot of things… you need to find a space to store those things that you are responsible for managing.  I have seen many parents want to store their childhood memorabilia in their kids’ room because they think their kids will appreciate it.  I have also seen parents that are too attached to every one of their child’s toys and stuffed animals that their kids are living among clutter they don’t want but their parents won’t let them get rid of.   If your child is the one that wants to keep everything… set up a system with the things you both think they should keep.  Then, establish one space with a defined boundary where they can store and keep anything they want.  It might be a drawer in their nightstand, a basket in their closet, or a box in their room.

 

Enjoy this summer with your kiddos!  Let the house look like all you did this summer was eat Oreos with those sweet, respectful and responsible kids of yours.  Or, get your kids on board with creating order and making progress.  Either way, I hope you find time to really enjoy your kids this summer and parent them into amazing people!