Unpacking After a Week Away

The kids and I spent the last week in Colorado with my family.  I am truly “a Colorado girl at heart”!  I love the mountains, gorgeous weather and all the outdoors have to offer… fishing, climbing rocks, camping.  The only thing better than a cup of coffee in the morning is the smell of cool, crisp mountain air!  Here are a few photos of the fun!





When we get home from a vacation it feels like every belonging we own is in the wrong place – it’s a huge heap on the floor, and a scattered mess on the kitchen counter.  I approach the chaos much in the same way as I approach a regular “re-sweep” for clients.  This is a simple process of putting every last thing back where it belongs.  I know this sounds overwhelming, but it can usually be done in 2 or 3 hours, if good organizational systems are already in place throughout your home.  Although it may take longer if those systems aren’t in place, it is still a very manageable and rewarding task.  How nice does it feel to look around your home and see everything in its place – I love that!


In order for this “re-sweep” to be effective I find it important to have a place where everything truly belongs, because then as I put this clutter away, I’m not just moving the clutter to an overflowing closet or other unorganized space in our home.  The basic organizational systems I have in place throughout our home allow me to put this vacation chaos away in a short period of time, in a truly orderly way.  If you don’t travel much, the following steps are also very effective in controlling chaos at the end of a busy week, hectic weekend, or just extended period of “enjoying and living in” your home!


So how do I go about it?!


When we first get home we unload everything from the car, it basically gets dumped in a big pile just inside the door.  I should have taken a picture of our pile, but blogging wasn’t on my mind after over 10 hours in the car with 3 kids!


Next, I do a quick sort of the pile and send my kids and hubby to various rooms with bags, pillows, toys etc.  The goal here is not to get anything actually put away, I’m just doing a quick sort.  Once this is done the large pile is gone, and each room of the house has a small project.  I find it helpful to break it up in this fashion, as it makes the entire project seem way less overwhelming to all of us.


Usually we have just driven between 6-11 hours by the time we get home, so in honesty that’s all that usually happens the first night.  I pull out toothbrushes, and the other necessities for bedtime and the rest is left a mess until the next morning.


One thing that really helps my sanity, is that I never pack my regular shampoo, condition, razor, deodorant, lotion, mouse or toothpaste.  I have duplicates of these items that I leave in a toiletry bag for traveling.  This means that the morning I leave town and the night I get home I can shower, brush my teeth, etc without having to worry about what is packed.  I can take a shower, brush my teeth and crawl into bed without thinking about the suitcase and laundry I have to deal with the next day.


The day after our return home I leave our calendar relatively empty.  I know that I will need to get up, relax with a cup of coffee, and then spend at least 2-3 uninterrupted hours regaining order.  (by uninterrupted I don’t mean free of feeding children, breaking up fights, cleaning up spilled milk, cheerios, yogurt….  I just mean that I don’t try to run errands, get to any appointments, make phone calls, deal with emails…)  Realistically my three kids and the fall-out of our vacation is about all my sanity can handle at once.  This is important for me to not resent our trips and have that “was that really worth it” feeling when I get home.


After 2-3 cups of coffee  🙂   I start regaining an orderly home in the kitchen.  The kitchen is the one room of our house that we can’t avoid, and dramatically effects my sanity if it is chaotic… so, I tackle it first.  I also find that once the kitchen is in order, the whole unpacking process doesn’t feel as overwhelming anymore.  Usually the “tough” stuff is all put away too – you know the random stuff that seems the most overwhelming to deal with.  The rooms that remain are much easier!  I also find that if I start with the kitchen, most of our belongings have been relocated to the correct room where they belong at a minimum.


As I tackle the chaos in each room I take some basic steps to make each room spotless.  Here is the chaos in our kitchen that I showed you all in on Facebook the morning after we got home….




Remember this was AFTER my quick sort the night before.  The rest of the house looked slightly better, but each room held its own little project!  So, I limit myself to one room of the house at a time.


I continue the process I started the night before of taking everything to the room it belongs in, without necessarily putting it away.  For example, our DVD’s and coloring books are easy to quickly put away, but dealing with each piece of mail, and getting all of the toys put away properly takes too much time.  Anything that can be put away in a minute or less is put away, everything else is simply redistributed to the room in which it belongs.  Toys go to the playroom, papers to my office…


For everything that actually belongs in the kitchen, I put it away completely!  Dishes are loaded in the dishwasher or washed by hand, snacks, drinks, cooler contents…. all of it is put away.  I then wipe down the counters, refrigerator and sweep the floor.  This may take 45 minutes, but then it all looks like this…




You may think that 45 minutes is not enough time to get everything this orderly, but it is!  Remember two things… I have organizational systems in place so I know where each item belongs – I’m not debating where to put the leftover snack food – it gets put back in our cracker, applesauce, granola bar… bins.  I also don’t get distracted by bills and flyers in the mail or a mess I find in another closet or room…   I stay focused, and just get it done!


To summarize the entire process…  I simply do a quick sort of everything that came in the door with us– redistributing to various rooms around the house.  I then do a complete and detailed “order & clean” in the kitchen.  Last, I move to each kids’ bedroom, the master bedroom, bathrooms, the playroom and the den until everything is put away. Kids have to help me in their individual room, but because we have pre-sorted and are simply putting things away within the pre-existing systems we always have in our home, these remaining rooms are back in order in 20 minutes or less per room.


The keys to this process are that I… 1)  Focus on one room of our house at a time  2)  Make sure each room is spotless before I leave it and 3) I make sure I don’t get distracted along the way. (i.e. looking at all the great Facebook likes and comments I’m getting on my vacation photos! – not that any of us would be tempted to do that!)  🙂   Within 2-3 hours the entire house is back in order, and everything we took on our trip (and accumulated while we were gone!) is put away where it belongs.


One thing that really helps this process, is that I am big on leaving for vacation with our home in order.  It doesn’t have to be absolutely perfect order, but counters are cleaned off, the main living area of the home is free of toys and clutter, and all laundry is put away.  Having those things done when we return allows me to “sweep” through our home and eliminate all of the vacation clutter & chaos efficiently.


I also find it helpful to do a few loads of laundry while we are out of town if possible, as long as it doesn’t take away from the fun of our vacation.  If I am able to do this, I can put most of our clothes away right when we get home and do a load or two of laundry within the first day or two.  If I didn’t get any laundry done while I was gone, I will try to start a couple of loads while I am ordering the house.   This adds a little time to the overall project of unpacking, but while I am at home anyway it is a good time to get a handle on the mountain of laundry!


Up next on my “To Do List”…  Finish our new dining room table & get organized for school to start!