Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Home Organization

So I've been wanting to clean and organize our house for a while. I'm the kind of person who feels happier and more comfortable in a clean and organized environment (I actually wish I weren't so sensitive to my environment!). Lots of other things keep getting in the way (like my three-month-old, a lack of motivation, other more urgent deadlines, etc.).

And then I got a request in the comments section of this post from WilderMiss to post a tour of my house. I've been wanting to do it for a while, so her request was a little kick in the pants.

And then I got an e-mail from reader Emily letting me know that she's moving to Houston and would be interested in looking at our house. I let her know that I would be posting pictures soon, but then she responded with the fact that she would be in Houston the following day to look at houses.

So I invited her to stop by our house, and that was a huge kick in the pants to get the place clean and organized. Thank you, Emily!

I feel so, so fortunate that the love of my life, Matt, also happens to be an equal partner. We worked together to get everything put away and cleaned. After we were done, I realized that we simply must, must, must commit to keeping our place picked up and organized as much as possible. I seriously feel so much better.

I've been pondering how to keep one's house picked-up and organized, and I think it comes down to these things:
  1. Purge, purge, purge: Matt, Henry, and I have things that we no longer use. Our shelves are overflowing with books we never reference. Henry's closet is full of clothes he's already outgrown. I think the first step to maintaining an orderly environment is getting rid of stuff. It doesn't make any sense to clean and organize stuff you don't really need/want.
  2. Make purging a habit: It seems to me that purging has to be an ongoing habit. I wonder what's the best way to make it a habit? Is it to keep a constant eye out for things that could be donated or tossed out? I once read about someone who had a specific box that she used to collect things for donation. When the box got full, she donated it. How could that work for us? I seriously don't know where we could store a box. I wonder if Matt would be willing to keep it in his trunk (since he's the one who always takes our donations to the store)? Also, my trunk is already full with Henry's stroller, since we try to reduce baby clutter in our house.
  3. Be intentional about what comes into the house: If we are more intentional about what we buy and bring into the house, then we will be able to spend less time purging it.
  4. Make a place for everything: If everything has a place, then everything can be put away. But making a place for everything is easier said than done! I find that it's particular hard to find a place for phones and computers while they are charging.
  5. Reduce the number of dumping sites: We have three main areas that collect stuff in our house: our dining room table, the other table against the wall in our dining room, and the bench in our bedroom. We leave hats, mail, boxes, laundry--the list goes on and on. Three dumping sites leads to a lot of clutter!
  6. Make it a habit to organize the dumping sites: If something takes three minutes or less to process (e.g., mail, trash pick-up, putting away a hat, etc.), then we should do it right away, no matter how busy we feel. If something will take longer than that, then we should give ourselves permission to organize it later.
  7. Put stuff away at a specified time each day: For our family, it would work best if we would do a final walk through of our house before going to bed each night and pick-up whatever needs to be returned to its place. That way, we could wake up to a clean house.

Of course, changing one's habits is never easy. For me to turn something into a habit, I have to be very clear about what the action looks like, and then I have to have a regular schedule for implementing the action.

So in terms of my next steps, here's what I'm thinking:
  1. Go through our book shelves and purge the books we don't really need.
  2. Ask Matt if he would be willing to keep an ongoing box or bag in his car for donations.
  3. Process Henry's clothes as soon as he outgrows them. I've decided that I'm going to make him a quilt for his first birthday out of my favorite outfits from his first year, so I have a bag in his closet where I can collect them. The other outfits should be put in the donation bag or box right away.
  4. I need to clean out and improve upon our filing system.
  5. I need to process all of our papers that need to be filed.
  6. Do a walk through and pick-up every night. When would be the best time? Perhaps after dinner? Right before bed isn't good for me because Henry will have just gone to sleep, and I don't want to be banging around the house.
  7. I already went through Henry's toys and organized them into two separate categories. There are a couple toys out on his shelf. There are other toys in a basket that I can pull out and rotate onto his shelf every once in a while. Then there are toys in a plastic container that he's not ready for yet. When he's ready for them, I can rotate them into the basket to then be rotated onto the shelf (in a Montessori environment, we limit the number of toys that children can choose from at a given time, in order to keep the level of stimulation just right). I need to be good about keeping this system up.
  8. Lastly, I want to read really good books about home organization. I'm feeling totally inspired and passionate about this topic, especially since we plan to move to Austin in the coming months and we'll be setting up a new home. Do you have any recommendations?

Any experience with Martha Stewart's book?

I was able to order this book from the library.

One final thought: I really need to clean out my e-mail inbox. It currently has 1,344 messages. That will be a good project while breast feeding!

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Anonymous said...


Someone posted this on facebook the other day, I rent a room in someone's house so it's not something I read a lot of, but looks like it could be really helpful to developing a system...good luck!

Anonymous said...

if you haven't already, look into freecycle through yahoo groups to help get rid of things. it's nice to know it won't be going to a landfill, turn around can be quick and it's nice to find a home for something i no longer use. all free. it's sort of craigslist meets putting things on the curb.

Elaina said...

I also get really into home organization since I'm also super sensitive to my environment. As my family is not, it's created some challenges but I think you have really good suggestions. I find doing two big purges seasonally (one around after Christmas and one in the summer) and then having a small bag tucked away somewhere for small purges throughout the year works well. The Apartment Therapy book has some really good advice broken down into steps and Organizing for Dummies is also actually pretty good.



I was also wondering if you might be able to do a post on how to action habits? I always find myself just having piles of lists and suggestions. Sorry if you've already posted something similar, sometimes I have a bit of trouble searching in the archives.

Good luck with everything!

Anonymous said...

If you haven't already checked it out, I highly recommend this blog: http://smallnotebook.org. She discusses ideas for organizing, simplifying and making a peaceful home.

Elsa said...

I keep a few cardboard boxes in one of our closets stacked up. One for donations, library and returns. It's very similar to this: http://pinterest.com/pin/16905937/

I personally enjoy reading a few organization books, my favorite are "Organize Now" and "One Year To An Organized Life" they are both about weekly projects you can do with different tips to try out. I also read a couple blogs about organizing, I always find great ideas/tips there that are simple and cheap to try out around our house. My favorite is www.iheartorganizing.blogspot.com, I'm always amazed by her organizing skills.

One of the things you should try to do where you guys usually pile up stuff is a "command center" or "center" of some kind. For example, we have a huge kitchen island where we would just drop off random stuff and it would pile up all week and make me feel incredibly stressed out. I realized that majority of it was mail and reading material with other random little things. I purchased some file bins for our kitchen and hung them up next to our fridge with a pocket for mail, bills, things that my husband needs to read/put away/belong to him and then a pocket for things I myself need to look over...then whenever there is a moment I take 5 minutes once a week to empty out my box. I also keep a small basket on the island where miscellaneous things can be placed throughout the day and a few minutes before bed time the items get purged or get back to their home.

Pinterest is another great place to find some great ideas and keep track of them. I keep mine here: http://pinterest.com/elsamgreer/organization/

Good luck!!

Leslie said...

In regards to #4- make a place for everthing; try using a drop down shelf/tabletop above an outlet for storing your laptops and phone chargers while they are charging.

I'm thinking something like this, only attached to a wall and smaller, like a shelf: http://www.flickr.com/photos/ariel/5471580585/in/set-72157626123687360/

this is a very useful shelf, only i don't know where it could be purchased: http://headwalls.com/dynamic/site_images/%5B20100607101514%5DDropDownShelf4pack.jpg

also, a question: are you not planning on having another child? I'm curious to why you are getting rid of all your old baby clothes so soon. i thought most parents saved bags the nice or the gender-neutral clothes for their next child in their attics and storage spaces.

By the way, I'm loving the command center idea, Elsa :)

Our Little Beehive said...

I am a compulsive organizer living in a small house with a non-compulsive organizer. We have baskets for everything. I've found that the disorganized half responds well to baskets. And I don't mind how they look - especially since every basket in the house matches. Even the dog has three baskets (toys, grooming, walking leashes/collars/coats). We each have a mail basket - mail comes in the door and does not even touch the counter, it gets sorted to his, mine and the rest goes in the recycling bin. I only grab the mail from the box when I have 1 minute to sort it. I will never look at that catalog "someday", it goes straight to recycling.

We have a rule that if something doesn't live permanently where you're putting it down, then take the extra ten seconds to put it where it lives. It makes everyone's life easier. Jackets go on hangers in the closet, they don't live on the dining room chair. Ever. It helps me to remind myself that "you're not a lazy person, put your sh*t away" as I'm about to drop my scarf on the table. Repeat whatever works for you to yourself. If I'm too tired to fold the blanket up on the couch before bed, then I'm staying up too late.

Where stuff "lives" is where it makes the most sense. Stuff has moved. I have scarves in our dining room hutch because it's closest to the door. Cloth napkins and placemats are in pantry because we only use them when I'm grabbing things from the pantry anyway.

I never leave the bed unmade. It sets the tone for the entire day.

I clean the bathroom every single Saturday morning before I get in the shower. It takes no more than 5 minutes.

I also take 15 minutes a day to tidy everything. I treat it like a race against the clock and do as much as I possibly can.

I don't recall if we have any organizing-specific posts on our blog (except for maybe the pantry & fridge), but you can see how we've got storage spaces everywhere. www.ourlittlebeehive.com

It takes a serious commitment to keep things neat, but is really easy and shouldn't take more than 15 minutes a day! Good luck!

Jenn said...

I love love LOVE unclutterer.com and it keeps me motivated - which is another key to developing processes and maintaining progress.

Anonymous said...

What about saving clothes if you plan/think/want to have another baby? Would you say it's not worth the potential savings of keeping those things to use again in your because of the clutter it could cause for the months/years between kids?

Anaïs said...

Hi Sarah, an idea for your point 2: you could register on the nearest Freecycle group : http://www.freecycle.org/
It's a great way to give stuffs you don't want without wondering where to store them or when to bring them a donation box, as people come to collect it at your place (or any public place you want). I have been an active member of Freecycle Brussels since 2006. It's an originally an initiative from the US. It's based on giving, not exchanging.

I also wanted to ask you if you could show us Henry's room. I am expecting my first child for october and I'm a member of your Montessori group on Big tent. I wonder from which age a baby can sleep on a floor bed?

As for Henry's play area, how do you ensure that Henry cannot break the mirror next to it?

It would be lovely to get your answers.

As for clothes I have a rule: unless it's a very special outfit, if I haven't wore it the previous season, I give it away. I also sort my clothes by colors, which is nice to look at and easier to figure out what to wear.

Cheers and have fun!

Sara E. Cotner said...

You all are awesome! Thanks so much for the amazing links!

To answer some questions: Matt and I think we only want to have one child, which is why we are not saving Henry's clothes. I've been meaning to write a post about it but haven't gotten around to it yet.

There is already a tour of Henry's room on this site. Look in the categories on the right-hand side. It's in the Montessori Environments category. Good luck finding it! I will be posting a video tour of our whole house soon.

As far as I understand, Montessori babies start in Moses baskets for the first 6-8 weeks. Then they transition to the floor bed. I'm going to write a post about his floor bed soon. We move it into he middle of his room at night because he rolls all over the place and even rolls onto the ground.

Sara E. Cotner said...

I forgot! The mirror is actually made out of plastic, but my Montessori teacher says she has used real glass with all three of her children and has never had a problem. I ordered my acrylic mirror online.

Anonymous said...

Hey Sara, I checked Martha's organizing book out from the library and liked it. I got a lot of great ideas from her Homekeeping Handbook as well, but find it at the library if you don't want to read about cleaning, linens, kitchen layouts, decor, etc.; it's huge and costly. I got it as a gift and enjoyed every page.

Anaïs said...

Thanx a lot for the answers! Your experience is really valuable to me/us. Thanx for sharing.

Kelly Love said...

I am loving this post and all the comments! I too am very sensitive to my environment but I'm also a collector in a too-large house, which has allowed things to get waaaay out of control. I'm so ready for a good purge and organize!

I love this book - Clear Your Clutter with Feng Shui. I'm not normally into Feng Shui, but she does a nice job explaining the power that stuff has. http://www.amazon.com/Clear-Your-Clutter-Feng-Shui/dp/0767903595

Our Little Beehive - I love your little rules and habits - am making note to adopt immediately! I am not a lazy person, so why do I act like it? :)

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