From Chaos to Organized in One Day

Home Organization has always been like a myth, something I hope is true, but can’t quite believe in, until recently.

I just organized my whole house in half a day!

You probably think I am making this up or exaggerating, but I’m not; even I am surprised.

If you aren’t surprised and you’re not sure what the big deal is, then maybe you should stop reading now. You have this down and I could learn from you. But if you get overwhelmed by your stuff and lost in the mess occasionally, then you will understand.

Here’s the story.

Every year we go to England to visit John’s mother, so the week before, John took Z and a friend out while I took the morning to do laundry and pack.

declutter, home organization, sorting, storage space

We were very busy this summer, and I hadn’t been keeping up with tidying up as well as I should. There were papers, books and clutter everywhere. Even worse was my office, a tiny 5 ft X 9 ft room that I call my own. I had dumped bags and boxes in it all summer when I was short on time. You couldn’t even get to my desk because the boxes now reached the door.

There were two major problems with this. Number one – we would get back one day before school starts and there was no way I could face this with jet lag, and number two – my passport was in there.

So now I needed to do laundry and pack AND organize the house and I needed to do it before my daughter got home and started “helping”.

I’ll admit, I panicked a bit.

First thing I did was run around the house with my empty laundry baskets and grab anything that didn’t belong in the room. I lined these baskets up outside my office door, because again, I couldn’t get in (eye roll).

Next I went back and put away all the stuff that was in the right room, but not in the right place. And Voila! My house was tidy for the first time all summer. This took less than an hour. But now I had a junk room to end all junk rooms.

Time for a coffee break. And a piece of chocolate to keep up my spirits.

It was time to face The Room.

I dragged everything blocking my path into the hall and started with my desk. I put away all the pens and clutter, and put the papers in a file until it was completely clear. Then I started tackling the baskets, bags and boxes.

I had the bags from the Beading Project I did at the school last spring, never unpacked. I had the chaos and extras from our Welcome Summer BBQ in a couple of bins. One by one, I emptied each bag and box and put it all away. I put Zs stuff in a basket for her to put away, and John’s in another.

And then I was done, it wasn’t even lunch time, and the laundry was almost finished.

I started my packing and when they got home we finished the packing and put all the stuff away from their baskets. Then we put on a show for Z (I am not above bribing her to do chores), and John and I sorted through the papers. That night I dealt with the outstanding business from them and finished my digital packing.

All of a sudden I was organized.

Things were completely under control, no hidden junk drawers, no secret stashes. Everywhere I looked things were in their place, up to date and completely under control. Over the chaos of the last few weeks I have thought a lot about how I got to this point. About what has changed that has made getting organized so much easier and more effective.

A Little Background

declutter, home organization, junk basketsIn the last 10 years, my home has been chaos on and off. Every time we went through a major life change we had to reorganize the house, so I have never felt like things were really organized. There has always been some areas that needed work. It was always there in the back of my mind. Even when things looked nice, I knew that behind closed doors they weren’t.

I have always wanted one of those homes from the magazines. I’ve been hooked on organization books since I got my first apartment. I’ve read all the well-known ones, and a few lesser known. I had an entire shelf in my bookshelf dedicated to them. I even read the magazines, all of them.

But they never worked. I would organize the house and sort everything into one place and get it just right and it felt great, for a few days. But as soon as things got a little busy it was totally out of control.  And it took a whole weekend to sort it all out again. Book after book, method after method, it worked the first time, but wasn’t sustainable.

And that was before my parents moved in, and we had a kid, and 5 more surgeries. None of that made maintenance any easier.

Then two years ago, I finally tackled it. It took 18 months to donate, toss and use all the clutter. I made a place for everything and put everything away. And it felt good. Someday I will write a series on how I did it.

And then things got busy and the clutter accumulated again. But this time was different. Because I have finally hit that place where I can let it all go for a bit. Where I don’t have to be on top of it all the time. Because it doesn’t get really bad anymore. It’s always manageable.

Why it never gets out of control

Junk baskets. In every room that has a lot of traffic, I have baskets for the clutter. So if it doesn’t belong there, I have a holding place until I can get to it.

Task boxes. In our high-use rooms, I have task boxes for each of our major jobs. For example, it seems like we do everything in our dining room. So I have arranged it accordingly; we have:

  • a shelf for games in our sideboard
  • a box for letter writing and paying bills
  • a shelf for puzzles in the china cabinet
  • a box labeled homework with pencils, erasers and paper
  • a basket labeled memories for Z’s memorabilia
  • a box labeled work with highlighters, post-its, notebook, etc…
  • a drawer of office supplies in the sideboard

declutter, home organization, task boxes

If you come over for dinner you see a dining room, but when any of us need to work on something, we can do the job and tidy up in no time. To make room for all of this, I had to downsize some stuff and move a bunch more to the linen cupboard. But how often do I use tablecloths these days? So I moved them to make room for notepads. And when I am having a party, I go down to the laundry room and grab whatever linens I need and bring them up, it is a lot less work than the other way around. And it means that 5 minutes before dinner, Z can put everything away instead of piling it in a corner.

I have done this all over my house.

declutter, home organization, display storageI have a wall of hooks in the hall to my bedroom covered in hats, scarves and bags. Finally I can see everything and I can put it away on my way by, and if it gets dusty, I give it away, because I obviously don’t need it. On the rare occasion that an outsider sees it, they always comment on how beautiful it looks and wonder if I did it on purpose, which makes me laugh. I like it, because of the way it makes me feel, so I suppose it is art in its own way.

So what have I learned from this journey?

Two years ago I was losing the clutter wars. I had a junk room, not a junk drawer. Now I have a system and method that allows me to live comfortably, have people over to my home without embarrassment, and spend my time enjoying myself instead of doing chores.

  1. I have learned that it is about you and your family. It is about knowing yourself and what is important to you. It is about how you live. Nobody else can tell you how to live in your home, just like nobody else can tell you what to keep and what to throw away. It is too personal.
  2. I am not a minimalist, although I like the philosophy. I am too attached to my stuff to live it. But I do believe that you need to own your stuff, it should not own you.
  3. Home organization trends come and go under various names. The majority are oversimplified and not very effective in practice, because there is no one-size-fits-all; no silver bullet. It is like a fad diet. It may work for a while, but not over the long term.
  4. You need to spend your time living, not working. You already work 40-80 hours a week and get paid for it, you don’t want to work when you get home for free. So I have learned to make it easy. To keep it simple and to accept that simple works. Even if it doesn’t have a book or a method about it.
  5. If you want to lose the clutter, accept some of it, and give it a place in your home. Preferably close to where you use it, so that you can put it away when you are done. And be willing to consider letting go the things that are more trouble than they are worth.

So, put down that latest best-seller and embrace your life, warts and all. Make your space yours, own it, make it work for you.

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