Saturday, September 25, 2010

The Classic "I Will Get Organized" Tirade (in layman's terms)

Organization and simplification of our lives has been a big sticking point for me lately.

I took the opportunity when I changed jobs last year to do a lot of life analysis, and I realized that I had been hoping to get organized "someday."

This may prove to be really lame reading for those of you who have your act together, but I'm finding more and more people are actually grasping and barely beating off insanity just as I had been for years.

A typical week might include delivering my child to school tardy (by two minutes) three out of five days per week, howling with indignity at slow drivers because I had neglected to leave my house in a timely manner, throwing together random lunches for myself and my child, forgetting to turn in school paperwork, and constantly looking for things around the house. On the surface, most people would tell you I was organized (sort of), because I managed to come across exceedingly well in my professional endeavors, my office was organized and my work generally done on time and well. However, I felt like chaos was constantly nipping at my ankles.

Maybe it's the job shift to something exceptionally fulfilling (I loved my previous work, but this is different), or perhaps the eminent arrival of our second child, but I felt like I absolutely had to get things under control. Here are a few of the tools and websites I used and have come to love (nerd alert!!)

Go ahead - channel your inner geek and spend some time on these sites.  You know you want to do it.
- Simple. Organized. Life.
- Simple Mom (esp. posts such as Best Online Tools for Families as well as Reasons to Wake Up Early and Why Home Notebooks Are A Good Idea)
- Guide to Creating a Home Notebook (seriously, one of the best things I've ever done)
- Organized Home 
- Small Notebook, especially My Real Life Daily Routine
- Penelope Loves Lists - especially check out her lists of sites that organize and inspire)
- Real Simple - Organizing (I recommend this magazine and Whole Living to once a month help you slow down, implement a few new things and generally feel good about yourself, plus Whole Living has a very cool Whole Life Action Plan with a simple daily task to live better)

- Organize Now! (seriously, it has changed my life:
- Anything by Donna Smallin (, especially The One Minute Organizer and A to Z Storage Solutions

The Plan
Not being a guru like the folks above, let me just say this - stop feeling overwhelmed and just jump in.  One of two approaches is best for the utterly schizophrenic (like myself) - either doing a handful of small things a day (i.e. any one item from Donna Smallin's books), or a whole hog approach.  I did a little of both:

First, I set aside a day (alone - family elsewhere) to get my act together.  I made some basic purchases (canvas wall pockets for the back door to organize our keys, incoming and outgoing paperwork etc. as well as a cell phone charging station and a ton of binders - corrugated, environmentally friendly ones instead of the PVC atrocities).

I set up a communication center near the back door, which is the dumping ground for all our stuff (which would then migrate to the kitchen and make me crazy).  It includes folders for receipts, bills to pay, items to file, school paperwork to keep close for reference and a binder for the mountains of paperwork that come home from school with children, from artwork to homework.  There is also a calendar nearby and plenty of "equipment" for bill paying and so on, such as thank you notes, stamps, envelopes, return address labels, pens and a mason jar for change.

In addition to the communication center, I put together a home notebook, which includes daily, weekly, monthly and seasonal checklists (yes, essentially chorelists) for me.  As I recently told a friend, I check out the laminated daily list to be sure that lunches are packed, school clothes out, bags for sports and work ready for the next day, my teeth and skin are cared for (yes, I'm serious!) and the day's paperwork (mail, items from school) have been addressed.  I also review the next day's action item list so I can clear my brain of scattered thoughts about all the things I need to do.  Then, I can have a glass of wine or go to bed with a sound mind.

The two things above (the communication center and the notebook) have changed my life.  You would think that some days get too crazy to use these systems effectively, but I find it calming to end each day this way, no matter what time it may be.  In addition to those things, I've used HabitForge and a few other tools to pick away at the small things.

And finally, I've embraced something I avoided my entire life: discipline.  It only took a few weeks to form most of these habits, and now they are routines that make my life, and my family, far better.

I know it works when a neighbor says "I saw you sitting on your front porch looking so peaceful last week when I was dashing off to work in a frenzy" or when someone asks how I have time to get it all done, from work to parenting to blogging and so forth.  When I see that I'm accomplishing more and yet have more free time or when people mistakenly think that my life is organized and my home always neat, I know I'm onto something.

The Inspiration
"He who every morning plans the transaction of the day and follows out that plan carries a thread that will guide him through the maze of the most busy life.  But where no plan is laid, where the disposal of time is surrendered merely to the chance of incidence, chaos will soon reign."

~ Victor Hugo 
I wasn't going to post about all this, but one friend recently identified struggling with the same thing, so I thought I'd share.  If it gets one other person on the track I've found myself on, it was worth the usual rambling of my blog posts.

Bonne chance, good luck!


  1. I think this is so great! I know that everyone can actually be organized if they just work a little at it. For some, it's natural, but for others it just takes a little guidance! I would love to share this with my readers! Visit my blog sometime, too!

    Becky B.

  2. Thanks, Becky! Absolutely - the more the merrier.

    And, love your blog - I noticed your youngest has a picture-based chore chart. We started that way too, and now that my first grader is inhaling reading at school, a real chore list is a good way to incorporate some daily practice.

    Thanks for the comment!

  3. This whole thing describes me. I'm in the process of getting my act together so I can be "the lady of the house" that I've always wanted to be - just a little later than I planned. Isn't it nice to breathe? Thanks for the tips and lists!