In this increasingly hectic world, the phrase “organized families” can seem like a contradiction in terms. But you know they exist: They’re the ones who show up at school on time each day, remember the Little League coach’s birthday, and file their taxes in January. And though they make everyone else look bad, you secretly wish you were more like them, together and in control.
Why get organized? Because you can’t afford not to, especially when you’re juggling work, school, and competing schedules. To get you on the road to efficiency, we asked families and professional organizers to share their secrets, room by room.
First, a few ground rules:
Commit to change. “Deciding to get organized is like resolving to lose weight,” says Lisa Sarasohn of the Los Angeles-based organizing service Hire Order. “Both require discipline, and neither happens overnight.” Rather than searching for a quick fix – the equivalent of a fad diet – organized families commit to a lifestyle change. They see organization as a means to an end: a more fulfilling, less stressful family life.
Take it slow. Be realistic in your organizing efforts. After all, you can’t tame years of household chaos in a single day. If tackling an entire room is too daunting or time consuming, for instance, attack just one messy drawer instead. Breaking tasks down into small chunks (clean out the dresser one weekend and, say, your bookshelves the next) makes them more manageable and provides an immediate sense of accomplishment.
Keep it simple. You may be tempted to rush out and buy a fancy container system to jumpstart your organizing efforts, but buying things to store your belongings before you begin organizing them is premature (not to mention expensive). Wait until you’ve gone through your stuff before investing in storage systems. Until then, a few cardboard boxes are all you need.
Sort and purge. One of the most important steps in getting your house in order is going through your belongings. Be brutal about throwing out what you rarely use. A good rule of thumb: If you haven’t used something in a year, chuck it. If you just can’t bring yourself to do that, box it up and stash it in the basement – if another year goes by and you still haven’t used it, get rid of it. And rather than holding on to every item with sentimental value, pick a few representative pieces to save – your child’s first booties and baby blankie, for instance, rather than his entire first-year wardrobe. Purging is hard for most, but think about how relieved you’ll feel once everything is in its place – even if that place is the trash bin.
Store things sensibly. Once you’ve finished purging unnecessary items, put the remaining things in a logical place based on what they’re used for and how often you need them. Store those used often in an intuitive spot within easy reach – stash the checkbook in your “bills to pay” file, for instance, and your child’s lunchbox in the pantry next to the juice boxes. “We make a point to put stuff away in the same place every time,” says Tim Kahl, a Sacramento, California, father of two. “This way, the whole family knows where to look for things when we need them.” Pack items that you need only on special occasions – holiday ornaments, for example – somewhere out of the way but accessible come December.
Build organization into your daily routine. No matter how efficient an organizing system you establish, your home will need periodical upkeep. “Some people expect their houses to look like a catalog,” says Sarasohn. “But the one thing that’s constant in households with children is change. Schedules shift, habits change, and the house will sometimes look messy.” Rather than throw up your hands in the face of the encroaching chaos, find ways to build regular household maintenance into your routine: Make a date with your kitchen calendar while the coffee brews each morning, or sort through your junk drawer while you chat on the phone.
Help kids get with the program. It’s never too early to start training your children to follow in your organized footsteps. Oakland, California, dad Nick Vigil made a nightly checklist to help his son remember to put his dirty clothes in the hamper and his completed homework in the backpack before going to bed each night. “After a week or so of stickering the chart with stars for each completed task, he does them automatically now,” Vigil says.