getting organized

A step-by-step guide to streamlining your home

After nearly a decade of writing about cleaning and organizing - and slightly more than a decade's worth of mothering and all the on-the-job organizing training that entails - I've learned that getting organized basically boils down to regularly doing three things: 

Grouping similar items together, storing things in logical, convenient, and accessible places; and labeling everything. 

In a very organized fashion, let's go over each step in turn. 

Getting Organized by Grouping Like Items

It's so much easier to find things if they are in groups, not spread all over the house.

At least you'll know the general location to start looking for something.

I know one woman who keeps some food in her kitchen, more in her coat closet, and still more in her basement.

When she's looking for a box of rice, she has to search in three places!

Instead, as you're getting organized, put all food in one area of your kitchen, pots and pans in one cabinet, towels in one closet, and all luggage together - you get the idea!

Store Things in Convenient Places

Often, the reason things can't be found - or are found but then aren't put away in the right place - is that they are in the wrong place to begin with.

If an item (say a telephone directory) was where it was needed (say, by the phone), it would be easy to know where to find it. And then anyone in the family would know the logical place to return it.

But if the phone directory is stored about the microwave oven, 14 feet away from the phone, it's easy to forget its location because it's not logical. 

If things aren't located logically, you will forget where you put them. Your kids, bless their sweet little hearts, will inevitably blame it on your age. And who needs them to bring that up again!

Here's the secret to finding a logical storing place for any item - and getting organized in general - put it where you use it! 

For example, store your keys by the door, keep your lint brush near your clothes, and stash your vases under the sink.

Another way to look at this when getting organized is to think in terms of activity centers. 

For example, if the kids always do their homework on the kitchen table, then keep a file, drawer, or basket nearby with all the supplies that they need to get the job done.

If you like to read in bed, keep reading materials, eyeglasses, and a reading light in a basket by your bed. 

Try to arrange your life so that your necessities are at your fingertips, and you don't have to spend what little free time you have jumping up and down to find things.

A challenge can arise when you have one item that is used in several locations. The solution?

Buy two, three, or four of them. 

If you have only one pair of scissors and it's stored in the sewing basket in the upstairs closet, kids have to get it for each art project and then walk back upstairs to return it. Oh, sure, that will happen!

The scissors will never be returned. If you frequently use scissors in every room of the house, consider buying a pair of scissors for every room in the house. 

Such a purchase is well worth the expense if it saves you hours of time looking for the *&###!!! scissors. Time is money.

Along with storing things in logical places, they also need to be in convenient locations. For example, put items you often use on eye-level shelves and in handy cabinets.

Put things you rarely use on top shelves and in the back of closets. I know that sounds like a getting organized no-brainer. But before you laugh, think about where you put things.

If your favorite spatula is thrown in a drawer with 23 other kitchen utensils, move it onto the counter, right next to the stoves, perhaps in a pretty crock. (And resist the temptation to move the other 23 less-useful tools along with it!)

If things aren't located conveniently, you aren't going to return them to their proper resting place, and neither will the kids. It's just too inconvenient!

And lastly, storage places must be accessible, both to you and to your kids. If things aren't readily accessible, kids are going to use inappropriate things to do the job, such as a table knife for a screwdriver, and foul things up royally. 

For example, if you expect the kids to feed the dog, put the dog food on a shelf where they can reach it (preferably somewhere near the dish, but out of the dog's reach). You owe it to yourself to make putting stuff away easy for your family. 

Label Everything

If everything is clearly marked, there are no excuses for not knowing where to find it and where to return it to. Portable electronic labelers, which are now affordable, thankfully, are an organized mom's dream. 

What bears marking? Label the locations for everything, including boxes, closet shelves, drawers, spare keys, the fuse box, and virtually anything else that someone might not immediately be able to figure out on their own, such as which switch is "on" and where you put the guest hand towels.

That way, everyone in the home, including visiting friends, relatives, and babysitters, knows exactly where things are and where to return them. 

Take my youngest son Payne's closet, for example. 

Before I labeled where everything goes, I put things one way, the babysitter another. This lack of a system made Payne's closet an infuriating jumble to wade through when it was time to get dressed each morning.

Solution: I labeled Payne's closet shelves to designate what goes where: "pajamas," "short-sleeve shirts," "swimwear and gear," etc. Now, if you can read, you can put things away correctly. (And for those who can't read, you can attach drawings or stickers to designate proper storage places.)

Who knew getting organized could be so fun - and easy? 

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