When I was pregnant with my first child, I spent too much time reading Martha Stewart Living and Real Simple. Friends of mine had used the suggestions from those pages to bring order to their homes, and I came to the very unfortunate conclusion that those tips were just what I needed too. About a year later, I found myself staring at the color-coded toy bins I’d so carefully set up in my son’s room, realizing that they were filled with ALL THIS STUFF that was NOT SUPPOSED TO BE THERE, yet finding that the prospect of sorting it all out made me want to fall to my knees and scream.
What I didn’t realize then is that I have Attention Deficit Disorder, or something like it. Is there a diagnosis for people who have been known to ignore jars of jelly spilled on the living room carpet because they just didn’t see them, who find the entire physical world to be an overwhelming and mildly annoying place compared to the awesome reality inside their heads? If so, that’s me. (By the way: I’ve given up on trying to have shoes on all the kids when we leave the house. My new plan is to make going barefoot to the doctor’s office a thing.)
Eight years and a few more kids later, I’ve finally found a way to keep my house organized, and I thought I’d put all my secrets down in a post in case it’s of help to anyone else.
I’m the first to admit that this list isn’t for everyone. Many people have a natural ability to deal with life that allows them to keep their houses Pinterest-worthy at all times. If that’s you, please close your browser now so that I won’t be a bad influence on you. But if you’re the kind of person who doesn’t understand how anyone could ever get all the stuff off the floor when they sweep, or if trying to fold a fitted sheet has ever made you entirely lose your will to live, you might just find a few useful tips below.
1. Lids are your single biggest obstacle to staying organized. They exist solely to prevent you from getting your stuff where it needs to go. Banish all lids from your house.
2. Don’t fold things that don’t need to be folded. Guess who’s going to care if your wash cloths are wrinkled? That’s right: nobody. Put shoe boxes in your linen cabinet and under the sink where you can toss dish rags and wash cloths. Store baby clothes (unfolded) in an open basket.
3. Do that thing from Pinterest where you keep bedding sets together by storing the sheets in the pillow case — and, per the above, just wad up the sheets and shove them in there if you can’t deal with folding them.
4. Sort items with as little granularity as possible. Different places for the kids’ scissors and crayons and pencils? Waaaaay too detailed. Get one box and throw it all in there together.
5. Know that you have an archenemy, and it has a name: Clutter. Pretend that you’re Chuck Norris and Clutter is the bad guy, and bring all your best Kung Fu skillz to getting it out of your house.
6. But don’t be too hard on yourself if your house is cluttered. People like us always have a million ideas swirling around in our heads, and our living spaces are going to reflect that. Grade yourself on the curve: If you only have four messy areas in your house, that’s the equivalent of your super-organized friend having her home ready for a Better Homes and Gardens photo shoot.
7. Don’t use socks.
8. Okay, you might have to use socks sometimes. Resign yourself to this terrible fate, and try to do that thing everyone recommends where you only buy socks in one color and one size and you don’t match them before putting them away.
9. What’s that you say? You can’t do the one-color sock trick because the Sock Variety Fairy keeps coming in at night and planting patterned socks in your kids’ sock drawers? Yeah. Happens here too. Just buy as many socks of the same type and color as you can, and be strong about throwing away mismatched pairs. Worrying that you shouldn’t throw away the reindeer-patterened sock because its mate might show up in the next load, even though you haven’t seen it in months, is a great way to end up with multiple drawers stuffed with random, unusable socks that makes your brain start to melt every time you open it.
10. Store your most-used items out in the open. (Dinner preparation might be a little less dramatic without the avalanche of pots and pans bursting from the cabinet every night, but you’ll love your hanging pot rack.)
11. Keep a write-on/wipe-off marker in your bathroom so that you can make note of the brilliant inspirations that come to you when you get up to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night (or to remind yourself to do things that you’d otherwise forget).
12. Get a large, 56-quart storage bin to designate as your “items to donate” box. It’ll be too big to fit in your car, so keep a box of trash bags next to it for easy bagging when you’re ready to make a Goodwill run. (Yes, the bags have to be next to it — if you leave the room to get them, you’ll be watching Youtube videos of funny kittens in two minutes. I don’t know how this happens. It just does.)
13. Don’t be a perfectionist about getting rid of items. I know, I know: when you cleaned out your closet you found those clothes that you bought that time that seeing a random episode of Keeping Up with the Kardashians made you decide that your wardrobe needed to be more “fun, ” and now you don’t know what to do with all those designer leopard-skin leggings. You thought about donating them to Goodwill, but you might be able to get some money for them, and — let me stop you right there. People like us can spend years analyzing this kind of thing. Give yourself two weeks to get down to a consignment store to see if you can sell your items; if you can’t do it in that time period, just dump it at Goodwill’s donation center and be done with it.
14. Keep your children ignorant of the concept of puzzles until at least age 10.
16. But think carefully about whether you want to go paperless for everything. There are a lot of great to-do list apps out there (I’m loving Errands), but any time you fire up an electronic device you run the risk of playing Angry Birds instead of whatever it was that you set out to do. I’m still a fan of paper for grocery and daily chore lists.
17. The amount that you love your children is not directly proportional to the amount of their artwork that you keep. Save a few special items, and toss the rest. If it helps you get it done, take pictures of the pieces you toss and store them on your computer (I recommend Dropbox or Evernote for this). That way you can have all the memories and none of the clutter.
18. If you have young children, one of the best investments you can make is to install shelves or hooks at a height only reachable by adults.
19. Keep pre-packed bags that contain essential items for your regular activities (e.g. a pool bag with goggles, sunscreen, and bottles of water). Hang them on the hooks I mentioned above, lest you too experience the moment of grabbing your activity bag when you’re running late, only to find a Dora doll and a half-chewed granola bar inside instead of the items you need.
20. Unless you hate yourself, don’t use regular bookshelves for children’s books. Sling bookshelves allow you to blindly and haphazardly put away all those small, weirdly-sized books just like you would with a normal bookshelf, but without the sense of failure.
21. Understand that putting an object into an opaque box with a lid is equivalent to throwing it into the cauldron of a smoldering volcano. You will never see it again.
22. As fun as it is to test the limits of your sanity by trying to find the right top for your leftovers container when it’s 10 PM and you’re exhausted and just want to go to bed, avoid the hassle by storing your tupperware with the lids on (thanks to readers for this tip!)
23. Put the word out that giving your children toys with more than 20 pieces will be taken as a hostile act that signifies that the giver despises your family and wishes ill upon you personally.
24. Buy a small house. Bigger spaces just give you more places to hide the clutter.
25. Believe that it’s possible to find an organizational system that works for you. I can’t tell you how many times I concocted elaborate plans that would supposedly keep my house in perfect order, only to have the entire thing fall apart within two weeks. Around the time baby number three came along, I started to have grave concerns about whether we were all doomed to live in squalor. But I kept trying, and after learning many, many, lessons the hard way, I’ve finally found a set of organizational techniques that keeps my household running smoothly (most of the time, anyway). Keep at it, and you will too.