A Home That Feels Good
Last week when I was preparing for a talk on organization, I came across this in The Little Book of Hygge:
“ It is not important how you choose to pronounce or even spell hygge. To paraphrase one of the greatest philosophers of our time —Winnie the Pooh—when asked how to spell a certain emotion, ‘You don’t spell it, you feel it.’ …Hygge is about an atmosphere and an experience, rather than about things. It is about being with the people we love. A feeling of home. A feeling that we are safe, that we are shielded from the world and allow ourselves to let our guard down.”
MEK WYKING, The Little Book of Hygge, p. vi)
Mr. Wyking has no idea, but between the painting that I rediscovered when I was looking for a photo for this blog post and his quote, the idea for my 3.26.19 talk on organization was born: A Home That Feels Good. That’s the heart of the matter, isn’t it? That our homes feel good and that we feel good in our homes? To me, it is—I believe that a happy home is necessary for a happy life. There are a lot of ways to apply that (and I’ll talk about a ton of them on this blog!), but for today, let’s talk about having an organized home.
Let’s start with your why. Before I had a “why,” I had the William Morris Project. For 30 days each year, I would look at my home through this lens:
“Have nothing in your houses which you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.”
-WILLIAM MORRIS, Hopes and Fears for Art
This quote has made its way back to me twice in the past week in unexpected places, so I think I’m supposed to share it with you.
Useful or beautiful?
Want or need?
Potato, potahto. Whatever works for you—there must be a way to evaluate your belongings, from the biggest to the smallest. This is the first step to an organized home (and life—the same system works for your schedule/calendar).
This is the piece I was missing all those years ago when I began my quest for an organized home. I didn’t evaluate anything—I counted it all as a keeper and looked for places and boxes and furniture in which to store it all. Are you picturing a home that quickly began to overflow? That’s the right picture. I saved everything. EVERYTHING. Just in case. Because my Grandma had one…or one that was almost kind of like it. It didn’t take long to start drowning in stuff.
When I first started organizing, I just put everything in boxes or pretty containers…and bought more shelves. I look back on early organization talks (I gave my first talk on organization in 1999. It was titled, “Confessions of a Neat Freak,” and I was a second year teacher presenting to first year teachers. Oh, the things I’d tell them 20 years later!) and cringe. Some of what I said was good, but it would take me another decade and a half to learn that the best way to be organized is to have less stuff.
Decluttering is kind of a buzzword right now, but minimalists and neat freaks have known this for years. If you’re trying to get organized, prepare to do the hard work of decluttering. They must go hand in hand if you want to have lasting success and change.
What They Don’t Tell You
Before we go any further, there’s a dirty little secret you probably need to hear. Getting organized isn’t a one and done kind of thing. Here’s something that a lot of organized people don’t talk about: you get organized, and then you get busy or it’s a season of a lot of stuff or someone gets sick…and things pile up. And then you have to get organized all over again. It is a constant, constant effort. Or for some, a struggle.
For me, getting organized looks like:
-Processing everything…touching every. single. thing. that’s out of place. (You’ll also do this when you start organizing…but then you touch everything in the ROOM. Marie Kondo has you do this by categories rather than by rooms, and I have seen it done many ways—follow hers. You’re welcome.)
-Purging (trash first, broken things, things that don’t fit, things you won’t use/don’t need, multiples).
-Placing things where they go.
-Practicing what I preach: that means if I come across something out of place while I’m straightening, I deal with it right then. Same goes for something that doesn’t fit, trash, etc. Out it goes.
What makes all of these work for me are my Procedures. A word I like better, but didn’t follow the P theme, is Routines. These are procedures I follow all the time, every day, every time to keep things moving and keep things in their place.
What I just described is how I got organized AND how I stay organized. And when I work with a friend on organizing her home or workspace, these are the steps I go through with her. The steps above totally work if you want to use Marie Kondo’s methods, but she’ll help you understand better what to keep and why. And she has great advice on how to store what you do keep—I am a big, big fan of Marie Kondo. (If you’re not going to read her book, come over and watch her Netflix show with me. For real—it’s a gamechanger for a lot of people!)
Just Getting Started?
When you’re just getting started with organization, it can be overwhelming. You can use a system, or you can wing it. You know better than anyone what works for you. Let me help you out with what hasn’t worked for me and my people:
-waiting to start until everyone is on board (or the kids are old enough, or we get into that house we love, or when we have more time…fill in your blank)
-waiting to start until you have money to buy new (furniture, bins, boxes…fill in your blank)
-starting and tearing up every room in the house at once
-starting with someone else’s stuff (did you just cringe? I did)
-starting without a plan or process in mind
-starting with no intention of letting anything go
-starting when you really don’t want to be organized or get organized in the first place
-starting because you should
-starting because you want a house that’s Pinterest-worthy
-thinking you’ll get organized and then magically stay organized
Let’s Get to Work
1. Do not buy anything to organize, yet—I don’t care how cute those plastic boxes or that great basket is.
2. Pick a place to start. I like to start with a place that I use every day—a place where organization will have a big impact on how my day (and my mood) go. (Helpful hint: this is NOT your living room. Think smaller: your desk, your bathroom, the pantry…)
3. Walk through, or stand back and look. What’s working? Is the space full of things that really belong there, or have things multiplied? Some areas are clutter magnets—start by deciding what truly belongs in the space, and be ruthless about what stays in the space.
4. What do you use the space for? What stays in the space should support that.
1. Don’t buy anything, yet-you have to get rid of stuff, first.
2. This is hard for most of us. Things have sentimental value, or actual value and we don’t know how to let go. (I love three books on this topic, see resources: Soulful Simplicity, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, and Outer Order Inner Calm) This topic is too big for a 20 minute talk, but reach out if you need to talk through this!
3. Throw away (or recycle if appropriate) trash, broken things, stained things. If you don’t use it or can’t use it or it’s not fixable or you would be embarrassed to use it, don’t donate it or make it someone else’s problem.
4. If you have a friend who loves that shirt you’re getting rid of, offer it to her—and don’t be offended if she turns you down OR doesn’t wear it. NO STRINGS ATTACHED.
5. When you have a pile of things to go away, take them out immediately. I make a run to Higgins Branch, Recycling and the dump most days when we’re doing an organization project. It’s time-consuming, but it’s important to get things out of your space so you can keep moving forward.
6. Before you get organized, it may look like utter chaos. Be prepared—that’s why I say don’t start with a living space or place where you need to relax (like your bedroom…that is expert level. Trust me on that one.).
1. You’re still not ready to buy anything—that’s the last step here.
2. A place for everything, and everything in its place. This may take some trial and error, but go ahead and put everything where you think it goes. Live with it and make sure it really works for you (coffee cups above the coffee maker, etc.). Are items close to where you use them? Did you think that folding your jeans would work but you really do prefer to hang them? Don’t be afraid to change things up BUT don’t spend so much time changing that you don’t move on to the next thing. Make sense?
3. Your system may not be picture-perfect, but it needs to work for you. This is the point where you can pull out your boxes or bins or baskets…and yes, you can buy something if you need to. But that’s a last resort, when you’ve lived with your system and know it works for you.
4. Think outside of the…box. What do you already have that you can use to organize? My friend uses cardboard cuties boxes in the pantry of her show-quality home. I used envelope boxes to organize my lingerie drawer.
1. Every day, all day. An ounce of prevention…a stitch in time…whatever works for you, remember that.
2. Processes for mail and bills, school papers, work…where does it go? Put it there. Touch it once. The best system doesn’t create additional steps—don’t put it on the counter to handle later. Open the bill, recycle the trash and put it where bills go to be paid. Pay bills and file in binder or folder. Sign the school form and put it back in the folder…staple cash to the slip immediately and return it. If the system involves stacking to do it later…you’re doing the work twice. At least. (Take a minute and think about your mail stack/kids school paper stack/fill in your blank. Your chest gets tight and it stresses you out, doesn’t it? The best way to handle a stack is not to stack at all, if at all possible. And if you think it’s impossible—just try it and see.)
3. Processes for groceries/supplies…find the balance between running out and stockpiling. Neither is good for your organization or peace of mind. Extra items should always live in the same place, near where you use them. Our system: keep one extra of bathroom items, add to list when we open it. Keep multiples of things we use often, like razors and toothbrushes. We use the same system for pantry items and Ziplocs, etc. I don’t like to run out of anything…it’s a waste of time and emotional energy. On this same note: do you have the basics in your home at all times, ready when you need them? (Band-aids, Ibuprofen, Benadryl, Neosporin, your favorite oils, etc.) If you don’t, I’d make a list and build a basket for your bathroom with medicine and first-aid basics.
4. I wrote this years ago, and it’s still true today: For me, organization is closely tied to time management. Time is precious, and I want to spend the bulk of my time with my family, not picking up after them. That means I have to teach them the systems and processes, and we all have to stay on track. And when we get off-track…we go through the steps to get it back together.
5. Keep verbalizing the processes to your kids…when we finish playing, we put the toys away. Only one game out at a time! When we’re finished eating, put your plate in the sink. Hang your towel up. Clothes in the hamper…etc.
6. Do your kids know where-and how-their backpacks go? (Does your husband have a place for his wallet and pocketknife? Do you have a place where your keys live, every time? Where does your purse live? If the answer to any of these starts with “in a pile on the…)—stop. Don’t pass go. Figure this out, then keep it up. Every time.
7. It’s okay to have areas that are just for you/just for Dad…keep things out of kids’ reach that need to be out of kids’ reach.
8. Make sure pens, scissors, etc. are accessible (I don’t love junk drawers) to big people at all times…and for this to work, you have to put the pen BACK. Or the scissors. You get the idea. Your system won’t work unless you do.
9. This one is tough to talk about, but it’s essential: the best way to keep a de-cluttered, organized home is to limit the stuff that walks through the doors. There’s a whole host of issues this covers: overbuying, emotional buying/gathering, lack of willpower, lack of planning (buying waaaaaaayyyyyy too much at Sam’s or fill in your blank)…some people have very regimented processes to address this, like one item in/one item out when it comes to clothing/shoes/toys. Find what works for you—but if things pile up, I’d really suggest reading one of the books I suggest or talking to someone (it won’t get better on its own, friend). That someone can be me, if you’d like. Be vigilant as far as bringing things into your home and moving them out, or you’ll undo all of your hard work.
10. Don’t be afraid to play with your system. Things change, our lives change, our needs change, our spaces change. Change with them. That’s a big issue for us as moms of little ones—our babies outgrow the changing table, but it may still sit there with all of the supplies because we don’t know what to do with it. Kids outgrow clothes, toys constantly…we have to change with them.
11. NOTE: Your procedures/routines/systems shouldn’t create busy work or make it harder to find things/process things/fill in your blank. Make sure your system really works for you—sometimes the pretty systems aren’t practical. Don’t be afraid to change. (That’s right, I said it again because it’s important.)
Find Your Way
Once you’ve decluttered and found a place for everything, the work is half done. It’s when you find systems that work for you that your house can and will stay as organized as you need it to be. For some of us (me!) that’s really organized. Some of us (my husband!) only need a loosely-organized space. There’s no right or wrong way-- find YOUR way.
And if you need help, I’m here for you. Now, go get organized!
-Myquillyn Smith, Cozy Minimalist Home
-Gretchen Rubin, Outer Order Inner Calm
-Marie Kondo, Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up
-Courtney Carver, Soulful Simplicity
Other books I have read and recommend:
-Gretchen Rubin’s Better Than Before (habits)
-Eat That Frog (for fellow procrastinators)
-Myquillyn Smith’s first book, It Doesn’t Have to Be Perfect to Be Beautiful
-Ingrid Fetell Lee’s Joyful
-Little Book of Hygge
-Ingrid Fetell Lee’s Joy TED Talk
-Courtney Carver’s Be More With Less
-ANYTHING by Rachel Macy Stafford (Hands Free Mama)
-ANYTHING by Edie Wadsworth (great online courses!)
-ANYTHING by Emily P. Freeman (great podcast & weekly email)
-My friend Brenda, The Real OCDiva (She did our garage project, she is reasonably priced and worth it!)
-old Adventures of Mommygirl blogs on organization…my, how far we’ve come from organized hoarding!