Help Me, Clever Readers

I interrupt the other posts I have in the works (about things Canadian, due to our recent trip there) to beg for help.

Last night, we had an impromptu guest for dinner, and I was embarrassed by my house. I could tell you that we've had a lot of house guests and a sick Jane but the basic part of the house looked pretty okay. The general state of things was not the embarrassing part. The part that embarrassed me was the Clutter.

After our guest left, I said to my husband, "I am normally a better housekeeper than this." and my husband said, "You're a GREAT housekeeper. Really it's just rooms like your office where you have no system and things pile up."

I said, "Maybe I should hire some sort of professional organizer to help me." And he said, "You need a mom to come help you throw stuff out."

(And this from a man who still has the parachute pants he wore in high school in his closet. Not that I'm bitter.)

But he's right. (Hate that.)

Here's what happens: the house-cleaning crew comes every two weeks. I beg, threaten and cajole to get my wicked spawn and spouse to clean up their clutter before the crew arrives. Anything that's left over gets put into a brown paper sack which gets stashed someplace --normally my office which is also the home of the puppy's crate and my ball winder and swift when not in use. That room is a disaster and now I have all these bags o'crap to go through and cull.

This is not a system.

This is a recipe for a fire hazard. Plus, it's driving me crazy and it's not teaching anyone anything about cleaning up after themselves.

So, given that I can't come up with a system on my own, I am asking YOU, dear reader, how do you deal with your clutter?? What do you do with important papers that you might need or kids' artwork that you can't throw out? Where do you put your coupons so you actually remember them? How do you manage to keep track of the things you need to return to the store? How do you organize your pantry and closets? How do you keep your roommates from creating large stacks of clutter everywhere?

I'm pretty good about recycling everything that needs to be recycled when I first handle it--kids' daily schoolwork and junk mail, etc. Where I really fail in organizing is:

A) keeping a detailed calendar with important dates (We're leaving for Germany in two weeks and I have forgotten the exact date. Because I didn't write it down.)

B) in figuring out where things need to go. If I had a permanent place for things (a system) I could keep everything tidy. But I never know what to do with leftover parts from projects (like those wrenches you get from Ikea when you put together a shelf or chair) or articles from the newspaper that I want to refer to again...

I need your help. Please tell me everything you know about setting up some sort of home organization system. Bonus points if you don't mention The Fly Lady. If you send me something super helpful, I will send you one of my books or yarn or something else groovy and maybe edible. We'll talk.


Ann in NJ said…
Hmmm... well, I am hardly the person to advise you on organizing (I am NOT a good housekeeper, and the current state of my house would apall you), but there are a few things I have figured out.

1. Children's artwork - take a picture of it. If it's truly exceptional, frame it and put it up. If it's mostly exceptional, rotate some periodically through the frames. But taking a picture preserves it in no space at all.

2. I keep my calendar on my computer (MS Outlook) and my iPod Touch. I sync them every couple of days. Everything gets entered as soon as possible - standing at the dr. office, right after making the reservations online, etc. It's just a habit you have to develop. You can do the same with paper systems, but you have DO it, and keep it physically handy so you can do it.

3. Papers that I need short-term, or until a certain date (like tickets or invitations) get entered into the calendar and then filed. I have 31 file folders, numbered 1-31, and 12 folders labeled with the months. If it's this month, it goes into the folder with that date (the 12th, eg.). If it's further in the future, it goes into that month. The hard part is remembering to empty the month folder into the daily folders at the beginning of the month, but I've been noting things like that on my calendar, which works pretty well.

3) Coupons are an ongoing problem for me, as well. Store coupons or restaurant coupons I do best with when they're in my purse (a little pouch is working pretty well). Grocery coupons, I seem to do best when I have them filed at home (3x5 card box) and I pull them out as I'm making the grocery list. Then I'm just taking the ones I need. But it's not a perfect system, I tend to clip and not file, so I have stacks.

4)Random bits? Designate a box or a drawer or a cupboard and LABEL IT. If you know that you always put IKEA wrenches in the third drawer of the buffet, they have a home. It has to make sense to you. The best organizing book I've read (Organizing from the inside out by Judith Morganstern) can be summed up by "put it near where you use it." If you always open the mail at the kitchen counter, put a basket there for bills and a recycling bag. If you keep books on the floor by your favorite chair, put a bookcase near. Don't fight the habits, adapt the environment to make cleaning up as easy as cluttering.

Whew! That got long, sorry! And I'm still working on my kids. We had a weekly cleaning lady a few years ago, so we'd spend Sunday afternoons cleaning up the clutter so she could CLEAN. Weekly maintenance was a WHOLE lot easier, and the kids had to be involved. Maybe that will help.
Anonymous said…
I know what you mean. I just did a major de-clutter of my own office not long ago. One of the BEST things I purchased was a rolling cart with drawers from Bed Bath & Beyond. I'll take a picture of it and post it on my blog. There are three fabric drawers and it fits perfectly in my closet. In one drawer I put paper bits and pieces (like articles, recipes, etc.), in another drawer I put craft scraps (like bits of yarn, ribbon, etc., that are still good but not enough or an entire project). In the third drawer I put anything else that doesn't really have a home, like envelopes, labels, etc. I actually have two of these and one is dedicated entirely to scrapbook stuff. I love that they are a nice looking container and can be rolled about if need be.

The other thing that I do is I spend 5 minutes a day in each of the rooms of my house. I have found that spending just a few minutes in each room throughout the day keeps everything neat and tidy. Some days I don't have to spend five minutes in a room and sometimes it takes maybe 10 if I need to mop, etc. but it's a system that really works for me.
Anonymous said…
P.S. As far as a calendar, I bought one of those book type calendars and it sets on my desk. I also keep a post-it pad and pen by the telephone so that I can jot down items and it makes it easy to transfer them over to my desk calendar because they're sticky and if I don't have time to put it on the calendar right then, it's safe. When our kids were young, I'd print off a blank calendar from my computer and put it on the fridge and everyone would write what was going on right on it. It was a big help.
Donna said…
1. For Kids stuff, I use a file box for each child. Anything I think they might someday find amusing/interesting goes in there. Anything I find touching (notes to Mom)goes in there. This includes artwork, clay projects, anything that will fit in the box.

2. I agree with the use of Outlook calendar. It is the only thing that keeps my work and life in order.

3. I keep my paper files simple:

Important Papers (birth certificates, ssn forms, savings bonds, etc.)

Care, Cleaning and Instructions - all those papers you might need. I purge dead appliance papers every 2-3 years.

Warranty - anything with a warranty goes in here.

4. I don't know what to do with craft items. My are everywhere - every closet and under the beds. This one is my challenge!
Marion Gropen said…
This is a "do as I say, and not as I do" comment, but:

1. Kids need to de-clutter themselves. So, family meeting time. Each kid gets to organize her own room and toy space. Then, anything that's left out gets thrown out. (You may need a practice week, where they get to get everything out of the trash bag at the end of the week.) Suggest to them the "put the last thing away before you get out the next" habit.

2. Husband can be asked to do the same, as an example to daughters. He sounds like the guy who would do it. If not, you will probably have less to do with him, in any case, as he's not home as much.

3. Yourself. Make a list of to dos, broken into SMALL steps. Then rank'em and do'em.

Make sure you have places for everything. Be flexible about adjusting a time or two as you play with the new scheme, and be conscious of the way you work with things and IN your space.

Buy RubberMaid, or whatever, as needed, as you chew through various rooms or even shelves. Get labels, and then make sure you don't get lax about any area that has been "done."

START with the room that bugs you most. Or with the thing under your hands right now.

As for calendars: I use the linked system of iCal on my Mac and iPhone. All my lists are on the "notes" function. My numbers are synced in contacts (more or less), and my calendars are synced too. And then I back up the whole hard drive on portable hard drives, one with Time Machine, and one with another program, so that I can re-boot, and restore, no matter what.

My mother, however, had a family calendar and phone list right in the central room of the house. EVERYTHING was there, in those pages, and transferred every year. It even helped my father's employer win a lawsuit with a union once. Paper does have its uses.

Good luck if you choose to accept this mission. This comment will self-destruct in 30 seconds. 29, 28, . . .
Unknown said…
I don;t know that I am all that helpful becuase I tend ot put it off but at least it loks better until I do it.
-I have a basket on the desk where I put all important papers, artwork etc that need to be filed (in files in a rubbermaid tote). I bring the mail in and put it on the desk with the artwork etc form school, haul the trash can over and open all the mail, clipping the bills in a pile, throwing out the junk and envelopes right then. When the basket is full, if force myself to file while watching TV. at least it keeps things neat until have to file.

- I allow myself one junk drawer and one junk cabinet, so the clutter is behind closed doors. when those are full to overflowing I cull ruthlessly, dragging the trash can over and throwing if I don't see a need for it in the next month.

- coupons i keep in a pocket in my wallet. if they wont fit, means there is something in there I will prob never use. I don't keep a coupon because I might buy an item or might try it. i only keep them for things I actually know I buy often.
Anonymous said…
I'm a Mac person and keep all of my Contacts/Calendars/Photos synced between my laptop and iPhone. We have MobileMe which pushes everything to my phone automatically because I'm not good at syncing devices manually. Our family would cease to function without this. I've set it up to ding at me an hour before all activities.

Get the Evernote program. I can never keep track of little pieces of paper so I take a picture of them and store them in the Evernote program. I also take sermon notes in this program, make voice notes, etc. Love it!

Toys: Just before each birthday and Christmas, my husband goes through the toys with the kids and they are allowed to keep 15 things. (Really!) Of course, my son's Lego collection counts as one thing. The rest of their stuff goes to Goodwill. Period.

Artwork: Every school year each child gets a 4 inch binder to hold all important artwork/school work. They add things during the year and then we make final decisions about what stays/goes during the summer after the school year is over.

Other: I have plastic tubs everywhere. The kids have about 4 each and these hold all those darn fast food toys and other small stuff. Craft supplies go in tubs under the kitchen counter because that's where we do homework/projects. If the tubs start to overflow, it's time to get rid of stuff.

Good luck! I hope this helps.
Bullwinkle said…
Oh pleasepleaseplease keep me posted on what works for you!

Two things that have helped me: How many X do you need? (i.e. Plastic storage containers.) Decide on a number, donate the rest. (This does not work with yarn.) (I'm just sayin')

Assign X a storage location, when it has outgrown its location; deal with it. (Example 1: The only yarn that is properly stowed is the sock yarn. I bought it a lovely cabinet (small) and when it is full (not yet!), I don't get to buy anymore.) (Example 2: here is where the shoes go. They don't all fit? Get rid of some. Like those ratty old muddy hiking shoes. Really.)
Anonymous said…
I tackle papers as soon as they walk in the door. School/Mail/Whatever. Most of it goes straight to the trash (or recycle if I'm being good) and the important ones get put in my 'in' basket on my desk. I go through this at least once or twice a week.

The kid's papers I deal with right away and put back in their backpacks.

That keeps 90% of the clutter down. The other stuff I just try to keep up with.
TheOneTrueSue said…
Kid stuff: I buy oversize manilla envelopes at the beginning of the school year and label it with the child's name, the school year and the teacher. I keep them on top of my refrigerator during the year. Almost everything that comes home goes into the manilla envelope (unless I hang it up or something). Then at the end of the school year (or periodically throughout the year) I go through it and decide what to keep and what to trash. (Obviously, I do this when they are ASLEEP, to avoid the emotional trauma over the fact that mom threw away their spelling test - the HORROR.)

Random Papers - We have four clipboards - one for each kid, and one for me and my husband. I hang them on the wall in the mudroom. Each kid's clipboard has all of those important papers that I have to have and don't want to forget (like letters from school about upcoming events, stuff like that) but don't want to constantly have sitting on the kitchen counter. My clipboard usually has stuff like coupons, stuff I've torn out from the paper, random scraps of paper. It's very handy.

Filing cabinet - they're useful for a reason :>

Leftover stuff - I have no clue. There is a reason why we have two junk drawers (and counting)
Robin said…
I've only one tip for you:

I've managed to successfully keep my coupons organized and with me by keeping them in small photo album with 3X5 sleeves (maybe 100 pages?- it's thick). Pretty much each coupon gets its own sleeve. It's easy to flip through in the store. It works if you carry a big enough purse to keep it in. I sit down once a week (or so) to fill it up and weed out any that are old. This usually takes less than 5 minutes.

Good Luck.
Andrea said…
A calendar on your computer that will sync with your phone is a must! I set an alarm for ANYTHING that I think I might forget (hair appt, dentist, etc.) to ding me an hour beforehand!

Also, I have bags for everything. We have a bag for the library and that's where all the library books live other than the one you are reading. We also keep the card and the checkout receipt in the bag to check off before we go. We have a bag for the pool, etc. I also keep a bag of my things to do... returns to make, letters to mail, etc. that I can grab as we head out the door. I keep these bags on hooks at the bottom of the coat closet.

As for coupons? I've never hit on a system that really worked... they tend to expire before I use them.

Good luck!
deb said…
Barb: old keepsake papers, cards, bills, photos and memorabilia is in a plastic container under my bed. (there are several of them)
knitting is organized in one room with yarn in those wire crates that stack and knitting books are in bookshelves. If there are certain patterns in magazines, copy them, put them in a binder in page protectors and give the magazine away so they don't accumulate. I recently came across these photos on Ravelry of someone's organized craft room. I was very impressed!

I hope this helps! deb
Mary Ellen said…
wow. I just learned about 158 new things about organizing.

I have no advice, but I think I'm going to be busy the next few weeks...
Mama Ava said…
Where do you keep your clutter? Because that's where you're used to putting stuff so do most of your organizing there. AND at the front door. We have a basket by the front door. It's hidden in a closet so no one can see it that's visiting, but I see it when I go in there every day. When it's full (every month or so) I purge it.

Kid's artwork. I'm so wicked to suggest it, but stop saving it all. Your children are precious, but is all of their work? I have an expanda file for each kid with 12 dividers--one for each year of school. At the end of the school year, I fill that space. I really believe that 90% of what my kids do I won't care about in a few years, and when it's really special, I know it.

Ikea wrenches, etc. If Ikea gives you a wrench every time you buy something, why do you need to save them? TOSS IT TOSS IT TOSS IT. Or have another basket/box and purge every month or 2. After having 2 house fires and moving to Africa and China, trust me--you don't need all of that stuff for "just in case." You really don't. If you do, you can actually buy one of whatever it is, and then you'll know you really need it.

I keep a big laminated calendar on the refrigerator door (which was by my phone) and wrote EVERYTHING down on it.

I have one of those plastic box file holders tucked in same closet with files for maps, take out orders, medical forms, receipts, etc. It's not organized per se, but it's all in the same place. Every couple months I go through those, too and toss what I don't need.

I carry a small notebook in my purse now for jotting prices, book titles, dates, etc. that I come across. If you don't carry all the fancy gadgets, you can call your home phone with your cell when you make an appointment and then write it down when you get home.

Pre-housekeeper, I did the 10 minutes per room--dusting, decluttering, organizing. It works out to about once a week per room and makes a difference. Esp. if your little darlings are ongoing-ly responsible for their own stuff.

Good luck! One of the things I notice here in the States again is the insane amount of storage devices that are sold everywhere. We all just have too much stuff and we're all too attached to it.
Mama Ava said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
STQ said…
I love my file cabinet! And I agree with the reader who said you don't need to save EVERYTHING your kids bring home from school. We have a shredder, which our son LOVES to operate. I give him kudos for his marvelous spelling test, then he gets to shred it. Fun is had by all!
Susan said…
Some really good comments.

I keep my coupons in the back of the notebook where I write my shopping lists. If I add the item to the list, I move the coupon up behind the page so it is in sight when I remove it.

Restaurant and misc. retail coupons I keep in the car.

Returns I keep in the car and put the return on my "To Do" list so I remember it on my errands.

I don't have an office - just a desk in the kitchen = so no file cabinet. I keep a standing filein the drawer with a folder for each child. A folder for each activity. And then "subject" folders like medical, insurance, taxes, cars, pets, etc. And I try not to let a week go by without filing from the top of the desk into the files! I have a folder for bills to pay and paid bills.

I also have folders marked for ideas, reading, recipes and places to go.

My calendar is on the wall near the desk and I write things down right away in pencil in case they change. When the school calendar comes out I add all those important dates. When there are recurring appointments, I write those all in. Sports schedule as soon as I get it.

When it comes to the clutter no one has claimed - get ruthless! Toss or donate. When I get those postcards in the mail that the trucks are coming I always maker a point to clean out something or someplace and put a donation out.

For the pantry - make an effort to list all the ingredients for the 10 most commom meals you make and then buy those things and put them in the panytry or freezer. Stock up on baking stuff, too. Then put a list of everything you have inside the door. It will help you plan meals. Then make it toutine to add the items you use to your next shopping list. I have a pretty big pantry so I always have back up condiments, pasta, beans, soups, rice, packaged mixes for tacos, pasta and stir fry. Put things away in groups of like items and it will be easy to see at a glance when things are getting low.

Hope that helps!
Miri said…
I was going to try to help but then I got distracted by all the good advice that came in while I was digging through bags of stashed crap in my office. So what I'm trying to say is... thanks for having so many (other) readers who are smart!
1. By the time my 4 daughters were having their second children I had an 18"X18" box for each of them with all of my favorite things I had saved from their lives (except photos). Drawings and best school papers went on the fridge each day and came down the next day. Favorites were kept. Everything was dated even drawings. Times when I was missing them I would cull that persons box over the years. (camp, etc.) They loved their boxes when they got them when their second child was born and laughed at some of the silly things I had kept. (might be as simple as a treasured red robin feather that they had kept on a dresser for years and thrown out) These boxes were kept under the master bed for years and them moved to the walkin closet.

2. I have wooden boxes, nice baskets with lids, any kind of containers that can look like decor (footstools with hidden storage, coffee table that is a chest, baskets or tins on bookshelves, canister sets, cookie jars, a stack of 3 ratan cases in a corner.....these all have a set purpose and location that everyone knows: todays mail, current knitting project, pocket change, papers that need Mom's attention, Dad's do not touch pile, magazines I want to read, even toys etc....It is to stay CLOSED! If you add something and it won't close....REMOVE SOMETHING NOW!!!!!!
If it is something that has always sat on that drainboard and looked messy...put it in a painted pot and set a pot sitting elf on the edge-instant cuteness!

Of course, you need a filing cabinet:
Mine has:folders for
instrustion manuels
reciepts(this is also a good item for a contain if you collect these daily---sort when full and move to file)


I have a super organizer. Just e-mail if you have any issues I can help with, lol.

3. Coupons: I carried an accordian postcard size holder with an elastic around it, in my purse. It was dated by MONTH. When I put the new coupons in (usually from the sunday paper...I removed the expired coupons...usually the ones from that month) Easy peasy!!

4. Calenders: 2


School and Kids......mostly for the kids benefit (they should be responsible so they learn to plan and keep track and to notify you) yea, right. Location is what works best for you and the kids.
My e-mail is I never check the account.
Barb in Irving
Tenna Draper said…
Okay Barb--to keep your calendar in a better way, start carrying a Blackberry with you--where ever you go. This handy gadget is half palm pilot, half phone--plus the internet! You can plug it into your computer and surf the web if you don't like the little screen. It keeps track of your appointments, keeps you in touch with family, has a notepad where you can keep a grocery list when you run out of this or that, a fully functional alarm system that will wake you up in the morning and tell you when your brother's birthday is coming up so you still have time to ship him off a card. It has a camera AND a video, and a calculator for the math me!

For small do dads like buttons and screws and washers, anything small that needs to go to the garage--I have a multi level chest of small clear drawers, some bigger than others to put all the little crap that my husband brings home from work--and he goes through his pockets and tosses things in there where they go.

For paperwork--ah, we have a big grocery box for that. Anything important, we just toss in there. IF is REALLY important, there's a file folder in a special place that ONLY I KNOW, and that's where it goes--like car titles and such...the rest goes in the box. Taxes go in a special shoe box. If we don't look at the big box for at least 2 years, we burn it.

Most of my son's school projects that he brought home got mangled in one way or another and just didn't have the same meaning years down the road when he became an adult. The memories were all there anyhow. In many moves, some things just had to be sacrificed...those paper things lost the battle.

Then, there's cupboard your office, on the wall, cupboards just like you have in your kitchen--to HIDE things like CDs and printer paper, etc.

That's what's in my husbands office. He's also got a coffee can that he uses for a pen/pencil holder--most of the pens don't work and most of the pencils are broken...why can't people just throw things away?
LaDonna said…
OK, normally I wouldn't even bother replying to something like this because I am also in desperate need of "a system". But one of the things you mentioned, I actually came up with a solution' art work:

I have them hold it and take a picture, then THROW IT! With Marissa (9) in particular, this has become something of a tradition. She saves all of her art work for about a month (until she has a good pile) and then she brings it all. She brings me my camera and we start the art show. She's gotten quite creative making up faces to go with the art so in the end, not only do I have digital photos of her art work, I also have a record of the many faces of Marissa :)

Good luck with the rest!
Anonymous said…
You've been tagged on my blog.
knittergran said…
This will be of no help, except that in we can be glad we didn't live in the time of Edith Wharton. When she was eleven, she wrote her first attempt at a novel. She read this to her mother: Oh, how do you do, Mrs. Brown?....If only I had known you were going to call I should have tidied up the drawing-room.

Her mother, who thought writing was not a fitting thing for a young lady to do replied: Drawing rooms are always tidy.

Yikes! This is from a New Yorker article reviewing letters written by Edith Wharton.

So don't worry about your drawing room!
Nina said…
Binders do wonders!!!! And you could get one of those folding cubby things from ikea. I have one in my toy closet.