Home Organization

First of all, you need to realize that the purpose of home organization is not to have a routine for everything, and it is not to be so detailed in how you do it that your life gets lost in a sea of detailed lists.

That is NOT proper organization.

Proper organization SAVES you time. It keeps the messes to a minimum, and provides a way to clean up the messes that are unavoidable. It provides a place for things so you don't have to spend time looking for items that have been misplaced. It gives you a logical way to move through the day and accomplish what has to be done in the least amount of time.

If you have an item you wish to organize, and the organization is too complicated, then it won't work. It will be costing you MORE time and effort, not less. With proper organization, you'll either reduce the work load, or break it down into manageable portions.

The Four Step Plan

This plan allows you to build one phase at a time, and gives you clear ways to know when you are ready for the next step. It helps you keep from being overwhelmed, and to see progress.

We could also call this the Turtle Plan. Slow but steady!

This plan was developed by a mother of seven kids. If I can go from chaos to a reasonable level of functionality and cleanliness in our home in less than a year, and make personal improvements in the same time, then there is hope for ANYBODY! We still have a long way to go, but I knew we were onto something when a friend who had been in our home a few months earlier came in one day and said, "WOW!"

So here's to your first "WOW!".

Step 1 - Building Life Changing Habits

There is no point in making a change if it is not going to be permanent. Repetition of failure just perpetuates failure, and nobody needs that!

So work on ONE thing at a time. Pick something that you can form a habit around. One that makes a difference to several areas if you can.


  • Get up earlier.
  • Plan dinner ahead.
  • Keep one room neat - do this by setting a simple cleaning habit once a day.
  • Do "evening rounds" to make sure nothing is on the floor, or any other spot you designate as important (but you can only pick ONE spot).

Get the idea? One thing, that you can form into a habit. Do that one thing for ONE MONTH. Then maintain it. When you have done it for one month, pick another thing and work on it, but remember to maintain the first thing. Resist the temptation to pick more than one thing! Trust me on this, you will fail if you try to enforce two things, your family can then divide your attention by resisting on two fronts. Focus on one thing and you can triumph!

There is magic in this. You won't believe me when I say it works, but it does. Somehow the sum of the effort adds up to way more than it looks like it will. By the time you have done this for three or four months a miracle occurs. You notice that somehow while you have been doing this one thing, other things have happened. You can't even quite see how, but they have. This is because when we develop one new good habit (or get rid of one bad old one), it makes other things easier, and other problems we did not realize were even related somehow take care of themselves and resolve due to our efforts in that one area. It is just the coolest thing! It really works!

So pick ONE thing to work on. JUST one. When we work on only one thing at a time, we do it well. When we work on two, or three, we get distracted, discouraged, and lost.

Now, there is a catch. After the second week, everyone in your home will be done cooperating. Perhaps even YOU will feel like reverting to the old habits. It is critical that you stick with it for ONE FULL MONTH. It won't work if you don't. It will look like it won't work in the middle, but if you stick it out, eventually you, and your family, will realize that you are serious, and you are not going to back down. STICK TO YOUR GUNS! If you don't, then you set up a habit of failure, and then it gets harder because your family will pressure you harder to stop the change.

Resistance will set in whether you are trying to help them develop a new habit, or even if you are just trying to change yourself. And it happens EVEN IF THEY LIKE THE CHANGE! When you change, that makes you unpredictable. Your family likes you predictable! So they unconsciously try to persuade you to go back to what was familiar. The nice thing is , if you stick to the new routine, pretty soon IT is familiar, and they will help you maintain it. And once you have done this three or four months running, CHANGE becomes more familiar, and the resistance each time is less!

A miracle happened in our home by doing this, along with the other steps. It CAN happen in yours if you follow the rules.

But you won't know until you try it!

Step 2 - De-cluttering and Doing 5 Minute Quick Attacks

The second step in this program, which can be practiced along side the first, is to get rid of things in your life and home that get in the way of being efficient in building habits and setting routines. The companion to this is quick attacks on trouble spots when you have a bit of time to do it.

While you are working hard on setting a habit, it is the only long term goal you should be working on. The things listed on this page are things you do, and tactics you use, to get little bits of work done when you have the time to do so, and the burning desire to do something to make a difference. This kind of task can make a huge difference in whether or not you see progress (though progress often happens when we cannot see results right away).

The key is to learn how to make the biggest difference in the shortest amount of time. To focus in on the tasks that will really show and really help us see that we have done something. Tasks in this category are aimed at this concept. Over time, as you make improvements, the kinds of things you do will get more and more detailed. That is the natural progression of success. But to begin, the tasks may be very small, or extremely messy, either one! You need not finish each time, it is progress even if it is only partly done. The important thing is that you worked and accomplished something, it need not be done to any one else's standards. Progress, no matter how small, will eventually get you there.

We suggest that you do this program in whatever method works for you. Here are some tactics to use:

1. The 5 minute swift attack. Work for 5 minutes on the worst spot. No pressure to finish it all. Children will need to be encouraged to stay busy for the whole 5 minutes if they work with you.

2. 15 minute blocks. Set the timer for 15 minutes. You can do two sessions back to back, or one session a day, or work for 15 minutes then play for 15 minutes, however you want. Kids can work well with this also.

3. Marathon Cleaning or De-cluttering. Some people dread starting, but once started they get enthusiastic and feel the need to continue. The key is just to get started. Then go until the next logical break, or until you finish an objective. Be sure to give kids a break or frequent rewards if you do this, and do not be obsessive about finishing the job in a certain amount of time. If it takes several blocks of time over several days, then feel good about it anyway, at least it is getting done.

4. Raise the standard long term. Don't expect Martha Stewart to move in on the first round. Get the worst on the first pass (or several passes - this phase can last months). Then add in the next level of clean and maintain that for a while.

5. Make it a game. Especially if kids are helping. Making it a game or contest can help motivate them and you for a short period of work.

6. Occasional efforts can lead to daily habits. Again, no pressure for this to happen immediately. Let it occur as you feel more like making it happen. Give an effort when you feel like it, and it will gradually grow in you and in your family. Just don't push the expectation of it happening fast, or you will get discouraged.

7. For business, break tasks into manageable blocks. Focus on completing the small tasks, not the huge job, and the huge job takes care of itself.

8. Don't keep a list unless a list is going to help you. If you lose lists, or get discouraged by them, find another way to keep track of things.

Ok, that is HOW you do it, here is WHAT you do (these are items to pick from, not a list of everything you have to do!):

1. De-clutter your home. I cannot tell you how important this is. Get rid of junk first. If it is broken, torn, stained, not re-usable, or if you have had it for years and have not used it and likely won't, then get rid of it. If the replacement cost is less than $20, you can get rid of it and not have to worry if you ever need it again because it is easily replaceable. Give it away, sell it, or throw it out. No guilt. It is just less stuff you have to clean around. Get LOTS of Garbage Bags. Use them! Say over and over to yourself, “The Dumpster is My Friend.”

2. De-clutter your Life. Get rid of activities that take a lot of time but give you little return. If you feel like you are controlled by your activities, then you have too many. What to cut is a very personal thing. Sometimes you have to tell other people NO, and sometimes you have to disappoint them. You may have to make an unselfish decision to give up something you like (such as a hot bath, extra sleep, or computer time), but de-cluttering your life can be very liberating also!

3. Sort at the door. If you get distracted in the middle of doing things, then sort at the door. When you are putting things away, get a box to put all the things in that do not go in the room you are working on. Put them away when you are finished in the room.

4. Clean fast. Clean up the messiest most visible spots first. Throw out any garbage, and scrub the ugliest things first. Then if you have time, go back and be picky.

5. Rearrange your furniture. Nothing like this for getting at years old dirt. Also, if you rearrange it, you may find a way to make things easier to clean.

6. Get at the spots that collect clutter. Tops of tables, desks, etc. Straightening one area that people are likely to look at will quickly make your home look better.

7. FlyLady says Shine your Sink. We say, pick a symbolic item that will help to motivate you if you learn to keep it clean. In our livingroom, that is the piano. People seem to put stuff on it if it is not watched. When it is clean, the whole room looks cleaner.

8. Take out the trash. Any trash. Be it garbage in the can, or garbage in your way, or garbage on your TV. Get it out of your home whenever you have the time to do a quick clean. Getting garbage out instantly brightens the home.

9. Some things should wait. If the task is one that you will do, and it will get undone almost as fast as you do it, then don't do it until you have a solution for keeping it from getting undone so fast. If your desk is perpetually messy, find a way to keep it neat. Otherwise, no matter how long you spend, or how often you do it, it will be like sweeping ants... Unproductive. If the task requires a routine to keep it clean, wait until you are ready to do the routine to try to make a major change.

10. A home business operates on the same principles as the rest of the home. De-clutter, quick cleanups, and developing good habits are the starting points. Cut out tasks as much as possible that accomplish little but take a lot of time.

Things to Remember

Be pleased with any accomplishment. The goal of this step is not to get your home completely in order. It is just to quickly make a difference, or to tackle one area, and to do something that will help you in the long term to see that your efforts matter. This is not the time for perfectionism. It is time to give yourself full credit for EVERYTHING you do, and to get rid of things that distract from accomplishing your goals.

Some days I go over my day at the end of the day and think, "What have I accomplished?" And I can think of nothing. I learned on those days to remember that I have maintained. Many days are like this. All I do is keep the messes that a huge family constantly generates from getting worse. Maintaining is nothing to be derogatory about! Maintaining is good. Especially since most days that I just maintain are days when something unusual comes up.

In the beginning, we would get in a 15-30 minute cleaning or de-cluttering session about once a week. We do a marathon job (and it has gone from just cleaning to home improvement sometimes), about twice a week now. We have daily routines in place to maintain and keep things from getting too messy, but it is a constant battle here. FlyLady says eventually your house almost cleans itself. Ours never will, because there are too many bodies here creating messes - it is the nature of big families that there is a lot of work, all the time, to keep it less tidy than a smaller family does on half the work. Ok, I can deal with that. But at first getting in only one 15 minute session a week seemed like we would never make progress that way! But we did! And we still do. Somehow those short sessions added up to more than the sum of the effort originally expended.

So do what you can, when you can. And give credit for what you DO, instead of beating yourself up about what you did NOT do. Progress, no matter how small, eventually gets you there.

Step 3 - Creating Lasting Routines for You and Your Family

Routines are often thought of as drudgery. But if you look at them in a different way, they become a powerful tool that can help you take charge of the things that matter so you have more time to enjoy life.

Routines can be built around anything from scheduled chores, to tucking the kids in at night. They can help you change nasty habits, when you replace a negative thing with a positive one, and they can help you have structure around which to remember to do occasional things which we sometimes put off because life is so hectic.

A routine is really just a set of habits. You build a routine one habit at a time.

You start early with children, and you already have routines even if you do not identify them as such. Getting the kids up in the morning usually happens in a predictable manner in each home. It may happen differently - an alarm, the baby crying, mom muttering sleepily at the kids, Dad knocking on their bedroom doors, etc. They know when they get up what is expected before breakfast. An infant starts with just getting up and being dressed for the day by a parent, but as they grow and become more involved in the events around them, an expectation of what comes next develops.

Bedtime routines are the same. Most homes have routines for lunchtime, snack time, or other occurrences throughout the day.

The great thing about a routine is that it provides a structure on which to gain a little more control over your life. We talked in step one about developing habits, and how you can add one habit a month. If you piggyback that habit onto an existing routine, it is more likely to succeed.

If I want to begin to read from a book each day with my child, I can do that right after lunch. Lunch happens every day, so it gives me a built in reminder to read the story. Especially when you are trying to get in meaningful periods of intense work on something other than family, a routine can help your children know what to expect when you are busy, and give them a set of guidelines to follow.

If I want to make sure the house is clean each morning, then right after breakfast, but before everyone dashes out for the bus, is a good time to check bedrooms and make sure the major dirt gathering areas are spot cleaned. There are already predictable events occurring, so it is simple to add one to it.

Routines are not life. But they sure can provide a nice framework around which a contented life is more likely to occur when those routines are thoughtfully planned and maintained.

Step 4 - Moving Up to Improvement and Beautification

After you have started to see the effect of creating new habits, and have learned how to do fast cleanups and feel that the dumpster is a GOOD thing, and after those habits have been occurring long enough to form some nice routines, you may find that the house gets cleaned so fast that there are a few minutes more to do something else!

Sometimes we look around at cleanup time, and find that the basic chores which we have scheduled in are already done. Things did not get dirty, or there is so little to do that it is just a second or two of pick up.

When that happens, you can start a list of small long term tasks to do, or big fix up things that can be done instead of marathon tasks.

Instead of cleaning up the closet that had been neglected for years, you find that the closet is clean, and so are the other major messes. So you can work on painting a room in that time instead.

When you go to do the 5 minute quick attacks and it takes only 1 minute, then you can oil a couple of squeaky hinges instead. Or tighten the doorknobs - for some reason hinges and doorknobs are a frequent issue in our home! All those little hands!

Instead of spending your money on a new laundry hamper to contain the mess in the laundry room, or on heavy duty cleaner to finally tackle the grease by the back of the stove, if you find that those things no longer need done because the daily routine prevents them getting bad, you can spend a little money on a decorative item. We found that if there was a surface in the livingroom that had nothing on it, the kids would fill it. So the top of the piano, the top of the half height shelves beside the entryway, and the top of the storage cabinet, all needed something pretty there instead. That reminded the kids that there was a reason to keep it cleared off. But we could not afford to do that when there were still other items that took the resources. Now that things stay cleaner, we have the time, and a few more resources, to do some decorating and repairing.

Long term, this helps you take more pride in your home, and if you involve the kids in it, it can help them see that keeping it clean is more important.

Using this guideline, your home can gradually, over time, become better and better.

Lay the structure though, and take care of the most important things first, before you begin long term home improvements. This is a natural step that you grow into if you keep making progress. You will know when you are there. One day you will look around and wonder what you are supposed to do next, because the scheduled time for cleaning has not been filled. And certainly there is no rule that says it cannot get less, it is just that if you choose to use that time for more improvements, there is something you can do to help brighten things even more. When that day happens that you look for a big cleanup task to do and cannot find one, or that your 5 minute room rescue does not take more than a few seconds, it is time to make a list. Add to it every time you think of a small task that can be added. A little planning and a list means that you can quickly fill those bits of time with something meaningful that keeps you motivated to keep your home improving.