Showing posts with label Organization. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Organization. Show all posts

Jul 15, 2015

Organizing DVDs and CDs for Small Spaces

There is still much to do before we move into our tiny house motor home, but slowly, slowly, we are making progress. Hubby bought the shipping container - finally! (But now he has to insulate it to keep our books, family photos, etc. nice and dry.) And I'm trying to start packing and get rid of 14+ years of clutter that we've somehow accumulated. Among those items that we want to keep, but which take up quite a bit of room, are DVDs and CDs. The question was: How do we keep them easily accessible when we're living in 180 sq. ft.?

The only solution was to get rid of the DVD and CD cases and use some sort of compact storage system. I looked high and low for ideas and considered everything from ordinary binders with CD sleeves to these acrylic boxes. But this ready-to-go "wallet" is what I finally decided upon. It's such a great price and is better made than any of the other CD and DVD wallets or binders I've seen in local stores.

So a couple of days ago, I started packing DVDs into it.

I admit, initially it was hard for me to throw out all those DVD cases. I'm not really sure why. It wasn't that I was worried about selling the DVDs at a later date. (I haven't found that selling our used DVDs is really worth the effort, with the exception of young children's educational DVDs). And it certainly wasn't that we ever spend much time looking at the cases. Happily, as the project progressed, I found dumping all those cases into the trash can felt wonderfully freeing! I'm glad the cases are gone.
Into the trash with DVD cases!
I chose to put the DVDs in the same order we've had them for years: Somewhat alphabetically (all the titles that begin with "A" together, all the titles that start with "B" together, and so on), with a separate section for the kids' movies. Some people prefer to put DVDs in general categories (like "Romance," "Action," etc.) because it makes adding new DVDs to the collection a wee bit easier. But I really wasn't feeling up to totally reorganizing hundreds of DVDs. (Yes, hundreds! This project made me wonder why we have so many DVDs when we mostly watch Netflix...and I pared down our collection - a bit.)
The DVDs are actually now much handier than they were before.
When I was done, I'd cleared 5 shelves and 2 storage ottomans of DVDs. And as you can see in the photo below, the wallet takes up the same amount of space as just 10 DVDs in their cases. It's an amazing space saver! I should have done this years ago.

The wallet holds 336 DVDs or CDs and takes up the same amount of shelf room as 10 DVDs in their cases.

Jan 29, 2014

How to Keep Your Kids in Healthy Snacks

If you browse Pinterest, or a few mommy blogs, no doubt you've seen organized drawers for kids' snacks, filled with either small commercial packages or Ziplock bags filled with serving sizes. The idea here is a great one: Let kids be more independent by keeping a drawer where they can grab their own snacks. But I have two problems with this:

1. If kids have total access to snacks, they are likely to snack too often and not eat a balanced diet - let alone their dinner!

2. Every single snack drawer I've seen is full of processed food - which is not only expensive, but terribly unhealthy.

So here's how I keep my children in healthy snacks:

* I keep a counter top bowl of healthy fruit - usually washed apples and bananas, and mandarin oranges or pears, when in season (see photo to the right). Children are free to take whatever they want from this bowl.

* I also keep a drawer in the fridge for healthy snacks: mostly carrots, celery, a few cheese sticks, and when in season, grapes, green beans, peas in the pod, and cut up broccoli or cauliflower.

Refrigerator snack drawer. There are baby carrots from our garden, cheese sticks, celery (my kids are big enough to break off stalks by themselves), and cut up cauliflower.
You'll notice cheese sticks are the only expensive, packaged product I mentioned. I limit these, for the sake of frugality, by placing only a few in the kids' drawer. (If you like, you can slice blocks of cheese and place them in Ziplock bags, instead; it's cheaper. But my kids love string cheese!)

I also have other snacks available; mostly homemade dried fruit, nuts and seeds (if I can find a good deal on them), or (very occasionally) crackers.* However, I keep them up high and dole them out every once in a while.

We also have a two snacking rules:

1. Any child who doesn't eat everything he snacks on looses the privilege of getting himself snacks. (No half eaten apples allowed!)

2. All children must ask for a snack before taking it. This allows me to help the kids to learn to wait for our main meals, if appropriate. (It's also a good way to teach them to think about what time they normally eat meals and whether it's smart to snack right before a meal.)

Simple. Healthy. And it works!

* Why do I limit crackers? Because they are usually full of GMO ingredients, in addition to preservatives, soy (which may increase estrogen in the body and is almost always GMO), corn syrup, and other unhealthy ingredients. I could make healthier ones from scratch, but it's time consuming and not worth it at this point in my life.

Jan 8, 2014

Organization Tips for Messies

I have a confession to make: I'm a messy. Well, some of my readers may already know this, since I blogged about it in the House That Cleans Itself series. But sometimes I really can't get a handle on my messiness - and oh! I feel it ought to be a lot easier to be tidy! Anyone with me here?

In 2013, things got especially out of hand at my house - in large part because I had the attitude that as soon as I got one corner of the house really tidy, the kids had destroyed another part. And while that was (is!) largely true, it's no excuse. And all that mess was beginning to depress me and stress out my hubby. So, like many other homemakers, at the beginning of 2014, I began to work on the mess in earnest. (The above photo shows my desk. On the left, my old, broken, falling apart, messy desk. On the right, my new, truly organized desk.)

I know a lot of bloggers write about organization and being clutter free - but unlike most of them, organization doesn't come naturally to me. At. All. So here is my best advice for messies like me: Work on it a little bit every day.

Some people advocate turning the kitchen timer to 10 minutes. During those 10 minutes, they do all the decluttering and organizing they can. I think this is a fine place to start, but for me, the following motto works better:

Declutter and organize one spot every day.

Except the Sabbath, which is (gloriously!) organization free.

Most days, I'll tackle something largish - like one wall (or half a wall, if the room is really bad) in a certain room. On really busy or tired days, I might declutter and organize something more simple, like a kitchen drawer or two. The real trick to making this work, though, is not to feel like I have to get all the decluttering/organization done in one chunk of time. So if I have 5 minutes here and 10 minutes there and 3 minutes there, I will take advantage of all those minutes to get a little de-messifying done.

It works. And as I see myself making progress, I become more enthusiastic and energetic about the whole keeping tidying thing.

Other Tips for Messies:

* Pinterest is a fantastic place to find inspiration for organizing your home.

* A lot of the organizing ideas you'll find in magazines and online require an investment (like purchasing bins or shelving). If buying such items isn't do-able, consider less expensive alternatives, like purchasing bins and other items at The Dollar Tree or a thrift store or garage sale. Or, think hard about how you could repurpose something you already have. Even cardboard boxes can be made attractive, with a little know-how. (For one example, visit Catch My Party; for another, see HandiMania.)

* It's usually difficult for messies to see the answer to their organizing problems, so don't be afraid to ask someone who is more organized for advice. This could be your husband, another family member, or a friend. This can be tough, because often we messies feel judged by those to whom organization comes easy. So pray about it, confess to your family member or friend just how tough this is for you, and ask for help. I know when I do this, a great weight is lifted from me, and some really useful, true solutions are often found.

* Don't give up! If you try one type of organization (say, putting coloring books in a basket) and it just isn't working for you or your family, try something different (like putting them in a bookshelf).

* Never stop. This is the hardest part for the true messy. But if you don't continue decluttering and organizing, even after you've worked over the entire house once, the mess will return. Make tidying up a daily habit, continuing to use whatever method works best for you (my small chunks of time throughout the day method, or the 10 minute method, or something else that works better for you). You can do it!

Sep 25, 2013

Tips for Taking Road Trips with Kids

I just returned from a family road trip. And while I was really worried about my kids making my husband so crazy we'd end up in an accident (our youngest cried all 9 1/2 hours home the last time we attempted a road trip) the traveling went quite smoothly. How did we accomplish this feat? Through a lot of planning! Here are my best tips:

* Make packing lists, plus a list of chores to accomplish before you leave. Start compiling it early, because there's little doubt you'll think of stuff you need to do or things you need to pack as weeks pass. Divide your lists by major categories. For example, have one page for clothes, another for toiletries, etc. Then be sure to check off chores/items packed as you do them.

* Prepare the kids. Have not just one but several talks with the kids so they know exactly what to expect. For example, I explained how long we'd be sitting in the car, what potty breaks would be like and how often we'd stop, and how their behavior would either make the trip fun or horrible. We had this talk beginning a week before we left, and we reminded the kids of key points just before leaving, each direction.

* Make the kids comfortable. Put them in really comfy clothes - nothing that binds when they sit (elastic waistbands are perfect), comfy socks with slip on shoes (so they can remove their shoes while in the car, if they want to), their pillow, their favorite teddy, etc. If a child's feet dangle, put a small piece of luggage or a box beneath them for support.

* Bring the potty seat or chair. If you have a child who is new to using the potty and is hesitant to go in
unfamiliar places, this is absolutely essential. Also, it helps to "practice" by frequently taking your child to public restrooms a month or so before the trip.

* Have a bag of activities for each child. Bring more than you think they will need.

I'm not big on games because pieces can fall and scatter, resulting in a mess - plus screaming, crying kids. Magnet games are okay, although some loss of magnets is probably inevitable. Some people like to give each child a cheap baking sheet to hold coloring books and magnet sets, but after a lot of thought, I decided against this. If we got into an accident, those baking sheets would result in serious injury - possibly even death. Instead, I chose a clipboard for each child, being careful to pick a type that had a more kid-friendly, less aggressive clamp.

I bought new coloring books (new things are vital, since they will hold your child's attention longer; plus they make the trip more fun) at the Dollar Tree, along with some activity and sticker books. Be careful to only choose activities your kids can do on their own; you don't want them frustrated or trying to get your help all the time. I also printed out age appropriate mazes, plus coloring and activity sheets that tied in with our trip. For example, we visited an aquarium, so I printed out free sea life coloring pages and mazes. Other ideas include coloring pages/games for states you'll pass through and landmarks you might see.

I also bought each child a new box of crayons - make them exactly the same! Plus dry erase crayons (far less likely to mark up the car than pens are) and dry erase boards from the Dollar Tree.

To hold crayons and keep them from rolling all over the place, some people use use suction containers like you'd find in a shower, but I was afraid they'd fall off the car windows, causing much yelling and crying. Instead, I chose cups I found in the office supply section of the Dollar Tree. Any short cup that fits into your child's car seat/booster seat/car cup holder would work fine. (Tall ones make it more difficult to get the crayons out and are more likely to tip over.)

Also from the Dollar Tree, I bought each child a cheap "Doodle Pro" type toy, plus blank notebooks. Variety is important!

Finally, I printed out free car bingo and license plate games for each child. Generally, to prevent quarreling, I think it's best to give each child exactly the same items. So even though our youngest couldn't really play the license plate game alone, I made sure he had one in case he felt left out. I also printed out a map of our route, so everyone could see how far we'd traveled and could mark off towns as we passed them. (I put ours in a plastic page protector so we could use dry erase crayons to mark it up, then erase the markings and use the same print out for the trip back.)

Some people like to give each child a binder with all these printables, but I thought it better to dole out games and printables as we went along. (My kids would try to do everything at once, if I gave them a binder. To make the activities last as long as the trip, it was vital for me to hang onto them and pass them out periodically.)

The only things the children had ready access to in the back seat were a basket of books ("I Spy" and "Where's Waldo" types for my pre-reader and early reader books for our older child) and their teddies.

* Bring plenty of water and snacks. I kept the snacks in a box up front with me so I could dole them out. Try to avoid things that are too salty, or your kids will drink a ton and need to make near constant bathroom stops. I allow them to drink water only, since they are less likely to guzzle it. To encourage them to sip and not gulp, I also filled their travel mugs with ice, then added water. Because it took a bit for the ice to melt, they didn't drink their water all at once.

I also like to bring a few snacks I wouldn't normally let them eat. This keeps things fun and makes the snacks more of an "event" that passes the time.

Ideas for snacks include: Grapes, apples, berries, baby carrots, celery sticks, breakfast/protein bars, Annie's graham bunnies (less messy than ordinary graham crackers), raisins/yogurt covered raisins, dried cranberries/blueberries, dried apple rings, really any dried food (but be careful about giving the kids too much fiber), jerky, and trail mix. Before you leave, portion everything out into individual serving bags.

* Bring music everyone enjoys. Audiodramas or books on tape are also handy.

* And yes, a portable DVD player. Part of me hates using movies to occupy my kids, but it's not like we do this every day. We purchased a dual-screen portable DVD player just for this trip. (About $70 at our local Wal-Mart.) It was fantastic; each child had his or her own screen (which meant no complaining about not being able to see well) and headphones (giving Mom and Dad peace!).
do this every day. We purchased an RCA

If you have a DVR, or know someone who does, I highly recommend recording a handful of children's programming onto one disc. This allowed the kids to watch for several hours at a time without an adult having to change the disc (which we really couldn't do without stopping the vehicle).

* Expect messes. Yes, I recommend cleaning and organizing the car before you leave - and trying to stay organized as you go along. But don't stress if things get a bit chaotic. To help with messes, I recommend a box of baby wipes, plus plenty of hand sanitizer.

Happy traveling!

Jun 26, 2013

Making & Using a Homemaking Binder

Homemaking binders or books are nothing new. In biblical times, either the husband or wife kept books showing money coming in and out, in addition to noting household valuables, stores of food and other supplies, and what servants were owed. Modern homemaking binders may contain slightly different information, but the principle is the same: To aid in smoothly running a household.

I am not a naturally organized person, but creating and using a homemaking binder has greatly eased my job as homemaker. I wouldn't want to keep house without it! That said, some women, in my opinion, go a bit overboard with their binders. Being ultra-organized is, for some, almost a religion. My feeling is that if you spend more time organizing than doing other homemaking jobs, you probably need to step back and reconsider your focus.

So, I aim for being just organized enough that my household runs smoothly. Of course, what this means for me may be quite different from what it means to you. That's why it's important to remember, as you see my homekeeping binder and perhaps look at others across the Internet, to customize your binder to your own life. I suggest starting with the bare minimum - paying special attention to areas where you struggle in your homekeeping - and building from there if, and only if, you find it necessary.

Let's start by looking at my homekeeping binder:

In the front pocket of my binder, I keep miscellaneous paperwork I know I will only be keeping for a short time. This is mostly bill payment confirmations I've printed off (and keep only until I see my next bill/statement). The rest of the papers in my binder are kept in plastic page protectors.

The first of these contains a stack of my daily to-do sheets, which I use daily. The three most important aspects of my daily to-do list is that it does not contain routine chores; it lists the day's top 3 priorities; and it leaves room for me to make notes about what I might need to do on another day. You can read more about my to-do list, and download a free printable of it, here.

The next page is my monthly bill paying checklist. This page lists our monthly bills and gives me a spot to check off that they've been paid - and when. Without this list, I gaurantee I'd forget to pay some bills. I use a dry erase pen to mark directly on the plastic page protector on this page. Over time, the pen stains the plastic, and when it gets really bad, I replace the page protector.

Next, I have an expanded list of every company that bills us monthly. The chart tells me when the bill isall the contact information for the company, including the bill-pay mailing address, phone number, and website address. This ensures that even if I'm unable to pay the bill by my usual mode of payment, I have some way to contact the company and pay the bill. You can read more about my chart, plus download a free template for making your own, here.
due and

The next section of my homemaking binder acts as my address book. I have a page for all medical contacts (including doctor's names, physical office addresses, website addresses, and phone numbers), another for close family members, another for friends and more distant family, and an "other contacts" section that includes information for miscellaneous contacts at schools, our bank, etc.

My binder also includes copies of my household recipes (for homemade cleaning supplies and similar items - not for food), plus a meat temperature chart and kitchen measurement chart. You could keep the latter in your recipe binder, but mine is so full, I find it best to store them in my homemaking binder.)

Finally, my binder includes my Mama Chore Charts, which list my daily, weekly, and seasonal chores. (You can download these free charts here).

Some people also like to keep a calendar in their binder; I prefer to use a wall hanging calendar. Some also I prefer this method of menu planning, as I find it more flexible.
keep a blank calendar for their menu plan;

In addition to my homemaking binder, I keep an accordion file for miscellaneous household paperwork, including warranties, health insurance paperwork, school flyers and information, and so on. In a separate binder, as I've already mentioned, I keep my recipes, and in another, purse sized binder, I keep a price book. I find each indispensable, but I added them to my routine slowly.

Do you have a homemaking binder yet? What do you find most indispensable about it?

Apr 6, 2012

Preparing for Family Illness

The cold and flu season hit late in my neck of the woods. We just got through recovering from a very fatiguing virus that bogged me down for 3 weeks. Now my daughter, just a week later, is sick again. Although it appears to just be a cold, I'm preparing for the worst. Doing so greatly reduces my stress and makes "catch up" work after illness much easier. Here's the action plan:

* Do all the laundry. Get those hampers empty!

* Get all the dishes done, too.

* Consider using paper plates, should you become ill. This prevents the build up of dishes when you're too sick to do them. (Remember, paper plates can go into the compost bin.)

* Mop and vacuum. You may not feel up to those jobs later.

* Do any other household chores that will drive you nuts if they don't get done right away.

* Make sure you have any basic medicines you might need, like Tylenol, a working thermometer, etc.

* Make sure you have enough hand sanitizer, tissues, orange juice, or whatever else your family needs to feel more comfortable while ill.

* If there are jobs you normally do, but someone else may have to take them over, type up instructions. For example, my daughter takes certain herbs to help her sleep. My husband would have no idea how to administer these without an instruction sheet to read.

* Read up on ways to stay healthy, even when your kids are not.

* Slow down and take it easy. Once you've done the above, don't fight the inevitable. If you need to, lay around as much as you can. The sooner you are better, the sooner the whole family will be happier!

Mar 14, 2012

Organizing Children's Books

I love books. So does my husband. And we longed to have children who loved books, too. Happily, our children live up to our dream - in large part because interesting children's books have been a part of their lives since infancy.

Even before we had children, whenever I visited a thrift store, I looked through the children's books and purchased classics or other impressive titles. Once the children were actually born, I continued to increase their library with thrift-store purchases, while grandparents, aunts, and uncles purchased them new books. Now our children's library must be in the hundreds.

We don't have the luxury of an extra room to act as the family library. (Oh woe!) So we have bookshelves scattered throughout the house. In fact, the only room without bookshelves is the bathroom. This can make it challenging to find the book we're looking for.

Simple Organizing for Children's Books

I've found that organizing books by topic works very well. For example, I know the children's bookshelf in the living room contains classics, while the bookshelf in the hallway houses nonfiction. In the children's rooms, the bookshelves hold titles that are very girly or early readers (for my 6 yr. old daughter) or board books (for my 3 yr. old son).
I also sub-categorize some books. For example, on the nonfiction shelves, history books are separate from science books, which are separate from the Bibles. (Yes, we have a collection of different children's Bibles!) If I have enough books of a particular type, I sub categorize further. For example, in the science section, the books on animals are separate from the books on outer space. If there is a particular author my children really like, I always put his or her titles together, too. For example, all the Berenstain Bear books are in one spot on the shelf, and so are all the Jan Brett books.

Placement: High or Low?

I have a single shelf for holiday books. The shelf is high up because there's no need for my kids to get to those books when they are out of season. When they are in season, I bring the books down to the single shelf that sits next to the living room couch, where we normally do our reading. I also keep books here that are current favorites, or that I want to be sure to read to my children soon.

In addition, I keep all picture books on the lower shelves, and fill the upper shelves with books that are either too mature for my kids at this time or that are chapter books requiring more of a time commitment than picture books.

Safety First!

Since allowing my children to access books whenever they want them is important, my husband secured all the bookshelves to the wall. (This is actually a great idea for all bookshelves in the house, especially if you have young children.) I don't use the type of children's shelves that display book covers, rather than spines. Not only has this not prevented my kids from loving and accessing their books, but it's made it possible for my children to own more books.

Keeping Children's Books Organized

It's true that it's difficult for young children to return books to standard bookshelves. But I'm okay with that. With a library as large as ours, I want to always be able to easily find the exact book we want to read - and I know if I let the children return books to the shelf, it's unlikely they will end up in their correct location.

I've considered several methods of organizing books in such a way it's easier for my children to remember their correct location; I thought about using label maker stickers to put on the shelves underneath the books, for example, but felt we needed a more visual method, given my kids' ages. I've also considered putting color coded stickers on the book spines, but found they tend to fall off unless you secure them with packing tape. I didn't want to permanently mark up the books - and I wasn't sure my kids would remember which colors stood for which topics, anyway.

I also considered making cardboard dividers, shaped like large file folders, with appropriate clip art images on over-sized tabs. (For example, the section on animals could have a picture of a dog on it, while the section on health could have a sketch of a skeleton.) But I didn't think they'd be durable enough for my children.

Just a few days ago, I noticed Simple Mom showcased some children's bookshelves; I don't like the idea of alphabetizing my children's books, as shown there (I wouldn't remember the titles accurately enough for this method), but I may copy the foam divider idea, replacing the letters with clip art images.

For now, though, I have a simple system. We stack the books we've read that day near the couch. At the end of the day, I return the books to their proper storage location. I plan to purchase a bin or basket to stick the recently-read books into - something I can carry as I move books back to their home bookshelf. This will also make it easier for my 6 year old - who is beginning to learn about organization - be a helper.

How do you organize your children's books? For more tips, see "Home Library Organization."

Feb 24, 2012

The Power of a To-Do List - and a FREE printable

Recently, I've re-introduced the daily to-do list into my life - and I've been amazed how much more productive I've become!

Pre-child, I frequently used a to-do list, but somehow when babies came along, I rarely wrote one. Now I'm so very glad I'm using a list again. Not only am I finding it easier to do the really important things in life (like read my Bible, pray, and make special time to play with the children), but my house is tidier, too! I also feel far more encouraged about my home making skills.

I think there are several tricks to making a to-do list work. First, it has to be realistic. You can't just make a list of everything you need to do and hang it up on the refrigerator where it will mostly serve to discourage you. Instead, write down only things you can truly accomplish in a day. You might have to experiment with this until you discover how many to-do activities fit into your daily life. For example, I've found that more than 10 on a given day is completely impractical for me. I'm better off with perhaps 8 - but if I'm homeschooling that day, even that is too much and I'd better aim for a few less.

It's also important to realize that sometimes life gets in the way of your to-dos; there's no need to beat yourself up if you have a day or two where your list is largely ignored. What you don't want, however, is for this to become a habit - which is why writing down a realistic number of to-dos is vital.

In addition, it's helpful to prioritize your top three most important things to do each day. I put these at the top of my to-do list, in their own special spot.

If you struggle with things like getting down on the floor and playing with your children, or finding time to read the Bible, don't neglect to put these on your to-do list, too.

Be sure to break down large tasks into individual steps. Instead of putting "clean the house" on your list, write "dust," then "vacuum," then "mop," and so on.

Finally, check off items as you accomplish them. It will give you a feeling of satisfaction, and will encourage you to accomplish more. And if I end up doing additional items not on my list, I always add them to my list. Then, at the end of the day, I can have a realistic look at all I've done. (As an aside, seeing my completed to-do lists has helped my husband appreciate what I do even more.)

I've created a simple template for my to-do list (incpired by TshOxenreider's Organized Simplicity). It includes the date, an area for marking down what's for dinner that night, a place to write my top three priorities, check offs for my to-dos, and a section at the bottom where I can make notes - often about home keeping projects I want to add to my to-do list in the near future. I print (and fill out) a fresh template every evening so I can look back on old lists and feel encouraged. But you might slip yours into a page protector and use a dry erase pen to create a new list every day.

You can download my template in Word format or .PDF format. I hope it helps!

Oct 31, 2011

Creating a Kid Art Book

I've never actually counted how much art my kids produce in a single year - but I'm guessing it's about, oh, a gazillion pieces. Obviously, no matter how much my kids might want me to do so, I can't keep every single thing they make. So here's how I reduce what's kept and ensure it doesn't eat up a ton of space:

1. When a piece of art is completed, it gets displayed for a week - maybe two. Definitely no longer. Flat artwork goes on the fridge. Anything three-dimensional goes on the mantel.

2. After this time, I determine which pieces we will keep. Anything I don't keep either gets composted or thrown away or is given to another family member.

3. For all the flat art we keep, I write my child's name, age, and approximate date (i.e.: June 2011) on the back. If there's an important story that goes along with the piece, I write it on a piece of paper and attach it to the artwork itself. Then I place the art in a box in a closet.

4. For three-dimensional items I'd like to remember, I take a photograph. Once the photo is developed, I put notes on the back, just as if it were flat art, and it goes in the children's art box in the closet.

5. Every 6 months to a year, I go through the saved art box. I reconsider whether I should toss any items in the box. This sometimes happens because one of the kids produces a similar piece of art that I prefer, for example. Or maybe I discover I've just kept too much. I compost, throw away, or give away any items I decide not to keep.

6. The remaining art goes into a binder. I have one for each child, filled them with plastic sheet protectors. Each child only has one larger binder; I want to try to keep it this way, since many smaller binders will ultimately take up more room and make it more difficult to see the art we've kept.

I also include a small amount of school work in these binders - choosing only the best of the best: About 5 pages a year.

The end result is an attractive, practical way to view and preserve my children's art - something we bring out as often as we do our photo albums.

Oct 28, 2011

How to Change Your Life

I meet a lot of moms who like the ideas presented at Proverbs 31 Woman - who truly want to cook from scratch, fill their freezer with dinners, or grow their own food, for example. But those wants never turns into "do's."

Truly, I know how overwhelming it can be to want to change your life, but find it too overwhelming to make those changes. The trick to changing any part of your life is actually simple, though: Take one small step.

For example, if you want to start cooking from scratch, don't make this your immediate goal. Don't decide to start making all your family's bread, pasta, canned goods, stock, and so on. You'll either never get started, or you'll burn out quickly. Instead, decide to make one thing from scratch. Once making this one thing from scratch is a normal part of your life, move on to adding one or two more "from scratch" foods.

And don't decide you want to be more self sufficient, so you're going to buy a large porperty and start growing all your own fruits and vegetables and keep livestock. If you have little to no experience in these areas, you'll either never get it all done or you'll quickly get discouraged by failure. Instead, take one small step toward self sufficiency, like preparing a garden bed this fall, then planting it next spring.

A really organized person would make a list of all her goals, then prioritize them and attack them from the most important to the least. There is certainly no harm in doing this. But if making that list holds you back from taking action, then the best thing is to stop hemming, hawing, and over thinking and just do something. A small something: Hang your laundry to dry, learn to make jam, declutter one area of a room.

And while all these these changes are good in and of themselves, the single most important change you can make in your life is to give yourself over to God and accept Jesus Christ as your savior. Once that change is solidly in your heart, work on reading the Bible daily. And then be known by your fruits (Matt. 7:16) - be a sheep who lives eternally with God (Matt. 25:31-46).

Whether you're changing your life in eternal or earthly ways, these small steps add up to large ones over time.

Jul 27, 2011

A Messy Makes Progress

I have always been messy. I know I will never be a super-well organized person. But in the past 6 years or so, my house got pretty out of hand. I can make excuses about why this happened (I went on pregnancy bed rest, had a micro preemie, started working again, and just didn't have time for much housework), but the fact of the matter is, a truly organized person could go through all those things and not end up with a house as messy as mine.

As you may remember, I was greatly inspired by the book The House That Cleans Itself. I love the idea of making your house less messy by finding organizational and decorating methods that are effortless. But my progress has been slow. You know how it is: The kids, homeschooling, and my job as a writer don't leave me with a lot of time for re-organizing and truly overwhelming mess. Then my husband began complaining about the mess. And then I discovered A&Es Hoarders - and excellent show to watch if you want to get scared into de-cluttering.

So, to make a long story short, I finally have my house back under control. It's not perfectly de-cluttered yet, but the improvement is fantastic.

Some of you might remember that I bravely posted a photo of our master bedroom about a year ago - when I decided I would clear the clutter once and for all. Here's that photo, embarrassing as it is to share:

I was in the middle of reorganizing when I took this shot, but while the bed itself wasn't typically piled with stuff, all that garbage was laying elsewhere around the room.

But, as of yesterday, here's what our bedroom looks like now:

As you can see, my bookshelf is still overly-full, but aside from this, it's once more a peaceful room.

And now I get to reward myself. Those icky curtains that came with the house? I'm going to ditch them for something far more attractive! The rickety, almost-impossible-to-use dresser? I'm gonna replace that, too. And once and for all, I'm going to turn the master bedroom into the heaven it should be.

Jul 5, 2011

Home Library Organization

If you're not a bookworm, you may as well stop reading now. But if you're like me and have shelves upon shelves of books, maybe you'll find some useful tips in this post.

Once upon a time, I thought there could never be such a thing as too many books. That was before I got married and had two kids. Now I not only have my own books to contend with, but also my husband's and my children's. We have bookshelves in every room but the bathroom. As I look around, I can no longer find locations for new bookshelves. Keeping the bookshelves looking decent, while also making it possible to find the books we want, is a bit of a challenge for me, but here's what works:

* Go through all your books and give away any you can part with. Donate them to the library or to your favorite charity. Repeat after me: You can't own every book in the world!

* Sort books in a way that makes sense to you. My method is pretty simple: Fiction is stored on different shelves than nonfiction. Fiction is arranged by genre, then author. Nonfiction is arranged by general subject and - if I have a large collection on a particular topic - sub-topics. (For example, first I have my general gardening references, followed by my books on ornamentals, followed by my books on edibles, etc.) I don't alphabetize any more, but I used to alphabetize either by author or title. And no, you don't need a cataloging system. Remember, the system needs to be simple if you're going to keep it going.

* If you like, glue old fashioned metal label holders to the shelves to mark categories. This looks nice if your style leans toward vintage or antique, but may become a pain if you have to re-arrange your books.

* Don't pay attention to decorating magazines that recommend sorting books by size, height, or color. Who cares if it looks cool if you can't find the book you need? Also don't try their ideas about using stacks of books as pillars for a sheet of glass ("instant coffee table"), nightstands, or any other "creative" use that will make the books a pain to get at. If you can't read them, you oughtta donate them to someone who will.

* Do consider laying books horizontally if they won't fit otherwise. It won't hurt the books to stack them and it does add some decorative interest to the shelving.

* Be sure there is enough space between shelves so you can easily reach in and pull books off.

* Think creatively about shelving. The most practical way to shelve books is in large bookcases; however, if you don't get at the books much, you might consider putting single shelves above doorways, for example. (But not if you live in earthquake country.) You can also do away with nightstands and replace them with small bookcases, making better use of the space.

* Consider double shelving. If you really can't reduce the number of books you own and you really don't have room for more shelving, consider putting infrequently used books on the back of the shelf, with more often read books lined up in front of them. This works best for small books.

* Consider where you will need the books. For example, it doesn't make much sense to store cookbooks in the living room where you never cook. And if you tend to read to the kids in the same one or two locations, then it makes sense to have bookcases with their books in those same locations.

* If you have children, you'll need to go through your books at least once a year, giving away those the kids have outgrown. (But don't get overly ambitious! Many children enjoy looking at and reading books that are "too young" for them; those books have become old friends, and they are a comfort. On the other hand, you don't want to be overrun with baby books if your kids are school age, so help your kids narrow down old favorites.)

* Small children sometimes keep books tidier with a book sling rack. Before you buy a big one, you might try a simple, small '.

* Don't think your shelves can't be attractive, too. My prettiest bookshelves ever had rows of flat, scalloped lace glued along the edges. It added an old fashioned, pretty touch that really made the inexpensive white shelving I had look lovely.

* If you have magazines, too, try to rip out the pages you want to keep (oh horrors!) and stick them in a binder with clear plastic sheets. If you can't bring yourself to do this, magazine holders will keep your collection under control.

* Don't store books in the garage, basement, or any other damp location. By the time you're ready to read them, they'll be crinkled - and probably moldy. Again, repeat after me: I can't own every book in the world!

* Consider a Kindle. Last Christmas my husband bought me a Kindle. I must say I love it. It's very easy on the eyes, loads pages instantly, and is the right size and weight for me. So now I buy all my novels in Kindle edition, saving shelf space. (Actually, Amazon offers so many free classics and new books that I haven't bought a single book for my I'm saving money, as well as space!)

Do you have any tips for organizing books?

Jun 15, 2011

Time for a Cleaning Vacation

Is your house out of control? Clutter, dirty floors, too-small clothes and too many toys? Just not enough of you to go around and housekeeping keeps getting put at the bottom of the list? I think it happens to most moms at some point. That's when I know it's time for a cleaning vacation. No, not a vacation from cleaning, but a vacation from other stuff in order to clean.

So I've decided that once school is officially over, I'm taking a one week cleaning vacation. I will do no work (for pay), but will focus on decluttering and deep cleaning the house. Even though I could really use a week off just to rest, I'm looking forward to getting my house under better control. Here's my plan:

* Get the kids onboard. I'm already prepping their minds for this week of cleaning. I'm encouraging them to be my helpers, getting them thinking about other children who could benefit from some of their books, toys, and clothes, and generally preparing them for a week of work. I'm also making a list of age-appropriate chores my kids can do - including some "make work" so I can get "real work" done.

* Use kid propaganda. To get my kids (2 and 5) in the proper mindset, we are reading fun books about cleaning up. Their favorite is Too Many Toys by David Shannon, which is a funny way to approach decluttering and getting rid of toys. Their second and third favorites are The Berenstain Bears and the Messy Room (about reorganizing to make clean up easier) and The Berenstain Bears Think of Those in Need (about decluttering and giving away to those who could use it).

* Prepare meals ahead of time, if possible. My goal is to have a week's worth of breakfasts (pancakes and waffles) and dinners in the freezer. (Our lunches usually whip together very quickly.) This will mean more time can be spent cleaning, instead of cooking.

* Pray about it. To some, the thought of praying about housework seems ridiculous. But the Bible tells us God cares about the details of our lives - and he certainly cares if those details are stressful or difficult for us. So pray take a week to pray about your cleaning vacation before it happens. If there are parts of it (like giving stuff away) that might be stressful for your children, be sure to have group prayers, too.

* Keep a (realistic) basic schedule and stick to it. For each day, I have a certain portion of the house I will work on. I'm trying to be realistic about this by allowing more time than I think is necessary for each room. My list is already posted on the fridge.

* Work the worst rooms first. This way, if I run out of time or steam, at least I've gotten the worst of it cleaned up.

* Declutter first. Once this happens, it's much easier to clean.

* At the end of the week, haul off anything we don't want or need anymore. It's tempting to set it aside to sell, but that would take time I simply don't have. Instead, I will give what I can to a favorite charity organization.

How you do manage to deep clean with little children in the house?

Apr 15, 2011

Making Space in the Linen Closet

After years of struggling in a house without a garage, attic, or basement - common storage areas in the U.S. - here are some ways I've managed to make a few storage closets do a lot of work for me.
1. I (mostly) keep only what I really need. Aside from two or three family heirlooms, I've pared down my linens to what I really need and use. That means only two sets of sheets for each bed, and just enough towels so I don't constantly need to do laundry.

2. I roll my towels. I've discovered rolled towels take up less space. First I fold a towel in half crossways, then in half lengthwise. Then I roll it and store it.

3. I keep almost no frills. I've given up once-a-year-only tablecloths, doilies, and other fripperies. And you know what? I don't miss them!

4. I use Space Bags for seasonal items. The bags are inexpensive and reusable and require only an ordinary vacuum. Just slip your linens in, hook your vacuum up, and the bag shrinks. I acquired two whole shelves by using Space Bags. Just beware: You must remove and repack things stored in Space Bags periodically or they may develop permanent creases.

How to you make the best use of your linen closet?


Apr 8, 2011

Update on My Price Book

Some time back, I posted about how I was starting a grocery price book. Now, about 7 months later, I'm here to tell you that not only have I continued the habit, I love that little book! With it, it's been much easier to determine whether sale items are really a good deal, whether it's worthwhile to store-hop, and whether we should purchase the right to shop at a famous membership-only store.

Those who read my blog regularly probably realize I'm not the most organized person - but I've found it quite easy to create and maintain my price book.

I started with an index card binder I purchased at Wal-Mart. (Office Max and Office Depot both sell something similar.) I had a bunch of index cards already on hand; they didn't have holes punched in them, but this was easy to do at home.

Then, each time I went grocery shopping, I sat down the same day and choose 5 to 12 of the most expensive items I hadn't already added to my price book. For each item, I wrote the name of the item at the top of the card, followed by the name of the store, the brand name, the price, and the cost per unit. The latter is especially important because it allows you to easily compare similar items. (To figure the cost per unit, simply divide the total cost of the item by the unit - lbs., oz., etc.) Here's an example from my price book:

In no time at all, I'd filled my little purse-sized book with everything I typically purchase at the grocery store. To make the book easier to navigate, I eventually added dividers. The binder came with three, but I made more by adding tabs (found in the office supply section of Wal-Mart) to blank index cards. I used my label maker to clearly indicate what sort of items could be found in each section, including "meat," "grains," and "non-food items" (like dish soap and foil).

Periodically, I sit down with my price book and a recent sales receipt and update prices as needed. Seriously, if I can manage to maintain this handy little book, so can you. And I'm quite certain you'll save money, too.

This post featured on Homestead Abundance


Mar 30, 2011

The Practical Kitchen

When browsing magazines, I shake my head when I see kitchens. Clearly the people who inhabit them don't cook. My kitchen, on the other hand, is a work area. I prepare three meals a day from scratch. Many days I also can, freeze, or dehydrate food or prepare some special treat like muffins. This should be clear to anyone who walks into my kitchen. If it's spotless, it's usually only for a few minutes. And the counters and cupboards? Filled with stuff.

I've given up on the idea of having counters with nearly nothing on them. I take solice in looking at Julia Child's kitchen (which you can see anytime at the Smithsonian website). It was organized, but not what clutter-free gurus would appreciate. I dream of kitchen walls like hers: Covered in peg board covered with kitchen tools. Practical. That's what I want my kitchen to be about.

That said, however, there are ways to make even a tool-packed kitchen more practical and clutter free. Here are some ideas:

* Most clutter-free gurus say that if a small appliance isn't used at least once a week, it shouldn't be on the counter. However, in the average kitchen many small appliances are too large to store in a cupboard. I feel this way about my mixer. I typically use it every two to three weeks and it's too big and heavy to conveniently store away somewhere. Still, take a hard look at your small appliances. If there are any you rarely use, consider getting rid of them. If any are old and huge, consider updating to more compact models. Choose small appliances with multiple uses whenever possible. For example, instead of buying a grain mill, buy the grain mill attachment for your stand mixer.

* Rearrange your small appliances to make better use of counter space. For example, most of us do a lot of kitchen prep near the sink. Instead of keeping the breadmaker, for example, on the counter near the sink, move it to a more out of the way location.
* Move your canister set to the pantry. This is a quick, easy way to free up counter space. If you rarely use your canister set, consider getting rid of it altogether.

* Get rid of non-practical items. That pretty candle near the sink might have been a nice idea, but if it's eating up precious counter space and you rarely use it, let it go.

* Store food in cupboards and the pantry, not on the counter. I used to have a basket of onions and garlic on the counter; I moved the basket to the pantry and it not only made my kitchen look less cluttered, it freed up counter space.

* Store food, utensils, and tools close to where you normally use them. For example, don't make yourself walk across the kitchen to grab a spice you need when you're using the stove top. Store the spices near the stove.

* Put least-used items in the least convenient locations. For example, I have deep cupboards; to get to the stuff in the back, I have to remove the stuff in the front. So I store things like cookie cutters back there, since I use them perhaps three times a year. Sometimes I find that if the gadget is a pain to get to, I do without. If I do this for a year, I get rid of the item.

* Go through your cookbooks and keep only family heirlooms and those you frequently use. If there are only a handful of recipes you use in any cookbook, make copies of the recipes and place them in your recipe binder. Then give the cookbook to your favorite charity.

* Consider a Julia Child style peg board - if not for all your walls, then for one.

* Consider a high shelf, near the ceiling, for less used cookbooks or gadgets.

* Don't store anything in the kitchen that doesn't belong in the kitchen.

How do you keep your kitchen practical?

Jan 25, 2011

Organizing My Desk

Although I haven't typed about my re-organization/decluttering/House That Cleans Itself project in a while, I'm still plugging away at it. With two small kids at home, some days, some weeks - and, let's face it - some months I just don't have time to deal with the clutter and mess. I make the most progress when my hubby watches the kids for a while, but I don't always use this free time to clean the house. Often I just need to kick back, read a book, or sleep.

This weekend, however, I got a few projects done. I cleaned our junk drawer, which hasn't been tidied since I went on bed rest with our first child, over 5 years ago. I was astonished at the things we kept; I must have thrown away at least half of what was in the drawer. Now the drawer is not only tidy, but everything has it's own place. Small tools that came with toys and such have one slot in a silverware try in the drawer. All the nails and picture hangers are in a marked Ziplock bag. And so on. The trick will be getting my husband to recognize how the drawer is organized, so he doesn't just toss stuff into it anymore.

Then I tackled my desk. I wish I'd thought to take a "before" picture because the photo I shared on this blog previously:

really doesn't show how awful my desk was. On top of the desk were not only a printer and scanner, but a lot of toys I took away from the kids temporarily. And in the drawers? Jumbled messes of miscellaneous things. And remember: My desk is in our living room, not hidden away in an office.

I'd hoped to buy a new desk; this one doesn't suit my needs very well. But that isn't going to happen soon, so I thought I'd better do what I could with this desk. At first, I thought I'd need to buy a few inexpensive organizing drawers or magazine holders, but when I started to really think about how I use my desk, I realized I had everything I needed right on hand.

That was the key for me...making a list of what I truly needed to have on hand:

* Bill paying things (like envelopes, stamps, and a calculator)
* Discs for burning
* A place for reference books I'm using for my writing
* A place for books I need to review
* And a place to file medical papers, contracts, and drafts of my writing projects

I realized the latter was my bug-a-boo. This desk isn't designed to contain file folders, so I ended up "filing" papers behind my computer. This resulted in a huge mess; I could never find what I needed. Then I'd end up using the large drawer on the side of my desk for papers - and it too became a huge stack that was impractical.

After removing everything from the desk except my computer, printer, and scanner, I found an accordion folder I used to use for homeschooling. It wasn't in use any more, so I put any paperwork I might need in this. (Anything I'm not currently working on or that I probably won't need to reference goes into a filing cabinet in another room.) I placed this accordion file where it's out of sight but very handy: In the large drawer of my desk.

This is also where I keep my collection of notebooks. (Trust me; writers need lots of notebooks!) Some gadgets I don't use often but still need sometimes, like my magnifying glass and slide viewer, are beneath the accordion file. My label maker, which I use more often, is off to the side where it's easy to grab.

Next, I tackled the smaller drawer on my desk; this was pretty simple. I knew I only wanted small office supplies in there. I mostly just removed a bunch of stuff that didn't belong in the drawer (like, I kid you not, my gardening multi-tool). When I was done, I could see everything I needed at a glance:
Then I found a spot for my research materials. Before, I tended to pile them on either side of my computer, which made for little elbow room, no place to put my tea cup, and frustration when I couldn't keep a book open. Now they are tucked under the double doors of my desk (which hide my paper and computer program discs). It's a spot that's always been a jumble of papers before; it's much better suited to books.

And behind my computer, where I used to have my "filing system?" Just black discs and a Mason jar of pens!

Much better! And the best part is, I think I can keep it that way because I first considered what I've tried before, what didn't work and why, and what minimal things I truly need at my desk.

Oct 22, 2010

Interview with Mindy Starns Clark: Dealing with Messie Kids and Husbands

This is Part III of my interview with Mindy Starns Clark, author of the revolutionary home keeping book The House That Cleans Itself. Be sure to check out Part I and Part II of my interview, too

Kristina: I see on your blog that you and your publisher are considering follow up books for The House That Cleans Itself. One of the ideas is a book focusing on implementing your method in a household with kids. Could you share one or two ideas for moms with small children? For example, do you have advice on getting small kids to pick up after themselves without causing World War III?

Mindy: When it comes to picking up mess with kids, here are some ideas I have found success with in the past:

- Make cleaning a game. For example, let the kids pick a peppy song that becomes the “cleaning song”. When it’s time to pick up toys, put on that song and they have to pick up as fast as they can, seeing if they can finish before the song is over. Keep it fun, every time, and they’ll actually begin to think of it as an adventure rather than a chore.

- If you have several children, assign each one a different color and tell them they have exactly three minutes of picking up but that they are only allowed to pick up an item if it has their color somewhere on it. They get so engrossed in the “game” that they forget that game is also getting the room clean.

- Do whatever you can to make cleaning easy and convenient. Make sure that all bins and containers are easy to reach, clearly labeled, and present no challenges to tiny fingers. If they can’t read yet, use pictures as labels. Most of all, don’t create a situation that requires excessive sorting. (For example, you don’t need to separate Legos by size and color, just get them in the dang bin!)

- Ask for your child’s input on how he thinks his stuff should be organized and listen to his suggestions. By bringing him in on the decision-making process, you are giving him “ownership” over the success of his ideas.

For slightly older kids, here’s one of my favorites: Go to a hardware store and buy a carpenter’s apron, then stock it with child-safe cleaning supplies. My daughter hated cleaning until I did this for her. But the moment she strapped on that tool belt loaded with Magic Erasers, wet wipes, a mini feather duster, and more, she transformed into a lean, mean cleaning machine. It was wonderful!

I’ll have many more suggestions in the book about cleaning with kids, but these are off the top of my head for now.

Kristina: Do you have advice for women whose husbands are messies and not on board with The House That Cleans Itself system? For example, my dear hubby is terrible about sticking stuff on my kitchen counter and never moving it. We also have a problem with his mail; I have a special container I put it in, and when it's full, he's supposed to go through everything and toss out what he doesn't need. But instead, the container just overflows. One Proverbs 31 Woman reader also says her husband leaves his medicines on the counter, even though she's made a special spot for them in a cupboard. What advice might you give for situations like these?

Mindy: Most men are born problem-solvers, and it always helps to take advantage of that fact. In a peaceful moment, sit down and talk with your husband about the issue, focusing on the items, not on his character or behavior. Tell him something like, “We have a cleaning problem, but the solution I came up with obviously isn’t working. Do you have any better ideas about how we could handle these pill bottles?” If you present things correctly, he’ll see that this is a challenge to be solved rather than a condemnation of his habits, and there’s a good chance he’ll come up with something that will eliminate the issue entirely.

The hard part may be in helping him to understand why this is actually a problem and not just a matter of preference. For example, though I suspect your reader doesn’t want medicines left on the counter primarily because that makes the room look messy, there are plenty of other reasons why this shouldn’t happen:

- the kids might accidentally get into them

- the medicines are far more likely to get stolen if they’re out where just anyone can see them

- it’s too hard to wipe the countertops if items have to be moved out of the way first

- the medicines can roll away, get hidden under piles, or even accidentally spilled on or thrown out

- and so on.

Once he is convinced that this is an actual problem and not just a matter of two different housekeeping styles, he’ll probably understand the need for a solution and may even come up with alternatives so that the problem will be solved.

In a situation where it really is just a matter of preference, it’s best to admit that. Ask yourself if you’re being too picky, or if this is something you could let go of and just ignore. If not, then try to appeal to that side of him that wants to love and protect and cherish you. Ask him to bend a little for your sake, just because it will make you happy.

That’s how I would handle the issue of your husband’s stuff and how he leaves it on your kitchen counter. First, of course, see if together you can come up with some specific solutions for the various things he tends to deposit there. But beyond that I think you should just be honest with him and explain that each item - no matter what it is, no matter that this wasn’t his intention - feels to you like a little slap on the face. It’s disrespectful and hurtful and makes you very sad and frustrated. (If the rest of the house is a real mess, chances are he just can’t see what difference it makes whether the counter is clear or not. But even so, your feelings don’t need to make sense, they just are.) We all have areas in our messy homes that we need to keep under control simply for the sake of our sanity, thanks to our brain and how it works. Tell him this is one of your mental health zones and that you desperately need him to try harder just so that you will stay sane.

Sometimes, that’s enough to get him to change. Sometimes, however, a husband will agree to change somewhat as long as you’re willing to give a little in return. For example, we had a mess-by-the-door problem that seemed almost insurmountable. You see, my hubby likes to take his shoes off when he comes in the door and leave them there until he’s ready to put them on again the next day. To make matters worse, sometimes he’ll wear different shoes to work, causing the pairs to pile up and make a big mess. As that is the first thing you see when you come inside my house, it makes me crazy, but he really feels that there’s nothing wrong with it.

None of my solutions fixed this problem - not conveniently-placed baskets or clearing a spot in a nearby closet - so finally I sat down and had a talk with him. I said, “I know you don’t think of this as an issue, but it is for me. Seeing your shoes there makes me feel irritated and frustrated every single day. For that reason alone, I need you to work with me to find a solution.” His response was equally honest, saying that while he heard what I was saying and he wasn’t intentionally trying to hurt me, the fact was that he needed his shoes to be right there by the door or he would lose a lot of time and focus in the mornings if forced to retrieve them from somewhere else.

In the end, we decided that he did have the right to leave his shoes near the door, but within specific limits: He could only leave out one pair at a time - never more than that - and the shoes couldn’t just be plopped messily on the floor but instead had to be set neatly side by side, right next to the wall. It was a good solution. And though I’d rather not have to see his shoes there at all, I appreciate how he has stuck to this system, most of the time at least. As for me, I have done as I promised and stopped complaining or nagging him about the shoes he leaves at the door.

In the end, the most important key is to find a solution that works for your husband and the way he thinks. For example, maybe the guy who leaves his pill bottles on the counter is an out-of-sight-out-of-mind person. In your statement, “she's made a special spot for them in a cupboard,” perhaps the key phrase there is in the cupboard. Maybe when the pills are kept put away like that, he doesn’t see them and he forgets to take them. Instead, perhaps her compromise needs to be that the pills can stay out in the open on the counter (so he won’t forget) but that he has to put them into a little basket rather than just leaving them scattered willy nilly all over the table (so that they aren’t quite as much in her way, creating clutter). To me, that seems reasonable for both sides.

For your husband’s paper issue, maybe the container you chose is too big and he finds himself overwhelmed by the amount of papers it holds. In that case, get a smaller one. On the other hand, maybe the container you chose is simply too small, and the reason the papers are overflowing from it is because he only wants to deal with these things once a month but your container only holds two weeks’ worth. If that’s the case, get a bigger one!

Maybe he’s simply rotten at sorting and sifting, in which case the two of you should try and figure out some kind of simple pre-sort that you or he could do that would make the task feel less burdensome overall.

A final thought here: Ask him to specify a type of time or situation when he will be most likely to deal with the bin of papers. For example, maybe he doesn’t like doing them at night because then he’ll lie awake for hours obsessing about the bills, but he doesn’t mind sitting down on Saturday afternoons and going through them then, while you’re nearby cooking supper. The key here is that once he specifies the best case scenario for doing his papers, you’re allowed to remind him at those times without being thought of as a nag. Conversely, if you remind him at those times but he still doesn’t do the papers, you need to remember that he is a grown man and has the right to put this task off - though not to the point where your credit rating, electricity, etc., is in danger of being affected - as long as you can remind him with impunity the next time the situation again presents itself.

As you can see, getting to the root of these issues requires discussion, problem-solving skills, and a willingness to demonstrate love through action on both sides.

One final note on this: I’m a firm believer that negotiation, whenever possible, is always better than compromise, especially when partnered with some sort of penalty/reward system. With compromise each of you only gets part of what you want, but with negotiation, each of you gets all of something you want. In the end, those who learn to negotiate are usually much happier. For example, my husband and I negotiated the shoes-by-the-door issue so that in the end, he gets to keep his shoes exactly where he wants them, beside the door, albeit neatly and only one pair at a time. But because I had to “give” in this matter (I really wanted no shoes by the door at all, ever), he “gave” me something in return through an attached penalty/reward system: Now, whenever he breaks the rule we established, for example by exceeding the one pair of shoes only rule, then I get a 10-minute back rub for each extra pair of shoes that he leaves there. Trust me when I say that nowadays when I see extra shoes by the door I’m actually kind of excited, especially if my muscles are feeling sore. This also helps to keep him in the habit of following the rule, because he has to pay the price of a back rub whenever he breaks it. As you can imagine, we are both far happier with this solution than if we had compromised and come up with some other place for his shoes that wasn’t really satisfactory to either of us.

Kristina: A lot of magazines and books discussing home organization provide costly examples of how to change our homes. Does it have to be expensive to set up an organized home? What are some examples of inexpensive ways to organize problem areas?

Mindy: Over the years, I’ve spent a personal fortune on organizational items that proved useless in the end. Somehow, I think I feel better about a problem if I throw money at it!

It is true that sometimes, yes, money needs to be spent, even in a House That Cleans Itself. The broken window blinds that hang crooked and give a messy feel to the whole room need to go. The moldy grout that has resisted every product you’ve thrown at it needs to be replaced.

But more often than not, achieving a House That Cleans Itself costs nothing at all. For example, consider the Sight Zone principle. In the book, I explain that every room in your home has at least one “Sight Zone” - that area you see first when you stand in the doorway and look inside. (A room with multiple doorways will have multiple Sight Zones.) I suggest that you evaluate the Sight Zone for every room in your house. Next, for each of those rooms, decide which elements tend to stay neater and cleaner and which tend to get messier. (For example, you might be pretty good about making the bed but pretty bad about letting your dresser top get cluttered.)

Then - here’s the key - rearrange the furniture in each room so that the part that tends to stay neater is the part that sits in the Sight Zone, while the part that tends to get messy sits in that area of the room you may not see at first.

Using the above example, you would arrange your bedroom so that the bed sits across from the doorway in plain sight, but the dresser rests against the wall beside the door, maybe even with a plant or a curtain on the near side that blocks it from full view of the door. How on earth does this give you a cleaner house? It’s a mental thing, which has physical repercussions. Allow me to explain.

Before implementing this principal, every time you walked into that room, your eyes landed on the messy dresser and your first thought was “This room is a mess.” Even if you came further into the room and saw that the bed was made, your brain said, “Look at that, I tried to do something neat to this messy room.”

Now consider the impact after implementing the Sight Zone principle. If every time you walk into that room you spot the neatly-made bed, your first thought is, “This room is neat and clean.” Then when your eyes finally catch sight of the messier part you think, “Oh look, there’s a messy spot in this clean room.”

Do you see the difference? In the first example, not only does the house feel messier, but if this happens in room after room, the mess can seem so overwhelming and hopeless that you don’t even try to clean. In the second example, not only does the house feel cleaner, but by allowing you to see the mess as an isolated issue you are more likely to jump in and clean it up as well.

Household experts and those who are naturally gifted at housekeeping would probably call this concept crazy. They would instead lecture you about that messy dresser, sell you a bunch of containers, and tell you to try harder.

Not me! I already know the cold, hard truth: If you are housekeeping impaired, lectures won’t change your behavior, containers create a whole new kind of clutter, and no matter how hard you try, you’re never going to change simply through sheer force of will.

That’s what makes the House That Cleans Itself system so different. That’s why it works, even when nothing else has ever worked before.