Today I thought I’d write about a topic that is present on all of our minds, homeschool or not: Organization.
Previously, it was a challenge to keep the house organized when we were all shuttling to school and work and extracurricular activities. We never had time to clean anything. Now that we are homeschooling we have a different set of challenges. Since we are here all the time, there are more opportunities for getting things messy. To be honest, this wears on my patience. I was blessed with an affinity for cleanliness–or you could spin that to say that I was cursed with a very low, low tolerance for mess. Clutter on the countertop sends me straight to crazy town.
I am often at a loss for how to organize my own two
hoarders sweet children. I have a daughter who will army crawl across the blackened gummy thrift shop floor to collect stray pennies and metal washers near the check out counter. My other daughter still breaks down into tears at the mention of a baby doll the size of my hand and several stuffed animals that we donated to Goodwill during the Great Purge of 2010 (or something).
My kids’ “collections” tend to get out of hand, and what I find underneath their beds is startling: dozens of cheese stick wrappers (despite our rule that kids are only allowed to eat at the dining table), candy wrappers from Halloweens past, rocks, piles of dirt, unidentifiable moldy things, etc., etc.
That all was one very long disclaimer to let you all know that I certainly do not have it all together. But I have at least one…or maybe two things together. I have a pretty regular system for house maintenance and a few ideas that have worked well for us:
1. Create a place for EVERYTHING.
Everything. Every single thing. This is, I think, the most important rule. If you can do this, all other household maintenance will be manageable. If everything has a place, kids can be trained to put those things away. The most frustrating part about this for me, is that often this costs money. Maybe you could get creative and reuse jars or other containers. For me, storage has to be uniform and easy to access or it doesn’t work. Storage doesn’t have to be elaborate.
This leads nicely to my second point. If there truly is no room for stuff, and you can’t find a place for it…
2. Get RID of it.
Clothes you don’t wear? Kitchen contraptions that have fallen out of use? Bring them to Goodwill, ASAP. Same goes with kids’ toys and clothes. My kids have TOO MANY things. We share 1100 square feet of living space. Not a ton for a family of four. We don’t have a playroom or a homeschool room. We need every inch of space we can get. I’m always hassling them to get rid of stuff.
“But what if my child refuses to get rid of things? What if my child is a hoarder??”
No, guys, really. I’m asking. I don’t have an answer because I’m pretty sure we’re 6 rainbow loom bands away from our own reality television series. But this leads to my 3rd point…whatever it takes:
3. Get the kids on board
This is what our toy system looks like. It is not Pinterest worthy, it doesn’t really match, it is not even my style (farmhouse minimalist mid-century modern–that exists, right?) but it works for my kids. They like it because they can reach everything. They like the things they have chosen to keep and display. They like it because it reflects them, not their mom, not West Elm. Which is absolutely the way it should be. Also, most of it was repurposed from other places in the house. The little double storage cube was $6 from Goodwill. At that price, someone is going to learn to like it.
Getting the kids on board, also means …
4. Kids do chores
Every day the girls are expected to do the following without being asked. Of course, they are just kids, and they forget a lot of the time. I just gently (or, depending on my patience level–LOUDLY) remind them of their daily responsibilities:
- Make beds
- Put toys away when they are done with them
- Clear breakfast, lunch, and dinner dishes
- Put dirty clothes in hampers
On Saturdays, the girls split up the main house chores after they thoroughly clean their own rooms. The first one to clean her room gets to pick the first house chore. This is the Saturday list for cleaning their rooms:
- Start laundry–this includes clothes and sheets
- Put clean laundry away and make the bed
- Dust shelves
- Organize the tops of dressers/sidetables, etc.
- Clean closets
- Sweep the floor
- Mop the floor
I’ve found two really great tricks for helping kids when they are overwhelmed by messy rooms.
- Give them one task to focus on at a time. I might even break it up like this: “Amelie, go put away 2 items of clothes, then come back and I’ll tell you what to do next.” She likes this game. I tell her a different number of items to put away every time. Sera is older and can do this for herself. She focuses on one area (cleaning up stuffed animals, for example) and then moves on to something else.
- Sweep it all to the center. The edges of my kids’ floors are the messiest places in their rooms. Everything sort of collects at the baseboards and beneath dressers and beds. I tell them to get the broom and sweep EVERYTHING to the center of the room. This includes trash (goggly eyes, cheese stick wrappers, and all) along with toys. Once they have a big ol’ pile in the center of their room, they pick through it and sort out the non-trash items before putting them away. Then they just sweep the trash up and throw it out. It helps them to see it all in one spot. It works for me too!
After the girls clean their rooms, they are allowed to move on to cleaning the house. When they were very little, we paid them for these chores. 25 cents for mopping or sweeping, etc. Now that they are older, we give them a base allowance, and they are expected to do these chores as part of family life. They have opportunities to make extra money by doing big jobs, but as they get even older, the “big jobs” (like cleaning out the car) are gradually added to the roster for chores they are expected to do. These are the house chores they do on Saturdays:
- Sweep the kitchen, dining room, living room, bathroom, and mom & dad’s room
- Mop the kitchen, dining room, living room, bathroom, and mom & dad’s room
- Dust dining room shelves, living room shelves, piano, credenza, and the shelves in mom & dad’s room
- Fold and put away any towels or household laundry
- Vacuum the living room area rug
I hardly EVER have to clean my house any more. We started this routine about 2 years ago, when the girls were 5 and 7. Reading Little House on the Prairie helped. Those Ingalls girls were in charge of a LOT more at their ages: Cooking, sewing, feeding animals in the snow, etc. Yes, the girls are young. But they are more than capable.
Although, sometimes they get distracted and perch on the living room couch when they see an interesting bird out the window…
Or fall asleep in the middle of folding their clothes…
5. Take a tip from Amelie…RELAX.
I truly do not function well in chaos. I love my house being neat and clean. But in the Pinterest era, it is very easy to become discontent. I fantasize about my house looking like a picture from Dwell. I remind myself every day that this is part of the sacrifice of being home with these sweet littles. It is hard to be “minimalist” when there is a plastic box of Barbies hanging out of the closet, and the $6 Goodwill shelf doesn’t really match my mid-century modern ideal.
But it’s not even about being “perfect” either; I know that it can be frustrating when your current decor is that of necessity, and doesn’t really reflect your personality. I get it. I feel that a lot. But this morning it was 2 degrees in Nashville. TWO degrees. And I’m in a warm house with healthy children who I love. We have working appliances, healthy food to eat, and beds, blankets, clothes, and the problem of “too many toys.” Today we thanked God for the gifts and resources we have and we asked for help finding ways to share what we do have.
So I’m off to fill another bag…or two…or three for Goodwill. Not out of frustration, but out of gratitude.
Next week I’ll do a little house tour to show you how we organize our homeschool materials without a homeschool room.
What are your favorite organization tips? How do you manage homeschool life and staying organized?