Do It For The Kids

I completed this project a while ago, but still wanted to share it with you all. I think it’s a great example of the vast difference organizing can make and how much stuff can be in one (seemingly) tiny space!

Once I start organizing, people are often amazed at how much they had crammed into one spot, whether it be a closet or a drawer or garage. That’s one reason I almost always start by taking everything out. More often than not, the majority of stuff that was crammed in the back, you’re not going to miss!

I completed this particular project for the church I was attending at the time. This was one of several closets in which the preschool and children’s ministry program kept supplies. After nearly breaking my leg more than once trying to find an item for a Sunday morning lesson, I proposed a major clean out and reorganization of the whole closet.

The first step was getting everything out of the closet. No small feat! Thankfully the closet was attached to a large classroom that I could use to “dump” all the contents during the clean out phase. I tackled this during Spring Break while the students were away.

If you’re shocked, join the club! This was one of my first major projects, and I could not believe how many books, props, games, and toys all came out of that little space. But I was committed! I was not going to let a few (hundred) stuffed animals stand in the way of success.

The next item of business was to sort through the piles.

I donated. I discarded. And eventually whittled down the contents by at least a third.

Cleaning out a shared space can be a little more challenging than cleaning an area that is solely yours. I got rid of items that were clearly out of date, broken, or no longer being used. However, just because I wasn’t using certain toys or materials, didn’t mean no one was using them. During the process, I spent time consulting with the children’s team to discern which items should be salvaged or spared.

Cleaning out a shared space can be a little more challenging than cleaning an area that is solely yours.

By this time, putting the items back in the closet was the easy part! When there’s 1/3 less stuff, there is automatically more space and room for a good system to be established. Also, as a bonus, I did not have to purchase any supplies for this project. So many items were discarded that there were plenty of empty bins and boxes to repurpose as I needed!

Items went back into bins by category- musical instruments, balls, animals, etc. There were a lot of categories! Afterwards, I also went back and applied labels in many places.

Labels are essential when several different people are using the same space! They serve the important function of reminding everyone where things belong. If there are no labels, people will stick things anywhere!

Labels are essential when several different people are using the same space!

There is something about seeing “Books” on a basket that prevents someone from putting a DVD there. More than likely, they’ll keep looking for the “DVDs” container. I think we all really want to be rule-followers at heart.

The finished product was a dream come true. Not only could I find everything, but there was room to spare!

5 Ways To Get Organized Without Spending Money

I don’t have anything against spending money, especially when it comes to organization. There are many times when the right products or investment in professional help can be a game-changer. However, extra cash isn’t always in abundant supply. Maybe you can’t invest the money right now, or maybe you don’t have to. Many times, your organization goal can be achieved free of charge! Below are a few ways to get your space looking better, no price tag attached.

Throw it Out!

Generally, it costs nothing to throw away or donate belongings.  Unless you are doing a massive removal that requires third party assistance (think Hoarders), then cleaning out junk from a cabinet costs is free and may even gain you money. Along the way, you may find items that you don’t want, but that are still in sellable condition. From Nextdoor to local Facebook groups, there are lots of ways to make a few bucks and gain more space at the same time. The first step to getting organized is usually making the space for it!

Repurpose Boxes & Containers

If you don’t want to buy fancy containers to sort your belongings, food, etc., then don’t!  Repurpose sturdy boxes, like shoe boxes or small Amazon packages, to fit your space. Use these in your pantry, drawers, or anywhere else you’re looking to sort items.  Especially in places where guests won’t notice (your bedroom, the linen closet), you don’t need to make a huge show of fancy baskets and containers if you don’t have it in the budget. For a low-cost option, you could also cover any repurposed boxes with cute contact paper.

Reassess Your Dilemma 

Sometimes the best way to start is by taking a big step back. Have you organized and re-organized the same space, only to watch it fall into disarray again?  Maybe the space is the problem. It’s easy to get caught up in the small details, trying over and over again to organize a shelf.  But perhaps the reason it’s not working is because those items really don’t fit and never will.  

For example, if your pots and pans drawer drives you CRAZY maybe it’s time to reimagine their storage all together. Is there a cabinet or shelf that would work better? What if you stored the lids and pots in separate areas?  Are your neck ties hard to sort through or always falling off the hanger? Perhaps storing them in a drawer would work better. Broadening your perspective can increase the chances of finding a solution!

Categorize Your Belongings

Organizing and storing your belongings by category can work wonders for your sanity! If you currently have like-items stored in different places all over the house, simply storing them in the same area will automatically help you locate them more easily and quickly. Cleaning supplies, household essentials (extra toilet paper or paper towels), office supplies…think through some general categories. If you know all of your gift wrapping supplies are stored in one room in one box, when you need them you’ll know exactly where to find them! On the other hand, it could take you 20 minutes to find the right bow if your supplies are stored partially in this closet, partially under the bed, partially in the garage…you get the picture! 

Move It Inside

One step that will carry you a long way towards a clutter-free home is storing your belongings inside your furniture instead of on top of it. Take a look around your house. How many dressers, counters, and tables are littered with items that are always there?  Removing everything from surface tops, except for a few decorate items, will work wonders for your space! Instead of storing your makeup on the bathroom counter, store it in a drawer underneath. Take those recipe books on top of your fridge and put them on a bookshelf instead. Having less clutter out in the open will open up your home and lift some of that burden you’ve been carrying!

Spring Cleaning: A Group Effort

Sometimes I can fully claim credit for the success of a project, but the outcome of this special endeavor I owe mostly to an army of wonderful volunteers!

This year, Just So partnered with Southside Church of Christ for their annual Spring Cleaning Day – and boy did we clean!

While there were several projects going on throughout the building that morning, I wanted to showcase one in particular: the Resource Room.  

Children’s Ministry Resource Room: Before the cleanup

This room houses the supplies for all children’s programs- from VBS to Sunday morning classes. There has been an organization system in place, but lack of maintenance had caused it to fall into bit of disarray.  

Setting out, the ministers and I compiled a list of objectives to accomplish that would give a fresh look to the space:

1. Find a permanent home for supplies currently located on the floor or stacked on top of counters, cabinets, or tables

2. Discard supplies that are broken or worn out and no longer of use

3. Donate or discard irrelevant or outdated supplies not being used by anyone

4. Relocate bulletin border collection back into Resource Room

5. Return all out-of-place supplies to their correct location

6. Update labeling on containers and shelves to ensure regularly used supplies can be found quickly and easily

This was no small task considering we only had three hours to work!  But thankfully (even in spite of some heavy morning rain!) we had a great turn out. There were volunteers working throughout the building, but we had about 15 helping just in the resource room.  Many of these individuals serve regularly in the children’s ministry and were eager to lend a hand towards getting this space sorted out.

I’m not often used to having so many volunteers at my disposal on a project, and the situation could have easily gotten out of hand. However, the key to working with a team this large was to delegate tasks. As I pointed out problems that needed to be tackled, these men and women were wonderful about jumping in head first to take ownership of their section, whether it be sorting paper by color, arranging books by topic, or testing craft supplies.  With everyone set to his or her own task, there wasn’t much running around the room wondering what to do.

By the time lunch rolled around, the space looked completely different!  I’m very excited about all we were able to accomplish, and I think the staff and volunteers were as well.


Here’s the Before one more time…
Here’s the Children’s Ministry Resource Room- three hours later!

Thanks to everyone who participated in this Cleaning Day. We couldn’t have done it without you, and everyone who volunteers with the children’s ministry at Southside is benefitting from your effort!

Staying Organized When It’s Not Just You

One of the most frustrating aspects of organization projects can be other people’s seeming lack of appreciation for your hard work. You’ve spent hours putting every last detail into place only to return days (or hours) later to find the place in chaos! Too many repeats of this situation and you’re bound to swear off organizing for good, for, “What’s the use!”

While keeping shared spaces tidy will always be more of a challenge than taking care of your own little nook, there are a few tactics you can implement to prevent complete decimation of a shared area. In fact, you may find yourself a few organization allies by the end of the process.

Get them involved

In this instance, “them” is whoever will be using this space. If you’re organizing the kids’ closet, enlist their participation. The master bedroom? Partner with your spouse. The family room? Yes, the whole family! They don’t have to help you every step of the way, but by allowing them to be a part, they will have more of a vested interest.

Ask for their input as you go through items. “Do you still use this?” “Do you think another boy or girl would like this toy now that you’re older?” And ask for their input as you put things back in place. “Where should we keep our current library books?” “Do you think it makes more sense to hang the hats here or here.”

When others help to clean out the space and develop the system, they will be more inclined to maintain it. Not only will your child remember where the library books belong, if she neglects to put them there, you can kindly remind her, “Remember you had such a great idea to keep our library books in the basket by the hearth! Would you mind putting them back where they go?”

Leave no room for guesswork

One major key to keeping shared spaces organized is a clear system. This means lots of labeling with a designated spot for every item. If (when) your family member forgets where you said to put the towels, you want him to be able to look at the closet and figure it out. If he can’t, the towel will be tossed in haphazardly and before you know it, your shelves will be in despair once again. However, if he opens the closet to find shelves or bins labeled “bath towels” “bath toys” “washcloths” etc., it will be abundantly clear where the towel should go!

If there’s a label and they can read, they know where it goes.

Labeling can be magical. Even if people don’t immediately see the correct label, most will spend a moment searching for it before they put a bag of chips in the “cereal” bin. On the contrary, if there is no label, they’ll will show no qualms about placing an object on a random shelf, even if the items around it aren’t related in the least. So do yourself a favor, and label, label, label! You’ll also have recourse for the ol’ “I didn’t know where it went” response. If there’s a label and they can read, they know where it goes.

Have a conversation

Once you’ve developed a new system, have a conversation with everyone who ever uses space, even occasionally. Clearly explain what you did (what you got rid of, what you moved to other areas, and how you arranged the remaining items) and your expectations for keeping up the space. You cannot expect others to maintain a system they don’t understand!

Your family members may need reminding from time to time, especially at the beginning, but hopefully you’ve made your labeling and system clear enough that they will catch on sooner rather than later. In regards to children, remind them of the virtues of initiative (recognizing and doing what needs to be done before I am asked to do it) and orderliness (preparing myself and my surroundings so that I will achieve the greatest efficiency).** Helping them learn to abide by a system is a wonderful opportunity for instilling these character traits.

You cannot expect others to maintain a system they don’t understand!

Be adaptable

You did it- you took your closet from mess to success and it looks wonderful. Everything is in its place, and it looks like it belongs in a magazine. You’ve explained the layout and system to your spouse and are confident that all will be well going forward. But then it’s not. Some things seem to be working fine, but one or two problems are creeping up. Maybe your husband is not hanging up his robe or is leaving his belts on top of the dresser instead of coiling them up in the drawer like you showed him. He seems to do fine maintaining everything but a few items, and it makes you want to pull your hair out! Take a step back and take a deep breath.

Before you criticize others for lack of trying, do some investigation.

If overall someone is abiding by the system except in one or two areas, maybe the system is to blame. Reevaluate the expectation you’ve set. Is it realistic? Is it functional? Sometimes things look great when organized initially, but real life just doesn’t make it practical to store them that way. Perhaps your husband would put up his robe if you installed a hook – easier than putting it back on a hanger. Maybe the belts are too crammed where they are currently stored and the drawer jams often, leaving your husband saying, “forget it!” Before you criticize others for lack of trying, do some investigation. Give them the benefit of the doubt and see if there is a way to adapt and improve the system you’ve developed so it’s more user friendly for everyone going forward.

**Definitions borrowed from “Operational Definitions of Character Qualities,” http://www.iblp.org

Perfecting the Pantry

Most people use their kitchen pantry often, which means it can easily get jumbled and feeling like chaos. Most pantries (even mine) are in constant need of tweaking and adjusting based on the time of year, what food items you’ve been buying lately, and a whole host of other things.  While periodically cleaning and rearranging the pantry will always be a necessity of good housekeeping, establishing a baseline of organization is imperative to being able to easily maintain the space.

I thoroughly enjoyed working with my client, Lacy*, to take her pantry from overbearing to inviting.  Your food storage area probably has some of its own unique challenges, but I hope you can pick up a few tips here to take back with you!

*name changed for privacy

Planning

First, Lacy painted the pantry a light tan/yellow to match her existing kitchen walls. She also added new granite-look shelf liner. It was a good “clean slate” for our project!

Lacy and I sat down before I got started and to talk through the task. She laid out her top priorities for the pantry as a usable space.

Of course, we wanted to make every inch as efficient as possible, but these three issues were must-solve problems:

Number 1: Visibility of spices, jars, and cans

Before: hard to locate jars and canned goods

Number 2: Poor Lighting

Before: bottom of pantry

Number 3: Wasted space on top and bottom

Before: top of pantry

We started by pulling out all the the food items and sorting them by type: bottles, bags, cans, etc. Then, we went through each stack and threw away all the food that was out of date or donated the items that were still good, but Lacy said she would probably never use.  

Don’t we all have items that we were given or bought on sale, but sit around for months, maybe even years?! It was time for them to go.

Solutions

Since Lacy’s main concern was being able to see and locate all of her spices, jars, and cans, over-the-door shelves were a mustfor her pantry.  Over-the-door shelves are great for pantries (or other closets) where the shelves are deep and small items easily get swallowed up by larger items.  Putting shallow shelves on the back of the pantry door was a great way to pull all of those small bottles and containers into an easy-to-spot location.

This brand of shelf can actually be mounted right onto the wall, but over the back of the door worked best here. And bonus- it was easy to put together!

Cans

To organize the canned goods, we opted for a dispenser. This type of device doesn’t make sense for everyone, but Lacy had a lot of like-cans: 10+ cans of corn, 10+ cans cream of chicken, 10+ cans green beans, etc. Basically, she has several favorites that her family eats often and that she buys in bulk when they are on sale.

These dispensers stack cans one in front of the other, so when you grab one, the next one rolls down, ready to go– kind of like at the grocery store. There are many varying types of can dispensers, but two of these mini organizers worked best for the size of shelves in Lacy’s pantry.

Wasted Space

Another problem was the wasted space at the top and bottom of the pantry. Underneath the bottom shelf, there was about two feet from the floor to the first shelf. The space itself wasn’t a problem!  However, most of the items being stored underneath were short. This left a lot of empty space above (between the items and the first shelf) that was not being used!

The same problem was happening on the top shelf. The pantry ceiling goes way, way up- as high as the kitchen ceiling.  Not all of that space was useable, but we could certainly capture more of it, especially to store seldomly-used items.

Top shef: We added a metal rack to extend the usable space at the top of the pantry

Our solution was to add a steel wire rack to both the top and bottom areas to cut the big space in both places. That means Lacy gained two more shelves in her pantry! That’s huge!

Below the bottom shelf: we added a metal rack to cut the large, two-foot space into two still good-sized shelves!

She now can now use the *new* top shelf for infrequently used items and the *new* bottom shelf for her stockpile. Before, Lacy was storing all of her boxes on the main shelves, even duplicates.  Now, instead of having 4 boxes of cake mix on the middle shelf, she can store one box there and the rest underneath, replenishing the box from her stash below when needed. Keeping only one of each item on the main shelves can be a game changer. I would have advised this method regardless, but having two shelves in that bottom area made Lacy’s available stockpile space twice as large! That’s a win.

Lighting

Lighting is a huge problem in many pantries.  Even if you have an overhead bulb, chances are, once you get a ways back in your shelves, it’s hard to see what’s there.  In this project, our best option was LED motion-sensing lights. As soon as we reached for something in their path – BOOM- everything was bright!

I loved that you didn’t have to hit or click anything to activate the light. We installed them around the door frame, so they would provide light to multiple shelves at once and shine all the way to the back.  Once we had them working, Lacy wondered how she ever found anything before!

Finishing Touches

To complete the project, we put Lacy’s opened snacks, cereals, and baking supplies into tight-sealing containers. Lacy owned a few that she loved already, so we ordered more of the same brand to match. Putting snacks in containers not only extends their freshness, but allows you to easily see how much of any given product you have left. I’m all for anything that cuts down on my time making a grocery list!

Tight-seal containers not only prolong the freshness of your food, but allow you to easily see what snacks are low

Overall, we got rid of very little, but gained a lot! Of space, of light, of visibility.  I enjoyed working on the project with Lacy and am looking forward to conquering our next organization challenge!