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 I got rid of items that were clearly out of date, broken, or no longer being used.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!

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!

Moving In: Kitchen Edition

One of the best times to get organized is during a move. Unless you’re on an extremely tight schedule, the packing process is one step during which you can get rid of a lot of unnecessary items. Before you pack each item away in a box, you subconsciously ask yourself, is this worth hauling to our new place?

I’ll address packing more later in a future blog post, but today I actually want to address the other side of moving: the unpacking.

Unpacking belongings into a new space gives you the chance to start fresh.  Each type of space has unique tricks and challenges, but today were going to take a look at unpacking a kitchen since I did this for a client recently.  Take these tips to heart in your next move, or apply them to your existing kitchen right now if you need a fresh start!

Before You Start, Plan

Since you just had to pack everything up at your last place, hopefully you have a pretty good idea of what you own. Start by making a list of everything, being very thorough. Cookie sheets- how many? Pyrex dishes- what kind? What size? This may seem a bit tedious, but it shouldn’t take more than a 15 minutes and will save you lots of time during the unpacking process.

After you have a pretty comprehensive list of your kitchen tools and utensils, take a good look at your cabinets and drawers with those items in mind. Are there any items that are lso arge or bulky that they can really only go in one place? Or maybe you only have one drawer, so you know the silverware will go there (sounds crazy, but this was the case in my first apartment!).  If you know you need to keep certain things in certain areas, start placing them there. Not physically- but by using sticky notes.

For big spaces like a kitchen, planning with sticky notes is the way to go. Write “Cutting Boards” or “Dish Towels” on a sticky and then stick it where you think those items will fit best.  However, if you change your mind as you go along, you don’t have to physically move all the items from one cabinet to another- you can simply move the sticky note!  Go through your list, and make a sticky note for each item. Then get to sticking!

Work Your Way Out

Something to keep in mind as you are sticking away is to work your way out from the center of the kitchen.  If you live in an apartment or house with a very small space, this may not mean much. However, if you consider your storage options moderate to substantial, organizing in this way can increase functionality once you’re finished.

Pro Tip: Roll your towels instead of folding them! This way you can see them all at once, and not just to top one or two.

I’m considering the “center” of the kitchen to be where the main appliances are located, most notably the stove, oven, and dishwasher.  When you’re working in the kitchen- whether that be cooking dinner or unloading the dishes you want your most-used items to be close at hand. Don’t put your everyday bowls and plates in the furthest cabinet from the dishwasher. Unloading dishes will take twice as long!  Likewise, put your cookie sheets and pots and pans by the oven. And put your glasses in a cabinet by the fridge. Be strategic about your placement, and save those cabinets in the bar or further down the wall for holiday dishes, entertaining pieces, or your china set.

Put Like-Items Together

We’ve covered putting items close to where you’ll need to use them, but within each drawer and cabinet, you want to be smart as well.  Don’t place items together that don’t belong together in the same space. Mentally (or physically with a sticky note!) designate your cabinets and larger drawers by category, such as “Baking” “Dinnerware” and “Stovetop.” Once you’re done that, you’ll have much less trouble trying to decide where to put things! The mixing bowls go with baking. The slow cooker goes in the “Small Appliances” cabinet.  This method also helps when you can’t remember where you’ve put something. If you keep to this system, all you have to do is think of the category and your item should be easy to locate.

One more tip to keep in mind is to keep drawers or cabinets with the same theme close to one another. For example, if you need two towel drawers, choose two that are side by side. It doesn’t make much sense to have them across the room from one another (unless of course you have two sinks. Then it might!).

Leave Space

As you start unpacking your belongings into the cabinets and drawers you’ve chosen, keep in mind not to cram each area to full capacity.  If your tupperware only fits in the drawer when you place everything just so, this drawer may not be the ideal spot for these items. Chances are, as you go through life, not everything will be placed in that drawer perfectly and you may even accumulate a few more containers. Save yourself the headache now, and move them to a location that provides a little wiggle room.

If finding a bigger spot is not possible, perhaps it’s time to reevaluate the contents.  Do you need 12 pyrex measuring cups, or could you get by with half of that?  Sometimes it can be hard to say goodbye to perfectly good items, especially if they’re hardly used.  (But then again, if they’re hardly used, why are you keeping them?) Lots of kitchen supplies can fetch a price online. And if not, why not donate them or give them to a young couple you know could use them? It’ll be a win-win, trust me.

The Takeaway

Overall, the key to unpacking your kitchen is to be intentional with the placement of your belongings. Have a plan in place before you start unpacking items willy-nilly. If you’re having people come over to help, have the sticky notes arranged before they arrive so there’s a plan in place. Hopefully this will not only allow the unpacking process to go more smoothly, but will allow for greater efficiency in the days and months to come!

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

Organizing When You Don’t Know Where To Start

Sometimes all it takes to get organizing is a little motivation. But how exactly does one come across motivation? You’d think that dealing with a messy closet or playroom day after day would be enough of an incentive, but often it has the opposite effect. When you don’t know how or where to start, often the easiest solution in the moment is to shut down and deal with it later.

But meanwhile the mess continues, and you grow more and more agitated. It’s time to stop the cycle! Below are a few tips to get you started tackling your organization challenge. Once you take these few brave steps forward, you’ll be surprised how easily the momentum comes!

First things first,

Pinpoint the Problem

Be more specific than “it’s a mess” or “this room is driving me crazy!” What in particular are you losing sleep over? Do you need more storage? Do you need to do a massive clean out and donate a lot of items? Do you need to develop a system that will prevent disorder and chaos in the first place? Get specific and honest about your situation before you start to do any hands-on organizing. You are the best person for this job! You don’t have to write anything down, though you can if it helps. Only once you’ve pinpointed the specific problem can you move towards making progress.

Verbalize a Solution

Once you’re identified a distinct problem, the solution should come naturally. Say your problem is something like, “This closet contains a bunch of miscellaneous items. I don’t even remember what’s in all of these boxes!” Great! But now what? Even though the solution is often implied, go ahead and verbalize it (at least in your head).

Your solution may be simple, like “I want to figure out what’s in here, clear out the things I don’t need or want anymore, and arrange the rest nicely so I can find what I need in the future.”

It may also be helpful to develop your solution into a more elaborate list so that it resembles an action plan. Pulling from the example above, your solution might look something like:

  • Take everything out of closet
  • Go through all items. Decide what to keep, what to trash, and what to give away. Also pinpoint any items that might best be stored elsewhere.
  • Sort remaining items by category, i.e. decorations, office supplies, sports gear…
  • Store remaining items however appropriate (using same containers or purchase storage solutions as necessary)
  • Label everything!

Making a bullet point list can be helpful to break down the process and your thoughts, but it’s not necessary. Whatever is helpful to you (simple or thought out) is what you need to do!

Start Small

Now that you know where you are and know where you’re headed, how do you get there? The best way to start is to start small. An easy success will get you excited and start some of that momentum rolling.

If your kitchen is out of sorts, start with one drawer. Work towards your stated solution for that one little area. Purging, organizing, and beautifying one little space will be so fulfilling! You’ll find yourself thinking, “Wow, if only the rest of my kitchen was like this!” and realizing that it can be. You can make it happen. You can conquer the rest of the kitchen just like you conquered that drawer!

Keep Going

Starting small and having success there should naturally produce some momentum, but don’t let that fire go out! Keep working on your project until you’re are finished. Whether that means working 30 minutes a day or knocking it out in a weekend, don’t let too much time lapse between organizing.

Set a date by which you want to have the project completed, and hold yourself to it. Sure, unforeseen life circumstances might pop up and you might have to adjust, but working towards a goal – not just a solution, but a time goal- will put pressure on yourself to keep going when the going gets tough. I didn’t say it was all going to be easy!

If All Else Fails…

After going through these steps, if you’re still stuck or get stuck along the way, it may be beneficial to seek professional help. Maybe going through everything is taking wayyy longer than you anticipated, or maybe you’re at the final stage and just don’t know how to arrange your remaining items purposefully. You can seek the advice of a professional organizer for simple consulting or to get in there hands-on and complete the project for you. There is no shame in asking for help, especially when it gives you back your freedom and peace of mind!