Thursday, July 5, 2012

A House of Order, Part 3: Creating order from chaos

By Melanie Skelton

Have you ever had a day like this? The supplies you need for the school project you have planned are somewhere; you just don’t know where. Your eight year old has no idea where his math book is – maybe the dog ate it. Breakfast still hasn’t happened and ten o’clock is passing quickly. You are ready to throw today’s plan for school out the window.

I hate to admit it, but I have known days like this. There have been days when I knew I had twenty pairs of scissors in my house, but could find none of them. I have wondered if my children hide their math books on purpose. And in the past I have been known to frantically go through the stack of papers next to my bed in search of something important I forgot about because it was lost in the stack.

So here is my moment of truth. One day a very close friend asked me if I ould like her to come help me organize my house.

“Oh, painful!” I thought. “There is no way I can let somebody into my space that way.”

But after some thought I realized I had to go out on a limb if I ever hoped to have my home run more efficiently. And so we set a day for her to come out.

The first day she came I began to realize how enormous this project was.

“Where do you keep your curriculum and school supplies,” she asked.

I pointed to the shelf in the front room, then led her down the hall and opened a cupboard where we kept the math books and personal assignments. Into the master bedroom we went to find another shelf of school books, and finally downstairs to see the rest of what I owned.

I had never questioned that my school books and supplies were spread all over the house. Once I thought about it I realized that I was constantly running to the other room to get something for a lesson or discussion we were in the middle of. This inefficient organization of my supplies was adding to the chaos I felt.

It didn’t end with my school supplies. I had stored many of my kitchen items in what we had called a pantry in the hallway when we moved in. We had since created a pantry in the kitchen but never moved everything into the kitchen. The master bedroom had become a catchall for whatever project I was working on, as well as a place to do laundry and whatever else I happened to put there.

And so the process began. We moved all of the school supplies and books into the family room and organized it so that similar items were in the same part of the room. The shelf came out of my bedroom with the decision that the master bedroom should be a place of refuge, not another place to store school supplies or other projects. The pantry became a linen closet and all that belonged in the kitchen was moved to the kitchen. I organized the game closet with a list of games and what school subjects they were related to. We did a major overhaul on the room that holds my sewing machine, computer and bins of fabric, yarn, laces, etc. A place for everything took on a new meaning. Not only have we been establishing a place for everything, but a place that makes sense in the general layout of my home.

The beauty of this project became evident as I began to see the difference in how we are functioning. I can always find a pair of scissors now. We don’t spend time looking for math books because they never leave the family room. I have found new pleasure in doing school with my children in a family room where I am not searching the entire house for the book I want to use for today’s discussion.

I don’t want you to think for a moment that my home always looks perfect now. In fact, just yesterday I was standing in the kitchen preparing peaches to bag and put in the freezer. The kitchen was a disaster, between the peaches I was trying to finish and the dishes I hadn’t done all day because of the peaches. There were toys strewn all over the family room that the children had been playing with all afternoon. In other words, we still have messes.

The thing that has changed is that my children are learning that there is a place for every item. If they do not know that place, they can ask. They have a bin where all their schoolwork belongs and it has a place. We keep all the schoolwork right in the family room. Now if somebody forgets to put their math book away we do not have to guess which room to look in. It is probably by the bean bag chairs where we do school.

The following list of hints may help you in finding ways to organize your home more efficiently.

Choose the area of your home where you plan to do school. Organize school supplies and books in this area so that they are easily accessible. Group books by general subject so they are easy to find. Use file drawers to file paper projects. Have small bins where pencils, glue and scissors can be kept.

Assign each child a place to keep their school work. Rubbermaid or Sterlite totes can be just the right size for this. Consider each room by what its purpose is. Keep like items together in that room.
Use totes and bins to provide a place for anything from lids in your kitchen cupboard to paintbrushes in the area your children do art. A fishing tackle box works well for organizing your first aid supplies into one place.
Find a friend whose home seems organized and approach them about walking through your house and giving some organizational tips. Their eyes may see something that you do not see because you look at it every day.
Sterlite makes large storage containers that fit beneath a bed. These can provide your children a place to keep their “treasures” and other things. If you have more than one child in a bedroom, this gives them with a storage space that is only theirs. Pencil boxes can be purchased inexpensively at back-to-school sales in August and used to let them organize their collections of cool things within their “treasure bins”.
Have a system for doing laundry. Hanging clothes on a clothes rack near the dryer as they come out goes quickly and keeps clothes from getting scattered or wrinkled. Children can learn to hang clothes as part of their assignments. They may not be hung perfectly, but with practice they will learn.
Insist that your children learn the place you have established for each item. This will not happen overnight, but will be a project that will take months. Be willing to stop what you are doing to teach them where you want a particular item. As you use these moments to positively reinforce new habits they will begin to appreciate the need for order. Without changing old habits, organizing your home will be a waste of time. This is the most important step you can take in creating order form chaos.

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