First, a confession: Much as I might wish otherwise, much as I might aspire to live differently, my home does NOT look like a photo spread in Better Homes and Gardens. It’s a constant work-in-progress. And while I like to think I’m always moving forward, the reality is that it feels like an endless uphill battle.

But that doesn’t mean I don’t try – and dream – and every so often, I hit on something that works. I know it works for several reasons: 1) It’s easy for me to maintain the system, and 2) it’s easy for other people (husband, kids, etc.) to maintain the system. There are a few parts of my home – mostly closets – where I’ve found that a little more shelving, a few extra hooks in an unconventional place, and a creative rethinking of what space is wasted and could be put to better use, has made a world of difference in helping to ensure that everything has a workable place to live.

My start to an organized family home was far from obstacle-free, thanks to the many blessings of our life. When my husband and I married, we’d each had our own adult lives, complete with our own sets of adult stuff – furniture, home mortgages, kitchen utensils – 1200 miles apart. Then the economy tanked.

Original plan: Get married, THEN consolidate households, THEN start a family, with the moving-to-new-consolidated-household ideally happening about twelve months before the birth of our firstborn.

The way it worked out instead: Getting pregnant with Kimmie turned out to be a lot easier than selling two houses in a down market. By the time we closed on my former residence, I was into my third trimester, and unable to do anything more than bark orders (hey, I was hormonal) at my poor husband, mother, and brother as they packed up the last of my belongings that hadn’t yet followed me cross-country to my husband’s abode. We closed on his old house and our new joint residence a month and a half later – six weeks before my due date, during the same week that I stopped working and was put on modified bed rest for the rest of my pregnancy.

Oh, and did I mention that all this was in the midst of an unusually cold and snowy winter in the region I now call home?

If at all possible, do NOT move when you’re eight months pregnant, or on modified bed rest, or in the middle of an unusually cold and snowy winter.

So – By the time we took up residence in our new abode, all I could do was instruct my dear mother on helping me unpack a few of the basics, before she left to return to her own home a day’s drive away. Nearly five years later, we still have boxes I haven’t unpacked and corners of the house that aren’t fully settled.

As I’ve worked toward a workable home in the years since, here are a few of my favorite strategies for trying to make the most of finite time, space, and energy, without breaking the bank:

Baskets are a mom’s best friend. I LOVE baskets. They are probably my favorite home-organization tool.

  • I keep several baskets in my car, to contain everything from hats and blankets to toys and snacks.
  • In the summer, I have an “outdoor” basket that keeps everything we need for playing in the yard – sunglasses, hats, drinks, bubbles – ready to go, complete with room to add my cellphone and any other “last-minute” items.
  • My “home-improvement” basket holds everything I need for hanging pictures and shelving on the walls – a pencil, a stud-finder, assorted screws and picture hooks, wall anchors, a hammer, and the drill bits for my electric screwdriver.
  • And many of the shelves throughout my home have large rectangular baskets containing everything from cookbooks and food storage containers to yarn and office supplies.

Sometimes duplication makes sense. Put things where you use them, and you’re more likely to use them and to put them back when you’re done.

  • Our house has four bathrooms on three floors, and each bathroom has its own basic set of cleaning supplies.
  • Each floor of the house also has a basic set of tools (hammer, screwdrivers, scissors, tape measure), a dust-cloth, and a broom/whisk broom/dustpan.
  • Thanks to a hand-me-down from my dear MIL, the two levels of our home that have carpets each have their own vacuum cleaner.

I’ve found it so much easier to squeeze in five minutes of cleaning on whatever level my kids are occupying at that moment, when everything I need is already right there, and I don’t have to go up or down stairs to get supplies and then put them away.

Be flexible, adapt as needed, and think outside the box.

  • When Kimmie was a newborn, our changing table on the main level of our house was the attachment that went on top of her play yard.
  • When she outgrew that, we found that an old card table was perfect for changing a squirmy toddler. It was big enough to have room for her, a basket to hold diapers/creams/wipes, and a toy or two to entertain her. Likewise, an old beach towel, folded in half, was big enough to cover the table and easy to wash as needed.
  • When Essie came along, the card table was plenty big enough to accommodate either one of them (or both at the same time!), and had lots of storage space underneath for boxes of toys that Kimmie had outgrown, but Essie wasn’t yet ready for.
  • We’ve only recently replaced the card table with a slightly smaller side table (an old solid-wood one that I got at a church silent auction for $10). I’ve put it up on risers (the kind you’ll see advertised to boost storage space under dorm-room beds at back-to-school time, and which you can usually score at clearance prices once September rolls around), so it’s a more comfortable height. It’s got just enough room underneath for a trash can and diaper bin, but takes up much less space in the living room than its predecessor did.

Edit out the old to make room for the new (to you). Every few months, assess your belongings – from clothes to baby gear to household items – to see what’s no longer working for you; then move it along:

  • Sell it on Amazon or eBay.
  • Post an ad on a literal or virtual bulletin board at work. (We have good luck using this method for offloading baby gear and furniture.)
  • Find a local consignment shop that will sell it for you. (For us, this works especially well for household items, clothes, and baby gear that’s recent and in good shape.)
  • Or make a list of your items and donate them to a thrift store, church garage sale, or other charity. Goodwill and the Salvation Army are great places to donate clothes, housewares, and furniture. Habitat ReStores take all sorts of home building materials (leftover paint, cabinets, windows and doors, tiles and hardware, tools – ours now accepts used furniture as well).  If you have crafty items you no longer need, or things someone else might consider crafty, check out this list to see if there’s an arts-and-crafts resale store near you.  (Our local store is where I often score baskets for next to nothing.)  For more ideas of places that will gladly accept your donations, see Miss Minimalist’s list of 101 Places Your Clutter Can Do Good.
  • I’ve even donated unopened pre-expiration-date sample cans of baby formula and older (but still perfectly usable and up-to-current-safety-standards) baby gear, like secondhand strollers, to one of our local transitional living facilities for homeless women and children.

If you take the donation route, just be sure to get a receipt, and try to save a few minutes after you donate to a reselling establishment to go inside and note the selling price of similar items. If you do this regularly, and especially if you pay interest on a home mortgage, you may find that you can save more on the federal income taxes you owe to Uncle Sam by itemizing deductions, versus just taking the standard deduction.

So – there you have it. As you can see, staying organized doesn’t have to cost a ton of money. If anything, having an organized home can help you save (and even make) money.

Happy organizing!

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