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.

Sometimes thinking outside the box has made a world of difference. Especially in closets: extra shelving, a few hooks in an unconventional place, etc. A creative rethinking of otherwise wasted space can help ensure that everything has a workable place to live.

Keeping your home organized is always a challenge with kids. Here are a few of the tricks I've figured out so far.

My long road to an organized home

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.

When reality checks in

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 family home a month and a half later. That is, 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 this was 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.

By the time moving day arrived, all I could do was instruct my 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.

Hacks to Help Keep Home Organized

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

1. 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 put together an “outdoor” basket. It keeps everything we need for playing in the yard – sunglasses, hats, drinks, bubbles – ready to go.
  • 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 house large rectangular baskets. I use them to “contain” everything from cookbooks and food storage containers to yarn and office supplies.

(More on how much I love baskets in my next post.)

2. 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.

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

  • When Kimmie was a newborn, our first-floor changing table was the play-yard changing table attachment.
  • When she outgrew that, we switched to an old card table: 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. (Best of all, we already had these things – nothing new to buy!)
  • When Essie came along, the card table was plenty big enough to hold either one of them (or both at the same time!). Plus it 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. It’s solid wood, from a church silent auction for $10 years ago. 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), so it’s a more comfortable height. There’s just enough room underneath for trash and diaper bin, but it takes up less space than the card table.

4. Edit out the old to make room for the new (to you).

Every few months, assess your belongings – clothes, (baby) gear, household items – to see what’s no longer working. Then move it along:

a) For cash

  • 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.) Or try Craigslist or the classified section of a community or local parents’ listserv group.
  • 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 try a children’s consignment sale event near you.

b) For free

  • Post an ad on your local Freecycle.
  • 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 for offloading clothes, housewares, and furniture; Habitat ReStores take home building materials (leftover paint, cabinets, windows and doors, tiles, hardware, tools – ours even takes used furniture!).
  • If you have craft supplies to offload, check this list to see if there’s an arts-and-crafts resale store near you.
  • 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/unexpired formula samples cans and baby gear (e.g. strollers) to a local women and children’s shelter.

For those in the U.S.: Be sure to get a donation receipt to attach to the list you made. (I also like to go into the store and write down what they’re likely to charge for my donations.) If you do this regularly – especially if you pay home mortgage interest – itemizing deductions at tax time may save you more than the standard deduction.

Keeping your home organized is always a challenge with kids. Here are a few of the tricks I've figured out so far.

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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