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Organizing with kids: A thankless task? How do you stay inspired?

I've never been what you might call "great" at organization. I love to have organized spaces, I do -- I even enjoy the process of organization when, from time to time, I put my mind to nothing but. What I don't have much (ever) is the space and time to do that. I have an inspiring idea on how to organize something, or a fantastic open afternoon, or some great reason to get neat and clean (sadly, this is often "I want to take a picture and there is a mess in the background" -- but any port in the storm, right?).

Thank goodness for my youngest sister, Abby. She has been a babysitting rock for me through the years, and would regularly undergo spurts of amazing effort. I would come home from a run or a meeting to see something like the above scene: a transformed space, neatly labeled, using the supplies on hand, no more. This, a little free-pile bookshelf set on an awkward-shaped square table with little plastic boxes and a big plastic box, has been in use for over a year -- I just have to keep it organized. And the boys always know where to find everything.

My sister Abby had a baby this summer, and since then, I've been flying solo. Thank goodness for Asha and her organization chat a few days ago to keep me inspired. I've been trying for months (ok, over a year now) to get a huge pile of paper -- that grows all the time from two boys in school and many reams of writing group notes -- organized. She had the great idea of tackling the pile of papers for just 15 minutes at a time, setting a timer and planning to go back to it the next day. Boston Mama Christine Koh posted a link to this on Pinterest -- a pretty, pretty use for clipboards to organize children's art and papers.

Which comes to the topic of Pinterest. Lately, Pinterest is how I've been staying inspired to keep organized; although I've heard many lament that the site is nothing but eye candy for craft ideas (and none of them actually get done), I've slowly been incorporating the ideas into my to-do lists and -- ok, I'll be honest -- doing things just so I can take photos and pin them. Nothing gets me going like a little repinning!

How do you keep your house organized with all the papers and art supplies and toys? How do you stay inspired? If you, like me, just don't ever feel like you have the time to focus (and, when you do, the kids are busy totally annihilating another room of the house), how do you make it happen? Or do you just throw up your hands over periods of weeks (I'm ashamed to photograph my dining table) and let the mess prevail?

Also check out this huge list of organization resources -- which I haven't yet had time to click through. If I did, I wouldn't have time to keep the pile of papers under control!


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I've had piles of kid stuff for years, even moved them to several different houses, and they just come out of the box and back on the desk. But in a fit of de-cluttering frenzy recently, I completed my 'go paperless' clean out of the file cabinet. Then I had room for some extra files. I made one folder for each kid, and put the drawings/papers/certificates in chronological order in each. I also made a rule that if I didn't remember what it was all about, it went in the recycle bin. So lots of random drawings and artwork got weeded out, while the special ones got little notes attached and went into the folder. Wow! So much clean space on my desk now. It's amazing!

What inspires me to stay organized? Easy-how great my house looks and how clear headed I feel when things have a place. That's all the motivation I need.

I'm a professional organizer here in Portland who works extensively with families to get children's spaces (and other rooms) organized. The most common reason I see rooms get disorganized is because families don't spend a little bit of time picking things up and putting things away each day. For various reasons, they don't spend 5 minutes going through the artwork or mail pile. They don't spend 10 minutes picking up the toys in the playroom or clearing off the dining room table. So what happens is stuff tends to pile up. And once that happens, their 5-minute daily sorting task becomes an all-weekend sorting task.

As a parent of a little kid myself, I know how hard it can be to find a little bit of time each day, especially when you have so many other responsibilities! Some days our family doesn't get around to doing a bit of clean-up either. But I figure spending a little bit of time each day is better than having to spend an entire weekend dealing with a pile or a messy room.

I know of a lot of families who needed to devote a big chunk of time to working on an organizing project but have little kids underfoot have traded babysitting with another family. Their friends watch their kids for an afternoon so they can work, then they watch their friends' kids for an afternoon the next weekend so their friends can work. It takes a village, right?

For those of you interested, there is a Get Organized Conference this weekend in Tigard for the general public. I will be giving a step-by-step presentation on organizing kids' spaces and teaching kids how to clean up after themselves. And another organizer is giving a presentation on how to sort through and organize your papers. It's free, and it might be just the inspiration you need. http://oregonchapterofnapo.pbworks.com/w/page/48103945/2012%20Organizing%20Conference

I have been planning a similar post for AGES, Sarah. Mine was titled "A place for everything, everything all over the damn place". Once in a while, I get the visible part of the house all tidied up... like at the holidays or when we have guests coming. But the invisible parts (coat closet, hallway cabinet, basement, dormer, etc) are getting really crowded with junk! Not to mention our mud area, the end of the table, the bar, and the kids' room. I swear we each have 50 pairs of shoes and 30 coats. And hats and gloves and scarves and, and, and... it seems every other day little knick nacks come home, from granny, from school, from work. And goodness forbid anything get thrown out under the watchful eye of the littles, or else there's a tantrum/fit. This, this struggle of managing the crap. I usually keep my own crap sorted but it's the rest of the crap I'm not very good at organizing. Ugh.

shetha, your title cracks me up and your whole comment takes the words right out of my mouth! i do pick up a little all the time. ALL THE TIME. i can't walk a stright path through the house for stopping every 2 steps to pick something up. and we do a fairly good job of getting the kids to clean a little as they go. but those big "all the visible area" cleaning jobs that happen before hosting make for quietly expanding messes in places i desperately want to be in order. i know part of it is just having too much stuff. i'm a fanatic about regular runs to drop off at goodwill. and i also gather for the goodwill bags (and trash and recycling containers) stealthily. hard to get stuff out of the hosue when the kids grieve every scrap of paper they've ever touched. ugh.

For paper: I use Evernote to help me go paperless, including kid-related items/drawings. I put web clippings, e-mails, pictures or scans I've taken of artwork, instructions, serial numbers, magazine articles, receipts, parent directories, take-out menus, recipes, etc into it so I can access it everywhere. I'm currently using a Doxie Go scanner I keep in my kitchen (next to an in box) with an eye fi card - it sends things directly to Evernote without the need to hook up to a computer.

Other recent project: I recently got a bunch of 3M Command stick up hooks and created a dress-up area in the hallway.

I'm laughing at Shetha's title too--I want to read that post when it's completed! Similar situation at our house too, but I think I'm probably a bit more organized than the average Mama so the clutter does not ever feel overwhelming to me. We are also purgers--we are not afraid to part with material goods, and we do it on a regular basis so that really helps. Our kids have become good purgers with their own toys too--twice a year or so we'll go through their room bin by bin, I'll have the boys pick out their favorites and the rest gets donated or traded at the re-sale shop up the street. (Our kids are highly motivated to purge if they know that they'll get to go pick something "new" at the resale shop for their credit). The other "Ah-Ha" moment that I had a few months ago was that we needed to go through their rooms with them, and actually show them where everything needs to go and explain exactly what we mean by "go clean up your room"...duh! Since spending a weekend purging and organizing as a family, our boys have been much more cooperative and effective when we ask them to clean their rooms after dinner, and before play-time with Papa--their favorite time of day, but something that doesn't happen if they have not done their tidying up.

Pinterest has eliminated the magazine clippings for craft ideas, recipes, etc. Every year I go through our filing cabinets and shred documents that are no longer necessary to keep around. Each season we go through our closets and fill up a few bags to donate, as well as when any major shopping trips have been taken--sort of an "out with the old, in with the new" motto. My label maker is my best friend. I like open storage because then I can actually see what I have--I find that the stuff that is stuck behind closed doors does not get utilized nearly as much. The ZeroWaste website and blog have also been great sources of inspiration for me to eliminate waste, and to live within our means--not only financially but also in terms of space and organization. Paring down feels good.

Last thing... We moved into a much smaller house 3 years ago--our smallest house ever despite our growing family. I have found that I don't miss the square footage of our other houses, it's much easier and quicker to clean, and we don't accumulate nearly as much stuff anymore because we simply don't have room for extra stuff around here. Never would have guessed such a small house would suit our needs so well but it has!

Just want to put in another plug for the Community Warehouse as people purge/get rid of things...they are always in need of items for families/children.
Be sure to watch the video on the main page of the site--it's really informative and creatively done.

Yay for you, Sarah! I so loved that you were at that chat. And I just want to put a plug in for the "15 minutes at a time" method and the need for reboots. This is long-term change disguised as short-term de-cluttering and organizing projects. I have been working on these habits for YEARS and even today I have a huge pile of papers on my floor, my desk is a mess, and I can't find my phone. It's not all-or-nothing. Even small improvements are improvements, you know? After long, you'll feel them add up.

I have the same problem with my kids' reading books and I found out that document archiving of these stuff is important.

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