Thursday, January 9, 2014

To Hopeful Organistas: DO IT!

This past week, I've stumbled across many blog and facebook posts where ladies have let it be known that their true heart's desire for this new year is to become more organized.

I really do believe there is a true "organista" in the heart of every woman, longing to thrive in the land of perfect order--of her own creation and management. It's why we watch the shows, buy the books, read the magazines, shop at "The Container Store," and buy notebooks and binders.

I just want to tell you all:  Go for it. It CAN be done.  I debated about sharing my testimony in this area. Because I am a true "organista" now. I don't want to brag, or gloat. That is not how I feel about this. I want other women to experience the deep peace and joy and satisfaction of good organization habits.

So, I recall that it was reading the testimonies and seeing/hearing the example of other women that inspired me, helped me get a vision, and helped me develop the methods that work for me--and helped me keep at it.  And, let me tell you also, my journey from disorganized, cluttered, chaotic, stressed mess (and that is an understatement, friends) to "Organista" is all God's work. For sure.  So I want to share--because I want to encourage. I want others to experience the joy and peace and rest that comes with becoming more organized. (It's kind of addicting, actually).

And my other dilemma is, how to condense my 10-year transformation into a not-too-long blog post?  I'll try.

I started the journey into organized bliss about 10 years ago. I was encouraged by a godly woman who gave me the "15 minutes a day" rule.  One drawer, one cabinet, one closet, one bin... anything. Just 15 minutes a day.

Which I found, when I committed to that, it often "got me started on a roll" and sometimes I spent an hour, or two, or three.

But sometimes just a drawer.

Every day, as much as possible.

Because I knew it was the desire of my heart, to be queen of my domain, and rule in perfect order. I knew it was the desire of my heart to honor my husband and all that he provided for me and our family.  It was the desire of my heart to be a good steward of my time, my husband's (God's) money, our things (God's things).  It was the desire of my heart to do anything that would increase my SANITY, and REDUCE STRESS, and bring REST, and CALM, and PEACE to my home for the sake of my whole family. It was the desire of my heart to be a good mother, to set a good example, to teach my children how to keep things organized, to be organized, to be good stewards, and to care for their things. It was the desire of my heart to never have to panic when the doorbell rang--Oh! To be able to invite people inside my home at any given moment--like June Cleaver could! I longed to lie down to sleep at night in a magazine-perfect bedroom--like a model home. Pretty and all put away.

You know.  You know.

And knowing it was the desire of my heart, in faith, I knew that God knew it was the desire of my heart, so I knew that if I prayed faithfully every day for Him to help me in this area, He would. (Did you follow that?)

You should see my prayer journals for about four years in a row, starting in 2003.  Every single day, I wrote, "Please help me to  get organized and to manage my home well."  In one form or another.

So every day, to the best of my ability (and mood), and sometimes mustering what felt like heroic, massive, committed effort (for just 15 minutes), I did one thing.

And it grew. And spread.  Eventually, whole rooms were organized. All the cabinets. All the drawers. All the closets. All the shelves.  All the bins.

I think four years of garage sales were a big part of this story! Not to mention the loads to charity.

And soon my "systems" improved, as I quit trying to work with with clutter, and mess, and extra stuff clogging my home-management mechanics.

And then I found, when I went to do my "one thing" each day, those things were done.  I found that fifteen minutes often was enough time to make sure EVERY cabinet in the kitchen was still in perfect order.  And I wasn't even conscious of trying to do "one thing."  I was starting to just keep things organized,  in place and functioning as part of my normal routine. As naturally as breathing. My spice cabinet has been in alphabetical order for YEARS... and I don't even think about it any more.

It's just "the way things are."

Let me share some of the benefits that I enjoy every day. This is just the tip of the iceberg--just enough to give you a vision:

  • Laundry for the 8 (soon to be 9) of us is always caught up. Always. And put away in order in drawers and closets. It is easy, now, to keep it this way. We don't have too many clothes. We don't have extra shoes, things that don't fit, excessive amounts of anything. But, yes, of course, we still have way  more than we need. My husband never gets more than 6 pairs deep into his neatly stacked underwear--I know, TMI, but I literally "shuffle" them so they get even wear.
  • My grocery budget:  In October, I spent $160 for the MONTH for our family of 8, and my normal budget averages $450 per month. That includes toiletries, household products. Everything.  WITHOUT coupons. Without sale papers. Without running around from store to store.  This is the kind of thing that  happens with simplicity, and a well-ordered and managed kitchen (cabinets, fridge, freezer, pantry) and menu plan.  This budget includes "splurging" on many nice and fun things for my family, and many organic things (and all-natural toothpaste, soap, shampoo, etc.). 
  • My homeschool:  we are often done before noon.  That's two first/second graders, one 4th  grade, one 9th grade, and one 2yo.  Memory work, Devotions, English (all aspects--phonics, penmanship, grammar, writing, word study, etc.), Math, Science, Health, Social Studies, Geography, Art. Spanish, and more. Our school supplies are always in place, pencils sharpened. Markers ready. Erasers. Books in perfect order. There are no stacks or drawers or shelves of stuff I think I'd like to do, or that I hope to get to, or add in. No unused or unnecessary supplies. The plan is simple, firm, final, easy. The materials are complete (including art supplies), effective, and flexible in many ways. The children have simple checklists and can manage much of their own work (according to age). We have time to take field trips, to spend extra time on an activity or subject that the kids get excited about.  We are always ahead. ALWAYS.  "THOSE" days never throw us off at all, and never put us behind. 
  • Our "appetites" are under control.  The church fathers taught "detachment." Monks in monasteries practiced it to the nth degree--that simple life. Detachment is simply not being attached to or "ensared" in stuff (don't get me started).  We have learned not to have too much--and really, of course we still do have way more than we need. But we DON'T have more than we can manage. In all areas. Toys, crafts, hobbies, clothes, books, games...everything has been pared down to what is needful, useful, practical, helpful, and wise for the different needs/interests of our family.
  • Rest and Sanity.  There is a lot of that around here.  Naps every day for me, with the 2yo (I'm recovering from three years of serious health issues, and am also 6 months pregnant). Lots of time to sit and do relaxing  activities: read to the babe, crochet, watch a movie, play board games with my boys, or Scrabble with my daughter, bake a treat for dinner, type a blog post, read, study, enjoy a cup of coffee, call my mom or a friend.  And, just imagine how lovely and restful it is to sit to rest when everything is DONE. There are no lurking, haunting messes, projects, or undone chores--at least nothing overwhelming, and nothing overdue.  There are busy days, sure. We're a busy family of 8. But I don't remember in a long time feeling overwhelmed or behind due to chores, home management, or messes. And, I have the freedom of deciding NOT to do laundry today... because it won't be too behind. I'm sorry... but that's just NICE.
  • I yell a lot less. A LOT less.
  • Nothing  derails us, really. For example, I was in the hospital for pretty much the entire last half of 2012 (and most of 2010, too), and a bed-ridden invalid for the first five months of 2013.  The home did not collapse. The kids did not get behind in school. Good systems and organization were in place, and kids knew how to keep it there. It's actually quite impossible for the home to get out of control. Messy--yes. We live here. But it always cleans up quickly, at any given moment, back to organized, clean, neat spaces.
And "organizing" spreads. And it grows with us, and changes easily as our needs change (like adding a new baby into the mix in a few months--a girl, at that!) It has spread to my children.  For example, my 8yo son has an item on his chore checklist that reads:  "Organize" with the sub-bullets of "School shelf, Book Basket, Baby Toys, Bedroom shelves."  He has learned, if he does this faithfully every day, those four things stay completely organized in less than five minutes per day. Often in less than one minute.  Then, by example, this is the only world the baby knows.  So the baby automatically learns to keep things in place, to put things in place, and to care for his toys. My grown son (19), his room is NEVER out of order. Never. He organizes as easily as he breathes now... because he grew up the past several years in an organized home and I modeled it and taught him.  Granted, my son is naturally an "organizer." Accountant-type.  But, my 14yo daughter is not. But she now, also, organizes and keeps her room "almost" as easily as she breathes. It is how we live here.

And it started long ago, just 15 minutes at a time.

The other day, the kids started on this project for fun--doing all the puzzles in the house (we delayed school for one hour to let them finish the next morning). 32 puzzles, ranging from 12 to 100 pieces each.  One missing piece. We threw that puzzle away (it was from the dollar store), but I wanted to make the point. We have way more puzzles than we need. Yes. But we do play with  them all, often. I consider these "healthy" play. We take care of these things, we enjoy them. We put them away carefully. We have enough space to put them away nicely into a storage bench under our school room coat rack.  I help them to do this... that is my job--part of my full time work. It took less than 10 minutes for us to all put these puzzles back away carefully in their place, one at a time.  And the kids know they are there waiting, all in perfect order, with no missing or mixed up pieces, to enjoy whenever they like--which is usually some of these every day at some point.
So, that is the  testimony from someone who used to have to climb over a mountain of dirty laundry to get to her bed (and have to dig through dirty laundry to find clothes to wear). From someone who sometimes just couldn't get the kitchen cleaned for DAYS, and the whole house? Maybe once a month, if we invited someone over. If no company, maybe once every two months.  From someone who used to be too tired to cook dinner, or deal with any sort of cleaning or chores--too stressed.  Whose grocery budget was out.of.control, because I couldn't bother with it or get a grip. Someone too tired to care how the children cared for their things. From someone who had a house full of clothes that didn't fit anyone, books that  didn't get read, toys that were broken or not played with, hidden stashes of who knows what--JUNK.

15 minutes a day.

Do it.


  1. Thanks Camilla! You have motivated me! I believe I can do 15 minutes a day!

    1. Betsy, you can do it! My story is 15 minutes a day times 10 years... it is worth it! :-) May I ask how you found my blog, because I see you are from Lancaster, OH (I am from Logan). I didn't know I had any "local" readers!

    2. I actually found you through your son. I am a close friend of the Howes family and met Gabe at an Impact fellowship meeting. He told me about homeschooling and attending college through CollegePlus (which we wanted to do for our daughter but she is attending OSU to become a nurse and was told CollegePlus would not work for nursing). We also homeschool our children. Then Aaron said that he was going to Winter Park with Gabe which is where we go every winter to ski. While they were out there, Aaron was texting me to ask about different restaurants and trails on the slopes. Gabe asked to be my friend on facebook and somehow I found your blog. Long story not very short. Haha! I have enjoyed reading it!

    3. Aaron has been a wonderful friend for Gabe. My husband's family keep two homes in Winter Park. Nice to "meet" you--maybe we will meet for real at some point. Thanks for chiming in! Good luck with organizing!

  2. Cam, ugggg! Why do you do this to me? I'm almost in tears wondering how in the world I could get to this point? Both of my boys' rooms are cluttered and not for lack of ME going in there several times a year and throwing, tossing, giving away, etc. I've always dreamed of a home where the kid's rooms were classic looking with very little clutter. Yet, it has NEVER been this way. I know we have too much stuff.

    Maybe I need to get tougher about what to keep. I almost feel like I need help in those rooms (not from the boys) to get a new vision. Maybe I'll start a special fund for these rooms and one day I can afford to hire help :) I'm sure you're cringing right now!

    Also, the whole grocery in the world did you spend that amount? Was it because you had a good stockpile?

    Now, be gentle when you answer :)

  3. Don't be in tears! Baby steps! It was 10 years of baby steps. And I made my kids come with me--Gabe and Breton were 9 and 4 when I started this path, and I made it a part of their homeschool every day, evaluating their rooms, making sure everything had a place, talking about what amount of stuff was "wise" to have, and what things were necessary and pleasing to God (with the goal of helping them realize no matter what we kept, it would still be way more than we needed). All of us got a new perspective and vision.

    I remember really freaking them out one day. I made them put all their stuffed animals in a pile (a mountain), and said, "If you could just keep one, which one would that be?" They freaked out. Their fault. They hadn't read my mind and didn't know that I had really planned to do this exercise 5 times and let them keep at least FIVE!

    If I ever come to Texas, I'll come over and give you vision, in exchange for tamales only. I'll send you an email that explains the groceries a bit.

  4. love hearing your encouraging story and seeing all those completed puzzles! good work : )