Cooking for the big feast? Save time later in the season by doubling-up on any side dishes that can be frozen for later use. Freezer-friendly recipes like Garlic Mashed Potatoes means you'll cook once, eat twice … and save time and stress!
Are you ready to cook once, eat for a month? Time to try freezer cooking!
The concept of freezer cooking goes by many names. Once-a-month cooking. Frozen assets. OAMC. Meal assembly. Each describes the practice of assembling partially-prepared entrees in bulk for freezer storage.
Made in multiple and needing only reheating or final preparations, freezer meals are an easy way to feed the family fast ... and cheap.
Because you make several meals at once, economies of scale speed cooking chores. Buying in bulk saves money. Home preparation fosters better nutrition.
Better still, options like "meal assembly franchises" help home cooks build frozen assets quickly.
While pricier than home-prepared freezer meals, a cooking session at a franchise like Dream Dinners® or Super Suppers® can stock the freezer and teach freezer cooking methods to be used at home.
Whether you cook once and eat for a month, sneak up on freezer cooking, or fill the freezer from the meal assembly franchise, get ready to feed the family--fast!---with our complete guide to freezer cooking.
Ready or not, here it comes: the 2013 Organized Christmas Countdown begins on Sunday, October 27.
This six-week holiday planning countdown from sister site OrganizedChristmas.com is fun, it's free--and is designed to help you get ready for Christmas in good time for the celebration.
Led by author and organizing expert Cynthia Ewer, we'll work together to create a calm, stress-free holiday season for ourselves and our families. By breaking down Christmas preparations into small, easy-to-finish tasks, the Countdown will see us to the first weekend in December, prepared and ready for Christmas.
Beginning Sunday, we'll start the six-week Countdown. Week by week, we'll break down holiday prep into easy-to-complete checklists, build a printable Christmas planner, and read inspiring daily messages to keep us motivated and in tune with the holiday spirit.
Want to get Countdown updates in e-mail? Subscribe to Christmas Countdown by e-mail.
Ready to get organized for a great holiday season? Here we go! The 2013 Christmas Countdown starts on Sunday, October 27 ... see you there!
Imagine the television pitch:
"Special offer! Not sold in stores! The amazing Household Wonder Worker will take your house from chaos to castle in only 21 days. It'll speed your cleaning, calm your chaos and cut your clutter. Don't wait! Get it today--and put our 21-day Household Wonder Worker to work for you!"
You say you have the phone in one hand and a credit card in the other? Sounds that good, does it?
Sorry, television viewers. Yes, the Amazing Household Wonder Worker is the most powerful secret weapon in the war against disorganization and clutter--but you can't buy it, not in stores, or anywhere.
You have to build your own, but it's free for the making.
Put it to work for you, and it'll lead you, step-by-step, out of the darkness of disorganization and into the light.
The Amazing Household Wonder Worker? Habit.Let the Force Be With You
Such a small word for such a powerful force. "Habit" seems mild, benign--fussy, even. Yet a habit works like a snowball, perched at the top of a snow-covered mountain. It takes a tiny little effort to push the snowball over the edge, but look out! By the time it reaches the bottom, that little habit has the momentum and effect of an avalanche.
So, too, with the habits we build into our lives. Tiny little changes, unnoticed in themselves, have a momentous effect on our house, our family, our lives.
What's the secret? Momentum. It takes energy and thought to form a good habit, much like it takes energy and intention to push that little snowball over the edge. Once in place, however, a habit gains in strength and effect with each repetition, building all the power of an avalanche behind it. Put a platoon of good habits to work for you, and you'll triumph in the war against chaos and disorganization.Anatomy of a Habit
Not that habits are mysterious things. We all have a brace of them, for good or bad. Does each day begin with two cups of coffee and the newspaper? Habit! Are you accustomed to fueling weekly grocery shopping trips with a maple bar from the supermarket bakery? Habit! Do you always place your handbag on the floor of the car, behind the driver's seat? There's that habit again!
If habits are familiar creatures, why are they so very difficult to start--or to change? Go back to that snowball. Yes, it's a bit of a nuisance to make it, isn't it? You have to get your hands wet and cold and numb, and pack the snow tightly. You must perch the snowball on it's ledge just so, and then give the silly thing a push. Once you do, though, look out!
The analogy explains why good habits can be so difficult to start, and bad habits so difficult to end. Setting up good habits means creating conscious, intentional change. Ending bad ones means countering the tremendous, built-up force of a thousand repetitions.Make a Habit to Stop a Habit
How do you form a good habit? The concept is simple: decide what you want to do, and do it each day for 21 days.
[To this writer's knowledge, the 21-day time period first appeared in pop psychology via Dr. Maxwell Maltz, author of The Power of Psychocybernetics. A plastic surgeon, Dr. Maltz noticed that it took 21 days for amputees to cease feeling phantom sensations in the amputated limb. From that somewhat obscure beginning, the 21-day phenomenon has evolved into a staple of self-change literature. Something of a habit, you might say.]
If the idea is simple, the devil is in the details. Making a new habit is hard work! Each new habit--so simple, so sanguine--must turn aside the formidable energy of an entrenched old habit to survive.
Old habits are not so easily dislodged! In practical terms, fresh new habits must be tended carefully and guarded from intruders. During their infancy and youth, good habits can be extinguished by a single episode of "Mañana, mañana--I don't wanna!" You have to cherish the new, good habit and fight the old bad one at the same time.On the Trail of Good Habits
If you're ready to put the power of habit to work for you, try these strategies for organized success:
- Go slow! Remembering the power of a mature habit will help keep you from the first and biggest mistake: biting off more than you can chew, habit-wise. Remind yourself that you're building a powerful friend. It's better to build a single helpful habit than try for a total overhaul of life--and fail.
- One thing at a time! Changing a habit takes undivided energy and commitment, so tackle habits one at a time. Only after you've established a new habit should you move on to another. Take heart, though. With 52 weeks in each year, you can build 17 new habits and still take two weeks vacation before the year's end!
- Hitch your habit to a star! A new habit stands a better chance of survival if it has a friend. Think of a current habit as a locomotive engine, and add the new one to the train. Do you put your toddler down for a nap at 2 p.m. each day? That's a perfect "prompt" to build your new habit--30 minutes of daily inspirational reading--into your schedule at 2:05 p.m. When it comes to habits, remember the lesson of the Little Engine That Could and hitch your habit to a star. "I think I can, I think I can" will soon become "I knew I could!"
- Seek out support! When it comes to building habits, a support network is worth a thousand words. Trade "nags" with a friend: you hold her accountable, she holds you accountable as you work on new habits together. Look for online "habit buddies" to conquer tough habits side-by-side. Include support people in the new habit itself, where possible. Have you decided to walk for 45 minutes each day? Walking with a neighbor or a spouse will double the motivation (and the fun!).
Habit is the one organizational tool that you don't need to buy--and it's the most powerful in any home manager's arsenal. Pump up your habits ... to get organized!
Here at OrganizedHome.Com, we hear the cry every week: "Help! I'm drowning in clutter and don't know where to begin!"
Whether it's due to poor habits, a packrat spouse, or an advanced case of affluenza, too many home managers struggle under the burden of household clutter.
Clutter can clog the smooth workings of any home, imposing heavy costs on the household.
Each day, time is lost searching for missing keys, phones or permission slips. A cluttered desk plays Hide The Credit Card Statement, yielding up the bill only after late fees are invoked. Belongings lost to clutter must be replaced, with the original surfacing just as soon as the replacement enters the house. Gotcha!
Time to declutter! But when you're peering over piles, mounds and stacks of stuff, it's hard to know where to begin and what to do.
Our complete guide to cutting clutter at home is here to show you where to start, share basic methods to cut clutter, and outline tips to keep clutter from coming back.
Ready? Let's cut the clutter in your organized home!
It's silent. It's sneaky. It creeps about in corners: clutter! When the state of the house aggravates you to your last nerve, it's tempting to launch an all-out battle in the war against clutter.
First, though, know your enemy!
There are as many reasons for household clutter as there are clutterers. As Pogo says, "We have seen the enemy, and he is us!"
Take aim on your household's clutter problem by going to the root of the problem: your own thinking.
What's your clutter personality ... and which of these internal voices strikes a chord?The Hoarder: "This might come in handy someday!"
Hoarding is rooted in insecurity, financial or otherwise. Deep down, Hoarders fear that they'll never have the resources they need if they let go of any possession, no matter how worn, useless or superfluous.
If cabinets and closets are crammed with egg cartons, cracked margarine containers, and old magazines, there's likely Hoarding behavior underlying the clutter.
Hoarders need to be remind themselves that resources will always be available. Where can a Hoarder look outside the home for a substitute Hoard?
Reassure yourself! Stuff will be with us always. Look around, you'll find that magazines are indexed at the library, kitchenware is marked down at yard sales, and every small appliance known to man can be found (cheap!) at the thrift store.
Think of these off-site treasure troves as attenuated household storage areas ... and dare to dump it!The Deferrer: "I'll think about that tomorrow!"
Those of the deferral mindset are guilty of the great set-aside. Bills, notices, old newspapers, items that need cleaning or repair, and household projects are all set aside to be dealt with another day.
The Deferrer will leave dinner dishes in the sink, wet laundry in the washer, and dropped fruit underneath the backyard apple tree.
Deferrers need to be reminded that tomorrow has no more time or energy than today--and that putting off decisions drags down each new day with yesterday's unfinished business.
Since this behavior is grounded in procrastination, apply the best remedy: action. For Deferrers, simply making a start creates the momentum needed to finish the job.
Remember, it's easier to keep a rolling stone in motion, than it is to pick it up and start it rolling the first time!The Rebel: "I don't wanna and you can't make me!"
Somehow, it's all Mom's fault. Rebels were forced to pick up after themselves as children; as adults, they're still expressing the mute and stubborn determination of a four-year-old who refuses to pick up his toys.
Rebel clutter can be anything, but often centers on household activities. No, the Rebel won't put his or her clothes in the hamper, cereal bowl in the dishwasher, or car in the garage--even when the clothing gets wrinkled, the cereal bowl hardens into yellow goop, and the car gets damaged by roadside traffic.
Rebels need to remind themselves that the war is over. They don't live with Mom anymore--and their own family deserves an adult on the job, not a sulky child.
Tell that inner Rebel, "It's okay--I'm the parent now, and I want a house that's nice to live in. By switching places with the old authority figure, the Rebel can find a way out of "I don't wanna!"The Perfectionist: "Next week, I'll organize everything--perfectly!"
Perfectionists are wonderful people, but they live in an all-or-nothing world. They do wonderful things--when they do them!
Perfectionism forms an inner barrier to cutting clutter because the Perfectionist can't abide doing a less-than-perfect job.
Without the time to give 110% to the project, the Perfectionist Clutterer prefers to let matters--and the piles of stuff--slide.
For example, plastic food containers may be overflowing their cabinet, but the Perfectionist Clutterer won't scrabble them to rights until he or she can purchase the perfect shelf paper, lid holder organizer, and color-coded labels. As a result, the massed and crowded containers stay put, falling down onto the feet of anyone hapless enough to open the cupboard door.
Perfectionist Clutterers need to remind themselves of the 20-80 rule: 20% of every job takes care of 80% of the problem, while fixing the remaining 20% will gobble 80% of the job.
By giving themselves permission to do only 20%, Perfectionist Clutterers get off the dime and get going. Read more about What's Your Clutter Personality Type?
Once again, I mark the coming of autumn with a clothing closet declutter.
I wade into the closet and find the boxes of out-of-season clothing. Try everything on, skin itching at the touch of wool when the temperature's 80 degrees.
Sort the summer's keepers from items to donate. Look for "holes" and orphans in my autumn wardrobe. Count the upcoming dinners and holiday events, and divide them by the number of my party dresses. Try, for the 900th time, to locate some good transitional outfits: cool enough for warm autumn days, but not too summery or too bare.
A closet declutter is more a ritual celebration of the change of seasons. It's a time for reflection, a time to face up to changing identities. Who's living in your clothes closet?Multiple personalities
Why is it that the clothing closet declutter hits harder than neutral zones like the linen closet?
Perhaps it's because we store more than clothing in our closets. We store other selves, other lives, other dreams.
We store the romantic Laura Ashley dress (with flowing gathers) that we hoped to wear early in a pregnancy that never came to be.
We store the business suit, purchased to launch a new career. It supported us staunchly as we made our first few client calls--but then we grew confident, and no longer needed the magic of a power suit.
Look in any clothes closet. Behind the hangers and shelves and boxes lies a second reality.
To declutter a clothing closet, you can't stop with the clothes. You have to move on to the clutter of the psyche that lies behind the possessions.Of two minds
To clean and declutter a clothing closet, you need two mind-sets: one decisive, one sentimental.
Yes, you must do the conventional, and bring clutter-cutting decision-making to the job. Empty the closet, sort the out-of-season clothes and box them up for storage.
Try on everything that's left, and donate or sell anything that doesn't fit, that's out of style, that hasn't been worn in a year. Hang the survivors according to weight and color, and look out for good combinations for outfits.
The second mind-set, though, is more personal. It's sentimental and wistful and nostalgic. A seasonal closet declutter brings you face-to-face with some of the old selves that must now be dispensed with, like the worn-out clothes in the "donate" bag.
These flowered summer shorts? They belong to another person, one who lived in the South (and had to compete with the azaleas to get noticed). The '90s-era blazers with suited skirts? Another century, another career, another personality.
Decluttering the clothes closet means saying good-bye. It means relinquishing hold of the cast-off shells of who we used to be. It means confronting the changes of age.
But it also means greeting the new and developing person we are now, today, this moment.
To come to terms with the conundrum, balance the memories of the past with an encouraging glimpse of the future.
Will the new hand-loomed jacket come to stand for a new career, an exciting new venture? Will this party dress eventually remind the wearer of many happy evenings with husband and friends?
Reassure yourself! The new wardrobe, like the old, will acquire its own patina of memory and experience.
Autumn closet declutter. Look back for a moment . . . but set your sights ahead. There's a whole new season dawning! Read more about Seasonal Clothing Declutter: Who's Living In Your Closet?
Is it time to clean? Not for today's busy families!
Between work, children's activities, and vacation plans, even the most leisurely days don't seem long enough to get everything done at home.
There's a solution for busy times! Just as your body needs a "minimum daily allowance" of vitamins and minerals, an organized home needs a minimum of maintenance and attention to keep running smoothly.
Think of this as a Magic Minimum: a short list of essential household tasks. It's a bottom-line list of chores and activities necessary to keep things running at a basic level.
With a working Magic Minimum plan, the household stays afloat, even when time is short.
What's on the list? Every family has slightly different needs, but most Magic Minimum checklists provide for these functions:
- basic accounting chores: bank deposits and bill-paying
- meals and menus: clean dishes, grocery shopping
- laundry: necessary clean clothing
- home management: once-a-day pick-up, weekly cleaning of bathrooms and kitchen
To make your own Magic Minimum plan, list the rock-bottom essential maintenance chores necessary to keep the household clean, fed and on time.
A sample checklist might look like this:
- Load and run dishwasher
- Tidy kitchen
- Run one load of laundry, fold and put away
- Family pick-up time
- Review checkbook and pay bills
- Shop for groceries
- Vacuum living areas
- Clean bathrooms
Next step: delegate! Assign one or more minimum chores to each family member. Every family member has a stake in keeping the household functioning, so everyone should be expected to help with the chores. Working together, everyone will be free for family fun in record time.
Finally, post your Magic Minimum list in a public place.
Families using a household notebook will include their list under the "home management" divider.
Other families will post their list to the family command center, while another time-honored choice is the refrigerator door, but use whatever area is central to your family.
The written list aids accountability, because everyone knows what must be done before anyone can leave for a trip to the water park.
Give your household a Magic Minimum to maximize your family's opportunities for good times! Read more about Magic Minimum: Cleaning Secret of Organized Families
The following essay, written shortly after the collapse of the Twin Towers, has been this writer's most-read piece of work.
Written on September 14, 2001, it was the cry of my heart as the mother of a United States Marine, a son who had been called to alert in response to the attacks on our country.
Each year on September 11, I re-read this essay. And remember ...
I wasn't terribly happy the day my 17-year-old son told me that he wanted to join the United States Marine Corps.
Ryan was a boy from a professional family with many educational options--and he wanted to join the armed forces?
I signed the forms permitting him to enlist, but I did so with a heavy heart, fearing he was throwing his future away.
When my son graduated from high school, his gown draped with ribbons for academic and music honors, I envied the proud parents all around me. The program in my hands reflected my feelings. Page after page extolled the college choices of hundreds of graduates--yet there wasn't a single acknowledgment of Ryan or those of his classmates who had chosen to enter military service. Joining the Marine Corps seemed a step backward for my intelligent and talented son.
Boy, was I ever wrong!
I began to glimpse the truth early in my son's military career. Ryan told me of a talk he'd had with his drill instructor during boot camp. The subject was respect. "When I speak," the DI said, "you stand at attention and say 'Yes, sir!' But I've only been tucking you in at night for about six weeks. How do you treat your mother, who's been doing this your whole life? Do you treat her with respect? Do you call her 'Ma'am'?"
I was quick to assure my son that calling me "Ma'am" was completely unnecessary, but a tiny quiet part of my brain began to glow. How long had it been since I had seen or heard public praise of motherhood? As editor of OrganizedHome.Com, I could count on one or two e-mails a week objecting to this site's focus on home life, and complaining "I thought we were past all that!" Yet the Marine Corps acted as if motherhood mattered, as if respect mattered, as if even a "good kid" like my son still had a lot to learn about honor and duty and character.
As the months passed, I saw more and more changes in my child. "I used to have to force myself to do my homework in high school," Ryan told me, "but now, I have self-discipline!" When he completed his military occupational specialty school, the first thing he did was visit me, his mother--before he saw his girlfriend, before he saw his former classmates. During that visit, I could see he was still the boy I knew, but he had also become a man, strong and confident, calm and balanced. He had grown inside far more than he had on the outside.
A few weeks later, I received a beautiful letter from the commandant of his training school. Ryan had graduated first in his class, the commandant wrote, adding that his achievement was "possible only because of the parental foundation you have lain; for this, we render the ultimate salute."
The Marine Corps was thanking me? Holding this letter, the last remnants of resistance to a son in military service crumbled away. The Yuppie parent capitulated and in her place stood a stand-tall, gung-ho Marine Mom.
In the past few days, this Marine Mom has had good reason to think about my child, my home and my country. Our future may soon lie in the hands of hundreds of thousands of young people just like my son, together with the military leaders who have taught and transmitted the values that have so enriched my child.
Corporal Ryan Swain, USMC, is just 20 years old.
But Corporal Ryan Swain, USMC, is a man of honor and courage. A man who is pledged to lay down his life for his home, his country. Together with young men and women from all parts of the United States of America, he is ready to defend us and our way of life.
As his mother, I can't help but think about the possibility that my child could be called upon to make the ultimate sacrifice for our country.
I am not afraid. But I do have something to say.
In the past few days, many have asked that I speak out as editor of OrganizedHome.Com. E-mails urge me to publicize blood drives and fundraisers and memorials. All are worthy efforts, all will make a difference--but none of these pleas have said quite what I want to say.
As a Marine Mom, I would ask, "Will we be worthy?" Will the weeks to come see a flurry of waving flags--but no real changes of heart? Will we dissipate our shock and grief and horror with symbolic acts, or will we use these emotions to fuel new commitment, new idealism, new devotion to the values that have built our nation?
What can we do for our country at this time of trial? Go home and invest ourselves in the lives of our children, our spouses, and our neighbors. Build strong homes and we will build a strong nation. Teach children the virtues of honor and discipline and self-sacrifice. Embrace family, friends and neighbors in a spirit of tolerance and respect, and seek out those who are alone. Be unashamed of standing for the values that my son and his fellow service members have pledged to defend with their lives.
What can we do for our country at this time of trial? Bring a new sense of dedication and service to our homes, schools, churches and communities. Give time and money and talents to make better lives for those around us. If a need is there, meet it. Support charities. Show, by our own sacrifice, that we value the sacrifices which may be asked of our service men and women in the coming months.
What can we do for our country at this time of trial? Prove, by civic participation, that our system of government remains strong and vibrant and relevant to a new century. Vote. Run for office. Speak out on issues. Communicate with our representatives. Fly the flag proudly, and exercise those freedoms of speech and religion that have been hard-bought throughout our history by men and women just like my son.
What can we do for our country at this time of trial? It is not the editor of OrganizedHome.Com who answers, but the mother of a Marine who speaks. We can be that nation to which my son has pledged his life's blood.
He believes. Can we do less? Read more about My Child, My Home, My Country: A Marine Mom Speaks
Labor Day weekend ahead! School bells are ringing, football fills the airwaves and September looms. Will the holidays be far behind?
Sure, you're dreaming of the perfect Christmas--then you open your eyes to reality. Looking around the house, it's hard to imagine how to cut the clutter, manage fall cleaning and prepare for Christmas all at once.
How will you bring the current state of domestic chaos into holiday readiness: clean, organized, prepared? You need a holiday plan!
Are these plans for you? Unlike the six-week Christmas Countdown, these two holiday plans combine a whole-house deep-clean with holiday preparations.
Working week by week, we'll deep-clean and declutter at home, while we prepare for the holiday season in small, sustainable bites.
Along the way, we'll create a personalized Christmas planner to simplify the holidays--and get together in online communities that provide motivation, inspiration and fun.
The fun starts Sunday, September 1. Ready to prepare house and home for the holiday season? Get the plan!Ready for Christmas
Back-to-School Countdown Day 12Posted by Cynthia Ewer on August 22, 2013
Will you add "pack school lunches" to your to-do list when school starts? Time to get organized!
School-day mornings veer to frazzled in a heartbeat, and never more so than when trying to pack lunches while locating laundry, overseeing homework and calling children to breakfast.
Give yourself a break, and take time now to prepare for the school lunch routine. With nine months of lunch duty ahead, planning school lunch menus will make it easy to pack the sacks each day!Get Informed
Time was, school lunch meant a peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich and a banana ... for everyone. Today, increased awareness of issues like nut allergies and childhood nutrition means that many schools issue guidelines for home-packed lunches.
Before stocking the lunch cupboard for the school year, review school lunch policies. Be in the know before you go shopping!Find Your Center
Assembling lunches, do you bounce around the kitchen like a ping-pong ball? With sandwich spreads in the refrigerator, bread stored in cabinets, and plastic bags in a drawer near the sink, assembling a simple sack lunch becomes a juggling act ... and you're the ball!
Instead, tap the "activity center" concept, and set up a one-stop center for lunch preparation.
In a cupboard or accessible drawer, store what you need to prepare and package lunches. Sandwich bags and fruit cups. Utensils and plastic wrap. Boxed fruit juice and condiments. If you need it for lunches, give it a home in your lunch center!
In the refrigerator, tuck packs of cold cuts, bagged veggies, string cheese and fruit into a flat-bottomed plastic organizer. Pull it out each morning to make sandwiches and assemble lunches, easily.
Creating a lunch center keeps you glued to one place, with tools and supplies close at hand. Better, you'll know at a glance when you're low on granola bars!Brainstorm Lunch Ideas
The prettiest bento-inspired lunch presentation may create a splash on Pinterest, but will fall flat if your child refuses to eat it or trades it away for a chocolate bar.
Check in with your children, and brainstorm a list of 10 to 15 kid-approved lunch ideas before school starts. Working together, be sure lunches include fruits, vegetables, and healthy snacks so they are nutritionally complete.
After the consult, make a quick list of lunch menus on the free printable School Lunch Planner, and post it near the kitchen lunch center, to guide you on sleepy winter mornings.
And since even the most cafeteria-averse child will still decide to buy school lunch on pizza day, make space near the lunch center to post the school lunch menu. Circle the days your child will buy lunch ... and buy you some extra time!Weekly Check-In
A quick once-a-week check-in will keep the family on-track for school lunch. Post the week's school lunch menu, and decide which days children will buy their lunch.
Keep tabs on children's changing tastes, modifying lunch menus as needed. If containers of once-loved pasta salad are returning home unopened, it's time to find a new side dish!
Check stocks of lunch staples, and replenish as necessary.Pre-Pack Where Possible
Whether you prepare a week's worth of lunches over the weekend, or pack them the night before, pre-packing lunches brings new calm to school-day mornings.
Where possible, pre-assemble school lunches to save time each day. Morning minutes are worth ten at any other time of the day!Outsource Lunch Preparation
Finally, place children in charge of preparing their own lunches. While you'll want to monitor for nutritional completeness and keep the lunch center stocked, giving the responsibility to the child teaches them to plan ahead, and promotes good organization skills.
Add "make lunch" to the family's before-bed routine, and show children how to assemble their lunch for the next day. In the morning, add sandwiches or cold items ... for a lesson in organized living! Read more about Hit the Sack: Gear Up for School LunchesPrintables:
In my years as worker, mother and home manager, I have experienced a full range of life’s little organizational challenges.
I have run a business from a home shared with two tiny children and moved cross-country (and back). I've merged two cluttered households into one small city apartment, and lived for many happy years with a card-carrying packrat husband.
Home schooling a child beat them all hands-down, organizationally speaking.
How do I count the clutter? The books. The papers. The biology experiments on the kitchen window.
The adult-sized child sprawled on the floor, reading. The record-keeping. College admissions and testing and letters from the correspondence school.
Homeschool families, like Tolstoy's happy ones, are all alike: drowning in a sea of clutter!
Whatever the organization arena--time, space, money, computer access—-homeschool families have it worse. They have more stuff, less time, more distractions, less money, more chores and less space than just about anybody else.
How do you get organized for homeschool?
Don't despair, homeschoolers! Here at OrganizedHome.Com, we've assembled the best tips, ideas, resources and links to get your new school year off to an organized start.
You don't homeschool? Hang around anyway!
The principles used to organize full-time home schooling families also work for every other family where you find children and learning and love.
Ready? Get organized for homeschool, because home's cool! Read more about Home's Cool! Get Organized for Homeschool
Back-to-School Countdown Day 10Posted by Cynthia Ewer on August 20, 2013
Kids using planners? I can hear the confused grumbling now. Well, isn't that just the latest status parent affectation!
Wrong! Teachers, parents and homeschool families know that training kids to the planner habit makes for successful students.
School districts throughout the USA issue planners to pupils and integrate planner use into the school day. Homeschool families use planners to track and organize lessons, chores and activities, while tech-savvy teens rely on calendar and to-do apps to organize their work.
A student planner is only a tool. How do you teach a child to use one? Try these tips to teach kids the planner habit.The Right Stuff
Match the planner to the child. The most costly leather-bound business planner won't organize a single day if the kid never cracks the cover! The best student planners are streamlined, colorful, and designed with children in mind.
When selecting a student planner, look for ease of use and durability. Sturdy plastic covers, snap-on page finders and flat-fold spiral binding help young users get comfortable with this time-management tool.
Built-in paper pockets help organize homework, permission slips and school notices. Because children often carry their world in a backpack, consider weight and size when selecting a student planner.Master The Art
You can't teach what you have yet to learn!
Review the principles of planner use (see Tap the Power of Planners) before teaching your child.
Here are the basics that any planner user must master:
- Enter all dates, assignments and activities in a single planner
- Keep your planner with you at all times
- Check your planner at regular times to orient your day
- Prioritize tasks and carry them forward if undone
Most teachers are delighted with any method that improves home-school cooperation and student organization.
Tip off your child's teachers that you're teaching new time management skills, and enlist their help as your child learns the ropes of planner use.
They can help reinforce the planner habit in the classroom.Start Slowly
Tempting as it is to lay down the organizational law and demand whole-child change along with a new student planner, resist the idea. Too often, that "new leaf" will last only as long as an adult enforces it. The minute the adult attention wanes, the child lapses back into relaxed disorganization with a sigh of relief.
Independent planner use is a habit, and like all habits, must be established over time.
Begin with a single planner function: writing down homework each day, or checking a daily chore list. It will take three to four weeks of daily reinforcement to build this habit.
When the first step is a regular part of the child's day, move on to a new facet of planner use.Establish A Planner Routine
Habits and routines are two sides of the same coin. To establish the habit of planner use, set up a simple routine for you and your child. Sit down with your child each evening to review the coming day, and encourage them to check the planner before beginning the day's homework.
For example, make "check your planner!" the first task of each afternoon homework session. Store student planners in each child's launch pad, whether it's a dishpan on a shelf or a school backpack hung on the back of the child's chair. Finally, hold a final planner-and-homework check each evening before bed. Tuck completed homework into planner pockets for a smooth start to the next day.
As the grown-up, you'll need to enforce the routine integrating planner use for some time. Expect some falling by the wayside, but both parents and children will soon appreciate how much time and stress is saved by a daily routine.Motivate, Motivate, Motivate
At first, children don't appreciate the benefits of planner use. Because they live in the moment, it's hard for kids see writing down each birthday party, swim club practice and school assignment as more than just another chore. As time goes on, children begin to appreciate the security of having all their homework, chores and activities in one place, but in the short term, it's up to the adults to motivate them.
Use stickers, stars or smiley faces to reward planner entries. Hold family calendar meetings in which every family member (parents, too!) updates his or her personal planner; having a planner just like Mom and Dad makes planner use seem glamorous and grown-up.Take It Personally
Evaluating children's planners while preparing to write this article, this adult writer found their bright pages busy and distracting.
Not so my child consultants! They loved the graphics, puzzle pages, games and mazes.
"It makes it fun!" said one 7-year-old planner wannabe.
Take a tip from my short-stuff experts, and encourage your child to personalize his or her planner with stickers, drawings and photos. A set of colored pens makes planner entries fun to write and draw, and encourages color-coding for home, school and extra-curricular activities.
The more children make a planner their own, the more they use it! Read more about Plan to Succeed: Teaching Kids The Planner Habit
Back-to-School Countdown Day 9Posted by Cynthia Ewer on August 19, 2013
Each day in your household, the questions fly. What time is soccer practice? Do we need to buy milk? Is the family free to attend a barbecue this weekend?
Even in an age of smartphones, each household needs a one-stop location to find the answers: a family command center.
Information central for busy families, a family command center cuts school-day stress by creating a single location to find calendars, information and messages needed by the family each day.
Today in the Back-to-School Countdown, we'll set up--or spiff up!--a family command center to keep life running smoothly.Make it yours
Just as there's no such thing as a "average" family, there's no one right way to set up a family command center. One family may find a single three-ring binder can hold all the information they need to make it to work and school on time each day. For others, the family command center will fill an entire wall with whiteboards, personal inboxes and cubbies.
To determine what your family needs in an information center, consider what information needs to be collected and shared in the household. Your command center components might include items like:
- family calendar
- school calendar
- household chore checklists
- frequently called phone numbers
- babysitter/emergency information
- school lunch menus
- shopping list
- coupon files
- personal inboxes for each family member
- whiteboard for notes and reminders
- incoming/outgoing mail
- bills to pay
- receipts file
- storage for pens, pencils, paper, markers and erasers
Looking for ideas? The Printable Library has a great selection of calendars, checklists and information forms for use in a family command center.Location, location, location
Once you have an idea of what information you'll track and how much space your command center will require, it's time to give it a home.
Where to set up your family command center? Again, it's a choice as individual as your household.
One family will add a command center to the family's launch pad, while others claim the prime real estate of the refrigerator door. Some households prefer a desk-based solution, with file drawers at the ready, while others rely on wall-based messaging using whiteboards and sticky notes.
Wherever you choose, keep in mind that the center won't work if no one can see it! Hidden away behind a door spells instant failure, so choose a spot that's out in plain view and on the family's fast-track each day.A place for everything ... and everyone
No matter how pretty--or organized!--the family command center may be, it won't work unless you use it. Encourage the household to use the command center by giving each family member a "buy-in": a place of their own for notes and messages.
Mount magnetic paper holders to the refrigerator, labeled with children's names, or create color-coded sections on a whiteboard to give everyone ownership of the information contained there. Hint: tuck love notes, a small treat, or a "get out of chores free" card into children's message areas to make using the command center more fun!Build regular checks into your routine
To bring the concept to full usefulness, build "command center checks" into your morning and evening routine.
Knowing that there's a thumbs-down entry on tomorrow's school lunch menu gives you plenty of time to pack a substitute sack lunch the night before. No more morning panic! Read more about Set Up A Family Command Center
Back-to-School Countdown Day 8Posted by Cynthia Ewer on August 15, 2013
It's not just our family that exits the door each morning during the school, it's our stuff! Can you find what you need to get the children off to school on time each day?
Briefcases and backpacks, library books and lunch sacks travel with us in and out of the house each day. Arriving home, these possessions scatter to the winds; in the morning, precious time is wasted rounding them up for another day's use.
If you're playing too many games of "Where's the permission slip?", it's time to consider taming the chaos with a family launch pad.
A simple concept, a family launch pad is a dedicated space for daily traveling companions. A bookcase or storage cubby, the launch pad is the place to deposit backpacks, sports equipment, and projects needed for each day of school or work.
By setting aside storage space near the door for each family member, a launch pad creates a home for these migrant possessions.
Today in the Back-to-School Countdown, set up a dedicated launch pad for each family member to start the school year off right. Get 'em out the door on time!
Back-to-School Countdown Day 7Posted by Cynthia Ewer on August 14, 2013
Kindergarten teachers know a powerful organizing principle: reliable routines are the secret to a successful school day.
Well-crafted classroom routines give pupils a sense of security--and ensure that the day moves smoothly through each planned activity.
Put that organizing secret to work in your organized home!
Today in the Back-to-School Countdown, it's time to craft morning, after-school and evening routines for the school year.
Try these ideas to create an efficient routine to move the family easily through each school day.Start with bedtime, and work backward
Every parent knows the importance of sufficient sleep. Cut the shut-eye short, and the result will be cranky children and chaotic mornings.
Now, before school begins, introduce a reasonable school-year bedtime, and transition children onto the new schedule in good time for the first day of school.Plan ahead for mornings
One minute of preparation at day's end is worth 15 minutes of morning frustration! Thinking ahead to an organized morning, consider adding these items to your children's before-bed routine:
- Five minute pick-up of family room or living room to return children's belongings to their places
- Homework / backpack check for items needed the next day
- Set the table for breakfast
- Make and refrigerate lunches
- Lay out clothing for the next day
Getting a late start on a school morning can cast a cloud over the rest of the day for everyone. Time to plan a morning routine that will get everyone out the door on time (and smiling!)
As a parent, try to get up a half-hour earlier than the family. Being showered, dressed, and possessed of a few minutes of quiet time before beginning the morning routine gives a big boost of patience and energy.
For the children, consider these items to set a morning routine:
- Plan a wake-up call with 5 to 15 minutes of leeway. Letting little ones wake up gradually cuts the cranky.
- Set a breakfast time ... and enforce a dress code. Dressing before breakfast gives more time for the meal and cuts dawdling.
- Set up a family launch pad to organize "out the door" items, so the family's not delayed by a lost permission slip or missing sports uniform.
- Account for the unexpected when leaving for school. An extra five minutes can be a sanity saver should traffic or car issues delay the family.
Finally, consider how the family will return from school. A short routine performed on entering the house can see backpacks returned to the launch pad, snacks and homework review ... before children scatter to their own devices after a long day. Read more about School-Day Routines for an Organized Home
Morning Madness! Only the pre-dinner "Arsenic Hour" comes close in the "Calgon, take me away!" category.
Bathroom fights, soggy cereal, and the ever-present, "Mommy! I can't find my . . . !"
Getting the family out the door in the morning can make any parent want to pull the bedclothes up and hide.
One small concept can go a long way to taming the morning beast: the family Launch Pad. Just as a spaceship must have a dedicated structure to support liftoff, so family members need a Launch Pad to stabilize them as they blast out the door.
What is a Launch Pad? It's a dedicated space for each family member:
A single location to contain all the "out-the-door" essentials of life. Setting up a Launch Pad can be as simple as clearing a shelf in a bookcase and designating the area the family's Launch Pad.
For the short stuff, the Launch Pad is home to permission slips, lunch boxes, homework, library books and science fair projects. For the household's "big kids", the Launch Pad holds handbags, car keys, return videos, dry cleaning and the day's ration of Slim-Fast. One place. One special place to corral items every family member must have to leave the house each morning.
Enhance the chaos-calming potential of the Launch Pad by observing these organizing guidelines:Corral and Contain
"Stuff" should always have discrete limits. So you've cleared the shelf in that bookcase? Add a different-colored plastic dishpan for each family member, and nobody's field trip permission slip will walk to school with the wrong sibling--or slide behind the shelf, to be unearthed sometime in the new millennium."Putting away" should always be easier than "getting out"
Those colored dishpans are a good example. Child comes home from school, tosses homework and lunch menus in her dishpan. Dad comes home and tosses paycheck, keys, billfold, receipts and pocket change into his dishpan. There things stay, safe and segregated, until they are needed next morning. The easier it is to "put away", the more likely it is that belongings will be put away.Creative spaces
A Launch Pad need not be a space on shelf or table. One family trains children to the backpack habit. Each child has a backpack. Each backpack lives on the back of its owner's dining chair. Lunches, papers, gym clothes go directly to the chair-mounted backpacks. Result: Launch Pad!
A teacher-recommended solution for younger children combines the Launch Pad with an answer to the "child art" dilemma. Purchase one of the hanging chains with clips designed to be hung from a ceiling to store stuffed animals.
When your preschooler comes home clutching his "papers", artwork will be clipped to the upper regions of the chain, while homework, permission slips and immunization notices live on the lower links. Neat!
Adults can be the biggest contributors to Morning Madness. In our family's pre-Launch Pad days, one could follow the trail of good Dr. Steve throughout the house. In true Hansel and Gretel style, he'd shed a long stream of outer clothing, briefcase, medical journals, junk mail, doctor toys, beeper and pocket change from the front door to his recliner--and each morning saw a frantic search for the tools of his trade. After his Launch Pad became a shelf-top near the coat closet (the divestiture process being named "de-doctoring") he soon learned the ease and convenience of knowing where he'd stashed his essentials of life.
Mom's included, too! A home manager's Launch Pad can contain handbag, car keys, store coupons, return videos and library books.
One advantage to being tall: you'll never again "lose" the car keys to a rampaging toddler if you establish your Launch Pad in a dishpan on a high shelf!
Nothing can truly cure Morning Madness, but establishing family Launch Pads can go a long way toward easing the symptoms.
Make like NASA and set up Launch Pads for your family members--for a smooth morning countdown and an easy liftoff to the work of the day! Read more about Tame Morning Madness with a Family Launch Pad
Back-to-School Countdown Day 6Posted by Cynthia Ewer on August 13, 2013
The start of school puts new demands on children's bedrooms. Can the kids find clothing during the morning rush? Where will they do their homework?
To kick off a new school year from an organized home, it's time to declutter, deep-clean and organize children's rooms.
Working with your child, tackle kids' rooms now for school-day success. Remove clutter, organize toys and clothing, and bring a fresh new feeling to your children's private space.
Ready to start? Get inspired to create an organized, supportive space for your little learner:
Back-to-School Countdown Day 5Posted by Cynthia Ewer on August 12, 2013
Gearing up for a new school year? Don't get sticker shock when shopping for school clothes!
The cost of clothing the children for a new school year can be staggering. Even clothing in good repair may no longer fit a growing youngster after the summer holiday. If you've got a budding fashionista on your hands, your child's list of must-have items can swell out of all reality.
How to send them back to school in style ... and on budget? Try these ten ideas for saving money on school clothes.Make a Wardrobe Check
What do the children need for school? Get in the know before you go!
Take an hour and check children's closets before heading to the mall. Consider whether items fit, what condition they're in, and whether they coordinate well with the rest of the wardrobe.
Use our School Clothing Checklist to identify what each child needs to be ready for the first day of school.
As you go, remove outgrown and worn out clothing from drawers and closets. You'll make room for new purchases--and make school-day mornings easier--when you cut the clutter.Stick To Your List
Impulse purchases can be real budget-killers. Sticking to your list while shopping makes sure your budget goes toward items that are truly needed.
Better, a written list helps focus family decision-making when shopping for school clothes. No matter how your little one pleads, if it's not on the clothing checklist, it's not in the shopping cart.Build On the Basics
Inexpensive basics like T-shirts are a great way to build wardrobe variety at a low cost--and because these items tend to be trendy, their relatively short life-span is a bonus.
Buy a reasonable selection now, then replenish stocks of T-shirts, socks and tights throughout the year, to keep kids' wardrobes fresh.Buy Good, Once
By contrast, big-ticket items such as winter coats can be expensive to replace mid-winter if they don't hold up. Paying a bit more for quality pays off over the course of the year.
Better still, purchase coats and outerwear from retailers with generous return policies, such as LL Bean. If a zipper breaks or a seam rips, you'll be able to replace the garment.Shop On Sales Tax Holidays
Does your state offer sales tax holidays? If so, you'll save 7 to 10% on the cost of school clothes by taking advantage of the tax breaks.
Check this listing of Sales Tax Holidays, and plan to shop ... and save!Hold Out for Clearance Sales
Smart back-to-school shoppers know that the hottest clothing on today's back-to-school displays will hit the clearance racks shortly after Labor Day.
Buying one or two new outfits now, then completing the list during September's clearance sales saves money--and with fewer shoppers in the store, shopping "late" saves stress, too.Stretch the Shopping Season
The school year lasts for nine long months ... and children grow, and grow, and grow. Buy it all now, and you're apt to find tight waistbands and too-short trousers in the closet come Spring.
To shop smart, stagger school clothing purchases throughout the year. Hitting seasonal clearance sales in mid-September, after the Christmas holidays, and in February's winter clearance sales cuts the cost of keeping children in shoes and clothes.Recycle and Repurpose
"New" isn't the only way to go, when it comes to back-to-school shopping. Consignment stores, thrift stores and yard sales are great places to find top-quality children's clothing at bargain prices.
If you're handy with needle and thread, look at kids' wardrobes with an eye to repurposing. Too-short pants become wearable shorts with a new hem!Build Your Budget With Resales
Don't miss the chance to build your back-to-school budget with creative reselling.
Children's clothing in good repair fetches premium prices at yard sales, so organize a back-to-school garage sale to clear last year's clothes ... and score some cash for current needs.
Consignment shops offer another avenue to resell children's clothing for cash or store credit. They're a great place to cash in on high-quality or fashionable garments you no longer need.Organize a Clothing Swap
Finally, cut out the middleman when reselling children's clothing by organizing a clothing swap with other families. Circulating outgrown clothing with friends builds variety in the kids' wardrobes ... and the price is right! Read more about Save Money on Back-to-School Clothes: 10 Savings TipsPrintables:
Back-to-school on the horizon? Here comes the paperwork!
Today in the Organized Home Back-to-School Countdown, we're preparing for the paper flood ahead.
Each school day, children's backpacks grow paperwork like leaves on trees. Permission slips and lunch menus. Sports rosters and progress reports.
Keep them organized by setting up a simple filing system to track and hold school paperwork.
Whether you add folders to a household Action File, or designate a stand-alone file box for school-day use, make a plan for paperwork today.
Your filing system can be as simple as one file folder per child, or can break down paperwork into multiple categories like "Homework Assignments", "Soccer", or "Lunch Menus".
Either way, giving paperwork an organized home means you'll never have to play "hunt the permission slip" on busy mornings!
To learn more about handling household paperwork, try this article:
The start of school brings a brisk new tempo to the household, sweeping away the sweet leisure of summer--and the first day of school can bring an unwelcome splash of busy reality.
Will you be ready? Get organized now to sail into school with ease!
On Day 3 of the Back-to-School Countdown, we focus on calendars, contacts and information. It's time to gather paperwork, start a school-year contacts list, and schedule any needed appointments in good time for the first day of school.
Gather School Paperwork
Today, take a moment to collect all school-related paperwork and information--whether online or in printed form. Examples include:
- Registration forms and orientation materials
- Medical forms
- School supply lists
- School calendars
- School lunch menus
- Before- and after-school care information
- Bus schedules
Getting the paperwork to a single location will help you complete any back-to-school forms more easily. No more games of "hunt the sports release!"
Create a Contacts List
During the next few weeks, you and your child will meet new teachers, school nurses, bus drivers and counselors. Make life easy for you--and for any caregivers--by creating a central list of school contacts.
Whether you create a special "school" listing in a smartphone or computer contacts manager, or rely on our paper School Information printable, start a contacts list today.
As information arrives, you'll be ready to note phone numbers and e-mail contact information for use during the coming year.
Make Needed Appointments
Are there still appointments to be made before school starts? If you haven't already done so, call and make appointments for:
- Sports physicals