Tuesday, September 9, 2008

An Organized Home: My Story

I decided to do a series on organizing the home, based on my own years of experience. I'm calling it "Baby Steps to an Organized Home", borrowed from Dave Ramsey's financial baby steps. I was asked to give my thoughts on the topic at a womens' event at church, but I declined because I am not an effective public speaker. I do much better writing on my blog; so, in seven parts, here are my thoughts.

Baby Steps to an Organized Home:
My Story
Recently, a friend told me that she thinks I am "organized beyond belief". I often hear from various friends, "You are so organized!". People assume that I have always been organized; that I must have been born that way. They think it comes easily to me, and I just have a natural knack for it. But...

Just ask my mother! Of five children in the family, I was the messiest, most disorganized one. My room looked like a tornado had hit it, and my younger sister could hardly find her way across our bedroom floor to her bed. More than once I slept on top of the toys littering my bed. I dropped my sweater or jacket on the floor as soon as I walked in the door from school, and then later I had no idea where I had left it. I left toys outside overnight because I forgot all about them when we were called in for supper. Mom found a rotting, half-eaten apple in the back of my closet one day. I lost my little red purse in the grocery store because I put it down on a shelf and walked away. I made Christmas cards at school for my family, then I immediately lost them for about two years. I lost my Mary Jane's (church shoes) somewhere in the depths of my closet, so I had to wear my saddle shoes to a wedding. I forgot to take off my socks before I climbed in the bathtub. I'm sure I was more than enough to try the patience of any mother.

As I got older, I learned a few skills such as remembering what I needed to do for school or after-school activities. I learned, along with my sisters, how to do housework and dishes. But I didn't learn how to maintain a tidy, organized environment. At least, it didn't sink in when I was taught.

As a young teen, I began developing many interests in crafts, sewing, and sports. By my late teens I owned many crafts supplies, such as paints and brushes, papers, glues, inks, and decorations; I had a stash of fabrics for making clothes, as well as patterns and notions and trims; I collected yarns and floss, needles, hoops and transfers for embroidery; I had tennis rackets and balls, volleyball equipment, backpacking equipment, and bicycle equipment. I taught swimming, I sang in the choir. I read a lot of books. I had a lot of stuff and my bedroom walls were bulging.

Mom was quite exasperated with me, so she just closed my bedroom door if we had visitors. By this time, Mom was hosting a weekly morning Bible study in our home. The group needed to break into small groups and meet separately, so Mom assigned each small group to a different room in our house: one around the kitchen table, one around the dining room table, one in the family room, one in each bedroom...except my bedroom. There was no space in my bedroom, and, besides, how embarrassing for Mom if her friends saw that mess! But, over time, the Bible study grew until they needed to add another small group ~ and that meant needing another room to meet in. My bedroom was the only room left.

One evening, Mom explained all this to me, then she asked me if I could please manage to get my room cleaned up every Monday evening so that a group of ladies could meet in there on Tuesday mornings. She said I had one week to get it under control. I agreed to clean up, but underneath, my feelings were hurt. I didn't think my bedroom was a problem. I thought of myself as a person of many interests, not a dull couch potato. I took my hurt feelings downstairs to my room. But then I looked around, and slowly I saw my room through other people's eyes. The bed wasn't made, the flat surfaces were littered with papers and homework. The floor was covered with clothes and half-finished projects, the closet was spilling its contents, the drawers weren't closed, collections were scattered from desk to dresser to windowsill. Various arts and crafts materials were stashed here and there. Drawers, shelves, and under the bed groaned from more supplies and equipment for all my various hobbies. My bicycle occupied the space the desk chair needed if a person actually sat in it. Books. Sewing supplies. Volleyball and knee pads. Yikes! This room was a disaster, and I finally saw it as such.
For the next week, I did a detox. I analysed my interests and all the supplies and equipment I owned for each one. I analysed my allotted space. I knew my allotted space did not extend into other family members' space. Except for about five square feet in the attic allotted to each kid for storing mementos, I had the space contained within my bedroom walls and that was it. I knew I needed to learn to live within my means, in an orderly way. But I also didn't want to give up any of my hobbies.

As I cleaned out the trash and nonessentials, I planned how to organize and store all the rest. The dresser would be for folded clothes only. The closet rod would be for hanging clothes only, while the closet shelf would be for crafts and sewing supplies. Would Dad be willing to add another shelf to my closet? Yes! That would double storage there. The shelves already on the wall above my desk would be for books and school notebooks only, and sewing tools and desk supplies would be in the desk drawers. I looked around for inexpensive containers, and I found a set of file-size matching cardboard boxes in our garage. Dad said I could have them. I covered them with contact paper, and then I divided up my crafts supplies into categories and labeled each box with a category. I had boxes labeled "needlework" and "painting", "patterns", "yarn", nature crafts", "leather", "paper", and several others. These boxes fit neatly on my closet shelves, and they looked pretty too.

My closet floor held my shoes and also my volleyball because it was quite dirty. Other than that, nothing was on my closet floor. When clothes didn't fit, neatly folded, in my dresser drawers or on hangers in my closet, I realized I had too many, so I pared down. I got rid of my least favorite clothes, then the next least favorite, then the next, until the remainders, my favorites, fit in their allotted space.

I did the same with my sewing and craft supplies, my books (I had only six linear feet of book shelf space), and all the special widgets I was saving as mementos. If one category of crafts didn't all fit into its designated box, I cleared out repetitive supplies or supplies I didn't like as much as others, until all the remaining supplies fit neatly in the box. My least-favorite clothes, books, and craft supplies that didn't fit in their designated area got donated to the charity bag. The worn out sports equipment got tossed.

Before the week was over my bedroom looked like a new person had moved in. As I saw the transformation of my space, I was more and more energized to continue the proces, and to even go above and beyond. The evolving tidiness propelled me to get out the cleaning tools and do a thorough vacuuming and scrubbing. I said goodbye to months'-old dust bunnies under the furniture. I realized the wood furniture needed a stiff dose of oil. The windows and mirror got spritzed with Windex. Bedding and curtains washed. Bed made. Dresser tastefully decorated with only my jewelry box and one other decorative item on the top.

Lastly, I understood that my varied collections were really just dust collectors. Whatever they were, I wasn't really all that excited about them, except for my china teacups. It was time for them to go too. I kept my china teacups, but I decided to pack them into a box and store them in the attic until I had a home of my own and a more appropriate place to display them.

All these years later, I cannot remember Mom's reaction to the final result. Perhaps she was afraid the transformation would be short-lived. But it hasn't been; I have maintained my habits for over 30 years. Through the years I have fine tuned my processes, partly by experimentation, partly by reading organization books, and partly out of need as life changes. But one thing that hasn't changed is that I still battle the tendancy to keep too much.

I know organization of my home is an ongoing process that will never be finished as long as I live.

Please join me tomorrow for the second installment of this series.


Big Sis said...

I love it. The story sounds much like one I heard last month. Hee Hee Hee

Heather said...

Thanks for writing this! I really had no idea - though I do remember the apple. :D