by Lydia Rueger
Anyone can post a pretty picture of their home organizational products—but it takes another level of perseverance and commitment to actually maintain a system that works for your family. These five local women all do it a little differently, depending on their families’ current needs. If your family could use a communication overhaul to help things run more smoothly this year, take inspiration from these ideas, and incorporate a few that work for you.
Children’s Ministry Team Leader
Four children, ages 12, 11, 9, and 8
As a mom of four children, Mandrell says that she functions better in a tidy environment. “I’ve heard those sayings about messy homes mean having happy kids, and that’s fine for some, but I think that my kids can be orderly and happy.”
Communicating family expectations is important to her and her husband Ben. “We will someday be sending human beings out into the world,” she says. She helps foster this through systems that focus on character development, working together, and being responsible.
Their main organizational spot is a converted coat closet near the kitchen. It’s a storage area for backpacks, schoolbooks, shoes, gloves, and other gear, and chore charts—a pivotal element of the Mandrell family system—hang inside.
More of Mandrell's System:
• Chore charts for each child consist of both paid and unpaid tasks, and the tasks rotate each week. “I wanted them to know that when you are part of a family there are always things you are going to have to do,” Mandrell says. “But I also wanted them to have the opportunity to earn money.” She hopes that paying her children for certain tasks that are commonly unpaid—such as practicing musical instruments on certain months—will motivate them to create good habits. In order to get paid, they must not only do the chore, but also mark the chore on the sheet. She then pays her children in a lump sum once per month, which she hopes will help them learn delayed gratification.
• On Sunday, Mandrell plans meals for the week and writes them on a dry erase calendar near the refrigerator. A print out of the her kids’ school lunch menu is posted next to the home menu, so her children can decide in advance which days they’d like to purchase school lunch. Mandrell writes the child’s name next to that lunch day, so she knows how many lunches to pack and for whom.
• Mandrell writes out her schedule for each hour of the day on a simple paper calendar. In doing so, she says it’s easier to see how much extra time she has per day, thus allowing her to visit with friends when she can.
• Mandrell and Ben started with a list of 50 positive qualities taken from a book, then narrowed those down to qualities that were important to both of them—their family’s values. Mandrell says she points back to these values often when her kids grumble about doing certain things. (“Why do we have to go to our brother’s ballgame? Because of loyalty.”) The Mandrell family values include: joy, worship, cleanliness and order, loyalty, respect, courage, lifelong learning, healthy confrontation, and uniqueness.
• Mandrell stores important papers that need to be kept for a while in wire vertical bins, and located next to her refrigerator. Two children share one bin each, leaving the bottom two for Mandrell's own.
Professional organizer with Major Organizers
Two kids, ages 12 and 14
Thompson, a mom of two and professional organizer, knows how to make spaces of any size work efficiently. She says it’s important to identify how you like to keep things organized, so you can develop a system that fits your natural instincts. “I like things that are upright, but you have to figure out if you are an upright person or a tray person,” she says. “If you try to do something that you are not, you won’t keep it up.” For her own home, she finds that a smaller, simpler system that doesn’t use a lot of space works best.
Thompson set up a “drop zone” by placing a bench with hooks and bins against the wall. Her kids use it everyday as a place to put their backpacks and jackets. Bins in the “drop zone” are used for school paperwork that needs to be kept or sorted through later. When her kids used to receive weekly folders from school with graded homework and information, all the weekly folder paper would go into the bins, for Thompson to go through at a later time.
More from Thompson's system:
• A portable bin that Thompson keeps in her office contains two large plastic envelopes for each child’s school papers. The bin allows her to easily move to another part of the house when referencing paperwork.
• A third plastic folder in the bin contains general information on school policies, that don’t need to be referenced all the time. “This is useful when we were out of town and a family member stayed with the kids,” Thompson says. “There was a snow delay, and my aunt was able to look in the folder to see the snow delay policy for the buses and late start days.”
• Thompson uses different laundry baskets—a different one for dirty and clean clothes—so it’s clear which is which. “I’ll do their laundry for them, but they have to put it out in the hallway,” Thompson says. When done, Thompson places the clothes in the “clean” basket so the kids know to put them away.
Three kids, ages 14, 12, and 10
When the Keogh family built a new home three years ago, they wanted a space that would allow the rest of the house to seem a little calmer. In a family with active parents and three active kids, the Keogh’s mudroom serves as place for kids and parents to store a wide variety of gear and supplies, as well as the family activity calendar. “The goal was that mom wouldn’t be frustrated all the time, and that the kids would follow through with keeping things in that one space,” says Keogh, currently a stay-at-home mom and former producer for print advertising.
More about Keogh’s system:
• A wall-sized chalkboard in the mudroom is used to keep track of the kids’ and parents’ “routine unpredictables,” Keogh says, such as hockey practice or soccer games that happen every week, but are always at different times. The chalkboard style makes it easy to update if a game time changes. “If the kids ask, ‘What is today?’ I say, ‘Go to the board’,” she says. Keogh adds details such as jersey color, field number, etc. for games, so the child can clearly see what is needed. Though Keogh uses the calendar app on her smart phone as her main method to keep track of family activities, she says “the act of writing out the calendar helps me remember what is going on.”
• A separate locker for each family member, designed by Canyon Creek Cabinet Company, is located in the mudroom. The top shelf is for school books and supplies; in the vertical space hangs uniforms and equipment; a pullout drawer is used for smaller commonly used items. “What everyone keeps in their drawer is different depending on what they use,” says Keogh. “I think it’s fun for them to have some ownership and have their own little controlled space, so they always know where their stuff is.” Each locker also contains a charging station for smart phones.
• A variety of bins, shelves, and hooks makes the room a good “chuck-it space,” as Keogh calls it. She finds it especially efficient to store items for all seasons in this area, like hats and gloves that wouldn’t be used every day.
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by Lydia Rueger
Three kids, ages 12, 11, and 10
Miller developed a communication system for her three kids, last summer, as a way of making things a little easier for her around the house. As a homeschooling parent, Miller takes the lead when it comes to her kids’ education, but realized her kids could start taking the lead on various chores and personal habits if they knew what was expected.
“At first there was a lot of complaining, and it took three weeks before they did everything without complaining or being reminded,” Miller says. “But now, they know what they have to do, and nobody bats an eye.”
Miller posted her kids’ “Be Ready” expectations, chore chart and weekly activity schedule upstairs near their bedrooms, in a space they would see often but guests would not see. On her kids’ chore chart, she designates days on which they’ll choose a chore stick from a jar. “These are all things that need to be done once a week, but it doesn’t matter which day,” Miller says. Other things, like taking showers, cleaning their room, changing their sheets, etc. are added on different days.
More about Miller's system:
• Miller types up monthly calendars two months as a time, since many of these routine expectations don’t change. On a separate weekly view calendar, she writes in the family’s activities, events, and appointments.
• Miller’s “Be Ready” expectations include what she expects her kids to do for the morning, before entertainment (technology), before bedtime, and before they can leave the house.
• In her kitchen, Miller keeps homeschool books currently in use, along with receipts and bills. Invitations to parties and special events are taped up so they can be seen. This is also a charging station and area where the jar of chore sticks are kept.
• Miller tapes important papers related to household tasks or items inside of cabinets, so they can be referenced easily but not seen all the time.
Learning specialist at Children’s Hospital Therapy Care
Four kids, ages 11, 9, 6, and 2
While working as a teacher before having kids, Hunter saw how much better children functioned when using a distinct routine. “Predictability is so important for kids,” she says. Hunter started creating family organization and communication systems for her kids at a very young age, which she has adapted as they’ve gotten older.
She incorporates systems for both daily household tasks and behavior, which she hopes will help her children build lifelong habits, have strong executive functioning skills, and manage time as they get older.
“I want to purposefully teach them so they understand why we are teaching these things, and it’s not just me dictating their life,” she says. “I find the more explanation of ‘why’ I give, the more reasonable they are in complying.”
Chore charts located in Hunter’s kids’ rooms detail both morning and evening expectations, which they place in a basket when they are finished. Completing the morning routine is how her kids earn screen time; allowance is earned by completing the nighttime routine. They complete their nightly duties while music plays for a set amount of time, and the tasks should be complete before the music goes off.
More of Hunter's System:
• Both kids and parents receive marbles for kind behavior and have marbles taken away for unkind behavior. When the family marble jar is full, the Hunters get to go on an outing that everyone will enjoy. “As a parent, you are always reprimanding and teaching,” Hunter says. “I think it’s important for kids to see that we struggle, too.”
• A color-coded consequence jar is used so Hunter and her husband Damian can be on the same page for discipline. For example, if one of her kids is being disrespectful, they must select an orange “respect” consequence stick from the jar. An orange consequence stick might say “list 10 things you are grateful for.” A few sticks in the jar say, “grace,” meaning that if a child chooses that stick, they won’t receive a consequence that time.
• Each kid’s sports schedule and practices are written out on separate dry erase weekly calendars, purchased from Target. She likes to cross off days on the calendar too, which helps with her boys’ concept of time.
• Hunter keeps a notebook of general information and medical details for each child, such as when they walked and talked, so she can quickly find answers when doctors or other professionals ask.
by Lydia Rueger
Communication Center Set-up:
• Choose a central location. Find an unused wall or side of a kitchen cabinet or refrigerator, right in the middle of the action, so everyone will see it and use it. Have everything you need within reach—dry erase markers, eraser, magnets, clips, sticky notes.
• See if you can reuse supplies for organization that you already might have on hand. Decide how much money you are willing to spend on supplies. –Cathy Thompson, majororganizers.com
• Make sure that hooks, shelves, drawers, etc. that you want your kids to use are located at their level. –Jill Keogh
• Change up what isn’t working and adapt it so it works for your family. (All the moms featured in this article say they tried many systems that didn’t work, before finding ones that do.) Make it fun for the kids, but keep it simple. Make sure the parents follow the rules, too. It takes time to learn new habits, so be patient. –Amy Fisher
• Consistently use different baskets for dirty and clean clothes, so it’s easy to keep track of. –Cathy Thompson
• Maximize storage space by using slim drawers between the washer and the dryer for storing detergent, stain sticks and other laundry items. –Experts from The Container Store, containerstore.com
• Use different colors to code each family member’s entries. (For example, Jonny’s color is always green.) At a glance, each person will know everyone else’s schedule, resulting in less confusion. –Experts from The Container Store
• For a portable family calendar, use a three ring binder, and keep the school calendar or monthly schedule in the center of the binder. Place individual children’s important school papers around the center schedule in the binder’s pockets or in separate top-loading binder sleeves. –Cathy Thompson
• Catch paperwork as it comes into the house by setting up a system near the main entrance of your home. Use stacking letter trays and organize by family member to collect mail, notes and reminders or school forms that need Mom or Dad’s signature. –Experts from The Container Store
• To stop receiving certain types of junk mail, go to catalogchoice.org and fill out the information. –Cathy Thompson
• Try to organize at least 15 minutes each day—one room at a time—then stay on top of it. –Amy Fisher
• Lots of hooks are invaluable—the more, the better. –Jill Keogh
• Offer variety—kids don’t like having the same chore all the time. –Cathy Thompson
• For very young kids, keep it simple and design chore charts that look like game boards. Consider a theme, such as cars, depending on their interests. This will show them that early that when they move through the tasks, they get a certain reward.
• When storing cleaning supplies, use a carryall to keep them both handy and organized, and so anyone cleaning can easily find what they need. –Experts from the Container Store
• Remember with younger children, the goal isn’t just to produce a clean room, but to teach a discipline. Train them, don’t belittle them if they don’t do as good a job as you would. –Cathy Thompson
• When learning a new chore, assign it to the same child for a long time, allowing them to learn to do it well. –Jennifer Hunter
Search online for ready-made examples of chore charts and tips to create them. Consider developing a family contract so that your expectations of your children remain clear. Find tips and examples at: majororganizers.com, imom.com, etsy.com, pinterest.com
Where to Find Products Made for Organizing
Moms and experts from this article cite the following as great places to find organizational products.
• Thrift stores