Saturday, October 13, 2012

The Dream of An Organized Life

*I wrote this on the eve of returning to work after 9 weeks of maternity leave. However, due to severe procrastination and a reluctance to 'let the crazy out of the box', this post has been collecting dust for a few months -- which has actually provided an opportunity to include updates on how successful or not-successful my well intentioned & ambitious plans turned out.

Articles with captions like "HOW TO ORGANIZE YOUR LIFE IN 10 DAYS OR LESS" and accompanying photos of pencils and paper clips in crisp acrylic drawers, labeled, compartmentalized, and looking terrified makes the budding neat freak within me jump up and down on the couch like a love-crazed Tom Cruise.  I've never been an organized person in "real life" but I have always known it is my destiny. And I'm really feeling like this is the decade for me to transition from a wanna-be to the real deal. For now, I'm just faking it 'til I make it.

It's 2 am. Do you know where your label maker is?

And until I make it, I continually manage the stress and anxiety related to the affliction of severe disorganization and hoarding tendencies by developing awesome organizational systems inspired from articles on Yahoo news, shiny copies of Elle magazine, and Facebook links to Pinterest images that promise to enlighten me with the secret to an organized life.

I read these articles and think, "This is SO me." Even though in real life, the real me is hoarding landfill size amounts of old coffee cups, expired coupons,  crumpled magazines, and dirty diapers in every nook & cranny of my car. But no matter what my car smells like, I am eternally optimistic that one day I will be a master organizer.

This will probably happen as soon as I complete all of my systems. I have to keep a lot of my ideas for systems on the down low from my husband, because he thinks the real system is just 'putting things away.' But I think it's a little more tricky than that. I hate for anyone to rain on my parade, so when I get a really great idea, I just order all the components needed from, and then when the packages of 100 clear plastic hangers arrive, for example, I just say, "STOP JUDGING ME" to my husband and then he understands I'm in the process of implementing a new system.

Good Hangers

Bad Hangers

This obsession with having everything organized has definitely hit an all time high in the last few months. I think it started during my first pregnancy -- this is called the 'nesting syndrome', yes? Well, I didn't quite get my 'nesting' done before Jackson was born and that triggered this constant feeling of panic that nothing was ready. After he was born, I would have these repetitive thoughts:

"Why haven't I sorted his clothes into 1-3 month / 3-6 month / 6-9 month piles?" The image of all those different sized baby clothes hanging together in the closet or sharing the same dresser drawers - not categorized by size, color, or alphabetical order was like a constant tick. If I could just sort the clothes, everything in my life would make sense...


"I should have a special place in the cupboards for all these bottles."  The bottles were small and light weight and they would fall over and spill onto the plates in the cupboard, or get hidden behind the cups and then I couldn't find one and Jack was hungry and Brent and I were looking everywhere and we were causing all this unnecessary stress and anxiety on our innocent baby because we didn't have a system for keeping the bottles organized and OH MY GOD.

Where do thoughts like these come from? Is this post-partum depression? Typical new parent anxiety? I don't know, but it never went away and I would lay awake at night, resenting my closets for their disheveled insides and lack of compartments. EVERYTHING IS TOUCHING EVERYTHING ELSE. Like a five year old who doesn't want his peas and mashed potatoes touching, I bristle, like nails on a chalk board, at the thought of shoes and work bags crammed together in the front hall closet.

The problem is that I'm not an organized person by nature. I'm very messy and I hate to be bothered with the mundane task of putting anything away. I am, however, good at coming up with ideas. Instead of 'get rich quick' schemes I often think of 'get organized quick'  schemes.

In preparation for returning to work after maternity leave, I decided to create some systems that would make some of our daily tasks a bit simpler and faster to carry out. My husband and I both work full time in careers that require travel and varied hours. Our mornings involve getting ourselves and our two kids ready for the day and out the door to daycare and work quickly and without too much screaming. I did not want my return to work to result in tears, mismatched shoes, and a feeling of hopelessness before the clock struck 8 am every day, so I knew a plan involving multiple systems would need to be put in order.

After much thought and deliberation about the events and points throughout the day which cause the most stress, clutter, and anxiety, I put together the following systems:

System #1: Have breakfast.

I portioned out two weeks worth of steel cut oats to create homemade 'instant oatmeal'. No need to measure, boil water, find the sugar, etc -- its all ready to pop in the microwave & BAM there's a healthy, quick meal before the day starts.

Update: Yeah, this worked for one week. I'm back to a grab-n-go system of like an apple and string cheese.

System #2: Be Ready To Head Out The Door

Have keys, cell phone, work bag, purse, and shoes by the door before turning in for the night. This can save me anywhere from 15 min to an hour running around looking for these items. Especially when you have a three year old who enjoys burying cell phones in the backyard.

Update: I've been sticking to this new habit.

System #3: Feed The Baby

The goal was to have lots and lots of milk pumped and stored so that baby can eat while I'm at work. I managed to pump all of ONE bag of milk (if 1 oz counts as a bag) before returning. Go me! That's a whole other post. I have no idea how some moms can store stockpiles of extra milk. This system continues to be a work in progress.

Update: Enfamil. (Plus me visiting daycare at lunch to nurse).

System #4: Remember Your Mantras. 

Update: I remember them.

System #5: Realize that your life deserves 

When trying to coordinate work schedules, family visits, daycare, doctor's appointments, travel, play dates, etc. a larger than life calendar is necessary. Trying to cram all of those things into a regular sized calendar will just result in frustration and binge drinking. Also, it's easier to win an argument with your husband when you can say "How could you have possibly planned to view a golf tournament on the stupid golf channel when it states right there on the LARGE CALENDAR that I'm watching the season finale of 'The Bachelorette' that night?!"

I used poster board paper to create an enormous calendar, and I hung it up in our kitchen.

Update: This worked really well for August and September. I forgot to make October. But it's only October 12 so I still have time. (I would like to coordinate our calendars on my IPHONE but haven't figured out how to yet so if you have tips please leave them in the comment section, thank you!)

System #6: Take a break

For a long time I did not even entertain the thought of taking a night off because the conversation in my head went something like this: "How can you take a few hours for yourself when all your spare time outside of work should go to your children?" However, children do go to bed at some point (That's an old John & Kate Plus Eight quote by the way) & chances are they won't miss me while they are snoozing. So, I'm allotting myself one sticky note AKA one free night per week. I also created sticky notes for Brent too, because I'm nice like that.

Update: Instead of going out with friends, I just drink alone after the kids go to bed. In my living room. (And if you want to give me a hard time about my Diet Pepsi addiction be prepared for me to go all Biden Malarky Irish on your ass).

System #7: Meal planning.
Meal planning is a huge priority for me and helps with a variety of issues:

-Makes grocery shopping easier
-Saves money
-Way healthier (takes away the "what's for dinner, oh crap, let's just order pizza" excuse)

Update: For the most part, we've been meal planning each week. Not without some bumps in the road but this system is definitely a keeper.

 System #8: Organized Cupboards.

I've spent too many nights being owned by the fear and anxiety of searching for a clean bottle while a screaming infant speed dials DHS to report me for child neglect. Just say NO to bottle clutter.

Update: This one is easy. But sometimes Brent throws sippy cups in the bottle bins and then my brain goes all agghhhh and I have to visualize my safe place.

 System # 9: Get The Freakin Clothes Figured Out.

Update: Have not worked up the courage to sort these drawers out yet. I have stuck labels inside the drawers. So.

System # 10: Mail is A Real Thing

I have a full proof mail system. And it works at least 20% of the time. Here's what you do:

1) Collect all the mail from wherever it has been living in your house.

2) Dump all the mail onto a flat surface (like a table or the floor).

2) Pray (this can be done silently or out loud).

3) Sort mail into labeled piles (I use sticky notes).

"Follow Up"
"The Neighbors Mail"
"Toys / Jackson's discarded peanut butter & jelly sandwiches "
"Contact the DMV and/or the IRS immediately"

4) Attach a permanent shelving unit to the wall or the inside of a hall closet -- somewhere relatively close enough to the front door so you don't talk yourself out of sorting the mail by the time you get there.

5) Vow to sort your mail every single day for the rest of your life in sickness and health and forever and ever (and don't hide the DMV warning letters in the coupon bin, amen).

Update: This is not a new system for me. But I did make a changes to the type of shelving unit I use. When I'm on top of my game, this system actually works pretty well and is definitely better than the alternative: shoving all my mail into an overflowing basket by the door.

* * *

So those are my systems. I still have like 893 more to work out. And I'm still plotting against my closets. Hopefully I'll make enough progress to write a follow up post soon. In case you were worried this post was too short, lol.

Do you have tricks to keeping your house / life / day organized? Do you have unfinished projects that keep you up at night?


  1. Wonderful, wonderful! Sadly, I don't have any tricks at all for keeping anything organized. I live in chaos. Well, I have a few survival attempts that sometimes work -- 1 drawer for things I need to take care of that I try to deal with when it gets too full. Those little file boxes and different back packs and bags that the family hates because they look so messy -- actually they help when I mark them and keep them special for different projects although usually I can find computer files faster than paper copies so I'm in hopes of recycling more paper. Mainly I survive by trying to figure out what one thing I really have to do and pretending I don't see everything else that I should do. Oh, I'm getting too serious. Thank you for sharing your talent for humor!

    1. It looks like this software is swearing at me because it hates apostrophes and my nickname has an apostrophe where you see "#39;" but that's okay.

  2. Hey Bekah! My iphone syncs w/ my gmail calendar which I really love when I use it - and I can authorize others to see it - you and Brent could both enter in on gmail calendars. It also shows in different colors so you'd know who was who. Mom uses it and sometimes we are synced up.

    1. I love my gmail calendar, and it holds all of my work & personal activities. BUT, Brent uses Microsoft office calendar (bleh). I even created a gmail account for him but have been unable to convince him to transfer his info over. Super annoying!!! I wonder if I can sync with it, even though it's not gmail???

  3. I resist all efforts to move to gmail calendar and stay happily in my outlook world - where I rarely enter important events - like watching Top Chef but I fully support your efforts as u like the idea of Hope being fed and Jackson having shoes on - what with the rain returning. I think all your "systems" have resulted in a much more consistently organized house and even car - I was super impressed with that bottle shelf when I saw it in your kitchen a few weeks back - I was keeping that thought to myself but I'm excited to see it published here! Miss you - thanks for the blog post it totally cracked me up :)

  4. By the way - I'm now officially inspired and I'm going to spend the rest of the morning organizing my closets :)

  5. I shared this with Aeryca and now she wants to hang out with your husband because she "thinks they'll understand each other".

  6. I'm with Mom. I live in chaos. I Reallllllly need Teresa to come help me. I'm So guilting her. And by the way. You are so funny and I love you so much:-)

    1. Mary Sue -- Now that I am becoming a master at systems I CAN HELP YOU. You will need the following for any kind of organizing project:

      1) Several clear, plastic bins in various sizes. Think small, med, large. You need like 25 of each to get started.
      2) Buy a label maker, immediately.
      3) Get small and large garbage bags
      4) Start a note book just for project ideas. Visualize what you want your perfect room, closet, kitchen, car, office, whatever to look like and then start making lists (I know you are good at lists) of small tasks, or things you need to get to that vision.

      If anyone can do it - YOU CAN!

      Then you just need company to help you kick it off.


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