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Getting your home organized one 15-minute task at a time

Spring cleaning came early to our tiny corner of the world. It had to, really. It was a matter of my mental health and everyone else’s safety, cause when Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.

I’m not exactly sure what happened, but I blame it entirely on my youngest child. When he arrived four years ago we instantly outgrew our little New Englander, with its nonexistent closets and not enough bedrooms.

Suddenly there was all this extra stuff with no place to go, so it got shoved here and crammed there. Out of sight out of mind, right?

Problem is that eventually you run out of places to shove and cram, and you have to admit that maybe you just don’t need all this stuff or you need a better system for keeping it. Maybe the fact that the Tupperware cabinet is about to burst its hinges isn’t just a testament to how small of a cabinet it is.

So, at the beginning of the year I set about making changes. My first inclination was to hit the whole house like a tidying tornado – cleaning, purging and organizing the entire place. I am, after all, super good at ordering my husband and kids to do whatever needs doing. I set all of us to work, created a zero tolerance policy for things left out of place, threatened to walk around with a big purple trash bag tossing in anything left in my path. I had visions of ’50s housewives swimming in my head. Pictures of the children in fancy clothes and impossible to keep hairstyles sitting all neat and tidy at the table while I, in a swank apron, set dinner down before them. The place looked great, for a week . . . or maybe a few days, a solid day and a half, anyway. But nothing stuck. We could whip through the house every weekend putting things in corners and neatening toy bins, and by the following Friday we’d be right back where we started.

We weren’t bringing in more stuff. We have a normal number of things, and we acquire new things at a slower than normal rate. We just don’t have enough room, and that’s a problem that won’t soon be fixed. This is why the weekly whirlwind cleaning jags didn’t work for us. We needed more than to push things aside so they looked neat. Our solution lay in figuring out how to better use the space we have.

It was a stroke of good fortune when I stumbled upon, a website that would change the way I looked at decluttering and would allow us to start making changes that worked.

The difference? Taylor Flanery, the website’s organizer, doesn’t recommend the clean sweep method we’ve been force fed by home and garden TV shows. She advocates a bite-size piece approach that takes time, a full 52 weeks if you follow the plan I’ve adopted. It’s not only more manageable, it’s more thorough, more thoughtful and more viable. It works, and it’s made a huge difference in our lives.

“You cannot expect to get your home completely organized overnight, even though that would be wonderful. . . . Plus, even if a whole crew came in and organized everything right now, like they do on some of those television shows, you most likely don’t have the habits in place to maintain that organization yet,” Flanery says on the Home Storage Solutions home page.

Preach it, sister.

Mission possible

In mid-February I started Flanery’s 52-Week Organized Home Challenge, which vows to help participants get their homes ship shape with daily 15-minute tasks organized by weekly missions. Each week you tackle a new area – kitchen cabinets, home office, paper files, kids’ closets. Each mission is broken down into daily challenges, which makes even the most daunting of them doable.

I printed out all 12 months of missions and challenges at once, and took pleasure in crossing off the ones that didn’t apply to me: Declutter or make a place to store old Christmas cards on Jan. 4? Those things have been gone since before the Elf on the Shelf headed back to the North Pole. Declutter excess candles throughout the house on June 4? We have no glut of candles around here. I got to cross off an entire week in October because we have no attic to organize, and another in December because we have no glassware, crystal or silver cluttering up the place.

It felt great. I was ahead of the game without even lifting a finger.

Turns out the journey to an organized home starts in the kitchen cabinets and drawers. We have less than a handful of cabinets, so I figured I’d breeze through the first week. Not so much, though I did put in the work. As a recent expert on the subject, I can promise you that you don’t even know what crazy infomercial- and Pampered Chef-driven purchases are lurking in the dark recesses of your kitchen or how good it feels to send them packing.

From the kitchen you’ll follow a logical course through the house, hitting all the major clutter offenders along the way – the home office, the linen closet, the kids rooms, the pantry.

You’ll also do things you may not otherwise have thought of that can make your life run smoother, like creating weekly meal plans, a template for weekly errands and an emergency first aid kit for your car.

What you won’t do is gloss over anything. Every possible nook or cranny of your home will be organized by the end of these 52 weeks, even the spare extension cords and power strips (Dec. 14).

“The idea is that at the end of the 52 weeks you will have an organized home. Plus your life and your home will run more smoothly (and) you’ll have gained the knowledge, skills, habits and routines necessary to actually keep it that way,” Flanery says.

Making it my own

I would be lying if I said I’ve successfully followed the prescribed task list for every day since I started this challenge. I haven’t, and I never really intended to, nor do I think it’s important to do all these things in this particular order. I don’t even care if it takes more than a year to get through everything. Making progress is enough.

I have been following the calendar, working my way first through the kitchen, and then out into the rest of the house. I’ve even taken things a step further and created a weekly, monthly, quarterly and yearly chore list for us, though I’ve yet to put them to use.

Life happens and there are work schedules, doctor’s appointments, school concerts and gymnastics classes to fit into the mix, so I don’t berate myself if I miss a day’s task. The real beauty of this system is that it can be done on your own time and worked around your own schedule, because these are things you’re doing for yourself and your family, not for anyone else. Dinner guests and friends who stop by don’t care if your linen closet is organized or whether you managed to part with your 9-millionth casserole dish (even though it was the loveliest shade of red!), but you may find yourself wanting them to fix their own coffee just so they can see how tidy the silverware drawer is.

Legacy Comments2

I could never understand how folks stand being disorganized. It takes so much time to find things when you put them in different places all the time. With all the great baskets and organizing bins, it is pretty easy to keep things organized. As my mother use to say, "A Place For Everything and Everything In It's Place"

Sounds like your mentor took a page from this book:, where the motto is "You can do anything for 15 minutes." This method has helped me and my partner keep our home "company ready" for several years now.

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