Sometimes it takes just the littlest thing to make your life easier. Design and organizing experts offer their best tips for making your house a comfortable, efficient home.
Have a place for everything
“Everything, everything, everything,” says professional organizer Stacy Erickson, who specializes in child and family environments. “From spare change to lunchboxes to sports equipment, nothing should live on the counter or floor permanently.”
“I have each kid take charge of one area of the house,” says Blogger Mom Adventures‘ Margene Salzano. “Since it’s a fairly large task, their job is to figure out the best way to keep it clean every week.” At the end of the week they get a score for how clean they keep their space.
“Parents always want toys perfectly categorized, and kids generally don’t care,” says Erickson. You’re never going to get your kids to keep Barbie’s shoes in one bag and her clothes in another. “Try to keep all the toys with small pieces in one place — one big box to dig through. It seems counter-intuitive, but it makes cleanup so much easier.”
Take the path of least resistance
No matter how much you want an organized entryway, your kids are simply not going to hang their coats on a hanger. “Set up a system that is super, super simple,” says Erickson. “A basket to set their coat in, a hook on the way at their height to hang a coat. If it takes too long in too many steps, kids simply won’t participate, which causes frustration for all.”
Invest in baskets
“I use them to hold everything from cleaning products to toilet paper, each basket labeled on the outside with its contents so it is simple to find things and keep track of what we need to pick up at the store,” says mom Gina Gelo, who blogs at Pumpkin + Rose. “Also, baskets make the space feel cozy, packed with stuffed animals and wooden blocks and neatly filled with extra blankets for movie nights and rainy days.”
Provide storage in every room
“My daughter likes to play with her toys in various rooms of the house,” says Gelo. “I keep wicker baskets tucked in corners of the family room, kitchen, under the coffee table, next to the fireplace. This allows her to not be confined to her bedroom since we don’t have a playroom. It never looks messy. Every little thing has its place, which makes it easy to maintain and ultimately makes me one very happy mom.”
Display a family calendar
A nice big calendar on the wall in the kitchen is the easiest way to keep everyone on the same page. Add a dry-erase board (for family notes) and an a corkboard (for permission slips and appointment cards) to create a simple message center. Try the all-in-one Floral Medley Organizer Kit from Wall Pops.
Organize all of those plastic sippy cups
Coordinately Yours blogger and entertaining expert Julie Blanner was frustrated “by the amount of plastic that comes with children. You pull one cup out and they all topple over… and they’re not pleasing to the eye.”
Blanner dedicated one cupboard (close to the dishwasher) just for plastics. She keeps the cups on the lowest shelf so there’s less chance she’ll “topple” them every time she reaches for one. “Eliminating plastics from my glassware and everyday dish cabinets allowed them to be more organized,” says Blanner.
Place furniture wisely
One of Blanner’s living room end tables is situated close to the mudroom. “We use it to hold things like [my daughter’s] blanket and her car and stroller toys,” says Blanner.
And the super-organized Blanner takes advantage of the family heirloom dresser in her living room. “It holds our linen napkins, tablecloths, candles, place card holders and other entertaining essentials.” It also houses their favorite games for easy after-dinner access.
Keep a running list
“My No. 1 organizing tip is to keep a running list of what needs to be done,” says Lauren Holmes, “whether diapers are low or you need to cook/freeze some meals, do a load of whites, and so on.” Her husband adds to it when he’s in need of things like protein powder or shaving cream.
Make travel lists, too
“I keep an Excel file of everything I need to pack for my baby, and each trip I add a few new things once I realize they’re missing,” says Holmes. “It’s amazing how much stress this relieves from the once-daunting task of packing for a family vacation.”
Keep babysitters on file
“Create a babysitter binder filled with all relevant contact information and helpful hints,” says Bree of Purely4You.
Don’t forget about the car
“Keep a bag in the car packed with extra clothes, diapers and wipes so it’s always there for quick exits when there’s not enough time to pack everything,” says Bree.
Organize with “bins, bins and more bins that are clearly labeled,” says Bree. “Each child has their own bin at the front door to organize hats and gloves, and each bin is labeled with the child’s picture so the younger ones know where their things belong.”
Corral dirty clothes
“Keep laundry baskets in each bedroom and bathroom to keep dirty clothes off the floor and in one spot to collect and take to the laundry room,” Bree recommends.
Free up floor space in the garage
It’s so common for homeowners to park everything except their cars in the garage. “Typically, 80 percent of items stored in the garage can be kept on shelving, and 20 percent can be placed on a hook, allowing for plenty of floor space,” says Kerry Morris-Gibson, head of home and kitchen at Zulily. “Look for hidden storage areas, too. If storage space is limited, consider storing items under a workbench, behind the door or on vertical wall space.”
Hide the seasonal stuff
“In the bedroom, get off-season clothing out of sight,” says Morris-Gibson. “Store on the top shelf and under the bed in covered storage bins or zippered bags. Move your growing kids’ clothes completely out of the room by selling it or giving it away.”
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Establish kitchen themes
“Every shelf and drawer should have a specific theme,” counsels Morris-Gibson. “Group related items together (baking supplies, cooking utensils, drinkware) for easy inventory and usage.”
Go with the flow
“Store things where people drop them,” says Morris-Gibson. “Think about backpacks, mail, car keys and other often-used items. Place appropriate catchalls or storage containers there to keep things orderly.”
Hide and fluff
When they’re not in use, fold blankets and store them under sofa cushions. The blankets stay out of sight and the couch feels oh-so-comfy.
Set a timer for 30 minutes
“Even if you have only a few minutes to spare, there’s a lot you can accomplish in less than half an hour,” say the authors of The Decluttered Home ebook. “Set a timer and focus on one project at a time, like organizing your t-shirt drawer.” When you set simple goals, you can slowly, but surely, cross everything off your list.
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Hide everyday storage in plain sight
“Group like items together on trays,” says Kelli Katch, co-owner of The Basket Lady. “Store less visually appealing goods inside beautiful, high-quality baskets that can be displayed on open shelves or tucked into cubbies.”
Do it the same way every day
“Have a routine and stick to it,” suggests organizational expert Barbara Reich, author of Secrets of an Organized Mom. “If you do it the same way every day, your family can operate on autopilot.” The result? Calm and relaxing mornings.
Prepare tonight for tomorrow morning
Have kids select clothing the night before. “Each child should choose his clothing the night before,” says Reich. “This includes shoes, socks, hair accessories and even underwear.”
Plan breakfast in advance, too. “You can set the table and pre-prepare breakfast the night before,” says Reich. “Or you can plan for a grab-and-go breakfast, such as a granola bar and a juice box.”
And don’t forget the backpacks. “Every night, all homework, permission slips, accessories for after-school activities, lunches and anything else that is needed should be packed in the backpacks,” says Reich. “The backpacks should be waiting by the door so your child can just grab it and be on her way.”
Easily share family photos
Photo Mambo is an on-screen digital picture frame. Each time you send new photos from your phone or computer to family and friends, it automatically refreshes on their end. (And there’s no cost to use it.)
Buy more, shop less
“We purchased an old freezer and stock it with bulk meats directly from farms,” says Karen Aikman from Home Grown Cow. “We find we save money, have better cuts of meat and, most importantly, there’s always something handy to make a meal out of in the freezer.” Aikman makes fewer trips to the grocery store and has simplified the ‘what’s for dinner?’ question.
Just say no
“You can’t do it all,” says Reich. “You don’t have to plan the office party, bake cookies for the brownie troop or head the PTA.” Before committing to anything, think about whether or not you have the desire or time to do it.
Hire a maid
“Being a mom is very hectic and oftentimes leaves Mom feeling overwhelmed by work, parenting and household chores,” say the experts at King of Maids. “Hiring a maid can help moms keep the home neat and clean while freeing up their time to focus on their children and other important tasks.”