My mom has a sticker up on her office corkboard. It says: “If I’m So Organized, How Come I Can’t Get Organized?” Now, if you knew my mother you’d understand how ironic this is. She is the Most Organized Woman In The World.
You know those “after” layouts in Real Simple magazine that show pale, earth-toned rooms with a lot of clean, open surfaces and no clutter? That’s what my parent’s home looks like. All the time. And not because everything is shoved in the garage, like at our house. Their garage even looks photo shoot ready, with tidy pegboard racks for my father’s tools and perpetual space for both cars.
My mom grew up in a military home, a white-glove-inspection kind of place. That training and her natural minimalist ascetic means she takes the motto, “A place for everything and everything in its place,” to heart.
All this is very alien to me. As Homebrew Husband can attest, I absentmindedly pick things up, walk all around the house and garden with them, get distracted, set them down, forget about them, walk away and then can’t find them for days.
This is 100% true: last week I lost the phone handset this way. I noticed it in a garden bed after a nice hard rain three days later. Somehow, it still works. I lose my keys in my purse. I once lost my glasses on top of my head. Let’s not even talk about garden tools…
So I grew up in a home that never – outside of the kid’s rooms – appeared to get dirty or disheveled or disorganized. I have spent the better part of my adult life attempting to do what my mother appears to do effortlessly, which is to say – keep my domestic shit together.
In my effort to reign in my natural absentminded slovenliness and instill a sort of grown up order to my life, I have made approximately a billion checklists, spreadsheets, chore charts, menu planners, garden planners, grocery planners, child reward charts, financial spreadsheets and to do lists.
I am a huge fan of the basic to do list, because I just love crossing stuff off lists. Sometimes I make to do lists chock-full of things I’ve already accomplished just so I can get a good head start on the off-crossing. But beyond that, the vast majority of my grand organization schemes have done jack shit. My life still gets messy, still gets disorganized, still gets chaotic.
Sometimes my surfaces are totally covered by harvested vegetables in the process of being washed, dinner in the process of being made, kids papers in the process of being admired, art projects in the process of being created, major toddler messes not yet cleaned up, a good beer not yet gotten to, and on and on.
It is moments like this when I find it comforting to see:
Wake up Drink coffee Change baby’s diaper Get dressed Check email
And I can take comfort knowing how much I’ve already done today.
But the process of working towards home and garden systems elegance has turned up a few real organizational winners. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the tools that most help me stay on top of life have proven to be the simplest.
Menu Planning Sheets, used much more loosely than the term implies, are used in conjunction with a Freezer Inventory Sheet to plan what meats or seafood need to be pulled out of the deep freeze and thawed for the week.
I also use a simple Annual Garden Calendar to maximize plantings in my garden space and minimize the amount of time my garden beds are fallow. Ideally I’d like more-or-less continuous production from most of my garden space. I’m not there yet, but this calendar makes it a lot easier to figure out when and where I’ll have open ground over the year.
These are the organizational tools that have made the cut in my household. They give more than they take; when I use them my life runs a bit smoother.
If you think any of these tools might help you run a tighter household or garden, they are all available for free download in multiple formats under the new Downloadables tab at the top of the site. I’d appreciate feedback from people on Windows machines letting me know if the downloads look ok and are fully editable in Word and Excel formats, as I had to convert them from my Mac equivalent programs.
I’ll be talking about how I use these tools in upcoming posts (it’s all pretty self-explanatory, really) but in the meantime I wanted to share them with you.
I was confiding in my mother one afternoon not too long ago that I found her cleanliness and organization a little intimidating. She looked surprised and revealed that she barely vacuumed when she had small children. “A little bleach in the toilet bowl,” she said, “and put the stuff back where it goes, and that was all I did. I never cleaned.”
Now that’s a relief.1