5 Reasons to Include Children in Organizing Projects

Earlier this week I was bitten by an organize-the-children’s-art-supplies bug that would not let me not do it. So I dove in in that irreversible way that involves emptying entire shelves and drawers onto the floor. The process took all day. We sorted, we made a list, and then I went to go buy containers while the kids napped. After dinner, their treat was to stay up and help me organize. And they totally loved it.

five reasons to organize with your children

I was honestly surprised by how they responded. They kept telling me, “Mommy, I love you. Mommy, thank you so much.” I realize two things were probably going on: They were happy to be included in what Mommy was doing, of course (as 3- and 5-year-olds still are), but something about the organizing itself was filling up their little hearts.

Although I involved them in the process without too much deep thought, their reaction to helping me made me realize the value of involving the children in organizing projects:

1) They find things they forgot they had. Two things in our home are kind of like Christmas: When I come home from shopping at a consignment sale and when we rotate or organize the kids’ toys. While Danny and Elora were helping sort through their art supplies and toys, they got really excited about things that were too jumbled up for them to access or even remember they had. “Discovering” them breathed new life into things we already have.

organizing with kids-2a

2) Sorting in a real-life setting is educational and practical. Sorting is an important activity for young children. It teaches them to look at things and consider what’s the same and what’s different and how to categorize things in various ways. Sorting is a building block for both math skills and language development. Sorting through helping with a real-life organizing task melds an educational activity with a practical skill — and that’s very high on the the list of the kinds of activities I want to do with my children.

organizing with kids-1-2a

3) They can practice working together. In the already pleasant atmosphere of them helping me and me helping them, the kids were primed to work with each other nicely and were able to practice manners and collaboration: “Danny could you pass me that crayon?” and “Oh, sorry Elora, excuse me.” I was able to model teamwork with them and they were able to apply it immediately both with me and each other.

organizing with kids-5a

4) They feel loved. Their outpouring of love to me made me realize that by letting them help me they must really be feeling loved by me. It’s easy to attribute this to the fact that I was including them in something I was doing, but I also think there was something more going on. I think that by taking the time for them to see me taking care of their things, and including them in my process, they knew that their things — and by extension, they — were important to me.

5) Appreciation and an incentive to keep things neat. By seeing how much work and how long it took for us to organize their things, they realize the labor and consideration it takes to organize. And by involving their time and energy, they feel invested in the project. This leads to a healthy kind of pride in a job well done (you should have seen them beaming at Daddy when they showed him what they did) and, moreover, a huge incentive to keep their things neat.

organizing with kids-6a

Whether I do it myself or involve them in the process, I can see the effect that organized surroundings have on the children. They are calmer, less “lost” in terms of deciding what to do or play with, and much, much more apt to put things away where they belong. Involving them in the act of organizing makes the process even more valuable than the end result, and I hope to remember to do this more often.

Have you observed similar effects when organizing either for or with your children? Share in the comments.



(Almost) Free Pantry Storage

before and after pantry storage

I love those beautiful pictures of color coordinated pantries as much as the next gal (or guy!) but I have yet to figure out how those are functional, at least functional in the way I need my pantry to be. I mean, where’s the peanut butter? Where’s the vinegar??

Here’s mine (and in the spirit of keeping it real, I didn’t even face the peanut butter forward):

pantry organization, picture of inside

Anyway, a very unfortunate event precipitated our recent overhaul of the pantry. In the middle of making dinner, as I dug around for the bag of pine nuts, I discovered, to my HORROR, some dead little buggies.

Ahhhh!!! I don’t know about you, but whenever I’ve discovered an infestation in my family’s food supply (it’s only happened once before), I get so grossed out and panicky in an almost-screaming, almost-jumping up and down with arms flapping, almost crying kind of way. No joke.

You know these infestations haven’t happened because I’m some sort of slob or anything, right? =( I’ve done a little research and much of the time, people bring critters home in packages from the store. And if you keep things around for too long, they hatch and multiply and invade other pantry items. SICK! They chew through cardboard and soft plastic. I know because I saw the holes.

So I set out to do my best to make sure this doesn’t happen again.

To start, I invested in some of these gorgeous (Is that too strong of a word? Maybe…) Oxo containers with credit I had at Bed, Bath, and Beyond. They are thick, safe plastic, easy-to-use, durable, and, as always with Oxo products, easy on the eye.

pantry organization with oxo containers

But to store beans, barley, popcorn, cornmeal, and other less frequently used small items, I turned to all the pristine jars I had saved after getting all the gunk off of them. Remember the DIY Goo-Be-Gone?

goo gone DIY

Because all the mismatched, not easy on the eye jar lids bothered me in the pantry, I decided to finally spray paint them, as I’d been meaning to for who knows how long.

jar lids for spray painting
pantry storage with glass jars
I love how they turned out, in both form and function. And all I had to pay for was the paint (which was actually left over from another project).
pantry storage with glass jars
pantry storage from glass jars

Quick tips for making your own pantry storage:

  • Save several glass jars from food items you buy. The more variety the better.
glass jars as pantry storage
  • Clean the paper and sticky residue off of them as you save them so you don’t have too many to do at once.
how to remove sticky residue from glass
  • Once you have a good number saved, collect their lids and spray paint them. Use Rustoleum, which adheres to metal. So far, it’s doing a good job staying on, even when we wash the lids (which isn’t very often since we store mostly long-lasting grains and legumes in the glass jars).

pantry view

free pantry storage arranged in a circle

On Decluttering


My mother’s home as we were growing up was always impeccable. I remember my best friend’s twin walking into our apartment one time, drawing a breath, and describing his instant feeling as, “It’s so white in here.”

I believe the lack of clutter, the norm and even expectation of “a place for everything and everything in its place” made an indelible mark on me. Although I’m sure I drove my mother nuts with my teenage messes and my sassy barbs (sorry Mom!!) about how cleaning out my closet wasn’t my idea of fun (I knew she used to do that as a kid), the setting she provided set the stage for what I feel, viscerally, should be my norm for my family now.

a place for everything and everything in its place

I appreciate the quotes I’ve seen about spending time with children rather than cleaning, etc. etc. and I try to glean from them the essence of those sentiments. Of course, I don’t want to miss the fleeting, fleeting (I’m painfully aware of this, always) moments of their tiny little childhoods.

But at the same time, I’ve found that in surroundings that aren’t at least harmonious enough, I’m not a pleasant mother or wife. The noise of clutter and uncleanliness around me, to put it simply, makes me grumpy. While I acknowledge I need to work on refusing to let my surroundings dictate my mood, I also realize the profound if subtle effect of ambient chaos on my psyche and behavior.

So much of keeping the balance of maintaining order while not letting this maintenance take over (i.e., not being controlled by things) I’ve found has to do with having less things. Obvious. But not necessarily intuitive.

present me is tired of holding on to future mes crap

In addition to coming from a line of women who always kept their homes spic and span, I inherited a streak of clinginess to things, a tendency to save something “just in case,” a well-intended waste-not-want-not mentality that serves its purpose when it comes to eating up leftovers but not when it comes to saving stacks of magazines for the recipes they contain.

I kept my beloved grandmother’s beautiful China, but the number of teacups she collected “in case” some broke is, frankly, excessive. I can’t help but wonder, without judgment and with some sadness, at the insecurity this may reveal. When going through my dear aunt’s house after she died, we were heartbroken to discover the things that she had, unbeknownst to any of us, hoarded. Neatly, primly, arrayed in stacks and stacks of perfectly organized bins, what she’d gathered spoke of a hole she couldn’t fill, and, more broadly, of how the things we surround ourselves with, in one way or another, bespeak our inward condition.

I want to be present. I want to be here and now. I don’t want to be bogged down by the past, and I don’t want to live in fear of the future. I want live in a state of having only what we need. My goal is to keep only what I “know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.” This lets me keep cherished birthday cards from my mother throughout the years (beautiful), but also frees me to donate the curtain rods I might need someday (not useful now, nor beautiful).

useful or beautifulArrived I have not. I’m still navigating things like which baby clothes to keep for future children and what to do with the art I kept of my grandparents that doesn’t have a home in our house. And I do have regrets about trashing some things too hastily. (Strangely, the two things that come to mind in this category — the only two, actually — are my elementary and high school year books and my translations of Latin poetry. Neither fit my parameter of useful or beautiful, but I remember them and wish I had them to thumb through, whatever that means….)

Nevertheless, I’ve learned the pleasure of exchanging “security” for the lightening that comes from getting rid of things. I treasure the breathability of an uncrammed space more than an area so stocked with items that it’s impossible to even know what I have. I love the serenity of (some) emptiness and order.

It’s a battle. Accumulation and entropy don’t require any work. But for me, for our home, for my children, so that none of us are weighed down by things and their enervating effect, keeping clutter away is a constant, unglamorous, but necessary and very rewarding battle that I choose to learn to fight.

September Organizing Challenge: Plan with Printables

Organizing with Printables

printables for cleaning

I have a really smart smart phone. And I have a pretty cool to-do list type of app (Astrid). But for me, there is just something about physically writing something down and/or crossing it off a list that triggers accountability and motivation.

Enter printables, the perfect blend of written yet reusable. Currently, I use a weekly menu printable, a daily schedule printable, and a cleaning schedule printable that has daily cleaning, weekly cleaning, and monthly cleaning lists.

I actually use them (key!) — and they really work to save me time, money, and energy and to help keep my family well-fed and my home reasonably maintained.

printables daily scheduleTips for Using Printables Effectively

  • The printables featured in this post were all FREE and found online. Of course, you should look around to find what’s best for you.
  • Laminate the printables you will use every day or that need to hold up well over time, or use a sheet protector.
  • Using wet erase markers, not dry erase markers, is essential so that your hard-earned cross-offs, checkmarks, plans aren’t wiped away by errant fingers. Try Expo Vis-A-Vis Wet Erase Markers, 8 Colored Markers (16078).
  • Keep your printables visible. You need to see what you have done and what you still need to do in order for your printables to motivate you and keep you on track.

Three Reasons to Organize with Printables

Organization begets organization. You’ll find that once you start using a printable that works for you in one area of life, you’ll want to apply the method to other areas to get those tasks in order as well.

Energy begets energy. When I know what cleaning task is set before me, or the things I have scheduled to accomplish in the next hour — and I can check them off — I find myself being much more productive and efficient rather than having a general cloud of “I have so much to do” hanging over me — and then wasting time at the computer.

printables daily scheduleCleanliness begets cleanliness. Running through the first cycle of your cleaning printable or cleaning checklist may take extra time because you’ll have extra work to do. For example, you’ll have to clean up everything on the floors to be able to vacuum bedroom carpeting. But once you make it through one cycle of your cleaning schedule, you’ll be amazed by how what you’ve done motivates you to keep things clean as you go; you’re much more likely to wash a dish you’re about to put in a shining sink than in a sink that’s already partially full.

Meal Planning Printables

meal planning printable
Via issasarza.com. No longer available. Similar available at  Jenny Collier Photography.
  • Meal planning saves money by allowing you to create a grocery list that consists only of what you will actually use. This means what you have gets used and you don’t buy anything that will go to waste.
  • Meal planning prevents multiple trips to the grocery store. I meal-plan once a week, and do my best to grocery shop only once a week (or at most, once at each store I frequent).
  • Meal planning prevents the five o’clock what’s-for-dinner scramble and the possible eating out escape, incidentally also saving money.
  • Meal planning helps keep your family healthy by helping you plan, for instance, fish once a week, vegetarian meals once or twice a week, and red meat definitely not more than once a week (what I try to do).

Schedule Printables

  • Making a schedule helps you get everything done that you want to do in a day.
  • Making a schedule minimizes multiple trips to the same area of town.
  • Making a schedule clears your head for doing what it is you need to do because you’re not constantly trying to remember and work in everything you have to do.

Cleaning Printables

cleaning printable
Via Money Saving Mom. Bonus: It’s customizable.
cleaning printable
Via Money Saving Mom. Bonus: It’s customizable
  • Cleaning schedules help you maintain a clean home throughout the week.
  • Cleaning printables help you map out what you need to do when and how often.
  • Cleaning schedules keep cleaning tasks from piling up and becoming a monumental all-day marathon activity.
  • Cleaning printables make cleaning tasks bite-sized so that they can be done in reasonable smaller chunks of time every day and not too much time goes by before a task is repeated.
  • Separating out daily, weekly, and monthly cleaning to-dos ensures that everything in your home is properly maintained. And you won’t constantly be thinking that you really need to dust those baseboards because you’ll know it’ll get done when scheduled. 

printableThe Challenge

So the challenge this month, which is totally do-able in what’s left of it, is to find at least one printable that suits your needs, and prepare it for use. Who’s up for it? 


As a special treat and motivation, I will send a laminated weekly menu planner to the first five new followers

Disclosure: Compensated Affiliate.