I love your website. It gives me hope. I’m twenty-seven and a new mom. I’m not very good at cleaning or organizing but I can dream, right? My question is this – were you born an organized person and did you teach your daughter everything when she was young so she’s just a natural? My mother is a hoarder and I’m afraid I’m doomed – not to mention my child. I’m afraid he’s going to be a third generation slob. I could never afford an organizer and even if I could I wouldn’t let them in my house because I’m too embarrassed. Sometimes I think worrying about organizing my house is silly but lots of time it feels like if I could get it done I could do anything I set my mind to.
-So Not Martha
Dear So Not (but maybe one day) Martha,
Thanks so much for saying you love our website. I’m glad it gives you hope because you have every reason to be hopeful. If there is one thing I know about people it’s that we can change and we do. It’s not easy to change but it’s possible and the best indicator that you can change is the desire to do so.
And no, I wasn’t born an organized person. In fact I grew up in a home where my mother focused on what was important to her – kindness, acceptance, good food, good books and the laughter of kids but she didn’t love housework because it’s boring and she isn’t. I grew up in one of those homes where young people were always welcome and comfortable.
I learned a lot about organization from my high school boyfriend and his family. His mother ran a tight ship – their home was very clean and super organized – but she got sick when we were teenagers and so much of the work fell to him and his dad. I learned from watching them that order and systems can help ease the way especially when things are not going well. Because he was doing the grocery shopping his mother made the list in the same order as the store to make it easier for him. Seems like a little thing but shopping for a household is difficult without a list and also expensive because you get things you don’t actually need. The idea of writing the list in order so he wasn’t looking all over and doubling back seemed revolutionary to me at the time. I learned from his family that preparation makes hard jobs easier and more fun.
My kid’s dad, Steve, taught me about time management. I was twenty-three when we got married and as far as running a home, I was in way over my head. It was just over thirty years ago but things seemed different then. Men didn’t do as much at home as they do now. My first year of running a home was something like an episode of I Love Lucy with my cousin, Ann, “helping” me by being Ethel to my Lucy. We were both twenty-three and equally inept. I was always behind on my housework and never seemed to have enough time to complete the jobs and get where I was going on time. Steve was much better at this aspect of life than I was. It sounds so simple but he explained that I never allotted enough time and therefor was bound to fail.
So, what have we got so far? The proper preparation, thinking about systems that will work and allotting enough time to get the job done. This doesn’t guarantee success but you’ll be on your way.
There is one other magic ingredient when it comes to home organizing. It can be time consuming and dull so it helps to have a friend to share the workload. You asked if Kate is a natural – you know what? She was born this way. She always liked cleaning and organizing and was good at both. I am lucky to have her because she makes boring clear outs and clean ups much more fun. If not for her we wouldn’t have started Done and Done because it’s a 1000x harder to organize alone then it is as a team. That’s true whether Kate and I are doing our own homes or the homes of our clients.
This is what I recommend – start on a project that seems hard but not impossible like under the kitchen sick versus cleaning out the garage. See if you like doing it. Try and think through the people in your life who might want to do their homes. It might be your spouse but it might not be. This work is hard enough without trying to talk somebody into doing it when they have no interest. Pick a friend or a sister who you feel comfortable with and ask them if they want to work on both of your homes together. Make a list of every single job that needs doing and based on how long it took to clean out under the kitchen sink, assign an amount of time to each job. Block out enough days and help each other evenly – six hours at your house, six hours at hers. Don’t leave giant amounts of to-do for either one of you. Taking things to donate and getting the garbage out are part of the job and the time needs to be accounted for or you will fail. We often find bags of items to donate in the closets of our clients because they never made it out the door.
Feel free to email me your list at email@example.com and I’ll look it over and see what I think about the amounts of time you’ve allotted for each job. You can do this! Keep us posted and take before and after pictures. By the way, the pictures won’t look like a magazine or even Instagram. They’ll look like your home only with less stuff. Not well lit and glamorous but a huge accomplishment just the same!
Keep the questions coming to firstname.lastname@example.org!