Family Of Origin Organization (And New Downloadables)

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.

I’ve already talked about our Fun Card budgeting tool, and the basic and advanced techniques we use to keep our day-to-day expenses in-line with our budget.

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. says

    Therein lies the answer – Put the stuff back where it goes…. which means of course, that it has a place where it belongs…. I haven't gotten to that point yet – but I'm working on it – slowly… 8 boxes out the door to a garage sale… :) and buying more cabinets! lol!

  2. Sharon H Miro says

    Yes, put the stuff where it goes is really optimum….Two things that help me:
    make sure the bed is made and the kitchen sink empty and clean…you will be surpised how good the whole house looks if those two things are done.

  3. says

    I agree with Sharon! Bed made, and kitchen sink empty and clean goes a long way! And crossing things off the to-do list is good for the soul!

    My husband and I are both perpetual project people. One thing I rely on to keep myself from going batty (I crave tidy)–clear plastic bins. They stack, they organize, you can see what's in them, and they corral messes without having to eliminate the things which make the mess. My sewing room is a much happier places because my 100-or-so cones of thread and 50-or-so zippers (that I kept finding on clearance) are all tucked in neat little bins where I can find them easily! I made DIY slide-outs in my kitchen cabinets with large plastic bins, so I never have to dig around in the back of cupboards for gadgets and pot lids. Don't even get me started on what clear plastic bins do for the state of my garage!

  4. says

    I find that by simply putting something on a list I am more likely to remember. But I do like being able to list it down and cross it down. I find that I do more than I realize!

    I am going to have to check out your different spreadsheet for organizing. I am SO organized at work. I have to be. I am at home… in the things that really count. But yes, I lose my keys regularly, the garage is a mess, and although my pantry is neat and categorized I am constantly forgetting what I have in the freezer.

  5. says

    Gurl. Seriously. I once downloaded The Fly Lady's instructions that some people swear by. Punched them all neatly in a binder, signed up for the email reminders, etc. I did it for maybe a week? Then I realized I wasn't doing any fun stuff anymore – just keeping up with the cleaning instructions. That's no way to live! What really motivates us to clean up is inviting people over. And I SWEAR I will get to the big clean out of the garage and more purging…after the fun stuff. In the meantime, we live with the mess.

  6. says

    Chris – couldn't agree more. The reason our house is usually pretty ok looking would be the entertaining. Also, I believe I have 4,097,826 unread emails from FlyLady in the dedicated "FlyLady" email folder. They automatically filter there, you see, and I never open that folder… :)

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