Sunday, January 17, 2010

Messy Monday: Getting and Staying Organized (with a Giveaway!)

UPDATED--Winner of the Book: #6 Rebecca. Congratulations Rebecca! Please email me your address at
Thanks everyone for entering! I heartily recommend this book.

When it comes to getting organized, there are tons of books on the market. Many present systems that work great for the authors of the books, but you are different from those authors, and their systems may not work as well for you. To get properly organized, though, you have to follow their system to a tee, even if it's an awkward fit (at least that's the impression you can get from their books).

A few years ago, I read The Complete Guide to Getting and Staying Organized by author and speaker Karen Ehman. I absolutely loved it. It is, without a doubt, the best book I have ever read--and the most helpful--when it comes to cleaning up your house and keeping it clean for good. But here's the kicker. Unlike the other organizing books that present systems you have to follow perfectly for success, Karen is heavy on mercy for moms, and you know I like that. :) She says the goal is not a spotless house every single day, but "relatively neat and clutter free" most days. I can do that....well, at least I'm trying.

For today's Messy Monday post, Karen graciously agreed to answer a few questions for all of us trying to get our acts together. She is also very generously giving away a signed copy of The Complete Guide to Getting and Staying Organized (U.S. residents only please)! Thanks Karen.

  • As moms of little ones, it is often so difficult to keep up with the house since the kids demand so much attention. What is your advice for keeping up with it all? Should we relax our standards, or work harder, or is there a middle ground? (Basically, what should we be aiming for?)

I think a woman needs to shoot for [what's] realistic. And what that looks like is different at the various stages of her mothering. If she shoots for a perfect looking home with magazine like decor and flawless cleanliness 100 % of the time, she'll never achieve it. As a result, she'll get frustrated (with both her house and her kids) and just chuck the whole thing! Instead, shoot for "reasonably clean and mostly clutter-free" That is doable.
  • If we have fallen behind and our house is a mess, where do we start as we work to get it cleaned up? How long should we anticipate it will take (especially if we have many distractions in the form of little ones who are great at making new messes!)?

Ah yes....the dilemma of the ducklings. By that I mean, once you finally get all of your ducks in a row, along comes one of your own little ducklings knocking them all down, forcing you to start all over! If a mom really has a mess on her hands, with clutter and chaos at every turn, she'll need to tackle one room at a time and not get discouraged. Start in one corner of the room, work the perimeter and deal with whatever is in front of you. Organize and weed out that dresser; deal with that pile of papers; de-junk that medicine cabinet tossing out out-dated items. Keep going. What seems like a huge task can be done with baby steps and patience.

  • If and when we fall behind, how can we find time to get caught up when simply keeping up with the daily basics and kids takes up so much of our time? What tips do you suggest?

I suggest women follow the buddy system, enlisting the help of a friend. Take turns. One day you help with her house (or watch her kids) the next week, switch!

  • Many moms struggle with finding the balance between being both a homemaker and a mother. We can find things to do in the house all day long; likewise, we can find things to do with our kids all day long and avoid spending much time on housework. What principles or tips can help us balance everything and feel good about it?

We've always taught our kids the "work before play" principle. So, if they want mom to have time to "play" then they need to chip in and help. Even three year olds can be taught to fold washcloths or sort and match socks.

  • If someone was poorly trained in housekeeping and tends toward a cluttered home, where do you suggest they begin in improving their habits? Is it possible for them to have a tidy house most of the time?

They need to see the bigger picture. Having a clutter-free home just for the sake of saying you have a clutter-free home is a dead and prideful end. It must be about something better. For me, it is about being able to find the needed papers so my kids don't miss the field trip sign-up deadline or about being able to relax and visit when someone drops over rather than to freak out because my living room is unlivable! And yes, it is possible to have a mostly tidy house. However, it just isn't going to magically appear. We will have to work and also have to do maintenance to keep it that way.

  • How long do you think it will take for them to feel like maintaining a neat home comes naturally? Or do you think it will always be a struggle that will require much discipline?

I'd give it 3-6 months to make it a habit.
  • What are some habits that you think really make a difference in getting and staying organized?

Seeing the big picture and not getting frustrated with all of the things that have to be redone. Dishes, laundry, etc....They are never going to stay done. They are just part of our on-going responsibilities as moms!!
  • Do you recommend moms with little ones (or busy schedules otherwise) split up their chores and do a little each day, or do everything during one large chunk of time each week? What do you think is most manageable?
I've done both.. Doing a little each day worked best when my kids were small and underfoot all the time. Now, I set aside a chunk Friday morning to de-junk and deep clean before everyone gets up. Oh, and I do NOT do it all. It is my goal to work myself OUT of my cleaning job, thus, my kids start learning to do their own laundry at the age of ten and I no longer help them by age twelve. So, if the basball unifrom isn't clean, it isn't my problem! It only takes one time showing up in a dirty and wrinkled uniform to teach them to wash their ball pants when they get home from the game! Also, we have three healthy kids and dirty bathrooms every week. They can clean them too, not just me or my husband! Work before play! (And I build in lots of play!)

Good advice! The giveaway will be open all week, and I will randomly draw and post a winner for next week's Messy Monday post. Just leave a comment below to be entered in the drawing.

Also, if you have any specific questions for Karen, ask them in the comments section, and she will try to answer them as she has time this week.


  1. Oh this is a book I NEED! Please enter me in your giveaway!

  2. I would love this book. I'm a messy woman married to a neat husband. I really feel that it is important for me to keep our house running as smoothly as possible so that our home is a haven. I would really love more help with that!

  3. Oh my, do I need help in this category. A 9 month old, 40+ hours a week outside the home and a busy life as a Pastor's wife.... Either way, the post is great encouragement to take it a little at a time. God bless and I enjoy your blog!

  4. I've been wanting to read this book. "reasonably clean and mostly clutter-free" sounds wonderful.

  5. Most of my friends would consider me very organized, but I feel as if I'm losing that "persona" at a record pace. Life is getting too complicated, and for that reason alone - I need new advice, tips, etc. Hence - winning this giveaway would be huge for me!

  6. This is a book I could use with 2 under 2. Thanks for all the great posts.

  7. This sounds like a perfect book for me - thank you so much!

  8. I would love this book, it sound like it is exactly what I am looking for. Thank you for doing the giveaway!

  9. I would love this book; I really enjoyed Karen's book on hospitality, too. Thanks for the chance!

  10. Sounds like a very practical book!

  11. Would love this book. Thanks for the chance to win!

  12. You're talkin' my language, I'm all over it. :)

  13. Sounds like a book that would be very helpful for any mom. I have tried several books that require a schedule and it never works for me. Thanks for the chance to win!!!

    lattylou1 at yahoo com

  14. Hi ladies! Let me wish you a Happy and Oranized New Year! Whether you are a mostly messy or a nearly neatnick, January is a great time to get both your home organized and your time under control. You can do it!
    Karen Ehman