But if I want it to get there–and stay there, I have to have a plan.
Over the years, with nine moves, four children, and a bustling schedule (like yours, I’m sure) I’ve refined my home-simplification process down to seven steps that work every single time.
Many aspects of this process are based on David Allen’s best-setter, Getting Things Done (a wonderful book you must read). Corporate executives worldwide live and breathe this kind of training, and now we’re going to have a great time applying it to our homes.
Step One: Identify the kind of feel that you want in your home.
Pinterest, blogs, and magazines are great resources for helping us identify what we want our homes to look like, but here’s the trick: Don’t get caught up in the paint colors, furniture, knick knacks, and absence of real life that tends to make up most of the photos you find beautiful. Instead, focus on what you can replicate–with your current possessions and income. A house full of garage-sale items and outdated clothing can still feel clean and beautiful. Decor can come later. When I did a basic search of minimalist living, these are the kinds of images that spoke to me:
Step Two: Write “Simplify the house” on a Current Projects List that you review weekly.
It’s nearly impossible to de-clutter the entire house in one weekend. Maybe if everyone leaves on vacation and you stay at home. But if you’re going to make this a family affair and keep up with “all the other stuff” in the process, you need to label this as a project. Get out a sheet of paper (or a note in Evernote) and title it “Current Projects List.” Then write down the main projects you’re working on–including home simplification (the total number of projects, for me, is usually around 7 or 8). Review this list each Sunday as you’re planning out your week. (If you don’t have a weekly planning session in place, put it on your calendar and create an alarm on your phone to remind you to do it!)
Step Three: Calendar which rooms will be simplified/organized on which days.
It’s helpful to first list the areas of the home that need to be organized–and then number them according to the order in which you’d like to work on them. You then add that list to your calendar. I give myself flexible windows of time here (because family life is often unpredictable), but if I know the laundry room will take two hours to simplify, all I have to do is put “LAUNDRY ROOM ORGANIZATION” on my calendar for Thursday and Friday, and then when I have discretionary time, I get to work.
Step Four: When you (and the children!) are simplifying each space, do these three things:
- Divide the room into several smaller sections, and then work clock-wise. In our kitchen, I do the fridge, pantry, bookshelves, and then each cupboard separately.
- Take everything out of one section at a time, and then put back only the best items. Ask, “Does this bless my home?” and “Is this where I go to find this item?”
- Anything that doesn’t positively answer the questions above goes to the trash, into a basket labeled, “Somewhere Else,” or to charity. The “Somewhere Else” items will go to the rooms where they do belong, and the charitable donations can be put into a big pile in the garage and scheduled for pick-up.
Involving children in the process of simplification is an art. All those “Mission: Organization” shows on HGTV or four-page spreads in “O” Magazine show professionals coming in and knocking out the jobs in a few hours. Then when moms try to do this–with crawling babies underfoot and preschoolers who want to touch everything, it gets incredibly frustrating. But if you make home simplification a regular family activity and learn how to assign your children bite-sized jobs throughout the process, you’ll get better at it. “Here, honey, can you take this bag of old shoes down to the garage?” “And can you pick the three bath toys you like best?” “Will you fold these two blankets and put the dirty ones in the laundry room? Our family has spent hours together, sorting, cleaning, and making our home lovely. It more than pays off.
Step Five: Track the things that still need to be done on a note pad.
Step Six: Write the Next Actions onto a “Next Actions” lists–sorted by context (and DO those, as it’s convenient).
Most people stop at step five (if they get there at all). That’s fine, if it works for you, but the kind of list I made above is really hard to work from–and I’ll tell you why. First of all, if’s a jumble of at-home activities, quick errands, phone calls, decision-making, and routines. There’s no order to it. Second, multiple steps are required by many of these tasks, but there’s no way to tell which ones are projects that will take quite a bit of time and which ones are simple tasks that can be checked off the list quickly. If I don’t re-organize this list, you can bet it’s going to sit around my house for a long time. But if I identify the next action for each project and then group them by context, this is what I get:
Step Seven: Make a Routines and Responsibilities List for maintenance.
Once I clean a room, I identify what my family and I will need to do in order to keep it looking that way. Otherwise, a busy family can “un-do” all your work in about 36 hours. (Have you been there?) So you call a family meeting and you set up some routines for each room that look something like this: Front Closet:
- coats need to be zipped when they’re hung so they don’t fall off the hangers
- shoes go in the shoe-holder on the back of the door
- backpacks go on the floor (make sure they don’t have any leftover food in them)
- piano music goes neatly on the shelf
- hand towel is folded and placed nicely on the counter each time it’s used (when it’s dirty, put it in the hamper and replace it with a fresh one from under the cabinet)
- trash goes in the trash can (not behind the toilet)
- hair accessories and hair brushes go under the sink, in the basket before you leave for school
You get the picture. . . . These routines take some time to implement, and there’s a whole lot of love and mercy mixed in there, but a little added structure makes it possible for your simplified haven to be your reality. And when you put in all this work on a place that means so much to you, your family (including you!) will love the time you get to spend there . . . together.