5 Habits of Organized People

posted by Andrea | 02/4/2016
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5 habits of organized people

I’m often asked what my “secrets” are for keeping an organized home with little kids who are home with me all day long.

Obviously, my house isn’t perfectly clean and organized all the time; but for the most part, it IS relatively neat and picked-up. And no, I don’t have a housekeeper, magical powers, or a super special secret to share with you… just a few habits I’ve learned over the years that make it possible to keep my home neat and organized every day with very little effort.

If you’re the type of person who doesn’t necessarily love cleaning and organizing, but still wants a neat and organized home, here are 5 simple things I do EVERY day to prevent clutter build-up in my home. They only take a few moments to complete (now that they are all second-nature for me) and I guarantee that with a little practice, they could be second nature for you too!

1. I put things away when I get them out.

Putting things away when I get them out is probably the simplest and most important thing I do on a daily basis to keep my home neat and organized.

Whether it’s putting clothes away after I’m finished wearing them, putting dishes and food away after dinner, or putting toys and books away when we’re finished playing; those few minutes here and there save me hours and hours of cleaning and organizing later on — plus I’m not looking at the clutter surrounding me all day long!

2. I purge extras.

For the most part, I try to not to hang onto extras of anything, because by not owning extra stuff that I don’t need, use, want or love, I have less stuff to store, less stuff to clean around, less stuff to organize, etc.

If you’re big on deal-shopping or love finding freebies, this one will probably be the trickiest for you. I used to be one of those huge freebie-loving ladies too, but then I realized that even if something is free but I don’t need it, it still costs me time, energy, and effort storing and cleaning around it.

I literally had to change my frame of mind when it came to finding deals, and I now only bring things into my house if they have a place and a purpose — no matter how great of a deal they might be!

3. I keep piles at bay.

I keep paper to a minimum, and I file any paper I do need to keep ASAP. I don’t let dirty laundry back up…. or folded clothes stay in the basket for days at a time. I rarely let dishes pile up next to the sink for more than a couple hours after dinner, and I try really really hard to keep clutter away from all my flat surfaces (where it just loves to collect!)

In my personal experience, I’d much rather take care of the paper, the clothing, and the dishes right away (while it’s still a manageable amount) than let them pile up for days until it seems totally overwhelming — at which point it’s really easy to keep making excuses and saying “I’ll do it later”.

4. I don’t make excuses.

Speaking of making excuses, that’s also something I try hard NOT to do.

Obviously there are days when my excuses get the best of me and dishes sit overnight, laundry goes unfolded for a day, or I procrastinate on a work-related activity… but those instances are honestly quite rare.

This is not because I just love working and cleaning and doing household chores. No, I struggle with this on a daily basis — after all, it’s always more immediately gratifying to put off chores and work. However, I also know that in almost every single situation, it is SO much more beneficial for me to “do it now” versus make excuses and put the tasks off until later.

5. I try to leave every space better than when I arrived.

When I’m leaving a room and going to another room, I’ll do a quick 3-second scan of the room to see if I can pick something up, bring something to the other room, throw something away, etc. etc.

When I’m in the kitchen making dinner, I’ll wipe down the counters while I wait for the water to boil or I’ll chop onions and peppers for the freezer while Nora is doing a craft and cookies are in the oven.

When I’m in the bathroom, I’ll take 10 seconds to wipe down the countertop before I leave, or empty the trash if it’s getting full.

Often, I’ll even catch myself doing this in a public place — like throwing trash away or wiping up spills I see. I just can’t let myself leave a space without doing something to make it better, neater, cleaner, more organized than when I arrived.

Maybe I’m crazy, but it usually takes less than 30 seconds of my time and I feel like I’m making a positive change — plus, if you think about how many times you leave various spaces in your home, you could pack a lot of organizational power into those 20-30 second segments!

When it comes to organizing your entire home, I can totally understand how overwhelming that process might feel for you. I will fully admit that the simple tips I shared above will NOT magically transform your home into a blissfully organized oasis overnight. However, if you start now and implement a few (or all) of my tips above on a daily basis, I know you will see positive change.

Yes, it might take weeks or even months to notice the difference, but you’re headed in the right direction — not to mention you’re creating awesome habits for yourself and modeling those good habits for anyone else who lives with you.

We’re still in the very early months of another New Year… which means it’s a great time to look for simple, small changes you can make to better organize your home and life.

It might not seem like much now, but if you’re anything like me, you’ll look back in a few years and realize that those simple, small changes have completely transformed the way you live your life and how you feel about the spaces around you.

What are your best simple tips to keep clutter at bay?

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48 comments

  1. Karen

    02/04/2016

    Don’t be hasty to say yes to things offered to you. Ask if you can think about it. If they won’t let you think about it, then pass it up. Graciously say “No Thank you!” to things that you know you will not need or use. Don’t take things because someone else you may know might need it.

    Also, think through purchases before making them. A lot of my clutter amounts to impulse buying.
    Picking up or straightening a room before I go to bed also helps with the clutter. I also have a “central hub” where I put things that I have collected in each room that doesn’t belong there and then I call the owner to come get their things to put them away. 🙂 I try to do this every night before dinner.

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    Andrea Reply:

    YES!! All such great tips! Thanks for sharing Karen!

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  2. Kaitlin @ The Mom on Purpose

    02/04/2016

    I think constantly purging is the best way I stay organized. It’s impossible to organize clutter! I keep a Rubbermaid tub in my laundry room that is for consignment (I have a friend who owns a consignment store). I’m constantly tossing things in. When it’s full, I put everything in a box or bag and take it to her store. This has really helped to cut down on “purging” and “organizing” room by room.

    Also, it’s amazing how much stuff we keep that just needs to be thrown away! We pay for our trash service and utilize it frequently! 😉

    Thanks for sharing! I love all of your tips! I definitely need to improve at #5!

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    Andrea Reply:

    I have a place in my laundryroom for donations too — it’s actually getting really full so I think I need to take another trip this weekend!

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  3. Alicia

    02/04/2016

    Thank you for these seemingly simple, easy to implement suggestions! I’m not a naturally organized person, but as a mom of 3 boys living in tight quarters (1400 sq/ft), these are all things I HAVE to try to do or things get out of hand really quick! My biggest challenge right now is the laundry…I can never seem to stay on top of it. Baby steps though, right??

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    Andrea Reply:

    you’re welcome… and yes, the laundry is often an issue for so many people! Good Luck 🙂

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  4. Avia

    02/04/2016

    I am an organized person but having a 3 yr old and a 1 yr old has really tried me in this area! THE TOYS!!! Purging and rotating toys have been life savers for me. I try to put away one set of toys/activities before another comes out and that works pretty well. The problem comes when someone else is in the house watching the girls (this happens once a week). It’s amazing how crazy the clutter can get from just one day of not staying on top of it and how much effort it can be to recover! I guess I have to train more than just myself and the kids!

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    Andrea Reply:

    I know what you mean (about messes when other people watch the kids!) Honestly, even when Dave is home with them for an extended time, things get WAY more messy than when I’m playing with them because he just waits to pick up until the end 🙂

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  5. Bonnie'sMama

    02/04/2016

    Most days I try to do a timed, 5-minute session in each room in the house. I do the easy, obvious things first, like make beds, hang up clothes, and put away toys. If there’s time left, and there usually is, I tidy a drawer or closet in the room, hang a picture that’s been sitting around, or improve organization in some small area.

    I am always floored by how much I can get done in only five minutes, when it’s spent just in that room and I move quickly.

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    Andrea Reply:

    Love this! It’s amazing what you can do in 5 minutes (or even 1 minute — I sometimes race to clean up the kitchen while I’m heating things up in the microwave!)

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    Alicia Reply:

    What a great idea! Another thing I learned a while ago from another blog was to clean the bathroom while the kids are in the bathtub…how did I never think of that before?! Multi-tasking at it’s finest 🙂

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    Andrea Reply:

    yes! I can’t do this right now because James is so little — but once he’s bigger and can sit up by himself, I’ll go back to cleaning while they bathe!

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  6. Stephanie

    02/04/2016

    This is so true. And my best days are when I do these things. I have realized that if I am behind on laundry and dishes my whole house suffers. But I can also be very good at procrastinating.

    Do you know of any tips or resources for small house living. I’m not talking the tiny house movement, cause I think those houses are built with efficiency in mind. I’m talking about still living in a starter home with a family of 6. Think two bedroom one bath 1000 square ft, with a mostly unusable basement. I know the first tip is purge, (and something I try to do regularly) but you can’t purge people. 🙂 How can you make it work? Have you ever helped people in this scenario in your organizing days?
    Thankfully we don’t look like an episode of hoarders, but since we live in every space of our home, every space gets messy and dirty, I can have the whole house clean, beautiful, and picked up and in 10 minutes the whole house is a mess. Some of it is small children who are learning the ideas presented in this post. But some of it I feel is that we have a small house.

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    Pamela Reply:

    We are in that EXACT same boat! 6 people, 2B/1B house, 1000 sf. We’re in CA, so no basement, but we do have a small garage (so small it can’t fit our van) so we do have some storage space there.

    I often wonder how these mothers from 150 years ago managed with 10 kids in a log cabin. I guess they sent them all outside for most of the day?!?

    Anyway….I feel your pain of feeling like everything is messy and unorganized even though I purge often and pick up all day long. My husband works from home (in our master bedroom/office/nursery) and we homeschool, so there is a LOT going on in this small space.

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    Andrea Reply:

    Pamela, I just responded to Stephanie’s comment — you can read it here

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    Andrea Reply:

    Stephanie, thanks for your question!

    Did you see my post earlier this week (http://andreadekker.com/how-we-use-vertical-space/) I would say my first suggestion to you (after purgin) would be to take a look at every room in your home and see if there’s a way you can utilize more vertical space. Can you hang hooks, shoe organizers, bars, etc. on that back of your doors? Can you add shelves on wall that you previously just had a picture on? Can you find taller/skinny furniture versus shorter/wider furniture that takes up more floor space and actually offers less storage?

    As for the basement. Our basement is pretty gross (in my opinion) so we only store a few things down there — but if they are in plastic bins, we haven’t had any problem with musty smells, bugs, etc. Could that work for you?

    Another idea would be to look for double-duty storage (ottomans that open to store games and toys, baskets that look decorative but offer lots of storage, under-bed storage bins, etc). My friend with 6 kids actually just got beds with drawers underneath so all the kids can store their clothing under their bed. They do have bunk beds, but the bottom bunk has 2 drawers on the side and 1 drawer on the end… and that seems to be enough storage for all the kid’s folded clothing.

    Finally, I would say that you really need to be ruthless with purging “memorabilia” or “sentimental” items as much as possible (not sure how much of this you save, but most people save more than they think). It’s amazing how much space these sentimental items take up — and if they don’t provide any useful purpose, they probably don’t have space in your small house.

    Maybe you already do all of these things — but they were the first suggestions to come to mind 🙂
    Hope something strikes an idea!

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  7. Camille

    01/11/2015

    Thanks for this! I am trying so hard to pick up these habits. It’s so hard to really change them, but the difference I’ve noticed when I stick to it is HUGE! #2 and #5 I think will make the biggest difference for me. I also love the comment Anna left about only allowing a certain number of toys per child and I’d like to extend that to myself and my husband, as well! Seems like hobbies take over some people’s homes.

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  8. Gillian

    01/08/2015

    Wonderful article! It made me feel like I’d met a kindred spirit.

    When my daughter was young, we used to sing a clean-up song, or depending on the type of day we were having, we would set the timer and race! Making it fun helps so much. And you’re right about the modeling too.

    I, too, try to deal with things as I see them. Having a “Do it now” philosophy just takes the wind out of any internal argument to wait. After all, you won’t magically feel like doing it in the future, so waiting just makes it bigger in your mind.

    At the start of the New Year, I often will do a little extra clearing out of paperwork, recipes, and those drawers that gobble up stray items until they are full!

    This year I got a mini-whiteboard, and it is so much fun! I put the menu planning on there for the week and wipe it off as each day goes by. Nothing gets wasted now because it’s planned into the menus. Also, I get the satisfaction of seeing my to do list dwindling. Now it doesn’t feel like what I’m doing is endless … I can SEE my progress.

    Love your blog – thanks for taking the time to share!

    Gillian

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  9. Kim

    01/08/2015

    Good stuff!! I find that putting things away as you use them and just not having as much stuff is huge in being organized and having a tidy home. My home isn’t spotless or sometimes even clean all the time but everything has a place. Thanks for the post and congratulations on baby #3!!

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  10. Maria

    01/08/2015

    Loved this post! I feel that it is so important to maintain these 5 healthy habits of being organized as you stated above, as it results in, not only in more time to do more meaningful things (such as spending time with your family/friends or pursuing hobbies etc.,) but also teaches children these important habits. Not only will you have more free time on weekends by cleaning up on a daily basis, but by maintaining these important habits, you can also reduce a lot of stress.

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  11. Becky

    01/07/2015

    Thanks for the great advice Andrea. I am clean but have so much clutter and extra stuff around the house that I really need to work on.

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  12. Katherine

    01/07/2015

    I am curious if you’ve read “The life-changing magic of tidying up”? (Surely you’ve been asked this a million times since this book came out:)

    She purports that you can “tidy up” once in a good, six month effort and never do it again. I would imagine that you all hold some similar views on keeping things simple and stopping clutter before it even enters your house.

    Anyway- I keep clutter at bay with a regular purge and by being discerning about what I buy or accept for free. But the idea of doing it once and for all?… I’m intrigued:) And would be curious what you take away from this book.

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    Andrea Reply:

    Katherine, I have not read that book — not a big book reader here 🙂

    Obviously, I’d need to read it to fully understand the author’s reasoning — but it does seem a little crazy to me that you can only “tidy up” every six months. When I think of “tidy up” I think of what Nora and I do every day before lunch and then before bed.

    I definitely agree with trying to stop clutter BEFORE it comes in, but I also feel it’s 100% necessary to do a little every day in order to stay on top of it. And then, I probably do a little larger purging every 6 months (like spring and fall cleaning/organizing).

    Hmmm… I’ll have to see if our library has that book 🙂

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    Pamela Reply:

    I’ve read the book, and I loved it! I’m a very organized person by nature, but I still gleaned SO MUCH from this book.

    By “tidy up” the author means “massively purge”. It’s well explained in the book.

    It is a very quick read, Andrea. I also am not a big book reader, but I read it in a day. I would LOVE for you to do a review of the book….that would be so interesting.

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    Andrea Reply:

    yes, i should read it… someday (maybe over spring break when Dave is home — or maybe I can get the eversion on my phone?)

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  13. Jennifer

    01/07/2015

    No. 1 is actually a resolution I am forming for this year, because I think that in all my efforts to be more organised it’s the one habit that I’ve still failed to establish. I make messes but stop the activity and run out of energy before I tidy up. But now that I am making a special effort to put things away when I’m finished with them, I just feel like I spend my entire day ‘chasing’ stuff around! Actually I hate it!

    I don’t know if this is just because it’s not a habit I’m used to and hence it feels very odd to me? Some good habits, when I pick them up it feels like a learning curve but part of it is really enjoyable and satisfying. It feels good because you know you’re establishing something healthy. But with tidying up after myself, I do look back on my day and feel like I spent it shuffling things around, accomplishing nothing.

    I mention this because I wondered if someone else had the same experience. Has anyone else felt this way?

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    Andrea Reply:

    Hey Jennifer,
    Well, I totally understand where you are coming from — and I don’t have an awesome answer for you 🙁

    Do you really hate picking up a few things here and there more than living in a messy clutter home and more than having to spend hours and hours on the weekends picking up everything you got out during the week?

    I think that if doesn’t feel like it’s becoming a habit and you continue to hate it, then you should reevaluate. Maybe you’re making it too difficult or too time-consuming?? If you have ANY perfectionistic tendencies at all, it’s very likely that you’re over-analyzing and over-thinking every situation and making it into more work than it has to be.

    Also, it might help to think of it like all your other daily and weekly chores. Do you hate the fact that you area always “growing” your laundry piles or that you always need to go out to get more groceries? I think pick up after ourselves is just a fact of life and something that must be done a some point. I don’t always love picking up, but I just tell myself it’s better than the alternative of living in a cluttered mess and then needing to spend hours upon hours cleaning up at a later time.

    Like I said, I don’t have an awesome answer — but maybe some of these tips/ideas might help?? Hopefully!

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    Jennifer Reply:

    Thanks for the response to this! I do think I should stick with it a little longer and see if it starts to feel more automatic. After all, I am undoing a lifetime of bad habits.

    I think you’re right that keeping the overall goal (enjoying a tidy space) in mind is helpful. And I do enjoy that benefit!

    You’re right that I’m probably being overly perfectionistic, too. If at the end of the day there is one stack of folded laundry sitting out (um, yesterday), I tell myself I’ve failed at my goal – when really that’s just ONE thing left out of all the 25 others that I already put away or cleaned up throughout the day.

    Maybe my goal should be that 80% of the time, I am going to put away 80% of what I get out each day!

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    Andrea Reply:

    Hey Jennifer, I think your 80% + 80% is an awesome goal! Try that for a few months and see if it makes life easier and decluttering more “fun” 🙂

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    Mommymommymommy Reply:

    The longer (in days, not minutes) you work at tidying up after yourself, the easier it gets. You start working down through the layers–getting all of today’s clutter, a little of yesterday’s, and eventually all you have every day is today’s mess.

    It might help to set specific times when you only tidy up. I’m a perfectionist with four small children, and I could follow them around the house all day putting everything back as soon as they’ve dropped it and moved on. I try to limit myself to roughly a morning, noon, and night pick up session.

    Also, using a timer and telling yourself you only have to clean up for five minutes (or two minutes) makes it easier.

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    Andrea Reply:

    exactly… it will eventually become a habit and then you’ll do it without even thinking about it!

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  14. Michele

    01/07/2015

    This is the perfect blog post! I am going to forward it to my friends. I try to do all of those things and #5 is something I say almost verbatim to my girls. One is really good about it, one…not so much!

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    Andrea Reply:

    haha — well 50% isn’t bad when it comes to kids helping clean and organize! Nora has to be told and told and then warned… and I need to let her go SUPER slow whenever she’s “helping”

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  15. Elizabeth

    01/07/2015

    What tips do you have for getting toddlers to help pick up?

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    Andrea Reply:

    well… I obviously don’t have much experience — maybe one year of encouraging Nora to help (also, note that Nora is EXTREMELY stubborn). That said, I usually just ask her to help and tell her exactly what I’d like her to do (example: pick up those books and put them on that shelf) and then wait. I remind her and wait some more. We don’t get the next thing out or move onto the next activity until she puts the old stuff away. And if she refuses (which happens frequently) then we take those toys away for a day or more. Timeouts and most other forms of punishment don’t phase Nora AT ALL — so just taking away privileges, special snacks, and toys are our best bet at this point.

    Often, she’ll do what I ask after 2 times of “reminding” but we’ve also taken many toys away for a few days (and some for good). She’s starting to learn that we’re serious when we ask her to help 🙂

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  16. Ariadna

    01/07/2015

    When I was living with my parents I used to keep EVERYTHING. Well, why not, if there was room for all that stuff?
    When I started living on my own I was renting a tiny apartment. But when I say tiny, I mean really tiny, like you could basically see it all from the front door. In these kind of spaces, if anything is out of place, the whole room looks untidy. So I started having only the most essential stuff, and doing exactly what you stated in this article.

    Then I went to live with my boyfriend (my husband now) in a small house, maybe twice as big as my old apartment, but hey… we are two people now, so in the end I do not have THAT much space; but in my head I still have this habit of only keeping what I’m using and selling or giving the rest to charity shops, cleaning after using and wiping the bathroom sink as well!!

    I think that if you’re someone who can’t help getting all this stuff you say in deals, or free stuff, and keeps piling up more and more things, living in a tiny place helps you set your priorities and live with the essentials. And this is a lesson that, hopefully, will stay with you wherever you go!

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    Andrea Reply:

    haha — yes, I’m guessing many people can relate to your comment Ariadna!

    However, you should be really proud of yourself because there are a whole lot of other people who would say “but I have all this stuff, I MUST keep it”. They pack their homes so full, rent storage units, and live a cluttered life because they are “victims” of their stuff and simply can’t get rid of it.

    Thanks for sharing your story!

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  17. Rebecca

    01/07/2015

    I also find myself picking up and cleaning as we go. Sometimes I get to a point where I feel like I am cleaning and picking up ALL THE TIME. Since I spend all day picking up in small increments it feels like that is all I do all day. So I will get tired of picking up and start to slip and the house instantly looks like a tornado hit.
    I guess I just need periodic reminders of why I pick up ALL DAY.

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    Andrea Reply:

    I can get in the routine of constantly picking up too — and that’s no fun. I try to let the mess be until lunch — then Nora and I pick up. We pick up again before dinner and then again before we go to bed.

    It’s a happy medium for us and seems to be working well for now 🙂

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  18. Siobhan

    01/07/2015

    Love this post…love the phrase blissfully, organized oasis…I can only dream with three little ones running around. But, through your advice of keeping it simple I have made many positive changes with the order of my home. Also, congratulations on baby #3 🙂

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    Andrea Reply:

    Thanks Siobhan 🙂

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  19. Donna G

    01/07/2015

    That’s too funny about clearing things in public places – I generally wipe the counters in the restroom at church, and yesterday I caught myself organizing all the bottles of hand soap at Home Goods so I could see what there was!

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  20. Lynn O.

    01/07/2015

    Love this! 🙂 Thanks for sharing!

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  21. Sheila

    01/07/2015

    It keeps cutting off the rest of my comment when I push submit. Anyway he is a great husband and father and we make it work.

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    Andrea Reply:

    sorry about that — I’ll remove the duplicate comment 🙂

    and about your hubby — I know many people can relate to your situation. a spouse, or other family members, who aren’t “on board” with getting and staying organized is tough. On one hand, you can’t force them to change, but on the other hand, you hope that they see how important it is to you and WANT to change. Have you talked with him and honestly shared how important being organized is for you — and how wonderful it makes you feel? Then listening to his opinions about why he seems to prefer “messy”. Maybe there’s some compromise you could come to — or maybe he just needs help finding/making a space for his stuff???

    Obviously, this won’t be a cure-all and work magic the next day — but just getting a conversation started can be half the battle! It’s worth a shot I guess 🙂

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  22. Sheila

    01/07/2015

    If only I could get my husband on board. Sigh…. He loves to keep things in case we need them, loves his piles of paper, and well, doesn’t put his things in their place because they don’t have a place

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  23. Anna

    01/07/2015

    I am a very organized person and I have always done these five things, although I didn’t realize until reading #5 that I do that too! I stay home with my 2 year old son and infant, and the best way to get him to pick up his toys is to only allow about 3 toys (including one “set” of something) out at a time. Otherwise all of his toys are dumped out and he will not put anything up. So if he wants to get his blocks or trucks out, he has to put something else up first. So much easier!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Yes Anna — I think when you’ve always been organized, it’s easy to overlook some of the SUPER SIMPLE things you do every day to keep things looking neat and uncluttered. It’s second nature for you buy now — which is really cool (at least in my opinion) because it doesn’t even seem like “work” then 🙂

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