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Nonnahs and Get Organized Already!

Garage organizing plan of attack

Garage organizing plan of attack

My garage has become a dumping ground and now I can’t find the things I really need.

The garage feels overwhelming to me at this point.

Can you please help us get our garage organized?

Summer is garage organizing season. Get Organized Already has the best team in town, but maybe you don’t live in our town! Or maybe your family needs a project to do together. Going through the memorabilia in a garage is actually really fun; an opportunity ripe for family bonding.
Whatever the case, here are some basic steps to organize your storage space.
Set aside twice as much time as you think it will take. Then add on an hour the following day to take all the donations and e-waste away. Also use that time to call for heavy pick-up or to list sale items on Craig’s List.
Before you start:
Think about what you want the garage or room to be used for. Give it a purpose in your mind or set a goal such as, “We want the camping gear to be easy to access.” This small intention will help you more than you might think.
Designate a big space in the yard or driveway where you will sort the stuff into categories.
Gather trash bins and trash bags for donations.
Don’t buy bins or boxes until you see what you need them for.
protip: Never buy organizing supplies until after you purge. Treat shopping as the reward for purging if that works for you. 95% of the time, you will be able to get by with supplies you already have.
 W garage L before 2
Everything out and purge:
Start in one corner of your space and move systematically around the room.
Put things into general categories (kids, memorabilia, tools, etc) in the yard/driveway as you go. When our team does a garage we make exceptions for large items or areas which are already well organized. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Just leave those things where they are and move on.
protip: Label the piles on the ground to keep everyone on the same page. If the piles are labeled (with blue painters’ tape or 3×5 cards) you can say thing like,

Put that wagon in the for sale section.

instead of having to walk over to the for sale section and point it out to people who are helping you. This small luxury of being able to point instead of walk will add up over the day.
protip: When a donation bag gets full, put it straight into your car.
Scheduling with Friends:
Trick 1-2 organized friends into coming over to “hang out” that day. Then take them out to a delicious lunch at break time.
Start early in the morning and take a break after about 3 hours. You’ll know it’s time to break when you start picking up the same 4 objects repeatedly and your eyes start to glaze over.
Break and re-group:
It’s time for lunch! Determine if you need plastic bins, shelves, hooks or other storage solutions. Make a list that includes measurements and even pictures of where the items will go. Take lunch and go buy only what you need. If you don’t need to go to the store, donate what’s in your car on your way to lunch. Getting away from the project is important for an all-day extravaganza like a garage.
Power through:
This part goes faster, so pump yourself up to get everything back in your space.
Put the categories back together with least used things in the back and popular stuff up front.
Label all containers that aren’t obvious. For spaces with multiple users, label the shelf as well so people know where to put things back when they are done. GENIUS.
Get yourself a treat. You did it!
Take an after photo and send it to me.
W garage L after 2

Chores pt 5: 8 great tips for parents

Chores pt 5: 8 great tips for parents

I warned you in the beginning of this series on chores: all kids are different and you will have to do some finagling to find the right system for your child. And that right system may change in a year. Still, it’s important to remember:

Most kids can do a lot more than we think they can.

Here are some valuable tips I’ve picked up over the years from other parents, books, and my own experience.

  1.  For younger children, give them their reward at the time of service. Kids over 7 can start to understand the concept of waiting for a weekly allowance or reward.
  2. Avoid overwhelm by setting a timer or giving a STOP time for each task.
  3. It’s a valuable thing to learn to discern what you like and excel at. Trying all sorts of chores will help your child figure this out.
  4. Thank your child for helping the family. Develop their pride in a job well done.
  5. Lead by example: Do housework while kids are around. Talk about how you feel about your duties.
  6. Delegate your weaknesses to reduce the temptation to do it yourself.
  7. Give them the instruction and the tools to succeed. Don’t jump on their back for messing up the first few times they try a new skill or for forgetting how to do the job completely. Think about your workplace. What if someone went behind you micro-managing your efforts? AHH!
  8. Think about the chores you did when you were a kid. How do you feel about them in retrospect?

putting away flatware

All of these life skills are to prepare your sweet babies to go out into the cruel world. You aren’t being a meanie. You are being realistic! As they get older, it gets easier to imagine how they will react to life situations. Let these realizations inspire you to crack that whip (with love in your heart). <3


A side note about allowance:

Chores and allowance are two distinct and separate things. You can have one without the other. All I will say about allowance is, if you give your child money, you must teach them how to manage it.

(These pictures are of my adorable niece who is totally into putting things where they go.)

Chores pt 4: Beyond a Chore Chart to Teach Time Management

Chores pt 4: Beyond a Chore Chart to Teach Time Management

After a couple of weeks of a new chore regimen, expect some push back from everyone.

The novelty is gone and frankly, we are over it!

People who are procrastinators by nature are never going to be that excited about a To Do list or a chore chart. So, we have to get creative. Here are some things to try especially if one or more of your kids are just not into charts and lists.

Timers and alarms and clocks

Every child needs to have easy access to analog clocks and timers if you expect them to develop a logical sense of time passing. Digital clocks are just numbers that magically change. What do they mean anyway? To a kid, not much. Get them some old fashioned clocks with hands. Kitchen timers that tick down as the pointer moves toward zero are also great.

How can a timer help, you ask?

Your son is sick of you nagging him and besides, he’s right in the middle of a chapter!

Son, when this timer goes off it is time for you to take a bath.” Leave the room.

Now you aren’t telling him to take a bath, the timer is! And it usually works.

If you notice your child(ren) having trouble remembering what the timer signifies (because it is always changing) use sticky notes beside the timer. TAKE A BATH

Phase 1: check on them (silently) when the timer sounds and give gentle reminders about what they are to be doing

Phase 2: let them set the timer themselves at your prompting (“15 minutes until bathtime”)

Phase 3: independent time management with one task at a time.

chore time lineTimelines

This is the winning solution for my VERY STUBBORN, introspective child who procrastinates like he was being paid to.

Create a timeline for the after-school (or morning) time period. End the timeline 30 minutes before bedtime to provide a cushion. We are setting them up to succeed.

Mark off 15 minute increments like in this photo.

Create pieces of paper to indicate activities in corresponding sizes. For example, dinner at our house takes a bit under 30 minutes. So we have a Dinner piece of paper that is the right size to occupy two 15 minute sections of the timeline.

Create pieces of paper that simply say Chore if the chores vary from day to day.

When your child gets home from school, one of the first things they do is set up their timeline. They design their afternoon! If they want to put everything at the end of the day, they will learn how that plays out. Let them try it! Give them a chance to learn from experience. Maybe they will rock it and you know they’ll be the students pulling all-nighters in college to finish a project.

This timeline gives your child a lot of freedom and it saves you a lot of yelling and the frustration of trying to convince them that it’s really a better idea to take a shower after you play baseball. It’s about learning and figuring out how life works.

Phase 1: help them set up the timeline everyday just by practically making sure the pieces stick on and that everything is included. 15 minute increments

Phase 2: “Have you set up your timeline yet today?”

Phase 3: they enter items into their own digital calendar themselves and follow that instead (or as well)

Just because a chart or list didn’t work for your child doesn’t mean they are never going to be able to be a contributing member of society. Use timers and reminders, calendars and timelines to start teaching them time management and how to prioritize. Those skills are just as important as How to Load a Dishwasher.

Who has another not-a-chart chore system? Do tell! in the comments.

Chores pt 3: The Subtle Arts of Persuasion and Bribery

Chores pt 3: The Subtle Arts of Persuasion and Bribery

Looking around the kitchen I see a big, fat mess! And it’s my turn to clean it up tonight. I don’t even know where to start. There’s a sink full of dirty dishes, splattered oil all over the stove, crumbs on the floor. The dishwasher hasn’t been emptied because of a schedule mix-up.

Oh, it’s dismal all right!

In general, I am a pretty healthy person. But man, when I have a kitchen-full-of-mess staring me in the face I am all about a cocktail or a few cookies to get me through it.

Do you like a treat when you are doing something taxing? Or a reward after you do it?

Keep this in mind when getting your kids in the habit of doing chores. One of the most important life skills I admire in other people is the ability to make a sucky job enjoyable. So, I’ve been thinking about how to teach my kids that skill.

On one hand, I DO NOT ADVOCATE EXCESS BRIBING because life doesn’t promise you M&Ms and our goal is to get our children ready for real life. On the other hand, one of the most effective methods of persuasion I have found sounds like this:

“Yes, you can have dessert. After you have cleared the table.”

and this

“Yes, we can go to the park. After you pick up everything that’s on the floor and put it away.”

“Yes, you can watch TV while you fold your clothes.”

and even this when they are older (and can understand consequences abstractly)

“We cannot go for yogurt today because you didn’t finish your chores before we left the house.” (assuming that expectation was made clear so the announcement of their failure isn’t a surprise)

Let’s talk some practical ways to motivate kids. I’m anxious to learn from you in the comments section, too. Please! I need ideas just as much as anyone.

Chore chart: the old standby

Chore charts work for self-motivated people (like professional organizers).

A very simple chart (attached) can work for young children for things like:

Stay in my own bed all night.

Brush teeth.

A more advanced chart may include the pay rate for each chore. (The attached chart is made specifically to fit into the colorful frame pictured here.)

chore chart w check list

regular tasks listed in top rows, and ways to earn extra money listed below





Chore boards

Chore boards are more free-flowing than charts for kids who aren’t as type A.

Create a board (or just a blank space) that has an area for each kid. Chores are on post-it sized paper. Kids get to pick their chores for the 2-month period (or however long your family decides to go between chore rotation) and put the post-its in their area.


Use an erasable surface and write 1-3 chores on it each day. Even if there isn’t a chore to do, write something new there for the first week or so until everyone is in the habit of checking the board.

Fill a container.

Use a (small) physical container and gems/rocks/beans. Each deed earns a rock or gem in the container. Ten rocks/full container = reward.

Draw a container (a la fund raising) and color in segments when chores are completed. When the container is colored in, it’s reward time.

For all systems:

Phase 1– give them the sticker, the money, something right at the time of service. praise and celebration

Phase 2– they mark off their own progress. Praise and celebration come upon reaching a goal, or at the end of the week.

Phase 3– no big whoop. You did your chores. OF COURSE YOU DID!

Some kids will be motivated to do the work to get the reward. And some, like me, will appreciate the treat while they are working.

Some non-monetary treats enjoyed while working:

Play their favorite music LOUD during family chore time.

Hang out with them while they do their job. This is one tricky because it isn’t good to do the job for  them, and that is tempting if you are just sitting, hanging out. But, some alone time with you may be a really nice thing that they’ll want to earn more of.

A lollipop or gum while they vacuum or water plants.

Pro tip: Avoid overwhelm by setting a timer so they can see the end in sight.

Next week: what to do when even a fancy chore chart and watermelon Hubba Bubba don’t cut it for your little angel.

Chores pt. 2: Why Continuity is More Important than Clean

Chores pt. 2: Why Continuity is More Important than Clean

“How can I have my kids on a chore routine when they go back and forth to my ex’s house all the time?”

My friend Lucia is one of those ladies who looks polished and arrives places on time, with well-behaved children and snacks. She has things together and it shows. So, it’s not surprising there would be some disconnect between the way she expects her girls to act and the way they act when they are at their dad’s house. Let’s just say, Dad isn’t quite as organized.

Most children are not raised solely by one adult. There are the kids in traditional, two-parent homes. Some spend time at grandma’s or have a sitter after school. Considering the little village raising your child, a large first step in creating a viable chore routine is to get all involved adults on board as much as possible.

Last week you thought of your motivation for assigning chores. This week I have some practical ideas for you and for my friend, Lucia, to get your chore routine rolling this summer.

Whether your kids spend time in two homes or with multiple care givers (mom, dad, sitter, Nana), create a List of Family Expectations, (This attached example is for toddlers. It’s from our house circa 2008) and print and display a copy in both houses.

For elementary children, here are some examples of expectations you could include in your family’s list:

  • When someone is talking, try your best to wait until they are finished with their idea.
  • When you are asked to help someone, respond with a level head.
  • Helping each other makes the whole family better!
  • Screen time is earned by doing all of your chores for the day
  • Piano practice happens every day
  • Getting clean happens every day
  • Flossing happens every day

It is possible for divorced parents to share a list of family expectations. You have to find some common ground and emphasize it for the kids’ sake. It is also possible for your children to do their chores when someone else is watching them. That’s where fostering good habits comes in.

For all types of parents

No matter their living situation, it helps kids to have a sense of continuity. Lists or posted reminders are good ways to foster continuity. And if you have a hard time remembering a new habit/chore that’s added to the rotation, a posted sign will help you as well. Speaking of continuity, here’s a parenting tip from my esteemed colleague Standolyn Robertson,

“I made chore cards for my boys when they were little. Each card had step by step instructions for the chore. The expectation was always the same.”

She had a more elaborate chore schedule, but this idea of chore cards is a good place to start. In any case, pretty much anything Standolyn says, I try. She is just that kind of awesome. So, my Sweep the Kitchen chore card has ten detailed steps which are very specific: from #1- move the barstools out of the room, to #10- return the barstools to the counter. Keep each card near the place where the chore happens–stuck to the wall or inside a cabinet door (like our bathroom card shown above). Laminate the cards with clear packing tape or a fancy-pants laminator. You can even type up a list and add graphics for Pinterest points.

“I had them do each chore rotation for 2 months.” Standolyn adds, “ It takes time to get good at it– to develop pride and take ownership. If you are watering plants, you do not want plants to die on your watch.”

Other ideas for keeping it consistent:

  • Designate a chore day/time that happens each week.
  • Use a wall calendar for each child. They get an X for each day they do a chore. The Xs create a visual chain.
  • Post chores in the same place every time. (all kinds of chore charts, bells, and whistles next week. Stay tuned!)

Any tricks you can share with us? Please comment below.

Also, to get you started, here is a list of some age-appropriate chores to consider.

Kids and chores pt. 1: How to answer “BUT MOOOOOMMM! WHYYYYYYYY?!”

Kids and chores pt. 1: How to answer “BUT MOOOOOMMM! WHYYYYYYYY?!”

Memorial Day means summer, which is a perfect time to change up the family routine. What better way to spice things up than to ADD SOME CHORES to your children’s days?

Assigning chores is a lesson in delayed gratification if ever there was one!

The first few times you ask them to do something new can be pretty ugly, or maybe exciting (if you have birthed an angel).

But once the chore becomes a habit, you as a parent get to bask in the glory of your diligence for years to come. The idea behind this first post about kids and chores is to find your motivation.

Why do you want to have your kids help around the house?

Here’s my motivation:

It came to my attention long ago that there is something different about the generation of young adults leaving home in the 2010’s. Two important generalizations I’ve noticed:

  1. their lack of mastery in the art of homemaking and life skills in general
  2. their parents’ interest (bordering on obsession) with helping their children avoid unpleasantries (read: avoid real life)

One story I heard about a freshperson whose mother got herself a hotel room near campus for the first 2 weeks of class sent me straight to my computer to create a chore spreadsheet. My kids were only 3 and 4 at the time, but I would be damned if they were going off to college not knowing how to handle their own personal needs!

My chore sheet was great! For two weeks.

Then I had to add rewards.

And then a new chart that was more exciting.

And while that worked for my self-motivated child very well (parts of it still work 6 years later) my other child is not a chart kinda guy. So I had to find different options for him.

So, before I start writing a series of posts about kids and chores, I’d like to give you two things to think about.

What is your motivation for having your children help around the house? Write these reasons down on a little card or piece of paper you can go back to to be motivated when enforcing the responsibility is more sucky than doing the chore yourself.

Getting kids into the habit of helping is definitely worth the effort it takes to get there. Make your intentions and your reason(s) for doing this for your kids clear, at least to you. And hopefully to your parenting partner.

Next, keep in mind that most of these ideas will not work for all children. You have to be committed to finding one or two that work for your child(ren) and be willing to stick with it.

Everyone is going to mess up and forget one day, or let it go for a week. Don’t beat yourself up about that. DO get back in the saddle and let everyone know that the game is still on. If they are old enough, ask them for help reminding you. If there are rewards involved, they will want to be able to earn the rewards again.

Take away: What is your motivation to have your kids do more around the house starting this summer?