Friday, February 6, 2009

Organizing the Children

Towards the end of my shift one night, around 2am, I shared a very strong cup of coffee with a long-time production manager. He was sixty something, African-American, and had decided that we had something in common. He had caught wind of the poem I wrote for my production line. This man, who had worked his way up from the lowest position in a dog food plant, loved poetry.

In the shack – oasis – that was his well-appointed office, I listened to several of his heart-felt, well-written masterpieces. I did not have to pretend to be impressed. He listened to mine too.

Still sipping my coffee, he offered me a few drops of wisdom, from his many years. He wandered a variety of paths during our conversation, but among the threads was the suggestion to listen to what every employee has to say. “Find the best in each one.” (In my poem, I had done just that). He said, with a wry smile, that sometimes those that appear least willing to work find the best efficiencies.

I thought of him yesterday, as I pondered my organizational strategies. Based on his experienced logic, a woman who despises housework (yes, yes, that’s me!) should be capable of brilliance in the face of disorganized chaos.

With that in mind, I bring you my heart-felt, “top-10” suggestions on how to manage some of the most unmanageable aspects of raising children. For our family, I find that the simple solutions are the only ones with staying power.

1. Shoes. Four pairs of shoes and boots times five people . . . . buy a set of shoe cubbies. Buy one that is too large for your family, it will fill up. I put off-season items in a bin in the basement.

2. Hats/mittens/scarves/ugh. Searching for eight mittens in the few seconds before the bus arrives (before coffee) throws me into a tizzy. We have a few baskets to organize these items. To keep it simple, we have a “boys basket” and a “girls basket.” Nothing else is allowed in those baskets. EVER. I know, brilliant.

3. Play space. With a boy who is 6, a girl who is 4 and another boy who is 2 years, I think we have every toy on the planet: dolls, trains, legos, oh my! A few years ago, my house was completely out of control (now its only partially out of control). Since we could not afford a fancy basement re-finishing project, I decided to do the ‘bare minimum’ to allow my children the safe space they needed. With a $130 carpet remnant, $300 in shelves, and another $60 in bins and racks, my basement became playroom central.

4. Toy bins. The only toy bins worth having are once that the kids can put their own toys into by themselves. I let my older children help decide our organization strategies, but the categories are fairly obvious: balls, dolls, cars & trucks, little people, legos, dress-up, etc. Buy a bin that is slightly too large to allow for new toys in that category.

5. Dress-up. With a $10 rack and a yard sale mirror, a star is born!

6. Special toys. If your child has a particular love, find a way for that child to store those toys in a special place. These “garages” for my son’s “fragile cars” are a little too high for a two-year-old to reach, but well within his grasp.

7. School papers. My two older children bring home reams of paper every week. I put all of the papers in one notebook as they come through the door. I can do in the midst of chaos, and I can always find things by remembering approximately when that paper came home from school. For odd-shaped “precious art,” I keep a bin in the basement.

8. Hand-me downs. Kids grow SO fast, especially the little ones. I keep a bin (often a diaper box) in my kid’s closets. As soon as something is too small, it goes right in the bin. If it is too stained, throw it away! If you don’t have a friend with a smaller child, there are many organizations that would be thrilled to have your treasures.

9. The Children. Don’t forget that by storing the smaller one on the upper shelf, there is plenty of room for a larger child on the bottom of the cabinet.

10. Take hints from others! Have an organization idea that works for your family? Share it!! Add your comment, or send me an e-mail and I will add to our ongoing list at

This post (or something frighteningly similar) will be posted on my site at Cleveland dot com. You can check me out over there, by clicking here.

And, why did I start this post with the production manager? That production manager was very tough, hard-working, full of grace, and commanded respect from the inside out. He didn't control everything. He controlled what was important.

And everyone knew it.


Badass Geek said...

I am impressed! Would you like to come over and organize my apartment?

Indy said...

Look at you going over to I have to hear more about this next time we get together. It has been ages.

Anonymous said...

The organization in boxes and bins and compartments works well, that is until the children get into them because their idea of order and ours is not the same. My shoe cubbies have sprouted books, bags, umbrellas, and "lost" homework. But at least it looks better than if it were all on the floor.

MIT Mommy said...

Badass - Sure. I'll put all your legos in a bin for you. =)

Indy - I'll try to remember how to use the phone and call you.

Laura - Sounds like time to relable your shoe cubbies.

Anonymous said...

Storage containers make me drool - I too have learned to be tidy and organised out of necessity, as my house is small.

Wonderful post.

Angela said...

You're kids are organized perfectly in that cabinet! But you need a little help with the stuff strewn on the floor. Heck, I don't think I could get close enough to take a picture if one of my cabinets were emptied out!

Christi said...

just found you from classy chaos! love your organizing...and the photo of your kids in your cupboards. those are some of my favorite childhood memories.