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Why Do We Struggle So Much with Organization?

I've been talking lately to Deb Mantel, a professional organzier dedicated to "making women's lives more manageable. She's been taking some of my speaking training, and I've been drooling over her organizing skills, like this picture of "spaces with soul" up on her website. I love art like that on the walls, but I've never figured out how to get it there. The whole picture says peace to me, but I can never seem to achieve that in my house.

But even if I'm not perfectly decorated (I have too much of an ADD personality to be a decorator), I have gotten a lot more organized over the last few years. And so I thought I'd ask Deb some of the questions that we deal with a lot at To Love, Honor and Vacuum, since she knows so much about organizing. So here goes:

Are women more organized today or less organized today than our grandmothers were?

I think women are less organized than our grandmothers simply because the options and choices of how to spend their time, energy and money are overwhelming. Women in earlier generations may have had a lot on their plate, but it was all related around the home and family. Usually they were stay-at-home moms and there was not a lot of carpooling or activities to keep them running around.

I often hear women complain that they’re too busy. Are we, or have we just not figured out how to organize our lives best?

I think we are too busy. In his book Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial, and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives, Dr. Richard Swenson defines margin as the space that should exist between our load and our limits. Whether it’s our finances, our emotions, our health or our schedules, we need margin for several reasons. First, because life happens. If we are filled to the brim emotionally, maxed out financially, and booked solid, then we have no room to respond to the stuff of life that happens all around us. Second, as Christians, margin allows us to have room to hear God and to respond to what He brings into our lives. Ideally, we have margin in our lives so that we (and all that we have) are available to God and His plans and purposes.

Do you think we have too much stuff? I know I have too much stuff, and I spend my life weeding it out. What’s the psychological effect of too much stuff?

We have way too much stuff and it can really sap us of energy. We struggle with always wanting more, often because we think it will fill us. But too much stuff can actually rob us in many ways—our time (it takes time to shop for things, to take care of things), our health (too much stuff often leads to disorganization which causes stress), our space (instead of having room in our lives and homes, we often need to rent storage units to house the excess), and even relationships (the more we are managing our “stuff,” the less time we have to build relationships). Relationships should always trump stuff!

I think I’m more organized the older I get (and the older my children get). Can you give any tips for being organized when you have very little ones underfoot?

Clear away as much clutter as you can so that you have less to maintain. Set up very simple storage systems so that kids know what goes where and can access things and put them away easily. Keep your schedule as free as possible and try not to over-schedule your kids. I remind women that our children look at us to see what a life with Jesus is like. When they look at us, do they get a glimpse of the Good Shepherd, who leads us beside the still waters? Or do they view Jesus as a hard taskmaster, always driving us to do more, be more, have more! The question is not can Jesus give us rest (Matt. 11:28), but do we want what he offers ENOUGH to let go of what He ISN’T calling us to.

What do you do when you want to keep an organized home and your husband feels it’s entirely your job? What about when he leaves dirty socks all over the house, for instance, or doesn’t encourage the kids to do chores because it’s “mom’s job”. Any advice?

That’s a hard situation to be in. Ideally, some healthy communication needs to happen so that the husband can understand that keeping a house organized is not something one family member can do alone. It’s like any team effort (husbands can usually understand sports!). It takes the entire “team” to win the game. Everyone has a role to play. As early as possible, children should be shown how to take care of their belongings and how to respect common living spaces (by keeping them neat and not leaving personal items/messes around).

How can we teach kids to be organized, especially when it comes to schoolwork and responsibilities?

It’s important to help children learn the connection between “responsibilities” and “privileges” from an early age. This can help down the road when the tendency is for Mom to nag at the kids all the time. Besides the responsibility of helping the home “team” keep the house running smoothly, children need to learn that their main “job” during this season in their lives is to study and develop their minds (school). Whether they are home-schooled or attend public or private school, homework and staying on top of their studies is one of the “responsibilities” that come with that “job.” Privileges (special outings, activities with friends, movies, tv, etc. are tied to responsibilities). When we can help our children to see that it is their “choice” whether they earn the privilege or not, it takes the onus off of Mom to stay after them all the time. It takes a lot of time and effort, but it’s worth making this clear when they are young!

I think that's all great advice! What resonated with you most? What do you want to talk about some more? Let me know in the comments, so we can keep helping each other!

Deb Mantel is a professional organizer and a songwriter and speaker. Find her at


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At 9:28 AM , Blogger Megan said…

I completely agree with the idea of purging stuff = happier spaces. In getting ready for the sale of our house and a cross-country move, I was ruthless in getting rid of things. We took several PACKED carloads to a donation center, sold stuff on craigslist and took a big trailer load to the dump. I don't even know where all that stuff had been hiding. My parents and in-laws gave me a hard time about getting rid of so much, but honestly I didn't care. The house was so much easier to keep clean and so much more enjoyable to be in. Plus, now that I'm surrounded by boxes at the new house, I'm certainly glad I don't have even ONE more box to


At 9:58 AM , Blogger Bethany from Confessions of an Organized Homeschool Mom said…

Great advice! I personally don't struggle too much with organization - I LOVE it and write about it - but my hubby and oldest daughter are the total opposite. I guess that is my biggest challenge. I always enjoy reading what other have to say about organization. Thanks!


At 10:33 AM , Blogger Tessa said…

Wow I totally wish this wasn't an issue for me! I used to be very organized as a child and still am with certian things (our finances/bills) but I just don't enjoy housekeeping and cooking etc so those things tend to lag behind.
I am really needing to do some purging of "stuff" around the house. Especially since we have such a small house and a growing family. I just never know where to start and once I do start it's hard to keep the motivation when there are so many more fun things to do.
I have a question about books. I have lots. I have ONE bookshelf and it's full and there are still books in boxes that I would love to get at. My husband keeps telling me I should just get rid of some. How do you get rid of books?


At 5:44 PM , Blogger Herding Grasshoppers said…

I think most of us struggle with "too much stuff", but I think the most helpful advice is to make it a family goal/project to be organized.

I have three boys - 14, 11 and 9. They can make chaos in an instant! But they actually like things to be orderly and tidy because it really is more peaceful and restful. Since they're older, it's easier than it used to be, because they really will help to keep things picked up.

They're also learning my motto about stuff... It can't love you back, and are willing to get rid of things they've outgrown.

But Tessa... books are the hardest! And actually, since we're all readers, we have several bookshelves around the house! I try to consider things like - which books have we really outgrown (and who might enjoy them), which books do we enjoy re-reading vs. just reading once, which books are really good writing (vs. cheap novels I might have enjoyed but don't need to keep), and are there any duplicates in the pile.


At 7:45 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said…

Tessa, I'm glad you love books! We are a book family with four large bookshelves in our living room and bookshelves in every bedroom. In terms of the family bookshelves we keep them sorted roughly using the library groupings (biographies, fiction, religious, science, reference, etc.). Just makes it easier to find things. I do purge each year. I try to keep books that are classics or very up-to-date reference, along with fiction and non-fiction books that are favorites. I donate a number of books to our church library (books that were good, but not on my favorites list). So, try to be selective. BUT, I feel that this is one area where it's worth getting what you need to store them. I don't think I could limit myself to one bookshelf. Store them in an intuitively logical way, keep some "room to grow" on shelves, and purge regularly. Also, try to use the library as much as possible for first reads, that way you can invest in the book if it's worth owning your own copy.


At 1:15 PM , Anonymous Paula (Belgium) said…

I am a home school mum and very good at de-cluttering. However, mentioned in earlier comment, books are a 'problem'. As a home school family we have very many books. I need some inspiration here. I organise the books (library organisation) and keep them neat etc. I struggle with which books should I keep (for possible grandchildren) and which books should I donate to other home school families. I already give away a lot, but what which criteria do you (all) apply? 'Books that are loved by my daughter' criteria doesn't help, it results in keeping all our books :-)

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About Me

Name: Sheila

Home: Belleville, Ontario, Canada

About Me: I'm a Christian author of a bunch of books, and a frequent speaker to women's groups and marriage conferences. Best of all, I love homeschooling my daughters, Rebecca and Katie. And I love to knit. Preferably simultaneously.

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