Candy Land Carnage

This morning, actual blood was drawn during a game of Candy Land.

I am not exaggerating. Told that they could not be on devices, the kids decided to play a board game. So great right? Except that my internal high-five (“see, you don’t need screens to keep you occupied!”) was tainted with dread. I knew it was a high likelihood that it would not end well.

See, I should love it when my kids play board games, this timeless classic in particular. Should. I love the image of me standing in the doorway, smiling with my steaming cup of coffee while they sit cross legged around a board, giggling and giving each other encouraging pats on the back. Sometimes it’s all smiles and fun. More often than not, it’s fighting over the rules, who goes first, whether that dice roll counted, nothing being fair, someone wanting to quit because they are losing, someone gloating because they are winning. There is a cheating accusation, the yelling starts… you get the idea.

The reality on this fine morning was a board flipped over in frustration, a full-blown wrestling match, me knocking over the coffee that I had re-heated seven times as I ran to break up the fight that had already resulted in a long, bloody scratch across a torso.

Should is a dangerous word. What I hear from clients is “I know I should be organized/clean out the garage/have a better system”. Should is so full of self-judgement. We’d all do ourselves a favor if we take out the should and focus on the can, on what’s realistic, what’s practical, what’s doable and what works for our own selves and families and circumstances.

Ok, so what does this ramble have to do with a functional, organized home? I promise I’m getting to the punchline. When it comes to our homes, should feels a lot like trying to live up to expectations that come from the Container Store adds in your newsfeed or watching too many episodes of the Home Edit (fun to watch, but I will never expect myself or my clients to color code their snack food). We can identify parts of our homes that aren’t working for us and find new ways to manage the space; we can push ourselves to build systems for getting in and out of the house with greater ease; we can challenge ourselves with new habits to manage clutter build-up. But these things are different for every space and family. Just because Marie Kondo says you should roll your socks a particular way, doesn’t mean that matters for you, or is even worth a minute of your precious time to contemplate. If your linen closet is less-than-tidy but it doesn’t impact the functioning of it, then release the “I should organize this” mindset – it might be just fine as it is. That said, if you can’t ever find your keys because your entry space is a free-for-all, then that is a better place to devote your energy and resources – because you can make life a little bit easier with you can start your car.

As for me, I am going to get a fresh cup of coffee and take a good, hard look at our stack of board games. Maybe I should like Candy Land, but I don’t. And I definitely don’t want bloodshed before 7am. So today, I can put that one into my donation pile.

A Little Bit of Peace

I’m sitting in my living room with my coffee, my computer, the dog at my feet, and the Christmas tree providing the only light in the early morning darkness. I am working on some goals and resolutions for 2022, feeling hopeful that I can start the year with more patience and mindfulness. The Christmas gifts – books and LEGOs and games – are no longer strewn all over the floor, and now have homes in bedrooms and on shelves. I feel something rare… peace.

I take a deep inhale and as I breathe out… A creak on the floor above my head. Voices – soft, and soon to be louder. Some giggling, some stretching noises, and then, of course, a smack. An “ouch, why did you hit me?” A growling and rustling and banging, and then “MOMMY!!!”. A door slams, feet stomp in the hallway and scurry down the stairs directly behind my head. And then:

“He hit me!”
“I’m hungry!”
“Can I have a playdate?”
“Can I paint?”
“Can I do a science experiment?”
“Where is my LEGO Spiderman’s head?”
“How many days until my birthday? Easter? Next Christmas?”
“I’m still hungry!”
“He hit me again!”

In the playroom next to me, there is the clatter of the LEGO and Magnatile bins getting dumped out. Mike, my husband, stumbles down the stairs. I can hear him in the kitchen getting out his bread-making supplies and I prepare for the formerly tidy kitchen to soon be coated in flour and dough and parchment paper scraps. And I remember that we are quarantined pending Covid results, so we won’t be going anywhere today.

The real day has begun. There are breakfasts to make and questions to answer and toys to find and arguments to referee. I put on my proverbial whirling dervish attire and start to do all the things.

This is life. Some days I own it. I twirl around feeling like I must have an extra set of arms, and thinking “Damn, I’ve got this DOWN”. And there are the days when the kids’ demands come faster than my coffee intake can keep up with and I feel like I can’t possibly survive until lunch.

The saving grace on the hard days (and perhaps a reason for the good ones) is that I have built systems and structures to create a baseline for functionality. My small kitchen has a flow that allows the kids to get their own water and bowls without tripping over the dishwasher while I unload it, all of Mike’s breadmaking supplies have one open bin they can get easily tossed into once the deliciousness is in the oven (an example of a system that is manageable for the individual), each kid’s hats/gloves/masks/shoes live in their own spots so they are not rifling through dozens to find what they need. Each system is small on its own, but holistically they work together help the chaos be a bit more contained.

It’s an ongoing process. I am often tweaking things as our needs and routines change (remember when we didn’t need a spot for masks?). But much like editing a first draft, the tweaking is simple when I have a baseline that works. So, friends and readers, I encourage you all to start off this new year identifying a few of the areas of your home and routine that just don’t work and trying something new. Little improvements, even as simple as relocating where you keep your coffee cups or where the kids dump their back packs, can start to create a pathway to more efficiency, less chaos, and a more opportunities for carving out moments of peace.

The Kid-Clothes Conundrum

I love organizing. Obviously. In my own house, in other people’s houses, in my car, in my mom’s pantry (something I tackle pretty much every time I visit my parents). When I’m feeling anxious, or when the hamster wheel that is life with four small children is getting the better of me, my best medicine is five minutes to rework a problematic drawer in my kitchen. I feel instant relief and an immediate sense of accomplishment and productivity. I realize this may sound odd… my husband certainly thinks so. But it’s who I am and it’s why I’ve chosen a career that allows me to do things like get a serious rush from turning a seemingly useless space into the perfect place for a client to keep her brown paper grocery bags (true story… we may have even hugged over it). There is no basement too dirty, no closet too packed, no kitchen too puzzling for me. I love it all.

Well, except one thing.

My children’s clothes. Oh, the clothes.

My kids are just-turned-six, just-turned-four, and the twins are 22-months. All boys. Yes, I said all. They are my loud, rambunctious, sweet, loving, nutty, dirty boys. And they’re growing so quickly that pants can fit one day and be high-waters the next. Shirts shrink and show off the twins round, toddler tummies. Lots of things get holes and stains. Meanwhile, here in New England we have to be prepared for it to be anywhere from negative 10 to 65 degrees in February, and then somewhere between 32 and 95 degrees in May. So here’s the categories of clothes we’ve got at our house:

  • New hand-me-downs we aren’t yet ready for (thank you, dear sister and nephew who save us a bundle by passing things down to us)
  • Matthew’s current clothes
  • Clothes that are in-between Matthew’s and Stephen’s sizes
  • Stephen’s current clothes
  • Clothes that are in-between Stephen and the twins
  • Twins current clothes
  • Clothes the twins have outgrown which get sorted into sub-categories of donations, hand down to friends, and the occasional item worn by all my boys that I cannot part with (even us organizers get sentimental – these go into a memory bin)

This is all made more complicated by:

  • Seasonal stuff
  • Sizing variations (you all know that not all sizes are created equal among brands)
  • The stuff Matthew has worn for so long it can go right to Stephen instead of being put away
  • The fact that they’re all picky about different things (zippers, pockets, collars, different fabrics)

You can see why this is the one organizing task that can make my head spin.

But, it’s got to get done. So, here are a few tricks I’ve learned along the way to make it slightly less painful.

Take the too-small stuff out of rotation right away. Keep a bin, laundry basket or drawer in a convenient location to continually toss-in clothes that are too small. They can get sorted when it’s time to pack them away, but pulling stuff out of rotation regularly avoids having to search through crowded drawers every day to find what actually fits.

 Deal with one kid’s clothes at a time. If possible, avoid the mental overload of taking out all bins of clothes belonging to all kids and trying to do it all at once. Work with one kid’s bins/drawers at a time. Believe me, I’ve tried doing a massive overhaul and I succeed at little except creating a strong desire to get rid of everything they own and have them live in undershirts and sweatpants. Doing one kid at a time will help keep the stress low and the efficiency high. That’s the winning combo!

 Label label label! As you pack stuff into bins, you may think you’ll remember what’s in each one. You won’t! Label the size range, season, and any extra notes (like Christmas PJs 2020, or 4th of July shirts for Summer 2021). If you don’t have a label maker, stick a piece of paper on the inside of a clear bin, facing out. Bonus points for labeling 2 sides of a bin so you can store the long or short way!

 Don’t overthink it. If a 3T shirt ends up in the 5T bin and therefore never gets into rotation… oh well. We’re not moving mountains here, just trying to dress kids in (roughly) the appropriate size and season threads. The goal is getting sizing and seasons together, but if things get missed here and there, don’t sweat it. Efficiency is more important than getting it perfect.

The stuff that’s too small for the last kid(s) leaves the house! Whether you’re donating, passing things along, or tossing the stuff that’s too stained and thread-bare for either… get it out! Most people have a tendency to spend weeks tripping over donation bins or driving around with them in their cars for an eternity. Drive it right on over to your friend’s house or the local family shelter or wherever it’s going and get it out! You’ll feel great about having the un-needed stuff gone, and those who need it will be thrilled to have it.

OK, so now that I’ve gotten myself into the mind-set (and since we are finally seeing some hints of spring)… off I go to the kids’ rooms to tackle Matthew’s transition out of size 5 winter and into size 6 spring. Wish me luck!

Always go with clear binds for clothing so you can have a rough idea of contents.


My Basement and the Beauty of Zones

With each passing day, as my belly gets bigger and it gets harder to bend over or climb stairs, I am reminded of the urgency of whipping my house into shape in preparation for my two new additions. One of the most important aspects of getting started was to think strategically about a road map. The reality of organizing is that you cannot do your whole house at once. Small, manageable goals that help you feel a sense of accomplishment along the way, and ensure that at least one part of your house is in excellent working order is the way to go. Sometimes you have to circle back to areas that are “complete” because no space in your home exists in a vacuum, but small tweaks later are easy when the bulk of the work is done.

As I’ve been chipping away at transitioning my guest room and its closet to a twin nursery, I’ve become acutely aware that my house is quite lacking in closet space. Until I tried to make space for two more babies, it was never an issue. But now storage needs are at an all-time high. In strategizing my space, I decided that my basement space has to go into overdrive.   It’s always been a catch-all, as most basements are, but now I need it to be extra functional. And the key to creating a space that is both multi-purpose and super efficient? Zones!

My first step was to think about categories. I scanned the existing stacks and bins and considered what I’d planned to move down there from other areas of the house. I also needed to dig my hands in to sort and create categories from the existing contents. At first, I thought I had a solid grasp on what was there and what would be added, but once I started sorting and writing down categories, I was amazed (and I do this for a living… I’ve seen it all!). There was ski gear and camping gear, excess paper goods, a printer and office supplies, kitchen overflow, luggage, memorabilia and keepsakes, home improvement stuff like tools and paint, holiday décor, bins of clothes that are in-between the kids current sizes. When all was said and done I counted 16 categories! I knew there would be a few things I could toss, but since we had already done some purging when we moved into the house less than two years ago, most of it was needed and used stuff.

Creating the list of categories comes first, and then it’s time to think about zones and what items make sense where. Not only should like be paired with like, but accessibility is a key factor in function.   I did not, for example, need the old iron that my husband uses once a year to wax his snowboard to be at eye level on a shelf near the stairs. That should instead be where frequently needed paper towels should live. So before I started moving things around (considering that moving things is a little challenging for me these days), I sketched my basement layout, what shelving and categories should go where, and then mapped out placement based on priorities, accessibility, fit, and size.

It took a day and a half and one trip to Target for supplies, but my basement is now in fully functioning order. My excess paper goods and kitchen overflow are in the prime real estate zone at the base of the stairs (and paper towels are within reach of my 4-year-old who is quickly learning to be my helper). Rarely used camping gear is stashed in the awkward and hard-to-reach space under the stairs. Luggage is spanning two areas, with the more frequently used carry-ons in the more easily accessible spot and big suitcases tucked away. It’s not all pretty; I don’t have all matching bins or brand-new shelving, but the space makes sense, which, to an organizer like me, is a thing of beauty.

So now I move upstairs to the kitchen. Where oh where in my small kitchen to put the baby bottles that I’m about to unpack? More on that soon!

My prime real estate by the stairs: printer and office supplies, paper goods and kitchen overflow. And scrap carpet in front so I can grab what I need without my feet freezing on the cement!

Staggered heights optimize the angle of the stairs, and also create a barrier for a makeshift closet behind.


Not so pretty, but super functional – easy to find/access home improvement supplies, luggage and air mattress. And tucked in between the left shelf and oil tank is a tall box perfect for containing awkward scrap wood.