Back to School Organizing for High Acheivers

What is the most daunting organizing task a Professional Organizer can undertake? Working with a successful and high-performing woman is high on the list.

A mess is easy to clear out and organize, but a person who is already successful is looking for impactful changes where there may already be a lot of efficiencies, and important changes may be relatively small.

Recently, I worked with one of these women, Jo-Lynne. She’s successful in so many ways, and you should probably read about her for yourself at her blog, (formerly Musings of a Housewife). When we met, her goals included improving:

  • the mudroom/laundry room (her nemesis)
  • the kitchen pantry
  • a family “command center”
  • her office
  • her closet

This is a pretty common list, and clearly too big for the couple of hours we had set aside. We focused on some areas where we could make a big impact, and there were some takeaways that are worth sharing.

Remember, this lady is smart, successful, already an excellent time manager and steward of her stuff. She is not, by her own admission, focused on a “Better Homes and Gardens” house, but you can see she takes pride in it. She has a busy husband and three kids, and she stakes care of all of them.

We used the kitchen pantry as a jumping off point. She’s OK with the amount of food that they store and the ease of getting to it. She doesn’t need a bigger pantry. She does, however, need better shelving. The basic wire shelves are not adjustable and cause food to topple over. She could store more and keep it more visible if she upgraded to an adjustable system with solid shelves. This is the before:

organizing pantry shelves- before

And this is the after. Not a huge change here, but it only took us a few minutes, and we also touched up several other cabinets while we were at it.

organized pantry

Of course, consolidating three open boxes of cereal freed up some room…

consolidating dry good helps to organize pantry

She loves coffee. How many coffee pots can you count? Some people collect shoes…  Everyone has something that they love, and having more than the average bear just means she needs strategies for keeping her collection in check. ( I count seven in this picture, and one sitting nearby.) As she tries out the newer brewers, the old ones get pushed to the back of the cabinets, stealing room and making things seem cramped. Just by clearing out a couple of pots that she doesn’t use anymore and sending them out for donation when we were together, she gets more space.

organizing coffee pots

She’s devoted to healthy living practices, like not eating off of plastic, so we recycled the plastic that was lurking in a drawer, and put the glass bowls that she wants her family to use, solving both a space and a habit problem.

organizing kitchen drawer items

You’ll have to click over here to see the after.

Next, we’ll add a few labels to help her family work with her to keep the pantry organized. You may not think you need labels, but they help you delegate. As in, “Honey, can you put the chips over on the snack shelf?” Your version of the snack shelf and your fifteen year-old’s might be completely different, but labels can help solve that problem.

See, little changes, but even the youngster noticed a difference. So cute. Click here to see her youngster’s Pantry Organizing reaction.

We moved onto the laundry/mudroom, where we saw that she already has several systems, but none that are working wonderfully.

organizing laundry and mudroom

This area is going to be improved by:

  • Labeling the hooks and paper sorting bins so each kid knows whose is whose. We checked with the youngest kid, and she had no idea which hook was hers, meaning she has to search for her stuff.
  • Removing the triple laundry sorter, which right now is mostly hiding bulk paper towels but no laundry.
  • Replacing the sorter with a shoe cubby system that will keep shoes out of the main entry hall. You should have seen Jo-Lynne’s eyes sparkle when we hit on that solution.
  • Adding some shelves with baskets over the washer/dryer to hold bulk purchases.
  • Making use of the impossibly small and hard to get to closet you see on the right.
  • The biggest and possibly lowest cost change? Improve the lighting. Simple, but by increasing wattage, all five family members will find this space more welcoming and easy to keep clear. No doubt about it.

But something else is at work here. This is what I call a “technical problem”. This mudroom will never, ever be ideal for five people all at once. I recommend assigning one person (dad?) to the hall closet.

And see this space? This is practically begging for a wardrobe, that one person (mom?) could have all to herself. Both of these spaces are just steps from the mudroom, so they make sense.

organizing mudroom with armoire

Back to the kitchen, we’re staking our claim to some underutilized real estate that’s perfect for a family command center. Stay tuned.

command center organizing

Most of us want an organized life, and the best way to get it is to block the time to think about the space (or the paper or the time management). With life going at a breakneck pace, when are you going to find an hour or two or three to get through an organizing project? Working with a partner, whether a professional organizer or a friend with skills, you can get through a project in a short amount of time, without getting sidetracked, and with better end results.

When you do, breeze through an organizing project using these five steps, in this order, every time:

  • Sort
  • Purge
  • Arrange
  • Containerize
  • Establish a Maintenance Plan

*Adapted from Julie Morgenstern’s Organizing From the Inside Out.
Remember, it’s a meeeeeellion times easier to change a system or your environment than it is to change a habit or personal preference. The organizing solutions we worked on here will get put in, and over time, habits, hobbies, and even people will change only so much. You are never “done” organizing, but you can have spaces that really work for you!

One last thing. It may actually be easier to get your organizing projects done after the kids go back to school. As if you didn’t know that already.