Monday, June 1, 2015

Some Organization Tips that Work for Me

I like organization. I like order and "stuff" to have a place. I feel better when the room around me is neat. Part of me believes that a messy (not daily messy but chronic chaos) contributes to some of my migraines. Seriously. I saw an article on this once and I agreed with it 100%. It doesn't cause the headache but it certainly tips the scales when one is brewing.

Now, with four kids, having that level of orderliness isn't always possible so I cut the stress and make it easy to organize in ways that directly affect me. What I share today is tried and true. I have used this system for over a year (some pieces even longer), and it is about near perfection as possible.

With health issues that can suddenly take me out of action, taking the time to prep the next school year - not hugely detailed - now gives me more energy (and time) when I need it.

****NOTE**** If you are pregnant, have a newborn, are moving, or are under any huge stress, just pin the post and come back to it. Trust me on this. Survive today first, and when you have time to breathe, take that extra energy to help your life become more efficient. ****NOTE****

...The Family Calendar...

First, the family calendar. Last year I bought a Michele Quigley calendar, which is gorgeous and handy-dandy with menu and lesson planner options. This year I wanted to save money and make it a little more personal so I created my own. Yes, this takes time, paper and ink, but I worked on it while I was down physically (but not mentally). Also, our printer died this past winter and we bought a laser printer which is awesome. Our school year starts in July so I like transitioning everything in July as well.

In the calendar, I have contact info, list of birthdays and other special occasions, the liturgical year at a glance, and months with dates and weekly plans. You can see detail in the pictures below. I will hole-punch it and put it into a binder.

Month-at-a-Glance, Monthly To-Dos, Liturgical Items, Monthly Notes

Left-Side Weekly Detail -- space to write in lunch and dinner, prayer intentions, special days, and notes for the day.

Right-Side Weekly Detail -- inspirational quote and a space for weekly to-do notes.

I use the calendar in conjuction with my Cozi calendar on my phone, which you can try free and upgrade for less than $10 (the upgrade was worth it for me). I'm not as huge a fan of the grocery list though as I kept accidentally knocking items off the list by touching anywhere on my phone screen. For shared lists (like grocery or to-dos with my husband) we use Google Keep which is free and works great. I try to keep all important appointments on my virtual calendar so I don't have to lug a paper calendar anywhere. The paper calendar is more for when I plan out my week and write in more details, to-dos, etc.

...Those Loose Papers that Create Piles Everywhere...

To help control the paper trail (bills, future papers, feast days, etc.), I took notes from Dawn and her file crate system. If you want all things beautiful and organized, visit Dawn, not me. :) I simplified her method to something that I thought would work for me, and it does! It really helps cut the paper piles.

I make up folders for an entire year, starting with the first week of our school year (the week after July 4th). I reuse the folders by using folder labels to cover up the previous year. Then, I put a quarter's worth of folders into one hanging file holder. Repeat for the remaining weeks. I store the folders in a filing cabinet tucked away in a closet. I bring about six weeks of folders out and put into the storage bin on my desk.

I love this little storage bin. It has one large pocket for folders, a small pocket for this-n-that, and an even smaller pocket for pens and scissors. I have a tax folder, a receipt folder, a future project folder (those pieces of paper I want to do something with but not any time soon), and then the weekly folders (4-6 weeks' worth).

As I check mail, I file away anyway bills into this or next week's folder (I do bills on Tuesday). Any other dated mail is put into the appropriate folder. The same goes for any dated papers from the kids' activities. I have feast day plans and activities (from previous year as we typically do similar things each year) and put in the right week's folder. I keep separate folders for big seasons like Advent, Christmas, Lent, and the four seasons.

At the beginning of a week (Sunday), I file away the previous week's folder, bring out one from the filing cabinet to add to the bin on my desk. I pull out the current week's folder and deal with the paperwork when and as needed. This really worked well for me! I always knew where to find loose papers, and feast days were ready to go (outside of the actual work of doing activities) for those times of the year where I had no extra energy or time to plan.

One simple handy "tool" I keep near my calendar and folder is a simple notebook of paper. I write in meal plans, notes, to-dos, etc. when I am not on the phone or computer.

...Organization in the School Room...

Here we go, those checklists again, but they work.

I keep all my yearly papers in the binder I created as a sample for our Summer with Saints (St. Monica) project. I like to have a nice cover paper inside as inspiration, followed by a year-at-glance that shows quarters (by color). This year I am trying something new and having planning pages for history, science, and "circle time" for each  month to write in. I need to be more on top of that or it really slides. Finally, I broke up the remainder of the binder into history, science, and each child.

Inside Front Cover. In the pocket I keep a few useful things like stickers, alphabet strips, paper rulers, etc.

In the history and science sections, I keep my plans and notes. At the end of the quarter I make sure to type any permanent notes into my digital file and pitch the rest.

As an example, this is my rising third grader's yearly overview. It makes a nice piece for a quick at-a-glance curriculum for end-of-year assessments and also for putting into the school district to get out of school.

I started doing this quarterly page of independent work (or nearly so) last year, and my boys like it. They like to see the quarter wind down. Don't do this if you child can't handle seeing all this work at once. My boys certainly would have hated it a few years ago, but at 8 and 10, it's more of a competition to finish now. Also, I don't create all four quarters at once. Towards the end of next quarter, I will assess and change to fit quarter 2.

This is the weekly/daily checklist. This, the quarterly goals, and a reading log go onto a clipboard hung on the wall so my children can take them anywhere they work and it makes end-of-year assessment portfolios so much easier. The boys tend to use these more at the beginning of a quarter, but then as it winds down, use the quarterly page.

To cut down on the work, I only mess with the school paper trail at three points. Papers are immediately pitched or saved into folders (seen above). There are three folders for each child: catch-all, science, and history. The next time I touch them is at the end of a quarter. I go through the above folders, keep necessary portfolio papers (that I file into a yearly folder in a filing cabinet), put history/science papers into a notebook, take pictures of certain items for their year books (like artwork or something that just screams out that child's personality), and then I pitch what I can. The final time is at the end of the school year when I put together each portfolio. I keep only what is necessary, a few personality items, and pitch the rest. I have to be ruthless or my house would be filled with paper!

The kids keep their workbooks, pencils, folders, etc. in a plastic bin on a side table. It's nice to have a place for everything. The crates on the bottom hold library books.

...Morning Prayer Time...

Again, from our summer project years ago, but this binder the kids made.

Of all the tips I shared today, this one is the only one that I have used for a few months, but I can tell it is in it for the long haul. I use this for our morning prayer time. During the Easter season I wanted to make our morning prayer more intentional and a chance to "study" our faith together in a special way.

We sing a month or seasonally-appropriate song while we light the candle (or candles).

Then we say our beginning prayer that includes a morning offering and a prayer to our guardian angels. After, we "study" something. For instance, during the Easter season it was a mix of the Sunday gospel message and the story and message of Fatima. We ended our prayer time with a child-appropriate "meditative" Rosary. 


Whew, this post ended up long! Tell me, what keeps you organized?

(And don't feel bad if your house is still a mess, you can't find your keys, you lost yet another library book, and your kids' socks are mismatched. I have been there and will no doubt be there again -- those library books still evade me! These above items, over time and with use, have helped me so much on keeping on top of the paper mess that hits any normal person, and ten times more for anyone with kids!)

And if you think I said that to make you feel better, I did, but also because of this:

This is supposed to be my kids' toy room. Plus, my dryer has been broken for two weeks and I think my youngest can't see well due to a much overdo hair cut. I can be only so organized.


  1. Inspiring Nicole! Makes me miss our homeschooling days. I encourage everyone to savor every moment :D

    1. Thanks, Mrs. Miller, that is certainly a daily thing to aspire to!


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