Remember when people were color-coding tins of cereal and organizing their closets by size, shape, and astrological sign? Maybe it was a productive way to channel our COVID anxiety. It also wasn’t realistic for families who actually, you know, live in their homes. After a year-plus of remote learning, my noble attempts at neatness crumbled. My elementary-schooler’s bedroom “office” reeked of damp socks and leftover snacks. My preschooler’s “art nook” looked like Jackson Pollock went on a murder spree.
Needham’s Corinne Morahan gets it. She has two kids, ages 8 and 11. A veteran of apartment living, she now runs a successful home organizing company, Grid + Glam, where she focuses on sustainable solutions for people whose lives do not resemble Instagram.
“People think bins and products are what keep you organized and are a ‘system,’” she says. “But it’s really about identifying how you live and what your pain points are.”
Now: I am not Marie Kondo. I do not whisper soothingly to my sweaters as if they are close friends. I do not expect my son’s bin of mangled Ninja Turtles to spark joy. I just want to not trip on old packets of Pokémon cards.
If your color-coded container spilleth over with unopened mail, well, it’s not a container at all. So I reached out to her for advice on reclaiming my home now that my kids are actually at school full-time.
Focus on mindset. You know those people whose kitchens now look like the Apple store? Most of them are either: professional organizers, professional influencers, or only showing you 30 seconds of reality. If you didn’t use the pandemic to transform your home, do not despair.
“A big piece of where we are right now is acknowledging that this is a really hard time for a lot of reasons. Yes, we were home, but a lot of us didn’t make the kind of progress in our houses that we wanted to do. So on top of how difficult everything is, we feel this additional level of parenting guilt, or shame, around what didn’t get accomplished that we thought we should have,” Morahan says.
This guilt paralyzes us from getting organized at all. Cleaning becomes an insurmountable all-or-nothing feat, not a part of life.
“Getting organized is not something else we layer on our lives, another ‘should.’ Getting organized is something we do to make ourselves feel better and to make our lives easier,” she says.
Instead of expecting a makeover, think about small ways to make your home function smoothly.
“Little things add up over time. It’s progress over perfection,” she says.
Identify your home’s pain points. Is it a minefield mudroom? A fridge with salad dressings from the first season of “Lost”? Countertops blanketed with art projects? Pick one to organize instead of transforming your entire abode. Focus on attainable improvements: Hooks for backpacks and purses in the mudroom; a woven storage bin on the counter for mail. “It can be super simple and super affordable,” she says.
You do not need to sweep your house clean of all unloved furniture, neglected books, and questionable clothing from 1993.
“People get tripped up because they watch the [organizing] shows and think we have to go through our entire house in a weekend. That is not realistic. It can take an entire year to purge and organize a whole home, because we are people who live in our homes and live our lives. We are not living to organize,” Morahan says.
The real objective is to train your eye to spot excess instead of glossing over as part of your life, she says.
Do a 15-minute evening reset. “When I say ‘reset,’ I mean setting up for the next day: Set out kids’ clothes, pack lunches, do what you can. This is important because, if you’re on top of your day-to-day, you have little pockets of time to then make [organizational] progress,” she says.
Enlist your whole family. This is not a solo nagging campaign. “Every single person who lives in the house has to participate in staying organized and staying on top of things, and the perfect time is fall, when we’re getting into new routines. This is the perfect time to set new expectations,” she says.
Don’t feel guilty. Just as you’d expect your kid to finish dinner or do their homework, this is parenting with a purpose.
“This is another skill set that we’re building for them so that when they go off into the world, they understand what it looks like to have some structure and some routines,” she says.
Example: A quick to-do list on the fridge for when they get home from school, such as putting shoes away, unpacking and repacking their lunch bag, and hanging up their coat. Not only does it impose structure, it also prevents parents from growing hostile after tripping over dirty laundry or finding nose-twirling Tupperware in a backpack.
Eliminate cleaning paralysis with a doable weekly schedule. “Decision fatigue is real. I always love to talk about how Steve Jobs wore the same black turtleneck every day and Mark Zuckerberg wears the same hoodie, because he doesn’t want to waste a decision on what to wear. We have a finite amount of decisions that we can make in a day, we’re already exhausted from all this pandemic fatigue. Life is so unpredictable — so set up routines,” she says.
Morahan washes sheets on Mondays and towels on Wednesdays. Grocery shopping is Saturday; meal prep for the week is Sunday.
“Grocery shopping is annoying. Laundry is annoying. But now I don’t have to think about when it gets done,” she says.
Do a three-step paper purge. Do your kids come home with crumpled artwork that you covertly throw out, which they inevitably fish out of the recycling bin with insulted tears? Yeah. Morahan has a three-part system: Go through the backpack and throw out any obvious junk. For questionable artwork, hang it in an “interim” spot — she uses a bulletin board in her laundry area — and let it hang for a few days. Revisit later and decide if it can be tossed or belongs in a permanent scrapbook.
“When my kids are out of the house one day in their own home, I will have two scrapbooks full — that’s it! — of their all these years of schooling that I can give them with their best artwork and their first math problem. Just save the highlights,” she says.
Kara Baskin can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @kcbaskin.