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Totally Organized: Easy-to-Use Techniques for Getting Control of Your Time and Your Home
Totally Organized: Easy-to-Use Techniques for Getting Control of Your Time and Your Home
Totally Organized: Easy-to-Use Techniques for Getting Control of Your Time and Your Home
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Totally Organized: Easy-to-Use Techniques for Getting Control of Your Time and Your Home

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Getting organized is one of the biggest challenges in any home today. Pressed for time and bogged down by papers, receipts, household items, and an endless stream of junk mail, Americans need expert ways to get an stay on top of it all. Expert organizer Bonnie McCullough has the answers. In this clear, practical guide, she explains how to:

--Take control of household tasks by using a planner, making lists, and setting priorities.
--Gain more free time by establishing routines and planning ahead.
--Create more space in the kitchen, closets, and elsewhere.
--Setup a simple, easy-to-use home-filing system.
--Get kids, spouses, and roommates motivated to help keep the household organized.
--Establish and stick to a household budget.
--Simplify holidays and gift giving.
--Work smarter, not harder--when tackling housework, paperwork, and all the little things that drain time and energy from our lives.

Release dateMar 15, 1986
Totally Organized: Easy-to-Use Techniques for Getting Control of Your Time and Your Home
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Bonnie Runyan McCullough

Bonnie McCullough is a professional home-manager, lecturer, mother of five, and author of Bonnie's Household Organizer and Bonnie's Household Budget Book and co-author of 401 Ways to Get Your Kids to Work at Home.

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    Totally Organized - Bonnie Runyan McCullough


    1. Fast Results With Minimum Maintenance

    Have you ever had to stay at home, lock the doors, and take the phone off the hook to shovel out after a PTA pancake breakfast? This is the Typical Crash Crisis System of too many busy people, and it’s doomed to failure. They let the house go while taking care of a Scout activity or church social. Then they dig out. When more than one outside activity occurs in a week, the house is unlivable. The husband or wife resents the service that is given in the name of compassion or career, and tension develops.

    There is a better way! You can put an end to frazzled nerves and short tempers by developing your own MM system. I chose to explain this simple process first because it will make the biggest, most immediate, most visible improvement in your home.

    There is no such thing as a miracle cure, but MM (minimum maintenance) can set you free by 9:30 in the morning or have you ready to leave for work on time—and that means with breakfast wiped away, children dressed, dinner planned, and the clutter cleared. The MM system is simple to use. It calls for daily, organized house keeping rather than weekly or seasonal house-cleaning ordeals. MM will give you more R&R (rest and relaxation) time for you. Here’s how to do it:

    1. Begin with the basic plan. Put on an apron or shirt with pockets, check the time on your watch, and give each room five minutes before leaving for work or starting any major project of the day. You put away, straighten up, and wipe off. Where do you start? There is an art to knowing where to begin. What does a caller at your door see first? Pick up this area and it will not only give your spouse, children, and guests a feeling of neatness, if will also give you a feeling of pride and accomplishment, no matter what the rest of the house looks like. Begin with the biggest items, such as bed, newspapers, or kitchen table. Work your way down to the smallest objects, which can be collected in your apron pockets. Work with gusto. It’s amazing what you can do in only five minutes, but don’t stay longer. (You can allow yourself fifteen to twenty minutes in the kitchen if it needs it.)

    This is only the basic maintenance. When it is finished, you can begin the day’s project, whether it be work, school, or shopping. You can leave the house knowing that when you return, everything will be in order. If your house is in order, it says, You are successful. You are making progress. If you come back to dirty dishes, unemptied ashtrays, and last night’s newspapers, your house says to you, You’re a failure. You’ll never catch up! The pickup process is rewarding and generates success. This positive reinforcement gives you more energy to go on. It’s a good feeling to walk into a room and see it in order.

    2. Don’t start cleaning too deeply during your morning run-through. This isn’t the time to scrub the whole kitchen floor or clean out the refrigerator. When you see jobs that need doing, jot them down on a project list for later, during cleaning time. If you’re thinking you can say good-bye to thorough cleaning forever, remember that MM is no miracle. It is a method for keeping clean what you’ve spent valuable time and energy to get thoroughly clean.

    3. Don’t let the needs of others control your life. Suppose a friend calls and says, I’m desperate, can you help me make posters today? It’s for a good cause. This friend has helped you before. But don’t just drop your world. Do the maintenance first. (Work before pleasure.) A home can run smoothly for a long while on minimum maintenance. Throw the meat and potatoes in a crock pot, dress the children, wipe away breakfast, quickly pick up through the house while a batch of clothes is in the washer, and you can be ready to go by 9:30. Going straight from the breakfast table to posters is asking for a backfire at about five, when you’ll be thinking, I hate this housework; I can’t ever do what I want. Anyone who chooses to come back to undone chores should hate it. Learn to reward yourself after, rather than before, your MM is finished.

    4. Make the dinner decision early. The longer you wait, the fewer choices are available. No preparation yet—just get it settled. Five o’clock is too late to discover you need to take something from the freezer or stop at the store.

    5. When the enthusiasm strikes to clean, don’t make the mistake of starting in the cupboard, closet, or drawer. Start from the outside in. Take care of the clutter scattered around the room before digging into the chest of drawers. Starting with the closet first makes a double mess. You’ll get discouraged and quit before either job is finished. Begin from the outside in—clutter before closet.

    6. Categorize your household items. You might ask, If the drawers are messy, where will I put everything? Put the items in category areas where they will be used or stored: gardening supplies to the garage, arts and crafts to the game room, Cub Scout materials to a closet. The categories that you originally create may not be the most efficient, but start by grouping. Then get more specific. I know one mother of five who is so involved with organizing her cupboards that the living parts of her home are stacked with I’ll-get-to-it-someday items. Putting every bottle, button, and bobbin in its place takes all her time. By practicing MM and taking thirty minutes to do this grouping before she begins the cupboards, she would have her entire home looking neat and tidy—not just the cupboards and closets.

    7. Learn to pick up before the mess becomes monstrous. This applies to every member of the family—especially children. After each play period and just before eating or going to bed, allow time to pick up.

    8. Make the picking-up process a habit. At first it will take great effort, but it will soon become second nature.

    The ideal time to take care of this daily run-through is in the morning. If you could take the first hour of the day to do your MM, that would be perfect, but it isn’t possible for everyone. There are many variations, but the important thing is that you give every room, especially the general living areas, some daily attention. This plan is very flexible. The working person can do half in the morning and the other half after work. A parent with lots of interruptions from little children can accomplish the MM in five-minute bites.

    When I get up in the morning I make my bed, even before going to the bathroom, so I’m not tempted to go back to sleep. (That room looks better already.) I wipe down the shower and straighten the grooming supplies in the bathroom so that by the time I leave, the bathroom has also received its care and can be checked off my mental list. There is no guarantee that it will stay nice all day, but at least it will be better than if nothing had been done. When I go to the kitchen, I eat something, see that my kids have breakfast and pack lunches, straightening as I go. I put the breakfast dishes in the dishwater or set them neatly by the sink. I put the cereal box back in the cupboard and wipe off the table, leaving the kitchen fairly neat. Three rooms done. By the time your children are off to school or you leave for work, half your MM can be done. If you stay at home, you can take another twenty minutes to finish this daily run-through. If you have to leave, the other rooms can be given their five minutes later in the evening. Try a five-minute pickup in your car, too—it works miracles. Keeping up is easier than catching up.

    Never feel so defeated by a tornado-struck room that needs several hours work that you don’t do anything at all. Just a few minutes in the room will keep it from getting worse. Mondays will be hardest because there is more turn over with the extra activities of the weekend. Do this pickup for several days in succession and you will see how each day you can build on yesterday’s progress.

    Keeping up with MM means there’s hope. Develop the habit of putting things away while they’re still in your hand and before going on to something else. One woman wrote to confirm what a miracle this MM work process can be and added, "To motivate me to do my MM early, I fantasize my mother-in-law is on her way over." Remember, though, you are not keeping your house neat because of what someone else may think. This principle applies to family members as well as guests, that feeling upon entry sets the tone. Thus, if your family enters a back door or garage, that may be reason enough to give that area some extra attention.

    Minimum Maintenance is based on the First Impressions Principle: When you enter a building, if the first impression is one of neatness, you assume the whole building is clean. Should you walk around the corner and see a mess, the assumption is, This is temporary. Most people don’t see dust or smudges on the windowsill when they walk into a room, they notice clutter. It is clutter that gives the illusion of dirt or mess. Anyone who walks into your home and sees the living room neat will assume, This is a clean house. Should he or she go around the corner and see the kitchen messy, the conclusion is, This family is industrious. We are not so much worried about what visitors think about your house, but how it makes you feel. A tidy atmosphere boosts morale.

    If there are children in the home, they also can be taught the basic principles of MM in their bedrooms: daily pickup, biggest to smallest, most visible items first, etc. Eventually you may be able to turn this daily pickup in the general living areas over to them and make your MM efforts last longer. Help your children with interim pickups before lunch, dinner, and bedtime. Stop the mess before it becomes a monster. For yourself, take time to straighten up when it’s time to stop any project, even if it isn’t finished.

    If need be, you can put a house on hold for a long time by daily allowing for this pickup, keeping up with meals and dishes, tossing in a batch of laundry and perhaps adding one major cleaning project each weekend. Essentially, this is how working women survive. The secret is in knowing what has to be done and what can be put off. You can start today. Just put down this book, try picking up for thirty minutes, and see if it works.

    Advantages of the MM Plan:

    1. It keeps things from getting worse.

    2. You like yourself and your house more.

    3. Areas you have already cleaned stay clean longer.

    4. You gain freedom to move onto new projects without tangle or clutter.

    5. The program is easy to teach and delegate to spouse and kids.

    2. Get a Head Start by Doing Daily Have-Tos

    If you are busy organizing the church carnival, can you let the dusting go? Sure. Can you let the dishes go? No. There is a division between those who sink at busy times and those who don’t. The dividing line is made by knowing what work can be skipped and what must be done. The first place to start organizing a home is not in the cupboards and closets, but with the things that have to be done over and over again. Learn to do those daily things so quickly, so effortlessly, so efficiently that you don’t even have to think before you do them. To gain a new habit takes concentration and effort. If you are having trouble, take a careful look because you may be trying to skip these basic necessities. The daily five-minute pickup is part of this, but there is more. Naturally organized people do this by instinct.

    To define these needs, write a list of daily have-tos. To start, your list will include things such as: cook, wash a load of clothes, do the dishes. That’s a good beginning, but you need to be more specific. Rewrite the list of things that have to be done every day and separate them into details. Instead of just putting down cook, write each meal separately. Your object is to make a logical plan of daily have-tos and then you will use this plan to reprogram yourself until the work process becomes so natural you don’t have to think about doing it. Include personal grooming steps if necessary. As you prepare your list, put each entry under a heading that indicates the best time of day for it to be done at your house. For example, if you pack lunches, is it better to do it in the evening or in the morning? Maybe you don’t worry about lunches at all—lucky you. At my house, I make the bed immediately when I get up, but if there is still someone in it, you can’t do that. It may be better for you to do the pickup or make a to-do list in the evening. Think it through.


    When I was much younger, not only did I have three children under three, but also I was very disorganized and had many self-defeating work habits. I remember one afternoon about 3:00 P.M. looking up and noticing my toddlers running around in their pajamas. A thought flashed through my mind: I better get these kids dressed, their daddy will be home soon—but why do it now when it’s almost bed time again? In those days, I had three occasions each week to leave home by 9:00 A.M. When I returned home I was worn out and the house looked like a tornado had struck. It would take a day and a half to recover, and then it was time to leave early again. I cried a lot because it was important for me to succeed at home and because I loved my children. To top off the guilt, my college major was home economics. I had learned to make ice cream without crystals and tailor a coat, but not how to handle the everyday maintenance. Some women would have given up, taken a job to escape, or stayed home and not gone anywhere at all. But I did not want to give up my pleasures. I was determined to conquer the problem. I decided if I had to leave home three days a week by nine, we would be ready every day by nine—and that meant having the breakfast cleared, beds made, and clothes put away so the return home was pleasant.

    My primary goal every day was to do the basics as soon as possible. I made 200 copies of my daily routine, much like the one shown. At that time I needed that boost of seeing the little things I had finished crossed off my list. It took me six months to get control of the morning routine, partly because I had a young baby, but mostly because I was so undisciplined. Once I had this under control, I was the master. For seventeen years, by 9:30 A.M. I have been ready to move on to other things—cleaning a closet, volunteer or church work, writing, family projects, sewing, laundry—what—ever the project for the day. There have been some slips caused by a new baby illness, moving, emergencies, and even burnout. But I always begin working myself back to an early morning deadline until I have it mastered again. Find your own deadline. Mine was 9:00 or 9:30; yours may be 3:00 P.M., before dinner, or bedtime.

    Get up on time. That doesn’t necessarily mean 5 A.M. (I delayed getting organized for a long time because I thought being organized was synonymous with getting up before the sun.) That’s great if you can do it. You decide the best time for you, your physical body, and your family and/or your job. If you are going to leave home, allow an extra ten minutes to pick up after yourself—it’s a gift to you for later. Once you determine the best hour to get up, get up at that time every day. To sleep past the appointed time is defeating—you’ll be trying to catch up all day. To sleep in when your young children are up can be disastrous and dangerous because they make messes (like spilling cereal all over), they could get hurt, and because children need adult

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