Secrets of an Organized Mom: From the Overflowing Closets to the Chaotic Play Areas: A Room-by-Room Guide to Decluttering and Streamlining Your Home for a Happier Family

Secrets of an Organized Mom: From the Overflowing Closets to the Chaotic Play Areas: A Room-by-Room Guide to Decluttering and Streamlining Your Home for a Happier Family

by Barbara Reich

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781451672879
Publisher: Atria Books
Publication date: 02/26/2013
Sold by: SIMON & SCHUSTER
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 256
Sales rank: 940,890
File size: 2 MB

About the Author

Barbara Reich formed Resourceful Consultants, LLC in 1999. Barbara has appeared on the Today show and has been featured in The New York Times, New York Post, and Real Simple, among other publications. She and her husband live in Manhattan with their twins. For more information, visit SecretsOfAnOrganizedMom.com.

Read an Excerpt

Secrets of an Organized Mom


  • If you’re a mom, no matter whether you’re married or single, and no matter how involved your partner is, I guarantee that the lion’s share of keeping the home together and functioning falls on your shoulders. I often joke that in my next life, I’d like to come back as my husband . . . married to me. I’m telling you, that man has a good deal. This is no insult to my husband or to anyone else’s wonderful life partner—it’s just a fact of life that moms tend to do more. And in my years of experience working with families, I’ve seen it’s true whether the mother works outside the home or not. Taking care of our families is what we do as moms. It’s in our nature, and we couldn’t stop if we tried.

    This doesn’t mean that it’s easy for us, however. And sometimes it seems to get harder every day. Our family’s schedules are more chaotic, we have more stuff and more responsibilities. We have lists that get longer, never shorter, and we feel perpetually exhausted and burdened by how much we have to do and how little (we think) we actually get done.

    Meanwhile, there are so many expectations of us. We’re expected to nurture our children’s developing brains, volunteer at school, keep our families healthy, our homes impeccably organized and decorated, our partners romantically satisfied, and our bodies well exercised. Oh, and we’re also told to be sure to “take time for ourselves.”

    Most mothers I know feel like life is one big game of Whac-A-Mole. Just when we’ve smacked down one problem or responsibility, another one pokes up its stubborn little head. And we keep on flailing and reacting, doing our best, but with no time to formulate a plan of attack.

    This book is your plan.

    •  •  •

    When I had my twins (who are now thirteen years old), I scaled back from full-time management consulting to part-time. I was used to commuting to an office for twelve-hour workdays, wearing power suits and heels. So it was a big transition for me. I loved being a mom and enjoyed meeting other parents, but often enough I’d find myself getting a little antsy on playdates. I’d look around for something to do, and I’d end up organizing the toys and straightening the shelves.

    You can quickly gain a reputation for yourself by doing that. So when a friend of mine heard of someone who needed help setting up a home office, she suggested that he hire me. And no, she didn’t ask me first. Bless her, though, that first referral quickly multiplied into more, and before long I had a business that I love.

    The truth is that the seeds for my home organizing business were planted long before that. I was born to organize, but it wasn’t until I turned eight that my talents were recognized by others. That year marked a life-changing turning point for me. Twice in one twelve-month period I was publicly acknowledged for being a neat freak. And by acknowledged, I mean rewarded. It was heady, that praise. It was addictive. It was like the first smattering of applause for the wannabe star in the grammar school play. After that, it’s Hollywood or bust. For me, a career as a professional organizer became my destiny.

    I grew up in South Florida, the land of sunshine, beaches, and chain stores. The biggest grocery chain was Publix, and they were always having some kind of contest or promotion. So when they advertised a coloring contest, I decided to enter. Each contestant was given an intricate design with a circus motif and lots of tiny details to fill in with color. I sat down, and I didn’t stop coloring that piece of paper until every single square centimeter was filled in.

    I can still remember the phone ringing one afternoon and my mother saying to me, “Barbara, you have a phone call.” I could tell from her tone of voice that it was something important. I held the receiver tentatively, nervously, and an adult voice on the other end told me that I had won the Publix coloring contest. And the prize? A ticket for me and one adult to see the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus—and to meet the world-famous lion tamer Gunther Gebel-Williams. Not only that, but I’d get to take an afternoon off from school because they weren’t about to give us free tickets to a weekend show.

    It shouldn’t have surprised me that I won the contest. I had to be the only child who not only colored entirely within the lines but also made sure every single crayon stroke went in the same direction. If I made a mistake, I peeled off the wax with my fingernails or meticulously covered my error with white crayon. It was a masterwork of single-minded devotion to detail. How could I lose?

    If winning weren’t enough positive reinforcement, imagine my preadolescent joy when the platinum-blond and shirtless Gunther Gebel-Williams pulled up in front of my front-row seat and invited me to take a ride around the center ring in his horse-pulled cart. The crowd, the lights, the cheers. More important: Gunther Gebel-Williams’s tight white bell-bottoms and perma-tan. This was potent stuff for an eight-year-old girl.

    If my first reward for neatness was all about romance, my second was all about terror. My parents sent me to a summer camp that I adored beyond all reason. It was called Camp Universe, and it was perched next to the shimmering waters of Lake Miona in Wildwood, Florida. I look back on my time there and wonder a bit if my parents didn’t misread the pamphlet and ship me off to boot camp instead of summer camp. We were constantly being lined up to do something—in size order from shortest to tallest. And our cabin would lose points if our line weren’t perfectly straight.

    Right before visiting day, the camp would conduct what was called the Moss Hunt. Remember, this was Florida, so moss grew everywhere. But rather than hire people to clean it up, the camp came up with the brilliant idea of making it an activity for the campers. I’m telling you: This wasn’t summer camp, it was a chain gang. We’d be out in the blazing heat and humidity, picking up piles of moss (Spanish was the most valuable find, because it was the rarest) and stacking it in heaps for removal. The camp staff would measure each cabin’s piles, and the cabin with the tallest piles got the most points. In addition to moss, there was an elaborate system of points for all the gum and candy wrappers, bottle tops, and beer bottle caps we could find. My cabin always won the competition, thanks to my zeal for the job.

    I loved that camp to a bizarre and possibly pathological degree. I loved all the order. And I really loved laundry day. There was no better feeling for me than when all my clothes were clean at the same time. I loved to refold each item and put it in its proper space in my cubby. I loved making hospital corners on my bunk bed.

    My moment of triumph occurred during Camp Color War. It made sense that a camp as army-like as this one would have a cabin neatness event. I remember my beating heart as every girl in my cabin stood at attention in front of our beds and cubbies, waiting to be inspected by scary Dan, the camp director with the shiny whistle around his neck and the clipboard that seemed permanently attached to his hand. He stopped in front of my bunk, flanked by the captains of the gold and the blue teams, and he scanned my bunk and my cubbies up and down, then down and up. He lingered, I perspired. Was something not arranged at a perfect right angle? I resisted the temptation to turn around and look, because I’d get points off for not standing at attention (of course).

    Then scary Dan said, “Whose cubby is this?”

    “Mine, sir,” I squeaked.

    He nodded. “Extra points for the blue team.”

    I have to tell you: even the obvious appeal of Gunther Gebel-Williams’s well-oiled chest was no match for the relief of a cabin full of eight-year-old girls standing at attention.

    •  •  •

    We’re often given two seemingly conflicting pieces of advice. One group of people tells us to follow our heart. The other tells us to be practical. Luckily for me, the two don’t conflict. There are few things that give me greater joy than practicality. And I like to think that I communicate my joy to the clients who hire me to help organize their homes.

    If I had to come up with the biggest roadblock between most women (especially moms) and their desire for organization, it’s that a whole industry is conspiring to make it all seem so complicated and unattainable. We’re surrounded by images of what the perfect home looks like—and usually, it’s a catalog picture in which the hangers are all spaced three inches apart and the clothing inside is all white or tan. I don’t know about you, but my closet doesn’t look like that. No one’s clothes are only two colors, and no one has only ten articles of clothing.

    Because there’s such a wide gulf between fantasy and reality when it comes to home organization, a lot of the moms I’ve met over the years throw in the towel. Their email inboxes are filled to capacity, and their closets, attics, basements, garages, and storage areas are stuffed to the gills with all the items that they a) don’t know how to get rid of or b) don’t know how to organize in such a way that those things are accessible and therefore usable. These moms get understandably panicked every time they miss a birthday, are assessed a credit card late fee, or look for an outfit to wear to work. Or maybe they think they’re doing fine until that second, or third, or fourth baby comes along and everything suddenly becomes unmanageable.

    There is a happy middle ground between fantasy and chaos, and that’s where most of us want to live. My goal with my clients isn’t to make them perfect or even to make them more like me. Even my husband thinks I’m crazy, and he’s a really neat guy. I’m so crazy that back when I was working in an office, my coworkers thought it would be hilarious to move my stapler one inch to the left and then wait to see if I’d notice. P.S., I noticed. It doesn’t bother me, though. I’m content with my predilection for order. But I don’t require everyone to twitch like I do when the office supplies are rearranged.

    The world is full of all kinds of wonderful people, and chances are, your family members range from the neatest to the most organizationally challenged. That’s okay. The key is that your home works for you and everyone in it. I guarantee that a messy, disorganized home works for no one. Those people who gesture to their piles and say, “Oh, but I know where everything is”? Don’t believe them.

    I’ll tell you what often happens, and I bet this describes you at one stage or another: There’s one area of your home that is disorganized or, more likely, there are multiple. The disorder is starting to drive you nuts, and although you’ve complained to the rest of the family about it, their response is to shrug or to turn up the volume on their iPods. So you go out and buy a bunch of storage containers, and you hope that the containers themselves will organize you.

    You spend a lot of money, and you bring home all the containers, and maybe you even put a lot of stuff in them, which seems like progress because at least now you can’t see all the stuff that is making you feel disorganized. In truth, you haven’t made any progress at all, because you haven’t come up with a simple system that works for you, and therefore you haven’t given yourself or the rest of your family the guidelines needed to help maintain the system.

    Disorder reigns again, you vow never to buy another container, and you decide that you aren’t an organized person. Such resignation doesn’t help you in the long run, because the ongoing messiness of your life creates a constant low- (and sometimes high-) level feeling of anxiety in your household. You know you don’t want to live like this, and you suspect that your family doesn’t, either.

    This is where I come in. I’m based in New York City, where even my wealthiest clients have space issues. I’ve been in multimillion-dollar homes with atrocious-looking closets. Everyone has messes, whether the mess is in the back of a walk-in closet or in the corner of the living room. Some of us have the luxury of a little more space, and some of us have barely enough to turn around in. We all need to work with the space we have. And when economic times are tough, it becomes even more urgent for us to find ways to be content with what we currently have—whether that’s the square footage under our feet or the clothing hanging in our closets.

    My clients (almost all of them moms) call me in when they’ve tried to organize things themselves but they’ve given up because they don’t know where to begin. I visit all of my clients personally. I sit down with them at their computers and go through their emails, and I press the delete button—over and over and over again. I tell them what to keep, what to toss, what to file. I get down on the floor in their playrooms and up on a stepladder in their closets, and I don’t hesitate to grab the Clorox wipes and clean the shelves of accumulated layers of dust. It’s not glamorous work—even in the most glamorous homes—but it’s tremendously satisfying. In a few short hours, I can transform a front hall closet in a way that enables every member of the household to get out of the home on time in the morning—and if that isn’t an improvement to quality of life, I don’t know what is.

    As a married mother of twins, not to mention someone who has been in the farthest recesses of countless homes, I know all the trouble areas. Better yet, I have the solutions. My advice applies no matter what your household circumstances—whether you live in an apartment or a house, in the city, country, or suburbs, and whether you have one child or multiple. The lessons here also work no matter whom you live with—whether you’re blessed with a neat freak like me or a spouse who barks at you if you even think about recycling that six-month-old issue of the New Yorker.

    Whatever organizational nightmare makes you crazy on a daily basis, the antidote can be found here—from dealing with your home office filing (ugh) to that box of photos you keep meaning to stick in an album, to figuring out what to do with the things you don’t want and don’t need but can’t seem to get rid of (sound familiar?). No stone goes unturned, from your front door to the deepest recesses of your computer and your storage areas.

    Most important, this book shows how every member of your family can breathe easier, live happier, hang up their own coats, find the Advil, use the milk before it spoils, and maybe even open a closet without grimacing or covering their eyes. Doesn’t that sound nice?

  • Table of Contents

    Introduction 1

    1 The Basics: some truly simple ground rules 9

    the four-step method 10

    the "Ten Commandments of Organizing," 11

    the tools of organizing 14

    deciding to donate, recycle, or throw away 17

    2 Hello, Goodbye: the entryway and front closet 23

    mail 24

    shoes 26

    keys, cell phones, billfolds, and change 28

    purses 29

    children's backpacks 31

    rods and hooks 35

    coat trees, coat racks, and umbrella stands 35

    shelves 36

    containers and hangers 37

    3 Dress Right, Sleep Tight: the master bedroom 45

    pillows 46

    reading material 46

    lotions and toiletries 47

    picture frames and other decorative items 47

    bedside tables 48

    bed 48

    blanket chest 48

    lighting 48

    trays 48

    ereaders and tablets 49

    folding 55

    hanging 57

    shoes 58

    accessories 58

    4 A Walk on the Wild Side: children's bedrooms and play areas 65

    clothing storage 66

    work spaces 70

    play spaces 76

    5 Baby Makes More: the nursery 87

    designing your first nursery 88

    streamlining the nursery 92

    the diaper bag 94

    toys and books 95

    clothing 97

    hand-me-downs 98

    6 The Bare Necessities: the bathroom and linen closet 101

    medicine and first aid 109

    shaving supplies and dental hygiene 109

    lotions and cleansers 110

    toiletries used once a week or loss 110

    hygiene tools 110

    nail supplies 110

    cosmetics, perfume, and hair products 110

    towels and sheets 111

    backup supplies 114

    7 Close Your Eyes and Shut the Door: the utility closet 119

    luggage 121

    tools 122

    extension cords 123

    lightbulbs 123

    emergency kit 124

    batteries 124

    shoe-cleaning supplies 125

    laundry and supplies 125

    shopping bags 127

    cleaning supplies 127

    electronics and chargers 129

    the junk drawer 129

    8 The Land of Milk and Honey: the kitchen and pantry 131

    small appliances 133

    tools, utensils, pots, and pans 134

    baking items 136

    dishes 137

    food 138

    cookbooks and recipes 139

    open storage 141

    cabinets 141

    pantry 142

    refrigerator and freezer 143

    cookbook and recipe storage 144

    9 Room for Living: the family room and living room 149

    furniture 151

    books 152

    decorative items and shelf designing 154

    framed photographs and wall art 155

    newspapers and magazines 155

    wires and cables 157

    houseplants 158

    10 The Command Center: the home office 161

    creating an organized office 163

    paper and documents 166

    digital decluttering 176

    digital filing 176

    bookmarks 177

    passwords and log-in names 178

    making the most of technology 178

    organized emailing 179

    storing images 181

    mail sorting, beyond the basics 184

    scheduling 185

    the master calendar 185

    learning to say no 188

    sticky social situations 189

    11 Danger Zones: storage areas 193

    the steps for your storage area 194

    sentimental items 200

    children's art, schoolwork, and keepsakes 202

    helping our parents downsize 205

    12 Scary, Happy, Merry: organizing for holidays 207

    Halloween 208

    costumes 208

    Halloween decorations 209

    candy 210

    Thanksgiving and other feasts 210

    scheduling and advance preparations 211

    organized meal serving 212

    gift shopping 213

    holiday decorations 215

    holiday greetings 216

    13 Let's Take This Show on the Road: traveling and moving 219

    organizing for travel 220

    trip planning 222

    packing 223

    packing for summer camp 226

    moving 229

    the secrets to a smoother moving day 233

    14 Easy Does It: final thoughts 237

    Acknowledgments 241

    What People are Saying About This

    Set Designer for The Good Wife - Beth Kushnick

    “As both a mom and a decorator, I know that the spaces we work and live in have a huge impact on our sense of well-being. Barbara's insight and advice make the seemingly insurmountable tasks easy, and leave you with a new-found sense of clarity and direction.”

    New York Times bestselling author of Love Unscripted and Love Unrehearsed - Tina Reber

    "Every mom should read Secrets of an Organized Mom. Power-packed with all you need to know to get and stayed organized, this book is the ultimate guide for anyone reorganizing, relocating, or just trying to make sense of the clutter.

    host of the Judith Regan Show on SiriusXM - Judith Regan

    “Barbara is a great editor. She took her razor sharp eye and cut a swath through my closet. When you can't see the forest through the trees, Barbara can. She's a true lifesaver!”

    Customer Reviews

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    Secrets of an Organized Mom: From the Overflowing Closets to the Chaotic Play Areas: A Room-by-Room Guide to Decluttering and Streamlining Your Home f 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    I am not a mom, but I am recently married and we are going on Year Two in a house together. There are a lot of spaces in our house that were stuffed mith a mishmash of our two collections of STUFF. I like to think I am fairly organized, but quickly learned that there are some awesome rules we can be following to make our lives simpler and easier. I've been following the book's guidance and love the results! I had bought this book on a whim... never thought I would read it front.to back! But it's an easy read, and gave me a bunch of aha moments! Highly recommend ...I find myself saying...what would Barbara say about this?! Great tool!
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    Great book for getting started on organizing!  The fact that I didn't have to read the whole book at one time - I could just go to the chapter I needed - was great!  Easy to follow tips made for an easy organization process.  Highly recomend!
    MomsChoiceAwards More than 1 year ago
    A recipient of the Mom's Choice Awards! The Mom's Choice Awards® (MCA) evaluates products and services created for parents and educators and is globally recognized for establishing the benchmark of excellence in family-friendly media, products and services. Using a rigorous evaluation process, entries are scored on a number of elements including production quality, design, educational value, entertainment value, originality, appeal and cost. Around the world, parents, educators, retailers and members of the media trust the MCA Honoring Excellence seal when selecting quality products and services for families and children.
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