Saturday, February 2, 2008

Call me

a slob, a SHE, a messie. There are many names for my condition. I consider myself a recovering clutterholic. With my family, a busy life and a full house, I have a lot of stuff that moves into my life.

About 24 years ago, while I was a new mother, wife and homemaker, I came face to face with the truth that I don't like to live in a mess. I was under the cleaning impression that when it gets dirty, you clean it. So I would jump from area to area trying to clean up as things got undone or cluttered. I did not have a routine of any kind, although I already had lists. The problem with lists was that I would write down what I thought I needed to do, would deal with things on the list, but would get sidetracked over and over again. I often would have three or four cleaning or organizing projects going at once. Sometimes I would not get something onto the list until it was really in need of help. Having a young child and my own home often felt overwhelming. I also played ball, read a lot and worked on all kinds of craft projects. That just added to my challenges. When said son was about ten months old I came across a book called
The Sided Tracked Home Executive; From Pigpen to Paradise. The authors call themselves the Slob Sisters and they coined the SHE (Sidetracked Home Executives) label.

I read the book and, after a quick trip to Wal-Mart, started my new filing system of index cards that very week. It was winter and by the following autumn I was often getting side tracked from my file box. I had gone back to work and found even more to do with less time now to get it done. I would get the box in order once a week and by the end of the week would have fallen behind. Again I would shuffle my cards and lose my place as I would go to work and come home and deal with an active toddler. I started to see that in order to get things done, I would have to get a mind set on what I needed to do at home when leaving work, so by the following spring I started carrying the day's cards in a vinyl envelope in my purse. Each evening, I would file the finished (and sometimes unfinished) cards back into the box and then pull out the cards for the following day. I fell off the wagon a few times, misplaced my portable envelope a few times, but overall this seemed to work for me. I would save the big jobs for days I had off work, and tried to work around other plans that would come up. There were many days I would refile cards that were undone, but I kept plugging along. I know without that system, I would have really been without direction.

Fast forward ten years. I was now the mother of three and both working full time and taking a full load of classes working on finishing my requirements for a teaching degree. Again I was struggling with my cards as my time to devote to my home had dwindled. I had already added many more cards to my box. Ones that were needed to keep my kids feed, wearing clean clothes, and to school on time with what they needed. Other cards were added that included things I needed to do for school. I was still pulling cards from the box each evening and had developed the ideas of putting a punch hole in the corner of each card. I would clip a metal ring through the punch holes of the day's cards. I tried to have them in the order they needed to be done. There were just too many of them. I used my cards throughout the day to keep me focused.

Just a year before, I had gone to a special workshop offered by my college counselor's office that was called "Getting It All Done". After hearing my situation, the counselor that was giving the workshop advised me to either quit school, quit work, or quit sleeping. The latter was her biggest recommendation. She bragged about sleeping only four or five nights a week for two or three hours a night when she had gone to school. I left that workshop frustrated since I really couldn't give up any of these. I had to work, I needed to go to school and I couldn't do either, let alone take care of my kids, if I didn't get some sleep. I would stay up into the wee hours when I had a paper or project due, which was often enough. Those were still the days when a typewriter was my only tool at home, and so if I made any errors, I needed to catch it before it rolled off the bar of the typewriter, or it would have to be completely redone. There was no spell check, and my editors were my older sister and a friend at work. The reality was I was not getting everything done.

It was at this point in my life that I discovered that the Slob Sisters, Pam Young and Peggy Jones, had written a new book, Get Your Act Together: A 7 Day Get-Organized Program for the Overworked, Overbooked, and Overwhelmed. Again, my sanity was saved. I was introduced to the idea of routines. Instead of having one card for each to-do, which for me was rather tedious and sometimes got me sidetracked between related jobs, I now had a card with a group of tasks that were done at the same time. This is also the time that I started organizing photos into shoe boxes, started keeping items close to where they were used and keeping like items in one place, and got serious about making my kids a part of the plan(thanks Pam and Peggy). In the next couple of years, my job changed, I was out of school as a student, and I bought my first home computer. I got on-line as soon as it was possible in my area, and started visiting message boards that were meeting places for SHE's. This is where I came across three other very influential people in my organized life.

The first I found on the SHE boards and later by joining a group that dealt with The 21 Essays. The on-line group would work through one of the 21 essays each week. Cynthia Townley Ewer is the author of the essays. CEO, as Cynthia is known to me, developed a step by step method to getting the SHE card system going and members would go through the process twice each year and make changes and fine tune our card systems as the situations in our lives changed. It also provided a support group to share successes and challenges. CEO went on to develop some of my favorite websites. Organized Home, Organized Christmas and Organized Scrapbooks. She also has a site Sew Organized, but I don't check in there as that is not a challenge in my life. I recommend it to anyone that does sew or quilt. She also wrote the book House Works, definitely a read for any fellow SHE. I love our CEO. I used to have a printed copy of the Essays, but they have since been passed on. I can read them on the files of my SHE list, and I do from time to time.

On the SHE boards that Pam and Peggy had set up on their site, I ran across a great fellow member, Marla Cilley, better known as FLYLady. She had shared her routines on pages of the message board. When FLYLady started her own group, I joined as a FLYbaby as I was then in graduate school and expecting my fourth child. I was also working full-time teaching. My index cards soon developed into lists of routines that I kept in my planner (CEO helped me with starting to use a planner). I think I am a FLYkid now as it has been eight years of FLYing for me. She also has a wonderful website and a team on her list that helps people learn to FLY (Finally Love Yourself) and get out of CHAOS (Can't Have Anyone Over Syndrome-I think that this is a Pam and Peggy term). Marla has written a book and co-written another with Leanne Ely, Sink Reflections and Body Clutter. Both are good reads.

The last of the great influences that developed from being a part of the SHE message boards was the Holiday Grand Plan, that was developed and written by Katie Leckey and later shared as part of CEO's website. There have been others that have fine tuned the idea, including CEO herself with the Christmas Countdown, which is an abbreviated version focusing on Holiday preparation. I love the idea of spending months before Christmas making the season a great family experience without stress.

I now belong to a group that works on home clutter challenges (much like Katie Leckey's Cleaning Grand Plan), a local FLYbaby group (I love my drill team), and a group that works on a plan to prepare for Christmas (much like Holiday Grand Plan, but tweaked of course to suit the group) that starts up in late summer and runs until mid-January. I have a couple of other groups that I just visit and contribute to occasionally, but I can only do so much.

I hope you have enjoyed the story of my journey so far. I am still working to get better organized and tweak the system I use to keep me that way.


  1. You sound like me, but saner and more organized. Nice job, keep on keepin' on!

  2. Girl!

    That is so awesome! I remember when you first wrote that. It showed like nothing else where you came from and how well you've got it down now. Well, I know ALL the obstacles you overcome that people can't really fathom like 5 boys and a boyish (see how nice I am) husband and a career that often eats into your family time. You really are an inspiration. We love, love, love you!

  3. Where are the rest of the GET O gang???? We were way before Google....

    Bobette in Tampa

  4. Hi, Bobette, It would be great to find everyone and see how the GET O crew is doing now. I still have very fond memories of that wonderful group. And yes, it was long before Google, and Yahoo was just a baby towards the end.