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Book Jacket

Trade Paperback
256 pages
Jan 2005
Revell Books

Smart Organizing: Simple Strategies for Bringing Order to Your Home

by Sandra Felton

Review  |   Author Bio  |  Read an Excerpt


Part 1

Planning the Work


Improving Your Quality of Life

Values Nourish Your Soul

What do you value in life? What is important to you? You must establish what you value before you can prioritize your time and activities. Once that is done, focus on these things without fail in some way, large or small, every single day.

Since my four-year-old daughter, Caleigh, is my top priority, I make sure I focus on quality time with her. As a single parent and business owner, life can get pretty hectic. Each day I stop and focus completely on Caleigh and what she needs, whether it be for fifteen minutes or five hours. Prioritizing what I value most alleviates the stress-causing guilt I feel as a busy woman and mother.

Whether it be your children, your church, your volunteerism or your pet, to honor your values nourishes the soul and frees the mind to accomplish the goals that you set and the everyday tasks of life.


Charlotte Steill
Simply Put Organizing
Phoenix, Arizona

When the Bough Breaks

•       Nora knew her organizational cradle had fallen (so to speak) when she realized she was sorry her son’s baseball team had gone into the finals. That forced her to extend her harried chauffeuring schedule that would now overlap with the schedule for a sport her other son was starting. What kind of mother am I to resent my son’s winning? she asked herself. In the evening she also had to chauffeur her daughter who was involved in a community play. And the two boys were homeschooled to boot. Her husband tried to help, but he worked a job and a half. So Nora had to give up her hobby of going to garage sales, and the condition of her house became serious.

•       The moment of truth came for the Parsons when they arrived an hour late to a get-together with a group of friends. Despite their best efforts, they just had not been able to juggle all the family activities, including supervising homework and eating a quickie dinner of frozen chicken nuggets—again. Rhonda was a stay-at-home mom who squeezed housework into the time when the kids were at school and when she wasn’t participating in school, church, sports, and community events. She recognized the importance of these activities and didn’t want to drop any of them. Her solution to the time crunch was to learn to dovetail the family’s many activities more efficiently.

•       On the other hand, her husband was exhausted by the frantic schedule he kept when he got home from his pressured job. He wanted to jettison many of their activities and spend more family time at home. They disagreed on how to solve the problem. She wanted to tighten the schedule; he wanted to simplify.

•       Ruth and Ben are retired. They say what many retirees say: They don’t know how they ever found time for jobs when they worked. Only by aggressively following a housekeeping schedule are they able to keep the clothes washed, the dishes done, and the house presentable (more or less). Both are experiencing health problems and, although they were active, now they don’t have the energy they used to. The goal of neatness is becoming more elusive. They are thinking about downsizing so they will have less house and fewer belongings to maintain. But are they really up for making the change?

•       Kara is a single mom with two teenage boys. Her older son, who has an interest in economics, quips that the family’s chief import is pizza and their chief export is pizza boxes. None of the family members is particularly messy but they are all definitely casual about keeping a routine and setting goals for their lifestyle and the house. They sail close to the wind concerning organizational excellence. It doesn’t take much for the house to slip into the deficit zone.

•       Roger lives alone, works from home, and is deluged by paper. He is thinking of signing up for a Messiest Desk contest run by a local newspaper, so he can win a professional organizer makeover. He has little notes stashed all around. Tax info lies here and there with no particular order. He knows his carelessness will rise up to bite him someday soon. When his customers call, he is embarrassed when he can’t quickly find information about their accounts. He has to stall and call them back later when, and if, he finds the missing information. Paperwork is his downfall. If the truth were known, the rest of the house is not very presentable either.

Behind the Bare Bones Story

Your story may differ from those above, but, if you are like most people today, you are asking yourself if there isn’t a more agreeable way to live your life. You suspect you could do things better. You are probably right.

This book contains a specific approach to organizing. It is called the Bare Bones Way. Following the Bare Bones Way in whole or in part will change your life. Though the goal of the book is easier and more efficient organizing and cleaning, it goes well beyond that. The true goal is improved relationships, friendships, family, and self care. It is about quality of life. Ultimately it is about your fulfilling the purpose for which God put you on the earth.

Your house is not just a functional building with utilitarian furniture and personal belongings. In the book Mrs. Dunwoody’s Excellent Instructions for Homekeeping, Mrs. Dunwoody, also known as Big Mama more for her presence than her size, is a slightly aristocratic Southern lady of yesteryear who brought a perspective to “homekeeping” that is often overlooked today. “She . . . believed that the ordinary acts we practice everyday at home are of more importance than their simplicity might suggest.”1 In one place Mrs. Dunwoody wrote, “Home is a sacred place for you and your family. Home interprets heaven.”2 In another she wrote about the home, “Others will suffer if you do not tend to it properly.”3

Big Mama is right on. Consistently coming home to a well-cared-for environment makes everyone feel nurtured and secure. Comfort and a deep-down feeling of safety enable everyone who lives in a well-run household to live life to its fullest. No building can do that. But a home can.

Organize to Sing Your Song

The reason we organize is so we will have fulfillment in our lives. If you insist on living life to its fullest, not dying with your song unsung or poorly sung, your life will have to be organized. There is no way around it because a well-organized house and life are the foundation of a life well lived.

Your heart has got to be in it. Organizing better because that is the right thing to do (your husband or mother or mother-in-law demands improvement) is an external motivation. You can do it that way, but the whole thing will be a drag. If you focus on a goal that means something personal to you, such as walking after work into a supportive and harmonious home, getting the children off to school without hassle, having happy family meals, easily giving a party, and in general being your best self, organizing will make sense. Internal focus will inexorably move the various aspects of your life, including the house, into place. Somewhat happily, I might add.

If you develop and follow a schedule just to survive, to get out of the house on time in the morning, you will dutifully put one foot in front of the other. But if you think of your schedule as personal care or family care, you will follow it with a different attitude.

If you file papers because you have to get them out of the way, you will hate filing. But if you think of it as gaining comfortable control of a complex modern life so you won’t be scared by unexpected and unpleasant news, it takes on a different cast.

Organizing is only the means to an end. That end is a better and easier life for you and those you love. You may call it a fulfilled life, a balanced life, a meaningful life. I call it a plumper and fuller life—the Bare Bones Way.

T. S. Eliot said it well: “Home is where one starts from. Our house is our home base, the springboard from which we launch into the world. The kind of home base which we have will determine the strength of our entry.”

There Has to Be More to Life Than . . .

Many women are walking around in a fog of fatigue. They are straining to rise to some nameless challenge called “successful woman” or “wonderful mother.” Goaded by the pattern they saw or imagined in their own moms, they strive to reach an exalted level. They stay up too late and work too hard to meet what they perceive to be society’s standards. If they are mothers, especially of young children, and if they work outside the home as well, they feel like they are “drowning.”

If you see yourself in this picture, come up for air just long enough to think about alternatives you may want to incorporate in your life, so you can slowly but surely rise from the overwork you have built into your day-to-day existence. Exchange your sleeplessness for comfort. Instead of fatigue, create a life over which you have established control.

Life will be easier and more satisfying in the end when you have control of it. Getting to that point is not necessarily easy, because it calls for the hardest of all pursuits—change. Change of attitudes, habits, thought patterns, and sometimes even how you relate to others in your home will be needed. Change calls for decision making and, to quote Hamlet, “there’s the rub.” You will have to:

  • make decisions about your goals
  • decide what system is the shortest route to reach your goals

We will have success, not because we are dealt a good hand but because we play well whatever we’re dealt. Here is the key to playing well whatever hand you have been dealt. An Italian economist named Prieto discovered the 80/20 principle now accepted and applied in many different areas. He found that 80 percent of the wealth of Italy was in the hands of 20 percent of the population. Since that time, people have noticed that this same ratio applies broadly. School principals noticed that 20 percent of the students required 80 percent of the attention for discipline. Businesses noticed that 20 percent of the salespeople made 80 percent of the sales. While it does not always split down the 80/20 line exactly, nonetheless the principle is often evident. It is clear there is a small but significant factor that is really important in whatever we do. If we concentrate on that part (the 20 percent), most of our work will be cared for (the 80 percent).

This is an intriguing concept to apply in our homes. If we can isolate those most important factors that make housework go easily and well, we have a powerful tool, the secret of living a plumper and more fulfilling life with less effort.

Identifying the 20 Percent

Organizing can be a seductively problematic thing. Women can carry organizing to such an extreme that lives are built around keeping up the level of organizing already set up. Obviously, this is not the best approach.

No one needs to be 100 percent organized or even 80 percent organized. Just find the significant 20 percent that will accomplish what you want and do it. Prieto’s principle keeps us from drifting into doing too much, keeping too much, being interested in too much, and generally overextending ourselves into a stressful situation.

More is not necessarily better. Often it is worse. As quantities increase, what started out as good and helpful evolves into a negative. Simple examples of this are all around us. Warm water in a shower is wonderful, but very hot water scalds. Helpful medication can cause death if taken in very high doses. One piece of Key Lime pie is delicious but eating a whole pie is sickening. Our tendency to overdo is often where we should look for the source of our organization problem. A certain amount (the important 20 percent) is good, helpful, and pleasant. The urge to do 100 percent boomerangs and becomes a negative.

Keeping too many mementos, pets (cats often), papers, and clothes balloons into a problem. This also happens with activities. Trying to accomplish more than any one person can without asking for help, volunteering excessively, and working long hours are characteristic of people who fail to prioritize and focus on the top 20 percent.

One woman who was expecting her mother for a weeklong visit concentrated on cleaning the oven even though the rest of the house needed attention. Obviously, the oven was not a part of the important 20 percent. She should have picked three major activities that would have made a significant impact.

For some women, keeping an excellently organized and sparkling clean house seems to be essential to happiness. Ann states that she feels better “at a cellular level” when the kitchen is immaculate and her tennis shoes are gleaming white. Rita goes home from work each day at lunch to handle the mail that was put in the mailbox in the morning, because she wants no task left undone for even a short time. Some super-organized people tie ribbons around their neatly folded sheet sets and pay special attention to how carefully the dog’s blanket is folded.

This high organizational level is not healthy and interferes with maintaining relationships. The focus is all wrong and it misuses time. Those who seem to require this kind of control need to address the problem of trying to be 100 percent organized, which has unbalanced their lives, and they should search for the important 20 percent instead.

People who struggle with organizing often fail to understand Prieto’s principle. They think more of a good thing makes everything better. Often this is not the case. The saying “Less is more” comes into play here. Bare Bones organizing keeps misplaced excesses from unexpectedly overtaking us. When we limit ourselves to doing just a few important things well, we are much more encouraged to think we can accomplish what we set out to do and be willing to give it a try. Anything you can do to get on the right track and stay there is well worth incorporating into your life.

When I Grow Up, I Want to Have . . .

Sometimes we get so caught up in the day-to-day workings of life, we forget what is really important. Looking back at what we longed for when we were younger will help us to remember. When you were a little girl (or boy) and thought of growing up, what kind of house did you dream of living in? Was it a house that looked like yours does now?

Imagine that you are that little elementary-school-age child somehow transported into your future and walking into your house today. Would you be happy and pleased that it is yours? What part would delight you? What part would you want to change?

It is not too late to create the home you yearned for back then. Don’t settle for less than what you really want. Don’t trade off your dreams for things that don’t satisfy. You can do that without realizing what you are doing.

Home is so much more than a place to eat, sleep, bathe, and change clothes. It is where we express ourselves to others and to ourselves. It is a friend we create to comfort ourselves.

When you look around your home, do you see yourself mirrored there or do you live in the house of a stranger? Do you honor your childhood dreams?

In this context, Bare Bones organizing is gathering up those scattered and forgotten dreams and making them come true in the surest and least complicated way.

What Do You Really Want? Remembering Your Dreams

Here is a little quiz for you. Choose a response to complete each of the statements below.

If there were no obstacles of time, money, or energy, what would you want?


        1.      I want my house to look like:

        a.      a gorgeous house as in the magazines

        b.      a beautiful house like the house of my friend who is good at decorating

        c.      a nice house like the house of my friend who seems to keep things up well

        d.      a comfortable house that looks good enough for family and close friends

        e.      other (explain)


        2.      The areas I am most interested in improving are:

        a.      every room

        b.      most rooms in the central core of the house, excluding the basement, attic, storerooms, and maybe the kids’ rooms

        c.      the public rooms only (those seen by visitors, plus the bathroom)

        d.      the living room

        e.      the storage areas, like the basement, garage, attic, and the like


        3.      The level of organizing I am aiming for is:

        a.      beautiful and impressive

        b.      presentable to company

        c.      neat looking in general

        d.      orderly and working well


        4.      The frequency I want this is:

        a.      always

        b.      usually

        c.      on the weekends or other specific occasions

        d.      when guests come


        5.      My motivation for wanting to improve is (choose all that apply):

        a.      for me to enjoy

        b.      for my family to enjoy

        c.      for guests

        d.      to teach my children how to live

        e.      to make my spouse and other important people happy


        6.      My level of emotion concerning my approach to my house:

        a.      I yearn desperately for change.

        b.      I strongly desire change.

        c.      I really want change.

        d.      I would like change.

Decision Time—Choose Your Top 20 Percent

Now write these six sentences into a short paragraph making use of the words and ideas above or using your own words.

I want my house to look like (see 1 above)___________________________________.

I want to improve (2 above) _______________________________________.

I hope it will turn out to be (3 above)__________________________________ (how often—4 above) ______________________________.

The reason I want to make these changes is/are (5 above)_____________________________________.

I _________________________________ (from 6 above).