Category: organization

I was absolutely tickled when I found out I’d be included on the Mäksēlife Review Crew this year! (It’s pronounced “moxie,” as in “energy, pep, determination, & courage.”) I discovered this company last year when the rumors of a new planner on the block had just started swirling through the planner community on Instagram. The thing that grabbed me first was the design of the vertical layout: it was lined and unbroken into segments!

As a planner mom who sometimes needs an hourly breakdown and sometimes needs to make a giant to-do list to get through different days, I knew immediately that the flexibility this provided would be HUGE for me. If you’ve ever bought a planner with high hopes in January, only to ditch it in March when life shifts and it no longer works for you, maybe you can relate. This planner seemed like it would accommodate a wide variety of needs.

Little did I know what 2020 would bring, right? Talk about a year when we needed flexibility in planning. Well, Mäksēlife really lived up to its potential: it adapted when everything got cancelled, and again when I was suddenly managing Non-Traditional Instruction days, and again now that we are on a Hybrid model for two public schoolkids and full-time traditionally homeschooling our youngest.

I’m telling y’all — I have put this planner through its paces, and it is still slugging it out for me like a champ.

Sierra, the creator of Mäksēlife, was kind enough to send me an advance copy of the 2021 planner to review. I am so excited to share my thoughts with you guys! First up, a few details: this planner comes in a vertical & horizontal layout, and with four covers to choose from. This year, the company did an artist series with Jess Park and Thobi Brown, who designed the peony and rainbow designs respectively.

Aren’t they gorgeous? From L to R: Color Stripe Linen, Watercolor Floral, Grey + Navy Stripe, and Watercolor Quote

The planner is 326 pages, printed with soy-based ink on recycled bright white paper — my photos don’t do it justice! At the end of this post, I’ll share a link to my video review, where you can see this year’s paper compared to the 2021 and see the beautiful difference. If you’re a paper geek, you’ll be so happy with this planner — the paper is thick and holds pen really well. It’s smooth enough that most stickers will lift, but not so glossy that your pens will smear. In short: it’s dreamy.

This is a 12-month (calendar year) planner. The monthly layouts are each on a two-page spread. There have been some design improvements over last year — the month & year are clearer, graphically, than before and the date dots were repositioned to the right side of the page. This planner has a VERY clean aesthetic. While there are pops of color throughout (the eight colors used on the Compass Life Assessment, which I’ll mention in a minute), they are not overwhelming.

The weekly layouts also get a two-page spread. Monday through Thursday are on the left page; Friday through Sunday are on the right with a sidebar and a built-in habit tracker. I really love that inclusion — drawing trackers by hand can be tiresome, and using stickers in the same spot every week can really bulk up a planner.

As you can see, there’s just a bit of color on these pages. It coordinates with the color used on the monthly spread. In my opinion, planners who prefer a very neutral, minimal, or professional look will be extremely happy with the design elements of this planner. If you’re more of a stickers and colored ink person, the columns are a standard size (1.5″) so full, quarter, and appointment boxes from all your favorite shops will fit perfectly.

But speaking of stickers, this year Mäksēlife has some GREAT designs! This sheet is coiled in to the back of every planner. There is also a 15-page sticker book being sold separately (retails $20) which will be available on launch day with more boxes, flags, and banners in those great Mäksēlife colors.

Now honestly, at this point if you’ve ever used a vertical weekly planner, you might be wondering what’s the big deal. Good paper and clean layouts are great, Michelle, but why are you so ga-ga crazy for this company?

Well, friends, that all comes down the the goal planning system. I did mention this was a goal-setting planner, right? The first section of the planner is Sierra Friend’s amazing system. After being a “planner girl” for decades and a life coach who helped multitudes of clients develop a vision and plan for reaching their goals, she has refined this system to a T.

You’ll begin with some excellent pages about how to use the planner, then take a two-page assessment (a series of statements you rate from 1-10 to help you give yourself a numerical score in each of 8 life areas). You’ll use those numbers to shade in the life compass:

There are then seven pages of “prep work,” in which Sierra will coach you through how to set goals for the year. What do goals look like in an area where you’re already satisfied? What might goals look like in an area where you feel you have so much you want to achieve that you don’t know where to start? These pages, in my opinion, are worth every penny of the purchase price. It feels like having life coach or therapist sit down with you and prompt you to consider things with a kind eye.

I really appreciate the goal approach of Mäksēlife because it felt like it fit me. Other systems left me feeling like I wasn’t enough of a “girl boss” or “momprenuer” to use them. I’ve tried approaches in the past that gave me a Goal Setting High for the first month of the year and then were left ignored and untouched for the next eleven. Mäksēlife is something else entirely.

The Annual Goals section includes plenty of space to delineate your goals, select a focus area with the goal if you want, and a question prompt to consider the ‘why’ behind the goal.

But here’s where I feel Mäksēlife separates itself from other planners on the market. After each monthly spread, you have two pages to create Monthly Goals. This is your chance to look at your annual goals and choose steps that will move you forward in some or all of the eight areas.

Plus, every week there’s a spread for Weekly Actions – one page has sections for the eight areas, and the other is a blank dot grid page. This is a perfect space to reflect on your week, evaluate your goal progress, and answer the question prompts from the goal-setting section of the planner. This space helped me all throughout 2020 to affirm, change, or reinvigorate my monthly goals.

The way I use this planner has been SUCH a wonderful part of my year.

  • Every weekend, I lay out my week, then refer to my monthly goals and set a few weekly action steps. I look back at the prior week and see how I did with my previously set actions, and consider what adjustments I need to make.
  • At the end of each month, I use the Monthly Reflections page to celebrate my victories & set intentions for the new month. Then I flip to the new month’s Monthly Goals page and create those.
  • At the end of each quarter, I use the quarterly compass to re-evaluate the balance or disequilibrium I’m feeling in the eight life areas.

The cyclic nature of the process keeps me coming back to my annual goals and helps me stay mindful. I love that this planner helps me avoid complacency in the mundane parts of life — it reminds me that I have dreams and plans! I really can’t recommend it highly enough.

A few more details: at the back of the planner, you get a 2020 year-at-a-glance as well as a 2021 year-at-a-glance, 13 lined notes pages, the sticker sheet I mentioned earlier, and a double-sided coiled pocket. The back cover also has an accordion pocket, which I’ve found sturdy and helpful with full-time use this year.

The 2021 planners will retail for $68, and will be available for purchase beginning October 21, 2020. (Purchase here at the Mäksēlife website.)

You can watch my full review over on YouTube, where I also show off the sticker book, bookmarks, and interchangeable cover options — which will all be available at launch!

And over on Instagram, I’m hosting a giveaway! If you’re interested in trying this amazing planner for yourself, hop over there and enter to win one (with your choice of cover & layout).

(Disclaimer: If you purchase through my affiliate link I may be compensated, but at no cost to you. This is not a sponsored post; all opinions are my own. I’ve been using and loving this planner for all of 2020 and wanted to share an honest review with you! Thanks for your support!)

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How on earth does a gal keep a big house looking (and functioning) mostly-organized most of the time?

It’s all about rotation of effort, y’all.

If I went through my house trying to organize every nook and cranny each and every week, I’d be mad and exhausted and I’d never be done. Furthermore, I’d probably get so overwhelmed I’d run away from home, and then you know how organized my family would be? 0%.

A few years ago, I saw a blogger’s 52-week organizing challenge and the women in my small group at church all agreed to try it. For at least eight months (I think, if memory serves, we fizzled out at the end of the year) we got a weekly email and worked on the area of our home the blogger had identified, and we texted each other before & after pictures–which was hilarious and motivating, for sure.

That group of friends wasn’t up for repeating the challenge, but I’ve stuck with that strategy ever since.

At the start of the year, I brainstorm a list of fifty spaces in our house that need to be overhauled. Yours will be unique because our homes and families are all so different, but here are mine in 2019:

    laundry area
    craft area/supplies
    wrapping paper
    my desk
    guest room closet
    fridge & freezer
    kitchen: wall cabinets
    kitchen: island cabinets
    great room: drawers
    great room: bookshelves
    under-stairs closet
    master bathroom cabinets
    first aid/medicines
    my closet
    my dresser
    my shoes
    purses & luggage
    upstairs hall closet
    Susannah’s toys
    Susannah’s closet
    Abigail’s Toys
    Abigail’s Closet
    Jonas’ Room
    Jonas’ Closet
    rec room: books
    rec room: movies
    homework nook
    upstairs bathrooms
    garage: niche
    garage: shelves
    workout area
    emergency preparedness
    holiday decorations
    home inventory
    phone storage
    annual family album
    wills/legal docs
    addresses & contacts
    filing cabinets
    home inventory
    family calendar
    back to school
    Abigail’s baby book

So, a few things might have jumped out at you. Some of these are going to be QUICK & EASY. It should take me 20 minutes, maybe 30, to use a critical eye on my shoes and donate the ones that I’m not wearing anymore. Some of these make sense in certain seasons of the year (for example: the holiday decorations get organized as I use them; the address books gets updated when I send Christmas cards).

And did ya notice that my 7-year-old STILL has an incomplete baby book? Ahem. Yeah. She’s noticed, too. (It is true, that thing they tell you about how you’ll overdo it with your first baby and then perhaps fall a teensy bit behind with your third baby. TRUE as can be!)

The fact that it’s STILL on this list should make it clear that this is a tool, but it’s not magic. Every year, some of these are easy for me and some fall off the beam.

I copy this list onto small stickers, and then each week when I’m planning, I choose one organizational area to focus on for the coming week. If it’s going to be stressful and crazy anyway? I pick one of the 20-minute jobs. If it’s going to be a week when I have lots of downtime, I’ll pick a longer one. Or during good weather I’ll tackle the garage. Change of seasons makes a good time to handle the kids’ closets. 🙂 Make sense?

If I get to the end of the week and the job isn’t done, the stickers have removable adhesive so I can carry them forward into the next week, or I’ll just re-write the task on a new sticker and save it for another time.

And let me explain why I do fifty and not fifty-two. We are incredibly fortunate to be able to go away on vacation most years for one week if not for two. Even if we don’t go anywhere special, I like being able to do a little less around the house during spring break and fall break when my kids are off school.

I really do try to keep most of these areas organized as we go. But no matter what, with five people and three dogs and the pace of life –somehow we do seem to end up with clutter we don’t need, arrangements that get crowded, and mess that needs to be tidied. Using my yearly rotation helps me worry less about the spaces that are getting out of hand, because usually that means they’re up next in the rotation anyway. The spaces that are spic-and-span probably JUST got attention, and everything else is at least in a livable state for a little while longer. 🙂

What’s the hardest part of whole-home organization for you? What strategies work for your family in this season of life?

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In my last installment of #OrganizeMe, I shared the way I block off my time each week to have the best chance at accomplishing all I want to. It’s the only way I’ve found to “fit it all in,” and even then –sometimes life happens, and it doesn’t “all” get done.

If you’re single, that might be all you need to get organized since once you master your own time, you’re set. But if you live with others –whether roommates or family– odds are, a big aspect of organizing your time revolves around coordinating the schedules of multiple people.

There are apps that some folks love for keeping a husband and wife (and even their kids, if they’re tech-connected as well) on the same digital page. If that’s the approach you’re looking for… sorry, you’ve landed in the wrong place.

I know, I know — we are each walking around with a computer in our pocket that has more power than what used to take up a while building. I hear you. I adore my phone’s GPS feature and even though I still break out my DSLR for special occasions, my phone’s camera has become my BFF❤️. HOWEVER, using the phone’s calendar/notifications/calendar-linking-apps just doesn’t work for me. My brain literally just loses information I type into my phone calendar.

But I have three kids (in 8th, 4th, and 1st grades this year) and three dogs and one general surgeon husband. We have plenty of appointments, activities, and obligations to keep track of. This is what works for me:

An Erin Condren Life Planner open to February 2019 is shown above a large wall calendar open to February 2019.

The open spiral-bound book is my Erin Condren Life Planner. (I’ve written about those before.) During the last week of the month, I sit down with my ECLP and a large wall calendar. This one is a 2018-2019 academic year that I ordered online. (Here’s a similar calendar.)

I carry my ECLP with me everywhere when I make appointments, sign the kids up for lessons or teams, buy entertainments tickets, and everything else that needs a date and time in our lives, so it’s chock-full of information about the upcoming month. If you’re comfortable setting appointments and reminders on your phone, you could use your phone calendar for this step of the process.

I transfer everything to the large wall calendar. Now the caveat: I like stickers. And I like to color-code with pens (orange for me, blue for Chris, green for Jonas, purple for Susannah, pink for Abigail, gray or black for whole-family). But hear me: you do not have to do anything cutesy to make organization work for you. Use a plain black ball-point pen if that’s more your style! The key to making this work is simply to put every time obligation in one place.

February 2019 wall calendar with color-coded time obligations filled in.

This is how you’ll know that you and your spouse need to divide and conquer next Friday night to get everyone where they need to be. This is how you’ll be able to say “yes” or “no,” confidently, to plans with a friend because you’ll already be aware of your spouse’s time commitments. This is how you’ll be able to predict that your introverted self is gonna feel overloaded and need a day of rest — or that your extroverted self is gonna feel squirrely after too many days alone with your kids and you’ll need a night with your friends!

The only things I don’t note on this calendar are some of my appointments that take place during the work/school day, because they don’t impact anyone else in the family, and our regular Sunday morning and Wednesday evening church plans, because they are so routine. I do write in special church events or services and days when I’m scheduled to serve.
Once everything is in place, this calendar is hung in our kitchen where everyone can see it.

February 2019 wall calendar hanging on cabinetry beside a coffee maker. Two clothespins above the calendar hold school notices and a receipt.

The clothespins above the calendar are attached to the cabinetry with 3M removable adhesive (extra strips from packs of hooks). I use those to keep school newsletters, library due date receipts, birthday party invitations, and other kid-centric paperwork that comes through the house.

What’s amazing is that the calendar fills in even more over the course of the month. We’re busy! Every family is.? But the saving grace of this kind of organization is that it allows you build in the margin you need, at this season of your life.

When we had littles, I didn’t schedule anything late in the evenings because bedtimes x3 took a lot out of me, but I did host a ladies’ Bible study in my home that doubled as a playdate for the kids. Now that my crew are in school, we still need to keep a reasonable bedtime, but they can hang much later.

The date nights on our calendar used to be evenings for free or cheap and usually at home; now we plan pretty regular nights out with a babysitter.

We now really love having folks over for dinner, and keeping our month organized helps me see when we have space to do that and who we haven’t shared a table with yet (or recently). Chris and I both enjoy getting out with groups of friends, so at some point this calendar will probably have at least one “Supper Club,” one “Mom’s Night Out,” and one “Dad’s Poker Night” in place.

Whatever season you are in –and let me encourage you that they ebb and flow!– I am 100% sure that the organization of a family calendar will be a help and a blessing.

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I wanted to share one of my favorite tools for organizing life as a mom: time-blocking. This approach has worked for me in so many stages of life – when I was a new stay-at-home with little kids, when I was homeschooling, and now as a stay-at-home mom with school-aged kids who are away from the house for a few hours each day.

Time-blocking is a way to give yourself a routine that includes plans for all the major things you need to get done every week – without setting a rigid, minute-by-minute schedule. Here’s my current time-block layout for this school year:

YES, I know: I’m an ultra-nerd who likes color coding and owns a lot of pens and highlighters. You can do this with pencil and the back of your kids’ school newsletter, though. (Well, maybe keep the school newsletter on the fridge so you won’t miss the Book Fair. But you know what I’m saying. It doesn’t have to be fancy. Use what you have.)

I like using a legal pad because I can do 3o-minute time slots from the time I wake up until my kids’ bedtime. I write times down the left margin and the five weekdays across the top. (I don’t currently time-block our weekends, but you could if that fits your family!)

The first thing I write in is school drop off and pick up. These are the rails on the road of my kid-free time, so I need to respect the time they take. Next, I put in two hard and fast time commitments: my volunteer afternoon at my kids’ school, and the Ladies’ Bible study I joined in the fall.

Then I considered time for fitness. I have been attending a group fitness class, so it went on the weekly grid, and then I added two days to run and one day to bike.

On Wednesday, I typically try to schedule errands and appointments in the morning while our housecleaners are here working their deep-scrubbing magic. I like seeing them and chatting each week, but then I try to get out of their hair because they work as a great team and I don’t want to disrupt their flow. When I get home, the lovely clean house makes me want to tackle my chores – I stumbled across an Instagram friend who calls the day she manages all the home stuff that tends to pile up her “lady of the house” day. It cracked me up and I borrowed it!

That left me with Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday afternoons wide open. Thursday is Chris’ day off, and we don’t get hang out and go on dates every week – but I like reminding myself of the opportunity. So it’s penciled in for day dates! Then I have blocks on Tuesdays & Fridays I labeled for chore catchup (’cause let’s be honest, there’s always a few more chores to tackle!), hobbies, projects, and friends.

Y’all. That has been the very best investment I’ve made in my mental health this school year. I’ve been more conscious to schedule time with friends – a few coffee dates, breakfast dates, lunches, walks, and just hanging out with people – every week. The reality is that I can’t spend three hours, two days a week, just chilling with my homies. I do have some adulting to do. BUT having that reminder in my time block reminds me to try to get together with someone each week. It’s also reminded me that the projects and hobbies I love don’t just happen – I have to carve out time to do them.

Back to the blocks: at that point, I had two tiny spots in my school-day that were blank, so I filled them with “write.” I haven’t used them as consistently as I would like until November started and I jumped into another NaNoWriMo. But that big block at 5:00 a.m.!? I’ve been writing almost every single day thanks to this commitment. It’s been wonderful! And at 6:00 a.m., I step away from my fictional world and start my morning routine. (It actually also includes my quiet time – prayer and reading my Bible – too. I can’t remember why I didn’t write that down initially.)

The after-school/evening section undergoes the most shifting. When I created this page, my youngest was playing baseball. That season has ended, but in a few weeks she is heading back on the ice for skating lessons one night a week and her big sister is starting art lessons one evening a week.

This tool has been so wonderful for me. I love the flexibility — if a certain doctor can’t see me on my preferred Wednesday, then I try to shift all my errands to whatever day the appointment needs to be, so that I can still focus on utilizing one day to be out of the house a bunch and another day to stay home and do my projects or chore catchup.

Over the next few weeks, I’m going to share more of the ways I stay personally organized and keep my family organized! Check back soon.

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I got a new planner in August, and I’ve really loved using it the past several months. I’ve always used a calendar and I’m a pretty naturally organized person. Meal planning, appointment tracking, to-do lists… that’s practically one of my love languages. A few years ago, we had a large family calendar hanging in the kitchen, but when we moved into the new house I didn’t really have a good space for one. So I attempted to make a family binder (using ideas from Pinterest) with a calendar section and otherwise go digital, storing everything in my phone calendar – and it was a miserable failure!

I was forgetting things I needed to do and running late for appointments. Apparently, writing things down really cements them in my brain. On any given day, I can usually close my eyes and visualize a monthly calendar and tell you which days I have something scheduled – IF I’ve written it down. So around the time school started, I was on the hunt for a paper calendar again, but I wanted something portable. Something pretty enough to spread out on the kitchen counter, but small enough to tuck in my purse and take with me to appointments (which really helps with scheduling a follow-up, let me tell you!)

I chose an Erin Condren Life Planner – there are entire blogs, fan clubs on Facebook, and hashtags on Insta devoted to EC. When I first started looking for a paper planner to buy, it was a little off-putting actually. Folks are hardcore about their #ECLP! It is wild. (Full disclosure: if you use that link, you’ll have a chance to sign up for a $10 off your first purchase coupon, and if you make a purchase, I’ll get a small referral credit as well.)

ECLP collage 1

There is a monthly spread with tabs, followed by weekly spreads – mine is the horizontal option. EC also makes a vertical layout and an hourly layout, as well as a simple monthly calendar with notebook pages if you don’t need daily planning space.

If you start looking into them, you’ll see that a ton of women combine their love of scrapbooking or journaling with their love for this coil-bound calendar. It’s awfully pretty, but that style wouldn’t work for me. I have bought stickers (because I’m telling you, there’s like a cultofcondren and anything you normally plan around in your life? There’s a sticker for that! It’s easy to get etsy’ed away!) but I don’t cover every square inch of my planner in stickers, washi tape, and whatnot.

ECLP Collage 2
This week has been a bummer for a #planneraddict, though. Nearly everything I wrote down got cancelled or rescheduled! Ah, snow… so pretty and so problematic.Instagram Snow steps

School has been out for two days and I highly suspect it will be out tomorrow, too. I was planning to take Jonas to his first concert on Friday – Lecrae at SKyPAC in Bowling Green! – but the venue has rescheduled the event. We’re hoping we’ll still be able to see Jonas play basketball and that celebrate the birthday and graduation of a couple of dear friends, but this is the South. If we get as much snow as the top end of the predictions suggest, we may be hibernating until June!


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Meet the author


I write uplifting women’s fiction woven with threads of faith, grace, and Southern hospitality. My blog is where I share a glimpse of my life, and I hope you’ll find the thoughts here encouraging!






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