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
    cubbies
    my desk
    guest room closet
    pantry
    fridge & freezer
    kitchen: wall cabinets
    kitchen: island cabinets
    pets
    great room: drawers
    great room: bookshelves
    under-stairs closet
    buffet
    master bathroom cabinets
    first aid/medicines
    makeup/cosmetics
    my closet
    my dresser
    my shoes
    jewelry/accessories
    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
    recipes
    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

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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.

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Every year for the last several, I’ve kept a log of the books I read in my planner. I started tracking them one January when Abigail was a preschooler and I realized that I hadn’t read ANYTHING for fun in ages. I was in a rut — I read parenting books and breastfeeding books (I was a peer counselor for nursing mothers at the time) and Bible study books and that was it. I made myself a goal to read one fiction book per month that year. Not only did I hit that goal, but I got my reading mojo back!

As a kid, I used to check out book stacks as high as my little arms could stretch, pinning the top book with my chin on the walk out to our car. I’d devour them in a few days and beg my mom to go back to the library. (And repeat, ad nauseam.) After that first year making myself a reading goal, I was back, Jack.

Nowadays, I regularly read 60+ books per year. Some of those are parenting, Bible study or spiritual formation still. (I’m no longer a peer breastfeeding counselor, so that topic is off my shelf for now.) Some are craft books, as I try to expand my understanding and skill as a fiction writer. Some are fiction, some are nonfiction. I try to hit multiple genres and revisit old favorites for re-reads.

One of the awesome things to come from tracking the books I’ve completed is that it facilitates making book recommendations to friends. I love being able to tell someone to check out certain titles or authors — and before, I was prone to forgetting names. (It isn’t helpful to say, “Oh, Jane, you’d love this book I read last summer! It was about a woman. And there’s a dog in it. And, um, the cover is green. Good luck tracking that down!”)

Here are a few of my favorite reads so far this year, in no particular order. (There’s still a stack about 24″ high on my nightstand, and I usually get several books finished during the lazy days of Christmas break. I guess I’ll have to add those to next year’s list.)

1. The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, by Taylor Jenkins Reid

This author is a masterful at creating characters you’ll love –or at least, won’t be able to look away from, even when they’re making cringe-worthy choices. Evelyn is a glamorous, old-Hollywood star; the character conjured up images of Marilyn Monroe and Elizabeth Taylor. There’s a bit of steamy scandal in this one, so if you prefer your books squeaky clean you might want to skip it. But if you do, go check out some of Reid’s other titles – they’re all pretty fabulous.

2. The Hideaway, by Lauren K. Denton

Ahhh. This book is sweet and Southern and full of family drama. I loved the setting, which is practically a character in its own right, and the intergenerational viewpoints are a blast to

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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,

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“I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers. It would be terrible if we just skipped from September to November, wouldn’t it?” -Anne Shirley, Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery

When I was a girl, I adored Anne Shirley. I hadn’t her tragic background nor her dramatic flair, but I loved the exuberant way she expressed herself. Those monologues, when an enraptured Anne would go on and on about something she loved, charmed my socks off. That was how I talked, too — inside my head.

I remember worrying from a very young age that the monologues and scenarios I imagined in my head were an indicator of a mental health problem. (Back then, before I learned that ‘crazy’ is a pejorative, I would’ve put it like this: “I talk to imaginary people a lot. Does that mean I’m crazy?”) When I was around 10 or 11, I picked up on the  notion that what separates the mentally ill from the mentally healthy is that the latter may have an imaginary friend, but the former talks to imaginary friends and they talk back. That was probably supposed to make me feel better. I was supposed to think, “Well, golly, I’m 100% sure that this is all in my own imagination. It doesn’t feel like a separate entity no one else can perceive is speaking to me, so I’m fine.” Instead, my little brain warped it so that I thought, “Hmm, sometimes when I engage in these long conversations in my head, I really do imagine what the other people say back. Maybe that means I AM crazy.”

So you see, it felt like it was only a matter of time before my parents and the rest of the world figured out I was insane. I was sure that the clock was ticking and when they discovered my secret, I’d be in trouble at best – or at worst, hauled off to an asylum for some good old-fashioned shock therapy. (I was a weird kid and had read some admittedly unhelpful books on the subject of mental health.)

I wish I could remember having a moment of epiphany, but instead my late teens and early twenties simply gave me a gradual slide to a state of comfort with the way my mind worked. I stopped fretting about a clinical diagnosis (and I learned not to throw around the word ‘crazy,’ even in my own mind about my own self) and accepted the fact that I have an active imagination.

I eventually realized that the way I’m wired keeps my sense of wonder and laughter close to the surface – which is definitely part of what makes me a great teacher of young kids. I realized that my imagination sometimes works against me, when it manifests as generalized anxiety, and that I can control that part with medication, therapy, and mindful practices. (So: interestingly enough, I do have a mental health diagnosis, just not the one I feared when I was a

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It’s nearly that time again, y’all. It’s about to be November, and that means NaNoWriMo is upon us! National Novel Writing Month is a really fun, inspiring initiative where folks sign up to attempt to write a 50,000 word novel in the 30 days of November.

It’s frantic. It’s beastly. It’s exhilarating. It’s insane!

I’m doing it again. I ‘won’ Nanowrimo in 2015 (anyone who completes 50,000 words by November 30th is declared a winner) and took that manuscript through another 40,000 words, beta readers, critique partners, edits and rewrites, queries and submissions and revise-and-resubmits to literary agents… and now it’s literally shelved in my office. Maybe someday I’ll pull it out and polish it up and send it back into the query trenches. Maybe it was never meant for the world’s eyes. I’m not sure, but it was a wonderful experience and I finally feel ready to try again.

I’m not quite playing by the official rules, however. Nano encourages writers to start fresh with a blank page and a brand-new idea on November 1st. They tell people to do some research, character sketches, outlining and such – but no writing until the month begins.

A few months ago — after lots of non-writing around these parts– I was laying in bed, about to drift off to sleep, when a Perfectly Formed First Line came into my head. I sat straight up and said it out loud, then tapped it into my notes app on my phone. Eventually, I daydreamed up the person behind that first line, and I got a tiny sliver of a notion of who she was and what she wants out of life.

I sat down and started writing. At the end of September, I had about 15,000 words. Enough to know that I really love this character and this setting. I’m a pantser (as opposed to a plotter, one who plots and outlines each scene before writing; I fly by the seat of my pants) so I had very little idea what the story was about in a big sense. I had no elevator pitch, no back-cover copy. But I loved this girl, as broken as she is, and I was watching her fight for redemption, and I loved it.

I set a goal to double my word count by the end of October. If I added 500 words per day, I could hit 30,000; then if I play along with Nanowrimo and add another 50,000 words, I would have a complete (or very nearly so) first draft by November 30th. Today is October 24, and I have 28,625 words in this manuscript. (I know, if you’re a nonwriter that is total gobbledygook! I apologize. It’s about ten chapters, or not-quite-100-pages in an average sized novel.

If you need me, I’ll be up every morning for the next six weeks at least at 5:00 a.m. making coffee, stumbling to my computer, and trying to dream up the resolution to this drama that has played out in my brain. (And

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Meet the author

MICHELLE NEBEL

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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