Getting Your House In Order

0 comments Posted on April 27, 2012

mtl Note: For more than 25 years, Emilie and Sheri have conducted time-management seminars and taken the opportunity to listen to the thousands of attending women express their hearts’ desires–to find more hours each day for what really matters most: family, home, and quality of life. Emilie and Sheri share their findings in their book More Hours in My Day. The following is a chapter excerpt from this tried-and-true resource.

Total Mess to Total Rest

If you wait for perfect conditions, you will never get anything done.


Suppose I (Emilie) were to say to you, “Today I’m going to come home with you. I want you to take me into your house so I can see your closets, look under your bed, open your drawers, check your pantry, and go anyplace in your house.”

Some of you would reply, “Well, that’s okay. I’ve got my house in order, and things are really good here, so you can come over.” Others of you would say, “Okay, but don’t go into the third bedroom because I’ve been shoving things in that back room for a long time. That’s my little hideaway. You can’t go back there, but you can look everywhere else.” Still others of you might say, “There is no way anybody is going to come into my house because the whole place is a total mess.”

Controlling Your Home

Sheri and I are going to show you how you can change any mess–large or small–into a home that you’ll be able to maintain and rest in. You will control your home instead of your home controlling you.

Emilie’s program was the turning point in my (Sheri) life. When I attended my first seminar in 1981, I was so afraid Emilie was going to make me get rid of my “stuff.” And I didn’t want to do that because I was very attached to it. However, I really wasn’t sure what all my stuff included or exactly where my stuff was located. By learning and implementing the principles of “Total Mess to Total Rest,” I was able to keep the things I wanted to keep and store my things and retrieve them in a timely fashion when I needed to. Emilie really was an answer to my prayer of frustration over the disorganization in my home.

Here’s some of the equipment you’ll need to work this program.

3 to 10 file boxes 16″ deep x 12″ wide by 10″ high with lids (we call these “Perfect Boxes” because the lid is attached).A 3″ x 5″ card-file box and some 3″ x 5″ cards. Get 10 cards in each color–blue, yellow, pink, white, green, orange, cherry.3 x 5 dividers for your card box A pen A black marker pen Colored file folders Regular manila file folders A filing cabinet or file boxes Large black trash bags White or masking tape

Sheri and I (Emilie) have been teaching More Hours in My Day seminars for years now, and we’ve discovered something about women. Our intentions are good and we want to get started, but somehow we can’t seem to get organized enough to get ourselves organized. So we get frustrated and throw the whole program out the window. So pray about this program. Ask God to help you be willing to get the materials and use them in your home.


You’ll need to commit to five weeks in taking your entire house from total mess to total rest. Don’t become overwhelmed thinking about it. You’re going to tackle a small portion at a time–only one room a week for the next five weeks. You’ll do it nice and slow so you’ll gradually get your home under control. For those of you who tend to be perfectionists, this concept will take some getting used to. Normally you desire to clean and organize everything all at once and perfectly. But because we don’t live in a perfect world, that’s impossible. So instead of getting something done, you tend to do nothing at all.

Your entire home can be transformed in 15-minute time slots. On Monday, you’re going into room one to clean like mad for 15 minutes, and then forget it until Tuesday. On Tuesday, you’ll do the same as you did Monday, spending 15 minutes cleaning and organizing. You will continue this process throughout the week. Presto! By the end of the week you will have spent one hour and 30 minutes in the first room. You’ll still have Sunday off and a nice, clean, well-organized room. You will continue this process until every room in the house is complete. You’ll also set your timer so you stay on task and not overdo. Are you ready? Okay!

First, you’ll get out three large black trash bags. I like black trash bags because they’re lightweight, you can drag them through the house, and you can’t see inside them–and your husband and children cannot see inside either. This means no rooting through and removing items. Take your three trash bags and, using the tape and marker pen, label one of them “Put Away,” one “Throw Away,” and one “Give Away/Recycle.”

Now visualize yourself standing at the front door with these three big trash bags. Ring the doorbell, and then walk through the front door. The first room you come to will be the first room you’re going to clean, with the exception of the kitchen. (If that’s the room you walk into first, move on. You’ll save the kitchen until the end because you’ll need all the experience you can get before tackling it.) To make it easy, let’s say we step into the living room, and on our right is the hall closet.

The Hall Closet

We open the hall closet. We’re now going to take everything out of that hall closet. We’ve decided to get serious in making choices about what to do with all the stuff in that hall closet.

Let’s put back into the hall closet only those things that actually belong in a hall closet. This includes sweaters, coats, umbrellas, boots, football blanket, binoculars, tennis rackets, and so forth.

But now we have all those other things that don’t belong in there, such as old magazines we’ve collected for six or seven years. (We were going to look through them some rainy day and cut out the pictures and recipes, but we never did.) So we have to get rid of these things. We also had papers and receipts, and all sorts of other things in that hall closet. We may even have coats we haven’t worn for five years! We’ll put these extra items in the Put Away bag, the Throw Away bag, or the Give Away/Recycle bag.

As we go through our home every week for the next five weeks, we begin to fill up these bags. At the end of the fifth week we may have 3, 10, or 15 bags full of various items. Put a twist tie on the trash bags marked Throw Away and set them out for the trash collector. Now they’re gone! You’ve got all those things out of the way.

Now you have two types of bags left: Give Away/Recycle bags and Put Away bags. The Give Away/Recycle bags will hold things you may want to hand down to other family members, clothing you want to give to a thrift shop, sell at a rummage sale, and donate to your church, and recyclable items. Separate out the recycle items and then recycle!

Maybe you’ll decide to have a garage sale and make a little extra money. If you do, buy something for yourself or for the house or give the profits to your church or missionary group. Now you’ve cleaned these things out of your house and put them to good use in somebody else’s hands!

The only items left are the “put away” ones. Return them to where they belong or, if you choose to store them, we’ll handle that in the next section.

Keeping It Neat

Okay, we have our house totally clean. How are we going to keep it that way? We certainly never want to go through this total mess again! The cleanup lasted for five weeks, and we don’t have to do it again. The way we maintain our organized house is to take our file box, the 3″ x 5″ cards, and the dividers. Label each of the divider tabs. The first tab will be “Daily.” On these cards we list all those things we will do daily to maintain our house, such as washing the dishes and making the bed.

The second divider is labeled “Weekly” and consists of those things we do weekly. For example, on Monday we wash clothes; on Tuesday we iron and water the houseplants; on Wednesday we mop the floors; on Thursday we vacuum and do our marketing; and so on.

Now Thursday comes along, and Lisa, your best friend, calls you and says, “Let’s go to lunch and go shopping. The department store has a big sale today.” So you check your cards and say, “I’ve done all my daily things, but it’s Thursday, so I have to vacuum and go to the market. I can do my marketing this afternoon when we get back from lunch, but I don’t know about the vacuuming.”

So you go with Lisa and get your bargains, but the vacuuming isn’t done. You consider moving the vacuuming to Friday. But when you look on Friday’s card and see all those other things to do, you take Friday’s chores and move them to Saturday. But on Saturday you’re going to the park with the kids. So you decide to move those things to Sunday. But on Sunday you can’t do them either because you’re going to church, and you’ve also got company coming afterward. So you’re going in circles. YouÕve moved jobs from day to day, and you’re completely stymied.

What’s the solution? Don’t move the job. Instead, on Thursday when you go to lunch with Lisa and don’t have time to vacuum, you move your vacuuming card to the back of the weekly section. This means you don’t vacuum your house again until next Thursday, when the vacuuming card comes up in your file again. In other words, you rotate your cards daily whether you do the allotted jobs or not.

Yes, this means you’re crunching along on dirty carpet for a week or two. You say, “I can’t possibly do that.” But now you’re disciplining yourself to keep your priorities in order. So next week when Lisa calls and says, “Let’s go to lunch,” you tell her, “I’ll go to lunch if I get my vacuuming done. If I don’t get it done today it means another whole week before I can do it.” Remember, you want to be in control of your home, and not the other way around.

Label the next divider tab “Monthly.” This may include cleaning your appliances. Let’s say you put down “clean the fridge.” During Week 1 you clean the refrigerator (you have a whole week to do it, or you can delegate the job to a child). On Monday of that week, clean only one shelf, Tuesday, clean another shelf and so on. By the end of the week you’ve cleaned the refrigerator, and it only took 15 to 20 minutes each day. During Week 2 you do the oven, and so forth. This way every week you’re doing a little bit to maintain your home. It’s only going to take you a little time every day, and you’ll never have to go through the Total Mess program again.

The next divider is labeled “Quarterly.” List the items that must be done every three months to keep your home in good shape. Break it down over the three months. You might need to straighten the linen closet, move the furniture and vacuum, and clean the china cabinet.

Label the next divider “Semi-annual.” These tasks might include washing the curtains, cleaning the screens, washing the windows. And, finally, the next divider is labeled “Annual.” Those jobs might include cleaning the basement, attic, and garage.

Your last tab, at the very back of your file, is labeled Storage. Take your 3 x 5 cards and number them #1, #2, #3, and so forth in the upper left corner. Then you take your “Put Away” large trash bags and divide your things into the “Perfect Boxes” with lids and number each box: #1, #2, #3. On your #1 card list all the items in box #1. On the top right corner of the index card, write where the box will be stored: “Garage,” “Attic,” “Basement,” “Master Bedroom Closet.” Write this on the box too. Place the cards behind the “Storage” tab in the file box and the boxes where you’ve decided. The next time you need to retrieve something, you simply go to your card file box and search for the card listing what you’re looking for, see where the box is located, and find the item you want. It’s as simple as that! No more searching for hours or days to find something you know you have but can’t put your finger on.

Maintaining Memories

A number of years ago my (Emilie) son, Brad, came home from college and said to Bob, “Remember when you used to referee those football and basketball games, and you wore that black-and-white striped shirt? Well, I’d like to wear it because we’re going to have a black-and-white party at school. You can’t get into this party unless you wear black and white.”

Bob looked at me and thought out loud, I don’t know where the shirt is. I haven’t seen the shirt for 15 years. But I knew where the shirt was! I went right to my card file, checked it out, and said, “Oh, yes, it’s in Box #5.” So I said to Brad and Bob, “Go out into the garage, look up on the shelf, find Box 5, pull it down, and inside that box you will find your black-and-white referee shirt.” Sure enough, there it was. Brad took the shirt and wore it to the party. I noted on the card with a Post-it Note that Brad borrowed the shirt. When he returned it, we put it back in the box and tore up the note.

Moving on, now we take our file box, manila and colored file folders, and go to the piles of papers we found while cleaning our home. We found old newspaper clippings, warranties, instruction booklets, receipts from car and household repairs, and a lot of other things. Sort these papers into labeled file folders, list all those things on 3″ x 5″ cards, file the folders and file the cards in the main file box. Don’t forget to write where the folders are located for easy retrieval. You may have several file cabinets or file drawers. Once again, when you need a receipt, warranty booklet, or instruction manual, it will only take seconds to put your hands on the exact folder you need.

Several years after Tim and I (Sheri) had our swimming pool built, we had some problems with the pool pump. Tim came into the house and asked me if I could locate the pump manual. I assured him I could. I went to my file box and saw that the file I was looking for was in the back office file cabinet. I went directly to the file drawer and pulled out the manual and gave it to him. It took less than two minutes! There was a time when it would have taken weeks for me to locate the manual. I was proud of the progress I’d made–and Tim was proud of me too!

Receipts Equal Money

I (Emilie) had a neat experience several years ago. The icemaker on our refrigerator broke for the second time. When I called the repairman he said, “Mrs. Barnes, that’s the same thing I fixed about six months ago.” I asked, “How much will it cost?” He replied, “Sixty-five dollars. However, it’s under warranty if you can find the receipt.”

Little did he know! I went right to my file, looked under Repair Receipts, and within 30 seconds had the receipt. I told him, “I have it right here.” He replied, “Great! You just saved yourself 65 dollars.”

The Children’s File Box

When the children were about 12 or 13 years old, I (Emilie) set up a file box for each of them. (I wish I’d done it even earlier.) I gave them each 10 file folders. One day we went through the Total Mess program in their rooms. Then they began to file their report cards, their special reports, and their pictures and letters. Jenny was blessed to get some love letters, so she filed those in her file folders. She also pressed and filed the flowers from her special dates and proms. When she got her first car, the insurance papers went into the file box.

When the children went away to college, the first thing they took with them was their file box. It had all their important papers. When they came home for the summer, home came the file box. When Jenny married, she took her file box with her. All her treasures were in that box. Then she got another box and ten more file folders, and she set up a household file box. So now she has all those warranties, instruction booklets, and insurance papers in her household file.

What have we done? We’ve taken our total mess–and our children’s total messes–and changed it into total rest. And we’ll maintain that rest. What does that give us? More hours in our day and no guilt feelings about an unorganized house.

Click here for a summary list and more helpful hints from Emilie Barnes and Sheri Torelli.

Taken from: More Hours in My Day. Copyright © 2008 by Emilie Barnes & Sheri Torelli. Published by Harvest House Publishers, Eugene, OR. Used by permission.


Submit Comment