5 Tips for a Well Organized (and Beautiful) Household

Design Mom shares what she learned living with six kids... so you don't have to

96_Make Sure There's Room. Photo Credit, Kristen Loken with stylist Gabr...

Confession: I’m unabashedly in love with parenting advice. Particularly from anyone with a lot of kids. Have three kids? Pretty sure you know something that would help me out! Have SIX? How many hours do you have available for me to pick your brain? So when I found out my friend Gabrielle was coming out with a new book about setting up a well organized and well designed household, I was pretty excited. Gabrielle has the aforementioned six kids (not to mention being a powerhouse entrepreneur and a designer), and I want to know all her secrets.

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In her new book Design Mom, Gabrielle lays out her philosophy that a well designed home is one of the greatest gifts you can give your family. And while I know that doesn’t rank high on everyone’s priority list, I grew up in a home that was a little closer to something out of Hoarders than something out of a design publication, so it ranks on mine. I’ve spent my adult life trying to figure out how to do things differently. More relaxingly. With, you know, less piles of stuff. And these days, I’m working to provide that to my kid(s).

The book delivered. (In a text to Maddie I described it as “Kind of G-D genius.”) I read it from cover to cover in three nights (with an IKEA trip in the middle to implement some of the strategies). I must have said to David, “So Gabrielle suggests…” fifty times. Here are my top five tips from Design Mom for putting together a functional home. (These are awesome for everyone, with extra hidden bonus points for those of us with kids.)

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1. The mail/crazy amounts of paper situation. I know that the main challenge in our household is the “a place for everything and everything in its place” issue. In that, we haven’t actually… designated a place for everything, and if we don’t know what to do with it, we dump it on the dining room table. (Where it stays even when I tidy up, because… where… does it go?) So when I read Gabrielle’s suggestion of having a place to store paperwork right by the door, sorted by person, I jumped at it. We got this wall organizer from Ikea, and are pairing it with a pretty basket to serve as a recycling bin right in our entryway. Paperwork is sorted by bills, fun stuff, and otherwise by person. Junk is tossed immediately. That means David and I can review bills once a week, and find anything else we need.

267_Face Inspiration. Photo Credit, Anna Naphtali

2. The phone charging station. One of my ironclad rules is “no screens in the bedroom.” I say “my” rule, because if David didn’t love me so much, there is no way he would abide by it for a second. But I grew up without a TV, and he jokes he was basically raised by one, so that is our compromise. It works well, because these days all the research shows that screens in your bedroom doesn’t exactly foster good sleep. Because of this, Gabrielle’s tip about creating a charging station made all kinds of good sense to me. In their family, they gather personal screens during bedtime rounds (adults as well as kids, because fair is fair), and plug them into the charging station. That means kids (and um, parents) are not tempted by late night Instagram/Candy Crush/texting. Because the rule is uniform it feels just like family policy, not punitive. We’re currently only juggling personal screen overuse by the adults in our family, but I have a feeling that a charging station policy could serve us well for years to come.

243_Get the Towels Off the Floor. Photo Credit, Kristen Loken with styli...

3.Towels on hooks, not racks. If you’re me, you walk into your bathroom and you see your towel rack. It’s supposed to contain two nicely folded towels, but it doesn’t. EVER. Except the one second after you hang fresh ones. No amount of requesting neat hanging of towels works, because folding wet towels neatly is nearly impossible. And also? Your kid’s towel is jammed behind the door, because there is no space for it. When I hit the idea to get rid of bulky towel racks, and replace them with hooks for each member of the family, it felt like a borderline genius-why-didn’t-I-think-of-it-so-simple solution to a constant problem. Bonus? You can put kids hooks down low, to teach them to hang up their own towels from an early age and make use of toddlers’ nearly endless obsession with “do it myself.”

189_Family Screen Time. Photo Credit, Courtney Adamo

4. Let your living room tell your family story (and leave some breathing room). When we first had a baby, several (well meaning) people suggested to us that kid stuff just shouldn’t be out and about in adult spaces. And while I get the intention behind it—I don’t want to live inside a maze of bright molded plastic—after six months, it started to feel like a Sisyphean task. We’ve come up with solutions (funnily, the same one’s recommended in the book): stylish and easy toy storage, and toy rotation (with only a select few toys on offer at any given time). But still, I never have quite felt like we’ve nailed the balance. Gabrielle’s suggestion that you let your living room tell your family story (and you let open spaces just be) somehow made it all click for me. We got some huge white (cheap) Ikea frames, and framed some of my favorite toddler paintings. Then we put them in that really weird nook, which we’re totally owning. It’s a bang up spot for the Christmas tree, and day to day, we’re going to let it be a play area. Right there. Where everyone can see it. Because you know what? Our kid lives here too.

142_Let me talk you into a toddler bed. Photo Credit, Heather Zweig with...

5.Design for today, not for one day. We rent our house. In fact, we’ve rented every place that we’ve lived. And when you rent, there is an odd amount of pressure to just… not bother with things. Why would you spend time and money making nice curtains for windows in a home you don’t even own? Yet time after time, family and friends that own their places sell and move on faster than we do. (We may be renters, but we’re not big movers.) That meant that when I got to the idea that you should always design your home for what-is-right-now and not what-could-be-one-day, it really struck a nerve for me. (Plus, it simplified so many kid-focused design decisions.) Gabrielle says you shouldn’t buy the crib that you don’t love, just because it converts into a toddler bed, because who knows if you’re going to use that toddler bed anyway? (Case in point: our current convertible crib is converting into a crib for a new occupant in a few months, while its resident toddler gets a new bed.) Instead of living with day-to-day frustration because “Maybe one day…” make choices for today. Tomorrow will come, with it’s own “actually we can buy it used on Craigslist!” solutions.

Design Mom officially hits the shelves today, and you can snap it up on Amazon. I’d pretty much recommend it to anyone who’s working on making their home more functional, but if you have kids or plan to have them one of these days, and are working on figuring out your home, GET IT. I can’t buy it for everyone for the holidays!

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Photos excerpted from Design Mom: How to Live with Kids: A Room-by-Room Guide by Gabrielle Stanley Blair (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2015. Photographs by Kristen Loken with stylist Gabrielle Stanley Blair, Heather Zweig with stylist Jordan Ferney, Courtny Adamo, and Anna Naphtali.

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