A seven-step plan to organize the house


I want my home to be a simple, functional, happy environment that enables every family member to thrive.

But if I want it to get there — and stay there — I have to have a plan.

Over the past 12 years, with nine moves, four children and a bustling schedule (like yours, I’m sure) I’ve refined my home-simplification process down to seven steps that work every single time.

Many aspects of this process are based on David Allen’s best-setter “Getting Things Done” (a wonderful book you must read). Corporate executives worldwide live and breathe this kind of training, and now we’re going to have a great time applying it to our homes.

And to help you walk through each of these steps, we’ve prepared a free download for you here:

Seven-Step Plan to Simplify Your Home – PDF

Seven Step Plan - Image

Step One: Identify the kind of feel that you want in your home.

Pinterest, blogs and magazines are great resources for helping us identify what we want our homes to look like, but here’s the trick: Don’t get caught up in the paint colors, furniture, knick knacks and absence of real life that tends to make up most of the photos you find beautiful.

Instead, focus on what you can replicate with your current possessions and income.  A house full of garage-sale items and outdated clothing can still feel clean and beautiful.  Decor can come later.

When I did a basic search of minimalist living, these are the kinds of images that spoke to me:

This open closet from RealSimple.com has a minimal amount of clothes, shoes, and accessories.  (Nothing is crammed in.)

This open closet from RealSimple.com has a minimal amount of clothes, shoes and accessories. (Nothing is crammed in.)

Love these simple stacking trays for make-up, etc.  I bought some things like this for my jewelry.

Love these simple stacking trays for makeup, etc. I bought some things like this for my earrings and bracelets. 

I got fridge containers like these at "Goodbye House, Hello Home" that have been wonderful.  Simple ideas like this make a big difference.

I purchased fridge containers like these at “Goodbye House, Hello Home” that have been wonderful. Simple ideas like this make a big difference.

This living room doesn't have a lot of extra "stuff" in it--it looks like a great place to play Hot Wheels!

This living room doesn’t have a lot of extra “stuff” in it. It looks like a great place to play Hot Wheels!

Step Two: Write “Simplify the house” on a Current Projects List that you review weekly.

It’s nearly impossible to de-clutter the entire house in one weekend.  Maybe if everyone leaves on vacation and you stay at home. But if you’re going to make this a family affair and keep up with “all the other stuff” in the process, you need to label this as a project.

Get out a sheet of paper and title it “Current Projects List.”  Then write down the main projects you’re working on, including  home simplification (the total number of projects, for me, is usually around 10).  Review this list each Sunday as you’re planning out your week.

Step Three:  Calendar which rooms will be simplified/organized on which days.

It’s helpful to list the areas of the home that need to be organized and then number them according to the order in which you’d like to work on them. You then add that list to your calendar.


I give myself flexible windows of time here (because family life is often unpredictable), but if I know the laundry room will take two hours to simplify, all I have to do is put “LAUNDRY ROOM ORGANIZATION” on my calendar for Thursday and Friday, and then when I have discretionary time, I get to work.

Step Four: When you (and the children!) are simplifying each space, do these three things:

  • Divide the room into several smaller sections, and then work clock-wise. In our kitchen, I do the fridge, pantry, bookshelves and then each cupboard separately.
  • Take everything out of one section at a time, and then put back only the best items. Ask, “Does this bless my home?” and “Is this where I go to find this item?”
  • Anything that doesn’t positively answer the questions above goes to the trash, into a basket labeled “Somewhere Else” or to charity. The “Somewhere Else” items will go to the rooms where they do belong, and the charitable donations can be put into a big pile in the garage and scheduled for pick-up.

Involving children in the process of simplification is an art.  All those “Mission: Organization” shows on HGTV or four-page spreads in O magazine show professionals coming in and knocking out the jobs in a few hours. Then when moms try to do this with crawling babies underfoot and preschoolers who want to touch everything, it gets incredibly frustrating.

But if you make home simplification a regular family activity and learn how to assign your children bite-sized jobs throughout the process, you’ll get better at it.

“Here, honey, can you take this bag of old shoes down to the garage?”

“And can you pick the three bath toys you like best?”

“Will you fold these two blankets and put the dirty ones in the laundry room?

Our family has spent hours together, sorting, cleaning and making our home lovely.  It more than pays off.

Step Five: Track the things that still need to be done on a note pad.

This might sound obvious, but you’ll want to have a note pad/”capture tool” next to you while you’re simplifying your home.  As you uncover things you need to buy or do, write them down:

Step Six: Write the Next Actions onto a “Next Actions” lists–sorted by context (and DO those, as it’s convenient).

Most people stop at step five (if they get there at all). That’s fine, if it works for you, but the kind of list I made above is really hard to work from and I’ll tell you why.

First of all, if’s a jumble of at-home activities, quick errands, phone calls, decision-making, and routines. There’s no order to it.

Second, multiple steps are required by many of these tasks, but there’s no way to tell which ones are projects that will take quite a bit of time and which ones are simple tasks that can be checked off the list quickly.  If I don’t re-organize this list, you can bet it’s going to sit around my house for a long time.

But if I identify the next action for each project and then group them by context, this is what I get:

Next Actions Organized

Step Seven: Make a Routines and Responsibilities List for maintenance.

Once I clean a room, I identify what my family and I will need to do in order to keep it looking that way. Otherwise, a busy family can “un-do” all your work in about 36 hours. (Have you been there?)

So you call a family meeting and you set up some routines for each room that look something like this:

Front Closet:

  • coats need to be zipped when they’re hung so they don’t fall off the hangers
  • shoes go in the shoe-holder on the back of the door
  • backpacks go on the floor (make sure they don’t have any leftover food in them)
  • piano music goes neatly on the shelf

Downstairs bathroom:

  • hand towel is folded and placed nicely on the counter each time it’s used (when it’s dirty, put it in the hamper and replace it with a fresh one from under the cabinet)
  • trash goes in the trash can (not behind the toilet)
  • hair accessories and hair brushes go under the sink, in the basket before you leave for school

You get the picture.

These routines take some time to implement, and there’s a whole lot of love and mercy mixed in there, but a little added structure makes it possible for your simplified haven to be your reality.

And when you put in all this work on a place that means so much to you, your family (including you!) will love the time you get to spend there together.

QUESTION: Do you have any additional ideas that have helped you to simplify your home? Any suggestions for the best blogs or books on the topic?

CHALLENGE: Print the free download that accompanies this post and begin your home simplification today! (And if this type of planning is helpful to you, you’ll love our Mind Organization for Moms program!) 

Click here for your download: Seven-Step Plan to Simplify Your Home

Seven Step Plan - Image

***For lots of great productivity tips using the GTD method, I strongly recommend GTD Times (the official blog of The David Allen Company). Enjoy!

One comment

  1. Christie

    This is great! I wish I would have had it before my children were teenagers, but it’s never too late, right?

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