Searching for Treasure: Saving with Coupons

Until last month, I WAS a coupon clipper.  Twenty years ago when I was a new mom, I had time to clip coupons weekly and maintain an organized coupon wallet. Time passed, more babies were born, I started homeschooling and suddenly there was no time for couponing.  With less time, I discontinued couponing, consolidated my food shopping to one store and bought as many generic brand products as possible.  Fast forward twenty years and now our economy is struggling and we have two daughters in college.  If there was ever a time that I need to save my pennies, it’s now!  I’m certainly learning as I go, but here are some things I’ve learned over the past two months:

General Principles for Couponing
Look for ways to save money on the groceries you regularly buy.  You aren’t saving money if you use coupons for items you don’t usually purchase!

  • Be adventurous and try new brands of items that you have coupons for, if the coupons make the item cheaper than your old brand.  You may find a new favorite.
  • Think ahead and stock up on deeply discounted items.  Stock up on discounted toothpaste or toilet paper—after all, you know you’ll use it!  Purchase discounted baking items in the fall so you’ll be ready for holiday baking.
  • Know how much you are spending .  Save your register receipts and write down the cost of the products you most often buy.  Use this as a guide to compare at other stores or for future discounts.

Where Are the Coupons?
Newspapers We cancelled our newspaper subscription many years ago; however, I’ve recently learned that I can subscribe to my local paper for Sunday and Wednesday delivery for 75 cents per week.  Another friend recommended purchasing a paper at a dollar store.

Mailers Even though we don’t get the paper, we still receive a weekly Red Plum mailer that includes grocery store advertisements and coupons.  You can sign up to receive the Red Plum mailer at:

Printable Coupons There are several sites that allow you to print coupons.  These are not the same coupons that come in the newspaper, even if they have the same company name.  Most sites require you to download the coupon printer before you can print a coupon, but you need only download it once.

Weekly Advertisements Check out the front page specials of the grocery store circulars, usually featuring the deepest discounts called “loss leaders” that are designed to get you into the store to spend more money.  Don’t forget the bogo specials (buy 1, get 1) and discounts on meat.  Meat can always be frozen for future use.

Friends If you have friends that get the paper, ask them if they’ll keep the coupons for you.  Ask for pet coupons from friends who don’t have pets.  There are also organizations that facilitate trading coupons, but I haven’t explored that yet.

What’s the strategy?
Organize Your Coupons When I first started clipping coupons, an envelope worked just fine.  Sometimes I’d see other moms with fancy binders, but I had no idea how to set up one myself.  I just found this link for a binder you can make on your own:  Make a coupon binder.

Know the Coupon Policy for Each Store Each store has its own coupon policy which states how many coupons are accepted per day or per transaction, the maximum coupon amount accepted, and which coupons, if any, can be doubled or even tripled.

Use your Coupons Wisely Avoid using coupons at high-priced grocery stores.  Instead, save your coupons for shopping trips at stores that already have lower prices.

Shop on Double Coupon Day We have a local grocery store that offers double coupons each Wednesday and super doubles once a month or so.  Though this store generally has higher prices, I collect my l amount coupons, which will be doubled, and purchase just those items.  Again, you need to know how much you usually spend so you know if you are truly saving money.

Research the Blogs There are so many websites/blogs devoted to helping people save money.  Let them do all the work!  Here are a few of my favorite sites that have deals on groceries, restaurants, and other products.  Sometimes there are even free samples if you sign up for a mailing list.  Keep a look out for posts about match up items and dates for double coupon days. Here is a list of some of my favorite blogs:

Purchase Matchup Items Most blogs have a weekly post of match up items for a specific store—discounted items purchased with a coupon at a significant discount or even free.  The best blog for you to follow is the one that includes your local grocery stores.  Posted matchups can save a lot of money, but it doesn’t always work out that way.  I don’t always have the coupons.  Also, the matchup items are not always available at my particular store and when they are available, often the items are already out of stock by the time I arrive in the afternoon.  The early bird definitely gets the worm!

Sign Up for Group Discounts Some organizations offer discounts to their members.  One such company is Groupon.  I signed up to receive a daily email featuring a discount to a local business or service.  Most offers are available for purchase for just 24 hours and a new offer will arrive in your inbox the next day.  Generally, the discount is usually 40-50% and the coupon may expire anywhere from 3-12 months.  There is a minimum number which must be purchased by the group before the discount takes effect—hence the name “Groupon.”  After you pay by credit or debit card, you print the Groupon and present it as a coupon at the place of business.  There is no membership or handling fee.  My favorite Groupon purchase was 50% off a flying lesson at our regional airport—a Father’s Day gift for my hubby.  Groupons are a great deal for gifts or things that you regularly purchase.

One such group discount is available through Homeschool Buyers Coop.  Members sign up to receive a free newsletter which communicates all available discounts on various homeschool curricula.  Each discount is available for purchase for several weeks.  There are three levels of discounts, based on how many orders are placed—more orders equals a deeper discount.  If you purchase early at a lower discount and more people purchase later, you receive price based on the number sold at the close of the deal.  You may pay by debit or credit card and the product ships after the deal has expired—which may be several weeks after you made the actual purchase.  I was able to save about $50 on a music curriculum for the fall.


Be Ready to Learn
Really, this is only the tip of the iceberg.  There is so much to learn--and it takes time to master the art of major savings.  If you are an “Extreme Coupon Queen,” please post a comment to this article and share your favorite secrets for saving money with coupons.

Note: Groupon compensates me for new referrals; however I posted about it because it has saved my family money, not because I'm trying to make money.

September Organization Challenge: Finances

Getting a handle on your finances takes some time, but is an inexpensive way to cut down on household expenses.  When bills are accessible, it is easier to pay them on time and save money in late fees or rush shipping.  When receipts are organized, broken items can be returned or serviced for free under a warranty—if you can find it!  The savings can really add up.

Set up a system As soon as you get the mail, put the bills and bank statements in their place—preferably somewhere above arms reach of little ones.  Don’t lay your bills down anywhere else, lest they get lost or moved by another family member.  I use a letter sorter which has enough space for a few blank business envelopes, stamps, rolls for coins, and a pen.  You could also use an expandable file folder with a sufficient number of pockets for your filing system.

Keep  debit and credit receipts Collect your debit and credit receipts in your wallet or in your filing system.  Enter them regularly in your checkbook, Quickbooks, or whatever system you use.  Keeping an accurate balance of your finances will help you avoid overspending.  Clearly mark the receipts that have been entered.  File receipts necessary for warranties, stapling them to the user’s guide or other warranty information.  We file all other receipts by month in business envelopes, in case something needs to be returned.

Print receipts for internet transactions Internet purchases can sometimes get lost in the shuffle of daily and weekly expenditures.  Print out receipts from internet purchases and file them with your bills and bank statements.  Record them regularly so there are no surprises at the end of the month.

Pay bills regularly  This seems like such a simple idea, but it is so easy to put off paying the bills until next week and then you realize that you have a bill due tomorrow!  Paying bills regularly saves money in late fees and overnight shipping.  If you need to keep a record of a paid bill, record the date and check number on the stub before filing it in your filing system.  (I’ll save that one for another article…)

Keep a file for warranties and manuals Create file folders for warranties and manuals of products that you purchase.  Staple the receipt to the manual so you have all the information for the warranty.  You can even mark your receipt if it was paid by credit card because some credit cards double the manufacturer’s warranty.  Also, record the serial number, especially for electronics.   When some of our personal items were stolen, he mentioned that he would be able to trace items if he had a serial number.  Now I record those on the cover of the item’s manual.

Technically, I have more than one warranty file: one for outdoor items such as the lawnmower and tools, one for kitchen tools and appliances (toasters to stoves), one for electronics (stereos to phones), one for everything else luggage), one for jewelry and one for kids furniture and toys.  My girls have their own file folders for items that they own.  A little bit of time could save a lot of money down the road.

Monitor bank statements Be sure to balance your checkbook, double checking all expenditures, automatic withdrawals, and deposits. Banks sometimes make mistakes.  Once out bank direct deposited my husband’s paycheck TWICE.  We were only looking at the bottom line and didn’t catch the error for two months.  It was a blow to our budget when the bank withdrew the second deposit from our account!  More importantly many banks are changing their fee structure and charging for various services.  Know if you’re being charged, what for, and how much.  Shop around and see if you can find comparable services for less.

Use cash Whenever possible, use a cash system.  Withdraw money weekly or biweekly for gas, groceries, entertainment, or clothing and store them in separate envelopes.  Before you make a purchase, consult your envelope to see how much money is available for your purchase.  This does require an amount of self-control not to spend over the limit or spend on items other than the designated categories.  You may also find it helpful to save receipts for cash purchases so that you can accurately budget for the future.

Whether you use cash, check or credit, be sure to keep receipts you might need for returns or warranty purposes.  When I purchase clothing or shoes, I keep the receipts for at least one month in case there is a defect in the product.

Make a budget—and follow it I saved this one for last because it is a little intimidating.  Making a budget does take some time and sticking to it takes a lot of self-control, but spending only what is budgeted is guaranteed to save you money.  There is no need for me to detail the process of making a budget since there are so many other organizations that specialize in budgets and finances.  Years ago we used Larry Burkett’s budget system to get out of debt.  (It’s now called Crown Financial Ministries.)  Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University is another successful system for eliminating debt and living within your means.  Which one is best?  Well, it’s like a famous body builder once said when someone asked him which exercise equipment was the best.  His reply was, “The one you use.”

Sometimes life passes by so quickly that we easily fill our days meeting the urgent needs without giving thought or attention to looking ahead.  Take some time to organize your finances, evaluate where you are and set some goals for where you want to be.  Not only will it improve your bottom line, it will be time well spent.

July Organization Challenge: Bedrooms

Organization—Bedrooms Summer is the perfect time to organize, switch, or spruce up bedrooms.  During the school year, we try not to make major changes and try to keep everything as orderly as possible.  (I don’t have proof, but my personal experience says that an ordered world promotes better concentration and learning.)  Organizing a bedroom can be one gargantuan task that may take many hours or even many days.  Sometimes moms try to accomplish this job alone because it takes less time.  Instead, think of this as a teaching opportunity so that someday they can do it without you!  Younger ones can be part of the process so that they learn how to be organized and how to prioritize what items should be kept and share in the joy of giving to others.  For the teens, I communicate my expectations and set up a time for us to work together to accomplish the task.  Though I’m mostly moving things to appropriate piles, this is a teaching moment for them and I believe the job moves much faster with my supervision.

Last month we took 2 weeks to organize and update one daughter’s bedroom, 2 days to organize another, and I’m currently in the midst of purging another bedroom for an imminent move to college.  There is no right way to do this, but here is our plan for those who are interested.

Assess the situation before you do anything. Too often I've started a project before I counted the cost or made a plan.  An assessment is like “bedroom triage.”  (Please don’t quote me on that!)

Is the furniture suitable?  Have they outgrown it?  Are we adding or removing a sibling to the room? Does the furniture need to be cleaned, repaired, painted, etc.?  Is there adequate drawer space for storing clothing?  Do we need all the furniture in the room?  Do we need to purchase something else, such as a desk or bookshelf?

How are the linens (sheets, pillows, mattress pad, comforter, curtains)?  Do some need to be replaced or mended?  What does the budget allow me to replace?

Does everything have a home?  When I ask something to be put away, does my daughter have a place to put it?  Can she find what she needs when she needs it?  Does she need more storage containers for items she has recently acquired?

Should everything currently in the room stay in the room?  Is it time to shift some items/toys to the attic, to another room, or another home?  If we need to move things, do I have a place to move them or can they live in the garage until I find a good home?  **This may be one of the most important questions you answer.  Make sure you have a plan for what will be leaving the room.  You don’t want to organize one room only to find that all of the “stuff” is merely piled in the hallway, garage, or worse yet the master bedroom!  This may determine your time frame.  If you know a friend wants the extra desk in about a month, you may want to store it in the garage temporarily or maybe wait on your project.

Make a plan. Decide how long you think it will take you to make the necessary changes.  My guess:  a whole day for a full closet and full desk, half a day each for bookshelves, dresser, under the bed, redecorating.  You may think you can go through things more quickly, but remember the goal is to organize and find a home for everything that doesn’t belong.  I also find that if we stay focused on one mini project until completion, we can stop in the middle of the whole project and still live in the room!

Organize the closet. I always start with the closet first so that we make room to store other things that may be elsewhere in the room.  Be sure to have some paper nearby to start a shopping list for things you need.

Go through hanging clothes and put them in four piles: Keep:  It fits and the child wears it.  LAY THE CLOTHES ON THE BED Mend:  It fits, the child wears it, but it needs to be mended--hemmed, button replaced, etc.) FOLD THE CLOTHES IN A PILE AND SET THEM ASIDE. Put Away/Give Away/Sell: doesn’t fit, child doesn’t wear, still in good shape.  You may choose to store it for younger siblings, give it away to friends or a charity, or sell it on consignment—or some of each!  PUT AWAY CLOTHES IN A PLASTIC TOTE, GIVE AWAY CLOTHES IN A GARBAGE BAG, SELL CLOTHES KEEP ON HANGERS AND WASH OR DRYCLEAN BEFORE SELLING. Throw Away:  Not in good shape. PUT THE CLOTHES IN A GARBAGE BAG Vacuum the closet and the baseboards before you put things back in.  All “Keep” clothes should be returned to the closet (opposite season to the back of the closet) and all other piles should be taken care of appropriately.  Be sure you have enough hangers so that there are no excuses for clothes that aren’t hung up!  Add them to the shopping list if you need more.

Sort shoes and other accessories (belts, scarves, scrunchies, etc.) Use the same four piles system, as above.  Be sure there is a home for everything.  We use boxes or hanging organizers for shoes, a hanging organizer for jewelry, a special hanger for belts, and a special hanger for scrunchies/scarves.  Add anything you need to your shopping list.  Be sure that only “Keep” shoes and accessories remain in the room before you move on.

Organize shelves in the closet. Take down one item at a time.  If you take everything down, you are stuck with reorganizing it all in one sitting—or your child has to live with stuff piled around.  (Can you hear the voice of experience?!)  Go through one box/bag/item at a time using the same four pile system that you used for clothes.  Sort all items on the shelves and wipe off the shelf before you return items to the closet.  Use the storage in the closet for things that your children don’t need access to: breakable items, or keepsakes, games with small pieces, or seasonal clothing.   All other piles should be taken care of appropriately.

Work your way around the room. I organize rooms like I clean them—starting at the light switch and working my way around clockwise.  Vacuum or wipe down the baseboards as you go.  Here are some suggestions for the remainder of the room, as you encounter each situation.

Organize the dresser. Using the same four pile system, sort through one drawer at a time.  Wipe out the insides of drawers before you replace the items.  Our drawer system looks like this:  one drawer for socks, undies, camis, and slips/hose (organized with one shoes box for each item type), another drawer for swimsuits (in a shoe box) and pjs, another drawer for seasonal everyday pants, another drawer for seasonal shirts.  Everything else gets hung up.  During the summer, we keep winter clothes--sweaters, corduroys, turtlenecks--in a clear plastic tub in the closet or under the bed. In the winter, the same plastic tub is filled with shorts, capris, sleeveless shirts.   Note:  In lieu of a dresser, we've also used a plastic drawer “cart” in the bottom of the closet, just above the hanging shirts.

Organize under the bed. Using the same four pile system, sort through all of the items under the bed.  Use storage under the bed for bins of toys, seasonal clothes or other things that your children may need access to without your assistance.

Organize the desk. Using the same four pile system, sort through the items on/in the desk.  Start with the desk drawers, one at a time.  Again, keep only what your child needs and be sure that there is a system for organization—a home for everything.  Also, if your child is using the desk for homework or school, be sure that they have all the necessary supplies (pencils, erasers, calculators, etc.)  Next, clean off the top of the desk and decide what should stay.  Discard or put away all other items.

Organize the bookshelves.Using the same four pile system, sort through the items on the shelves.  Wipe off every shelf before you replace the items.  On our shelves:  top shelf for trinkets, middle shelves for books, bottom shelf for fabric bin with stuffed animals.

Organize the nightstand. Using the same four pile system, sort through the drawers.  I call them “treasure drawers.”  Each drawer has a shoe box for the little things and space for papers/books on the other side of the drawer.  When the girls were younger, this is they kept their “treasures” that would've been destroyed by the toy box—bouncy balls, fast food toys, book marks, and other little gifts and items that I probably would've thrown away!  We periodically sorted through the treasures since affections change—and wisdom comes with age. J  Don’t forget to wipe out drawers before you refill them.

Repair, rearrange or replace furniture, as necessary. Repair or refresh furniture, as needed.  Remove and replace furniture, as needed.

Redecorate. Wash or replace linens, as needed.  Wash the windows when you replace the curtains.  Evaluate what is currently hanging on the walls using the same four pile system.  Purchase any needed items such as picture frames or mirrors.  Hang items.

Switch Rooms or Paint. That may seem like the opposite way to do things, but it’s much easier to switch rooms or paint a room with less stuff!


This may seem like a long process, but so worth it.  I try to do this for every bedroom during the summer.  Yes, it does take a lot of time, but much less time if we aren’t switching rooms or furniture.  In the long run, it helps our home stay neater and more organized if there is space for everything and if everything has a home.  Happy organizing!

Packing for College or Apartment Living

In about a month, our oldest daughter will be starting her first semester of college outside of our home.  Since this was a new road for me, I did some research to find out what she might need.  I found an incredibly long, but comprehensive list online.  So many things to buy.  So many things I hadn’t even considered.  So many things that would put a dent in our budget if I bought them all at one time!  I made a plan to do a little at a time and spread out the expenses. Here is the comprehensive list I found, plus some other items that we’ll be packing.  If you think of something we’ve missed, please post a comment and let us know!

January—Medical and Laundry Medicine Med Box/Container Aspirin Tylenol Motrin/Advil Cough syrup Cough drops Cold medicine Benadryl Band aids Dayquil/Nyquil First aid ointment Rubbing alcohol Cotton balls Cotton gauze pads Tums/Mallox, etc. Eye drops Thermometer

Laundry Laundry bag(s)/hamper Laundry soap Dryer sheets Stain remover: Shout stick Clothespins Clothesline/drying rack Quarters: Some schools use a card system Needles and thread (blue, black and white) Safety pins

February—Kitchen and Cleaning Supplies Kitchen Kitchen box: large shoe/boot box Plate(s) Bowl(s) Knife, fork, spoon (s) Serving spoon(s) Hand can opener Paring knife Measuring cups Measuring spoons Water bottle Travel cup/glass for making tea Pot for cooking Dish washing detergent Dishwasher detergent Brita filter Coffee maker Microwave Refrigerator

Cleaning Window and mirror cleaner Paper towels Bathroom cleaner Comet Sponges Dusting spray Dusting cloth Swiffer or mop Swiffer refills Bucket

March—Technology and Tools Technology Mp3 player Digital camera, batteries/battery charger, rechargeable batteries Stereo CD’s DVD’s Clock radio/alarm clock Extension cords Multi plug outlet Phone Lamp(s): Desk, free standing, clamp one for your bed Hammer Nails Screwdrivers Flashlight Nightlight Light bulbs: 40/60 watt Trash can(s): Most colleges only have one Trash bags

April—Personal Items Purse(s) wallet money Watch(es) Jewelry: Earrings, necklaces, bracelets, rings Glasses Sun glasses Contacts, contacts case, and contact solution(s) Nail clippers, Emory boards Nail polish, nail polish remover Cotton balls Brush/comb Hair stuff: Head bands, barrettes, rubber bands, scrunchies, styling gel, etc. Feminine supplies Boxes of Kleenex Toilet paper Cologne/body sprays Deodorant Hand lotion/body lotion Razor/shaving cream Make-up Hair dryer Flat iron Curling Iron

May--Clothes Socks: All kinds Pantyhose/knee-highs Shoes: Dress, tennis, flip flops, shower shoes! Underwear Bras/sports bras Slips/half slips Camisoles Pajamas/bathrobe/slippers Shorts: Play and dress Dress pants/slacks Casual pants/jeans Casual shirts: Long sleeve/short sleeve T-shirt: Long sleeve/short sleeve Tank tops Sweaters Vests Blouses Dress: Some colleges have winter formals Bathing suits Belts Sweatshirts Jackets: Lightweight, wind breaker, winter Gloves/mittens Scarves/hats Hangers Suitcase/duffel bag

June--Bed and Bath Bedroom Two sets of sheet/pillow cases Comforter/bedspread (Stores have special “dorm sets” that they advertise beginning in June.) Mattress pad Egg crate Blanket/throw Pillow(s) Soft butt pillow for desk chair Sleeping bag/air mattress (for guests!) Stuffed animals: College kids with stuffed animals make better grades

Bathroom Towels, hand towels, wash cloths

Bathroom rugs

Shower caddy (holder for shower supplies) Toothbrush, toothpaste Hand soap Soap/shower gel Shampoo, conditioner Shower cap Water glass/cup Towel rack for your door

July--School/Homework Supplies Computer (look for a back-to-school deal) Monitor and cables Printer and cables Lan cable: 25 feet Computer paper Ink Surge protector Calendar Day planner Notebooks/binders Pocket folders Notebook paper Stapler/staples Paper clips Scissors Sticky tack Post-it notes Push pens Pens Pencils Ruler Zip drive/jump drive/thumb drive Hole punch: Single and 3 hole Pictures/posters High lighters Permanent magic marker(s) Erasable message board with pens: These come on most of the dorm doors, but just in case, or if you want one in your room Cork board/bulletin board/magnet board Book bag Stamps/envelopes Address book, telephone numbers Year book, photo albums, pictures, picture frames Novels, books, Bibles Journal

March Organization Challenge: Living Area

We’re on a roll, now!  In January we set goals, made a plan, and assembled a planner.  In February we brought order to meals and menus and cleaned the kitchen.  (If you missed any of these articles, you can find them on the “Articles” tab at Daughters 4 God.) March is the month for bringing order to our main living area—living room, family room, great room, or whatever you call it.  (If you have two such rooms, you have double duty this month!) It is difficult to give specific instructions for cleaning and ordering a living area, since each family is so unique.  This month, I’m giving you some general suggestions and recommendations to help you bring order and organization to your specific living area.

I recommend you print this page and post it on your frig so you can keep up with the weekly assignments.

Week 1:  Declutter and Downsize Keep only what you need and regularly use. It’s most challenging to be organized when you’re pressed for space.  I remember having two girls in a tiny two-bedroom condo with no basement or garage.   I survived by regularly discarding toys and clothing we didn’t need.  Sometimes I wasn’t sure what I’d need in the future, but that’s where I trusted God to provide.  If He provided it the first time, He could certainly provide again if I needed it.  We aren’t as cramped for space in our current home, but we still regularly evaluate closets, bookshelves, and other possessions.  We try to find others who may be blessed by our gently used items.  It brings me great joy to go to church and see young girls wearing dresses my sweeties have outgrown.

Start the process with items you need and regularly use.  Those items can stay where they are for now.  Next, get two trash bags and make three piles:  Trash bag #1 is Throw Away, Trash bag #2 is Give Away, Pile #3 is Need but Use Infrequently.  Evaluate decorations, knick knacks, furniture, and any other possessions—things you can see and things in drawers and under furniture.  Throw the trash away, find a good home for your gently used items, and find a temporary home for the things you “Need but Use Infrequently.”

Week 2:  Pack and Put Away Use it or pack it. If you’ve determined you need an item but don’t often use it, pack it away and make room for other necessities.  For example, you don’t need daily access to suitcases, seasonal decorations, keepsake items, old bank statements, tax returns, treasures made by children, etc.  Move the items to the attic or a top shelf of a closet.

Hit the spot. Also this week, remove any spots in your carpet and on your furniture.  I recently saw this recipe for treating spots: “Use hydrogen peroxide in a spray bottle and thoroughly wet the area.  Come back and blot it up; then sprinkle iodized salt on the damp part.  As it dries, the salt will soak up the stain.”  I haven’t tried it yet, but a friend told me it worked great for a blood stain.

Week 3:  Order and Organize A place for everything and everything in its place. Everything needs a home.  My mom had a saying when we were cleaning the house: “Don’t put it down until it’s home.”  Most everything in our house had a home.  All our toys belonged in the basement where we had a special closet for the games, an area for the dolls and another area for matchbox race tracks.  In my home, I chose to use plastic bins for many of the girls’ toys—one for musical instruments, one for blocks, one for dress up clothes.  (Baskets work well, too, but I wanted something with a lid.)  Yes, there is an initial investment, but the return is a system for an ordered home that allows children to help.  When you ask your children to put things away, they know exactly where things belong.

Two are better than one. Look for storage options that meet two needs—a dresser that doubles as a changing table, an entertainment unit that has storage for DVD’s, a bookshelf with baskets to hold other trinkets, a higher bed frame that allows under-the-bed storage.  All of these options double your space.

Allow space for future growth. I’ve heard it said that you fill whatever space you have.  The same rings true for storage.  If you need 4 shelves for books, buy a bookshelf with at least 2 extra shelves.  (I’m not advocating materialism or collecting things but if you are a young homeschooling family or a family of readers, those empty shelves won’t stay that way for long!)  If you need storage for toys, make sure the lid fits on easily.  If the toys in the box fit like a tight puzzle, it’s unlikely your young children will be able to fit everything in.

Week 4: Bust the Dust Clean your living area, top to bottom. Cover a broom with an old t-shirt and remove cobwebs around the crown molding and down the corners.  Starting at one of the light switches in the room, continue around the room until you return to the light switch, accomplishing the following:  clean the glass and tops of the picture frames (Update pictures, if necessary.); remove all knick knacks and dust furniture; dust all knick knacks and replace them on the furniture, clean the windows—glass, sills, and sashes; clean light switches; clean door frames, removing all fingerprints.  Clean and organize other furniture in the room, such as an entertainment center, bookshelves, baskets, etc.  Start again at the same light switch and clean the baseboards, continuing around the room until you get back to the light switch.  Sit back and admire the fruits of your labor.


The Cleaning Game

When I was growing up, spring was the signal for an all-out war on dust and dirt at our house.  Mom removed and cleaned the curtains and drapes, got on her hands and knees to strip and wax the kitchen and dining room floors, and cleaned out every inch of the kitchen cabinets and every closet.  Taking care of her family was her full time job—and she did it well.  Most days we could’ve eaten off the kitchen floor because it was so clean.  (Some days you can eat off my kitchen floor because there are enough crumbs to feed a small country.)  When my brothers and sisters and I were at school, my mom had many uninterrupted hours to order her home. As a homeschool mom, my time is divided between home and school so I had to find an alternative. “Many hands make light work.” (John Heywood) When daughter #4 arrived, I knew I could no longer do everything around the house on my own.  The oldest was only 6 and the next was 4, but I immediately enlisted their help.  My solution was based in three principles:  1.The girls couldn’t do everything I did, but they could certainly do some things.  2. If their hands were busy working with me, it would be more difficult for them to undo what I was trying to do.  3. Working together as a family, no matter what the project, would build teamwork.  And so I invented The Cleaning Game--a fun way for our family to work as a team to clean our home.  When the house is clean, everyone wins!

How to eat an elephant You’ve probably heard the saying, “How do you eat an elephant?  One bite at a time.”  The same principle works for the overwhelming task of cleaning a home—take one bite at a time.  The Cleaning Game (TCG) is played with 100+ task cards that each list one bite-sized task, brief instructions for how to accomplish the task and a list of supplies needed.  Cards include chores for two vehicles and houses with 6 bedrooms and four baths.  Blank cards are included so you can customize the game to meet the needs of your family.  Three diligent, expert players over the age of 6 are able to clean a 4 bedroom, 2 bath home in under 3 hours—not including floors.

“You can expect what you inspect.” (Anonymous) Remove any cards from the deck that don’t apply to your family.  Begin by dealing the cards to each player.  (TCG comes with instruction cards explaining several different ways to play with the same deck of cards, but our family plays once a week.)  I recommend that you introduce a few tasks each week, instructing and demonstrating how the task would be completed to your satisfaction.  Add tasks each week until all cards have been introduced.  Ideally, players who can read can work independently, however it is critical that work is inspected and that players receive both positive and negative feedback—especially in the start-up phase.  Parents can choose cards, remain only an “Inspector”, or complete the jobs that children are unable to do.  Players seem to be best motivated when a parent is involved in some part of the process.

“A family that plays together, stays together.” (Joy Moore) If you are interested in playing with your family, you have two options:  purchase a CD with the pdf file of The Cleaning Game for $7.99 and free shipping OR purchase and download the pdf file of The Cleaning Game for the introductory rate of $3.99 during the month of March.  Both forms of The Cleaning Game are available only at the Daughters 4 God Shoppe.


Last month's post about organization looked so good on paper, but it was just too much for my schedule this week.  I had already committed to attend a three-day conference with two daughters and out of day before I finished my to-do list.  Thank you, God, for your grace and mercy.  " Tomorrow is another day..."

February Organization Challenge

The 2011 Organization Challenge is in full swing at my house!  I think I did pretty well in January. I am happy to say that I have completed a major project and have begun two new ones.  (I was never good at math…)  I am grateful for your comments of support and I’ve decided to post personal updates more frequently (I’m hoping for weekly updates, but not promising…) for those of you who may be interested in how things are progressing in my neck of the woods.  I won’t be sending those updates by email, but they will appear on the “Articles” page of the website.  Any comments or helpful hints you would like to post  will be greatly appreciated!  So here is my January update… During Week 1, I cleaned out my old planner and organized it so it was ready for use.  I also set some goals, but we had an out-of-town guest so I wasn't able to finish the list.  I haven’t gotten around to that yet, but I’m hoping to have some time this weekend.  Week 2 was easy because I already had a schedule that needed only minor adjustments.  Actually, I plan to make a few more minor adjustments for next week.  I spent Week 3 recording birthdays and other events in my calendar.  It’s been great to have them all in one place.  And Week 4, well it was a challenge.  I tried to use one to-do list for the entire week, but I found that didn’t work so well.  I am now trying a daily list with a 5 item per day limit—besides my daily work.  Overall I was more productive, but not as focused as I would  like.

The February Challenge It’s been said, “The kitchen is the heart of the home.”  The focus this month is bringing order to the kitchen and our food responsibilities including planning meals, making a grocery list, and preparing meals.  Food requires us to make so many decisions throughout the week—what to buy, which brand, what size, where to store it, how to fix it, when to have it.  My goal this month is to organize and clean my kitchen and to simplify my experiences with food—aggressive goals, I’ll admit.  Let’s get started!

Week 1:  Collect Recipes and Organize the Pantry Collect Recipes Begin this week by gathering all of your unbound recipes—magazine and newspaper clippings, 3x5 cards, or typed pages.  Gathering recipes may seem like a waste of time, but truly it will save time in the long run.  When you need a recipe it will be at your fingertips.   Here are two options for storing your recipe collection, listed from simple to more time-consuming: OPTION #1:  Purchase a three-ring binder (with an inside pocket) and 3-ring pocket folders or dividers.  Sort your recipes into piles based on regular cookbook divisions.  Label the folders and put the proper recipes in each folder.  Be sure to return the recipes to the proper folder after each use. OPTION #2:  Make your own family cookbook.  Purchase a 3-ring binder, page protectors, and dividers—I think the plastic pocket dividers work best.  (I keep all published recipes in the folder pockets or print them directly from the website.)  Make a recipe template and enter each recipe on a separate page; combine two shorter recipes that are in the same division.  Print the recipes on cardstock and slide them into the page protectors.  I suppose you could hole-punch the recipe pages, but the page protector protects the recipe from food drippings.

Four years ago I started our family cookbook as a present for our oldest daughter.  I’ve made several cookbooks for family and friends, adding new recipes each time.  And since I have digital copies of my favorite recipes, I am able to print them or email them to friends.   Yes, it does take time, but it is worth it.

NOTE:  Be sure to copy only recipes that are not already published.  Electronic storage of copyrighted recipes is illegal.

Organize the Pantry Next, we tackle the pantry or the cabinets where you store your food.  I feel very blessed to have a pantry, but the process is the same for those who don’t.  First, take everything out of the pantry and wash each shelf.  Then, start by grouping like things together.  Here’s a tour of my pantry just after I organized it in January.  A little personal, but maybe it will spark some organizational ideas.

The top left shelf is for my coffee maker and the large stock pot to make my Grandma’s Chicken Corn Soup.  The top right shelf is for paper products.  I discovered that sometimes Styrofoam rained down on my head, so I put my disposable plates, cups, napkins, and silverware in a box.  I don’t have to worry about reaching to the very back of the shelf, either.

The second shelf on the left is for my vinegars, molasses, and a few things don’t use very often, in addition to “extras” that I buy for something that is just about to run out.  It’s much easier to make a grocery list when you know what you have.   The second shelf on the right is for pasta and rice.  Since the bags sometimes got lost in between things, I put the rice in plastic storage containers and taped the instructions on the back of the container.  You can't really see them, but they are behind the large bag of noodles.

The third shelf on the left is for larger containers of oil and honey.  The third shelf on the right is for all of my canned goods organized so I can find them easily:  starting at the far right, tomatoes and tomato products, then beans and other veggies, then canned meats in the back and fruits in the front, and finally soups and pumpkin when it’s in season.

The fourth shelf on the left and right is for my baking supplies:  oatmeal, shortening, and on one side and sucanat, honey crystals, lecithin, and gluten on the other.  (Yeah, I’m trying to get away from using shortening, but the White Chocolate Macadamia Nut Cookies just don’t turn out the same.)

The fifth and bottom shelf on the left is for cereal.  We kept the cereal on the lower shelf so the kids could get out and put away the cereal when they were younger.  Notice we have a large container to store cereal that we purchase in bulk in bags.  It’s so much easier for storage and for the kids to use.  On the right side I have some canisters that previously held white sugar and white flour--we still use them sometimes, but not every month.  I'm planning to make some changes to that shelf this week.

The drawers under the shelves give extra room for smaller things that don’t store neatly.  The set on the left is for coffee and baking supplies such as nuts, chocolate chips, and sugars.  The set on the right is for envelope mixes, potatoes, onions, tea bags, and grocery bags to recycle.

The shelves on the door were an idea I borrowed from a friend.  The left side door has large spice containers on the top two shelves and the bottom two are for smaller boxes or bags of whatever we have—raisins, craisins, croutons, cornbread mix, The right side door has more baking supplies like salt, baking powder, baking soda, vanilla, on the top shelves and pudding on the bottom shelf.

In case you’re wondering, the rest of my spices are in a cabinet near my stove and my plastic wrap and foil are in a drawer.

Take a good look at your space (and your budget) and decide if you could make better use of your space by investing in some shelving or other organization tool.  I find that I save money when my pantry is more organized.  I don’t buy duplicates of food I already have, I am able to see and use what's available, and I’m more content to cook and eat at home because I haven’t spent a lot of time searching for the ingredients.

Week 2:  Planning a Weekly Menu and Making a Weekly Grocery List Planning a Weekly Menu Planning a weekly menu may seem unnecessary, but it will save you time and money.  It will save time spent standing in front of the panty or refrigerator hoping that meals will throw themselves together like Ezekiel’s dry bones.  It will save money because you will purchase ingredients for specific recipes and not merely items that look good.  Yes, it still takes time to make a weekly menu, but the time is well spent.

Make a divider in your planner/household notebook for Menu Planning.  Make your own form or use this combo form for menu planning and as a grocery list.

Here are some suggestions to help you make a weekly menu plan. OPTION #1: Pre-Planned Menu When I was making a gift purchase at Dave Ramsey’s website, I noticed an advertisement for E-Mealz, a business founded by two moms who create a weekly budget-friendly dinner menu and the accompanying grocery lists for regular, low fat, low carb, and gluten free menus based on the grocery store where you shop. The cost is $15 for 3 month subscription, billed quarterly.

A few weeks ago I took the plunge and subscribed for the next three months.  I logged into my account and printed the menu and the grocery list.  Menu done.  Grocery list done.  That was nice.  So far our family has really liked most of the recipes—an amazing feat for girls who are more “selective.”I can’t recommend it yet, since I've used it for only two weeks.  I’ll let you know how it works after I’ve used it for at least a month.  For those who might be interested, you can check it out here: E-MEALZ Easy Meals for Busy and Frugal Families.  To be fair, I want you to know that if you sign up from the link, I’ll receive some sort of credit.  I’m not even sure how that works.  Like I said before, I haven’t used it long enough to strongly recommend it but it is an option.

OPTION #2:  Freezer Cooking About 10 years ago, I was a desperate homeschool mom.  With two toddlers and two in elementary school, I found it difficult to get a decent meal on the table.  While shopping at a homeschool curriculum fair I purchased a freezer cookbook from 30 Day Gourmet, a combination recipe and instruction book of how to cook once a month and freeze all the meals.  I knew I could never do the “once-a-month” cooking, but the thought of having meals in the freezer was very intriguing. (I do not have a freezer, but I do have an extra frig in the garage.)  The recipes were simple, didn’t include too many or exotic ingredients, and seemed family-friendly.  True enough, the family did like the recipes and I liked the idea of having a homecooked meal on even the busiest of day.  Today my freezer cooking goes in spurts.  Here are two ways I’ve used the cookbook.

Big Cooking Day

  1. Purchase a cookbook or peruse some recipes from 30 Day Gourmet.
  2. Choose 3-4 recipes and choose how many of each you plan to make.
  3. Make a grocery list based on your recipes and the number of dishes.  Don’t forget to include metal pans or Ziploc bags to other containers you’ll need for freezing.  I think about the large roll of ground beef and figure out how much I can make using the entire roll or I consider how many dishes I can make from the large bag of frozen chicken.
  4. Choose a cooking day—at least 6 hours.  I find it easiest to have a “beef day” and a “chicken day”.  For instance, I brown a lot of meat at one time or I may make several meat loaves.   It’s similar on chicken day when I boil and shred a huge quantity of chicken.
  5. Assemble your meals in the proper container.  Whenever possible, I use Ziploc freezer bags.  They’re easy to label and I can fit many flat bags in my regular freezer.
  6. Be sure to label your meal—what it is and when you made it.  If you’re like me, you think you’ll remember, but then several dishes have tomato sauce and chicken and you’re not certain how long that bag has been in the freezer…
  7. Enjoy your frozen meals.  Most meals can be taken out of the freezer in the morning or be baked from the frozen stage.

Slow Start Up

  1. Purchase a cookbook or peruse some recipes from 30 Day Gourmet
  2. Plan your meals for the week.  Choose 2 frozen meal recipes for each week and  make 2 batches of each.
  3. Make a grocery list based on your recipes and the number of dishes.  Don’t forget to include metal pans or Ziploc bags to other containers you’ll need for freezing.
  4. On the day you plan to have your frozen meal, make two batches of the meals—one to eat for dinner and one to freeze.
  5. Assemble your meal in the proper container.  Whenever possible, I use Ziploc freezer bags.  They’re easy to label and I can fit many flat bags in my regular freezer.
  6. Be sure to label your meal—what it is and when you made it.
  7. After several weeks, you’ll have a collection of several frozen meals that you can choose from on the days you are unable to cook.

OPTION #3:  Consider the Crockpot My crock pot is my friend.  My mother never used a crock pot for her family of 5, but I’m not sure why.  It is  a convenient way to have a warm meal ready when you don’t have time to cook.   My biggest issue is that I only have a few good crock pot recipes that our family likes, but those few regularly find their way into our winter menu plan.

Planning a Weekly Grocery List Once you have a weekly menu, it is simple to review each recipe for ingredients you’ll need.  Record what you need on the grocery list portion of the menu planning form.  Also, when you run out of something during the week, add it to the grocery list.  I’ve taught my kids to do this, too.

Shop once a week for groceries.  When you start with a list and stick with the list, you save the money you would've spent on snacks and ingredients for recipes you think you might make.  Once-a-week shopping  also keeps you out of the grocery store for the rest of the week, which saves even more.

Week 3:  Clean the Appliances Appliances work so hard for us and they get little thanks or attention.  This week, choose to spruce up one appliance each day.  I realize that many of you may not need specific instructions, but I included them for those who haven’t been taught.  There may be a better way; I’m only relaying what I’ve been taught.  I am also planning for my daughters to help so I can pass on the knowledge.

The order you clean the appliances doesn’t matter, but it would be logical to save the bigger jobs for the days that you aren’t as busy—if there is one of those days in your week.  Since you’re inspecting these work-horses so closely, you may also want to make a page in your notebook for a “to do” list of things that need to be repaired or parts that need to be replaced.

Monday—Clean the stove Remove the drip pans and soak them in a sink of hot water.  Raise the cook top and clean under the burners.  Use water and vinegar or some other grease-cutting cleaner for the cook top and back splash of traditional stoves.   Use an approved non-abrasive cleaner for ceramic cook top surfaces.  For years I didn't realize that the knobs on the back of the stove could be removed for easier cleaning.  Remove all knobs, clean the surface and the knobs, and then replace the knobs.  Use steel wool to make the soaking drip pans sparkle like new or purchase new ones if they’re too far gone.  Lastly, replace the drip pans.

Tuesday—Clean the dishwasher Start on the inside and empty any food from the trap.  Wipe down the inside walls and the inside of the door, giving special attention to the sides that tend to collect food as the dishes are loaded.  Protect your dishes from rusted racks.  Consider replacing the rack or purchasing small caps to put on the tips of the rack.  (BTW, white duct tape doesn’t work.)  We searched online and found a new rack for a reasonable price.  Lastly, finish by shining the outside of the door and all knobs.

If you don’t have a dishwasher and you ARE the dishwasher, take a bubble bath and clean the dishwasher.

Wednesday—Clean the sink and garbage disposal For a porcelain sink, use a non-abrasive stovetop cleaner or an abrasive cleaner with bleach for an older sink.  To clean a stainless steel sink, use aluminum cleaner or a non-abrasive cleaner.  Clean the garbage disposal with frozen lemon juice ice cubes or disposal a lemon cut into fourths.

Thursday—Clean the microwave and any appliances on your counters Fill a mug with water and bring to a boil—about 2 mins. on high.  This will loosen any baked on dirt.  Remove the glass bottom; wash and dry.  Using a dish detergent solution, wipe down the top, both sides and the bottom.  For grease, use a solution of vinegar, water and a little ammonia.  Replace the glass bottom.  Clean every outside panel of the microwave.

Clean the appliances on your counters such as toaster, toaster oven, coffee maker, food processor, bread machine etc.  Wash the components and then wipe down the outsides of the appliances.

Friday—Clean the refrigerator and freezer Prepare a bowl of warm water and a small amount of dish detergent.  (Most manufacturers recommend NOT using a stronger cleaner.)  Starting with the top shelf, take everything off the shelf and use a wash cloth to wash the shelf with the warm water mixture.  Replace the items that are still good and move to the next shelf down.  Continue the same process with each shelf, working your way down to the drawers.  Remove the drawers and wash them in the sink with dish detergent, and rinse well.  Clean the space under the drawers and then replace the drawers.

Next, clean the door.  Open the door and start with the seal on the top of the door, removing crumbs and dirt.  Remove everything from the top shelf and wipe down the door and shelf like you would a chalkboard.  Check expiration dates before you replace the items.  Use the same process for remaining shelves.

For the freezer, use a bowl of warm water and a small amount of dish detergent.  Take everything out of the freezer.  Remove the grate, if you can, and clean it with the dish detergent solution.  Wipe down the top of the freezer, each side, and the bottom, rinsing your dish cloth often.   Restock only those frozen foods that are still edible.

Next, clean the freezer door.  Start with the seal on the top of the door, removing crumbs and dirt.  Remove everything from the top shelf and wipe down the door and shelves like you would a chalkboard.

Finally, clean every panel of the outside of the frig, including the top.  For textured handles, use a nylon scrubber to remove dirt in the cracks.  Remove the grate/vent from the bottom; wash with dish detergent solution.  Replace the grate and smile at the shining piece of beauty.

Saturday—Clean the oven Clean your oven according to manufacturer’s instructions.  Be sure to remove the racks and clean them separately.

Sunday—Rest! Even God rested on the seventh day!

Week 4:  Clean Cabinets and Drawers Each day this week, clean 2 cabinets and 1 drawer (or clean them all in an afternoon and get it over with!).  Take everything out of the cabinets or drawers.  Clean the bottom of the cabinet, the shelves, and the inside of the door using your cleaner of choice.  Replace only the items that you need.  (See the checklist below to help you decide.)  Clean the outside door of the cabinet or drawer and the handle.

Helpful Hints: Group similar items in the same cabinet or drawer. Don’t be afraid to move contents of drawers or cabinets to a more convenient location. Consider moving dishes to lower cabinets so children can unload the dishwasher. Store Christmas and other holiday dishes in a high or hard to reach cabinet to make better use of the reachable cabinets. Eliminate any gadgets, dishes, pots or pans that you don’t use. Eliminate mismatched dishes. Match plastic storage containers—discard  orphan containers or lids Donate gently used dishes to a newlywed couple or your church kitchen.

2011 Organization Challenge

Are you ready for a challenge?  One of my goals for 2011 is to create a more organized life and home.  I’d love some company on this journey!   Join me as I organize my home, one room at a time, one project at a time.   I’ve heard it said:  How do you eat an elephant?  One bite at a time.  The only way to tackle the challenge of being more organized is to make small changes and take one bite at a time.  There is one suggested assignment for each week, allowing enough time to complete the plan and to encourage a new habit.  Of course, you can work at your own pace.  I’ll be using some printable forms from the site:, more specifically, the printable pages for a household notebook.  Those of you who border on obsessive/compulsive behavior will immediately want to print every form and read every article.  Not a bad idea, but when I’ve tried that approach in the past, I have become discouraged because I can’t do it all.  This year, I’m taking a new approach:  slow and steady wins the race.  If I can make one change each week  I can make a big change, and hopefully a permanent change, by the end of the year. You may want to include your son or daughter in this project.  Help them set up their own organizational system for activities and school work.  It will give them necessary organizational skills to run a home or a business in the future.

During this journey, I would love to hear your stories.  Post a comment to this article and let me know how you’re doing, what suggestions have worked for you, or ideas that you have for other readers.  So, if you’re ready, let’s go!

WEEK #1-Buy or Make Your Own Planner, Set Goals

Ok, so it does seem like two goals in one week but since it’s the beginning of the year, you’re probably more motivated and won’t have any problem finishing both projects.  Let's start by managing information.  I just can’t keep everything in my brain anymore, and gratefully I don’t have to!  Einstein said he never memorized anything he could look up.  I agree, so I write things down—on tiny scraps of paper that seem to disappear from my home.  This year, my goal is to write down phone numbers, addresses and important notes in a planner so they will be accessible when I need them.  If don't already own a planner, then purchase or make one.

What you will need:

Three-ring binder with pockets

Dividers  (Plain dividers are sufficient, but office supply stores carry heavy duty plastic dividers that have pockets.  The number of dividers depends on what you prefer.  You will need at least 8   dividers.  Also, you’ll need 11 more dividers if you would like one divider for each month.

Pack of Notebook Paper

Page Protectors, optional (a small pack should be plenty)

Cover (Design your own or print one from organized

A pencil (I write everything in pencil because you never know when you might need to make adjustments.  I particularly like the mechanical pencils because they always have a sharp point.)

Divider #1-“Goals”

Set Some Goals

Ask God what His goals are for your year ahead and write them down.  Sure, there are lots of things you could do, but what does God want you to do?  And yes, you have to write them down.  Somehow they’re more official that way and you’ll probably be more committed.  You may want to use the link from the December 2010 Newsletter to access  Remembrances and Revelations tool that can help you evaluate the past year and plan for the year ahead.  Listen to God carefully as you choose your larger goals.  No one knows better than I that if you choose too many goals for the stage of life you are in, you will feel discouraged when you aren’t able to accomplish them.

Establish smaller goals to achieve the larger goal.

Set smaller goals for each month or even each week.  For example, maybe your larger goal is to get into shape.  If you are currently NOT exercising at all, set a goal to exercise 2-3 days a week for a month or so and maybe increase it to four days for another couple months.  Keep adding days until you reach your goal.  For each larger goal you have already established, write numbered smaller steps below that will help you achieve that goal.  This is your game plan for the year.  Put it in a page protector in the goals section of your planner.

Stay focused on your goals.

In my life, there are always more opportunities and activities than I have time for.  When the girls were little, God gave us a system to make decisions about family activities.  Here is a very simplified version of some of the questions we asked: Is this something God wants us to do?  (That answer isn’t always easy.)  How much free time do we have available this week/month?  Do we already have a commitment? (Don’t abandon one commitment if you get a better offer!) Does this activity conflict with God’s word or any principle in it?  Is it good for the family or just one of the members?  Is this activity part of the calling for our family or one of our children?  Will this activity help us reach our goals?  Is this something we want to do?

Don’t give up.

Sometimes it seems like two steps forward and one step back.  But that’s still more steps forward!  Using that same goal of getting into shape, exercise today, even if you haven’t exercised in a few days or even a few weeks.  Don’t wait until Monday to start or to change your eating habits.  Start today.  Maybe you’re working hard and meeting your smaller goals but things are happening as fast as you’d like.  Don’t give up.  Ask and expert or experienced friend for advice and look for ways to make adjustments.  Above all, ask for help from God.  He hears and answers the cries of His children.

Week #2:  Make a daily schedule.

Divider #2 “Schedule”

A daily schedule is budget for time, a guide to help make the most of each minute of the day.  However, unexpected situations arise and require flexibility.  Use the schedule as a guide to help you, not as something to control your day.  You may want to put this page in a page protector or post it on the refrigerator.

While a yearly calendar includes special activities or events, a daily schedule should include activities that happen every day:  Wake time, devotions or quiet time, exercise, bath/shower time, school time divided by specific classes, daily chores weekly activities such as church activities, sports, music lessons and dance lessons--including travel time, nap time, family worship, bed time.  Don’t forget to include time to accomplish your 2011 goals.

There are several ways to make a schedule:

Weekly schedule by the hour or half-hour:  This schedule is best for families who have many activities scheduled on different days.

Daily schedule by the hour or half-hour:  For those who have days that look exactly the same, this schedule is for you.  For the past 10 years or so, I’ve used this type of schedule for our family.  Each girl had her own column reflecting her schedule fr that day.  I usually posted the schedule on the frig.  As the girls grew, I copied their schedule so each could post the schedule in their room.  The template has remained the same, but the schedule has been created and recreated, adjusted and readjusted based on our growing family and their changing needs.

Daily Schedule by blocks:  This schedule works best for those who prefer a little more flexibility.  Divide your day into one, two or three hour blocks such as early morning, late morning, lunch, early afternoon, late afternoon, dinner, etc.  Then fill the blocks with activities such as school, nap time, family time, lunch, chores, etc.  I don’t have a form for this one, but you could print the above form and use a highlighter or marker to draw around the boxes of time you want to make into a block.  If you make a template using a dark colored marker, you could photo copy your template for future use.

A schedule should not be set in stone; it is most effective when adjusted based on changing needs.  Don’t be afraid to add or take away activities or to adjust the time allotted to an activity.

Week #3:  Make a Monthly/Yearly Schedule

Divider #3-“Calendar” or dividers for each month

One of the most important tools to stay organized is a yearly calendar.  A calendar allows us to intentionally choose how to spend our time.  With a month-at-a-glance calendar I’m able to see what activities are already planned so that I don’t double-book.  I can also monitor how many nights of the week we ’re together as a family before I commit to dinner at a friend’s home.  Without a calendar, I’m sure I would be running from one thing to another without any time to think or reflect.

Buy or print a calendar.

The size of the calendar doesn’t matter, but the more events you have on a given day, the larger the block you’ll need.  I have kept a DayPlanner system for years, so I buy calendar refills each year.  If you don't have one, you can print a calendar for free.

Record all birthdays or anniversaries of family members and close friends.

There is a separate form for birthdays, but I find myself forgetful and I don’t look at the separate calendar.  I choose to transfer the birthdays each year.  I record the person’s name in all caps at the top of the date square just beside the number.

Here’s how to record the following items:

A morning event goes at the top of the square, an evening event at the bottom.  Be sure to include the time and address or other necessary notes.  For an event with lots of notes, write the notes in the side margin or back of the calendar.  Keep the invitation in the inside pocket of your notebook/planner.

Record any doctor, dentist, or orthodontist appointments.

I always schedule mine on Tuesdays around lunch time.  I know that the day is free since we have no other activities planned on that day

Record any family events, vacation, birthday parties, or other events.

At our house, nothing goes on the schedule until I confirm it with my husband.

Record any church events.

Again, nothing goes on the schedule until I confirm it with my husband.

Week #4:  Make a Weekly or Daily To-Do List, Add Blank Pages

Divider #4 “To Do”

There are several form options for your to-do list.  You may want a “master to-do list” and prioritize the entries with numbers or by the date they need to be accomplished.  You could even write immediate needs on the top and tasks to be completed later at the bottom.

You could also use the "Daily Planner" page.  The page is divided into four sections:  to do, to go, to call, to buy.  This is my favorite because I generally organize what I have to do by those categories.  I can make several calls at once or I might run errands on one afternoon.  Personally, I would use it as a weekly to-do list, since I try not to put more than 5 things on my list—outside of the normal requirements of cooking, cleaning, and homeschooling.

Lastly, you could try “Weekly Planner” pages that have various lines for each day.  There are two options:  a one-page spread with all seven days and no lines, and a two-page spread that divides half the week on each page with lines in each box.

If you haven’t used any of these systems, you may want to experiment to see which one works best for you.  Chances are, you’ll have to adjust one of them to make it perfectly meet your needs.

Divider #5-Notes

Add some notebook paper in this section.  Whenever you need to make a note of something from a phone conversation or plan a birthday celebration or remember directions somewhere, write the date in the left margin and write your notes beside it.  This is not a to-do list, but a place to keep information you will need to recall at a later date.  It will save hours of searching for the ripped corner of the bulletin that holds priceless information.

You’re well on your way to putting systems in place to order your world.  Next month we’ll tackle recipes, menu planning, grocery lists and the kitchen.