Women’s Conference report, chapter 1: All Things in Order

messySo… I’m not the most put-together person in the world.  I did do seven loads of laundry today, loaded and unloaded the dishwasher, helped my kids write books, made 3 meals (if opening cereal boxes counts as “making” for one of them), and began some make-ahead-meals as well, but I also stayed in my pajamas all day and never left the house.  When I woke up this morning, I felt overwhelmed by a huge, existential to-do list floating around in my mind.  I might need a little order in my life.

When I left for Women’s Conference last week, Matt made the fatal mistake of informing me of his grandiose plans in my absence.  He said something like this (I can’t remember the details because I felt fire in my brain): “While you’re gone I’m going to go around and de-clutter this whole house.  I’m sick of all the clutter.  I’m going to go from room to room to room and go through all the piles of junk and throw stuff away and put things in the right place.  Don’t worry, I won’t throw away anything that has writing on it.”  I would like to add that this comment came after I spent most of the day trying to get everything picked up and ready for me to leave.  Now, I need to confess that I know he was thinking he was saying something like “I’m going to try hard to do you a huge favor and you will be so proud of me,” but he didn’t understand that I heard, “I’m going to do everything you do everyday, plus oh so much more,” and that I wanted to shove Battleship game pieces under his toenails.

So I think you would have to concede that it took great introspection and humility for me to choose to attend a class at Women’s Conference called, “Let all these things be done in order: Creating a climate of joy and order,” taught by Marjean Weiler ans Sue Williams.  If you will promise to NOT share this with Matt, I will tell you some of things I learned there.

  1. The temple is a model/shadow of how to run our home.  Our covenants are instruction for success.  (D&C 88:119)
  2. Break down projects into steps.  Write each step down.  Put the steps on your calendar.  Approach each step with prayer.
  3. Write down promptings and inspiration, then do them.
  4. Establish routines/patterns.  Tie a new routine to an established one. (For example, you already brush your teeth every night.  Tie journal-writing to that routine and do one after the other until they are both a habit.)
  5. Set aside the same time everyday to deal with paperwork (kids’ school papers + mail, etc.).  Have one place to collect ALL paperwork.  Replace piles with files. (Use general category labels and then subdivide as necessary.  Example:  Medical.  … may later become insurance, bills, prescriptions, etc.)  Write action items on calendar and then throw papers away.
  6. Keep papers and pens (that work!) or a whiteboard near the phone.  Transfer items to calendar.
  7. Use drawer dividers to organize junk or messy drawers. Even boxes from food, etc. can be used as drawer dividers.
  8. Finish tasks.  Don’t “deal with it later.”
  9. In failing to plan, we lose sight of our eternal destiny.
  10. How to balance life’s demands (from Elder Ballard):
    • Set your priorities.  Keep covenants in mind as you make daily plans.
    • Set short-term goals.
    • Measure carefully your needs vs. your wants.
    • Stay close to spouse, children.
    • Study the scriptures.
    • Make time for sufficient rest, exercise, and relaxation.
    • Teach one another the gospel.
  11. Prayerfully pick ONE thing to work on.
  12. How to get started:
    • Make a list of the things around your house that frustrate you the most (towels on floor, meal planning, etc.)  Write it down, and start with the one that bugs you the most.  The speaker mentioned meal planning and talked about a simple rule she follows:  Know what you’re going to eat at ten. Dinner has to be planned out by 10:00 a.m. or 10:00 p.m. the previous night.  Takes stress away from crazy afternoon time.
    • Make the trash can your best friend.  You won’t miss it.  Put stuff in there and RUN before you children see their “favorite McDonald’s toy ever.”
    • Use a calendar and always keep it in the same place.  Go over the calendar each week, maybe at FHE with whole family.
    • Start small, but start.  If you want to declutter an area, use three bins:  Trash, Keep, Donate.  Run to trash.  Put donate stuff in trunk right away.  Organize “keep” stuff into right place.
    • Make it a team effort.  Get help from family.

Feel free to judge me because I mostly took notes on areas in which I need improvement.  Those of you who do not have a D+ in home organization can just ignore this post and tune in tomorrow as we visit another chapter of “What Stephanie learned in Women’s Conference.”  I apologize to those of you who find this kind of stuff tedious or completley uninteresting, but it does me good to review my notes and record what I learned in a “permanent” kind of way.  Humor me.  Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a pile of about 7-days-worth of mail to tackle.

p.s.  Matt did a great job with the kids and the house while I was gone, but I’m sure you’ll understand my secret joy that his “project” could not come to fruition with all the demands of the children and such.


26 thoughts on “Women’s Conference report, chapter 1: All Things in Order

  1. THANK YOU FOR THIS. The Lord must be trying to tell me something- I’m getting hit in the head with messages like this non-stop and this broke things down so wonderfully.

  2. Okay, I’m going to need to come back to this post again and again. Thank you SO much for posting it, because I don’t even have a D+ in home organization! I am all out failing!

    These are some great and wonderful ideas!

  3. Dear Stephanie,

    Your blog was suggested to me by a friend and I’m going to be forever grateful to her for doing it. I think you are an amazing woman, a true disciple of Christ and such an inspiration to other women! Thank you, thank you so much for sharing your experiences and thoughts with others!
    Your sister in the Gospel,
    Stanca (pronounced Stonka). 🙂

  4. I like the suggestion that we tie a new routine with and established one. I’m sure there are lots of things I can tag to the end of “watch tv”! Just joking – we have just started walking mid morning here (LQ and I), so I think I may tag another little routine on to the end of our morning walk. Something that looks a lot less like “collapse on the couch and eat cookies” and more like “write in journal”.

    I love that you are sharing the ideas and suggestions you picked up at women’s conference. It makes me feel a little less like I’m at the other end of the world.

    • Hel–you were joking about tagging something on the end of “watching tv”, but I’ve actually found ways to use watching TV to help me be more productive.

  5. Organizing is never done…like dishes and laundry. Decluttering has been the best thing that has ever happened to my family. If it was up to my kids we would up to our eyeballs in pieces of paper, random toys from fast food, broken pieces of old games etc. It is a never ending battle. Fight the good fight!!!

  6. A never-ending battle, indeed. My parents keep and accumulate everything. I think it’s in my blood. I do amazingly well, considering. When I was pregnant with #4, the YW and a leader came to my house to help me out with some cleaning. I sent them to the pit/playroom/girls’ bedroom. I was amazed (and mortified!) by the stuff the leader picked up and threw in the trash. Stuff that deserved to be trash but that I would have saved. I didn’t object, and I have used that as a measure since then. I say, if that YW leader picked this up, what would SHE do with it. My house is getting better and better.

  7. Ha! Last week, I, too, had done 7 loads of laundry. But I can’t fold it when my kids are awake — EXTREMELY counterproductive, by which I mean while I fold, they unfold. Very frustrating.

    So I sat down after the kids were in bed and started folding articles from the embarrassingly huge mountain of freshly-laundered clothing and linens, while I watched American Idol. CPod went to the kitchen to do the dishes. He had on his iPod, and while I did enjoy his off-key Lenny Kravitz/U2/Chili Peppers/Coldplay sing-along, I was a little intrigued that it was taking so long for him to complete one task. Granted, there were a lot of dishes, and many of them were not dishwasher-approved. But still. Over an hour? Curious, I peeked around the corner. He was de-cluttering. And while I do appreciate his efforts, and, really, how clean and clutter free the kitchen has been since them, it sure would be nice if I could find all the important papers I had stacked so neatly and tucked between the phone base and the mug of writing implements.

    Now, I have to reconstruct my list of which bills get paid in which pay period, because I had them divided absolutely evenly, and it has been de-cluttered to some unknown location. CPod swears he didn’t do anything with this conspicuously absent stack of papers . . . whatever. We also can’t find the nicely-bound little booklet of songs our kids will be singing in the primary program. At least the CD was already in the car.

    He continued, and informed me that the month of May would be the month that he clears clutter out of our house. I just smiled, and nodded, and heard, “I’m going to declutter our house because somebody’s gotta do it, and it doesn’t seem to be a high priority for you.”

    That’s right, my friend. I’m too busy feeding and clothing you and your children to worry about important things like . . . throwing out the list of bills we pay and when they’re due.

    Please don’t judge me too harshly. I love my husband intensely and unabashedly, and I can scarcely express my gratitude to him for how much he helps around the house. He goes out of his way to make sure that I have ample opportunity to enrich my life in many different ways, from book club to playing in the symphony to Enrichment attendance to spending time with my sister and my girlfriends. He is an amazing and patient father to our always energetic and creative boys, and I honestly think we are one of the most compatible, fireworks-inducing (in a good way) matches of all time.

    But he is still a he, and he still has a little to learn about the female psyche. As do I. At least we’re learning together. And I will adjust my attitude accordingly.

    • I had to really laugh at Inkmom’s DH comments. I went to BYU and was gone 5 days, only to hear from my 13 yr old on the way home when calling from the Houston airport, “It’s amazing how well things go when you [mom] aren’t home.” I spent 3 long days getting things ready to be gone and I didn’t appreciate the comments.

      However I’m learning that this “perception” isn’t true:

      1. Only DH went to church on Sunday and he only went to Sunday School as he was teaching (I’ve had 3 ward members contact me asking me if our family is sick because they haven’t seen us at church functions)

      2. They ate out 3 times in 5 days (he insists that NO ONE eats out because our budget can’t handle it)

      3. No one went to mutual nor did our 15 yr old go to early morning seminary (goes back to #1)

      4. The dinners that were eaten at home consisted of soup (which I bought), sandwiches or cereal. Nothing was cooked in or on the stove except cookies by the 11 yr old. (goes back to #2 and how he claims he “cooks” which is something I need to do more often despite the fact I cook at least 6 nights a week)

      Yep, perception is in the eye of the beholder. Facts also help show reality. 🙂

  8. Great ideas, and now I think I feel like you with your to-do list swimming in my head.

    I have a condition called frustrated perfectionism. Actually, someone once told me it’s a real condition with a fancier name, but that’s what I call it. The main problem with this condition and my house is that I feel like if I don’t have time to do something perfectly, then I don’t do it at all. So, instead of quickly doing the hand dishes after dinner, I leave them because I don’t have time or energy to do the dishes, clean the sink, sanitize the counter, put all the dishes away, and sweep the floor–which is how I think the dishes should be done. I am getting better, and I’m also getting a little less sentimental which helps with the piles of junk.

    On a different point (you’d think I thought this was my blog–sorry for the long winded-ness) my daughters were laughing about a commercial because it didn’t make sense to them that a wife said she had two dogs, three kids, and a husband to clean up after because their daddy does as much cleaning and cooking (probably more) than I do. I am so glad that he is so competent, but I do love that when he has a long list to complete while I am out of town, he is frustrated that he doesn’t have time to do everything. It always makes me think that while I don’t get all I want to do done, I do things that are important and help him be able to do what he does so well. I don’t think he could tell whose girls’ underwear was whose if he could get a million dollars. There are many things that are not on his radar, but I am so glad cooking and cleaning are things he is totally aware (and capable) of.

    (This short novel has been brought to you by our sponsor, Merry Maids.) 😉

  9. I have mixed feelings about long lists of advice such as the one above, and I’m trying to find a way to put my thoughts into words. On the one hand, I think we’d mostly all like to have more order and peace in our lives — but I’m not sure that our covenants include things like what kind of filing system we use. Of course the list includes lots of ways to personalize it and many of the ideas would probably be useful to anyone, and we go seeking good practical advice for our own benefit. Maybe the little thing grating at me is the underlying assumption that I think I detect, that anyone can be organized with the right skills . . . whereas I’ve had enough experience of illness or other challenges that I know there can be seasons of life where that’s just not true. Of course once I’m well, whatever skills I do have are what help me dig myself back out. Wait — I think I’ve identified something else about what bothers me — my fear that having such an idealized end in mind will keep me from appreciating my tiny progress along the way, AND will dilute sympathy and compassion from others towards myself or from myself towards others (such as some of the husbands described here) for just what an enormous and never-finished project it is to try to run a household and care for children and meet everyone’s broad range of needs (food, clothing, shelter, social needs, spiritual needs, physical needs, emotional needs, etc.)

    I actually also have a pet peeve about throwing things away that are useful — our family’s fast food toys go into a D.I. bag (often unopened) and even torn old clothing can be used as rags, etc. I just think we have a wasteful culture, so when people talk about filling up garbage bags with stuff and throwing it all in the trash it just makes me cringe. But maybe there’s another way I could look at that (that the waste in the landfill is worth our saved time in sorting it all out for reuse or recycling?)

    Well, the baby’s crying, and I’ve got to go take care of her. Sorry to sound so negative over something that was obviously useful to you — maybe I’m just wanting to say “Don’t give up on improving, but don’t be too hard on yourself, either.”

  10. I liked Zina’s comment. I’m not the most organized person in the world, but that’s OK. As long as things aren’t being forgotten and we aren’t stressed out, or not communicating, then I think it’s not the worst thing in the world.

    However, there are times when I look around the house and get overwhelmed with everything I have to get done.

  11. Stephanie,

    Sorry that I’m posting this via your blog (I can’t find your email anywhere). I have a request, and I figure that you’re better qualified than anyone else I know to (hopefully) fulfill it.

    My job in the next few days is to make Mother’s Day chocolate gifts for the Bishop to give out to all the mothers (yep, the fun jobs of being married to the calling. :>) I need a great quote that focuses on motherhood but won’t offend the one woman in the ward who does not have children (but she nannies, and so she is always around kids.) I know you’re a fountain of mom-quotes. Any suggestions?

    Thanks so much!


  12. While I was nursing the baby and showering I was able to clarify my thoughts a little. I don’t actually have a problem with *any* of the suggestions on the list, so my question is more as to how the ideas are presented: Are they given as suggestions to make your life better, to use or discard based on what works best for you? Or are they a checklist that must be mastered before you’re “good enough”? I have no idea which was the approach taken in the session you attended, but I’ve seen the latter idea conveyed lots of times, usually unintentionally and well-meaningly. I find that I have a strong tendency to think of my attempts at homemaking as my digging myself out of a hole or trying to reverse my state of being a bad person, but that way of thinking of things is (not surprisingly) very unmotivating. I’ve tried to change my thinking so that instead I think of any of my efforts to improve myself and my surroundings as creative efforts (in the spirit of Elder Uchtdorf’s talk on creativity) and as things I can do and want to do to help Heavenly Father bless me and my family — or, in other words, think of them as moving me forward rather than just as digging me out of a hole. The problem with the well-meaning comments and actions by some of the husbands described here is that they reinforce the idea of the current state being bad or unacceptable — rather than just as a normal starting place, common to humanity and morally neutral.

    I also think the idea of our homes being temples, while it’s absolutely true, can also be discouraging if taken the wrong way. The temples where we participate in ordinances aren’t the sleeping, eating, and grooming places for children, nor are they appropriate places for tickle fights or fort-building. My mom once suggested I think of my home as a workshop (with the attendant messes of works-in-progress,) and I find that to be a helpful concept.

    I find I could say even more about this but I promised my kids I’d take them to the playground. 🙂 But good luck with your creative efforts to better your life — and I’m happy for you that your very well-meaning husband got a glimpse of the very real obstacles to keeping a clutter-free home.

  13. These are GREAT ideas!! Thanks for sharing. I’m a clutter bug, so I love organization posts. Anything that helps!

    And I’m glad Matt got a glimpse of what it takes to be a mom! 😉

  14. Wow. It’s like you can see into my head. I’ve had so many pajama days lately…and such a yearning for order but little idea how to seek it out. I have had the thought that the way I’m running my home isn’t consistent with the gospel. That chaos and lack of routine aren’t the best thing for our family, but I haven’t known where to start to fix things.

    Thank you so much for this.

  15. I read a book called, Sink Reflections, that focuses on this topic. I thought it gave a lot of realistic approaches to feeling good about your home without burning yourself out.
    I loved this post and all of the comments- it is a daily challenge for all of us. We had a ward activity this last week (a progressive dinner) and it turned out that the bishop and his family were coming over for dinner. I became so stressed out trying to get ready and keeping everything in it’s place, that by the end of the day I actually sat my husband and kids down and apologized for the way I acted. (Really, I did lose it, and I know I wasn’t a pleasant wife/mommy to be around that day. Note to self: Do not sign up to host dinner for 10 people during PMS week…)
    I realize that when I made the choice to become a mother, I was also choosing the consequences of that action- one of them being that I no longer have the ability to live in a spotless home. Maybe there are some women who can keep their homes in complete order at all times while raising children, but that’s just not me and I’m (trying to be) ok with it.

  16. Is there anything wrong with staying in pajamas when you are home? It helps me decrease the amount of laundry I do and it keeps my nice clothes nicer for longer … see, it saves me money 🙂 !!

    Thank you for posting all these tips. I wasn’t able to attend Women’s Conference, but obviously that is just fine because I will get all that I need from your posts!

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