Podcast: Getting organized in 2019

Organization is always a hot topic, particularly around the new year, but it means different things to different people. For some people, it’s about label makers and spices decanted into matching, alphabetized containers. These things look great on Pinterest and Instagram, but I’d argue that organization is mostly about having your stuff in a place you can find it when you need it. That way, you can take “an efficient and orderly approach to tasks,” per my dictionary.

Such organization can be physical (the kids’ shoes are all in the mudroom; the car keys are all in a little bowl) or time-based. Finding what you need when you need it can mean knowing exactly what you need to do to turn in a big project by 5 p.m. Friday, or how you might arrange to get one kid to a swim meet and another to wrestling when these events happen simultaneously. Systems make life run smoothly.

To help us discuss this topic, Sarah and I welcomed Lisa Woodruff to Best of Both Worlds today. Woodruff owns Organize 365, a firm that offers online courses on organization techniques.

Woodruff shared some tips and tricks, plus her own career journey. We talked about being very consistent with certain rules (kids’ shoes in the mudroom! Do I sound like a broken record about this?) and that it is a process. People need time to learn systems and to truly adopt them into their own lives.

So please give it a listen! In the comments, please share your favorite organization techniques (kids’ shoes in the mudroom…AND NO WHERE ELSE). Or you can answer today’s listener question: A woman expecting her first child asked for recommendations on pregnancy and parenting literature. Sarah and I noted the downsides of many books in these genres, and the limitations of such books. But…I know there are some good ones out there. So feel free to recommend them!

36 thoughts on “Podcast: Getting organized in 2019

  1. I must say I loved Laura’s response on the pregnancy and parenting books. I’m pregnant with my first and, I admit, more on the crunchy side of things, but sheesh, all the books are driving me crazy. Don’t even get me started on Mayim Bialik’s Beyond the Sling! It made feel like I’m going to be a bad parent because I’m not willing to go the first five years of my child’s life without sleep or ever seeing my friends or not wanting to quit my job. Anyway, thank you for a much needed counter perspective to a lot of what is out there!

    1. @Amy – just step away from the books! You’ll be fine. Your baby will be fine. Through a lot of trial and error you’ll figure out things that work for you. Friends might have helpful tips, but if anything starts making you feel bad…skip it.

  2. The two books I found most helpful as a new parent were Heading Home with Your Newborn (Jana & Shu) and Caring for Your Baby and Young Child: Birth to Age 5. Both are put out by the American Academy of Pediatrics and are fabulous resources for those first few weeks when you are wishing that the baby came with a user manual. THESE are your user manuals.

  3. I really enjoyed this one because I like both of your podcasts! I’m answering both questions in one–My favorite parenting book (and the only one I’ve ever actually enjoyed) is Time to Parent by Julie Morgenstern, which also focuses on organizing your time and space. I think I feel about sleep books like Sarah feels about discipline books, because my children never respond like the options in the books . . .

  4. There are indeed many books that can make a new mom insecure. However, I laughed out loud and got a lot of great tips out of KJ Dell’Antonios book on parenting. And I think I found it on this website 😉

  5. I enjoy the different approaches you and Sarah have towards planners and organizing systems, and since you asked for suggestions on organizing experts I wanted to suggest Carson Tate with her four productivity styles in “Work Simply”. She suggests different organizing systems for different productivity styles and you and Sarah probably have different styles and thus tend towards different tools. The system is a bit like Gretchen Rubin’s “Four Tendencies” but with productivity rather than habits.
    You can take the assessment here: https://carsontate.com/assessment/

  6. I found that the Mayo Clinic’s pregnancy guide was the most straightforward and least alarming of the books I read when I was expecting our first baby.

    Sarah mentioned Happiest Baby on the Block, which was a quick and easy read and I was fortunate that both of our infants responded well to swaddling and the rest of the 5 S’s.

    I also recommend:
    Becoming Brilliant: What Science Tells Us About Raising Successful Children – much more straightforward and evidence-based than most
    Bright from the Start – I liked it because it offered research-based suggestions about things to do to connect with an infant—songs, rhymes, specific toys, etc.

    In the genre of parenting/discipline, I have found that the following titles offer pretty realistic (and philosophically similar) advice—
    The Whole Brain Child
    No-Drama Discipline
    Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids
    How to Talk So Little Kids Will Listen
    Easy to Love, Difficult to Discipline

    I enjoy this genre for some reason, so I’ve read a lot of these books. However, I totally agree that spending time with friends who have young children is a good use of your time, both before and after you have the baby. Books about parenting can be reassuring but having a strong support network is more important.

    1. Thank You so much for sharing this list, have just added a lot of these to my audible and looking forward to getting stuck into them!

  7. I REALLY appreciate you sharing your thoughts on the matching spice container situation. I read something along the lines of “every women deserving to have matching containers for everything” on an Instagram account. I don’t understand this. I don’t know that I would even notice if the containers were matching.

    1. I so agree about spice containers! I love to cook and I care about my kitchen, but I just cannot imagine devoting any time to matching spice containers. Or matching mugs!

    2. @Katie – whoa. I think somebody who owns a container company has decided to co-opt the language of self-care on that one…

    3. Had to chuckle a bit at this one because one of my organizational victories over the past year *has* been getting matching containers and labeling them and getting s shelf where I can display them. SO. MUCH. BETTER. Now before you ask to see the rest of my disaster, I mean house, I should say I buy most of of my spices from the same place (so most containers matched anyways) and I buy refills in bulk. So now instead of a ton of plastic baggies labeled ‘325314’ (Mustard? Ginger?) I refill the labeled bottle.

  8. Speaking of organization, I just posted an index card on the wall near where our kids’ shoes/backpacks/coats go, detailing their immediate schedule post-school. It’s laughably simple (“put away coats and shoes” – “wash hands” – “empty backpack and put items away” etc) but it has helped a lot even in the few days it’s been up. It’s interesting to watch my kids’ different reactions to it. My son (our eldest) checks it immediately when he gets home and religiously follows the list until it is complete. My daughter (our middle) knows what the items are and generally does all of them, but doesn’t care much about the actual list. She WAS excited about it until she learned that it was just a reminder (ie, she couldn’t check the items off) so maybe I’ll have to consider that option for her in the future. The baby is in preschool, but she was already pretty good about these things on her own, for whatever reason. I can’t wait to hear all your tips and tricks on the podcast!

    For parenting books, two that were super helpful for me were Babywise and Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child. Babywise is amazing for setting your infant up on a sleeping and eating schedule. It is also pretty dogmatic about some issues (they are NOT a fan of co-sleeping, for instance… I’m not either, but I was a bit surprised at their vehemence), so it’s helpful to approach it with a “use the good, ignore the silly” thought process. The two books dovetail into one another very well, and all three of my kids were excellent sleepers as infants and are still good sleepers now. I know this issue has a lot to do with genetics, and as such we are pretty lucky, but I know we also set ourselves up to succeed by following their guidelines. And I wholeheartedly echo the advice about finding a mommy support system – so important!! We are all in this together!

    1. @Sarah A – I think “use the good, ignore the silly” is good advice in general. And if you got good sleepers, lucky you!

  9. I don’t know if it was just me but I couldn’t get past the sexist tone of “women who feel overwhelmed and disorganized and feel like failures”. Where are their partners? Why shouldn’t they be part of the organizational strategy? Why can’t we spread the message that being disorganized doesn’t make you a defective female while helping people of all genders improve their organization and productivity?

    1. I agree with you 100% about pregnancy and baby books. I read nothing pregnant.

      I did read Ignore it! which focuses on discipline in older kids and liked it.

    2. @Sophia – good point. I dislike that much home organization talk is primarily aimed at women – one reason I dislike Marie Kondo’s phrase “life begins when you put your house in order.” It’s problematic when spoken to women who already spend more time than men on home matters and spend less time — probably not coincidentally — on paid work. Men don’t say “I can’t take on that promotion because when will all the house work get done?” whereas some research has found women disproportionately don’t seek out promotions because they feel too overwhelmed with the work they already have on their plates at home. A great reason to do less! And one reason I don’t have matching mugs or spice jars. That stuff just does not matter.

      1. Yes, I really, really disliked your guest’s description of women feeling ashamed that they can’t get their house organized and their spouses thinking “Why can’t you get it together? My mother could do this, why can’t you?” Excuse me?! And the bit about how you should organize your own stuff before your family’s and the laundry room is a great place to start because “no one but you [the wife] goes in there.” She says most of her clients/followers are professional women, not full-time homemakers or stay-at-home moms… so why the %$&@ aren’t their husbands doing their own laundry?

        There was a lot of casual sexism on display in this episode. Household organization should be a shared task between partners, not the default job of the wife/mom, especially if both partners work outside the home.

        1. I agree with you, Rebecca. Perhaps this is part of the sales pitch of getting organized? Like, “you feel ashamed that you’re not organized, so here’s some help!” Being disorganized isn’t anything to be ashamed of; it’s not like it’s a character flaw. Either way, it isn’t right to put the onus on women and make it a women’s issue, even if organization appeals more to women than men.

          I’d heard great things about Lisa’s podcast and started listening last year, but stopped after a while because so much of what she says doesn’t resonate with me, like “I don’t waste a minute of my time” (really?) and I guess having older children just makes her life look a lot different than mine – her methods didn’t seem applicable/relevant to my state in life right now.

  10. I laughed about Laura’s bugabear about spice containers. I have one of the wall mounted magnetic ones but only because I have incredibly limited counter and cupboard space.

    I read somewhere that you should have one file folder per year – pop all the papers in. It’s quicker to sort through a year’s worth of papers than to make/file into various folders. We’re giving that a go this year after the papers started piling up.

    Re. parenting books, I loved Simplicity Parenting even though it was pretty woowoo. Expecting Better was excellent. Also, I’m reading Child of Mine on feeding kids and it has revolutionized dinnertime with a 17 month old. 200% increase in food consumed, 90% decrease in meal-time stress.

  11. KJ’s parenting book (more of the memoir style) is among my favorite. I also enjoyed Simplicity Parenting (which I just finished) and Teach Your Children Well, by Madeline Levine (more for school age and beyond). I frequently go back to the Levine book and my husband and I did the family mission statement exercise and found it so helpful in guiding out thinking about the choices we make with our kids.

    As for pregnancy–don’t laugh–I like Pregnancy for Dummies. It is written by two Mt Sinai MFMs who taught my medical school embryology course and it is light and informative and really not preachy. I didn’t read it cover to cover ever, but used it more as a reference guide during my first and second pregnancies. By my 3rd and 4th pregnancies I found books in general less helpful, because if I had a question by then, the answer wasn’t in any books or online.

  12. I have three kids, and the book I give to new parents is Bed Timing: The “When-To” Guide to Helping Your Child to Sleep (https://www.harpercollins.ca/9781554687701/bed-timing/). It’s the most realistic baby sleep book I’ve ever read, and I have read many. It explains what’s going on developmentally with babies and small children up to age 5 or so, and how these changes affect sleep, which is comforting and helpful when one’s routine suddenly stops working. Obviously there are outlier kids who sleep really well or just terribly, but IMO the developmental info is useful for everyone.

    1. @Kate – yes, the routine not working anymore can be a frustrating part of parenting. Though it can be a good thing too when the thing your kid moves beyond has been difficult. “This too shall pass” is a good philosophy. Perhaps there needs to be a parenting book that says nothing more than “This too shall pass. They will grow up and grow out of it.”

      1. Oh, and the sequel to this book, containing nothing more than this statement: “Kids are different. Your mileage may vary.”

  13. The best book I read while pregnant was Expecting Better by Emily Oster. It’s evidence-based and interesting and helped me make informed decisions. She’s an economist so took a look at the common advice women receive when pregnant and tried to parse out what was rooted in research and what was not. For parenting, I actually really love “The Good News About Bad Behavior: Why Kids Are Less Disciplined Than Ever—And What to Do About It” which I learned about on this podcast. We didn’t do exactly what the book recommends, but the ideas behind the method really resonated with me and putting more responsibility on my kids (even at ages 4 and 2) has been helpful.

    1. @Erika – I remember reading about the Emily Oster book. I do believe she does a service in pointing out that much of the advice given pregnant women is based on nothing whatsoever (except perhaps a cultural belief that the more you sacrifice or make yourself miserable, the better a mother you are. Where, where, where does that idea come from???)

      1. I second the Expecting Better recommendation. Emily Oster has a new book coming out this year as well- “Cribsheet: A Data-Driven Guide to Better, More Relaxed Parenting, from Birth to Preschool Hardcover – April 23, 2019” which I am looking forward to checking out.

        1. Expecting Better was absolutely the best, most helpful, least useless-guilt-inducing book I read during my pregnancy. I didn’t know she had a parenting book coming out – but I’ve just preordered it now.

  14. Echoing many other recommendations, but parenting/pregnancy books I found useful (I’m a psychology researcher so I tend toward the research-based wherever possible, and I love this genre of book!):

    – Heading Home with Your Newborn – my husband who had very little experience with babies loved this book!
    – Baby 411 – if you are not a pediatrician, this has lots of useful info about milestones, illnesses, feeding, and the like. my husband also enjoyed this one and it’s a good reference book to have on your shelf
    – Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child
    – Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems (Ferber) – if you plan to sleep train or want a lot of info about baby/child sleep, this one is great
    – Bringing up Bebe – not research-based but just a really enjoyable read! I also enjoyed her other book “French Kids Eat Everything”
    – How to Talk so (Little) Kids Will Listen – I think these books give great scripts for dealing with some common frustrating experiences
    – The Whole-Brain Child and No Drama Discipline (same author) – these books are based on good psychology/neuroscience research and are great for understanding appropriate expectations for various ages and stages
    – Self-Reg (Stuart Shankar) – I am biased bc I study self-regulation in my job, but I think a lot of common issues people encounter with kids are self-regulatory in nature. This book gives a great overview of how self-regulation develops, how to scaffold kids who are still developing self-regulatory skills, and realistic expectations. My husband loved this one!

    I didn’t read many pregnancy-specific books but I did enjoy the Mayo Clinic Guide to a Healthy Pregnancy (I think Sarah mentioned this one) and Expecting Better (Emily Oster).

  15. I find it annoying when Laura is wholeheartedly dismissive of certain ways of doing things. It would be far more constructive to say something like, “Hey, I encourage you to consider whether you need to be organized in the same way the Container Store suggests you should be, because maybe they’re just trying to sell stuff.” rather than saying there’s no value in matching spice jars, matching mugs, or labeling things around your house. As someone who has always been hyper organized, even as a child, I have/want all of these things and they aren’t items I’ve found to be burdensome, but are things that I incorporated because they legitimately make my life better.

    For example, I got the spice jars in grad school when I had a tiny kitchen and no place to store conventional spice containers. The spice jars I use are magnetic and could be stored on the fridge. And it meant that I could shift to buying spices in bulk, which is waaaay cheaper, and super handy if you need a spice for a specific recipe but you know wouldn’t be in regular rotation given how you cook. I dislike mismatched mugs because it creates visual clutter, which absolutely stresses me out. Plus I get a lot of enjoyment out of having the stuff around me be both beautiful and functional, and most of these mugs are not (unfortunately, I married a man with sentimental attachments to some super basic/ugly mugs). I personally find matching containers and vessels to be more soothing visually, and are 100% worth it to me. And while 99% of things in my house aren’t labeled, sometimes, labels are essential. I needed them when I realized I’d rather decant my baking supplies into matching airtight containers than have pantry moths because the original packaging wasn’t cutting it. And if not labeled, I would never be able to tell the difference between pastry flour and all purpose flour (could anyone??).

    Basically, there is no one size fits all organizational method, including taking the stance that visually appealing organization is unnecessarily burdensome. Encouraging people to figure out what kind of organization adds value to them is more helpful than dismissing one approach simple because it isn’t the approach you would choose for yourself.

    1. @Alyce – thanks for your comment. I know some people are a lot more bothered by visual clutter than others, and we probably can’t change our fundamental temperaments. The problem with having this as an ideal, though, is that the time required to maintain no visual clutter (particularly if there are other people living in the same environment) can easily be huge. I imagine this is one of the appeals of tiny houses — there just can’t be that much stuff, which puts a time limit on it.

      1. Having done it both ways–a) ignored the visual clutter and b) accepted that it makes my head hurt and set up a system to manage it, I don’t think it is correct to assume it takes a long time. If you make it easy to put things away in their home, it takes about 10 seconds to rehome things after you use them (even for kids!). Figuring out the system can take some time, but this is just like planning in advance for your stuff, rather than your time. I don’t think people who are not bothered by visual clutter or people who are only bothered by other people seeing their clutter should worry about this, but for those of us who are personally bothered by visual clutter, it is useful to know it doesn’t have to take a lot of time. Your choice of organizers also factors into this (for example I’ll choose closed rather than open cabinets) but it doesn’t take longer to choose the actual cabinets or put things in them.

  16. Great episode! For the listener Q&A on book recos, I think if you are going to read one you should read at least five to get different perspectives. I’ll throw another vote out for Happiest Baby on the Block, which is written by a pediatrician and very helpful advice, and also really liked “Love and Logic Magic for Early Childhood”, which is essentially a consequence-based discipline method of teaching your children how to take responsibility for their actions, learn from their mistakes, regulate their impulses and think for themselves.
    I agree with you Laura on What to Expect When You’re Expecting – I avoided that book because it is just full of info that makes you worry something will go wrong! Someone lent me the WTEWYE Nutrition book and I had to stop reading it because it tells you your baby’s not going to develop properly unless you get the right amounts of each and every vitamin and mineral out there…just way too much to think about.

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