How I Organize My Family’s Life Stuff Like a Responsible Adult

You’ve got this.

By Anne Campbell
molly madfis home, almost makes perfect, california home, neutral home decor, kitchen, minimalist kitchen

Calendars, organizers, storage solutions. Ah, the joys of adulthood. If you’re anything like me, your life these days is more booking dentist appointments for multiple kids and less booking cocktails with friends. Seemingly overnight, I went from barely needing a calendar for my free-as-a-bird schedule to coordinating the lives (and allllll the paperwork!) for the five members of my family.

Since there’s no guidebook on how to best organize a busy adult life, these are the 6 life hacks I rely on that make me feel like I’ve got my act together….even when I really don’t.

The Family Binder Has All the Answers.

This is my absolute go-to when referencing my kids’ Social Security cards or when booking a trip out of the country. This binder should contain your family’s most important paper documents, so be sure to store it in a safe place. This three-ring binder (something like this should do!) however, should not be tucked away in such a safe place that it’s a pain to access (i.e. rummaging through attic boxes to locate it defeats the whole point of the binder in the first place.) Every family’s binder will be organized a little differently, and important documents vary from family to family, so here’s what I’ve done for the Campbell household.

  • Colored plastic dividers, each with the family member’s name labeled on the tab, gives each person a designated area within the binder for important documents. I love the dividers that have pockets so that inside each person’s divider pocket is their passport and Social Security card.
  • Behind each tab, we keep birth certificates and shot records in clear plastic three-ring sheet protectors. The family binder is also a great spot to stash away your marriage certificate and car titles.

An ‘All About Me Box.’

Looking for a place to quickly stash away those macaroni-encrusted Mother’s Day cards and photographs of your kiddos missing their two front teeth? For me, the All About Me box has been a game-changer.

Before I started using the All About Me box, the junk pile on my kitchen counter was taking over, and I never knew what to keep and where it all would go. That all changed when I started my new system.

Now, each of my three children has their own plastic storage bin labeled with their name – make sure to use the kind that allow for hanging file folders. For each year of this child’s life, there should be a hanging file folder labeled by year, starting from year one. Go ahead and plan all the way for as many years to come as you think they’ll be under your roof. So, if your child was born in 2019, there should be hanging file folders starting at 2019 all the way to 2037 or so, gulp! Within each hanging folder, there should be a file folder labeled art and one labeled photographs. When your daughter comes home with her first precious drawing, that’s a great one to stick in there. I store about five to six art pieces each year. Don’t forget to add the year on the back of the drawing or photograph.

When my mom gave me an entire storage unit’s worth of memorabilia (all unlabeled and undated!) from my childhood, I realized that there had to be a better way to organize my kids’ things without keeping Every.Single.Thing.  Someday when the time comes, I will hand to each of my children one container of art and photographs from their childhood. A win/win for all of us.

For kids, cubbies trump drawers.

Okay, so your son’s Paw Patrol underwear doesn’t exactly classify as ‘life stuff,’ but it’s his life stuff…in my house anyway. So who picks up the “life stuff” in your household? In my ten years of parenting, try as I might, my kids’ idea of cleaning their rooms (ha!) essentially meant they crammed as much as they could into their dresser drawers, leaving each article of clothing a crumpled mess when it was time to  wear it. My solution? The Cubby System.

For my four year old son, we found a book shelf organizer similar to this one.  We had it professionally secured to the wall for safety’s sake. Each cubby has individually-labeled fabric storage bins for clothing. For toddlers, label with words and with a small picture so that they can put things away by themselves. For example, we wrote ‘Long Sleeved Shirts’ on one side of the label, and on the other is a drawing of a long-sleeved shirt. On the bottom shelf, toys in labeled clear plastic storage bins are easily reachable for little hands, both when it’s playtime as well as clean-up time.

Divided laundry FTW.

How many times have you started making your daughter’s twin bed only to realize that you have mistakenly pulled a king bed sheet from your jumbled linen closet? Do yourself a favor, separate each person’s bed linens. After folding, divide out the sheets, pillow cases and duvet covers and place into separate labeled bins permanently located in your laundry room.

The same process can be used for clothing. Each family member’s clean, folded clothes can be placed in their own labeled basket. Ideally, each family member will take their laundry basket, put away the clothing, then return the basket to the laundry room.

Overwhelmed? Seek a Professional.

There are two types of organized adults: 1) Those who naturally have everything sorted out. 2) Everyone else.

I fall into the latter category. When I began my new life as a working mom, I had a general idea of how I wanted to organize things, but I needed a professional to help me execute my ideas. I conferred with a professional organizer (in this case, my talented friend Melissa of Austin Closet Therapy.) We met, I outlined the general idea of how I wanted things to go and she helped me execute the plan.

Tip: It doesn’t hurt to interview several professional organizers and to get recommendations from friends! Because whoever you hire to help you will be handling precious, personal information, it is very important to work with someone you trust.

Carve out time to stay organized.

Ensuring that the cubbies stay tidy and the All About Me boxes don’t get out of order takes time and effort. Finding time in an already chock-full calendar does not just happen – it has to be scheduled in the way a doctor’s appointment would be.  Add regular maintenance to your calendar on a weekly basis so that you never fall too far off course, then hold yourself accountable by actually sticking to what you have scheduled. (I think Camille and I may think alike on this one!) 

I schedule what has come to be known in our family as “Cubby Time” on Saturday mornings. After our routine of homemade breakfast tacos and coffee, our family cranks up the tunes and spends the next hour sorting laundry and ensuring each cubby would have the Kondo stamp of approval.