how to be organized when you are not tidy

My mother is English. Have you ever heard some of the sayings that the English, especially from the Northern parts of England, have for various things? Honestly, they are hilarious.

I grew up with this response to what was for dinner: “3 jumps at the pantry door”.

What does that even mean?!? 

And if things were a bit messy in the house, then it was a “filthy pigsty” or “like a brothel”. [As an aside, I personally always thought that a brothel would be a clean and tidy place. Well… I did once I had any idea what a brothel might be!!]

So it would be fair to say that having a tidy house was fairly important…!

I now have a confession: I am not tidy. I am organized, but not tidy.

Yes, I know. Isn’t tidy the same as being organized?? How can you be organized and NOT be tidy?

Well, this is how I do it. Let me share my list of tricks with you for how to be organized when you are not tidy!

How to be organized when you are not tidy

Dealing with what needs to be prepared

This is a matter of being organized in my brain. I basically think through what we will need for what is about to happen. Ideally, I do this the night before, or the week before if it is a big event!

For each school day, I have any extra items ready by the school bags, as well as clothes ready to put on, and lunch boxes and drink bottles and reading books and those kinds of things ready as well. I also have shoes and jackets in place too.

I do not necessarily have them super tidy.

I do not necessarily have a tidy space around them either.

I want to. But it doesn’t have to happen to make the getting to school happen.

Priorities. It is more important to get to school on time and feeling calm.

My energy is limited. I cannot fight my son who wants his lines of cars left out in certain places all the time. Packing up his stuff can be a problem, leading to fights, and I would rather have calm.

So while I totally get why people say to minimalize the toys, and tidy up each evening and all that really good stuff, I don’t.

He needs his cars. And he has TONS of them. But he knows them all and they are his friends. I can’t reduce them.

Nor do I want to spend my precious and short evening time tidying up. I make it tidy ENOUGH for us to function. And stop.

So my advice?

Deal with what actually needs to be ready.

Work on being ok with the rest of it, or doing what is enough for you to feel calm.

Making sure essentials are at hand

When I say making sure essentials are at hand, this may sound the same as dealing with what needs to be prepared. It is and it isn’t.

Sometimes you need other essentials to make life function.

Part of “adulting” (or being an adult) well is having your house stocked with the things you need. A full pantry of basic food items. Bathroom supplies well stocked up. Of course these things go hand in hand with good budgeting. A full pantry of supplies bought in bulk when on special… what do you mean you haven’t?!? We mamas sure know how to guilt ourselves into lots to do, right?!?


I don’t.

I am Old Mother Hubbard. My cupboard is often bare.

Now you must know that I LOVE cooking and I LOVE food. A full pantry is a thing of beauty to me.

how to be organized when you are not tidy - full stocked pantry

But I don’t have either the budget or the time to keep it fully stocked. I used to feel horrible about this. It goes against everything I have been taught and all that I read out there in the big wide web. [But I want to know how you are supposed to afford to buy that thing in bulk when you have a limited amount you can spend each week or month or whatever, and if you buy that certain item in bulk then you won’t be able to get that other thing you really need… I never seem to see this kind of budgeting advice out there. I buy small amounts often so that I can buy all the things we need. It works. Do I spend more? Probably. But I can afford this and it’s FAR less stressful.]

Anyway, these days I let myself do what I need to do to get by and be calm.

We have a list of essential items that we need to always have a supply of in the house. And when we are low on them we either run out to the shop or order an online delivery.

And yes emergency situations are in our frame of reference for those who are wondering. We live in Christchurch, which is earthquake city. But honestly, I do not need a huge amount for my emergency pack either. Don’t buy into the fear, people.

Make sure your essentials for your family are generally at hand and relax there. Anything else you have is icing on the already delicious cake.

Putting things back where they go – or just where they were found

Ok so this one is still a work in progress for our family. To be honest, my son is far better than my husband at this one. But I won’t shame him with any stories!!

But it’s pretty simple.

If you use it, put it back where it goes OR WHERE YOU FOUND IT.

You see, if someone, let’s say hypothetically the mother, was using the sellotape to wrap something and got called away in the middle of that task because there was an emergency in another room because a very important car could not be found after it had been thrown as it was practising a backflip, then if another person, hypothetically the father, took the tape to use it and didn’t put it back in the same place… well then there might be cause for an argument. Right??

how to be organized when you are not tidy

Now the ideal is having a place where everyone knows that things go. And we have lots of them. Keys, wallet etc go in special places when we get home. That way we don’t run around looking for them before we leave the house. Not very calm when that happens.

But there are many, many things that just move around a lot. So if they go back where they came from there is more chance of finding them again. You with me??

Having areas where things can be dumped

An area where things can be dumped in surely a nightmare scenario for many. I get it. I’m sure you think I am crazy.

Well, I am. It’s true.

Hear me out all the same.

You come into the house from school. What happens first?

A trail of things as the kids free themselves from the day??  It sure does in our house.

What about the adults, busying adulting in the background? Yeah let’s be honest, stuff is often dropped as you go in to deal with whatever the kids have thrown themselves into, right?!?

So while many people may have a command spot, or a mud room or entryway, or my husband’s personal favourite, a vestibule, we, well… we have a dumping spot.

It is sometimes tidy. There are spaces for things to be put away. Shelves for shoes and for bags and for jackets, and space for incoming mail…

But as long as it is in the general area, it’s ok. Because we know where things are.

And not everywhere is a dumping spot. No, no… that way lies madness!!!

Choose – where is it ok for things to be dumped and potentially pile up for occasional sorting and clearing, and where has to remain dump free??

And make everyone stick to it! Only a few dump zones need to happen in the house, and the rest need to remain clear for living to happen.

Dump zones can work well for a few spots in the house to make for less to do over all.

So having read those would you agree? Does that give you any relief?? It sure did me when I realised I didn’t need the Instagram-worthy house to be organized…. Try it and let me know how you get on!

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