3 Keys to Organizing Your Home School

Today, my friend Laura Pitney is joining me to talk about organizing our home schools. Now, often when we think about organizing, at least me, I think about everything in its place. To me, that’s organizing.

Sonya: But there’s much more to it than that, right?

Laura: Yes, there’s a big scope of what organizing is. Whether it affects your homeschooling directly or not, it’s just part of life. So if we want to talk about, or look at, the three keys to organizing your home school, we need to talk about the things, so our possessions.

Sonya: A place for everything and everything in its place applies to that, but that’s just one area.

Laura: Correct. We also want to talk about our time, organizing our time. That’s super important, especially as life gets busy, and oftentimes is probably more busy than calm, just because that’s the way life is. Also, understanding triggers or disruptions to our organization helps us be more organized. So they all are interwoven together.

Sonya: So let’s look at each of those areas, just in brief today, and we can dive more deeply into those in future episodes. Let’s talk about things. Why is it so important to have a place for everything and everything in its place?

Laura: That is a great question. The first thing that comes to my mind is function. If we are burdened down by all the things or possessions or it could even be all the books (it hurts, I know), but if we’re truly overwhelmed by all of it, how is that really functioning in your day-to-day life? Maybe you have five books, or you have 500 books, as long as they function in your home to where you’re not necessarily like stepping over them, then things will work. Going back to having a place for everything, the function of the possessions: when we talk about that I think about your home as a whole, knowing that “This is where I always put my purse,” or “This is where I hang my jacket,” or “This is the dirty clothes hamper that these kids will use, and this is the clothes hamper these kids will use.” Whatever the function, all the rooms and all the places really feed into helping us be more organized when it’s time to sit down for school.

Sonya: Yes, because you’re creeping outside of the schoolroom. But as you say, it can all be related.

Laura: You want things to be in place, just like when we talk about Charlotte Mason and habits, having good habits, it makes for smooth and easy days. Think about the organization of your bathroom, like Where is your hair dryer? Where are your toothbrushes? If that makes a smooth and easy morning, it makes sense that’s going to feed into your school day. It could mean where things are kept, so that you can have easy access to things that you need, and maybe things that you don’t use that often are put away, so you’re not stepping on them. Possessions and how they all move about in your home really does affect the school time and how your day goes. That’s hard because sometimes it is more natural for people to be able to snap it all into place and it makes sense. Then sometimes it’s just like, “I don’t even know where to start.” I’ve helped lots of moms. I always start here, and I know it sounds so silly, but I always start with, “Where do you put your mail and where do you put your keys?” Because a lot of times the mail stacks up on the kitchen counter, or they’re always looking for their keys to get out the door. So just creating that small little organization of possessions, “This is where we put current mail. This is where we put our keys.” Start there and figure out where that needs to be in your home to where you’re not having to hunt for it. I mean, basic, bottom line.

I always start with, “Where do you put your mail and where do you put your keys?” Because a lot of times the mail stacks up on the kitchen counter, or they’re always looking for their keys to get out the door.

Sonya: That makes total sense because it’s like getting two little habits going that are going to set you up for good, smooth function in your surroundings. As you said, the difference is How does it work for you? It’s making your things work for you rather than against you. That reminds me of Charlotte’s quote about how the effort of decision is the greatest effort in life. Because if you’re constantly trying to decide, “What do I do now? Where do I look for this? Where did it go?” you’re using up all that energy fighting your atmosphere, fighting your surroundings, rather than being able to use that energy toward your homeschooling.

Laura: Right. If you’re at that Beginner 101 level with organizing, that would be where I would say to start: think about where your car keys go and where your mail goes. Just basic, super beginner level. The other thing is, go room by room and figure out your dead space.

Sonya: And what do you mean by dead space?

Laura: Let’s say you walk into your living room and you have your couch and your coffee table and maybe your bookcase and maybe a TV, whatever stuff is there that you normally function in. Then let’s say over in the corner, or maybe against the wall, there might be another table, or let’s say there’s a cabinet that you never open. So that would be, to me, dead space that’s not being used, that you never touch, that could be used for something else that you do need. So even just going room by room, thinking, “Oh, everything in this room, every piece of furniture functions for some purpose.” And then let’s say you go to a different room and a cabinet or a table somewhere that all it has is dust. You know, there’s no reason—

Sonya: That’s its function, to collect dust.

Laura: Yes, practice something in it. No.

Sonya: Like copywork, yes. [both laugh]

Laura: So even just trying to mentally take note of whether or not everything in each room serves a purpose. And if something doesn’t, then that’s the next thing, “Okay, what could be here that would help me? Or if I take this out, does it free up more room for something else?”

Sonya: Or, “Could I use that in a different room?”

Laura: So shop your house first.

Sonya: Nice.

Laura: That’s the general overview in my mind of the possessions, of the things. I totally agree with what you said that we want it to be right there walking beside us, helping us versus dragging us back. Sometimes it just takes some thought and you’ll realize quickly, “Oh yes, I could do this or that,” and tweak it. Just putting some time and effort into thinking about your things is important because we all have them.

Sonya: Yes, we do.

Laura: And we have a lot of them.

Sonya: I love the word function that we keep coming back to, about how it has to work for you. This is going to look different for each of us. Your house looks a whole lot different than mine does, but it functions. All right. Let’s move on to time then, organizing our time. I don’t often think about that aspect of organizing, but it is a key to having a successful home school. So describe what you mean by organizing your time.

Laura: Well, I think we all know that as moms, as teachers, as employees, as church members, as friends, all of those are different hats we wear. We’ve heard that talked about. I am all of those people, but I don’t give all of me to all of those things at all times.

So to organize my time, I know that I’m going to give four hours to my children every day for schooling. Let’s just round up here. So that is time that I’m giving of myself for that specific purpose. Then it’s kind of guilt-free the rest of the day because I know I have done what I’d said I would do and done what the children need. Then it’s the grocery shopper, I’m going to put 30 minutes into meal planning today; that way the rest of my week is scheduled out like it should be for meals. It’s just thinking about all those different roles that you play, figuring out when you need to really put dedicated time to focus on that area. So it’s not necessarily creating a schedule for yourself for the week, per se. It’s more understanding that each of these parts of me need to have some attention. If I am not giving the attention I need to to meal planning, then our meal times are probably going to feel more chaotic. Or if I’m not putting enough effort into my job, then I’m going to have to play catch up at some point. Therefore, it’s going to cause something else to be neglected.

It’s just thinking about all those different roles that you play, figuring out when you need to really put dedicated time to focus on that area. So it’s not necessarily creating a schedule for yourself for the week, per se. It’s more understanding that each of these parts of me need to have some attention.

I think of it as building blocks. To keep that sure foundation of our days going smooth and easy, all the pieces need to be there and secure. Obviously, managing your time with your school schedule and the flow of your school day is a big part of that too. But again, just the broad picture of all the things. If we know we’re going to have a potluck lunch at church, I need to make sure that on Saturday I already have my groceries bought to make what I need for Sunday. So it’s just staying ahead of what time I’m going to have to give to things and making sure I’m prepared for that. That’s what I see when I think about organizing your time.

Sonya: That makes sense, because again, going back to function, if you’re not thinking ahead and dedicating your time to these different priorities, then everything’s going to fall apart and you’re going to be in the middle of chaos. It’s very hard to homeschool in the middle of chaos. And it’s very hard for the children to learn in the middle of chaos.

Laura: Right. Another important factor of that is, when disruptions happen (because you know they will), if your home is functioning like it should and you’re staying ahead with your time management for things on your calendar, then it’s a lot easier to maintain some sense of routine and function in the midst of whatever that distraction is. It’s important to be aware of what triggers could come that would offset other things that you have in place.

Sonya: And that’s the third area, the third key that you mentioned was triggers. So talk a little bit about what kinds of things you view as triggers. Because one thing came to my mind, I’ll start off. I’ve had a lot of moms tell me during the pandemic when their husbands started working from home, that kind of threw off their routine for a little bit until they got to a new understanding of how they were going to make this work. Because they would have interruptions, just because they didn’t know what needed to happen. The husband didn’t know the wife’s routine during the day at home. So stepping into that, they needed to communicate with each other. Is that what you mean by triggers?

Laura: I do. Triggers like that. Then on a practical level, let’s say a trigger could be… how to put this nicely. So you’ve worked really hard to function, to make your home function like you want it to and like it needs to, and then you have certain things that maybe certain people in your family do that go against these things you’ve tried to implement. So let’s say you have a shoe basket at the back door and you want all loose shoes to be thrown in that shoe basket. Pretty simple, but yet there are always the shoes that don’t make it into the shoe basket. So that could be a trigger for me to start being angry or think, “My children don’t appreciate me. I’m trying to function and I’m trying to get everything organized.” Yet that was a trigger for me to have a bad attitude. So I do agree with what you’re saying as far as the disruptions and the triggers of what we consider our normal routines, but then there’s also triggers that cause a negative effect on the mom who’s working so hard for things to function like they should.

Sonya: Emotional triggers.

Laura: Yes. Or it could be something like, “I need to get out of the house at a certain time and the last person that drove the car didn’t put gas in it.” So therefore it’s a trigger for me that’s just going to offset my whole day, because I’m going to feel like I’m running behind. So it’s understanding the things that set you off in a negative way, being prepared to combat it, and trying not to be negative about it and just showing grace there. If we’re more aware of the things that tempt us to respond badly or act badly, then we can try to overcome them.

If we’re more aware of the things that tempt us to respond badly or act badly, then we can try to overcome them.

Sonya: So I can see how knowing your triggers can affect you emotionally and affect the atmosphere of your home. How do you see that relating to organizing?

Laura: That’s a great question. I’ll let you start.

Sonya: Well, just one thing. When I mentioned atmosphere, the organizing of your things and of your time both contribute to that atmosphere. Your attitude, I think, even trumps your things and your time. So if we’re talking about the atmosphere of your home school and keeping it organized, I think mama’s emotional status levels can really play an important role. If mama is emotionally down, because like “I set up this area to function this way and they aren’t doing what they should to keep it working,” if that can beat you down then it’s easier to give up and say, “Well, never mind. I’m not going to be the bad guy all the time. I don’t want to mess with it.” Even with your time, if triggers happen that sabotage, in your head, how you had planned your day, if you let that beat you down, you don’t recognize it and respond correctly, just let it beat you down, then it’s easy to give up on the organizing of your time. So I think the triggers, knowing what triggers you emotionally, affects those other areas of organization as well. Does that make sense?

Laura: It does completely. Another motivation to create those good habits of organizing would be that when you are emotionally down—we all have those times where we’re just done—whatever the situation is, then if those good habits are in place for the function of your home and everything has its place and there’s a routine for the school and you know Thursdays are mama’s grocery day, it will help carry you through those hard emotional days.

Sonya: Yes.

Laura: So they definitely are intertwined.

Sonya: It’s almost like it forms the safety net so that when you start to drop emotionally, it’s still going to keep running. The bottom’s not going to drop out, in other words.

Laura: A key thing about creating habits is that repetition of, “The keys always go here, the mail goes in the mail basket,” but the motivation is a big part of habits as well. You have the repetition and the motivation. So for us who are trying to create good function and organization in our home and our homeschooling, understanding that on the bad days, those are also going to help us carry through. Or another motivation would be, “These are good things we’re teaching our children, as far as managing their things and managing their time and them understanding that, yes, there are bad days, but there are also good days, and how to manage those emotions.” So there are life lessons in these three areas, for sure.

Sonya: And all three contribute to functioning well in your home school, because ultimately that’s the purpose of organization. It’s not just so we can get on the cover of a magazine.

Laura: Definitely not.

Sonya: Not happening here. It’s so that we can function more, as you said, smoothly and easily through our days. So, things.

Laura: Things.

Sonya: Time, and knowing your triggers so you can respond in an appropriate way and keep those good habits rolling.

Laura: Yes.

Sonya: Great. Thanks Laura.