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Parenting Tip of the Month
By Heather Totten

Organizing With Totes

So, do you need to get organized? Well, I am a work in progress as we continue to add to our family and not the size of our home, but I have a few tricks that have made my house function much more smoothly. I have 4 kids worth of toys, clothes, odds and ends, and stuffed animals. Enough 'stuff' to drown most people. But, I don't like clutter and neither does my husband. So what do I do? I have come up with some quick tricks that have made the most drastic changes in my organizing. And the best part is the kids help out!

My favorite thing to help organize is the common tote. They come in various sizes, makes, and colors. I usually stick with sales and choose one that is either clear or almost clear so you can see what is inside. If you are organizing an entire room, like toys that will be kept together, I would recommend you choose the same brand so they stack more easily.

The first tote trick I use is a tote for all that school paperwork. I do mean everything. Kids love their work. They have pride in it and our lack of room for it forces us to make midnight stashes to the trash to get rid of some of those precious treasures. Then there are those things that you could never get rid of either. So, to combat all those problems and the 'stacks' of papers in various spots in the house, I use a tote for each school age child. I write their name on the outside and place the tote with lid in an out of the way spot, but not too out of the way that I don't bring the papers to the tote. Then when they come home with their piles of artwork, writings and drawings, I have a place for it all. Some go to the refrigerator for display; others go directly to the tote. At the end of the school year, I have tote full of wonderful projects, writings, artwork, and special memories. For those of you who scrapbook, it is an organized dream, but I have not found the time to go there yet. My kids really like the 'school tote' to go back and look at their progress over the years. They also like to play school with the nametags and other odds and ends that I stash away in there too. Now, at the end of the year, you have a few choices. You can put the tote away in the attic, you can go through it and weed out some things so it is not as full, you can leave it down and the kids end up playing 'school' with it, and you can pick out some special projects to send to long distance relatives. I've done them all. Alex has one tote that covers all of pre-school, but since Kindergarten he has had a tote per year. Eventually, I will go through the elementary years and probably end up with one tote total. But, by then you are able to choose better as to what to keep and what to pitch. And the kids won't care as much either.

The next tote trick I use is for toys. This is a daunting task at first, but I found it to be really helpful for clean up and organizing. Again even the kids can help and it will all get put away how 'mom' likes. Do what works best for your family, but I recommend buying several different sizes of the same brand of tote. That way they can stack on top of each other nicely. Then begin by putting all 'like' items in a tote. Sometimes, you'll notice along the way the tote needs to be larger or smaller. Smaller is usually not a problem, but when it needs to be larger you can do one of two things; either get one of those super size totes (I use one for Lego's and Lincoln logs) or try to divide the items down even further and separate them into two totes. Truly, that is about it. From there, you have to decide where to put all the totes and how many you will allow in the bedrooms, basement, etc. I place about 60% of my totes on metal shelves right inside the garage. They have lids so they say clean, and the kids are always swapping out the totes so the toys are always moving in and out. Also by keeping some more out of the way, you have some 'new' toys that they have not seen in a while that you can break out and play with.

Finally, my last tote trick (and trust me I could keep going) is not actually a tote. It is a clear over the door shoe rack. Why - you ask? It is to help you not go crazy with this new toy tote trick. Kids naturally attach themselves to one 'thing' that they treasure making clean up very hard if you plan to close the lid and expect all the pieces to be in the tote. This way, the special Ninja Turtle action figure that does not get put back into the action figure tote at clean up time can stay out a little longer. Then when you find it has lost its sparkle and the child has moved onto the next special toy, you can stick it in the shoe rack to be put away later. That way, you are not working harder than you need to. The tote will either come out within a few days anyway so you can pull it off the door and make sure it gets back in there, or when you have time you can gather what things have accumulated in the shoe rack and bring them to the totes. I call this 'purging' the totes and I usually do it once every few months or longer.

Honestly, things end up back in their place. And the kids remember what is on the shoe rack also, so they might even grab it to play with when the tote is back out. To give you an idea, my shoe rack is over 1/2 full most of the time, but it is not always the same things. Maybe I am looking for pieces of a puzzle lost one week, maybe there is a toy so precious it just stays out and lives in a special pocket for a few months, maybe it holds those little Play mobile or Lego pieces you find stuck in the cracks of your chair waiting for the tote to come out again, and maybe it is a fast way to pick up toys when you are getting 'surprise company.' I've also found it is a great place to put sunglasses and sunscreen, so you are not always running around the house looking for those small items. Now, the shoe rack can't hold too much, and that is also a good thing. So, it is not overwhelming when you do decide to put all pieces back where they belong.

There you have it. Totes. They have really helped my life and I hope they can help organize yours too.

Heather Totten is a stay-at-home mom with four children and a busy husband. She is incredibly organized, and shares her sense of family, parenting, and organization with us in her monthly parenting tips column. Read what's new with her family in Heather's Parenting Journal.

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