We live in a society of extremes. People seem to be extremely in debt, extremely overweight and extremely disorganized. people everywhere are trying to come up with new and better solutions to solve these problems but not many of their ideas are working.

It's because they are focusing on the wrong problem. For example, if your child comes to you and says "I have a drug problem." You don't sit them down and say, "Well let's work on a way to get your grades up and then we'll work on your drug problem." How foolish that would be.

The real problem is not the grades but the drugs. You take care of the drugs and the chances are pretty good that the grades will come up.

For some of us, instead of focusing on getting out of debt or losing weight, we need to first give more serious thought to becoming organized. Does that sound crazy, almost laughable? Before you start laughing too hard, look at these examples and see if you can relate.

How often do you go out to eat because your kitchen is a mess? If your kitchen is clean, chances are you would not only be more willing to fix dinner at home but in the morning you would fix breakfast and pack yourself a lunch too.

Here are some benefits of getting your kitchen organized:

  • You would save at least $5,000 a year for one person, $10,000 for two, and so on if you ate at home.
  • When you are organized you know what you have in your pantry, so you don't buy ingredients that you already have and you don't throw out food you forgot you had.
  • You would be using your leftovers instead of tossing them.
  • You will start losing weight because you are preparing regular, well-balanced meals instead of eating fast food all the time.

Besides the fact that homemade food generally has fewer calories than fast food, balanced meals create fewer cravings and this helps eliminate grazing.

Organizing can also reduce your wardrobe and laundry costs:

  • Do you keep buying more clothes because you are gaining weight from fast food or from the stress of your clutter?
  • How big is your wardrobe? Do you or your children own thirty pairs of jeans at $60 a pop because you don't keep up with the laundry or because your closet is so stuffed you can't find anything? That adds up to $1,800 worth of jeans. If you cut it down to even 10 pairs you would save $1,200. How many tops do you own? How about those shoes? Before you say, "There is no way I have that many jeans, shoes, or tops!" go count you clothes. You may be surprised.
  • How often do you toss a suit jacket on the floor or on the furniture and then later have to have it dry cleaned because it's wrinkled? Just think what you could save on your dry cleaning bill if you keep a little more organized.

Organizing can save you money in every aspect of your life:

  • Do you buy new items because you can't find something? The cost of things like tools, glue, tape, ropes, garden tools, kitchen items, light bulbs, batteries, office supplies and other things really adds up.
  • How much do you pay each month in late fees on your bills because you can't find them, your checkbook or even a stamp to mail them?

Who is in charge of maintaining order in your home?

Here's another aspect of organization that we often don't think about. So often we think that the solution to our debt problem is for both spouses to work outside the home. But sometimes we compound the problem when one or both spouses takes a second job. When both spouses work out of the home, who takes care of the house? Frequently, there is a constant battle between them about whose job it is to take care of some element of the housework. After all, the husband has been out working all day so he doesn't feel like it. Oh, but the wife has been working too so why can't she take a break?

Imagine if your boss at work decided to work a second full-time job. How would this impact your work place? Who would you ask if you couldn't find products for your customers? What if there was no change because your boss was at his other job until after the bank closed? What if you needed help or advice from your boss, but he said, "Not now... I'm too tired from my other job?" How long would that company last? The same thing happens in many homes every day.

Would your family be better served if one spouse stayed home? Someone needs to be responsible for the bulk of the care and maintenance of the home and family. Ideally, everyone will share the work, but like in any other business there has to be one person in charge. Otherwise, everyone will avoid the work and everything will descend into chaos.

If this sounds like your home, you might sit down with your spouse and seriously consider whether one of you might take off of work to try to get your home in order. Instead of thinking of staying at home as a prison sentence, think of it as another job to help save you money, reduce family stress and add more family comfort.

If you're considering staying home, get rid of the emotions and with pen and paper (hopefully you can find one) in hand, write down the ways that being disorganized is costing you money. Be honest and try to cover even the small things. You might find that the money you are spending dealing with disorganization is equal to or more then one spouse's take home pay.

Organization has nothing to do with what is politically correct or what the media or other people tell you. It is a practical choice that you can make. Please note that I am not saying that you can't work doing something that you love. I am saying that regardless of how your family handles it, the work of keeping the home has to get done and some families may benefit from rethinking their approach.

If you feel that you and your spouse have to or both want to work, then try to come up with other ideas, like:

  • Would spending your vacation organizing things and deep cleaning give you enough of a jump start to help keep things organized? Maybe once you organized everything you could consider hiring someone to clean your house once a week. Before you say you can't afford it, calculate hich would cost less. Which is greater: paying someone $50 a week to clean your house or paying for all the things that cost you money because you are not organized?
  • Consider whether it would be worth one spouse working part-time instead of full-time.
  • Try one simple thing like hanging up your clothes so you don't have a cleaners expense or getting the whole family to pitch in with cleaning the kitchen at the end of each meal.

Maybe you do have the time but you just don't know how to get organized. If that is the case, then learn. Check out books at the library or search for help on the Internet. Better yet, find someone you know who is organized and ask them to teach you. Don't be embarrassed to do this. Most people are more than willing to show you. Remember, those older women (and men) that seem to have it all together now didn't start out that way. They've had twenty years or more practice, and they remember what it was like to not have a clue where to start. Just ask.

January 12, 2009.


Jill Cooper and Tawra Kellam are frugal living experts and the editors of http://www.LivingOnADime.com/. As a single mother of two, Jill Cooper started her own business without any capital and paid off $35,000 debt in 5 years on $1,000 a month income. Tawra and her husband paid off $20,000 debt in 5 years on $22,000 a year income.