Now Where Did I Put That?
- Friday, September 26, 2003
Do you ever find yourself asking that question? The homeschooling lifestyle has a way of causing many of us to accumulate a lot of "stuff." Sometimes keeping track of everything, and remembering where it is when you need it, can seem like a full-time job. A house that seemed huge when you bought it can quickly fill up as you find homes for all of your homeschooling supplies. Short of building an additional room, what can you do to make more space, organize your home, and make your homeschooling run more smoothly?
I have homeschooled my children for the last 11 years. During that time, we have lived in houses anywhere from 1100 sq. ft. to 2200 sq. ft. We have homeschooled with preschoolers, a high schooler, and everything in between. Over the years we have collected thousands of books, hundreds of cassettes, CD's and videos, and dozens of educational games and manipulatives. Along the way I've learned a few tricks for keeping it all somewhat organized, and in the process maintaining my own sanity, as well as that of my husband (the military retiree who can't stand clutter!)
First, let's talk about books. We have literally thousands of books in our home. The most obvious place to store them is on bookshelves, and we have plenty of those (at last count we had 4 very large and 6 medium-sized bookcases in our house, all of them full). But we have also stored books in many other places.
My youngest daughter currently has two sets of Bible story books in her bedroom closet, sitting neatly on top of a toy cabinet. When we had toddlers, we kept all of their board books in a basket on the living room floor. They could carry it with them from room to room, and at clean up time it was easy to toss all the books back into the basket. We've used boxes, milk crates and storage cabinets to hold our books. School books that we are not currently using (but are saving for a younger child) are sometimes stored in Rubbermaid-type storage boxes and put on a high closet shelf. Books that each person is currently reading are usually kept on the headboards of our beds, or on a dresser or table nearby.
What about all the games, manipulatives, and hands-on items that homeschoolers tend to collect? Two of my favorite ways for storing these kinds of things are in zipper-closing bags and clear plastic storage containers with snap-on lids. I love it because I can see what's inside without opening a box or having to label everything, but if the container is accidentally dropped, I don't end up with a million tiny pieces all over the floor. At one point we took all of our jigsaw puzzles and put the pieces in zipper bags, cut the photo off the cover, and threw away the rest of the box. I could stack these bags and box lids in a medium-sized storage box and was able to keep a dozen puzzles in the space usually taken up by 2 or 3 puzzle boxes.
My goal is to someday do the same thing with our games, but I haven't had the time to do that yet. I have stored some game pieces in clear plastic containers, though. One box holds the linking cubes. Another might hold a set of dominoes. One box holds all the miscellaneous game pieces (game markers, dice, chips, marbles) that can be used in a variety of games. This makes it easy to replace missing pieces from one game with a substitute piece from another game, and the lid holds everything securely in place and away from small children or pets that might be able to get into a cardboard game box.
One of my biggest challenges is finding ways to organize all this "stuff" so that I can find it when I need it. It doesn't do anyone any good to have every wonderful, educational game ever invented if I can't find it when I really need it. For several years, we stored all our school games in a six-drawer dresser which is now in our family room. I divided the games up by subject. Math games in one drawer, science games in another, word games in a third. That made it easy to find the game I was looking for without pulling everything off of a shelf.
I did the same thing in a storage cabinet, putting games for different subjects on different shelves. I like both of these ideas better than opened shelves. When we're not using the games they are out of sight so they look less cluttered. The dresser worked especially well when I had preschoolers that I didn't want getting into some of our school things. It was hard for them to open the drawers, so it discouraged them from trying to get into things and dump pieces everywhere. Now that my kids are older, the cabinet is nice because they can open the doors and see everything that's available to them all at once.
What if you have everything sorted and organized, but you still can't remember where you've put things? I have a very simple solution--labels! I love labels! My memory isn't very good, and I tend to have an "out of sight, out of mind" mentality. So if I put something away where I can't see it, I'm probably going to forget where it is until I've searched for, and found it, several times. So I label everything! It takes a lot less time to read quickly down a list of labels on the edges of bookshelves than it does to read the titles of each book to find the one you want.
Until I memorized our filing system for our books, I labeled the shelves "Science", "History", etc. It made it so much easier to find things, and much easier for everyone to put things back (at least close to) where they belonged. I've also put labels on the inside of dresser drawers, on the outside of plastic storage drawers, on storage boxes, on shelves in a closet, even on individual toy boxes. Especially when I can't use clear boxes, labeling the outside makes it much easier to find what I want quickly, without ever having to open a lid to see what's inside.
Another "stuff challenge" for me has been what to do with maps, timelines, educational posters and charts that we are using for school. I would love to have them hung up where we can see them all the time. But since we school mainly in our family room, which has paneling on all the walls, and since the little wall space we do have is covered with tall bookcases, it was a real problem.
Our best solution has been to hang many of these things in my children's bedrooms. Not only has this given us more wall space, it has had other hidden benefits as well. One daughter has a map of the United States on her bedroom wall, and without any encouragement from me, she memorized all the states and capitals "because it was fun."
Another daughter has a poster of the books of the Bible in her room, and she would read over the poster each night when she went to bed. Before long she had memorized all the books and their divisions. My youngest daughter used to go to sleep at night practicing sign language while she looked at the poster above her bed. She would think of words and phrases and practice signing them to herself until she was sleepy. I didn't have to "teach" my girls any of those things. They just learned them on their own because the maps and posters were available to them.
The final tip that I've learned, that applies not only to homeschooling but to parenting and household organization in general, is to store things as close as possible to where they will be used. If you do your read-aloud time in the family room, store your literature books there, even if they look better in the den. If science experiments are done in the kitchen, try to find cabinet space to store your equipment there. You will save yourself a lot of steps, not to mention stress, by following that one simple guideline.
Take some time and think through how one or more of these ideas can be applied in your home. I've never used all of these ideas at once, but different things have worked well at different seasons of our lives. A little thought, and a little planning, can go a long way toward making your home, and your homeschool, more organized and stress-free.
Lori Deese, along with her husband Ricky, homeschool their four children in Rockledge, Florida.
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