There are a few major things in my life that motivate me to keep my home in order. First up: working from home. I love walking downstairs to work every day to my studio! When I come “home” at the end of the day (walking back up the stairs), I want my living space to feel refreshing. To me, that means it should be orderly and clean. Secondly, a major motivation for me is the simple fact that we live in a town home. We don’t have a big house, so it is easy for just a few small things to leave a room feeling cluttered. I am constantly cleaning out and donating items to keep the amount of stuff we have to a minimum. Lastly, it’s stewardship. I believe I am called to manage every area of my life well. God’s the owner, I’m just the manager, and yes – this even applies to our home!

I’m excited to share with you The Rays 10 systems for Home Organization. No matter how big or small your home, and no matter how organized you are at this moment, if you just apply one or two of these systems, you’ll feel more organized in no time!

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Before I begin, I want to point out something very important:

Living an unorganized life is not a clutter problem: it’s a behavior problem.

The truth is, we are usually too lazy to pick up that item and put it away, we just don’t want to sit down and make a budget, we love purchasing sparkly new things in the store that are “fresh and new.” But if you really want to know my secret to living an organized life, it boils down to two things:

1. Being content with what you have

2. Doing the work to maintain your home on a regular basis

Keeping those two very important things in mind, here are:

 The Rays 10 Systems for Organization

1. Household routines

We have implemented regular household routines for cleaning and clearing the clutter. My favorite of all these listed is our “Sunday household reset day!” Each Sunday I do laundry, grocery shopping, I wash our sheets, and we sit down to discuss our week ahead. It leaves you feeling ready to go on Monday morning.

Quarterlies
• Major house clean outs. We do this 2-4 times a year to get rid of a ton of junk. We just had a yard sale for our spring clean out! Last year, I gave a lot of clothes and household items to a local ministry.

Monthlies
• Household cleaning day, toilets and all.
• Budget meeting happens at the end of each month, just before the new month begins.

Weeklies
• Sundays = household reset day for the Rays! That includes laundry, calendar meeting, groceries, and mail folder emptying.

Dailies
• Get and file the mail
• Put all dishes in the dishwasher prior to bed

2. Mail folders

Pictured below on the left: these 3 clear containers hold our “mail folders.” I have to admit that these mail folders are a result of my husband’s genius, not my own! As soon as we get the mail and sort it, we place it in the following folders which are tucked away out of site:

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William
Nancy
NRP
To shred
To file
Bills
Coupons

Once a week, we clean them out by filing them, shredding them, putting dates in our calendar, tossing trash, recycling, etc. This is THE BEST system to prevent mail from piling up on your kitchen table!

3. Filing system

It’s a wonderful thing to have a good filing system for your bills and your life. We have a file for almost everything, including:

car insurance, bank accounts, life insurance, hoa, Winston, investments, giving, vacations, water bill, gas bill, etc.

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Our filing cabinet is also tucked away out of site. We clean the files out and shred them, then store important documents every 2 years or so.

4. Consignment / donation box

Keeping a consignment/donation box in our garage (or a closet) all year long has provided us an immediate place to deposit unwanted clutter. As you accumulate things you don’t want, as that dress goes out of style, as you realize you’ve been holding on to that colander because it was a gift but you really hate it…. put it all in the box! We love regularly contributing to With Love From Jesus – a wonderful ministry that accepts everything from clothes to household appliances. I also have an account at my local consignment store for name brand items or expensive appliances we simply don’t use.

5. A place for everything

We have a designated place for the following items, which have significantly cut down on tabletop clutter:  keys, mail, recycled paper, envelope system, stationery, stamps, pens, return address stamp, scissors, grocery list, remote controls, Winston’s leash, etc.

The list goes on and on! But you get my point: these are the little items that can clutter your countertops and leave you feeling like a level 4 hoarder. Just designate a place that you and your spouse / roommate / family all know about, and declare it out loud several times so everyone remembers. Then if you can’t find an item you set down on the counter, it’s very likely your spouse place it in it’s designated spot! We always check the spot first, and I cannot tell you the last time we lost our keys or misplaced a wallet.

Below: our remote control (and video game control) holding place, next to a candle and my quiet time books for my morning routine. 

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6. Gift basket

Many people feel guilty about re-gifting items. I am not one of those people! Stuff is stuff, people. If I don’t use it, I’ll just regift it or donate it or sell it. I’m blessed to be a blessing, and I want to be generous with everything that flows into my life: money, stuff, clothes, all of it. No hard feelings to the givers – I sincerely do appreciate every gift I am given! But I feel trapped and stifled when I hold onto clutter for guilt reasons only. If it’s a nice, unused item, into the gift basket it goes! This is great option for items that are very nice that you don’t want to donate. It might make a lovely wedding gift or birthday gift!

7. Personal photo archive

This one is highly personal, so I suggest that you do something that works for YOU. As a photographer, this sadly the last thing that gets accomplished each year. Most of the time, we photographers are so concerned with other peoples photos that we neglect our own. That’s why I decided to overhaul my photo storage system about a year ago!

Here is my process for my personal photo archive :

1. Edit photos as I take them throughout the year
2. Back them up on my personal photos external hard drive
3. Print a few 4×6 photos of my favorite images from each event (i.e.: 10 photos from July 4th, 5 photos from Will’s birthday, 15 photos from our anniversary trip, 7 photos from Nicaragua, etc)
4. File my personal photos in my photo storage boxes by date

This leaves me with my personal photos in 2 places: the external hard drive which holds all final JPEGS only, as well as prints from our favorite memories and adventures from the year, organized by date. If I’m honest, I NEVER go look through my photos on my hard drive, which is why I don’t keep the RAW files, and I only take time to print just a few from each trip. Picturing the end of our lives, I would like to know that there’s one shoebox of photos for every 5 years. Not too much, but just enough to remember the really good stuff.

My next project? To make an Artifact Uprising album every 5 years of our lives and marriage together.

8. Trash bags are your friends

If you don’t like it, if you don’t use it, if no one else would want it – just throw it away. ‘Nuff said.

9. Eat all your food.

This might seem silly to some, but nothing bothers us more than finding a never used can of food that has expired. We hate wasting food, but that’s what happens when your pantry gets over cluttered!  So, we do our very best every month to plan wisely and eat all of our food. We also will regularly make a big batch of soup, and will freeze most of it to eat later. Yes, our pantry and fridge seem a little bare at the end of the month, but it feels good to know that we didn’t waste anything. I know this can be challenging for larger families, so if you have any advice – leave some comments below!

10. The budget (STOP buying stuff!)

If you create a budget and stick to it, it limits your spending. If you limit your spending, you limit the amount of things that make their way into your home. If you limit the amount of things that make their way into your home, you limit your clutter.

It’s really common sense: the best way to stop the clutter from accumulating is to simply STOP BUYING STUFF! But let’s be honest – this one can be the toughest. It take self discipline and creativity within your home to keep it feeling fresh. It can be challenging, but it is so worth it!

•••

Finally, I leave you with a list of our “unspoken rules” that we live by. We don’t really ever discuss these, but we simply do them. They are simple rules that have just developed over time in the course of our marriage. Do you have any unspoken rules in your house?

•••

The Ray’s unspoken rules:

If something is left on the stairs, you grab it and take it upstairs. No matter who it is, no matter whose stuff it is!

If it takes less than a minute, do it immediately.

Always take everything out of your car every single time you come inside:  water bottles, every little piece of trash, receipts, coffee tumblers, books, briefcases, photography equipment, jackets. Anything that goes in your car must come out! Our cars stay clutter free this way.

Check your mail folders regularly. 

Always ask your spouse before throwing something of his/hers away.

Communicate about who is doing what household chores.

•••

I am curious: What did you find most helpful? And please leave a comment letting me know what you do for home organization! I’d love to hear it.

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COMMENTS

[…] I have deemed September: Simplify September month. We have done a purge in our kitchen already today in preparation for the demolition to our upper cabinets. So, I thought I would continue that with our closet, Caleb’s closet and the bookshelf. I want to spend this month simplifying areas in our home. Nancy Ray has a lovely series on organization and I found her organization in home blog post very encouraging and also a kick in the pants to get our home better organized. (you can find that blog post here) […]

Love your ideas! Where did you get your list of items al lout?

[…] Baby Ray Announcement 2) Organization at Home 3) Callie & Jamie's Engagement Session 4) My Journey with Baby Ray (Part 1) 5) My Work, My […]

[…] purging our apartment of all the stuff we didn’t need or even want. I was really inspired by Nancy and Lara. I want our apartment to be a place we love coming home to and that’s free of […]

[…] in Asheville, take pictures. Nancy wrote a post about how she organizes her personal photos that inspired me so much. Instead of fretting over printing and filing every.single.thing, she and […]

I’m catching up on all your organization posts. It was nice to hear that you don’t save personal RAW files. I save about 10% but I doubt I’ll ever look at them since I have the JPEGS. Thanks for sharing all your tips Nancy! Both you and Will seem to have a great system!

[…] we keep the current month in the “Bills” folder that is with all of our mail for easy access (see Nancy’s Organizationin Home post), then we file all those away after their […]

[…] in Asheville, take pictures. Nancy wrote a post about how she organizes her personal photos that inspired me so much. Instead of fretting over printing and filing every.single.thing, she and […]

I’m late to the party on this, but for the sake of transparency… Nancy’s car is always cleaner than mine. She observes the 3rd unspoken rule better than I do, haha!

[…] in our fully framed soon to be master bedroom! – C / Organization in home blog series – N / Winston trying to hide from the scary vet – […]

What a fantastically helpful list. I’m a huge believer in number 5, a place for everything. I learnt this lesson from my grandparents — they have everything they need, nothing more, nothing less, and everything has its ‘spot’ in the home (so you can always find it too). Thank you for sharing your views on re-gifting. I agree 100%. I appreciate any and all gestures given my way, the thought is what matters, but if I don’t need the item, well, I simply don’t need it. This year my habit of buying less has become quite unconscious (hurrah!). Getting rid of stuff is great, but if you just fill life up with more ASAP you’re only chasing your tail. I have a feeling it was on your blog or Will’s blog where I read the comment ‘whatever stuff you own, you have to store it, maintain it, play with it etc…’. It’s good motivation to have less to deal with on a daily basis. My big home/life organisation strategy is making my lunches to take to work for the full week ahead on either the Saturday or Sunday before. Five cooked and portioned out meals sit in Tupperware containers in my fridge. Each morning I know there is something healthy (and yummy) ready to go. Can’t wait to read your next organisation post xo

…and yea…what Anna said. My husband is a full-time student with an internship, and I work full-time. We mealprep and clean mostly on Sunday, but he does homework the entire weekend so we don’t have a Sabbath. I observed it for a very long time before we got married and I know he agrees that it should be done, but I don’t know how to go about bringing it up to him. I think he’ll feel like he doesn’t have time. I think we could at least do a “rest on Saturdays until noon” or something, lol. Suggestions?

That third unspoken rule just hit my in the gut! My husband’s car is always so clean on the inside and it boils him that I don’t make a big deal about the inside of mine. I’m getting better at it, but I’m a work in progress, lol. I need to just start saying that everything needs to come out everytime over and over in my head when I get home. But grabbing my stuff, a newborn and all of her stuff…whew! I’m exhausted thinking about it.

xoxo

Nancy, I have really been enjoying these organization posts and so much of what you have listed here is true in our home too. We currently reserve Sunday afternoon as a reset (for meal planning, grocery shopping, bill paying, laundry etc…). Recently, I have felt convicted that we should instead be using our Sunday as a day of rest. We both work full-time, so Sat/Sun tend to be our catch up days. Have you ever struggled with this notion? Just curious :)

@Anna Protecting a day of rest is definitely important, and while we are not perfect at it, we strive to have our “Sabbath” on Fridays. Sunday is a work day for Will since he is on staff at our church, so we choose a different day during the week to rest. Great question, and I definitely agree it’s important to protect that day of rest!

Love this, Nancy! Such a great reminder that it takes hard work to make your life easier! Definitely going to implement some of these methods at my house this week.

[…] stars further aligned this weekend when my feedly served up Nancy Ray’s post on organizing her home life – it was a great reminder that none of this happens without effort. It takes hard work and deep […]

Nancy- it seems that you and Will are in the same page with household rules. My husband and I are ao different and the owness of organization is all on me. I hate clutter and junk. I have had to learn to give him his clutter space and his car is his. So I can’t complain there. Any advice for couples who are opposite ?

Love this post! It is amazing the huge difference little things can make in our lives.

We desperately need a To File and To Shred mail sorter! Great idea! The link to your photo storage boxes didn’t work. This is definitely something I desperately need to organize! If you have any other tips I would definitely appreciate it. :)

Loved this! I think your first two points (being content + doing the work regularly) summarize it all perfectly. For me personally, having a place for everything is key. Looking forward to future posts!

Love this post! I feel like we are still setting systems in place for our house after about a year in it. I 100% believe in re-gifting and throwing things out, though – I think some people are paralyzed by not wanting to “waste” things, and while I think it’s important to donate/give away/sell when possible, sometimes you just need to throw things out or they’re going to sit in your house forever!!

I love your personal growth posts. I work from home as well and it isn’t easy keeping everything in order. You give great advice and I always take it to heart.

Oh, girl. I want this to be true for my husband and I. We’ve been married since 8-11-2012, and we are still working through life together. This entire list is AMAZING to me. So much to work towards.

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