Lindsay Eidahl - My Creative Days

005: How to Get Organized When Your Home (And Life) Feel Chaotic – Lindsay Eidahl

Lindsay Eidahl is the founder of MyCreativeDays.com, and she is obsessed with old wood, rusty treasures, and creating beauty out of worn-down items. She’s a coupon clipper, budget tracking, frugal Mom always looking for ways to decorate her family’s home without breaking the bank!

Lindsay and her husband, Matt, are just getting started on their fifth house flipping project, but I wanted to talk with her about home organization since that’s a big challenge for so many of us. Be sure to listen to the end of our conversation to learn about a 31 Day Organizational Challenge that is sure to help you out.


In This Episode, You Will Learn:

  • The biggest challenges most people face when it comes to getting organized and staying organized.
  • How to get started if your house is a disaster.
  • The specific steps you need to take to get organized.
  • How to stay organized on an ongoing basis.

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Lindsay thank you so much for taking time to hang with us today.

I’m excited to be here. Thanks for having me.

Today we are talking about how to get organized when your house and possibly your life feel chaotic. I want to start by asking about your room growing up as a kid. Was it meticulously organized? A complete disaster? Or somewhere in between?

When I was younger, my younger sister and I, we shared a room. In about middle school, I actually got my own room and it was an attic space up above. It was this big – not huge, but this big space all to my own. I became obsessed with organizing it, decorating it and I would do it over and over again. That was my free time. That is what I wanted to do. I would organize it one weekend and then I would decide, “Oh, that’s not working for me.” The next weekend, I’d change it all up. That’s what I did.

That is so crazy. I did the same thing but I was an only child. I would pull out a piece of white paper and with a pencil, I would draw diagrams of my room and try to figure out what was the optimal arrangement of all the pieces of furniture. Then in the late 80’s, I got a waterbed and that idea went out the window. There was no moving that waterbed. I loved re-organizing my room.

So how about your own kids’ rooms? How many kids do you have?

I have two kids.

Are their rooms a disaster or are they doing the same thing you used to do?

We live in a smaller home. So, since they were little, I’ve had to keep it organized. If not, it becomes a disaster quickly. As soon as they grew out of things or weren’t playing with things, we got rid of that stuff. I do have one that is a little more organized then the other, but we’ve set up systems that work in their rooms to keep everything organized.

You live in Cedar Rapids?

Yeah and it’s freezing right now.

Oh man, how cold is it there?

I think last week was -56°F; we were in that whole polar vortex thing. We’ve never been that cold before, it has been unreal this winter.

Really, – 56°F? Or just feels like – 56°F?

Minus 28°F and then with the wind-chill it felt like – 56°F. Schools were closed, mail was cancelled and businesses were closed. It was crazy.

Here in Southern California, I think the high yesterday was 56°F probably. It was freezing. We are dying.

That sounds so tropical to me.

Enough about the crazy weather, you were obviously very organized from an early age, but when did your organizational skills really hit next level status? When did you start getting into thinking about it and really being more passionate about it?

When I was in college, I started helping family and friends. I started getting asked by friends of friends of friends to help them get organized as well. I loved it so much, I thought, “Why don’t I put a little ad in our local newspaper and I could do this while I’m going to college and I could help people out.” So, I would do that on the weekends and nights. After I graduated, I got a full-time job and I just couldn’t keep up with it. It was about six or seven years ago, I decided I needed a change, so I started a blog and I started sharing some of my tips and ideas there.

Did you ever take any classes for it? Or was this something that just came natural to you in every way?

There were a few classes around here, but I never took them. It’s just something that I just enjoy. I walk into a room that’s chaotic and I just love it. I just love the process and I love helping people. It was really something that just came natural to me. And what worked for me seemed to work for other people.

Well, that does not come naturally for a lot of people. I live in a pretty organized home and although my decorating style is radically different than yours; I have a lot of vintage things.  So, I do really resonate on your blog and your social media because you talk about decorating on a yard sale budget. Almost everything from our house has come second hand except for the couch or the mattresses.

Everything else has a story and I can point to where it came from. It’s fun, but my kids will go over to a friend’s house and they are like, “Oh my gosh Dad, their house is a disaster. They have papers piled up everywhere and just stuff.” I think I’ve trained them to think in that way. But that way of thinking or living does not come naturally for most people and I’m not being judgemental or critical, it’s just a different way of living. What are some of the biggest challenges that most people face when it comes to getting organized and staying organized?

The biggest thing that I have found with most people is the overwhelm. They’ve spent so many years living that way and it’s stacked up. When you say that you are going to organize the garage and you look at it as the whole picture, it’s a massive undertaking. So, the overwhelm almost paralyzes a lot of people before they even get started. They don’t even know where to start, so they just don’t even start.

I think the main thing to understand is there is a process to make it easier and a lot of people start without a plan. Instead they just jump in with both feet and without going through what’s actually being organized. That won’t set them up to be successful in the long run.

When you go to someone’s house or get in their car or go to a business and see it’s disorganized, what’s going through your head? What’s going on inside of you?

The first thing I’m thinking is, “This could be so much better. How are they functioning and working in this space?” And, “Is it effective?” Most of the time, if I’m going there to help somebody, it’s not effective. Obviously, something is not working, so it’s just trying to figure out what will work best for that person and then trying to walk through the steps of getting rid of things and moving things around. Taking time and trying to find those systems that are going to work for them.

I have a hard time not feeling judgemental, just to be honest. I was at a non-profit this past Saturday and I was doing two communications and marketing workshops for a number of people. They had these classrooms and there was stuff everywhere, all over the place. It was an older building, but I’m looking at all this stuff and thinking, “If you just get rid of all this crap and put the chairs in a nice fashion and paint the walls, this all of a sudden becomes a nice educational room.” There was junk everywhere.

I do that too. But to me, I’m thinking, “This is so simple. We just have to do A, B, C and D and then its fine.” But for some it’s a foreign language.

I’m wondering how many people get so used to it that they don’t even see it.

Yes, I agree with that. I totally agree with that.

So, it’s like we become blind. That’s true about anything in our lives, not just our organizational messes. We get used to living in such a way that we are just blind to it. We don’t even see it until somebody comes into our lives and goes, “You know, there is a different way to live.”

Yes, for sure.

Okay, so if I know that my house is a disaster, take me through some steps. Where do I get started? How do I get started? As you said, most people just kind of jump in and they don’t have a strategy. Take me through a process that would be helpful.

I tell people that there are two main things you need when you start organizing. One is an empty box or empty tote. That one is easy. Two, you are going to need to bring your honesty. That’s the harder part. You need to come equipped with both of those things. If you have a goal in mind to organize a space, bring your honesty and bring an empty box.

I also tell people that when they start, start small. Don’t try to tackle the entire garage or the attic, start in a drawer instead. One drawer that isn’t so chaotic and full of stuff. When you start getting through those smaller areas, it becomes a lot easier. You start getting in the flow of things and it’s just a lot easier. You are not starting in the garage and trying to tackle all of that.

So, if the person has a box or a tote and they’ve got their honesty, how do they get started? They are looking in a drawer, what do they do?

Let’s start with a kitchen drawer. The first thing that I would tell them to do is dump everything out of that drawer. Find a workspace, clear off your dining room table or the counter tops and dump everyhthing out of that drawer. Then start putting things into piles of the same things. Spoons in a pile, spatulas in a pile and pizza cutters in a pile. Whatever it is that you have in that drawer one they are sorted, step back and look at what you have. If you have 15 spatulas and 45 spoons, take note of how many of those things that you actually use. When you step back and look at all of that, I think it helps to realize how much stuff you actually have. Every time you open that drawer, you have to go through 15 spatulas and 45 spoons just to find the knife you want to use. So, once you step back and look at what you have, I say, pick up every piece and ask yourself, “Do I use it? Do I love it? Have I used it in the past 6 months? Do I reach for that thing?” If it’s a “No” let it go. If its “No” to any of that stuff, then it goes in that empty box. Put it in there and then you are done with it.

Once you get the stuff that you are keeping, start figuring out a system. In a kitchen drawer, its generally drawer organizers that work for what you have left. I get a lot of questions and a lot of people that say, “Organizing costs so much money. I have to go out and buy all this new stuff.” No, not right away. Do the whole purge process first. Figure out what you have left and then if you need to go out and buy something to help the organization, then go out and buy something. That is the process you’ll want to use in each area.

If I’m looking at that kitchen drawer and I have my things that I’m keeping, what are some of those organizational tools? There is obviously some sort of plastic device that I’m putting those items in it, but where can I go get that stuff that is cost effective and that is helpful?

Amazon is a great place to start. Walmart is a great place. I know the Container Store – a lot of people go there. We don’t have one near us, so I can’t speak to that. But really you can get them in any Target, Walmart, Amazon. Amazon has everything. Most places have them now.

But what if I have a pizza cutter that my mom gave me and it was her mom’s and her grandmas before that? It’s a sentimental pizza cutter. It’s a sentimental spatula, I know that sounds weird but things do get handed down. Iron skillets, oh my gosh, those are sentimental for a lot of people. What do I do with all these extra things? I know I don’t use it because it’s not as good as the new one, but I’ve got sentimental connection to it.

Be honest about it. If you can come away with a small box of sentimental stuff that you want to keep, don’t keep it in your main drawer that you go to everyday. But be honest about sentimental stuff and try to narrow yourself down to a shoebox size box or something that can be stored away. Just make sure it’s in a space that you won’t have to be digging through it every day to get to what you want.

I’m hearing you say that you need to be honest about whether or not you use something, but I hear people all the time that say, “But I might need it. I don’t want to have to buy it again because I bought when I needed it.”

Right and it’s so funny because just last weekend I was helping my mom. She asked me if I would come over and help her organize her junk drawer. I just could not believe it, but my mom said that about everything in there. I think she had 12 little tape measurers in her junk drawer.  I’m telling her, “Mom, you don’t use them all. We need to narrow this down to three. Let’s just pick three that you really love and that you actually use.” Just like with the kitchen drawer, keep what you use, but to have 12 spatulas, be honest about it. People struggle with that.

Let’s move outside of the kitchen and let’s go into the living room. What are the things that pile up most in people’s living rooms or family rooms or dens? And how would you suggest dealing with those things?

I hear from a lot of people that’s its toys. Kids toys and kids’ stuff in the living room. Again, I always say, “Go through the process. Make sure to pick everything out.” Take everything out of your living room, lay it on the floor and figure out what the kids are using. Figure out what the kids aren’t using. Figure out what’s broken and what’s missing pieces. You do not need to be hanging onto those things. They are taking up space in your home.

A lot of times I get asked, “How do I make it so my house doesn’t look like a daycare center with all the kid’s toys around?” I actually had a daycare in my home after we had our kids, but my house didn’t look like a daycare center. There are tons of ways using bin, baskets, cabinets with drawers and benches that have storage inside. That’s all decorative, but it’s still functional for what you use that space for. Put the toys away or put the toys in the kids’ room or in another room if you have the space.

My kids are older now; my kids are 19 and 16. So it’s too late for me, but they are both pretty organized now – my daughter more than my son. How do we enroll our kids in this process? How would you suggest that?

This is a great question that I get too. When my kids were little, we had a cubby system for different kinds of toys. Every cubby had a function or a purpose. I would make little label tags with pictures because they couldn’t read at that time. Trains went here, blocks went here. I just tied the labels to the outside of the bins. They were able to bring a bin out and they could play with that bin, but before we brought out other bins, we had to pick up what went in that bin first and put it back and then put it away. That was a constant.

The thing I say to parents is, “Consistency is key.” You have to be consistent. You can’t do it one day and then for seven days let them take it all out and dump them out and then expect them on the 8th day to do it differently. It takes some time, but once they get in that habit of playing that way, it becomes natural. My son, he would take out trains and then my daughter would bring something out and then bring something else out and it was like, “What a minute, now I can’t play with my trains where I wanted to.” It became a mess. Not that they couldn’t bring out more than one bin at a time to play with things, but if you keep it to that system, it teaches them how to put things away when they are done with them.

That’s great for staying organized, but how do you suggest that parents enroll their children in the process of getting organized?

If your kids are open to it, get them involved. If they are too young, try doing it during naptime or when they are in bed at night. You can then go through the toys that are broken, missing pieces or that they aren’t playing with. That way they aren’t there to slow you down. It’s funny with kids, once you go through their stuff while they are around you and you pick out the stuff that you know they aren’t using anymore, that all of a sudden becomes the one toy that has been their favorite toy for all their life. So, sometimes you just need to remove them from the process. Then you are free to set up systems that work and as a parent, you’ll have to show them how to use that system. It’s trial and error. It will take some time.

Some working moms that are really busy and that are listening to us today are thinking, “It doesn’t bother me. I know it’s a disaster but it doesn’t bother me. I don’t have time for this.” As the queen of organization how do you talk them into joining the land of being organized? What would you say to them? What are the benefits of being organized?

Being unorganized takes up space in your home. But I think more than that, it takes up space in your mind. Space that you are not even aware of. It’s that dread of walking in the back door and you already know the house is going to be a mess. Or when you open your closet and you can find a thing to wear because it’s so full of stuff. When you open the kitchen drawer and you are thinking, “Ugh!” I don’t know if dread is the right word, but it’s that sense of being unsettled and stressed that you may not actually connect to organization. You might not think that it’s taking up space in your mind, but it really is. You want your home to be an oasis that you come to and rest to after a long, busy day. You don’t want to have to come home after a nine hour workday and then work another nine hours cleaning up just so you can settle down at night. If you can get organized and set up systems, you won’t have that.  You won’t have that extra stress when you come home.

You talked about getting organized, how about staying organized? That can be difficult for people because they might say, “Okay, I did this spring clean. I did the purge. I’ve watched Marie Kondo, I’ve gotten organized…” What would it look like to stay organized? You mentioned getting some systems in place, what does that look like?

First you need to decide what kind of person you are. Are you more of a visual person? For me, I’m a visual person. So, for my office or our daughter’s craft room, glass jars are something I use a lot of. I can see what’s in there and instead of putting it in boxes or bins that have lids, I can’t see what’s there if I need it. If you are visual person, come up with some ways that work for you; glass jars, wire baskets, plastic totes. That way you can actually see what’s in your drawers or on your shelves or in the closet.

If you are more of a decorative person, try using baskets or labelling your baskets. Get a label machine for what you have. After you’ve done the purge process and you’ve got things organized, it’s going to take a little bit to live in this newfound freedom. See what works for you. Can you see the things that are in the drawer? If you can’t, re-do it. Can you see what’s in your linen closet and grab for it? If not, then you can figure it out. But it’s going to be a learning process to try to figure out how to live now in your new organized space.

I tell my kids, “Everything has a place.” I will ask, “Where does that thing reside?” We have messy junk drawers and things aren’t perfect, but for the most part because I’m a visual person, I don’t want to see the clutter. If I do see the clutter, it actually causes me stress and it causes me anxiety. That’s probably a personality thing, because other people can see it and it doesn’t bother them. But if everything has a place, what is the place for that object? Do the umbrellas go here? Do the coats go here? Where do the hard drives go? Once you decide that, you can always change the place. It doesn’t have to be the same place. But then when you need something you can ask yourself, “Okay, where are my headphones? Where is the place that you chose to keep them?” If you always have a place to keep them, then you always know where to find them and where to place them.

Yes, of course. I also think it’s helpful at the end of your day to take ten minutes and pick up and put everything away. That way, when you wake up, everything is put away and you are starting on a clean, flat, fresh day and there is not a lot of chaos. Ten minutes is going to save you so much time in the long run because you won’t have to search so much for things that you need. As you are running out the door in the morning to get to work, everything has already been put away, so you know exactly where everything is the morning of and you are not wasting time. Five to ten minutes every day is key.

It really doesn’t take that much time. Sometimes I’ll post a photo of our home during a holiday season or something to show people what we are up to and I get asked, “Does somebody live there?” “Of course, we live there. Yes, we live here. Yes.” “Does it always look like this?” Or somebody will stop by, “Does your house always look like this?” “Yeah, what’s wrong? Yes, the coasters are in the coaster holder. The remotes are in the remote holder. There is a magazine or two out, but this is how we live.”

I get asked the same things.

One of the biggest challenges for my family is paper; mail, documents and random stuff. When the mail comes, I immediately go through it as soon as I get it. I throw away everything that isn’t important, which is almost 95% of everything. But that stuff goes in the trash. It gets torn up and we keep everything important; bills, checks, letters. Then when my wife comes home, she’ll go through that pile. But that paper stuff, how do you handle that? Thank God we don’t get newspapers anymore, those things used to pile up all over the place ten years ago. How do you handle paper?

Mail is a huge thing. Just like what you do, I tell people, “Once it’s in your hands, go through it. It will take you one minute.” Get rid of it, 90% of it goes to the recycling bin. Then set up a system where bills go, permission slips and all that stuff that comes in. Especially if you have kids. A lot of moms feel very guilty about getting rid of the kid’s artwork or the kid’s math work. What I tell parents, “You can always take a photo of some of their stuff.” The real favorite things; when they make you a card or a Christmas gift or they write you a letter, keep those. Put them in that little keepsake box. But everything else, you don’t have to keep all those math assignments or ABC papers, those can go. Paper is a huge one. I know there are a lot of systems and things that you can use online to reduce your paper also.

My wife got two boxes for each of our kids. They are probably maybe two and half or three feet wide by two and half or three feet tall and maybe a foot deep – whatever the dimensions are, I think it’s a K through 12 system. They have giant folders, I think they were sold this way. But she would choose a certain number of items from each year and put it in this giant folder. It’s an oversized vertical bin, because kids create so many big pieces of artwork.

And they would fit in there?

Yeah, it all fits in there. Of course, you wouldn’t dare fold their artwork. When they are famous and they have their presidential library, the librarian is going to be ticked off if it’s folded. Either way, we found those bins and then you can put several different items for each year in these giant folders that fit in the plastic bin. I’m pretty sure it’s made just for that. So that’s another way to handle that.

My mom was a saver and she still is, so I have plastic bins in the garage from things that she saved. I have every uniform from t-ball. It’s kind of disgusting, but I even have my cast from kindergarten when I broke my arm that’s has everybody’s signature on it. I have hats and just random stuff. It’s fun, I enjoy looking through it. Surely my kids will throw it out when I die, but it’s in the garage, nicely organized.

Now, part of your whole deal is not just organization, but you love decorating also. I know that’s a big part of your passion on your website: www.mycreativedays.com. Tell me about how did. How does that tie in? How does beauty and décor tie into organization?

My thought is, if I had a bunch of stuff it would be really hard to decorate around all the extra stuff. Ever since my husband and I bought our first house, right after we got married, I finally had a house to decorate. I went to all the stores and I’m thinking, “Oh my gosh, this stuff is so expensive. There is no way on our little budget that we are going to be able to decorate this house like I wanted to.” So, I told myself I had to find a different way. I started shopping at yard sales, thrift stores and estate sales. I started painting things, repurposing things and coming up with the look I wanted that I saw in those stores that I couldn’t afford, for a lot less. People started noticing and would ask, “How do you do this?” So ever since I got my first room by myself as a kid, I have been decorating and redecorating ever since. It’s a passion of mine. I love it and I tell people, “You do not have to spend a lot of money to have a beautiful home and a home that you love.” I could talk about that for days.

We’ll have to have you back to talk about that, for sure. I do all the decorating in our home. My wife is very generous in allowing me to do it and she’s done that since we got married. But my style has changed over the years, so our family home has changed also. How did you develop your own style? How would you describe your style and then how has that developed over the years?

I would say that I don’t ever want my style or our house to look cookie cutter. I don’t want someone to come to our home and think, “Oh, she stopped at that local furniture store and she bought the entire display. End tables, couch, lamps.” I like a mix of things and I like everything to have a story. So, like you said, I can literally walk you through our house and explain where something came from or the story of how I found it. The barn that we had to dig deep down into and pull it out of. That just feeds my soul. All the while, I’ll walk you through and tell you how much I didn’t spend on everything and how much money I have saved just by decorating this way.

Some people know what they like, but some don’t. How would someone figure out what their style is?

First of all, once you get it all organized, figure out how you use that space. Are you using that space just for you and your family? Do you need a lot of seating? Do you need a lot of end tables? Do you need a lot of storage? Then head to Pinterest or magazines and start picking things that make you happy or find spaces that draw your attention. It could be the color on the wall or it could be a sofa. Once you get a collection, you can start to see what things you are drawn to. Do you like lighter spaces? Darker colors? You can narrow it down that way.

Alright, now what if somebody needs some extra help in this whole area of organization? “Okay, I’ve heard you Lindsay. You talk about this and I’m resonating, but I need help.” I know you’ve got a new challenge, it’s a “Thirty-One Day Organizational Challenge”. What is that? How can people take advantage of that?

I kept getting questions on my blog and my social media. I share tips and sometimes on my Instagram stories, I would walk through a little organizational thing I was doing. Organization was one of the things that I was getting asked the most questions about. So, people started asking if I could come to their houses to help them and they would live nowhere near where I lived. I couldn’t do that. Physically I couldn’t go to everybody’s house and help them do that, but I thought there had to be a way I could write something up and walk them through the organization, just like I was in their house helping them. So, I created this thirty-one day challenge. It’s kind of like a month long challenge that I broke up into small, every day chunks. Thats where would start if I was in your house. Small chunks is not overwhelming, its do-able.

To in this challenge, I walk you through what you should do in each area and we don’t just do your home. We talk about budgeting. We talk about scheduling. We talk about some other things too, like weekly menu planning and all that kind of stuff. We go through a lot of things and it’s all in this little package. I know some people are more visual, so you can get menu lists and you can get my monthly budget planner. It was an easy way to get those ideas out to people so I could help more people.

And it’s super affordable. How much is it again?

It’s $39 with the extra little tangible things and its $29 for the “Thirty-One Day Challenge”.

You need the extra little things for sure. The bonuses. So, it’s $39 dollars for a thirty-one day organization challenge and I really encourage you to check that out at www.mycreativedays.com. If this peaks your interest at all, this is a great way to start. It’s an affordable way to start. It’s the price of four bins, you are going to save a bunch of time and money by just getting the challenge before you get the bins.

We have to have you come back and talk about how to flip furniture and how to shop at yard sales to decorate your house. In our area, IKEA is a really big thing.

We don’t have one here, but I’ve been.

It’s a really an easy way to go buy furniture but I tell people all the time, “No, don’t buy that IKEA. Buy a decorative item at IKEA if you like it, but don’t buy that desk. Don’t buy that end table.” You can get that same thing on Craigslist or OfferUp or Facebook’s Marketplace for the same price or less and it’s going to be way sturdier and you are going to actually keep it. It’s not going to fall apart when somebody sits on it. And bonus, you are reusing something for the environment. Reduce, re-use, recycle.

Yes, and you can customize those pieces. If you don’t like the color when you are in the thrift store, customize it and make it exactly what you want for little money.

If you paint that IKEA pressboard, it might just peel and fall apart. I’m not anti-IKEA. I’ve gotten plenty of stuff at IKEA. I’m actually sitting on an IKEA deckchair right now, a deckchair from 1950’s is not nearly as comfortable.

Lindsay it’s been great to chat with you.

Thank you so much.

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thank you!