Staying home with kids and getting organized in the time of COVID-19 — tips from a professional organizer
Having enjoyed With The New’s home organizing services ourselves, we wanted to chat with the founder, Katherine Foster, about ways young families can organize and maintain their spaces.
2020 has been a hard year in so many ways and a lot of families with small kids are looking for ways to better manage their space. As a professional organizer, what would you say to families that are desperately trying to make this all work?
First, give yourself a big hug. You’ve made it another day. If you’re like most families, this year has become a daily struggle just to get by. Navigating getting groceries, social distancing when you’re out walking the dog, monitoring your child’s virtual learning programs, all while managing your own life and career. Did your kid remember to put a shirt on before they Zoomed into their virtual classroom? (My nephew did not).
Most of our homes weren’t meant to be used as this bizarre new combination of school/daycare/office/gym. Since we’re all home much more often these days, it’s even more important to exist in a space that feels more like a sanctuary, and less like a disorganized storage unit.
To get there, it often helps to regain some semblance of control and mental clarity, even in the smallest of places. In this pandemic, we’re all left realizing how little control we have, so sometimes it helps to start with something quick and manageable. Organizing at its most basic, granular level is about putting things away in categories and clearing out all the excess. And from there, streamlining your space into a system to better work for you, with all the special considerations you and your family might need.
Day by day, as we’re getting a better idea of what our kids’ days will look like (as well as our own), create a plan for where each member of your family needs to spend their time in your home and what materials they will need to work with. Since most apartments need to be highly transitional spaces, create a storage system for each daily activity so that when it is time to move into the next part of the day, each activity is fully contained and can be put away.
Getting organized is also about caring about your future self. I like knowing where all my things are, and not needing to search high and low for where I left my face mask (I know it’s on the tray in my entryway). When I look around my apartment, I see cleared counters and floors, and my favorite teacup waiting for a fresh pour. My husband doesn’t ask me where I put his baseball hat, because he knows it will always live on the same hook in our coat closet.
The thing about getting organized, is that it tends to expand outwards. Suddenly you have the space, clarity of thought, and freedom to enjoy the things that are important to you, free of visual clutter and distractions.
What are some tips and tricks that families could use to bring even a little bit of sanity into their lives?
Simplify, simplify, simplify. For most of my clients, disorganization usually comes from having too much excess. One benefit from being home more often is that you see what is and isn’t working for you in your space. In order to have a highly functional home, consider that maybe it’s time to let go of what is weighing you down and pave the way for a new system for what you truly need and cherish.
Start with ONE item in a category and ask yourself, do I like/need this item? Does it serve a purpose? Does it make me/my family happy? Is it taking away from my sanity (e.g. loud toys)?
- If it is not helping you, it is hurting you. If you don’t enjoy using it, simply let it go.
- If it is helping you, celebrate it and find it a home. If it is beautiful and you enjoy looking at it, place it in a prominent place.
Every time you pick up and use an item, you eventually put it down. When you put it down, put it in a designated home instead of needing to pick it up twice to decide where to put it. In the same way that your family will always put spoons, forks and knives away in the same kitchen drawer, the rest of your belongings should also have a designated home that your family all knows and understands.
Something else to consider is to corral your family and get them in on the fun! Believe it or not, kids like to organize too. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen the lightbulb come on in kids’ minds as they organize with me. They just get it when I explain where each category lives and why. How all their toy cars like to live together in their designated bin so they can drive around together at night. They like hanging their clothes up in color order because it’s like a new game that’s easy to understand.
I’ve lived in NYC for 15 years now and living in the city has a specific charm that I think only true city dwellers can attest to. If you’re one of the lucky families to live at Kin, you’ve seen first-hand the community that NYC can create. Being organized and living with less excess lets us live more freely and enables us to get out and enjoy the city even more.
How did you get into the world of professional organizing?
I was a fashion designer in my previous career, working for a variety of brands, designing everything from luxury sweaters and celebrity lines to children’s clothes you may have bought online or at Nordstrom, Target and Walmart. I’ve always loved making things beautiful, functional and unique, and organizing is something I had always done in order to clear my mind and do my best work.
I started organizing professionally really just as an accidental side hustle, but I came to realize how big of a need there is for it, and that having an eye for design means that you can help people transform their spaces into something not only usable but also stylish and aesthetically pleasing. It helped that I was changing industries right around the time that Marie Kondo’s book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up became really popular and I realized the potential for morphing this kind of hobby into a business. Now with The Home Edit making new waves, I think more and more people are realizing they can simplify and focus on the important things in their life by getting organized.
Do I need to hire a professional organizer?
Everyone can use a little help organizing. Even if you’re a pretty organized person, there are always solutions that can be implemented to streamline any system you might have. Many of my clients have trouble going through their own things because they have a personal attachment to them and need a fresh set of eyes as they work through the editing process. The gift of a professional organizer is also great for a parent or loved one, or that friend that you know could use some help. Many people find it helps to have an organizer come in for a seasonal refresh, to update a vacation or Airbnb property, or to help with life transitions, like moving, making space for a new partner, having a baby, or going through things after a death in the family.
I’m so touched by the heartfelt notes I’ve received from clients (even children) and the tears I sometimes see when we are finished working together because they find the experience liberating and very personal.
You can also find With The New on Instagram @with.the.new and online at withthenew.com.