Monday, March 1, 2010

28-Day Organizing Challenge--Whole Space Makeover

Composing this post took as long as it took to organize the library. Whew! All pictures can be enlarged--there were just so many that I couldn't bear to make them bigger. References to older posts are highlighted. Original post for this challenge is located here, and questions for the challenge are answered throughout the text.

Regular readers of my blog will be quite aware that my oldest daughter Heidi is getting married in seven SHORT weeks, and the reception will be at our house. I bought a few new things for our family room in anticipation of this event. These new pieces of furniture eliminated most of the storage that was in the room--mainly bookshelves, which held books (obviously!), games, and tchotchkes (displayed and stored). All of this stuff ended up deposited in my library. See?
Regular readers of my blog will also know that I have seven children, covering every age and demographic--from messy, time-consuming infant Eve to messy, trying-to-potty-train toddler Hyrum to messy, learning-to-read kindergartner Micah to messy, loves-to-craft daughter Lily to messy, computer-loving Ben to messy, busy-preparing-for-college Tucker. All of this leaves me little time to organize but much motivation to be organized.
When we built our house three years ago, I tried to evaluate how our family lived to efficiently design our new space. While everyone has to eat, my family loves to read. So it was a no-brainer to convert the floor plan's little-used formal dining room into a library that we would wear out with use. I know that's unusual, but I truly believe that we shouldn't be slaves to what is expected of our spaces.
I originally organized the library mostly aesthetically--kid books in one area, then everything else by how it looked best. This quickly devolved into a mess--when little kids select books it's a messy process. When big kids select a book, they often disappear. When adults select a book, it's hard to decide what is worthy of the few short minutes available, and no one wanted to take the time to find what they were looking for.

Eventually, it came to look like this:A few broken drawer fronts, books strewn everywhere.
Oh, and like this:
And this:
My intentions were good. See?
Brad was out of town for the first weekend in February, so I used the time to gut and redo.
First, I found homes for all the displaced games from the family room:
This little desk had been empty since we moved into the house, so now it finally has a purpose, along with the cupboard to the left and cupboards under both of the small window seats.

Then, I sorted the kids' books:
picture books were divided into hardback, soft cover and board books (these were all placed behind low cupboard doors since they are difficult to contain and often used)
beginning readers for Micah to access quickly
easy readers like Junie B and Magic Treehouse
books of interest for Lily--Judy Moody and Diary of a Wimpy Kid
boy books like Hatchet and Elmer and the Dragon
even one whole shelf for Newberry winners like The Giver and Island of the Blue Dolphins

They all found homes here, on either side of the big window seat:
(Question #4) The easy readers are now in baskets, so Micah can pull down the whole basket, look for an appealing title, then replace the basket on the shelf. One month later and they are all still in the baskets, even though they've been used and used and used. Categorized in ways that we use them, it's easy to locate and replace. And the drawers? Fixed and refilled with blank paper, empty notebooks and blank notecards, ready for drawing or homework.

Now for the biggest book explosion since we moved here: teen boys and their science fiction. First, I had to scrounge through every nook of their bedroom to find missing tomes. Not quick and not easy. Then I sorted them by author and series: Pendragon, Leven Thumps, C. S. Lewis, J. K. Rowling, Lemony Snickett. What had taken up one of the small sections now used by the kids' books, now takes up three sections of shelf:These two andthe section on the right. The section on the left houses LDS fiction, like The Work and the Glory and series by Chris Stewart and Wendie Edwards. (Question #4) Baskets are my favorite way to organize stuff that can be seen all the time, so the basket on the bottom shelf holds Church magazines, easy to take down, find one you haven't read in a while, then replace on the shelf.

Wanna see what's behind doors 1 and 2? Of course you do!
On the right are kid puzzles and games, and on the left is my beloved Spotbot, focus of at least three posts of its own. Love that thing! (and an empty shelf--see it?)

Since there is no longer room for Roxie's bed in the family room, I moved it in here, and she approves!

The rest of the books presented the biggest challenge (Question #1) and the most thought:
Brad graduated in Political Science with minors in English and Japanese, then going on to law school. I graduated in Art History with a minor in Humanities. Our books reflect these interests, but how could I effectively organize them so that we could find what we were looking for?
I decided to organize them in categories:
National Geographic (most people don't have room to keep this many old magazines, but I do, and my boys read them often, so they stay)
photo albums
political science and law
Here's the finished product:

(Question #4) Basket on the bottom right holds reference books the kids use all the time and can't ever seem to place back on a shelf--dictionary, thesaurus, Spanish reference. Now they are accessible and much neater, too.
Cupboards underneath house table linens, candles, vases, and small table setting-accessories (and a tub of computer cords and two old computer towers I can't get Brad to ditch. But . . . oh, well. I found homes for them!)

My philosophy on organizing is this: If it isn't easy to maintain, you won't. And if it isn't pleasant to look at, why do it?

I incorporated a lot of personal items and tchotchkes for two reasons: #1--I like them and I have room for them, so yes! #2--When we get more books, things can be easily shuffled and removed to accommodate a few more. And that's what happened. While sorting through all these books, I found voids in our collections--books that had been lost or loaned to someone and then lost (my favorite book of all-time, The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova came up missing!). What other choice did I have but to replace them? The best place to buy books is For .75-1.50(plus shipping), I was able to replace missing volumes in Harry Potter, Lemony Snickett and C. S. Lewis, among others. Nothing else was purchased in the shuffle. I used baskets I already had, tchotchkes from nooks and crannies, and a little creative thinking.

Not much was purged (question #3)--a few multiple copies I found in the mess, two bags of trash, and a few decorative items that I decided were not worth keeping (in the IKEA bags):

Trash to the dumpster, and the other stuff had a showing at my "All-a-Dollar" Garage Sale, featured here.

Final result:

(Question #2) My big desk is being used for homework again.
My kids can find and replace their own books, even the little boys.
I am happy with the aesthetic and the functionality. Even a month later the room looks the same. Since this room is a high-use space, it does get messy from use--a fourth-grade report on quails, kindergarten penmanship practice, Algebra graph paper, college applications, even an occasional burp cloth. But it is a snap to restructure and clean.
(Question #5)Finding a solution to fit every age demographic was difficult, to say the least. Very few families have this challenge. But it was worth it. And I did it! Don't you think I should win the Organizing Junkie prize?

The only problem: Where to hide the scissors. Hyrum used them on the curtains.


  1. WOW! You are amazing! It looks great!

  2. I am so impressed! I love the project, and the results. It is all very inspiring :) Scissors? UP HIGH! It might work to use as small as possible patches of wonder-under on the back side of the curtains to at least make the cuts less visible. I do think you should win...good luck!

  3. This looks GREAT, Jen. I envy you having a book room. If I ever get the chance (which I may not because we might just retire in this home), but if I ever do move...I am having a book room, too!


  4. It looks great! But I just ADORE how the dog stuck his head right in the middle of your photo. Hilarious!

  5. There is nothing I enjoy more than seeing someone elses hard work. It makes me feel so industrious just looking at it. Good job!

  6. I love it. Everything about the post, the stories the pictures...especially the last. Scissors...a little kids best friend! :)

  7. Hey Jen,

    So happy to find your blog. Tell Heidi congrats from Katie and Rachael Holt. I thought about this contest all month and here I sit in my office that looks like a hurricane hit. Oh well, there's always this month. Good luck on the wedding and the room looks fantastic!

  8. Wow! Great job! I am glad you have so much space to do what you want with your library. Can't wait to see it in person.

  9. I love it and I am unbelievably jealous! Great job.

  10. Wow Jen you have been busy! And you do love your books!! I knew I liked you...not just for your big beautiful family..but for your love of books. I have not read the Historian and it's now on my reading list. I love your dining room/ have a gorgeous home!

  11. WOW! Organized and beautiful! (And I had to laugh at your comment in your first challenge post about the Real Simple Solutions zine among all the clutter. ;) Great work!

  12. I am simply drooling over the bookshelves..... built in and everything!! ah, when can I move in?

  13. I'm so jealous - an actual reading room - how wonderful would that be! And what's even better is the color of paint on the walls. I love it.

  14. Looks fantastic! I, too, am jealous of a whole room devoted to books. Maybe in another life... :)

  15. Love it. You've done a great job! I wish I had a library and you could come and organize it. I do have an office, and it's a mess. Want to come visit?

  16. Oh wow...what a great space. I keep saying that someday I'm going to own a house that has a room dedicated to being a library.