I am delighted to welcome a guest, Sandra Felton, to the “Welcome Home” column this issue — and just in time to clear the way (literally!) to a clutter-free summer at your house. Every secret this sort-it-out pro offers, as it turns out, is a pointer my mother (a creative and busy pastor’s wife) practiced “religiously” in our home, and I, in turn, have used to keep our crazy life from driving me crazy!  — Gloria

Growing up in Memphis, I always loved to go home from school or play to the order and beauty of our home. I was proud to invite friends in. My mother was a Southern lady and our house reflected it. I never questioned how she kept such a consistently neat, clean and organized house no matter where we moved or what our circumstances. As far as I could tell, she didn’t have to work at it. Order just seemed to flow naturally into our home. As a child I took it for granted that keeping a lovely home was a pretty easy job and would come naturally to me.

I had a rude awakening when I got married and tried to do it myself. Unfortunately, my experience was just the opposite of my mother’s. Disorder followed me as I moved from spot to spot around our small apartment. I was puzzled. What was happening? At first, I thought it was a temporary condition but when it wasn’t, I became frustrated. Then angry. Then discouraged. Clutter amassed. Finally I woke up to the fact that, “If it’s to be, it’s up to me.” Determined to make a change, I set out to find the secrets of the success that seemed to come so easily to her.

By asking other successful housekeepers, monitoring my own behavior, and searching out tips and secrets of professional organizers, I discovered what made order flow for me. I found it all boils down to a handful of consistently applied basics. I started sharing those with others looking for housekeeping help in my organization, Messies Anonymous (messies.com).

First I found I had to bring the house into a more sensibly organized condition. This consisted mainly of getting rid of excess, grouping like things together and storing them close to where they were going to be used.

Next, I noticed a habit that was the backbone of maintaining order for my mother and all of my organized friends. It all boiled down to what I called the “Stow as You Go” habit which simply meant to put things back where they belong as quickly as you can. A similar maxim is “Put on speed twixt the need and the deed.” Toilet paper on the roll right away, groceries up as soon as brought in, and coat hung up immediately, tools returned after use. Things like that. Simple but powerful. One of the chief characteristics of naturally neat folks, like my mother, is that they act more quickly than the less organized crowd.

And finally, I discovered four spark plugs that kept my house running smoothly. As long as I kept on top of these activities, the rest seemed to follow:
Focus on the bed. The bed is the largest flat surface in the whole house. If it is neat it casts a good influence over the rest of the house. And, because making it up requires attention at the very beginning of the day, it sets a good pace for the activities of the rest of the day. I started making my bed at the beginning of every day. It got to be such a habit that I made it up automatically. I remember one morning I was startled to come out of the bathroom and see the bed already made— apparently on autopilot.

Clear the dining room table. The dining room table is the largest flat surface in the public area of the house. Its unobstructed plane exudes an aura of neatness. A beautiful centerpiece brightens every area from which it is seen. No more using the table as storage for excess papers and packages.

Keep the countertop and kitchen sink empty. The only way to do this is to keep the dishwasher unloaded and ready for receiving dirty dishes as they are used. If you don’t have a dishwasher, wash, dry, and put away using the “Stow as You Go” pattern. Nothing makes a woman prouder than looking into a pristine kitchen and that pride makes you want to keep it that way.

Create an inspiration point. Find a spot in which you can create meaningful beauty. You love it. Your heart leaps up when you see it. You won’t let it be violated by clutter. In short, you guard it like a bulldog because its existence is your statement that you can control the order in your house. The lovely house of a friend of mine got its start when she turned her coffee table into a beautiful, uncluttered inspiration point and, like a pebble in a pond, worked out from there. “If I can do it there,” she thought, “why can’t I do it everywhere?” And eventually she did.

Mother is gone now, but she left behind the legacy of the idea that there are simple ways to create and maintain the kind of house that can support and motivate you and your family to live the gracious life God has made available to all those who learn these simple secrets — and are willing to apply them one by one.


Sandra Felton, “The Organizer Lady,” is a pioneer in the field of organizing. She is the founder and president of Messies Anonymous and co-author of 5 Days to a Clutter-Free House (Revell).