Humming Home Habits: Assemble

Because I’m working on the Simplified Organization eCourse and getting ready to start school (August 4th!), I have organization on my mind.

And, generally, when something is on my mind, I write about it.

So, I thought I’d follow up the series on improving chore routines with a short little series on the basic habits that help keep a home running smoothly. They are simple little things that make a huge impact. Even though they’re simple, I still sometimes try to cut corners and get away with leaving them undone, but I really should know better by now. I definitely know enough to write about it well, but I need to recommit again and again to living it out well, too.

So join me as I talk about the home management habits that make all the difference while homeschooling.


Habit 1: Assemble

The habit to begin with is the assemble step. In Getting Things Done, David Allen calls this “collecting.”

But I wanted all a words. I ♥ alliteration.


In this step, we gather everything that needs to be gathered. What needs to be gathered? Everything loose: loose change, loose thoughts, loose toys, loose legos, loose screws, loose schedules – whatever is rattling around homeless, disconnected, and unresolved. In GTD-speak, these are “open loops,” and they make us feel scattered, ineffective, and stressed.

So, we need to close them.

And that begins by first assembling them.

This is a great first step because it’s a small step with low commitment. You don’t have to do anything or decide anything. All you have to do is gather up all the things rattling around the edges of your home and mind into one place. Make them into a big heap (or pages of scribbled notes), and that’s it for now. In the next section I’ll give you some triggers that will help you figure out what loose ends you might have buried below consciousness, causing low-level stress that might actually be simple to solve.

Set Up Your Containers

To assemble, you have to have something you’re gathering everything up into. I suggest 3 sorts of containers to hold the multitudinous stuff you will collect:

  1. a cheap spiral notebook for loose thoughts
  2. a large box for loose things
  3. a file folder for loose paper

Assembly is a big project if it’s the first time you’ve done it. Allow several days and maybe even several weeks to just let things rise to the surface and rise to your attention as you look around. So often it’s like peeling layers: you gather up one only to reveal another you hadn’t noticed before. So give it time and try to be thorough.

Assembly is also an ongoing habit. It also goes by ubiquitous capture (ubiquitous is fun to say)

Assemble Things

Assemble the physical things around your home that are homeless or need to be dealt with. Just shove them in your big box. That’s all. If you know it’s garbage, throw it away, but don’t spend any time deliberating. If you stop to think, just toss it in the box.

Open drawers, peer into closets, move the couch (and the cushions), look at the top of your dryer, paw through the pantry, walk through the bedrooms. If you’re anything like me, each room has a place where the piles accumulate. Get rid of the piles – or, at least, make them all into one big portable pile.

Yes, call the children to deal with the unearthed toys (or have them start a box of their own).

In addition to gathering the stuff to be more effectively (and actually) dealt with later, another benefit to handling all the miscellany this way is that in short order you can visually see what your house looks like without the piles. I highly recommend, especially if you are not naturally visual, to stop and really notice what your space looks and feels like without the clutter hanging on and nagging at you. That step breeds motivation and inspiration. Once you get a glimmer of what your space could be without piles, you’ll grow more and more ruthless about weeding out the clutter that is really the physical evidence of procrastination.

When assembling as an ongoing maintenance habit instead of as a project, you’ll set your stuff you can’t decide on now into your box or a basket in the closet to process later – an inbox of sorts. Then, when someone says they lost their thingamajig or you need that missing screw, you have one place you know to look. If it’s been found and its home is unknown, it’s in its one temporary home.

Assemble Ideas & Loose Thoughts

Open up that notebook and make sure your pen still has ink or your pencil is sharpened.

If you’ve never done this before, I’d love to hear how many pages you fill when you’re done. I’ve never counted and I do wish I had, but I’m pretty sure my record was something like 7 or 8 full sheets one time. And I’ve filled 2-3 during many “loose thoughts” assembly sessions.

This is a key strategy and one I return to over and over again. If you start suffering from vague overwhelm or nagging unease, this is for you.

Begin by sitting at the table with some coffee or ice cold water, a notebook full of blank pages, and a sharp pencil or your favorite pen. Think. Write down the fragments that come to mind. Getting them onto paper will help clarify what’s on your mind and allow you to deal with it more concretely.

After you’ve gotten as much out of your head and onto paper as you can, take that notebook with you on a walk through the house. Jot down any thoughts triggered as you look around: “The bathroom door squeaks. I should spot-clean the hall carpet. I want to hang pictures on that wall.”

Spend a couple days just filling up that sheet. It’s a brain dump. Let it all out and get it all written down.

Assemble Plans

Start another sheet of paper for each of the following categories and start writing down ideas, notes, and reminders:


What’s coming up? What do you need to do to get ready? What should be on your calendar that isn’t? What would help you make and keep a more accurate calendar?

Jot down notes to yourself that occur as you look through your calendar.


What do you want to accomplish? What path do you want to travel? What attitudes do you need to change? What habits do you need to break and build? What areas do you want to grow in?

Write down whatever comes to mind! You aren’t committing at this phase, just emptying your head so you can deal with it later.


What needs to happen in your house and life weekly? What chores need to be done? What schoolwork? What errands? What chunks do you need to fit into your week?

Just generate a list and add to it as you live out a week, paying attention to what’s there and what should be there.


What needs to make up every day? Teeth-brushing items. Small daily habits that add up quickly and that are easy to forget about need to make it to your list, too. What would help you start your days strong?

Make sure to write down even what you already do well. This isn’t a pity party list or self-criticism. Remember to give yourself credit for what does get done.

Assemble Records

Plans are about the future, but what about the past? This is the area I need to grow most. For the most part, I just toss all my lists and all my plans after they’re done or no longer relevant. I would like to do better about keeping summaries of how things go so that the next time around I can improve. Using a digital calendar like Google Calendar or scanning into Evernote my daily to-do cards would be a great space-saving and searchable way to do this.

Assemble as a Habit

This sort of extensive brain dump is a preliminary step while beginning an organization effort or when you find you feel scattered and discombobulated.

In normal day-to-day operations, you’ll still assemble, but it will be in small pieces:

  • Put loose things into your inbox by default rather than any open counterspace (and train other family members to do the same).
  • Write things down right away as they occur to you; always keep a notebook or device handy for this.
  • Input appointments and commitments into your calendar right away; don’t try to remember them.
  • Every morning or evening, spend a minute or two doing a mini brain-dump.
You’ll be amazed at how much this simple practice helps you feel lighter and more in charge of the influx of information, tasks, and responsibilities.


11 Responses

  1. Grace

    Wonderful post! I am so overwhelmed these days that I often just start getting blue and teary eyed at odd moments. Question: After the brain dump then what do I do with all that information? Is that part of the calendars, goal, week, day plan that you describe underneath? I have brain dumped a number of time, but shortly afterwards feel overwhelmed again. Looking forward to your answer and reading David Allen’s book.

    • Mystie Winckler

      The next post on Monday will be about what to do after the brain dump. :) I have definitely been in that place multiple times before! I hope this series will help.

  2. SarahD

    Wow, peeling back all the layers of things weighing on my mind sounds really frightening. There’s just too much in there floating around.

    For instance, occasionally, I’ll have a conversation with my husband, relating to him my feelings of being overwhelmed or trying to make a decision while weighing all the options and thinking of all the pros and cons, emotions that might be entering into the thought process, and he’ll say, “Wow, is this how you always think? No wonder you’re overwhelmed,” not in a judgemental way, but in a lightbulb, whoah, kind of way. He doesn’t even know the half of it. :-)

    I’m reading GTD right now–just got into the first chapter or so where he is making his case for why we feel anxious and out of control and beginning to talk about the basic things we need to do to reduce these feelings.

    I know this needs to be done, but it’s a bit SCARY. I’ll have to stay tuned. I’m sure glad we have about 4 weeks left until we start school.

    • Mystie Winckler

      Take it slow! It is scary, because it’s admitting what’s going on in our heads, and sometimes we don’t actually want to know! If writing it out seems like too much, you can try recording voice memos to yourself either with voicemails or an app.

      Get what you can onto paper, but give yourself a break if you start feeling panicky as it comes out. That’s understandable!

  3. kellyinpa

    Great post, Mystie! I have so much going on in my head right now; school plans, vacation in 2 weeks, fall schedules which will start up immediately upon our return from vacation; lessons for church and co-op need done, etc. I feel like I cannot focus and sometimes find myself staring into space because I just don’t know what I should be working on next. Looking forward to your thoughts in this series.

  4. Tracy

    Oh this is so where I am at, too! Love your suggestions. Honestly, after many years of working on the “perfect” home management notebook or planner or whatnot, I think I have settled on a cheap spiral notebook (like you mention). I find I can make it do whatever- I can sketch out worksheet designs or commonplace blogs or write phone numbers and to-do lists…but it’s cheap and I don’t worry about it being perfect or super pretty- it’s disposable. I have a “planner” where I can transfer important info into- and I need to invest in a good book for commonplacing…but I haven’t decided if I like that better or evernote…that piece of my life is still pretty scattered to be honest. BUT! I am getting closer to conquering ubiquitous capture! And yes, it does make me feel less crazy. It’s amazing to me how much can be going on in a woman’s head! It’s interesting, too, because while I have so much rumbling around in there- there ARE times when I want to specifically contemplate things. But it is nice to get the riff-raff out so that there is room for the internal debate between spelling lists and studied dictation. Thanks for writing!

  5. Gina

    Great ideas!! I need to do this, in a major way. Maybe today, while the kids are watching a movie…

  6. Cassie Williams

    Great post! I thought I was good at being organized but I feel to overwhelmed at times and not sure what to do next. Your post gave me some ideas to try! Looking forward to the next installment!

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