We are doing something new starting this season and that is kicking things off with a FAQ episode.
Joining me to do this is Virginia Lee Rogers. Virginia Lee and I have known each other online for years and she is now helping me with customer support so if you send an email to Simplified Organization or Simply Convivial you might just get a reply back from Virginia Lee and I want you to get to know her as well because she is a great resource. She is the homeschooling mom of five children and also an ENTJ. So, we have a very similar approach which will be fun to talk about.
Mystie: And so, Virginia Lee, you want to tell us a little bit more about you and where people can find you online?
Virginia Lee: Yes, I’d love to. I live in Colorado and I’ve been married for 17 years. We have five kids and we are a Charlotte Mason homeschooling family. And just sort of all different personalities in our crew but I guess probably the best way to describe us is just joyfully chaotic, sort of organized chaos but lots of joy. It’s not quiet at our house. And online, I don’t keep a blog, but I am on Instagram quite a bit. You can find me on — I run an Instagram bookshop called “The Jolly Reader” sort of a play on “The Jolly Rogers” since that’s our family’s name. And then I am also one of the nine curators for Charlotte Mason in Real Life. That’s on Instagram at CMIRL, we share posts from the community that show how different families are implementing Charlotte Mason’s philosophies but in a practical, day to day life. It’s a really joyful community filled with a lot of encouragement but also just really showing how you can take Charlotte Mason’s philosophy and live it out practically day by day.
Mystie: That’s fun. So this season, season 8 of the Simply Convivial podcast is going to be about organizing homeschool stuff. So I thought we’d just have a brief conversation about how stuff gets organized in our homes. I think it’s easy when you say “organized” to start thinking of the magazines or the Pinterest where organized means everything looks really pretty and looking pretty is nice especially if you’re a personality who’s good at that but I’m not. Really, being organized is about having a home for things and knowing where things go. So everything has a place so that then you can put it away because it has a place. So we’re going to talk about some of the ways that we give stuff homes in our homeschools. Virginia Lee, what kind of homes do you have in your homeschool?
Virginia Lee: Well, I guess one of my biggest things is that I’m not a big stuff person so if I have the stuff in my house it has to have a home and if I can’t find a home for it, it probably means I don’t need it. So I guess that’s one of the biggest ways I look at stuff. In fact my kids give me a hard time, “Don’t throw this away, we’re going to put this here so mom can’t throw it away!” But the other big thing of what I think of when I’m going to organize stuff is I need it to be practical. I’m not very good, like you said, I’m not one of those personalities where everything is pretty and maybe always pleasing to the eye but with the way our crew works is that it needs to be practical, it needs to be sturdy, and it needs to be in places where we can actually use it.
Mystie: Right. I think that’s key. Because we have a basement so I could reserve a shelf in the basement and put things away on the shelf downstairs where they’d be out of the way but if they’re too much out of the way I’ll end up not actually using them.
Virginia Lee: Yes, we are the same way. We do school in all different locations in our home and so we don’t use a schoolroom, that doesn’t really work well for our crew. So, for instance, we do Morning Time in our living room and I have a bookshelf in our living room and one of the shelves in that bookshelf is reserved for all of our Morning Time books and that shelf is placed right where I sit to do Morning Time normally and then our piano is in our living room as well and the piano bench has a … you can lift the top up … and so that’s where we store all of our Morning Time binders. So that works really well for us. They’re out of the way where little hands could reach them or mess them up but they’re very accessible and it’s something that we already had that we could use, I didn’t have to go buy something else, which I always love that, rather save the money to books. And then for some of our other stuff (we live in a tri-level) so we definitely have different things on each level of our home. So we have one of our levels has those shelves from Ikea that are sort of more like cubbies.
Virginia Lee: And each kiddo has two cubbies for all of their school stuff so they’re responsible for keeping those cubbies tidy but those cubbies aren’t in the main living areas so people aren’t going to be messing with them when they shouldn’t be being accessed. And that helps, because they’re cubbies, it helps keep things very contained, you can’t add extra stuff to it because I definitely have children that hoard.
Mystie: Yeah, it’s a very definite spot. It’s very clear who is whose and who’s responsible for which one.
Virginia Lee: Yes, and I know some people like to close it off but I have found at our house that if it’s a container with a door then because I don’t always notice just visual details, if it’s a container with a door at some point I will go open it and just be in shock. So the cubby helps because when I’m walking by if it’s all spilling out on the ground I easily can see whose cubby it is and before free time can happen that day they have to come and right it.
Mystie: Yes. My two older boys have their own shelves and they’re definitely open for that reason. And then desk area- it’s right next to their desk area that they usually do their independent work on, but then we do have covered cabinets (from Ikea) but they’re like bookshelves but with doors and shorter. So it’s kind of like a buffet area so it looks like living room furniture because it’s in the space between. Our dining room and living room are really one big space and so those are there but they look like furniture but they hold our school stuff. So it’s nice because the doors can be closed and it doesn’t look like we’re paper hoarders or book hoarders.
Virginia Lee: Yes.
Mystie: Well, definitely look like book hoarders but that’s a good thing.
Virginia Lee: I was going to say books are décor!
Virginia Lee: Book shelf space is a premium in our house so I can’t put décor there. That’s why we use the piano bench because the stuff in the living area it’s books or it’s contained. The other level of the house I like it being open so that if I’m not in there constantly it doesn’t get out of control.
Mystie: Yeah, and that’s the thing about the spot that we have where stuff is contained I’m usually the one pulling things out of there so there are containers that go into there and I’ll pull out the containers and then we work from there and then the containers can go back in and be closed off.
Virginia Lee: Yes. We use Math-U-See so we have all those little math manipulatives and we also have a one year old or babies and those are just like, they love those math manipulatives. So actually, I think I got this idea from you, I finally just got a Sterilite bin to store them all in but it took me a while to find one that little kids could open but it didn’t open so easily that babies could open it so I think that’s another thing when I think about storing things, I think about, ‘OK, what ages are going to be using this? Even what specific children are going to be using this? And who do I want to keep out of it?’
Virginia Lee: So even thinking about things like that – finding the right container with the right kind of latch that everybody can open and then ours actually gets stored behind our couch – there’s a little bit of space between the wall and behind our couch and so we just put the math manipulative container back there and that way any kid can grab it when they need it but nobody can see it and the little people have idea it’s back there. So I think sometimes just thinking of a space in whatever room that you’re doing your schooling in or whatever it is you’re doing in there’s a lot of the time empty space that’s not being used but that you can easily store something to have it be out of the way but still accessible.
Mystie: Yeah, to just get creative with the spaces.
Virginia Lee: I know people who use things under their couch just because it’s easy to slide things in and out of there, to put a Sterilite container in and out of there but I’m crazy, I took all the legs off of our sofa and they sit on the ground because I got tired of cleaning under them.
Mystie: There are always books smashed under ours.
Virginia Lee: Yes. So we don’t have wood floors, we have carpet so it doesn’t look that odd. Nobody has even noticed before but it is like one of my hacks – take the legs off of your sofa and nothing can disappear.
Mystie: I love it. Another one, this is something we started doing a little over a year ago and it’s been super helpful is having a container for kids work to be turned in particularly math pages where …
Virginia Lee: Oh yes.
Mystie: … they’ve finished but the math pages just cannot be left on the table or the counter, any old place, because then they’re just laying there, no one knows their status, the math has to be checked, so just having, “If you’re done, turn it in.”
Virginia Lee: Well, and I think that’s big for interruptions as well because then you’re not working with another kid, trying to hear a narration, and you’ve got another kid coming in and saying, “Here’s my paper. Here’s my copywork,” and it sort of throws off the flow of a little person trying to narrate something. So I think having a spot to turn any type of papers in, plus it keeps little people from coloring on them…
Mystie: Oh yeah.
Virginia Lee: … the food off of them, or even with me just thinking, ‘Oh, I can’t deal with this right now’ and setting it somewhere and never seeing it again.
Virginia Lee: What do you all do for your turn-in system?
Mystie: We have one of those file holders that would sit on a desk so it has three tiers that hold paper. It’s thick enough so it’ll fit a workbook, like the Latin workbook, but it’s just the right size. Small enough that it fits on the counter without taking up very much space and since it’s tiered it holds enough but not more than enough because that helps keep me motivated to keep it cleaned out and not have it be a place that collects papers but these are papers that are in rotation so it can’t be a stuff collector.
Virginia Lee: Yeah, that’s important because once a few things get dumped there then it just becomes a dumping ground. Yes, well we have one of those Ikea three tier crates that you see all the time on Instagram now. We have the teal one and we use the top container for our turn-in stuff because ours also needed to hold written narration, notebooks, copywork notebooks…
Virginia Lee: … math pages for, I’ve got three kids that are in school right now, so it needed to hold stuff for three kiddos and we even just keeping things like nature journals. I have learned even the stuff that they really, really love doing I still need to check it to make sure that it’s been done because my idea of done and their idea of done sometimes differs.
Mystie: Very true.
Virginia Lee: So, best to check. So they know the top tier of the crate is where they turn everything in. Every once in a while I run into the problem of there’s a Bible in there also and I have to say, “I don’t need to check your Bible just your Bible journal” but we also keep in that same spot (and I got this idea from you as well) we keep a mason jar with each child’s pencil in there, extra lead, and erasers, and I also keep some dry erase markers in that spot as well.
Mystie: I think we could have a whole episode just on pencils.
Virginia Lee: My goodness gracious, yeah, those pencils just about sent me over the edge one year. I think my husband thought I was a crazy person because I was ranting and raving about pencils.
Mystie: There are pencils all over the house but never could a child find one when he needed one.
Virginia Lee: Or we’d finally find one and we’d finally sit down to start working and the lead would break and I would think, ‘Oh my gosh, now we have to find a pencil sharpener.’
Mystie: It’s that they didn’t really want to do their math or whatever and so they would just spend time sharpening their pencil.
Virginia Lee: Oh my.
Mystie: How sharp does it really need to be? Well, then it broke! “Well, that’s because you sharpened it too much!”
Virginia Lee: Yes. Yes. In our house all those pencils are actually still all over our house but that’s for whatever they’re doing in their free time. The mechanical pencils are for school only no matter what. And I am mean. If you lose your mechanical pencil you can buy yourself a new one with the money that belongs to you. I buy everyone a very nice mechanical pencil at the beginning of the school year and I will supply all the lead and erasers you need but if you lose your pencil it’s coming out of your pocket. And that has really helped with specific kids in my family. They don’t want to have to spend their money to buy school supplies.
Mystie: We have done that same policy and it has helped so much. In fact, this last week we actually added a policy which was: if you are seen by myself or anyone else using someone else’s pencil you have to pay them a rental fee.
Virginia Lee: Ooh, that’s a good idea.
Mystie: Because I had one in particular that would just not take the time to get his own pencil but just grab one. “Why are you using a pink pencil?” So you have to pay the owner 50 cents if you are seen using the pencil.
Virginia Lee: That is such a good idea because I have to tell you, one of my daughter’s, her pencil is always in the jar when it’s supposed to be, she is very motivated by not having to spend her own money to replace anything but I have another child who that is not quite as motivating for that child and so that person always uses her pencil and it sends her over the edge so that is a really good idea.
Mystie: That would be like an income source for her so she might not even get upset.
Virginia Lee: I was going to say and knowing her she’d probably fine with it although the rent might keep going up the more often it happened knowing her.
Mystie: It’s like supply and demand.
Virginia Lee: Yes. But that is such a good idea. I actually really love that. I’m going to give that some thought because we have had to have quite a few conversations about respecting other people’s things even if it’s just a pencil. But I do love those Ikea crates for the turn-in and then the other two levels of it, one is mine and that’s where I keep my clipboard and my binder and that way that just has a home because I’m horrible about leaving things on our end tables and then you can’t put a drink down or I’m a really bad piler on the end tables so that crate helps me to have a home for my school things and then one of the levels is also just for communal supplies. Maybe our more expensive, so I’m not going to buy each kiddo their own for their own supply bin, like Prisma colored pencils and stuff like that.
Virginia Lee: And so that goes on the communal area but it’s open and I can see and I can see if things are missing easily.