9 Tools to Organize Your Life (and Save Your Sanity)

Tools to OrganizeIt used to seem like I was on a never ending quest to “get organized.”  I constantly had piles of paperwork waiting to be filed or sorted, laundry to be folded, and generally a cluttered feeling.  Over the years I’ve reached the place I feel organized –  all while homeschooling, doing volunteer work, shuttling kids to practice and maintaining a blog.  It’s really been a combination of finding the right tools and developing good habits.  Today I’m sharing the real life tools and technologies that help me stay organized.  All links are informational, not for affiliate purposes.  

Eliminating the Paper Piles

Doxie Scanner – We’ve had a multi-function printer with scanner for years now.  I rarely used it because it was so inconvenient.  About a year ago we purchased a little Doxie scanner.  It is really small and easily fits in a drawer.   This is huge for me.  I hate filing and all that paper work takes up a lot of space.  Now I don’t have to think so hard about what to save and what to toss.  If in doubt, scan it and toss it.  If I don’t want to take the time to scan it, it almost certainly isn’t worth saving.

Evernote – After I’ve scanned documents I upload them to Evernote.  I pay the yearly fee to get the scannable pdf feature.  Any time I need to search for a document, I just type in key words and the file appears even if I didn’t use those key words in the title or tag.   I can create different folders for the documents and set reminders for myself.  I have folders for various bills, school work, school records, and even recipes.  All of it is readily available when I need it, no more paperwork piles cluttering the house.

Managing the Daily Household 

iCalendar or Google Calendar – I switched over to the Mac platform last year and I love how seamlessly it is working for our family.  We have a family calendar that everyone can share.  If I add an appointment that other family members need on their calendar, I just give it the right color code. “Viola!” it is on all our calendars across most of our devices.  Google calendars can also be shared in a similar fashion.

Dry Erase Board / Photo App –  When I run out of something I add it to the shopping list on the dry erase board that hangs in the kitchen.  When I leave the house to go shopping, I snap a picture of the list with my phone.  Admittedly it is a pretty low tech solution BUT it really saves time.  I find it easier than using a shopping app and better than rewriting a paper list.  I don’t end up with handwritten lists cluttering my purse and when I arrive home I only remove the items I purchased from the list (sometimes there are items for multiple stores) .

Library Holds / Library Reminders –  I love our library.  I can log into my account and check the entire regional system for any book I want.  If they have it, I can place a hold and pick up when ready.  Not only does this feature save time, but I also save money by purchasing fewer books and avoid having too many books cluttering my house.  Some books are even available electronically.  Our library also sends out e-mail reminders when books are due.  I can simply log in and renew online thereby avoiding late fees.

Online Banking – Online banking is a BIG time saver.  If the amount is the same every month,  just set up a recurring bill payment and you don’t have to think about it until the amount changes.  It is quick to schedule other bills and you don’t have to pay for checks or postage.

Label Maker – Another low tech solution.  A label maker is fabulous for keeping track of all the cords and chargers that come into our house.  I also use the label maker in the pantry.  It really helps me be consistent about where I place things and keeps the shelves looking tidy.

Baskets / Storage Containers – I use baskets and storage containers inside cabinets, drawers, and closets to group collections of similar items.  For example, I use a basket to corral the vitamins – it keeps them all easily accessible and tidy and prevents anything from getting pushed to the back of the cabinet and lost.  Another basket holds reusable water bottles – when it is too full we get rid of some.  Using stackable containers to hold bags of chocolate chips, coconut, powdered sugar, and brown sugar maximizes the available storage space and increases accessibility.

Managing a Team or Group

Shutterfly – I bet when you think shutterfly.com you think photos, but the “Share Sites” you can create FOR FREE are organizational powerhouses.  If you are managing a group or team these private share sites are fantastic.   I’m currently using these for FIRST LEGO League  (FLL) teams.  We need to keep a scrapbook, send emails, communicate the practice schedule, and organize research.    Over the years I’ve used these share sites to share photos with various teams and used the calendar portion to send out reminders about practices and games.  Members can update their availability for events on the site, which really helps the team manager.  Just this week I discovered some truly powerful features I will be utilizing for our FLL teams:

  • Members can subscribe to the group calendar.  Instead of typing everything into your own personal calendar, you can subscribe to the group calendar.  Like magic the practices and events go straight into your calendar.  For a team of 5 kids with an average of 2 people per child following the schedule that saves calendar entry for 9 people.  Yes please!
  • Journal Entries – I had given no thought to using journal entries.  Turns out this can be a powerful tool for organizing team research.  If one kid on the team reads an interesting article, they can create a journal entry with a brief description or question posed to the team and a link to the article.  You can even scan in attachments or link to videos.  You can make a journal entry noting books and videos that aren’t on-line to keep as a history of team reference materials.
  • Group emails – The site allows members to quickly do a group email for up to 100 members.  The list includes all members currently on the site.  No re-working across different systems.

Beyond the way I’ve been using the application, I think these sites could be helpful for organizing a volunteer schedule or even for helping your kids manage an independent research project.

Bonus 

Grocery Service / Curbside Pickup– This is the only suggestion I don’t currently use.  I do however think it could be tremendously helpful – if conditions are right.  Create your list and for $5 – $10 pick up your groceries on the way home.  No impulse purchases, no standing in line, no cruising the store trying to remember what else you might need.  I know some Giant Eagle stores and some HyVee stores are offering the service and I’m sure others are as well.

I was trying to pick a few favorites out of the list as the tools that were the most helpful, but I really feel like each one helps me create a more organized and peaceful house.

What about you?  What are your favorite organizing tools?

Hip Homeschool Moms  Finishing-Strong-Link-Up-Button-250-x-250

STEM learning with FIRST

STEM Learning:  Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math  – It’s easy to make sure we teach the science and math.  What about Technology and Engineering?   How do we teach those?

Senior Solutions Tables

Today I thought I would share a program that helps us incorporate STEM learning in our homeschool.

I have 8 and 10-year-old boys who are very into everything science and LEGO.  A little over a year ago the older requested a Mindstorm LEGO Robot.  Cool!  I thought he would make a few configurations and learn to make it do a few things.

Then a friend of mine told me about FIRST LEGO League (FLL) !  She even helped us find a team!  It’s like a sports team only more FUN!  Most of the parents don’t know much about what’s going on so they just do their best to cheer and be supportive.  The atmosphere of the events is very fun for the kids.

logo

FIRST stands for For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology.  They have programs for kids from K – 12 so no matter what age your kids are you can find a program designed for them.

We had such a positive experience last year that I’m coaching a Jr.FLL team for my younger son this year.

Some of our favorite things about our FIRST LEGO League experience:

1. The TEAM – Our son had a great time being on the team with a friend and becoming friends with kids who were older than him.  It was great to have a team with so many similar interests.

2. The core values of FIRST reinforce many of the values we are teaching our kids.   The kids are judged not only on their robots, research and projects but on how well they display the core values.

3. Researching and thinking in innovative ways.  Research is such a great life skill and the kids learn it in such a fun way.  They aren’t just researching to write a paper like everyone else, they are working as a team to find a solution.  What are existing solutions?  What can we do better?

4.  The competitions are crazy fun and recognize achievement in multiple areas. The kids might dress up like knights or cows, wear weird hats, or hand out trinkets.  The judges and referees dress up.  Some teams had a team song, dance, or handshake. There isn’t just one team taking home an award.  At the FLL age approximately 1/3 of teams went home with an award.  Awards were given for how well the robot performed, quality programming, teamwork, professionalism, research, and innovative solutions.

5. Programming is challenging and fun.  It is so great to get all the bugs worked out and have your robot perform as expected.  The way the robot rounds are set up with a 2 1/2 minute time limit achieving a “perfect” score is impossible.  Teams must decide which points they will attempt and which ones are most repeatable.

Check out the overview of FLL offered at this link:

logo

Remember you don’t have to know how to program to start a team!

I received no compensation for this post.  I’m simply a mom / coach who is enthusiastic about the opportunities the FIRST competitions give kids.

I’m ever so pleased to be sharing this post over at

showcase300_thumb

Thank to Kris for providing the Homeschool Showcasewhere she spotlights all the encouraging, inspiring and just plain fun ways that homeschooling families live and learn together.