Editor’s Note: I acknowledge that this post is way too long. I apologize profusely for my inability to break it into smaller posts. However, as a token of my sorrow, I offer you loads of pictures of the mess that my life was/is. May you take comfort in that.

I could never put “Homemaker” on my resume.

At an extended family Dirty Santa party this past Christmas, I opened up a gift that contained canning jars, a “Pickles and Jams” recipe book, and various other jelly and jam making accoutrements.

My dad started laughing.


“I’m just laughing because you’re so domesticated and all.”

I defended my level of domesticity vehemently, but to some degree, he’s right.

I can cook (maybe even quite well), but don’t very often.

I can organize my house, but choose not to make that a priority.

I CANNOT garden.

I CANNOT decorate.

And those canning jars and books are still in the gift bag piled in an extremely messy closet.

(They’ll be really useful in about nine months. When it’s time to find new Dirty Santa gifts.)

With regards to my lack of home organization, though, it bugs me. Things pile up VERY badly around here. I’m not a hoarder – I just struggle to make time to throw away. And when I get busy, decluttering is the first thing to get left behind.

(And I’ve been busy for about…nine years.)

The two areas that annoyed me the most were the kid’s (okay Noah’s) play area in the living room (I despised looking at the mountains of chaotically stacked toys every night after they went to bed),


and my office.


I know. My office is horrendous. From it, I run all the books/HR for a small business, plus I run Picture Birmingham, blog, homeschool, do all of our personal finances, and it was the home for all my shoes and crafting stuff.

IMG_5873 2

But besides that, I actually hadn’t even used my office for anything but storage since the wreck – I’d moved the work necessities to our bedroom so I could work from bed since I couldn’t sit with my legs not elevated. So really, the office had just become a dumping ground.


Although these two areas were by far not the only and possibly not the worst areas in our house (I’m looking at you, basement), they were the ones for which I desperately needed a plan.

Around the time these two areas started to annoy me the most, my dear friend Jamie posted on Facebook that she was having home organization help from a mutual internet friend, Tara. I had no idea Tara had such a magical occupation, and immediately began stalking her business. Within a week, I had her out to my house, and she literally opened every drawer, every cabinet, and every closet in my house, then took pictures of the worst of them.

(But only after I made her sign an affidavit stating that she wasn’t one of those neat freaks that assigns moral judgment to the non-neat. Because I’ve met those people. And they make me feel like Refried Roadkill.)

(Tara told me that she believed that everyone had different strengths, and just because organization and neatness weren’t mine, I had plenty of other strengths, and then she made a long list of said strengths.)

(Then I virtually kissed her.)

A week after her intimate encounter with my house, I texted Tara and said, “Um, by the way…I have a bonus question for you. You know my office? The crazy messy one with all the different stuff going on in it? Yeah. So we’re adding a person to our household and I need you to turn it into a bedroom.”

…Because one of our dearest friends, travel companion, and babysitter, Sarah, needed a place to live for a while, and we were absolutely delighted with the opportunity to add her to our family.

IMG_6640Those extra two kids are AJ and Tessa because this picture is from last summer’s beach trip. We’re not adding AJ and Tessa to our family, but if we could, my children’s lives would be complete.

A day later, Tara sent me a report, including a plan to turn my dumping ground into a bedroom.



Screen Shot 2016-03-22 at 2.24.12 PM

…With links to what she wanted me to buy. And descriptions of how to rearrange my rooms. And promises to help me do all of this.

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And her pricing was about 10% of what I thought this sort of Fairy Housemother Magic would cost.

I devoured her report, clicked through those links so many times, and began feverishly trying to accomplish some the things she had suggested before she came out to *really* help me get things done.

Step One: First pass-through cleaning out the office – trash and sell as much as possible.

This represents $200 worth of random crap I found in my office and sold on eBay. Textbooks, Diaper Genie Refills, and more.


After Day One of working by myself, my office went from this:


To this:


A lot still to go, but the progress felt good.

Step Two: Move living room furniture and PURGE KID’S TOYS.

The kid’s loved this part, because they found all sorts of lost treasures under where the couch had been.


…Such as that half-eaten Ring Pop for which they’d been looking for so long.


The decluttering of their toys took a bit longer.


Tara had been very specific about what type of organization containers she wanted me to use, and OF COURSE the only place you could buy them in town was my favorite (nightmare) – Wal-Mart.

So the children and I had spent a harrowing 45 minutes in Wal-Mart matching lids to bins and I swore that I’d find them online – higher prices who cares – from then on.

The benefit of using all of these new containers, though, is that I got all my kitchen bowls back. The kids and their father had been stealing them for various Lego projects for years.


My pile of now-emptied containers only grew, as did my pile of garbage bags.



Oh, the shelves.

These were specific shelving/storage units that Tara wanted in my living room (she recommends them for most people because they’re fantastic.) The idea is that all of our books would be in one place, and ALL children’s downstairs toys must end up in the closed cabinets at the end of each day – or they go to Mommy Jail.

(The toys, not the children.)


I decided I would be a nice wife and attempt to build the shelves during the day so that my poor husband didn’t have to come home from work to build three giant shelving units.

I began the first shelf at 9am and I sent my first SOS text to my dad at 9:02am after opening up the boxes and seeing these bags of hardware.



(That’s all for ONE of the three shelves.)

My Dad said he would stop by in a while, but in the meantime I gathered my feminine courage and set out on my own. Despite the 50,678 screws, the instruction novel specifically said no power tools. So I found a screwdriver and began sorting and attaching all the things.


I made it all the way to step five before making my one and only mistake, but made it all the way to step seven before I realized I had assembled step five backwards.

It also took me ten minutes of staring at it to figure out exactly where I’d gone wrong. And then I dropped the heaviest piece on my leg, giving me a gorgeous knot and bruise that I still possess.

The next step had this note on it, which I believe was supposed to be encouraging but at the moment was quite the opposite.

IMG_7113A DAY?! I have two more units to build!!

By the time my Dad arrived at noon, I had the basic structure assembled, and needed a big strong man to turn the whole shelving unit over so I could assemble the back, then turn it back over so I could finish the front. Which is exactly the services he offered me – that and asking me WHY I WASN’T USING AN ELECTRIC SCREWDRIVER and pointing out that I really needed him to take a few pictures of me BUILDING THINGS.


(Maybe his opinion of my domestication grew seven times that day.)

Dad left and I continued assembling.

After four hours and fifty minutes, I had completed the first unit.


My fingertips were purple and my hands were bright pink, and although pride coursed through my soul, I swore I’d never put together another shelf in my life.


I had to leave the house to go to my last(!!!) Physical Therapy appointment (visit #44, in case you’re wondering), and by the time I graduated from PT (yes, they sang the graduation song as I marched out of the clinic), I was empowered to build more shelves.

Because it’s MANIC 2016.

So I went straight home and began shelf #2.


I had a little help this time…


For approximately two turns of the screwdriver before he declared it too hard.


But because my shelving timing was apparently perfect, Chris walked in the door from work at the exact moment that I needed unit #2 flipped over.



Shelf number two only took two hours and forty-five minutes – I was thinking I should go pro at that point.

For shelf three, I told Chris my hands couldn’t take any more pain. I would be the brains – after all I knew how ALL this should go – and he could be my muscle.

So he went and got the electric screwdriver. Of course.

And I told him what to do and how.

This lasted for about half of the shelf, and lemme tell you it was fun to tell my structural-steel-drawing engineer husband how to construct something, but then it was time for the kids to get to bed and so I took back the shelves so he could read bedtime stories.

Coming in at two hours and twenty-five minutes, the third shelves were built. Tallying up to a grand total of nine hours and fifty minutes, and spanning from 9am to 10:30pm (with PT and a couple breaks built in.)



Step Four: Build Smaller Entertainment Center.

We’ve had our lovely television armoire for about fourteen years, and although we adored it, it was crowding our living room. Tara suggested a much smaller unit. After building three shelving units, this was a yawn for me. Because I’m a professional.

TV Before After

Step Five: Giant Work Day with Tara.

Tara brought a helper and our goal for the morning was to get my office completely ready for Sarah to move in. And we did just that.

This included lots of shredding and throwing crap away,


lots of donations,


Hanging pictures while standing on safe and steady furniture,


And busying children with putting books in rainbow order.



(I enjoyed adding special touch shelves, such as this one, featuring Twitter signs from my sweet friend Katherine and a special purchase from Moist,)


(And this one, featuring our favorite band and handwritten lyrics from them to our favorite song.)


By the end of the day, my office was no longer an office.

Office Before After 1Office Before After 2Office Before After 3

AND my living room was a beautiful, cozy new space.

Living Room Before After

So. Sarah has moved in a week ago (my children are gleefully happy, as are Chris and I, to add her to our family for a while), I’m LOVING the progress in my house, the kids are doing fairly well keeping their toys out of Mommy Jail, and I’m trying to not screw it all up by allowing things to stack up.

I still have about 60% of Tara’s report to put into place, and I and hope to have her out about once a month for a while to force me to get it all done.

…But I still don’t plan on making any pickles or jams.

33 thoughts on “The Fight Against Clutter.

  1. This is amazing! I am so impressed! I’ve always wondered what it is exactly that organizers do and now I understand. Kudos to you both!

  2. I am completely impressed! Great job! Bask in the glow of your accomplishments, and maybe one day you’ll want to make some pickles!

  3. “assembled step five backwards” are you left handed? My hubby and I both are and always manage to assemble something backward and have to re do it. Love the after pics. I guess I’d better call my organizing friend to help me.

  4. THIS!!!!!! This is just the most wonderful thing I’ve ever read and seen. It’s like magic. I mean, I’ve seen these types of transformations on TV shows, but I thought it was TV magic. To see such transformations in real life is amazing!!! I just wish I had seen this before we got (and mostly spent) our income tax return because I would totally be hiring your friend!

    Also, great job with what you did yourself! My office looks about the same. I’ve also assembled shelves before, and it’s not for wussies. Way to go!

  5. Does Tara do house call to my neck of the woods? I could really use some help. My biggest needs are organizing and purging toys and clothes and kitchen organization. I think my biggest issue is not enough cabinet and pantry space in the kitchen and not enough closet space. Oh, and time to actually purge and organize. Haha. I’m jealous of your organization stuff right now.

  6. Does Tara travel? Or do virtual organizing? Because I like her method of giving you a printed report. I need words on paper. Words on paper make me happy.

      1. And I like how non-judgey she sounds. We’ve had a couple of people try to help us with organization and decluttering but I’m always left feeling like I do everything wrong and all my reasons for doing things suck. I may be kind of quirky with some things but there is a method to at least some of my madness and it would be nice to feel like someone respects that.

  7. Holy cow this looks like so.much.fun. I can’t wait for tax season to be over so I can purge my house too! I’m curious why she’s so specific about the organizer bin thingys? Also, great job!

    I would be afraid for someone to come into my house…. Judgey people frustrate me…. but the transformation of your living room is amazing !
    Maybe I need to look into Tara coming to Montgomery to shake things up in my house !

  9. Wow I am super impressed by the transformation! And now I don’t feel nearly as bad about my clutter. Which I hate. I can usually go a few weeks before having a clutter meltdown and threaten to throw all the kids toys and things away. It’s mostly the paper that drives me crazy. How do I encourage their creativity and “art” and not have piles and piles of “projects” that really just look like piles of garbage all over the place?!

  10. you’ve inspired me! I’m gonna do a little late-night spring cleaning & clearing out!

    also, your progress looks great so far! I understand all too well how quick stuff starts piling up. I’ve currently got 8 bags of various recyclables living in my kitchen, and no plans to head to the recycling center for at least another week. :/

  11. Oh my goodness! That is amazing! Rachel, sometimes I feel like we are twins as I read your blog. I hate clutter and messes but just cannot seem to keep ours under control. I’ve been telling my husband for awhile we needed someone like Tara, but I never thought those kind of people actually existed! A huge problem for me is time. I work full time outside of the home so finding time to dedicate to cleaning out everything is nearly impossible. Looking forward to seeing the rest of your progress! Good luck!

    1. YES – it’s so hard when you’re busy! Tara has been great, and is so affordable. I hope I am able to finish all the projects! But I’m on Spring Break this week. :-)

  12. This looks amazing! I am slowly but surely trying to organize. It’s a long road. Our biggest hurdle is also toys, but I give away tons of them while my oldest is in school.
    Where did you get those shelves in the living room? I live them!!

  13. This is amazing!!! I love the shelving. I would like to do the same thing with walls of shelving. I love that you went with something that can be moved. Everything looks great!

  14. Gorgeous! Amazing! I’m jealous. My house still resembles your before pictures and it’s driving me crazy. I make progress then stuff likes up again. Sigh. But I was cruising my new favorite spot on Amazon home services and you can hire people to assemble furniture?!?! Something to consider if you do more.

  15. Thanks for introducing me to Tara’s Advice Forum! I posted some scary photos of my laundry room and she gave great advice. I always wonder about these types of transformations. Are you still loving the living room layout, and have you found that it works for your family? I think I’ve sort of given up on the living room during the toddler years, but re-reading this reminds me that there are strategies to make it work. :)

    1. Sorry I’m late on responding. YES I love my living room layout! I haven’t gotten anything else accomplished since this post (busy summer) so clearly I need to get Tara to come back and get me re-motivated.

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