Now that more people are spending more time at home, cleaning and keeping the space organized have taken on even more importance. But that doesn’t necessarily translate to its getting done.

What to do? Julie Morgenstern, a leading expert on organization and time management, has helped thousands of people transform their homes, businesses, and attitudes about every kind of clutter.

This author of six best-selling books and a consultant to large corporations has appeared on Oprah, The Today Show, and NPR’s Fresh Air, and joined a recent Washington Post Home Front online chat. Here is an edited excerpt.

Q: In this pandemic, we’re home all day, and people don’t pick up after themselves. I’m tired of being the only one who cares about an organized house. Any suggestions?

A: Call a family meeting. Never have this conversation reactively; plan it out and come to it calm, nonjudgmental, and in problem-solving mode. Explain that the workload has become more intense, the household has fallen into a pattern that isn’t working, and everyone needs to own the space equally. Then engage everyone in problem-solving, so you are not the nag, or the “owner,” of cleanup. But everyone should design and maintain a system to equally share the maintenance.

Julie Morgenstern, a leading expert on organization and time management, is the author of six best-selling books and a consultant to large corporations.
Bessie Adler
Julie Morgenstern, a leading expert on organization and time management, is the author of six best-selling books and a consultant to large corporations.

Q: My playroom is a disaster. I can’t even walk in the door, and I can’t find any toys when I look for them. I’m not sure how it got this way. How can I get the kids involved in organizing, and how do I start?

A: Use a kindergarten classroom as a model of how to organize the space. Divide the room into activity zones like reading, floor play, dress-up, crafts, etc. Store everything at its point of use in well-labeled containers that use pictures and words to make it clear what goes where. If you have too many items in each category, consider displaying only about half of them at any given time. You can rotate them out quarterly.

Q: It drives me nuts when people leave dishes in the sink. How do I get them to stop?

A: People usually do it absentmindedly. If you have automatically been cleaning the dishes people leave, they have no idea it bothers you. Let them know that when they leave dishes in the sink, they are putting something on someone else’s to-do list.

Q: I have to remodel my kitchen, but I’m still in the designing stage. What do you suggest I think about when designing for organizing a kitchen, beyond a work triangle?

A: A kitchen should be designed around how you function, not just the aesthetics. Define the activities that take place in the kitchen, and design the space into self-contained activity zones that store everything you need and use for each activity. For example, create a daily dishes zone for dishes, glasses, mugs, cleaning supplies and the dishwasher, all within arm’s reach of the sink; a food prep zone (the longest counter between the sink and fridge or stove and fridge), with mixing bowls, measuring cups and spoons, knives, small prep utensils and appliances stored in the cabinets above and below; and a cooking zone for pots, pans, lids, potholders, oils and more. Define how you operate now and what you use. Use that to guide what you need in the space.

Design your kitchen around how you function, not just the aesthetics. Define the activities that take place in the kitchen, and design the space into self-contained activity zones that store everything you need and use for each activity.
ED HILLE / Staff Photographer
Design your kitchen around how you function, not just the aesthetics. Define the activities that take place in the kitchen, and design the space into self-contained activity zones that store everything you need and use for each activity.

Q: We’re always home with two full-time jobs, a dog, a toddler, and an old house that always needs repairs. We can’t stay on top of the clutter, let alone the deeper cleaning, but we’re both organized people, and it’s driving us crazy. Any tips and tricks for managing our cleaning and organizing in a doable way with limited time?

A: Think about bite-size organizing and convenience. Make a list of organizing and repair projects you can do in one hour or less, such as organizing the refrigerator, pantry or bathroom, creating a shopping list, calling the plumber, etc. Prioritize them in terms of what would give you the greatest sense of relief, control and time. Write it down, and tackle each task one at a time. Create cleaning stations on each floor of the house in the rooms that get the most use; include a broom, dusting cloth and mop, so you can easily clean as you go.

Q: How should we organize our food during the pandemic? Especially when you’re buying larger quantities and have smaller homes and apartments.

A: Clean out a closet and turn it into a pantry, or buy a narrow, inexpensive pantry cabinet and create a supply area. Wayfair has some good options.