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Organizing Your Home: An Interview with Vicki Bentley

September 1–5, 2014   |   Vol. 120, Week 11

Are you wondering how you can homeschool, and do the dishes, and get dinner made—all in the same day? Then you’ve come to the right place. This week on Home School Heartbeat, our guest Vicki Bentley shares how you can cut through the chaos and build a balanced daily routine.

“Look around and ask yourself, ’What drives me bonkers here? And what’s causing that problem? And how can I fix it?’”—Vicki Bentley

This Week’s Offer

Is the struggle for organization hampering your homeschooling? Then check out this list of articles, books, and websites that Vicki Bentley recommends to help you conquer your clutter or chaos.

What does housecleaning have to do with phonics and multiplication tables? Well, you might be surprised to discover that order in your home can energize your homeschool! And whether you’re a “messy” or an organizational queen, Mike Smith and his guest Vicki Bentley have some tips and encouragement for you, all this week on Home School Heartbeat.

Mike Smith: This week I’m joined by Vicki Bentley, the Early Years coordinator at Home School Legal Defense Association. It’s great to have you on the program, Vicki.

Vicki Bentley: I’m excited to be here, Mike!

Mike: Vicki, your prescription for struggling homeschoolers includes a healthy dose of organizational help. Why do you consider organization a crucial part of a homeschooling mom’s strategy?

Vicki: Well, Mike, not only is Mom’s home management model an important part of life skills education for her children, but our experience is that most people who give up on homeschooling don’t quit because they can’t find the right math book or the perfect Latin curriculum. They quit because they despair of educating their children, and feeding the family, and tackling the laundry, and clearing an entry path from the front door. So they think something has to go—and so guess what that something usually is? It’s usually homeschooling.

So moms, even though household organization and getting dinner on the table the same day you homeschool may not seem like the ultimate homeschool-related topics, if we can help you keep your head above water in your everyday living, you can have hope for another day of science and language arts!

Mike: Well, thanks so much, Vicki! As we help moms start getting organized, let’s start with time management.

Vicki: Well, we moms sometimes feel like the juggler doing the plate-spinning act: running from pole to pole to keep the plates spinning so that they don’t crash. Moms, what are some of your plates?

Well, time management is about deciding which plates are important and which ones you can let go of for this season of life, when your main ministry is to your children. So set some goals, and then prioritize. Outline a weekly routine for yourself, such as Monday is co-op and errands, Tuesday is laundry. And if my routine includes, say, a Tuesday laundry day, I don’t have to feel stressed at the mile-high hamper on Monday co-op day, because it’s not my laundry day!

And even the 2-year old can put his clothes in the hamper or help empty the wastebaskets. So involve your kids! Our girls had daily before-school checklists, so we were more likely to start the day on track for success. Work from a to-do list and a calendar, if you need to, and then take some time to go over last week’s progress and plan for next week. And finally, expect the unexpected, and leave yourself some margin or breathing room.

And if you’re feeling like the plates have already crashed, our website has an article just for you entitled, “When Life Broadsides Your Homeschool.”

Mike: Vicki, how can parents listening begin to de-clutter and organize their homes?

Vicki: Well, Mike, there are lots of tactics for the actual de-cluttering, from the four-box “de-junking” method, to Fly Lady’s 27 swing boogie, to “Clutter’s Last Stand.” We have a list on our site under organization, plus articles with practical ideas, from color-coding, to streamlining the kitchen, to managing the school area.

For me, de-cluttering includes a helper, who will physically box up the stuff, since touching it, for me, creates an emotional attachment. And organizing includes asking myself not, “Where can I stick this?” but, “Where will I look for this later?” So get to the root of why your house gets cluttered in the first place. Look around and ask yourself, “What drives me bonkers here? And what’s causing that problem? And how can I fix it?”

But ultimately, we need to change our thinking. My dear friend, Lauren Feldman, who’s been an organizing consultant for the past 28 years, says two powerful phrases that keep us stuck in chaos are, “I don’t have time to do it right now,” and “I’ll just put it here for now.” Instead, tell yourself, “Do it now.” Then hang it up, put it away, write it down, file it, or whatever, and you’ll be amazed at how little time the task really takes and you can feel more in control of your home.

Mike: Vicki, let’s talk about a really practical challenge today. Mom has been handling the challenges of homeschooling multiple children all day. But before she knows it, it’s 6 o’clock, and she hasn’t even thought about dinner. Is it possible to homeschool and get dinner on the table in the same day?

Vicki: Mike, the two basic recommendations I have for moms are 1) plan your menus, and 2) schedule time to start dinner, even if you have to do like I do and set an alarm for dinner start-up time. If you’re having trouble coming up with menus, remember that your family is probably more impressed with eating nourishing food at a regular time each day than with trying a vast array of new foods each week.

So to get into the habit of regular, healthy dinner times, consider something as basic as a weekly rotation of the same basic meals—some quick and simple menus that you’re comfortable with. We have suggestions and resources for meal planning and for scheduling in the time management area of our organization tab at hslda.org/earlyyears. We include some ideas for do-ahead meal preparation that will greatly reduce your time in the kitchen and help you get a simple, nourishing meal on the table in less than 30 minutes.

Mike: Vicki, those are great suggestions. How can the moms listening make organization their servant and not their master?

Vicki: Well, ladies, home organization can seem spiritually insignificant. But remember that this is a spiritual work, because the end result is to bring peace to our homes and to glorify our Creator. So pray about what God wants you to work on for your particular family. If you’re married, a good starting point can be to ask your husband for guidance as to which one or two areas are most important to him.

And be careful to not be such a perfectionist that people are uncomfortable actually living in your house. You want to find the balance. I have a cross-stitch by my door that reminds me, “Our house is clean enough to be healthy and messy enough to be happy!” Our goal is to glorify God with our lives and, as home-makers, with our homes. We can do that better in an orderly home, because we can be more gracious to our children when we aren’t rushed or hunting for the car keys or always behind. And we can more comfortably be hospitable. Our home is more peaceful and calm.

So look for ways to bring order to your home—but don’t allow organization to be an idol. Get organized to give you the time and liberty for relationships. Because stuff is temporal, but relationships are lasting.

Mike: Vicki, that’s very wise. And thank you so much for joining us this week. And until next time, I’m Mike Smith.

Vicki Bentley

Mother of eight daughters, foster mom of over 50, and grandma to 14 wonderful grandbabies (so far), Vicki Bentley has homeschooled 17 children since 1988, with the strong undergirding of her husband Jim. In addition, she led a local support group of over 250 families for 14 years and served on the executive board and convention committee of the Home Educators Association of Virginia. Vicki has addressed state and national conventions, university teacher organizations and many mothers' groups. She is the author of My Homeschool Planner, Everyday Cooking, The Everyday Family Chore System, Home Education 101: A Mentoring Program for New Homeschoolers, High School 101: Blueprint for Success, and other homeschooling and homemaking helps. Vicki has a heart for moms and brings strong practical wisdom and encouraging words as she coordinates HSLDA’s Early Years program.

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