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Practical Homeschooling® :

Getting Organized Part 3

By Kathy von Duyke
Printed in Practical Homeschooling #14, 1996.

Large bins, small bins, clear bins, plastic bins... Bins are great for organizing your home!
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Kathy von Duyke

Staying organized is much easier if everything is in its proper place. I have found plastic to be a natural solution for many of my organizing woes.

Put It in Plastic (Bins, That Is)

How I love my plastic bins! Naturally, we use them to store toys. Most large families come to the conclusion that toys are best stored in a central location and not in bedrooms. This also works if you are a small family but your children are little. Most young children don't have the ability to keep their rooms neat if there is much in them. The central location also promotes shared use of toys and allows you to build on (here I go again) themes. The toys go in labeled bins, which go on a labeled shelf. By specifying for my children, I make it easy for them to help me clean up. Our shelves are metal, the kind used in workshops, so they can take some climbing. We have a huge open bin of Duplo blocks on the bottom, then smaller bins with lids for things like the castle set, plastic zoo animals, and math manipulatives. Exploration of manipulatives is an option at any time of day.

From the Big . . .

Caution! Some of these bins are large enough for a child to fit inside. Any large plastic container can form an electrostatic seal with carpeting and can suffocate your child. When we first purchased the large bins, I would wake up at night with nightmares of my children suffocating in them. During the day I would get busy, and it seemed too hard to ask Daddy, tired from work, to watch the kids. One day, while my children were playing, I came around the corner to find one child under a bin, with another child humming and sitting on top of it. I think I shook for a full hour while I dumped every bin we owned and stacked all 20 of them by the front door! My husband drilled holes in the sides and bottoms of all the bins and I started sleeping better at night.

Even with the holes, these large bins are very effective. My favorite use: unit-study bins. Over the years, we've collected a lot of homeschooling stuff, mostly in themes (of course!). A reader told me about a terrific storage solution and business idea. A woman in her area has organized 45 bins which she rents out on a monthly basis for a fee. Taking that idea home, I was able to ease the crunch on our bookshelves, our game closet, and our videos and tapes, and put them in unit bins. We never have time to use those items while on a different theme, because we are usually too engrossed in our present topic. So, now we have bins for the 1700's, the War for Independence, the 1800's, the Middle Ages, and Creation. One bin may combine several units until I find I need to split them up. To accommodate the flow of items from bin to bin, I've labeled each with an index card and black marker, which I put at the front of the bin on the inside. To change the contents I only need to mark or change the card, instead of trying to peel and stick on new labels. These unit bins can be made from cheap containers and stored in out of the way places.

Out-of-season clothing seems to store best under beds. This allows me to claim all under-bed areas for my own use, keeping the territory free of junk and dirty clothes. Containers may be of any sort, but they must fit snugly under the bed and have some sort of cover. Otherwise, the children may be overwhelmed by the temptation to stuff the containers with their own items. This system works beautifully: new or out-grown clothes are stored under the bed of the child who will next wear them. The bins can be pulled and riffled through whenever someone grows and changes size.

The quickest way to work through a seasonal change of clothing is to have each child bring their bins to the living room. Then, starting with the oldest, each shows the contents of their drawers in turn and leaves with outfits that fit and match. The oldest is first to "shop" for clothes, so he can have the broadest range of choices (you know how clothes can be mis-sized). Meanwhile, I set aside unmatched clothing and take notes on what each child needs from the store. One of my children loves to function as fashion coordinator, so this job gets easier all the time.

. . . To the Small

Smaller, clear bins organize craft items near their point of use, but high enough not to tempt the little children. My children don't get these down without permission, and we are careful about putting them back. This has saved us from loads of disasters. These craft bins consist of paints (some toxic), glues, glitter, and assorted craft items. In my sewing area, I keep bins for elastics, thread, buttons, bias, and lace. I have a separate storage bin for tools that I don't use as often.

Rubbermaid makes cute little clear drawer bins which offer easy-access storage for daily homeschool supplies. We have one with colored pencils, another with office supplies (tape, stapler, glue sticks ), another with math manipulatives, another with pattern blocks, another with cards and envelopes, and another with rubber stamp stuff. We have a set for frequently used games, labeled "Bible games," "Math games," "Chess and checkers," and "Geography games." The game boards are stored on top. The preschoolers have a set of drawers on the floor that include cars, pegboards, snap cubes, inch blocks, and small puzzles. We can quickly locate the drawer we need for the task at hand. I'd much rather spend my energies helping my child understand a difficult math concept, than hunting for pencils.


You will constantly have to clear your home of those items that are broken or no longer useful. You will also need a place set aside for thrift store or yard sale items. Weeded belongings have a way of creeping back into the home, so make it a weekly task to carry them all the way out. This involves some decision-making; again, this is where your themes will help you to define what you need to keep.

The Bottom Line

Being organized is like a bank account: I can draw from it in bad times and add to in good times. And with money in the bank, I no longer feel like I'm drowning.

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