Back Room Makeover: the Strategy

Three monkeys jumping on the bed.

If my last post made you think that my home is always neat and orderly, it’s not. Parts of it may be clean, but it is never all clean at the same time. That used to be hard for me to accept, but now I’ve come to like it that way.

It is time to gear up to clean out the back room, and we have something very important to decide: I’m wondering if I should pull everything out first, as many of you suggested in the comments, or if I should focus on doing a little at a time.

If I pull it all out, I’m committed — there’s no turning back. I have to get it done or else my living room will show it all.

It’s likely, however, that I will often be interrupted by two of my favorite people.

And since it’s such a big project, it might take me a long time to put everything back. Perhaps I should work on it one box at a time or so? I don’t know how long that might take.

Vote and tell me what you think:

Next: The back room becomes a clean slate.

Back Room Makeover:

  1. The Before
  2. The Strategy
  3. The Clean out
  4. The Results!
About Rachel

I write about practical tips that will help you simplify at home. Connect with me on Pinterest and Twitter.


  1. Oh man, I see you are at 50/50 right now! I would do a little each day because with two young ones running around, you know you will be interupted. If you didn’t have them running around and had a whole day to yourself I’d say drag it all out. But just not practical at this point!

    Nicole Ross´s last post…My DVR is full, but the bookmark in my Bible keeps moving forward!

  2. I think sort it through a bow at a time, with the ‘put away, throw away, give away’ mantra…

  3. I’d pull it all out but then sort right away into boxes that can go back in the closet. Then I’d pull out one box at a time and work on it. That’s what I’m doing right now!!

    Sarah´s last post…he got it right!!

  4. I was going to suggest something in a similar vein to Sarah’s comment… it’s too easy for little ones (or life generally) to get in the way, even if you have the best intentions. My recommendation would be to make a day for a triage session, get the most obvious donate/discard stuff out of the way and put anything that needs to be in another spot in that spot, and put the rest back in the closet in a way that will make it easy to grab a box at a time and go through them quickly. If it were me in this situation (and it so often has been), I would find it too easy to push the closet project to the side in favor of other more interesting or urgent things, so I always need to find a way to make a project more urgent or somehow move it up my priorities list. Spreading a closet full of stuff out in the living room would accomplish that, and probably get it done a lot faster than trying to tackle that enclosed space in a piecemeal fashion (if it ever really got finished at all that way). Good luck!

  5. I think boot camp works best for non-maintenance tasks… every time! And your back room, like ours, is not maintenance!!! The hard part is finishing up the last bits… but if its all out you have to do something about it… You may notice that I am not suggesting I start with my corner of chaos, I believe every house needs a bit of chaos and I like to keep mine in a corner out of site. Even though you have the cutest most darlingingest distractions in the world!!!

    se7en´s last post…Saturday Spot: Se7en’s New About Page…

  6. boot camp always work for me :)

    fyi – i have 2 kids (5,5 y.o and 11 months old)

    i usually pick one day for the makeover,
    no regular house chores (cooking, laundry, folding, etc) for that day, and make sure my husband is gonna be around to help out with the kids/heavy lifting/etc :D

    start early (so u can finish early too), have a good sorting system, and think of a special treat for everybody at the end of the day (ice cream is the best for us so far)

    good luck & have fun

    bimbi´s last post…tutorial : how to make paper cat :)

  7. A little bit at a time works best for me- I’m always surprised at how much I can accomplish in 1 hour! If I did it all at once I would be overwhelmed & then lose interest in the whole project, leaving an even bigger mess behind LOL

  8. My vote is for a little at a time because if it were me I would be frustrated with a messy heap in my living room for 1 month. We do most things in focused small chunks of time.

  9. My vote is for all at once, if you have someone to entertain the kids for the day. It would drive me nuts doing it a box at a time, and I find I can’t get a handle on things to think about how to sort/organize them unless I can see them all at once.

  10. Rachel, your gorgeous children are not going to be that way forever… forget the big clean up and play with them! :) The cleaning will still be there in time to come…

    angelvalerie´s last post…fitness and new year’s resolutions…

  11. I’m a pull it all out kinda girl and really that just creates more mess because there is never enough consecutive time to get it all done. For some reason the kids just continue to need attention. :) That is why I voted to a little at a time, for sanity’s sake.

    Andrea @ The Train To Crazy´s last post…A bitty dress

  12. I would have voted for doing it all at once, but realistically with your two little ones, I’d have to say a little at a time. For your own sanity. But you’d have to commit to getting right back at it after the ‘mommy’ break. That’s where I’d usually drop the ball.

    Now, should I be brave and post a picture of my supposed to be dining room/school room/storage room/library…you get the picture. I don’t think I’m that brave yet. No, I’m not.

    Southern Gal´s last post…Saturday Adventure

  13. I voted for everything at once. One little one can “help”.

    Emily´s last post…The Imperfect Diet

  14. Jackie@Lilolu says:

    Just jump right in. You’ll be happy you did.

  15. my vote is do a side at a time. go in turn right and pull out everything on that side sort it all remove the removables and trash and temp containerize everything that goes back in put that back in. next session pick another wall do the same. and so on, then one final session to pull out all the staying in this closet stuff and organize/containerize it for real.

    or wait until the littles go to bed and pull everything out for a marathon cleaning you be sleepy in the am but it will be worth it

  16. The downside to boot camp, at least for me, is that I don’t always make great decisions. I toss too much, because I’m eager to finish. And because I tend to be less mindful of the individual decisions, I sometimes forget making a choice. (I once spent hours tearing apart my off-season wardrobe storage for a sweater I knew I’d kept for my next pregnancy, only to realize it must’ve been given away in the post-first-pregnancy purge. Oh well.)

    A little at a time isn’t always satisfying, but I find that the changes stick.

  17. I know it seems like a huge pain to have everything in a state of disaster for a while, but when it’s all done, you will feel such a sense of accomplishment!

    Mother Necessity´s last post…I’d Like to Phone a Friend….

  18. 5 minutes a day, do I want it, do I need it, do I love it

  19. Pick a weekend when you husband can watch the kiddos and dig in. I did this with one of our closets recently. As I pulled everything out I was able to group it accordingly….crafts, clothes, books, etc. Since I could see everything that was in there, I could better decide how to organize it all…what went back in, what went to other rooms/closets, etc. Good luck!

    Danielle´s last post…5am

  20. Get some coverage and hit it hard.

    p.s. Can I borrow the baby for a few days?

    juliet´s last post…Hippo Birdie 2 Ewe

  21. Some wise advice from Flylady is “1)Set your timer: for 1 hour (or 30, 15, or 10 minutes – it doesn’t matter how long) 2) Just do the job as fast as you can and do not pull out more stuff than you can put away in that length of time. This means just one drawer, one closet (or even one shelf in one closet), one magazine rack, or digging under just the furniture in the zone. Not all of them at once! and 3) Start at the entrance to the room: Then, work your way around the room clockwise. Do not skip a spot. Whatever happens to be next, just do it.”

    I think you as a person could handle the ‘get it over with’ approach but it probably isn’t the best for doing with your little ones there.

    How about this? Start by working clockwise, pulling everything out and see how it goes. If you are feeling pressure because everything is so jumbled that it’s not working, you can shove it back in there and start again with a different method.

    Otherwise, I say accept ‘slow and steady’. Clean off one area as a landing spot for stuff to keep, clean off another one for stuff to give away to stay while you are working, find a spot for a box or bag to hold the garbage, and then slowly pick through it, working from front to back.

    Once you’ve made your way through it all by working in what I call 3-D Decluttering, then it’s time to clear out the clutter. Throw away the trash bag or box. Get the giveaway stuff to its intended recipients. Now that you’ve decluttered the area, it’s time to organize it for what’s in it currently and, most importantly, to create a bit of room for what’s going to be joining it so that you aren’t overwhelmed by it again.

    Your house is so functionally pleasing and beautiful. I know that you will make this area function for you as well!

    Suzanne´s last post…Resolved to Improve Your Finances in 2010?

  22. Hi! I’m coming out of lurking to try and help :-) You have a lot of work cut out for you! I’ve experienced FlyLady and taken away some of her principles while leaving others. One thing that is true and totally helpful is doing things 15 minutes at a time. Set a timer, work your fanny off for 15 minutes, and then you’re done for now. Just 15 minutes at a time. With small kiddos running about, that’s about all I can do at one time. It works, I promise, you’d be amazed at the amount of work you can do in a short burst of focused attention. 15 minutes! :-) Hope that helps!

  23. Pull everything out, then sort it into “bite sized chunks” to tackle one at a time… after each “chunk” take some time to play with the kids before tackling the next chunk.

    Ashley´s last post…"50 Ways to Feel Great Today"

  24. yeah. i have two children about the same age as yours and there is just no way i could see myself pulling out EVERYthing and then have to look at the mess for weeks as I tried to sort through and put it all away. i still vote that you do a little at a time. it may take longer, but i think your sanity will thank you later!

  25. Have Daddy take the kids for a Saturday, even if it’s just in the living room, to give you time in the closet. Put some music on, and get to it!

  26. I am in the pull it all out camp. :) It will make the rest of the house messy for a time, but it also creates some urgency in completing the job. In my experience, that urgency helps me part with items that I might end up keeping otherwise. A little pack-ratting habit I am consistently trying to break! Good luck!

  27. As the mom of 11 I certainly understand distractions, however that’s all the more reason to pull it all out at once, concentrate on it (you’ll have a constant reminder in your living room!), then get on with your life. My motto is “Where ever you are, Be All There”, so finish up that back room and get back to being all there for your kids.
    And if you choose the other method, just be sure you allocate some non-optional time each day until it’s done.

    Debbie @ Cheaper by the Bakers Dozen´s last post…Out with the old, In with the Refurbished

  28. Okay, I am so not the person to ask for advice on this, but maybe a little at a time at SCHEDULED times during the day/week? Like do one shelf, then play and eat and other business. Later in the day, do another shelf. Make it as compact or spread out as fits your needs.

    What do I know, though? My whole house looks like your back room at the moment.

    Megan@SortaCrunchy´s last post…Laundry Week

  29. You don’t need to have to worry about the little ones getting into your junk. A little at a time that you can control might work best at his time in your life. Unless you hire a sitter that is…

  30. I’m going to chime in with the person who said one wall at a time. Then you know that you’ll have it done it 3-4 sessions.
    But I also agree with the Flylady method, I’ve been using her 15 minute bursts of activity to clean and organize my bedroom and it is going quite well. I like that she says “Don’t drag out more than you can deal with in 15 minutes”, that was always my downfall before. I wanted to do it all at once and ended up being overwhelmed or I didn’t have enough time and had to shove it all back on the shelf only partially organized and not knowing where to start the next time.
    Too bad it is off the kids’ room and you can’t work at it after they go to bed. That’s my perfect time to do household things :)

  31. If it was just me, I would pull everything out at once and go from there because I LOVE to start with a completely clean slate. HOWEVER, for some reason reality always rears it’s ugly head. Things will come up during the day you didn’t see coming. The “little helpers” will become very creative in their ways of helping. It will make you insane if you have to walk away from this huge unfinished project with it being all over the place. So, having a two year old myself, I have learned the hard way that I need to often rethink the way I want to or would normally have done a project. I have found that my little helper has a tendency to turn one mess into a bunch of huge messes! LOL

    Diann @ The Thrifty Groove´s last post…What are you Reading Monday

  32. Definitely do a little at a time! I have two little ones and rarely have even 30 minutes to get anything done with no interruptions. Or, can your husband take them out (or at least Lane) for a half day of fun somewhere…Or, hire a babysitter? If either of those are possibilities, I’d go full-force and do it all.

  33. I vote both! (what?) Start with a box at a time. Eventually you will have time and energy to pull the remainder out at once and push through to get it done.

    Good luck! You can do it… and you’re inspiring us to clean our messes too, so thank you!

  34. I voted for doing it all at once…maybe find a day your hubby or someone can watch the kids and you can tackle it in one fell swoop.

    I find if I try to break an organizing project up like that, I’ll spend way more time because as you get to the back of the closet you find things that would have made sense to organize first, or you’ll figure out a better system of categorizing things after all that work when you could have started it that way from the beginning.

    Did that make any sense at all? Oh dear…more coffee…
    Whatever way I’m sure the results will be wonderful!

    Kait Palmer´s last post…WC Days 9, 10 & 11

  35. Building up to this could be what’s holding you back from just doing it,My suggesting would to be maybe have a Grandma or family member take the children to their house so as to not have that distraction and pull everything out and clean,clean clean.Set a timer for 2-3 hours and you will be surprised as to what you will get done.Good luck and God bless.

  36. As a mom of 3 little ones, I’d suggest doing it a little at a time. You WILL get interrupted, unless its something that can be done in one evening, and that’s not likely with this project. I cleaned out a storage/walk-in closet we have several months ago, and did it in a week, but a little at a time. I found that when I organized one spot, I’d have things to put somewhere in the house that required more organizing to make adequate space for them. Doing it a little at a time won’t be bad, as long as you’re feeling motivated to get it done.

  37. i think only you know the style that will work for you. i will say….be warned. if you do it all at once, the two little people will want to help sort, might see stuff they want to keep and you don’t, and it will hit a point of massive mess (right before the calm, but that point is often desperately overwhelming)!

    but really, i am posting to say how absolutely gorgeous your two little monkeys are!


    nicola´s last post…weekend (and questions)

  38. I’m voting for all at once, but with some advance prep. Make arrangements to cart things off to Goodwill (or your donation spot of choice) the same day, invite friends to pick up baby items you no longer use. It seems you’ve decided to be ruthless in your edit, so it should be easier now that you’ve decided. You’ll feel great and can treat yourself after!

    Janine at Rustic Kitchen´s last post…Recipe: Polenta waffles with goat cheese

  39. I agree with Nicola- u know your style best and what works for you. I have been contemplating bootcamp style for my flat (which is similar state like Megan’s ;)) simply it’d be easier to toss out the unnecessary and just retain what I forsee being required. I even intend to date some unused items so that by end of 6 mos or so, they reach their ‘expiry’ date, they are thrashed/ freecycled. But I voted for one at a time- mainly I am concerned about the dust arising from all items affecting your little ones. They are always a welcome distraction from anything but we also need to ensure their well-being while the home gets a make=over ;>

  40. kelliinkc says:

    Definitely do one thing at a time. You will accomplish something which will help your self esteem and you will not be drug down by a mess if you can’t finish in one sitting.

  41. I think I just feel like this isn’t a group consensus kind of decision. If your husband can watch the kids for a full day, perhaps , it’s entirely possible you can go attack that thing and get it done. But if you pull it all out and don’t have that kind of resource for the kids, then you might end up really frustrated. But a gradual approach might also not let you feel like you’re getting anywhere—so really, Rach, it’s all about what will work for you. :)

    Sally Parrott Ashbrook´s last post…The Search Is Over

  42. this is a hard choice! on one hand, you’ll definitely get it done fast if you pull it all out. on the other hand, maybe the crazy factor isn’t worth it and it’s better to neatly pull it out in an orderly way. it’s a touch call, but i guess you have to decide how dedicated you are to this big project. do it fast or make it last? either way, good luck!

  43. I think if you do it a little at a time you risk re-locating stuff from one side to the other rather than REALLY going through each item. Maybe your living room is a disaster for a while, but at least you’ll get through everything. Good luck! Can’t wait to see how it turns out!

    Anna´s last post…A Fashion Magazine Mis-Truth

  44. Leighanne says:

    My mom always says, “Inch by inch, life’s a cinch. Yard by yard, life is hard.” Whatever you decide, I hope to see more precious pictures like this one of your family!

  45. Your kids are adorable that is for sure! Good luck on the project~

    Catherine B´s last post…Beautiful Days

  46. Like Megan at SortaCrunchy, I don’t feel qualified to give advice. But for me, taking out everything will invariably mean crazy mess for an indefinite time. In other words, it won’t commit me to anything except some chaos. I like to linger while purging, and am too detail-oriented for a big move, so I’d have to do the little by little route for sanity purposes. It must be so satisfying to go the all-in-one jump route though. Good luck!

    Carol´s last post…The Friend I’ll Have

  47. I only have one toddler right now and can’t imagine tackling that in boot camp fashion without completely neglecting my kid and just ‘putting’ her places all day long. HOWEVER there are some days where she is super independant and would be okay with something like that. I suggest strappin’ your little boy to you in a carrier if he’s unable to hang by himself and if your precious daughter is content to play alone for a day then bootcamp it. Otherwise, just do it as you go each day and it will take a few weeks but you won’t be stressed.

    Brittney Colyer´s last post…Recipe crazy!

  48. My two cents worth! Tackle a shelf at a time or a box at a time. This way you get a massive sense of achievement and if you get interrupted then you don’t have the dread of a loungeroom full of clutter distracting and stressing you.

    A thought? Do you have a Friend who could come over and help, or someone to babysit. I haven’t done it personally but I have heard of people who babysit each others children once a year so they can get into massive spring cleaning. I’ve done move housecleaning with friends before and the day goes faster and I have alot more enjoyement.

  49. I do better just diving in and doing it all at once even if it takes me a day or so. Doing it bit by bit, I tend to get distracted and forget about it and it just doesn’t get finished (and/or I get content with just a little mess rather than complete chaos). Plus sometimes if it needs a major overhaul (like mine usually do) I need to basically pull everything out and start from scratch. Having little ones around is tricky though. I would probably try to do some bit by bit (maybe each day thru the week) and then pick a weekend to fully bite the bullet and hopefully it’ll be easier and get it all done.

  50. I always, always think that “chunking out” a project is the way to go.

    A little at a time allows you to do just that, spend just a bit of time. Who knows if you’ll have all day to work on this? And if you drag it all out, you’re kinda in trouble if you have to stop.

    Meredith from Penelope Loves Lists´s last post…Big Ideas Notebook: a new favorite and our first GIVEAWAY

  51. I’m a do-it-all-at-once kinda girl. I might get a little less rest for a couple of days, but I also get into a mood to toss/donate more stuff that I don’t need. If I do it a box at a time I just shuffle the same stuff to another shelf and then another and I don’t make any actual decisions.

    quirkygranolagirl´s last post…Super Late Holiday Crafts: Part 1

  52. I’m all for the do it all at once on one condition – the kiddos get to spend some quality time with Dad or Grandma & Grandpa so you can focus on the task at hand without the interruptions and not feel guilty that you should be doing something else with them. I find this approach usually works the best for me with a major project – I’ve tried the little bit at a time method with my basement and it is not working! Too many interruptions or something else comes up instead and I get distracted away from what I was originally doing and have a hard time regaining my momentum of the initial purge. Good Luck!

  53. Ask a family member or friend to take the kids on a day that your husband can help. Make a keep/donate/toss decision on each thing as you pull it out of the closet and organize your piles accordingly. Neatly sort and store the items you intend to keep. Tossed items go immediately into the dumpster. Donate items go straight to the car and to the donation center. Maybe it will only take half of a day and you can have a peaceful afternoon date with your hubby!