** Update: In Spring of 2013, much of the material within this post was presented in workshop-form at The Greater Pittsburgh Annual Homeschool Fair, and The Crafty Homeschool Mama {that’s me, ya’ll!) is now scheduling regional presentations for the upcoming 2013/2014 School Year.  If your organization is interested in scheduling a workshop on Creative Organization & Inspired Homeschooling, please contact me at 
craftyhomeschoolmama@hotmail.com for availability. **

Who doesn’t LOVE being organized?! 

I’ve always sort of been an organizing fanatic, but since we began homeschooling, I’ve been challenged in this area more than anything else school-related.

Is it just me, or do other homeschool families have a corner (or two) of their house where a pile of random homeschooling STUFF is continually accumulating, at first very small–a little of this, a little of that–until the pile eventually threatens to take over the whole room and your sanity.

Man.  It’s just a daily battle, isn’t it?  
But–it’s also one area where I am glad to say I have found some great solutions.

So the goal of today’s post is to share with you what’s worked for me, and hopefully inspire you to find a place for everything and put everything in its place.  
Are you ready?

I’m going to take you on a tour of our homeschool space and our organizational systems because what we’re doing currently really has worked SO WELL for us this year, and the school and arts and crafts supplies have not actually been taking over the house as they were before. 
In fact, what we’re doing has worked so well, I keep telling my husband I really don’t know what I did without this system.  Truly, I think even if I didn’t homeschool, I’d still keep it up just to have everything at my fingertips the way it is right now.

But first, let me tell you about what DIDN’T WORK:

As I went about homeschooling last year, for a while, I decided to make our finished basement into “the school room.”  Now, every family is different, so what works for one obviously may not work for another.  I am sure some homeschooling families do indeed go into their homeschool room each and every school day and have class.  
I thought that would be us.  I was wrong.
 It’s not that it’s not a great space, and it definitely still provides me with some great storage solutions, but we never used it how I thought we would.

Our basement:
The above picture shows you the wall storage system we’ve used for years (from Ikea) and I seriously love it.
I have two mirrored cupboards on each end (play doh in one, puzzles in the other) and then lots of bins and buckets for other things–some hold more school stuff like games and extra supplies, one has coloring books in it, the buckets have toys in them, etc.  The kids use this space sometimes to cozy up and read in front of the space heater, so we keep a stash of books down here, a cd player (for audio books), pillows and blankets.
In the bottom picture you can see the small table we have in this space (for puzzles, games, snacks, etc) and also the loveseat and MORE Ikea storage and bins.
All of this is storage is great, and you’d THINK it would be a perfect room for homeschooling, but it didn’t work that way.

The primary reason why it didn’t work was because this room is not on our main living floor.  And as a stay-home-mom, like you, I spend most of my day IN the kitchen cooking for my family, or in the main living spaces caring for my other kiddos.  That’s just life right now.  I found it was totally impractical to go downstairs with my daughter to do school in the basement room while my boys were doing who-knows-what upstairs.  When they DID come down into our “school room” with us, we all felt too congested and they were too MUCH of a distraction…plus they got hungry, and needed changed, etc, etc, and so this pattern started emerging where I would often leave my poor girl down there while I ran upstairs “quickly” to do something, and she’d end up creeping up 1/2 hour later wondering where I was.  It just did NOT work.

The brightest place in our house~the kitchen and breakfast room

The other thing that hindered us from working effectively down there was that there is almost no natural light streaming in.  It’s a basement.  And if given the choice between sitting in a basement to do school work and sitting at a breakfast or dining room table where sunshine is streaming in all morning, which would you choose?

So (half way through the LAST school year) we moved a bookshelf into our dining room area and we put our small craft table in there, yada, yada, yada, and tried making that “the school room” for a while.  And once again, stuff was everywhere.  I was always shoving things onto and into this bookshelf, and it was always busting back out.  I tried baskets, but everything would get all mixed up–all the little things like math blocks and stickers were being stuffed in between books and craft supplies.  This drove.me.crazy. and I just started giving up on the idea of an organized home / school space.

However, I knew I had to try to start my school year differently, and this one thing was clear: I wanted to work with my daughter/preschoolers upstairs on the MAIN floor, in the sunshine of the front of the house, and near the kitchen.

So I began really looking for organizational solutions at the end of summer, not so much for our curriculum (anyone can put a workbook or manual on a shelf) but for all the things that make our homeschooling adventure so fun: our arts and crafts supplies, plus a way to store all of our ongoing projects and the supplies we need to finish them.  Not to mention, our daily-use items like crayons and pencils and glue.


Then, one day in summer, I was at my friend Becca’s house, and I noticed she had one of those shoe-organizers on the backside of her closet door.  I immediately thought how great it would be to use it to stash all my most-used school and day-to-day items.  You’ve seen those things used for organizing all sorts of things, I’m sure. But the problem was that I did not have the back of a door to put it where I could close it away and hide it when it was not in use.  I wracked my brain and finally realized it was going to have to go directly ON the wall in my breakfast area.  

And UNDER it, I decided, I would move one of the smaller Ikea cubbies (we already had) so I could put baskets with our books and other supplies someplace handy too.

I found my shoe organizer at Target on sale for under $20. I loved the defined look of the pockets, and the neutral colors.  It was too long for the space where I wanted to put it so I simply cut the bottom 2 or 3 rows of pockets off (Eden turned them into dolly sleeping bags).

So about a week before school started back up, I moved the book shelf cubby in place, took a deep breath and then nailed that organizer directly onto my wall.  WITH something like 8 nails.  
Once it was up, I didn’t think it looked THAT bad, actually, and I was determined to at least  keep it looking neat and tidy by putting all my stuff into containers and labeling it all so I knew what was where.

I made categories of what I really wanted to be able have at my fingertips throughout a school day.

Then I cut apart several notecards into squares, outlined them, labeled them with a sharpie, and clipped them onto the pockets.

Here are the categories I came up with for my pocket organizer–

From the bottom (most used, and fully accessible to the children) pockets, to the top (less used, and needing to be out of reach of kids):

*  Kid’s scissors
*  Pencils and Pens
*  Crayons
* Colored Pencils

* Sharpies
* Glue
* Plant 🙂   (just liked it there)
* Fasteners

* Tools and Scissors
* Paint Brushes 
* Paint and Palettes
* Glue Gun

* Grooming and 1st Aid
* Wet and Dry Erase Markers
* Notecards
* Stickers

There are also two long pockets at the very top of the organizer.  I use one to store stationary (which makes letter writing to family or sponsored children easier) and the other one is currently being used to hold my camera and charger when it’s not in use.

I emptied a couple pockets to show you exactly what I have IN them.

The one labeled “Tools and Scissors” holds my most frequently used items for day-to-day life, school, home improvement, and projects.  These are mommy’s tools. 

 I reach into this pocket every single day, numerous times a day. 
It holds my stapler, needle nosed pliers, wire cutters, hole punch, utility knife, precision screwdriver set, regular sized philips head screwdriver, magnetized screw grabber thingy (??) and fabric scissors.  The items in this pocket are all out of reach of my kids.  Safety first!

And the pocket labeled “fasteners“–here is what’s in that one:

Sticky tac, safety pins, paper fasteners, paper clips, thumb tacks, rubber bands, and reinforcement labels (for punched holes).
I use these items daily.

And lastly, I’ll show you what I have in my grooming and first aid pocket (It seems I’m always reaching for something in here before I go out the door with the kids).

It’s holds: hair gel, hair bands, bobby pins, nail clippers, lotion, lip gloss, bandaids, tissues, a thermometer and a comb.

All the other pockets are self-explanatory (glue gun, sharpies, etc).

Within this organizer, I’ve really tried to keep my daughter’s main school supplies very easily accessible.  A while back, for example, I noticed that the container of colored pencils (which are used every single day for Science and History) was a bit awkward for my 1st grader to grab out of the pocket, so a couple weeks ago, I let her string up some pretty beads on a wire, and I attached it right to the container on each side.  Now she can grab the handle and pull it out very easily.  

So anyway, that’s my primary storage solution for everyday items for homeschooling and life in general.

Never again does anyone need to search for a pen, or a black sharpie, or dig through the garage to find a screw driver to change the batteries on a toy, or go hunting for tape or a comb or a bandaid.    
Seriously, this storage system takes care of a lot of headaches for us.

Give it a try–you could put whatever you wanted in your storage pockets, and I bet you even have a door to hide yours behind.  🙂

Alright. Moving on.

Under my hanging pocket organizer, I have the small Ikea bookshelf with 4 baskets, shown here:

Let’s go there next.

(Tip: the baskets are numbered so I can easily tell a child where to look to grab something he or she needs).
Basket #1 holds most of our active curriculum. 
Each day we grab our things from here and take them wherever we’re working.  When we’re done, Eden puts them back herself.  It’s kinda like our main school “locker.”  🙂

 #2 holds History books, encyclopedias, our wooden math clock (the red thing that’s upside down in the basket) and our Math-U-See blocks.
Oh, and Eden’s running art portfolio of finished projects (the 3 ring binder).

Here is the same basket, unpacked a bit–
Top picture: History Materials
Bottom picture: Art Portfolio, Math-U-See blocks, 3 hole punch

If you’re not homeschooling, this post is probably gettin’ REAL boring right about now.  
If you ARE homeschooling, you’re undoubtedly faced with the same problems as I am in storing many of these same things, and I bet you want to know what’s in basket #3, don’t you?  😉

Before I show you, I have to give you a little tip for making home education just a BIT more fun and exciting for your kiddos.  
You probably need that about right now, don’t you?  January-March can be really long, hard months for ALL teachers, “professional” or not.
We’ve got to keep things peppy and engaging for our children.  Liven things up a bit through the winter, ya know?
Do a bit more art and a few more experiments and hands-on-projects.  Get messy sometimes.
 I am telling you, I never met a kid in school who hated art class.  Never.  Usually, it’s their favorite “special” class of their week.  And–teachers often report fewer behavior issues in art class because the students tend to actually be interested and engrossed in their work.
Just sayin’.
We can really burn our kids out on the paper-pencil-workbook routine if we’re not careful.
Oh, I can hear you now, saying “But I’m just not an artsy, crafty kind of person.”  
And I’m telling you, you don’t NEED to be a “natural” in this area to do it a little bit more.
But you DO need to get organized and have a little strategy.

Imagine you’re going to paint a room in your home.  
Most of the actual work, and what takes so much time, is not the painting itself, but the setup (and the cleanup, but mostly the setup).
It just takes a while to get everything ready.
You have to hunt for brushes and sand paper and tack cloth and rollers and painter’s tape.  You’ll probably have to make at LEAST one trip to the home improvement store for more of these items, and for the paint itself.  You’ll have to spend a good while taping the room off to keep your ceiling and trim clean.  You may need to bring up the step ladder and possibly a spot light.  Don’t forget the drop cloths and the re-arranging / removal of at least SOME of the furniture.  FINALLY, you’re ready to paint.  Of course by now you’re exhausted and your kids are hungry, so you’ll have to wait until tomorrow to begin.

But if you came into the room with all these things already in place, well, painting would be a breeze! You may even find, like me, that you rather enjoy re-painting rooms in your home.   It’s sort of…therapeutic.

Well guess what?

If your art and craft supplies are 
a) non existent
b) severely disorganized
c) stuffed away someplace that is not within reach of where you normally do school

I’m gonna bet that you won’t be doing many arts and crafts projects with your kids this year.

And that’s too bad, because they, and you, are missing out on the fun.

I do not do a big art project every single day with my children.

But I do do SOMETHING with them most days.
Why? Because I, and they, enjoy it, and primarily, because everything is organized and within reach.
Because I’m organized–
It’s not a chore for me to add some fun art to our school day.  

It doesn’t take me a lot of time to set it up.  
Almost all the prep has been done for me because I’ve got all the materials where they belong.

SO now I bet you can guess what Baskets #3 and #4 have in them, huh?
These two baskets have lots and lots of my most-used arts and crafts supplies, plus our school manipulatives.

Here are the contents of Basket #3.

(mind you, I typically keep most things in plastic zip lock bags, and shove them back into their basket when I’m done.  So the baskets look kinda messy, but I promise, everything has a home in there.)

alphabet, seasonal, etc

{Feathers and embellishments}

 {Larger Paint Palettes}

 {Math and Spelling Aids}
dice, measuring tape, counters, bouncy balls, spelling sugar, etc

 {Mod Podge}
what can I say? we use a lot of it

{Jumbo Tempera Disc Paints}
*Regular and Tropical colors.  We use these weekly.  LOVE LOVE LOVE them*

 aaaand…more art supplies
{Watercolors, Art Chalk and Oil Pastels}

And finally, Basket #4’s contents:

 {Googly Eyes and BLING}
Bling=glitter, confetti, sequins, sparkly stick-ons, gems.
Basically any shiny sparkly things which are delightfully fun to add to almost anything when you are between the ages of 2 and 8.

We do lots of beading around here.  Great for toddlers on up.

{Ribbons, String, Wire}

{Acrylic Paints}
These 2 bags take up most of the basket, but we use them CONSTANTLY.
I love acrylics for their versatility.

 And finally…
{Popcycle Sticks and Do-A-Dot Paint}
My little boys LOVE do-a-dot painting right now.

So now you’ve seen the insides of each of my homeschooling baskets.
And you can see there is a LOT of stuff in each one, but, when I shove the bins back in place, it looks neat and tidy.

Ok, that’s not all.
(you weren’t ready to be done, were you? No?  Good.  Wanna see if we can make this the longest post ever? Awesome!)

See the items on TOP of the bookshelf?
They help me survive the craziness of home schooling too.

First up is that 3-drawer organizer.
Here’s what’s in it:
Top Drawer:
Chalk, Chalkboard Eraser, Staples, and odds and ends 
(I admit to tossing random items in here very frequently to hide them when I’m feeling too lazy to find their real home).

Middle Drawer:
Batteries.  Any and all.
Bottom Drawer:
All our play–with-word packets that accompany our phonics and reading this year 
(Charlotte Mason’s Delightful Reading)

Next to this is my absolutely necessary Hanging File Folder Bin.
Because you just HAVE to have one {unless you’re ok with stacks of papers and unfinished projects and notebooks laying around everywhere}.
Hm. I need to add tabs to my file folder.  Been puttin’ that off for a while now.

I have a running folder for each subject, so I can stuff half-finished things someplace until we are ready to return to finish them, or add papers and activities for an upcoming week in there so I can grab it when I need to introduce it.
I have one folder filled with printer paper, one with lined paper, and I usually just slide notepads of watercolor paper, etc into the standing file bin itself.  I have a folder filled with construction paper too. Oh, and there’s a folder for photos, which we always seem to have floating around the house.
Every teacher needs a hanging file folder system of some sort.

Last but not least:
We have our electric pencil sharpener at the back on the desk, and in front of it, I have two of those stackable file trays. These two trays always hold our ongoing projects that are not able to be stored flat, like the painted eggshell mosaic art project we currently have going.  This past semester, I was always putting our paper mache planets there to be painted, or to dry, or to wait to be hung.

And that’s it.  
Stand back, and here’s how it all looks.

Ok, so it’s not beautiful.
But it is HIGHLY functional, and it really doesn’t take up THAT much space in our (already crowded) house.

We lovingly call it the homeschool station.  🙂

{UPDATE:  See this post for how I’ve expanded our Homeschool Station for the 2013-2014 school year!} 

And, here is a view from the dining room, where you can see more of our “classroom” including my D.I.Y. chalkboard.
We can even have breakfast in there and not feel like we’re being attacked by school stuff.

Very often, if the little boys are joining in our activities, we set up at our larger dining room table, adjacent to this room.
We like to spread out and make messes there too. 

But–wherever we’re working, by the end of the day, this Mama likes to have my home back, and it really wouldn’t be possible if it weren’t for my organizational system.

Ahhh, that’s better.  😉  OK, so it doesn’t look like this at the end of every morning of work, but this is the goal, people!

For anyone, and especially for homeschooling families, it’s really worth it to get organized.
It takes a bit of work on the front end, but you won’t regret it, and life will feel a wee bit smoother once you have something in place.

Now if only I could find a solution for this!
 {ideas, anyone??}

Well I hope you feel inspired to get your space organized once and for all!

Please do leave a comment to let me and other readers know what has worked well for you as you try to tame the mess.

Until next time,
Happy Organizing!

22 thoughts on “Homeschool Organization {In My Home}

  1. Crafty Homeschool Mama

    Edward, you nearly gave me a heart-attack this morning when you shared that the Expedit was being discontinued! After some research, I feel a bit better since the piece that will replace it will look and function pretty much the same. Love me some Expedit! 😀

  2. Edward Thirlwall

    Wow! I’m just flabbergasted how you managed to come out with all of this! And in such a nice tidy corner of the house. One thing I’m going to say though, is that it’s really sad that they’re getting rid of the Expedit series of storage cupboards. Those were really irreplaceably versatile. The world of modular storage has witnessed a very sad passing of an iconic furniture piece,

  3. asianmommy

    Love the post! I am not sure if you already have found a solution for your laundry but just wanted to chime in. I could not build my own so what I did was I had an extra 2 shelf bookshelf and I added to white baskets for white and color then on top of the shelf I have 2 smaller laundry basket for towels and items need to be wash in delicate cycle. =)

  4. Tricia Harris

    I loved this post! I have been working on my game plan for being effectively organized without it taking over our entire house. I love how you have your house back at the end of the day. Beautiful. I admit, however, I held my breath through nearly the entire post until I saw your laundry. I LOVE that I am not the only one battling that evil monster!

  5. Jessica

    i will be copying this as much as possible. but my house will never look as clean as yours! you, once again, encouraged me to get organized! love it!

  6. mom g

    there’s hope for me:-) This is encouraging. We have a small space,this inspires me to un-clutter and organize my son’s homeschool corner. By the way, I have the same problem with laundry. Nanay Gina (Nanay is Filipino word for mother)

  7. lakenormanprep

    LOL. We worked in the dining room the first year and school work took over the house. We then turned the bonus room into the school room the next year. That worked for about two months. I found they only did work while we are up there..well, that meant that they didn’t always get through their work. We ended up back downstairs but in the kitchen. We have the almost the same exact set up. Your pictures made me giggle. It could be our house except with black Ikea shelves.
    As far as laundry goes…everyone has one day of the week. Each person brings his/her laundry downstairs in a laundry basket. Laundry get washed and dried that day. Kiddos fold their laundry the next day and put it away. So far that has worked for a couple years so far. Then linens get done on the weekends.

  8. revtswife

    Excellent, have just found a similar over the door shoe organiser on amazon uk – and ordered it – so should be all organised pretty soon. Your comments about craft and not having it all ready to use are so true. I feel terrible that we don’t do enough arty-crafty stuff as I know they love it so much, but it always seems so much work to get it all ready – hopefully if we get this hanging space sorted out. It will be much easier. Thanks again!

  9. Amy Maze

    I like the idea of using wall space for additional storage. We have 5 of those Ikea cases in out house =) I’m a little obsessed with them! I have no problem making everything look organized like you have it, my BIG problem is getting the kids to keep it that way. They are only 4 and 3, so I know they don’t really have the ability/understanding to keep everything like I would like it (they are forgetful and really think it looks fine like they leave it =). Any tips for getting your kids to put things back where they belong? Maybe I’m just not strict enough about it because honestly I don’t mind a little clutter, but the school area definitely gets out of hand! Thanks for a great post!

  10. revtswife

    Ikea has some stackable recycling boxes which I use for our laundry. THey stack ontop of one another and have a liftable flap at an angle facing outwards… (http://www.ikea.com/gb/en/catalog/products/90076364/) I have one for coloured clothes, one for white and one for darks, that way it gets sorted as it gets put in. For when its eventually all dry, I am considering plastic trugs for each person… When they are old enough they can put it away themselves, but for now at least I know who’s room I’m heading to with what! For returning from a holiday I have an extra collapsible sorter (cheap fabric one) to sort out the blankets and the towels etc that I don’t usually get… P.s Towels and Bedlinen goes straight to the washing machine… Thanks so much for your photos and your inspiration. I am constantly looking for ways to be better organised and you’ve given me some neat ideas 🙂 The hanging organiser is great, especially as I have a toddler who is in to everything!

  11. Crafty Homeschool Mama

    Oh my word, Janeen…the ongoing PILE! It’s terrible, isn’t it? And you are so right…it just keeps showing up in other areas of the house! It’s a challenge staying on top of it all, isn’t it? Blessings, and happy organizing! -Joanna

  12. Janeen

    Thank you so much for all the photos and ideas! I am an organizational freak and I am always searching for better ways to organize. I have one of the pocket organizers in our school area as well, but mine has clear pockets and I use it for flashcards, small games and toys that my 2yo can reach. I also have one of those ongoing piles………no matter how many times I organize it or file away that pile, it just keeps showing up in different places around my house. Thanks again!

  13. Crafty Homeschool Mama

    Hey, Shannon! Thanks for stopping in. As far as the need / crave for organization, I could not agree more! We are major mess-makers and crafters here, so I’ve always gotta be on top of my organizational game or it goes to pot quick. Looking forward to visiting your blog.
    warmest blessings, Joanna

  14. Shannon

    We just organized our school room in our new house last weekend! Our week is going so much better because of it. I crave/need organization or I can’t function as a homeschool mom! I’d love for you to check it out at fiveappleblossoms.blogspot.com Thanks so much for all the details in sharing your space. It’s very helpful!!

  15. Crafty Homeschool Mama

    So glad to hear that! And yes, you found the exact bookshelf we are using–the Expedit from IKEA for 39.99. The light colored baskets inside are also from IKEA, and the darker colored baskets are from KMART, but from a few years ago.
    The 3-drawer set on top of the shelf was purchased about 5 years ago from Office Max or Office Depot, I can’t remember (sorry!) but you can find them other places, like at Target. The hanging file bin and trays are left over from my old teaching days, but you can find them cheap at Walmart or anywhere else. IKEA is now my go-to for most of my storage issues because their prices are so great. Good luck organizing 🙂

  16. Crafty Homeschool Mama

    Thank you, and I am so glad you are inspired to get organized. Don’t give up. It’s a daily battle, I know, but keep working on it. I had to pay attention to our family and school rhythms for a while (and have some failures) before I found what works for us. But what a difference it has made for us! The funny thing is we will probably have to reassess and reorganize in a year or two as we have more school-aged kiddos 🙂

  17. Chavez Family

    Thank you so much for this post!!! I have been struggling with this for two and a half years now and I am inspired to try again! I loved the post, the pictures (I’m a visual learner) and the ideas. I think your space looks great! Our family motto is “Family and Function First” not fancy. so this is perfect! : )

  18. Crafty Homeschool Mama

    I am so glad to hear it was a help to you as a fellow homeschooling mom. I knew the post was getting ridiculously lengthy, but I also know I’m not the only one out there who is interested in becoming more organized, so I included all the details 🙂 Well…maybe not all…like the craft supplies stashed in bins in the laundry room, but I had to draw the line somewhere! 😀
    Let me know if you do the shoe organizer (I call it my vertical desk!). It really works wonders.
    ANd lol, yes, the school desk idea is something I also contemplated for a time, but having taught in public schools for almost 10 years, I already knew that I preferred tables (and floors) to spread out to work. 🙂 So many homeschooling moms have tried that though!
    Love and blessings ~Joanna

  19. truebritgal

    I am in awe of your organizational skills!! Thank you so much for taking the time to put the article and photos together, and for walking me through each component of your storage system! I really need this, as we have things scattered everywhere, and you’re right; if art supplies aren’t close to hand, they aren’t going to be used very often. (That’s OUR homeschool!) I’m definitely going to implement your storage ideas, and I’ll start with the shoe organizer! I can’t wait to have everything neat, tidy, and within easy access!

    Oh, regarding the things you mentioned that DIDN’T work for you and your family, I have had similar experiences. One thing that comes to mind is the purchase of a couple of old-fashioned school seat/desks. I thought they would be a great addition to our homeschool, but in practice, nobody wanted to use them!

    Thanks again for all the brilliant organizational ideas! You rock! 🙂

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