Sunday, August 11, 2013

How I use a Master List to Organize my Brain, Budget, Time and Energy and Make my Home What I Want

My family and I are living in our third house.

We've been here about a year and half now, and for me that's about the perfect amount of time to have lived in a space so I really know what I like about it, what is working, and what is not.

So when I was recently sitting in a waiting room, with my laptop but no wi-fi, I took advantage of the time and pounded out a Master List for our home... what I want to add, what needs to be cleaned out, moved, painted, organized, or repaired.  It could be as small as patching a nail hole in the wall, or as big as possibly adding a built-in to a room.

It is a regular old list, in a word document, and it's long.  In 12 point font, it's 3 pages long.  And that does not include several spaces inside and outside our home because we are plotting a garage addition, so it's very likely those spaces will be affected.  Here are the contents of my list as it stands now:

Home Project Master List
July 2013

Living Room:
Change out Rug
Remove mirror over fireplace
Add pattern to backs of bookshelves
Gallery wall:
  Aitkin map
  Kentucky state print
  b+w photos – old family photos, wedding photos, kids
  something chevron
  DIY my old Kentucky home sign
  Printer's drawer
Need Clock
Add sconces
New coffee table?
Mantle décor
Baskets/Boxes for shelf storage
Radio/CD/mp3 player
Fix/refresh curtains
Furniture layout??

Columns/room dividers?
Figure out piano placement

Dining room:
Add built-in under windows?
Get rid of white freestanding cabinet – move to basement? Move to Guest room for desk/TV?
Refresh china hutch – paint?? just inside glass doors? Add lights inside?
Fix broken dining chair
Source more seating? 
Bigger table??
          Main Hallway:
Close up old wires sticking out
Add built-in cabinet/shelves/hall bench or hooks?
finish drywall
add shelving, hooks, etc.
wallpaper/stencil back?
Close up old light fixture
Inside of door – chalkboard paint? Cork?
Build in a bench?

Stair runner
Hallway gallery

Upstairs Hallway:
Remove desk?? Build in linen closet instead?
Add wall décor
Clean carpet

Upstairs Bath:
Find freestanding cabinet for storage or build one in.
Paint vanity?
Remove grout? Regrout? Retile?
Glass in a shower?
Wall décor
Remove shower water pik
Remove towel rack that's falling off the wall

Guest Room
Blinds/curtains to block light
Add TV
Add seating/bench/chair
Change out headboard
Paint nightstands
Paint lamps/Get new shades
Wall décor
Add shelving in closet
Add vent in closet?

R's room:
Board and batten?
Repaint dresser
Repaint mirror?
Find vintage hutch/cabinet to put in doorway
Add trim to curtains
Finish wall décor
New bed? Trundle?
repaint ceiling?
Stencil one wall
Add vent to playroom?
Finish drywall in playroom
Add shelving to playroom
Playroom lighting

B's Room:
Add shelving in closet
Fix roof leak in closet
Add vent in closet?
Under-bed storage

My office:
Finish wall décor
Hang shelving in closet
Repaint closet
Hang bulletin board
Paint closet door?
Finish red table
Reupholster antique chair

Now, if you are thinking that this sounds overwhelming and that it is JUST TOO MUCH to even think about, I say, keep reading.  Because there are some very good reasons why a Master List is worth your time to do and may save you time, money, energy, and sanity in the long run.

1. It's the ultimate place to dump your brain and release some frustration about the things in your home that bother you.

We all have things in our house that are loose ends.  They need to be done.  You want them done.  But hello - we have a life! We have 8 million things that need to be done this week, and it is just not possible for everything to make it onto our to-do list for the day.  But those un-done things, those items that never get checked off of your mental inventory are taking up brain space!  They make you wince, or roll your eyes, or grumble under your breath every time you walk into the room and your eye catches  sight of them.  Not sure what I'm talking about?  Think about the last time a new person came to your home and you gave them the tour.  These are the things you either  A. Cover up  B. Make excuses for C. Are just plain embarrassed or feel less than proud of.

Here's one of mine:

There are exposed wires sticking out of the wall underneath our thermostat.  Seriously?  These need to be stuck back in the wall, patched, and painted!  It's not rocket science.  But a year and a half after moving in, there they sit.  Sigh.  I grumble every time I go adjust the thing.  So on the list it went.  I don't feel a ton better about it because I know they are still unattended to...BUT  at least now, I know they are on the list.  I WILL get to them.  So I do not need to constantly be mentally reminding myself or silently cursing myself for being unable to get to them yet.  It's not fixed.  But it's a step in the right direction.  And I can free up that brain space for something that needs attending to now and not subconsciously worry that they'll be forever forgotten.

2. Focus, people!

There have been - and probably will always be - spaces in each of our homes that frustrate me...I couldn't find a layout that really worked.  Or I felt that there was another way we should be using a space.  Or worst of all, I just couldn't put my finger on what wasn't working about a room. Something's just off.
Use a master list to help tease out what isn't working, what can be improved, and to try and focus your energy on concrete ways to improve what you have rather than just being frustrated and - for lack of a better term - start throwing things against the wall to see what sticks.

This can be a little bit like journaling.  If you aren't someone who's used a journal before you may not quite relate to this, but I have used journals for many years in my past.  It's a very stream-of-consciousness experience and can be very insightful if you do it honestly and without reservation because often, you may not REALLY know what you think until you start WRITING IT DOWN.
It's true.  If you just let your hands go, and type, or write, without internally editing, you will probably be surprised at what stares back at you from the page when you're finished.

Pick a room or space or part of your home that is not working for you.

Get a blank piece of paper and start somewhere in the room - a corner, an entrance, the flooring, the lighting, the wall color, and if you don't LOVE it, if it doesn't make you smile to think about it or look at it, JUST WRITE IT DOWN.  Do not think.  Do not worry about how much the addition or change or replacement will cost.  Just write.  Don't hold back.  If the room is dark, write down, "Add lighting." If the carpet is worn, write down, "Replace flooring."  If it is cluttered, write down, "Purge" or "Organize" or "Add storage" or ALL of them.  If you have storage that isn't working in the room, think about why it's not working.  Are your kids not able/willing to maintain it?  Write down, "Need kid-friendly storage."

Close your eyes and picture the room in a state that would make you smile.  What do you see?  What is gone?  What is still there?  What is moved?

The less you filter your thoughts during this process, the more insight you will gain as to what isn't working in the space, and what would truly make you and your family happier and able to use the space much better.

I suggest making this list by yourself, and I'll tell you why.  Your thought process is going to be different from your spouse's, if you have one.  It will be different from your children's, if you have them.  I do think the other people using the space need to have a say in what goes in and what comes out.  But before you talk to them, make your own list.  Allow your spouse - if he wants - to do his own thinking and then when you are both done, compare notes.  Will you get everything the way you want it?  Maybe... I guess it depends on your house, your marriage, and your own personal circumstances.  More likely, you'll end up making some compromises if you live in a house with other people.  That's OK.  In fact, I think it's healthy!  If everyone has a say in the home they live in, they are less likely to complain about it, more likely to understand why you want things the way you want them - and vice versa, and I think there may be less conflict in the long run.  That's just my two cents - take it for what it's worth.

Be honest.  Write down your thoughts.  Then you can go about acting on them - that's next!

3. Spend your resources wisely!

Maybe you have a set amount every month that you can spend on your home - not necessarily maintenance, like furnace filters and clogged gutters - although if those things need attention, they should be ON THE LIST!  I'm talking about the money you put into adding to your home, making it yours.

Almost no one has unlimited time, money, and energy.  If you have a Master List of the things you want and need to change about your home, the next time you have some money, or a Saturday, to spare, you won't have to spend 45 minutes wandering around, trying to decide what to do with your time, or what to go shopping for.  You can take a look at your list, talk it over with your spouse if you need to, and get to work.  You KNOW you need a new lamp for the living room, and you can focus on  taking care of it, and crossing it off!

Once you have the list made, take some time and prioritize.  Which rooms need to be addressed first?  Do you have company coming?  A graduation party to throw?  A baby on the way?  Obviously, life may dictate what needs to be done first.  That's fine.  Pick the room that needs attention first, and focus on that.  Only on that.  Here's where I really need help.

I am a very spur-of-the-moment person.  If I feel like painting a room badly enough, I'll run it past my husband (who is a very good sport and who, after 11 years of marriage, is totally fine with me picking out paint colors on my own), grab a gallon of paint and just DO it.  I strike when the iron is hot.  I know that's my personality.  I have already in this house, done a couple of things in one room, gotten bored, not finished that room, and moved on to other things.  It's not my finest trait.

Having this master list is a way to help keep me focused.  Yes, I may still need to back off a room for a while in the midst of a re-do, and think, or just take a break from something if it's overwhelming me.  I  try very hard to finish one room before starting another... but I'm not perfect. If I do stray, I don't beat myself up about it too much.  I just give myself a little mental space, and then dive back in to the room that needs completing.

Right now, there is paint drying in the closet of my office/studio.  (Here's what it looked like before I emptied it today.)

I did the bulk of the work in that room over the last few months.  But I was tired when I finished the main part of the room, and I knew I needed a break before tackling the closet.  Today, the iron was hot again.  I had already, on my master list, written down that I needed shelving for that closet.  I measured, and several weeks ago we went to the store and bought what we needed.  It's been sitting in the basement just waiting.

Today my husband put the brackets on the walls, and with any luck, the second coat of paint will be on the closet tonight and I'll be able to put that space back together this week.  I'll only have a few more projects in there to finish up, and that room will be done!  (Reveal coming...)

Besides keeping your time focused, let the Master Plan help keep your spending focused, too.
Believe you me, I love a good trip to Target or HomeGoods, and sometimes - but increasingly rarely - I'll indulge myself with a little unplanned retail therapy.  But here's the thing.  That $50 cover charge you pay every time you go to Target ("Where did it all go??") is slowly but surely undermining your ability to create the home you want because you are spending money on other things that yes, may be a great deal, and yes, may make you happy, and yes, you may really want.

But if you have an honest Master List, then more than likely you have other things you could - and should - be spending your money on. That will allow you to start transforming your spaces to align with the way you want to live in them and before you know it, your home that you envisioned in your mind will start to take shape before your very eyes.

The Master List is an iceberg.  You have to chip away at it a little at a time, if you're like most people.  Keep your eyes on the prize!  You'll probably feel better about the money and time you spend, if you do.

4. You own the list.  Make sure the list doesn't own you.

I hesitated to write this post because I can easily see someone looking at my Master List, getting completely overwhelmed with the amount of stuff to do, and saying, "Heck no.  I'm outta here!"

Resist that urge.  The truth is, every home has projects.  Every homeowner has things in his or her mind that they want done. Or that NEED to be done.  Not making a list doesn't mean those things go away.  It just means you are not acknowledging them in an organized way, perhaps.  Don't let the list be something that hangs over your head, so that every time you think about all the things still to do, you feel guilty, or too overwhelmed to even start.  This is not that kind of list.  You are the owner of your house - and you are the owner of the list.  It is there to serve YOU.  It is there because you care about your home and the people who live in it.  It is there because you made it.  It is your reference point.  Your plan.  Do not feel intimidated by it, no matter how long it is!!

A football coach would never step foot on the field without game plans.  He may not be sure in which order the plays will be called, but he has thought about it ahead of time and written them down.  He has them at the ready.  He does not feel guilty if he doesn't use all of them in one game.  He has plans so he can use them to his advantage, so he can call a play when his team is ready, so he can win the game.

Look at your Master List the same way - and I bet you will start winning battles against chaos, frustration, indecision, and wasted time.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on this - or if you have another way that you organize yourself and your family to improve your homes.

Thanks for reading!



  1. Loved painting with you at Haven!! I think a "to-do" list is a must. Your home is precious on the outside, can't wait to see all the improvements you make on the inside :)

    1. Thanks Elizabeth! I am having Haven withdrawal! It was a blast getting to know you and Julia. Looking forward to keeping up with your posts!

  2. Anne, you know I LOVE lists. I did this in 1999 when we moved into our current house with a 1 year old. We slowly checked things off the list but now I'm in the process of making a new list that fits with 2 more kids and different activities. Lists are so important to help sift through your projects, prioritize and have a plan. Keep it up.

    1. Lara, my organizing guru friend, thanks for reading! You make a great point. Always evolving families require that you go back and re-evaluate the list from time to time!
      Miss you and your kiddos. Tell them hello from us!

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