Clea and Joanna of The Home Edit share tips on keeping a tidy home, even with kids
After meeting in 2015 through a mutual friend, Clea Shearer and Joanna Teplin decided almost immediately to start a home organization business together. Today, The Home Edit's more than 1.2 million followers on Instagram regularly covet their rainbow-colored images of organized closets, drawers, and pantries, and they have also organized the homes of celebrity moms like Gwyneth Paltrow, Kim Kardashian, Lauren Conrad, and Mindy Kaling. And this past March they published their first book, aptly called "The Home Edit".
In addition to being entrepreneurial organizers, both Clea and Joanna are also moms to two kids each, and we were lucky enough to nab them during their busy book tour to talk about staying organized as a mama.
Liz: So Clea and Joanna from The Home Edit. Welcome to the Motherly podcast.
Joanna: Thank you so much for having us.
Clea: Thank you.
Liz: So I'm always curious and I'd love to hear from each of you on this one, what did you think motherhood would be like before you became mothers yourselves?
Clea: All I knew I had like a vision board for myself like what I would look like. Like it was like me with like cute little jeans and loafers. I like felt like it would be like so cute and like chic and like my little baby and my Bugaboo. Like pushing him around. Maybe we would go stop and get lunch or get flowers from the farmer's market. None of that happened. Like I would say like I didn't even get that for one day. Like my daughter didn't even like the Bugaboo. I had to trade it out for an upper baby or whatever it's called. I was like none of that happened. Like my son had acid reflux. He couldn't even lay down in a stroller. It was like there was just none of that magical mommy hood. It was hard.
Joanna: I feel like I had a similar thing. I didn't picture myself in cute outfits necessarily.
Clea: Oh I did. I had outfits.
Joanna: But I definitely had like parties planned, like really cute invitations and decorations and.
Clea: Yeah like the nursery
Clea: Stayed up late.
Joanna: Yeah no. My kids had probably like one birthday and they're like eight.
Clea: Yeah. I mean I had this vision of perfection. I actually had decided with my first that was going to stop working and I was just going to be a full time mom. That lasted I would say three weeks into my postpartum depression and then I was like momma's going to go to work. I can't do this. So it was. You know it's just tough. I feel like I always say to my husband I was born to be a mother but like I required extra instruction. Like it was not easy for me.
Joanna: Yeah it was not intuitive for me either.
Liz: I think it's super interesting that these sort of gurus of life design and creating all these beautiful images, like you're describing an early motherhood that was just like what the rest of us experienced right. It's chaotic. It's overwhelming. You might be suffering from postpartum depression or anxiety. What were those early days of motherhood like for each of you?
Clea: Well this is Clea. I cried a lot. I just did not. I don't know. Like I had buyer's remorse at first. I was like what did we do? Like we had such a nice life. Everything was; we could sleep. We could see each other and I mean I really had postpartum pretty badly. And three weeks in my husband went to go pick up our baby who was in a crib crying and I yelled at him and said, "You always take her side." That's when I called my doctor because I was like I am a mess. John looked at me and like backed away slowly. He was like, "She's three weeks old." So you know not exactly crocodile tears at three weeks. There's not much you can do about it. So I just. I was just a mess and I also was kind of the first of all of my friends to have kids so I didn't really have that support network. I mean I had friends but it's a whole. You know the second you have a child you're in your own zone. If you do not have friends with babies it's like a whole other situation.
Clea: I was just desperate for some help and desperate to have kind of a community and you know my mother, bless her, she's the best. Not so much a baby person, not so much a baby person so yeah. It was really tough at first and I just decided that I needed to find those outlets and I joined you know a baby group a couple times a week. I'm still friends with all those moms and our kids still know each other. You know I just tried to get out of the house as much as possible. But it was hard.
Joanna: Yeah I found myself really longing for my own time. I just realized I need a lot of time by myself to do whatever, whether it's read or watch TV or think or exercise. And I would stay up. Like I would put the baby down and I would stay up 'til like two in the morning watching The Bachelor of no importance. I would just insist that I had to have that time and then as soon as it was over and I was like, "Okay I can finally go to sleep" the baby would start crying and I'd have to feed him again. So I remember that feeling of just feeling like oh my God how is my life going to go on like this. You know like how do people do this every day you know.
Clea: It's hard to see light at the end of the tunnel.
Joanna: It really is. You're really in it. You know and emotions are running high because you and your spouse or partner are so tired. So you know everything or at least I'll speak for myself, everything was exacerbated emotions you know in every direction and honestly organizing I realize I would like. The thing that would calm me was kind of organizing our spaces and just making everything; it was something I felt like I had control over I guess and I didn't even realize it at the time but that was an outlet for me at that point.
Liz: That's a great segway. Can you talk about what it was like to launch The Home Edit as mothers to small children?
Clea: Well you know I think that when Joanna, much like the Bugaboo that I envisioned in my head, it was all about me and when we launched the Home Edit it was all about us. We were like, "Oh I'm sorry we still have children that we have to take care of and account for in our lives."
Joanna: Our youngest were quite young. We actually, Clea and I shockingly have exactly the same aged kids, both of them. We both have an eight year old that are one month apart and we both have a five year old that are two months apart. So when we launched it was kind of amazing because we were literally going through the exact same ages and you know issues at the same time.
Clea: Yeah and Joanna and I are pretty impulsive people. Obviously we started our business the same day we met so stupid. Stupid might be another word for it but it worked so its fine. But you know we're so impulsive. We just started jumping in. We didn't even because of course it's like we're the worst, we didn't think about how this would affect our children, our husbands.
Joanna: Right, right no.
Clea: To be fair in the very beginning like you know they were in school. Our husbands work and we wanted an identity of something that we could build on our own. We had no idea that it was going to be where it is now.
Joanna: Right. When we started it we had full control over the business I would say. I mean it's funny how as you get bigger you have less and less control it seems like but.
Clea: I think we have control...
Joanna: Well we do but I mean you know we could say we can't work today we have a job. I mean we have the kids or whatever and now I feel like we're just like oh well we have to work.
Clea: It feels like we have fewer options because you know but there're also such incredible opportunities that it would just be stupid to say no to. You know in the early days it was really just organizing. You know we would organize home and if someone had to go on a trip or if there was a school event or whatever it was we just wouldn't schedule a job that day. But now there's.
Joanna: Now we have a very low bar. Unless it's someone's birthday or it's a huge holiday basically anything is fair game.
Clea: Oh and we've almost missed two birthdays. Both our sons almost had birthdays missed this year.
Joanna: It's true. We made them both there by like the skin of their teeth and we missed Halloween last year which was really sad and my son reminds me almost on a daily basis.
Clea: But we missed Halloween for Good Morning America. You know you see the issue. It's a problem.
Joanna: Right but you can't say no to Good Morning America. There will be other Halloweens.
Clea: You just work it out and our poor husbands are kind of just like left you know like at the alter like holding the bag. Like they just have to you know take care of the kids and we always act as though somehow like they don't work. They have very big jobs but I don't know. They're just. I don't know.
Joanna: They're better moms.
Clea: They're better moms. We married the right people and they. I have no idea how they fit everything in.
Joanna: We just have a low bar for like giving ourselves. You know we give ourselves a lot of passes. Like what are we going to do? So.
Clea: Yeah. I feel like if I make it to pick them up on time I have done the best I can do at motherhood.
Joanna: I agree. You know. I mean everyone's doing pretty well.
Clea: I think so.
Clea: Yeah it's so different. It's amazing. I remember what the question was.
Joanna: I really got you derailed.
Liz: That's okay. So I'm sure you're not surprised to hear this but I am nine months pregnant and on Friday night I stayed up 'til midnight cleaning out a cabinet of kids toys and art supplies because I had this like overwhelming urge to organize it before this baby arrives.
Clea: Yeah. I think that's very normal.
Liz: As moms and organizational gurus do you think that there's something about motherhood or parenthood that uniquely inspires us to create these beautiful and organized spaces for our families?
Clea: I think it's almost like a biological need. I mean you know they call it nesting but I mean I really feel like there is a deep like. You know there is chemistry at work in our bodies that need to make things orderly for our homes to bring up a baby into. I mean even animals react that way you know. It's like really. You kind of need to create that space and it's not just for the baby. It's for you too and I think our bodies know that we're like about to enter the dark ages when we bring in a new child into the house and like everything; sleep goes out the window and order goes out the window and anything that. Any priority that you have and I feel like your body knows that it needs to get it done beforehand you know and to kind of create just a little bit of calm maybe it'll give you like a tiny head start in life you know once you have a new baby. I mean that's my philosophy.
Joanna: And I agree.
Liz: And what about? You know my oldest is seven and I'm not always pregnant but like I still feel that feeling.
Clea: Yes you are. You're about to be four kids under seven.
Liz: Technically, okay.
Clea: Okay what days weren't you pregnant?
Liz: I think there was some week in 2016. But it seems like this sort of urge to clean and stay organized and on top of it is it just becomes like part of who you are as a parent. Do you experience that too?
Clea: I do.
Joanna: I do too. I think we're not the best ones to ask.
Clea: We're an extra breed of crazy but I have to say like I remember before I had my first, before I had Stella, people would tell me that all of my issues and all of my behaviors are going to loosen up because you know once you have kids like you can't act like that. You know you can't keep everything as neat and perfect as you want. I've gotten worse honestly. Like I think that with every additional child I feel the need to make everything just a little bit more orderly and less crazy and less chaotic. I feel like it's like therapy and it feels like if it. If everything is out of place, I mean Joanna and I when we get home from a business trip, both of us get home and we want to like burn the house down. We're like who lives here. You know what is going on.
Liz: I love this idea of organization as therapy. I totally relate to it and the more children that I have the more I relate to it. But let's actually dive into your methods. So can you give us the two minute version of the three big steps in The Home Edit method and they are called "the edit" number one, number two is "the assembly" and three "the upkeep." Can you walk us through those three steps?
Clea: Yeah. So I would say. I'm going to give you three different words for it but just because you know who doesn't love some good alliteration but. So what we like to say is step one you say edit which is what we had in our book but it's the cleanse. You really need to cleanse your space. Take everything out and that also includes like wiping down your space too. Like let's do a thorough cleanse while we're actually cleansing the items. Let's actually cleanse the space because chances are it needs it. So you take everything out and then you categorize it. Categorizing is just you know creating those like items. You start to see duplicates or things that are broken, things that maybe you need to replace and it really helps in your mind kind of solidify those systems. Like having those groups means okay like these are all my breakfast items. These are all my baking items. And you start to kind of see what you have, see what you need and know where to find things and where to put them away. The third step is containment. Containment is really I would say with the caveat; the other part of containment is labeling. We just don't say it because it's not a c. Can calligraphy count? But containment is the upkeep; keeping things in its own home, a designated spot and labeling it as such is the way that you actually keep things organized for the long term. If you just kind of create the groups and just like put the groups on the shelf without any containment or any kind of labeling mechanism to you know signify what each group is, then essentially what you're doing is just kind of neatening things up, but you're not organizing them because there's no way to keep free floating items organized for the long term.
Joanna: You have to set up a system. Systems are key for the maintenance.
Clea: Yes. So unless you contain it and designate it as something it's not organized. You know it just kind of falls right back into the ether.
Liz: Okay so I've got it. It's number one the cleanse including the cleaning. Number two the categorizing where you're sorting through things, putting like items with like. And three the containment and that's where you get into the sort of daily rhythm and upkeep of that.
Clea: Yeah. We like to say that a good you know thing to think of when we talk about those steps, think about your utensil drawer in your kitchen and you know everything is categorized, everything's grouped and the spoons here, the forks here, everything's contained and everyone in the family kind of agrees to that upkeep. No one puts you know the knife with the spoon. Like everyone knows what spot.
Joanna: It's an unspoken rule.
Clea: Exactly. It's an unspoken rule that if you think about it, it can really apply to every single space. So when people say, "My family's never going to keep it up." We always say, "What about the utensil drawer?" Everyone agrees to that you know and every space can function that same way.
Liz: I know that most moms can relate to the struggle that it is to keep this house tidy. You know it sometimes can feel; I have three kids you know running around now and it feels like you're shoveling in a snowstorm trying to; totally like they create new messes faster than you can clean them up. So
Joanna: The best game is to have them clean up and put things away where it goes. I mean honestly that's like one of the best games in our house.
Liz: You set a timer right?: I set a timer and I say, "Okay three minutes. Let's clean up the magnatiles. How fast can you clean up the magnatiles." That's one of my little tricks. But as moms and organizational gurus how do you actually raise kids to be tidy? Like what are those techniques? What are the ways within your own daily lives that you're encouraging those behaviors to make your kid's lives easier in the long term and also yours?
Joanna: Well one thing that I think about too is like when the kids bring something home I ask them, "Where is this going to go?" 'Cause that's what I do for myself. It I need to when I buy something, I need to envision where it's going to go otherwise where is it going to go? It needs to have a home, a proper home. And so the same thing for the kids. If there's no place that they can envision it going then is it going to stay on the floor? You know so we've got to. That's like the first thing that I think about when they try to bring something into the house. So that when they clean up they have an automatic place to go to. 'Cause if nothing is created for it to be put away then you can't fault someone for not cleaning up you know.
Clea: And you have to you know make sure they take part in the process. So if they want something new it's like if this space is already maxed out they're going to have to get rid of something you know. So that's a choice that they need to make. You know if you want a new thing that goes into the playroom closet and that space is full like what category can we get rid of? What can we donate?
Joanna: We're super fun moms.
Clea: Yeah. We're super fun. They are going to love us.
Liz: Our toys, the broken toys in our house just disappear overnight sometimes. One thing that I've learned how to do is actually I don't get rid of them as a first step but I gather unused toys and I put them in garbage bags which I know you guys are against.
Clea: Put it in the garage.
Liz: And guess what? 99 times out of 100 no one even remembers and a month later I'm less attached to it in a month and they've completely forgot. We've been actually able to downsize. I think we have fewer toys and clutter in our house now with almost four children than we've ever had taking this approach to it.
Joanna: Well the thing about it is that it's so addicting. Once you start editing and organizing it's like the most addicting thing you can do.
Clea: Well we also have a section in our book for play spaces and it specifically says like in the dead of night or when they go to school. Like run through with the garbage bag and take anything you think they don't use, need, like. You know anything not nailed down and unfortunately for me, my eight year old can read. She started reading that section and her eyes almost popped out of her head. She said, "What?" I was like, "This is all in theory honey. I would never do that to you." Yeah. When we wrote the book they couldn't read yet. So now that's a problem but you know I think that having them be part of the process is important and you know taking everything you can that is like broken or discarded is great. I do that all the time. But also like the things that aren't broken and discarded if they want something new and they have to make a choice, something's got to give and I make them do that. Like they have to be responsible and have responsible ownership or they just think that they can accumulate forever. If they don't know that I'm purging in the dead of night then they just think that they can keep getting things and they all go somewhere.
Joanna: There's limits. Learning that there can be limits that's true in anything; budgeting, anything really. I mean I think the earlier you can learn these things the better. It's not going to go away as you get older so you might as well learn it the minute you can you know.
Clea: I told Stella if she wants another American Girl doll we have to move. Like we literally are out of American Girl doll space. So I mean that's just the bottom line. Like they have a little commune in her closet. She has like six dolls in there and they're all in bunk beds and salon chairs and I'm like this is it. Like we are running out of room here. So yeah. They need to start making some smarter choices.
Liz: I think today you know we're having this cultural conversation about Marie Condo but also you know at Motherly we see a lot of our moms super interested in minimalism and downsizing and I think people really are starting to understand the value of having fewer things, especially with kids. One thing that I learned from reading your book is that one of the keys is having the spaces themselves be beautiful and your particular method with beautiful containers labeled beautifully and having you know a color coded system, the delight and pleasure that we get out of having the organization and the spaces around us be beautiful actually helps us to be inspired to maintain them.
Liz: In an ongoing basis. What does that look like in family life? Can you explain that a little bit more?
Clea: I think you have to be a little trickier when you're dealing with kids. Like you know you have to do a little bit more showmanship when you're organizing a space 'cause you have to make it really exciting for them to want to maintain. You know it's like we can organize our closets and make it look really beautiful and you know we want to maintain that order in an organized pantry but playing with color is really significant when organizing for kids. It; like I personally respond to it myself.
Liz: Can you explain that method that you employ?
Clea: Sure. We; so when we organize by the rainbow it is essentially when we talk about containment and labeling, the rainbow actually acts as that. So it designates a spot for it and it gives it a label like the red section without actually using words. The kids understand and intuitively start to operate in that color coding. And again it's a game to put things away. So if all the art supplies; you know we don't get to finicky with it either. It's not like all the red colored pencils have to be together. It's more like all the red markers, crayons and colored pencils. So it's really just thinking about how kids you know how they naturally respond and instinctively and intuitively can react to a system. I even do that with their snacks in my pantry. I have all of their little grab and go items lined up in rainbow order. You know red through purple and my son will say, "We're running low on yellow snacks mommy." You know it's like he knows and he knows where to find it and what he likes and I'll switch out sometimes. Like sometimes yellow will be potato chips and sometimes it'll be like the Boom Chicka popcorn or whatever. And you know but it's like they know where to find things. They know where to put things away and that is really critical. Same thing with books, blocks, Legos, whatever it is. They really stick to it. Like they don't. They just would not put a blue thing in a yellow bin. You know what kind of sociopath would do that?
Liz: One of the struggles that women face with their homes is that it can feel like a burden that's entirely on them and not on their kids and not on their partners. We do a State of Motherhood survey every year and this year, like last year, our results showed that mothers in 2019 do the vast majority of housekeeping even when they work full time jobs outside of the home. You've worked with a lot of families. How do you advise women to close this gender gap in housekeeping and home maintenance?
Clea: We did in our homes. Our husbands do all that.
Joanna: I also think some of it's; you have to decide you know is it your issue that things are exact or is it the family that's like not being responsive to reasonable systems. So like that's the first place that we usually start.
Clea: And blurring that line is important actually just to maintain everyone's sanity. So for instance, it is my issue that all the shoes downstairs be in shoeboxes in the front hall closet. It is something that it drives me crazy if they're in the right spot but not in the shoe box. It just like drives me nuts. But as long as my family can get the shoes to the right spot I feel like they've done the reasonable amount of what they need to do and if it drives me crazy that it's not in the proper shoe box then that's on me. You know that's a me issue. It's not a them issue. So you kind of have to understand where the responsibility is.
Joanna: And reasonable. Again, like the utensils. We always go back to the utensils because it's so. I mean it's just such a great example. But it's reasonable to put the knives back with the knives. So is what you're asking reasonable or is it like, "okay I want you to separate out " you know something unreasonable, the long socks from the short socks. I mean it has to be; it just has to be within reason. Then I think that helps eliminate some of the work for the wife or I guess you know for the mom.
Clea: I think it is important. Like I think my kids need to have a reasonable amount of responsibility in picking up their room. Are they going to make the bed the way I want their bed made? Probably not and I appreciate their effort and attempts but if it bothers me then I need to go that extra mile. It just is about you know setting expectations, making sure everyone's on board with that and then understanding if there are just things like your own tendencies and behaviors kind of insist on, then you need to be the one to kind of pick up that slack. But getting your family onboard up to that point is really important. And I think that it's also expressing why it's important to you. You know I mean I tell my family, not that I need to tell them at this point 'cause I think they've heard it loud and clear, but you know it's like I get very upset when I feel like our home is not being treated respectfully. I get very upset when I feel like I buy things for my children and they are not respecting the boundaries of their room and their space and the them. I tell them all the time if I come upstairs and your stuff is all over the floor I'm going to assume that you don't want it and I'm going to give it to someone else. So you know it's like really having them understand the methodology behind it. And I think it starts to seep into their psyches, at least I hope.
Liz: So Clea and Joanna at Motherly we talk about how motherhood helps bring out our superpowers. Those are like hidden amazingness inside of us that we discover after becoming moms. I'm wondering for each of you what do you consider to be your superpower?
Clea: We literally only have one and it's the same one and it's organizing. It's not an exciting answer. We are not good at a single other thing. We can't cook. We can't clean. We don't know how to clean. Our husbands do that too. We can't sew. We don't craft. We're.
Joanna: But you know what? I will add one thing to that. Is that we're good at showing our kids that you can do truly anything even at any age or you know you don't have to go to business school necessarily to start a business.
Clea: I think also unapologetically successful and feel like you know what? Like I get a lot of flack from my daughter when she's saying she wishing I didn't have to travel for work. I'm like, "You know what? Mommy has to work. Mommy travels and there are two reasons for it. Number one, private school aint free and number two you know I'm good at what I do" and I'm really proud of that fact. I'm really good at what I do and someday I hope you're really good at something and feel passionate and want to put your time in. You know we are fortunate enough that our life, our career, our jobs are truly like a dream and we don't feel like we have to just show up to work. This is not a have to situation. Part of it is. I tell her like you know Mommy and Daddy both need to work. Some people only have one parent who works or no parents who work but that's not our situation. We both do. But I'm also really proud of it and I refuse to feel guilty about it. So yeah, our superpower is not feeling guilty, being super talented at organizing and not feeling guilty about it.
Liz: Clea and Joanna from The Home Edit, thank you so much for joining us today on the Motherly podcast.
Clea and Joanna: Thank you so much.
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