When my dear friend Billy told me he had described himself to a date as “kinda messy,” I told him he needed to offer full disclosure immediately. This woman was orderly to an extreme, and after they broke up (because she wouldn’t let him drink a glass of water in her living room, among other reasons), I suggested he look for someone who is organized but not so uptight. I added, “But you can never, ever marry anyone who is unorganized. If you ignore me, I swear I’ll stand up at the wedding and protest — for the sake of the children.”
This may sound heavy-handed — if you don’t know that Billy is one of my oldest friends and haven’t read about his exploits here, here or here. And then there’s the fact that I am the product of the marriage of two Not Naturally Organized people and know firsthand the stress a child experiences growing up in a chaotic household.
When I married, I chose a man who was raised by a mother who is Far Naturally Organized. He learned to pick up after himself and keep things tidy. This was my salvation. He was the undergirding of our household while I found my way and, by example, taught me the natural rhythms of keeping one going. Fortunately, I desperately wanted to have a smoothly running home, and today our home functions and runs smoothly enough.
If you and your beloved are both Not Naturally Organized and you have progeny, I don’t need to tell you the challenges in tackling the daily onslaught of toys, papers, meals, errands and laundry that accompanies life with kids today. The most Naturally Organized people I know can get overwhelmed by this. And yet there’s a special chaos involved when two Not Naturally Organized people try running a household.
What You Can Do
The good news is your situation isn’t hopeless. By focusing on a few important areas, you can turn your house around.
One of the very best things you can do is eliminate extra stuff. Figure out what really matters to you and get rid of everything else. At the same time, be careful about what you add. If you’re not going to eat it or off it, sit or sleep on it, wear it, read it or hang it on the wall, then don’t buy it.
Getting rid of things takes some time. While you are decluttering or thinking about and resisting it, you can establish some basic systems in a few key areas that will dissipate much of the daily stress, if not make it flat out disappear.
So many steps! Make a list; go shopping; haul it home; cook; clean up afterwards; and then do it over and over again. It’s the laundry of food.
For dinner, try this: Choose 14 seasonal meals — that’s two weeks of dinners. Make a master list of ingredients and make those meals over and over again. If it’s something freezable like a soup, double the recipe then serve one and throw the second in the freezer for the next two-week cycle. If you can stretch it, create a menu with 21 dinners — three weeks of meals. You’ll get into a rhythm of keeping your pantry stocked. Make sure to include a few easy go-tos for those especially busy nights.
With lunches, if your kids go to school and don’t order hot lunch, have them pack their own. This gives children control over a basic choice and builds personal responsibility as well as encourages gratitude. Some mornings I jump in and make a sandwich for a child who is running late, and he or she is thankful for the help. If you educate your children at home, consider making lunch preparation a responsibility of the children. Again, they get to take ownership and learn important life skills.
For breakfast, figure out the healthiest, best options that fit your family’s tastes and schedule.
Bulging closets are common. The most important step you can take is to go through everyone’s wardrobe and sell or donate whatever no longer fits or is never worn.
Keep it simple. You can still be creative and enjoy your clothes, but take care you aren’t burdening your children with too many choices.
Tip: Make sure every family member has a good two weeks of underwear and socks.
Delegate laundry. As soon as your kids are ambulatory, they should be helping out. This is an enormous task and inviting your kids to be a part of it is good for everyone. Start with simple tasks like stuffing clothes in the washer and build up until they are entirely independent. If your child is helping with laundry from an early age, he will value the work involved and be less likely to throw clean clothes on the floor or change outfits on a whim.
Tip: Don’t bother folding underwear; stack it flat.
Make it a priority to keep your laundry room clean. You don’t have to decorate it, but keep things picked up and the floor swept. Wipe off the washer and dryer as needed. Keep a trash can handy for dryer lint. These simple routines make a huge impact.
Coming and Going
Finally, and this may be the most important one, every family needs systems for entering and exiting the house. Every member should have a home for his coat, shoes, hat, and gloves, backpack or purse, papers in the case of students, and keys, wallet, and phones for adults. It will take some trial and error to find a spot for everything.
If you don’t have a gorgeous mudroom, that’s no excuse. Hang a row of hooks and buy an inexpensive boot tray. Teach everyone to take off shoes at the door. This habit alone will eliminate the daily adrenaline rush of a child yelling, “Where are my shoes!” as the bus idles out front.
Tip: Designate a hook or two for each family member. This enforces the idea of “a place for everything and everything in its place.” This simple habit of hanging one’s coat and backpack and taking off one’s shoes in a specific spot is powerful.
Set up an evening routine. Train the children to pack backpacks and lunches (as much as possible) the night before. Have them double check the location of their coats and shoes and any accessories.
Tip: For younger kids, make sure to hang hooks low so they can reach them without help.
Establish a place for papers. The flood of permission slips and forms is incredible. Create a safe spot for kids to place their papers for you to go over at your convenience. Get in the habit of checking it after dinner, and then take the necessary steps (fill out the form, write a check, scavenge for cash) right then so it’s all ready to go for your child to pack during his evening routine.
Tip: Don’t get hung up on trying to make things cute. First establish a system, and then doll it up if you’d like.
Where to Begin?
I know this is a lot to consider, especially if you’re already overwhelmed. Pick one area of concern and focus on that until some good habits are made and build from there. If there’s resistance from the family as you establish new routines, don’t worry. It’s natural. Stay as upbeat as you can and keep plugging away.
Tip: Women, if searching for your keys is a major part of your daily routine, I highly recommend buying a bungee sort of keychain that you can attach to your purse. It’s not pretty, but the time it saves more than makes up for its aesthetic weakness.
Men, decide where you will set your keys when you enter the house and choose a “home” for them on the move. My Naturally Organized husband keeps his keys in the right pocket of his coats and jackets in cold weather and the right front pocket of his pants when it’s warm.
This article was syndicated from Houzz. You can read Alison Hodgson’s original article here.