I thought I couldn’t be organized. These three tips turned my chaos around.
Back when I was expecting my first child, I was chronically late to my ob-gyn appointments. They were about a 25 minute drive from where I lived (which, as a midwesterner, is an eternity away), and I would consistently leave home exactly 25 minutes before my appointment time, leaving no wiggle room for parking, walking to the office, checking in, or any of those necessary steps. I was always, always late.
As our family grew, my time management and organizational skills did not. I found plenty of reasons to justify my chaotic life. I had many small children. I was a creative personality type. It was more important to have happy kids than a clean house.
But when I missed my oldest child’s preschool Chanukah party, it gave me pause.
“All the other mommies were there. But you weren’t, Mommy,” he told me that evening at bedtime. Years later, it is still very painful to recall.
I had not developed any system for checking his backpack for fliers from school. I was overwhelmed with my other children, with my household, and with all the extra (read: much more fun and interesting) stuff I was doing like making music and writing articles.
When I finally looked through his backpack and found not one, but at least four fliers for this party that I had completely flaked on, I realized that I needed to find a way to get my act together.
Here are some things that have helped me on my quest to get it more together.
Don’t Tell Yourself What You Can’t Do
I used to have a whole list of things that I considered impossible to accomplish: Cleaning up my kitchen/dining room after Shabbos. Having laundry folded and put away. Being ready for Shabbos by chatzos.
And so I didn’t even try because I was too busy listening to my own limiting self-definition of what I could and couldn’t do.
But all of those things that I thought I couldn’t do built up into a pretty stressful situation, making the morning routine, dinnertime and, life in general, harder and more chaotic than it needed to be.
The first “impossible” task I tackled was cleaning up after Shabbos. Instead of viewing it as this big overwhelming job, I broke it down into smaller jobs (clear the table, sweep the floor, do the dishes), and I was pleasantly surprised to find that the amount of time it took to clean up was dramatically shorter than the emotional weight I had placed on it.
Plus, the feeling I got coming downstairs on Sunday morning and starting the week off with a clean slate was so much better than coming downstairs to a bunch of chores still needing to be done.
Once I saw that the impossible could be done, it made me more eager to see what other improvements I could make in my life.
Making a Realistic Plan
I liked the idea of being organized, but I found that some of the existing systems didn’t really work for me. Like when I first tried my hand at menu planning. I wanted to be more on top of dinnertime, I wanted to not just have random ingredients in my pantry, and if I could also save money, that would be great.
But in my excitement, I made plans for whole months at a time, and I would still end up with like five containers of ketchup in my pantry. It was not working for me.
I realized at some point that my idea of what a menu plan should be for our family and what my family actually ate were completely different. Also, I started planning for one week at a time, not a whole month.
I asked my kids for some examples of what dinners they actually would want to eat, and developed a rotation of dinners that work, more or less, for the grown-ups and kids.
And I actually check my pantry and fridge most of the time now before making my shopping list, which has really helped cut down on things like wasted produce.
Writing It Down
If I don’t write it down, it’s not going to happen. And if I write it down on a random piece of paper and then lose that piece of paper, it’s still not going to happen.
Now I have a Bullet Journal where I keep my to-do lists and as soon as they come to my mind, down on the paper they go. I have a magnetic list pad on my fridge where I write down things we run out of so I can add them to the shopping list the next time I go out.
I also write down goals I have, projects I’m working on, and different things I’m tracking. I write down what we’re having for dinner on a menu board in the kitchen. I find if it’s out of my head and somewhere visible, it’s much more likely to get done!
Everything Has a Place, And Not Having Too Many Things
Socks. Yarmulkas. Headbands. Coloring supplies. Pencils. Snacks. Bag clips.
There are so, so many things to keep track of.
I’ve found that baskets and little containers are fantastic for keeping things in a place. They don’t have to be expensive. I even put little container inside dresser drawers to keep underwear and socks separately, which make it easier for my kids to put them away.
I also found that I don’t need as much stuff as I thought I did. I don’t know how everything multiplies so quickly, but I am constantly purging pens that no longer work, toys that are broken or missing pieces, or that shirt that has been in closet for five years without me wearing it more than twice.
When there are less things to find a place for, it’s much easier to make places for them.
I’m not exactly Martha Stewart now (or Marie Kondo), and my house is often still flying, but instead of being completely chaos, it’s more just full of the mess that is life with small children, and that’s a reality I embrace now that I have organizational methods in place. Even when something inevitably derails my routine, it’s so much easier to get back on track when there’s a track that exists to get back on.