Tips from a formerly disorganized mom to a functionally organized.

Practical help to end the overwhelm

Practical tips when you feel overwhelmedPeople who know me might be laughing right now. I am a go with the flow type mom, and messes are part of the flow. However, without some serious organization, homeschooling and 4 sons meant overwhelm. (Yes, four sons, the cutie in the photo is a granddaughter, a new adventure.)

Since, organization can be a struggle for me, I’ve worked hard to come up with simple solutions. These are boy tested, and worked for us. I found the more elaborate a system, the less likely I was to keep it up.  Okay, let’s get functionally organized.

The classic organization advice is to have a place for everything. Great advice, however, things always seemed to migrate. What’s up with that?  We’ve probably all tried to put everything in it’s place…but often that seems to not be quite the ticket. So a few additions to that excellent advice.

Eliminate the clutter. Recently, we’ve been doing some pretty radical culling out of our belongings and I realize just how overdue we were. I’ve also been reading up on minimalism. I’m working toward a more simplified life, and have found a great deal of wisdom in letting go of so many material things.

If you are constantly having to re-organize your stuff, it might not be that your unorganized, it might just be you have too much stuff! Really, think it through. Being organized is great, but if you are just organizing to fit more and more stuff into your home, it’s time to back up and re-evaluate. Things take up space, financial resources, and time. Make sure the trade off is worth it.

If your children are overwhelmed by the thought of picking up their rooms, they probably have too much stuff in there. Do them a favor and help them sort out their favorites and donate the rest to a charity. A win win for everyone.

Consolidate clutter. After the success of the School Boxes, I started working out other simple storage systems. Each of these is simple, and felt like it should have been obvious, but wasn’t. I’ll share in the hopes my ideas spark some of your own, for your unique messy areas. This is a twist on everything in it’s place.

One constant frustration for me was socks. I tried every trick I could find to keep pairs together and to make folding laundry less of an epic battle. Can you relate?  I actually knew one mom, with one child and a little more expendable income than I had, who purchased a bag of socks every week when grocery shopping so she could just throw away her sons gross socks. That is a bit extreme, (and sooo not green) but the sock battle can defeat the best of us.

After years of sock battles, the boys reached an age where the sizes between their socks didn’t matter, so I threw out or made into rags, all of the socks we had and bought plain white athletic socks, one size, one style. I designated one drawer as the community sock drawer and dumped them in, unpaired. From then on all clean socks went in the drawer and since they all matched the boys just grabbed two socks and we were done.

I know this would be a challenge for those children who live for cute, diverse socks, but perhaps you could limit the number of pairs or as soon as they are old enough, teach them to do their own laundry and keep track of their own socks! (Can you tell, I find socks traumatizing.)

I realize this solution won’t work for many of you…but take a good look at your daily sources of frustration and brainstorm with your kids and spouse about solutions. We kept a rubbermaid on the washing machine that corralled all sports equipment. If one boy’s chore was cleaning out the car, he didn’t have to hunt down his brother to return a baseball glove or soccer cleat…just dump it in the ‘sports’ box. All library books, no matter who checked them out, went in the book basket by the front door.

The more of these ‘no-brainer’ options you can come up, the smoother your day will run. The larger the family, the more these systems need to be in place and be iron clad.

Start each day with a clean slate.  The routine in our house was to do chores first thing in the morning, before breakfast. Boys are hungry, this built into the routine an incentive to get things done. Doing chores before breakfast and school meant we started the day with a clean slate. I’ve got an article coming on how our chore system worked, but for now let me say beds were made, bedrooms picked up, bathrooms were wiped down, car was cleaned out, clean dishes were put away and every room got a pick up, put away, and sweep. While the boys took care of that, I made breakfast.Practical tips when you feel overwhelmed

Starting the day with chores done was another key to my staying organized. Four kids make a lot of mess, it’s only right they help clean the messes up. When they turned 3 they were assigned chores. As they got older they were taught new housekeeping skills. I consider this training as important as the academic work they did. When my boys left for college they could clean, cook, do laundry, and sew on a button.

Don’t compare. Everyone’s family is different, and how you go about accomplishing what needs to get done will differ in every household. While it’s helpful and instructive to chat with other moms about these topics, it can be counter-productive to try to obsessively emulate someone else’s system. Brainstorming solutions leads to awesome ideas. Making comparisons leads to either guilt and shame over perceived failures, or excessive pride and a ‘one-up-manship’ attitude. Better to just ditch the mom comparisons.

Don’t let the urgent overshadow the important. So often things feel urgent, but upon further thought we realize they really aren’t. The world won’t end if your mother stops by and the laundry is on the couch, your week won’t be ruined if you don’t get to the vacuuming you’d planned to do on Wed. until Thursday. Caring for people is more important than caring for things and sometimes we need that reminder.

Enlist help. Don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need it. I’m going to assume your spouse is helpful, but you can also work out trades with other homeschooling families. Your kids need to be helping, not just because you need the help, but because they need to be a part of the family and learn basic housekeeping and cooking skills.

When you feel overwhelmed, don’t try to go it alone. Find supportive, creative people that can help you out, and then return the favor.

Clean up as you go along. This was one area I had to work on…but it saves soooo much time. If something spills in the kitchen it only takes a second to wipe it up, but if you let it dry out you now have a 5 minute scrubbing job. Also, taking 5 minutes periodically during the course of the day to have everyone stop, pick up and put away, saves you an hour later trying to sort out and deal with all the messes and projects of the day.

Before meals worked best for me. The morning messes were put away before lunch, the afternoon messes before dinner. This kept at least a semblance of order in place.

Warning: If you are on the opposite side of the spectrum from me, and are obsessively neat and tidy you might need to limit yourself to a few clean ups a day. When kids are engaged, concentrating, absorbed by a project… don’t spoil that by a compulsive need to keep everything tidy. A project may need to sit on the table for a bit.

Plan your meals  Meal planning can be a frustrating and endless task, especially when your afternoons are full. I found that at those times, my mind went blank and I could come up with NO dinner ideas.

I began keeping recipes on index cards. Before a trip to the store I could check my schedule (to see how many days I’d need easy and/or portable meals) and pull out cards of meals that would work. I didn’t have to try to think up meals, just flip through my box of cards and pull the ones that would work. No forgetting an ingredient…as they were listed right on the card.  I’d take the cards to the store, and then keep them handy during the week. This greatly simplified meal planning, list making, and locating a recipe when I needed it.

Batch cook.  Sometimes the tried and true works. When I had the time I cooked double batches of food and froze half for a later date. If I was feeling especially productive I’d take a day and make a bunch of frozen meals…normally I’d do this before baseball season started. Having a bag of frozen sloppy Joe meat meant dinner on the table in minutes…or I could heat it up, put it in a thermos and take it to the ball park. Again, these ideas were on the cards I’d pull before going to the market.

Warning: The danger to this approach is waste. Too often I wouldn’t use what I’d prepared and the food was wasted. While it sounds great to have 3 months worth of meals in the freezer, realistically, I found keeping 2 weeks worth meant the food would be used in a timely fashion.

There are so many ideas on how to organize, the key is to start with just one at a time.. Try it out, see if it’s a fit for your family. If it seems to be working live with that one new practice for a while before you try adding another. Rarely does a total make over take hold in a few days. Better to add one good habit at a time until you find a rhythm that works well.

And then adjust, and adjust. Your routine will change as your children grow. That is why there is no perfect system. There are great ideasfu out there, but not a one size fits all solution.

Hope this is helpful. Would love to hear what solutions have worked for your family.

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Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Ellen Bayles

    Great tips!