While at a networking event recently I asked Holly Wheaton of Parewell Organizing what 5 organization tips she would share with stay-at-home parents. Organization, after all, is one of those hard realities where adding a baby can feel like it has turned home life upside down. Holly took my question and presented it to a group of moms “who navigate an incredibly difficult job with prowess, grace, humour, and humility”.
The common threads in these tips, Holly writes, emerge as the most impactful strategies.
Surprisingly, these strategies she found are not all that different from those that would a make positive impact for most anyone – but when running a household, the stakes can be much higher and the consequences of poor systems much greater.
Find your calendar
If you’re not already a calendar user, accept that you can’t remember all the things, at least not without using brain space and emotional energy you may need for other challenges.
Paper or digital is a very personal choice – there are many blogs and articles online on the pros and cons of each.
Consider what your needs are and what you want to use a calendar for – managing special dates, appointments, commitments and play dates? Keeping track of what’s happening in the schedules of others in your household? Remembering bill due dates, important renewals, vehicle maintenance, or seasonal tasks? Does it need to be mobile or centrally located in the home?
You may need to test out different methods or apps to find the best fit, but the most important thing is to start and keep going until something fits.
Clear the clutter
Nothing sucks time or energy like mess, and studies have shown that clutter can cause hormonal patterns associated with negative health outcomes. In other words, it messes with us and can be bad news.
You may feel like you don’t have the time to declutter, but when clutter builds up over time it becomes more difficult to manage, leaves you with more to clean and maintain and the whole situation is more overwhelming to deal with. What to do? Sell, toss, donate. Start bins in a storage area and label them sell, toss, and donate. Having these at the ready makes everyday decluttering top-of-mind and much easier. As you move through your day and discover outgrown kids’ clothes, unused toys, or that outfit that just doesn’t feel ‘you’ anymore, place them in the appropriate bin. Minutes waiting for coffee to brew or during other tasks become opportunities to tackle one drawer, cupboard, etc.
Over time, your house becomes less cluttered, and everything that needs to be sold, rehomed, recycled, or disposed of is all in one place. It’s much easier to schedule time to deal with the bins then get your head wrapped around a much larger and more involved task. When that clothing swap or community yard sale comes up, you’ll be ready to roll!
As your kids become able, involve them in the process. Having clearly-labeled bins or spaces for items help kids learn systems and remember where things go. Involving kids in downsizing toys to donate to a worthy charity or program for children in need helps to teach empathy, develop their understanding of the value of things, and get them invested in the decluttering process.
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Be a champion of routine
Get into a good routine with your kids. Consistent waking, bedtime, mealtimes, and tasks helps kids learn boundaries and manage expectations. Make sure that there is time in your day for you to be totally alone without a task, even if it’s just for 5 minutes with a coffee at dawn, or in the backyard in the quiet and dark, after the kids go to bed.
If time management is not your strong suit, consider tracking your time for a couple weeks to see where it goes, where it could be reclaimed, and anywhere your routines need improvement or adjustment.
Embrace meal planning
Meal planning and recurring meals allows for big, regular grocery days, bulk food-prep, and pre-cooking meals – a huge time-saver and sanity saver over struggling with the ‘what’s for dinner’ question or having to run to the grocery store constantly.
- Look for one-pot, make-ahead, and freezer friendly recipes
- Fall in love with your slow cooker
- Make big-batch soups, chilis, and casseroles
- Double recipes to eat one now and save one for later – great for lasagnas, pot-pies, curries, pizzas, pastas, and more
- Freeze meals
- Use wide-mouth mason jars to freeze single-serve lunches for you or your partner
As your kids grow, have them help with appropriate meal prep tasks – not only can this reduce your workload over time, but it builds their skills and confidence, and makes them more likely to be open to eating new or different meals.
Release expectations. Set Boundaries.
If you struggle with saying no, really push to get comfortable one no at a time. As a mom, demands will be put on you, people will want to spend time with you and visit, and some may even cause you to feel guilt that they don’t see you or the children regularly. Remind yourself that you do not owe anyone your time. Don’t put pressure on yourself to attend community meetings, visit extended family, etc. Of course, relationships and family are important, but you can always welcome people to come to you. Heck, even combine visits with childcare – if a family member really wants to see the children, perhaps they’d be willing to do so while you have coffee with a friend you haven’t seen in too long.
Try to be realistic with your expectations. You may only be able to about 0-30% of what you thought you could every day. That’s not a sign you’re failing – that’s a sign you need a more realistic to-do list. Celebrate your accomplishments and let go of guilt. Raising a child and keeping a house is a full-time job. Full stop. That may not be what you want to believe, what others may tell you, or what Instagram or society would have you think is possible. Just as air-brushed and photoshopped bodies are unrealistic standards of beauty, so are many expectations and judgements placed on stay-at-home moms.
Thank you again to Holly for sharing this piece.
What do you feel will be your family’s most vital tip for you to employ? I’d love to read your comments!
Holly Wheaton is a professional organizer and founder of Parewell Organizing. Parewell Organizing believes that what we accumulate weighs us down and therefore limits our potential. Life happens, and it’s often messy – no judgment here.
Clients usually contact Holly when they’re downsizing or moving, need to organize their home or office, or need to declutter and beautify their space.
Holly Wheaton is a member of Professional Organizers in Canada.