This article was originally published on April 27, 2011.
I’ve always loved organizing tips. It’s fun to learn new ways to sort, process, and complete tasks and projects, but once I became a mother, nearly every piece of organizing advice I received left me feeling frustrated. What worked for most people simply didn’t work for me because my children seemed to be the ones in charge.
Something as simple (and as logical) as A-B-C, 1-2-3 stressed me out because if my baby was teething or my toddler was throwing a tantrum, I’d spend all my energy on my children and never even get my list. I felt like a failure at the end of those days. How ridiculous was that?
When my second child was four months old, I attended a class taught by a sharp, efficient woman whose organizing system clearly worked wonders for her; however, she insisted that each of us consistently carry a gigantic briefcase/binder, complete with more than 75 lists and forms. With an infant seat on one arm, a fully-stocked diaper bag on the other, and a toddler who often “lost it” in the middle of the grocery store, there was absolutely no way I could manage such a mammoth organizing tool. I left that seminar convinced that no one understood the plight of frazzled mothers.
Occasionally, I would read organizing articles geared toward moms, and they would end with something like, “Don’t worry about being organized right now. Just enjoy your children.” I wanted nothing more than to do just that, but it’s kind of hard to enjoy your children when you’re constantly forgetting to buy toilet paper or pay the bills on time. The best I could do was create long, long lists and then stare at them all day with the hope that I would earn at least three or four check marks.
Does anyone out there feel my pain?
Well, don’t worry, the purpose of this article isn’t to commiserate. I just thought it would be helpful to put together a few organizing tips (based on our Mind Organization for Moms program) that work for moms with just about any organizing style. Your individuality isn’t a liability. There’s no reason in the world that you can’t organize in a way that works for you. Do you like to put everything in your phone? Do you prefer a binder? Do you make lots of lists? Do you feel restricted by those lists? Do you prefer a flexible schedule? Do you like to plan out every minute? Whatever your preference, it IS possible for mothers to feel organized–using a style that works for them. These are four ideas to get you started.
Organizing Tip #1: Have one place to record your appointments and “must-do’s.”
Whether you like to use the calendar on your phone, a little pocket calendar, or a wall calendar shared by your whole family, have one place (and one place only) where you keep track of major deadlines and appointments. So much of what we do as moms is flexible, but we’ll be able to enjoy our family experiences much more if we’re not worried about the dentist appointments, book report due dates, or Grandma’s birthday.
Organizing Tip #2: Group extra little tasks according to context.
You can use any kind of paper, planner, or phone application you’d like, but you need somewhere to keep track of the non-deadline stuff that needs to be done at some point. A “Phone” list can remind you to check with the bank about that extra fee they charged you. A “Computer” list can help you remember what purchases you want to make online, and an “Errands” list can help you group your out-of-the-house tasks so you don’t find yourself driving around the city thinking, “Now what was it I needed to do while I was out?”
Just because you have a list for each major context of your life doesn’t mean you have to do everything on the list at once. It just helps you focus your time a little better. This one idea has eased my stress like you wouldn’t believe.
Organizing Tip #3: Separate the “No Action Required” items from those that DO Require Action.
Just about every mom I know has a pile of papers on her desk or kitchen counter. Yep, I’ve got one, too. The problem is that most of those papers are usually worksheets, flyers, catalogs, or informational materials, but those “No Action Required” items typically mask the items that DO need you. By separating the party invitations, book orders, bills, permission slips, etc. from that pile, you’ll feel a little more control and a lot more peace of mind.
Organizing Tip #4: Create an Idea Binder
I honestly can’t remember my motivation for this, but several years ago, as a 26-year-old mother of three preschoolers, I read a book called How to Become CEO. One idea from that book that has stuck with me is to create an Idea Binder to hold all your great ideas. The author recommends that we each spend an hour a day (as moms, we can adjust that to ten minutes a day) thinking, brainstorming, ideating . . . whatever you’d like to call it–and then we need to write those ideas into our Idea Binders. His reasoning for creating such a resource? “Every idea has its time.”
Creating my “Perry Family Idea Binder” thrilled me. I packed it full of craft ideas, lesson plans I’d use once my children stopped throwing their food at me, books I wanted to read, family traditions I wanted to start, and recipes that sounded much more enticing than chicken nuggets and mac and cheese. This binder wasn’t just anidea binder. It was a place for me to safely tuck my hopes and dreams.
The more I learn about organization, the more I understand that it’s not about doing things one specific way. It’s about following tried and true principles that enable your mind to relax, applying them to your life in a way that works with your current needs, and then directing all that extra energy to enjoying your family.
QUESTION: Do you have a quick, versatile organizing tip that works well for moms?
CHALLENGE: Pick one organizing idea–either from this article or another source, and give it a try. Creating a positive new organizing habit doesn’t have to wait until New Year’s Day. Good luck!