I’m not a naturally organised person (at all), but you wouldn’t think that if you spent a day with me. If we spent a day together (and wouldn’t that be nice) you would probably think I’m one of the most organised people you’ve ever met. So what’s that all about?
Well, to me there is a big difference between being an organised person and being a person who is organised. I could never be the former because my nature is quite messy, chaotic and ‘seat o’ my pants’ish, BUT I can be the latter. I can be a messy, chaotic, SOMPish person who uses systems and tools to keep on top of things. So that’s what I do.
The benefits of being organised are quite simple and wonderful. Being organised provides a solid scaffolding around every kind of family. Rather than reinvent the wheel each day, organisation takes care of all the little routine things, freeing you up to concentrate on the bigger, more important things. The wheels may still fall off from time to time, but not often. How nice that is!
Here are 10 ways I use fairly rigid organisation to free up my days for play.
1. Have a rhythm if not a routine
I am not one for routines (I’m chaotic, remember?) but I am a huge believer in finding a rhythm and sticking with it. A daily rhythm basically acknowledges that set things happen in about the same order every day. Easy ones are ‘start with a cuppa’, but consider how outdoor time, quiet time, play time, homework time, eating time, cleaning time, hygiene time and sleep time fits together at your place. Develop a rhythm so that all the things that need to happen can happen in roughly the same order each day, if not at the same time. Kids thrive on a rhythm and it will give you a gentle beat to work to each and every day.
2. Write things down
Don’t force yourself to remember anything you don’t need to: write it down instead. We have lists on the kitchen door for who wears what uniform on what day; who goes where and when; what needs to be packed in school bags; school timetables and after school activities; and a giant calendar with the lot. Writing things down gives the kids access to the lists too (you can use pictures for non-readers) allowing you to put the kids in charge of their own daily rhythm.
3. Make sure everything has a home
There’s no point cleaning up if there is no place to put anything. Kids struggle to keep tidy at the best of times, but excess clutter spread throughout the home gives them permission to add to it. If you can’t find a home for all the bits and bobs, ask yourself whether Bits and Bob need to be shown the door. To rid yourself of excess clutter, try the one bag technique. Once you’re confident you’ve given away all you can, find somewhere to put every single thing left in your home and expect that that’s where it will be returned time and time again. Spend 10 minutes after dinner re-homing the day’s mess and don’t be afraid to use labels to make the job as easy as possible for the kids.
4. Just meal plan already!
I thought about meal planning for a very long time, but something always made me resist it. These days I’m such a huge convert that I honestly can’t even tell you what that thing was anymore, but it was something like “What if I don’t feel like making the meal I chose for any given day?” Say what?
Just meal plan already!
- You always know what’s for dinner
- You tend to be healthier because you plan your menu better
- You can plan for busier days
- You shop once for the week (or fortnight if you’re tricky) and that’s that
- You can make meals in bulk and freeze for another day
- You can streamline your shopping by having shopping lists that match weekly meal plans (I am close to making this nirvana a reality and will share!)
- You no longer waste food so you save money and the planet
- You can swap meals around if you really don’t feel like cooking the thing you said you’d cook (this has actually never happened, but I thought I’d better bring it up)
Have I convinced you? I do hope so. On Sunday nights (or sometimes Monday mornings, I’m no robot) I plan all three meals for the week, allocated to each day – this includes what’s going in the kids’ lunch boxes. I have six weekly menus and I just rotate them week on week, swapping things out some weeks if we are having guests, a night out or simply if I want to. I shop online for pantry and fridge items, getting the groceries delivered on Tuesday nights. For fruit and veggies and meat, I visit my local produce market and butchers with my shopping list in hand.
5. Use go bags
I’ve written about my fabulous everyday go bags before, but I can’t write a list like this and not mention them. Without our bags, my life would be far more stressful than it is. The trick is to refill the bags as soon as you get back home. A little bit of discipline then gives you back so much time on a daily basis.
6. Stick to a cleaning regime
This isn’t about being the perfect Fifties housewife, far from it. I looooooathe cleaning the house and can think of 100 things I’d rather be doing, but I hate living in a dirty/messy/disorganised house even more. A house like that makes my brain hurt. So we clean.
There was a lot of skepticism over my 1 hour cleaning routine, but let me tell you, if I can exercise and do my cleaning at the same time, I’m there. To support a whizzy cleaning regime like that, I do a 10 minute ‘after dinner clean’ with the kids and I do a 15 minute ‘proper scrub’ in the mornings.
In the morning after drop off and before I get stuck into my work for the day, I pick one room and I give it a good going-over. Skirting boards, top shelf dusting, rug beating thorough cleaning for 15 minutes.
After dinner we put three songs on that have a good groove and we all pack the day away. The kids take their things upstairs to their bedrooms (and generally throw them on the floor – I’m working on it!), my husband cleans the kitchen and I sweep the floors, wipe the tables and plump the cushions. (I don’t really plump the cushions. I don’t even know what that is.)
Doing my 1 hour speedy clean at least once a week and these two things at least four times a week keeps the house spick and span and me happy.
7. Get the kids involved
You can probably tell already that my kids play a big roll in caring for their things. They might be a bit older than your kids right now, but let me tell you that they have always played a role in family life. Little kids can set the table, sweep the floors, wipe the benches… little kids can do lots of things. These days my kids help us set the table, make the beds (theoretically), take the bins out, sweep the floors, feed the pets, pack the lunch boxes, wipe down the tables, dust, fold the clothes… lots of things. Their help is a big part of keeping our family life running smoothly on any given day.
One thing I have always struggled with is getting the kids to keep their rooms clean. I made the mistake of giving them ‘free rein’ in their own bedrooms, honouring our basic human need to have a ‘room on one’s own’ and assuming that they would naturally want to keep a tidy space like the rest of our home. Big mistake. My kids do not want to keep a tidy space, no way, not at all. I have had moments where I have cried fat tears of frustration while helping them clean up the mess they have made in those bedrooms. We’ve had some big wins lately (and I will share them with you very soon), but I just wanted to point out here that if, like me, you can’t handle the mess in a child’s bedroom, well, don’t allow them to make the mess in the first place. That is all.
8. Ditch the screens
It’s my ‘thing’ I know, but since finding freedom from weekday screens, you can bet that our family has had a whole lot more time for planning and being purposeful. Screen time eats into a lot of time that could be spent on other things and getting organised is one of them. Even ditching one show a night can give you back a full hour to get on top of things.
I’ve written before about how finding a meditative kind of purpose in boring things has helped me reduce my stress levels and settle into my life more readily. Well, just like I’d rather clean my house for a frenzied hour than do a gym class, I think I’d rather veg out packing the school lunches than in front of the television. Sounds a bit weird, I know, but if you find you’re using television or the internet to ‘relax’ in the evenings, try relaxing with your daily chores instead and see how you go. It worked for our grandmas and their grandma too.
9. Plan ahead
Our years have their own kind of rhythm, whether we want to acknowledge it or not. There are the changing seasons combined with annual events that we can anticipate and plan for. Believe me, you want to get ahead in this area because both the seasons and events like birthdays, Easter and Christmas can all add a huge ‘extra’ workload to any family. If we don’t plan, we can’t distribute the workload across a greater part of the year and we end up enduring frantic, unenjoyable weeks leading up to any ‘fun’ event. Not fun.
Make a list of all of the events in your life and have a think about when and how you need to plan for them. A change of season requires a wardrobe change at minimum. For some of us, an impending winter means we need to stack wood, close up the pool, rack over the garden… and don’t get me started on upcoming spring. What are the seasonal changes at your place? Do you acknowledge them or do you just battle them on an add-hock kind of basis?
10. Schedule in some quiet time
Whatever rhythm you end up finding for your family, make sure you allocate lots and lots of pauses into your beat. One of the biggest mistakes we make is not allowing enough time for dreaming, gazing, lazing, pondering and dancing. A family needs space to breathe both literally and figuratively. Make sure there is ample opportunity for your children to get thoroughly bored. Because being bored is probably one of life’s greatest luxuries of all.
Would you consider yours to be an organised family? Have you found your rhythm?