organizing tips from a disorganized mom

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you definitely want organizing advice from the owner of this stunning pantry … right?

I am not naturally an organized person.  I have some organized tendencies, like wanting papers to be in neat piles, and not wanting things to fall out of the pantry when I open the door; and I’ve formed some good habits over the past few years, like actually making my bed at least five out of seven days.  But my organizational skills leave much to be desired.  However, that is exactly why my fellow “mommy brain” moms should take organizing advice from me … because I’ve been there.  Actually, I am often still there.  In any case, let’s make this organizing journey together.

What do I even mean by “organizing?”  For the purposes of this post, I basically mean getting things done in my daily life; keeping the household running and workable for everyone who lives here.  Here’s where I start …

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if I hadn’t taken this photo to show you my to-do list, I would have forgotten to soak the beans for tomorrow’s chili. Organization WIN!
  • THE TO-DO LIST
    I’m not sure I could run this household at all without my to-do list.  The current format, which is pretty similar to how I’ve been doing it for a couple years now, is to have two pages of my notebook open for each week.  I make one list of the things I need to do “sometime this week,” and those tasks (or smaller components thereof) get transferred to a daily to-do list when I decide that’s the day for it.  Then each day has its own to-do list; at the beginning of the week I mark down day-specific tasks (appointments and such), and then each day (or the night before) I decide what else to do that day.  There’s plenty of extra space, which will be used as the week goes by for meal planning, grocery lists, phone numbers I need to jot down, etc.  By the way, if I end up accomplishing something that’s not on my list, I am totally the kind of person to then write it down so I can check it off.
  • PICK SIX
    “The six most important things you need to do” is a popular strategy in the workplace – read more about it here.  I don’t exactly do it as recommended – for example, I often end up making the day’s list in the morning, not the night before – but I like the basic idea of picking the six (or fewer! I usually can’t manage six) tasks that are most important to get done today.  It’s helped me keep my focus.  I’ve been surprised by how often I get sidetracked by “oh, both the girls are asleep, this would be a great time to work on x y z”, to the detriment of the tasks that I really, actually needed to get done that day.
  • BE REALISTIC ABOUT WHAT YOU DO
    When I first set about picking six items for my to-do list, I quickly realized I had a bunch of mundane stuff standing between me and my Six Important Things.  I considered making those mundane items my Six Important Things, but didn’t love the idea of my weekly to-do list having five repetitions of the same things.  Then I realized that much of my daily disorganization and frustration came from being lost in the mundane things I needed to do every day – because I had never written them down.
    IMG_4572Simply writing them down has made a major difference in my mornings.  It’s humbling, but true, that I would often muddle through my morning with thoughts like “Have to start cleaning the kitchen, wait, I still need to pack the diaper bag for playgroup, oh my gosh, I haven’t even put the breakfast dishes away yet, what am I going to feed the girls for lunch today, should I make it ahead? …”  Now I keep this list as my bookmark in my to-do notebook, and I make sure I’ve accomplished the first four items on the above list before getting started on the day’s projects (with a few exceptions, like starting a load of laundry first).  I should note, I often don’t get anything but those four items, and an outing, accomplished before lunch!  I am totally OK with that.
    (The last two items on the list usually work out better later in the day, especially now that we have preschool in the mornings; I have yet to figure out how to remember them as consistently as I remember the morning tasks.)
  • CLEAN *IN* THE KITCHEN
    Hat tip to Mary Clare here.  When she wrote about the concept of cleaning in the kitchen, versus cleaning the kitchen, she sounded a little discouraged by it (is that right MC?) – but I actually love the idea.  I find it very liberating: I have accepted the fact that with two little ones running around, my house won’t be clean in the sense of all those “Ultimate Deep-Clean Spring Cleaning Chore Checklist” things I see on Pinterest.  Knowing that, I spend a reasonable amount of time working on a task, focusing on the things that are most important and/or are driving me the most crazy, and then I peacefully check it off my list.  Related to this method is …
  • KNOW WHAT’S IMPORTANT … to you and your family.  I cleaned the kitchen today and made sure to scrub the stove burners, because a dirty stove is my personal pet peeve right now, and I also refilled the honey dispenser, so that Pete can make his peanut butter & honey sandwich tomorrow morning.  I did not dust the top shelves next to the windows, because they are too high up for me to see, and Pete has never complained about them.  (Don’t worry, I do dust them once or twice a year.)  Another only-do-what’s-important tip I learned from Simcha Fisher is that if the fridge is driving you nuts because there’s dried spilled milk on the top shelf, that doesn’t mean you need to clean our your entire fridge; it means you need to clean up the top shelf.  Genius.
  • Last but not least … FINISH THE JOB.  This was actually my New Year’s resolution a couple years ago, and I am still working on it, but have improved quite a bit.  The gist of this one is, don’t check off “wash whites” until the whites have been washed, dried, folded, and put away in the dresser.  And don’t sit down to rest after vacuuming unless I’ve put all the furniture back where it’s supposed to be.  Really, truly finish the job before starting something else.

And speaking of finishing the job … that’s all for now.  Those are the principles that are keeping my household running semi-smoothly right now.  I’d love to hear other tips from y’all, but for the moment, I’m going to go write “blog post” on my to-do list, and then check it off.  Good night!

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8 thoughts on “organizing tips from a disorganized mom

  1. Thank you so much for this post, Sheila! We start school next week and I was realizing today how unorganized our morning routine is. I have considered it somewhat of a luxury until now, but it won’t fly a after these next six days. I am going to employ some of your ideas these next couple days and get us practicing!

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    1. Mary, we whipped ourselves into somewhat more organized shape for the past three mornings, as Maggie has started preschool … mostly that has meant that instead of just hanging out with Maggie when she wakes me up at 6 AM, and having a slow start to the day, we right away get dressed (her, me, and Elizabeth) and do whatever else we can (e.g. brush her hair) before it’s time for me to cook breakfast. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how the early start has impacted the rest of our morning – having us all dressed and ready frees me up to move on to all the other things on my list when I get back from dropping Maggie off 🙂

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      1. I don’t know why it always takes me forever to see comments, but let me just say … this was the first week that I ever planned lunches and it was a HUGE sanity saver! Cooking breakfast (oatmeal, every day) is a set-in-stone routine around here, though I’m thinking about changing it up for something simpler on preschool mornings (like making baked oatmeal or egg bake, etc. on the weekend that we can reheat for Maggie’s three school mornings.)

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      2. I’ve seen some overnight oatmeal recipes floating around Pinterest that look really yummy, and quick to prepare. I think I pinned a couple, if you haven’t seen them already, look under Table Toppers.

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  2. Excellent Sheila! I do not write down my to do list or day plans, but I want to start. It must make life more peaceful. I would say I am more of a free spirit (using Dave Ramsey’s term), which means I like being spontaneous and avoiding routines, but I’ve also realized that being more deliberate about this, might alleviate the stress I sometimes get when suddenly things get overwhelming. Thanks for the photos and examples. Nothing fancy… very doable.

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  3. When I wrote about cleaning IN the kitchen versus cleaning the kitchen I was scatterbrained and had mixed feelings, as is my norm. 😉 How I left that post has been bothering my literary side ever since. How much more artistic would it have been to say we clean IN the kitchen versus clean UP the kitchen? It’s really a mater for the preposition department to handle. Other feelings and thoughts at the time included pride that I was doing something useful during nap time and chagrin that I couldn’t remember the last time I voluntarily washed dishes. That is a kind way of saying I felt guilty. But I also felt as.you do, Sheila. Progress is progress, no mater how small it seams. I have to look at what I do very objectively, and even literally. Then, what I haven’t done is easier to handle emotionally.

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