Photo by Christian Fregnan, Unsplash
Did you have visions of motherhood that looked neat and organized like a Norman Rockwell painting? Yep, I did. But that was so not my reality.
Being organized is something I quickly learned was a necessity for me as a mom and not just for the obvious reasons. For me it was crucial to have some level of control to keep my sanity. Never finding crap at the bottom of my purse was one thing, but not having a binky the moment my little girl started to have a meltdown: that was completely another.
My diaper bag was the first place I found I needed to master. Many diaper bags are wonderful, with a gazillion pockets and ways to get organized, yet I found that I never quite found the one that satisfied my need for a particular level of organization.
That is when I created my own system. I found a big carry-all bag with a zipper, so when bending over to pick up a toy, bottle, binky or crying toddler I did not spill the entire contents of the bag all over the floor. The key, I found, was investing in different size cosmetic bags, preferably mesh and in bright solid colors. I had one for the sippy or bottle along with the powdered formula. One for the little toys. One to hold diapers and wipes. One for snacks. One for emergency epinephrine meds. One for the inhaler. One for pens and sticky notes. One for binkies. One for soft books. One for my stuff, such as chapstick, telephone, aspirin, etc.
You get the picture. I created my own system, color-coded and all. It was the best. If I needed to change bags or take more or less items one day, I was able to adjust quickly. That simple step was a sanity saver, for sure. I am long out of the diaper phase, yet I continue to use the same system.
It’s not just about diaper bags. Having kids creates chaos and mess. If you have an overwhelming need to keep your ducks in a row, it can make all the difference to find little tricks to keep you sane.
I must admit my favorite stores are ones that sell baskets and folders and containers. I am always striving for that ideal level of order, despite the fact that I know it will never be as good as I imagine it. Letting go of control issues can be challenging. Especially since having a baby means that so many things we had control over have gone right out the window.
Do the best you can, and remember to give yourself a break. You, your kids, and your house will be more disorganized than you like. Let it go. Do not let guilt take over. If you have a playdate at your house and your kitchen sink is full of dirty dishes, so what! Who cares? If the playdate parent judges you for it, so be it. More than likely she will be relieved to see she is not the only one. I once read somewhere that between a clean house, happy kids, and mom’s sanity we can only pick two. One always has to give. I have to agree. If I think about it, two of those three can happen at once, but all three at the same time is nearly impossible.
Kids equal mess. Mess equals kids. The faster you accept it, the happier mommy you will be. That being true, I have learned a few tricks and ways to keep organized and minimize the chaos.
First, as I mentioned earlier, is definitely the diaper bag. That took some trial and error, but was well worth it. That need does not end when potty training is complete. The system of pockets or mini pouches comes in handy as the kids grow as well. You would be surprised at the quantity of stuff you still need to carry. Never underestimate the power of a well-organized bag!
Another tip I found is for the toys. So many toys everywhere! Amazing how a tiny baby can have so much stuff! Especially when the kids are little, there is a big need for a way to organize it all. I learned that it is not necessary to spend a fortune on expensive organizing systems and baskets and shelves.
Go to the dollar store or cheap home goods stores and pick up pretty baskets in all sizes. Keep many of the toys in a closet, or if you’re lucky, a basement area. Take a bunch of the stuff that you want to have in the common areas of the house and put them in the baskets. When the kids get tired of the toys, rotate the stuff in the closet. Every week, switch out the toys so the kids get variety and are not bored, but you do not need to see everything clogging up your space every day. Your family room does not need to look like a preschool at all times.
The same concept is true of sippy cups and other bright colored things in the kitchen. We have kitchen cabinets with glass doors, which makes it tough to hide those ugly bottles and cups. I found inexpensive baskets to put in my kitchen cabinets to keep the plastic ones from being seen from every angle of my kitchen.
Another area that created chaos in my organized mind was the barrage of school papers that came home daily. An unbelievable amount of paper and “mommy homework” seems to get sent home from school, starting from day one. When I would go on business trips I would come home to piles of papers on my kitchen or dining room table and it would drive me “bat-shit crazy.” The mail, the school papers, the drawings, the notes, and the important stuff together in a big messy pile. I would feel the need to clean it up before I could even sit down and relax. As expected, I was delinquent on more than a few important school papers and deadlines.
I know those beautiful pictures and school work mean a lot, but you really don’t need to keep it all. I have a hallway and a basement with framed kid art I swap out periodically, but for the most part I feel okay tossing a lot of it.
I created a couple of places and systems that work for me. First, the mail. I have a big basket on my desk that acts as an “in-box.” Anyone who takes in the mail knows it goes in mommy’s in-box. I can then go through it and make sure that it goes to the right place. I pay bills or put items on my husband’s desk or toss or put it away. No more piles around the house, everything in the basket.
Next, the school stuff. It goes in the kitchen under the dry erase magnet board with the calendars, invites, coupons, and to do lists in two mounted file folders. I have tried different types and currently I like wire baskets. They are useful and still look pretty. Each one is labeled. The kids come in from school, empty their backpacks themselves, and put all papers from school folders into the file baskets hanging on the wall. They are responsible for emptying lunch boxes and folders and putting their backpacks away. The lunch thing is tough for my son. I have found bananas mushed into pockets days later—not pretty! Just last week I pulled a ziplock bag with a funny colored liquid that I believe was cut up red peppers at one point. Thankfully, that bag held up without breaking open! Like everything, it is a work in progress.
One mistake a lot of us make is to do it for the kids because we want it done right. I believe in giving age appropriate responsibilities early on. A kindergartener is fully able to empty his or her backpack on a daily basis. Kids can vacuum, load and empty the dishwasher, and do other small chores themselves. By having my kids empty school folders on their own, I don’t deal with messy papers throughout my kitchen. I can go through the folder later when kids are in bed. If there is something I need to read or sign I can do it at that point, and then put it right into the backpacks for the next day. The rest of the stuff gets kept or tossed.
Each of my kids has a big plastic file box kept in a closet. There are thirteen files in each one labeled K-12. I keep about an inch worth of papers for each school year and file them in the box. When they get older and want to look through their old papers, they can go to the file box. I only save select papers that they may get a kick out of seeing later in life. Recycle and toss the rest. It is okay. Your kids will be fine if you do not cherish every single time they put pencil to paper.
Clothes can also be a source of mess and chaos. The older kids get, the more chores they are capable of doing. Putting clothes away can be tricky, especially hanging. Two tips I learned are to either add another rod in the closet to hang clothes where the kids can reach them, or use shoe and sweater organizers. The sweater bins are great for organizing clothes. I have also found that for younger kids, the shoe organizers work well. You can fit two to four items in each compartment and then you can organize the closet by type of shirt, as well as color code items that go together. You can even label them to make it easier for little ones to put stuff away themselves. It may not be as neat as you would like it to be, but it will help them be more independent, and save you some time. Another closet tip is to create space where one does not exist. A mud room to dump stuff is a wonderful luxury, one I do not have. Instead, my side door has a bench and hooks and a place for shoes, but not much else. What I do have is a full bathroom right by the side door in the family room where no one showers, so it was wasted space.
I created what we call the crapper closet. I put a rod in the shower for coats and added a sweater holder to the rod. I put scarves, pool towels and beach bags, baseball gloves, tennis rackets, soccer stuff, field hockey sticks, etc. All the stuff you want by the door that becomes a problem when you have no space for it.
Be creative, think outside the box, or shower, and you can surprise yourself with the ideas you can come up with. Keep in mind, having kids does not means disorganized chaos has to be the norm, however accept imperfection and lose the guilt. Keep the happy kids, and your sanity, and don’t sweat the rest.
Excerpt from the book "Lose That Mommy Guilt, Tales and Tips from an Imperfect Mom"