What's a Mom to Do?

With all the family responsibility women carry, is it ever possible to be organized?

The complaint I hear most often from moms is “How do I stay organized and on top of all my family’s commitments?” While it’s definitely a challenge, it’s certainly not impossible. I’ve culled some of my favorite tips and suggestions from my own personal experiences, as well as from the many moms and dads who have shared their personal success stories with me.

The Family Calendar—The Heart of the System

The family calendar is the lifeblood of any good organizational system. Having a central location to record the day-to-day juggling of kids, husband, meal preparation, work, volunteerism and all your household tasks is essential to decreasing stress and making your life run smoothly.

Use whatever organizer fits your family’s lifestyle and budget. The best ones provide enough space to effectively record your family’s information, but are small enough to take with you. One of the best ways I’ve found to remember doctor’s appointments is to make the next one “on the spot” and record it in your planner before you ever leave the office. Eliminate clutter by transferring all information and appointments into your calendar, then file or otherwise dispose of the paperwork.

Another great helper in a calendar is a “To Do” list. Check it frequently and mark things off as you complete them. If you really want to make your life run smoother, look at your “To Do” list each day and choose the task you least want to do, and do it first! Don’t just save your “To Do” list for errands, either. This is a perfect spot to plan big jobs you want to tackle, such as cleaning out closets or organizing the playroom. Just be sure to break it down into smaller tasks to help keep it manageable.

Many moms like to keep a second calendar, such as a large white-board, hung in a prominent spot, such as a kitchen or mud room, to remind family members of everyone’s commitments each day. Transfer key bits of information to it on a regular basis. Writing neatly and color coding information will help to quickly decipher your schedule. Train everyone to give it a quick glance the night before or on their way out the door to help keep everyone on track.

Getting Out the Door

Are you always running five minutes late— the same five minutes it takes you to find your keys and sunglasses? Keep a pretty bowl by the door to stash your keys, wallets, transit passes and anything else you need for the day. A spare shelf can be designated for items that need to be returned or brought somewhere else. One Mom I spoke to keeps an “errand bag” in her car, which she fills with library books, merchandise returns and anything else she might need if she finds herself with a spare minute in a nearby location.

Sometimes it’s the kids who need a little extra help in the morning. If this is the case in your house, try having them lay out their clothes the night before. You can also make lunches in the evenings. Have their backpacks ready to go and on a hook by the door with everything they need and watch the mornings go smoother. Practice during the summer months so it’s second nature when school starts in the fall.

Feeding the Masses

Like many moms, I find meal planning invaluable. Designate a day to map out meals for the week. Some people like to do this the day the weekly grocery ads come out. Planning your meals ahead of time not only reduces stress, but it’s also likely to be more nutritious and less expensive than serving takeout three times a week.

The calendar that I use has a place for jotting down your weekly meal plan, as well as a shopping list you can tear out and bring into the store with you, which I find really helpful, but any list will do. Try to remember to jot down things as you run out of them, too, not just the items needed for the week. It’s no fun realizing when dinner is half made that there is no dressing for the salad.

Others great tips I’ve heard include having a “meal routine”— such as chicken on Mondays, soup and sandwiches on Tuesday and so on. If you vary the dishes within the category, I’ll bet no one will even figure out your plan! Another great tip is making double batches of your favorite casseroles or meat loaves and freezing them for a quick second meal down the line. Warehouse stores, if you have them nearby, can be another great time saver. Buying in bulk not only saves money but minimizes trips to the store for such staples as snacks, cereal and toiletries.

Making Organization Fun

Lastly, try to make organization fun. Colorful stickers, such as those indicating birthdays or vacations, can add whimsy and be used as reminders in your family’s organizer. Kids can pitch in by decorating wall pockets or boxes to stash their papers and artworks. If you find yourself with some time to spare, head for the card shop and pre-buy greeting cards for all occasions. Then, look at your planner at the beginning of each month, select and pre-address cards and never miss a birthday again.

Schedule in times for spontaneity, too. Sure it might rain the day you hoped to have a picnic at the beach, but then you can just do it the next day. The result of being organized will be more time for doing the things you enjoy most— or sometimes, doing nothing at all.