After writing about how hard I find it to keep things together, remember what to take and generally keep life flowing in the right direction, I had so many people mention they felt the same. Piles of washing, untidy rooms, dinner running late and always forgetting the ONE THING you need when you dash out for an errand. As I mentioned, I’ve been a disorganized person all my life, but with three kids and a schedule that can get pretty packed, I’ve had to force myself to make it work.
So, I’d like to share my best tips for pretending to be organized! This isn’t a list of things like ‘keep detailed micro lists of everything you need to do, forever’ or ‘put everything away the second you finish with it’ or even ‘never let a mess pile up because it’ll just be harder to put away’. No, these are tips from someone who knows what it’s like to be a genetically disorganized, inherently messy realist.
1. Take the same things with you every time. Forget handbags that match your shoes, have one goes-with-everything bag that everything fits in. Pack the same things every time, in the same spot. For me, that’s purse, phone, keys and sunnies for me alongside bottle, formula, water, nappies and wipes for the kids. I pack it in the way that means if something’s missing, there’s a gap to remind me. It’s all *just* fits in the bag so that’s pretty straightforward. I also remember the ‘numbers.’ I need four things for me and five for the kids, so I do a mental ‘one, two, three, four’ every time I walk out the door.
2. Have emergency stashes. This can be used a few ways. I have a bag in the back of the car for emergencies. It has water, snacks, sunscreen, hats, nappies, wipes and a plastic bag in it at all times. In winter, I swap out hats and sunscreen for light jumpers (light because they fit better, and it doesn’t get awfully cold here). I don’t often need it but when I do it’s a lifesaver. At home, my ‘emergency stash’ includes long life milk, frozen bread, some tinned food, spare toilet paper and some money. This is different to my emergency kit that’s for actual emergencies- this is just for those times when you’re out of something that you need right now.
3. Automate what you can. I have calendar reminders for all my appointments. My bills come out at designated times each week or month (set up by me so I know they’re not coming out at an inconvenient time). My pharmacy calls me when they think I need to top up a prescription, that they have on file. You can get an order of groceries or fruit and veg that’s automatically delivered each week. If there’s a way to set and forget that won’t turn around and bite you down the track, do it! It’s one less thing to worry about.
4. Take shortcuts if you need to, as long as they’re really helping. I really struggle with the daily housework. Five people make a LOT of mess, use a LOT of clothes and eat a LOT of food. Trying to keep on top of it, while looking after three kids and a hard working husband means if I fall behind, I’m left with mountains of backlog. So, I cheat. I use the clothes drying for a big load of tiny clothes to save an hour of hanging them on the line. I don’t bother folding or hanging my clothes- I just throw each person’s in a basket and let them fish out what they need each day until I’m caught up. I also use regular time-savers, like leaving the vacuum in a hidden corner of the lounge, always plugged in and ready to go. I have a packet of baby wipes on the kitchen bench for spills and dirty faces. My plastics cupboard is a really a big box that everything gets chucked into. I buy clothes that won’t ever need ironing. I plan the occasional grilled-cheese-sandwich night.
5. Prioritize your needs. Do the kids bedroom (or yours) REALLY need to be spotless? I tend to let ‘private’ areas of the house (those the guests don’t see) get a bit out of control, so I can focus on keeping shared living spaces clean. I’ve been known to hide baskets of laundry or piles of paperwork on my bed if people are coming over with little notice. Do you need to have perfectly sorted drawers or an immaculate linen cupboard? Most people don’t, so don’t stress about them. Keep on top of the big stuff and worry about the rest when you have time.
6. Have a sacred space. For me, this is a little hallway table that has some photos, my cookbooks and our picnic rug on it. It’s always spotless. It’s the one thing I can look at in my calamity of a house and think ‘wow, that’s so tidy.’ It’s relaxing and gives me back my sense of control. Since doing this, I’ve also managed to extend it to 3/4 of my kitchen table. There’s still a few things living permanently up one end, but there’s no mad rush to find a spot for a giant pile of things at dinner time.
7. Minimize. I got so sick of dirty cups that I got rid of them. Each person had one glass and one mug. Also, one plate and bowl. That made a huge difference to kitchen mess! Making sure my kids only had the amount of clothes they need, instead of everything ever given to us also made a big difference. Pack away extra toys and rotate them- less mess, and ‘new’ toys every few weeks! Get rid of stuff you don’t use, it just makes clutter and always seems to creep into the living area (I’m looking at YOU, massage cushion that never worked!)
8. Know your best times, and your worst times. For me, Thursdays are a day I can catch up on a few things because I have the day to myself. I also know I’ll never get around to the washing on a weekend. Monday night is full of tantrums (occasionally the kids join in). I plan around these by getting washing done on Fridays and Mondays. I plan something really brainlessly easy on a Monday night. I have a frenzied tidy with the kids on Friday so we’re set for the weekend. I use my best times to compensate for the worst times. I acknowledge they exist and forgive myself for that. I don’t beat myself up over what doesn’t get done, I just decide what’s going on the back-burner until I can catch up.
Finally, my super-fast, failsafe ‘Ahhh! People are coming’ Cleaning Frenzy Technique! To be used in emergencies, or when you just can’t be bothered.
- Pick the one, biggest thing that is causing the most mess- it might be rubbish, toys, clothes or dishes. Do that first. Bundle it all together and chuck it in the wash/a basket/a box or stack dishes in the sink. This is a great one to get the kids to help with- it’s much more effective to tell them to pick up one type of thing, than to tell them to ‘clean up’. You can make a race of it.
- Do the next biggest thing.
- Do it again. By now, the bulk of items should be gone.
- Everything else goes into a washing basket or box and tucked away in a spare room until later.
- Flush the loo, wipe it with a splodge of disinfectant or bleach and some toilet paper, which then gets flushed.
- Sweep everything off the bathroom vanity into a drawer or box. Hide it. Wipe with a baby wipe and toss.
- Back in the kitchen, either stack dishes neatly, pop them in the dishwasher or fill the sink with soapy water and throw them in- neatly, so more will fit). Trays and big stuff can be hidden in the oven, just don’t forget them!
- Sweep or vacuum. Dirty spots can be spot cleaned with a wipe.
- Open the windows and curtains. Put a scented candle on and spritz some air freshener
- Take a breath, open the door and pretend you’ve been lounging around all day!