Getting Organised – Practical Tips For Parents
How to be organised: 3 tricks & quick wins for parents
As your time is limited with your kids while they’re growing up, you need to make the most of it. I mean, they don’t grow up for long. Pretty soon they’ll be grown. For those of you who don’t get to spend much time with them in the first place (I’m looking at you, non-custodial parents), this is really important.
Why you should get organised
Now, recall for a moment the last time you stepped into a hotel room, or even a B&B.
How nice was it to walk into somewhere that was clutter free, functional, organised and for the most part intuitive? I can’t imagine it caused you that much stress, in fact if anything it was probably de-stressing. Not having to make the beds, clean the bathroom, vacuum or pick up clothes and toys. Bliss.
So, let’s take a few steps towards that being your home.
Wouldn’t it feel great to come home to that same feeling, every day?
In case you’re still not convinced, there have been numerous studies linking clutter to reduced focus and increased stress. Things we could all do without.
For the kids, living or visiting, the effect is the same. Amplified in fact for visitors (including those who may be representing an authority). A home in a mess is loads of stress, a home that is clean and your visitors will be keen! Corny, yes, but true.
How to be organised
The tricks to being organised can be summed up pretty simply:
• A place for everything and everything in its place
• Little and often
• Now or never
Really, what this means is that it is up to you to dedicate a home for everything, and commit to returning it there after use.
By doing this you’ll be saving yourself time searching, and make tidying up so much quicker – especially for the little people in your life. After all, how can you expect them to tidy up, when there isn’t really anywhere for them to tidy up to?
By giving our kids easily achieved goals they’re more likely to attempt and to succeed – this is brilliant for them because they too achieve a sense of fulfilment and well-being. It also sets them to on the road to believing that they can try – and succeed – at anything. With the right help, it’s true – they can, and so can you.
Now that we know what we need to do, let’s look at the best way to do it. I’m using best here liberally, as it is a very subjective term. You’ll need to consider your needs and habits, and any habits that you want to form too!
Starting with some quick wins: empty the sink, take the bins out before they’re completely full, store laundry to be washed in a suitable bag or bin (not a pile on the bathroom floor) and fold dried laundry as you bring it in or out of the dryer.
These little things can have an immediate positive effect on your stress levels and mood by taking away the “Argh, I still haven’t done the…” thoughts.
With regard to the dishes specifically, even having a pile of neatly stacked plates and pans next to the sink is significantly less stressful than having a full sink that you’re unable to use. If you think about it, having to empty the sink before you can even start to fill it with clean water for washing up is creating extra work for a task many of us already find arduous. A neat stack patiently waiting to be washed is more likely to be tackled than a jumbled, overflowing sink with no indication of where to start.
While we’re in the kitchen, clear the surfaces. Kitchen counters and tables are meant for work, not storage. They are for cooking, eating and even homework, craft and sorting the post. They are not for storing the post to be sorted. Having clear counters creates an inviting space (which is why you put stuff on them!) and reduced stress working environment.
When there is nowhere to chop vegetables or put that hot pan to cool you’re less inclined to cook healthy meals and you’ll experience greater frustration when doing so – because it’s harder work, and unnecessarily so. Create and keep the space inviting – and resist the invitation to fill the space! This applies to the rest of your home too, more detail later.
Folding the laundry as soon as it’s dry will, in most cases, save you time ironing it. It will also mark a clear divide between dirty and clean – so you don’t end up re washing clean clothes just because you couldn’t tell the difference between one crumpled pile and another.
Though a fairly typical go-to, they’re not brilliant for organising because more often than not they’re too big. Consider the toy box as an example… yes, it’s somewhere to store toys, but almost all the toys have to come out again to find the one that is wanted. Not very efficient, or organised, and all it really does is encourage creating a mess. The same is true of most boxes used for other things – but they’re not all bad. Boxes are good for storing bigger, bulky and less used items, especially items going into longer term storage.
Good for: Bulky items and those for destined for longer term storage (spare beds, Christmas decorations etc.)
Bad for: Regularly used, smaller items or collections of like items.
While your first thought was probably of a bedroom chest of drawers (unless you’re from across the pond), you can – and should – get hold of some drawers of all shapes and sizes.
Because a single drawer can typically hold less, you’re less likely to bury what you need under a mass of other things. This makes it quicker and easier to find – which is what we’re aiming for. You can also subdivide your drawers to give everything its own space, whether it’s a hair dryer, bunch of keys or spare phone charger.
Sets of thin drawers like these Really Useful Storage Towers on Amazon are great for kids craft things – pens in one, pencils in another, one for pipe cleaners and googly eyes and another for plain paper or coloured.
Keeping both your and your kids’ things organised in this way not only makes clearing away a breeze, but also significantly reduces the calls of “where’s my…?”, because most of the time it’s “in its place” and after a few proofs of concept the questions stop and they (and you) become more self sufficient.
Drawers also take up less space for the same amount of stored ‘stuff’ versus shelves or boxes, because you can slide them open negating the need for ‘headroom’ to get things from the back of the shelf over those at the front.
For other areas of the home bedding and towels can be neatly folded and stored, spare toiletries and so on can be kept out of sight but easily accessible when needed.
Good for: Regularly used and collections of like items.
Bad for: Heavy items and those that need to be stood upright or stacked.
These things can be brilliant – and a complete nightmare.
Dust. An unavoidable fact of life, the stuff collects on flat surfaces – like shelves. Not directly related to organising, I know, but I’ll cover little and often – and cleaning – next.
Having to clear a shelf to clean it is not very efficient, so unless the shelves have doors in front, i.e. a cupboard or display cabinet, I suggest you repurpose into drawers – by using boxes, depending on what you’re storing.
Yes, I said boxes were bad. In this context though, they’re pretty useful.
Use your shelves to store heavier, delicate or stackable items such as books, glasses and boardgames.
Use drawer-like storage boxes or decorative ‘shoeboxes’ to store lighter items that are less used but need to be quickly accessible, think torches, batteries and your secret chocolate stash.
To keep things looking good as well as functional, alternate open shelves with those used for box storage. A ratio of two or three to one also looks good.
Good for: Delicate, stackable or heavier items & general purpose items in box drawers.
Bad for: Frequently used items – unless there’s nothing in front on the same shelf.
You can hang a surprising number of things to get them out of the way, give them a home and keep them accessible.
The ironing board is a great example of a large, cumbersome piece of equipment that’s generally stuffed in a cupboard and in the way of something else. Hang it on the back of the cupboard door. Use a couple of over-the-door hooks or even some stick on ones and it’ll free up floor space for your new set of storage drawers in there!
Utensils in the kitchen, bikes and tools in the garage and even kids cuddly toy collections can all be hung from walls or the ceiling, freeing up floor space and giving your home that spacious, organised, stress free feeling.
Consider magnetic rails for things like kitchen knives and shadow or peg boards for tools in the garage – these solutions keep things easily accessible while still giving them a clear and defined home.
Little and often
We’ve taken a look at how to be organised, now let’s have a look at how to get organised.
If you’ve had a look around, either literally or in your head, you’ve probably decided it’s a pretty daunting task. I’m not going to sugar coat it, it probably is.
However, if we break it down it’ll be a lot easier and it’ll be done before you know it.
Dedicate 15 minutes a day to getting organised, more will feel like time wasted until you see big results, less and you’ll be able to procrastinate the whole lot away.
Start by picking a room. Choose the one that only has a few ‘problem areas’ that seem to act as a dumping ground. Starting here, with 15 minutes a day, will allow you to see progress quickly and mean that when you do tackle the monster in your house, you know what you’re doing. Nobody started at the Olympics, they had to win the smaller competitions first.
Get some storage drawers, drawer organisers and box drawers for your shelves. The financial commitment, though not huge, should push you into doing more. It’s a psychology thing.
Be ruthless. Does it need to be on display? No? Then it belongs in a drawer. Clear surfaces are easier to clean and use, wherever they are. Put things in their new home, return them there and ensure others do too. And, as we’ve seen already, it’s proven to reduce your stress and increase your focus – so you and everyone else will benefit. Happier family, better grades, more time to relax because you’re more focussed and productive. Wins all round.
You may not have chosen the best new home first time around – that’s OK, encourage and listen to feedback, after all you’re not the only one your new found organisation is going to affect.
If there is a better home for something, move it there – but that becomes it’s home and it should be returned after use. No excuses!
One tip I would throw in here is security – keys in particular – should live in a drawer, and if you happen to drive a car with keyless entry, get yourself some RFID blocking foil and line the drawer (inside or outside). It’s really not that hard to hook keys through a letterbox or cat flap, and keyless cars have been stolen because the key fobs were left within range of the thief’s signal amplifier (in a bag or jacket somewhere near the door).
Some of us love it, some of us hate it. However, I’m pretty sure that all of us love to have things and be in places that are clean. Whether you’re the type that finds it another tedious task to be avoided, or you’re a neat freak that can’t be drawn away from the marigolds and duster – the middle ground is the place to be.
Yes, your home, car, etc. should be clean as well as tidy to promote the best environment for you and your children. However, this does not mean that spending every waking hour cleaning and chastising for making a mess is the best approach – far from it. Your kids need you, with them. Not you scrubbing the surfaces while they entertain themselves. Equally, your kids do actually need to see you cleaning so they can learn how to do it themselves and look after themselves.
There are many ways you could make it into a game and involve them, but that’s not the point I’m making here.
So what is?
Little and often. The same thing applies.
Have you ever noticed how some places and things always seem to sparkle while others look dingy? Or while some people always seem to have their hair/beard/nails/whatever perfectly trimmed, always?
Well, it’s because they deal with those things before they need doing. You should too.
I’m not advocating that you increase your trips to the barbers (though you may need to, give it some thought!). I am saying that by spending 15 minutes a day cleaning something you’ll be able to stay on top of things and it won’t feel like there’s a huge mountain of stuff to do at the weekend.
Vacuum one room at a time, wipe down the sink and toilet but mop on another day. If everything looks like you’ve just done it, do the once in a blue moon stuff like wiping down the skirting boards, plants, doors etc.
Yes, you do have clutter. If it isn’t immediately serving a purpose, a houseplant or a photo of your immediate family or close friend, it’s clutter. Get rid of your clutter!
On average, you should have no more than three non-functional items on a surface, and no more than 5 functional items on a surface in order for it not to feel cluttered. Including in the kitchen.
This means that the knick-knacks and souvenirs you keep on the mantle piece and the shelves need to find new homes too.
This however is a good thing. You probably don’t look at them that often anyway, they’re just there. Move some of them into temporary storage and rotate your display of curiosities. This way you’ll appreciate them more when you select your next display and you’ll have a more organised, relaxed home.
Once you’ve done this, the next challenge is to remove them from your home permanently. This is another little and often challenge. Take one thing a day that you’ve not used and commit it to go. Sell it or donate it to charity, but get rid of it. Have your children do the same – any money they make on eBay, Gumtree or the like they get to put toward something they really want, and in the interim there is less clutter in the house and more responsibility being shared.
Shelves, drawers and cabinets don’t need to be full. Take a look through Instagram or the magazines of the model homes you wish you lived in and you’ll see for yourself that there’s barely a thing on display and plenty of space on the shelves in the studies and home offices. This is a big part of the reason you’re attracted to the image in the first place. Even the ‘homely’ ones only have a few key pieces to add warmth and you should do the same in your home. A few – we agreed three – display pieces.
Ok, ok, if you really must keep that collection – keep it together, in one display unit – and not spread about the place.
These nifty little things will change your life.
They will help you achieve all of the above – and – make you feel a lot better about the journey as you get to cross things off as you achieve them. Psychology again my friend.
I strongly suggest you start making lists for most areas of your life, from groceries to presents, to do and to remember.
Way back when you were at school, you had to write things down and repeat them as well as listen to the teacher and read what was on the board. This was for a reason. The more senses you use to get something into your brain, the more likely it is to stick. Additionally, while we retain some of what we read, see and hear (up to 30%) we retain up to 75% of what we practice and up to 90% of what we teach.
So, by writing it down you’re more likely to remember it for starters.
Another advantage of lists is that you’re less likely to stray from them, saving you money. Once you’re in ‘buying mode’ you’re ready to spend money, marketers know this and will use every trick they know to get you to part with it on something of theirs – whether you’d intended to or not. This is why shops play different tempos of music, some are designed to keep you browsing and more relaxed spending an extra 99p on the ‘really cute’ thing, while others are designed to get you hyped up and ready to upgrade to the Super-Ultra-Mega-Deal. Yeah! Where did your money go again?
Write a list of what you need while you’re not under the influence of marketing genius or the pressure of 99% off ending in 30 seconds, 29, 28… this will enable you to stick to your plan, and your budget – and not bring home more clutter that you need to find a home for.
Write a list of things to do, and if needed, write a list of steps to achieve things on the list. To declutter for example you’ll need to attack each room in turn. Within each room there will be different areas – the dresser, the wardrobe, etc. Within the wardrobe you’ll need to sort summer, winter, formal and party etc. Write it down and tackle one thing at a time – summer is on it’s way, so what didn’t you wear all winter? Bye, bye!
Once you’ve struck one item off your list, move on to the next.
Don’t be afraid to add to your list too. It’ll seem daunting at first, but you’ll soon realise that by making a habit of using lists you’ll get more done, more efficiently, forget less and feel (and be) more organised.
There are plenty of apps, some cross platform that allow you to take notes on your laptop, edit them on your tablet and strike them off on your phone while you’re out and about. Simplenote even provides for Linux users as well as Windows, iOS and Android – and comes from Automattic – the team behind WordPress (powering this website, and many others). Make use of these as well as the good old fashioned notebook or bullet journal. While the former is excellent at ensuring you can keep your to-do’s with you, the latter is the one that will really provide that feeling of achievement as you flick through the pages of completed tasks and look up to see your clutter free, organised and relaxing living space.
Add entries to your calendar and set reminders or alarms for time-critical tasks (like cancelling that free trial before they automatically charge your card). If there’s a chance you’ll be busy, distracted or late make sure you set the alarm far enough in advance to give you the time you need to finish up and start on the new task. A reminder a week or two ahead of birthdays should give you enough time to add “birthday card” to the shopping list and save you having to take time to make a special trip at short notice.
Now or never
Really. As with all habits, it’s much easier to procrastinate than it is to get started. If you don’t start, you won’t. If you do, you’ll open the door to a happier you.
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