Monday, December 29, 2014

Organization Tips from a Crusty, Old Mom

These are pictures from our oldest's fifteenth birthday:

It was a little chaotic and not much time for planning. Dang! I was so tired, I put the one on backwards!

Here's the baby because . . .

I accidentally left out the baby in this shot. 

Notice the mess. Yet notice the content faces. There is imperfection, but it is not total chaos. We had a blast! We laughed about the candles stuck in the ice cream, the lack of my usual homemade confections, and the grandeur of unceremonious celebration. A baby in the house means Mom lets go a bit of ideals.

I like to be organized. I get the New Year declutter bug, just like all the other mothers out there. But at forty-one, I've mellowed. I see my younger friends in a panic to find the perfect lists and methods to make their homeschool homes brilliant with order, and it makes me sigh. 

Add to my advice credentials that I have not lived near family for fourteen of my fifteen mothering years. This means that all the advice to drop the kids off at grandma's while you get stuff done never worked for me. I had to blaze my organizational trail on my own.

This is what I have found works best for me:

1. Get it done. (In other words, Just do it.) When you have little ones around and/or more than a couple of kids, your time is PRECIOUS. This means you need to keep things simple and just get it done. Grab a cup of tea, march into the offending room, and get to work. You really don't need the fancy lists or timetables or motivational apps. You need a garbage bag and a couple of containers (things to keep, things to store). Then you need to work.

2. Don't be afraid of crutches. Let the kids watch a movie. Let the baby bum around in the playpen, jump in the exersaucer, and goof off in the crib. It's not going to kill the kids to have some mindless activities while you focus on other things.

3. Don't blow your budget. I was once a young, naive mother who thought I needed cute baskets and adorable bins. This made the month of January miserable because I overextended my budget and had to scrimp on groceries. If you can't afford it, you don't need it. Make do with what you've got, even if it's free form stacks on the floor until you can buy a set of shelves.

4. Beware your energy budget! Shopping is exhausting, even if you do have the money to spend. Mothers with toddlers and babies especially can find themselves drained after shopping for closet accoutrements and other organizational tools. If you need to shop, don't shop and organize all in the same day, maybe not even the same week. Really. Because don't forget unless you can order out, dinner still has to be made. Oh, and that load of laundry needs to be run, somebody needs to unclog the toilet, and good-gravy! the floors still need to be swept. Also, unexpected things will come up. They always do. Again, beware your energy budget!

5. Keep your expectations low. Be hopeful while you organize, or else you won't do it. But never be an optimist! Your newly created order will look beautiful for thirty minutes if you're lucky, maybe half a day if you did this while Dad took the kids out, but eventually life must be lived. Don't get shelves or bins that you will have an emotional attachment to. Anything in the world can be canvas to a kid, and all structures are potential for fabulous wrecking ball reenactments. 

6. Easy is best--for everyone. This goes back to number one on the list. If it's not easy, you won't finish it; you may not even start it! Save elaborate solutions for when you're a grandma. Only give detail to things where detail is truly necessary. Keep everything else simple, which will make it much easier to delegate! For instance: The books don't have to be alphabetized, but they should be on shelves. The assignments for the high school student need to be filed and in order; the ones for the second grader can be stored in a box. The colored pencils are too difficult to keep in their containers, but they're easily thrown in a basket.

7. Delegate! Your children, even small ones, need to get in on the act. If you keep it simple, they are most likely to remember what it is they are to do and how to do it. If you have some pie-in-the-sky method, your teenager will think you're crazy and your five year old may be reduced to tears trying to please you. But simple instructions with reasonable, age appropriate expectations make for chores that get done with minimum hassle. 

8. Set goals and make lists. Having low expectations doesn't mean having no expectations. Do set goals. (ie, Each night before prayers, we will have a 15 minute tidy--not necessarily sparkling clean, but tidy.) And make those lists! I make my lists more idealistic, but it doesn't bother me if I don't get to everything on that list. My lists help me with my priorities for the day and also to remind me of what direction I want to go. My lists are essentially brain data dumps so that my mind is free to think without worrying about remembering the needs and wants of life.

9. Embrace the mess, kind of. The reality is that if you homeschool and if you have more than one kid, God has called you to a rather unstructured and imperfect life. A sense of accomplishment is hard to come by for homeschool moms because the house is in constant flux. This, I hope, is character building for some great future. But in the present, it certainly can be frustrating. I really do think it is a narrow road to be content with your life while not surrendering to its mess, and I think it is a road worth walking.

10. There are more important things. This maxim can be abused to the point you never get anything done. However, the saying is still true. There really are more important things than cleaning out the closets and keeping the school work from exploding on the kitchen table. Seasons come and go. My first born baby is learning to drive. My youngest baby is starting walk. You can hold memories dear, but you can't go back. Choose to let the dishes sit awhile longer and listen to your teenager's thoughts about what happened at youth group, even if it just seems like trivial drama. Let your seven year old elaborate (again) on his plans for creating a biosphere on Mars because he can take out the kitchen garbage just as well when he's done. Take that meal to your sick friend and let the kids help, even though their binders are still open on the table and there are markers and crayons strewn around. Go outside and have a snowball fight because although it's easier to organize while they're outside playing, it could be next year before you have this opportunity again.

Bonus tip: Laugh! A lot! Because if you don't, you'll stress and cry, giving yourself acne and wrinkles.

Now get to work  . . . 

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