In my previous blog (see “Finding Balance as a Dance Family”), the last piece of advice I gave was to “get organized.” Organization is absolutely essential for a household to run smoothly and to keep your and your family members’ stress levels low. Here are some things you can do to implement some structure in your family:
1. Organize your home.
This is something that may take some time. DO NOT try to organize your entire house in one day! You’ll get overwhelmed and will give up. Focus on one room at a time, or even one part of a room. Maybe tomorrow you’re going to organize your desk, and the next day you’ll work on half of the office closet, the next day the other half, etc. I could write a whole book just on this one topic, but here are the organizing basics:
Purge! If you have a sweater you haven’t worn in ten years, it’s time to donate it. If you’ve been saving every single piece of schoolwork your child has brought home, sort through them and only keep the significant items you or your child will care about seeing in twenty years. Still have boxes from electronics you purchased five years ago? Either recycle them or re-purpose them to use as storage containers. Have the same movie on DVD and Blu-ray? Sell or donate the DVD. Are your kids now teenagers but you still have all of their baby/toddler toys? Time to decide on a few toys to keep for grandkids and get rid of the rest. If you have a lot of items to get rid of, consider having a garage sale. Yes, garage sales are a lot of work if you do them right, but you can make a lot of money on things that have been cluttering your house. The last couple of garage sales we did brought in over $1200! Be sure to check the donation value of items (organizations like Salvation Army have charts on their websites), and don’t price your items for less than their value. You may even want to hold a garage sale that benefits your favorite charity!
Everything has its place. If you come home and stack everything on your kitchen counter or your kids drop their backpacks in the middle of your family room floor, it might be that you need to find “homes” for these items. If you don’t have a mudroom to hang backpacks and such, you can easily turn a hallway into a mudroom space with some hooks and a small shoe bench. If that’s not feasible, perhaps you need to create a space in each child’s bedroom for backpacks. Decide where your mail is going to go, and get a mail sorter if needed. Buy a rack with hooks for keys. Use stacking trays on your desk to organize papers by “to file,” “to be completed,” etc. Leaving items out in plain view not only makes your house look cluttered, it can make you feel stressed.
Use containers. You cannot effectively organize your home without containers. Stacking shoes in a closet, piling printer ink on a shelf, putting silverware in an empty drawer . . . these are not organized ways of putting things away. You need a shoe rack, a box with a label that reads “printer ink,” and a silverware tray in your drawer. You don’t have to spend a lot of money on containers! I’ve purchased the majority of mine at Wal-Mart, Dollar Tree, and IKEA. I particularly like carts with drawers. I use bigger ones to organize things like large craft and sewing items, and smaller ones to organize things like office supplies (pens, pencils, markers, etc.). I also love to repurpose cardboard boxes that have lids, like shoe boxes. I especially love to use them for special greeting cards, my daughter’s dance programs, etc. If you don’t want to spend money on a filing cabinet for all of your bills and important paperwork, look at some inexpensive file boxes.
Label things. It’s great to have things organized neatly in boxes, but it’s important to know what’s in them. You can hand-write or use a printer for label sheets, but I prefer using a label maker. They are very affordable, starting at only $9 on Amazon. Trust me; labeling is well worth not having your kids ask you where things are all the time.
Put things back where they go. Now that you’ve purged, found places for everything, and made labeled containers, you actually have to put things away. Organization is useless if you go back to old habits of leaving things out or dropping them wherever there’s an empty space. It’s very easy to do this when you’re in a hurry, but it only takes a few seconds to put something away. If you continually leave things out, you’ll be back to feeling disorganized and stressed, and it will take a lot longer to straighten up your house after messes have built up. Perhaps at the end of the day, before everyone goes to bed, the family can take a few minutes to pick up anything left out. Make it a part of your family’s routine.
2. Find a good communication system. Phone calls, texts, white boards, chalk boards, e-mails . . . these are some of the tools you can use to communicate as a family. Oh yeah, and don’t forget about good ol’ face-to-face communication! When one parent is in charge of schedules, events, etc., it’s very easy to forget to fill everyone else in on things you already know. As your kids get older, they will appreciate being in the know about the family’s schedules. In addition to communicating with each other directly, we’ve found a communication “hub” in our kitchen to be very useful. Although I was resistant to having dry erase or magnetic boards in my kitchen, fearing it would look cluttered, we utilize these daily and it helps keep our family organized. We use magnetic [glass] dry erase boards. They are a little pricier than normal boards, but fit our needs well. We did have to purchase extra strong magnets.
3. Use a family calendar.
In this age of technology, our family prefers to use a calendar app that we can all access. There are a lot of apps out there, but we use Cozi. No matter what type of device we have (Droids, iPhones, older iPods, etc.), this app works for all of us, we can set reminders/notifications, and we each have our own color-coded schedules. I also have a color for meals, so no one ever has to wonder what we’re having for dinner, and it helps me make sure I have a meal planned for each day. I’ve also heard great things about Apple Calendar and Google Calendar. All of these apps/sites have a print feature, so you can also print your weekly calendars to have them posted at home for everyone to see easily. If you prefer going old-school and like to write everything on a calendar (such as a large dry erase board), be sure you are keeping it up-to-date and that it’s located somewhere central (like your kitchen) for everyone to see. A few recommendations regarding your family’s calendar:
Do not use both a calendar app AND a hand-written calendar. You’re not only creating more work for yourself by having to enter appointments/activities twice, you risk not transferring something from one calendar to the other and might miss an important event.
Enter things into your calendar AS SOON as you can. It’s easy to forget to add something into a calendar if you don’t do it right away. I always joke that “if it’s not on my calendar, it’s not happening.”
Schedule appointments as far in advance as reasonably possible. For example, you know your kids need physicals each year (or possibly every two years as they get older). Look for days they have off school near their birthdays so you don’t have to pull them out of classes. Same for the dentist; you know you all need your teeth cleaned every 6 months, so try to schedule those appointments when it’s most convenient for your kids. If you wait until the last minute, you may not get in the day you want and it might put some stress on yourself or your kids.
4. Utilize lists and/or spreadsheets.
I will admit right now that I am a list/spreadsheet addict. You may have noticed I even like to blog in a list format. I have packing lists saved on my computer for warm-weather trips, beach trips, Disney trips, out-of-country trips, and cold-weather trips. I have spreadsheets for grocery shopping, vacation itineraries, my daughter’s dance schedules and make-up classes, summer camp options for my son, and of course, I use them for my businesses daily. You don’t have to take lists to this level, but you might be surprised by how incredibly helpful they can be. Here are a couple of lists I’d recommend implementing in your house for now:
Shopping list – on the dry erase board in our kitchen, we leave the top available to write down any items we need to buy the next time we’re at the store. This is extremely convenient and prevents me from running out of household staples. If I use nearly all the cumin from my spice drawer, I immediately go to the board to write it down. When I make my main shopping list (that I like to organize by aisle, to save time at the store), I always check the dry erase board and add those items to my main list.
To-do list – when you have a lot of tasks to complete that aren’t time-sensitive enough to put on your calendar, making yourself a list is not only helpful in keeping your mind organized, you will feel gratified every time you mark something off. This list can be on your phone, computer, family’s communication board, a piece of paper, etc. Whatever works best for you!
5. Make chore charts.
In my last blog post, I recommended giving your kids household duties, not only to ease your load, but so your kids will learn how to cook and clean so they’re not helpless when they become adults. As stated in that previous post, there are a lot of different philosophies regarding whether or not to pay kids for chores, and how much. I don’t believe any system is wrong, it’s just a matter of finding what works best for your family. I’m going to share with you what’s working well for us right now, after trying several different methods. Our kids each have their own chart with chores specific to their age/abilities, and each chore is worth a different amount of money. We also charge our kids when they fail to complete certain tasks (for example: when lights are left on, if they don’t put shoes away, if dishes are left out after meals, etc.). This is not only teaching them about contributing to a household, they’re learning about money management and we can utilize the system for disciplinary needs.
6. Plan meals.
If you don’t plan meals in advance, chances are you’re either eating out far too often or you are relying on a handful of recipes to make on a regular basis. Eating out a lot is not only hard on your wallet, it’s very difficult to eat healthy. And if you’re not mixing up your recipes often, your family probably doesn’t look forward to dinner time. Here are some tips for planning meals:
Schedule a meal-planning day once every 1-2 weeks.
Think about how many servings are in each recipe. If you’re a family of four but have a recipe that serves 8-10, you can plan a “leftover day” in between your planned dinners. If your family complains about leftovers, here’s a trick: freeze half of the meal to save for a busy day. Not only will you have a quick meal that you can just heat up, your family won’t see it as “leftovers.”
Use a meal planning website to get new recipes. I’ve used eMeals for about two years after being referred by a friend. You can try their menus free for two weeks, and then the cost is as low as $5/month after that. There are several different meal plans to choose from, including vegetarian and gluten-free. We’re currently on the “Budget Friendly” plan. I typically do not use all seven recipes provided; I choose 3-4 from that week’s plan that I think our family will like, and then fill the rest of the days with leftovers or recipes from my recipe box. I also keep track of which eMeals recipes my kids enjoyed and add them to my box!
Allrecipes.com is a great resource for finding yummy recipes. I love that you can search by ingredient, so if I have a roast in my freezer that I’d like to use, I can search for a recipe that calls for that specific type of meat. I also love that there are reviews, so you can choose top-rated recipes.
Keep track of what’s in your freezer. I really like to buy meat (beef, chicken, seafood) when it’s on sale and then freeze it. The problem I’ve run into is I tend to forget what’s in our freezer and then either don’t use it before it gets freezer-burned, or I end up having a freezer full of chuck roasts because I didn’t know I already had five waiting to be used. I’ve started making a list of meats I have in the freezer (and how many) that I keep in our kitchen. When I buy more, I add a tally to that meat, and if I use one, I scratch off a tally. Thus far this system is working well for me.
If you are really struggling to find the time to plan meals, shop for groceries, and cook, you can try a meal delivery service, such as Blue Apron or Hello Fresh. These programs do not fit in our family’s budget, but we do know of people who enjoy the convenience of them.
Another way to save time is to order groceries online. I’ve used this service at Wal-Mart numerous times and it’s fantastic! King Soopers is now offering the same service (called “ClickList”), and what I like about their program is you can use coupons from their website/app. You can order groceries online as you’re planning meals, schedule a pick-up time, and you don’t even have to go into the store. Click here and use coupon code “WOWFRESH” to get $10 off your first Wal-Mart grocery order!
Keep veggies in the freezer. I like to plan meals for two weeks. However, produce typically does not stay fresh for two weeks. It’s okay to use frozen veggies for those meals that are 10-14 days out!
Keep track of what time dinner needs to be ready each day. Because our daughter eats dinner at the studio 2-3 times a week, I know I have to have dinner ready before she leaves for dance classes, which is sometimes at 3:40pm. Yes, it sometimes feels strange to be cooking dinner at 2:30pm, but it’s important that she gets a healthy, homecooked meal! Slow cooker meals can be a great option for those days.
7. Don’t procrastinate.
My husband laughed when I read this one to him, as my deadline for this blog post is literally 45 minutes away. I am not usually one to procrastinate, but sometimes it’s unavoidable. Sometimes we have busier weeks or unexpected kinks in our schedules, and the fact is, there are only so many hours in a day. However, it will be much easier for you and your family to stay organized if you complete tasks as soon as you’re able. When your child brings a permission slip home from school, sign it, write a check for the fee, and immediately put it back in his/her backpack. As soon as you get a rehearsal schedule from the dance studio, enter the rehearsals into your family’s calendar. When you get a bill in the mail, pay it and file it. When doing laundry, put clean clothes away while on your way to get the next load to wash. If you continually postpone tasks, your to-do list will grow overwhelmingly long, and you risk missing important deadlines.
Because we consistently grow busier the older our kids get, we often have to prioritize tasks. This can actually be very difficult for some people. Once they set their minds to accomplishing a task, they have a hard time redirecting their brains to another task. This is where those lists/spreadsheets come in handy! Write down your list of tasks, then re-write them in the order they need to be completed. If it’s 5pm and you haven’t started dinner, cooking will take priority over super-gluing that frame that broke the other day.