Being organized enough to create calm
Take a deep breath, mama. I can feel your tiredness right through the screen.
You have landed on this page in the hope that this might finally be the magic bullet that helps you organize everything and calm the chaos to give you some breathing space. Or at least you might be able to get a tip that may give an inch more than you have now.
I wish I could reach through and give you a big hug.
Actually I think I need it for myself!
My 6 year old son has autism. He can be quite tiring at the best of times, but right now he is struggling to go to sleep at nights and last night he was awake til 11.30pm.
But my nearly 5 year old daughter fell asleep at her usual time… so she was awake at her usual time of 6.30am.
That equals 7 hours between those times (I know you are tired so I’m doing the math for you. You can thank me later). And it wasn’t all sleep time since it took a while for me to come down after settling my boy.
Now, baby mamas, I know you are wishing you could get a chunk of sleep that long. Sister, I have been there. It sucks. But it will get better. I PROMISE you it does.
Well… unless you get a super special kid like I have been blessed with. Or maybe you have any other kind of thing happening with your kid or in your life…
Then it just… changes.
And you change.
And you adapt.
And you get better at this parenting gig slowly, so incredibly slowly that it is painful and it feels like you fail every.single.day.
Actually, hold up. That is just parenting, full stop!
Parenting is the most amazing, crazy, mind-numbingly boring and wildly exciting thing I have ever done. And growing up as a missionary kid in a village in Africa, I have had a few interesting experiences!
Like the most boring long trip ever suddenly stopped by the lions lying in the middle of the road.
And that feels like a good description of parenting to me. Boring… tiring… mundane… and then suddenly, hello, what in the world?!?
It reminds me of that book I read where a man has made art out of the weird things he has said to his children, like “stop riding that penguin, we’re going home”.
Who knew that was a sentence that would ever be said?!?
So in the midst of all this crazy and dreary how do we keep sane? How do we make sure that the things that have to be done are done??
I like to be organized.
But before you click away thinking “another person telling me how to organize everything in my life and giving me yet another list of things to do and to declutter which I won’t be able to keep up with…” hear me out.
I have a messy house most of the time.
I’m sitting with piles of (clean) washing and various Christmas toys that were not so popular so they haven’t made it to what we call the play room. There are rows of paper cut out shapes that my boy has made lining various parts of the floor. There are dead flowers in a vase on the table (actually I will really try to throw those away today!).
BUT we are organized.
Enough to make the house function well. Enough to keep us going and make sure that there is a bit of space for breathing. Enough for me not to yell at the kids (well not too often!). Enough for there to be pockets of calm.
Those piles of clean washing can be sorted and put away when the kids are here and playing. I can’t write this while they are here. They are visiting grandparents today. So I am prioritizing what I do and when.
Those toys will make it to the play room but I wanted to leave space in there for the most popular new Christmas toys to be played with. And I will add these ones when there is a need for more new-shiny-toy attraction. And in the meantime those things are somewhat tidy and not in the way.
The paper shapes… well, my son’s current obsession is shapes. Which is fine. Until he wants me to draw a nonagon for him (that’s a nine sided-shape, which I never knew in all my years of schooling). And the decagon is worse (you guessed it – 10 sides!). But then he wants to lay them out in order. And keep them there. And make another set…
And as for the flowers… yeah, there isn’t much excuse for that! But they were still pretty yesterday 😉
But we often get ourselves tied up with needing things to be a certain way. And after all not only is minimalism and decluttering the thing of the moment, but “cleanliness is next to godliness” and “it can’t be clean if it isn’t tidy”.
I could get very stressed about the “mess” especially when it comes to all the random paper shapes lying all over the floors (and tables, and window ledges, and… everywhere!). But I have worked hard on looking for the order that IS there. And creating ENOUGH order to make things more calm.
Our house is not tidy. But it functions well for our needs.
If that sounds good to you, then I like to recommend focusing on these few things to create and organize calm in your home and family. Here are my tips to getting organized.
1. Organize the things that need to happen
This seems a good starting point to me. Once you have the main things organized ready to happen, the rest will be a little bit easier. And you will feel more like an organized person.
Use a calendar / planner
If you have a calendar, note things that have to happen on it. Plan what you need to have ready for those events. Set reminders on your phone if that helps you.
I do not mean to be insulting and suggest you cannot think of doing this yourself. Many of you will read this and think, “well, duh, yes of course!” But honestly, not everyone does it. Or they don’t do it all the time. (That would be me, by the way!)
In practice this is what it could look like: if you need a special book for school, you could have it laid out the night before since you had a reminder on the calendar in a place where you will see it… instead of trying to find it before you run out the door in the morning when your child asks where it is…!
I like to use a week plan as well as a month plan so that I don’t miss things.
Create a to-do list
Ok so maybe you have one of these. But when do you get the stuff done?? If you are like me then maybe never! Organization can reduce stress – we all know that. But how do we make a to-do list actually work?
I try to put my to-do list onto my planner / calendar. Or set a reminder on my phone. Then I have a time it should happen by. If it can’t happen then I don’t stress but I make myself re-book it so I do try to make it happen.
If it still never gets done, then maybe it shouldn’t be on your to-do list at all… question yourself about whether it is really important and just cut it off the list if you can! Maybe make a “not to-do list”! So then you have space for things that are more important.
This is where I confess that I hate meal plans. I mean, c’mon how boring!
So I write flexi meal plans. Then I “shop” my own pantry for what to cook that night. If I know I have the basics of a meal and a range of ways to create it, I will not get bored. But life will be easier.
You may be that person who loves to just know what you are going to make so you really don’t have to think. If so, rock on! Write out your meals and create your shopping list from them.
As a creative I just get bored!
So my shopping list consists of stocking up on the things that are running low in the pantry or fridge, and the main items that I will be using for our evening meals during the week. From there I wing it and use inspiration!
I know that I have chicken, beef mince and eggs in our house today to choose from. And a range of vegetables. And rice, pasta and potatoes. From that I will be able to go “shopping” in my kitchen and decide what to cook for dinner. Yes, I like make-believe too much and yes, at 42, I should be mature enough to deal with a meal plan. I’m not. So I’m making it work for me rather than changing me 🙂
This is also something that needs to happen. However you do it, you need to keep at least some track of your money.
So many people subscribe to Dave Ramsey and his system. And I think it is a fantastic way to do things.
But I like it even more simple.
My husband and I have a list of things we would like to buy (ok 2 lists actually, but I am not really counting the big ticket item list – it has things like a new bathroom!). And we prioritize according to how much extra money we have and how we both feel about what we need.
This is for ALL our spending other than the set monthly expenses, which includes a set amount for food. Expenses just happen and we make sure they do happen by automating whatever we can. So anything else goes on the list.
It keeps us both focussed on what we spend our money on and why. I have not been able to work since having our kids. And our son, even though at school, still needs so much of my time that I can’t hold down a job. I have begun blogging as a way to bring some money into the home, but I have only just started (with thanks to the wonderful Suzi and her courses!) so we have to make our money stretch for now. Keeping a really close track of our money is how we make that happen for now.
A lot of people think of toys when they think of organizing kids. For good reason! The toys can get out of hand quickly if allowed to. One of the best suggestions I heard was to rotate the toys your kids have. So they only have a few of them out at any given time so they don’t get bored. You may have noticed I am doing a form of that by keeping Christmas presents out of circulation until the other ones are not as much fun – my version of easy toy rotation post-holiday season!
Back to school is the next biggest thing to think of for organizing kids. Obviously this is only for certain times of the year. But when it happens it can be a big one! Lists are my jam for times like this. Simple but if it is all in one place then I will usually manage to get it done!
The main other area I find I want to keep more of a track of is clothing for my kids. They grow so fast and my son in particular wears clothes out so fast that I try to keep on top of it. Generally I try to make sure that they have enough tops and bottoms for the season so that I don’t have endless clothes to wash, but nor do I have to wash every single day – does that make sense?!? I find around 6 or 7 items each for top and bottom seems to work, with jackets or whatever extras are needed for the season.
2. Organize the things that you want to happen
Now these are the things that some people consider in the “have to happen” category. That really is up to you. But I have had to strip back what I do and what we do as a family with our son and his struggles with people and events.
These days I consider these the fun things that I would really like to do. And I try to make them happen. But I also give myself a lot of grace when and if they don’t happen. Or we have a very basic version of what had been planned.
Birthday parties / special events
Having a bunch of kids over is fun. It is also a lot of work. So it takes some planning and thought.
I tend to have what I consider the basics of an event, and then I prepare a few options that we can do it things are going well. So for a birthday party, I would consider a birthday cake and presents with a few snacks for guests as the basics. Then the extras I might add would be balloons, other decorations, party games and prizes for the games… you get the idea!
Any time we get fixed ideas in our heads about how something needs to go to really be a success is a bit dangerous in my experience. We can ruin what was actually a really lovely time of kids enjoying time together if we were expecting to set out a gorgeous colour matching dessert table and have the kids pose for photos alongside it… you know what I mean?!? Organise enough for real enjoyment. Anything extra is the frosting on the cake. Frosting makes a good cake great, but if you don’t have a good cake to begin with then the frosting is just revolting!
Yes I do mean like Christmas and Thanksgiving. Talk to anyone with special needs kids and they will tell you that holidays can be the worst time of all for their children. Too much tinsel and lights, too much noise, too much uncertainty, too many family members you don’t see often, too much stress… perhaps that makes sense?!? As adults we can feel that holidays are stressful. And that can filter through to our kids even if they don’t have additional challenges or special needs.
So what I am suggesting is taking down the expectations and planning for the basics so that there is more calm and less stress. In the same way as with the birthday parties, decide what your basics are. Then add what seems possible.
I plan a lovely but reasonably simple meal. I include favourite options for each family member. We have presents. We have a tree, but we decorate it simply and we do it together as one of our Christmas activities.
Since we have a large extended family we do usually have several events in the Christmas week. But we continue with the same theme – do the basics and extra is a bonus! So attending for the meal is our version of basic for a large family event. Extras involve staying and doing more with the family.
However this usually looks for your family, I challenge you to find out what are the basics for you. What absolutely must happen for you to feel ok. And then you make sure that happens, and layer in what else you can…
And these are the ways we work on being organized enough to create calm in our family life.
If I could, I would help you with the tiredness. I really wish I could!
But what I can offer is encouragement that you are doing a great job! I hope these thoughts help you with creating breathing space for pockets of calm in the chaos of family life and finding ways of being orgagnized.
We can do this! But we need each other for fresh ideas and encouragement along the way.
With two young kids, one of whom has special needs, Emmy has plenty of opportunities to practice organizing calm for families which she shares on her blog emmycarson.com. It is all about being organized ENOUGH and having things sorted ENOUGH to make life easier and create more pockets of calm. Even in the chaos!