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Organizing Tips for Busy Moms

woman picking up toys

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With three kids, ages 2, 6, and 8, stay-at-home mom Daniela Rinard rarely reached the end of her to-do list. "The housework never seems to get finished, and I feel as if I spend half my day chauffeuring kids around," said Daniela, who lives in Walnut Creek, California. "The baby's naps are constantly interrupted, and I barely have any time alone with my husband. If only I were a little better organized, my life would be a lot less hectic."

To help Daniela achieve that goal, Parents called in time-management expert Ronni Eisenberg, author of Organize Your Home!: Simple Routines for Managing Your Household. Eisenberg asked this busy mom to keep a detailed diary of exactly how she used her time. At the end of two weeks, the expert reviewed the logs, identified the top time-management challenges, and offered suggestions on how Daniela could become more efficient.

Challenge #1
Stop racing around.

The problem: Daniela's days are a whirlwind of activity. She drives her older girls to school each morning, then picks up one at 11:30 a.m. and the other at 2:35 p.m. After school, she chauffeurs them to gymnastics, piano lessons, or sports, and usually races out to the store to buy one thing or another. As a result, baby Ava isn't napping regularly and is often cranky by late afternoon. Getting the girls to do homework is a hassle.

The solution: Eisenberg advised Daniela to reduce her car time. She urged Daniela to set up car pools for school and activities. She told Daniela to limit her carpooling to one or two days, and to arrange for someone to watch Ava on those days so she could stick to her naps.

To help Daniela feel more in control, Eisenberg also recommended keeping track of activities on a calendar -- as well as establishing an after-school routine. "The girls need to get into the habit of coming home, having a snack, and doing their homework right away," Eisenberg said.

To cut down on errand time, Eisenberg suggested maintaining a computerized checklist of groceries and other necessities, and keeping a printout handy. "That way, she can mark off things she needs, and she can take the list with her when she goes shopping," Eisenberg says.

Challenge #2
Streamline housework.

The problem: Daniela spends four and a half hours a week cleaning, but she complains that the house is mess. "I hate housework, so I think of every excuse not to do it," she admits.

The solution: The first thing Eisenberg noticed about Daniela's diary was how often phone calls interrupted her chores. Eisenberg suggested that Daniela let the voice mail pick up calls while she cleans, to help her maintain momentum. To make daily tasks go more quickly, Eisenberg advised Daniela to use comforters instead of blankets (to make beds more quickly) and keep cleanser and sponges in each bathroom (to do quick scrubdowns). She also recommended organizing the house better so cleaning up wouldn't seem like such a monumental task. To get rid of kitchen clutter, for example, Eisenberg told Daniela to clear counters of anything she doesn't use at least once a day. Daniela should also clear out drawers and closets of outgrown clothing. "But don't do everything at once," Eisenberg said. "Break down the work into a task or a time frame. For instance, Daniela should say, "I'll clean one closet every week until I'm done.'"

Challenge #3
Reduce kitchen chaos.

The problem: Daniela usually doesn't start thinking about dinner until 5:30 or 6 p.m. "I never know what to serve, and often I don't have the ingredients I need," she says. As a result, the family frequently doesn't eat until 7 or later. Daniela also complains that she feels as if she's in the kitchen all the time, either preparing the meals or cleaning them up.

The solution: Eisenberg suggested that Daniela make a weekly meal plan every Sunday and check off the ingredients she needs on her grocery list. To ensure that evenings feel more leisurely, Eisenberg recommended that the family always eat at 6 p.m., as soon as Daniela's husband, Dave, gets home from work.

Daniela should also use her kitchen time more efficiently. "Instead of spending 20 minutes here and there, she should stay in the kitchen for longer periods," Eisenberg suggested. In other words, rather than leaving the kitchen after a meal and coming back later to clean up, Daniela should prepare meals, serve them, and do the dishes right way.

It also would help to consolidate food prep -- chop enough vegetables for salad one night and stir-fry the next, or double recipes and freeze a meal for later in the week. Daniela should also let the girls prepare their school lunches while she gets dinner ready. "I'm amazed at the difference these changes have made," Daniela said after implementing the suggestions.

Challenge #4
Find time to unwind.

The problem: In Daniela's two-week diary, the girls hit their targeted 8 p.m. bedtime only twice. Often it is almost 9 p.m. by the time lights are out, giving Daniela only 15 minutes alone with Dave at night.

The solution: Eisenberg told Daniela to maintain strict bedtimes: Dave should put the baby down at 7:30, and the older girls should have the lights out by 8:15, no exceptions. Fortunately, the earlier dinner hour and the new homework routine made this doable. "Evenings don't feel so rushed now," Daniela said.

The family is still working on implementing some of Eisenberg's advice. (The most difficult challenge has been arranging car pools.) But even by incorporating just a few of the suggestions into the family routine, Daniela feels that things are under control. "It's amazing: Getting things even a little organized makes you want to get even more organized!"

Copyright © 2003 Christine Larson. Reprinted with permission from the November 2003 issue of Parents magazine.