Whether you want to get on top of filing, meal prep, or scheduling conflicts, these expert-backed tips, apps, and routines can help you feel more on the ball.

By Maressa Brown
January 15, 2021
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Credit: Getty Images.

With a fresh, blank calendar year stretched out before us, opportunities abound. At the same time, this new beginning lends itself to addressing any messes—literal or figurative—that have piled up over the last 12 difficult months.

"The new year is a perfect time, especially after the year 2020, to reevaluate how to live every day to the fullest," says Tanisha Porter, a certified organizational professional and founder of Natural Born Organizers in Southern California. "Part of this introspection should be thinking about which systems and routines were effective as a family and which ones have room for improvement. Systems are only effective when implemented with regularity, and now is the time to make adjustments to create a home that runs like a well-oiled machine."

Here are simple tips from Porter and other experts that will help you get more organized in 2021.

1. Schedule Family Meetings

A lack of communication and planning can lead to a lot of stress, points out Claire Nicogossian, Psy.D., a licensed clinical psychologist, clinical assistant professor of psychiatry and human behavior at Brown University, and author of Mama, You Are Enough: How to Create Calm, Joy, and Confidence Within the Chaos of Motherhood. "One strategy to reduce miscommunications is to schedule weekly family meetings," she recommends.

A few ways to make a family meeting productive and effective, according to Dr. Nicogossian:

  • Keep it fun, short, and simple. Serve some yummy snacks and allow everyone to have a turn to express themselves.
  • Have a calendar. This way you can see what is upcoming for each family member.
  • Plan and delegate accordingly. Explain who is responsible for what and what items or things are needed. Then write it all down and place it somewhere for everyone to see and refer to so there are no surprises.
  • Open up. Give some space during this family meeting to highlight what is working well and what needs some improvement. And always give positive feedback and encouragement for your kids' efforts and positive behaviors.

2. Use a Digital Family Organizer

Despite everyone being home more than usual during the pandemic, it's still important to have information on everyone's activities in one central, easy-to-access location. It's for that reason that you might want to use a digital family organizer app like Cozi, which is available on Apple and Google Play and offers a calendar as well as grocery and shopping lists, a chore tracker, meal planner, and family journal features among other bells and whistles.

Although she encourages clients to have an actual physical calendar or to use the calendar on their phone, Victoria Nungesser, LCSW, an EMDR certified psychotherapist in Newtown, Connecticut says she personally likes Cozi. "I find it to be successful for my family and me when we are needing to implement specific goals, structure, and especially self-care," she says.

Porter also likes Fantastical, which is available on Apple and allows you to add your existing calendar accounts directly to the app to keep of all your events and tasks in sync.

You might also consider Evernote, a productivity and note-taking app that can be used to create grocery lists, store recipes and plan family meals as well as store kids' medical and dental records, class rosters, digital copies of kids' drawings/artwork, and more. You can download it on Apple or Google Play.

3. Make a Physical Calendar More Colorful

If having an actual, physical family calendar is more appealing, Porter recommends purchasing a large desk calendar with holes at the top for mounting on a wall. "Assign each family member a color and have a set of thin point markers dedicated to the calendar only," she notes. "This allows anyone in the family to know exactly what calendar entry is for what family member. Using this method reduces the risk of double booking and the 'I didn't know' that cause family conflicts."

4. Assign Every Family Member a Chore Day

If you want to get on top of perpetually piled-up laundry, consider assigning laundry days to every member of the family, preferably those 8 years and older, says Porter. "If this system is maintained, it will reduce laundry buildup, avoid a laundry room traffic jam, and ensure smaller loads to put away in the closets and the drawers," she notes.

Want to expand the chore list? Check out our age-appropriate chore list to get your little one's to help make things more organized around the house.

5. Meal Plan

If you've been relying too heavily on takeout and delivery meals, you might want to get on top of meal planning in the new year. Kimberly Presley, a licensed clinical social worker and clinical director of Taylor Counseling Group in Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas, recommends creating a visual chart to guide the process. "This can be a dry erase board, piece of paper, framed chart, or whatever best suits your family," she says. "Choose one day of the week where you can meet with your family and plan your meals for the week."

Presley advises grocery shopping for three to four days of fresh meals and two to three days of frozen or ready-to-go meals at a time, which will cover you in case plans change, as they inevitably will.

Jan Serafen, a professional home organizer and founder of The Ordered Home, adds that you can involve kids in meal planning, too. "Even our little ones can manage their own (healthy!) snacks with some thoughtful planning," she notes. "A pantry shelf or a kitchen drawer that's within their reach can allow independence for the kids and maybe a moment of freedom for the adults." Think: snack bars, raisins, and pre-portioned cereal.

6. Try a Digital Vault

Get all your paperwork in order. Pillar Life,  a secure digital vault/safe deposit box, allows you to easily store, organize, and share all your family's financial accounts, legal documents, medical records, and more with trusted loved ones. All you have to do is take a photo with any smartphone and text them. Then, through secured encryption, Pillar organizes and categorizes documents safely in the cloud. Pillar Life is an online subscription that costs $47.88/year or $4.99/month.

7. Embrace 10-Minute Projects

If you're feeling like tackling that out-of-control junk drawer will take an hour or straightening up your kids' distance learning area will require tons of cooperation from them, it's easy to get overwhelmed. But Mélanie Berliet, a lifestyle expert and general manager of The Spruce, says all you really need is to find those little pockets of time present in each day and you can tackle more than you realize.

"It's amazing how much you can accomplish in just 10 minutes when you're waiting for everyone to finish brushing their teeth in the morning, waiting for a pot to boil, etc.," says Berliet. "Breaking up large projects into segments can be hugely beneficial." Consider organizing a T-shirt drawer, purging your fridge of anything rotten, or cleaning makeup brushes—just a few options The Spruce recommends.

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