By now you may be thinking to yourself, My entire house needs an organizational miracle makeover! Sit back. Breathe deeply. While it's true that most of us could use a bit of help throughout our homes, there are a few key areas where you'll get the most bang for your buck (and your time and effort).
Bedrooms. Kids need a quiet place to settle down at the end of a busy day. Creating an organized environment in their bedroom will help your child to unwind, whether it is for a short afternoon break or before they hit the hay. This is one room where less clutter means less distraction. If you want well-rested kids, less distraction is what they need.
Creating an organized bedroom for your child will help keep his things neat and orderly and help him develop a genuine understanding of the importance of caring for his belongings. When you tell him to pick up his clothes, he will know that you mean to throw them in the hamper, not under the bed. And when he's trying to find his favorite baseball card, he won't have to look far, because it's exactly where it was supposed to be.
Ideally, the bedroom should be a fairly toy-free zone (except for books and stuffed animals for evening "wind down" time), but that's only if you have enough room in your home for a separate playroom for the kids. If you allow your child to have toys in her room (or because of space limitations you have no other choice), be sure to have a set policy that all toys get put away before bedtime. Shelving is a great way to store toys, but if your kid's room is lacking in that department, big baskets or bins are a good alternative
(Homegoods, TJ Maxx, Hobby Lobby, Ross and Marshalls are all great places to purchase oversized baskets at a reasonable price).
Having a hamper in your child's room will also promote good habits and foster independence. Be sure the hamper is child-friendly and easily accessible. Pop-up mesh hampers and laundry baskets work great for young kids and are often light-weight and easy for them to carry back and forth from the laundry room.
Placing a bin on the floor of your child's closet will give you a quick way to eliminate closet clutter. Toss in clothes that don't fit or clothes that your child just won't wear. At the end of each season, sort through the bin. Store what you need for another child down the road, and donate what you don't to a friend, family member or charitable organization that collects kids' clothing.
You can keep your kids' drawers organized by assigning a drawer for each type of clothing. Put socks and underwear in one drawer; nightwear in another; long-sleeved shirts in one and short-sleeved shirts in yet another; and pants in another. You'll have to tweak the drawer assignments based on the amount of dresser space you have. Once you get a system in place, keeping up with it is fairly easy.
Hanging clothes in the closet can make managing your child's wardrobe much easier. Hang clothes in groups, either by outfit or by item; then within each set of items, arrange by color. If you're dealing with clothes of different sizes, use a hole punch to put a hole about an inch from the top of a piece of 8.5 x 11-inch paper and then write the size on the paper. Slide a hanger through the hole and use it to divide the sizes. Regardless of what method you choose, be sure to select your child's outfit the night before and lay it out where your child can easily reach it.
When you're dealing with laundry for two or more little ones, it's easier to keep up with the volume by throwing in a daily load. But I'm a nanny whose workplace is at the home, so you may find that a twice-weekly routine works better for you. Still, you might consider using the washer as a hamper so that you don't get buried in dirty laundry. Whenever you change your baby or toddler, just toss the outfit in the washer. When it's full enough to do a load, all you have to do is add detergent and you're good to go.
Bath Time. Encouraging your child to have lengthy nightly soaks all fine and dandy for moms with one child, but when you're dealing with two or more, short and sweet is your survival code. If you're lucky enough to have a home with two full bathrooms, dedicate one as strictly for kids. In the closet or in the drawers of the vanity, store jammies and diapers, wipes and bath "flxings" for young ones. Older kids may like to hang their PJs on an over-the-door hook on the bathroom door. You'll also want to put a hamper in the kids' bathroom to prevent piles of clothing from building up on the floor.
If you're limited to a shared family bathroom, give your older children their own "space" to store their soap, deodorant and any other personal-hygiene items. You can also give older kids a small tote (like the one college kids use) and have them store it in their room.
When you have older siblings, you can use a kitchen timer to keep showers short. Younger children can be bathed in a clean and disinfected kitchen sink — this is especially time-saving for mothers of multiples. Store extra PJs, body wash, shampoo and towels in an out-of-reach area in the kitchen, and when it's bath time, be sure to have everything you need handy so that you never are tempted to leave your child unattended.
Photos. Organizing family photos is one of those overwhelming tasks that are often on the perennial to-do list. But until you get that rainy day when you can sit and organize your scrapbook or album, consider putting your collection of photos in a few photo storage boxes (shoe boxes will work well, too). As time permits, sort through your photos, placing photos from each year into their own box and labeling each box with its year. Then sort through each box using rubber bands or envelopes to divide photos by month, or season, according to your organizational preference. Clothing, scenery and activities should help you to "guesstimate" what was taken when.
Now that you have the backlog taken care of, put a system into place for processing new photos. As you print or place orders for new photos, be sure to order an index print and a digital copy of your photos on CD. Keep a photo storage box in the kitchen and, after the photos arrive, label them and place them in the box, in the order you receive them.
Whether you're a creative "scrapper" or prefer a more classic album, decide how you want to preserve your family history. Once your photos are chronologically sorted, you'll be able to add them to the album of your choice as time permits.
Once you develop a system, it's easy to keep up with. The key is to use a system that you find easy to maintain.
So now that I've shared some of my best, most practical organizational tips, it's time to put them to use. Whenever you start a new system or routine, it takes time to adjust. You will also need to tweak each system so that it fits the specific needs of your family.
Before you implement a new system, take a little extra time to get everyone on board. For example, if your kids are now required to put their shoes in a basket in the closet, sit down with them, discuss the changes and give them some time to get used to their new routine. If they are elementary school-age or younger, it's going to take daily prompting before they get the hang of the new way of doing things. As well, keep in mind that checklists (with pictures for pre-reading kids and words for reading kids) can help kids understand what is expected of them.
Consistency will determine how successful you will be in implementing a new routine or system. Resist the urge to give up on a new method. Give yourself a full three weeks before you rate the effectiveness of how your new routine works (remembering that it takes 21 days to change a habit). It may take some investment of time to get your plan into practice, but once your new routines are fully operational, the time and energy you will save in the long run are more than worth the short-term effort.