Secrets of an Organized Person

Appointments, papers, or other details falling through the cracks? Here are 11 ways to stay on top of your daily obligations and save your sanity.

woman writing on paper

"Now, where did I put that bill?"

"We're out of milk!"

"The dishwasher still needs to be unloaded--let's use paper plates again tonight."

Sound familiar?  With all the balls you keep in the air on a daily basis, it's no wonder that a few of them slip through your fingers now and again.  But if you're constantly feeling like you're struggling to keep up, it's probably time to do a little strategizing, says Regina Leeds, Los Angeles-based professional organizer and author of the bestselling "One Year to An Organized Life."  "If you fly by the seat of your pants when it comes to running your home, you are making the process more difficult -- and stressful -- than it needs to be."

To streamline your daily life, take a look at the areas that are causing you the most angst, give yourself credit for what's working well, and take a look at these eleven suggestions for ways to mastermind and streamline your efforts.

FOOD

Make a master list. To keep yourself from constantly running out of your fridge and pantry staples, hand write or print out a list of all the groceries and other items (toilet paper, toothpaste) you need to replenish on a regular basis.  Post it where everyone in the family can see it with a pen or pencil nearby, and encourage your family members to make a note whenever they finish up an item.  That way, you'll never get home from the store and realize you should have replenished the detergent.

Pick a shopping day. Make your trip to the grocery store a regular event -- every Wednesday after school pick-up, for example, or every Sunday afternoon.  It will help streamline your schedule as you'll be able to plan other errands around this one mainstay.  It will likely even save you gas, as you'll be able to consolidate trips to many different stores (the dry cleaner, the pet supply store) into one outing.

Set up some systems. Figuring out what to have for dinner can be overwhelming if you're doing all your thinking at 5 p.m.  Give yourself some supporting infrastucture, suggests Amanda Wiss, founder of Urban Clarity, a professional organizing service in Brooklyn, New York.  "Put all your easy recipes in a binder, and put your favorite delivery spots on speed dial," she suggests.  You can also plan out a week's worth of menus and get a consolidated shopping list from sites such as The Six O'Clock Scramble.

PAPERWORK AND SCHEDULING

Create a command center. Wiss recommends making a centralized spot for all the inbound paper -- including mail, artwork, invitations, bills, and permission slips -- to land.  Put a binder or sturdy notebook there so you jot down any information or details that don't need to be rattling around in your head.  Include a whiteboard, chalkboard, and/or wall calendar to write down timely information, so everyone can easily see what's happening when.

Meet once a week. Get everyone involved in the scheduling with a weekly family meeting.  Wiss does hers on Sunday nights.  "We review what the best parts of last week were, what's coming up this week, and plan fun activities together.  We also let our kids choose the selection and special snack for our weekly family movie time." 

Communicate, communicate, communicate. If you're at all digitally inclined, consider setting up a shared Google calendar and give every family member his or her own color so you can see at a glance where everyone needs to be at any given time.  Then update your spouse and other family members via email, text or nightly check-ins so they know what's coming. 

HOME MAINTENANCE

Enlist your children. Kids often enjoy contributing to household upkeep.  Leeds suggests starting as early as possible in order to make chores a regular, drama-free part of your household.  "A two year old can put like items with like items -- stuffed animals on the bed, books on the shelf, and toys in the toy box.  It may not be tidy or beautiful, but your toddler will grow up knowing how to maintain order," which is a valuable life skill.  She also counsels against tying chores to an allowance.  "Doing your part to keep your home nice is simply part of life," Leeds says.  If your children want a chance to earn extra money, create a list of additional tasks -- such as an organizing project or seasonal yard maintenance -- for which you pay them.

Know when to outsource. Hiring a housekeeper, gardener or meal delivery service -- either regularly or sporadically -- can take a big chunk of things to do off your plate and help maintain your sanity when work or other obligations chip away at your time.  If your budget doesn't allow for the expense, Leeds advises getting creative. 

"You may be able to barter -- their housekeeping services for your graphic design talents, for example.  Or, call the local culinary school and find a student who will deliver food for a song because he or she needs the practice more than the money."  And Wiss recommends getting extra help the old-fashioned way: asking for it.  "The more specific you can be in your request -- asking for two hours of child care this Saturday afternoon so you have time to swap out your seasonal clothes, for instance -- the easier you'll make it for someone to pitch in."

YOU TIME

Declutter your schedule. Ask yourself: What are your most important tasks?  Focus on the items at the top of your list, and take a hiatus from the rest.  Once you've cleared a little space in your calendar, you'll have the opportunity to devote more time and energy to things that are important to you -- whether that's time with your partner, working on a fulfilling hobby, exercising, spending time with friends, or all of the above.

Set your priorities. It's easy to fritter away the time you do get to yourself -- the kids go to bed early and you find yourself sucked in to a "Real Housewives" marathon.  The key to maximizing the time you do get to yourself is to spend some time thinking about what activities are truly important to you.  Once you know what activities you're truly craving, you'll be able to make better use of those moments.  "It's rarely true that time doesn't exist," Wiss says.  "You can use the few minutes you have while waiting to pick up your child from school to phone an old friend or meditate for a few minutes, create a photo album or work on a hobby while you're watching TV, or turn off the TV completely and go do something more meaningful."

Book the child care. To ensure that you take a chunk of time for yourself on a regular basis, add a few hours for yourself in to your child care needs.  If you don't have room in the babysitting budget for more hours, consider a babysitting swap with another family (Care.com has a babysitting co-op).  Knowing that you've got that time to do something for yourself or with your partner will give you something to look forward to every week.

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Comments (18)
Photo of Liliana B.
Liliana B.
This articles is so helpful. I love being an organized person, it makes everything so easier.
Posted: March 28, 2014 at 2:09 AM
Photo of Zina D.
Zina D.
Nice article!
Posted: February 04, 2014 at 10:52 PM
Photo of Stephanie G.
Stephanie G.
As a professional organizer and educator Kate is right. Strategizing your organizational system is the key to success. There is no right or wrong approach, it is all about which method works best for you and your family. However, keeping at it is the most important key factor. Not quitting. Outsourcing, making lists, using what you already have instead of going out and purchasing items at the container store. Being organized is a life long process that can potentially guide you and your family to having a more creative and innovative mind set.
Posted: October 31, 2013 at 6:03 PM
Michelle T.
great advice. I enjoy the Cozi calendar to share events, grocery lists and more on all family devices. A priceless communication tool.
Posted: October 18, 2013 at 3:21 PM
Photo of Chhavi P.
Chhavi P.
informative and helpful article! a good read.
Posted: June 24, 2013 at 5:53 PM
Josephine T.
For years I helped others with home organization, while getting my college degree. The NUMBER ONE RULE for home organization is this: for every one item you bring in to your home, like a new pair of shoes, then you must get rid of two items, (not trivial things like chap stick). This is a good rule for buying something for a child too, then they never accumulate too many toys, etc.
Posted: January 13, 2013 at 11:37 PM
Josephine T.
By age three, children may be helping with sorting socks, folding, and helping with their own clothes...putting them away. The sooner children are expected to help with any family activity, the more gets done making it a positive home atmosphere.
Posted: January 13, 2013 at 11:33 PM
Photo of Alexandra N.
Alexandra N.
if you have a lot of laundry backed up, spend a weekend getting it all done, then just do a load a day. you can even wash and dry a load and put it away the next day while you are washing and drying another load.

Also anyone who needs help with organizing, here is a helpful tip. clear off spaces, only keep the things you NEED, LOVE, or USE. toss everything else in the donate or toss pile and then donate or toss them!
Posted: January 05, 2013 at 10:02 PM
Photo of Danielle L.
Danielle L.
I love the Food suggestions! Thanks!
Posted: September 07, 2012 at 9:33 PM
Photo of Beth D.
Beth D.
Pauli - I have small children, but this might work for you as well.

First - know what has to be clean tomorrow. Every afternoon, when I start a new load of laundry, I ensure that anything that needs to be cleaned by tomorrow is in that load (or at the least, at the top of the pile to start the next load.)

Then - keep laundry moving. Keep your kids on this too. When each person gets home, check the status of laundry. move it to the dryer if need be, start a new load. Take stuff out of the dryer and sort by person. Each person should only take their clean clothes away when they have done some laundry chore.

This will only work if no one has special care items, and if you have an easy way to have laundry staged.
Posted: September 07, 2012 at 6:26 PM
Pauli
Does anyone have suggestions on how to stay on top of laundry with 3 teenagers and a preteen with a gazillion activities? I've tried a laundry day for everyone but our changing schedules keep us off task. Help!
Posted: April 19, 2012 at 11:01 AM
Photo of Katherine L.
Katherine L.
I make a list every week of household needs! Whether it be the shopping list, the throw out list, the to do list, etc..It really helps to create a list! I have also found that setting alarms on my telephone the morning, afternoon or even the weekend before, helps remind me to focus on the tasks needed to be done!I also have been known to write on my calendar located in my kitchen. Thus, I have extra time to do extra gardening, which at times I set the task of the boyfriend to do! =) Great article.
Posted: March 10, 2012 at 1:44 AM
Ida G.
I took one room at a time, drawers, closets, and de-junked. That helped tremendously. Then I scheduled monthly cooking on one weekend every 2 months. I made casseroles and that way my dinner was ready everyday. I just threw in a salad or veggie. Everything else mentioned really does work.
Posted: December 26, 2011 at 10:38 AM
Leslie - Gals Dig It
Great tips and timely advice as we head into resolution and goal setting season! Being more organized helps in every aspect of your life.
Posted: December 12, 2011 at 2:21 PM
Photo of Jordan R.
Jordan R.
I need help on how to organize my entire house, I have never learned how to organize or what to get rid of, someone please please help
Posted: October 24, 2011 at 4:53 PM
Photo of Jacob M.
Jacob M.
Nice article!
Posted: October 08, 2011 at 9:43 AM
Olga S.
Olga Salazar.
this advice is wonderful I hope to put in practice at the start of the school season and keeping be organized.
Posted: August 19, 2011 at 7:25 PM
Photo of Catherine F.
Catherine F.
Thank-You! This is wonderfully helpful and just in the nick of time.
I will print it and use it to help me stay on task during my sudden move right before the children go back to school.
Posted: August 12, 2011 at 12:31 PM
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