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Secrets of an Organized Person

Kate Hanley
June 3, 2011

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.

"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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