Organization doesn't just happen; it has to be cultivated – and this is my approach.
During a recent girls' weekend at a cottage, two friends asked me how I "do it all," juggling a full-time job with three young kids, cooking meals, extra-curricular activities, daily workouts, and more. The friends are both younger than I am and do not have children, so the idea of having to care for anyone other than themselves is still baffling.
I laughed off the question, saying something along the lines of "I just do it" and "the work builds up gradually over the years" and "it certainly doesn't go as smoothly as it looks!" But the question did get me thinking about the specific steps I take to streamline my home life and ensure that everyone is happy, healthy, and (relatively) calm.
1. My Moleskine paper planner
I can't live without a paper planner. It's like having a personal assistant. It contains all appointments, meetings, events, and weekly/daily to-do lists, as well as long-term plans scribbled in next year's calendar. It stays out on the dining table or kitchen island all the time, so it's easy to review and update. (See: 8 steps for using a paper planner effectively)
2. Meal planning
I strive to have a rough plan for all weeknight meals before the week begins, but that doesn't always happen. At the very least, I think about it in the morning, so that I never find myself at 5 pm, wondering what on earth to make. By 9 am on any given day, I can tell you what we're having for supper.
3. Large cubbies for each child
This is a new addition to our kitchen, but it has already made a big difference since school started. Each child has a generously-sized cubby that fits their backpack, lunch bag, hats, sweaters, rain coats, water bottle, and more. Whenever I find something floating around the kitchen that belongs to one of them, I stick it in their cubby. They're responsible for putting it away.
4. Delegating chores to kids
I'd feel overwhelmed if I had to do it all by myself, so that's why I train my kids to help out around the house. They are responsible for unloading the dishwasher, helping to fill it, sweeping the floor, folding and putting away laundry, taking out recycling, emptying the compost bin, unpacking their lunches at the end of the day, and vacuuming on weekends. My philosophy is, the older they get, the easier my life should become!
5. Sharing jobs with my husband
We make a point of dividing household chores as evenly as possible. Because we both work a similar number of hours each week, it makes sense that we'd work the same amount at home, too. We divide it up based on preferences: he tends to do more cleaning and laundry, I do more grocery shopping and cooking.
6. Having a consistent routine
Some might call it rigid or boring, but I think of it as consistent: I try to alter the daily routine as little as possible because kids, in particular, do best when they know what to expect. My kids were on strict nap and feeding schedules as babies, and that sense of regularity has continued as they grow. They practice their instruments at the same time every morning; we eat the same foods for breakfast every day; we all have established bedtimes and wakeup times during the week; we eat dinner around the same time each night; we try to save social outings and play dates for the weekends. I have a relaxing evening routine that rarely changes. This repetition contributes to a sense of flow and predictability, which makes everything go more smoothly.
I am not saying that these habits would work for everyone, but they certainly help me to squeeze as much as I can out of each day, while enjoying my family and creating time and space for relaxation. There's really nothing else I could ask for.