This week we talked about staying organized as moms, which we all know is no easy task! Our conversation was divided into several sections, each tackling a different facet of home management.
Amanda started us off with discussing finances. Her first comment was an emphatic endorsement of buying insurance, borne out of her personal experience. She talked about the series Till Debt Do Us Part by Gail Vaz-Oxlade. In it, Gail lists everything that we should be saving for, starting with an emergency fund of six months’ worth of your annual income, and also including a Christmas, RESPs or other savings for your kids, RRSPs for your retirement, a fund for putting 3-5% of your home’s worth back in as maintenance or renovations, and also charitable donations. Gail also says that everyone should have a plan to get rid of debt within 36 months, and that once it is paid off that money can go straight into savings since you won’t miss it. Your mortgage is good debt and isn’t included. Neither are student loans, although those should be paid off within 5 years.
Amanda talked about some other pointers: keeping track of where your money is actually going to see where you can change, the perks of RESPs (the government’s brochure is here – they will contribute 20% of your contributions up to $2500 per year), streaming the Universal Child Care Benefit directly into a savings account for your kids, setting up a series of small savings accounts to separate all the things you’re saving for, and avoiding impulse purchases – wait a week to see if you really want or need those things. She also added you should have will to make sure that our kids’ guardianship and financial future are looked after if we die. We also talked about the envelope cash-based system (envelopes to separate each budget line, and everything is paid for with cash), and another system for getting out of debt called Dave Ramsay’s Financial University.
Next Maggie talked about her laundry system. She has three baskets in the laundry room – one each for darks, reds, and whites. She checks every day to see which is fullest and then throws it in the wash. She also tries to fold something every day. She keeps a basket at the bottom of the stairs for stuff that needs to go upstairs – no one should go upstairs empty-handed! She also uses a new dishcloth every day, and hangs the dirty one on the side of the basket to dry at.
Corinna passed around the Flylady book. She says to put in a load of laundry first thing in the morning so that you’re doing a chore without actually doing anything. We talked at great length about the usefulness of baskets – for laundry, for going upstairs, for sorting undies and socks, for each person’s stuff… they are truly marvels of organization.
Tammy offered her laundry system: she does her laundry twice a week so that she doesn’t feel like she’s doing laundry all the time, world without end, amen.
Then Sandy walked us through her daily planner. She started by recommending a book called Taming the Paper Tiger At Home for tips on dealing with all the paper that comes into our homes. She bought a binder and added her own sections – a yearlong overview (important dates), a weekly plan (meal plan, groceries, weekly to-do, calendar, what she needs to be happy), a monthly to-do list (household, personal, nights out), a long-term plan (ongoing to-do list), thoughts (blank sheets for writing things down), other notes (house ideas, health questions, who her neighbours are, gift ideas, notes for next year), and pockets for stuff. She has a wall calendar for family events, although we all agreed that the main difficulty here is getting the information from paper into our husbands’ heads.
Gina gave a ringing endorsement to Apple and its facilitation of an organized life that looks good at the same time, and several of us nodded along with her. Google Calendars and iCal both allow for multiple calendars and synching between work/home, husband/wife, etc., and also synch between each other. (Gcal is free.) A more low-tech suggestion is having a series of notebooks for writing things down.
Tammy finished up by talking about her housecleaning system. She talked about the Flylady again (Marla Cilley – her book is called Sink Reflections) and her system of zone cleaning, dealing with hot zones, and tips for quick cleanup. Tammy showed us her cleaning chart. She has a day for each chore because she doesn’t want to spend her whole Saturday cleaning house, and she consciously posts it in a visible place. If you do a little bit of cleaning every day, you’re not leaving a huge job for spring cleaning or the imminent arrival of in-laws. Daily she checks her laundry room to get stuff off the drying racks and put away, cleans the kitchen, sweeps the floor, and cleans up toys. She also claims, as many of us do, that her dishwasher saved her marriage. Weekly chores are all scheduled. Monthly chores include wiping out the fridge, wiping down the doors, light switches, phone, etc. She uses Norwex cloths for a lot of her cleaning. She cleans her bathroom on Friday because she is most likely to have people over on the weekend, and regularly wipes it down.
Corinna said to find your roadblock, or the thing you hate most, and find a system that works for you to get it done.
Amy said that she keeps a box in the corner of her bedroom for things she doesn’t want anymore and takes it for donation regularly.
Two other online resources that I (Annemarie) have found very helpful are SimpleMom.net, which is a website written by a Christian woman named Tsh Oxenreider (seriously, no vowels in her name) about how she maintains organized simplicity in her housework, her kitchen, her parenting and her mind. It is really great, and I’m dying to get her book for Christmas. Another site is Apartment Therapy’s Home Cure – they’ve run a few different ones, geared to deep-cleaning, organizing, and decluttering your home. Despite its hipster overtones, I like it because it’s geared to small spaces, and that’s what I have!
We had a really great discussion around all these topics and it felt like we could have gone on much longer! If you have tips or suggestions or questions that you didn’t get to bring up during our sharing, post them in the comments.
Some additional ideas:
- I keep my recipes in binders with lots of sheet protectors on hand – both full-sheet 8.5 x 11 pockets and sheets designed to hold photos. The photo sheets hold my recipe cards and the full-sheet protectors hold pages I’ve torn from magazines or printed from the internet. I use dividers that also have pockets (and the binders have pockets on the inside covers too) so even when I’m in a rush, I can shove a recipe in there and find it again later.
- Toss the recipes that seemed like a good idea but you never use. If you ever need to find something like that again, you can find it online. Just keep the ones that you actually make for your family. You can always keep a separate file of recipes you’d like to try, and only add them to your binder once you’ve tried them and know you’ll use them again.
- Sometimes, my problem with chores isn’t a lack of help – it’s that when people try to help, they don’t always know what to help with. I usually keep a list on our fridge of things that need to get done every week. I put a new one up every Monday and cross things off when I do them. When Geoff or our babysitter has time, they check the list and cross off whatever they had time to help with. It’s super low-tech, but it works for us.
- I try to clean out my fridge on the same day that I’m planning meals for the next week. This way, I can see what we already have on hand – and what’s about to go bad – and make sure that we use it. Our grocery budget has definitely gotten smaller since I started doing this.
- Michaels often has great little finds in their dollar bins. I’ve found (cute) magnetic pads of paper that have all the days of the week pre-printed on them that I use for meal planning and magnetic list paper that I use for grocery lists there that make it sooo easy to plan ahead.
- If you’re stuck for ideas, the internet is FULL of meal plan ideas – even sites that give you weekly menus with grocery lists. If you’re just getting started, it can also help to assign different types of meals to each day of the week – a slow cooker day, a chicken day, a beef day, a vegetarian day, etc.
- Not sure how relevant this will be to our discussion, but I do a fair amount of online shopping, but before I complete a purchase, I *always* Google ‘coupon codes’ or ‘promo codes’ for that store. I can often save an additional 10 or 20% off my purchase just by using codes that other people have shared online. YAY!
- Something that’s worked well for us when we have a specific room we want to declutter or a project to work on around the house is to plan ahead and book a babysitter so you and your spouse can tackle it together without distractions. It makes you work harder when you know that it’s now-or-never – and that you’re paying someone while you’re doing it. Keep the babysitter for the evening too, and plan a date night at the end of it so you have something to look forward to while you’re working.