10 secrets of organised mums
Feel like life is spiralling out of control, and suspect baby brain has set in for life? Zoe McDonald reveals how to reboot your mind
1. Inject fun into the mundane
You know that heart-sinking moment when you visit a friend’s (immaculate) house and wonder how they do it? Then console yourself with the thought that at least you’re probably having more fun than they are? What if their real secret was that they manage to combine the two?
Jude, a mum of three who works part-time as an office manager, says that in the evenings she combines the indulgent with the banal. ‘When I’m putting clothes away, or cleaning the kitchen, I put trash TV on my iPad, which helps to make the tidying up feel like downtime.’
Anything that doesn’t require your full attention (but has to get done), needs a rethink. Could you crank up the tunes while you’re doing the ironing? Call a girlfriend while supper’s in the oven?
2. Understand that organisation is a skill, and not a personality trait
When you feel out of control, it can seem as if the world is divided into two camps, with people being either innately, enviably structured, organised, and generally ‘on
it’ – or not (like you). But this is a misleading view of life.
Val Sampson, who’s a counsellor and workplace coach (so if anyone knows a thing or two about personality types it’s her), says that character traits can only account for so much. ‘Organisation can be learnt,’ she says. ‘The brain is a lot more plastic than we used to think it was. It is possible to create new neural pathways through repeatedly practising a different way of thinking or behaving, until it becomes habitual.’
The secret, she explains, is to find the organisational tools that work best for you, which may well not be the same as the things that work for other people. If you can’t get your head around using the calendar on your phone, for example, an old-fashioned diary might be more useful. ‘We’ve forgotten about these because we all rely on electronic devices, but gadgets don’t work for everyone.’
Val also recommends asking your more organised friends to explain the tricks and shortcuts they swear by, then trying them out for a few days yourself.
3. Be shortcut-savvy
Whether it’s a blackboard in the kitchen for shopping lists (snap it with your phone in the morning), or a wi-fi printer so you can print anything wherever you are in the house, rethinking your habits can make life more efficient.
Finding the perfect app (Wunderlist, Trello and Evernote are popular) can keep you on top of your to-do list, and splitting tasks into bite-sized chunks helps too.
Organisational guru Erin Rooney Doland, editor of unclutterer.com, revealed this gem of a tip: ‘We keep a bin, shredder, recycling container, letter opener and pen by our front door so we can process mail when we come in the house. Anything that needs to be acted on gets a note written on it (pay by X date, send thank you card, etc), then it’s put in an inbox near the door.’
Bulk-buying from discount stores or online to build up a store of groceries, nappies, cleaning products, kids’ birthday presents and cards – and pretty much anything else you chose to name – is one of the most powerful life-organising tips.
Charlotte Watts, a busy mum and author of the newly updated The De-Stress Effect (Hay House, £12.99), swears by a fridge stocked with good-quality prepared soups and stir-fries, to which she adds her own herbs, spices and extra veg, to save time.
Emma, mum of a three-year-old and a six-month-old, says her top internet grocery shopping tip is to use her regular list to book her slot, then fine-tune it later when the children are asleep. In that way you’ve done the worst of it.
5. Cheat time
‘Half an hour of organising at 11pm saves me an hour in the morning,’ says Daphne, a single mum with two children under four. She works four days a week as a solicitor, and leaves the house at 7.30am with both children, so she has to be organised.
‘I always prepare everything the night before (my bag, their bags, clothes laid out, sometimes breakfast too) so that first thing we can just get up, get dressed, have breakfast, clean our teeth and out we go. If I didn’t do that, there’s no way we would make it out of the house on time.’
Other swear-by time cheaters include keeping hooks and boxes by the door, so the children’s coats and shoes can live there, ever ready.
6. Say ‘no’ a lot
Professor of communication Heidi Reeder of America’s Boise State University says one thing organised people have in common is the ability to say ‘no’, frequently – but also that research shows happy people are likely to say ‘yes’ a lot: ‘There’s a happy medium to be found. I recommend what I call the “GPS to YES” test, to find out if something is worth doing.’
To do the test, ask yourself the following:
G – will I have a good time? This is the most important thing of all.
P – are valued people involved? (Will the activity bring you into contact with people who make you feel good?)
S – will it develop my skills? (Will it help you to develop yourself in some way?)
If your answers are positive, the activity is likely to increase your happiness and success. But if the answers are negative, say no if you can.
7. Be a forced finisher
Organised people get things done; they’re finishers – and research has shown that being conscientious is the biggest predictor for success. According to Amanda Alexander, life coach and founder of coachingmums.com, the secret is to avoid being blinded by the big picture.
‘This is one of the things that most often stop people from finishing what they’ve started, or keeping on top of their to-do lists,’ she explains. ‘One of the strengths of conscientious people is that they tend to be detail-focused, so find it easier to break tasks down into separate, do-able parts.
‘But you can adopt this trait even if you aren’t a natural perfectionist. Keep picking off chunks, one at a time, and even seemingly overwhelming goals (writing a book, decorating your house on a budget) become achievable.’
8. Make the loo a secret sanctuary
‘I send all my texts from the toilet,’ says Jane, a mum of three aged five, three and one. ‘It’s so peaceful in there.’ Likewise, keeping your WC well stocked with your favourite magazines, short stories, or even a book of calming poetry is a fast way of squeezing a precious slither of me-time into a hectic day filled with other people’s needs.
9. Have a Sunday night plan
Although the temptation to flake out on the sofa in front of your favourite box set can be almost overwhelming, finding an hour before Monday morning to plan the week ahead can be transformative.
‘I always do this,’ says Aloted Omoba, founder of superworkingmum.com and mother of two. ‘I work backwards from what I want to achieve that week, then itemise the daily action points in my planner that will help me to reach my goals. I’ll schedule things that I’ve been meaning to get done for ages, and they might not necessarily be work tasks – even doing the washing, paying bills and finding time to phone friends will go in there. I find that planning a space for all those “must remember” notes to myself I have in my head means that I feel more in control of my life.’
10. Be less guilty
Accept that sometimes Peppa Pig is a necessity, along with frozen fish fingers and chips, and using baby wipes to remove mud from the trousers you haven’t had time to wash.
‘Shortcuts are essential,’ says Amanda. ‘It’s impossible to do everything from scratch, maintain a perfect house, and keep on top of everything, so cut yourself some slack. Mothers put a lot of pressure on themselves to be perfect, expecting to be stimulating and interact with their children 24-7. But teaching them how to be bored occasionally, encouraging them to play, crayon or potter while you get on with the things you need to do, will make them more resourceful and imaginative.
‘And obviously this doesn’t work with very small children, in which case a little downtime in front of CBeebies, or a quiet moment in the buggy, is no bad thing.’