I recently hit a low. Reached rock bottom. Fell face-first into a big pile of disaster—well, a big pile of laundry really. It happened on a run-of-the-mill Thursday night. I had called my family to the dinner table, placed our hungry little guy in his highchair, and preheated the oven for the party dip I had promised to fix for my husband’s office party, when I got a text about serving on yet another committee. I agreed, positive I could handle it. But then, as I was carrying a load of towels into the bathroom, I tripped over a pair of shoes (a pair I was pretty certain I had already asked someone else to pick up). I fell onto the scattered laundry pile and my phone slid out of my hand and across the entire length of our living room floor. “I can’t do this anymore!” I exclaimed as I crumpled into a ball of exhaustion on the floor. My poor, sweet husband, whose eyes reflected the torment I was feeling, stood frozen, unsure of what to say or do. “I need to get this household organized,” I said, exasperated. “We need a plan.”
That’s when I sought out Jackie Gartman, a master certified life coach and an instructor for Martha Beck’s renowned life coach training program. What I learned from Gartman shook up the way I thought about organization forever.
An orderly home is a happy home
There’s no denying that in a house with a new baby, there needs to be some sort of system in place to balance the chaos. “Studies have shown that being organized reduces stress, saves money and contributes to your peace of mind,” says Gartman. “Without order, we would never get any-thing done. Bills might go unpaid, ourhealth would suffer, and we would likely feel nuttier than a fruitcake.” She adds that having a daily schedule isn’t a requirement, but that having a plan—even a loose one—reduces tension, fighting and crying in the household. And your little babe may be the very reason to get your ideas together. “Kids like a sense of order,” says Gartman. “It makes them feel safe and it makes you feel sane.”
A plan with purpose
The key to taking control of the reins begins with understanding the real reason for choosing to get your life together. “The purpose of being organized is so you can enjoy and engage in the perks of life: to spend quality time with your kids, your partner, your pet sloth; time to pursue your interests, your hobbies, your career; and the freedom to accept that spontaneous invitation to a night out with your best girlfriend. I equate being organized with being conscious about how and where I want to use my time,” says Gartman.
When I first set out on my own mission to regain order in my life, I kept hitting roadblock after roadblock. Sure it sounded great to clean out my closets and arrange my canned goods label-forward, but there was something missing. Gartman opened my eyes to the real deal. “First, it’s crucial that you know your strengths and weaknesses and not try and create a system that works for your neighbor, your best friend or even your partner,” she says, adding that moms should create a game plan that reflects their innate abilities and doesn’t compare them to others.
“Put simply, there are people who find that being organized comes fairly naturally to them. It feels easy, effortless and energizing to create a color-coded filing system, for example, or to organize their hangers so that they’re all flowing in the same direction,” says Gartman. “If you’re the type of person who has a challenging time keeping order or find that it’s depleting your energy to create or maintain systems, let yourself off the hook and accept that this may not be your area of strength.”
It was like a lightbulb went on in my brain. Could this be the answer I was looking for? “It’s truly about finding the organizational structure that will make your life smoother, more efficient and more joyful. [Certain amounts of] structure may feel awesome for one person but can be confining and impractical for others,” notes Gartman.
A move to action
Once you’ve figured out what kind of organizer you are, it’s easy to come up with a system that suits your style. Gartman believes in using a prioritizing tool created by author and columnist Martha Beck called The Four B’s. Below, she takes you through step by step:
To begin, write down all the things you need to do this week. Once you’ve crafted your “to do” list, pick the task(s) that feels the most “shackles on.” Oh, the thought of ironing makes you want to run away? Great, let’s start there and apply the Four B’s.
1. Bag it. Just don’t do it. Ask yourself if you really need to do this thing you despise and consider what would happen if you didn’t. Clearly there are some things you need to do (like pick the kids up from karate, for example). But do you really have to iron? Does it bother you when your shirts are a little wrinkled? Does anyone else care? When the consequences are slim to none, eliminate the tasks you truly can’t stand.
If you can’t bag it, can you barter it?
2. Barter it. Trade, with or without money, to have someone else do it. If you despise doing laundry, consider hiring a cleaning person. Most women I know will use the excuse that they can’t afford it, but regularly spend money eating out for lunch. I’d pack my lunch every day for a year if it meant I didn’t have to wash and fold clothes. Personally though, it was my closet that grated on me. It was so crammed that I couldn’t find anything! I have a girlfriend who is a fantastic organizer and whipped my closet into tip-top shape; in return, I helped her market her new business by providing a testimonial for her web page.
If you can’t bag or barter your dreaded task, ask yourself if you can better it.
3. Better it. Add an element of fun and pleasure to something you dislike. If you’re cleaning up toys at the end of each day, engage your big kids in the process by making a game out of the chores. Turn on their favorite tunes and give them until the end of a song to pick up as many toys as possible and put them back where they belong. Or, if you really need to press those linen pants because it makes you feel good, turn on The Bachelorette or Entertainment Tonight so you can enjoy the guilty pleasure you find in junky TV as you iron.
4. Batch it. Do similar tasks all at once like vacuuming, sweeping and mopping. Pick one hour during the week, shut down the computer, television and phone, and don’t do anything else during that time. Make it fun, and set up rewards for everyone, including yourself. Rewards are powerful motivators and can be simple and inexpensive (think stickers, extra time on the computer, staying up a half hour later on weekends, a pedicure).
A happy ending
Just by realizing that my own natural tendencies were compromised while I was trying to maintain a perfect, put-together life allowed me to focus on the things that were really important—like being a mom. “Trying to achieve balance in our lives is a myth that suggests we need to have it in order to be happy and whole. In my opinion, it’s a real recipe for disaster,” says Gartman. “Trying to create equal distribution for each area of our life is not only unrealistic, it’s simply impossible to achieve.”
Once I realized that the level of perfection I was seeking was really unreachable, I was able to fully relax and finally give myself a break. “It’s less about dividing up the pie so each area of your life is equal and more about what fulfills you,” adds Gartman.
If you’re wondering how it all ended for that crumpled ball of tears from the beginning of the story? Well, somewherefar between the perfectly labeled glass containers in the pantry and the month-old pile of laundry resting in the hamper, there lies a mom who now spends the majority of her time learning how to make her baby smile instead of worrying about exactly how many pairs of folded black socks go in the top drawer. She has settled (mostly!) stress-free into a life where organized chaos is the norm, and she couldn’t be happier about it.