So you used to be spontaneous. Living in the moment. Leaving the house at the drop of the proverbial hat – packing nothing but your toothbrush. You arrived late, if you arrived at all. You lost your birth certificate, your keys – insurance policies, what’s that? Being organised was something your parents did. Keep a diary!? Don’t be ridiculous. Throw caution to the wind and all that fine stuff – watch out world here I come. And then … you had kids.

Suddenly your life comes to a screeching halt. Life as you once knew it becomes a faded memory - time for a 180-degree turn. Your crowning bundle of joy brings with it sleepless nights, lullabies, peek-a-boo, soft covered books (with textured pages), plastic farm animals, stacking blocks, Barney videos and music playing mobiles. But that’s not all. She also brings a scary sense of responsibility because for the first time ever acting on an impulse just isn’t going to cut it! You need to get organised… and fast.

It hits you every time you leave the house with sprog en-tow. Not only do you have a hard time arranging to meet Sue at the local coffee shop (Aimee’s nap times are still so unpredictable), but you have to make sure you pack the pram, sterilise the bottles, decanter 8 flat scoops of formula (and another 8 just in case), extra nappies, wipes, bum cream, change of clothing, spare dummy, toys, bibs, arnica and camera, oh, and the baby.

And it doesn’t get easier as they grow. There’s the playgroup – followed by a play date and extra murals and school lunch and birthday presents for the 100 birthday parties every month. There’s school uniforms and youth camps. Ballet training, cricket matches, lift schemes, sick days and discos. And there’s supervised homework and weekends and family time, of course.

For families to cope, there really is only one solution … Get organised.

WHAT DOES IT TAKE TO BE AN ORGANISED FAMILY?

Professional Organisers Linda Leibowitz of Clear Space in Johannesburg and Heidi Meyer of Cloud 9 Organised in Pretoria agree that to be an organised family is all about communication. As soon as the kids are old enough a weekly family meeting is what they suggest. “It is important to find a balance of what works for everyone” says Meyer. “By talking about what needs to be done and agreeing on what is important to everyone you can agree on basic standards and draw up a duty roster.”

There are so many misconceptions about getting organised. Some believe that it’s a talent that you are born with – you either have it or you don’t. Then there are those that think it’s about being neat and tidy. Others don’t want to get organised because it’s boring and impossible to maintain. Being organised is simply about being able to find things in the quickest possible time with the least amount of stress. It allows you to function at your optimum. It’s a learned skill, we learn it from our parents and role models and in turn our children learn by our example. To understand this you need only watch a one year old copying you brush your teeth or say “hello” into their toy cell phone. For a family to be organised it is essential that everyone is involved. You can’t expect your five year old to make their bed if you leave yours in a heap.

Hayley, a single mom of 12-year-old Nicole, swears by keeping things simple. “Sure, I have great supportive parents who dote over Nikki. They fetch her from school, supervise her homework and take her to swimming – their help is invaluable. But I honestly feel that if I don’t lead a simple life during the week focused on daily routines and early nights things would be chaotic. Weekends are different, we can bend the rules a little and let our hair down.”

Lindsey and her husband Michael agree. “Being an organised family is a tough balancing act,” says Lindsey. “Our lives used to be so spontaneous before 14 month Rhys came into the picture. Now it’s all about routine. That’s what helps us stay in control.”

Tania Garde of Clutter Busters in Cape Town and mom to two believes that going into parenthood definitely requires a physical adjustment to the organisation in your home. “All of a sudden you and your partner have to give up space to accommodate a third little person. And this little person comes with a whole lot more than just clothing.” Leibowitz suggests starting simple. “plan the rooms in your home like a pre-school classroom. By setting up dedicated areas for different tasks you will be amazed at how quick it is to pull things together when it starts getting out of control.” She recently used this method while helping a seven year old organise her bedroom. “At the six month follow up I was thrilled at how responsible this child had become. She is so much more aware and in control of her surroundings, she no longer gets stressed or upset about missing items. Her mom is delighted with how being organised has boosted her daughters confidence and made her far more respectful of her space and possessions.”

“Children function better when organisation is part of their lives” says Johannesburg based organiser Alison Mills-Daggatt of You’re Sorted! ”It is important for the morning to get off to a good start and to do that you need to start planning the night before.”

10 Tips from the professionals to help create order in your hectic lives:

1. Have one large family calendar in a central location and schedule everything concerning the family on it – dental appointments, school meeting, sports practice. You can use a different colour marker for each family member – keeping this consistent will help everyone identify who is doing what when.

2. Schoolwork, school bags and school lunch should be prepared the night before. Taking clothing out before going to bed also helps speed things up in the morning. Get the little ones into a wake up routine early on. Introduce a star chart to reward good behavior to get things going if necessary but encourage your children to get dressed immediately on waking, make their bed, open their curtains and window then come through for breakfast. Kids are so easily distracted – before you know it you are stressed and running late. Keep them focused on what they need to do – use alarmed timers as a game if they really have no sense of time and avoid switching on the TV till they are 100% ready to leave the house. Non-negotiable rules in this regard help avoid morning stress and tantrums from everyone.

3. Install a pigeon hole/locker system with a compartment for each family member near your point of exit. This is where you’ll keep everything you’ll need before you race out of the door in the morning – keys, handbag, library books, jackets, etc. On entering the house again, the locker is the perfect dumping ground.

4. Once the kids are asleep do a quick ‘once over’ of the living areas. By spending 10 minutes tidying up before you go to bed, you can wake up to a house that looks ordered (even if it is just for a few moments).

5. Start the day 15 minutes earlier to leave time for the unexpected (at home or in the traffic).

6. Planning a weekly menu allows you to shop accordingly. If you can involve the children with the meal planning and preparation or keep them occupied with an art activity close to where you are busy you create extra time to catch up on their day. Cooking double portions every now and again and freezing the leftovers will give you a welcome break from the kitchen sometime in the future.

7. Have a ‘date’ night once a month with your partner. Dealing with little people can be very draining so it’s good to leave them safely with a sitter and go and recharge your batteries.

8. If you have a ‘suicide hour’ (usually between 5pm and 6pm) – bring the children’s bath time forward to 4:30pm. While they enjoy playing in the bath use the time to start preparing supper, or, even better, relax for 5 minutes with your feet up. By alternating who baths the kids gives each of you ‘time out’ or ‘quality kiddy time’ depending whose doing what.

9. Create a ‘Lifefile’ for your family’s important documents. These files, available from Get Organised, provide the perfect ‘home’ for information pertaining to insurance policies, wills, investments, medical history, banking details, credit card information, trusts, valuables, birth certificates, ID books and passports. By keeping all of this valuable information in one place makes them easy to find and eliminates the stress of misplaced essential information.

10. Routine, routine, routine. Even if they sometimes indicate otherwise, children like to know that you are in control and that their lives are dependable. If everyone knows what needs to be done when, there is no room for excuses – things just run smoother. In saying that, if the routine family activities start to wear you down, remember that every family has basic needs and responsibilities to fulfill. Forgive your failures and celebrate your successes. Take a deep breadth, relax and accept – a happy home is more important than a perfect home.

Author's Bio: 

Tracey Foulkes is the founder of professional organising in South Africa and the owner of GET ORGANISED. She is an accomplished organiser, speaker and trainer and has been featured on numerous radio talk shows and in various national magazines. Tracey works with her clients in their homes and offices to declutter, systemize and maintain organisation, she runs public and corporate workshops on various organising topics, sells a range of exceptional organising products to help make your like a little easier and trains like minded individuals to start and run their own business as an organiser. Tracey is constantly looking for new ways to help you help yourself get organised and her new DVD series, launching in 2008 includes an inspirational program for busy families.

For more information on organising products and services visit www.getorganised.co.za.