Restart Your Organizational Routine in 2019

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Parents of school-aged children have all been there. You spend weeks at the end of each summer planning for the new school year. How will you get your kids out the door on time in the morning? Where and when will homework be done at the end of the day? How will your family handle book bags, school supplies, coats, shoes, and umbrellas to ensure no one is running around the house five minutes before the bus arrives, looking for your daughter's missing math packet or your son's left soccer cleat?

We begin with the best of intentions, and for a while, the organizational routine runs relatively smoothly. Then, the routine falters. By the end of December, the disorganization can make even the most methodical parents feel overwhelmed.

Whether your routine just needs a little tweaking or you're in organizational crisis mode, there are several areas where you can make changes, both small and large, that will help your family sail into 2019 - and the second half of the school year - with ease.

Make a Game Plan

Prioritizing your family's organizational needs is a key step in determining how you will proceed to reorganize your home and life.

Children, especially young children, have a natural fear of the unknown. But they thrive on routines because they provide predictability and security,  help develop a sense of responsibility, and strengthen the bonds of family life. Simple steps like setting aside a specific place and time for homework completion, planning and preparing meals ahead of time, and involving everyone in organizing items used on a daily basis will help foster a sense of belonging to a family community and feeling secure at home. Such routines also help reduce or eliminate stress and anxiety in children, which in turn leads to better focus and success in school. An added bonus - children who are used to routine at home are often more amenable to following routines at school.

First, brainstorm a list of areas that need some improvement. Once you've figured out what needs attention, get input from the rest of the family. Make everyone aware that a Game Plan is in process and ask for buy in so that the necessary changes are a team effort. Together, prioritize your list. This, essentially, is goal setting, and the Game Plan is the roadmap you will take to reach that goal.

Put the Plan Into Action

Now, let's look at some specific ideas that can help you and your family as you work toward reorganizing your life to maximize quality time with each other.

Cut the clutter. Visual clutter creates stress, as does a literal laundry list of household tasks that can fall by the wayside when life gets busy. To combat this, try the following:

  • Go through each room of the house and sort items into "Keep," "Donate", and "Discard" piles. Anything that is rarely used but is in good condition goes into the "Donate" pile; items that are too worn to donate or are broken should be discarded. Older children, tweens, and teens should be allowed to make their own decisions about their belongings, while younger children will likely need a bit of guidance about why items are being cleaned out and donated or discarded.

  • If young children seem upset about donating toys or books, try gathering those items into a bin or basket and setting them aside but not out of sight. If they haven't been touched or asked for after a couple months, consider donating them. If you have the storage space, you can also create a rotation system that compliments the play cycles of your children.

  • Create basic chore charts for the whole family, even for young children (who are natural helpers), to remind everyone of their responsibilities. Offer incentives, the way a bonus would work at an adult's job, for taking on extra tasks. Incentives could be monetary, or even points earned toward a special activity, eating a meal out as a family, or extra screen time (within reason).

A place for everything and everything in its place. Having designated areas of the house for specific items can make it easier to find your coat, bags, shoes, and keys on your way out the door. This concept can also apply to homework and other school-related tasks and items, as well as just keeping things organized on a daily basis.

  • Invest in some simple storage solutions that you can locate near the entrance your family uses most often (it may not be the front door). Keep in-season outerwear on pegs and footwear in cubbies or shoe caddies, and include an umbrella holder, too.

  • Designate a specific spot for homework completion, and give each child a basket or caddy where home-school folders can be dropped in the afternoon for you to check for assignments and information. If possible, set aside space in a drawer for supplies.

  • Set up a charging station in a centralized location where the family's phones and other small devices can spend the night. You and your partner may want to put a small basket or bowl near the charging station for keys, work badges, and other small but essential items.

  • Get your children involved in organizing their playthings, and create a routine to help them clean up every day. Make it a game and provide positive reinforcement when children clean up on their own. Be flexible with this, as there is value in letting children's games, toys, and projects stay out but moved aside for safety, especially when they have to stop playing in the middle of an activity.

 Make meal planning and prep a family affair. Pick one day each week to sit down as a family and decide on a menu for the following week's meals. Depending on your family's schedule and needs, it may be beneficial to designate certain nights for certain repeated meal themes, such as a Pizza Night or Taco Tuesday. Once next week's menu is set, ask family members to take inventory and help create the shopping list.

  • Prep meal ingredients ahead of time. Measure out dried foods like pasta or rice, divide larger packs of chicken and meat into meal-sized portions, or cut  up veggies. (Fresh items should be prepped twice a week to prevent spoilage.) Let your kids, even little ones, help with this process - be sure to follow food safety guidelines, especially when raw meat is involved.

  • Cook together as a family. Children are more likely to eat foods they help prepare, and you're teaching a valuable life skill. Let younger children measure, stir, and taste-test; older children and tweens are ready to learn how to safely wield a paring knife and use a skillet, with supervision.

  • If teens arrive home before the rest of the family, leave specific directions for food prep so they can get dinner started once or twice a week.

Make the morning easy. Mornings in even the most organized house can get crazy, but there are several ways you can get everyone out the door on time and with everything they need.

  • Starting the day with a healthy breakfast is key to giving children the energy they need to make it through a busy school day. Some children have to go a long time between breakfast and lunch! Make breakfast a breeze by prepping easy morning meals ahead of time. If your children are fans of oatmeal, use mason jars to prepare overnight oats (let them help fill the jars and choose their own mix-ins). Have cereal measured out into single-serve airtight containers that just need a bit of milk in the morning. Make a big batch of pancakes, made with whole wheat or Greek yogurt in the mix, and freeze them in single servings to be popped in the microwave.

  • Pack lunches the night before; put lunchboxes right the fridge if they contain items that have to stay cold, and toss in an ice pack in the morning. Let kids help pack their own lunches to teach them to make healthy choices.

  • Have children decide on outfits and lay them out before bed. If your children attend schools with uniform requirements or strict dress codes, check together to make sure everything that should be worn is ready. (Hint - working parents should do the same!)

  • As soon as homework is done each afternoon and you've given it the once-over, have children put it immediately into their backpacks. Write yourself a sticky note in a prominent place or put a reminder on your phone to do the same with any paperwork you've been asked to sign or notes that need to go to your child's teacher.

Start Small, Think Big

It may feel daunting to tackle a long list of priorities and suggested ways to tackle them. It's okay to start small, like creating a weekly menu even if you don't work in the meal prep right away. As you and your family master each little step toward reorganizing your routine, move to the next step, and then the next. Before you know it, you've got a routine that works for everyone that you can stick to.

Children are people, too, and just like adults can become stressed by the busyness of daily life. School, homework, and extra-curricular activities fill our children's lives from an early age. Setting up a routine for your family teaches children how to manage their time, develops important organizational skills, and reduces emotional and mental tension among all family members.

And the result? Less stress and more time together with the people you love the most!