In my early twenties, I could afford to be pretty relaxed about home organization and lifestyle routines—after all, I was only in charge of myself. But after getting married, acquiring pets, and having a baby, I shaped up big time. It became clear within months of having our daughter that my husband and I fought less and felt more at ease when the home was organized. Also, adding a person to our family meant more responsibility, scheduling conflicts, and planning just to get through a week.
Of course, there are days with our now-toddler when I find myself unable to do a single load of laundry, much less get the apartment looking magazine-ready. And just like every other mom around, I’ve had to dip out on a social plan or other obligation because things needed to happen here. But trial, error, patience, and determination have helped me cultivate a list of twenty-one must-dos that keep things looking great and functioning smoothly for our family.
1. We have a chore chart. For now, the only responsible parties are my hubby and myself. When our daughter is old enough, her responsibilities will be listed there, too.
2. I write a to-do list for the entire week on Sunday night. Once I’m finished, I e-mail it to myself and my husband. I also perform maintenance on the list throughout the week—if a Monday responsibility spills into Tuesday, for example, I’ll revise a bit to get us all back on track.
3. We treat clutter with the same vigor and urgency as dirt; it doesn’t get any time to linger.
4. We don’t over-commit. It’s hard sometimes to turn down invitations, but if my hubby and I have plans three Saturdays out of a month and we receive an invite for the fourth, we decline. Scheduling clutter is just as bad as any other kind.
5. My husband takes the trash out every single evening, checking bathrooms and the diaper pail before he goes. We use GLAD ForceFlex Kitchen bags because they’re durable and the drawstring makes them easy for him to lug.
6. We use pretty vessels for counter and shelf organization, which allows us to hold on to more things. I was a pretty serious pack-rat growing up, and I do love to keep things. Corralling daily necessities in attractive jars and bowls keeps them accessible without looking messy.
7. We make a date with our mess. Yep, the Saturday morning nap is always spent cleaning for the adults. It might hang over our heads until it happens, but once my daughter is up and the apartment is clean, we all enjoy the rest of the weekend so much.
8. We give ourselves a day of rest. Just as Saturdays are always spent cleaning, on Sundays we just chill. If I am always vacuuming, laundering, and scrubbing, I start to feel a bit like a scullery maid.
9. I clean as I go. It used to be that I’d let the messes pile up throughout the day or week and then feel very overwhelmed when I had to tackle it all at once. Now, I’ve learned that ten minutes of maintenance can make a world of difference.
10. We rotate our closets. Apartment living means we’re tight on space, so my husband and I would never be able to find anything if we had all four seasons’ worth of clothing hanging up at one time. Twice annually, I swap and store cold- or warm-weather items in large plastic bins under the bed to free up extra space.
11. I make a back-up of my files. I learned the hard way that not saving the contents of my computer could end in disaster. Now that I safeguard myself by holding onto files and photos, I feel more in control and less at the hands of technological fate every time I’m forced to reboot the computer.
12. We stick to a routine. Naturally, it shifts, but once we have established a good rhythm to our days, we stick with it. Currently, that means coffee and a wholesome breakfast followed by a couple hours of playtime before I put my daughter down. While she naps I clean and do work so that in the afternoons I’m free to actually enjoy her instead of vacuuming around her while she plays.
13. I photograph everything, from little outfits my daughter will only wear once, to menus and hotel keys from our vacations. Having visual evidence of a sweet memory helps me to feel okay about donating old clothing or tossing extra paper, as my sentimental tendency would be to keep them all, and we just don’t have the space.
14. We purge often. Once every season, we go through our closet and our daughter’s to organize, store, ditch, or donate unnecessary items.
15. I accept help. Whenever my mom comes to visit, she insists on cleaning a bathroom or giving a messy countertop some love. My instinct is to control everything and turn down the offer, but I’ve learned to let others pitch in whenever they’re willing.
16. I don’t procrastinate. As a mom, I’m perpetually tired. But if a load of laundry or dishes needs to be done, I always handle it at night rather than leaving it to the morning. When we wake up, I’m guaranteed to feel less stressed if there’s one less thing on my list for the day.