One of funniest comments I repeatedly get, being a working single mom to three small kids, is "I don't know how you do it." Or "I couldn't do it."
To the first point, do I have a choice? Because if so, I would like to reread the fine print I clearly missed. There was a moment Sunday morning while wrestling three children through a crowded grocery store in a car-shaped cart (my toddler pulling glass jars of olives off a shelf, my 3-year old laying in the aisle screaming for a donut) that I would have gladly signed any "opt out" clause you would have presented me. I’d give my John Hancock and then would have left that full cart, and those three psychotic children, in the dust as I sprinted through the parking lot to freedom.
To those that say they "couldn't do it,” yes you could… you would if you had to. I hope that day doesn't ever come for any of you, but should you find yourself in this same place as myself and millions of others, please be confident that after the dust settles and you find your bearings, your Mama (or Papa) Bear instincts will go into hyperdrive and you will find your way.
The secret to my success, and honestly my survival, is sticking to a routine and scheduling my life around it. I look forward to my kids being a little bit older so we can go out to a last minute dinner on a school night without invoking tantrums. But until then, I am enjoying them being little and planning our lives to avoid any unnecessary chaos.
I am a very visual person, so I find myself always writing notes and lists to keep from forgetting anything. I've called on this habit to basically organize my entire life, and have done the following to keep it all in check.
1. I've created a centralized command station in my home - I use blank space on my pantry door, but you could use any empty wall space, a bulletin board, or the fridge - to organize schedules, appointments, etc.
I purchased a magnetic white board calendar that I use to keep track of all important events at a glance (doctor appointments, soccer practices, work meetings, anything that is important and requires preparation.) I keep invitations to parties, school cafeteria menus, and forms that need to be returned to school attached so that everything can be viewed quickly. Over the years, my calendar wall has expanded to 2 calendars and a white board for the kids to doodle on (primarily to keep them away from my important stuff), but it's a staple at our house. Many friends that made fun of my calendars have since bought them for their own house, I might add! 2. I still carry around an old-fashioned datebook in my purse. This is basically where I keep my entire life on file a week at a time. This is where I keep the dates that I track on the white board calendars, as well my “To Do Lists,” shopping lists, menus for the week, and reminders of things to plan/schedule/review. If you were to look at the notes in my datebook, you would probably think it was the ramblings of a madman (which it very well may be), but I would be completely lost without it. I track expenses, bills, when library books are due, our custody schedule, everything... From the moment my day starts until I go to sleep, I feel like I am moving. My datebook forces me to keep on task, and I always feel a sense of accomplishment crossing something off the list…who doesn’t like to feel accomplished!?!?
3. In addition to my monster datebook, I also keep a small notepad on me as a place to store important and fun stuff that doesn't have a deadline. I use it to write down funny things my kids say, inspirational quotes to keep me moving, restaurants I want to try, notes on travel destinations that would be fun for me and the kids to explore, holiday gift lists...basically anything that brings joy to my busy day. This is the less organized, happy-go-lucky cousin to my anal datebook that reminds me to live a little and not be so annoyingly organized.
If you can manage your life using apps on a smart phone, I give you kudos. I've tried and my OCD need to color coordinate everything has ruined my ability to use modern technology to my own advantage. And despite my best efforts, my plan is certainly not foolproof - I was reminded by my oldest son just yesterday that I have forgotten to buy more of his favorite toothpaste not one but TWO weeks in a row. There is a system to suit each family, but this is worth a try if you’re working toward becoming more organized.
I am always in search of ideas to make my life easier, so if you have any suggestions on how you keep your house running, I would love to hear them in the comment section below!