Why can't I get out of this mess?

Some people just seem to be born organized. They were born on their due date and have been perfect ever since. The rest of us struggle. We're constantly overworked, overbooked and overwhelmed. Why? And more important-what can we do about it?

The child-centered parent may be the "funnest" parent in town. If you had to trip over piles of toys to get here, if you own the complete collection of children's art supplies, if there are jelly stains in your encyclopedias, if you've ever camped in the living room-you are probably a "child-centered" messy homemaker. You would rather join the children for a game of hide and seek than talk them into joining you in picking up the living room. You may have eight or ten children at the house right now-besides your own! Don't fight it. Learn to work with it.

Find a place for everything-and not just any place, but a place that is convenient and easy enough to reach that a child can put things away. (I won't promise that they always will, but chances improve if it's possible!) Children need to learn to put things away as soon as they learn to take things out for themselves. If the baby dumps the basket of toys on the floor, make a game of putting them back into the basket. They won't just decide to be organized when they get old enough-you have to teach them and the sooner the better. You are probably better than most at making a game of it-go for it!

Shelves are "in" at daycare centers and nursery schools for a reason. Toys placed neatly on labeled shelves are easy to find and easy to put away. Toys in large boxes tend to be dumped in the search for some small item-and it's too much trouble to put everything back.


The container store was invented for people with children. No home is built with a place for everything a child needs. You have to get shelves and cabinets and boxes*. Make sure you do some serious clutter control before you buy anything. Plan on a place for those things you really want to keep and plan on removing the rest. It's amazing what the local shelter, second hand store, Headstart program, senior center, or theater group will be able to use. If you can't use it-find someone who can. Buy specific containers or units with specific items in mind. *Warning: It is easy to get carried away and buy enough containers that they become clutter themselves.

Go for a low maintenance home. Choose chairs that are attached to the table and a sofa that goes solid to the floor for easy sweeping or vacuuming. (It won't get dirty under the sofa and no one can see anyway.) Limit the types of surfaces you put together. It should take one cleaner to clean a wall or piece of furniture. If you put a cover over your wood trim sofa, you have a cover to launder, wood to polish and upholstery to dry clean. Most covers are just one more thing to clean.

Plan ahead by putting children's clothing away as outfits-either on a toddler type hanger or folded together in drawers. Not only is it easier to find something to wear in the morning, but it limits the choices to outfits you feel comfortable with. Have all of the makings for breakfast-bowls, spoons, and cold cereal-set out the night before or stored in low cupboards. Get the milk out of the gallon jug and into a small pitcher in the refrigerator so children can start breakfast without assistance. This frees you up on busy mornings.

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