46 YO SAHM Needs Organizational Help

Q: Hi, I am a 46 yo SAHM – mostly. I teach college one night a week. I have young children – aged 4 and 7. I find the combination of their age and mine to be a factor in my not being able to organize – I am exhausted! I can appreciate the results of organization – my mom is a neat freak. However, I become frozen when faced with tasks that seem overwhelming. Do you have any suggestions for making a messy house seem less out of control and manageable? I know, baby steps and small successes but I still feel out of control.

A: We’ve all been at the ‘so overwhelmed you get frozen’ stage.

That is organizational inertia. You need to look at those baby steps and small successes as real successes toward a more organized home, don’t denigrate your progress no matter how small in your eyes! Progress is progress! Especially with two little kids!

I know this may sound basic, but the best thing you can do is establish routines. Easier said than done, I know. But here are the steps you can take to get to that point. The first week will be rough on you and everyone else, but stick with it, it will be worth it.


Stop and really think about what you would like to get done versus what NEEDs to get done. Make a list. For you to feel in control, it may be better to start with the most used rooms in the house and write them down first – family room, kitchen, bathroom – and focus on those until those routines are set, then move on to other rooms/areas.

2. Now, really look at your schedule.

Just what commitments do you have. Which ones can you give up that are not rewarding to you? Which ones would you like to keep because you get something out of them? How busy really are you with the kids, parents, spouse, job, and house? Be really honest. If your husband travels and you are responsible for all the household chores, inside and out, then put that down. If you handle an elderly parent’s medical issues, include that. It is amazing all we really have to handle! Make sure these responsibilities are listed too.

3. Now take a really, really good look at your list.

What can you remove yourself from doing? What can you pare down? What do you LIKE to do (that stays on the list – heaven knows we do so many things we don’t necessarily LIKE to do, so keep those!). What can you delegate to others? Your kids are still little and probably full of energy – but they aren’t so little that they can’t help around the house. I’m not suggesting they cut the lawn, but I am suggesting that if they are old enough to pull out the toys, they are old enough to put them back. Determine what is really important on your list and what is not. If you focus on the most imporant 20% the other 80% usually takes care of itself.

4. Now, start to build routines around the items on your list.

How? Well, here are some simple routines that may help you get started:

• Start with the toy issues: establish a firm bedtime and before bed the toys must be put away – by the kids, not you. Consequences will be that they don’t get to play with any toys left out. And follow through. I know you are beat at the end of the day, but won’t it be nice not to have to look at the toys all over the place when the kids are in bed? It will be worth it! And you will be teaching your kids to be responsible for their belongings. Make it a fun end of the day – make a race who can pick up the most toys, etc. End the day with toys picked up and smiles on the kids’ faces.

• Bathroom Routine – after bath all towels go to the laundry area; all clothes too! You can help the 7 year old clean up the counters after brushing is done. Let them know what a huge help they are to you by doing this small task! If that is just too much for them, invest in a hamper and make them put the towels and clothes in the hamper – then the mess is contained for when you are ready to deal with the laundry!

• Dinner Routine – Start a routine that dinner dishes are done right after dinner (and your kids can help by setting and clearing the table and putting the dished in the kitchen if not the dishwasher). You can finish up when they put their toys away if you like, or enlist their help wiping down tables, counters, etc. Sometimes if you also add no TV or games until the work is done, it helps get little butts in gear.

• Establish a morning routine; everyone up, eaten, teeth brushed and ready to seize the day by 7:30AM (or whatever you decide is a good time). If you find yourself being a chef in the morning, this routine will stop that and give you more free time for other things. Let everyone know you will stop serving breakfast/cereal at that time and you expect them to be up and ready to go. If you like beds made, add that in too – but let them know they won’t have to make them on the weekend!

• Family Room – we have something we call the Commercial Clean – that is whenever a commercial comes on, the family tackles cleaning one room during that time. Each commercial during a Sitcom can get tables cleared off, toys away, and the room picked up. AND you still have family time together.

• Nap Time – if your 4 year old takes naps, you can either join them or use that time for you. Take one drawer in the kitchen to reorganize; pay bills; file; go through the mail; run the dishwasher; run a load of laundry; read a book; reconnect with a friend. Remember, free time doesn’t necessarily mean clean time.

Remember that if you make the kids’ routines fun, and let the kids know it is really a HUGE help to you, and your expectations of them are high, they will not only cooperate, they will rise above your expectations. If you have them set the table and clear it, maybe you play their favorite music while they do it. If they bathe together, have a race to see who can get clean the fastest, or make the funniest beards, etc. Or perhaps you let them choose something special for you all to do at the end of the week. If this seems overwhelming, then start with just one of the routines and test it out, make it your own. Once it is up and running well, start another one.

I hope this helps get you unfrozen. I was frozen the last couple of weeks with my home office and one day I just dove in and didn’t stop until it was done. But I also don’t have a 4 year old or a 7 year old! Good luck, don’t be so hard on yourself and let us know how you are doing.