Life would be so much easier as a busy mama with a fairy godmother to wave her magic wand and voilà! The house is clean and your fridge is stocked. Unfortunately, there are no magic tricks to help you stay organized as a busy mama. But I can tell you what worked for me.
Whether you work outside the home or you are a WAHM/SAHM, feel free to steal my tips to make your life easier!
In order to grasp my groundbreaking concepts, please first get yourself a nice hot cup of coffee.
How I stay organized as a busy mama
I’m not perfect at these things, but the point isn’t to be perfect as mamas—it’s just to optimize our time, if we can.
Cook your way to success
It’s 6pm and you’re wondering what to make for dinner. You open the fridge, and inside is a wilting salad that needs washing and some cheese that, judging by the smell, has gone off. The freezer isn’t much better: a sad, lonely store-bought pizza is all that’s left next to the ice pack. Sound familiar?
I’ll be honest: I am not a good cook. Cooking does not come naturally to me. A big goal of mine is to get better at cooking so my family can rely on me for nutritious home-cooked meals. It’s still a work in progress, but I have gotten slowly better over time. Why? Because I got myself organized.
A few things that helped me stay organized as a busy mama were:
I’m talking the kind that you make ahead from scratch, then freeze for later. I spent long hours during my pregnancy prepping freezer meals. They came in so handy when I had my mama or my in-laws here, or when I was simply too hangry/exhausted to cook in those early days.
The freezer in general
Ok, I’ll admit, learning to live in the time of corona helped solidify the usefulness of my freezer. I can buy meat and throw it in the freezer, and use it weeks later. I can buy bags of frozen veggies (or prep fresh ones for flash freezing) and never have an excuse for not adding veggies to a meal. Most of the real estate in our freezer is taken up by bread. Yay for defrosted baguettes!
Steaming and pressure cooking
Believe me when I say, these cooking methods were a complete mystery to me a few years ago. I mainly looked into them as a healthy way of cooking mostly pureed foods for my baby. But what I love about steaming and pressure cooking is that you can set it and forget it! I can walk away and do something else while the food cooks safely on my stovetop.
I was already a highly organized person before I became a mama, so I don’t know why it was ever so hard for me to just make a shopping list. I used to spend ages in the store browsing items, and I came home with a bunch of mismatched ingredients and could never muster a proper recipe with them. No more! Enter the shopping list.
This pandemic, I actually created a master shopping list with items we generally should have on hand in our kitchen. Then, I keep a running list of items that need replacing. I fill up the running list all week long until it’s time to shop.
Curbside pickup options or delivery
These services may not be available to you depending on your location, but if they are, I highly suggest taking advantage of them. Our local supermarket started offering curbside pickup (sometimes called Click & Collect) and it changed my life. Now, instead of spending 45 minutes wandering around the store, I spend that time in my pajamas in front of my computer at home, adding items to my shopping cart and selecting a pickup date and time. So much easier when you have kids!
Clean your way to success
Cleaning is another thing I could get better at. Motivating myself to do the most mundane of chores is half the battle. Here are some tips and tricks I use for a home that’s not perfectly organized, but good enough for this busy mama.
Do a load of laundry every single day
If you have that much, that is. When C was first born, I did—she constantly spit up and she (and I) would go through 2-4 wardrobe changes per day. Plus we were doing the whole cloth diaper adventure. To make it easier on this working mama, I would sort a load of laundry the night before, so that when I woke up in the morning, all I had to do was dump it in the machine. I would do one day of clothes, another day of towels, and another day of cloth diapers. After those three days, it was usually time to repeat the cycle. Nowadays I have less volume so I can take days off in between.
Don’t let dishes pile up
It’s so easy to just dump the dirty ones in the sink and leave them there for later. While I was still at my day job, what worked for me personally was doing all the day’s dishes in the evening after dinner. But it might seem like too large a task for you.
Make things easier by finding little pockets of time throughout your day to do a couple of dishes, either after each meal, or perhaps while your baby is feeding himself in the high chair near you. Like the laundry, I did dishes diligently. It just became part of my routine. Pro tip: I have since bestowed this task to hubby.
Determine a day for weekly cleaning
I am not someone who is good at cleaning everything in one shot. I’d much rather break up the mess into smaller tasks throughout the week. If that’s you, too, do like me, and determine a day of the week for dusting, another for vacuuming/mopping, and another for tackling the bathroom. In my head, thinking “Friday, hmm, vacuum day” helped make it a habit. I really wanted to stay on top of the vacuuming and mopping in particular because little kids play on the ground a lot!
Of course, if you prefer to do everything at once, you can still designate one day of the week to do it, if you can allocate a larger chunk of time.
If you successfully clean everything in your house, congratulations! Enjoy those 12 seconds before something gets dirty again.
Work your way to success
Busy mamas often work on top of all our other obligations. How can you possibly keep it all organized? Whether you have a day job or you work from home, you CAN balance it with motherhood.
When you go to a job
I kept my usual hours at my regular job at first, when C was still a young baby. I knew the typical daycare centers would never be able to accommodate my or my husband’s weird working hours.
So I knew my only option was a nanny. It took some negotiating with her schedule, but we devised a plan wherein I dropped C off, and hubby picked her up. Divide and conquer.
Nothing is impossible, even if your traditional job has nontraditional hours. After a year of that, I wanted to free up my evenings to be able to have dinner as a family. I just kept communicating with my boss and my nanny and eventually, we all negotiated a schedule together.
So basically my main tip here is just to communicate and be willing to be flexible. Negotiate for the schedule you want.
When you work from home
In addition to my day job, I do quite a bit of remote work. How do I stay organized with a little one under 2?
Sometimes I wake up early to do an hour of work before C gets up. I always work through nap time. Then I do about an hour or so of work after she goes to bed. That’s 4 hours per day for a part-time schedule.
If you have a full-time schedule, the best would be to hire a nanny for a few hours a day. What I’m doing right now is dropping of C at the nanny’s right after breakfast, and I pick her up right after lunch so she comes home for her nap. Saves me money, and I still get to work through nap time. Then I get to spend the afternoon with her, so it’s like having her for a half-day Monday through Friday. Works for me!
Shop your way to success
Even shopping can feel like a chore when you’re juggling motherhood, work, and managing a home. Save yourself a headache and plan ahead with these tips.
Make smart lists
I started a list on my phone of items I need, organized by store. It saves me so much time. Before, I would write everything together and scroll through a long, random list of items. By grouping items by store, I can simply see what I need to pick up according to the store I’m in. For example, if I know I’m going to Lidl on Monday for a special they’re running, I’ll look at my list in the store to see what else I can pick up while I’m there.
For those of you with 9-to-5s, this might take some creative thinking, but it’s still possible. Avoid the shops during peak hours! You can actually use Google to look up information about peak shopping hours by store. It will save you time and hassle because you won’t be competing with lots of other customers, and as a bonus, you can often enjoy a more personalized shopping experience from the sales reps.
Group your trips
Save time and gas money. Don’t run out to the store every time you need one item. Try to have a spare at home to buy yourself more time to replace it, then when you have a couple of items to buy on your list, you can go to the store once to get them all.
For example, I find a lot of great baby items at Ikea, but it’s a 45-minute drive from my house, and their stock online is limited. I will make a smart list in my phone of everything I need to get on my next trip to Ikea. I wait until I have several items on my list, then plan ahead for a day and time without crowds. That day, I’ll do one long trip to Ikea to get everything I need.
I’m not scrambling to remember all the things I need to buy, because I made a list beforehand and added to it as needed. I’m not battling the crowds, so I save time on the highway, in the store, and especially at checkout. All it takes is one big trip, saving me time and money in the long run. It’s a win for the planet and a win for me.
An organized family for a busy mama
An organized mama is only as good as her organized family. How do you get the whole family involved so that your day can run smoothly?
Create daily routines for your children
This should be a no-brainer! You can create a routine for your baby from birth. It doesn’t need to be rigid at first, but you can gradually build more of a structure. Creating a daily routine for your children will help them to know what your expectations are of them.
Independent play should be part of their routine. Start with short increments, even just 5 minutes, then make them longer and longer. If you know your kids are going to start their independent play at about the same time every day, you can plan ahead and use that time for self-care! Or, you know, laundry and stuff.
Maintain a family calendar
This is where a good old physical calendar comes in handy. Your kids are not going into your Google calendar to check their schedule.
There are all sorts of options out there—get creative! You can buy a paper calendar with pages that you tear off every week or month. Or you could buy a whiteboard and dry erase markers and draw your own calendar. The key is to keep it somewhere the whole family will see it, like in the kitchen, and to add to it religiously every time you need to schedule something.
It’s important to remember that a family calendar is not a passive item. In order for the family calendar to work, you still need to communicate with the others in your household, starting with when you add an item to the calendar. Then, each morning, go through the events of the day ahead with your kids so they know what to expect.
A family calendar is a great tool for an organized mama because it includes the activities of everyone in the family. Papa can have his piano lessons on there, Mama can have her coffee dates with friends, and the kids can have their own playdates or doctor’s visits.
Common pitfalls to avoid
Don’t let these common pitfalls sabotage your organized life, busy mama!
Reacting to your phone
Your phone should not be an extension of your arm. Reacting to every ping, bell, and whistle will leave you frazzled.
First, turn off most of your notifications (the sound alerts and the screen alerts). You’ll be amazed at how limiting these distractions will make you and your children calmer and more focused.
I designate specific times throughout the day where I allow myself to answer people on my phone: when I first get up, around lunchtime, and once before bedtime. Batching this activity saves me time in the long run because I am not constantly engaging in a back-and-forth conversation with someone at the expense of spending quality time with my family.
Putting your kids in front of the TV
You know by now that I am never an advocate for putting your kids in front of a screen.
In terms of organizing your life, I can see how it would be tempting. But you know your kids. How long can they really sit in front of a screen before they need you in some way? Can you really trust a TV to babysit for you while you attempt to shop online or even work remotely?
I said before, use independent play to teach your kids to expect pockets of time when Mama needs to get shiz done. It’s not going to work out better for you in the long run if independent play is equated with the TV. Wouldn’t it be so much better to teach your kids how to play together, independently of you? They shouldn’t come to expect a TV screen as their clue to settle down.
It’s tempting, I know, and all of us will give in at some point. But give yourself some grace if you fall off the wagon.
Putting off tomorrow what you can do today
The poet Edward Young said, “Procrastination is the thief of time.”
We are all guilty of procrastinating! It happens. Don’t sweat it.
But don’t make it a habit, either. I’ll go back to my laundry tip: do 1 load each and every single day if you have to. I was really militant about this. I knew that if I put off that load until the next day, the pile would get bigger and bigger and soon I wouldn’t be able to manage it.
Stay on top of your tasks while being realistic about what you can accomplish. Feel free to revisit your habits if you find yourself constantly procrastinating. Sometimes all it takes is some tweaking to your planning so that you can find success again.
My personal tips and tricks to help you become an organized mama
These last few tips and tricks to stay organized are actually quite common, but I used to underestimate them before I became a mama.
Get up early, before the kids
This one is so, so hard for me. I’ll admit, I often fail at this. But Papa and I both swear by it, when we can actually accomplish it!
Papa wakes up a few hours before us, but I strive to wake up just 1 hour before C. If I succeed, there are different ways I use that hour:
Plan: the day, the week, the month, the rest of the universe
Learn: always trying to expose myself to new information
Household tasks: quickly put laundry away (while Papa does the dishes, of course!)
Personal development: simply work on my mindset—to remind myself of my goals and my “why.”
Play around with it and see what having an extra hour in the morning can do for you!
Put the kids to bed early
Along with getting up early before the kids, Papa and I are religious about putting C to bed early. Did you know that putting your child to bed earlier can actually help her to sleep better? Score.
With C asleep in bed, we usually have extra time to answer emails (ugh) or take care of—you guessed it—the lingering laundry and dirty dishes.
We find that giving C her dinner and putting her to bed early helps us so much to unwind in the evening. It’s time for Papa and me to focus on each other and our marriage.
I can’t stress this enough. Raising a child, in evolutionary terms, was always meant to be a social, communal effort. You don’t have to do everything yourself.
You can strengthen the bond your child has with your extended family by calling on grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins, big siblings, etc. to come over and play with your child for an hour or two.
If you’re far from family, as we are, call on a friend (maybe one who has children, too).
Personally, we have found it very useful to hire a nanny who works set hours each week, regardless of what our work schedules are. We know exactly when C will be out of the house so that we can focus on chores and work.
You’re an organized mama now.
As mamas, we have a LOT to juggle. Make things easier on yourself by creating good habits around the way you cook, clean, work, and shop. Get your family involved by creating a daily routine and letting everyone know what to expect. Avoid common pitfalls and make the best use of your time—it’s precious!
It’s your turn, mamas! I would love to know your tips and tricks for staying organized in the comments below. Thanks for reading!