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Get organized

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Jenna Patel, Shalin Patel, Sophie Patel, Louis Patel

THEY GOT THIS The Patel family uses a shared family calendar to stay organized. Jenna and Shalin are parents to Sophie, now 2, and Louis, 6 months. (Photo: Katie Hill Photography)

Buzz Baby is a column about life with babies. Writer Annie McQueen is a mother of four children under the age of 6.

Someone said, “For every minute spent organizing, an hour is earned.” That someone must have had small children. And spring is a great time to get organized, parentally speaking, before the sprawling, unfocused summer arrives.

Some folks are just born with a tendency for neatness, like Jenna Patel. Jenna says staying organized and keeping a routine bring her joy and always have. Being an organized person came in handy when she and her husband, Shalin Patel, had Sophie, now 2, and Louis, 6 months. 

Jenna, a graduate medical education project manager for Houston Methodist Hospital, has two main rules: Keep a routine, and maintain a shared family calendar.

“I thrive on routine, my children thrive on routine, my husband thrives on routine, and everyone has clear expectations of what is going on,” she said.

They keep a shared calendar on their iPhones. “It consists of school days, work days, nanny days, housekeeper days, pay days, doctor appointments, date nights, days my husband works late, and the list goes on,” she said. She even puts trash days on the calendar. 

They have a nightly bedtime plan, too. “This is what it looks like: Clean up toys, go upstairs, start bath, brush teeth, pick out jammies, read a book, say prayers, and kisses goodnight,” said Jenna. Toys left out make for a hectic morning, she says, so put those toys away before you retreat.

Jenna has always kept an old-school paper list as well. One of her favorite tips from childhood friend Emily Ley, the founder of the planner company Simplified, is “do a brain dump,” said Jenna. “Write down everything going through your mind and what all needs to be done. Study it. Break it out into categories, and then make your list of to-dos or whatever you need.”

Jenna said she knew it was time to get serious about a shared family calendar when she was picking up Sophie at preschool and realized she had a doctor’s appointment at that very moment. (We have all been there.)

Jenna suggests not putting off those tiny decisions throughout the day, the ones that, left alone, can add up to a mountain of mess. See some mismatched socks in the dog bowl? (Hey, it happens.) Put them away. Spy a sippy cup in the toy box? Fish it out and load it in the dishwasher. 

The more you tackle these little tasks, the more they do not pile up. “Spend five minutes and give those things lying around the house a home,” Jenna said. She says it is important to do this every day, throughout the day. 

Another Buzz mom, who chose to remain anonymous, shared what not to do. “I am a cautionary tale on failed organization tips,” she said, laughing. “I spent years having way too many toys for my kids. They never touched half of them, but we had baskets and baskets.” Last year, she got on board with the philosophy that kids do not need all those toys. Keep it simple. Some researchers say kids only need 20 toys or fewer.

An article on the Today’s Parent website discussed this topic, pointing to a study that said less is more when it comes to overflowing rooms of toys. “The study found that when toddlers had fewer toys in their environment,” said the article, “they played with each toy longer, allowing them to focus more and play more creatively.” 

Keeping it simple with the toys will help keep a tidier house. “Children need to play, but this doesn’t require toys,” says Deborah MacNamara, a clinical counselor in Vancouver and author of Rest, Play, Grow, a manual for parents. “They will explore their environment and examine articles that are interesting to them – from pots and pans to blocks.” 

Overwhelmed? Start with a small task. Tackle one messy corner or overpacked drawer a day. Set a timer on your watch to give yourself a start and end. 

Here are a few tips from Good Housekeeping: Make sure your kids have a clear visual to their toys. For example, store the toys in small, lidless bins, so kids can easily see what is available to them. Toss out the boxes and plastic wrapping the toy came in, which just add clutter. Another tip? Purchase those hanging shoe racks (the ones that hang on the back of closet doors) to put toys in. It is also a good idea to have donation bags and trash bags nearby so you can purge. 

Put on a podcast or find an audio book and get to cleaning. A spring refresh will feel good, and you will thank yourself when summer comes.

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