It had been a disastrous day. Toys were strewn about the house in such profusion that I didn’t see the red dump truck loaded with sand until I stepped in it, strewing its cargo over the living room rug. Five piles of sorted laundry were waiting in the hallway to be washed, and in the meantime I was trying to repaper the kitchen shelves.
The baby had found a box of salt that had fallen unnoticed from the kitchen counter, where it had been stacked precariously with canned vegetables, cracker boxes, and dishes. I quickly gave up struggling with a piece of self-stick paper (which stuck in all the wrong places) to save the floor from a waterfall of salt, but I was too late. As I picked up the baby, my husband walked in the door.
“Oh, hi,” I greeted weakly, pushing the damp, stringy hair from my face. “Is it six o’clock already?”
He kissed me mechanically and surveyed the situation without a word. Those silent moments said more than an entire lecture on my role as wife and mother. He could not possibly admire the way I was assuming and fulfilling my responsibilities.
I no longer felt like the adored girl he married, and I wanted to feel that way again—now! This disastrous day was the beginning of my search for the secrets of the happy, organized homemaker.
First, I observed carefully other mothers with several small children. Some of them seemed to manage so much more easily than others. I talked with several women about their ideas, secret tips, and shortcuts on management and their attitudes toward home and family.
I also talked with mothers of large families to determine what they had learned from years of experience. The following five points are a combination of personal experience, observation, and the invaluable suggestions of some competent mothers that have helped me toward my goal.
Certain tasks must be done every day or week: beds must be made, clothes washed and ironed, meals prepared, floors vacuumed or swept. The following tips help to make these chores seem less time-consuming and frustrating.
Take meals, to begin with. By planning ahead for a week, I have found I need only make one trip to the grocery store. This not only saves time and money (impulse buying is eliminated by following a list), but it also improves the quality of the three daily meals I serve.
I can also estimate the time needed for preparation of meals, and this helps me serve each meal at about the same time each day.
As for washing and ironing, I have learned to wash a load or two daily instead of spending an entire day at the task. And I try to iron a few articles every day. The little energy it takes to set up the ironing board every day is well spent in comparison to the mental torment I used to feel whenever I opened that closet stuffed with a mountain of wrinkled clothes.
One resourceful young mother with four preschoolers has found another solution to the ironing problem. She could, with careful management, accomplish every major task except that. So she substituted fruit and vegetable snacks for her family for the expensive sweet cakes and potato chips they had previously eaten and found several extra dollars in her budget to send her ironing out!
Included in effective organization is having a place for everything. This helps in quickly clearing away the daily clutter that normally accumulates in a houseful of children. This doesn’t mean that every cupboard and closet is immaculate, but it does mean that—
—every child knows that pajamas go in one drawer, puzzles in another.
—if I need the vaporizer in the middle of the night, I can find it without waking the entire household.
—magazines and newspapers belong in a rack or cupboard, not under the sofa if company is coming.
—tiny miscellaneous items (paperclips, loose beads, marbles, etc.) can be accumulated in one drawer in the kitchen, which is emptied or sorted out when full.
A successful businessman attributes his great efficiency to this procedure: “An item passes through my hands only once.” I tried applying this suggestion in my home and found it saved many steps and hours of time. For instance:
When changing a soiled diaper, why not rinse it and put it right in the pail?
Why not immediately file the article you just clipped? if not, it may be handled several times before it becomes mutilated and is finally put away.
When the baby has just finished a meal and you dampen a cloth to wipe him off, why not use a few more strokes and clean off the high chair? Have you ever tried to clean a child’s table after it has been ignored or forgotten for several hours?
A plan may sound regimentive and restrictive, but it is also true that “if you fail to plan, you plan to fail.” So I have learned to list each day, in order of importance, the things I want to accomplish the following day: complete two loads of wash, change one bed, clean smudge marks from kitchen doorways, write Mom a letter.
A mother must, of course, be flexible to compensate for unpredictable occurrences. But even if I complete only the first item or two on my list, I am accomplishing. Whatever isn’t finished can be rescheduled for the following day.
Planning can eliminate such frustrations as returning home from picking up a child at nursery school and unbundling all the children’s coats and hats only to remember that I should have made the bank deposit and stopped at the cleaners while I was out.
It has been said that “work expands to fill the time available,” but normally we do operate much better under a certain amount of pressure. Remember how quickly the house was straightened when you learned company was coming?
As a homemaker with a plan, I constantly work toward achieving the first goal on my list, then the second, and so on. But let’s be realistic, even generous, with time allotments for some things. No matter how efficient we are, it takes more than twenty minutes to get several little children ready for sacrament meeting. We must allow time for a last-minute phone call or diaper change.
The more carefully we allocate our time, the more valuable and useful our minutes become. No one in the world has any more time than we do—simply twenty-four hours a day. As someone has said, “What we do each day with this package of time determines the nature and accomplishments of our lives.”
When I itemize my daily goals before the day has even begun (and keep the list in a conspicuous place), I am constantly amazed at how much more quickly I can accomplish the things I must do each day, thereby making more time for the things I want to do.
And this is the time to mention that planning with my husband not only eliminates many misunderstandings and conflicts—it also makes for more harmonious home life as he is brought into the picture. If he’s coming home early to change the oil in the car, I plan to shop early. At night I find time to talk with him about his work and problems, thereby gaining his interest in mine. He sets a good example in the home by picking up after himself, and he supports me with consistent discipline of the children.
We should teach our children to be helpful. Perhaps it takes twice as long to dust and vacuum the living room with a little helper or two at our heels, but the time it takes to teach a child to do a job correctly (not demanding perfection) is rewarded a thousand-fold. The more a child feels he can do for himself, the more dependable and responsible he becomes.
A three-year-old takes pride in setting the table, carrying his dishes to the kitchen, scrubbing the bathroom sink. To a child, work is fun. His performance improves with praise and appreciation, and the children know that when we help each other, there is more time for stories, singing at the piano, and games.
One happy mother of eleven summed it up by saying, “One of my main goals is to work myself out of a job.”
I try to approach only one project at a time. The life of a mother is a continuous series of projects, but the hangup occurs when she becomes deeply involved in doing many things at once.
Often this can happen even before she realizes it. For example, when I am baking cookies I notice some snapshots on the counter that should be put away before they are ruined. I take them to the photo album, but before I know it I have reminisced through half the album and the cookies are burning. I’ve found that if I leave my outlined plan impulsively, my day will probably end in disorganization and frustration.
Large projects can be divided, however. Since interruptions are a natural part of a mother’s day, I must accept them, and I can be happy sewing Easter outfits a seam or two at a time rather than trying to spend an entire day on the project.
The kitchen cupboards need clean shelf paper. Why not do a cupboard each day until the job is completed? Why change all the beds in one day? The task is much less burdensome if distributed through the week.
It is also important to choose an appropriate time for certain tasks. Why try to iron when a toddler is awake if he pulls constantly on the cord? Why wax floors on Monday if the Cub Scouts are coming over on Tuesday to make cupcakes?
One mother timed herself and found it took almost twice as long to wash the dishes and clean up the kitchen if she had postponed the task for several hours. Why spend hours at night scouring a sinkful of egg-encrusted plates from breakfast when those precious hours while the children are sleeping could be put to more pleasant use?
When do we begin to work on that Relief Society or Primary lesson or that talk for sacrament meeting? Preparation for any assignment is much easier if we give ourselves days, or even weeks, to gather material and write down ideas.
The same holds true with genealogy, picture albums, and baby books. We can work on each a little at a time before we have accumulated so much material that we don’t know where to begin. One mother spends a few minutes each fast Sunday bringing her children’s albums up to date.
About four o’clock every afternoon the children know it is time to get ready for Daddy’s homecoming. Our oldest son’s toys are generally kept in order (thanks to Daryl V. Hoole’s article “Toys—Fun or Frustration?” in the August 1971 Ensign), and he helps me now gather up the toys the babies have strewn around the house.
We surface-clean by putting papers, magazines, and general daily clutter in their respective places. My own projects have either been finished or put away by the time we begin our last-minute cleanup. Then, even if time is limited (as it usually is), I can wash my face, apply fresh makeup, comb my hair, put on a clean housedress, and splash on a little cologne.
When my husband walks in the door he is greeted by relatively clean children (once-over with a washcloth does wonders) and a smiling, well-groomed wife.
The results of this program in our home have been astounding. I no longer feel like a bedraggled housewife trodden under by the physical demands of my role. I find more time to spend with my husband, my children, and, occasionally, myself. When physical necessities are under control, we naturally become more sensitive to the personal needs and feelings of those we love.
It pays to be an organized homemaker!