In my work, I am constantly reminded that not only do most people not have time to stop and consider whether a possession “sparks joy” — they can barely sort the mail, empty the dishwasher and walk the dog. And this is on a good day. Throw in an unexpected situation when the person who usually runs the household is less available — a sickness in the family, a sudden work trip, a newly imposed work deadline — and any semblance of organization can disappear in a matter of days.
Organizing a home requires consistency. When something unexpected disrupts the routine, your family needs to be prepared to fill in the gaps — to make life run smoothly and on time. Here’s how you can help them cope.
When you’re setting up systems for processing incoming mail, dealing with kids’ schoolwork or paying bills, make the routines easy for others to follow when you’re not around. They may not be able to completely replicate the way you do things, but set them up for success by making it easy for them to find what they need and put things where they belong.
Prepare a one-page document for people who regularly help around your house, such as babysitters and relatives, and who take on extra responsibilities in your absence. It could include, for example, where to put incoming mail, where to put school paperwork and projects, when and how to feed a pet, and where to find important or frequently used items such as medication, sports equipment and uniforms. Even your partner will be grateful for a document that spells out the basics about where to find things and where things belong. This isn’t going to take care of everything, but at least you’ll have a few important things covered.
If you aren’t going to be available, give each family member two or three tasks to complete each morning or evening. Put your partner in charge of meal planning. Kids can be responsible for feeding the pets or straightening up the playroom once a week. Also designate outside helpers whom you can call on at the last minute to help with certain tasks. For instance, you could ask the babysitter to put away children’s laundry or spend some extra time straightening up the living area. Or you could ask a relative or friend to water your plants once a day or to help with transporting the kids where they need to go. If people know what to expect and how to help, they will be prepared to jump in and lend a hand, and you won’t have to explain your expectations.
Create a calendar of weekly events, and put it where everyone can see it. It could include things such as when the trash and recycling need to be put out and locations and times of regularly scheduled meetings and kids’ activities. Add appointments that pop up, such as trips to the doctor or veterinarian. Try to keep it up to date so if you’re suddenly unavailable, others can follow your existing schedule.
Don’t panic when things are in total disarray. Just be prepared to spend a little extra time getting things back in order when you’re able to resume your normal routine. I understand that finding a block of time is a big obstacle, but try scheduling two hours on a weekend dedicated to restoring order. And maybe arrange for a friend to come help you. Yes, you read that correctly: Invite a friend to help you sort through the mail that has piled up, straighten up your closet or restore order to your kitchen. It will make the work easier and more fun, and you can return the favor at their house or buy them dinner for their trouble.
After a period of chaos, many people feel overwhelmed by all that has to be done to get things back to normal. Unfortunately, that feeling isn’t going to disappear unless you do something. Putting off the work or endlessly contemplating what to do first is just going to prolong the pain. Pick one job or space and start. You’ll probably discover that it’s not as bad as you thought and that finishing one task will motivate you to complete others.
Anzia is a freelance writer and the owner of Neatnik. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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