How to stay organized once baby arrives
Baby clothes in all sizes.
Gear, toys and paperwork.
Various places to sleep, sit or swing.
Babies today come with a lot of stuff as well as opinions about how the day should, or shouldn't, be planned. Experts say parents need to adapt their expectations and organizational style after a baby arrives.
"Having a baby is one of those life-changing events that adds so much to your life but also creates a need to organize and adapt," says Debbie Rosemont, a Sammamish-based professional organizer and owner of the company Simply Placed.
Kathy Peel, a national family management expert and author of The Family Manager Saves the Day, says parents need to look at themselves as the CEO -- or Chief Everything Officer -- of their homes.
"You are running the most important organization in the world," explains Peel, the mother of three grown boys who says she used to feel overwhelmed when thinking about all the tasks she needed to do.
"It was like a knotty ball of twine, and I didn't know what to pull out. I thought, 'We need to have a plan here,' and I started reading a lot of business books and saw that many principles that run a business would help me run my home," explains Peel, who recommends dividing home management into different departments, including food, money, home and property, and special events.
Prepare, prepare, prepare
"I coach people to take 10-15 minutes at the end of each day to plan and organize for the next day. Look at your calendar to see if there are any appointments and make sure you have things ready for the next day," Rosemont says. "Also have a transition area where things can land or be ready to go."
Renee Olson of Kirkland, mother of 11-month-old Josh and a human resources generalist at Boeing, lays out everything they need for the morning the night before, including clothes, and restocks her bags.
"I have four bags -- my purse, the daycare bag, a breast pump bag and my computer bag. The bags are always organized in the exact same spot. My husband gathers the bottles and bags and puts them in the car in the morning, and gets Josh ready," explains Olson, who says teamwork with her husband is integral to their morning routine.
"Time management changes are crucial. You may have been very organized at work and be used to a routine and schedule, but babies are not on a schedule when they are first born. You don't get to compartmentalize the time anymore," Rosemont says.
"Parents have to live in two tenses -- the present, enjoying each day, but if you don't have your eye on the future and what is coming up on the calendar, life will be frenetic. If you do a little bit here and there for a future event it reduces your stress level," Peel explains.
For more effective time management, Peel created her Daily Hit List. "Every day I apply three 'd' words -- what I need to do, what I can delegate and what I can delete. A good manager is not going to do everything her or himself," Peel says.
"You don't have half of a day to do tasks anymore. You learn to see small bits of time -- in five minutes I can't clean the whole refrigerator, but I can clean part of a shelf," explains Peel, who calls this the 5-Minute Maxim.
"It is about small organizational goals. Be happy if you get one thing done," says Nancy MacCormack, Mercer Island mother of two.
Managing hot spots
- Clutter: Rosemont recommends a daily "10-minute tidy" for the entire family to avoid the clutter that easily accumulates.
- Meals: Organizing meals for the week ahead saves time and can save money by reducing the number of trips to the store. To select meals more efficiently, MacCormack uses a master recipe box and files a 3x5 card for favorite recipes with information about which cookbook it is in and ingredients she would need from the store to make the meal. Some parents create a master list of favorite recipes and their locations.
- Calendars: Every year, more calendars and planners arrive on store shelves geared specifically for parents. MacCormack prefers the Day Runner system because it has a binder and she can buy special inserts, adding or removing pages based on individual needs, whereas Olson carries a small notebook to jot down reminder notes.
- Control center: Experts recommend having an organized base of operations so everyone knows where to find key information. Olson lists the week's meals and activities on a white board, while some parents use a notebook with dividers for topics such as phone, meals and activities.
- Photos: Molly Hurd, a Creative Memories Consultant in Newcastle, says Creative Memories has a new software tool to organize digital photos on the computer. A key benefit, she says, is that you can have pictures in multiple files and it keeps track of which photos have been printed. For printed photos, she recommends the Power Sort Box, which can hold up to 2,500 photos.
- Papers: Rosemont says mail and papers fall into four categories: Things you need to act on, want to read, need to file and need to throw away. She recommends opening mail over a recycle bin and then sorting the other three things into file folders or stacking trays.
Jolene Gensheimer is a Bellevue-based freelance writer and mother of three.
Pre- and post-baby organization tips
Before baby arrives:
- Stock up on household staples, medications, film and cleaning products.
- Have ready meals in the freezer -- homemade, from a store or from a service.
- Create a list of tasks people can do when they ask if they can help, for example meals, laundry, errands, housecleaning, babysitting, taking an older sibling to an event or yard work.
- Wash and organize baby clothes and items.
- Be clear but kind about whether you want friends and family in the birthing room, hospital waiting room or at home when you return with the baby.
- Create a snack basket on the counter and/or refrigerator and keep it stocked with healthy food so older siblings can help themselves to a snack when hungry.
After baby arrives:
- Use convenience products like pre-cut veggies and fruits, and bagged salads.
- Consider hiring a housekeeper for the first three to six months.
- Avoid drop-in guests when you or your baby is sleeping, or when you are spending focused time with older siblings by hanging a friendly "Please do not disturb" sign on the front door. Also remember to turn off the ringer on your phone.
- Hire a mother's helper to play with older siblings for a few hours a week.
Organizational tips from Debbie Rosemont of Simply Placed:
- When everything has a place, it's easier to find what you need when you need it, and to put things away.
- Keep like things together.
- Keep items close to where they are used. If the diapers and wipes are upstairs but you spend a lot of the day downstairs, keep diapers and wipes downstairs as well.
- Make sure that items used most often are easiest to access. For instance, put clothes the baby is wearing now in the most accessible drawer or closet space, and clothes for a year from now in the back of the closet or dresser.
- Use bins for storing things your baby has outgrown but you may want to keep for another child. Clear plastic bins, with gender and size labeled, stack nicely.
- Each family member should have a memory box. Clear storage bins work well to keep selected pieces of artwork and any special baby items such as first shoes.
- Prior to purchasing organizing containers, sort what you have, toss what you don't need and then contain, or find a place for each item. Then maintain the systems you create.
- Remember that organizing is a process, not a one-time event.
- National Association of Professional Organizers: lists local certified organizers
- Debbie Rosemont, professional organizer: 206-579-5743
- Molly Hurd, Creative Memories consultant: 425-254-0808
- Kathy Peel: familymanager.com - website has helpful tips, ordering information for her books and CDs and a free newsletter.
- Get Organized Now: thousands of tips, plus free printables, a weekly newsletter and an online discussion forum.
- Donna Smallin: unclutter.com - author's site has many links and a monthly free newsletter.
- FlyLady: organizational information and daily emails for the chronically disorganized to create new household habits.
- Organized Home: information about creating a family notebook, including free printable pages, and a wide variety of organizational strategies.
- Organized Scrapbooks: ideas for organization and finding time to scrapbook.
- Organizing Network: myorganizedlife.com - helpful information based on the company's five core life zones.
- The Family Manager Saves the Day by Kathy Peel. The latest of Peel's 16 books has a section on preparing for a new baby.
- Organizing Plain and Simple by Donna Smallin. Includes sections on organizing various rooms in your home, finances, time and household as well as tips from other professional organizers.
- The One-Minute Organizer Plain and Simple by Donna Smallin. Quick tips to help busy parents effectively utilize those small chunks of time.
- Organizing from the Inside Out by Julie Morganstern. Morganstern says the most efficient organization model is a kindergarten classroom and many of her ideas are modeled after that concept.
Originally published in the March, 2006 print edition of ParentMap.