I can hear you now: More New Year's resolutions! I never keep them! Why should I even make them?
Corny as it sounds, the New Year offers us all a chance to regroup and start fresh, and to reinvent ourselves for the better.
We've just come through the sound and fury of the holidays - and our homes, nerves, and bank accounts reflect it. What better time to get a grip and try to do it right than this clean slate of a new year looming ahead?
In that spirit, here are my 7 resolutions for an organized new year that can rejuvenate you, your home, and your family.
And the best part? They all build on each other. If you accomplish No.1, then No. 2 is easier. If you nail No. 3, No. 4 is a cinch. Try it! (What do you have to lose?)
Walking through the mounds of Christmas gifts in my home last week, I made a renewed commitment to an old rule. For every new item (bathrobe, earrings, slippers) that arrives, three things have to say adios.
We're kicking that resolution off immediately at my house.
Before anyone puts away any presents, they must deposit a minimum of three bags of donations in the garage.
(I do this to make counting all the stuff going in and out at this busy time a non-issue.)
Bag, please. Two more, please. You may now take your Santa stash to your room.
Simple, right? Great. Now move on to your holiday stuff.
Anything you didn't use this year? Chances are you won't use it next year, either - donation pile.
Go through your drawers, your closets. Yes, you want to keep a few old T-shirts and ratty jeans for Saturday sports or painting with the kids. But you don't need 50. Toss, please.
And that collection of hotel shampoos that you've been working on for the last decade? Did they start out green - or is that part of the aging process?
This is going to be an organized New Year, remember?
You don't need them all (if you did, they wouldn't be there.) Donate these to your neighborhood homeless shelter.
We know. Getting organized was already on your list, anyway. But we all need a friendly nudge to jumpstart organization.
The perfect time is now - a new year ahead, and you've downsized. You've got a little room. Now you can finally put everything where it belongs.
I slap labels on just about anything that doesn't move these days. Drawers, linen cabinet shelves, in-boxes for each family member - these and much more are adorned with neatly typed labels.
It makes all the difference when you've reorganized because you and the family have directions for putting things back in their new places.
For example: When you take down your tree and your Christmas decorations, take time to label each box. We not only put down what is in the box but also the category and a box number.
In other words, the label on a box of Christmas ornaments would say Christmas. Ornaments. 1. On the last box, underline the number so that you know it's the final number.
That way, next year, you will know whether you have all your boxes.
Now find a corner of the garage, basement, or attic to store all the Christmas stuff together. I even store my Christmas sweaters, jewelry, and tins with the decorations so that all our Christmas stuff comes out at the same time.
Apply that same method to your whole house, starting with closets and drawers, ending with your neatly labeled storage boxes and bins in the garage. Take everything out. Sift through it. Toss half of it and organize and label the rest.
Now you can actually find your new and newly put away Christmas presents!
Now that you've decluttered, organized, and downsized, cleaning should be a breeze. Often, clutter is what really makes cleaning hard. Have you ever cleaned before a cleaning person arrived?
People laugh when they hear this, but they don't understand that 80 percent of cleaning is picking up stuff and returning it to where it belongs, so you actually have some surface area to clean.
And tidying is a job that outside help - no matter how efficient - can't do.
You can also make the cleaning process easier by simply having a plan. I used to do what I call 'ricochet cleaning.'
That's the cleaning 'method' in which you start out with a broom and dustpan, ready to sweep.
But then you have to move the cat dishes. And wash the cat dishes. While you're at the sink, you might as well put those dishes in the dishwasher.
Oops! There are clean dishes in the dishwasher. So now you ... You get the idea. You might get back to sweeping in an hour or so - if you're lucky.
While that method will eventually get the job done, it's not terribly efficient as you probably guessed. You'll spend a lot more time cleaning, and you'll probably end up quitting in disgust or running out of time before the job is done.
To make the job easier, first have a schedule of when you do what: Laundry is Monday nights; bathrooms are Saturday morning; trash is Sunday nights, etc. That makes sure that nothing gets forgotten and spreads the work out into manageable portions throughout the week.
Then do the actual cleaning room by room. Do not allow yourself to dart all over the house.
When I clean the living room, for example, first, I pull everything moveable out to the hall: rugs, knickknacks, throws, plants. Now I have clean surfaces to dust and vacuum. Then I return the accessories, cleaning each one as I replace it.
Invariably, there is still a pile of stuff left in the hall - stuff that didn't belong in the living room in the first place; my daughter's CD player, my son's book, my coffee cup, old newspapers, etc. I return these to their proper homes.
And voila! One room is ready.
We not only ricochet throughout the house as we clean. We ricochet through life just as madly and inefficiently. We rush Blake to soccer, Brittany to ballet, ourselves to meetings. We race around town, getting dry cleaning, manicure/pedicures, groceries, pet supplies.
Breakfasts are a free-for-all mad-dash most mornings. Dinners are endangered. Homework goes on into the wee hours of the night.
We didn't grow up like this. What has happened?
We all unwittingly veer into the fast lane of family life and get stuck there. A lot of it is peer pressure.
All Brittany's friends are in ballet, so of course she wants to do it. And you want the best for your daughter, so you cart her over there.
But all Brittany's friends are also in the community theater, which 'only' rehearses two nights a week.
Well, you think, might as well make those dance lessons pay off ... And so it goes.
Multiply that scenario by X number of kids, and you've got a mess of a scheduled life. But you don't need me to tell you that. It is fixable in 2020. Here's how to start:
Allow everyone in the family a maximum of three hobbies, not to exceed three commitments (practices, meetings, etc.) per week. If you have more than two kids, the limit might be two hobbies. That means Brittany can do ballet and theater - but not cello.
And the interests can change with the season. Blake can do soccer and band in the fall. But not football. In the winter, he can change to basketball and chess club. In the spring, he can do track and swim team.
Now look at your own hobbies and interests. A little tougher, huh? Parents not only have hobbies they love to do (yoga, bicycling, anyone?) but also commitments they should do (PTA, volleyball team booster club).
Save at least two time slots per week for something you love to do. And limit your volunteering to two more slots. Learn to say, 'No' and mean it. Practice in front of a mirror if you have to get it down pat.
Finally, make your outings more efficient by grouping errands geographically. Write down all the places you have to drive each week (basketball, volleyball, preschool) and then write down all the errands you have to do each week (groceries, dry cleaning, gas).
Now assign at least one errand to each outing so you can accomplish a minimum of two things for each trip.
For example, my daughter has volleyball practice two times a week, which takes about two hours. One day, I grocery shop. And one day, I'll work on family stuff in the car during her practice. I look at those 'wasted' hours as 'found time.'
If you faithfully adhere to resolutions No.1 and 4, this resolution will wonderfully take care of itself. We waste money on things we don't need and on too many expensive extracurricular activities.
Cut those out, and you're halfway home.
For the other half, make a couple more lists. First, list all the bills that have a fixed amount that must be paid in a month: mortgage, health insurance, car payments, tuition, etc.
These are fixed costs, and you can do nothing about them.
Now list the necessary expenses with fluctuating costs: gas bills, electric bills, phone bills, groceries. Set up a budget for each and try to cut back on usage.
Finally, list the fun-only expenses: golfing fees, lessons, clothes, cappuccinos, movies, dining out, etc.
Set a budget for each. And for best results, include the kids in the process for this one.
Tell them how much is budgeted for family entertainment and let each kid vote on how at least part of the money should be spent.
Many parents find that the best approach is to set older kids' allowances to a sum that would cover his or her entertainment expenses for a month. Then they get a life lesson in managing money.
Does Kevin want that cool new game controller? Fine, he can buy it - with his money. Of course, he won't be able to eat at McDonald's or see a movie for the rest of the month. But at least he won't be begging you for everything.
Kids are a lot thriftier when it's 'their' money. Go figure.
All of the above resolutions are about helping you take care of yourself. If your home is clean, efficient, and organized, you are taking care of yourself.
If your time and money are well-managed, you are taking care of yourself. How? Because when your life and home are in chaos, you're stressed out, right?
If your home is well organized, you should also have time to eat healthfully, exercise and get plenty of sleep.
And remember those time slots we told you to allow yourself? Don't cut corners there.
Your slot could be as extravagant as an occasional day at the spa or as simple as taking a long tub bath. You choose. But do it!
Again, if you have accomplished resolutions 1 through 6, this one will take care of itself.
If you find time to be good to yourself, you will find the time, energy, and patience to be good to your loved ones. One just flows from the other.
But you cannot go directly to Resolution No. 7. These resolutions are like building blocks. If the bottom layer is unstable, you can't build on top of it.
So take a deep breath and start with No. 1. Don't expect to finish the resolutions in a day, week, or even a month. This is a continuous process - but one that will pay off in the year ahead.