Our featured client this month is Samantha, the mother of three young children and the matriarch of a large extended family. This hostess extraordinaire often cooks for 30 family members and friends to celebrate Shabbat each weekend. In addition, Samantha maintains toys for every possible age group to ensure that even the youngest guest has appropriate entertainment. Over time, though, her home has become the self declared “weigh station” for toys, clothing, books, cookware, and furniture for relatives and friends with younger children, ones who have yet to have children, and even those who are not yet married.
Like many women who hire us, Samantha’s organizational skills are the envy of her friends (“why do you need an organizer,” is a popular refrain she hears). Yet, Samantha felt that she needed expert advise in how to streamline her life to entertain and function at a higher level. She knew it was time to take back her home – it could no longer be a proverbial ‘candy store’ for children and adults alike – and she needed our help.
Like most of my projects, this one started with a phone call. There was a townhouse and two dads, two kids, two dogs, and way too much stuff. Could we help? Of course.
At the first appointment, we met Bill and Alvarro, two busy dads at their home in Brooklyn Heights which was beautifully decorated yet warm and child friendly. From the basement to the office on the top floor, we could see the evidence of a well lived life. Gifts, souvenirs from travel, photos, school projects, and books could be found in boxes and piles throughout the house. Bill and Alvarro craved better organization so that they could live with less clutter and less stress. After a walk through of the house, we made a plan: we would meet once a week, and tackle one room at a time, starting in the kitchen.
About a year ago, a friend asked if I would consider doing a project pro bono; Lisa Meshulam, a single mother of triplets, desperately needed help with organization of her one bedroom apartment. I was intrigued.
When I saw the apartment, it was piled floor to ceiling with storage boxes on wire racks. Cube furniture was filled with bins, books, and papers. Children’s drawings and photos were taped to the walls, and the kitchen counters overflowed with food that didn’t fit in the pantry. Lisa slept in a bed in the corner of the living room, sacrificing her privacy so the boys could share the single bedroom. While the boys’ room was cleverly outfitted with two bunk beds, it was overrun with clutter. Clothing spilled out of empty cubes and onto the floor.
I immediately agreed to help and started by enlisting ClosetMaid as a sponsor. Then, I assembled my team of organizers, and began operation organize.
Eighteen and a half years ago, we became an instant family when my twins wore born. Now, the reverse is inevitable as the empty nest looms ahead. In August, my twins will start college. We’ll fly as a family of four to St. Louis where we’ll move my daughter into her dorm at Washington University. Then, three of us will fly to Atlanta to move my son into his room at Emory University. Five days later, only two of us will return home. While this time is bittersweet for us, it’s also a time where strategic planning and preparation can remove some of the stress, and help us enjoy a special milestone. Although I’m a first timer, here are some tips that I’ve gathered from friends and family that have made this journey before me.
1. Book flights and hotels for move in and family weekends when you’re notified of the dates. The closer the hotel is to campus, the sooner it gets sold out.
Deadly flooding, devastating hurricanes, and raging wild fires – never in my memory have so many natural disasters occurred in such a short period of time. News reports talk about the loss of lives, loss of homes, and loss of financial security for those impacted, and even weeks later, for some, the unavailability of basic needs like water and sanitary supplies is still an issue. Yet, even with such unthinkable loss, the victims are equally saddened by the loss of sentimental items held so dear.
People sometimes facetiously consider what they would grab if there were a fire or an immediate need to leave their home. Yet, in a true emergency, when these questions are no longer hypothetical, an emotional paralysis ensues. Your child has 50 “special” stuffed animals. You have 30 “special” sweaters, and no idea where your important papers are stored, or, even what would be considered important. Your home is overflowing with so many “special” items that, in the end, nothing is special.
A few years ago, my mother decided it was time for me to take possession of my childhood memorabilia. For several weeks, she sent boxes of childhood art, trophies, and yearbooks. While I did save a few college papers I had written, yearbooks, and awards, all of my preschool and grade school artwork went right into the trash. After being saved for 30-40 years, and being moved into 4 different homes, the vast majority of it meant nothing to me. This is what I try to impart to my clients who want to save everything their children create… most of it is not worth saving.
As the mother of twin teenagers, the baby and toddler years are a distant, but precious memory. Yet, here are some specific questions I’m often asked about managing multiples.
1. What is the greatest misconception for managing multiple births?
People think that it’s so much more difficult than managing one baby. If you get your babies on a schedule, it’s actually easier than having children that are different ages.
2. How can moms be best prepared for the arrival of twins/multiples?
Read the book about sleep training BEFORE the babies arrive! Whether you subscribe to Ferber or Weisbluth, what’s important is that you have a plan and you’re prepared to implement it. I sleep trained my twins at 3 months, and they had the same bedtime for the next 8 YEARS! Don’t underestimate how important a good night of sleep is for you!
3. What baby gear is most practical when caring for multiple babies? Which items can moms do without?
Try to limit the toys and accessories you buy, particularly those that can’t be folded up and put away at the end of the day (like the exersaucer). And, you certainly don’t need two of everything.
4. What was your greatest challenge in raising multiple babies?When the babies cry at the same time, it can be a little stressful. My strategy was to soothe the baby that could be calmed the fastest while letting the other baby cry.
5. What are some of the advantages in having multiples?
In some ways, it’s actually easier! If you get them on a schedule then your babies will always nap at the same time, eat at the same time, take classes at the same time, and go to sleep at the same time. This allows you to have down time during naps and bedtime. Also, your child always has a built in playmate that’s at the same developmental age.
6. What advice would you share with first-time parents expecting multiples?
Get the babies on a schedule ASAP!! The first three months are an endurance test no matter whether you have one baby or more. It gets enjoyable once they’re sleeping through the night (see my answer to Question 2), and that should happen within the first 6 months depending on the size of your babies. The most important thing to remember though is to savor every minute. It goes by SO fast!!
Last Tuesday, at 6:45 AM, my house descended into chaos. It was game day for my soccer-playing son, and on game days, athletes need to wear khaki pants to school. As it happened, the same pants that had fit just three weeks before were way too short. And if you have a teenager, you’ll understand that somehow, this was all my fault! I half heartedly tried to convince him that the pants were fine, since he didn’t have a choice other than to wear them, until I remembered the box of hand me downs from his cousin at the top of his closet. Disaster was averted, as I pulled out a pair of khaki pants in just the right size. Lesson learned…if you have a teenage son, always have the next size ready to go just in case you’re faced with a rapid growth spurt, as I was that morning.
When you’re super organized, hand me downs can be a blessing. You can save a ton of money and avoid buying the items that are worn infrequently. On the other hand, if you’re the type that is likely to forget what you have only to realize your child outgrew the beautiful, almost new clothes a friend gave you before you remembered where they were, the hand me downs are a curse. In this case, they just take up space, are stored for years, and then frustrate you when you find them. So, if you want to avoid the curse of the hand me downs, here are some simple tips to follow.
Have set times of the year when you pull out the hand me downs to see what fits. The best times to do this are in August before buying new clothes for school, in April before buying new clothes for spring and summer, and in December just as things are getting a bit small.
Only keep things that are in good condition. Sometimes, well-meaning friends who just want the bags out of their own homes, don’t check the quality of what they’re giving. Make sure nothing is torn, stained, or otherwise in disrepair before you store the clothing.
Consider the amount of time you’ll need to save the clothing before it will fit your child. If you only need to store the clothing for a year or two or even three, then by all means take it. But, if you’re looking at holding onto the clothing for many years, be much more discriminating about what you take.
The best hand me downs are the seldom worn blazer, outerwear, and the special occasion dress. Not as worthy…nylon athletic shorts and t-shirts that are relatively inexpensive when new.
Contain and label the hand me downs. For example, use stackable containers with labels like “Winter, Size 4”.
If you need to return the clothing to the giver after your child wears them, think twice. The effort involved here may be too much to justify keeping the clothes.
Growing up as the daughter of a professional organizer has its pros and cons. Since I’m extremely messy, my mom constantly nags me to put my stuff in the right place. Is it easy? No! But, there are definitely advantages to keeping things in order. Here are the tips I learned from the pro (my mom):
1. Put things away. If you leave your new necklace on your night table, you may not be able to find it when you want to wear it. When things aren’t put away, they get lost.
2. Keep similar items together. If you have headphones scattered about your room or the house, you’ll never be able to find them when you need them. You also might keep buying more because you think you don’t have any. Instead, have one place for them.
3. Label everything. That way, there’s never a question about where the tennis outfits belong and whose charger it is.
4. File loose papers. You’ll always know where your homework is and where to find the notes for the test that may be tomorrow.
5. Keep your room clean. When you have stuff all over the counters and the floor, your room can’t be cleaned properly. And living in a pigsty is just gross!