Women are natural caretakers. We take care of husbands, partners, children and pets. We take of aging parents, bosses, employees, and coworkers. We invariably put ourselves on the bottom of the list. Whether we work full time, part time or stay at home, women feel guilty about focusing on our own needs. Yet, without time away from the everyday demands of life, we have less to give to those who need us.
Judd Spodek, President of Sit Happens, and dog trainer extraordinaire has a slogan on his company truck, “We don’t train husbands, wives, or kids.” I can relate; in spite of working with three dog trainers, my dog, Charly, remains anxious and untrained. The reason is simple; while I did everything the trainers instructed, the rest of my family did not. In time, each trainer told me I was wasting my money. Unless everyone was on the same page, the dog wasn’t going to learn. So, “sit” didn’t happen for Charly. [Disclaimer: Judd and I agreed that he wouldn’t be trainer number four until my husband agreed to follow his training protocol].
Organizing works the same way. If you want your home organized, you need the cooperation of your family. Often, one person is extremely motivated to purge and organize (probably the person reading this), but another family member, or every other family member, creates a bottleneck.
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.
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.
After more than a decade of organizing people’s homes and offices, there are certain things that I’ve often wished never existed. The ubiquity of these, and the speed at which I do away with them, has me convinced that the world would truly be a better place if I never saw another one. Sounds harsh, but read on, and I’m sure you’ll agree. Here are my top ten:
Recently, a friend of a friend came to me with the following dilemma: “My husband is a slob. He won’t put anything back where it belongs. Sometimes I think he does it just to bother me. How can I get him to at least make an attempt at being helpful around the house?” My response to her follows:
It’s a challenge to live with someone who doesn’t share your desire for organization. While it’s frustrating that he won’t put anything back where it belongs, you can try to show him the benefits of doing so. For example, he won’t waste time looking for things if they’re in a designated place, he won’t waste money buying things he already has, and life will be less stressful when he’s not wasting time and money. If he recognizes the upside to being organized, he may be more willing to help around the house.
From a practical perspective, your husband can be a slob, but you can confine him to “his” areas of the house. The kitchen, living room, and den are public spaces that need to be kept clean. His closet, dresser, and desk area can be as messy as he’d like. If he leaves his belongings in the public areas of the house, I would drop them in his area, and close the door or drawer. At some point, he may decide that he can’t live with his mess, and make more of an effort.
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.