Organizing Tips from an Unorganized Person

A friend recently asked me to share tips on how to organize all the papers and medical information for my children.  I am by no means an expert on organizing, in fact I am naturally a very unorganized person.  But when you are a mom, especially to five little people, you have to learn a few tricks to keep the house running.  Here are a few things our family does to maintain our sanity.

Go Through School Papers Immediately
When the kids come home from school, we have a daily routine.  They empty out their bags and place the contents on the kitchen table.  Then they go wash their hands and sit down to the table to have a snack.  While they are munching and talking about their day, I go through their school stuff.  The large majority of items go immediately in the recycling bin.  If there is something that needs to be returned to school, then I take that moment to fill it out or write the check or whatever is required.  If I wait, historically, it does not get done.  There are a FEW choice pieces of art work or tests or papers that do not go immediately in the recycling.  Those then go here.  

When new items need to be hung on the wall, the old ones come down.  A FEW are saved in each child's "saving bin".  I have high hopes of photographing these saved treasures and making a digital album for each of my children.  But until that magical day comes, they are safe in their bins.

I do not hide the fact that I am throwing away their papers.  Each child has gone through a season where this information was very upsetting to them.  However it provided a wonderful opportunity to teach them about hoarding and drowning in papers.  If we saved every paper from every one of our children we would not be able to move in our house.  They are allowed to look through their saving bins with me and they enjoy seeing the things that I have held onto.  This activity is doable because I have not saved every thing they have ever drawn.

Shoes, Shoes and more Shoes
The shoes along with coats and hats and gloves need a game plan.  Each person is allowed one of each type of coat.  For example, one winter snow coat, one fleece, one raincoat, etc.  Each child is also giving one bin to hold their shoes and one bin for their gloves and hats.  If it doesn't all fit in the bin then it is time to give some things away.

Personal Craft Bins
This cubby cube shelf is from IKEA.  We have two of them in our house and I LOVE them.  Our new house actually came with another one, but my hubby is in the process of redesigning it to use for a desk.  We decided three of these in one house was probably too much.  Anyway, this one is used to organize the children's craft stuff.  The row second from the top is each child's personal box, we call them "school boxes".  In this box they can place crafts that they are working on, journals, special pens or anything else that they would like to claim as being theirs.  Everything else in the house is communal.  Each box also has a folder and/or binder of supplemental educational activities specific to each child.  Again, if the box is full then some things have to be removed.

Medical Information
One of our daughters has multiple medical issues and special needs.  These require us to have a team of twelve specialists that we regularly visit.  That is A LOT of information to keep track of.  I keep a large binder that contains a 3 ring binder that zips up and an accordion style folder system in front.  Kind of like this one.

This way I can keep all her tests and reports from both medical specialists and the school all in one place.  It is great to have it all together in an easy grab and go option for appointments.

Give Up the Purse
This past year I came to the conclusion that as a mom of five kids on the go I needed more than a purse.  I needed traveling organizational system.  I needed something I could put papers in and they would not become ripped and wet and lost by the time I got home.  Enter in the Messenger Bag.  The compartment designed to carry a laptop instead carries my day planner and a folder where I can put papers.  Also a small zipper pouch on the outside flap for easy access to my keys.  And the key ingredient... buckles that my crazy toddler cannot undo.

Colored Towels
Each child has a specific towel color that belongs only to them.  We also use these colors for other things as well.  So for example one child's family color is blue and that will be his color for all time. 

Colored Pens
I am very old school.  I like to have a paper day planner that I can write in with an actual pen.  My favorite planner is this one.  Something with a monthly calendar with large enough blocks to write multiple things in and then weekly with lots of space.  But the key to keeping track of seven people's schedules on the same calendar are these pens.  Each family member is a different color.  So I  never have to write anyone's name on my day planner.  I live by these pens.  Besides the day planner, I also carry a medium size spiral notebook.  I write my meal plan, my grocery list, my notes from each doctor visit, things I want to look up and ideas that I want to capture while we are on the go.

Naming Our Children
Yes, I said naming our children.  Every child's name begins with a different letter.  If you hope to have a large family I highly recommend considering this option when naming your children.  Labeling things becomes so much easier when all you have to do is write the first letter.

Less is More
The more stuff your children have, the more there is to clean and sort and organize.  We regularly go through our home to purge and give things away.  If something is not being used then it will serve a much bigger purpose in the hands of someone who will use that item.  We started this when our children were very young and include them in the sorting.  It is a great teaching opportunity about the value of living simply and giving more.  We just moved into a larger space and many people keep telling us that we will soon fill it up with stuff.  I have determined for that not to happen and hope that continued regular clean outs will keep us on track.

I would love to hear how you keep your teams organized!

Update:  A friend and mama to many shared a great idea with me to help with the laundry.  Give each child their own hamper for dirty clothes.  Then there is no sorting involved with the laundry.  In the washer, then the dryer and then put away.  And I would add, get your children involved early and let them be independent with their laundry to their ability level.  It will not be put away like you would have done it but take a deep breath and enjoy a few extra minutes to focus on something else.

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