When my kids were little, it seemed like there was never enough time to get organized and keep the house neat. We were just happy to get them on the bus in time with clean underwear and a lunch! The truth is, you will not have enough time until they move out. So for now, get organized just enough to reduce the chaos, so that the basics are met and the stress kept to a minimum.

Until your kids can operate the washing machine, laundry will probably be on you. I got lucky early on (when they were 15?) and did it “wrong” so my kids took over doing their own – how great is that?! But if you’re in the family laundry business, then it pays to figure out a system for keeping the laundry piles to a minimum. This might mean you do a load every day. Even if you don’t get to fold and put away, at least you have what you need clean anyway and ready to go. I highly recommend getting the sports gear in the wash after that day’s game. As far as the rest goes, try to have 10 or more pairs of underpants per kid, so you can get through the school week without running out. When things start to get ugly and raggedy, throw them out and order more. This also goes for any clothing your kids have outgrown. Sometime people save clothes for the next kid, but that may be a 6 year gap. Will that work for you? If you have time to pack and room to store, then go ahead. Mark the boxes with the season and sizes (winter size 6-8) and do save winter jackets and dressy clothes if they’re in good shape. However I’m not sure its worth saving t-shirts and those things that get a lot of wear.

As for toys and books, try to keep them to a manageable amount and set yourselves up with good storage. Bookshelves of course and containers like baskets for the toys. We used to separate by categories like dinosaurs and action figures in their own baskets, and then one for trucks and cars. These can also be stacking baskets, if you don’t have enough shelf room. Dolls, stuffed animals and Legos may need special storage. If the kids want to keep toys in the family areas, then make sure that the toy storage is accessible and easy for the kids to put things away. Keep the floors cleared, as much as possible, especially so that it’s easier to vacuum on a regular basis. When it comes to birthday presents and special occasion, ask your parents to not go crazy and consult you about what’s appropriate for each child. Some toys have greater play value than others- choose wisely. Also, Grandma should not show up every week with another goody under her arm. If your mother can’t help herself, then maybe you can limit her to gummy bears or something small.

Children also find a mountain of toys overwhelming, so we need to teach them how to manage their belongings. They can help sort out the toys they have outgrown and give to charity. This can inspire them to be discerning and generous. Remember, we are trying to raise good citizens who are responsible and caring; this will help. At other times, it’s also ok for the parents to weed out old toys, if that’s more expeditious. Pick your battles, when necessary.

In the big picture, no one will care how messy your house is as much as you, except maybe your mother-in-law! I used to call this the big clean and it can take a couple of days, so pace yourself. For the most part, organizing the family can be on terms that work for you. Juggling work, home and kids can be exhausting, so figure out your lowest level of clutter you can tolerate and make peace with that. Happy healthy kids is the goal as well as happy healthy parents and sometimes it’s ok to put yourself and your home in timeout, if you need it. After that-happy organizing!