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Tricky stuff

Managing a Busy Family

Get ready to inject some organisation into your busy family life with mum-of-three Alana Kirk Gillham’s tried and tested device.

Children have the ability to make an amateur out of the most competent adult. I used to be in charge of multi-million euro budgets, multiple teams of people, and multiple deadlines that required multiple organisational skills.
But now that I’m a parent of multiple children, I can sometimes barely get them to school with the right clothes, bags, and after-school activity equipment without feeling like I need a week in rehab to deal with exhaustion. So I needed to go back to my comfort zone of colour-coded pens, and bring a little planning into parenting. Managing the daily life of a family and household successfully requires basic organisational skills.

Organising the Family

1. Annual planners
When you are managing the lives of several people, a family planner or calendar is essential. And get those colour pens out – colour coding makes it all the more readable, especially if you have more than one child.

There are any number of large 12-month planners you can get that can be put up in the kitchen where you can highlight family holidays, school days off, work conferences, family visits, due health and dental checkups, and other important dates. Most come with coloured stickers so you can highlight birthdays and key events. Getting a look at the year as a whole allows you to plan ahead, and to see when times are frenetic and when you need to build in a quiet weekend occasionally.

2. Week to week calendars
Between work meetings and kids’ social lives and school activities, no two weeks can look the same.
For the nitty gritty of each week, whether you use your smartphone, a seven-day chalk board, a wall calendar or an Excel spreadsheet, it’s a good idea to just plot every activity down for the week ahead so you can see what needs to be organised. It also gives you the chance to see opportunities for either some ‘me’ time or plan some one-on-one time with a child if the others are occupied. I use a wall calendar that has a perspex cover sheet that has each person’s name and PE days and regular afterschool activities marked on it. It sits over each new week page, where I can add that week’s particular actions, playdates, birthday parties, and work appointments etc. (www.organised-mum.co.uk)
Five minutes on a Sunday night looking at the week ahead allows you to take the stress out of each day, as well as plan for the fun times too.

3. Routine sheets
Planning ahead and establishing routines can take the stress out of every day living. If breakfast time is a high-trigger point for example, then prepare as much in advance to take the manic out of morning. Make the school lunches and set the breakfast table the night before, and as you put the kids to bed, leave out their clothes for the morning.
Print out routine sheets for the children with the key activities – with pictures for the pre-schoolers and pictures and text for the older – outlining the basic steps to getting ready – clothes, hair, breakfast, teeth, coats. You know it’s simple, but sometimes children need a little visual encouragement.

managing a busy family

4. Organising the house
Let’s face it. Once children enter your house, your home will rarely look clean and tidy again – it’s now all about damage limitation. There are some simple little tricks you can introduce to limit the time and effort spent sorting, tidying, cleaning, standing in the middle of a room with a toy in hand wondering where on earth it can go.

5. Boxes
Buy a large wicker box and place it by the front door for shoes. Whole long days can be lost looking for long lost shoe. Children’s bedrooms are made of the same stuff as the Bermuda Triangle – things mysteriously disappear, so never allow shoes, brushes, coats, (or your purse or car keys) to cross the threshold!
Boxes are good for all kinds of things. Keep a box in the main rooms for all toys to be thrown into at the end of the day. Depending on the age of the kids – you can either put away the toys with them another time, or hand the box to a reasonably capable child and ask them to put away. As toys accumulate, make sure they all have a home – a box for lego, a box for play dough, a box or shelf for jigsaws.

Which leads neatly to the next point.

6. Everything has a place.
This is taught as a core rule from the earliest age at Montessori, and maintained at school so make sure it also applies at home. If everything has a specific place (the scissors in the holder in the kitchen, the Sellotape in the desk drawer, shoes in the box, coats on the peg, etc) then it has a place to be put back in. As they grow up, children should learn to put things back where they belong, and if there is a place for it to go, there is no excuse to leaving it on the floor.

7. Less is more
Kids accumulate ‘stuff’ faster than our houses gather dust. There are a couple of ways to manage the infestation before your house starts looking like a plastic landfill site. Keep a selection of toys and books packed away, and every few weeks or months rotate them with ones that have been used recently. It allows children to get new energy from old toys, and keeps the clutter down. Keep the clutter down by recycling and throwing out broken toys every few months.

More you might like:

Beginners guide to gardening with kids
The truth about family holidays
Choosing a family pet

ASK JESSICA

Q. I’m would like to start an exercise programme that will benefit my emotional health as much as my physical health, but I don’t know which type of class would be best. Should I consider choosing from yoga, pilates, tai chi, or could you recommend a class, please?

A It’s great that you have decided to get into exercise. The benefits to you are going to be great. You’ll sleep better, have more energy, better skin, reduced stressed, not to mention all the amazing physical benefits of your clothes fitting better, and looking healthy, trim and toned! My advice to you would be to try them all. Even if some don’t offer pay-as-you-go sessions, if you get in touch directly with the instructor, they will almost always let you try it out first to see if it’s for you. All of the above things that you mentioned are great for mental health, so it really will be a personal preference as to which you go for. On top of the classes you mention, all forms of exercise will give you great mental rewards so consider the not so obvious interval training sessions, bootcamp, and circuits too, as you will also feel on top of the world after a class like that.

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ASK JESSICA

Q. I’m would like to start an exercise programme that will benefit my emotional health as much as my physical health, but I don’t know which type of class would be best. Should I consider choosing from yoga, pilates, tai chi, or could you recommend a class, please?

A It’s great that you have decided to get into exercise. The benefits to you are going to be great. You’ll sleep better, have more energy, better skin, reduced stressed, not to mention all the amazing physical benefits of your clothes fitting better, and looking healthy, trim and toned! My advice to you would be to try them all. Even if some don’t offer pay-as-you-go sessions, if you get in touch directly with the instructor, they will almost always let you try it out first to see if it’s for you. All of the above things that you mentioned are great for mental health, so it really will be a personal preference as to which you go for. On top of the classes you mention, all forms of exercise will give you great mental rewards so consider the not so obvious interval training sessions, bootcamp, and circuits too, as you will also feel on top of the world after a class like that.