Monday, June 21, 2010

planning for chaos

Oh my goodness, buckle up ya'll. I'm going to actually do something besides post pictures!

I've been struggling quite a bit to get back on a routine here after Henry's birth. I realized when Tess was born that I had crossed some kind of threshold. It had officially become more work to catch up than it was to put whatever effort was needed to stay caught up in the first place...even if that meant staying up extra late or waking up extra early, even if it meant pushing to motivate myself past not feeling well, whatever it took, it was worth the push to stay caught up on housework...meals, laundry, cleaning, paperwork, etc. That doesn't mean I was always disciplined enough to *do* it. But the knowledge helped.

Now I've crossed another threshold. There *is* no ability to catch up. I can only go forward. There is no extra time in the day to catch up on a giant heap of laundry, or a couple of hours in the day to devote to cleaning or paying bills. It just doesn't exist. This has left me struggling a bit. But then I had a breakthrough. It came in the form of another mom's comment about how she makes well-laid plans for staying caught up on everything only to be constantly waylaid by different out of the ordinary events...that out of the ordinary events had become so frequent that she was constantly starting back at square one. I could have written the same comment. The only constant around here is inconsistency. Let's face it, there just are going to be times when I will fall behind. Even if I were perfectly disciplined (snort), there are still circumstances out of my control, and the chances of those circumstances grows with each additional child...illnesses, cranky teething little people who want to be held all day, activities and appointments that make our schedule nutso, etc. So, my new solution has been to plan for the unplanned. I've taken each area that tends to fall into chaos and made plans for the chaos. Am I making any sense at all? Let's give some examples, ....

Cooking and meal planning is a big one. I'm a big meal planner. I like to cook, and I'm married to a man who absolutely will not do cereal for dinner. And so before every payday, I sit down with my recipes and my planner. I plan out meals for the next two weeks and make a huge grocery list. It works well probably 85% of the time. And then there are the days that we get home late and I don't have time to fix dinner. Or the days I was supposed to put dinner in the crockpot in the morning but I forgot and now it's 5 o'clock. Or the days I find out someone ate some key ingredient. Or the days a cranky baby keeps sabotaging my efforts. Or the days I just plain don't feel like cooking what I had planned and wish I had an easy way out. And so I would have to improvise something not so great, or we would eat far too late and mess up the whole evening routine, or we would make a $30 Taco Bell run. Each time I would chastise myself to be more organized and vow that it wouldn't happen again. Of course, it would. So, I decided to plan for that particular chaos.

These are my emergency rations. I made five of these bags up and put them in that high, impossible to get into cabinet above the stove. Each bag contains the ingredients to make a meal, more or less. A couple of the meals have a component in the freezer. But none of them call for fresh ingredients. This is important. I don't want any of them to require something I might not have on hand. This particular bag contains the fixings for The Simplest Black Beans and Rice Ever...a bag of instant brown rice, a can of black beans, a jar of salsa, and a couple of packs of cornbread mix. I don't usually use instant rice, or cornbread mix, but the idea is convenience here. If there's time, I can dress it up with other things I might have on hand...saute some onions and/or peppers, put some shredded cheese and sour cream on the side. But if I don't have any of those things, I'm still good to go.

Here's one more example...laundry chaos. My main thought behind laundry and cleaning is that I need to be able to jump in and catch back up easily when we get behind. Let's say you have a new baby...and family comes to visit...and you spend a week spending all of your free time cleaning for the arrival of in-laws...and when they leave, all the dirty laundry hampers are overflowing. So, in the past, with my old system (yes, for seven people, you need a system) I would have had to spend most of an entire day "catching up". This is no longer possible. So I had to change our system to allow me to jump in easily and catch up painlessly.
Here's how our laundry process normally works. Every night before bed, everyone brings me the dirty laundry hampers and dumps them on the floor in front of the washing machine. That night I start a load in the wash. In the morning I start another. This might be enough if I'm otherwise caught up. After breakfast I will hang laundry out to dry or run it through the drier. After lunch I will fold any dry laundry waiting for folding (usually this is what was out hanging the day before) and put it away. Before dinner I will go out and get anything out on the line and bring it in to be folded the next day. Each step only takes a short time, laundry stays caught up, and all is good with the world. But even in the above in-law scenario, it works. When the kids bring me all the dirty laundry, I just have a much bigger pile. And instead of hanging, I'll definitely be using the drier. When it's my post-lunch folding time, I might be looking at a clean laundry pile like this...

...impressive, yes? And so instead of folding, I'll sort the clothing into baskets, like this.... for Tess and Henry, one for John and I, one for Maria, one for Kain and Jack, one for linens. Maria will be given her own laundry to put away. And that, barring some windfall of extra time during the day, will probably be it for the day. But so far, everything is cleaned, or at least a good bit of it, and sorted so that at least things can be found. That evening, I can pick back up where I left off, having the kids bring me that days dirty laundry again, and washing/hanging/etc. in the morning. When laundry folding time rolls around again, I still have that collection of sorted laundry waiting. I pick the ugliest looking one (in the picture above, that would be the boys' basket) and fold and put away. I do the same thing the following day, and within a few days all the folding is caught up again as well.

Is this tedious? I'm sorry. Ah well. I find it interesting to see how others manage. It's a juggling act around here, for sure. I'm always looking for ideas to improve things. I always kept waiting for this magical day to arrive when I would be so perfectly organized that I would never fall behind again. That day isn't coming. Accepting the fact that I will get behind and having contingency plans has been a big help, and it's much more encouraging than my previous "work like a dog and be irritable and nasty to everyone because I keep beating us all up for getting behind again" methods. Other areas that have chaos plans? Paperwork, school planning, and housecleaning.


Carla said...

I am also always interested in how others organize/handle the chaos of everyday life! I really liked the idea of emergency meals "in a bag" - I will make my own soon when our kitchen renovation is complete (23 days and we are about 65% done)! How is Henry's weight gain going??

entropy said...

Accepting that it's never really done is the tough part for me.

Love your emergency meals. Putting them in a separate place is a great idea to keep the ingredients from being swiped for something else. I may have to try that!

Laundry. Ugh. I find myself putting off folding laundry for an unreasonable amount of time and then finally give in and do it and it really doesn't take that long I just have a mental block about getting it done!

Great planning for chaos!

Erin said...

I love reading about how others handle trying to stay on top of things around the house... for me, I fold laundry (or hang wet, clean laundry) while the kids are playing outside. They are still too small to play out there unsupervised, so I just take the laundry baskets out there with me. Putting it away is another story...

I love the easy meals idea!!