When I found out I was pregnant with our second child, our first was not quite nine months old. We’d planned to have them close together, but still, I didn’t know the first thing about how to be organized at home with a baby and a toddler. The closer my due date came, the more I freaked out inside and wondered how in the heck I was going to juggle two kids, let alone keep our home somewhere north of total chaos.
Fast forward to today (our second child has turned one), and while some chaos is definitely part of daily life, I’ve learned how to be organized at home with a baby and a toddler and not lose my sanity (most of the time). This post has the best of what I’ve learned to help keep our home organized in these crazy days of poopy diapers and toddler meltdowns.
Quick note: I am a stay-at-home mom, so in writing this post, that’s the perspective I’m coming from, but some tips may definitely apply to working mamas, as well.
The First and Best Piece of Advice: Set Up a Daily Schedule
This can be controversial, but in my personal experience, this has been a total lifesaver. It doesn’t have to be rigid, but having a somewhat predictable schedule lets you know what you can get done during different time blocks during the day. It enables you to take advantage of small windows of time to get things done, even while being in the trenches of raising little ones.
But, you may say, I never know if my baby is going to nap! I never know if my toddler will get sick or somebody will have a blowout diaper or somebody will be teething and the whole day ends up going to pot!
This is absolutely true, and believe me, I’ve had many days that do go to pot. I’ve had many days where I’m still in my pajamas at lunchtime and I’m bouncing a crying little person on my hip wondering where the time went. However, having an ideal schedule in mind and shooting for that as much as I can has allowed me to take full advantage of the days where things don’t go to pot.
So, set yourself up for productive days by setting a daily schedule (I should note here that in the early days after my second child was born, part of my daily schedule was syncing the kids’ afternoon naps so that I got a chance to rest, too. I took a power nap almost every day during that season and did not regret it once. So being “productive” does not necessarily mean rushing around the house getting stuff done; during those intense months, the most productive thing I could do in that afternoon time slot was rest.).
Set Up a Fail-Proof Capture System
I swear kids suck out your brain cells. From pregnancy onward, I’ve found my level of forgetfulness has dramatically increased. I’ve found I need a reliable “capture system” (check out this post by Cal Newport on this concept. While originally directed at college students, it can apply to anyone trying to organize life’s tasks) to make sure things aren’t falling through the cracks.
I’ve used a bullet journal for the last four years and it serves me well. The level of customization that comes with a bullet journal has suited me in varied seasons of life and I think I’ll keep using this system for years to come. However, I’ve found in this season with littles that sometimes even the “rapid logging” style of the bullet journal has not been rapid enough for my needs.
My husband bought me a mini magnetic whiteboard for the refrigerator and I use that thing every single day. When I’m prepping dinner, when I’m in the middle of cleaning, when I’m working at my computer at the kitchen counter, or when I’m holding a sniffly-nosed kiddo, that whiteboard is always where I dump the random stuff that floats through my brain.
If you work outside the home or are on the go a lot, maybe keeping a running note in your phone would work better, but for me, the whiteboard has been magic. Sometimes it holds a quickly-scrawled to-do list for the day, sometimes it has random notes about a phone call I need to make or an upcoming activity, but basically, the whiteboard has been and continues to be my capture point.
From there, stuff goes into my bullet journal on more permanent lists or on my calendar, but with the whiteboard, I know I can write stuff down quickly and it won’t get lost. I come back regularly to review it and deal with everything written on it.
Make Home Organizing Systems as Low Maintenance as Possible
If a system is complicated, we won’t keep using it. When you’re raising small kids, it’s hard to spare energy for a complicated organizing system, right? After all, you’re just trying to keep everybody alive and fed and clothed!
So, here’s a few examples of how I keep our home organizing systems low maintenance.
I Don’t Fold the Kids’ Clothes
Their dresser drawers are categorized, and I just throw the clean clothes in the correct drawers and call it good. I learned this from Dawn, the Minimal Mom. Go and check out her awesome laundry system video.
I Don’t Fuss with Paper Clutter
When the mail comes, I immediately throw unwanted stuff in the recycle bin or I shred it if needed. I don’t touch it twice. For stuff that my husband needs to see, I put it in a magnetic pocket on the side of the fridge that he checks regularly.
If I have mail that needs action (a bill that needs to be paid, a phone call to make, etc.), I put those papers in my magnetic pocket on the fridge, but not before I’ve written it down on my to-do list to make that call or pay that bill. The to-do list item is my reminder, not the piece of paper.
This is how I manage not to lose important pieces of paper in a pile of paper clutter. I also put stuff that needs to be filed in my magnetic pocket, and then regularly clean out the pocket, file what needs to be filed and toss what I no longer need. So far, this system is working great for this season of our lives.
I Streamline Meal Planning, Shopping and Cooking
In the early days after our second child was born, I developed a system that ended up working really well for meal planning, shopping, and cooking. I would meal plan every two weeks, then do a grocery order and pick it up at our local grocery store. Any mid-week stuff we needed my husband would grab while he was out.
I cannot emphasize enough what a game-changer grocery pick-up was for me. To be able to order groceries while the kids napped or after they went to bed and then just pull into a parking spot the next day and have someone load up the back of my van was amazing.
You can even have groceries delivered, of course (I’ve heard good things about Instacart), but I honestly liked the chance to get out of the house (stay-at-home mom here, folks) and I would sometimes get a coffee while we were out and just drive around a little and enjoy a change of scenery. I know. Super exciting, right? 🙂
With cooking, I learned early on it was best to get as much dinner prep done in the morning as I could. My baby would be taking a nap, and my toddler was rested and (usually) in a good mood, and thus, more likely to play independently during that time. Chopping veggies, putting meat in the crock pot and so forth went a long way towards making the late afternoon better and helping me get through the dreaded witching hour.
I will emphasize my meals were not complicated during this time (who am I kidding? They’re still not), but just the simple routine of knowing what we were having for dinner and doing a little prep in the morning went a long way towards making the afternoon better.
Cover the Basics, Then Fill in with More as You’re Able
After the baby was born and we slowly got into a groove as a family, I determined to set a low bar for myself in terms of things I’d get done to keep our home organized each day, but I made it a consistent bar. Get dinner made, throw in one load of laundry, and (maybe) get a basic housekeeping task or two done.
I didn’t tackle organizing projects, I didn’t try to declutter the garage or repaint the bathroom. I stuck to the bare basics and redefined success to match the season of life I was in (I also took instagram off my phone to help stop the comparison game with other moms).
Now, as months have passed and my youngest has turned one and my oldest is two and a half, I find that I’m able to add in extras during the day that I just couldn’t manage in those early months. I’ve started using the Clean Mama routine and love it!
I can now organize a closet or tend a garden (last year’s garden attempt while caring for a brand new baby was a weed-ridden disaster). Like with everything in life, it’s important to remember this intense season with a baby and a toddler is just that; it’s a season. It will get easier over time. Our family is living proof!
This is hard to do, not always because we don’t want help, but because it’s often hard to know how to delegate. However, if you can let your spouse in on how you’re managing tasks and keeping track of to-dos, it can let them know how they can jump in to help you.
Set up a shared calendar. Use Google Keep or something similar to share task lists. This feels like it takes extra time in the moment to let someone else in, but you cannot afford to not have help in this exhausting season.
In similar fashion, if you have relatives or friends who are part of your support network and have offered to help, embrace the offer and use that time they give you to rest or do something which would be difficult to do with your children present. It can make such a tremendous difference in the things you’re able to accomplish. I am truly thankful for these people in our life. It has made what could’ve been a really difficult year so much easier.
Conclusion: What is the Point of Being Organized at Home with a Baby and a Toddler?
In short, it is to conserve your energy as much as possible. In these draining days, energy is your most precious resource. Don’t spend it looking for stray bills or folding twenty-five onesies or staying up late scrubbing the tile grout in the shower with a toothbrush.
Spend your energy loving on your babies, rocking them at night, chasing them around the playground and exploring the world with them. This can be easier said than done, because for someone who likes to have their ducks in a row like me, I have definitely struggled with putting aside the need to “do more” in order to spend quality time with my children.
But we never get this time back, right? So why not learn how to be organized at home with a baby and a toddler so you can focus on truly cherishing this fleeting season and having wonderful memories to look back on for years to come?