6 secrets of organized moms
4. They delegate the tasks they don't have time (or don't want) to do.
Ellen Epstein of Chevy Chase, Maryland, never enjoyed grocery shopping. So when her five children were little, she joined forces with a neighbor to pay a teenage boy to do it for them. "I decided to pay for the shopping rather than the babysitting," she says.
Even better, you can pay your own kids to do the chores. Let's face it: Child labor is cheap. Jayne Jones, a Piermont, New Hampshire, mom with six children under 12, gives hers 50 cents for every basket of laundry they fold. All of them can do it except the youngest, who's just 20 months.
And you're not a bad mother if you drop off your family's clothing at the local Laundromat, which in most cities will wash it for less than $1 per pound. But you don't always have to pay for services rendered. You can get -- okay, bribe -- your kids to make their own lunches by telling them that if they do, they can pack whatever they want (that you have around the house). Or let them spend an extra half hour on the computer if they put their toys away first.
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Taking advantage of free delivery service can also save you from endless errands. Many supermarkets will drop off your groceries at your house. Websites like Netflix.com will send DVD rentals straight to your door. And many health care providers offer a mail-order prescription service.
5. They don't stress over what's for dinner.
Who says you have to make every meal from scratch? With the proliferation of fresh, ready-to-serve entrées and healthy frozen foods in supermarkets these days, there's no reason to slave over the stove every night. "I don't cook," says Andre. "There's a health-food section at our local grocery, so that's what we eat. I think there's a time and a season for you to do everything you want in life. I'll cook in the next decade."
Don't be afraid to upend the traditional family dinner to suit your hectic lifestyle. If you feel like you spend entire afternoons shooing your children away from snacks, why not move mealtime up, as Epstein did. "I had dinner ready when the kids came home from school," she remembers. "Then they ate dessert with their dad when he came home." Or throw together simpler sorts of meals. Sandwiches and soup are a fine substitute for meat and potatoes; bacon and eggs can be prepared in one skillet, and your kids will love the novelty of having "morning food" at night.
If you can plan ahead, you're ahead, too. "I make a grocery list and menu every two weeks," says Jones. "And what I cook one night turns into the next night's meal." Baked chicken extras show up in soup; a double batch of spaghetti sauce is reborn as pizza sauce. This strategy saves her prep time, gives her menu ideas, and makes great use of leftovers.
6. They know what's important to their family -- and ignore the rest.
With six children under the age of 13, Trunk doesn't have a lot of time to worry about what the neighbors think. So unless they're in serious danger, she tries to let her kids make their own decisions. "Whether they have their coats on is irrelevant to me," she says. "I know they'll put them on when they get cold. If I ask, and they say they're comfortable, I don't care." What's paramount for her, she says, is that "I want to raise future adults, not children. That meant I needed to stop thinking for my kids and let them do it themselves."
The ability to run your family according to your own specific values is absolutely essential, says Ellen Epstein. "I think a lot of very successful people are insecure parents. They think, 'Everyone else is doing it this way, I should, too.'" But you can spend your whole life second-guessing yourself. "I don't care what works for your neighbor -- if it doesn't work for you, you shouldn't do it."
Knowing your own parenting priorities also frees you to cut corners without guilt or embarrassment. Trunk, for instance, doesn't hand out goody bags at her children's birthday parties. Melissa Weber, a Chicago mother of two sets of twins, ages 3 and 6, and a ceramic artist, doesn't do many playdates. "Their siblings are built-in company," she says. "My only goal is to be able to do my work and be with them."
Angie Gerrard has flouted neighborhood trends by having small celebrations for her toddler's birthday. "I want to celebrate my kid like nobody else, but a big party wouldn't make him happy," she says. "Last year, we baked him a cake shaped like a football and had the best time. You can't make everything important or you'll never feel like you did anything well. I just try to do what's best for my child and me. That's been the key to efficiency."
Barbara Rowley, a mom of two, is a contributing editor at Parenting.
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