Getting organized on the home front

Being a working mother - the kind with two kids on the soccer team, a husband who tends to work late, and a dishwasher that breaks down frequently - can be a ''tremendous problem'' says Alice Shepard of Creative Organizing Inc. The solution, says this former housewife-turned-businesswoman, is to ''enlist the commitment of your family,'' telling them that ''if you're organized, you'll have more time for the fun things in life.''

''Man was meant to have dominion over the things that creepeth upon the earth ,'' she says with a smile, ''and in this day and age, I know of nothing that creepeth so much as paper and clutter.'' As a consultant to Washington, D.C.-area small businesses and an instructor at two local colleges, she has developed a list of tricks and suggestions designed to ''get it all together on the home front'' for working mothers, full-time homemakers, or anyone who ''anchors the home.'' Here is a sampling of her advice:

* Children. Enlist their help by posting a list of things that need to be done each day and telling them, ''When the chores are through, you can go to the park or read a story or do something just for them.'' Children can do a lot more than adults usually give them credit for, she believes, so ''think through the jobs that need to be done, and break them into smaller parts that the kids can accomplish.'' For example, children can take the laundry to the laundry room, sort it into colors and whites, take clean piles to the appropriate owner, and put away their own pile, she says.

* Husbands. ''People often tell me, 'Oh, he's too old, he'll never change.' But many of the things that need to be changed aren't character traits - they're just bad habits, and habits can be broken.'' Mrs. Shepard advises using small notes attached to the appropriate area (a tag on an out-of-place item saying, ''Does this really need to be here?'' for example) rather than personal confrontation. ''It diffuses the anger,'' she says.

* Errands. Tell your family the days you plan to go to the store, and post a list on which they can put their requests. Then ''refuse to go any other days. It will take two or three weeks for them to get used to your system,'' Mrs. Shepard admits, but eventually family members will learn not to ask you to go to the store each day.

* Calendars and appointments. ''The whole family should work out of one calendar,'' she feels, or else you'll end up making appointments for next Tuesday, the fifth Tuesday in the month, and Nov. 30 - all the same day. Write every commitment on this calendar - even repeated commitments - having your children write in their own Girl Scout meetings and piano lessons.

* Mail. Mrs. Shepard advises having the children sort the mail directly into file folders marked with the names of each family member, plus any other appropriate categories - finances, church, hobbies, and so on. These files can also be used for intrafamily communications, ''so the children can put their notes from school into your folder as soon as they get home.''

* Bills. As these come in, she advises that you ''throw away the envelopes'' and write down the ''payee and amount due'' on the day that it's due. That way, as your paychecks arrive, you can ''look over the calendar and see the big picture, paying the bills that are due first and budgeting for big ones coming up.''

* Tickler files. ''Every home should have 12 file folders, one for each month of the year,'' Mrs. Shepard says, for filing ''theater tickets, car inspection notices, all sorts of things. No one should have to carry unnecessary items around in his memory,'' she says, advising that people let the tickler files do it for them. ''If you put your Christmas decorations away and see that you have 35 bows, put a note in October's file saying, 'Don't buy bows.' You shouldn't have to remember those 35 bows for a whole year.''

* The morning crunch. ''Most people make the mistake of thinking that their day begins in the morning. Actually, the day begins the night before.'' She advises families to get ''as much done as possible'' before they go to bed, and tells of a family she knows with nine children where ''each child is assigned one step on the staircase. Then at bedtime, the children put their schoolbooks, lunches, and permission slips on their own stair.''

* Emergencies. Unplanned problems are an opportunity to ''switch from your daily plan to your ultimate life plan,'' she says, explaining her statement this way: ''If the mailman has a flat tire in front of your house, you can either go off to work or help him out. If your ultimate life plan is to be a kind person, you can take the time to help him, telling yourself that you're still working within the framework of your life's plan, even though it clobbers your daily plan,'' she says.

But if emergencies tend to be chronic - if ''any part of your life is consistently cluttered or late or hard to keep track of'' - she advises that ''you think the situation through and try to discover what's causing it.'' By tracking down the problem's cause, she believes you can easily ''eliminate or change it - and gain dominion.''

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.