Our featured client this month is Samantha, the mother of three young children and the matriarch of a large extended family. This hostess extraordinaire often cooks for 30 family members and friends to celebrate Shabbat each weekend. In addition, Samantha maintains toys for every possible age group to ensure that even the youngest guest has appropriate entertainment. Over time, though, her home has become the self declared “weigh station” for toys, clothing, books, cookware, and furniture for relatives and friends with younger children, ones who have yet to have children, and even those who are not yet married.
Like many women who hire us, Samantha’s organizational skills are the envy of her friends (“why do you need an organizer,” is a popular refrain she hears). Yet, Samantha felt that she needed expert advise in how to streamline her life to entertain and function at a higher level. She knew it was time to take back her home – it could no longer be a proverbial ‘candy store’ for children and adults alike – and she needed our help.
Like most of my projects, this one started with a phone call. There was a townhouse and two dads, two kids, two dogs, and way too much stuff. Could we help? Of course.
At the first appointment, we met Bill and Alvarro, two busy dads at their home in Brooklyn Heights which was beautifully decorated yet warm and child friendly. From the basement to the office on the top floor, we could see the evidence of a well lived life. Gifts, souvenirs from travel, photos, school projects, and books could be found in boxes and piles throughout the house. Bill and Alvarro craved better organization so that they could live with less clutter and less stress. After a walk through of the house, we made a plan: we would meet once a week, and tackle one room at a time, starting in the kitchen.
About a year ago, a friend asked if I would consider doing a project pro bono; Lisa Meshulam, a single mother of triplets, desperately needed help with organization of her one bedroom apartment. I was intrigued.
When I saw the apartment, it was piled floor to ceiling with storage boxes on wire racks. Cube furniture was filled with bins, books, and papers. Children’s drawings and photos were taped to the walls, and the kitchen counters overflowed with food that didn’t fit in the pantry. Lisa slept in a bed in the corner of the living room, sacrificing her privacy so the boys could share the single bedroom. While the boys’ room was cleverly outfitted with two bunk beds, it was overrun with clutter. Clothing spilled out of empty cubes and onto the floor.
I immediately agreed to help and started by enlisting ClosetMaid as a sponsor. Then, I assembled my team of organizers, and began operation organize.
I am fortunate to have a mother turning 80 this year who is beautiful, smart, and active in her community. When we decided she should have a party to celebrate this milestone birthday, our first decision was where it should be. Our second was what kind of invitation we would send.
My mother, remarkably, had never received an evite. It seems that many in her generation still order paper invitations, addressing them by hand, and adhering stamps to each envelope before dropping them in the mail. When I explained the concept of an evite to her, she was incredulous. To her, the concept was almost magical.
Deadly flooding, devastating hurricanes, and raging wild fires – never in my memory have so many natural disasters occurred in such a short period of time. News reports talk about the loss of lives, loss of homes, and loss of financial security for those impacted, and even weeks later, for some, the unavailability of basic needs like water and sanitary supplies is still an issue. Yet, even with such unthinkable loss, the victims are equally saddened by the loss of sentimental items held so dear.
People sometimes facetiously consider what they would grab if there were a fire or an immediate need to leave their home. Yet, in a true emergency, when these questions are no longer hypothetical, an emotional paralysis ensues. Your child has 50 “special” stuffed animals. You have 30 “special” sweaters, and no idea where your important papers are stored, or, even what would be considered important. Your home is overflowing with so many “special” items that, in the end, nothing is special.
Recently, a friend of a friend came to me with the following dilemma: “My husband is a slob. He won’t put anything back where it belongs. Sometimes I think he does it just to bother me. How can I get him to at least make an attempt at being helpful around the house?” My response to her follows:
It’s a challenge to live with someone who doesn’t share your desire for organization. While it’s frustrating that he won’t put anything back where it belongs, you can try to show him the benefits of doing so. For example, he won’t waste time looking for things if they’re in a designated place, he won’t waste money buying things he already has, and life will be less stressful when he’s not wasting time and money. If he recognizes the upside to being organized, he may be more willing to help around the house.
From a practical perspective, your husband can be a slob, but you can confine him to “his” areas of the house. The kitchen, living room, and den are public spaces that need to be kept clean. His closet, dresser, and desk area can be as messy as he’d like. If he leaves his belongings in the public areas of the house, I would drop them in his area, and close the door or drawer. At some point, he may decide that he can’t live with his mess, and make more of an effort.
What does every mom REALLY want for mother’s day? It’s not breakfast in bed, it’s not flowers, and it’s not a new kitchen appliance. What she really wants is more time, more hours in the day, and the feeling, at least for a few minutes, of being caught up. Caught up with all of the emails, endless forms that need to be filled out, loads of laundry, and to do lists. Caught up with her friends and what’s going on in their lives, and caught up with herself. That is what would make her happy.
As the mother of twin teenagers, the baby and toddler years are a distant, but precious memory. Yet, here are some specific questions I’m often asked about managing multiples.
1. What is the greatest misconception for managing multiple births?
People think that it’s so much more difficult than managing one baby. If you get your babies on a schedule, it’s actually easier than having children that are different ages.
2. How can moms be best prepared for the arrival of twins/multiples?
Read the book about sleep training BEFORE the babies arrive! Whether you subscribe to Ferber or Weisbluth, what’s important is that you have a plan and you’re prepared to implement it. I sleep trained my twins at 3 months, and they had the same bedtime for the next 8 YEARS! Don’t underestimate how important a good night of sleep is for you!
3. What baby gear is most practical when caring for multiple babies? Which items can moms do without?
Try to limit the toys and accessories you buy, particularly those that can’t be folded up and put away at the end of the day (like the exersaucer). And, you certainly don’t need two of everything.
4. What was your greatest challenge in raising multiple babies?When the babies cry at the same time, it can be a little stressful. My strategy was to soothe the baby that could be calmed the fastest while letting the other baby cry.
5. What are some of the advantages in having multiples?
In some ways, it’s actually easier! If you get them on a schedule then your babies will always nap at the same time, eat at the same time, take classes at the same time, and go to sleep at the same time. This allows you to have down time during naps and bedtime. Also, your child always has a built in playmate that’s at the same developmental age.
6. What advice would you share with first-time parents expecting multiples?
Get the babies on a schedule ASAP!! The first three months are an endurance test no matter whether you have one baby or more. It gets enjoyable once they’re sleeping through the night (see my answer to Question 2), and that should happen within the first 6 months depending on the size of your babies. The most important thing to remember though is to savor every minute. It goes by SO fast!!
Yes…I got a dog. I swore I would never get a dog because we all know what happens when your children/ husband/significant other promises to walk and feed the dog. I didn’t have time to take care of a dog. I also don’t do anything unless it’s well planned and researched. My life is predictable. And then we got Charly.
It was the day after Hurricane Sandy struck, and my family was lucky enough to be unaffected. In fact, we were all getting a little stir crazy. So, my husband decided to take our children for a walk to the bookstore. When the bookstore was closed, they ended up at a local pet store, and that’s when the unexpected happened.
My husband called to see if I wanted to meet at the pet store. I don’t know why I said yes, since I clearly wasn’t getting a dog. Yet, thirty minutes later, I was at the pet store. My husband pointed out one dog whose eyes followed him wherever he went. She was a small white, fluffy Havanese. When we held her, we could tell she was skittish. At 5 months old, she had missed important socialization milestones by being in a pet store cage for so long. But, sometimes, the dog chooses you, and this dog had chosen my husband. He couldn’t turn away from her. And then, they both looked at me. I said, “Do what you want, but remember this is ‘your’ dog.” He was so surprised that I didn’t say no, that things started happening at warp speed. She was named (Charly), and all the things Charly would “need” were heaped on the counter: safety gates, a dog bed, a dog carrier, grooming supplies, food, bones, and toys. Meanwhile, I was getting heart palpitations as I wondered where I would store everything.
It felt surreal when we got back to our house with a puppy in tow. It was decided that she would be gated in the kitchen, so that was where I would store her gear. I designated one place for Charly’s leash, collar, wipes, and small toys and another place for Charly’s food and snacks. We placed her crate in the kitchen along with her “wee wee pads”. And then, we began to get to know each other. Now, two months later, we are all madly in love with Charly. My husband comes home from work to have lunch with her. My children can’t wait to walk in the door after a long day to see how excited she is to see them. And, I spend hours a day grooming and talking to her (strangely therapeutic). She sits under my desk at night and naps while I work, and I can’t imagine life without her. So, if you’re thinking about getting a dog, I couldn’t recommend it more. But learn from my experience and consider these helpful tips before bringing any pet home.
Determine which parts of your home the pet will be able to access. Will you need a gate or gates to confine the pet to certain areas? Where will the pet sleep? Will s/he need a bed or a crate? Where will the bed or crate be placed?
Where will you store pet supplies? For a dog, you’ll need a leash and waste bags which should be kept near the door. You’ll also need grooming supplies, and toys. Store these where you’ll use them.
Pet proof your home. Get on your hands and knees and look for things that could be dangerous if your pet chewed or swallowed them (e.g., computer wires or cords, electronic items). You may need to install child safety locks on low cabinets to make sure your pet can’t get to what’s inside. Also take note of any window treatments with log cords or tassels that could become strangulation hazards.
Corral toys in a baskets or bins in various rooms of your house. Then, you can quickly put them away (or train your pet to put them away) when guests are visiting.
Determine where you’ll keep your pet’s food and water. Consider purchasing a non-slide mat to keep spills to a minimum.
Create a file for your pet that includes important information such as vaccinations, health record, microchip information, license, and pedigree.
Just like babies, pets thrive on routine. Figure out when it makes sense to feed and exercise the pet and who will be responsible. Negotiate all of this before bringing the pet home.
Add all important vaccinations and medication schedules to your master calendar.
Have a plan in place for when you’ll be out of town. Is there someone who can come to your home to care for your pet? Will s/he need to be boarded? Where will that be?
A pet can make your life so much richer, so enjoy every minute!