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Rule 4: Organize the Everyday Stuff

Aug 8, 2008
Suma Ramachandran is a 34-year-old writer, editor, and trainer living and working in India. She returned to full-time work two years ago after working from home for three years. She is fortunate to have her mother take care of her son when she's at work.

I'm a very organized person at work, but I used to be just the opposite at home. I gave up working full time after my son was born. It was a conscious decision made without any regrets. When my son was about three years old, I began working from home. During this time, I somehow managed to muddle through the everyday housework.

When I went back to work, I didn't transition into the new routine very well. The full load of housework and all the shopping, in addition to nine hours or more at the office, left me dead on my feet. Worse, I wasn't spending any exclusive time with my son! Indian cooking - particularly northern Indian cooking - is labor intensive, which meant I was spending at least an hour in the kitchen every morning and another hour in the evening. So when my five year old wanted me to come and see how his new toy airplane worked ("It's awesome, Mom! You have to see this"), I couldn't because I was slaving over a stove. Just as bad was the fact that I had no "me" time.

One evening, I caught sight of myself in a mirror at a grocery store and gasped. Literally gasped. That reflection in the mirror - an exhausted, sleep deprived, miserable looking, overweight woman was me? I promised myself right then and there that things would change. I needed to deploy my workplace organizational skills at home, pronto! I realized that I had to organize the everyday stuff to save time and do what I wanted and needed to do.

I started to create more detailed to-do lists and decided to plan weekly menus. On Fridays, I made a list of everything I needed for cooking the next 12 meals and made sure that on Saturday, I bought everything I needed down to the last bit of seasoning. Breakfast was a different story altogether because my son won't eat the same thing every day. So I surfed the net and found a dozen recipes - both Indian and Western - that were healthy and could be made without much fuss, or could be made and stored in advance - whole wheat muffins, for instance.

On Sundays, I hang up five-to-six outfits with accessories dumped in the pockets or on the clothes hanger to ease the morning rush. They're not always ironed. Yet, not having to decide, hunt, match and co-ordinate an outfit saves me a lot of time. I'm still not too good at adhering to this, but I try. After all, clothes make the working mom, too!

To keep things uncluttered and orderly, we decided as a family that if we bought anything, we'd have to give something away. So if we buy new clothes or a pair of shoes, we make sure we give away something old. Where this really works is with my son's toys. I think he has too many - extended family is giving him stuff all the time. So now, when he gets a new toy, he has to pick one to give away. He got used to that pretty quickly (and it is a great lesson in generosity).

These three things helped me save, on average, around 6-8 hours a week. Now, every day, I have more time to spend with my son - whether it's watching him take an hour to set up a maze of race car tracks in his room, or bake his favorite cake together, or simply talk to him about his day. Equally important, I have time for myself. I can take a late evening walk, chat with my neighbors (without worrying about what to make for dinner), organize potluck lunches, or take a hobby class. And I still manage to get 'free' time to curl up with a book or indulge in some messy finger painting with my son.
About the Author
Laura Lowell is the executive editor and author of "42 Rules for Working Moms." She has gathered practical advice and information from working moms all over the world to share with others. She lives and works in Silicon Valley with her husband and two girls. http://www.42rules.com/working_moms/index
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