Mission #1: Home neat home
The plan: Clear the clutter in your house by April 1.
The tools: When you're overwhelmed by all the stuff in your home, it can be tempting to load up on totes, baskets and other doodads to help you get organized. But cleaning up starts with clearing the clutter. Your mission requires only a few simple tools: a clipboard, paper, pencils, sticky notes and a calendar.
The execution: Step 1 is turning your family into a clutter-busting team. Take everyone on a tour of the house and create a "laundry list of pain," says Elaine Shannon, an organizing expert in Rothesay, N.B. The list could include the messy kitchen counter, the kids' toys strewn across the floor and anything else that makes you cringe. Everyone gets a say.
Next, sit down together, say during dinner, and jot down each family member's goals for the home. Maybe Dad wants to get rid of the clutter around the bathroom sink, your teen wants to organize her overstuffed closet and you long for a garage where every tool has its place. In the end, you will have a collection of domestic dreams -- and your family unity will get a boost, too. "You have a road map," Shannon says. "Everybody's creating a vision, and all of a sudden, you're bringing lives together and you're connecting."
In this domestic democracy, family members choose their chores. Break out the calendar and mark completion dates for each task. The big garage clear-out could happen over spring break, for example. "Closet Day" could be a Saturday in February, and you can take a crack at that junk drawer for an hour next Tuesday. Everyone works better on a deadline. "You go through the list and you slot (each task) into your schedule," says Shannon, "because if you fail to plan, you plan to fail."
The unexpected: Yes, your family could get tired of cleaning. To keep the team happy, Shannon suggests building in rewards. For example, if you sell some stuff, celebrate your success with dinner out.
When it comes to parting with personal items, sentimentality can sneak in. If you feel guilty about chucking the green blazer Aunt Gertrude gave you, envision someone else wearing it to a job interview. "Your clutter is somebody else's survival," says Shannon.
Page 1 of 3 -- Longing for a family vacation? Find expert tips on saving up for a trip to remember on page 2
Mission #2: Enjoy some fun in the sun
The plan: Take a family vacation in early July.
The tools: Whether you long to peer at puffins in Newfoundland or ride horseback in the Rockies, planning your summer holiday starts with a dream, a budget, your computer and possibly a good travel agent. And those prickly memories of what went wrong on your last trip can turn into learning tools. Ask yourself, "What can we do this time that we didn't do last time?" says Shannon. "How can we make this vacation better?"
The execution: Talking money is the first step. "Figure out what's in the budget," says Kristie Demke, the Edmonton-based president of Professional Organizers in Canada. "Otherwise, you're just going to end up disappointing a lot of people when they find out a trip to the moon isn't on the agenda."
Once you've picked your destination, it's time to research. Make your reservations early to get the best prices on flights and hotels. "You're going to have to do it pretty quickly before everything gets booked up," Demke says, "especially if you have a bigger family."
Once your flights are booked, resolve to get a head start on some other items on your checklist as well: Apply for passports, if you'll be needing them, or ensure you have other photo ID; get any vaccinations you may need; and consider buying health insurance. If you wear glasses or contact lenses, have an extra pair handy for the trip. Some airlines slap on fees if you check more than one bag -- or even just one bag -- so start thinking now how you can pare down what you pack and travel with carry-on luggage only.
The unexpected: Planning your dream vacation can hit the wall if you and your spouse can't get time off from work at the same time. Talk to your bosses early in the year. If your kids are teenagers, the family camping trips that used to thrill them can suddenly make them groan. Make a compromise. If you're OK with being responsible for someone else's kid, tell your teens they can bring a friend. Another option: Give the kids more say in planning family activities.
Page 2 of 3 -- Are your kids heading off to college this year? Plan ahead for the big move with expert organizing tips on page 3
Mission #3: Prepare Junior to launch
The plan: Help your college-bound student move into his or her dorm by September 1.
The tools: Leaving the nest is exciting and emotional -- for both of you. Your life experience and common sense are key, but a budget, a tape measure, a handful of recipes, an Internet connection and some creativity come in handy, too.
The execution: You still have time to teach Junior the basics of banking, budgeting, cooking and cleaning -- and there are ways to make it fun. For example, you can give your teen a subscription to a magazine that has recipes, or have him download a cooking app to his phone. Get him cooking alongside you in the kitchen now, and create a computer file of quick and easy recipes.
It's never too early to start buying necessities for the new digs. If you can, visit the dorm in the spring, take measurements and figure out what you can fit in it. Or find a floor plan on the university website. Chances are the room will be small, so think about vertical storage. "Whether it's hooks, freestanding racks or shelves, or little hanging caddies," Demke says, "it's all going to make the space expand exponentially." A mini-fridge is a great gift for a frosh: having juice, fruit, milk and cereal on hand could fuel her late-night study sessions and make her more likely to eat breakfast.
The unexpected: A late acceptance means your child could decide to scrap her plans and go to a different school. If there's no room in the new residence, go online to help her find a place to live. And if you have friends or relatives in that city, call them. Even though she's had less time to become familiar with her new city, knowing there are friendly faces nearby will help ease her anxiety. "It's a point of connection," says Shannon, "so there's somebody who can check in on them once in a while to see that they're eating and taking care of themselves."
|This story was originally titled "Get a Head Start" in the January 2012 issue. |
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