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Organize: Traffic Jam

I would be the greatest mother and the calmest homemaker ever
Applicable Ways to Organize the Freeway That Is Home
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oving day! We’d been waiting three years, dreaming and waiting, wishing and waiting more, until the day finally arrived. And I knew that once in “The House,” every day, while the kids were in school, I’d have work to do. I would take the time to lovingly wipe down my moldings, gladly shine my tiles on hands and knees, and happily cook gourmet meals. I would be the greatest mother and the calmest homemaker ever.

Two days later, COVID-19 hit with an abruptness that left us spinning. Work closed, clients canceled, and schools shut down. My kids were (and still are!) in the house, all day, every day. No more time to wipe down moldings (I’m too busy throwing out plastic cups) or to shine those aforementioned tiles. And overnight, I’m not quite sure I’m the calmest homemaker after all.

With a range of ages and stages at home, coupled with the necessity to make do with whatever we have easily accessible, we need some creativity in dealing with some Common COVID Complexities. My empty, quiet house may be gone for now, but there’s a new goal. A simplifized home.

The Paper Trail

Literally. A trail of paper that starts at the kitchen table, flows to the dining room, and makes its way under the bed. A Zoom call is about to begin and no one can find the homework (isn’t it all homework these days?). The amount of paper can be overwhelming and desk space is at a premium, with glue and pencils and graph paper and seforim littering the surface.

Ben Franklin said it best: “A place for everything and everything in its place.” We need “a place” for the children to do their work and a place for their myriad of supplies. Just as a child has his own desk in school, in COVID times too they should have their specific kitchen chair, or desk spot, or even closet alcove. My daughter created a work cubicle for herself in our unfinished attic by stacking storage boxes for walls, and using a folding table and Shabbos lamp to complete the space.

For the actual worksheets, textbooks, and seforim, it’s always best to store vertically. You don’t even need to purchase a single product to create this system. All you need is a cereal box (anybody else finish ten boxes in ten days?) and a sharp pair of scissors. It can even become a craft project! Slice off the side at an angle (see picture), decorate with colored paper and embellishments, and your child has their own personalized magazine file for their work. You may want to store pens, pencils, crayons, and supplies in the file box. It’s always best to keep what you need where you need it.

Snack Attack

Children (and many adults) across the world have been experiencing a strange phenomenon, one that was previously only felt on long Shabbosim, idle Sundays, or after 9:00 p.m. It’s the Endless Hunger Syndrome. Symptoms include numerous breakfasts, an unyielding need to open the refrigerator door, and often a loud voice saying, “I’m starving!”

A common way to combat this syndrome is to have set eating times- these are set eating times throughout the day, like anchors in the schedule, immovable and unchanging. They allow predictability and limit expectations, so that when we’re asked, “Can I have snack bag?” it’s easy to point at the schedule and say, “This is when snack time is.”

It’s a good idea to create a list of “yes foods” posted in the kitchen. These foods are for in between the anchor meals and snacks. Your list may include only fruits and vegetables, nutritious snacks, and drinks, or whatever feels right and enjoyable for your household. This creates the predict – ability of a schedule, with the undeniable reality of a family living and staying within the same four walls, and the kitchen? A constant comfort zone.

Exercise

We thought we got off­ easy. Gyms are closed, we can’t go running in parks without a mask, and recess games of elimination are all but a thing of the past. Well, it’s been almost three months since quarantine has begun, spring is in the air, and practicing social distancing has not stopped as of yet. Because of this, coming up with inventive ways to get some movement in every day is the new norm.

The best way to get your family back into the swing of things (pun intended) is to create realistic goals. Kids can strive for 100 jumping jacks, high school girls can dance their school dances five times and even teach their younger siblings, too, and see how far the family can bike within 20 minutes. Visually track the progress, and then when the goals are reached, celebrate!

Get Crafty 

Did your kids create their own mosaic plates? How about Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai’s cave out of an egg carton? Or did they make tie-dye T-shirts? Are they all over your house (the projects, not the kids)? Are you beginning to feel like a playgroup morah on overdrive who runs GO for the entire household?

Well, good for you. Crafting is truly a fantastic outlet for children and adults, and it’s an inexpensive way to get creative and spend meaningful time together. However, it can also be quite messy, and while in process — very chaotic. There are two main organizing concepts to apply here.

1. CONTAIN IT 

Choose one box per child for them to keep their corona crafts. You can use a store-bought basket or even a cardboard box (another opportunity to decorate something!). If need be, choose a stackable bin in order to maximize space. Each child is limited to keeping only what fits inside the box. Once full, they reassess and minimize their keepsakes.

2. PICTURE IT

The projects that are just too big and cumbersome to fit inside the container (think car made from grocery box), the crafts that aren’t yet completed (crystal art, anyone?), and those that just didn’t make the cut, can be photographed before tossing. One day, if you’re feeling determined, create a scrapbook of pictures to remember these times. It will be infinitely precious for the entire family and will remind your children in times of Real Life that their mommy really is fun and nice.

There’s enjoyment in digging deep and finding levels of creative organization and solutions during these times. And while the kids are jumping jacks, crafting, or munching, maybe sneak in some time to wipe down those moldings. Or just enjoy the moment.

Ruthie Levy of Simplifized LLC has been organizing homes in New York and New Jersey since 2013. Her combination of practicality and eye for aesthetics has helped hundreds of clients create and maintain organized homes. She currently specializes in training new organizers into this rewarding and enjoyable field of work while continuing to work with private clients. Ruthie can be reached at @Simplifized or 732-339-3971.

(Originally featured in Family Room, Issue 004)

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