A Life Less Organised: How To Nail It Even When You Think You Are Not
This week, I’ve felt almost hysterically out of control of my life. A combination of work, house, kids, travel and appointments merged to make me feel like Cameron in Ferris Buellers Day Off and I went into what I would call a meltdown situation. This happens quite regularly and always follows the same pattern. One, I realise how much work I have to do. Two, I work out that it’s physically impossible to fit all said work into stated timescales. Three, I realise that not only does no one in the family have a clean pair of pants, but that there is at least ten loads of washing in the four laundry baskets distributed across my house and because I haven’t done a shop for two weeks I have no washing powder. The dog is reduced to eating cat food and the cat is reduced to scavenging. Joe arrives home, I immediately accost him with tales of lack of family help, cry that I can’t cope, lapse into hysterics and pour a glass of wine.
Prior to having kids and posting photographs on Instagram (yes, this is my actual job - no comment please), I was an Executive Assistant. That’s a show off name for a PA and basically means that you manage not only a work diary but also their partners birthday presents, weekends away and dinner party schedules. I was a woman with no children and barely any responsibilities at all of my own, aside from ensuring my fridge was always full of wine, the cupboard full of crisps and the takeaway menu was up to date. I’m going to blow my own trumpet and say that I was a pretty good EA - efficient, well organised, always on call and on the ball. Then I left my lovely, glamorous, jet setting role to have children, started organising myself and my ability to control my own life faltered a bit. By the time I had had three children, it had faltered considerably.
Over the years, my increasing failure to maintain control has had a fair few repercussions in many areas of my life. Prior to moving Leo to a local school, he was twenty minutes away in the car so I always took Buddy with me on the trip for the ride. I'd tie him outside the school gate and wait for Leo in the playground. On one occasion, I'd had a super busy day and Leo had a friend coming to play, so I quickly grabbed him and rushed home, only to open the front door and realise with horror that I had actually walked straight past Buddy. In an act worthy of Cruella De Ville, I had omitted to untie him from the railings and he was still there, six miles away with abandonment issues well and truly embedded. I can tell you that it was some time before I could walk back into that playground with my head held high.
The more children I have, the further my ability to remember school events dwindles. As a third child, Leo bears the brunt of my remissive educational recall. In one year alone, I managed to take him in not just once, but twice on Inset Days, reaching maximum poor parenting goals when I took him back to school after the summer holidays one day early. I am always the parent who is never at the Welcome Meetings, not because I don't want to go but because I appear to be incapable of reading a school newsletter. In all of my 16 years of parenting, I have never been the mother that other mothers go to for information on school activities. Not once.
Back in the home environment, it is physically impossible for me to keep up with house stuff. We have a sock basket so huge it could provide foot attire for the full residency of a small country - every morning my kids ask, without fail, when I will be pairing up the socks. This is absolute fantasy on their part. It’s never going to happen. This week, I seriously considered throwing ALL the socks away, going to M&S, buying five pairs for each person and being done with it. It was only Max almost fainting in shock that I would be ditching his Hugo Boss specials that stopped me driving straight to the recycling centre.
Clean washing is another sore point in our family. I wash it. I dry it. I fold it and pile it in the utility, ready to distribute to drawers. Again, this never happens. What DOES happen is that the washing piles up to Shard height, someone pulls a pair of jeans from the bottom, it topples like Jenga and they vacate the room with abandonment, leaving behind a clothes mountain worthy of the Primark sale (Note: Ironing doesn’t happen in our house unless someone has a job interview or a wedding to go to). Anyway, I have realised that there is no point in trying to control this situation. Every now and then, I spend three hours (or pay a child) dividing the washing into individual family member piles, distribute accordingly and feel suitably smug, but I’d hazard an estimate that this is a triannual occurrence. Mostly, I just tidy the piles and keep the door shut so that I can’t see the chaos behind. Out of sight, out of mind. Priorities.
So when it comes to managing my life, how do I maintain the appearance of control? For me, there is only one way to do this and that’s list writing and monthly planners. We all know that there are things that you need to do quickly and things that you don’t. Writing them down always makes me feel much calmer, despite the fact that the list may be longer than my arm. I write EVERYTHING down - not just the big things, but the small things too. Dropping off prescriptions, paying for school meals, sending back unwanted deliveries from Net A Porter (although let’s face it, not many of those deliveries are unwanted). Just the knowledge that I have to pick up a parcel from the Post Office (which is a twenty minute job) can sit on the edge of my mind stressing me out until it’s done. It’s all about the control. So I write it all down, then write it down AGAIN in priority order. Can I kill two birds with one stone? Can I delay something until next week? If I don’t do this one thing quicker than the others, will it make me feel anxious? What has to be done NOW?
On my desk, I have a huge monthly planner. Joe HATES it. If he had his way, even Buddy would be synched in via iPhone diary for dog walks. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve tried the whole virtual thing but as a woman with over 1400 unread emails in her inbox, it’s a no go area. I need visuals, I need a pen in my hand, I need clarity to my thoughts and that requires a desk planner. So in the interests of all of you who also like to live in Victorian times when it comes to scheduling, I’ve listed above and below not only the ones that I use but also a few others that also fit the planning bill.
Much as I would love to be calm and meltdown free, Executive Assistant style, at all times, I’ve come to terms with the fact that that particular boat has sailed. We all spend our lives juggling - work, family, dogs, pants - and anything that helps to keep us feeling like we are managing to do this is a winner in my book. So I’ll be sticking with my massive planner for the foreseeable future and avoiding Joe’s synching attempts and planner scoffing. And I’ll be in control of both my life and my work. There’s dog therapy bills to pay, after all.