The Family Manager's Everyday Survival Guide
By Kathy Peel
Picture, if you will, a bona fide Family Mismanagement expert: domestically challenged, overwhelmingly disorganized, and regularly discouraged. Note the unpaid bills, the library books under the bed, and the kitchen floor that needs to be raked before it can be mopped. Her sons can't find their soccer uniforms or clean socks. Her husband looks hungry. See the unhappy woman in the middle of it all. You're looking at me-once upon a time. I found myself trying to be a good mother to three boys, keep up my end of a marriage, manage myriad tasks in our home, tackle another career with never-ending deadlines... and more. It was when more got tacked onto my already overextended schedule that I wanted to jump from the nearest tall building.
Since then, I've learned that I wasn't alone in crisis mode. The past ten years, as I've traveled the country talking with women about their jobs as Family Managers, I've heard countless variations on the same theme: "I don't have time to get organized, and not being organized takes up all my time."
Almost any business consultant who's worked with start-up companies will identify time and organization-two sides of the same coin-as the places those enterprises flounder. In the beginning, with a hot new product or service, everything goes fine. People are committed to success, and they'll work twenty-five hours a day to ensure it. Then, as the customer base and product line grow, things get complicated. Twenty-five hours a day aren't enough anymore. Customer complaints go unheard. Vendors go unpaid. Time for long-range thinking and careful planning is consumed putting out everyday fires. Employees burn out. Things fall apart. All for the want of a little organization applied in a timely fashion.
Family Management applies good business principles to the work of making home a warm and welcoming, healthy, happy, and productive place for you and your family to grow and be. But families aren't start-up companies. We can't resign from our job as Family Manager and go find a new one. So what's the alternative?
Getting organized. It's fun. It's easy. It's profitable. And as soon as I discover how to get totally organized and stay that way in the midst of the growing and changing needs and demands of daily family life, I expect to win the Nobel Prizes for Peace, Science, and Literature-all in the same year. The literature prize will be for fiction, because as we all know, any system of organization can organize some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but it's a myth that you can organize all of the people all of the time.
The truth is, a few appropriate, well-used organizational ideas and plans can make life much simpler, more rewarding, and a lot more fun. The ideas in this book are meant to supplement and seed your own ideas and Family Management style. The point is not to turn you into a control freak or a domestic diva. It's to help you fulfill your role as Family Manager more efficiently, which for some will mean being able to find your kids' immunization records in less than two hours and for others, knowing on most nights what you're cooking for dinner and having the ingredients to fix it. For other Family Managers it will mean never again holding your breath, waiting to see if your credit-card purchase will be approved because you're not sure if you paid last month's bill.
The strategies in this book are twenty-seven years, one husband, three children, two apartments, and six houses in the making. A
few months ago a friend from college came to visit me. We laughed as we reminisced about how when I would walk into her dorm room, it was always neat as a pin, everything from paper clips to hair spray in its place. She'd visit me-that is, if she could get into my room-and shake her head. Piles everywhere. I tossed, strewed, littered, and lost.
When I was first married, I had grand intentions. I vowed I'd make a home where Miss Manners's white gloves would stay white no matter what she touched, where the flat surfaces didn't look like an archeological dig in process, and where the closets could pass a surprise inspection by the toughest Marine sergeant. The reality, needless to say, was a rude awakening. I had no idea how fast dirty socks could get lost under last week's newspapers. By the time I had two toddlers, my house made my dorm room look clean by comparison. Experience may be a hard teacher, but it is a teacher. Finally, bit by bit, I began to clean up my act.
Now, thirty years later, after being in my home for three days, my college friend put her hands up. "I'm a believer," she said. "If the Family Manager system can work for you, it can work for anyone!"
I developed these ideas in the (literally) messy laboratory of everyday experience. And I didn't develop them alone, either. A successful businessman once told me that a key to his success was believing he could learn something from every person, whether gardener, banker, doctor, or plumber. I took his message to heart. I learned from my husband, Bill, from our boys, and from hundreds of others.
We can all gain from each other's successes and failures. I've picked brains wherever they were available, made notes, exchanged ideas with young and old Family Managers, men and women, people who excelled in different areas. Some were excellent organizers. Others good in the kitchen. Some stretched dollars and others stretched minutes. Everyone has strengths, and we are each other's best teachers.