by Joy Hayden

The start of a new school year brings mixed feelings in our home. The familiar routine is welcome after weeks of unstructured summer days. New textbooks are eagerly opened and the excitement of the new curriculum has everyone energized. But with the start of school comes unwelcome pressure. It’s not the schooling part of the day that causes the most stress—it is the “rest of life” that has to be attended to.
Organize the new school year into segments
Since it is difficult to tend to all the household responsibilities on top of school, consider organizing the year into 4-week segments. Conduct school for three weeks; take the fourth week off. Use that week to catch up on housecleaning, appointments, etc. If a child has not completed his allotted school assignments for the first three weeks, he must get caught up during the week off.
Create a daily schedule
Perhaps the stress you face is not so much a week-to-week problem but a day-to-day problem. With eight children (grades 2-10), I’ve heard that endless stream of “Mom, I need you,” “Mom, can you come here?” “Mom, I don’t understand this.” Creating a daily schedule for each child AND myself after reading the book, Managers of Their Home (Steve and Teri Maxwell) brought us much relief in this area. The children knew exactly what they needed to be doing, when they should be doing it, and stopped relying on me to direct every moment. It was particularly helpful to our more distractible children.
De-clutter your house
This summer we spent a marvelous week at the beach. While there we met another homeschool family. I mentioned how easy it was to keep the beach house clean but so difficult to keep my own house picked up. The other mom quickly responded that it was because we didn’t have all our “stuff” in the beach house.

I came home determined to rid our house of everything that makes housecleaning so burdensome. I started in the room that was in the best shape so that I had a chance to build my confidence. I had rooms that were so bad that I actually took everything out and re-evaluated each item before returning it! It makes sense that the rooms we find hardest to keep clean are the rooms that need the most de-junking.

Find something to give to Salvation Army or other charity groups every time they call. Always have a de-junking weekend before Christmas!
Make a place for everything
Once the junk is gone, make sure that there is a place for everything. Are you adequately using the vertical space in your home? Vertical space can be found in closets, on backs of doors, on walls, and even
in cabinets. Closet organizers are a must.

Don’t be afraid to go “outside the box” when using the space in your home. Turn your coat closet into additional pantry space or even a computer nook. Turn your unused dining room into a home-office or classroom. Evaluate your needs and available space and then make your home work for you.
Evaluate your activities Sometimes our schedule needs to be de-junked. Evaluate your activities. This can be very difficult. We’ve cut back significantly in sports because the practices and games left us with little family time. But planned family activities will build up the family and reduce the amount of conflict between siblings. When a family enjoys being together, days are more pleasant. Hence, less stress! Get help with chores
Have your children help with the chores. Every month our children are assigned three chores. That saves me 24 tasks per month, 288 tasks per year.

I highly recommend Sandra Felton’s flipper chart (Messies 2) for scheduling household responsibilities. If you don’t have time to clean the whole house, do the chores that give you the biggest psychological boost. For me that would be making the beds and cleaning the kitchen countertops and floor. Always keep the shiny things shiny.
Break down your work
Adopt “divide and conquer” as your motto. Tackle big jobs by breaking them down into more manageable tasks. If organizing a whole room is overwhelming, then just organize the bookcase today. If organizing the bookcase is overwhelming, then just organize one shelf. (Read The 15-minute Organizer by Emily Barnes.)

Have you ever timed your chores? Most don’t take nearly as long as you think. Unloading a dishwasher can be done in a minute or two. Make a list of tasks that can be done in less than 15 minutes so that you make the most of the “little minutes” of your day.

On the other hand, be aware of activities that are time stealers—like handling paper. Try to handle each piece of paper only once. “File it; don’t pile it.” Throw away junk mail before it comes into the house.

In summary, you can reduce your stress by applying two basic principles: Make the most of your home by getting rid of the clutter and evaluating the use of your space. Then, make the most of your time by establishing chores, using those little minutes, and pacing yourself. Don’t let your home rob you of the joy of homeschooling.
Your Home a Haven
Former homeschooler Joy Hayden lives in Sterling with her husband, Mark. This article first appeared in TVHE, Fall 2003.

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