When I began writing Taming the Chaos articles for Front Porch, I was amazed at how vast a topic organization really is! Organization (and too often disorganization) affects every aspect of life. I'd like to share my top chaos taming tips—the tips that I repeat to myself almost daily.

1. Keep First Things First

Those things we consider our highest priorities too frequently end up being pushed to the bottom in the practical day-to-day. Arts and crafts might be high on the philosophical priority list, but if supplies are difficult to access, projects fall through the cracks. Family reading times are awkward in a room where everything faces the rarely used television. (In some cases something as simple as moving the sofa could alter the course of the entire family culture in the evenings!)

Things I consider "above" scheduling are frequently neglected. I'll think, "Of course we will memorize scripture!" and that assumption leaves me vulnerable to the whim of my memory. It is a constant challenge to me to live intentionally and to keep first things first in a practical sense rather than just as sentimental good intentions. Giving important things their rightful spot on the schedule helps keep me on track.

2. Leave It Better Than You Found It

Leaving things better than we find them is a simple concept we teach to our children, but I can be heard reminding myself to do the same daily. Especially in those seasons when I'm not up to striving to reach complicated goals, I just try to ensure the laundry is more caught up today than it was yesterday, that our finances are better this month than last, and that the children know a little more today than they did last week.

3. Productivity Breeds Contentment

When one of the children is testing boundaries and being inexplicably difficult, I ask myself whether his days are meaningful and productive. Thorns and thistles are part of the curse, but work itself was assigned to Adam before sin entered the world—without it, we struggle to find our place.

Right now, I have a little guy suffering from work deprivation. He's begging to learn to read and looks on longingly as Daddy, Mommy, and older sisters do most of the chores. It's easy to put him off—training a new recruit takes longer than doing the tasks myself. Young minds and hands are itching to do something purposeful and constructive and when deprived of that opportunity will do something destructive. I've recently given my small helper a few special chores and am already noticing a difference. His eyes reflect the confidence and joy of being part of the family team.

Certainly childhood requires generous amounts of playtime—time to romp, blow dandelions, and simply watch dust particles in the sunlight—but unless it's balanced with productivity, leisure loses its power to quench and refresh.                  

Productivity is good for us as moms too. If I am not careful to balance my leisure time, I become lethargic and detached and irritable. Whatever our age, productivity breeds contentment.

4. Don't Expect What You Aren't Willing to Inspect

This phrase (borrowed from a Marine Sergeant) is now one of my favorite self-reminders! The Marine Sergeant knows he must be diligent in training and then follow through with inspection. (And if that's true for grown men, how much more so for little children!)

If the goal is neatly made beds, then inspecting the beds each morning is critical—especially in the training phase or "boot camp." Catching problems quickly and not allowing sloppy habits to become ingrained pays off.

Ironically, I wouldn't dream of neglecting to review a first grader's math assignments until the end of the year, for I know that without consistent feedback and evaluation, bad habits and mistakes take root. Yet for some reason I am more diligent about teaching new math skills than I am about encouraging my children to develop good work habits.

5. Do the Next Thing