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Clever Shortcuts

When the light at the end of your organization tunnel looks more like a shimmer in the vast regions of outer space, it's time to rethink your strategy. Stay on top the mess with these steps.

* Put all the dishes in the sink and wipe the counters when there's no time to clean the kitchen. If the only mess in your otherwise gleaming kitchen is contained in the sink, you'll go to bed feeling better.

* Stash toys in big baskets. You'll be amazed at how many small plastic toys are in your child's life. They don't lend themselves to neat arrangement, so toss 'em in a basket and your child's room will look orderly (and low baskets or bins will slide under the crib or bed and hide behind the dust ruffle!).

* Keep your food cabinets well stocked and quick meals in the freezer. It's just as easy to buy four packages of macaroni and cheese as it is to buy one. And for emergency meals, keep a frozen pizza or a supply of frozen waffles handy.

* Do chores first thing on Saturday so you have the rest of the weekend free. Conquering your errands right off the bat doesn't take any longer and will pay dividends all weekend, especially as you swing into Sunday afternoon with no dreaded tasks looming before you.

* Store up on sleep by going to bed at 9 p.m. one night a week. Slumber is a natural stress reliever. Some extra sack time will give you a cushion of resilience to face the day.

* Give yourself a minute or two to regroup after an outing and before tackling the next situation. Kids aren't the only ones who need help with transitions  -- you'll feel better too.

* Make a shopping list. Writing things down is a great habit: You'll feel organized, and you're more likely to buy everything you need (and less likely to buy junk you don't).

* Get up a half hour before the kids to get organized and think through the day. It's tough to get out of bed while everyone's still sleeping, but what you lose in sleep you gain in prep time.

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