21 Lists to Make to Organize Your Entire Life

21 Lists to Make to Organize Your Entire Life

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As working moms, we have a LOT to keep track of. Work stuff, kid stuff, home stuff – our brains are always going a million miles a minute.

One of the most effective ways to give our overworked brains a break is by getting things out of our head and down on paper. The 21 lists in this post will help you do just that.

Lists are one of my favourite ways to get organized. When we use lists strategically, we’re creating systems to make life easier. The process requires an investment of time and energy at the outset, but the long-term payoffs are huge. Effective systems allow us to spend less time and energy on routine things, so we have more time and energy for the things that matter.

As you scroll through this post, you’ll notice a theme with the lists I’ve included. They eliminate the need to reinvent the wheel each time, ensure you aren’t forgetting anything, and help to automate routine tasks. They’ve helped me to simplify my life and get organized, and I hope they help you too. Here are 21 lists to help you organize your life.

21 Lists to Make to Organize Your Life

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Lists to Simplify Shopping

1. Master shopping lists. We buy some of our groceries and household essentials at Costco, and the rest elsewhere. Last year I made a master list of all of the things we regularly buy at Costco, and it’s made making our regular Costco shopping list so much easier. It’s quicker, we’re less likely to forget things, and – most importantly – it’s out of my head and down on paper. We only use this for Costco, but you could easily set up a master shopping list for your regular grocery shopping.

2. Running shopping lists. Running shopping lists – and specifically shared running shopping lists – have been a game-changer in our family. We use the Cozi app, which I’ve talked about many times before. We have ours set up with a few running lists – Groceries, Costco, and Other being the most used. If one of us notices we’re getting low on something we add it to the appropriate list right away. We’re both in the habit of checking Cozi before we head to the store.

3. Kids’ clothing sizes and things to buy. I wrote a whole post on my system for managing kids clothes, but it’s worth touching on here. Once I know what clothing each child needs for an upcoming season, I make a list, including quantities and sizes. I do the same for myself when I’m in need of clothing basics. Having a list keeps me on track when I’m shopping and helps reign in any unnecessary purchases.

Lists to Make Feeding Your Family Easier

4. Meal plan. First things first, meal planning is crucial in our family. If you’re new to meal planning, check out this post for the basics. I’ve gone back and forth between monthly and weekly meal planning over the years. In normal times, monthly meal planning is my preference – we make a rough plan of meals for the entire month, and it doesn’t take much more time or effort than creating a weekly plan.

5. Favourite meals. Meal planning is infinitely easier when you have a go-to list of your family’s favourite meals. I’d suggest setting this up by category (chicken, beef, vegetarian, pasta, etc. – whatever makes sense for your family), so it’s an easy-to-reference list when you’re creating your meal plan.

6. Quick meals/pantry meals. Quick meals are meals that you can throw together with very little effort on nights when getting dinner on the table seems like an impossible task. Macaroni, quesadillas, eggs, frozen pizza – for me, this list needs to have meals that are easier than calling for takeout.

Relatedly, I find it helpful to have a list of pantry meals. These are meals that you can pull together with staples that you always keep on hand. This was particularly helpful in the early weeks of the pandemic, when grocery shopping was a massive undertaking, and getting an online shopping slot was next to impossible. Like quick meals, having a go-to list of pantry meals makes it less likely that we’ll resort to takeout in a pinch.

7. Recipes to try. I love trying new recipes, and am always pinning recipes that I want to try. This list gives me much-needed inspiration when I’m creating our meal plan and bored with our go-to meals.

8. School lunch ideas. My husband makes most of our kids’ school lunches, and I’m happy to leave that as his domain. When it was my job, I used a list of school lunch ideas (fruit, veggie, protein/main, carb), to make sure I gave them a good variety.

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Lists to Organize Holidays and Special Occasions

9. Birthdays. There’s nothing worse than realizing you forgot a loved ones’ birthday. Even if the date is ingrained in your memory, it’s easy to lose track of the current date and not realize until it’s too late. Birthdays are one thing I need to track electronically, and make sure I’m reminded with an automatic notification. Set an extra reminder for a week or two in advance, to give yourself time to buy and mail a card or a gift.

10. Gift ideas. A running list of gift ideas is a great way to keep track of all of those gift ideas you think of throughout the year, but (if you’re anything like me) struggle to come up with when birthdays and holidays roll around. I keep a running list for not only my family members, but myself, so I have some go-to ideas when I’m asked for them.

11. Gift tracker. It’s not just Santa who needs to make a list and check it twice! A gift tracking list is crucial to help me stay organized at Christmas. The list not only helps me to ensure I’m keeping things fair between my kids, but I also use it to track which of my online shopping orders have been delivered to our house, which gifts have been wrapped, and if I’ve hidden gifts in any unusual places. I also save my lists from year to year (I make them in Google Sheets), so I can easily refer back for stocking stuffer ideas.

12. Christmas card list. If you send holidays cards, it’s always awkward to receive a card from somebody you didn’t send a card to. It’s even more awkward if it happens two years in a row. We keep our Christmas card list in a Google Sheets, so we can track who we sent a card to each year, and easily add to the list. If you want to make the process even simpler, keep addresses in the same spreadsheet, so you can conveniently print off address labels.

13. Party planning lists. This is not so relevant right now, but hopefully will be again soon. With three kids, in non-COVID times I’m planning three birthday parties each year. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel each time, so I keep track of menus, games and activity ideas, party location ideas, and my to-do list leading up to the big day.

Related: 7 Life-Changing Time Management Tips for Working Moms

Lists to Organize Travel

14. Packing list. A packing list is a must-have in our house. A few years ago, I created a comprehensive baby and toddler packing list, which I still use as my starting point. I also use specific packing lists to get organized for camping – broken down by bin, so we know where everything is.

15. Morning-of checklist. When you’re leaving on a trip, there are always a few things that can’t be packed until the last minute – such as baby monitors, stuffed animals, and toiletries. Not only are these last-minute items, they’re items that would be very hard to live without. I always write a morning-of checklist, with everything we need to bring, and everything we need to do before we leave on a trip. In the chaos of getting out the door with small children, this helps ensure that nothing is forgotten. 

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More Lists to Organize Your Life

These lists don’t fall nicely into one of the categories above, but are crucial for helping me stay organized.

16. Brain dump. When I’m overwhelmed with life, creating a brain dump list is one of the most effective ways for me to start digging my way out. This list should have everything – things you need to do, people you need to contact, events you need to remember, and projects you want to make time for. The idea is to get everything out of your head and down on paper. Then, you can start sorting through them to make a plan of action.

17. To-do lists. I’m one of those people who derives a great deal of satisfaction from checking things off on a list. Not only does a to-do list help me keep track of the tasks I want to accomplish, it also helps me set a reasonable limit on those tasks. For example, if I’ve completed the tasks I wanted to complete on a given day, I’m better able to relax with a book, guilt-free. Generally, I create weekly and daily to-do lists, but do what works for you.

18. “When Did I Last?” list. Tracking regular but infrequent tasks has always been a struggle for me. For example, washing bedding and towels – as much as I’d love to be one of those people who washes all the bedding in one day each week, that’s just not realistic for me.

Last year I made a “When Did I Last?” list to help us keep track. I listed each item that needed to be laundered for each family member (as well as items like hand towels from each bathroom), laminated the list (using a self-seal laminating pouch), and hung it in our laundry room with a whiteboard marker attached. We simply scribble the date beside each item when we wash it, and it’s easy to look at the list and see what needs to be done.

We use our “When Did I Last?” list for laundry only, but you could use it for any tasks you want to keep track of – clean coffee maker, clean oven, organize photos, etc.

19. Professional accomplishments. Whether you’re happy at your current job or looking to make a move, tracking professional accomplishments is a smart idea. Use this list for conversations with your manager and annual reviews, and to summarize your key accomplishments on your resume.

Related: How to Manage the Invisible Mental Load of Motherhood

Bonus Lists to Help You Live with Intention

Finally, these last two lists are just for fun, with the added benefit of helping you be more intentional in how you spend your time.

20. Seasonal bucket list. Even if you have the best intentions of visiting the pumpkin patch with your kids, it’s very easy for the season to pass by only to realize you never got around to it. A seasonal bucket list can help. Thinking through the seasonal activities you want to do – then taking the time to schedule them – helps ensure you’ll make time for the activities that are important to you.

21. Books to read. For me, it’s a list of books to read, but feel free to sub movies to watch, restaurants to visit, podcasts to listen to, places to visit…..you get the idea.

Phew! Hopefully I’ve convinced you of the benefits of getting things out of your head and down on paper. Not only do lists help to quiet your overworked brain, they free your time and energy for more important things.

I’d love to know – do you use lists to get organized? Let me know how you use them in the comments below!

4 thoughts on “21 Lists to Make to Organize Your Entire Life”

  • This post makes me want to go make more lists right now! I love lists! I will admit that my dinner meals list doesn’t always come easy, this one I need to work on. We’ve got gluten allergies in our home, and one picky eater, which makes meal planning a bit stressful. I just started a recommended book list and my favorite list is my wishlist! Things that I want and need to buy, but want to do with intention!

    • Allergies and picky eaters definitely make things trickier. We’ve taken a few of our pre-kid favourites out of the regular rotation, just because it’s not worth the battle with the kids (or making them a separate meal!). Spending a bunch of time planning and cooking a meal only to have the kids refuse to eat any of it is not my idea of fun!

  • This is such a great post! I totally agree that using lists can make our lives easier. I already use some of these lists, but I have definitely found more to start! 🙂

    • Lists are definitely a life-saver in my world! If you have any others that make your life easier, I’d love to hear them!

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