Some insights and rules from the experts
There are probably as many systems for managing a home as there are home managers. The following principles, gleaned from those who write and speak on the subject, are meant to serve as possible guidelines for those setting up (or maintaining) their own systems:
* Start each day with a plan. ''It helps you and others realize that your time is finite,'' says Pat Cundick. ''Also, anything in black and white gets respect'' and tends to get done. ''Homemakers have 24 hours to schedule each day - I don't know of any other job that's so open-ended. It takes a lot of discipline,'' she notes.
* Establish some kind of rotating system so the various areas in your home get regular attention. You might clean your kitchen every Monday and your living room on Tuesday, do your laundry on Wednesday, etc. Or you might spend the first week of the month doing the kitchen, the second week doing the living area, and so forth. Another system calls for doing one wall at a time - if there's a window, you wash it; a bookcase, you dust it.
* A once-a-day pickup helps keep things under control. Many parents assign children chunks of this, giving each child an area or a type of item to be in charge of. ''We pick up before dinner, and the kids don't eat until things are put away,'' says Janet Dittmer, a lecturer on home management. ''My husband and I have gotten to eat a few meals alone that way,'' she adds.
* ''Pick it up, don't pass it up,'' say Peggy Jones and Pam Brace in ''Sidetracked Home Executives'' (Binford, $5.95). They theorize that most messes start because people get sidetracked and don't finish what they start, or don't put things away when they're finished. Doing the opposite, they propose, keeps many housekeeping problems from developing.
* If things have reached a chaotic state, look beyond the piles and stacks and strewn toys and focus on the one thing that's driving you craziest, Mrs. Dittmer advises. Then think it through logically and figure out why those things are winding up in stacks on the floor.
Often things are out of place because there is no one consistent place where they belong, or because that place is nowhere near where the thing is used. ''We try to have shelves for the children's toys near where they play,'' says Mrs. Dittmer, ''and bowls for the children's cereal near where they eat.''