Mental Organisation: How not to forget birthdays

Confession: Despite having a pretty well organised home, mental organisation has been an area where I’m still more of a work in progress. Remembering (and acknowledging) birthdays, anniversaries and so on has always been a weaker point of mine.

Every Christmas or new year I buy a new diary and calendar and resolve to USE IT religiously. I’ve had varying degrees of success with a variety of aide-memoires over the years and, since having an apple-from-the-tree ‘Eureka!’ moment last year (see 1, below) I now feel qualified to share my thoughts with you on the matter.

(An apology is owed here to all friends and relatives whose birthdays fall between January and March. For some reason, despite ‘new diary syndrome’ being acute in these months, these are the birthdays and special days I seemed to forget most reliably. Some would receive a card, a greeting, or both. Others would receive none, their written (and often stamped!) card sitting safely in my bag for weeks but never making it to the post office mail sack. So to those first quartile birthdays, I apologise. And also to those of you who fall later in the year but also wondered ‘where’s my card, Julia?’)

So here we are. Things I have assessed (and now, in the main, use, to improve my mental organisation).

1. Acknowledge that you can’t remember it all

This was absolutely revolutionary for me. It had simply never occurred to me before that I was being unrealistic by expecting to instantly and flawlessly remember each date. It’s not about getting older, or baby-brain, or laziness. It’s simply that for most of us, life is now a more complex set of interactions than our immediate family and 4 school friends who we saw daily.

Since I let go of the ridiculous notion that I should be able to remember EVERYTHING, I’ve moved on and got better at actually remembering. The irony! This is because I’ve given myself permission to rely on tools and tricks.

2. Scan Facebook’s calendar

This will take 20-30 minutes maximum, depending, of course, on how may acquaintances you have there (and how many share their birthdays with the platform).

One you’ve found the list (you need to be be on your computer or laptop to do this, annoyingly – go to events on the left hand side and click on ‘birthdays’), note the birthdays down on your preferred record (phone calendar, diary, calendar at home).

But here’s the thing: you need to commit to keeping all records in one place. It’s no good to think ‘well my family birthdays are on my kitchen calendar and my work colleagues’ are in my diary….’ all that’ll happen there is that you’ll do a great job of seeing the important date too late.

We need to make it as easy as possible to remember-and that includes not having to think about where to look!

3. Of course, you may not ‘do’ facebook. Even if you do, its likely that some family members won’t

So now’s the time to drop a message to Aunty Sheila, your gran, your oldest friend whose birthday you can never quite remember. Is it the 15th or the 25th?

‘I’m updating my calendar. Can you confirm your birthday please?’

If you think this’ll offend then, (more likely with crotchety relatives perhaps) you could always concoct a white lie about your diary and a spilled cup of coffee.

Now add the replies to your calendar/ diary / phone. Do them all at once instead of as you receive the replies.

4. Sign up to Moonpig, or a similar service

This isn’t for everybody but I’ve found it to be so useful, especially for relatives living abroad. I like that (in case I’ve forgotten to note birthdays in my calendar) I can ask, when ordering a card, for a notification for the next year. For example, just this morning I received a notification for my Dad’s upcoming birthday. Card’s in the post, dad!

Of course I already remembered that one…..

The service is slightly more expensive than a normal’ card and I don’t like the fact that the card is printed instead of handwritten, but it works well in lieu of a ‘traditional’ card. You can customise the card front to include suitable wording and photos too which is fun.

If you wanted to rely on / automate this process altogether, you could even sit down in early January and order all cards in this way, in advance. Budget-wise and mental organisation-wise, this would be very tidy.

5. If you prefer to carry on hand-writing and posting / delivering your cards in person, I do recommend buying in advance

This doesn’t mean a haphazard programme of buying whenever you see cards on sale. You instead spend half an hour in your favourite card shop (mine is Paperchase in the UK, AND THEY NOW SHIP TO MALTA!) selecting cards for the upcoming year with each person in mind. One could argue that this removes the fun sponteraity of ‘I saw this and thought of you’ but if you’re not acknowledging birthdays anyway at the moment, thats sort of an invalid point.

This is it to say that you can’t pick something suitable up when you see it – its a question of balance though! I went through a stage years ago where I thought I was stocking up on cards. Actually I was just buying cheap cards that never got sent as nothing seemed appropriate when I went back through the box later. NOT good mental organisation on my part!

6. Use a shared calendar app like Cozi

I have friends who swear by Cosi. They put everything into the calendar (birthdays, when to put the bins out…) and each family member receives an email notification. You can choose who receives which notifications.

To use the birthday tracker function you need Cozi Gold which is £22.99 per year, but there’s nothing to stop you just adding birthdays to the regular calendar function. However, when you consider that you car also share shopping lists and add to these in real time, this £1.91 per month starts to look more affordable – especially if you’re forever messaging your partner or housemate to pick up a forgotten ingredient for dinner.

7. Birthday Tracker apps

Of course, there are quite a few birthday apps out there whose sole purpose is to remind you of upcoming celebrations. My only qualm with these is that its another app to manage / sync / be notified about. More noise. For me it’s better to have fewer apps that do more, so I stick to Google Calendar.

8. Don’t send cards at all

You might choose, together with your family, to pick up the phone for a chat or go out for dinner instead of exchanging gifts or cards. Certainly in my group of closest friends we don’t exchange gifts and cards, but we instead contribute €10 per month to a savings fund.Then, when a suitable amount has built up, we have a weekend away together. On birthdays we now just tend to get in touch instead of sending cards.

And thats all I have for you.

As with any routine or habit you start to build, it needs to be suitable for your lifestyle and the people is it. If your family are the type to be easily annoyed, probably better to stick to writing down birthdays then risking conflict by suggesting not sending a card at all!

And if you need a little help, I offer digital decluttering and lifestyle organisation services to kickstart your mental organisation!


  • Mental organisation doesn’t mean remembering everything. Lean on aids.
  • Try to ‘store’ all essential dates to remember in one place.
  • Moonpig is a great option for last minute cards.
  • Shopping in advance for cards works well.
  • You could forego cards altogether.
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