22 June 2011

10 Time-Saving Tips to Make Your Life As A Busy Mom Easier

Let's face it.  As I've said many times before, right here in this blog, parenting is hard.  One of my goals, as the Been There Done That Mom, is to help my fellow moms' lives easier.  Over the past 13 years of my parenting life, I've had game plans, adjusted them, re-adjusted them and polished them.  Now, in particular, I have to be organized.  I am temporarily a single mom because my husband is deployed for at least 18 months.  He's been gone for 6 months already, so I'm getting pretty good at staying organized.  (I hope my friends and family who read this don't laugh out loud.  I'm trying.)  It's an ongoing process, but in many areas, I've got it down...  For now, anyway.

So, here is a list of 10 ways you can make your life easier.

1.  Keep a Calendar and Actually Use it.
Sure, it seems obvious.  What family doesn't have a calendar hanging on a wall somewhere in the house?  The problem arises when appointments, meetings, field trips, strings concerts, etc., don't make it from the email messages and newsletters to the calendar.  I find that as soon as a new date pops up in my email or in a phone call, I have to walk immediately to the calendar and write it down or it floats out of my brain, never to be found again.  Even better than having just the paper calendar or white board, is one of the online calendars.  Google has one, Mac has one, there are several out there and if you put an appointment on a specific date, then anyone who has access to the calendar can see it.  This is very handy for busy families.

2.  Plan Meals
One of my least favorite things to do is plan what is for dinner.  It's definitely one of my weak areas.  Once I know what we are having, though, I can go into auto mode and cook the meal and put it out without incident.  So, I find that if we sit down and decide what we will have for dinner each night of the week, on Sunday, for instance, I don't have to think as much and the evening goes much more smoothly.  Sometimes I let one child or another plan the meals for a week.  Or, I give each child a day of the week to select the menu.  Giving the kids input helps them have some ownership of the plan and makes for less whining at dinner, and less need for wine at dinner for me!  A second point in this step to making your life easier is, when making your shopping list, you should try to write the list in the order the items appear in the aisles of your store.  I, personally, prefer to do my shopping at Target, if possible.  The prices are good, I can get my groceries AND my every day items, AND I can stop at Starbucks on my way out of the store.  It's the trifecta of shopping trips.

3.  Set Homework Time
If left to their own devices, I think most kids would wait until just before bedtime to do their homework.  This is not a good plan.  I also think that making kids do their homework as soon as they get home leaves a lot to be desired.  Kids need some down time, just like we do.  At our house, we set an alarm to go off at the same time each day.  When the alarm goes off, about 45 minutes after the boys get home from school, they know it is homework time.  No arguing.  45 minutes gives them time to wash up (very important after a day at school), get a snack, run around or watch TV or whatever helps them relax and refresh.  By the time the alarm goes off, they should be ready to get to work.

4.  Set Expectations
This idea is less concrete than the others on the list so far.  But, it is probably the most important for helping to make your home life easier.  If kids don't know what you expect of them, you can expect them to fail to live up to your expectations.  Be clear.  Explain what you expect of them when you say, "clean your room."  Or if you say, "clear the table," but you really want the dishes, napkins, serving dishes, condiments- EVERYTHING, off the table, then make it clear that that is what you expect.  Setting the expectations ahead of time will save you a lot of time either doing the task yourself or explaining what you meant in the heat of the moment.

5.  Let the Kids Sort the Laundry
In our house, with 4 boys, I realized early on that having separate hampers for the different laundry loads would save enough time to make it worthwhile.  I bought a sorter with three separate sections.  The boys, including 3 year old Harold, know to put darks on the right, lights in middle and whites on the left.  All I have to do on laundry day (pretty much every day is laundry day around here) is take the clothes from one section, drop it into a basket, carry it to the laundry room and wash.

6.  Keep Socks Separate
I have to give credit where credit is due.  My husband, Horatio, came up with this idea when he saw me struggling to sort through about 100 white socks.  Each son has a different brand of socks, which is a start in helping to make the pairing up process easier.  Horatio came up with an ingenious way to make it even more simple, though.  I bought 4 lingerie bags and labeled each with our boys' names.  When the boys go to put their laundry in the proper section, they also put their socks in their own bag.  Then, when the socks are clean and dry, I can quickly pair them up and put them away.  I've even gone further with the older two boys, ages 13 and 10 1/2.  I take the bags and dump the socks into their underwear drawers and let them do the pairing up each day.  Let's face it, a white sock is a white sock and since each kid has his own brand, they all match.

7.  10 Minute Tidy
I have to admit that I stole this idea from a children's show on PBS.  The clown character used to have a 10 minute tidy in each show.  I applied this idea to my kids.  If I tell the boys to "clean up the playroom," they get overwhelmed and annoyed and the whining begins almost immediately.  If I set a timer, turn off the tv, turn on music and proclaim that it is time for a 10 minute tidy, the whining is minimized and you'd be surprised how much can get put away in 10 minutes.  I should get back to the Set Expectations point, though.  Explain that tidying up means putting toys/video games/books/etc. in their proper places.  Sticking everything under the sofa or in a drawer is not really cleaning up.  Doing this will just make the job harder next time.

8.  Make Good Use of a Coat Rack
I'm pretty sure some readers might have read that line and said, "huh?"  So, I'll explain what I mean.  Last summer I was overwhelmed by our family's pool outings.  We have a membership to our neighborhood pool and the boys like to go every day.  But, when the boys started asking to go to the pool, all I could think of was the 4 wet suits, the 4 wet towels, the goggles, the swim shoes, the snacks, the MESS!  After a lot of thinking, I came up with the idea of a coat rack.  I went online and searched for a relatively sturdy one.  I wanted one I could use in the summer for swimming gear and in the winter for coats and hats.  Now, when we get home from the pool, the boys hang their suits and towels on the coat rack in the entry way.  Sure, it's not the most attractive thing to have near the front door, but people who come to our house know we actually live there.  It's not a show house, after all.  At least this keeps the stuff from sitting in a pile collecting mildew!  The rest of the gear goes into a cute pool bag that I ordered from Lands End, and the bag stays in my car.  Now, when it's time to go to the pool we just grab our stuff and go.  We know where it is, the suits and towels are dry and the goggles haven't gotten lost somewhere!

9.  Labels
No, I'm not talking about deciding which of your children is the smart one or the silly one or the trouble maker.  That would be wrong... right?  A few weeks ago, I was finally fed up with finding more drink ware than we have family members on the kitchen counter and table.  The boys would take a cup, drink from it, and then leave it on the counter or table.  Then when they were thirsty again, they'd forget which one was theirs and just take another one.  By the end of each day, there were at least 6 or 7 kids' cups in various positions around the kitchen.  So, I took out a sharpie and labeled cups with the boys' names on them.  Now, not only do they know which cup was theirs, if someone leaves one out at the end of the day, I know which kid to "remind" to put it away.  There's no room for error OR denial!

10.  Don't Put it Down, Put it Away
I'm as guilty as the next mom when it comes to clutter.  It makes me crazy, though.  I turned over a new leaf this year- at least I'm making an effort at doing so.  My new philosophy is, "don't put it down, put it away."  This way of thinking and doing helps everyone in the family.  I try to remember to put things away the first time, so I don't have to do it later.  It basically saves half the time.  If you are carrying something in your hand, take the extra minute to put it in its proper place and you won't have to move it later.  If I carry one of my 3 year old's toys in from the car and set it on a chair in the living room, on my way to the kitchen, I'll eventually have to go back and pick up the toy and put it somewhere it belongs, which will take at least a minute.  If I put it in its place the first time, it will probably take an extra 20 seconds than just setting it down on my way through the house.  Doing it the right way every time would really add up to a lot of time saved.

11.  Bonus! Hire a Professional Cleaner
Yes, it will cost some money, but it will save you SO much time it is probably worth it.  Let's face it, cleaning your house is time consuming and with our busy lives, we probably don't do a great job at a thorough cleaning.  I find that hiring someone great to clean my house not only saves time, but it keeps my house cleaner and neater.  Every two weeks, a fabulous woman comes to my house and cleans it from top to bottom.  I have to tidy up before she comes, so it keeps me motivated to keep the house less cluttered in the first place.  Of course I have to spot clean in between.  I have to clean the toilets practically every day- I do have 4 boys, after all.  But the house is spotless once every two weeks, even if it's just for a few hours before the kids track in the leaves or spill pretzels or drop their school papers in a trail from the door to the kitchen.  I cherish those few hours and you probably will too.

“I wrote this blog post while participating in the SocialMoms and Starbucks blogging program, for a gift card worth $30. For more information on how you can participate, click here.”