Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by Sandy Kreps.
Living with kids is complicated, even chaotic at times. There’s no getting around it. Lots of laundry, toys, chauffeuring, school and extracurriculars, chores, sports, clubs…not to mention meal times, going anywhere in public, potty training, playdates and friends…the list goes on and on. It IS possible to rein in the crazy though. Here are seven tips to simplify your life with kids.
1. Use just one calendar. If you have kids, you probably have a lot of activities going on. Between your own work, social and volunteer schedule, your significant other’s schedule, and your children’s school events, extracurricular activities and special events such as birthday parties, it’s easy to get overwhelmed fast. Keep yourself organized with just one calendar. If your school or coach provides you with a calendar of events, transfer those dates to your one calendar. We use Google Calendar to keep track of everything our family is doing, and it’s easy to set up multiple categories for each person’s schedule and see them all in one spot. Google Calendar also syncs easily to my iPhone, so I have our family’s schedule with me all the time, and you can share calendars with other people (which means my husband and I are on the same page!) You can access it from the web anywhere, so it’s not tied to the home computer (or tacked on the fridge). Make sure to actually put all of your events in your calendar, and don’t overlook dates like library book due dates, doctor’s appointments, your turn at carpool, and early pick-up day at school.
2. Create routines. Routines are a must for any household with children, particularly daily routines, weekly routines and nighttime routines. This makes the schedule predictable for everyone, sets up habits for success and eliminates many conflicts. Daily routines may include regular times for meals, bathing, clean-up and chores, school work, and some exercise time. Weekly routines can include regular sports practices, housekeeping duties, and regular errands such as grocery shopping. A nighttime routine, vital for small children, can help bedtime go easier when kids know that after cleaning up toys comes bath time, pajamas, story time, and then sleep time.
3. Teach self-sufficiency from an early age. Teach your kids to do things for themselves as much as possible. This one requires some up-front work on your part, but it’s a life skill every kid needs to learn. Not only will it make your life simpler, learning to do for themselves gives kids confidence and self-reliance that can’t be taught. Younger kids can clean up toys, get out their pajamas, pick out a snack from a preapproved snack bin, sort their laundry by color, or sweep up their spilled crackers with a small broom. Older kids can make their own breakfast or snack, dress themselves, set the table or wash dishes, get their own drinks, fold and put away their laundry, or gather their supplies for school and extracurriculars using a list you provide. It’s all about setting the expectation with your kids that they can do it and that you expect them to.
4. Plan ahead. Mornings are generally the most chaotic time of day, but planning ahead can make the household run much smoother. The night before, prepare lunches, get clothes ready, grab school bags and supplies for any of tomorrow’s activities. Look at your calendar each night to see what activities you have planned so nothing gets missed. In the morning, you’ll be ready to go, and the entire day will go smoother thanks to that peaceful start.
5. Come prepared. Keep your bag or car stocked with kid necessities. If you have babies, that means fully stocked diaper bag at all times. For toddlers and older children, this could mean having extra snacks, refillable water bottles, some back-up clothing for potty or messy food accidents, a first aid kit, and a few books or small toys to keep kiddos occupied in the car or for unexpected wait times. Baby wipes, even after your kids are potty trained, are a must-have for cleaning up virtually any mess, from sticky fingers to spilled snacks and playground dirt. I always keep a few fun character bandages in my wallet for boo boos — they cheer up kids fast and are a great way to make friends at the park.
6. Streamline regularly. Two huge areas of potential clutter with kids are toys and clothing. They pile up fast, so it’s important to declutter them regularly to save your sanity. Kids can help sort toys they no longer want to play with, though I find it helpful to make a pass through them myself first to get rid of toys I know for certain they never use. Choose clothing that’s simple and matches easily, with similar color schemes and, if possible, lots of solid colors. With two active boys, I prefer to buy dark colors to hide stains. Keep a bin in the closet for outgrown clothes, and go through drawers and closets at the beginning of each season to sort out clothing that no longer fits. It helps to buy socks in bulk, all the same brand and style, so that they are easy to pair up.
7. Schedule in family time. Don’t forget to regularly plan some relaxing time with the family: a night in to watch a movie with home-popped popcorn and chocolate milk, an evening of board games or a weekend trip to the park. Read together or bake cookies, whatever you like — the important part is to consistently have some downtime together that doesn’t involve racing all over town. Make the focus spending time together, and let family members take turns choosing the activity so everyone gets to feel like they’re part of the team.
Sandy Kreps is a green living/simplicity writer and graphic designer in Dallas, Texas. You can also find her on Twitter.
Photo credit to Yvonne Niemann Photography.