Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Top 10 Life Hacks Keeping Me Out of the Mental Institution

Let me first say that I wondered if I should even be writing this post.

Every morning this week has consisted of kids careening wildly downstairs while yelling frantically, "I can't find my homework/shoes/jacket/backpack/brain!" (Okay, they never said brain.) 

We all run around the house until we find the missing item in the car/bathroom/backyard/under the bed and they barely make it on the bus. Or they miss it altogether, which is always an option.

We aren't exactly a model of efficiency over here.

That said, over the years I've put myself through a lot of trial and error to find ways of doing things that make my life more manageable. Here are the top 10.

Top 10 Life Hacks Keeping Me Out of the Mental Institution -- Really, these 10 life hacks are the only reason my 5 kids and I are still alive.  {posted @ Unremarkable Files}

1. Pack school lunch the night before. Better yet, have your kids do it.

When my kids first started school, I'd pack their lunches for them in the morning. Not only was it stressful, the kids were coming home with half their lunch untouched. Even though grapes and PB&Js were their favorites yesterday, they suddenly decided today that they hate them.

Thus began the Evans Household Rule that you packed your own lunch the night before. The following 5 categories need to be in your lunchbox:
  • a drink
  • a sandwich
  • a fruit/vegetable snack
  • a dairy snack 
  • a dry snack
On Saturdays, we portion out the fruit/vegetable, dairy, and dry snacks for the whole week. I went online and bought a bunch of these for drinks, these for pudding/Jello, and these for veggie dip. And a whole lotta Ziploc bags.

Fruit/veggie snacks go in the white bin in the fridge, dairy snacks go in the blue bin in the fridge, and dry snacks go in the red bin in the pantry.

At night, the kids just need to make a sandwich, pour a drink, and grab a snack from each of the colored bins. Presumably they won't grab something they hate, so lunches actually get eaten this way. Win-win.

2. Treat your basement like a grocery store.

If past experience has taught me anything, it's that I will run out of flour, sugar, or salt in the middle of making some important batch of something for a school function starting in exactly one hour. Not a crisis since if I have a spare in the basement.

Top 10 Life Hacks Keeping Me Out of the Mental Institution -- Really, these 10 life hacks are the only reason my 5 kids and I are still alive.  {posted @ Unremarkable Files}At least one extra of every shelf-stable item I regularly use is in our basement. That includes flour, pasta, peanut butter, chicken broth, garbage bags, and even toilet paper.

Not only does this help when I run out of something mid-recipe, I'm also all set for a zombie apocalypse. The whole zombie thing seems to be waning in popular culture, but I say bring it on. I'm ready.

One important thing about this system: you've got to replace your spares if you want it to work. Whenever I take something out of the basement, I write it on a running shopping list I keep in a kitchen drawer to buy next time I'm at the store.

3. About that shopping list. Make one. And a weekly dinner menu, too.

I don't like shopping, so I only want to go once a week and no more. Each week I write a weekly dinner menu, use it to make a shopping list, and post it on the fridge.

What I like about the system is that it ensures I won't have to make any filler trips to the grocery store, and also that I'll only need to spend 15 minutes a week thinking about what to make for dinner.

By 5 PM my brain is usually one step away from liquefying and oozing out of my ear, so minimizing all evening decision-making is important to me.

3. Keep your to-do list posted on a whiteboard on the wall.

In a book I read called Getting Things Done by David Allen, the author proposed a way to organize and manage your to-do list that completely changed my life.

Top 10 Life Hacks Keeping Me Out of the Mental Institution -- Really, these 10 life hacks are the only reason my 5 kids and I are still alive.  {posted @ Unremarkable Files}
Dry erase perfection.
I could do a 45-minute infomercial on the whole book for you right now, but I'll try to hold it in and just tell you that buying a cheap-o whiteboard at Staples, sticking it to my wall, and doing every blessed thing David Allen told me to is the only reason I haven't developed an ulcer.

My whiteboard to-do list never gets lost, it's always visible, and it's easy to add and delete stuff since it's dry erase. The other wildly successful part of this system is that I have my list divided up into 6 categories: Calls, Emails, At Computer, At Home, Errands, and Items for Phillip.

It makes a huge difference, trust me.

4. If it's supposed to go somewhere else, keep it in the car.

Before I finally figured out this totally common sense idea, I used to pile things by the door that were supposed to go somewhere: overdue library books, outgrown clothes to donate, retail items I needed to return, something someone lent me a few months back. (Never let me borrow anything from you; you'll never see it again.)

Then I'd forget about them until I drove past the library or the thrift store or the mall or my friend's house and I'd do a face palm and go, "I can't believe I forgot it again!" (Yes, I talk to myself in the car. And everywhere else.)

Now when something needs to go somewhere within the next couple of weeks, I keep it in the car. My passenger seat is usually covered with a random assortment of stuff, but I can't tell you the number of times I've been glad I had something with me when I had the chance to drop it off.

5. A word about socks.

Few things make me laugh harder than those cute little missing sock boards on Pinterest with about 4 clothespins on them.

Those things were obviously not made by a person who's ever been in charge of an actual household's laundry. First of all, the socks in this house are permanently black on the bottom from kids running outside with no shoes on. I don't want to display our socks. They're not cute, even when they're clean.

Second, if I was going to actually use one of these boards I'd need a 4' by 8' sheet of plywood with about a thousand clips on it. It makes me tired just thinking about it.

When I come across an unmatched sock, I throw it in a basket on top of the dryer. When one of my kids is being particularly naughty, they earn match duty.

6. Stop sorting laundry. Do it by rooms, and have your kids pitch in.

Everything in our house gets washed in cold water and I don't sort colors. Each bedroom has a hamper, and whenever it's full it gets emptied into the washing machine.

Kids don't get a free pass here on laundry. When they're 1 or 2, I wash it all and they help me fold. At 5 or 6, I'll wash it and put it in their room, and they're in charge of folding and putting it away themselves (but I usually stick around to keep them focused.) At 8 they're given their own laundry bag and taught to operate the washing machine, and I only help if I'm feeling particularly generous that day.

Also, and I know this is very unconventional for a family of 7, we don't own any laundry baskets. Not a single one. I've consciously avoided buying any because I know if I have a place to put laundry "for later," I'll let it pile up and then heaven help us all.

When I do a load of laundry, I fold it immediately (or take it up to the kids' rooms so they can fold it immediately,) sometimes working on it in 2-minute chunks because my laundry is right off my kitchen.

I realize this doesn't really work if your laundry room is squirreled away in the dark recesses of your basement. Sorry.

7. Behold the power of the 60-second cleanup.

My kids can take hours to clean a room top to bottom. I've seen it, and it's not pretty. They drag themselves around like the living dead putting things away as slowly as humanly possible, I think just to bug me.

Top 10 Life Hacks Keeping Me Out of the Mental Institution -- Really, these 10 life hacks are the only reason my 5 kids and I are still alive.  {posted @ Unremarkable Files}When rooms are really messy, we clean them in 60-second bursts throughout the day. For whatever reason, counting lends a sense of urgency to any situation. So I say "Ready, set, go!" and count to 60 while we clean like crazy.

The hilarious part about this is that the kids think they're being mischievous when they start whirlwind cleaning before I say "go." If I pretend to be upset that they're jumping the gun, they only laugh and clean faster.

Really, it's more like a 2-minute cleanup since I count slowly, but it's shocking what 5 or 6 people cleaning at top speed can do in 2 minutes.

8. Give the kids a list. Use pictures if they can't read yet.

Every day, your kids have stuff to do. Almost every day, it's the same stuff: do your homework, do your chore, practice your instrument, put your backpack away. And every day, you have to remind them 182 times to do each of those things  or do you?

When I finally realized I was saying the same things over and over, I just wrote them down. I slid each child's "list" in a page protector, taped it to the wall, and put a dry erase marker next to it for making check marks.

I don't have to nag the kids (much) anymore, and when I do I just ask "Did you do your list?" In our house a finished list is a prerequisite to any screen time, so they're pretty self-motivated.

9. Two words: Amazon Prime.

I can't stand shopping. I stay out of physical stores as much as possible. Whenever I have to go to a real store it takes forever, it's (usually) more expensive, the selection is worse, and half the time they don't have what I need in stock, anyway.

I debated about getting an Amazon Prime membership for a while because it costs $99 a year, but it's so worth it. With free two-day shipping, it actually takes less time to order it online than it would to schedule a time to schlep us all out the door to the store and find whatever it is we need to buy.

10. Buy kids' clothes in advance, whenever you see a good deal.

End-of-season clearance, thrift stores, garage sales, and consignment shops are good places to find cheap kids' clothes. I buy in all sorts of sizes and just store them in diaper boxes in the attic until they fit.

Top 10 Life Hacks Keeping Me Out of the Mental Institution -- Really, these 10 life hacks are the only reason my 5 kids and I are still alive.  {posted @ Unremarkable Files}
I used to feel silly coming home with boy's clothes in size 6 when my son was only 18 months old, but I figured since I was planning on him living that long, I might as well plan on dressing him that long, too.

Since I only buy when it's dirt-cheap, I accumulate an entire season of kids' clothes for what I'd spend on two new outfits at Gymboree. The kids like going shopping in the attic better, anyway.

Keep in mind, I don't do these things all the time. Not even close. I fall off the wagon from time to time, but I always return to these 10 methods because they make my life a little less insane.

Now if you'll excuse me, the kids just missed the schoolbus and I'm their ride.

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Unknown said...

I ended up the same way you did with the lunches in the garbage, but now i just have my kids decide want they want in their lunches! Great ideas!

Stephanie 139a said...

I do the have a spare grocery wise it drives MOH mad but it works for me. The only time it fails is when he sneaks the last one of something and doesn't tell me!! #sharewithme

Brandyn Blaze said...

Love this! So many helpful tips! I think I'm going to start using a few of these around here, particularly the 60 second clean!

Found you via #ShareWithMe

Megan said...

Great tips

Jenny Evans said...

I tried a lot of cleans around here before stumbling on this little gem. Turning the lights off and pointing at things to clean with a flashlight (probably from Pinterest) sounded like fun, but we discontinued the practice after kids running for the same item and colliding in the dark ended in tears. Twice.

Anonymous said...

Uber ideas !! I like your top ten and many of these can be applied to adults as well as moms/kids. I enjoy your blog when your writing reaches a wide range of ages and topics.

Unknown said...

Matching duty! That is hilarious. Or you could just do what my husband has done all his life and wear unmatched sock (I can't do that).
Seriously though, there are some great tips here. I love the idea of each kid having their own list. I'm with you on buying clothes cheaply in advance too, and having recently put up a whiteboard in the kitchen I agree that it is life-changing!

Let's Talk Mommy said...

This is brilliant and I will have to keep in mind as Buba starts school this september. I am back to working fulltime and then MM will start right after it will get even more busy and chaos. So this is great to follow and have a set plan and make things easier in the mornings for sure. Thanks for linking up to Share With Me. Apologies if you had any trouble commenting on my site. I am in the middle of a host transfer as my site kept crashing. #sharewithme

Courtney said...

Hahaha I love the 60 second clean up rule. I will remember that in future! Great post.

Meredith said...

Great tips!!! I like #4 especially - very clever to keep those items in the car for when it's convenient!

Colletta said...

Hi Jenny!
Thank you for sharing this. Although my children are all grown and long out of the house I still am a care giver. I work for Lutheran Social Services and help people with disabilities to be as self- sufficient as they can possibly be. Many of the tips that you offer can be used to help them but I particularly like Tip number one as it is easy enough for them to understand and also gives us time to talk about proper nutrition. I posted a poster in the kitchen of things they should put in their lunches every day but it didn't stick around. The bin idea is great because they are less likely to get lost!

Jenny Evans said...

Glad it will be helpful to you! It certainly changed weekday mornings in our house.

BritishMumUSA said...

Ok I had to laugh when you said use pictures. I have a 12 and 17 y/o, last year I gave the 17 y/o room the most amazing cleaning, took pictures of it and saved them to my phone.

Now when I want it cleaned, I text her those pictures along with the fact that I am holding hostage the WIFI passwords and the gas card for her car :)

Amazing how she is able to copy the magnificence of the clean room picture I have texted her :)

Christine said...

Great tips! Sounds like you've figured out how to keep things running smoothly!

Jenny Evans said...

Well, I don't know about that....

mothers shadow said...

Jenny, these are GREAT and I love the 'if they don't go in the house keep them in the car' idea - SO true!!! Thanks for linking up at the Wonderful Wed. Blog Hop and please come back next week. Carrie, A Mother's Shadow

Crystal said...

My question is, how many times has a toddler pulled a stool over to your whiteboard and erased the entire thing, making you want to cry? I have them for my kids' chores and a fight always ensues about who had what chore when their little brother erases them. It's funny, my kids love sock match duty for some reason. It is the coveted chore to be given at my house for some reason.

Unknown said...

Great tips. I love the whiteboard one, but I don't do that one, yet! I do things the night before and also have an order to our day. It truly does make things simpler at home! Thanks for the reminders and new ideas!

Unknown said...

I'm of the same tendency to make things harder for myself in moments of crunch-time by not planning in advance, so I've done similar things to make it easier, but I love this list. Especially the socks- AMEN.

Anonymous said...

AuntSue When our family with six kids was moving across the country, my blessed mother spent all day matching three clothes baskets of socks. She was left with two baskets of matched socks and one of lonelies, many of which had never belonged to our kids. Sad to say, after one month at our new home, there was an entire basket full of lonely socks! Since most of us wore the same size, I just started buying white socks, no stripes no color. It worked great for a long time, but then my daughter was in the color guard and the boys were in the band, so we had to go to black socks.
It is so refreshing to read about big families. They are truly worth the effort. Now that mine are all grown, married and providing me with grandchildren, the joy in my posterity is immense.

Jenny Evans said...

I never quite understand how socks that no one has ever seen before show up at our house. How does that work? Are these guys dryer crashers, or what?

Unknown said...

Lol! My oldest daughter refuses to wear matched socks. They have to be mismatched our she won't wear them. It used to drive me nuts, but to be honest it makes the morning sock hunt MUCH easier. Lol!