decluttering, design + style, Family Life, large family, mental health, motherhood, Parenting

Homemaking hacks that keep me sane(ish)

November 14, 2017

I was going to write one of those perennially popular and always vaguely intriguing “day in the life” posts but there it sits, languishing in my drafts folder, because do you have any idea how much time it takes to assemble one of those bad boys? Especially if there are any pictures, which are kind of crucial to making said piece enjoyable for the reader.

En ee way, I decided that since I’m obviously too busy living my glamorous life as a severely pregnant (don’t worry, I always talk like this for the last 7 weeks or so) woman with 4 kids under the age of reason and a mildly-demanding side hustle involving the written word, it might be helpful to pass along some of my best practices gleaned from 7+ years of parenting and mostly (MOSTLY) pestering older and wiser moms for their wisdom.

I mean, why maintain a robust Facebook following if not to poll the audience with the truly pressing questions about potty training and mini van recommendations?

Why indeed.

Anyway, here are some things that are saving my life lately. Maybe they’ll be helpful to you, or maybe you’ll laugh that these are things I ACTUALLY SPEND TIME THINKING ABOUT.

The dining room table (built by an amazing and talented local friend – post coming soon) must be cleared off between meals because voila, it’s also my home office.

1. The laundry. Oh sweet mercy, the laundry. Just kidding, because I love laundry (really, I do, but don’t click away!) I think because it affords me a real, concrete sense of accomplishment when it’s caught up.

But wait, you might be thinking, it’s never caught up.

Oh, but that’s where you’re wrong. Cackle. I have discovered the secret to happiness, and it’s doing laundry every single day. One or two loads (or maybe more, season and family size-necessitating) per day and then (this is clutch) folding it/delivering it as soon as it’s done.

Seems outrageous, but it means I have a couple of dirty things each night in hampers, but overall, the entire laundry situation is perpetually in process, being worn, washed, and delivered back to the respective closets in a beautiful circle of life.

It seems counterintuitive that perpetually processing laundry makes for greater mental freedom, but there you have it. I now see laundry like I see dental hygiene or running the dishwasher. I’d no more let 3 days worth of dirty dishes pile up in the sink than I’d let as many days’ outfits pile up in the hamper. Here’s a big, fat caveat though: if you have unlimited supplies of anything (aside from the strict necessities like socks and undies) you will use them. And their very presence will enable the overwhelm of your laundry system, just like, I imagine, owning 40 sets of forks and knives could prevent you from dishwashing out of necessity. So my kids operate from fairly capsuled-wardrobes, with limitless socks and undies (specific character for each child of same gender to ease sorting + all white socks for boys and colorful socks for girl) and a strictly limited selection of other options.

Each big boy has 5-7 uniform polos, 4 pairs of uniform/Mass pants, 3 pairs of jeans, and about 4 complete sets of jammies. We also have a drawer full of athletic shorts/pants for leisure wear, and they each have 3-4 long sleeve and short sleeve t-shirts in their current rotation. I will pull down new shirts of the current size from time to time and rest other shirts in order to give them some semblance of variety and not miss the window of the item of clothing actually fitting them, but at no point do they have access to their entire Star Wars t-shirt collection, nor are their summer clothes accessible during the colder months. It would (and has, in the past) make for a miserable, endless pile of work for the chief laundry officer of the house.

Once or twice a week I do sheets and bath towels, as necessary. And all our bath towels are white and bleach-able. There are 3 or 4 of higher quietly cotton pile that I secret away in the master bath for parental use, otherwise it’s fair game. I probably buy new towels ever 6-12 months and rotate the old ones out for rags or pet use.

I realized I was more or less making use of this system on my own, but added the additional linens to their own schedule as needed per the recommendation of Lindsay from “My Child, I Love You,” whose mothering skills I tip my proverbial hat to while bowing deeply at the waist. I figure if she can keep empty laundry baskets with 9? 10? kids, I have zero excuses.

I also make the kids deliver their own goods after I wash and fold it all. Because I like doing those parts, and because I don’t feel confident in their nascent sorting abilities. Soon enough though, kids. Soon enough.

2. I pack lunches as soon as we get home from school. Sometimes the kids help, sometimes I do it myself, sometimes it’s a group effort. I call for lunch boxes to exit backpacks upon arrival in the house and be delivered to the counter, where I promptly dump and clean as necessary and then re-pack and return directly to the fridge. I give them a good wash on Fridays before retiring them for their weekend rest. I try to see it like paperwork, and so I only want to touch them once. If it’s on the counter and has to be put somewhere anyway, I may as well fill it with food and put it right back into the fridge. Plus, I hate mornings.

3. Dishes. Now dishes I hate. Dishes will be the domestic duty that gets me to heaven. But. I do have some thoughts. First, I streamlined our kitchen setup down to bare necessities and all one color. Maybe that strikes you as utilitarian, and you’d be absolutely correct in saying so. It’s beautifully, wonderfully, uniformly utilitarian, and my cupboards look like an IKEA display. White and glass and nothing else. Because you know what is colorful enough? Life with 4 kids. Anyway, we have about 12 white Corelle dinner plates, bowls, and small plates, and 2 dozen mason jars for drink ware. I have a little more fun in the barware department, but still only 4 of each type of glass (red wine, white wine, champagne, and whiskey) and they all match. Some are from the Dollar Tree so trust me when I reassure you that this is not an expensive venture. We also have a single drawer with about 8 IKEA poisonous plastic kid’s plates and tumblers, and 3 sippy cups with lids. And that’s it. Oh, wait, tupperware. Again with the IKEA, about 4 matching containers with lids in 4 graduated sizes, plus half a dozen glass 1-cup rubbermaid containers for daddy lunches.

It is so pleasant (well, as pleasant as dishwashing can be) to do dishes when everything matches and is clean and free of scratches or chips. That’s where the utterly boring and utterly serviceable clean white Corelle comes in. When my kids are older and out of the house I can relax my aesthetic of prison minimalist chic, but until then, we’re gonna wash those same 12 white plates every day and we’re gonna like it.

(And when we have parties, we use paper. We’re not partying much these days, so I have zero qualms of the environmental impact of a single sleeve of high quality paper plates purchased on a bi-annual basis. If you are partying more than we are, might i suggest the even greener option of buying a second dozen of the white Corelle beauties and keeping them in the garage?)

The kids load and unload the dishwasher, and they’ve also begun clearing and wiping down the table after meals. Which leads me to my next brilliant revelation:

4. “Yes, as soon as ____”

I’ve been working this system hard all school year, and so far, so good. Here’s a live demo:

“Mom, can we watch Wild Kratts?”

“Yes, as soon as you hang up your backpacks/finish your reading/bring me your lunch box”

“Mom, can we go play baseball till dinnertime?

“Yes, as soon as you pick up the Legos and put them away.”

“Mom, can I go outside and play with Andrew?”

“Yes, as soon as you put on your jacket and make sure there are no shoes on the floor of the front hall closet”

“Mom, can we have hot cocoa?”

“Yes, as soon as you finish your salad/carrots/whatever vegetable I’m pretending we’re eating tonight.”

You get the idea. I found that I was constantly saying no and feeling like I was bargaining with my kids to preempt them to good behavior/good habits, and I’ve realized that by leading with “yes,” we’re all so much happier and feel like we’re winning. Now, I don’t honor every request and I promise, I don’t preface every movement of their lives with a necessary domestic task, but all in all I’d say we’re learning a better balance of helpfulness and permission granted, of give and take. Plus, it makes me feel like a much nicer mom to say yes so many times a day. Power of affirmations, babies.

5. Empty the car.

Don’t know why it took me 7 years to master this one, but we’ve disciplined ourselves into the habit of almost completely emptying the car upon arriving home for the day. No backpacks, shoes, toys, food, or mom-debris left behind. The exceptions are my makeup bag (a girl has to have some time to mascara), 2 emergency pairs of socks in the glove compartment (thanks, mom!) diapers and wipes, of course, and a stash of current library books for in flight entertainment. Additionally, there can usually be found a spare fleece or light jacket in the back in case someone has an accident or it starts snowing out of a 70 degree day, not unheard of for Denver.

As a result, the car looks clean, the kids are actually encouraged to keep it clean, and we are all encouraged forced to put stuff back where it belongs upon arriving home each day. It’s like the mobile version of Marie Kondo, and yes, a healthy stack of spare diapers under the passenger seat spark joy.

This room is a naturally toy-free zone. When I find them there, into a bucket or basket they go until put-back time. (I mean, unless they’re actively being played with. I’m not a monster).

6. Kamikaze clean at night. I’m a little militant about this one (cough, cough, sorry Dave) but I do not go to bed with a dirty house. The kids tidy up the dinner table and their craft area in the kitchen, plus any toys that have remained out from the day’s play. And I finish processing and delivering the laundry and make sure the kitchen is scrubbed down and ready for business the following morning. Mornings are tough enough without waking to a disaster (and more often you will wake to some other disaster, any way) so I like to have a clean slate to start fresh from. Otherwise, I tend to feel like I’m behind the eight ball all day long.

Obviously there are nights where the dishes don’t get done and someone is sick or super needy or one of us is traveling and things fall apart, but on the whole, we go to bed with a clean house 95% of the time. And it makes a big difference.

All your toys are belong to us

7. I promise I’m going to stop. But this one is critical. Limited toys. We have 4 kids – soon to be 5 – and they’re all really little, and we could literally be drowning in toys. But we’re not, because I refuse to live that way. Our kids are not deprived: they each have a bike or plasma car, an armory of Nerf guns and lightsabers, a handful of special stuffed animals, and a few personal trinkets. Other than that we have a small box of Legos, a toy kitchen with cooking instruments, some doll-sized baby care gear for Evie’s growing cat family (don’t ask), and some matchbox cars and a ramp. There is a soccer goal in the backyard, and a stash of baseballs and bats in the garage.

And that’s it.

That’s all the toys we own, pretty much, and we are constantly paring back after birthdays and holidays, swapping out old or broken toys for newer favorites. Our parents are really great about buying thoughtful or small or even non-toy gifts, and I suspect this is one area where larger families can have an advantage, because spending big $$$ on a dozen grandchildren could really add up.

Our kids don’t seem deprived, but if they do complain about not having as much stuff as so-and-so (which to be frank, is very rare) I just point out different families do things differently, and aren’t they lucky to have more siblings? A pet? A bigger yard? etc. than that friend. Accentuate the positive.

Besides, they’re accustomed to our continuous purging of possessions, and they’ve confided to me before that they were grateful “for not having very much to clean up,” because when I give the order to go put the toy corner back together (two IKEA Kallax 4-cube shelves with bins) it can be done easily by even the 3 year old in under 5 minutes.

It forces me to be accountable to my own accumulation of “stuff,” too. I don’t really need a new piece of seasonal decor for my mantle or another candle (okay, maybe another candle…) or a cute mug because the stuff I have, I like, and it’s working well. It’s a good practice of minimalism for the sake of contentment, rather than minimalism for making some kind of philosophical point. We are minimalists by nature because our lives are kind of stuffed to the bursting with relationships, so there’s not a lot of room for much else.

Whew, that was a novella. Hopefully useful? Interesting? Or at least you’re sleeping peacefully now.

May your laundry be manageable, and your dishes unbreakable.

23 Comments

  • Reply Cynthia November 14, 2017 at 1:05 pm

    Thank you for sharing, I’ve been back and forth on the schedule of laundry and settling with 2xweek – but it still feels so overwhelming. I will try out the once a day and see how that goes.

    One of the cool tips that I picked up was to have a basket for socks next to the shoes in the mud room. The socks stay there and are always available for the kids as we endure the long process of heading out the door.

    Many blessings!!!

  • Reply Diana November 14, 2017 at 1:08 pm

    First, I LOVE day in the life posts (I do them once or twice a year on my own blog), seeing how others spend their day is SO fascinating to me. So, you know, if you ever get around to finishing (I know, they are time consuming).
    Second, TOTALLY with you on the clean house every night. It’s super rare we go to bed with things messy, often dishes drying in the drainer (because I hate drying dishes, especially when the air will do it for me with time), but toys picked up, dishes done, etc. It makes such a difference in my morning attitude.
    Also, the fewer things…especially kid things. I’ve been on a bit of a purge lately, with Christmas and presents coming…when he has enough. But trying to get some things out of the house before then, it’ll help my sanity!!

  • Reply Ari November 14, 2017 at 2:30 pm

    My question is, how do you deal with mail/junk mail? That seems to be the bane of my existence. We have baby #1 coming soon, and what used to be the study is now the nursery. I don’t know how to pare down all the paperwork.

  • Reply Monica November 14, 2017 at 3:44 pm

    Loved this post! We are very similar. I plan to begin using the “yes, as soon as you…” right away. I’m working so hard on our toy situation…it is so tough! Otherwise I’ve got the other things down too.

  • Reply Rachael November 14, 2017 at 4:22 pm

    That is us too. The less we have, the less clutter and mess. That is the only way to live with four kids.

    Btw, I love your taste!

  • Reply Bley November 14, 2017 at 6:23 pm

    Wow, you sound just like me! Desperate times (5 kids) call for desperate measures:)

  • Reply Emily November 14, 2017 at 8:48 pm

    I’ve just recently started a rule for myself where I have to wash a load and fold a load everyday – they’re not necessarily the same load, so there’s a little more delay in my system than yours, but it’s every bit as mentally freeing as you describe!

  • Reply Mary @ Better Than Eden November 15, 2017 at 5:59 am

    WE ARE THE SAME PERSON.

    • Reply BridgetAnn November 15, 2017 at 8:09 am

      This must be part of a personality type. In team “Do it right away” here too 🙂

  • Reply Ashley Anderson November 15, 2017 at 6:11 am

    Love, love, love every bit of this! Less stuff absolutely means less work. For sure! I’m currently working on the practice of doing a task 100%. Not 90%. Not 95%. 100%. It’s a spiritual work, let me tell you. It’s a tangible way for me to choose peace over anxiety and to be humbled that it doesn’t all rest on my shoulders. And really, efficiency lies mostly in executing really well, so the practice is a real eye-opening blessing!

  • Reply Melissa November 15, 2017 at 8:15 am

    These kinds of posts on my favorite blogs are seriously my life blood. I love it. Here’s a question though. Anyone else having to manage very different personalities when it comes to their spouse and what does/ does not bother them or seem like a priority to them?? Don’t get me wrong my husband does his share of kid wrangling and household duties and he pays all the bills so I can’t complain. But clutter and mess does not bother him in the anxiety inducing and urgent way it bothers me. I cannot stand clutter. But the piles of papers and random objects and counters covered in stuff makes me want to run away. And I feel like I’m the only one who sees it sometimes.

  • Reply Kelsey November 15, 2017 at 12:29 pm

    I’m curious what your deeper cleaning schedule looks like. When do you mop the floors, scrub down the bathroom, vacuum, etc.? I have a task I assign to each day, but I always enjoy hearing what works for other people.

    • Reply Jenny November 15, 2017 at 4:51 pm

      Busted! I’m definitely a sporadic deep cleaner. I vacuum downstairs every day and mop probably 1-2 times per week, but the bathrooms get neglected in terms of deep cleaning. I like to spray down the counters and mirrors during bathtime and I’ve started experimenting with having my big boys scrub toilets. With mixed results. I guess maybe once every 2 or 3 months we do a serious deep clean? I’m much more into uncluttered than truly, deeply clean, if I’m being honest.

  • Reply Kaitlin November 15, 2017 at 12:37 pm

    You know what breaks Corelle?? Tile floors. And it doesn’t just break. It shatters into an infinitesimal number of pieces on every square inch of the kitchen. I’m about to give up!

    • Reply Jenny November 15, 2017 at 4:53 pm

      Oohhhhh girl, that’s true. Our realtor discouraged me from dreaming of a tile kitchen floor for that very reason. So I tell myself my 70s linoleum is actually the best option for our current state of life, lol.

      There has to be a Corelle alternative that can withstand hard floors. Bamboo maybe? Well, or plastic…

  • Reply Julia November 15, 2017 at 5:30 pm

    Do you actually pack sandwiches for your kids’ lunches?? I love the idea of packing lunches the afternoon before but don’t like the idea of soggy sandwiches. Please share with me your ways…

    • Reply Jenny November 15, 2017 at 6:33 pm

      So we’re gluten free, which means we use gluten free bread aka cardboard. So soggy would be a welcome phenomenon, but it’s almost literally impossible to make that happen, lol. That being said, I only give them sandwiches 2-3 times a week, because the bread is so flipping expensive. The rest of the time they get DIY lunchables: salami or ham slices, slices of cheese, slices of cucumbers and tomatoes, crackers, and sometimes condiments like ranch or hummus. I pack really weird lunches, but so far nobody seems to have realized. They don’t really like PB&J so that gives me a lot of leeway … If I were worried about sogging, I’d just bundle the innards of the sandwich in one bag and put the bread in another and let them combine it themselves at lunchtime. You could probably even layer the mayo or mustard between the cheese and meat so it didn’t have to be in a separate container, and then send them with a few slices of bread on the side.

    • Reply BridgetAnn November 16, 2017 at 5:16 pm

      Pretty sure my mother-in-law used to freeze a weeks worth of pb&’s; they defrost by lunchtime.

  • Reply Christine November 16, 2017 at 12:52 pm

    I smiled when I read this because we have the same all-white Corelle plates. They are the best! Not the fanciest, but so practical. 🙂

  • Reply Caroline November 16, 2017 at 2:36 pm

    This is so helpful and we do many of the same things! How do you deal with pregnancy fatigue and house upkeep? I’m pregnant with number 4 and it seems like with each pregnancy, I feel so tired and old! I just want to lay in bed and eat bonbons. Thankfully, we are also minimalist so it helps. We have a few more toys than you do, and that’s encouraged me to purge more this Advent!

  • Reply Francine November 17, 2017 at 4:21 pm

    Love your system of saying yes more while still getting some cleaning participation.

    Also, Corelle 4 lyfe.

  • Reply Meagan Daoust November 20, 2017 at 3:25 pm

    Thought of you this grand Monday morning when I took our lunch bag out of the suburban. We only have co-ops on Mondays. Let that sink in a bit. Some unsolicited advice: just because you can use old bananas for banana bread doesn’t mean you should.

  • Reply Rachel November 24, 2017 at 8:44 pm

    How do you rid yourself of the guilty feelings whilst purging toys? I have 4 kids 4 and under and I’m pregnant with my 5th, so we get a lot of toys at Christmas and birthdays. Too fast for the toys to truly wear out, and they are all toys for a relatively similar developmental level! But I feel awful donating/culling toys we literally jut received from wonderful and kind family members! They are good about giving “experience” and alternate gifts, but they always want to give a toy too, and I don’t blame them! So I’m currently rotating toys but gee it’s a lot of work!! Any thoughts??

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