Managing Your Household:
11 Ways To Do Less And Feel Great About It
"Cleaning your house while your kids are still growing is like shoveling the walk before it stops snowing." --Phyllis Diller
You made the decision to become an at-home mother. Somewhere along the way, however, the duties of full-time housekeeper, errand boy, secretary, chef and hostess have all been added to your repertoire. You go to bed at night envisioning a sunny picnic in the park with your kids and by mid-morning you find yourself feeling overwhelmed by a never-ending list of chores. Sometimes it feels as if you are digging a hole in sand, with new chores constantly filling in the spaces of completed ones. Your children are spending more and more time in front of the television while you placate them with, "I’ll be there in a minute. I just have to…."
You can take comfort in knowing that you’re not the first to fall into this trap. Many of us who have chosen to stay at home to raise our children have at one time slipped into the same mindset that we have to do everything ourselves. The difference between feeling overwhelmed and finding satisfaction as an at-home mother comes from recognizing what is important and letting go of the rest.
If you hope to ever find the time to do the important things, like activities with your children or pursuing other interests, it is essential to find ways to do less while discovering more efficient ways to do what is absolutely necessary. Most of us feel better with a certain amount of structure in our lives. Once your household becomes organized, your days feel less like a never-ending list of chores. Getting household chores "under control" also gives you a feeling of accomplishment. But how can you accomplish this?
Identify your priorities
These are the years when you must decide just how much housework is really necessary. Do you have to clean the house from top to bottom every week or it is more important to spend time with your children? You can vacuum every day or you can take the kids to the park. Which would make your child feel more loved? You’ll have plenty of time after the kids have grown to keep your house in perfect order, if it still seems that important. For now, give yourself permission to do less and then be OK about it.
It’s also important to prioritize your children’s time. Ballet lessons, soccer practice and art lessons at the museum on the other side of town may sound like wonderful opportunities for your multi-talented children, but do you really want to spend your life carpooling? It’s easy to get caught up in the frenzy of signing your children up for every activity offered. We don’t want our children to be left behind by Susie who has been taking tennis lessons since she was three. But children need some down-time too. Wouldn’t a free afternoon spent discussing the mysteries of life over milk and cookies enrich your kids in equally important ways?
Working toward short-term and long-term goals increases your sense of accomplishment. It allows you to focus on what you have done rather than on what is still left to be done. Your long-term goal may be to have all of your Christmas shopping done by Thanksgiving. Or it may simply be to have the summer clothes packed away by then. Short-term goals may be to make appointments for everyone with the dentist or to pick up the dry cleaning on your way to the post office after you drop the kids off at preschool. Be sure to make a list of your goals each day so that you can experience the sublime pleasure of checking each one off.
Write up a schedule for household activities. Following a schedule increases efficiency and decreases the time required. Planning which job is to be tackled when, is more efficient than frantically going from room to room, trying to get it all done at once. If you know that you have set aside time to vacuum on Tuesday, you will not waste time on Monday agonizing over not getting it done. Remember to be flexible and leave room in your schedule for the unexpected. Two-year-olds can be masters at knowing just when to spill the grape juice.
You aren’t showing love for your children by fostering dependence. Remember that your long-term goal is to mold independent adults. Assign, or have children choose, chores that are appropriate to their age level. Toddlers can help by putting their toys into their toy box each night. Preschoolers love to dust. Older children can become quite good at vacuuming, washing the car and even planning and fixing meals. Rotate chores periodically, perhaps on a biweekly or monthly basis. Allow and insist that all family members do as much as they can for themselves. Don’t forget to include your husband/partner. It sets a good example for your children to see Dad help and makes you feel less like the family maid.
Have a laundry basket available for each member of the family
Each person is responsible for putting dirty clothes in it and taking it to the laundry room on wash day. Clothes that don’t make it to the basket don’t get washed. Eventually, that favorite shirt behind the door will be missed and will find its way into the basket. When the laundry is done, fold the clothes, place them in their assigned laundry basket and return them to their proper owner. Don’t despair if the clothes never make it out of the basket and into the closet. At least they are clean, neatly folded and out of the family room.
List a month’s worth of meals and recycle the menus each month. Plan a weekly menu and shop for all of the ingredients at once. That should enable you to limit grocery shopping to once a week. When you eliminate those time-wasting extra trips for one or two things you also save money on those extras that always seem to catch your eye. Make a list of grocery items purchased on a regular basis in the order of your grocery store aisles. Make copies of that list and post it where you can easily circle needed items as the need arises. With good planning, you can coordinate other shopping with weekly grocery shopping to save trips.
Hire a baby-sitter while you run errands to save time and frustration
The money spent on a sitter will be far less than money wasted on hurried purchases and extra treats promised to appease your impatient brood. When my children were little, one of life’s greatest luxuries was going to the grocery store alone. For that one hour I would casually stroll down the aisles, read labels, check coupons and even browse through magazines. If you don’t want to hire a sitter, trade time with another mom friend. Your time spent watching her children will pale in significance to the luxury of running solo errands. Think of how many stops you can make when you’re not dealing with car seats and strollers.
Plan the night before for the following day
Make a list of things to do. This will help you to organize your day and keep you from lying awake all night trying to remember what you promised yourself you wouldn’t forget. Have your children get their clothes and backpacks ready for school. Math homework is less likely to get left behind if it is put in the backpack the night before.
Clean and pick up as you go
Any time a mess accumulates or is left undone, it becomes harder and more time consuming to clean up. It takes far less energy, both physically and mentally, to put away one load of laundry than to face a week’s worth. It takes no time at all to clean up after a snack, but the thought of facing a sink full of dirty dishes can be overwhelming. If your children learn to put away a toy when they are finished playing with it, they will never again have to spend an entire morning cleaning their rooms.
Do two things at once
Fold laundry, iron, or clean out the kitchen junk drawer while watching TV. Make those phone calls that are guaranteed to involve being placed on hold while you work in the kitchen. You can clean up after breakfast, unload the dishwasher and put away groceries in the time it takes for "a customer service representative to be with you shortly." A portable phone is a good investment, allowing you to do even more. You can water the garden while you leave fourteen messages about the soccer party. You could even relax in the hammock while you patiently listen to your mother’s account of her latest root canal.
Last year I discovered the advantages of having my own carpool backpack. I put my Christmas cards and address book in a backpack as I headed out the door to pick the kids up from tennis lessons. During the fifteen minutes that I waited for practice to finish, I wrote five cards. That may not sound like a lot but between soccer practice, dentist appointments and an oil change, my Christmas cards were finally sent out on time. Sometimes my backpack has thank you notes. Other times it has that novel that I never find time to read. I have even organized my photo albums during basketball season.
Learn to say NO!
Your husband promised to stay home with the kids so that you could get your hair cut but now his brother has an extra ticket for the game. Couldn’t you reschedule your appointment? Your church bake sale is tomorrow and the cookie chairman forgot to make her calls. Could you bake eight dozen cookies tonight? There won’t be a Girl Scout troop this year unless someone volunteers to be leader… It’s Patty’s turn for playgroup but something else has come up…again.
It’s great to be flexible and wonderful to be helpful, but sometimes you just can’t do it all. Just when you’ve set your priorities and organized your day, you can almost count on some unexpected crisis to demand your time and attention. Trying to be all things for all people can distract you from what you really want to accomplish. When you become burdened with things you don’t want to do, you no longer have the time or energy for the things that are most important. Once you’ve identified what’s most important to you, stand firm. Practice saying "no" if you need to. You don’t need to offer excuses. A simple "No, that won’t work for me today. Maybe another time," is all that is required. You can’t take on everyone’s problems without cheating yourself. You matter too.
Remember, when you choose to be an at-home mother, the emphasis is on "mother" not "home." Don’t lose sight of why you stayed at home in the first place. It may be a cliché, but it always catches us by surprise when we see how quickly our children grow up. The housework will be there long after the children are gone. You have the opportunity to make these years special. Enjoy them.