Sometimes managing your home feels like trying to run a circus as people dash every which way, clowns load in and out of cars, and acrobats soar hither and thither while you scramble to rein it all in. If you're thinking, "This can't be my life!" try out these easy and essential steps the whole family can follow to simplify your job as ringmaster:
- Efficiency is a family affair. Unless you have a universal remote that controls everyone's behavior, start by getting a buy-in from each family member, whereby each of you agrees to do your part. Discussing the cause-effect relationship of each person's actions can help motivate. For example, you might tell your daughter that when she clears the table right after dinner instead of dillydallying, she's giving herself more time before bed to play with her toys.
- Find the pile-ups. As with a clown-car fender bender, the smallest bumps in a routine can cause the biggest time crunches for the entire family. These leave everyone, especially you, feeling overwhelmed, stressed out, and frequently in the awful lose-lose position of nagging, yelling, and dictating in order to get simple things done. Whether dealing with the morning get-out-and-go or the nighttime wind-down, the key — and the first step to fixing the problem — is to uncover which of these areas is causing the biggest pile-up. Where do you and your family get stopped in your tracks? Then identify the snags that cause the pile-up and get rid of them.
- Plan it out loud. To zap those snags, work together to set simple objectives. It's important to focus on one at a time. When all of you devote your attention to one problem, you'll solve it pretty quickly and then be able to move on to another troublesome area. It helps to talk things out together, exchanging ideas and suggestions for how to fix the dilemma. You'll be surprised by how helpful and creative your kids' suggestions can be, and the kids will be more willing to cooperate if they feel like they have a say in the matter. For example, your son might suggest picking out a new alarm clock — perhaps one that flashes light instead of beeping — if he has trouble waking up on time.
- Prepare ahead of time. One time-saving technique that may sound obvious but is underutilized is to plan certain things in advance. For example, making lunch in the mornings can frazzle your schedule when you're frantically searching for bologna or pretzels as the school bus is pulling up at the end of your driveway. Instead, place a container in the refrigerator that has separate sections for bread, washed and cut lettuce, tomato slices, lunchmeat, mayo, mustard, and small sandwich bags. That way anyone (not just you!) can pull the entire container out, pack a lunch, and put it all back in a snap.
- Color code. Adding colored boxes or bins to different parts of your home can be a valuable tool for organizing everyday tasks. Try placing colored buckets on top of the washing machine — one for items to be washed or mended by the following day, one for dry cleaning, and one for laundry that can wait. Or place colored in-boxes in the kitchen to create a system that prioritizes duties and helps the family work better as a team. For example, you can use a red inbox for things that need to be done immediately, like writing checks or signing permission slips; a white inbox for projects that require mom and dad's help but not their immediate attention, like purchasing art supplies; and a green inbox for anytime activities like reading newsletters.
Like any project worth taking on, implementing your household efficiency plan will take some time and effort in the beginning, but the payoff happens faster than you can imagine. Teaching your family how to break down what may seem to be a monstrous project into bite-size tidbits not only saves your sanity and your household, it sets them out into the world knowing that nothing is too much to take on.