I remember years ago when I was swarmed with babies and toddlers and it seemed like as soon as I was done breastfeeding one, another flew out of my uterus at that exact moment. I felt like a conveyor belt some days. Like a milky, swollen, exhausted conveyor belt. And I remember saying to my friends with older kids that I felt “so busy” as I sat, un-showered, playing blocks on the floor after wiping up pee for the third time that morning.
And they laughed. They laughed and laughed.
Because they’d been there—in the baby days of spit-up and teething and Thomas the Train marathons. But then their kids grew up, started school, joined soccer, and baseball, and dance, and theater, and started having friends over, and asking for a new backpack, and an iPhone, and asking can I go here and can you pick me up from there…
And they knew.
They knew that despite baby and toddler life feeling like an eternal episode of Groundhog Day, that the busiest days were yet to come. They were right.
Now that my kids are all in school and activities, we hit the ground running every morning and don’t stop until they’ve eaten whatever makeshift dinner I can toss together, homework is done, everyone is home from work, practices, games, or rehearsals, and they’re all asleep (hopefully bathed, but maybe not).
Our life is chaotic and requires organization, teamwork, and a bit of patience. But thankfully, we’ve discovered a few hacks that have made things easier. (I didn’t say easy though. I said easi-ER.)
Here’s a list of ideas that might make your days and weeks less stressful. Some cost money and some are free, so there are hacks for every budget. From organizing your meals to organizing your kids’ homework, it’s all here. For example, one of the greatest stresses for parents is feeding the kids. (You have to feed them every day, you know. It’s bonkers.) And, they need clean clothes to wear to school, but when and how do you get it all done? And where do you put all their shit? See below, my friends. See below.
1. Check out meal delivery companies like Hello Fresh, Blue Apron, and Plated.
These companies send you all the ingredients you need to prepare a delicious, healthy meal. And some even send you the food already made, making your life even easier. This hack is amazing because it cancels out the need to grocery shop for dinner. And there’s no “Oh shit! I forgot the zucchini!” moment as you unload your groceries from your car. If you need zucchini, or tomato sauce, or a tablespoon of curry for tonight’s dinner, it’s in the box.
2. Use online grocery shopping with curbside pick up or delivery.
Gone are the days of having to walk the aisles looking for a can of tuna or ranch dressing, folks. In 2018, you can hop online, make a list, and click order. Whether it’s through Target, Walmart, Amazon Fresh, or your local grocery store, the options are endless for online ordering. More and more stores offer home delivery now, meaning you can grocery shop from your living room and never put on a bra. What a time to be alive.
3. Capitalize on hot lunches for your kids.
Lots of schools post the entire month’s menu online. My kids check the choices every Sunday, mark which days they’d like hot lunch and which days they’d like cold. That helps me meal plan and know how much lunch meat, yogurt, and cheese sticks I need to have for cold lunches. And if the following day is a hot lunch day, that’s one less lunchbox that needs to be packed the night before.
4. Use the classic “baskets on the stairs” trick.
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Their shit is everywhere. EVERYWHERE. So use the stairs. Or a corner. Wherever. Assign each of your kids a basket, bucket, container of some sort. As you pick up room after room, throw anything that belongs to them in the basket. In our house, there is never, ever nothing on the stairs. And so help me if my kids walk up to their rooms without bringing up their belongings, well guess what? Certain “special” items are now headed for the trash. Anything goes in the basket—from homework papers to Pokemon cards to nerf bullets to socks. Put. away. your. shit.
5. Sort the mail before coming inside.
As I walk back up the driveway after getting the mail every day, I sort. And sure enough, most days it’s 90% junk. So directly into the recycling bin it goes, before even coming inside and ending up all over the counter. Don’t bring into your house!
6. Have a place for each of your kids’ stuff.
Not everyone has room for a “cubby” center, where each kid can put their backpack, shoes, coat, etc. If you can, great. If not, find a corner, a wall, or a section of closet and assign that space to your child. Knowing where to put their stuff and where to find their stuff will help everyone stay organized (and calmer).
Also, having a homework station like this one helped immensely. Once all my kids were in school, I became overwhelmed by the papers and homework and permission slips and long-term assignments and spelling tests and trying to remember which days were P.E. days to make sure my daughter wore sneakers and not her pink cowboy boots and which day was library day. So I created a “station” for each of my kids. They all have a dry-erase board with their own individual schedule for specials, practices, dates assignments are due, etc. as well as a hook for a coat and backpack and a basket for important papers.
7. Do as much as possible the night before.
Homework should be done the night before, but not just left on the table, only to be forgotten the next morning. In our house, it’s not “done” until it’s complete and in the backpack. Also, before bed, the following gets done: lunches get made, water bottles get poured and put in backpacks, and clothes are picked out. (Some families even pick out the entire week’s outfits on Sundays.) The point is, whatever you can do to minimize the morning rush makes life easier.
8. Organize your home to foster your kids’ independence.
This means putting healthy snacks, cups, plates, etc. at their level in the fridge, pantry, and cabinets. Let them make their own lunches. Have them keep their own homework station and cubby organized. Have pencils, markers, highlighters, rulers, calculators, etc. readily accessible wherever they do homework so they can manage it independently. They less they need from you, the better, amiright?
Also, teach them to do regular chores and make it their responsibility. For example, my kids don’t do their own laundry yet, but they are responsible for bringing their dirty clothes to the laundry room every day and cleaning their bathroom once a week. Maybe one of your kids is responsible for feeding the dog or taking out the trash. They might need a push now and then, but these are their jobs and like any other time in life, if the job doesn’t get done, there is a not-so-fun consequence.
9. Use calendars, schedules, and communication.
Create a cleaning schedule for all members of your household so everyone knows what needs to get done. Maybe Mondays are vacuuming days and Thursdays are dusting. Figure out what works for you and post it where you can see it.
Family calendars are key—whether it’s Google Calendar that everyone shares on their phone or a dry-erase family calendar in the kitchen, or both. Just make sure everyone knows where it is and can add to it if need be. This way if one kid has hockey practice and you find out you have a late work meeting, you can identify the conflict and figure out a plan.
One mom shared that her family does a “family huddle” every Sunday night, during which they go over the plan for the week—who has what going on and how they’ll manage it. See? NFL players aren’t the only ones getting into a huddle on Sundays. You’re the quarterback, Mom, so take charge and let your team know what’s coming.
10. Apps, apps, apps!
As much as our society continues to get busier and busier, at least technology is keeping up with us. Apps like RainAware (which tells you exactly when it’s going to rain above your head) and Waze (an app that gives you up to date traffic info) could save you on a stressful day. Other popular ones are AnyList and Cozi, which help you meal plan and create a grocery lists. Plus, you can use them for to-do lists, Christmas, and birthday lists as well. (And of course these apps work with your bestie Alexa!)
In the end, you can obviously pretty much Prime anything these days (which I do, almost daily). But as much as I love Amazon (and I do), there are endless other life hacks out there to help you manage the wildness of life with kids.