If you have kids at home - especially young ones - no doubt you are well-acquainted with the pain of walking through a minefield of Legos. If you haven't had the pleasure, just imagine walking across a floor covered in broken glass. Or maybe you've encountered the slip-n-slide effect of stepping on a stray paper or magazine left on the stairs...or discovered a new life form growing in the sweaty clothes strewn across your teenager's bedroom floor. Ah yes, kids seem to have a special knack for sowing chaos, destruction and grossness, but they are equally capable of creating order and finding solutions with the right guidance, encouragement and opportunity. Which is a good thing, because you won't have the time or energy to keep up with their messes without a bulldozer...and not many of us have room for storing one of those. You'll need some help!
Maintaining an orderly home requires solid teamwork from the entire family, and raising a generation of organized, clutter-free adults begins at home with consistent coaching from you. Even if you struggle with organization yourself - in fact, especially if you do - there are still things you can all do together as a cohesive unit to transform your home into the calm and relaxed sanctuary you all deserve to live in.
Start early by training your young children to sort objects, put their toys away and make thoughtful decisions about their belongings. Establishing routines for everyone in the household (including you!) and stating clear expectations will help all of you stay on track. Instead of barking out orders and making chore-time feel like a punishment, underscore the unifying effect collaboration will have on your family unit. Offering age-appropriate incentives and finding creative ways to make the process fun for everyone will teach them that with a little planning and teamwork, orderly living and a home they can proudly share with others can be easy peasy!
No matter how old your kids are or what state your home is currently in, it is never too early or too late to start adopting some of these strategies:
Keep it Positive
Lay the Foundation
Go on Autopilot Whenever Possible
Evolve and Adapt
Make it Fun!
Parenting is at its most challenging when we are faced with the prospect of teaching our young ones something we, ourselves, are still trying to learn. But in my experience, some of the most special experiences I've shared with my children are the ones where I was learning alongside them. You don't have to be an expert at cleaning and organizing to begin teaching your children the importance of learning those skills. You just have to be willing to make the effort to model how to learn them.
With a little effort and collaboration, even maintaining an orderly home can be easy peasy.
The most stressful time of day in my home is late afternoon/early evening during the week. That's when I'm typically running from here to there, picking up one kid or the other from practice or rehearsal...sometimes both. There's homework to get started, after-school anxieties to unwind, and often other types of social drama to smooth out. And on top of everything else...dinner. I call it the witching hour. Thankfully, (to quote Elizabeth Warren) "I've got a plan for that". If you're struggling with dinnertime stress too, a weekly meal plan is a must!
Having a plan in place for anything will eliminate a great deal of stress from your life, and meal planning is no different. It allows you to do all the thinking required at a time of your choosing, rather than forcing you to figure out a solution when your brainpower is already stretched to the limit. Aside from reducing your stress, meal planning:
Contrary to what you may think, meal planning really doesn't take that much time or effort once you have a system that becomes a routine.
Step 1: Gather your meal ideas
Note that I say "ideas", because for those of you who don't enjoy cooking, the word "recipes" may be scary. Rest assured that meal planning does not require you to become the new Gordon Ramsey. You don't need complicated recipes or fancy knife skills...just a list of the things you like to eat for dinner. For those who do enjoy working with recipes, your idea list should include your recipe source, whether it be a URL, Pinterest post, cookbook, magazine or one of Grandma's handwritten recipe cards. The key is to be able to find it easily when you need it. (Be sure to include page numbers on your list too, where appropriate.)
If you have picky eaters in your home, selecting recipes that can be easily modified to suit everyone will save you time and effort. Remember, you are not a short-order cook! Ask your family for feedback and ditch the recipes no one likes. Note the recipes that are more time-consuming or complicated so that you avoid them on busy nights. Keep building and adjusting your list as you go.
Step 2: Plan around your calendar and refrigerator
Pick a day each week to do your meal planning. Look at your calendar for the week ahead to see which days will be your busiest and require a make-ahead or quick meal. Which nights are you having company or planning a special meal? Also check the refrigerator and freezer to see what ingredients need to be used up before they go bad and plan to incorporate these into your plan. Take advantage of shortcuts on busy nights, like buying precut veggies or partially-made components. You can still wow your guests with a "homemade" pie made from store-bought pie crust you bake yourself! Or use your own homemade, make-ahead mixes for some of your favorites. (Get recipes and instructions for some of my favorite homemade mixes!)
Step 3: Write it all down in one place
Write down your dinner menu for each night in one central place. Your plan should include:
Tip: Always plan an extra "back-up" meal for nights when nothing goes according to plan and you need a quick and easy save. This meal should rely on pantry or freezer staples you know you'll have on hand. (My favorite back-up meal is Broccoli Soup.) It should be quick to prepare and not require advance preparation.
Step 4: Shop for your plan
As you compose your meal plan, create your shopping list at the same time. Include all ingredients you will need to make the meals you've selected for the week and add breakfast, lunch and snack items. Shop once to save time. Take your plan with you to the store in case they are out of an essential ingredient and you need to make a substitution. (Don't forget to note changes on your written plan.)
A tool like the downloadable EasyPeasy Meal Planner PDF can help you get started. It may feel a little ovewhelming at first, but once you are in the habit of meal planning each week, it will become second-nature and will require only a small investment of your time. You'll wonder how you ever managed without a plan!
With a little forethought and planning, even feeding your hungriest crowd will be easy peasy.
I no longer wish for a bigger house with a bigger kitchen. It's true that, for years, I longed for oodles of counter space to spread out during my marathon baking sessions, a walk-in pantry, and plenty of space to store all manner of appliances and cooking/baking tools. In fact, when we were house-hunting for our "starter" home back in 2002, I told the realtor that a big kitchen was a must. She almost didn't show us this townhouse because of the small kitchen, but the minute we walked through the front door, we knew this was the one. Our next house will have a bigger kitchen, I thought. I can make do with this one until then.
But somewhere along the line, I came to appreciate the smallness of my space. The fact of the matter is, there's far less cleaning and upkeep here than with a bigger home, which is a HUGE benefit worth the trade-off, in my humble opinion. We seem to have adequate space for our needs 90% of the time. (Entertaining is still a challenge.) And we'll be empty-nesters in just a few years, so there's no point in upgrading to a bigger home now. But the biggest factor in me being able to let go of my dreams for a bigger kitchen is just the fact that I've learned to live quite comfortably within my available space, and I like this simpler lifestyle. With the help of these five simple strategies for organizing your kitchen, you just might learn to love your space too:
1) Maximize your vertical space
When a client tells me they need more space, the first thing I do is look behind all the doors. I'm always surprised to find many of them bare. Finding available vertical space is like finding money you didn't know you had! Here are just a few ways to make the most of this pot o' gold:
2) Corral the little or irregularly-shaped stuff
Nothing's worse than "losing" a small container of yogurt in the back of the fridge until it starts to smell bad. When you use a small bin for storing packets of spices, half-opened bags of rice or beans, etc., you can squeeze a lot in without worrying about encountering an avalanche in your pantry. It's also easier to find what you need when you can take the entire bin out into the light instead of feeling your way around the back of a dark cabinet. Use bins in the pantry, fridge, freezer or a high shelf for all those random small items, packets and bags.
3) Buy stackable containers for your pantry
I hate having to move stuff to see what's behind it in my pantry! All those Pinterest photos showing off Martha Stewart-esque pantries full of beautiful matching glass jars make me shake my head. First of all, you shouldn't have to break the bank to achieve a beautifully-organized and functional pantry, especially if it will all be behind closed doors. But also, tall containers force you to store things in front of each other. And have you tried measuring out a cup of flour stored from a canister with a narrow opening? Large, shallow, rectangular containers that can be stacked, taking up all the shelf space from front to back rather than from top to bottom, will enable you to see what you have without having to move anything to see what's in the back row. Labeling makes it a slam-dunk on grocery list-making day. As a bonus, you can easily get your hand in there to measure out the flour, sugar or rice, mess- and hassle-free.
4) Decorate with everyday items
Have you ever noticed that a well-styled kitchen always boasts an inviting bowl of fresh fruits or vegetables on the counter...attractive glass jars of staples...a pedestal of yummy baked goods? Showing off the offerings from your kitchen not only increases its appeal, it also saves valuable fridge, pantry and cabinet space. Take advantage of this little secret! Just be careful not to make your surfaces look too cluttered. Here are a few suggestions for dressed-up items you can store out in the open:
5) Store kitchen items in another room
I know, I know...this is not so covenient. That's why you'll want to limit this strategy to items you rarely use. And while we're on that topic, think long and hard about whether such items should be stored in your house, or perhaps in someone else's, if you get my meaning. I'm pretty ruthless about getting rid of stuff I don't use, but even I have a few appliances or baking tools I couldn't live without yet only use once or twice a year. It's worth the effort of having to retrieve them from another part of the house on the rare occasions I really need them in order to have more space in my kitchen every other day of the year. Here are some candidates to consider removing from your kitchen:
Most of us prepare food several times a day. If you're gonna spend that much time in one room, why not make it a pleasant and stress-free place to be. With a little organization and some space-saving tricks like these up your sleeve, even cooking in a tiny kitchen can be easy peasy.
Valerie Sheridan is a professional organizer, wife, mother of two, and Founder/Owner of EasyPeasy Living.