Today's adults are busier than ever…we are kids' chauffeurs, homework helpers, community volunteers, short order cooks, corporate slaves and marathon commuters. The demands on our time are never-ending. In a world of instant access, we keep trying to cram more and more into the same 24 hours. Then, we fill our homes with stuff we think will make life “easier”...time-saving gadgets in the kitchen, clever electronic devices in our pockets, anti-stress and anxiety medications in our cabinets. Our constant need to “keep up” with our friends and neighbors lures us into an endless quest for the latest fashions in clothing and decor, the newest video games, the best new this, that or the other. Before we know it, our cluttered homes, hectic schedules, stretched budgets, and frazzled nerves seem to conspire against us to withhold from us the one thing that most of us crave: simplicity.
Simplicity is the removal of the unnecessary to make room for peace and clarity. Less stuff, fewer commitments, efficient routines, clearer priorities all both lead to and result from simplicity. So how do we achieve simplicity?
It all begins with greater self-awareness. You cannot remove the unnecessary from your life until you identify what is truly necessary. To do that, answer these questions:
What are your priorities? What most fulfills your sense of purpose? What brings you joy? What activities do you truly need to have in your life to feel whole? If you want to live the simple life, you must build your life around these priorities, not the other way around. Do your career choices, hobbies and volunteer activities reflect your priorities, or arrived at the road you are on simply because it was the path of least resistance? Very often, what feels like the easier path at the beginning turns out to be the more difficult one in the long run. But do not confuse simplicity with ease. Achieving simplicity usually requires change, and change is rarely easy.
What are your strengths? Identifying your strengths enables you to play to them. It also highlights what are not your strengths. Find people with different strengths from your own to help you with your weaknesses. Life becomes simpler when we accept these realities and include them in the planning process. And when we cannot avoid performing tasks that are not among our strengths, modifying our expectations of ourselves...giving ourselves the patience and grace to be less than perfect...gives us the courage to try.
What is your plan for getting where you want to go? Be patient enough to plan. There are no shortcuts. Everything worthwhile takes effort, even simplifying. It’s where you invest your effort that makes the difference. Invest it in making a plan and then executing that plan. If you plan carefully and patiently, knowing your limitations and playing to your strengths while giving yourself the grace to stumble, fall and learn, follow-through becomes much simpler and more straight-forward.
What do you really need that you don’t already have to achieve your goals? You may be surprised at the answer to this question. It is likely not to be more physical belongings. Time. Space. Money. Energy. Confidence. Understanding. Moral support. Knowledge...none of these needs will be met by an Amazon delivery or trip to the store. If you truly want to simplify your life, remove those non-necessities.
What do you already have that you do not really need? Remove the unnecessary to make room for more peace and clarity. Make room in your home for more living. Make room in your head for more thinking and dreaming. Make room in your heart for more caring. Make room in your calendar for more planning.
Our lives are cluttered with extra steps because we don’t plan properly or are trying to be too perfect; with extra commitments because we don’t acknowledge our limitations; with extra effort because we are so rushed we mess up, having to do it all over again; with extra stuff because we haven’t taken the time to figure out what we actually need, versus what we want; and with extra stress and anxiety because we don’t know who we are or how to achieve simplicity.
But we can change all that. With a little planning, self-awareness and some resulting simplicity, even the most cluttered, frazzled life can become easy peasy.
Space truly is the final frontier! Everyone seems to be on an endless quest for it...for space in their homes...on their desks...in their busy lives! Yet it eludes most of us. Just as soon as we find some....poof! It’s gone and the search begins anew. But what if instead of spending all of our space, we kept some of it….empty?!! Today, I’m making a case for space!
First, how is empty space even useful?
Preserving your empty space boils down to choosing space over stuff. You may be asking...if empty space is so valuable, then why do people tend to choose stuff over space? Good question! Clients usually call me when their lack of space begins causing a problem in their lives. They are aware that they need more space, yet still seem compelled to fill it back up again when given the opportunity. Why? Here are some of the most common reasons, along with my counterpoint for each one: Do any of these sound familiar?
Fear of being without something you may need (clothes, paper towels, shoes, serving dishes).
Counterpoint: If you run out of something, you can go shopping, do laundry, borrow from a neighbor, order online. If none of these are possible, you will likely find a way to make do in an emergency. Such emergencies will be very rare and far outweighed by the everyday benefits of having more space. Think up a back-up plan in advance if that makes you feel less afraid to part with something. (Personal aside: At the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis when toilet paper was difficult to find, I came up with multiple contingency plans for if/when we ran out. I never had to use any of them, but now that I have them, I don’t feel a need to use up my valuable space hoarding toilet paper.)
Avoiding a deep-seated (and usually misplaced) perception of poverty and/or a misperception of “wealth”.
Counterpoint: Having more stuff doesn’t make you rich. It actually costs you more in the long run. Would you rather be “rich” in stuff that gets in your way, or rich in time and energy that can be spent on having new and meaningful experiences, learning more about the world, and forging/maintaining important relationships? Which will matter more at the end of your life? Remember, the old adage “You can’t take it with you” refers to your material wealth.
Unwillingness to make choices (aka decision deferral).
Counterpoint: Making decisions gets easier and quicker with practice and takes less time when you do it on a daily basis. Developing a habit of making decisions in the moment takes effort but will pay huge dividends in the long run.
Need to fill up the other aspects of life that feel empty (relationships, self-esteem, productivity, sense of control).
Counterpoint: Space gives us freedom. We need space to live in, move in, fill up with the people and activities that bring us joy. When we do that, we will not feel emptiness; we will feel fulfilled.
So how do we create and maintain empty space?
Simple: Choose space over stuff. Now that you understand the value of empty space and why you may have chosen stuff instead in the past, it will be easier to make more intentional decisions in the future. There are three key components to this:
With a little conscious decision-making and a few good habits, even holding onto empty space can be easy peasy!
Okay, so you've purged all your excess stuff, replaced single-function furniture and items with multi-function alternatives and organized what's left as efficiently as possible using all the techniques in last week’s blog and still don't have enough room? It's time to stare at the wall, or hang it up...literally. There's oodles of unlocked storage potential on those walls, as well as behind, above and on the backs of all your cabinets and doors. Tap into the wealth of vertical space, and you will be amazed at how much more additional storage room you actually have to hang stuff up.
Clockwise from top left: Paint cans hung from floor joists; Mugs hung from shelf; Bike helmets hung from tension rod; Toiletries stored in shoe pocket organizer on back of bathroom door.
Just a few ideas to get you started:
So the next time lack of space has you feeling down, look up for inspiration. The sky's the limit...literally
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My husband used to get annoyed with me for re-loading the dishwasher after he had already loaded it. Eventually, he stopped doing that task and now just says, "I'll let you work your magic." He knows I can always get a lot more in. But it isn't "magic" at all...it's just a matter of knowing how to use the rack space efficiently.
If you've been following @EasyPeasyLiving on Facebook, Instagram or this blog, you know that I've been sharing tips all month on how to create more space in your home. We started with the Declutter Challenge to get rid of all that excess stuff you don't really need. Then in last week's blog, I explained how seeking out multi-functional items to serve double-duty around the house, instead of buying multiple items that each only serve one purpose, can save a lot of storage space. This week, I'm going to share some tips for eking out even more space here and there -- without even getting rid of anything -- just by using the space you have more efficiently.
While it is true that neatness does not necessarily equal organization and vice versa, it does tend to be the case that most truly organized homes are also neater. Mostly that's because it's easier to keep it neat when it's organized. But did you know that being neat can also save space? Consider a pile of papers...not that I'm encouraging you to have too many of these, mind you. Which takes up less space on a desk, a cascade of messy papers, or a neat stack of papers? When items are neatly stacked or folded, you can almost always fit more into a smaller space. Adopting a few simple strategies can make a big difference in just how much space you are able to save.
As you can see from the photos above, I was able to fit 20% more into the basket simply by folding the towels. Not only that, the basket fits better on the shelf where it lives and towels are more easily-accessible when they are folded. However, folding alone doesn't always result in a space savings. You must also ensure you are folding items to the right size to fit your space efficiently. Don't always fold towels the exact same way just because they are towels, or you could end up with extra, unusable space next to them on the shelf. Instead, play around and figure out how to fold them in order to fit the maximum number on that specific shelf where they are stored. You may be surprised how many more you can get in simply by changing the way you fold them. I fold the dish towels above differently than I fold the hand towels that live under my powder room sink, even though they are roughly the same size. That's because they are being stored in a different sized basket. This same principle applies to clothing, sheets, blankets...anything! It's worth taking a few minutes to figure out a folding strategy for each space! Once you do, you'll be all set.
Purchase Matching Sets
While matching sets look nice and neat, that's not the reason I'm advocating this. Stacking items that are part of a set is generally easier and more space-efficient than stacking individual random items. This is because items in a set are usually the same size or have been specifically designed to be nested together or stacked. Think about it: dishes, food storage containers, storage bins, mixing bowls, measuring spoons, towels, etc. tend to come in sets that are intended to be stored together. You'll save tons of space by nesting food storage containers and then "filing" the lids, by size, upright in a bin or basket so that you can easily find the size you need. Sometimes lids within a set are designed to fit a variety of different bottoms.
Bundle and Contain
Have you ever noticed that odd-shaped stuff has a way of spreading out all on its own? I'm talking about bags and packets in the pantry, loose contents in drawers, charger cables, empty plastic shopping bags, etc. This "clutter creep" wastes a lot of space. The way to stop it is to bundle or contain it. When you store items like this in bins, baskets, boxes or drawer dividers, you are not only defining and limiting the amount of space they consume, you can literally fit more into that space. Imagine pouring a bag of sugar out onto the countertop. What happens? It spreads out across the surface of the counter into an inefficient mound. But pouring it into a canister eliminates gaps and contains the contents, consuming a smaller surface area. The same principle applies to your oddly-shaped items. Bundling and containing them also makes items easier to find and access.
Is your closet rod too tightly packed? Consider removing all the empty hangers from the rod and placing them in a basket on the floor of your closet. It's rare that you will be storing every article of clothing you own on the rod at the same time. Usually you'll be wearing some or laundering some, so why take up precious rod space with an empty hanger? And speaking of hangers, why waste space with a thick hanger when a skinny one will do the job just as well? Invest in thinner hangers to save space. Also, keep in mind that hanging clothes is more space-efficient than folding them and storing them in drawers and makes clothes easier to see and find.
Another big "filler" is the air in your off-season clothes and spare linens. Pack them in vacuum bags that eliminate the air when they are in storage. Similarly, save space in the pantry by dumping items like pasta, cereal and chips into airtight containers rather than storing big boxes that are half full of air. If freezing food in zip-loc bags, lie them flat during freezing so that they will stack neatly and save space.
Go with Corners
Whenever possible, choose square or rectangular storage containers over round ones, as they utilize the space more efficiently and leave fewer gaps between them. Also look for straight-sided bins rather than angled ones. It may not seem like this would make a big difference, but the space savings sure do add up.
Maximize Your Vertical Space
This is a big way to free up space in your home. Adjusting shelf height, using walls, backs of doors and cabinets, etc. can reap big space savings. In fact, there are so many ways to create space by going vertical that it warrants its very own blog post. I'll be covering this in more detail next week, so stay tuned.
With a little bit of tweaking in the right places, saving space without even getting rid of anything can be easy peasy.
When it comes to saving space - and money - nothing beats the power of multi-taskers. Getting in the habit of investing only in items that serve a double-duty function can yield some big dividends when it comes to creating more space in your home.
So what does this look like? Well, consider the many areas of your life where you can get double the usefulness objects:
The key is to get into the habit of brainstorming how you can use your belongings in more ways than one. Before you buy something new, look around to see if you already have something else that will fulfill your need. You'll be surprised how much space (and money!) you'll save...and trips to the donation dropoff too.
With a little creativity and a few multi-taskers, even creating more space in your home will be easy peasy.
If you think about it, parenting is a huge responsibility to all of society. It's not enough just to keep your kids safe and loved, educate them, and help them transition into self-sufficiency. One of the most important, meaningful, and never-ending aspects of parenting is inspiring your offspring to make the world a better place and play a role in advancing the human race.
As long as you are breathing, you are either taking from the world, or giving back to it. Teaching your child how to give back is one of the biggest ways you continue to give back. As most parents know, what you do has a greater impact on your kids than what you say. They will be watching as you teach by modeling learning...say something important by listening intently...receive fulfillment by giving away your time and treasure to a cause greater than yourself...and make your voice heard by amplifying the voices of others. This isn't difficult to do, but it doesn't just happen on its own. It requires intention. And it's never too early to start.
Look for ways you and your children can listen and learn together.
Show your kids that learning is a lifelong process. Explore the world beyond your own gate. Go to museums; read books; pay attention to current events; learn about history, religion and cultures outside of your own. Forge relationships with others from diverse backgrounds. Ask grandparents to share stories of their past experiences and personal struggles. All of this enables your children to put themselves in other people's shoes and develop an empathy and compassion that is crucial to improving the world for everyone.
Model the behaviors you want your kids to emulate.
Demonstrate what it means to be a good citizen. Take them with you to vote. Talk to them about the electoral process. Describe your volunteer work. Tell them about the causes you support and why you chose to make them a priority. Discuss age-appropriate current events at the dinner table. Invite friends and co-workers from diverse backgrounds to your home and visit them in theirs when invited. Introduce your children to food, customs, holidays and traditions from other cultures. Read the paper and educational magazines both in front of them and to them. Let them witness your continuing education about the world around you. Share with them about a time you changed your stance on an issue after listening to the other side's arguments. It's important for them to see that beliefs and priorities can evolve as you continue to learn and seek out new perspectives.
Encourage them to get involved.
Plan a summer project or field trip your family can do around giving back to the community. Participate in family-friendly volunteer events. Encourage them to give gifts that support a cause or to opt out of receiving gifts themselves and instead set up a fundraiser for a cause near to their hearts. Support them in a run for student council office. Enroll them in scouts, youth groups, or other organizations that center activities around serving others. Share with them what other kids are doing and nurture their creativity in finding ways they can offer their own unique skills and talents to the world.
There's no shortage of examples, but here are just a few more of my favorites:
Every voice matters. Even the smallest effort can make the biggest difference to one person. Empower your children from a young age to become the change they wish to see in the world. Download and print out the Raise Good Citizens PDF to get started.
With a little bit of contagious enthusiasm and the desire to keep learning, growing and contributing, even raising good citizens can be easy peasy.
Quite a few years ago, when my kids were younger, I spent a much-overdue weekend away with my three older sisters. It was the first time I had ever been away from my children, then ages 7 and 9, for more than one night. I was sure they would miss me, and I knew I would miss them, but my son responded to the news of my impending trip with this elated proclamation to his father:
“Hey Daddy, that means that we can do whatever we want all weekend, because Mommy won’t be here to boss us around!”
Alas, it’s true that we all need to take a break every now and then from doing what we’re supposed to do. That’s why we take vacations or occasionally skip the gym...why we sometimes take a “mental health day” from work, or cheat on our diets. In this case, my son thought that with his drill sergeant mom on leave, there would be no one ordering him to clean up his toys, make his bed or clear his dishes. He envisioned my time away as one long boss-free, video-game-playing, TV-watching, Lego-dumping weekend filled with Cocoa Puffs for dinner, chocolate cake for dessert and no church or teeth-brushing to cramp his style. Except he forgot his sister would be staying home with him. Here’s how he described her at the time:
It says: This is some big information. I have one sister. She is really bossy. For example, she tells me what TV shows and DVDs I can and ca'nt wach [sic] I like the great-white shark. It eats fish.
(I wonder, are those blue things fish, or a bossy sister's feet? Hmmm...)
Anyway, a little time off from the regular routine is both healthy and necessary, and summer is the ideal time for relaxing our standards and enjoying some easy, laid-back simplicity. But there is a fine line between a relaxed routine and a free-for-all that can be difficult to reverse. Just like enjoying that all-you-can-eat dessert buffet, the long-term negative effects of your binge can be minimized with just a smidgeon of advance preparation and a plan in place for easing back into the rigors of everyday life when reality resumes in the fall. Also remember that kids need a little structure in place to reassure them when they crash from that sugar rush.
Here are just a few strategies that I have found make for a smoother transition back to reality when summer ends:
So go ahead, turn on Nat King Cole and turn up the volume as you savor the sweetness of these long summer days, but just remember that you still need to brush every day if you don’t want a cavity!
With a little structure and routine over the summer, even transitioning your kids back to a school-time schedule in the fall will be easy peasy.
As a parent, one of your most important - and perhaps daunting - responsibilities is preparing your child for the day he leaves your nest. Believe it or not, that day will come much sooner than you think or will be ready for. When you first bring your little bundle of joy home for the first time, it seems as though you have all the time in the world. But there's so much knowledge to impart over the next 18-21 years. The good news is that the awesome task ahead of you will no doubt become one of the greatest and most rewarding adventures you will ever embark upon.
Sharing your knowledge of the world and instructing your child in the life skills he will need as an adult presents a unique opportunity for bonding. Think back on your own childhood and I'll wager some of your fondest memories are the times you learned a new skill under the loving tutelage of your parents or grandparents. Learning to ride a bike with mom and dad cheering you on; standing on a kitchen chair to help stir the cookie dough; receiving driving instruction from your white-knuckled parent looking terrified in the passenger seat...these are shared moments of victory...of the successful transference of knowledge and skill from one generation to the next. These little successes form a foundation of confidence your child can build upon in the years ahead. Like your parents before you, you are your child's first and most effective teacher. Endless opportunities present themselves during the course of everyday life to teach him everything from how to get dressed and do his laundry to selecting and wrapping an appropriate gift for someone else and even saving up the money to buy it. All too often, we miss these little teachable moments as we scurry through the busy-ness of life, so it's worth a little time and effort to lay a plan for capturing and harnessing them as you go.
Where to start
Begin by brainstorming all the skills you use every day. There are the obvious things like cooking, cleaning and laundry, but think a little deeper. Don't overlook the ones you take for granted because they are so second-nature, such as tying a tie, shaving, or pumping gas. Make a list and group them together by topic or download the Life Skills Made Easy (for younger kids) and Life Skills for Teens (for older kids) PDFs for FREE. We've already done the brainstorming for you! Once there's a game plan, it's just a matter of seizing opportunities to implement it as they arise. It's easier to recognize those teachable moments as they come up once you've identified what they are.
Even very young children can start learning life skills. In fact, the younger they are, the more eager they are to learn. What can your child do right now that will help him begin developing a new life skill? A four or five-year-old is obviously too young to handle a sharp chef's knife, but he can learn to safely cut his own sandwich with a plastic table knife. Even younger children might enjoy watching you cook as you explain what you are doing and why. He will learn just through repeated exposure to the activity and will want to emulate your actions as soon as possible. Encourage this!
Remember that "practice makes perfect"
Resist the temptation to just do things yourself because it's quicker and easier. Set aside some time to patiently coach your child in developing and practicing new skills. Praise their efforts even when the results may not be up to your usual standards. Point out what they are doing right. Remember that teaching them how to properly perform the task is more important than completing it quickly or perfectly. Don't be afraid to let them make a mistake (as long as they are not endangering themselves or others). Sometimes errors are the best teachers...they learn what not to do as what to do. (Likewise, you learn to be more specific with your instructions...like the time I instructed my daughter to drain a can of beans in a colander but forgot to suggest she do so over the sink...oops!)
Encourage learning and curiosity
Kids naturally want to be more like you and do the things you do. They view the "grownup things" as fun. (Shhhh...I won't correct them if you don't!) Keep your grumbling over doing your chores to yourself. Let them continue believing you are having a grand ole time for as long as possible! Find fun and creative ways to help them master each new skill. Go on "field trips" or do things differently than you normally would to expose them to new opportunities. Never underestimate the power of novelty to transform a mundane chore into an adventure. For example, take the bus to the post office instead of driving. Turn grocery shopping into a game. Turn on some energetic music and wash and dry the dishes together as a fun family after-dinner activity instead of simply loading the dishwasher as you normally would.
Reward and incentivize practicing
Even once your child has learned a new skill, it's important for them to continue practicing it. Reward their accomplishment with something tangible that will encourage them to keep using and perfecting their newfound skills. For example, a personalized stationery set might motivate them to send thank you notes without arguing and thus continue using the skills they mastered to earn a Letter Writing Badge. The Life Skills Badge Program is designed to reward kids with a physical badge they can display in their rooms upon completion of each module, while the Life Skills for Teens workbook suggests tangible rewards to encourage older kids to continue using their skills.
Become a curator of ideas
While your child's life skills education begins with you, that doesn't mean you have to do it all yourself! Look for fun camps, classes, books, DVDs and apps that can help. Seek and share ideas from friends and family members. Read parenting blogs. Search Pinterest to see how others are training their young ones.
My nephew and his wife recently shared with me their brilliant and creative "restaurant" idea for teaching responsibility, money management and table manners all at once! Their three young children earn "mommy/daddy money" by doing chores around the house throughout the day. Then that evening, they transform their dinner table into a "restaurant", complete with a host/hostess who seats everyone and a waiter/waitress who takes everybody's order from a laminated menu. Each child must make sure they have enough mommy/daddy money to pay for their meal, and impeccable table manners are expected and practiced throughout the meal. I love, love, love this idea!
There's no one way to transfer life skills and knowledge to your kids. The Life Skills Badge Program and Life Skills for Teens PDFs are free resources that can help you get started, but how you implement them is up to you. Please share your creative ideas in the comments below for other parents to try.
With a little patience, creativity and thirst for adventure, even raising capable, independent, and confident kids can be easy peasy!
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.
Valerie Sheridan is a professional organizer, wife, mother of two, and Founder/Owner of EasyPeasy Living.