You’ve likely heard the old adage, “Work smarter, not harder.” While it may be cliché, it certainly offers some wisdom—especially if you’re balancing raising a family and, well, anything else. When something new enters the mix—like a pandemic...or a cancer diagnosis—it can throw even the most organized family into chaos.
When my first child was born, like most new parents, it threw my world into a tailspin. I had been a naturally organized person with a constantly clean house, cooking most of our meals from scratch, etc. etc. And then… baby. But it didn’t stop there. Because when our daughter was only five months old, we found out she had a sibling on the way. Those early years with near “Irish twins” are a blur—raising two babies while working a part-time job during the day and a side job from home while they slept at night.
I learned quickly that while I am naturally an organized person, I couldn’t rely on my instincts alone to keep the train on the rails anymore. I needed systems. I’ve spent the last decade developing the systems our family needs, tweaking and revamping as needed for the different phases our family grows into. Here are a few of the things I have found that make life easier:
1) Food Have you seen the meme of the woman throwing her head down on the table, bemoaning the fact that her family expects to eat every single meal? Totally relatable. Unfortunately, it’s true. But there are ways to make feeding your people an easier undertaking.
Taking a few minutes each week to chart out a meal plan will make a massive difference in your stress level during the week!
Order groceries online—there are some companies that charge a bit more but offer services like grocery delivery and same-day delivery, but there are also many stores like Kroger and Wal-Mart that offer pick-up for the same price as shopping yourself! I keep a running order going in the app all the time and add things in as they come up.
2) Mail and money
Have a place to set unopened mail where it won’t get lost or buried.
Try opening your mail over the recycle bin or trashcan.
Set as many bills as possible to auto-pay, or at least get paperless bills to reduce clutter.
Determine a system for paying your bills that works for you. I’m a pay-when-I-open-it kind of person, but you may want to designate one day a week for paying all at once. Figure out which type you are and stick to it.
Find a budgeting software that links to your bank and credit cards so transactions are automatically imported. It takes a little bit of time to set these up, but once they’re going, it’s a very quick and efficient way of staying on top of your budget. Our family loves YNAB (You Need a Budget), but Mint and Mvelopes are also great options!
If your kids are old enough (even preschoolers can do some things!), start assigning chores from an early age. It may not feel like it’s super helpful early on (and you may have to go behind them to do it again later), but start them early and soon you’ll have great helpers!
Assign yourself daily chores too. Some people prefer to clean their house all at once, but even five to 10 minutes a day to run a dust cloth over furniture or sweep and mop the kitchen floor will keep things from getting out of control. In fact, give everyone in the house a daily chore!
The only thing as annoying as everyone wanting to eat every meal is that they also insist on wearing clothes every day. Laundry systems are also very personal, so you must figure out what your style is. We’ve found assigning laundry days is helpful, but some people do a load every day. (And for larger families, this is often necessary.) Some people choose to skip the hamper and just have family members drop their laundry directly in the machine! Figure out what works best for your crew and get everyone on board with the plan.
4) Family Meetings
Speaking of getting everyone on board with a plan, family meetings are a crucial part of keeping families on the same page, especially during really busy seasons. Figure out one night a week when you can take five minutes to go over the next week’s schedule. We’ve found Sunday night dinner to be our best option. We use a dry erase board and write down the highlights of everyone’s schedule for the week ahead.
If you feel like you’re drowning, pick just one of these areas to develop a system, and you will likely see that snowball into efficiency in other areas as well. And don’t be afraid to ask for help—from your family members who live with you, neighbors, or extended family and friends. No family is an island, and especially if you are dealing with a diagnosis, there are likely many people around you who would love the chance to lighten your load!