Four Highly Productive Homemaking Tools
The life transition from mom of a few little children, to mom of a large homeschool family of teenagers, to mom of a child with complex medical needs has necessitated an ever changing approach to home management. I have far less time, energy, and help with tasks around the house now than I did ten years ago when chore charts for many children covered our refrigerator. And yet I still have all the mess of a preschooler up to his elbows in paint! The year of frequent trips to Cincinnati for Nathaniel's medical care demanded simplify my approach to cooking, cleaning, and planning. Here are four tools I have found worth their cost and my energy to keep me organized and home life moving forward.
There are hundreds of smart phone apps for time management. Really really smart ones that let lots of people link together and contribute to one calendar. I still use paper and ink. It just works for us. For the family, we use a large desk calendar on the wall. Each person is represented by a different color pen. Work schedules, social commitments, doctor's appointments, nursing schedule, college class info... everyone writes their own stuff on the calendar for everyone's benefit. The At-a-Glace $7 version works well for us. They keep the holes in the same place every year! Sharpie Ultra-Fine Point do not leak through month to month.
Seeing a visual of everyone's life in one place has helped our older boys a great deal. One works a closing shift almost every night. One works at five in the morning. Another works only weekends. Our calendar hangs in the hall. It is not uncommon to find them standing together, comparing work schedules, and parting with a "See you next Tuesday. Mom, next family dinner has to be on Tuesday." They purposefully plan, find windows of time to be together, and accept responsibility to help around the house by looking at the calendar. This has moved us from a home where parents and "children" interact to a home shared by five adults. I am not sure those same tangible relationship type changes would have happened over the last year if we were all staring at our smart phones and using text to update one another on our lives.
Personally, I use Moleskin blank books as planners, places to record lists, and for note taking. My style is something of a cross between Bullet Journaling and my own system developed when going to graduate school. I use a Classic Notebook (dotted) size large for life in general, and the Extra Large size Ruled Cahier Journal for Nathaniel's care. This mini drafting scale ruler was in my stocking this year, and I'm in love with it. So helpful and no bigger than a pen.
Again, paper beats electronic for me in how it influences interpersonal relationships. I can not imagine handing a doctor or nurse my iPhone and asking them to write down the name of the test or drug they just suggested for Nathaniel. I hand them my books all the time. His therapists make hard copies of word lists from my notes. When I looking for the note from the landscaper for tree removal, there is a visual memory that kicks in. 'I wrote that next to the list of cottage options for Lakeside - it was in March.' I do not have that same tangible memory with notes and documents stored on my phone or laptop. Using a paper system also allows me to include those tangible snippets of daily life that have nowhere else to go, but should not be disposed. Nathaniel wrote his name this week for the first time. A series of little lines and circles and scribbles at the bottom of coloring page. We know it is his name not because of the resemblance to actual letters, but because he said yes when we asked him, "Are you writing your name?" It is glued into my blank book.
Throw back: This post documents the end of my first book about Nathaniel and start of a second.
I started using the Declutter 365 program two years ago and really appreciate having the planning for household organization done for me. I keep the yearly calendar on my desktop for quick reference - all links within the pdf download lead directing to information about each specific week's tasks with lots of tips and ideas. I personally have opted out of the reminder emails, but do enjoy the updates provided in the public Facebook group. Do I do every 15 minute task every day of the year? NO! But when Nathaniel is healthy and life is sailing smooth, it is great to jump back into this program to keep our home in order. Cycling through the calendar and tasks over a few years has been especially helpful to hit weeks missed in previous years.
Cook Smarts saves me hours of time planning menus making grocery lists. I found the website after Grandpa moved away, and we were all ready for an update to our often-made-dinners list. The subscription service ($7 per month) provides recipes for four meals per week. These can be customized for original, gluten-free, paleo, or vegetarian, and the number of servings can be adjusted per recipe. After selecting meals, including the ability to add any number of additional meals from the archives, Cook Smarts will generate a shopping list, which can be edited to reflect items you have on hand.
The list can be printed or emailed to yourself. That later feature means I can create our menu sitting beside Nathaniel's bed in the hospital and forward the email it to one of the guys to do the shopping. Cook Smarts meals are healthy, have introduced us to some new foods and cooking techniques, and have how-to videos built into the recipes which really help the guys when they need to get the meal on the table. Meals can be marked as favorites. We have used the service for almost two years and have many meals in our favorites category. This makes for easy substitution when one of the meals offered doesn't appeal to us, or I want to plan for more than four meals a week.
I was gifted this meal planning grocery delivery service after one of our Cincinnati Children's Hospital weeks in 2015 and have used it a few more times. It is not ideal for our family as it is sold in meal plans for two or four people and we have five adults living here. But... we made do. The inability to increase portions has been the only thing we did not like about the program. That is offset by many perks. Hello Fresh sort of feels like staring in your own cooking show. Ingredients come pre-packaged and separated by meal into individual boxes. Recipes are simple to follow. Like using Cook Smarts, we tried some new cooking techniques and ingredients.
Other reasons to consider a service like Hello Fresh: 1. I gifted a couple weeks of Hello Fresh to my mom for Christmas; she loved it. I sent the three meals for two people size box; after preparing each meal, she saved (or froze) the second portion for another day. One box provided a week's worth of meals for her. It was both a practical gift and unique new experience. 2. Since Nathaniel has joined our family, our couple time and date nights have undergone a major revision from the years we could leave all the teens at home and get away. One of the things we've learned through this season is that Rich and I enjoy cooking together. We have considered using Hello Fresh for the two of us on a weekend that the older children are away and busy. It is cheaper than eating in a restaurant and fun at the same time.
Happy 2017! I would love to hear other tips people use to make the most of the time invested into homemaking.
Note: I am not receiving any compensation or incentive for the products listed.