#HouseholdHacks – Top Tips on Making Life Easier at Home

By DR KATE LITTLE  (KATE WHITE)

Take a look at some of these fantastic tips from our Horsley Hubbers on what works for them to make life easier at home. Please do add to the conversation in the comments box below and lets help each other de-stress!

When we looked at this in a mums’ group last year, we broke things down into 6 main areas:

  • General planning
  • Children
  • Food
  • Household
  • Relationships
  • Self

Not surprisingly, and perhaps representative of how we often prioritise, we ran out of time to discuss the latter two. I wonder if these are perhaps better placed in Re-energising at home so I will add them there.

Given the plethora of ideas you have offered, I have compiled your suggestions in a list format, using the first four categories mentioned above. And given that one of your top tips was lists, lists and more lists, this seems very apt!

 

GENERAL PLANNING

Take the time to plan & look at the week ahead each week. Identify what needs to be done and share this with others involved in care giving.

Lists and more lists. Getting everything down on paper or on your device means it is out of your head, freeing your concentration up for the task in hand. For this to work effectively, you need a reliable system that you trust.

Writing a list each evening with home and work tasks on that you need to get done the next day.

Be realistic about what you can get done and consider prioritising tasks into essential and nice to get done so that you focus your time effectively. Re-evaluate this regularly.

Anything that you can get done in less then 2 minutes, do straight away.

“Chore snacking”. Set a 10 minute rule: only do what you can get done in 10 minutes. You are less likely to procrastinate.

Divide chores into micro-tasks. Small things can be done whilst something is cooking in the oven, or you are waiting for the kettle to boil, so do them now!

Set up good communication systems with others who share your caring responsibilities whether this be for children or ageing relatives.

Create good habits

  • For work. Stick to a set finish time whether this be at the office or working home late in the evening. Don’t soldier on until all the tasks are done or you are too tired (unless this is absolutely essential).
  • Prioritise sleep (more on the importance of this in another post).
  • Ensure screen free time at least 1 hour before bed. This is important for kids too.
  • Make your bed and encourage kids to do the same. It starts a good routine for the day and makes for a tidy and calm environment before going to sleep.

 

CHILDREN

You can’t live with them but you can’t live without them. This was the most fertile topic for debate and you have shared some fantastic tips for how to get through each week with minimal mishap.

Set up shared calendars

Some of you recommended separate weekly family calendars, which have only kids and family activities on, and many of you use a digital one for work, which are shared with partners. Others have one single system that works for all. Whatever your method, make sure you can manage your family’s diverse commitments in a user friendly way.

Getting stuff ready the night before so you are prepared for the next day

This includes tasks such as sorting out the kitchen and getting the breakfast things out for next day, hanging kids clothes out, preparing packed lunches and getting school bags ready.

Kit and school bags

You recommend:

  • Separate kit bags for each activity. Clothes go straight from the wash to the bag to save time.
  • Duplicating kit so no delay with washing and drying.
  • Encouraging older kids to take more responsibility for their kit and organizing their school bags.

Tidy as you go

Encourage kids to:

  • Tidy up what they are doing before moving on.
  • Leave the room they have been in as they would wish to find it.

One parent has a “stuff” box, into which goes everything that is left lying around . At the weekend, she issues an ultimatum: put it where it belongs, or else it gets binned.

Get up before the kids

Another couple get up an hour before the kids wake up so that they get some personal time and space and quality time to chat when they are well rested and not tired and grumpy.

Shopping

You recommend:

  • On-line. Amazon prime is a worthwhile investment for busy people on the go.
  • Bulk buying presents and cards for parties so that there is no last minute scramble for the shops.

Reward systems

Top tip: laminate reward sheets so that they are re-useable

What constitutes a good reward system that actually works? Some parents reward positively and negatively using the same system for set behaviour & tasks – such as a 10 star system in order to get pocket money, or using on-line apps that track money. Some reward positive behaviour with treats or money, and then use a different system for negative behaviour. Others rate tasks to earn different amounts of money.

Whatever your thoughts and whatever system you choose, make sure you can stick to it yourself. Think about what motivates your child and how old they are. Keep moving the goal posts, once a positive behaviour or task has become habit.

Language

Wherever possible, use positive language rather than starting with negative words such as “Don’t”. This is often easier said than done, but it encourages children to listen more effectively and has a positive impact on how they deal with others. Non-violent Communication comes highly recommended, which really takes this on board. You also recommend Languages of Love by Gary Chapman, which works for relationships as well as communicating with kids. Other books recommended for pre-school kids are here,  for school-age children here and teenagers here.

Homework

You suggest:

  • Starting early to avoid Sunday night panic.
  • Doing it in bite-sized chunks to promote concentration. One family in the Horsleys does a quick dance to some loud music as a break between tasks.
  • Keeping one day homework free.
  • Timetabling it with other activities, but remember to include some contingency space.
  • Letting your kids decide if their work is “good enough”.

One mum comments that homework should not make family life miserable, so if your children are struggling with it, consider telling the school and your child that you are going to set a timer for the time the school say the homework should take. After that time allow your child to stop doing their homework and write down the time they have taken attempting the task. However if your child is enjoying the work, let them continue with it if they want to.

Clubs & activities

Top tip: Lift sharing and childcare swaps are both great ways to save time and energy, with the added benefit of being fun for the kids.

Many of us recognise that our children are doing many more activities than we did at their age. This impacts on our own sanity, as well as theirs, as we ferry them from one thing to the next.

So think about whether they are really enjoying the activity or are you insisting they do it because you feel they ought to? Consider allowing your kids space to get bored and be creative with their time. We all need time to just be.

Reducing screen time

This is hugely important for all of us, for our health and our sleep patterns.You recommend “Ourpact” app, which is downloadable on all devices and can switch off other devices in the house remotely to enforce the pact.

Some families have a screen bin that all devices go into at mealtimes and at least an hour before bed so there are no devices upstairs at bedtime.

Establishing a support network and do not be afraid to ask for help.

This is key for everyone. Friends and family will help if they can and it means that they will be more likely to ask you in a time of need. It’s a win win.

 

FOOD

Catering for a busy household is a job in and of itself. Here is how you do it….

On-line shopping using a supermarket app. Some of you do this when you’re on the train into work, either weekly or twice weekly so that there is a second supply for the weekend. You tell us that the Ocado app is very good for separating out lists

Menu planning. Some of you do formal rotas for 4 or even 8 weeks. Some of you do the same type of food each week but vary the ingredients – stir fry one night, pasta another. However the meal planning is done, it doesn’t matter as long as it fits with your lifestyle. One thing is clear: all those who do menu plan, comment on how it reduces stress, saves time, improves diet and minimises food waste (another topic!).

Cooking meals

You recommend:

  • Using a slow cooker. Prepare your food the night before and then pop it in to the cooker in the morning so that you have a nice easy meal ready for the evening.
  • Bulk cooking for the week.
  • Batch cooking meals. Double or treble quantities when you cook a bolognaise or stew and freeze the rest in single portion sizes for another week. Voila, it’s a homemade microwave meal!
  • Using frozen foods. You recommend popping frozen mango and edamame beans straight into packed lunches (no need to defrost). Frozen onion is also a real time-saver and Waitrose do a frozen soffrito with onions, celery and carrots to use as a base for risottos, stews and pasta sauces.
  • Investing in a Thermomix. This gadget comes highly recommended by one mum who says that it has transformed her life – at a cost! It apparently makes everything, replacing all other kitchen appliances whilst being small enough to be left out on the kitchen surface. It is dishwasher friendly to boot!
  • Investing in good quality knives.
  • Muffin tray dinners. These are a great for using up leftovers, or a good option if you don’t have a plan for dinner. One mum gives her children some things that she knows they like plus a few new things to try. Because its only a small portion, it doesn’t matter if they are not eaten.
  • ‘Pick and mix’ dinners. Everything is put out in dishes on the table and children get to choose and serve themselves with no adult interference. It makes for a happier mealtime, with no stress.
  • Give yourself a break. If you can afford to, it’s OK to buy ready-made food in occasionally.

Snacks

Make sure you have plenty of healthy snacks on offer in the house, such as fruit and veg, and ditch the unhealthy ones. If the kids are hungry, they will eat the healthier options and gradually develop a taste for them. The same applies to us as well!

Shop seasonally

Not only is this cheaper, but it is better for the environment and your gut health (more in another post!) The BBC food site has a great seasonal food planner and our local Grace & Flavour community garden sells locally grown fruit and vegetables on Saturday lunchtimes. What’s not to like!

 

HOUSEHOLD

With jobs, kids and elderly relatives to care for, it is difficult to find the time to keep the house ticking over as well. These are your practical tips for keeping on top of the household chores.

Laundry

Top tip: Invest in a tumble-dryer!

You also recommend:

  • Having separate lights and darks laundry bins – every little bit helps! One woman revealed that her mother even has a dirty washing chute from her bathroom down to the utility room!
  • Label your linen cupboards with what goes where so that you save time opening up the sheets and duvet covers to check what size they are – something I do countless times!
  • Put duvets and pillow case sets together so that you know that you have a set ready.

Ironing

Top tip: Abandon it! Ironing belongs in the iron age.

You also recommend:

  • Outsourcing – get your partner / others involved.
  • Hanging clothes carefully when damp – they need less or no ironing that way.
  • Hanging or folding straight from the tumble-dryer before the creases set in.

Cleaning

It’s difficult for many of us to find the time to keep our houses tidy.

You recommend:

  • Getting a cleaner if you can afford it. One family has prioritised paid domestic help over expensive holidays, deciding to employ various people to help with gardening and cleaning instead.
  • Getting older kids involved in some of the chores. It helps you and sets them up for the future.
  • Using safer non-bleach products, including Ozklean and GNLD
  • Investing in a cordless Black & decker mini hoover, or if you can afford it, a Dyson that does the same job.
  • Investing in a steam mop. The Sharp one comes highly recommended – it uses no detergent, cleans floors, grout on tiles and upholstery (including curtains).
  • Doing it in bite sized chunks. Leave what you can’t do in 10 minutes.
  • Having cleaning products in every room to save time looking.

Tidying

You recommend

  • Doing it as you go – it is less overwhelming that way.
  • Giving everything a place.
  • Keeping surfaces clear where possible.
  • Being realistic. It is impossible to keep every room tidy all the time, so focus on the areas that matter such as the lounge and kitchen. If rooms are messy, shut the door! 

Decluttering – “Less is most definitely more”

One mum writes:

“Since reading 168 hours by Laura Vanderkam, I am more mindful of how I actually spend my time versus how I want to spend my time. I don’t want to spend two hours every day cleaning up toys and tidying the house but I do like the house to be tidy, so I de-cluttered, got rid of lots of toys the boys didn’t play with and now I don’t have to clear up half as many toys!  

The same goes for clothes – the more you have, the more you wash, need to hang up to dry, fold and put away and that all takes time.”

Some other de-cluttering techniques you recommend include:

  • A family weekend challenge (everyone has to collect 25 things they don’t need anymore).
  • Having easily accessible boxes for taking to the charity shop / recycling / tip etc. so that as you find things you can put them in the appropriate box and empty it when its full.
  • De-cluttering for 30 minutes a day for 30 days. Set a timer and focus for those 30 minutes on one room, or one area.

Learning to accept imperfection

Another mum writes:

“ I’ve realised that most of the demands on my time at home actually originate from me. So if going for a run/meeting a friend is important to me, I need to work out what else I can drop or de-prioritise. I’ve since discovered no-one else notices how regularly I wash the kitchen floor or how well clothes are ironed (or not)…”

 

Having written this, the one thing I am going to start straight away is de-cluttering.

What will YOU do differently?

 

8 thoughts on “#HouseholdHacks – Top Tips on Making Life Easier at Home

  1. Debbie Warner says:

    One thing I’m usually often telling myself is not to beat myself up too much, it is usually only me who is being too self-critical anyway.

    I find the most stressful situation, though is when my children are ignoring my requests; which I think are fair and reasonable! I’ve found reward charts work quite well with this (although not always!). My youngest (4 yrs) wants to have an ice cream or play in the park after achieving several stars, while my eldest (10 yrs) likes to earn time playing computer games or drinking coke with his tea!!

    • Dr Kate Little says:

      Thank you for sharing Debbie. We are often our own worse critic. Kids ignoring our requests sounds an all too familiar situation!

  2. Oliver Potter says:

    Be comfortable and recognise the powerful role model benefits of you living a balanced life.
    1. Go to work and be comfortable doing so: its good for your children to see you setting the example
    2. Go on a run / exercise and again be comfortable that while not with your children for that hour you are again parenting by setting a good example
    3. Go our see your friends etc..
    Do the above for both yourself but also your children. Focus on quality time with your children, not just quantity.

    • Dr Kate Little says:

      The role modelling is so true. Research shows that people who are active in childhood, tend to sustain that into adulthood, and similarly those who are less active in childhood, are more likely to be inactive as adults. Inactivity is now thought to be responsible for 1 in 6 deaths in the UK. At population level this is a much as smoking! So not only being active positive for our physical and emotional health, it helps promote activity and health in our children.
      I totally echo the quality rather than quantity. Like the oxygen mask on the plane… Although, I have to say our planned episodes of quality don’t always turn out as expected so my other learning is a lowering of expectations:)

  3. L says:

    Linked to Debbie, I’ve realised that most of the demands on my time at home actually originate from me. So if going for a run/meeting a friend is important to me (and it might take a bit of thinking time to decide that!), I need to work out what else I can drop or de-prioritise. I’ve since discovered no-one else notices how regularly I wash the kitchen floor or how well clothes are ironed (or not)…

  4. Geoff. Stonehouse says:

    I am 87yoa, long retired. I get stressed sometimes e.g. when dealing with affairs is not going well. I find relief in sitting and listening—Really LISTENING — to the music of my choice for 20-30 minutes; sometimes in the dark. Geoff.S.

    • Dr Kate Little says:

      Thank you Geoff. I read somewhere that music accesses the other half of your brain so takes you effectively out of the thinking / ruminating. The really listening is the hard part though when your mind is whirring about, but key like you say. Thanks again for taking the time to comment.

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