I was going to write one of those perennially popular and always vaguely intriguing “day in the life” posts but there it sits, languishing in my drafts folder, because do you have any idea how much time it takes to assemble one of those bad boys? Especially if there are any pictures, which are kind of crucial to making said piece enjoyable for the reader.
En ee way, I decided that since I’m obviously too busy living my glamorous life as a severely pregnant (don’t worry, I always talk like this for the last 7 weeks or so) woman with 4 kids under the age of reason and a mildly-demanding side hustle involving the written word, it might be helpful to pass along some of my best practices gleaned from 7+ years of parenting and mostly (MOSTLY) pestering older and wiser moms for their wisdom.
I mean, why maintain a robust Facebook following if not to poll the audience with the truly pressing questions about potty training and mini van recommendations?
Anyway, here are some things that are saving my life lately. Maybe they’ll be helpful to you, or maybe you’ll laugh that these are things I ACTUALLY SPEND TIME THINKING ABOUT.
1. The laundry. Oh sweet mercy, the laundry. Just kidding, because I love laundry (really, I do, but don’t click away!) I think because it affords me a real, concrete sense of accomplishment when it’s caught up.
But wait, you might be thinking, it’s never caught up.
Oh, but that’s where you’re wrong. Cackle. I have discovered the secret to happiness, and it’s doing laundry every single day. One or two loads (or maybe more, season and family size-necessitating) per day and then (this is clutch) folding it/delivering it as soon as it’s done.
Seems outrageous, but it means I have a couple of dirty things each night in hampers, but overall, the entire laundry situation is perpetually in process, being worn, washed, and delivered back to the respective closets in a beautiful circle of life.
It seems counterintuitive that perpetually processing laundry makes for greater mental freedom, but there you have it. I now see laundry like I see dental hygiene or running the dishwasher. I’d no more let 3 days worth of dirty dishes pile up in the sink than I’d let as many days’ outfits pile up in the hamper. Here’s a big, fat caveat though: if you have unlimited supplies of anything (aside from the strict necessities like socks and undies) you will use them. And their very presence will enable the overwhelm of your laundry system, just like, I imagine, owning 40 sets of forks and knives could prevent you from dishwashing out of necessity. So my kids operate from fairly capsuled-wardrobes, with limitless socks and undies (specific character for each child of same gender to ease sorting + all white socks for boys and colorful socks for girl) and a strictly limited selection of other options.
Each big boy has 5-7 uniform polos, 4 pairs of uniform/Mass pants, 3 pairs of jeans, and about 4 complete sets of jammies. We also have a drawer full of athletic shorts/pants for leisure wear, and they each have 3-4 long sleeve and short sleeve t-shirts in their current rotation. I will pull down new shirts of the current size from time to time and rest other shirts in order to give them some semblance of variety and not miss the window of the item of clothing actually fitting them, but at no point do they have access to their entire Star Wars t-shirt collection, nor are their summer clothes accessible during the colder months. It would (and has, in the past) make for a miserable, endless pile of work for the chief laundry officer of the house.
Once or twice a week I do sheets and bath towels, as necessary. And all our bath towels are white and bleach-able. There are 3 or 4 of higher quietly cotton pile that I secret away in the master bath for parental use, otherwise it’s fair game. I probably buy new towels ever 6-12 months and rotate the old ones out for rags or pet use.
I realized I was more or less making use of this system on my own, but added the additional linens to their own schedule as needed per the recommendation of Lindsay from “My Child, I Love You,” whose mothering skills I tip my proverbial hat to while bowing deeply at the waist. I figure if she can keep empty laundry baskets with 9? 10? kids, I have zero excuses.
I also make the kids deliver their own goods after I wash and fold it all. Because I like doing those parts, and because I don’t feel confident in their nascent sorting abilities. Soon enough though, kids. Soon enough.
2. I pack lunches as soon as we get home from school. Sometimes the kids help, sometimes I do it myself, sometimes it’s a group effort. I call for lunch boxes to exit backpacks upon arrival in the house and be delivered to the counter, where I promptly dump and clean as necessary and then re-pack and return directly to the fridge. I give them a good wash on Fridays before retiring them for their weekend rest. I try to see it like paperwork, and so I only want to touch them once. If it’s on the counter and has to be put somewhere anyway, I may as well fill it with food and put it right back into the fridge. Plus, I hate mornings.
3. Dishes. Now dishes I hate. Dishes will be the domestic duty that gets me to heaven. But. I do have some thoughts. First, I streamlined our kitchen setup down to bare necessities and all one color. Maybe that strikes you as utilitarian, and you’d be absolutely correct in saying so. It’s beautifully, wonderfully, uniformly utilitarian, and my cupboards look like an IKEA display. White and glass and nothing else. Because you know what is colorful enough? Life with 4 kids. Anyway, we have about 12 white Corelle dinner plates, bowls, and small plates, and 2 dozen mason jars for drink ware. I have a little more fun in the barware department, but still only 4 of each type of glass (red wine, white wine, champagne, and whiskey) and they all match. Some are from the Dollar Tree so trust me when I reassure you that this is not an expensive venture. We also have a single drawer with about 8 IKEA poisonous plastic kid’s plates and tumblers, and 3 sippy cups with lids. And that’s it. Oh, wait, tupperware. Again with the IKEA, about 4 matching containers with lids in 4 graduated sizes, plus half a dozen glass 1-cup rubbermaid containers for daddy lunches.
It is so pleasant (well, as pleasant as dishwashing can be) to do dishes when everything matches and is clean and free of scratches or chips. That’s where the utterly boring and utterly serviceable clean white Corelle comes in. When my kids are older and out of the house I can relax my aesthetic of prison minimalist chic, but until then, we’re gonna wash those same 12 white plates every day and we’re gonna like it.
(And when we have parties, we use paper. We’re not partying much these days, so I have zero qualms of the environmental impact of a single sleeve of high quality paper plates purchased on a bi-annual basis. If you are partying more than we are, might i suggest the even greener option of buying a second dozen of the white Corelle beauties and keeping them in the garage?)
The kids load and unload the dishwasher, and they’ve also begun clearing and wiping down the table after meals. Which leads me to my next brilliant revelation:
4. “Yes, as soon as ____”
I’ve been working this system hard all school year, and so far, so good. Here’s a live demo:
“Mom, can we watch Wild Kratts?”
“Yes, as soon as you hang up your backpacks/finish your reading/bring me your lunch box”
“Mom, can we go play baseball till dinnertime?
“Yes, as soon as you pick up the Legos and put them away.”
“Mom, can I go outside and play with Andrew?”
“Yes, as soon as you put on your jacket and make sure there are no shoes on the floor of the front hall closet”
“Mom, can we have hot cocoa?”
“Yes, as soon as you finish your salad/carrots/whatever vegetable I’m pretending we’re eating tonight.”
You get the idea. I found that I was constantly saying no and feeling like I was bargaining with my kids to preempt them to good behavior/good habits, and I’ve realized that by leading with “yes,” we’re all so much happier and feel like we’re winning. Now, I don’t honor every request and I promise, I don’t preface every movement of their lives with a necessary domestic task, but all in all I’d say we’re learning a better balance of helpfulness and permission granted, of give and take. Plus, it makes me feel like a much nicer mom to say yes so many times a day. Power of affirmations, babies.
5. Empty the car.
Don’t know why it took me 7 years to master this one, but we’ve disciplined ourselves into the habit of almost completely emptying the car upon arriving home for the day. No backpacks, shoes, toys, food, or mom-debris left behind. The exceptions are my makeup bag (a girl has to have some time to mascara), 2 emergency pairs of socks in the glove compartment (thanks, mom!) diapers and wipes, of course, and a stash of current library books for in flight entertainment. Additionally, there can usually be found a spare fleece or light jacket in the back in case someone has an accident or it starts snowing out of a 70 degree day, not unheard of for Denver.
As a result, the car looks clean, the kids are actually encouraged to keep it clean, and we are all encouraged forced to put stuff back where it belongs upon arriving home each day. It’s like the mobile version of Marie Kondo, and yes, a healthy stack of spare diapers under the passenger seat spark joy.
6. Kamikaze clean at night. I’m a little militant about this one (cough, cough, sorry Dave) but I do not go to bed with a dirty house. The kids tidy up the dinner table and their craft area in the kitchen, plus any toys that have remained out from the day’s play. And I finish processing and delivering the laundry and make sure the kitchen is scrubbed down and ready for business the following morning. Mornings are tough enough without waking to a disaster (and more often you will wake to some other disaster, any way) so I like to have a clean slate to start fresh from. Otherwise, I tend to feel like I’m behind the eight ball all day long.
Obviously there are nights where the dishes don’t get done and someone is sick or super needy or one of us is traveling and things fall apart, but on the whole, we go to bed with a clean house 95% of the time. And it makes a big difference.
7. I promise I’m going to stop. But this one is critical. Limited toys. We have 4 kids – soon to be 5 – and they’re all really little, and we could literally be drowning in toys. But we’re not, because I refuse to live that way. Our kids are not deprived: they each have a bike or plasma car, an armory of Nerf guns and lightsabers, a handful of special stuffed animals, and a few personal trinkets. Other than that we have a small box of Legos, a toy kitchen with cooking instruments, some doll-sized baby care gear for Evie’s growing cat family (don’t ask), and some matchbox cars and a ramp. There is a soccer goal in the backyard, and a stash of baseballs and bats in the garage.
And that’s it.
That’s all the toys we own, pretty much, and we are constantly paring back after birthdays and holidays, swapping out old or broken toys for newer favorites. Our parents are really great about buying thoughtful or small or even non-toy gifts, and I suspect this is one area where larger families can have an advantage, because spending big $$$ on a dozen grandchildren could really add up.
Our kids don’t seem deprived, but if they do complain about not having as much stuff as so-and-so (which to be frank, is very rare) I just point out different families do things differently, and aren’t they lucky to have more siblings? A pet? A bigger yard? etc. than that friend. Accentuate the positive.
Besides, they’re accustomed to our continuous purging of possessions, and they’ve confided to me before that they were grateful “for not having very much to clean up,” because when I give the order to go put the toy corner back together (two IKEA Kallax 4-cube shelves with bins) it can be done easily by even the 3 year old in under 5 minutes.
It forces me to be accountable to my own accumulation of “stuff,” too. I don’t really need a new piece of seasonal decor for my mantle or another candle (okay, maybe another candle…) or a cute mug because the stuff I have, I like, and it’s working well. It’s a good practice of minimalism for the sake of contentment, rather than minimalism for making some kind of philosophical point. We are minimalists by nature because our lives are kind of stuffed to the bursting with relationships, so there’s not a lot of room for much else.
Whew, that was a novella. Hopefully useful? Interesting? Or at least you’re sleeping peacefully now.
May your laundry be manageable, and your dishes unbreakable.