25 Ways to Simplify Your Life with Kids

Came across this gem over at ZenHabits.net.

To suggest that bringing up kids is a “challenge” is stating the bl**dy obvious, and voluntary preventive chemical castration has often crossed my mind during the 16 odd years we’ve been blessed with the darlings.

However, when I contemplate the result of our tyrannic upbringing (and though only the first evidence of two stable, reliable and happy adults is starting to emerge from those beings I call my children) and cross-check the following advice, maybe instinct isn’t all that bad after all…

  • Self-sufficiency. This one tip could simplify your life greatly, over time. However, it will make things more complicated in the short term. The idea is to teach your kids to do things for themselves as they get older and more capable. Teaching them to do something themselves instead of just doing it yourself takes time and can be a little frustrating at first, but it will pay off for years to come. My kids, for example, can make themselves breakfast, shower and dress themselves, brush their teeth, and generally get themselves ready in the morning with only minimal prompting from us. They can clean their rooms, wash dishes, sweep, mop, dust, wash the car. The older ones can cook basic dishes and babysit the younger ones. This type of self-sufficiency has saved my wife and me tons of time and trouble over the years.

Absolutely agree! Although sometimes pretty arduous to enforce..

  • One calendar. If you have more than one kid, you might have a lot of activities going on that you need to track, from school events such as Christmas performances and parent-teacher conferences to extracurricular activities such as soccer practice, dance classes, or Spring concerts. Organize your life with a simple calendar (I use Google Calendar) and enter all activities and appointments on this one calendar, from kids’ stuff to your own goings on. When they hand you papers from school, or soccer schedules, immediately enter everything onto the calendar. Then a quick glance at the calendar each day will help you plan your day.

Don’t know how we’d managed without!

  • Toy bins. It’s an inevitable fact of life that kids have lots of toys, and that they will be everywhere. You will drive yourself crazy if you try to manage them with dictator-like ruthlessness. Instead, let kids play, but have lots of bins where they can toss the toys inside when they’re done. Then cleaning up is a cinch — they just toss everything on the floor into the bins, and move on to making their next mess. You can have designated bins for certain toys (this one’s for Legos, this one’s for stuffed animals, this one’s for cars), and also have some general-purpose bins for things that don’t fit anywhere else. Don’t be too strict about them — the whole purpose is to make things simpler.

Ah yes: the “bins”. With teenagers, rubbish bags are a valid alternative..

  • Regular cleanups. If you’re like me, you don’t like a huge mess. Teach your kids to clean up after themselves — let them make a mess, but every now and then, tell them it’s time to clean up. Be sure to tell them to clean up before moving on to something else, such as lunchtime or bedtime. It’s good to have regular times during the day when they do cleanups, such as before bed or before they leave for school, so that the house is always clean at night and during the day.

Parents, be very precise when defining the objectives here: transferring a mess from the floor to under a duvet should NOT be an alternative! Wink

  • Quiet bedtime routines. Kids thrive on routine, and no routine is better than the one before they go to sleep. Have a regular routine before bed — it might consist of cleaning up, showering, brushing their teeth, getting into their pajamas, and reading a book. Reading aloud to them just before bedtime is a great idea, because it quiets them down after a day of activity, it gives you quality bonding time together, and it gets them into the habit of reading. Plus, it’s just something that everyone can enjoy.

Fee-fie-foe-fum” is still uttered today from the back of the car whenever we drive past a castle.

  • Prep the night before. Mornings can be a hectic time for parents and kids alike, but they don’t have to be. Instead, prep as much as possible the night before, and have your mornings be a little more relaxed. I like to prep lunches, get their clothes ready (and mine as well), and have them shower, get their homework and school bags ready. Then the morning is simply eating breakfast, a little grooming, getting dressed, and gathering everything together before you head out the door. It’s a great way to start your day.

I’m proud to announce that exactly 50% of our kids have mastered this feat!

  • Don’t schedule too much. Sometimes we schedule things back-to-back-to-back, so that every minute of every day is planned out. That leads to stress and problems. Instead, schedule as little as possible each day, and leave space between events, appointments or activities, so that your day moves along at a more leisurely pace. Start getting ready earlier than necessary, so there’s no rush, and leave yourself time to transition from one thing to another. A more spaced-out schedule is much more relaxing than a cramped one.

Definitely: a tight schedule would only interfere in their MSN-marathons.

  • Have dedicated family times. Try to find regular times in your schedule when you do nothing else but spend time together as a family. For some people, dinner time works well — everyone sits down to dinner together as a family, and no other activities are planned at that time. For others, weekends, or maybe just one day of the weekend, work better. We reserve Sundays as our Family Day, and try our best not to schedule anything else on that day. It’s something we look forward to. Weekends in general are for our family, as are evenings — all work gets done on weekdays, before 5 p.m.

Dinner time works for us. I’m usually left alone to finish my meal, though; but that’s another problem..

  • Simple clothing. It’s best to buy clothes for your kids that will match easily — choose a similar color scheme, so that you’re not always digging through their clothes to find stuff that matches. Go through their clothes every few months to get rid of stuff that doesn’t fit (kids grow so fast!) and donate the old clothes to relatives or charity (or pass them on to a younger sibling). Keep their wardrobe simple — if it doesn’t fit neatly in their drawers, you have to get rid of it or get rid of something else. Don’t stuff drawers, or you’ll make it hard to find stuff. Also, socks are usually a challenge — use mesh bags, one for clean socks and another for dirty ones. Then throw the dirty mesh bag in the laundry, and socks won’t get lost (or at least, not as often).

Simple clothing? Right! As long as the jeans have a crown sown on each buttock. And as far as the socks are concerned: need I say more?

  • Always prep early. I try to make it a point to look at the schedule in advance (usually the day before) to see what’s coming up. That allows me to prepare for those events or activities early, so that we aren’t in a rush when we’re getting ready. For example, on soccer days, we make sure that all the soccer gear, plus folding chairs and water bottles and snacks and whatnot, are all ready to go beforehand. Prepping early makes things a lot easier later on.

Sounds easier to do than it actually is: somehow there’s always something more important which needs doing instead of “prepping”.

  • Always bring snacks. Kids always get hungry. So be ready — if you’re going on the road, pack some snacks in baggies. Crackers, cheese, fruit, carrot sticks, PB&J sandwiches, graham crackers, peanuts, raisins all make good portable snacks. An insulated lunch container with re-usable ice packs help keep things fresh. Also always bring plenty of water, as kids are always thirsty. Can’t help you with the urgent bathroom breaks, though.

I think our kids would have stared at us in astonishment had we whipped out the odd peanut. Raw fennel did (and still does) the trick. Please note: there is a rumour going around that our girls may be aliens!

  • Baby wipes and emergency kit. There will always be messes. Be ready. Baby wipes, even after they are past using diapers, are indispensable for all kinds of messes. Pack them in a little “emergency kit” that might include medical supplies, reading material, activities, a towel, and extra clothes — anything you can think of that might prepare you for anything that regularly arises.

And don’t forget the emergency puke bag for long trips. Believe me: barfing out of an open window while hurtling along the motorway is NOT an option!

  • Pack spare clothes. We have a little carry-on luggage that’s always packed with a couple of changes of clothes for each kid — good clothes (for a party or something), regular clothes, underwear, socks. This way we’re always ready, if there’s an accident, or should they want to spend the night with grandparents or a cousin while we’re out at a party or something. It’s indispensable.

No problem here: the girls NEVER travel anywhere without a TRUNK full of clothes.

  • Create weekly routines. Aside from regular family times (mentioned above), it’s good to have a weekly routine that’s written out and posted somewhere everyone can see it. A weekly routine might include regular practice times, house cleaning day, washing the car, yard work day, errands day, recurring appointments, etc. This makes the schedule more predictable for everyone, and eliminates a lot of surprises.

Check! Ours is called “Alli mini Ämtli” (<== good knowledge of Swiss-German required here)

  • Communicate as a family. Regular communication between family members solves a lot of problems. Have regular times when the family can talk about family issues. Dinnertime is a good time for that. We also have a weekly “Family Meeting” where we all sit down and talk about household issues, we compliment and thank each other, we plan our Family Day, and we play a fun game at the end.

Communication is something which really works within our family: we spend enormous amounts of time justifying our decisions and guidance! Undecided

  • Go on dates. If you have trouble finding alone time with each child (whether you have one child or more than one), setting up “dates” can be a good way to ensure that you do things together. Make a date with your child for a specific day and time, and together you should decide what you want to do on that date. It can be something simple, like taking a walk in your neighborhood or in a park, reading together, playing board games, sports or video games, or it can be something like going to a restaurant or movie or amusement park. If you have lots of kids, you might have to rotate dates with them.

Done: the girls LOVE going shopping with Daddy…alone.

  • Create alone time for your spouse. It’s easy to become so busy with your kids that you forget about your significant other. Don’t let this happen — it’s a sure way to drift apart and lose that bond that led you to having a family together. Keep the relationship alive by getting a babysitter (maybe once a week) and doing something together, just the two of you.

Seems like stating the obvious, but so many parents get so involved in their children’s well-being that they forget about themselves. And for exactly this reason we taught OUR kids to use a tin opener at a very early age!

  • Let things go sometimes. I’m not always good at this, but it’s something I work on constantly: don’t always be so strict. Let things go. They’re kids — let them live. I have a tendency to be very strict about things, but I remind myself constantly that it’s not worth all the hassle to get on their cases about things. Instead, let things go, and just relax. They’ll turn out just fine in the end, as long as you love and support them.

Hah: I’m great at doing this. A pair of glowing deer eyes and my resolutions crumble.

  • Make decluttering a family event. I like to set aside one day every few months when we go through all the stuff in our rooms and declutter. We do it together, and it can be a bonding time. We end up with trash bags full of junk, boxes full of stuff to donate or give to family, and in the end, much simpler rooms. It’s very satisfying.

Hope DBW doesn’t see this one otherwise I know what we’ll be doing during our next long weekend (***COUGH***GARAGE***COUGH***)

  • Spend quiet time at home. Often we get so busy that we’re on the road all the time, going to one thing or another. And when we have family time, that’s often spent on road too — going to movies or restaurants or other fun events. But that can be exhausting, and expensive. Instead, try to spend time at home as often as you can. You can watch a DVD instead of going to the movies, and pop some popcorn. You can play board games or go outside and play a sport. You can read to each other, or by yourselves, or tell stories. There are dozens of things you can do at home that cost nothing, and that are relaxing and fun.

A bowel of popcorn while watching a DVD: I LOVE it!

  • Create traditions. Kids love traditions, from holiday traditions to family traditions. My mom likes all our kids to come over before Christmas to make Christmas cookies, or come over before Easter to color eggs. The kids love those traditions. You might also create some traditions at your house, whether that’s a family dinner time, Family Meetings or Family Day, or anything that brings you together. If you make it a regular thing, and give it special importance, it will be a tradition, and it will be something your kids remember into adulthood.

This one is for DBW: no more “Christmas? Bah: humbug!”, darling…

  • Make cooking and cleaning a family thing. Cooking and cleaning can be complicated things, and they can take your time away from your kids. Doing these activities as a family solves both problems — having everyone pitch in can really simplify cooking and cleaning, and it gives you quality time together while teaching your children valuable life skills. Make it fun — let them choose recipes, go shopping for ingredients with you. See how quickly you can clean the whole house — if my whole family pitches in, we can do it in about 30-40 minutes. Make everything a game or a challenge.

I can’t even remember the last time we had to clean up the kitchen after “we” cooked (<== Dads, note: make sure you stand at the stove with a pan in your hand at one time or another – even if it’s only for a couple of seconds and purely decorative – you will then have “cooked” and thus will no longer be expected to help cleaning up.)

  • Reduce commitments. This tip applies to both your commitments and your kids’ commitments. If you have too many, your life will be complicated. If you reduce your commitments, your life will be simplified. It’s that simple. Make a list of all your family’s commitments and see which ones align with your priorities, and which ones are the most important. Which ones give you the most joy and benefit? And which ones just drain your time and energy without giving you much back in return? Keep the essential commitments — yours and your kids — and eliminate as many of the rest as possible.

I quite suspect that the most joy and benefit could be obtained by staying home; we should nevertheless give this one a serious try!

  • Get active. These days, kids can become very inactive (and unhealthy) with all the TV, Internet and video games they consume. Get them active by going outside with them and taking walks, going for swims, playing sports. My family likes to play soccer or kickball. Play freeze tag. If you run, let your kids run with you, at least part of the way. Get them bikes and go to the park. Do challenges, like races or pushup or pullup challenges. Make it fun, but get them active. How does this simplify your life? It means they consume less media, which in my opinion is a complicating factor. And even better, it gets them healthy in an inexpensive way, reducing your healthcare costs down the road.

Errm: well, yes. This one is a “definite maybe”..

    • Focus on doing, not on spending. Too often we send messages to our kids about how to live life, based on what we do: we like to go shopping, and eat out, and go to the movies, and so our kids learn that having fun means spending money. We focus on material things, and therefore so do they. Instead, teach them (by talking but also by your actions) that what’s important is doing stuff, not buying stuff. Go for walks in the park, play outdoors, play board games, read, tell stories, play charades, cook and clean, go to the beach or lake, build stuff, wash the car. Spend quality time together, doing stuff that doesn’t cost money.

      Heard that one, girls? Walks in the park, going to the beach or lake, fishing.. Are you sure you don’t want to reconsider?

      Via ZenHabits.net 

      Spring Is Here!

      Am I glad it’s Spring since 4 days: I can’t stand Winter! ;-)

      Cool Firefox Plugin: PicLens

      DBW (who is getting increasingly technical) pointed out this great plugin to me: PicLens.

      According to the “blurb”,it:

      …instantly transforms your browser into a full-screen 3D experience for viewing images across the web. Our new interactive “3D Wall” and built-in search function lets you effortlessly drag, click, zoom, and zip your way around a wall of pictures for an extraordinary viewing experience.

      PicLens #1

      What it does is offer you an alternative view when looking at pics via Google, Facebook and a couple of other apps.

      In Google Images, for example, simply click on the additional icon displayed on each picture and, instead of viewing the gallery in the traditional way, you’ll experience that 3D feeling as described above.

      PicLens #2

      Get it here: it’s really worth it!


      Oh I was regularly reminded about the slowness of this place..

      It’s nice, but takes aaaages to load!

      So off I went in the search of a solution, and came up with a brilliant template which seemed to fix the site’s sluggishness (you regular visitors will have caught a quick glimpse of it last week).

      This morning I caught DBW and Vic staring at BRIGHTY.CH while shaking their head:

      THAT’s not “our” homepage.

      The old one looked so much nicer…

      Oh well: back to the roots, I guess!

      I’m Hungry: Give Me a Hand..

      Since watching Alive, that movie about Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571 which crashed in the Andes on October 13, 1972 and resulted in the survivors eating those who didn’t make it in order to survive yet another day, I’ve always wondered if I would have had the stomach to eat my fellow-passengers if placed in the same dilemma.


      According to JustSayHi.com, it’s pretty obvious.. Somehow I feel it’s going to be rather difficult to find someone to share our holidays within the near future.. ;-)