Anyone who has kids knows that any life with kids is going to be complicated, at least to some degree. From extra laundry to bathing and cooking and shopping and driving and school and chores and dance and toys and tantrums, there is no shortage of complications. You won’t get to ultra-simple if your life includes children…but you can find ways to simplify, no matter how many kids you have.
Take my life, for example: I have a two kids, and somehow amongst the chaos, I have managed to find peace and happiness. How is this magic trick accomplished? Nothing magical, just little things that have simplified my life through trial and error. The main magic trick, however: making my family my top priority, and choosing only a small number of priorities in my life. If you have too many things you want to do, or need to do, your life will become complicated. But if you choose just a few things that are important to you, you can eliminate the rest, and simplify your life greatly.
What follows is a list that might seem complicated to some but trust me, I could easily double this list, but I don’t want to overwhelm you. Instead of trying to tackle everything on this list at once, choose a few things that appeal to you, and give them a try. They might inspire new ideas of your own!
- 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. Scarlet, for example, can get herself dressed, brush her teeth, and generally get herself ready in the morning with only minimal prompting from us. She feeds the cat (most of the time) and can tidy up her toys, make her bed and put her clothes away, when give a little push. This type of self-sufficiency will not only save time and trouble over the years, but it's also great for kids self esteem. They build on their responsibilities over time and with their new skills comes a new level of their place in the world.
- One diary. 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 meetings to extracurricular activities such as dance classes or swimming lessons. Organise your life with a simple diary 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 you make your hair appointment, immediately enter everything onto the diary. Then a quick glance each day will help you plan your day.
- 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 lunch or before bed, so that the house is always clean at night and during the day.
- 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, bathing, 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.
- Prep the night before. (This is a crucial one for our house, in fact it should probably be a little further up the list.) 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 get everything ready for breakfast (set the table, get the coffee ready), get the kids clothes ready (and mine as well), polish their shoes and have them bathed 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.
- 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.
- 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 pretty much reserve Sundays as our Family Day, and try our best not to schedule anything else on that day (sometimes it's hard with Chris's job, but we do try!). It’s something we look forward to.
- 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 swimming days, I make sure that all their swimming gear, plus snacks and whatnot, are all ready to go beforehand. Prepping early makes things a lot easier later on.
- Always bring snacks. Kids always get hungry. So be ready — if you’re going on the road, pack some snacks in bags. Crackers, cheese, fruit, carrot sticks, mini sandwiches, crackers, raisins all make good portable snacks. Also, always bring plenty of water, as kids are always thirsty.
- Baby wipes and emergency kit. There will always be messes. Be ready. Baby wipes, even after they are past using nappies, are indispensable for all kinds of messes. Pack them in a little “emergency kit” that might include reading material, activities, and extra clothes — anything you can think of that might prepare you for anything that regularly arises.
- Pack spare clothes. Something we learnt from what seemed at the time, a traveling nightmare(!)...always have a little carry-on luggage that’s packed with a couple of changes of clothes for each kid — good clothes (for a party or something), regular clothes, underwear, socks. This way you're always ready, if there’s an accident, or should they want to spend the night with grandparents or a friend while you're out at a party or something. It will be indispensable.
- Create weekly routines. Aside from regular family times (mentioned above), it’s good to have a weekly routine that might include regular practice times, house cleaning day, washing the car, errands day, recurring appointments, etc. This makes the schedule more predictable for everyone, and eliminates a lot of surprises.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Make decluttering a family event. Every few months 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 bags and boxes full of junk, boxes full of stuff to donate or give to friends, and in the end, much simpler rooms. It’s very satisfying.
- 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 the cinema or restaurants or other fun events (you wouldn't believe the social diary of a four year old!). 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 cinea, and make 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.
- Create traditions. Kids love traditions, from holiday traditions to family traditions. We read "The Night Before Christmas" to the kids on Christmas Eve and although they are only now starting to stay still long enough to kind of listen, in a year or so they will love it. 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.
- 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. 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.
- 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. We love to take the kids to the various parks in our area and let them loose in the playgrounds there. Just keeping an eye on them keeps us active! How does this simplify your life? It gets them healthy in an inexpensive way.
- 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 games, read, tell stories, build stuff. Spend quality time together, doing stuff that doesn’t cost money.