12 Ways to Simplify Life with Kids

From extra laundry to bathing and cooking and shopping and driving and school and chores and crises and sports 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 life with kids, no matter how many kids you have.

Take my life, for example: I have a house full of kids, and yet I’ve found ways to streamline my life, to find peace and happiness among the chaos. How is this magic trick accomplished? Nothing magical, actually, but just little things that have simplified my life over the years.

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.

1. 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 (for more ideas see promoting self-care). 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 (see Chores - getting your preschooler to help). 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.

2. 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.

3. 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 (see Keeping a tidy room). 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.

4. Regular cleanup times:

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.

5. Quiet bedtime routines:

Kids thrive on routine, and no routine is better than the one before they go to sleep (for more ideas see Bedtime routines). 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 (see Why read to your child). Plus, it’s just something that everyone can enjoy.

6. 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. (for more on Morning routines click here)

7. 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.

8. 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 (see Mealtime routines). 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.

9. 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).

10. 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.

11. 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.

12. Pack spare clothes:

We have a little bag 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.

Don't try to tackle everything on this list at once, choose a few things that appeal to you, and give them a try. Bookmark this page and come back to it from time to time to try out other ideas. Best yet, they might inspire new ideas of your own to simplify life with kids!

This article, Simplify Life with Kids, first appeared on the fabulous parenting site The 60 Second Parent and was written by guest author Leo Babuata, dad to six kids. Be sure to check out his blog Zen Habits

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