Simplifying Family Life

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father and young children sitting on the front doorstep together and smiling

Living simply has wonderful benefits such as having more time to do the things you want to do. With the many demands of parenting, simplifying family life is a common desire shared by moms and dads alike. Here at Golden Days at Home, we want to support your efforts in creating a home of contentment by offering a list of suggestions and practical ideas for streamlining areas in your family’s life. Our hope, as you incorporate practices that work best, is your family will be more content and your workload easier enabling you have the time and energy for the important things. 

Capsule Menu

For many of the tips I will share, it is about working smarter, not harder. I learned a simple approach for meal planning from my South African mother-in-law,  “Mervyl’s Capsule Menu”. As a young mother of seven, Mervyl served her family the same general weekly menu Monday thru Friday. Her husband and children found the predictability to be comforting and looked forward to eating their favorite dishes around the table together.

The secret to her menu was perfecting, cooking and proudly serving fresh meals everyone in the family loved. For instance, on Mondays she made fish and chips, Tuesday was spaghetti bolognese, Friday was a steak and salad dinner in front of the TV. A gifted cook, Mervyl went shopping for fresh meat, seafood and produce on a Saturday morning (it was one of her favorite weekly activities). She chose her purchases thoughtfully, quality and freshness her top priority. 

Create a simple, weekly approach to cooking with a capsule menu by discerning your objectives for meal planning: nutrition, quality ingredients, in season/local, organic, budget, time, confidence/ability, enjoyment. Next, consider your family’s homemade meal preferences and needs. Finally, construct your family’s own weekly/bi-weekly capsule menu. Over time, you may want to make tweaks to your menu or shake it up now and then. A capsule menu will make shopping easier and cooking and eating a daily, simple pleasure for you and your family.

Go Outside Every Day with your Child

Getting outside improves our happiness. Sharing time in nature with our child escalates the goodness. Breathing the air, feeling the sun, rain, wind or snow gifts perspective and invites a happy state of being. Make it a habit to go outside each day with your child.

Work and rest are both needed to live a quality family life. After work, sit out on the balcony and read a book together, take an evening wander or throw a ball, walk the dog, climb a tree, look at the stars. The options are endless. Sharing nature’s simple gifts and appreciating these small, everyday moments, it turns out, are the big moments.

preschooler boy wearing a blue t-shirt and jeans is swinging high on a swing

Laundry Twice a Week

Putting in a load of laundry every day, doing laundry once a week, doing the wash every other day…you and I have probably tried them all! I propose the schedule that works for many reasons is doing laundry twice a week. For instance, washing on Mondays and Fridays enables you to stay on top of the accumulating piles of clothes and everyone has the clean clothes they want or need. Committing to the laundry process twice a week stops you thinking about laundry all the time or feeling like you are always playing catch-up. 

Train young children to put their dirty clothes directly in the clothes hamper, in their room or bathroom, as they are taking them off. Most kids’ clothes are soiled by the end of the day so there is no reason to assume they can be worn again. This enables you to easily collect the family’s dirty clothes on laundry day and keep a simple flow of laundry and clean clothes going with plenty of days off.

Rotating Toys

Too many toys. When the house is feeling messy or disorganized, you may find yourself exclaiming aloud or under your breath, “We have too many toys!” A surplus of toys can be overwhelming for your child as well. It is easy these days for children to accumulate toys from many sources: birthday parties, holidays, well-meaning grandparents, rewards, etc. Some toys become favorites but often a toy is a new distraction then quickly thrown aside. Rotating toys can be a helpful, simplifying practice.

The goals of toy rotation are for your child to enjoy playing with their toys and managing the mess. To get started, schedule a time to be alone. Gather all your child’s toys into one room. This may take awhile as you check closets, under beds, hideaways, etc. Throw away any broken toys, those with missing parts, multiples, party favors and obvious clutter toys. Box up toys your child has outgrown to pass on. Keep sorting until you feel you’ve pared down to a quality toy collection.

I found it helpful to store children’s toys on shelves in their bedroom keeping the floor clear. An empty floor space ignites imagination. Choose a manageable variety of toys to put on display and box up the others to pack up and hide away (avoid clear bins – out of sight, out of mind). If your child happily plays with something every day, there’s no need to pack it away. 

How often you rotate toys is up to you. Schedule a toy rotation every fortnight or once a month or choose to simply bring out the next box whenever your child has become bored with the present toys. Then, pack those up for another rotation in the future. There is no wrong way to do it. It’s fun to watch your child enjoy a treasure trove of “new” toys with each rotation.

preschooler is inside playing with his toys

Choose to be Calm

The twenty-four hour life of a parent is demanding. Unexpected situations, demands, lack of sleep, routines and responsibilities stretch our patience like we may never had experienced before parenthood. Accepting you are not always at your best, rested or refreshed is a good step to take. This reality can help you choose to Be Calm, as you always have a choice. Practice voicing this phrase to yourself and set it as your default. When you choose to Be Calm, impulsive reactions or words can be thwarted.

Choose to be the guiding, calming influence in your home. Be the assured, constant and safe place to go for an open conversation, a needed hug or reassuring words. Provide the calm in your child’s often confusing world. Amidst the challenges of parenting, creating an atmosphere of calm by being calm will simplify and enrich family life for you and your loved ones.

Children's Clothes

Similar to accumulating toys, children’s clothes can quickly multiply into something else needing to be regularly managed. Young children need fewer clothes than you may think. Realistically, each change of season children only need 5 or 6 pairs of pants or skirts in good condition and the same number of tops, underwear and pairs of socks (especially if you are washing clothes twice a week). 

To pair down, observe and listen to your child’s clothes preferences as this helps to choose what clothes to keep, buy and pass on. Your daughter may not like a certain dress because it is uncomfortable to wear. One of my sons loved wearing the color red regularly choosing it over any other color in the drawer. A friend’s son refused to wear shorts or short-sleeved shirts. Individual clues from your child will assist with pairing down their wardrobe. Try not to fight it, just go with the flow and an awareness of their clothing preferences.

Organize your child’s wardrobe in designated drawers they can reach to dress and pack away their own clean clothes. Your child will learn their underwear is in this drawer, their pants are in that drawer, etc. If your child takes a while to get dressed, it may be that having to choose their outfit for the day is overwhelming. Assist your child by either choosing for them or giving them *two choices. By simplifying their wardrobe, finding, choosing clothes and getting dressed will become simpler for your child. Laundry, shopping and space becomes more manageable for you.    *this 2 choice practice can be used in simplifying many situations with your child

three young children running in the grass with water pistols

Celebrating Birthdays

The opportunities for celebrating your child’s birthday are boundless. Let’s take the advice to “reel it in” and simplify the birthday experience without missing out on what is truly important to your child. 

It is a family choice whether to throw a birthday party with invited guests. My mother chose certain birthday years my siblings and I would get to have a birthday party and invite friends. On turning 4, 8, 12 and 16 we celebrated with a friends party. Consider what works best for your family. If inviting friends to celebrate, a practical rule of thumb is to invite as many guests as your child’s birthday age. It is a big day for your child so keeping the celebrations in check will help them to enjoy their party. While children are young, this could also be the number of gifts they are given.

When it comes to gifts, it has become popular to give the gift of an experience. A wonderful way to celebrate! However, we may get caught up thinking the experience has to be something grand, like tickets to an event or a trip. For a child, the anticipation of spending time together as a family is thrilling! Playing ball at the park, eating breakfast for dinner, an afternoon together at the pool, a living room picnic or a backyard campout means so much to a child. It’s not so much as providing an experience for your child as providing the opportunity for connection. This is what makes the gift memorable.

Commitment and Effort

Simplifying family life takes commitment and effort but it can be done. Focus on streamlining one area of your family’s life until it is comfortably set in place. Then, begin on the next. Be on the lookout for other processes and practices in your home life to be adjusted towards simplicity. You will reap the rich benefits of time, attention, conversation and a content home life together. The quality of family life improves because of its simplicity.

Written by Janet Nicole Meyer for Golden Days at Home

Childhood Gem written in black in on a white background with a gold star to the left.

A favorite destination for delightful and nostalgic images capturing the wonder of childhood is Sarah Jane Studios. Sarah Jane is a mother, artist and illustrator of the beloved Lola Dutch picture books, a collaboration with her husband Kenneth, the author. Fabrics, coloring pages, embroidery kits, puppets, paper dolls and so much more feature her delightful characters and are available on the website. Have a look!

Janet Nicole Meyer

Janet Nicole Meyer

The founder and author of Golden Days at Home preschool curriculum savors all opportunities to play and travel with her now grown children. She and her husband hike, bike and enjoy living on a stream in Boulder, Colorado with their elderly English Mastiff, Roxy.

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