Designate a Space for “In Use” Cups
Create a special spot on the kitchen counter where everyone can put half-filled coffee mugs that need to be reheated, water glasses to be used again later, or sippy cups that can be refilled. At the end of the day, put everything that’s still out into the dishwasher. It cuts down on kitchen clutter, and it also avoids shouts across the house of “Are you done with that coffee yet?”
Presort the Family Laundry
Clean laundry is only half the battle―it still needs to be sorted and put away. Save those steps by keeping washer-and-dryer-safe mesh bags (27-by-36-inch mesh bag, $8, stacksandstacks.com) in each kid’s room―one for lights, one for darks. Throw the bags directly into the washing machine and dryer, then hand them back to the kids. If they’re old enough, they can do their own folding.
Minimize Trips to the Garbage Can
While preparing a meal, keep a big bowl on the counter. Put all your chopping, cutting, and peeling discards into it, then make one trip to the garbage instead of 10.
Make a Quick Breakfast
Put all your fruit, milk, silken tofu, or yogurt in the blender pitcher and store the pitcher in the refrigerator overnight. (You can even prechop a banana. It will brown, but that will not affect the flavor of the shake.) In the morning, set it on the blender and press the button.
Put the Kids to Work
Tired of hearing “What’s for dinner?” and “That again?” Turn over the role of meal planner and cook to your family. Ask each person to choose a night that suits his or her schedule (some family members may need to make a few meals each week), fill in a dinner menu, and add the needed ingredients to the grocery list. Make the rules simple: a different menu every night, and only one pasta dish per week. Everyone’s food issues (allergies, picky taste buds) must be addressed. Every menu must be healthy and include vegetables. Include a dish-duty sign-up, too.
Prepare Sandwiches for Dinner
When in doubt, whip up a peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich for dinner to save time. Make it with natural peanut butter, real fruit jam, and whole-grain bread. That way it’s “real” food, unlike many of the additive-laden prepackaged meals so widely available now.
Keep an Everything Datebook
Buy a weekly calendar. Jot down all the traditional things―school events, birthdays, appointments. But use it to keep track of nontraditional things, too. Write down bills that come through the mail and mark their due dates six days ahead. Plan weekly dinner menus and write them on the calendar. Use it to also record the kids’ long-term assignments. That helps prevent those evenings of racing around to do everything at the last second.
Never Miss Another Birthday
Send out birthday cards once a month. Receiving one early is better than not receiving one at all.
Have a Shredder Ready
Stow a small paper shredder near the mail to destroy credit-card offers and “checks.”
Try a Double-Duty Dustbin
Empty your bathroom garbage can and use it as a bucket when you wash your bathroom and hardwood floors. Rinse it in the tub, then fill it with white vinegar and water. Both the floors and the garbage can are clean when you’re done.
Start a Recipe Chain Letter
Planning menus and getting the ingredients together for a quick meal after work can be time-consuming. That’s where the recipe-exchange “chain letter” comes in. Have friends send you their favorite easy-to-make recipes, then you forward them on. In addition, keep a few cookbooks at the office and download recipes from the Internet to a folder on the computer. Photocopy or print out the ingredients list while at work and then buy groceries during lunch or on the way home.
Squeeze Now, Use Later
If you have leftover lemons and limes from a cocktail party, squeeze them and freeze the juice in an ice-cube tray. Once they’re frozen, store the cubes in zippered plastic bags and use them for recipes that call for fresh lemon or lime juice. (One cube equals about one tablespoon of juice.)
Keep an Ongoing Shopping List
Whoever unwraps the last bar of soap from the four-pack or scrapes the last spoonful of mayo out of the jar should be responsible for writing it down on the shopping list.
Time-Stamp Your Photos
When you get your photographs developed, label the envelopes before leaving the store. On the top of the envelope, jot down the date, subjects, or activity. It’s easier than trying to remember the details later. Or take it one step further and throw out―right there in the store―any flattering, uninteresting, or unclear photographs.
Get Ready for Morning the Night Before
Set out everything you can―dry breakfast ingredients, clothes, backpacks and bags, and lunches―before going to bed. It means fewer things to think about when you wake up and you’re getting ready to leave the house.
Create a Beauty Station
Hang a mirror by the door, along with a basket filled with last-minute primping tools. You won’t have to run all over the house looking for brushes, barrettes, sunscreen, hand lotion, or various makeup essentials: It’s all in the basket.
Start a Day-by-Day Shelf System
To get out the door more quickly each day, dedicate baskets or shelves to specific days of the week. When you remove things from your bag at night, place each item on the appropriate shelf or in the correct basket. Designate a certain spot for everyday items―like your wallet, transit card, and cell phone.
Organize Your Hand-Me-Downs
Keep a “future bin” in the kids’ closets for hand-me-downs you get from others and anything that’s too big for them right now. Purge their closets once a season. Put removed items in one of three places: a younger sibling’s “future bin”, the charity bin, or the trash. Many charities, such as Goodwill, call quarterly to let you know they will have a truck in the area, so you don’t have to load your car and make an extra trip. When they call, leave the bin out front for pickup, and they’ll hang the receipt (for tax purposes) on your doorknob. This is also a good time to get rid of any toys that the kids have outgrown.
This article appeared on the Real Simple Web site. By Amanda Hinnant; additional reporting by Laine Siklos and Winnie Yu