Getting Ready For The School Year

If you are like most parents I know, the end of summer brings about dual emotions: relief, that the kids are finally going back school; and angst, that life is about to kick back into high gear.

To ease the transition from summer to fall, now is the perfect time to reboot a few key systems around your home.

When it comes to household management, my motto is “automate the predictable.” Spend time setting up a system for the predictable day-to-day tasks, like grocery shopping, laundry, cooking and cleaning, so you don’t ever give those things a second thought. A system that’s working properly will recede to a low hum in the background, freeing you up to deal with the surprises and opportunities that come with a houseful of people.

A few ideas to get you started:  

Laundry. Cut down on the time you spend sorting laundry by giving every person their own laundry basket. Wash and dry laundry by individual (instead of by colors). Buy all matching socks -- all black or all white, for example -- so you spend less time trying to pair them.

Cooking. Come up with 10 go-to dinner recipes and put each on an index card, with ingredients and a recipe on the back. Make a shopping list to match. Each week, ask your family to select the dinners they want to eat by drawing the recipe index cards out of a hat. Tack the shopping list (matched to the meal plan) to your fridge, and invite everyone to add items to the list as they come up. Change up the 10 meals every other month so no one gets bored!

Chores. If you do housework in any free moment, you’ll never rest because there is always more to do. Instead, set aside specific hours and days to do specific chores: fold kids’ laundry Monday nights, grocery shop on Saturday afternoons, and so on. Setting aside specific hours will force you to prioritize and let some things go. It also gives children enough notice and time to do their chores.

Self-instructing systems. If you’re reading this piece, I bet you’re the nag in your house -- the person always reminding your family members what to do and how to do it. The only way to build cohesion in any multi-person system is to provide clear instructions that zero out any room for interpretation. A cute laminated index card with the words “put me away” tied to the handle of a laundry basket filled with clean clothes can motivate action. Clear labels on a shelf edge will ensure coffee mugs go on the bottom shelf, drinking glasses on the middle and wine glasses on top. What can you do to make household systems more obvious to everyone?

Raising kids is all about the unpredictable: constant shifts in their abilities, interests and needs. If you leave the predictable activities of cooking, shopping, cleaning and laundry to the burden of daily decision-making, you won’t have the energy and time to deal with the true surprises. So, automate! It’ll make getting back in the swing of the school year much more manageable.