As the Family Goes

JP II Quote

"As the family goes, so goes the nation, and so goes the whole world in which we live." John Paul II

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Life Hacks for Big Families

I was hanging out with friends the other day when one of them asked me what some of my best life hacks were.  I was like a deer in headlights, frozen in front of this woman who was looking for pointers from me.  Clearly she has the wrong idea about me, haha!  I am not organized, my house is in constant disarray...I have nothing to offer in the area of home maintenance! And yet so many times since that day as I go about my daily life, I realize that I have picked up a few tricks over the years that have helped me to manage my home somewhat better.  Don't get me wrong, my home is always cluttered and things are very disorganized!  But in case it is helpful to anyone else, here are a few things that help keep us from the brink of disaster (at least some of the time!)

In the Laundry Room

I have shared about our laundry system before (hint: it involves individual laundry baskets for each child over 5) but even with all the kids folding their own clothes I was still finding it difficult to stay on top of laundry, especially when things are unpredictable (like it so often is in the summer).  My pet peeve is when laundry gets left in the washer overnight, there is nothing worse when you are already behind on laundry to have to put a load through a second time - nobody has time for that!  My most recent laundry life hack has been the discovery of the delayed wash timer on our washer.  I knew it was there when we bought it a few years ago, but until recently only made use of it if I happened to be organized enough to throw a load in before I go to bed which, if I'm honest, I never am.  One day recently I realized that if I put a load in the wash in the afternoon, despite my best intentions I will most likely forget about it.  I had just decided I would not wash laundry after say, mid-afternoon, until one day when I was looking at the empty washing machine and the load in the hamper and thinking, "gee, it would be great to get this in so I'm a little ahead in the morning."  And then I remembered that timer, which allows me to schedule a wash to start up to 8 hours in the future. When I counted it out, I realized this would put the wash on at about 10 in the evening or later, meaning a much shorter amount of time between then and my next opportunity to put it in the dryer.  I also knew that if I did happen to make it down to the laundry room later that day, I could cancel it and begin a load then, or reset the timer to start later.  It has been so great - I love the head start on the next day's laundry!

In the Kitchen

Two of my most favorite life-hacks in the kitchen are stoneware and cast iron cookware.  Why?  Because you don't have to wash them.  You just wait until it's cooled down, scrape off any stuck on food, and wipe it clean with a warm cloth.  I've had Pampered Chef baking stones for at least ten years and completely sworn off the metal cookie sheets and pizza pans, but just recently took the plunge and replaced our non-stick skillet with cast iron and let me tell you, it was one of the best things we ever did.  It cooks everything so nicely and cleanup is a breeze.  With the old pan I would use it once a day, and it would sit in my sink taking up space and looking dirty until I was able to get to the dishes (which was once a day if I was organized, and less if I wasn't).  I used my cast iron skillet three times yesterday, with a quick wipe in between - no dish soap, no scrubbing, I love it!  And what I love the best is that it's so easy for my kids to clean up after themselves when they cook.  I know they could clean the other pans too, but that took more work and required me to go behind them to make sure they got everything. With this it really is a quick scrape and wipe, and it's ready to go for another meal. It doesn't get easier than that.

One final point on stoneware, when I was making bread regularly I switched over to stoneware loaf pans - Wow!  I hated scrubbing out the metal loaf pans, and since I made 6-8 loaves at a time it was quite time consuming.  With stoneware there is no greasing and flouring, and the loaf just pops out when it's done.  It's amazing!  I know I sound like such a baby (people are probably thinking, "just wash your dishes already!") but if you knew how many hours I've spent over the years frantically scrubbing with a screaming toddler at my feet, too stubborn to stop in the middle because I know if I don't finish it now I won't have another opportunity today you'd understand why cutting corners has been so freeing for me.  It's not just about time but also my mental capacity.

Around the House

One of my favorite baby proofing items are these baby gates:

You install the brackets at the top of your stairs and then you can slide the gate on and off whenever you want.  We have three gates and four sets of brackets, two inside and two outside on our deck.  The gate at the top of our stairs is pretty well permanently fixed until our baby can safely get up and down on his own, and then we just take the gate down and put it away until the next baby.  For the outside gates on our deck we just put them on when the baby is outside, and take them off when he comes back in.  The last set of brackets is in our basement, and again we just pop a gate on whenever we need to and take it off when we're done. What makes it so convenient is that you don't need four different gates, and the gates themselves are relatively low profile and easy to store - we just slide them into a closet.  They slide in and out way easier than the kind that use force push between two points, and are much more secure (no amount of pushing is going to knock it free since it is actually attached to the brackets). We love it!

Another pet peeve of mine is stuff rolling under the couches.  Have you ever had a house full of guests when someone loses an item under your couch and moves the whole things so they can find it, exposing the crazy mess that lies beneath it?  At least once a year I get fed up and pull them all out of the way, and am completely horrified with what I find underneath.  This year I had enough, and decided to make some bumpers out of pool noodles:

It took a bit of work but was sooo worth it!  I get almost giddy when I go downstairs and see the collection of toys lining the edge of the couches, because I know they didn't make it underneath!  My husband picked up some black duct tape which I put on the front of the bumpers to camouflage them a bit more, and I have to say I can rest much easier knowing our couches can no longer collect such huge messes beneath them.


This, as you can imagine, is the single biggest problem we have when it comes to organization.  There are a lot of people in a small space in our home, and keeping different sets of clothes for all the different ages and stages that we have can be quite a process (not to mention the changing seasons). So I was delighted when a friend recommended these bins to me:

They are from Ikea, and they stack on top of each other while still providing access without having to unpack anything. I ordered ten but could easily put many more to use in my home (I'm already planning another order just of these bins, they're so awesome!)  Right now we have a set in each of the kids' rooms (one boys, one girls, and one nursery) to keep clothes that are too small (in the bottom bin) and clothes that are the next size bigger (in the top bin). This makes changing things over once a child has outgrown what is in their dresser so much easier because I don't have to pull bins out of a closet, they are right there.  And if I've already washed and packed away all the little clothes and then continue to find the odd piece here or there, no problem - the bin is right there!  Currently the "too small" bins are largely empty (clothes smaller than that are away in storage) so that I have lots of space to pack away as the child grows.  The "size bigger" bin is full, but will become empty as they baby grows, and once we get to the point where the "too small" bin is full and the "too big" bin is empty, we'll pack away the ones that are too small and start the whole process again.  This is so much more manageable than the way we were doing it before, and I feel so much more in control of the clothes in our home!

The other way I'm using these bins is for off-season clothing.  Since it's summer now I have two bins in my basement closet, one for hats/mittens/scarves and the other for winter footwear.  Once winter comes I'll take the winter stuff out and put the summer things into the bins.  And just like with the clothing bins whenever I find a stray hat or mitten (as inevitably always happens!) I can just pop it into the bin without having to unpack anything, because the tops allow for easy access. This is one of my very favorite storage items in our whole house, there are so many practical uses for them!

Another storage item I love is under the bed totes.  I first picked one up years ago when I didn't have enough space for another dresser in the girls room, so that we could store their pajamas under their bed. It works out great! We recently upgraded to a 15-passenger van for our growing family, and preparing for our summer vacation was a challenge due to limited space in our vehicle (what you gain in passenger space, you lose in cargo space). The only free space in our vehicle was the area under the benches, which just happened to fit an under-the-bed tote just perfectly! We packed two of them, one to hold the kids clothes and one for me, my husband and the baby, and it was so easy. Once we arrived to our destination one of the totes became a laundry hamper, and when we got home all I had to do was bring it to our laundry room and leave it there until all the laundry was through. I can see it being very practical not only for big trips but even smaller day trips, for the beach or groceries anytime we need to move extra gear around.

In the Van

And while we're on the topic of the van, here's another item I am loving:

This puppy is our van broom, which is actually just a normal broom with the handle cut down so it fits behind the rear seat.  One of the advantages of having a larger vehicle is that it's easier to clean because you can see everything all the time.  Once a week the kids and I stop by a self-serve car wash and clean all the garbage out.  The floors are plastic and I kept wishing I could just sweep it out, so my husband made this for me.  It has the added bonus of being able to swap the bristle head for a mop head, in case you are ambitious enough to want to mop your vehicle too :)

So there you have it, some of my favorite life hacks to make living in my big family just a little bit easier. What are some of your best tips?  Lay it on me, and maybe you can help me discover some of my new favorite things!

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