Tips for an organised household (and a bit of fun) with kids

There are so many ‘moving parts' to a household with kids. There are meals to be cooked, activities to attend, belongings to take care of, clothes to be laundered, tears to wipe, hugs to give, games to be played and floors to clean, among other things! From the outside it can seem like chaos, but there are ways to organise the chaos of family life that not only keep you on top of it all, but actually help you find time to spend just being with the kids, not just doing things for them.

For some the thought of trying to put planning and organisation into family life seems boring, hard work and rigid - worrying that if they try to organise the chaos it will take away the spontaneity and fun. The reality is though that it sets you up to be able to enjoy family life more. There are many elements you simply cannot organise due to the unpredictable nature and behavior of small humans, but there is so much that we need to do as parents that is the same day in and day out. If we take a small amount of time to set up some simple plans with and for the whole family, we are setting ourselves up for greater family harmony.

There are three areas that we can organise which have a high return for minimal effort:

1. Menu planning

Menu planning is the process of planning out what evening meals the family will have for the week/fortnight/month. Feeding the family can be one of the most time consuming tasks of family life. We need to think about what to make, we need to shop for ingredients and then we need to cook the food. Menu planning saves time on all these areas:

Time - once you get into meal planning mode you can think of many meals easily in the one session, rather than standing in front of the fridge looking for inspiration each evening.
Money - by creating a menu plan, you can create a shopping list, which will cut down the number of times you need to go to the shops each week. Fewer visits to the shops means the less you will spend!
Energy - planning out meals means you can take into account activities going on in the family, if the kids have swimming Wednesday nights, you can plan a meal like a stir fry so it is quickly prepared when you come in late that night.

The kids can also help out with the menu planning by suggesting meals they would like to have throughout the week. You can also add a little fun to the week by planning in a special meal. For the last few years we've had ‘Fun Friday' meals, which is where I recreate a takeaway type meal at home. It might be home made pizza, hamburgers and fries etc, just something a little more relaxed to celebrate the end of the week.

2. Establishing a night time routine

Mornings are often the busiest time of the day for families, and the secret to smooth mornings is to start the night before! It's about working out what key tasks can be completed at night so there is time in the morning to actually connect with the kids, as opposed to being super busy rushing about to get out of the house on time.

And not all of these tasks have to be done by parents either! The kids can play a role in getting organised for the next day too. Here are some tasks that can be done the night before:

  • School lunches
  • Clothes out for parents
  • Clothes out for kids
  • School bags packed with library books and other things that are needed the next day
  • School notes completed
  • Kitchen tidied

By taking an organised approach to the nighttime routine we can make sure we fit in some time to read or play with the kids before they go off to sleep at night. This is something that can get lost if we take more of an ad hoc approach to our evenings.

3. Establishing morning routines

As a parent it can feel that all you are doing is telling kids what to do - pick this up, go to bed, time to eat! Kids are very good at organising themselves if we guide them with the process initially.

A morning routine is a great place to start with kids in teaching them personal organisational skills and you can start with kids as young as preschoolers. Kids at this age are visual so creating a photo based step-by-step guide of the tasks they need to do in the morning works brilliantly. One morning as they are getting ready, take a photo of them at each stage - eating breakfast, brushing teeth, getting dressed, packing bag etc, then compile them into a chart.

The chart you have created together can take the place of you telling the child what to do. This was something that we started with our first child and all five kids have begun getting themselves ready in the morning since preschool. It does take a little work in the beginning as they find their feet with the routine, but it very quickly becomes a habit that makes mornings calmer and easier for everyone. The youngest child and I now have time to play a game of cards or short game of chess in the morning before we walk to school together as he is so efficient at getting himself ready in the mornings!

While you may not think of planning as the most exciting of tasks to undertake, by allocating time to even just these three areas of family life, you are making a huge dent in organising the chaos of the household. The positive flow on effect of your organisation is that it frees up your time and energy so you can spend it on the more fun parts of family life - enjoy it.

Nicole Avery is a Melbourne mum to five beautiful kids aged 8 to 18. She is the master organiser behind the popular parenting blog Planning With Kids and the author of a book by the same name, where she shares tips and tricks for organising the chaos of family life.