My kids go back to school tomorrow!! Despite my very public celebration of the end of summer, I really love June and July. By the time the girls finish up their school year, I can see how much they need a break. They manage long days, an intense academic work load, and week nights and weekends filled with activities and sports. By the time the summer rolls around, we can all use a break for a few weeks. But by the middle of August, I’m at my wit’s end. How in the world is this supposed to work when you have a full-time job? My breaking point was when I saw a picture of one of my more pulled-together friends on another self-organized field trip with her kids. Meanwhile, my kids were still in their pajamas at lunch time, lying on the sofa like a couple of feral animals figuring out what to watch next on demand.
But hallelujah, the days of routine are mere hours away. Because September to December is busy for everyone in our family, I spend a little bit of time getting us all ready. The time spent is always worth it. Over the years, I’ve realized what some of our time killers are as a family and what we need to have in place to be set up for success. Today, I’m sharing some of the things I do to keep myself from being more frantic than usual as we start the busiest time of year:
Homework Station (above)
The first update we made to our house after we moved in was turning our unfinished basement into a bright and cheerful hangout room for the kids, and I couldn’t be happier with how it came out. Since they do their homework independently, I set up this homework station for them in a part of their space. It gives them a designated space to work with everything they need at their fingertips and saves us the time it takes to set up and clear off the kitchen table and find supplies. Plus, if they are working on a project, it doesn’t have to be interrupted when we get ready for dinner.
I found the idea for this cart from Ikea on Pinterest. It’s filled with all of their art supplies, construction paper, stickers and stamps. They can quickly roll it between them while they work. Our supplies stay in good condition, and it’s easier for them to clean up. Plus, it looks cute.
A Command Center
When we were searching for a new house, number one on my list of needs was a mudroom. However, I quickly sacrificed this feature for a smaller house on a big lot of land that we could slowly make updates to, in an incredibly desirable neighborhood. I’m hoping that I still eventually get this one once we remodel, but for now, I have created a small but helpful command center in a little-used nook of the house.
Hooks on the walls keep school bags and anything else that needs to go to school in one place and off the floor, and a dry-erase calendar gets updated every month to let us know what is going on each day. Meanwhile, a pin board makes it easy to organize reminders, birthday invites, etc.
On the other wall is an old desk where we drop our keys and daily essentials. It also doubles as a charging station. What you can’t see (and I’m super impressed with) is that we drilled a hole through the back of one of the drawers and put a 6-port USB charger inside. Now all our tablets and phones can charge without cords everywhere. Hanging files on the walls stores school paperwork I need regular access to like communication slips and the family directory.
Not surprisingly, I order all of their school supplies from Amazon. (Why would you ever walk into a store if you can have a glass of wine, kick through a never-ending list, and have it all delivered to your front door?) I order extras of everything, so I have replacements during the school year. Then, when they inevitably come home with a pencil-case full of broken crayons, I can replace it without having to run out to Target at the last-minute. I keep everything stored in the drawers between their desks in their homework station.
My kids go to Catholic school, so sending money in for fundraisers, classroom parties or other random events happens on a weekly basis. I look like a drug dealer at Christmas time because of the envelopes everywhere with cash in them for various activities going to different classroom moms. I don’t usually have cash, so I end up stealing from my kid’s allowance jars. This year, I hit the bank for $100 in $1s, so I always have a dollar or two when I need it. Sounds so simple, but when it’s 6 a.m., and the kids tell me they need $1 for a tag day, I don’t go into a panic.
I must say I’m a pretty good cook, but meal planning? I am the worst at meal planning. Don’t get me wrong; I’ve tried it all: freezer meals, slow cooker meals – which never come out right – planning out meals for the week, Sunday meal prep … you name it, I’ve done it. But it never seems to work. I end up wasting money and food. Over the summer, I realized that our schedule is not only busy but often unpredictable. There are about three to four nights a week where we can cook a meal for the four of us, but then the weekend comes along. I can’t even count how many nights all the neighborhood kids are in our front yard, so we order a few pizzas. Or we go on a date, or we all head to a friend’s house to hang out at the last-minute, or someone (me) has had a long day and is in no mood to turn on the stove.
What seems to work best for us is a flexible plan for our meals. We started using Hello Fresh two months ago, and it has been fantastic. We get three meals delivered every Tuesday, and they have all been delicious. In the past, we used Blue Apron, but after a while, the portions started to seem too small, and there wasn’t enough protein. With an active family of four, who all get to dinner starving, Hello Fresh has been ideal. I like it because it’s healthy, the meals are different but approachable enough for my little picky eater to be happy, and seriously, they take less than 30 minutes. The meals come prepped to the point that even the garlic is peeled; you only have to chop, so prep and clean up are a breeze.
We now have three meals ready to go and the flexibility of when to cook them. Since starting with them, nothing has gone to waste; we’re saving a little money on our grocery bill and not ordering take out at the last-minute.
I spend my life trying to keep my mornings as streamlined as possible. Despite my best efforts, something always goes missing before 7:30 a.m. When your kids wear uniforms to school, and they lose their $50 school sweater for the third time in a week or can’t find the track pants that you know you washed, you start to lose patience. I haven’t figured out how to prevent them from leaving everything we own on the school bus, but I can control where things go when they get home. At this point in my life, I spend more time organizing my kid’s closets than I do my clients. But the truth is, just like with clients, when things are edited and organized, you can find them quickly and easily.
The way their closets were set up wasn’t working anymore with their needs. They’re older and involved in more activities, and their clothes take up more space, so we had to reorganize. I spent hours going through every item, deciding what we would keep and donate. The biggest challenge was what to do with all the things that get mixed up in other stuff: softball pants, cross-country uniforms and running gear, etc. I bought inexpensive plastic drawers from Target and labeled them so they know where to put everything. It took a day to get it all together, but they’ve done a good job keeping it organized, and nothing has gone missing (yet; the year is still young).
To all you mamas getting the kids on the bus this week: Congratulations! You probably gave your kiddos and your whole family some incredible summer memories. Now, we have few weeks to breathe before we have to make some holiday magic happen. 😉 I for one can’t wait to get back in the office full-time and roll out some fun projects we have scheduled for the fall.