Spend any time in parenting groups online and you’ll find memes about cleaning the kitchen and getting lost in the junk drawer, or “If you give a mom a coffee” type story where she does laundry and picks up Legos and helps a child with homework and starts dinner and…which is not to say that dads don’t do these things, but most of this type of meme is geared to the moms. Anyway, the point is, many of us get distracted easily while doing the regular household chores and we work inefficiently wasting tons of time and energy.
Let’s Change That!
Start small, work efficiently, do more (fun)!
Find your laundry system
Do you pile your laundry up all week and then have an overwhelming mountain on the weekend? Sometimes this can’t be helped if you have to travel to a laundromat to do it – then it’s not practical to do it through the week. But if you have a washer at home, try to do a load each day or couple days to stay caught up. It really helps!
I used to manage a laundromat when I was in college. It was great I got paid to do my laundry and my homework. There are ways to be efficient at the laundromat.
First, wash your laundry however you need to sort it – lights/darks, casual/business, dirty/dirtier, whatever your style is.
Second, if you use the front load washers, they automatically lock while running. This is really so that no one can open the door and dump gallons of water on the floor, but it effectively keeps your laundry safe while you run a 20 minute errand.
Third, dry by weight. It may take you an extra couple of minutes but toss your laundry into the dryers by weight or dry time. For example, my sheets dry farrrrrr faster than my towels. So sheets, light socks, light t shirts are loaded together. Heavy socks and towels go together. We have a lot of jeans, so they go together, maybe with sweatshirts. Also, I have a load or two of medium weight things.
Fourth, start folding right at the laundromat in about 15 minutes. Those sheets and light items will actually dry really fast in dryers that heat to 160 degrees. By the time you are done folding those light loads, your medium loads will be ready. You may find that you have a few items from the medium load that aren’t quite dry, that’s ok, just do a quick sort into those handy carts and run the damp ones for another few minutes while you fold what is dry.
Keep working through this laundry and pretty soon you are at the last loads of jeans and towels (which take almost no time at all).
Fifth, after folding, place the clothes into hampers by room. For me this means my daughter’s clothes in one basket (maybe it has linen closet things on top), the boy’s clothes in another hamper, my husband’s and mine in another hamper, and the linens in another. Moreover, stacked by type in each basket (tshirts, pants, socks) makes putting the laundry away a breeze.
As a family of six, I really need to do a load of laundry almost each day. I don’t own a dryer, so I need enough time to hang the laundry for a few hours to a day for it to dry. In this case, I rotate through the rooms, with the boys for a day or two, my daughter another, towels another, mine and my husband’s another. What throws this off schedule is when someone has something really dirty or something really delicate that can’t just be tossed in together.
Other households have a mixed person laundry system of everyone’s darks in one basket, lights in another, towels in another.
Find your system! Any system will work as long as you follow it. Maybe you toss a load in the washer as soon as you get up in the morning (or right after your shower). Then before heading out the door for the day you switch it to the dryer. (ALways, always, always empty your lint trap before using, and check your dryer vents seasonally or more often as needed!!) Then when you come home, throw a damp washcloth into the dryer and run it for 5 minutes to de-wrinkle if necessary (not the most efficient use of energy to need to heat it again, but efficient for your time). Fold immediately, preferably as you remove from the dryer. In my case, since I line dry and therefore don’t have a folding surface nearby, I try to group similar articles in the basket and then fold them on my bed. So all the socks will be on the bottom (they don’t wrinkle and they won’t fall out), jeans next, and the very fancy (no wrinkles wanted!!) on top.
Being efficient at home often means not procrastinating. But yes, I’ve done it too where I have put a laundry basket in the hallway of clean laundry that I haven’t folded or delivered yet. At least then my family can find the clean items they need while I take care of some other task. I’m not perfect.
I admit it, I don’t want to jump out of my comfy bed in the morning. So I have developed my routine to be as efficient as possible so I can stay under the covers for as long as possible and not start the day behind or stressed.
My Routine – which is not for everybody
Honestly, I get up 5 minutes before it’s time to wake up my youngest. This gives me first shot at the bathroom (try sharing one bathroom with a family of 6, I dare you!). Then I wake him up then I fill the chicken water, this has me done in the bathroom.
Then I start boiling the water for my coffee, then go down and stir up the woodstove. I fill the chicken feed (we keep the grain inside to avoid luring bears, raccoons, skunks etc into the coop). The dog and I go out together, she does her routine in the backyard while I do barnyard fowl chores. (In the summer, I use the hose to fill the chicken water instead of the bathtub faucet, but the routine is similar just out of order.)
Once inside, I bring the dog to the youngest’s roo to lick his face and make sure he’s moving even if he hasn’t gotten out of bed (he hasn’t if it’s a school day). I check on my daughter too, but she’s up on her own 99% of the time.
I then make my coffee, and feed and water the indoor pets. Time to check the woodstove, restart the washing machine if need be (sometimes our low water pressure shuts it off, I would have started it the night before). If no one is still trying to sleep (my husband works nights four days a week) I load or unload the dishwasher (dependent on the night before).
Then, it’s the last minute things to get everyone out the door: masks, homework, snacks, etc
I don’t stop moving in the morning and I have a routine. This lets me stay under the covers until the last possible minute.
The really organized among us, check the sales and meal plan for the week before shopping.
My level of planning is to have an ongoing list during the week of what we are about to run out of and some possible meal ideas. Then I shop by what is on sale (or during Covid times, it’s often what is available.) and that looks appealing. I try to buy foods that can be more than one meal. This works in two ways: If ground beef is on sale I’ll buy it knowing that I can make a variety of meals and I don’t necessarily need to decide what. Or, I might buy a pork roast to eat one night as a pork roast and then to cut the leftovers into strips and saute up with a sweet and sour sauce to serve over rice.
You need to have some pantry staples that can be served up at any time. I always have sandwich items and cereal for my kids to eat if they don’t like my menu, and they have cereal for snacks. They even occasionally eat it for breakfast! I also always buy two bags of potatoes. Mashed potatoes go with sooooooo many meals, but they can also be baked, chopped and roasted, sliced and “fried”, etc.
Routines are important when shopping. And let me tell you, it throws off my routine every time the grocery store decides to rearrange their shelves – I hate that. I know it’s because they want me to wander and take longer, thereby buying more. But I don’t want to! Anyway, some people find they shop most efficiently by going up and down each isle. I tend to have a general list of what I want and go from one isle to the next for specific items in order. Sometimes my specific items are “pasta” and “cereal” that I actually choose based on price and availability, but I still know which isle and where. Find what works for you!
I also try to group like-stored items together. I try to have all my fridge items on the belt together so that they get bagged together. All my freezer items together, all my canned goods together,… This makes it easier when I get home and have to put it all away.
Depending on your time availability you may also want to look at pre-ordering and curbside pick up. I did this for a while. I could shop online just before going to bed, pay $5 for the service, and pick it up the next day on my way home. Or, you may find that you want to use a meal service that delivers the ingredients right to your door. (Check out our reviews here.) Sometimes our time is our most valuable commodity, is it worth it to pay an extra $5-10 dollars to save you an hour of your time? What is your hourly wage? I haven’t worked for less than $10/hr in quite a while. You may or may not want to support Amazon vs your local grocer, but there is something to be said for 25# of dog food delivered to my door every two months, or my contact solution, shampoo, & toothpaste automatically shipped to my door, too.
Now the interesting part of my shopping is cost vs time/effort. I do “cheat” and buy mixed green salads and shredded cabbage for coleslaw. It’s honestly worth paying a little extra to have the variety and that time available. Likewise, I buy the bottled dressings. However, I’m too cheap to buy the formed burgers or the marinated meats, because it doesn’t take that long to dump the protein into a bag and pour on a marinade or rub, and let it sit. To really be efficient, I should marinate/prepare the meats as soon as I get home before I even put the groceries all away.
Let’s assume that you shopped efficiently and now you have a plan for meals during the week. Some weeks I just have no inspiration and I have a pantry filled with random, multi-use items (ground beef, potatoes). Last week I did well. I had a pork butt for the crock pot (pulled pork for a meal then leftovers during the week. It’s not as good as when we do it in the smoker, but in February, it’ll do!), a whole chicken for the rotisserie and then for soup, pork roast in the rotisserie and then sliced for sweet and sour last night, and then some single meals with possible leftovers such as pasta. Last night, I made rice to go with the repurposed pork. The leftover rice, since it’s plain, will be used in a casserole this week. Cooking once and using twice is awesome!
Likewise, whenever I cook ground beef, I cook extra. Some may be used for snack nachos after school, but cooking once and then having enough for both pasta and for a casserole is amazing.
Some weeks, I even cook double the meal and freeze one. Something like mac and cheese for example. I can mix up two without more than five minutes effort, and then freeze one, ready to pop in the oven for some future meal. Not all of what I prepare is oven ready. I might be making chicken fajitas one night so I slice and freeze the fixings for them separately bagged, to make that prepped and easy to cook on a future night. Then on that future day, I can take it out in the am and it is ready to go that evening. I can even take the frozen casserole out, pop it in the oven and pre-program it to cook at a particular temperature at a specified time, for a particular length of time. Nothing like coming home to dinner already cooked.
My bedtime routine is pretty well set to be ready for the am. I do a final tidy in the kitchen, wiping down counters, putting food away, clearing space on the table. If I’m packing a lunch for the next day I have everything prepped and ready to grab.
Depending on everyone else in the house and who is showering when, I’ll run both the washing machine and the dishwasher just before I go to bed. I also have the chicken feed ready to just pick up and carry out (I don’t fill the water container though because who wants “old” water”?). I try to always have the dry laundry folded and delivered.
I set up any reminders for the next day on my phone. I set out on “my spot” on the counter anything that I need to remember to bring with me when I leave, unless it’s too big, then I hang it off the front door knob. Remember, I want everything to be smooth in the morning so that I can stay in bed as late as possible.
Lastly, I stay up way too late reading, writing, or crafting because it’s finally a quiet time that I can just chill.
Other ways to use our time and energy efficiently
Audio books and pod casts
Listening to a podcast or an audio book is a great way to multi-task. Many people listen during commutes. I like to listen, also, while doing quiet house chores like food pre or laundry.
There are so many things to listen to that teach us, whether it’s some scientific theory or politics, something that interests you and you want to learn more. Or, a program that teaches us a skill like marketing in [this year], or raising honeybees, or whatever. Then there are tons of programs for entertainment. Documentaries, humor, true crime, fantasy, romance,… There was one series that was quite graphic and I listened to it with earbuds as my children were around me. Great series but not what I wanted them to hear nor what I wanted to explain. It did make laundry, exercise, kitchen work, and driving far more interesting.
There are lots of ideas to be efficient in gardening. So many in fact that there are series of books on this idea. You need to find what works best for you and your needs, that dictates what is most efficient for you. Generally though, you will be most efficient by choosing plants that are appropriate for your gardening zone and soil (think temperatures, daylight, season length, water needs), if you mulch, and if you water in the cooler parts of the day (I choose evenings to avoid the water evaporating or burning leaves in the sunlight).
You want to plan your gardening activities by what is most efficient for your budget, time, and space. I choose not to grow potatoes, despite the tons we eat each year, because I can buy them so cheaply and buying them a couple bags at a time cuts down on my storage space needs. I risk some sort of potato blight and national shortage affecting me, but it’s a risk I take. On the flip side, for budgeting efficiency, if I have the time in March I start seeds indoors rather than buying plant starts in May.
Do plan your garden layout to take advantage of the light and drainage. Do consider the efficiency of which plants should be planted near each other and which shouldn’t. Also consider planting some quick growing plants among the longer growing plants. For example, you might grow radishes and carrots together. Radishes are harvested months before carrots, and as you pull the radishes, you are also thinning and giving the carrots enough space. You might also consider planting a vine crop (cucumbers or squashes) around bush plants like tomatoes. This is an efficient use of space, but also the large vine leaves will help shade the ground around the bushes preventing or slowing weed growth and helping prevent water evaporation from the soil.
Mulch and soaker hoses are a fantastic investment for efficiency. The soaker hoses means the water you provide is not being lost to the air evaporation, but instead soaking into the soil next to your plants. Mulch helps prevent weeds (time efficient) and helps hold the moisture content in (water and time efficient).
I group errands together as much as possible. Now quite often, the errands that I need to run are a town or two over and I just don’t want to waste time or money driving around randomly.
I tend to plan out my route based on timing, side of the road, and distance from home. Most often I run the little errands first like going to the post office, then the weekly grocery shopping last or second to last. Once the groceries are in the car I want to head home pretty directly so the weather temperatures do not adversely affect my food. But I may make one last stop if it’s close to home.
I try to be smart during tasks like grocery shopping, too. I make one pass through teh grocery store, then I group similarly stored items together (canned goods together, freezer items together, etc). Having it grouped together at the check out means they get grouped together in bags which means its easiest to put away once I get home. A little preplanning makes it all easier and more efficient.
The Premise of Efficiency is Planning
That concept of efficiency, the focus of this whole post, tends to be really about planning. I’m most efficient when I have planned to make things easier for myself. Easier may be an intense two hours so the rest of the day is easy (summer days at the beach require this), or easy may mean slow and steady through the day. I plan at night so my mornings are easier. I generally have a pretty decent plan at least three days forward.
This is not to say you cannot be efficient if you are spontaneous. Sometimes you have to be willing to change to take advantage of the best opportunities. I may disrupt an entire day to save myself some future problem or to expand something to grow it, or maybe just for mental health, because the better I feel, the better I work.
What is the task that you do most efficiently?
What do you most struggle with?
There are always new ways we can learn of doing things that can help us.
You may also be interested in these posts:
Surviving Your Partner Being Out of Town
Weeklong Eco-Friendly Mindset Challenge
Great tips for managing these particular chores.