Editor’s Note: I am mildly fascinated with today’s topic.  Michelle, from Counting Willows, seems like a pro at household routines, and I love getting a peek into how her family runs.  I have much to learn.  I am used to routines for work, but I often forget how creating simple routines at home would make life easier.  Since the New Year we have been actively establishing new routines, with a checklist system for the kids, and it has dramatically changed how smoothly our days run.  It is funny, but I feel more freedom in my days when I stick to certain routines.

Routines.  That word kind of makes you want to hit the snooze button, doesn’t it?

Routines get a bad wrap for being boring, blah, the opposite of spontaneous.

Although it is true that too much routine can make you feel sort of stagnant, I want to share with you how to establish routines that will save you time, money, and stress.

Did you know that routines to help you thrive?  

It is true!  Routines make it so you CAN do the fun, spontaneous things in life without having to pay for them with chaos later.

Establish routines at home that work for you | tealandlime.com

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Routines are not just for the Type A people of the world.  Establishing routines can help creative, carefree souls add some stability to their days, the same way creative time can add some fun and color to the life of a buttoned up, structure-loving person.

Routines can be comforting, help you avoid spending money unnecessarily, and save you time when you need it most.

Routines Don’t Have To Be a Killjoy

  • Let your routines work for you, not the other way around.
  • Once you have routines in place, it is easy to adjust them to allow for life.  I would never avoid doing something fun on a Friday just because I have a laundry day scheduled.  Routines are there to make sure I have things covered most of the time.  Shifting a routine by a day here or there or changing it to accommodate a season in life works beautifully when you have a routine in place to start with.
  • Ever feel overwhelmed?  Sometimes even the regular routines have to give…and that is okay.  Read about what I do when I feel overwhelmed - some of my routines take a hiatus.

Routines Become Habit

Some routines come naturally as a daily habit, while others need more discipline and attention.  These are the routines that have become second nature in our family and contribute to a smooth household:

  • Trash is emptied in the whole house on Sundays (assigned to our teenage daughter, Alexa)
  • We use a command center to manage our schedules
  • Each evening we go through the elementary kids’ back packs.  We remove containers, water bottles, and papers.  We hang  up wet snow gear to dry for the next day.
  • We do laundry every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.  Start to finish – it is all put away by bedtime.
  • I walk the dog everyday when the bus picks the kids up for school.
  • We eat dinner together nearly every night of the week, and I use routines to help me achieve this priority.  {By the way, don’t miss Angela’s post on planning menus – a great routine that makes family dinners possible!}

How to Establish a Routine |Counting Willows for tealandlime.com

How the Routines Save Us From Chaos

  • We don’t miss trash pick up on Tuesday.  Alexa does not have to empty the trash on a busy school/extracurricular activity day, but on the weekend when she is less busy.
  • With a home command center, everyone can see their schedule at a glance, add notes to it on their own, and find invitations or other paperwork easily when needed.
  • Mornings are busy enough without stressing over still-wet snowpants and mittens, extra containers, and papers cluttering up the backpacks and undone homework drama.  By emptying backpacks right after school we avoid stressful mornings.
  • I never, ever panic about undone laundry.  I honestly don’t even pay any attention to the laundry baskets until laundry day, so I am never stressing over mountains of laundry that are undone or some critical shirt, pant or whatever not being ready for a given event.  The kids are so used to the schedule that they know to bring their baskets to the laundry room on those mornings and know if they miss it, they better have what they need clean and ready or wait until the next laundry day.
  • I fold the laundry as it comes out of the dryer, so it is rarely wrinkled.  I don’t buy socks or underwear in a panic because I can’t get to the laundry pile.
  • Our dog, Mindi, is a Border Collie with tons of energy.  If she does not get walked, she tends to get bored and then naughty.  I get her walk done early in the day, so later when my day gets derailed, I don’t panic about fitting in a walk for the dog.
  • We enjoy good food and good family time by eating dinner together nightly.

How to Establish a Routine |Counting Willows for tealandlime.com

5 Steps to Establish a New Routine

1.  Identify Your Need

I think everyone knows how this goes.  The need presents itself over and over, doesn’t it?

In the moment you are frazzled and frustrated with yourself or the situation.  You think, “There has to be a better way!”  The answer often is a routine.

How to Establish a Routine |Counting Willows for tealandlime.com

We have four kids, two teenagers (a senior and a sophomore in high school) and two younger boys (1st and 4th grade).  Although we have a great laundry/mud room with hooks, bins and a long bench, it can get crowded in there in a hurry.

This winter we were all frustrated when the younger boys were tripping over each other (and themselves) trying to get all of their winter gear (mittens, hats, snowpants, jackets, boots) on, find their backpacks, and get out to the bus on time.  I found myself frustrated, frazzled, running for the bus, and thinking there must be a better way!

Bingo:  I need a morning routine to get the two boys out to the bus.  

2.  Consider The Root of the Problem

In this case, the problem is that the two boys have their mud room “stations” next to each other.

How to Establish a Routine |Counting Willows for tealandlime.com

This generally works well, but with all the winter and school gear, they are too close to each other when getting ready.  Max (4th grade) insisted on standing right in his spot, and Will (1st grade) was tripping over him trying to get to all of his stuff.  Plus, Will tends to go in circles, so he needs more room to get all of his stuff on without constantly running into Max.

3.  Can You Add To Another Routine?

Every morning it is my goal to get the snacks, any cold lunches and their water bottles packed and ready to go by 7:30.  This is already a standard backpack filling routine that works well for us.  The high schoolers leave around 7:00 and the elementary bus comes at 8:45, so I leave myself from 7-7:30 to get things in order before I need to start herding the younger kids through their morning process.

If I get as much possible done by 7:30, I find that I am able to enjoy the kids, sit and have breakfast with them and give them time to play or deal with some unexpected thing (oh, my library books are due!) without much stress.

To solve my problem of the boys tripping all over each other when it is time to get out the door, I decided I could add a few new steps on to my existing backpack filling routine.

4.  Make A Plan

My existing routine involves making the mud room as orderly as possible (sorting laundry, put away rogue shoes, sweeping the floor) after the highschoolers leave.  Once that is done, I continue with my backpack filling routine.  I load up the elementary school backpacks with their shoes (they wear their boots to school and change into shoes when they get there), snacks, water bottles, homework and cold lunch.

Then, I added a few new steps to solve the mudroom chaos.  After the backpacks are filled, I take a couple of moments to set each child up for success.

How to Establish a Routine |Counting Willows for tealandlime.com

I put my first grader’s backpack on the floor, away from Max and closer to the door to the garage.  He has a nice open space over there and plenty of room to circle.  I layer his stuff in a pile, so he can grab what he needs in the order he needs it.  I put his boots on the floor, lay his jacket over his boots and the snowpants on top.  I put his hat, mittens and scarf on the counter near that spot.  It probably takes me 30 seconds.

I check Max’s spot, but for the most part he can sort through and put on what he needs.  He gets ready faster, since he is older and it is easier for him.

NOTE:  If a routine is hard to remember, it may help to post a reminder or check list until it becomes a habit.  Once the routine gets, well, routine, then you can remove it. 

5. Test, Evaluate, and Revise

I was delighted that this routine worked like a charm!  Now, we all head into the mudroom once the bus alarm bell goes off and each child has their own space to get ready, without any problems.  There is even room enough for me to get ready for my morning walk with Mindi!

We all head out the door at the same time.  I get the kids on the bus and then Mindi and I get in our daily walk.  We even have time for a quick selfie!

How to Establish a Routine |Counting Willows for tealandlime.com

Not every routine will work perfectly on the first try, and that is OK.  Evaluate what works and adjust where things are not working. With necessary revisions, you will eventually find the right routine.

Don’t forget: Routines are meant to make your life easier, not stress you out.  If you find that you are not feeling better with a given routine, then change it until it is helpful to you. Routines need to work for you, not the other way around.

What routines help get your day off to the right start?

Michelle has worked outside the home full-time, been a stay-at-home-mom and everything in between.  Routines, adjusted for each season in her life, have been the foundation of saving her time, money and sanity.  Join her at Counting Willows for more tips on joyfully adding order to life’s wonderful chaos.


10 Responses to How to Establish Life-Improving Routines

  1. Michelle, I love this post. Routines are key in our household in order for us to survive (and thrive)! I got a lot of great tips from reading through your post. I love your family command center ideas. And, thank you for mentioning my previous post on menu planning. So kind of you! :)

  2. This is a great post! Even though my boys are 13 & 18 it’s still important to keep a up a family routine. Hopefully this will successfully transition over to college!

    • Michelle says:

      Donna, I so agree! It really is one of my greatest hopes as a parent that my kids leave home with the skills to manage their lives, so they are empowered to do great things.

  3. Tessie says:

    Loved this post! Thank you so much for the great reminder of the importance of routines! I have fallen off the wagon a bit, and things just get crazy with 4 kids. This has inspired me to reinstate my routines! Thanks.

  4. Gwen says:

    As a former teacher and a Mom , I could not imagine life without routine. Even in the classroom it helped all the children know what to do and what to do at a certain time. Results? Less time wasted. More time for an extra story and in teaching, it kept me on track to finish my curriculum on time without a sense of rush. At home,it made a spot for coats and backpacks so there was no question where they were at bus time. It worked for me. I didn’t realize that about me until reading this post. I guess it makes me feel good about the roles of parenting and teaching now that I look back. Thank you for guiding others. It also made me glad I live where its snowed once in my teaching career and school was cancelled!!

  5. Lisa says:

    That was such a great read Michelle. I kept thinking to myself, if she can do this with four kids, I surely can do it with one (and mine doesn’t wear snow gear). I think the one routine I need to work on is laundry. It seems that we are always swimming in laundry and it sits around forever before we fold it. Thanks for the doable tips.

    • Michelle says:

      You are welcome, Lisa! If it helps, I just set Monday, Wednesday and Friday as laundry days. I usually end up with 2-3 loads on Wednesday and Friday and 3-4 on Monday. Then, I work in towels and sheets on the other days as needed.

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