Editor’s Note: Do not skip this post!  Michelle, from Counting Willows, has packed this one full of useful tips and resources for running an efficient home.  She breaks it down into the 5 key areas to focus on!

Someone recently asked me what I thought it took to run an efficient home.  It is an interesting question, and I thought about it a lot.

There are lots of different systems that we use in our house.  Some are big and some are small.  As I started listing them all in my head, I realized that I was making the answer more complicated than necessary.  If you can answer 5 questions, then your home will run efficiently.

5 Keys to an Efficient Home |Counting Willows for www.tealandlime.com  

If you want your home to run efficiently, then you really just need to answer these five questions.  Stop and think about it for a moment.  When you don’t have the answer to any one of these questions, that is when you feel crazy and overwhelmed and unorganized, right?

Please don’t let yourself feel overwhelmed by these questions.  Yes, there are some smaller parts to each, but you just need to break it down to workable steps.  Congratulate yourself on the area(s) you have already have under control, and let that success motivate you to tackle the others.  I have included some simple suggestions {Bonus Tips} that you can use if you are feeling overwhelmed.

1. What will we eat?

We all need to eat, that is just a fact.  How fancy the food is remains up to you.   Here are the basic steps you need to take to answer this question.

  • Plan your meals.  I would start with the pen and paper, so you get an idea of what works for you before you invest in something more.  Angela has a great post (and printable!) on planning menus.  You can also read about how I organize my recipes and plan meals electronically.  Once you get going, you can try to plan with the weekly ads to maximize sales.
    • Bonus tip:  Plan out four weeks that you can rotate throughout the season.  You can always switch things up when it comes to that week, but at least you will know you have a plan (and pre-done grocery list!) in place.
  • Grocery shop.  I swear by a simple one sheet grocery list posted on our refrigerator.  I break it up by area of the store (produce, meat, etc.) and everyone adds what they use up.  When I plan our menus, I have the list next to me so I can add to it.  I try to shop on Monday during the day because the stores we well stocked and quiet, but if that does not work, I do our shopping on Sunday, so I have everything I need for the week.
    • Bonus tip:  Stock up on sales and shop your pantry when it comes time to cook.  If you do a multi-week rotating plan (see bonus tip above), then you know exactly what you will use in coming weeks.
  • Prep your meals.  This is a good time to know thyself.  If you work full-time outside the home, night before prep is probably a great idea.  I work at home during the day, so I usually take some time to set the table and prep the meal before my kids get home from school and life gets crazy.  A quick glance at the menu plan tells me what needs to be taken out to thaw a day or two in advance.  I also check it in the morning for a reminder on how long it will take to make that day’s meal, so I can plan my day.
    • Bonus tip:  Consider a bulk prep time sometime during the week or weekend.  Wash and chop veggies, put meat in marinade and freeze for later use (it will marinate as it thaws), cut meats, mix up sauces or dressings.
  • Cook your meals.  There is no rule (nor should there be) that says only one person has to do all the cooking.  Chopping, stirring and setting the table can be a family event.  It is easy to catch up on the day while completing these tasks, so recruit some help!  The same goes for the clean up.
    • Bonus tip:  Make two meals at once and freeze one for a busier day.

2. When will we clean?

It is easy for the house to get away from you if you don’t have a plan.  By cleaning, I mean the bathrooms, living areas, laundry, the car – all of it.  I will use laundry as my example through the next few tips. I have used the same system for years and it has never let me down.

  • Make a schedule.  For us and our laundry, that currently means Monday, Wednesday and Friday.  Everyone knows that they have to bring their laundry to the laundry room on those mornings on their way out the door.  I sort it and just stay on top of it until it is done.  For our family of six, that means 2-3 loads on Wednesdays and Fridays, and 3-4 loads on Monday – that is just our clothes.  Then I work in towels and sheets on the other days, as it works for us.
    • Bonus tip:  Kids of nearly every age can help with laundry.  If you do laundry when the kids are home, assign them to certain days to help with laundry duty.  By the way, the schedule and kid help is true for all aspects of house cleaning.
  • Be flexible where needed.  If I will be out of the house, I will sort and start the first load the night before, so I have a head start, but we really stick with this schedule.  The teenagers take their laundry down and put it away and Steve and I put the rest away in the evening if I did not get to it during the day.  I never have a big pile of laundry and everyone generally has what they need when they need it.
    • Bonus tip: If you are really struggling, consider something outside the norm, like not folding kids play clothes.  For the rest of the house, you could break things down to small daily tasks, once a week cleaning or a deep clean once a month and a quick clean up in between as needed.
  • Sort and purge.  In Minnesota, this happens naturally as the seasons change from hot to frigid.  We retire things the kids have outgrown, move the new sizes in and note what needs to be added to each person’s wardrobe that season.  If something is damaged, I note it when I do the laundry and set it aside to repair.  If I notice my 7-year-old’s pants are too short, I take those out when I do the laundry and move them to the donation pile.  For individual rooms, we tackle one area each month to purge, repair and give our attention as needed.
    • Bonus tip:  Save that last-minute panic of a funeral, wedding or holiday dressy event and make sure you have at least one dressy outfit that fits your kid.  Check with friends or second-hand stores for dress shoes and clothes, as these rarely get worn out like play clothes.

3. Where do we need to be?

You knew this was coming, right?  Our house would fall apart without our calendar!

  • Keep a calendar.  Everyone needs a calendar – you just do.  In our family, our calendar system has been a true blessing as I really can see each of our four kids learning valuable lessons about managing their schedules and knowing where they need to be and when.
    • Bonus tip:  Try a free electronic version, like iCal (on OS operating systems), Google or Cozi.
  • Share it.  If you use paper, you can just post it up somewhere.  If  you use something electronic, then you can share on mobile devices or print off a copy for quick reference.
    • Bonus tip:  Color code your calendar.  We have one color for each person, one for Steve and I together, one for family events and one for household appointments (like carpet cleaning).  We also have grey as Possible – Not Scheduled, for things I want to keep in mind but we have not committed to (like an upcoming Scout camp or volunteer event).
  • Make use of alerts.  There are many electronic calendar options, and most have alerts that you can build in to an appointment.  The alerts can text you, send you an email or just pop up on your phone or computer a certain amount of time before an event.
    • We use iCal and the four of us who are 15 or older have iPhones, so we all can see the entire calendar, add events and see alerts as they come up on our phones.  I don’t need to remind my 17-year-old that he has a chiropractor appointment because the phone does it for me.  And everyone can add in their own events, so I don’t have to manage everything.

4. Where is our money going?

Nothing adds to your stress like missing a due date or not having enough money to make it until the next payday.

  • Budget.  I did it – I said the B-word.  But it is true – you need to have an idea of where you money needs to go and how much you have to work with.
    • Bonus tip:  We use You Need a Budget (YNAB) and we are happy with it.  It is easy to import our bank transactions and assign each transaction to a category.  And it is set up well to help you build up to not being paycheck to paycheck, if you are struggling with that.
  • Schedule payments.  What did we do before bill pay?  I swear by just setting everything up to be paid automatically.  You can choose to have each business pull from your account or you can keep control and tell your bank when to pay an item by setting it up on bill pay.
    • Bonus tip:  Once every 1-2 weeks, I go through our current bills and pull up our scheduled payments.  I can adjust those bills that change from month to month (like utilities) and a quick check is all it takes to keep up to date on the bills.  I usually download transactions at the same time and categorize them in our YNAB software.  I would say I spend about 20-30 minutes every 2 weeks on household finances and I cannot remember the last time we were charged a late fee for missing a due date.

5. Can we find what we need?

This is a bigger one; one that rears its ugly head at the worst of times.  Where are my keys?  Do we have batteries on hand?  Why didn’t anyone tell me we are out of toilet paper?  I know that I had a sympathy card around here somewhere…

  • Everything in its place.  Having a set location for things you need on a regular (and not so regular basis) will help you when you need it most.  Plus, if you have a set location for things, eventually your family might even remember where that is and stop bugging you.
    • Bonus tip:  Start by thinking of where you would logically look for things.  For example, batteries live in our laundry room.  If I was just starting to store them there, then I would bring batteries to one drawer in the laundry room as I found them and organize them later when I had found them all and had some free time.
  • Stock up.  Once everything has a place, it is much easier to notice when you are running low or have used the last of something.  Add AA batteries to your list now, when you don’t need them and you will thank yourself for having them on hand the next time you do need them.
    • Bonus tip:  If you like to stock up a lot (like I do), then have an out-of-the-way spot to store the excess.  We store our tissue boxes under a bathroom sink and our extra toilet paper in a big basket in a linen closet.

If I may add one final word of advice:  Usually the system you use is not nearly as important as just using a system in the first place.  If you use it, it will work – so pick something that sounds good to you and stick to it for a while.  You can tweak it from there as needed – just get started.  You can do it!

What system you use to run your home is not nearly as important as just using a system in the first place.  Tweet This!

Michelle is always working to improve life for her and her family.  Join her at Counting Willows for more, including how she finally broke her chronic rushing and learned to arrive calm and on time.

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11 Responses to The 5 Keys to an Efficient Home

  1. Marybeth says:

    Brilliant! Just absolutely brilliant. This really helps to wrap your head around things that are so often overwhelming. Thanks!

  2. Erin says:

    Picky speller lady here, but “efficient” is spelled wrong in the graphic above. It looks pinnable, so I want to make sure it’s right for you!

  3. Amy says:

    Yes, yes, yes, yes, and yes! (Wait, I don’t mean I can actually answer yes to the 5 questions, just that I like them, LOL!) Thanks for this!

  4. I need serious help on points #2 and #5! Staying organized takes a lot of effort on my part! :)

    I’ll have to be honest and say that I’ve totally given up cleaning my house and have hired someone to come in 1-2 times a month! Obviously we maintain a clean home in between those times, but we generally don’t have a set schedule. We usually decide to randomly set a timer for 20 minutes and do as much cleaning/straightening/organizing as we can!

    Thanks for this post! Gives me some great ideas to think about!

    • Jackie says:

      Thanks for stopping by Jennifer. We do the timer method cleaning blitzes, too. I am still trying to get comfortable with the idea of getting cleaning help…because we need it! It is one area my husband and I don’t balance each other well, neither of us is good at it.

    • Michelle says:

      There is no shame in hiring help! I should have mentioned that in the post – thanks for sharing.

  5. Lisa says:

    I think we’re needing to work on #2 and #5. When it comes to doing chores I’m probably the worst offender. I need a reward chart like my son. I’m also the one who never knows where things are? In fact, I can’t find my credit card. I know it’s supposed to go in my wallet, but it didn’t seem to get in there. Now it’s missing. Thank you for the helpful tips. It definitely helps when the whole family is involved.

    • Michelle says:

      I don’t know if it helps, but for things like doing the dishes, I remind myself that each of those dishes is going to have to be washed at some point. I might as well do it right away, so I can enjoy some clean spaces before the next round.

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