Most of our life is a sequence of habits, from brushing our teeth to writing a report. When a baby comes along, all of those habits are tripped up, leaving you alone and rudderless in the wreckage of your life.
So here is your cheat sheet from someone who has successfully juggled both a baby and a toddler and lived to tell the tale. Skim it, use it, abuse it.
1. Always have a grab-bag by the door.
Nappies, wipes, muslin cloth, calpol, bottles, toddler cutlery and snacks for bribery. £5 in cash and a spare top for yourself.
Why: It’s too damn easy to forget something when you are sleep-deprived and trying to wrestle small children into coats. I used to prioritize this and have it done by 8 pm in the evening as my brain was too frazzled to think after that time. Now, I do the same for school bags. Speaking of which…
2. Organise your hallway.
A shoe rack, shelving unit and a coat stand have revolutionised my life. Sad but true.
Why: Everything gets taken off and put away in its correct place. You are not searching for keys, shoes or hats in the morning. In winter I know where the gloves have gone. In the summer I had sunglasses and suncream to hand. It has saved immense amounts of stress and shaved 10 minutes off my prep time.
3. Get a separate washbasket for each family member.
Yes, even the baby.
Why: It makes sorting, washing & folding really easy and breaks a mountain of clothes into 3-minute sections. As they get older, you can literally hand it over to them – which is a fantastic feeling!
4. Think about your meals just once a week.
You are knackered. Keep it simple. Plan ahead with 7 evening meals, 5 mix & match lunches & three breakfast types.
Why: The beauty of this is that you have a regular meal cycle and a simplified shopping list. If you shop online, you can just click, tweak and reuse a previous list, getting the whole thing out of the way in 10 minutes or less. That’s an extra hour you have reclaimed from your week and you have skipped a toddler tantrum in the supermarket.
On that note, I really recommend Good Food: The Family Meal Planner*. It’s a little dated now, but incredibly practical with sections on batch cooking, 20-minute meals and ways to use up leftovers. I regularly use the meal planning lists at the back, when I am fed up of my usual recipes.
5. Declutter your daily living space
Not used it in 6 months? Cupboard, attic or charity shop.
Why: Kids are mess-making machines and you don’t have the time or energy for extra tidying (unless you actually enjoy it). Speaking of which, get dedicated boxes for kids toys. You can clear the floor in under 5 minutes and your 18-month-old toddler will help.
6. Use muslins as a tablecloth for your young child
Stick a large square of fabric under the highchair or over their space at the table/foor. This especially applies to snacks!
Why: As soon as they start eating, the mess increases exponentially. Crisp crumbs, bread trails, sticky yoghurt and spilt drinks. Let the muslin soak it all up and just flick the cloth into the washing machine.
7. Step out with the pushchair an audiobook
It’s the easiest way to read, exercise and soothe your baby to sleep at the same time.
Why: I’m the mother who has deliberately gone for a walk in the rain to get her fretful baby to sleep. As a result, I am a big fan of the Blinklist app that offers audio summaries of non-fiction books. For fiction, you can use the Kindle app or check out your local library: they sometimes offer E-audiobooks for free through the Borrowbox catalogue.
8. Prioritize just three small things for yourself
In addition to keeping the kids alive, aim for three small goals you want to achieve that day. Stick to 20 minutes or less per goal to keep it manageable.
Why: You need to steal time for yourself. Don’t aim for the stars: just stop and smell the flowers. You will feel less burned out and more productive as a result. It’s very easy with young children to feel you are trapped in a hellish cycle of nappies, crying, feeding, washing and waiting for them to sleep. Do stuff with them and around them: they will thank you for it.
Good luck! If I have missed your favourite time-saving tip, please share it in the comments below.