This is how I make my house run smoothly

Life is such a whirlwind, isn’t it? If you’re anything like me, it often seems like the weeks go by in a blur of activity…and then it’s weekend again. Or the weekends go by so quickly and when Monday comes around, you feel like you’ve just started to relax and the week is upon you once again.

The problem with this is that we never have a sense of peace, calm and control. A feeling that we are directing the course of our own lives.

I’ve been going through a really hectic couple of months so I thought I’d share some of the systems I’ve set up to make our lives easier:

Household calendar
We have one household calendar in our kitchen where we mark off any commitments like church, school meetings, book club, socials, and so on. I also mark off the recycling pick-up days, when we buy electricity, and when the gardener needs to be paid.

I couple this with weekly planning. I look at my diary on a Sunday and put in my appointments for the week. I also add any tasks that I need or want to work on, like writing blogs, the newsletter and so on.

When you write down everything, and you see your calendar full of events, it’s easy to see where you need to cut back.

Menu planning
I love menu planning because it saves me time. When I say this to people, they think I’m crazy because “how can all that planning save you time?” It’s quite simple – it takes me about 10 to 15 minutes every Friday (if I’m on the ball) or Saturday and that planning saves me time from Monday to Friday, when I need it most. No more standing in front of the open fridge wondering what to make for supper.

The great thing is you can still be spontaneous within the plan. I plan meals for the working week but if I don’t feel like a particular meal that day, I change it around and cook another day’s meal. Like if it’s very hot and I planned to have baked potatoes with a topping, I may postpone that to another day and make a pasta salad instead.

Here’s a detailed look at why you should consider menu planning and  how I do menu planning

Regular decluttering and organising
I tackle 1 -2 areas in our home every weekend. Let’s face it – if we are constantly buying things and bringing them into our homes and lives, clutter is constantly building up unless we get rid of some of it. I agree with Konmari (here’s my take on the Konmari method) that you do a once-off thorough tidy, but if you’re buying things regularly, you need to declutter regularly. I’ve even taught the kids this principle with a glass of water and how it overflows if we keep pouring water in.

It doesn’t have to be a huge exercise. While you’re busy cooking or baking, you can sort out a cupboard or two. I have a tendency of burning rice and carrots so I stay in the kitchen whenever I cook these and use the time constructively to sort out a cupboard or drawer, plan my menus, write out my shopping list, etc.

When you factor in just 15 minutes’ decluttering and organising per space every weekend, you can easily maintain your home if it is already organised. Of course, if your house is nowhere near where you’d like it, I would suggest 15 minutes every day. Download 31 days of easy organising solutions for plenty of ideas.

See the little nook next to the door?

Launch pad
Do you know the place in your house where you dump your bags as you enter? Flylady calls this a launch pad. I like that term because it reminds me of action. We have a little nook just inside our front door that I use for our launch pad.

Mornings are one of the worst times in most families – you can’t find your keys, wallet, bag, etc. Frantic running around and screaming happens and that is just not fun.

The point is that we use our launch pads to ready ourselves for mornings. Every evening I pack my handbag and laptop, and they are left here. In the mornings all I do is grab and go. Literally once I leave the bedroom, I walk to the fridge to get my lunch bag, grab my keys on the way to the launch pad, get my bags and I’m out of there. Two minutes tops!

Over to you. Which systems can you implement to make your life easier this month?

 

When life throws you curveballs

A reader recently sent me a question asking what my suggestions were for her and for other readers who get thrown from their usual routines by life’s curveballs.

I think this is a great question because she’s right – we all have things that throw us off track:

  • busy time periods at work (month-end/ year-end/ closing out a project/ going live with other projects, etc.)
  • busy periods in our kids’ lives (concert week, recitals or plays)
  • any illness (usually means kids or parents not sleeping)
  • going on holiday (lovely to be away but re-entry can be tough)
  • any out-of-the-ordinary happening that messes with your routine

I’ll share with you my top 3 ways to get back on track:

  1. Lower my expectations

That seems counter-intuitive but it makes complete sense for any of us control freaks.

I know after returning from a holiday that it’s going to take about a week for things to return to our normal. There’s no sense in getting stressed every day because there are piles of undone laundry, no food in the fridge and kids who can’t wake up for school because they’re too tired.

This one step is the biggest creator of peace of mind in the home.

  1. Get back to my basics as quickly as possible

For me, that’s making a menu plan and making sure we have enough fruit and vegetables in the house. I can almost always cobble meals together from the freezer or pantry; it’s when there aren’t enough apples or carrots that I start to twitch. Food is important to me and the family, so this is one of my priorities.

In essence, start putting your routines in order. When we get back from a holiday, I start unpacking immediately because I can’t stand things laying around on the floors and I’ve trained the kids to do the same. They’ve unpacked their own suitcases for the last 3 years.

  1. How can I restore order in the quickest, painless way?

I could take one day, generally the Sunday afterwards, and do laundry non-stop, and while that would be quick, it is not painless for me! I choose to do a daily load until we’re caught up instead as we generally only do the laundry about 3 – 4 times a week. It ends up being just a day or two longer, but knowing that there’s a plan in place helps a lot to keep me at peace!

If doing laundry isn’t painful for you, you might as well get it done quickly.

I read a blog once where the mom used to go to a laundromat, use 6 machines and just get all the laundry done if they had a curveball or two thrown at them. She said she’d take a book, relax for two hours and leave with everything up to date. That actually sounds splendid.

To summarise, I’d give myself two weeks to get back to my routines. Decide what is most important to you, and start doing that thing immediately (as you saw above, unpacking and food for me!).

Then build on those initial steps until your routine – and peace of mind – is restored once again.

What are the basics you rely on to get back on track?

Readers’ favourite Organising Queen posts for 2017

This is a big post with lots of reading, guys. I love posts like this on other blogs and I usually stretch them out with numerous mugs of tea throughout the day 🙂

Let’s get to it – the favourite posts per month. And fun fact, each picture was taken in that specific month of the year, so enjoy Johannesburg (and Ballito, for July) through my lens 🙂

January

Word of the year recap and this year’s word

A bullet journal/ diary hybrid

What I learned in January

February

5 favourite posts about stationery

What I want more of this year

The annual filing that wasn’t 🙂

March

Free digital and audio books with Overdrive

How to write a friendship manifesto

Soul care vs self-care

April

My year of happy – April project goals

If it’s not serving you, let it go

 7 things about reading

May

Let’s talk about hygge (1)

My house has a to-do list

Your silent to-do list

June

Mental nourishment in the form of unplugging

What I learned in May

What’s in my handbag?

July

Getting motivated, Four Tendencies style

Creatives can’t get organised. Myth or truth?

Half-year review of my word of the year (give)

August

Your amazing habits

Do you suffer from perfectionism?

Lovely things to do this year

September

My 5 favourite posts about the goal-setting process (this is actually the most popular post of the year!)

How I do menu planning, and what I cook for my freezer

Why you should menu plan

October

Choosing your 2018 diary

How my whole planning system fits together

Good news – you get to choose

November

Technology and your tendency – work

Technology and your tendency – personal

Switching up what’s not working for you

Did you agree with these posts? Was there a favourite post that you want to highlight? Let me know. All of this influences some of the editorial content for next year.

Lower your Christmas expectations

My family made a Christmas fun list sometime during November.

One of the things on the list (added by me) was to make Christmas cards. In years past we made them and it was a lovely pleasant activity.

Well. It appears those days are past.

We had one session of utter craziness that left none of us feeling peace and goodwill towards men, so I went to the shops and bought Christmas cards for my own sanity and peace of mind.

They had no problems writing in ready-made Christmas cards so that is what we did this year.

I had to lower my expectations, you see, or make the cards all by myself.

Of course that made me think about Christmas on the whole, and how, when we see all the Instagram and Facebook perfection of families crafting, baking, wrapping and decorating, we can start feeling resentful about our own real lives.

I’m here to relieve you from the expectations and help you to lower the bar.

christmas-best-009

Here’s how I’m lowering the bar this Christmas:

  1. I’m focusing on the things that make Christmas special for us and leaving behind everything else.
  2. We will go to church on Christmas morning to make sure that Jesus is our focus.
  3. I’ve long said that the way to have a happy holiday or event day (Christmas, Thanksgiving, birthdays, Mother’s Day, etc.) is to stay completely off social media. I do like to post a picture in the morning but if I miss it, I’ll post one that night and that will be it.
  4. I’m only giving presents to a few people that I will be seeing. I remember years past when I’d buy/ make presents for so many friends and frantically try and see everyone. No thanks – that sounds like a headache rather than joy to me this year. I may change next year but we’ll see.
  5. Speaking of presents, I know what I want for my To Marcia From Marcia gift, but I can’t be bothered to go get it while the shops are crazy busy.
  6. The longer you think about things, the more you stress (in a lot of cases) so I’m not even thinking about food until I finish work on Thursday 🙂 Someone told me Woolworths is already running out of food and I said, “well, then we’ll make do somewhere else.
  7. It’s nice to have a Christmas fun list but treat it like a suggestion, not a must-do list. E.g. we have an item to have Christmas-themed doughnuts from Krispy Kreme. Well, it turns out no-one actually likes those doughnuts – they all want just the plain glazed ones 🙂 But… everyone wants to do far more baking than I feel able. So I’ve told them we will do two easy things and each child will bake with me once.

christmas-best-007

Last but not least, don’t feel pressured to feel emotions you don’t feel. If you’re not feeling utter joy, that’s okay. If you’re not feeling peace and goodwill towards your fellow man, that’s also okay. I have a feeling Jesus wasn’t all happy and smiley all the time too, so you’re in good company.

Decide what you want to feel this Christmas and focus on those desired feelings. And remember to communicate your needs to your family. There’s no rule that says you need to be around people for hours and hours on end.

Some of you are aghast at what I’m saying but it doesn’t mean you love your people any less if you want to escape and do something by yourself for a bit.

I once asked my friend Beth about an extended family holiday weekend they have every year. She wisely told me they realise they’re mostly introverts so no one feels bad to just go off and do their own thing for an hour or two throughout the day. Isn’t that insight great?

That’s what I want to leave you with today – know what you need, create the time for it and you’re sure to have a great Christmas day.

Does your inside always match whats going on around social media?

Where do you need to lower your Christmas expectations?

PS some clever gift ideas in case you’re stuck

How I do menu planning, and what I cook for my freezer

Have you read my post on why you should consider menu planning?

 

I do my menu planning weekly but if you’re more of an all or nothing person, you might want to just plan a month’s worth of meals and get it all over and done with at one time.

Weekly or monthly menu planning for you?

I feel like I’m doing that thing with my kids where I say “cucumber or tomatoes?”

IMG_0929

A couple of ideas on ways to approach menu planning:

  • have a theme for each day: mince on Mondays/ chicken on Tuesdays/ vegetarian on Wednesdays/ fish on Thursday/ easy Friday (pizza/ eggs/ soup)
  • cook a certain number of nights and use freezer dishes for the rest
  • delegate certain nights to your spouse

How I do it

1. Generally, D does supper on Tuesdays and Sundays. The trick when you delegate is you are not allowed to say a single thing except “thank you for the lovely supper”. They will stop if you nag about anything. Tell yourself the kids will be fine without vegetables for 1 – 2 nights. I don’t write anything on my menu plan except “D”.

Sundays is usually toast with peanut butter, cheese, etc. and this is (sadly) the kids’ favourite meal of the week.

2. According to my daughter, we always have rice on a Monday (I checked my menu plans and turns out, she’s right 🙂 I haven’t intentionally planned it like that, but I do like rice/ pasta/ rice/ potatoes/ bread-based within my 5 meals.

3. We very rarely go out for supper because 1) I can whip up a pasta quicker than us getting ourselves sorted and to the nearest place and waiting for our meal 2) we prefer lunches out

4. I cook a lot on the weekends. Not every weekend, but about one or two weekends in a 5-week period. That feels about right to me. I may make 3 meals but I cook double so that’s 6 nights’ suppers sorted.

5. Leftovers. Don’t discount the leftovers. Those meals I cook on the weekends last longer than I anticipate because often we don’t have to have the 5th meal of the week because there is enough leftovers. Sometimes I’ve had supper out, sometimes D only wants half of his supper because he’s home later, and so on.

Meals that freeze well

Some people think potato or pasta doesn’t freeze well. I have done both and the meals are still perfectly fine. I think the trick is to not let it thaw forever out on the counter because your food will get watery (yuck!). I put it in the microwave to defrost it a bit for about 6 minutes (that’s two presses of the quick defrost button on my microwave) and then straight into the oven to crisp up.

  1. Cottage pie
  2. Baked pasta dishes. When you cook one dish to have “fresh” on the night, do another dish for the freezer. Put it in the casserole dish, put some cling wrap (Saran wrap) on the top, and into the freezer.
  3. Rice
  4. Curries
  5. Bolognaise
  6. Chicken a la King
  7. Taco mince
  8. Chilli con carne
  9. Chicken and broccoli casserole
  10. Soup and the rolls 🙂

and so on (share your ideas in the comments please)

IMG_0930

Do you menu plan? Weekly or monthly?

Do you cook freezer meals? Which ones are your favourites?

Why you should menu plan

I was chatting to a friend a few weeks ago and I told her that when things feel like they’re going off track, there’s one thing that I need to do: make a menu plan.

Today, let’s talk about why I do menu planning (I’ve been menu planning for 11 years now), and why you should consider doing so too.

Do you menu plan?

Good reasons to menu plan

  • it saves you daily decision time
  • saves you money when you use up all the food in the freezer and pantry, and stops you buying foods you don’t need
  • no stress about what to cook every night as even if you don’t feel like eating what you put on your menu, you know there’s at least 4 other options to choose from

I play a little game with myself and aim for sticking to the menu plan 4 out of 5 nights. Remember I’m not a perfectionist. Good enough is better than perfect.

How do you start menu planning

Note – please do this before you go to the shops to do your grocery shopping 😉

1. Go to your freezer and cupboards to see what food you have that you need to use up, and make a list.
2. Write out a menu plan for a week (if you do weekly shopping) or longer, using recipes to use up that food. Get creative.
3. Add any items that you need to your weekly shopping list and do your shopping. You may have some pasta and cans of tuna so in order to use them up, you might need a few cans of tomato.
4. Stick the menu plan to your fridge.

Now you don’t have to rack your brain every night wondering what to cook because you have a plan.

Another tip that will save you lots of time is to cook something on a Sunday afternoon. This meal is not for eating that day, but for freezing. I heard a podcast recently (I don’t know how she does it – an Aussie podcast) where the lady said she makes all the lunches for the week on a Sunday afternoon and while she’s doing that, she bakes muffins or bread. Brilliant!

When you have a busy day it’s easy to just defrost the meal and have a healthy supper on the table in minutes.

We went through a stage where we didn’t buy any meat for two months while we finished everything in the freezer and started on the cupboards. You see, we all get into a habit of buying the same groceries every week without checking if we really need it.

If you’re not already menu planning, I’d like to encourage you to at least start. Do so for at least a month, give it a good go and see if it doesn’t save you time and money.

And if you already do menu planning, then your challenge for this week is to only buy perishables and eat from your freezer and cupboards.

Are you menu planning?

Is there anything you’d like to change about your process? Do you have any special tips?

PS Look out on Thursday for how I do my menu planning and some freezer meal ideas

When life throws you curveballs

A reader recently sent me a question asking what my suggestions were for her and for other readers who get thrown from their usual routines by life’s curveballs.

I think this is a great question because she’s right – we all have things that throw us off track:

  • busy time periods at work (month-end/ year-end/ closing out a project/ going live with other projects, etc.)
  • busy periods in our kids’ lives (concert week, recitals or plays)
  • any illness (usually means kids or parents not sleeping)
  • going on holiday (lovely to be away but re-entry can be tough)
  • any out-of-the-ordinary happening that messes with your routine

I’ll share with you my top 3 ways to get back on track:

  1. Lower my expectations

That seems counter-intuitive but it makes complete sense for any of us control freaks.

I know after returning from a holiday that it’s going to take about a week for things to return to our normal. There’s no sense in getting stressed every day because there are piles of undone laundry, no food in the fridge and kids who can’t wake up for school because they’re too tired.

This one step is the biggest creator of peace of mind in the home.

  1. Get back to my basics as quickly as possible

For me, that’s making a menu plan and making sure we have enough fruit and vegetables in the house. I can almost always cobble meals together from the freezer or pantry; it’s when there aren’t enough apples or carrots that I start to twitch. Food is important to me and the family, so this is one of my priorities.

In essence, start putting your routines in order. When we get back from a holiday, I start unpacking immediately because I can’t stand things laying around on the floors and I’ve trained the kids to do the same. They’ve unpacked their own suitcases for the last 3 years.

  1. How can I restore order in the quickest, painless way?

I could take one day, generally the Sunday afterwards, and do laundry non-stop, and while that would be quick, it is not painless for me! I choose to do a daily load until we’re caught up instead as we generally only do the laundry about 3 – 4 times a week. It ends up being just a day or two longer, but knowing that there’s a plan in place helps a lot to keep me at peace!

If doing laundry isn’t painful for you, you might as well get it done quickly.

I read a blog once where the mom used to go to a laundromat, use 6 machines and just get all the laundry done if they had a curveball or two thrown at them. She said she’d take a book, relax for two hours and leave with everything up to date. That actually sounds splendid.

To summarise, I’d give myself two weeks to get back to my routines. Decide what is most important to you, and start doing that thing immediately (as you saw above, unpacking and food for me!).

Then build on those initial steps until your routine – and peace of mind – is restored once again.

What are your basics?

Do you have a strategy for life’s curveballs?

My year of happy

While I was thinking about my year ahead, I decided to re-read some of my favourite books this year.

One of those is Better than Before by Gretchen Rubin, especially because she’s releasing a new book just on The Four Tendencies (I can’t wait!) later this year.

I started listening on Monday, my first day back to work this year, and it’s been (dare I say?) even better listening the second time around.

Maybe it’s because I’m a super big fan of the podcast which started after I first listened to the book?

Anyway, in the book, she mentions The Happiness Project and how she focussed on 12 different projects over that year.

And that’s when I had my bright idea.

 

I’m going to do my own version of a Happiness Project. My Year of Happy!

Basically, I’m going to focus on 10 different areas in my life, 1 for the months February – November. January is for thinking it all through and December is for relaxing and wrapping up the year 🙂

My areas are health, finances, holidays, friends, kids, husband, house projects – decor,  house projects – decluttering, faith/ God and fun – reading, photos, crafts. I probably have 2 – 3 things I want to do for each area and that’s plenty.

Also, when I get x and y done, they’re done! Which is so satisfying to me, especially because for many years I’ve had ongoing goals on my list so 3 of this per month, or 2 of that per month, or doing project x every month. I think I’ll have a mix of recurring goals and once-off.

Does a happiness project sound like fun to you?

If yes, great stuff. We can post pics of our little projects on Instagram 🙂 and if you’re an Upholder like me, you’ll have no trouble at all planning out your year and making your year happy as you do your projects. If you’re a Rebel, you’ll do a project only if you want, and on your terms.

But for the Obligers and the Questioners, those that need a bit more accountability, let me know if you want some coaching for your Year of Happy.

How it will work

You decide on your own 10 projects – one for each month Feb to Nov – or fewer if you want to repeat some categories. It’s your life; you choose. You know what your life is like so you can choose easy things in your busier months so that this is not something stressful.

Your projects will be different to the next person’s. There is no one size fits all.

Logistics

We will use Skype audio or IMO (if the video doesn’t have too much lag) and chat once a month for 30 minutes.

You’ll give me feedback and set your intentions for the month ahead. I’ll coach you on any obstacles or where you feel stuck.

At the mid-point of each month, I will have some “open office time” for a 5-minute call. This is specifically so if you want to chat/ brainstorm.

In between you work on your stuff by yourself.

Then we wrap the 2017 year of happy on 30 November, rejoicing in a year well-intentioned and well-spent.

The best thing about all of this is you remain in the comfort of your own home, in your pyjamas, make-up free, while getting the support and encouragement to go make yourself happy.

How much

Only $50 per month or R700 at today’s exchange rate. If this is something that you really want but that amount doesn’t work for you, then let me know what you can pay and we’ll make a plan. It’s my year of give and you get to benefit 🙂

There’s no commitment to stay for the full year – stop whenever you want.

Are you interested? Email me and we’ll take it from there.

What kind of food planning do you need?

I figured something out ages ago.

When life feels too busy, the one way I can restore some order quickly is to menu plan.

I’ve been menu planning about 9 years now and it’s the best! It saves time because you’re not thinking about what to cook every night, and money because you buy exactly what you need.

Grocery prices in South Africa (and I’m sure over the world too) have skyrocketed, so if you can save money, that’s always a bonus.

IMG_0929

I usually only plan menus a week at a time, but I really want to get all the “old food” cooked and eaten, so this weekend past, I menu planned for two weeks.

My menu planner hangs on the side of our microwave, and is one I get from CNA. I buy whichever ones are in stock at the time, but I really love the current one I’m using because it has notes down the right, so I can note down which meals are in the freezer, or which I have to cook from scratch. I also use that section to plan my lunches for the week.

I’ve said this before but it’s worth repeating – as long as you have your 5 meals “ready” on the list, you can mix them up. If you don’t feel like pasta but it’s on the plan for Monday, do the meal for Wednesday instead.

Menu planning helps you use up food too and I can tell you my kids are so glad the broccoli is all used up now because we had that twice this week 😉

IMG_0930 Do you menu plan?

If yes, do you plan weekly, two weeks at a time or a month at a time?

If no, what’s stopping you? Why don’t you give it a bash, just for a week?

PS Friday evening/ Saturday morning is when I menu plan for the following week because Dion goes shopping on Saturdays. I have strict rules for myself – we never just “pop” out to the shops; we make do if we don’t have what we wanted. As I always say, no-one’s going hungry; it’s just that your first preference might not be available 😉

Organising | kids’ school lunches

My kids have always been good eaters – part of this is that they like food, and the other part is that I do things in a particular way which has had good results.

  1. When I try a new meal, I ask for a helper in the kitchen (one twin only). This makes the other twin super curious about what’s going on and while I’m cooking, I make a lot of oooh and aaah sounds, and we taste. We then invite the other twin to taste too, so by the time supper rolls around, everyone wants to eat.
  2. We don’t snack on carbs in between meals (we’ve relaxed this a bit but that’s usually in winter when everyone is hungrier) so they are genuinely hungry when it’s meal time.
  3. I don’t make a big deal about eating or not eating. I also don’t always feel like eating, so eat/ don’t eat – whatever! But… there are no alternative meals 🙂
Kids' school lunches | www.OrganisingQueen.com

wholewheat bread with peanut butter, apples with lemon juice

So they still eat very well at lunch time, but I have a few rules after trying all sorts of combinations the first couple of weeks of “big school”.

  1. there has to be a sandwich and fruit/ veg (my one twin could be vegetarian so often asks for carrots or tomatoes instead of fruit)
  2. we only allow tuckshop money on Fridays, and not every Friday
  3. I only pack snacks (nice things aside from the fruit and sandwich) on a Friday. I generally pack shareable items because I’m encouraging sharing (mini packs of gummy sweets/ superC/ raisins/ peanuts and raisins/ mini cheddars)
  4. if they don’t eat their lunch and only have the snacks, then that becomes the lunch when they get home from school. I don’t ever throw food away.
Kids' school lunches | www.OrganisingQueen.com

I think there were prunes in the container, and she wanted her ham next to her roll… #thisissix

Sandwich fillings are usually ham (I like the Woolworths beech smoked ham), cheese, or peanut butter and jam. My kids don’t like Melrose (cheese spread) and we have never bought Marmite (Dion and I don’t like it). They do eat fish paste but like me, they prefer it at home on hot, buttered toast.

When I try to introduce new things, they tell me they like their same old fillings and it’s not boring for them.

I also think about the mess factor with lunches – while things like tuna mayo and egg mayo spreads are delicious, I wouldn’t want them messing about with that at school. As Kendra told me once, “we want food we can eat quickly so we have time to play”. Got it!

Kids' school lunches | www.OrganisingQueen.com

tiny bit of leftover pasta salad, carrots, ham on French loaf

Kids' school lunches | www.OrganisingQueen.com

same story with more carrots

Kids' school lunches | www.OrganisingQueen.com

Rolls with ham, banana, container with either raisins/ peanuts and raisins

All the pics were taken with my phone at night which is why they’re less-than-stellar.

I’m always asked about this topic so I hope this helps at least one mom. Let me know if this helps/ amuses you!

Tell me your lunchbox tips, and feel free to ask questions.

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