Life with kids can feel anything but simple. Things rarely go as planned. You’re exhausted and could sleep for days. You feel like a mess surrounded by a whole lot of mess. Expert advice only makes you feel less-than and like you’re doing everything wrong. Which, naturally, only makes you feel more overwhelmed.
That’s what happened to author Asha Dornfest. Dornfest felt like she was drowning. For help she consulted parenting and productivity books and sampled time management systems, among other things. She assumed that other “more qualified people” would have the answers she needed.
“But expert advice didn’t fix my new life,” she writes in her book Parent Hacks: 134 Genius Shortcuts for Life with Kids. “If anything, it undermined what little confidence I had. I felt more overwhelmed (so much information!) and less equipped to handle it.”
Maybe you know exactly how Dornfest felt because you feel like that right now. The more you read, the worse you feel. But, as she reassures, “You’re the expert, even when it doesn’t feel like it.”
Years ago, what really helped Dornfest was finding a community of parents online. In 2005 she started her own blog called Parent Hacks with creative tips and idea, which she and other parents contributed. Today, Dornfest hosts a podcast called “Edit Your Life” on the site.
Parent Hacks, the book, includes ideas for everything from organizing your time and home to bathing and grooming your baby to navigating travel and outings. Each idea also is illustrated by Craighton Berman. What I love about the book is that it empowers parents to get creative. It reminds us that with a bit of imagination, we can create exactly what we need.
Here are seven of my favorite tips, which I think you’ll find helpful, too. And if you don’t, they’ll certainly inspire you to create your own hacks.
Sort your to-do list based on time.
That is, sort your list of tasks by the time it takes you to complete them. For instance, cleaning the high chair and composing your list might each take 5 minutes. Cleaning the bathroom might take 45 minutes. Sorting laundry might take 15 minutes.
Also, separate bigger projects into shorter tasks, so you can make progress. In less than 10 minutes you can empty all the wastebaskets in your house; sweep and tidy up the entryway; recycle mismatched plastic containers; organize a single file; or clean out your diaper bag.
When you find yourself with some time, you can swiftly review your list and pick a task to tackle and actually finish.
Create a toy library.
Designate different clear plastic bins for each category of toys, such as blocks, cars and dolls. “Check out” toys from the library, and put them into a small basket wherever you’re having playtime. When your child wants to play with a new toy, “check in” the old toy.
Play more relaxing games when you need to rest.
When your toddler won’t sleep — but you really want to — combine games with downtime. For instance, create a pretend campout in your living room. Roll out sleeping bags. Turn off the lights. Crawl inside, and make believe that you’re sleeping in the woods.
Another idea is to create a laser show. Turn off the lights. Lie on the floor. Use a laser pointer to create shapes and other effects on the ceiling.
Involve toddlers in chores.
According to Dornfest, “giving toddlers real work demonstrates that everyone in the family can pitch in, and that they are capable little humans.” For instance, you can have your toddler throw dirty clothes in the hamper; put their toys and books away; water plants; and wipe surfaces with a damp cloth.
Use chips for screen time.
Create a kind of “electronics bank” using plastic poker chips and a timer. Figure out how much time each chip will represent. Then every day your child will receive or earn chips. For each chip they pay you, they get a certain amount of screen time.
Make totes into kits.
Turn different tote bags into premade kits. You might create kits for objects you regularly misplace or objects you need to get out the door. For instance, create a swim tote, which includes sunscreen, sunglasses, flip-flops, towels and a swim diaper. Create a library tote for books to return. Create a return/exchange tote with both the item and receipt.
Use laundry baskets for everything.
For instance, during bath time, put your child in a laundry basket in the tub, along with their toys. Use a laundry basket as a recycling bin or for toy storage. Use a basket for support as your baby learns to walk. Use it as an indoor train or even a bassinet. Use a laundry basket in the car as an organizer.
Life with kids can get complicated. But you can use your creativity (and the creativity of others) to simplify your days — and have more fun!
Family at the park photo available from Shutterstock