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  • My Biggest Morning Sanity Saver: An Evening Prep Routine

    I get up fairly early every morning but I spend most of my pre-breakfast time rounding up the new deals, coupons, and info for Morning Coffee. On school days, at 7 a.m., I have to turn my full attention to getting the kids ready for school. So the last thing I want is more things to do or think about when the day starts.

    It’s no surprise, then, that I’m happiest (and most patient with my kids) in the morning when I take some each night to get ready for the next day. I’ve always been good about doing the dishes and generally cleaning the kitchen after dinner (even before we had kids), but now I’ve added the following to my post-dinner routine:

    Prep the kids’ backpacks. My kids are still quite young, so I pack and unpack for them. (Now that I think about it, I should probably start involving my older son in his daily preparations next year.) I usually go through their backpacks when they get home from school, and after dinner, I make sure their homework is done and in their backpacks, along with anything else they’re supposed to take the next day.

    Prep lunches if possible. My husband usually takes leftovers for lunch at work, so I prepare his lunch bento-style the night before as I’m cleaning up after dinner. (These containers make getting his lunch ready super easy.) At the same, I prep any components for the boys’ school lunches that I can do ahead of time. I also try to keep milk and juice boxes, applesauce pouches, and pre-sliced organic apples in the fridge at all times so I can just grab them in the morning.

    Clear the dining table. Our dining table is centrally located and something of a magnet for clutter, like the mail. A few months ago, I realized how stressed I got when I came downstairs for breakfast and the dining table was still covered with pencils, scraps and other remnants of the previous night’s homework. I made one simple change and starting clearing the dining table every night, and saved myself from many disheartening moments in the morning.

    Prepare anything that needs to go out the door with me in the morning. This isn’t an everyday thing, but on those occasions when I need to deliver baked goods or other items to school, I pack them up and leave them by the door so I don’t forget them in the morning.

    Mentally prepare for the next day. As I mentioned earlier this week, I make a to-do list every night, which boosts my productivity tremendously. I also plan out my schedule, thinking about places I need to go and the order in which I will go there. If I need to dress a certain way, I make a note of it (and maybe even lay out an outfit). If I didn’t make the boys’ lunches ahead of time, I at least plan out what I’m going to pack in the morning.

    While it might seem like a lot to do in the evening, all of these steps really don’t take that long. It takes maybe 10 minutes if I don’t have much to do (for example, if we ate out and there weren’t any dishes to wash), and 30 minutes if I have to do a lot (when I’ve made a huge mess in the kitchen, the dining table is covered in papers, etc.). Plus, they’re all things I’d have to do at some point anyway, so it makes sense to do them when it has the greatest benefit – in the evening, when I’m calm, instead of in the morning, when having to do them makes me stressed.

    If this sounds good to you in theory, but implementing a new evening routine feels too overwhelming, pick one small thing and commit to doing it for two or three weeks. Once you see how little time it actually takes, and what a big impact it makes on your mornings, you’ll be motivated to make more changes!

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    The Household Control Journal – Baby Step #2: Organize the Information

    Last spring, I mentioned that I was putting together a Household Control Journal that lists all the things I handle on a day-to-day that my husband would need to know if anything happened to me. The information includes the institutions where we bank or invest and the corresponding account information, insurance policies, important contact information like our doctors, and so on.

    I recently added a list of details that my husband might or might not know, but that are frequently used to verify identity – you’ve probably answered questions like What is the name of the street you grew up on?, What make was your first car?, and so on. I want to make sure my husband can access accounts that have registered my information, even if I’m not around.

    It’s taken me pretty much a whole year to gather all of the pertinent data, but I think our Control Journal now contains all of the important information my husband would need. The journal will need regular updating, but I am quite happy to have the list done.

    So Step #2 is organizing the information in a way that not only makes sense to me, but more importantly, to my husband. I put the information is a simple Word document, and divided it into categories that seemed logical. The nice thing is that the document is searchable, so even if my logic doesn’t necessarily make sense to my husband, he should be able to find what he’s looking for.

    The data is on a flash drive so the information is easily accessible to him at anytime. I’m also going to scan important documents like birth certificates and our marriage certificate, and put those jpgs on the flash drive as well. The flash drive will serve double duty in an emergency, if we ever have to flee our home with minimal belongings. And, I’m considering a hard copy version for just in case. I’m not sure in case of what, but I tend to be overcautious with these types of situations.

    The most important thing, of course, is that whoever handles the finances in a family makes the information available to another responsible adult so that if the unthinkable happens, the survivor isn’t left trying to dig up account numbers and passwords or worse, unable to access their money, all during an already-traumatic time.

    Do you have a Household Control Journal, or something similar? If so, did you include anything else in it?

    The Household Control Journal – Baby Step #1: Gather as you go

    I first learned the concept of a “control journal” from Flylady, who recommends making one for your daily routines to help get you and your home organized. I haven’t made one of those yet, but I’ve started making a different kind – one that has all the information my husband would need if something happened to me.

    Since I’m the “Chief Family Officer,” it probably comes as no surprise that I manage most of our household. I pay the bills, manage our investments, register the kids for their activities, and so on. My husband is well aware of all aspects – that is to say, he knows we have various accounts, but doesn’t know the various passwords and logins I’ve set up.

    So a household control journal is my way of organizing all of this information – bank accounts, bills, investments, school stuff, activities and anything else my husband would have to hunt for if the unthinkable happened.

    It’s an overwhelming project, and one I’ve put off for a long time because of that. So I’m starting with baby steps (another Flylady concept), and a very doable first task: Gather information as it crosses my desk or desktop.

    As I file bills, or log in to pay them online, I enter the relevant information into a word processor document on my computer. A spreadsheet might be better but it’s more complicated to set up. We’ll see how it goes – I may end up transferring the info to a spreadsheet later, but for now, the simple text document is working. At least I’m making some progress on my control journal. My goal is to have it done by the end of the year, and then I will update it annually.

    And hopefully, we’ll never actually need it.

    Daily Worth
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    My Housecleaning Strategy for 2012

    In the middle of last year, I shared my latest housecleaning system, which involved a list of tasks that were to be completed weekly, monthly, or annually. The system had been working well for me at the time, but it’s failed to be a long-term solution for me.

    So I have new plans for 2012. The main one is to do one weekly cleaning task per day – something like cleaning a bathroom, mopping, etc. My theory is that this should keep the house in pretty good order most of the time, especially since I’ll keep up with my weekly home blessing hour, which will take care of things like vacuuming.

    The other part of my strategy comes into play with my 52 projects this year. Some of my weekly projects will involve decluttering – not only will the house feel better with less stuff in it, it will be easier to clean. Also, as Flylady frequently points out, you can’t organize clutter. Other weekly projects will involve the “bigger” housecleaning tasks, like steam cleaning the carpet and cleaning the blinds in each room.

    I’m optimistic that this two-prong strategy will get and keep my house in company-ready condition at all times. (I’ll give you an update in a few months to let you know how it’s working out.)

    Working on my home instead of shopping

    These last few weeks, I’ve been feeling reluctant about going shopping, even when the deals are good. I finally realized that I didn’t like the idea of bringing more stuff into the house, even when it’s stuff that I know we will use, when I feel like there’s too much stuff in the house already.

    So I’ve been concentrating on getting my house in order and I feel better for it. In the last week, I’ve filed three months and shredded three bags worth of papers. I’ve thrown out stuff we don’t use. I’ve scrubbed my foyer floor and gotten it cleaner than it’s been in years.

    I keep looking around for more stuff to get rid of, but a lot of what I see is stuff that needs to be used up. So that’s part of what’s keeping me from wanting to shop too – we already have so much, and even a rock bottom price isn’t enough to lure me into a store. Pretty much all the shopping that I’ve been doing has been for perishables, or to replace things that we’ve used up.

    I don’t know if this is a cyclical thing or if I’m going to feel this way long term now. Either way, though, I’m okay with it, even if it does end up costing us a little more money in the long run. I’ll always have some extra stuff around, and maybe once I’ve gotten rid of stuff, I’ll find that I have a greater storage capacity.

    The important thing, though, is that I want my home to be a peaceful haven. And if that means not stocking a lot of extra stuff, then I’ll keep my shopping to a minimum.