A common complaint among single parents is that there's too little time and too much to do. You'll feel as though you have more time if you let go of the desire to do it all. And if you find ways to simplify, you'll have more time for yourself, your family, and your friends.
Begin by examining your priorities. Is it more important to have a spotless home or to sleep in on your day off? Would you rather spend an hour preparing dinner or order a pizza and use that hour to take a walk with your child to pick it up? Managing alone may mean lowering your expectations in some areas.
It also means finding time-saving tips and tricks to simplify your life as much as possible. The less time you spend on chores, errands, and looking for misplaced school forms and library books, the more time you will have to devote to the important things—spending time with your child and making time for you.
Here are some ways to simplify household chores so that you have more time for family:
• Create a place for everything. A lot of wasted time goes into searching for misplaced objects like gloves or car keys. Put things in the same place every time you put them down, even if it means labeling shelves and drawers. Key hooks and extra shelves can help. If you spend a lot of time looking for missing school forms, you might invest in a filing organizer and put all of the school papers there when they come into the house. Have an in box on the kitchen table for all papers that need to be read, signed, and returned. If you are constantly looking for your eyeglasses, you might put a small basket in a central place in the kitchen to put your glasses in whenever you take them off.
• Minimize the amount of time you spend on mail. Don't spend time opening junk mail. Put unwanted fliers and solicitations right into the recycling bin, being careful to shred the credit card offers and any other material that could compromise your privacy. Request that magazines, catalogs, and other mail services not sell your name to additional mailing lists. Block junk mail from your e-mail service.
• Pay bills automatically whenever possible. More businesses and banks are now offering deductions from your checking account for bill payment. Minimize the number of bills that you need to pay, and watch for when the bills arrive each month, paying them immediately rather than putting them aside.
• Put together a cleaning team. Assign your children their own household chores. Make sure their chores are suited to their age and attention span. Take the time to teach your children to do the chores but don't expect perfection. Set aside a regular time each week for the cleaning team to go into action. Provide incentives for getting the job done by doing something fun afterward, such as going out for ice cream or going to the park.
• Hire out jobs that you don't like to do, if possible. Pay a neighborhood teen to cut your grass. Find someone to thoroughly clean your house every two to four weeks.
• Teach your children to clean up after themselves. Clothes go into the hamper at bedtime, for instance, and getting up from the table means loading the dishes into the dishwasher.
• Simplify laundry. Laundry is one of the biggest time-management challenges single parents face. There are ways to simplify this job, however. Have two dirty laundry bins for everyone to use, one for whites and one for colored clothing. Using permanent markers, write a "c" for cold-water washing and a "w" for warm-water washing on clothing tags. Use a different-colored marker for each child to allow for easier sorting. For socks and underwear, give each child a mesh bag. Wash those articles in the bags, just putting them right into the dryer after the wash cycle is finished. This allows for very easy sorting once the clothes are done. Sort clean clothes into multiple laundry baskets that go directly into your children's rooms for them to put away at a convenient time. If you wash one load each day or two, putting it in just before you start dinner and then moving clothes into the dryer as you clean up the table, you'll have clean clothes all ready to sort and put away after your meal cleanup is done.
• Place toy bins within reach of young children. Have a set place in their play area and in their rooms. Bins will make it easier for your children to pick up after themselves. Picking up each day makes the job less of a chore and keeps rooms under control.
• Hang stuffed animals in a "hammock" in a corner of your child's room. This will keep toys off the floor and bed while allowing your child to still enjoy them.
• Rotate toys. Store extra toys in a closet, basement, or attic. When your child tires of her playthings, stash them away and bring out a few items from storage. Not only will this help control clutter, it will keep your child interested in her toys.
• Keep small toys in a see-through hanging shoe bag. These bags are ideal for such items as small plastic dolls and metal cars. Hang the shoe bag on a closet door or wall.
• Set aside a bin or box for artwork and papers you plan to hold on to. Store your most special keepsakes in separate, labeled plastic bins and move them to a closet or attic area. Have one box per child. Also, consider framing your child's artwork and prominently displaying it in your home. Scan some of your child's best papers and keep a CD of her best schoolwork.
• String a clothesline high on a wall to display artwork. Clip pictures to the line with clothespins for an easily changed art exhibit.
• Place coat hooks low on the wall or on the back of the door used most often by your family. Encourage children to hang up coats and backpacks when they come in from outside.
• Assign each school-age child a bin or "cubby" for homework, papers that need to go back to school, and school supplies. Keep these bins in a hallway or closet and have each child check his or her bin before leaving for school in the morning. This will cut down on clutter as well as on time spent searching for items.
• Keep a master calendar. Hang it in a central location, such as the kitchen, and use it to jot down all appointments, chores, activities, and celebrations. To make it easier to track every family member's schedule, color-code your calendar with a different color for each family member.
• Keep a master telephone list by the phone where everyone can find it. Store the list on your computer, and update it once or twice a year. Organize the list by category—with emergency numbers, doctors' numbers, pharmacy number, work numbers, school numbers, and the numbers of relatives, neighbors, friends, and your children's friends.
• Obtain two copies of the school phone directory, keeping one in your car. This gives you access to phone numbers that you may need in the event of an emergency, such as arranging a last-minute play date when you have to work unexpectedly.
• Program frequently used numbers into your cell phone. This may include the phone numbers of your physician and pharmacy as well as schools and children's friends (even their parents' cell phone numbers). Be sure to also record these numbers on paper or in your computer in case your phone is lost or breaks.
• Store in your computer or desk at work a form giving permission to treat your child if you will be out of town or if someone else needs to take your child to the doctor. Include with this a copy of your child's immunization dates. In the event you are called out of town unexpectedly or cannot accompany your child to a health care visit, you can easily e-mail the form or print it and fax it to the doctor's office.
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