What do you want to do?

People want to get more done, so they start moving faster, cram more into their schedules and try to multi-task… even though it's proven not to work.

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Inspired by the book “Cheaper by the Dozen,” which tells the entertaining story of the Gilbreth family who helped create the field of industrial engineering, I got my bachelors in Industrial Engineering and learned a lot about all the inefficient things we do.

Over the years I've set up my environment and created systems that naturally save time. I don’t have to use any extra brain power to go about my business. I get more done without freneticism and focus my attention on the things that are truly important to me.

People think that implementing systems sounds hard, they don’t realize they already are implementing systems... The systems are just awkward and not planned out. Like the system of running around the house looking for car keys before leaving the house.

Later this year, I’ll be talking about work-life and will share strategies for increasing productivity there. Now, I’m sharing what I’ve created at home to improve efficiency...

No cupboard doors on the upper cabinets in our kitchen. Can you imagine a professional chef needing to open a door every time they wanted something?

Let us say I open/close a cupboard or drawer every time I need a plate, spoon, cup, etc… I could easily do that action 30 times a day… one second to open, one second to close would total one minute a day. Over a 60 year period, I would have spent just over two weeks opening and closing cupboards. And I think that’s a very conservative estimate for the amount I cook!

Here’s what I store in the open within easy reach...

  • Plates

  • Bowls

  • Cups

  • Mugs

  • Glasses

  • Silverware (in a caddy on the counter)

  • Measuring cups

  • Measuring spoons

  • Mixing bowls

  • Spices

  • Tea & coffee

  • Cooking oil

  • Salt cellar

  • Pepper grinder

  • Basket of dish towels

  • Knives 

As an added bonus, with everything in plain sight, when I tell guests to make themselves at home; they easily can!

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Restocking day. No grocery store would wait until the last bag of beans was gone before they went to the back and pulled out some more… but this is what we do at home. Restocking day is a quick and easy thing to implement; it’s also a perfect chore for kids! 

Here’s what we include on our restocking day…

BATHROOM

  • Fill the bottom shelf of the vanity with spare toilet paper

  • Empty trash and make sure there are two clean trash bags under the current trash bag (for when this trash has to be emptied mid-week)

  • Fresh bath mat & hand towel

Top-off items in room

  • Shampoo/body wash and hand soap dispensers 

  • Conditioner dispenser

  • Cotton swabs

  • Cotton balls

  • Feminine hygiene products

CARS

  • Fill the parking quarters

  • Make sure there’s tissue

  • Empty the car trash & make sure there’s a new trash bag

KITCHEN

  • Bring up fresh dish towels from the laundry — I keep a basket of fresh dish towels in my kitchen cupboard, and a second basket in the laundry room. As the laundry gets done, fresh dish towels are put into this second basket. On restocking day, the full basket from the basement is brought up, the empty basket goes down to the laundry room. 

Top-off items in room

  • Dish soap dispenser

  • Box holding the dishwasher tabs

  • Salt & sugar jars (You don’t want the old salt and sugar sitting on the bottom never used, so it’s good to teach people to give the jar a shake when they add to it.)

  • Pepper grinder

  • Coffee grinder


I use a subscription service to make sure we always have essentials on hand. We keep a shelf in the basement to hold a very small stock of soap, Kleenex, toilet paper, Ziploc bags, etc. This is where we pull from on restocking day. Our family has christened it "The Store."

Entering and exiting station. There are a number of things that are convenient to have on hand when you’re coming and going from the house. We keep these supplies in a cabinet in our mudroom...

  • Mailing supplies — stamps, envelopes, to/from labels

  • Pocket packages of tissues

  • Quarters

  • Shoe/Foot spray

  • Sunscreen

  • Bug spray

  • Hand sanitizer

  • Basket to hold items we want to donate

  • Basket for hats and gloves (I have two baskets that are the same; one has the winter hats and gloves, the other has the summer hats and bandanas. I swap them out with the seasons.)

  • Reusable grocery bags

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Library bookrack. We check out a ridiculous number of books from the library. When I was homeschooling both of my children, we averaged 600 books a year!

Keeping track of all of them was a nightmare, so I created the library rack. The only books allowed in it are library books, and the book bag has it’s home right below. 

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The next-day bag. I got this idea from a brilliant friend of mine; she leaves an extra large L.L. Bean tote by the door so she can just fill it up as she thinks of things she’ll need the next day. It’s a lifesaver.

Have you ever thought — at 8pm — "I need to remember to take a water bottle with me tomorrow," but then by the next morning, you've forgotten? Not anymore! In the bag it goes at 8pm. 

Standardization. Standardization sounds BORING… but when I think about all the the things I want to do in my life, standardization wins over variety.

Here are some examples...

  • We all use the same water bottle brand so the lids are interchangeable. 

  • I buy one liquid soap that serves as shampoo, body wash, and hand soap; everyone in our family uses it and I can buy it in one gallon containers.

  • Each person in our family has just one, unique design for their socks (except my husband who has a work design and an athletic design), this way I know immediately who’s sock it is and I never have to search for matching pairs.

  • We only use one type of mechanical pencil… same led and erasers for everyone.

  • We’ve gone European style with our bedding so each person has their own twin duvet. This means I only have to keep twin duvets in the house, not bedding for all the different sizes of beds. Our king bed is made with two twin beds that lock together, so I also only need twin fitted sheets and we’ve dispensed with the flat sheets.

  • Binder clips are awesome for a lot of things and eliminate having to purchase specialized chip clips (*Note… specialization is the opposite of standardization… and requires more effort and/or cost).


Menu system. I've created seasonal menus in two week rotations, which is to say we have a Fall Week #1, and a Fall Week #2… a Winter Week #1, and a Winter Week #2… and so on.

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This allows us to eat seasonally and we can all be familiar with the recipes; because even an easy recipe takes a little while to make the first time, but by the third time it's a breeze.

I store all the recipes in a binder, so for week #1 the recipes are accessed from the front, and for week #2 the recipes are accessed from the back... like a left-handed person might prefer their books.

There are no excuses for anyone not knowing what to make for dinner! :-)

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Breaking it up seasonally, and alternating weeks, means we only eat the same meal six times a year, which is plenty of variety. We even start looking forward to the seasonal shift, knowing that our favorite beef chili is coming up with the winter menus… and summer means strawberry-mango, spinach salad. Yum!

The grocery list remains the same, so it’s easy to purchase everything. If I happen to find something on deep discount, then I know I can purchase enough for the rest of the season.

I can also prepare in batches; the week we switch to winter menus I make six jars of the seasoning mix I’ll need for the chili. Much easier than pulling all those spice jars off the wall again and again! I can even chop up and premeasure onions to put in the freezer for my soups and stews.

For more variety, I only plan 5 days of each week, giving us two days that are free-form. I also don’t dictate which of the meals we eat on which day. We keep copies of the menus on our magnetic board, and once a recipe has been made, or a snack I purchased is gone, we place a magnet over it.

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The “emergency week” menu. This menu has mostly ready-to-eat foods on it and is stored at the Prime/Whole Foods website as an online order. If I see that my week is going to be particularly crazy, I can just press go on the food order and the delivered groceries keep us from buying too much take-out; or buying fresh food that we won’t cook and then have to throw away. 

The "magic" marker. I keep a sharpie in the kitchen and it has so many uses. It was news to me that you can use a sharpie to write on glass and it mostly comes off in the dishwasher, a quick swipe with the sponge takes off any leftover markings. 

When we have a lot of people over, I have each person write their name on their glass so I don’t have to use disposable cups, or buy those little cup tag thingies. You can even use a silver sharpie to write names on the base of wine glasses.

When I open something that needs to be used quickly, like a box of chicken stock, or something that might be sitting around for awhile, like a jar of jalapeño jelly, I use the marker to write the date I opened it on the container. Not only do we waste less food, it makes cleaning out the fridge much faster.

I do this too with food I put in the freezer, like leftovers, or onions I’m saving for cooking later. This way I always know what to use first. 

We don’t put clothes in our closets. This one is not universally applicable, but might get you thinking about your own laundry system. Our laundry room is in our basement, and it became clear to me early on that running dirty clothes to the laundry room and dragging fresh clothes to our bedroom closets was a ridiculous waste of effort. 

Instead, we converted the laundry room in to a family walk-in closet with dressers, hanging clothes rods, and drying racks. People can shut the door and change in there, then just leave their dirty clothes in the bins on the way out.

I can't make a laundry chute from the bathroom directly to the laundry room, so we use the basement stairs as our laundry chute and throw our clothes down to be sorted into their appropriate baskets. 

Think before buying. This isn’t so much a system, but rather a mindset. Before I purchase anything, I like to think about where it’s going to go and how much effort/cost it will be to maintain. Also, how long can I expect it to last?… How long do I think I’ll want to own it?... And what will I do with it when I’m done? 

I wouldn’t call myself a minimalist, but I would call myself a thoughtful consumer. After all, everything we bring into our homes had to be created and/or grown by someone, stored and cared for, then transported to us; at which point we exchange our energy (dollars earned), to then give it a home… And we will keep giving it our energy (time) as we move it from one place to another, maintain it, and at some point dispose of it. 

To me, these are all things worth considering as I make conscious choices about how I want to spend my one precious life.