Family Calendar and Schedule

Simple family schedule

As life with children gets more complicated, when each family member has their own schedule, it helps keep everyone organized with a family calendar.

Choose a simple solution. Don’t opt for the fanciest software. Don’t opt for a day planner unless you really do need to plan whole days. Look at your needs before you try to meet your needs.

What do I track in my calendar?

  • Work, when the schedule changes daily or weekly
  • School, especially holidays or family events
  • Activities, like dance, sports, and lessons
  • Travel, both family and work (such as annual conferences)
  • Vacation
  • Appointments
  • Dates, like birthdays and holidays

What is the simplest format for me?

  • If you just need to remember 3-4 appointments and activities a week, how about a basic paper calendar in the kitchen?
  • If you are tracking chores more than appointments, how about a magnetic calendar in the kitchen?
  • If you travel more than you stay home, how about a basic phone calendar?
  • If you want access on more than one device, how about Google calendars?
  • If more than one person needs access, how about a shared Google calendar?

What works for me?

One system isn’t going to work for all of us. Customize your system to your needs.

Before you make changes, ask what is working for you now and what isn’t working for you now. Can you tweak your current calendar to make it work better? If you are ready for a big change, such as going from all paper to an app, look for an app that is familiar enough that your tracking doesn’t become all about the system.

Who uses the calendar?

If you have babies, you are the sole calendar keeper. That’s easy. As you and your children each add more activities, especially when those activities aren’t all together anymore, you need to track each person’s activities separately. On a paper calendar or with sticky notes, you can use different colors for each person. If you have a lot of people with different activities, you might need swim lanes (separate columns or rows) to show each person’s schedule.

I used to try to get my family to pay attention to a paper calendar, then an online calendar, but they just don’t. They are just chill people who aren’t so concerned about dates and appointments. Me, not so much. I am very concerned about dates, so I am left to be the calendar keeper. That’s fine.

Just understanding who cares about the calendar makes it easier to customize your solution.

Make it BIG!

If you want a physical calendar, and you don’t need it mobile, you could create a big, beautiful Martha Stewart chalkboard calendar. I can see that a big calendar could be a nice solution for a homeschooling family that tends to be home more than away. Though I aspire to such beauty, I tend to go for a quicker, temporary solution.

During our busiest times of the year, November and December, I get out sticky notes and create a calendar on a long wall in our busiest hallway. I do this because the calendar so big and bright that everyone notices it several times a day. I want to everyone to pay attention to dates, so we don’t double book as we schedule gigs, parties, and regular activities. I know from experience that I have to be in everyone’s face to get them to remember dates.

Keep it SMALL

Don’t make tracking activities and events ABOUT the calendar. Let the tool serve you. If you are the only person using the calendar, do whatever works best for you.

About six months ago, I pulled the family calendar and chore lists into the project management system I use for work. I just made family another project, and I gave each person a login (though they don’t login at all). It makes me feel better to give them access. Now, I see doctor’s appointments, family events, and tasks on my master calendar. No more keeping multiple calendars. No more pretending that anyone else is paying attention.

At our weekly family meeting, we talk about what is coming up. My husband writes out chores and events in his notes for family meetings, but I don’t think anyone else looks at his notes, so we’re all left to remember commitments and events on our own. During family meetings, I keep my project app open, and I add events and actions as we go. Since no one else is actually keeping a calendar, they ask me, “What were we doing this week again?” I’m the calendar-keeper. When I’m working at my computer, I keep a tab open with my calendar and task list, including family projects. I created what works for me.

  • Start with your need and keep your simple solution focused on that need.
  • Set a time each week to review upcoming events and appointments. This practices helps even young children to break out of their eternal now to anticipate change.
  • Write it down now! Record events, appointments, and other commitments as soon as you make them. Keep the calendar accurate.

Keep your family organized and on time.

Image © Jcjgphotography | Dreamstime.com - Moms To-Do List Photo

Menu Planning and Shopping

Mother and baby grocery shopping

Do you ever arrive home with hungry kids and no idea what you are going to feed them? Or, you have a great idea for a quick meal, but you end up missing ingredients you could have bought on your way home. This is how we end up eating boxed dinners and other foods we want to avoid.

If you have been building your Home HQ with your family binder, you have the ideal place to organize meals and shopping lists so you won’t get caught without a quick, nutritious meal to make.

Having a system for menu planning and shopping will also help you avoid wasting food that you don’t quite have a plan for. According to the UN Environment Programme, “[i]n the USA, 30-40% of the food supply is wasted, equaling more than 20 pounds [~9kg] of food per person per month.” Before you start thinking that’s just the U.S., Canadian researchers estimate that the average Canadian household wastes 15-23kg of food per month. Not all of the waste happens at home. Food leaves the system at every point in the chain. That’s wasted capacity in the food system and wasted money for us all as prices cover food that doesn’t even make it to us. For us as families, though, the food wasted at home costs us about $1,500 per year. Every day we are wasting about $4 of food.

We can stop wasting food and wasting money with better planning.

A Menu & Shopping System

Start by asking whether you will be better off jumping into a whole, new system or gradually adopting new methods into your current system. We’re all different, so choose your own path.

If you want a complete system, start with Plan to Eat. This software is a small, family business. You’ll love their eating philosophy and their business philosophy. You might blink at the price ($4/mo or $39/yr), but that cost will be worth it if you need a whole recipe-to-menu-to-list system.

If you want a system that involves paper or that you can customize, start by looking at what you are using now. What is working and what isn’t working? Change one thing at a time.

One of my favorite places to look for home organization ideas is Pinterest. So many parents are sharing their home organization systems as downloadable printouts that you will be able to find just the right structure, just the right design, and just the right size for your family. Start with “menu planning” and you will find yourself on a half-day adventure with a lot of new pins.

Menu Planning

My family has been using a post-it meal planner for the past year, Menu Planner from Homemade by Carmona, and I love it. My husband, the primary meal planner and shopper in our family, sat down and gave me a full review of this system. He loves it, too.

There are two parts to our menu system: WHEN is on a printed grid in our family binder and WHAT (the foods) is written on Post-it Page Markers, which are rectangular rather than square.

My husband likes that he can see at a glance one page with the family’s list of favorite foods. Once he pulls sticky notes from the master list to place them on the calendar, he can also find gaps in order to balance the overall eating. We color coded the sticky notes. For example, blue for Thai and red for Mexican. I added another layer by making dark blue “long prep time Thai” and light blue “quick Thai.” We can look at the weekly menu quickly and say, “Oh, no! No Thai this week. We’d better add Thai” or “Let’s switch out long-prep Thai for quick Thai on the night we get home late.” (Thai is an important food group in our household.)

Pros:

  • Easy to plan for one week, several weeks, or any period of time, as long as you have enough week sheets printed.
  • Easy to get input from other people, since they can write ideas on sticky notes and add them.
  • Two-page view means you can plan for two weeks and see if you are cooking the same meal too often.
  • Reusable. No printed pages to throw away at the end of the week.
  • Easy to add multiple dishes for one meal.

Con:

  • Post-its lose their stick after they are used week after week.

I like the Menu Planner because it simplifies the process so much that you just think about it ahead of time and don’t have to OVERthink or REthink a common process.

What this method doesn’t do is connect to our shopping list. If you want a simple grid that gives you space to write needed ingredients for your shopping list, this downloadable shopping list template from The Joy Cottage is nice looking.

Shopping Lists

To determine the best kind of shopping list for you, ask what you are optimizing for:

  • highest priority items, if you have limited cash and might have to leave low-priority items off them list
  • most efficient walk through the store, if you have limited time.

We optimize for the walk through the store. Change your list order or shape to fit the store you go to. Otherwise, you might end up walking back and forth. I even found (Pinterest again!) a multi-store shopping list template you can download from Ask Anna Moseley.

The shopping list that my husband uses is lifted directly from his Franklin-Covey Planner with nine zones, which he uses for nine categories of shopping: produce, meat, dairy, bottles & cans, frozen, dry goods, cleaning, bakery, and miscellaneous. He’s written out his list on a 3×3 grid for at least a decade.

Multiple stores can be difficult when you are working with one list. My husband crosses out as he goes then circles what he doesn’t have yet before he arrives at the next store. If you are shopping at a big-box store, like Costco, that is probably a once-a-month trip with a separate list. If it makes sense to include a second store on your list, you can add a code or color to mark stores.

If you have a random element in your shopping, such as an unpredictable CSA delivery or a trip to a grocery liquidation store when you don’t know what will be available until you get there, you will need to adjust your shopping list. If you watch the television show “Chopped” (3 random ingredients must be used in a meal), you can get inspiration to think outside of your usual categories of food. If you adopt the mindset of improvisation, you might find new and wonderful favorites.

Even Better, Let’s Combine

As I was planning this post, I asked my husband how we could improve our own system. We imagined a drag-and-drop app starting with a menu that looks like post-it notes (because we really do like what we already use). Once an item is dragging onto the menu for the week, a shopping list is populated. When the week’s list is complete, we check the pantry and the fridge and mark anything off that we already have. Then, we shop.

That might seem like a lot to ask, but we just found an app that does enough that we’re about to add it to our system: Our Groceries.

We read about Out of Milk as well, but we saw most comparison reviews between them came down on the side of Our Groceries. I love two things about this app to start: syncing across devices, so more than one person can shop at the same time, and recipes you can create so one tap populates the shopping list with all of the needed ingredients. Plus, if you have an Android and your spouse has an iPhone, you’re still safe with this app. My plan is to use the web interface to create “on your way home” shopping lists for my husband. If you are more likely to want to sync with your pantry, you might want to start with Out of Milk.

After a month with Our Groceries, I might just give in and try the 30-day trial of Plan to Eat. If I do, I’ll give you a review.

Image © Joshhhab | Dreamstime.com - Mother With Girl Shopping In Supermarket Photo

Clutter Really Does Stress You Out

Cluttered house

I keep seeing references to clutter causing depression. Then, I see photos like look like Real Simple magazine or a zen monastery, suggesting that I am depressed if my house doesn’t look like that.

Sure, a tiny part of me is tugged toward wanting a state of perfect household simplicity, but I find the perfectionist judgment more stressful than the clutter itself.

Does clutter cause depression? When I dig into the fine print, these references seem to lead back to a 9-year research project at UCLA on dual-income, middle-class families with school-age children. The book documenting the study, Life at Home in the Twenty-first Century, ends up being a story of stuff and clutter.

Researchers didn’t actually make the clutter-depression connection. That was a very short blog post barely about the study, published when the book was released in 2012. Researchers did measure cortisol levels of study participants (through a saliva test), and they did find a link between high cortisol (a stress response) and clutter—but only among the women who worried about clutter.

Clutter didn’t cause depression—at least that isn’t what this study found. Cluttered houses caused stress when the women in the houses were bothered by it. Keep in mind that they had anthropologists and their team of photographers, videographers, and others tramping through the house, opening the closet doors. No wonder they were stressed.

But, those who took pride in their tchotchkes weren’t stressed.

University of California TV (UCTV) produced a three-part series of videos on A Cluttered Life: Middle-class Abundance on stuff, food, and space. If you are motivated to make changes to your life by seeing the lives of others, it’s worth the 20 minutes to watch these shows to see what families and the researchers say about clutter. It sure helped me to see my stale areas of clutter from a fresh point of view.

Yes, but MY Clutter

My house has areas where stuff gathers—like a tumbleweed picking up bits of yarn, pencils, stray books, and such. I don’t mind it until those tumbleweeds grow into my useful spaces.

I don’t love the clutter. I don’t love getting rid of the clutter, either, so THAT is the spot where I will focus.

Why keep the clutter? How does it serve me?

Having a stack of books reminds me that I really want to read them. Then, when I spread the books out and look through them, I realize I no longer really want to read them. Clutter be gone. 

Having a tote with sewing projects near the general homeschooling area gives me something to do when I listen to my children read. It looks a bit messy, but I use that stuff, and it is a changing mass of 3-4 projects I can choose from. Clutter can stay.

I’ve been evaluating my areas of mess to see if they actually serve a purpose and, if so, whether that is a worthy purpose.

I mentioned that my family is focusing on our kitchen. Holy junk mail. I don’t think I’ve ordered from a catalog for at least 9 years, but there is my kitchen table covered in catalogs that I have to hold until I tear off my identifying information. Maddening. So, I stand at my kitchen table and tear off my name and address. I put the catalog in the recycling pile and the address in the shredding pile. It’s a long process. The task doesn’t seem to quite end.

Mail is the ugly clutter cause in my house, but the cause will be different for each of us. Don’t just clean it up. Cut the clutter by finding the cause and cutting it off. You can actually opt-out of a lot of junk mail, including pre-screened credit and insurance offers or catalog, through direct-mail associations. You probably also need a place to put the stuff that legitimately requires your attention: incoming mail, invitations to keep, and bank statements. Get rid of what you can, then organized what you can’t.

Just identify your clutter causes, and address those in addition to clearing out clutter and cleaning the house.

Then, Keep It Clean

Need a guide to regularly keeping your house in order? This may seem like an odd suggestion, but I find Martha Stewart’s home organizing and housekeeping printable checklists just the kind of relentless system that keeps me from trying to justify not cleaning. If you are keeping a family binder, even better. You can print 6 things to do every day, weekly or monthly lists, seasonal lists, and specialized lists for maintenance and for moving.

It’s a place to start, so you don’t have an excuse not to.

Image © Jastebb | Dreamstime.com - Messy Room Photo

Will Family Meetings Help You?

Family meeting

Bringing ourselves to focus on what we want, making our expectations explicit, can help every family member come to a shared understanding about family chores, activities, highs, and lows. A simple family meeting gives you structure to make common ground happen.

Mindful Family

Over the past few months I’ve considered how mindfulness helps us as individuals, as parents, in teaching our children, and in our marriages or partnerships.

I find that meeting new ideas tends to be easier than integrating those new ideas into the fabric of life. So, now I’m sharing with you how my family is pulling mindfulness into our routines.

We’ve held family meetings on and off since my children were about 5-8 years old. It’s like meditation—you wander then you return. No judgment, just return.

We’re returning again, this time with a structure I picked up from Marcia Naomi Berger’s Marriage Meetings for Lasting Love: 30 Minutes a Week to the Relationship You’ve Always Wanted (2014).

Family Meeting Agenda

We are in week three of marriage meetings, which we started to celebrate our 20th anniversary, and in week two of family meetings. This is the easy part, though.

Marcia Berger suggests that you start with easy topics as you ease into the routine of meetings. I understand that. It’s a good idea to start with a guaranteed win before tackling the big issues.

The agenda for each meeting is the same:

  • Expressing appreciation
  • Coordinating chores
  • Planning for good times
  • Addressing problems and challenges

For more explanation of the four parts of the meeting agenda, I recommend you read Marriage Meetings. It has certainly helped my family.

Scheduling Family Meetings

She suggests a marriage meeting of no more than 30 minutes. Since we have four people in the family meeting, we have given 45 minutes.

To keep the meeting-ness of this time together from being overwhelming, we are scheduling marriage meetings on Sunday, game night on Monday, and family meetings on Tuesday. We just have a short commitment each evening, then we are free to be together or apart as usual.

Younger children are more likely to to follow your lead. I didn’t have any trouble getting my children to sit with me when they were small, but I did find that I needed to translate ideas for their developmental levels. At that stage, I bought a book with ideas for meeting topics. We talked about how to adjust our house to our needs, how to have fun together, and how to be kind to one another. That’s not much different than the structure we’re adopting now.

Now, though, I have teenagers who have strong opinions.

So far (just ONE meeting with this structure), they have embraced this weekly check in. We recorded our commitments in our upgraded family binder, and we’ve followed through.

You Create the Structure You Need

The four-part agenda is just one idea of how to structure a regular check-in with your family. Try it. Try other ideas. Just find a way to give your each of your family members a regular place and time to share their needs.

Image © Sebcz | Dreamstime.com - Family Discussion Photo

Is Your Family Organized?

Household Organization Notebook

As your children grow older and have more activities out of the house, as you juggle food preferences or sensitivities, as your family and your household becomes more complex, how do you hold it all together? Any family can benefit from a family binder for household management and family organization.

A 3-ring binder has the benefits of being easy to carry around, easy to customize, and easy to fit all of the tools you need to manage your household as it grows and changes.

Much as with mindfulness meditation, simply pulling oneself back to focus is one of the most important steps to moving forward. Organizing your family and putting your often used tools in one place makes it easy to bring yourself back to focus when you slip—and you will slip. That’s OK. Just keep coming back.

What Goes in the Binder

What goes in your family binder depends completely on what you need to track. Some possibilities are:

  • Calendar – Most families need a shared calendar.
  • Meal Planner – My family has been using the Menu Planner from Homemade by Carmona for the past year. I found it through a colorful photo on Pinterest, and I kept it because I like the flexibility.
  • Mail – We are separating into Incoming Mail, Mail that Needs Attention, and Papers to File
  • Budget
  • Coupons
  • Receipts
  • Shopping List
  • School Papers

Recently, I’ve been noticing which piles my husband lets build up in his area of the kitchen. Primarily, it’s mail that he needs to reach mixed in with mail he needs to file mixed with coupons he’s forgotten until after they expired. The mess makes the collection difficult to use, so I added folders to his binder for each different type of papers.

What you need specifically depends on your family. If you look for home management binders online, you will find list after list of sections along with downloadable forms you can use. Knowing my own tendency to be distracted by my tools, lost in contemplating 98 unused sections of a binder while ignoring the 2 sections crying out for attention, I add only what I know is needed when the need becomes pressing.

If you are distractable like I am, keep your binder minimal.

How We Are Using the Binder

For my family, the binder is the anchor for a whole room—at least that is my husband’s plan for it.

Last year, I used a simple 30-day eco habits challenge to clear away clutter. My family has used this method throughout the year to clear away layers of old stuff. The reason this works for me—for all of us—is the micro commitments are easy to make, and they add up quickly to big improvements.

This month, we are in the midst of another 30-day challenge. My husband, the owner of our family binder, wants to transform our kitchen into his headquarters. He’s motivated because he is going to reward himself with a new laptop once his goal of an organized kitchen is reached.

All of the random papers he used to let flow all over the kitchen are currently in the binder. Now, the binder is a way station for papers as well as a meal planner, shopping list, and receipt holder. We are about to add family meeting notebook to the list as well.

After I introduced my husband to the marriage meeting idea last week, I suggested we use that structure for family meetings. He likes this and has decided to add the family meeting outline to the binder. We also added a spiral-bound notebook where each family member can add ideas for the family meetings in advance (“I need new shoes,” “Let’s go hiking,” or “I want to invite my friends for a sleepover”). We have trouble remembering what we’ve committed to in meetings, so we are using the notebook to remind ourselves.

We’ve been using the binder for a while as a meal planner, so the expansion to new functions as an overall household management tool is new to us.

What Doesn’t Fit in the Binder

Not all important papers belong in a binder you carry around. Start now while you still remember where your important papers are. Gather your insurance policies, homeowner’s or renter’s documents, birth certificates, passports, and other paper. Put these in a fireproof box with a handle. Store them near an exit so you can pick them up and take them with you if you need to leave the house in an emergency.

As you organize your family, notice what doesn’t fit and find other ways to accommodate your family’s organization needs.

Image © Khongkitwiriyachan | Dreamstime.com - Brown Monthly Planner with Notedbook and Pen Photo