How to save time and energy using meal planning

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I stood at the checkout, nervously watching as the total climbed, hoping it would match the tally in my head. I handed over the precious bills from a dog-eared envelope marked “Groceries”, the steadily reducing amount scrawled on the front read $140, $120, $100, $80. We were down to our last dollars. We’d been paid everything we were owed and there was no new work in the pipeline. We had a nine-month-old at home and a mortgage to pay. Times were stressful, very stressful.

The one relief was that, as I left the supermarket to take the groceries home, I knew I had enough to feed my family for the week. Come what may, I had that comfort. I had that comfort because I had a plan. I’d meticulously planned our meals for the week to match our diminished budget. From there, I’d made a list of exactly what we needed, no more, no less.

While I started meal planning out of financial necessity, five years later, with our cashflow woes long behind us, it continues to be a weekly ritual. Why do I still bother? These days, it’s less about peace of mind and more about taking a load off my mind.

Meal planning saves me time and money, but most of all it saves me from that dreaded task of trying to think up something to cook for dinner every night. If you are looking for an easy win to simplify your life, it’s meal planning. It’s not rocket science, but there are definitely some traps you want to avoid and some tricks to make it easier.

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Mantras to break away from constant busyness

It's okay to slow down slow living intentional living busy

Busyness – occasionally it’s is unavoidable, but mostly it’s a state of our own making. You don’t sit down and think to yourself, “I want my day to be so frantic I’m bent over in pain at 3 pm cos I haven’t had a chance to pee” or write on your list of goals, “Life so full, catch-ups with friends must be scheduled two months in advance”. You don’t have to. Busyness creeps up on you and is the result of a myriad a small, everyday decisions. In fact, it’s so insidious that unless you take intentional steps to avoid it, busyness weasels its way in as life’s default setting.

That’s my experience. I took a big intentional step to get out of the rat race. I quit my job. Rather than being a mother and a worker, I became just a mother. Problem solved. Except it wasn’t.

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For me right now: April 2018

April has been about two things: school holidays and decluttering. Term 1 was long and we all needed a break. I get the feeling that as a parent, I’m meant to dread the school hoidays, but I like them. Don’t get me wrong, we’ve had our moments, but I enjoyed not having to be anywhere by a certain time and having my wee buddy around more.

Minimalism Game April 2018 #minsgame Minimalism Decluttering
Minimalism Game April 2018

I just completed a round of the Minimalism Game. I did this for the first time nearly three years ago – wow what a difference.

I thought it was going to be more difficult than the first time around as I don’t have the same quantity of excess stuff. Gone are the days of finding a bag full of plastic takeout cutlery (that we’d taken when we moved house, twice!), 50 or more plastic bags and hundreds of old magazines. It was even difficult to find pens that didn’t work.

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How to declutter with little kids in the house

How to declutter with little kids in the house

My first decluttering project was the linen cupboard. It was full to overflowing. I mainly used what was on the top. Putting stuff away was a delicate game of linen Jenga. One day, I took the plunge and pulled everything out. Over a couple of nap times I went through the lot. There was stuff in there I didn’t realise I had, stuff I’d never use, stuff it was time to pass along.

The result was fantastic. I knew what I had and could actually get to it all. Linen Jenga was no longer required. It was life-changing. Well, maybe not quite, but I loved the result. I wanted to do this to my whole house – now!

And then something happened. A tragedy that eventually befalls all parents of young children – my son, then two and a half, ceased napping. My child, who’d reliably slept a solid 90 minutes in the middle of the day (even during the neighbours building work), gave up napping cold turkey. Stuck in the house, during naps was the ideal opportunity to declutter. Without it, what was I going to do?

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For me, right now: March 2018

March 2018 Get Outside Slow Experiment
Get Outside – Slow Experiment March 2018

Who else is concerned with the pace of this year? It’s the end of March already and I’m still getting used to writing 2018.

February was a real whirlwind, but things settled down a bit in March. I participated in the Slow Your Home Podcast’s Get Outside Slow Experiment. I challenged myself to spend 45 minutes outside every day. It couldn’t have come at a better time. I know from experience that spending time outside does wonders for my physical and mental wellbeing. If you follow my Instagram stories, you’ll see my frequent #beachwalk posts. I’m fortunate to live five minutes stroll from the beach and I try to get there most days, even if it’s just for a few minutes.

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Errands and admin made simple

Simplifying errands and administrationBuying a present for a kid’s birthday party, paying for a school trip and finding a new rubbish collection service. These are a few of the things that landed on my plate this week, aside from the usual buying groceries and returning library books. Thankfully, my husband pays the bills.

You think you have all these little jobs that keep things ticking along under control, then something new pops up. It’s constant.

I can’t make these jobs magically disappear, but I can share the tricks I use to keep on top of errands and household administration with a minimum of fuss.

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For me, right now: February 2018

After all the fun of January, February has seen a return to the ordinary. I could lament that, but I’m not. Holidays wouldn’t be such a delight if life was like that all the time.

The wee guy is settled back at school and loving it, but it’s been a big change for me. I’m working around 20 to 25 hours a week, mostly from home, at the moment. I’ve struggled a bit to find my rhythm with blogging, but I managed to post 8 easy tips to simplify housework. In the post, I touch on one of the real successes I’ve achieved through embracing minimalism: that my home is pretty much guest-ready, most of the time.

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8 easy tips to simplify housework

8 easy tips to simplify housework
Credit: Sarah Dorweiler, Unsplash

Almost 20 years ago, a 21-year-old me turned up to live in a house with strangers. A friend had told me the university let vacancies in their student flats for cheap over the summer. The only catch was you were randomly allocated a place – sight unseen, flatmates unmet. I had a fulltime job with a two-hour round trip commute and was about to start part-time study. The flats were walking distance to work and school, and the rent wasn’t much more than the cost of my commute. It was a no-brainer. I signed up.

Much more gungho in those days, I still remember how incredibly nervous I was meeting my new flatmates for the first time. I needn’t have worried – we went on to spend years living and travelling together and they’re still some of my closest friends. Years later they confessed they had some reservations about me when I first moved in. To start with they assumed I was just unpacking, but after eight weeks they realised having piles of stuff all around more room was just the way I lived. While they’d never have guessed from looking at me, I was the messiest person they’d ever known.

Fast forward twenty years and I have a new normal. A few months ago, some relatives were in town. We went out for lunch at a local bar and had a great time. They had some time to fill in afterwards, so I invited them back to our place. I simply gave the toilet a quick scrub and chucked a new hand towel on the rail while my husband got started making the coffee. Six guests, zero warning, no problem.

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For me, right now: January 2018

I love January in New Zealand. It’s summer and the whole place clicks into holiday mode. This January was the hottest and sunniest on record. I don’t handle the heat well, so yesterday, when the temperature dropped and rain finally came, I was relieved.

Family holiday in Auckland - lots of fun getting out and exploring somewhere new together.
Family holiday in Auckland – lots of fun getting out and exploring somewhere new together.

That said, I’ve enjoyed spending loads of time outside, swimming at the beach and school pool. The school holidays flew by. The highlight was a week-long trip to Auckland. We all had a blast, hanging out and making memories. The opposite to many people, while day-to-day we have a fairly relaxed life at home, when we’re on holiday we like to get out and about a lot. Now the wee guy is five he has the stamina to do a full day of activity and enjoy it. I came back excited to plan more family adventures.

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How to reduce your mental load – tips for clothing and dressing

At high school, I wore a uniform. It was hideous. An itchy brown jersey, yellow polo shirt and a brown box-pleat skirt. Maybe it was the height of style in the 70s when the school opened, but definitely not in the 90s when I wore it. At least we all looked hideous together. I remember my glee on the last day of school as I dumped the old thing on a desk in the school office and told them to pass it on to someone else. Finally free.

How to reduce your mental load - clothing and dressing
Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash – this is not my wardrobe!

Back then, I didn’t appreciate the freedom that a school uniform gave me. Four years of freedom from deciding what to wear to school, trying to keep up with trends, arguing with my parents over what was appropriate, and spending my babysitting money on an extensive wardrobe. While my school uniform was terribly ugly, it was also beautifully simple. Twenty years on, I’m grateful to that gaudy uniform for making my teenage years simpler.

Each day, we face so many decisions. The vast majority of them are inconsequential, yet they add to our mental load. Simplifying everyday activities, like dressing, is easy, with a great payback in terms of reducing your mental load.

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