As a mother of five, a small business owner, from-scratch cooker, beekeeper, gardener, blogger, and volunteer, I have been asked how on earth I manage to regularly attend to all of my responsibilities without going mad. Though I don’t do things as well as some might imagine (weeds are prolific, bedrooms are messy more often than not, and sometimes dinner is drive-thru), I do have some tricks that make doing the better thing a bit easier, which, I think, is all we can truly hope for.
What makes it easy for me to:
–Recycle, Reduce, Refuse, and Reuse
In my kitchen there is the trash can, plus two bins labeled paper/cardboard and plastic/metal/glass. Outside the kitchen door, for obvious reasons, is a reused five gallon bucket with a lid for compostable food scraps which get worked into our compost heap when full. It is so easy to sort my recycling when everything is set up to make that effortless and convenient (and oddly satisfying). After learning more about plastic pollution, I’ve tried very hard to get every bit of recyclable plastic into the bin (think the plastic spout on a juice carton, kids cups from restaurants, empty play-doh containers). On top of that I remove the plastic windows from pasta boxes, envelopes, and the like so that the cardboard and paper can be recycled. Once a year or so I gather up unsolicited mailings and call the companies to be removed from their lists, cutting down on waste and clutter. When we go out to eat I bring along my beloved tiffin to take home leftovers in, avoiding the styrofoam and plastic bags. I keep a metal spoon in my purse to stand in for plastic ones. I have an extensive cloth bag collection for shopping (even homemade produce bags!), and keep some stashed in my purse at all times for unexpected stops at stores. None of this takes much effort. If it’s easy to do the right thing, we are much more likely to do it!
Keeping worn-out jeans and other usable scraps around saves me from craft store over-spending (it’s a thing) and puts the material to good use once again. My jean potholders have held up extremely well and I never burn my fingers with them!
My gardening and canning probably reduce our waste the most. Jars and rings are used over and over again, with only the dome top needing to be recycled. This avoids countless cans and gas to drive to the store.
Though we are still working on a viable solution for shampoo, conditioner, and dish soap, our body and hand soap needs are all met quite economically and naturally through my soap making.
The wondrous tiffin with three compartments. Waitresses ooh and aah over it! I think they may be tired of all the styrofoam waste too. Plus it’s quite cute.
–Keep the house mostly clean and the gardens mostly under control.
I am not afraid of assigning work to my children that they are capable of doing. Every day all I have to say is “floors, guys” and the one son starts picking up all the trash cans, toys, shoes, chairs, etc, and puts them up and away. Another older child begins to vacuum, followed by another who mops, followed by the younger son who puts all the up things down again. I was brought up with an understanding that clean floors=clean house, so having this regular cleaning routine has helped me so much to feel sane in a three bedroom household of seven. The children help with pulling weeds, cleaning the bathrooms, mowing the lawn, harvesting produce, and cook their own breakfasts and pack their own lunches. The elder two also do their own laundry. They benefit as well from knowing how to do their jobs well, and that they are contributing to our family’s wellbeing.
-Make work easier by having quality tools for each task.
I am a fan of properly-working, quality tools. Whether it’s a hand-forged garden trowel which will last decades or a heavy-duty copper saute pan that will enable me simmer sauces to perfection, I heartily endorse buying the best one can afford to make work more pleasant with less wastage from cheap, easily-broken tools. Fortunately many of these things are quite easy to pick up secondhand, which goes nicely with the first item in my list, of reusing. I recently picked up two Le Creuset kitchenware items at a local thrift store, as well as Cutco knives, and other culinary gems.
A greenhouse to start my seeds in, soap molds I don’t need to line with wax paper, a bee suit that protects me so well that I am not tense when doing hive inspections or swarm-collecting; these things all enable me to do my tasks in a simpler, easier way.
In my kitchen, where most of my work is done, there is every conceivable quality tool (note, I didn’t say “gadget”; I’ve found that many “time savers” just lead to cabinet clutter and little use) one could hope for: four dutch ovens, copper pans, a chinois, a pasta maker, cast iron pans in many sizes, a grain mill, two tortilla presses, a hardworking mixer and blender, an electric pressure cooker, a pastry board, nice knives, a juicer and a steam juicer, a 16 qt stock pot, vintage mixing bowls, and, well, I use them all. They are satisfying to work with and help produce excellent meals. And much of it came from thrift stores or credit card reward points (like my new $200 All-Clad stock pot!).
-Host birthday parties without expense, waste, nor loss of sanity.
This is so easy to get right. First, one must drop preconceived ideas about what a good party should include, such as: inviting everyone in their class, providing treat bags, going somewhere ultra entertaining, like to a laser tag place, and lots of disposable crap (except balloons, for the love, keep the balloons!).
We have a standing rule for our five: they can invite two-three friends and go on a special outing (bowling, mini golf, ice skating) or invite a whole passel of them to our home or on a hike. This has worked marvelously for us, especially when we keep them outside by going down to our favorite stream, jumping on the trampoline, or making gigantic bubbles with a homemade bubble wand and solution. I do not organize their time, but let them play freely, sometimes inviting them to make homemade slime or help cut up veggies for the meal. We cook supper over the campfire (which they get to help build, sorry helicopter moms). They go home dirty and giddy, without a bag of plastic junk. I use enamel plates, real silverware, and canning jars to serve the food, because it just isn’t hard to, and there’s so much less waste! And, no, I don’t even own a dishwasher! We make the cake, churn the ice cream, and munch on simple homemade appetizers or a big pot of chili. It’s easy.
–Keep the laundry and mending under control.
When they hit eleven years of age I give them lessons on sorting, washing, drying, and folding clothing and then wash my hands of their stinky socks and muddy jeans. For the younger kids their clothing goes straight into the laundry room where all their clothing lives. They change and from there it all goes straight into the washer, dryer (or out on the line if the weather is nice), and then right back into cubbies my husband built in the laundry room out of scrap wood from a job site. This makes it SO EASY to keep on top of things. Also helpful for a mom of active kids is to have my sewing machine always out, threaded, and ready to do repairs. I can’t emphasize enough how much more I attend to the mending simply because it is convenient to take a few minutes at the machine, rather than have a pile of ripped clothing that provokes guilt and wistful thoughts of “someday I’ll get to that, hopefully before they grow out of them”. Also, after reading about the KonMari method of storing clothing, I implemented it and taught it to my children, and what a difference it makes in reducing clothing chaos in the drawers!
Ready to serve.
Organized drawers stay organized with vertical folding.
The clothing cubbies made from lumber scraps. Baskets hold socks and one pair of shoes.
–Spend little and experience much.
Each year we invest in a family membership to an interesting place. We’ve done the North Museum (twice), Longwood Gardens, the Baltimore Aquarium (twice), and this year our local gym. We get to really experience the joy of each place, and it’s wonderful to say “yes” to doing something fun without worrying about the cost.
We also regularly pick up library passes to local attractions for free such as to Landis Valley Museum, the Hans Herr House, the National Toy Train Museum, James Buchanan’s Wheatland home, and the Science Factory. And every year we go to Hershey Park (a huge theme park loaded with top notch rides) for free by attending a Hershey Bear’s hockey game in the winter that includes free park passes as a gift. Beyond these destinations we make regular use of local rails-to-trails, parks, free museums and zoos, and beaches.
–To grow in knowledge.
Anyone with a library nearby has no excuse for not investing in their education. I’ve often said that education is already free, but degrees cost money. I in no way denigrate higher education, but encourage folks to continue their learning throughout their lives. It is easy, because it requires no expense, can be worked into your day as time allows, and makes no demands on you. I am currently learning Norwegian with my daughter for free online on duolingo.com. I read news for free online from some of the best journals. I can access tutorials on nearly anything via YouTube. I am constantly reviewing works I’ve read to refresh myself on what I’ve learned, be it herbal medicine, beekeeping, gardening, food preservation, byzantine history, theology, or quilt making. Those works I keep coming back to can often be sourced online used for cheap, so I can keep returning to them and highlight them to my heart’s content.
This isn’t an exhaustive list, but the ideas here have made life a lot more manageable and rich for me and my family.