Establish routines for a simple home

The new year is here, and with it comes the end of a nice break for most of us. As much as I enjoyed the lazy mornings and fly-by-the-seat-of-our-pants days of the holidays, I was really looking forward to getting back into the regular routine.

Something about a new year sparks in me a desire to establish more order and intention in all that I do, so when back-to-school and the new year came together, it was perfect timing for establishing some new, old routines to keep home life simple and days running smoothly.

I tend to dislike schedules but thrive on routine. A routine makes everyone in my household happier, everything runs more smoothly, it establishes reasonable expectations, and it makes for a saner home.

Here are some basic routines that help keep our house tidy and the people smiling around here.

Work It In

Photo by Remodeling This Life

Having tasks that flow together while living life is an essential part of a simpler home. Rather than saving up for an entire task that takes huge chunks of time, where nothing is ultimately done except cleaning messes or taking care of overwhelming piles of papers, dealing with it “as you go” and making it a part of the daily routine will ultimately free up more time to get to the heart of living. Having a simpler home makes it possible to enjoy the everyday ordinary moments more.

Start The Morning Right

Photo by Centsational Girl

A basic morning routine is key to starting any day off right.
Here’s a great article about jump starting your day with a simple, five minute routine.

In the morning, I throw in a load of laundry in while coffee brews. You can empty the dishwasher so it’s available to load dishes as the day goes on so they don’t pile up. Make beds first thing after getting up — nothing makes a room look tidier than a made bed, and an unmade bed can make a tidy room look messy.

There’s nothing like having it all done, waiting for when you crawl under the covers at night after a long day. Remember the power of ten minutes. Small, simple, short routines that are built into the day make all the difference.

End The Day Right

Photo by Remodeling This Life

A routine establishes expectations. This is especially helpful for kids, and for mine, the evening is the most important time for a routine. My kids know that after dinner, it’s play time, then bath, put on jammies, brush teeth, and read books.

We don’t follow the clock as much as we follow the routine. They know what’s coming next and they expect it, so it all runs much more smoothly than if we had to chase them around screaming every night that they had to stop playing their game at a certain time and get in bed. The routine helps all of us relax and unwind.

I discovered a while ago that the key to starting each day right was ending each day right. By ending the day with cleaning the kitchen, putting away toys, planning or packing lunches, mornings became easier.

Evening is when it works best for me to fold laundry. I fold and put away at the same time, and I lay out clean clothes for school the next day. No searching for socks when we’re supposed to be out the door.

The key is finding what small things work at what times, and then adapting them to the everyday.

In each and every task and routine, think of making things good enough. Not perfect. Keep things manageable so that you can find what you need when you need it, have someone drop by unannounced without having a panic attack, and enjoy the truly important moments of each and every day along the way.

What simple routines are part of your day-to-day that help keep your home running more smoothly?

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  1. Thankful Momma

    With 2.5year od twins, we HAVE to have a routine – for everyone’s sanity. Sometimes we have to make changes during the course of our day, but it really does throw everything else out of whack for the rest of the day when that happens. It reduces the stress level to have a schedule/routine that is set in stone, but as soft as playdoh. 😉

  2. Tanya

    Thank you for specifying that routine and schedule are not the same thing. How liberating! Especially as we attempt to get back into the swing of things after the very lazy holiday season we just had. (It was GREAT!)

  3. Samantha @ Mama Notes

    Great post. I agree that having a routine is sooo important! I am working on it more and more and am finding little tricks and things to add to our day (like unload dishwasher while babe is eating breakfast or lunch) that work for me. But my house still never stays clean long. Ha! 🙂

  4. Angela @ Homegrown Mom

    I love slipping into bed at night knowing that my morning is set up and my hubby’s lunch is already made. My girls have lists in their bedrooms of what they need to do each morning. They love getting back into our little routines after a break and so do I!

  5. Becky@Organizing Made Fun

    Absolutely agree! I cannot say it enough that having schedules and routines can keep us calmer and more relaxed, but understand that being flexible WITHIN those schedules and routines is OK. We can’t control everything that happens! Great reminder!!

  6. Centsational Girl

    I love that your contributing here Emily, and you couldn’t be more right! Routines help keep us all sane, and I’m with you, start the first load of laundry as the coffee brews! My kids look forward to their evening bath/bedtime reading routine too, and somehow it keeps everyone happier. Well written!!


  7. emily hope

    wonderful reminders. and I especially loved that last paragraph …

    “In each and every task and routine, think of making things good enough. Not perfect. Keep things manageable … ”

    this is something I’m always working on 🙂

  8. Nadene

    What a wonderful balanced approach! My children know that the new day brings a fresh start when they go to sleep at night. Therefore our evening bathtime routine is important: Before they go bath, they have to pack away all toys, set their rooms in order, and feed the animals. After supper we relax and then sleep. I love waking up to a clean kitchen and a tidy livingroom, so my evening pre-bath routine is so important. The extra half hour of tidying at night frees my whole morning.

  9. monique

    Thank you for clarifying that routine and schedule are not the same thing. With a special needs child routine helps my son, but a schedule is impossible to follow because each day brings new challenges. We keep the same general schedule all year round even on holidays to make life easier for him.

  10. Marilyn

    Amen to adopting the “good enough” philosophy! I find this is really difficult for a lot of people and it’s robbing them of joy. All good tips for a fresh start on a new year!

  11. Kristi @ Creative Kristi

    I need to work on the ‘good enough’ thought process. Maybe slowing down on reading decor blogs might help. My home looks nothing like any of those. In fact, it’s a giant mess. There isn’t one room that doesn’t look like a hurricane came through. I am working on one room at a time. The holidays mean I just sort of drop everything…maybe I need a holiday routine? 🙂

  12. heidi @ wonder woman wannabe

    I couldn’t agree more – routines go such a long way to a simpler and saner life! It’s soooo wonderful to have bedtime routines that set up the expectation of whats to come. I can’t think of a more stressful way to end the day if I had to chase and prod to get kids to bed.

  13. Dawn

    The thought of trying to create a routine overwhelms me.

    I try to put something in place, but I never stick with it for long. I think part of my issue is that my husband works unconventional hours, so everything feels out of order for me all the time.

    I can’t start laundry in the morning because he is the last to get up in our house and if I use all the hot water on laundry, that’s a problem. He gets home so late that I do my kids baths before he comes home usually so we can all eat together and then he retires to our room, leaving me to clean up and get the kids ready for bed alone. By the time I’m done with that, I’m ready to crash.

    I wish I could get my mind around a “normal” routine that worked for me and my kids. I guess I’m too stuck to wanting things to be a way they’re not.

    I grew up in a house with no routines, a single mother who worked two jobs and couldn’t keep house to save her life, a grandmother who worked cleaning other people’s homes until she couldn’t anymore, and somehow I feel like I just never learned the home management things I was supposed to.

    I thought I’d just figure it out, but it still hasn’t happened.

    I wish I had a fairy godmother who would come save me and set up routines for me to follow.

    • Linda

      Hi, Dawn: I hope today is a good day for you! You’re clearly a bit overwhelmed. My husband also works long, irregular hours, and travels to boot – it’s not easy, to say the least. One thing I’ve learned- pick ONE task, and do it every day for at least a week without adding others; you’ll be on your way to the routine you crave. (This doesn’t mean that you neglect everything else, just that you stick with this “one thing” regularly!) If it takes 2 weeks or a month, so be it. Routine and organization isn’t a race to the finish, it’s adapting your immediate world to meet your needs.

      By the way, I do virtually ALL my laundry in cold water! 🙂 If there’s a little less water flow at times the washer is filling, we live with it. You can only do so much in day, and something has to give!

      Also by the way, I don’t know what your circumstances are, but for a long time, we had an annual yard sale. We cleared a LOT of clutter and made some money, too! Amazing how fast things can accumulate around the house. Now, we “Craigslist” the large items, and donate the rest…if we don’t love it or use it, it goes!

      Good luck! Someone else’s erratic schedule can be so hard to work around, but baby steps were the answer for me.

    • Angela

      Hi Dawn, cleaning and routines don’t come easily to me either. really helped me! Not her emails, there were too many for me to keep up. And I couldn’t do everything she said at once. But if I just start with her #1 tip of how to keep your sinks shiny, it really helps motivate me to keep up.

      *Cleaning* the real dirt is still not easy for me. But the place appears clean, when it is neat, and that gives a lot of peace! We’ve been able to establish routines that work well for us as far as tidying up messes quickly at intervals of the day where there are natural pauses in the routine, like before/after a meal or bed. So we do quick clean ups (if things don’t have a place to go we have to get rid of some stuff). We keep the bedtime routine the same so the children unwind easily. The big key for those of us who are not born organized is to keep it simple. For me that means I cannot have a lot of clutter. If I do, it will always look messy to me, and I get stressed out and give up. I have to keep a rule to keep flat surfaces cleared off at the end of the day, to put toys etc away at the end of the day, keep very few things on counters so they can be easily wiped off. Doing those things, turning the lights down low, and lighting a candle makes the place feel clean even if I take too long to get to the dust bunnies. 😉

    • Jennifer

      Take a deep breath, Dawn! I agree with Linda, definitely start small and with one thing. Or pick one time of day (morning, noon, evening, etc) and set up 5-step routine and work on that chunk before moving on.

      My husband works long hours and is often gone before the kids get up and home after they are asleep. I feel “guilty” the days I know he’ll be home just a little bit after bedtime, so I’ll let them stay up, but then they get wild and it takes forever to put them down then and it totally screws them up. So now we build in special Daddy/Kid time on the weekends, so its quality time when they are all happy.

      I also felt like I was cooking three meals (the kids, then mine, then my husbands sometimes as late as 9:00/10:00, as again, I felt guilty not giving him a “fresh, hot” meal). Now I prep our dinner whilst the kids are eating at the kitchen counter, and if he’s going to be home later, I serve it up on a plate and put it in the fridge, then just warm it up when he’s home. Again, we reserve the weekends, especially Sunday, for family dinner time. It’s all phases, and in a few years the kids will be older and will eat later, so we’ll adjust again!

      Good luck.

      • Beth

        Hi Dawn – I can relate to your feelings of “too stuck to wanting things to be a way they’re not”. My husband works long hours and has a long commute as well during the week and for the first two years of my son’s life I was fixated on the fact that this wasn’t how I envisioned starting a family. Once I accepted the situation and the limitations of what I could accomplish in a day I became much happier. I just know now that I’m on my own all week from the time the kids are up in the morning until bedtime and do what I can reasonably do in a day so that I can relax at night and not feel overwhelmed. One thing my husband does for me is pick up all the toys when he gets home. This way I can end my workday and he feels like he’s helping me out.
        Don’t get too worried about having a routine. Just experiment with what you can do and you might realize over time that you have established a routine after all.
        Good luck and hang in there – you’re not alone!

    • Flo

      Cold water for laundry; it’s economical and does just fine!!
      Concentrate on getting one thing under control at a time. (And realize they WILL fly out of control on occasion!) Good enough is good enough.
      Encourage Daddy to be part of the bedtime routine; reading the bedtime story would be an incredibly valuable contribution and really takes only a few minutes for something that will last more than his lifetime…

  14. Sarah Beam

    I take two minutes to clean the toilets every morning. That way, I don’t have to worry if we have unexpected guests (since I have a newly potty-trained child and a 6-year-old boy with bad aim, toilet problems are ever-present).

  15. CherylK

    A great post with great suggestions. I don’t have a routine, per se, but I make the bed first thing every morning. That gets the day off to a good start. I also agree that having the kitchen clean before bed is paramount to a good night’s sleep.

    I do want to establish a routine, though, for my computer work. Trying to squeeze in a half hour here and an hour there accomplishes nothing, really. That’s my goal for this week…a workable routine.

  16. cagey

    Great post! I am a huge believer in making my bed every single morning – there is something about a made bed that makes the room seem complete. However, I let it air out a bit before making it – usually, I make it when I have gotten out of the shower and am still running around in a robe and towel. I know there are two schools of thought on this – To Air or Not to Air. I am definitely on the To Air side 😉

    However, I could do well to incorporate some of these other routines, so I’ll be re-reading the post and thinking over how I can rearrange some things.

  17. Heather

    Thanks for these simple reminders, Emily! I always have to remind myself to try changing only one thing in my routine at a time because I like to change it all at once, which hardly ever works. And, if I can do it for 14 days in a row I know I can make it a habit, then move on to the next change.

    One question, though, how do you keep your laundry from wrinkling if you wait to fold it later on that day? I can’t stand wrinkled clothes and refuse to iron my everyday clothing, but found the folding part always trips me up in the laundry process.

    Trying to adopt the “good enough” philosophy when it comes to guests, too. Recently, I read an article that suggested to have your child invite a friend over for dinner once a month, even if the house isn’t perfectly clean. Simply sweep the floors (while they are on their way over) or clean the toilet, but don’t worry about the rest. Our kids will never be kids again and they will miss out on friendships because of our worries (messes). Trying to make that “good enough” for me!

  18. Nicole

    I am HORRID at routines and schedules! I know we need them, but I feel so trapped when I know I have to do something…now! I need to work on this soooo much. Thanks for the encouragement:)

  19. Rachel

    I don’t so much subscribe to routine right now as rhythm. I guess it’s just a fancy word for routine, but if I have the right rhythm (which includes mindset and attitude as well as chores) things seem to be more peaceful.

    But I always wash the dishes before bed (we don’t have a dishwasher) because I hate walking into the kitchen in the morning to a sink full of dishes.

  20. Carla

    I am not a person who can live with a schedule, but without conciously doing it, I have established many routines in our family. When the routines start to go awry our entire family balace is thrown off kilter. Thanks for a great post to remind me of the importance of routine!

  21. liz

    i’ve still got a long way to go before i feel truly organized (don’t we all?!) but one thing i do that helps so much is to lay out a weeks’ worth of clothes for the kids… i have one of those hanging sweater organizers in my kids’ closets, and each sunday i pull out 5 or six outfits and put one in each compartment — one for each day of the week.
    it’s so nice to not have to think about it all week, and have one less thing to do each day!
    now, if ony i had a great system for cleaning…. 🙂

  22. tracey davis

    This is how we roll! I’m always looking for ways to simplify life, decrease the chaos, and increase the peace. Makes for happier everyone. Thanks for your consistency.

  23. jennifer

    LOVE routine. Beds are made in the morning. YEAH! You are right, it does make the room appear so much neater.

    What finally occurred to me about routine is that I want my home to be a haven. Not perfect, but certainly a place where drop ins are welcome, my children can bring friends and out of town guests can arrive quickly. Order is huge in allowing that to happen. So, my kitchen may be a temporary mess but it is easliy cleanable and the rest of my home is tidy and ready to go. If I only let one thing get out of hand then it is manageable to clean up.

    Right now, I am in the process of setting days to clean the cook book cabinet, the pantry, the laundry room shelves and the hall closet. A lot of things get trashed or donated. I do this yearly and it really helps me get rid of things I am not using. I am amazed that despite the fact that we are generally not savers, we accumulate quite a bit over the course of a year. If there are things I want to keep but I do not use (like things I think may be of use in college age kids apartments) I store them in containers and label them. If they end up not being used, I can then add them to the sell/donate pile.

    Adding a routine at a time helps if you are not naturally inclined to routine. Leave yourself a note if you have too. Later it will be habit for you. Peace in a household is worth a lot to me. I am not saying quiet or sterile, but a haven is peaceful and welcoming.

  24. Julia

    I am in need of some helpful routines. Thanks for these good ideas. Yesterday, I tried an approach called “minimum maintenance”. It involves spending 5 minutes tidying each room in the house (except the kitchen, which is worked on in 15 minute increments). Hopefully I can keep up the momentum–I loved seeing such quick results, and as a bonus, the time limit turned it into a mini-workout!

  25. Sarah

    You are so right! It is amazing the difference that a simple routine makes. To be honest, sometimes I think that it is much easier to obsess over perfection, because it gives me the excuse to forget routine. Does that sound strange?
    After I had my second child I struggled so much in this regard until I read “The MomsTown Guide to Getting It All” they emphasized the importance of making the bed, clearing the clutter, doing dishes over perfection and all… It helped so much!
    Thanks for this lovely post to remind me to focus on what is IMPORTANT

  26. Jenna

    I still pack my lunch and layout everything I need for work the night before. I’ve had the same routine for years, literally. It makes it easier to sleep longer and there is no worry that I forgot something in my morning sleepy haze.

  27. Two Chicks and a Hen

    Great points, all of them. I especially agree with the idea that a good morning relies heavily on the previous evening. I always think of it like this: my morning actually begins the night before. I like the idea of that 5 minute morning routine. I think I’ll make my own.

    The things that help me include cleaning as we go; getting cooking started as much ahead of time as possible (doing it in increments throughout the day if we’re home so that by the time dinner rolls around, as much work as possible is already done; and using songs and other tools to help my kids transition through the day along with me.

  28. Courtney

    We have an evening routine similar to what you described – dinner, play time, bath, pjs, teeth, stories, bed – and it is essential. I also do laundry “as I go” throughout the day, instead of saving if for one day only. I have a certain day of the week that I go to the grocery store, and that helps too, with meal planning and staying on budget.

  29. hairstyles for girls

    I agree with cleaning as you go instead of doing to all at once. I’ve found that if I do one load of laundry every single day … it’s so much easier than trying to do 7 loads on Saturday (which ruins the entire weekend.) 🙂

  30. The Accidental Housewife

    We have a 6 week old baby as well as a toddler, so we are just starting to settle into a new routine that suits our new family.

    The most useful thing I do each day is my morning whirlwind tidy. Everyone wakes with the toddler (early!) and as soon as she’s up I start at the back of our long thin house and clean each room as I go, making beds, tidying toys, collecting and throwing in laundry, changing nappies and dressing kids. I end up in the kitchen for family breakfast about 10 minutes later. I wish this routine included a shower, but I usually don’t get around to that for at least another hour or two!

    My other routine is helped by having the nappy change table in the laundry. Every time I change a nappy I check on the washing and keep in ticking over.

  31. Kristina

    Ours is particularly a big family and routine and schedules must be strictly adhered to. Kids have their own small part to work on for them to instill the habit and values such as sharing loads, cooperation and concern.

    This is a great post! Will share them!

  32. melanie keck

    love it! We try to keep to a routine. my husband works graveyards, so making the bed is a bit harder for us, because he is sleeping during the day. The kids and I have an evening routine, but when he is off sometimes it gets off also. My biggest thing is to wake up to a clean kitchen to start the morning. My husband is finally learning that I am happier and can better enjoy time with him on his evenings off if the kitchen is clean. he used to get so upset at me because I was spending time cleaning the kitchen ( which in his mind could be done another time like in the morning) instead of spending time with him. Now alot of times we work on it together so that I can then foucus on him and sleep better not tossing and turning worrying about the added kitchen mess for morning. but deffinetly find something that works for you. My mom would throw a load of laundry in each morning. She tried for years to get us kids to follow suit as we got older. It just didn’t work for me. I would put it in and then wake up in the middle of the night. “Oh I forgot to put the laundry in the dryer”. By the next morning If I remembered it was stinky and had to be washed again. Now that I have three kids of my own the laundry piles up faster and It does make sense. but it does not fit my routine so well. for my mom it worked. it is great to have ideas to help that is why we read blogs. Keep the great ideas coming

  33. Kasey

    It’s the evening routine that needs definite work in my house. Must speak to my husband today about this, things are beginning to drive me crazy with the girls.

  34. Amanda Darlack

    When I was a preschool teacher, I could tell which children had a good routine at home. Overall, they were much more independent and able to focus. Children thrive on that predictability.

  35. Intentionally Katie

    Amen, amen, amen. Recently, I realized that a couple of our household routines weren’t working. For instance, I used to have the kids set the table as my husband was coming home from work and while I was finishing dinner. It turned into me barking orders and the kids getting into fights about “who gets to sit next to Daddy” – total chaos for my husband when he walked in the door.

    So I changed things up. Now, knowing that he comes home at 5:30 every night, we clean up the kitchen and put away toys closer to 5:00, then the table is set before he arrives. A small 30 minute adjustment to our routine completely changed the mood of the house at dinnertime. 🙂

  36. Lynn

    “In each and every task and routine, think of making things good enough. Not perfect. ” Love this. Thanks!

  37. Nisha @Healthy Mom's Kitchen

    I couldn’t agree with this post more! It’s so important for me to get a few things out of the way before my kids wake up each morning and the days those things get done – the day runs so much smoother.

  38. missy

    Those ten minute a day routines can change your life.
    Just getting into the ten minute habit of starting up the laundry and emptying the dishwasher while the coffee perks first thing in the morning revolutionized my entire day.
    Such good advice.

  39. Heather V

    Awesome post with lots of great suggestions. What works for me is teaching the kids to take responsibility for their toys, picking out clothes, helping around the house. I can’t do it all alone. Using rewards for buy-in has worked wonders.
    I’m a big believer in being proactive and trying to head off a likely messy situation in a reactive (and often crappy attitude) mode.

    Thanks again for a great post.

  40. Heather V

    Awesome post with lots of great suggestions. What works for me is teaching the kids to take responsibility for their toys, picking out clothes, helping around the house. I can’t do it all alone. Using rewards for buy-in has worked wonders. I’m a big believer in being proactive and trying to head off a likely messy situation in a reactive (and often crappy attitude) mode. Thanks again for a great post.

  41. Steph at Modern Parents Messy Kids

    One of my best routines is simply to keep Clorox wipes under the bathroom sink and to give surfaces a quick wipedown whenever I’m in there. The bathroom doesn’t need a full scrub down as often that way.

  42. Gladys

    One of the nicest article I read, I should teach my sister the right manner to do this routine. She’s too lazy to get her arse up.

  43. Scarlet of MWYT Green Mom Blog

    Agreed. Routines are so important to have and yet it is also important to remember good enough sometimes because things usually don’t turn out perfect! I think that keeping things simple makes it easier and more fun for everyone!

  44. Rana

    Love this post Emily, We have had the same routine for the past year with a few tweeks here and there. I love it, our days run more smoothly and we have more time for all the things I could never get too before.

  45. Leilani

    Routines are a must for me and my family. Your 2010 calendar download last year helped out a lot. Will you have monthly calendars for this year?

  46. Summer

    Great advice! My kids are a little older, so they help in the daily routine. We do “5 minute clean up” races throughout the day. They rush around to pick up and put away as much as they can in 5 minutes. It’s a great way to tidy a little throughout the day.

  47. Janice

    excellent! I’m sadly lacking in keeping a routine in our home. It’s there somewhat, but loose. I can say that having my evenings in order does help with the morning routine. My head knows, my body needs to learn to follow it! 🙂

  48. lose weight

    Hi…nice combination of article and image. i really liked it…I am in the process of setting days to clean the cook book cabinet, the pantry, the laundry room shelves and the hall closet. A lot of things get trashed or donated. I do this yearly and it really helps me get rid of things I am not using. I am amazed that despite the fact that we are generally not savers, we accumulate quite a bit over the course of a year. If there are things I want to keep but I do not use (like things I think may be of use in college age kids apartments) I store them in containers and label them. If they end up not being used, I can then add them to the sell/donate pile.

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