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Working hard at keeping summer simple

“Just keep things really simple,” my husband keeps saying.

It’s March, and we’re sitting on the couch after the kids are in bed, and I’m telling him how Spring Break has left me feeling wiped out. Our Spring Break is two weeks long, and I’m unloading a fortnight’s worth of frustration to my husband. The girls fought too much. The twins won’t stay in their stroller. We spent too much money. I am exhausted.

“If two weeks were this hard, how impossible will two months be?” I sigh.

Keep it simple, he keeps saying.

I keep thinking back to last summer, the first one after the twins were born. They were infants, still nursing full-time and extremely portable. Our summer was fun, but it was not simple. Because the boys were so easy to load up and take with us, we went on at least three outings a week, and even if our admission was free, we ended up spending tons of money on food and snacks as well as tons of time hurtling ourselves from one place to the next.

If I learned anything at all over Spring Break, it was that I didn’t have the bandwidth to spend another summer filled with that much activity. My husband was spot-on. Keeping it simple would be my life raft when the waves of summer threatened to pull me under.

simple summer blooms (1)Photo by Dominik Martin

Honestly, if it were up to my oldest daughter and me, our plans would look like this: 1. Lay a blanket in the grass. 2. Read. 3. Watch ants build new homes. 4. Feed hungry tummies. 5. Get up and do it all over again tomorrow. Those are the kinds of plans that build a simple summer in my mind.

However, I have a younger daughter who moves through life quite differently than her older sister. Every day with her is made up of plans! And schemes! And staying busy and finding friends to play with and asking questions and DOING STUFF. So finding a harmonious balance between their preferences (along with those of one year old twins) means investing some serious forethought.

In some ways, it seems counter-intuitive to plan for simplicity. Simplicity is, well, simple. If we leave well enough alone, won’t everything fall into place naturally? Perhaps for some families, but not for mine.

I came up with simple scheme of my own, one that would fit perfectly with what my vision for a simple summer, one that rested heavily on one pivotal word: STRUCTURE.

I created a dry-erasable daily plan that hangs on the side of our refrigerator. All of us can see what day it is, what each meal will be, what snacks are available, what our one (one!) activity will be during the twins’ naptime, and whose day it is to be what we call “the helper/chooser” (the girls alternate days serving as Mom’s Helper, and Mom’s Helper also gets to choose her preference when there’s a choice to be made regarding anything from ice cream flavors to screen time).

simple summer plansPhoto by Megan Tietz

We’re a few weeks in to summer break, and our simple system is working wonderfully! However, it doesn’t just happen. To fill our days with a simple structure requires a lot of work on my end. Each weekend, I spend hours planning three meals a day for six people, as well as five activities that we’ll do in the week to come.

The time invested on the weekends pays off magnificently each day of the week. The girls check our daily planner often throughout the day, and even my nine-year-old seems to find peace in the predictability it brings to each day.

And because all of our meal plans and activities are already determined, I don’t spend the day fielding a million questions about whether or not we can go grab fast food or if we are going to go to Target (again) that day. This means I spend a lot more of my day saying “yes!” instead of “sorry, nope!”

It’s not just the hours of planning that feel like a lot of work this summer—it’s also the change in mindset, the hard work of pushing back our culture’s message and my old habits which yell in unison, “Let’s go! Let’s do!”

It’s hard work to veer off that well-traveled road to the quieter path of simplicity that says, “Let’s stay, Let’s be.”

But as I sit amongst the piles of origami creations and sewing projects and library books, I know the hard work of intentional simplicity is well-worth the cost.

From the counters of our kitchen, to the coolness of our dining room, to the wilds of our own backyard, we’re making sweet memories made between the lines of each day’s plan.

Reading Time:

3 minutes





  1. Eric West | Rethinking the Dream

    That looks like a great system. I like how it gives you more opportunity to say yes instead of saying no.

    • Megan Tietz

      Thanks, Eric!

  2. Katie

    Oh! I love this. I work – and often wish I had more time at home. But I am taking a few weeks off this summer to send some lazy summer time with my boys. What are some of the activities you’ve planned. I’d love to know.

  3. Jen

    I love this Megan!! I’ll be taking a number of full weeks off this summer to hang with the kids…and I’m the laze on the grass kinda girl – but the boys need more action. But not too much action – cause then they go squirrelly!!

    I loathe the idea of planning – but I know things go more smoothly when I do, so I think I will make a valiant effort to give this a try. Just the less questions would make it worth while for sure!!

  4. Nina

    I work so I’m not with the kids all day, but on weekends we usually plan one outing a day and no more. At-home activities is me buying watercolor paint and letting them go at it lol. Open-ended toys and building blocks are big in our house. I just open up those boxes and watch my kids play, offering some guidance here and there.

  5. Jill Foley

    This makes me smile. I wrote a similar post a couple weeks ago called Slow Summer. I do not want summer to exhaust me. I love the idea of a daily plan to create structure. So often I know what the day holds, but my girls do not and they get frustrated.

  6. Alissa

    Yes! I think we need more of this message that “simple” does not equal flying by the seat of your pants with no plan. Simple often needs structure but structure does not need to be planning your day to every hour. My kids are at daycamp while I’m working, but I’m trying to create as much SPACE in our days together as possible. But… that space still has structure – one afternoon a week planned for swimming and one day with a “field trip” with our friends. I also know that I am much better able to engage my kids and enjoy our time togehter when I’m not worrying about what’s for dinner!

    I also love the way you acknowledge that your kids need different things. I have one that thrives on logistics (like his mama, ahem!) and one that requests to “just play” when our schedule gets to be too much.

  7. Suse

    Yes Megan, we do something very similar in the school holidays.

    We put ideas for free/cheap excursions into a bowl and pull one out a day (library/cafe/park etc) then make the majority of our meals ‘cold stuff from the fridge’ (meats, salads, cheeses, etc) The rest of the time we hang out around the house or garden and only really do essential ‘keeping things sanitary’ jobs (!)

    I genuinely think after weeks of structured school days what does my daughter good is having the chance to chill out so much that she’s able to get just that little bit bored.

  8. Missy Robinson

    I love the idea of a “Chooser!” My three elementary school aged children get so competitive over who gets their way and this would solve a variety of decisions! I might try it!

  9. Fawn Carriker

    We are in week two of summer vacation, and my 4- and 8-year old granddaughters are either trying to talk me into doing something epic, or squabbling over who gets to choose the television show or game. I really like your idea and will be sharing it with my daughter this evening. Happy summer! – Fawn

  10. heather hughes

    LOVE this! I think you may have just saved our summer.
    Heather in Seattle

  11. Sharon Holbrook

    So interesting. I read about the meal planning and immediately thought “that sounds like more trouble than it’s worth”….but I wonder, because my 8 year old likes to question all day long and we are also butting heads over healthy food choices (his preference = cheese and cured meat and bread as much as possible, 3 meals a day). So maybe it would help?

    I really related to the part about different preferences/orientations among children. My oldest (same 8 year old!) wants to be busy/entertained all day long. So he either wants a friend or a screen (he knows screen time is limited but tries to talk me into active Wii games (it’s good for me!) or things like Rainbow Loom videos). It’s exhausting. I need to develop a plan….

  12. Jenn M.

    I love this idea! I was wondering how you decided what “day” it is (ABCDEFG like the days of the week?). My twin boys (6 now and surviving!) like to hang out, so sometimes getting them to organize and go somewhere or do something can be a challenge–I guess they already “get” simple and it’s me who needs the work! I have done the 5 Dinners 1 Hour website plan and I do think it is so helpful to plan meals–I just don’t like doing it!

  13. Faigie

    It’s so counter intuitive really. Simple shouldn’t need planning yet it only is simple with lots of planning 🙂

  14. Cherie

    I’m so glad to have a schedule this summer from the beginning. Taking the time to plan ahead has really paid off. My kids have time to take on chores, “play school” and practice skills to keep them strong, paint or make something creative, outside play each day. Since we started it from day 1 of summer it’s just an expectation, not a fight. And screen time is scheduled and not a big deal.

  15. Linda B

    Good idea to have some structure to your plans, and it sounds wonderful. I think you will look back on this summer as a wonderful, calm time.

  16. Katie Harding

    Love this idea, I have both of my boys home all summer and another on the way in a few months so I was stressing about how we would fill our time but this is genius! Thanks for sharing!

  17. Betsy

    Megan, you’re a GENIUS to combine the chooserhelper roles. I’m wondering how I can make this work with my teenagers. And although I’ve always balked at meal planning, when I read your post, I realize having it up on the fridge would simplify my life and save me from answering at least 9 questions (from only two kids, mind you) each day.

  18. Rain San Martin

    I like the dry / erase board idea.

  19. Growing the Whole Child

    Simple does not mean without planning. In fact, as you have discovered, simple may require much planning! But it is oh so worth it!

    Thanks for sharing some great ideas. As your children get older you might also consider a morning meeting. This planning step has made it much easier for our family to achieve more balance and keep it simple.

    So refreshing to find that their are other families who are embracing simple!

  20. Jessica @ Inspire to Simple

    Great comments . . . I want to post them around my house. Love the ideas and reminders that we need to plan for our simple, and then enjoy it!

  21. Jermaine Pleas

    Ahhh……structured Summer in the summer is very reasonable for the kids and keep things organized. I really enjoyed this and it have given me a few pointers for my nieces and nephews during their visits. Summer can be very unorganized if you don’t truly think it through as far as the snacks, activities, and recreations outside. Awesome post Megan, and extremely simple method indeed.

  22. Neen

    This was a message I really need to hear today. You’ve calmed my overwhelm 🙂 Thanks!

  23. Bethany

    Thank you for sharing that it takes you hours on the weekend to plan for a simple week. I too find that getting a really good plan in place takes lots of time, but I often feel like it shouldn’t, so I end up doing it halfway and paying the price during the week. As I look at my calendar and take up my menu plan for this week, you’ve given me a little fresh inspiration to work hard at it.

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