Mama in the City

A blog about raising my family in downtown Vancouver

Becoming The Modern Day Housewife

When I was growing up my mum stayed at home with us 3 girls until I was about 10 years old, she also ran an at home daycare on top of it all. She was no doubt the head of the household and the one who organized dinner menus, knew when the bedsheets were to be changed, and which daughter had a special activity.

I'm now at the point in my year off from work where I realize that I'm not the most natural stay at home mum and am realizing that there are perks to having to high tail it off to work. This year I am going to have to grow and stretch to figure out how to run our home and, this is the big part, enjoy it at the same time. When I was working full time shift work my husband did the cooking when I worked. I'd come home from a long shift and eat delicious dinners and the home was somewhat tidy. My first day off would be spent puttering around the house and maybe doing some random wash and scrubbing of a toilet.

I had no fixed schedule on how to organize my family or our home, but it worked well with the random shift work schedule. Plus, when you aren't home all the time the mess seems to matter a little bit less. There was also more of an equal distribution to the running of our home and also to parenting, or at least that was the expectation. Now that I am home for the next year, it is up to me to run this home with some weekend and evening help from my husband. However, those regular delicious dinners have become a faint memory. For now it is a bit more of a traditional distribution of work and not as modern as when I was also working outside of the home.

Back in the day baking an apple crumble was enough for me to feel that my household was in order.

I am feeling the crunch to get my ass in gear and tie on my modern apron and get this home running smoothly. The problem is, I realize that I am not a natural household manager. While I've got some good ideas I severely lack in the overall job. Most days 5 PM comes and Ben asks what for dinner and I have no idea. The toilet paper runs short and I look around to see who should have bought more (not me?!).

So, my blog reading friends, please please give me all of your tips for running a home smoothly! Do you work on a schedule? Do you do a big weekly grocery shop with meal planning? I need anything and everything to get myself motivated and dinner on the table. I'll be blogging about my transition over the next while.


We do one big grocery shop on weekends and then I usually have to go once during the week for a few more fruits and veggies.  I don't meal plan for the week.  I should I know because everyone I talk to says it works very well.  I have tried and like any diet I last for about 2 weeks and then it is out the window.  I have in my mind some things to make for dinners, but if I am not feeling it I will change it the morning of.

March 15, 2012 at 10:14 PM  
Helen Engel-Gray said...

 We are once-a-week grocery shoppers, although truth be told, we eat out or get delivery more often than I care to admit ;) As for cleaning, we get someone to come in twice/month to do that.  And having a whiteboard on the wall where we can write down the "must-buys" (like toilet paper, paper towel, dinner napkins, dish detergent, etc) for the week is helpful too (though sometimes I cheat and I just email him notes from the iPhone).  :) 

Mind you, I'm only 5 weeks post-partum so some of this stuff has yet to be ironed out here.  I'm definitely the "domestic" one though; Hubbs couldn't even find the cutting board yesterday (we've been here 3.5 years).

March 16, 2012 at 2:56 AM  
Sarah said...

I think the key to any kind of housework or organisation is to figure out what you can achieve and to be realistic about things. I have attempted a FlyLady routine 3 times and they all ended dismally. It's just not for me and I'm never going to be that person who has everything under control with gleaming floors, sparkling glass or well stock cupboards and dinner prepped early. My best advice would be to research tips and housework advice online, from sources like FlyLady etc and then try to incorporate things into your daily life, slowly. Like making a point to think about dinner when you're having your morning coffee and getting the meat out of the freezer, or reminding yourself to take a trip to the store. Another thing I did was to cook a batch of something and freeze it in portions so that if I did forget, I had homemade ready meals handy. I also monitored how much toilet roll we used over 2 weeks and found I needed to buy a 6 pack each week. I'm only 26 and I've spent the last 7/8 years trying to run a home properly, aspiring to be something I'm not and failing miserably which makes me feel dreadful, what a waste of my youth! I've learnt to accept what my limitations are (I have mobility problems) and I set myself small tasks each day on top of my regular washing up, polishing and hoovering. Grab a notepad and list the things you feel you need to make a point of doing each day and take it from there, find what works for you and don't force yourself to feel like you have to have it all under control - I don't think anybody does underneath the surface ;)

March 16, 2012 at 4:47 AM  
Erin said...

The handiest tip I can give you is not to live with an excess of belongings - when our second child was born, I realized we had WAY too much stuff as I was spending an inordinate amount of time cleaning, organizing and putting things away (only for them to be dragged out again by another member of my family).  I have spent the last couple of years really paring down our belongings and determining what is the minimal amount of stuff we can really live with and enjoy - I tell you it's such a nice feeling to be able to go short periods of time without having to do much more than make the beds and load the dishwasher and the house still looks presentable!  Spending less time cleaning and organizing has opened up more time for me to do other things I enjoy, like reading, baking, and just relaxing with my kids.  Good luck to you, and don't be too hard on yourself as you still have a tiny little baby whose needs come before all that housework!

March 16, 2012 at 9:06 AM  

I'm still figuring it out too. And I've been basically a SAHM since my boy was born 2.5 yrs ago. Here are a few things that have helped me find something that works for me and the 'season' we're in as a family:

- meal plan. Kinda boring but so helpful. I only plan 5 dinners for the week (at most) because there is usually leftovers or take out or a night out.

- cleaning time instead of cleaning lists. I just give myself a window of time to clean and do whatever is most urgent. When my son was an infant that was usually his 40 minute morning nap. Throw the laundry on, clean a bathroom and pick up a bit. Not that he is a toddler it's usually 2 x 2-3 hours of very casual cleaning while my toddler keeps himself busy or helps out.

- get help. One of my regrets is not getting help sooner when my son was an infant. He was a very colicky baby and none of us were getting a lot of sleep. Next time around I will save up and hire a cleaner for the first 3 months.

And like Erin said (hello Erin!!) having less stuff around the house is a huge help.

Bonne chance!

March 16, 2012 at 10:39 AM  
Bec Moman said...

I go food shopping for a bit shop once a week. I usually have a plan of what I want to make for supper meals and sometimes I go hunting for new recipes to try out which is always fun. We've recently changed our diet to have less beef, and more seafood, and with this change I find we are eating out less, and I'm much more willing to prepare something tasty for us to eat. I also make out what I want for each meal. Breakfast, Lunch, and Supper. As well as snacks. I found that when I was only making out supper meals I would often not have food for other meals, and always ran out of snack things. I made a meal plan for four weeks, that now has stretch to a six week meal menu and I basically look at them and decided what I want to make for the next week or two.
 As for cleaning my son loves to help out. He helps me unload the dish washer, and I usually do this while I'm cooking us a meal, and then load it up again after we've eaten. I do the laundry while he's going potty or in the bath. And I sweep while I'm waiting for whatever I'm cooking to cook. (my son likes helping me do this also) I've found having places for things is the most helpful. And cleaning at least 15 mins in the morning and at night each day. It makes my house tidy, keeps me sane from not having to do a huge amount of work, and allows me to spend more time doing fun things with my son. My husband also helps out by cooking a meal when I just don't feel like it, or changing over the laundry or the dishwasher. But mostly it is my job to do it. My house doesn't look like magazine cover by any stretch of the imagination, but it's tidy, clean, and comfortable for us to live in. Good luck finding your own groove :)

March 16, 2012 at 3:08 PM  
huntersprize said...

I agree with everyone else that meal planning is key! Or always having the staples on hand to pull something off last minute, whatever your specialty may be. I clean in small doses and try to fold and put laundry away as soon as possible to avoid clutter. Picking up the house before bed is another thing to keep me from being overwhelmed in the morning. 

March 16, 2012 at 3:33 PM  
Erin said...

I agree that meal planning makes things easier - one thing I've learned is to just make a list of meals for the week, not to bother assigning what day goes with which meal. That way you still have some choice. I'm not much for making double and freezing, as I never remember to take things out of the freezer in time... but I do make meals that can transform into easy lunches. Spaghetti and meatballs with extra meatballs can be meatball pita sandwiches the next day, chicken teriyaki and rice can be chicken for on top of a salad and rice for rice balls or fried rice or whatever. I'm not keen on just eating the same thing, so I like to mix it up a bit.
On the cleaning front, I'll freely admit I'm pretty rubbish. What helps me is having half-decent storage. Strategically placed bins for toys in several rooms means a quick sweep through throwing things in bins makes everything look much better. I admire Erin for getting rid of excess stuff - despite moving to another continent and back again we seem to still have too much stuff. 

Good luck! And if you're going a bit mental, I'm not too far away and home full-time as well if you want company at the playground or whatever. x

March 17, 2012 at 8:23 AM  

This is my goal for the week make a list of 4 meals. I've decided to not aim for perfection for my first week. If I can get 4 meal ideas, recipes, will be a big win!

March 17, 2012 at 6:19 PM  

I think I'm going to get someone to come in and do the bathrooms twice a month. I can afford that and I am not going to pretend I am super mama by any means. I'd rather spend time cuddling my baby than scrubbing a bath tub anyways. Thanks for weighing in on this post!

March 17, 2012 at 6:21 PM  

I could not agree with you  more. I am always going through things and donating excess or questioning if we need to buy that 'thing'. Each event that brings presents into our home, always starts by a big purge done by me. Luckily, we have two big donation bins within 4 minutes of our condo!

March 17, 2012 at 6:22 PM  

Thanks for the tips Sarah. I am hoping that each week it gets a bit more under control and doesn't feel like such a big deal to me. I was feeling really down this week about not being on top of it all. I am hoping the week ahead is better!

March 17, 2012 at 6:23 PM  

It is so easy to get delivery of so many different things downtown. I've allotted one day a week for delivery for sure. I do love my sushi!

March 17, 2012 at 6:23 PM  

Tomorrow is the day! I am going to do my first big weekly grocery shop. Can't believe I've gotten this far without ever doing it. We rely on doing a lot of small shops each day. That worked well when it was just us as a married couple...but times have changed!

March 17, 2012 at 6:24 PM  

I'm going to ask my husband to have one meal for sure that he makes each week. He is a really great chef and can take random ingredients and make something delicious. Plus he actually loves to cook...unlike me, it feels like a chore.

March 17, 2012 at 6:25 PM  

I sometimes find it hard with the baby. Like today she had a fussy period and it totally nixed my chance at cleaning. I ended up feeling weirdly guilty about it being messy, but really I do know that soothing my sweet babe is really what it is all about. Thanks for weighing in :)

March 17, 2012 at 6:26 PM  
Amanda said...

I'm looking forward to hearing how it goes - I'll be dealing with this, myself, come August!

March 18, 2012 at 8:15 AM  

I'll be the one to make lots of mistakes figuring it out..but by August I should've figured it out..then you can take all the tips and be a pro right off the bat!

March 18, 2012 at 9:57 AM  
Heidi said...

Andrea, I don't think any of us at home with our kids, whether it's part time or full-time have it "all figured out".  I know I am very far from it.  Here's a couple of things that have helped me a lot.

-A big white board.  This is the place where we have our weekly meal plan for suppers, a grocery list of things that are running out, and also a bit of a cleaning schedule.  I just have the big stuff on there, like bathrooms, washing sheets/towels, and mopping floors.  Of course picking up toys, etc is stuff that gets done every day, (or at least it should!)

-For cooking, I need places where I find inspiration.  Lately it's been the fabulous food blog Dinner with Julie.  She has great recipes that aren't too complicated, all taste so good, accompanied with lovely photos which she takes herself, and she's a funny/interesting writer to boot.  I have been making a LOT of her recipes lately, last week I think every meal was from her blog!  So whether it's on the internet, or just browsing through cookbooks (old, or new!) or food magazines, for me, inspiration is the key.  Because if you're not inspired, cooking's no fun.  I also find that cooking with a glass of nice red wine at my side makes it more fun and relaxing.  If I have time and I know the afternoon will be busy, I sometimes cook dinner (like a pot of soup) in the morning when my kids are playing.  Then at suppertime I'll just heat up the soup and pop in a batch of easy baking powder  bisuits into the oven to go with the soup.  Slow cooker recipes are nice and easy too - throw everything in in the morning, and you've got a great-smelling, cooked supper by dinnertime.  Awesome!

Looking forward to reading more about this from you, Andrea!
Love, Heidi

March 18, 2012 at 6:47 PM  

Thanks Heidi :) Funny enough when I think about organized households, I think of you! Probably because you are so great in the kitchen and seem to have a natural enthusiasm for making delicious meals. I need more of that. One thing I'm struggling with is cooking with a baby. I can do some stuff wearing her, but other times that is really really a challenge for me.

March 18, 2012 at 10:37 PM  
Heidi said...

 Andrea, does she have a nap schedule?  Are you able to start something while she's sleeping?  Maybe even find ways to get Ben involved, so it's a "mommy and Ben" activity?  It is always messier and more time-consuming involving a toddler, but in the end, it can also foster good memories and quality time together.  I also love to cook at the end of the day while Paul has some quality time with the girls, when he gets home from work.  Then I send them all out of the kitchen, and it's my space and time to create a great meal and actually enjoy myself.  It goes faster if I've planned a meal ahead of time and have all my ingredients ready to go.  Hope this helps.  But yes, cooking with kids at home is ALWAYS a challenge!

March 19, 2012 at 8:16 AM  
Sarah M. said...

Hi Andrea

I can't agree more with what Heidi said about not having it all figured out. I have pretty much stayed at home since Jack was born, 7 years now, WOW!!  I feel like I should be doing a heck of a lot more but literally have no creative energy with him being a high maintenance child. As for meal planning, I have never tried it and probably should, I am sure it would make my life a whole lot easier and our grocery bill a little nicer to look at.  I am the same as you, I hate to cook, to me it's another chore and I have enough of those.  Trust me there are MANY nights when 5pm rolls around and there is not even a thought of dinner in my head.  Those nights turn into pancake nights or let the kids eat whatever they want (within reason) nights.  =)  What makes it even tougher to cook is John working out of town 4 days a week and 2 very picky eaters who make it that much more impossible not to want to take the time and effort to prepare a meal that won't be eaten. 

Before #3 comes along I should probably give the whole meal plan thing a go.  Do you have a bbq?  I have to say I do love to bbq, and it has become an extension of my kitchen. 

Slow cookers yes, if you think about it early enough and have what you need.  Some recipes need prep others you can just throw it all in there.  My problem is remembering to take meat out of the freezer on any given day! 

As for cleaning, hey if you can do it, hire someone!!  I wish that were the case for me.  Staying at home knowing John works hard so I can, I feel like all the house duties are up to me, but they aren't.  He dirties the bathroom just as much (sometimes even more after coming home from the mines) and so he is just as capable of rolling up his sleeves and pitching in on the weekends.  And especially now that my belly is growing rounder, more and more chores are becoming a challenge so I know it won't take much for him to help when he can.  When it's time to clean the tub I usually do it before or after I have had a shower.  ;o)

Sounds like your plan to do 4 meals a week is a good start.  And hey, if it only turns out to be 2 or 3, that's ok too and I'm sure you will find your groove.  I hope that you have quicker success than I have had, mind you, you get what you give and most days I don't give.  LOL 

I think at the end of the day if you have a couple of things crossed off your WEEKLY list (not a DAILY one, unless there are things pressing), children aren't complaining of being hungry, there is laughter in the house and you can get in as many snuggles as you want, then you have had a successful day!  The day to day dynamics will fall into place and you make things work as you see fit for your  household.  Getting out for fresh air is awesome and you guys are so good at that and I'm sure that helps a ton too.  Perhaps have a plan of after outside time, coming home and telling Ben it's quiet time so mum can focus on dinner or whatever and providing Josie is cooperative, then that might help too. Wait that sentence didn't sound right, oh well I'm sure you get it.  ;o)

Good luck and we look forward to hearing how everything falls into place for you!

March 19, 2012 at 12:32 PM  

Thanks for the feedback Sarah! I've noticed that I am at my calmest/happiest when my home is clean and tidy. This week I am making an effort to ensure that things don't pile up and create that kind of chaos. So, before going to bed I'm doing a tidy up. I actually notice my mood shifting when piles start forming and clutter accumulates. I've definitely noticed that I am doing WAY more (97%) of the housework since I've been off work...and my husband works from home. Which just means that he actually makes a good amount of the mess too :) I feel that this shall change very soon!

March 19, 2012 at 4:25 PM  

I think that you enjoy cooking where I tolerate it. Maybe one day soon I will also love it. I find it hard cooking for a person who really can cook. When I told him I wanted to buy a slow cooker, he sort of thought the idea was not so great. Apparently, if there is no browning, sautéing or aren't really cooking. I told him that unless he was willing to cook all the meals, he'd have to tolerate my attempts to become a better 'housewife'.
Also, we just got our baby swing back and Josie is loving it. Maybe it will give me the hands free time to do some more cooking! Off to peruse recipes and get inspired!

March 19, 2012 at 4:28 PM  
kristin said...

Oh I have been waiting for more time to craft a great response to you but after reading all of these and your responses I feel that I can only echo so many of these ideas.  What I double star are these ideas:
~slow cooker - YES please.  Dinner time is always the most stressful time for me and so when I make the time in the AM or around lunch to pack my slow cooker, it feels way less stressful to set the table and serve up at 6pm.  
~i do a weekly menu plan, but don't specify a day for each.  leave that up to time and appetite, but at least my fridge is stocked for about 5 planned meals each week.  making time for menu planning is the kicker.  this is where my next item comes in handy....
~lists.  i make lots of them.  wipe boards, paper etc.  i have a grocery list, a "walmart stuff" list, menu plan list and a to-do list.  it helps me to feel organized and i don't forget things.
~ to do this, I subscribe to some great blogs to help out in menu planning.  i have also become a cookbook lover (easy and simple meals) (and really only since having kids have i become a domestic gal in the kitchen).  having regular blog posts come up with recipes allows me to bookmark things that i like and makes it very easy for menu planning when i get to it.  
~cleaner.  i had one come in every 2 weeks for floors, bathrooms, etc but tuition fees ended up squishing that plan.  as you said you could do this at this time.... this is a definite GREAT idea.   it just lessens the pressure to have to "do" cleaning all the time.  
~less is more and if that less has a place in you organization that makes it better.  i consider everything has a "home" or a place to go.  makes it easier to put things away quick and properly, and keeps things tidy.  

most importantly:
~permission to have a chaotic looking household and feel disorganized and to take a break from it all.  sometimes i get way too anxious when i feel things are out of control or too messy or disorganized, but when i feel this way i need to remember that being a mother to my kids is the better place to spend my time and energy in the long run.  

its amazing how so many of the responses below reflect many of the same ideas.  i am sure that all of us mamas are doing the best jobs that we can do and all of these ideas help us out from day to day....i for sure know that i am still working on being really good at these things too.  time and practice - especially in the kitchen.  

March 24, 2012 at 10:35 PM  

It's funny because I've only recently given myself permission to not clean and just enjoy my babies for an afternoon. Of course, I am a much happier mama/wife when everything is clean and tidy and put in its place. Can't wait for sunnier weather so I'll feel guilty for not spending time outside and enjoying the sunshine vs. guilt for not cleaning ;) hehe

March 28, 2012 at 10:18 AM  

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