Time-Saving Tips from Our Survival Days with Four Children Under Four

Quick Clean-up Tips:
     1) Buy a handheld vacuum.  These are great for quickly cleaning up small messes, so you don’t have to pull out the broom or vacuum. It will also keep the peace and drop your stress level at times when messes might otherwise create stress (ex. The time your two year old eats crackers all over the couch while you’re off changing the twins’ diapers -- no problem, just let him vacuum it up with the handheld vacuum as his natural consequence.)
     2) For Time-Efficient Pseudo Deep Cleaning-- Use Chlorox disinfecting wipes to do a five-minute “on hands-and-knees mopping,” wipe down sinks, toilets, showers, tubs, etc. (That's five minutes for ONE of those, not ALL.  I know, you wish -- so do I.) Hey, I know it’s not perfectly clean, but since it’s quicker it means each of these can realistically be tackled at least once a week. If you ask me, it’s better for these things to get "mostly clean" from a disinfecting wipe on a weekly basis, than for them to be neglected altogether because "the real deal" (with the mops and the scrub brushes and the cleaning agents) is too time-consuming of a chore for a family with multiple newborns to take care of, so it doesn’t get done for a month or more. I opt for Choice A.
    3) Try to wash off highchair trays (and table, for older children) immediately after each meal. I know this is very hard to make time for since things are super busy, but it takes much less time (2 minutes) than having to scrub them off once the food has dried on (10 minutes).
    4) Put dishwashing liquid in a hand soap dispenser for easy access and to save time so you can quickly squeeze as little or as much as you need onto your washrag. This was especially helpful for all the times I needed to quickly wash a  bottle nipple (I used the Playtex Drop-in system with bags so we didn’t have to wash bottles) and for the countless times a day I had to hand wash all the parts to the breast pump. It saved valuable minutes.
    5) Only expect your toddler to clean up their toys once a day. We all know how fast an adult can clean up a child’s room (5 minutes or less) and how quickly your child can come right in and create a disaster zone again (15 seconds or less). This is an endless battle that can have you going all day if you let it, wasting your precious time. (Of course, with newborn twins I had no time to take care of my own chores, let alone worry about the mess my toddlers were making.) Instead, just involve your children in the clean up process once a day (at night, in the morning, during naptime -- whatever works best for you). Don’t worry about the mess resulting from typical healthy childhood play. Of course, as your children get older they will be ready to learn how to take out one game/activity at a time and put it away when they are finished before moving on to a new activity, which will make your daily clean up time go much quicker. While they are still young though, such an ideal is unrealistic for babies and toddlers who are constantly on the go playing and exploring, especially when dumping, sorting, putting things in & out of containers is a developmentally normal part of their play and an important part of their learning. So, save yourself a headache by just encouraging and teaching them to be responsible by cleaning up their toys ONCE a day at this age.

Our Survival Meal Plan:
     1) Menu & Food Prep: My husband Matthew did most of it (what a gem!).  On Saturday, he would make a meal (this was usually throwing something in the crock- pot that would last us a few nights). Once the kids were in bed, he would prepare a dinner for me, cover it, and save it in the fridge so I could easily put in the oven on Monday (which would last us through Tuesday or Wednesday. Remember, we were only feeding two young children and us at this time, so the meals lasted longer).  Then, I would try to make a crock-pot meal or other five-minute meal (see #2 below) once a week to last a few nights (Wednesday and Thursday).  Friday was our quick meal night (hotdogs, frozen meals/pizza, etc., or occasionally fast food/eat out as family).
   2) Find Quick 5-minute meals:
* Online (I've included some in the posting next to this. It's titled: Dinner in 5-10 minutes!! Quick & Easy Recipes!)
* In cookbooks (My favorite Christmas present that year was my Best Loved Slow Cooker Recipes cookbook, although I do wish it had more recipes that only take 5 minutes to throw all the ingredients in -- I thought that was the definition of a crock-pot meal, but this book has proven me wrong.)
* Discover and invent your own -- We realized we could make a chicken pot pie variation in five minutes by pouring 2 cans of Chunky Campbell‘s soup (comes ready with chicken, veggies, and cream) into an 8 x 8 baking dish, topping it with a can of refrigerated jumbo biscuits and baking it at 350 for about 40 minutes. We also regularly opened a jar of Ragu (or Prego, or whatever your favorite pasta sauce is), warmed it up in the microwave with some of our precooked turkey/hamburger meat, and cooked some quick pasta (there are several that cook in 8 minutes or less, like angel hair). Then, we'd sprinkle a little parmesan cheese on top for a semi-quick meal.
* Or stick to the classic quickies: mac ’n cheese, hotdogs, Frito pie (melt cheese on some chili con carne from a can and pour on your Fritos) , baked potatoes (even though they take over an hour to bake, they are just a five minute prep), and YES, even cold cereal works for dinner!  :)
    3) Pre-cook meat at night (right after you buy it) and store in freezer bags, separating into desired portions that are ready to add to your meals. (We’d usually store our ground turkey/beef in 1 lb. portions b/c most recipes call for that much meat.)  You can cook chicken in the crockpot until it easily falls apart to be shredded and freeze it like this (once again, usually in 1 lb. portions) so you can add it to recipes.  Reality check: you won’t have time to make these kinds of meals often, even with the pre-cooked meat, but every little bit of prep helps (like chopping veggies the night before) so these are most likely once a week meals.
    4) Buy food that requires the least amount of time to prepare for cooking: grated cheese, chopped canned olives instead of whole, fresh baby carrots for snacks/lunches, etc. Especially for grated cheese and the chopped veggies, these will save you valuable minutes that you just don’t have with newborn twins and allow you to make meals that you normally wouldn’t have time to throw together otherwise if you had to do all the prep.
    5) You bet we were eating with plastic plates, cups, bowls & utensils (which we’d sometimes rinse off, if it wasn't a messy meal and was quick enough, so we could use the same ones all day). NO time to eat your own breakfast (let alone do the dishes!!) but of course you’ve got to eat. Plus, you can rinse the plastic ones off and recycle them, so you don’t feel bad about “wasting” them, because that way you’re not.
   6) Go grocery shopping at night. There was no time to go shopping during the day and certainly no way I could take four children under four grocery shopping by myself! The image that comes to mind is quite laughable!  A mother pushing two carts, each with a newborn twin strapped into their carseat set safely inside the cart and a toddler/preschooler riding in the seat, leaving no room for groceries. Can you imagine coming across this lady in the grocery aisle? That lady was me, because I had to do it a few times when I absolutely needed milk or something else that I had forgotten to get on my last trip to the store.  Believe me, the looks I got were matchless! LOL!

Remember to Simplify and Prioritize: Family is First!
    1) We had to learn to slow down to keep the peace and accept that everything took three times as long and go with it, instead of fighting against it and trying to change it/speed up your time b/c it just gets frustrating and stresses everyone out.  The most important thing is family love, so it’s better to sacrifice your time (since it takes 3 times as long with kids) instead of giving up family love/peace/harmony in order to be on time or jam packed into an overly scheduled day.
    2) Simplify your life and prioritize, with guidance from the Holy Ghost.  I highly recommend reading Simplicity Parenting: Using the Extraordinary Power of Less to Raise Calmer, Happier, and More Secure Kids by Kim John Payne. This is an excellent book about the reasons why we should simplify our lives and practical ideas on how to do so! “A good woman knows that she does not have enough time, energy, or opportunity to take care of all of the people or do all of the worthy things her heart yearns to do. Life is not calm for most women, and each day seems to require the accomplishment of a million things, most of which are important. A good woman must constantly resist alluring and deceptive messages from many sources telling her that she is entitled to more time away from her responsibilities and that she deserves a life of greater ease and independence. But with personal revelation, she can prioritize correctly and navigate this life confidently.” (Julie B. Beck, “And upon the Handmaids in Those Days Will I Pour Out My Spirit”, April 2010 General Conference Report)
    3) Sometimes you just have to put up your blinders and just clean what you absolutely need to for the time being.  Don’t worry.  Do your best to ignore the mess and focus your energy and time on what’s most important.  For example, one day (when the twins were around six months old) I wanted to make cookies with my two and four year olds, while their baby sisters were napping.  When I walked into the kitchen and dinning room area, I was overwhelmed with the mess and wanted to dig in and get some cleaning done. However, if I started cleaning away I knew we wouldn’t have enough time to make cookies because our twins didn’t nap all that long.  Fortunately, I listened to the Spirit telling me “put up your blinders, just clean off the counter so you can make cookies with the kids and do the rest later.”  *Remember family is a top priority. I like to say, “So my sinks don’t sparkle, and my floors don‘t shine, but my children are glowing ‘cause I give them my TIME!” This parallels one of my favorite family quotes: "In family relationships love is really spelled t-i-m-e: time" (President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, an apostle of the Lord).

Other Tips for Life with Twins:
      1) For easier and quicker diapering, consider laying them side by side on the floor or in an unused crib (raised up to its highest setting so you don’t have to bend over, if your twins are sleeping in bassinets anyway and the cribs are unused). Of course the crib option is only safe for the first few months before they can roll over or push themselves up.  *This made my life so much easier because I could quickly change one, then the next, then go wash my hands b/c they were in a safe place (the crib vs. a changing table where you would never want to leave your baby unattended) and return to finish dressing them. I also chose to do it this way so the twin who was waiting would be happier up there with us b/c they felt like they were in on the action, rather than the sad alternative: leaving one crying in the bassinet/on the floor while waiting for her turn.
    2) Play peaceful music at high stress times to soothe and relax everyone (including yourself). :) For us, these times were: as soon as we all finally got loaded into the van, and the dreaded hour before dinner time (when it almost always seems like everyone is a little grouchy because we're all hungry, etc.). Having peaceful music playing in the van was so relaxing because it felt like we had all been through a whirlwind trying to get everyone and everything ready, so getting to have that restful and soothing music was a welcome break for all of us, and it seemed to help us all settle down enough before the next busy adventure was about to start (whether that was a trip to the doctor's office, the grocery store, church, the park, etc.).  It also helps bring a calm spirit into our home when we play peaceful music, especially around times of the day that usually get chaotic/busy (meal times, transition times like kids home from school, parent(s) home from work, etc.)
        Some of our favorite peaceful CDs are:
* A Green Hill Far Away: Sacred Hymns on Acoustic Guitar
* A Child's Prayer: Primary Songs for Bedtime
* Music for a Sunday Afternoon (all of these are lovely)
* Beside Still Waters by Jenny Bangerter Larsen

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