Life with a baby during the COVID-19 outbreak

The world is on pause. Everyone is at home, shops are closed, streets are empty.

At the same time, life is going at full speed: news popping up everywhere, people ill, countries’ borders closed, travel plans canceled.

How about me? I’m still at home, taking care of our little one. Not much has changed, and, at the same time, so much has changed.

So much has remained the same

William, my 4-month-old son, has no idea what COVID-19 is. Life has stayed exactly the same for him. He wakes up in the morning with a smile and coos at me. Just as before, the most important things for him are to drink milk, to be cuddled and entertained, and to sleep. He clearly has his priorities straight.

Much of our daily rhythm remains unchanged. The succession of feeding, changing his diaper, playing with him, and putting him to sleep remains as stable as ever. We still go for our daily walk, sing the same songs, and have a bedtime routine at night.

So much has changed

Unfortunately, we’ve canceled all our visits from friends. Before the social distancing recommendation, we were having 3-4 visits per week, and that was a lot of fun. People enjoyed meeting William, and I enjoyed having company. However, this is irresponsible now, so we’ve canceled all visits. We try to video chat with our families and friends instead in order to avoid feeling truly socially isolated.

When we go out for a walk, we maintain a distance from other people. Luckily, the park we walk to is big, so there’s enough space for everybody. It’s wonderful to see so many children and adults enjoying the outdoors and the sunshine and so strange to have to maintain a distance from everyone. It seems like everybody feels the strangeness of the situation: we are happy to be outside and are enjoying each other’s company, but we also need to keep our distance.

One fortunate consequence is that Jacob, my husband, is home from work. He closed his chiropractic practice for the time being, which means he’s at home with William and me for the next 2.5 weeks. Woohoo! It’s a lot of fun to have him with us the whole time. We’re trying to think of it as a staycation, our little vacation at home.

Another change is that I’m currently not taking William to the supermarket or any other shop, for that matter. I know that, apparently, COVID-19 is not super dangerous for babies, but I’d still rather avoid unnecessary exposure for the little one. Because of this, Jacob buys our groceries or whatever else is necessary.

A silly consequence of the pandemic is that I haven’t gotten a haircut recently even though I would have liked to. Several of my friends have also shared their struggle with wanting to go to the hairdresser and having to wait or cut their own hair (if I attempt that, the results would be disastrous, I’m sure…). I have a feeling that once the social distancing is over, the hairdressers will be flooded with customers! Good for them.

Finally, our gym has closed. This was really sad for me but perfectly understandable. Luckily, we have a beautiful set of kettlebells at home and some other equipment, so we are able to do pretty extensive home workouts. Still, for me going to the gym is a break from home life and also deeply needed me-time, so I miss it. But it’s okay: social distancing is important right now, and at some point I’ll get back to the gym. I’ll walk in and inhale the smell of barbells, weight plates, and kettlebells. Aaaaahhh.

Fortunately, our family is healthy and doing well, continuing to live our life almost as normal. It’s odd how a pandemic can change so much, and yet so much can remain the same.

How my husband and I divide baby- and household care: 2-3 months after baby was born

For the first two months of our newborn’s life, my husband and I were sharing things like the night feedings and the cooking, while I was doing more other household chores and he was working full-time (for details, read this blog post). Around 2 months, our baby’s rhythm changed, and we adapted our routine.

Around 2 months, William started sleeping for an approximately 5-hour stretch at the beginning of the night (great!) and also started sleeping less well during his daytime naps (not so great). This meant that we needed to adapt the way we were taking care of him and of our home.

The night feedings

The late evening feeding Jacob was giving him with a bottle around 22:30 was no longer necessary. Instead, I fed him for the last time around 20:00 or 20:30, and we were in bed around 21:00. The next time he woke up was first around 01:00 and later got pushed back to 02:00 or sometimes even 03:00. The following feeding would be 3-4 hours later.

This is also our current rhythm where I take care of all the feedings. Also, William was now nursing more efficiently, so I could be back in bed within 30 minutes of his waking. This is quite nice, except that while he can fall asleep immediately after feeding, I can’t, so I often lie awake for a while. But the nice thing is that he rarely cries during the night now, so Jacob is back sleeping in the bedroom with William and me but doesn’t wake up.

The daytime activities

The other development is that William isn’t taking long naps during the day now. If I get him to sleep and leave him in his crib, he wakes within 30 minutes and is quite fussy because he hasn’t had enough sleep. A 30-minute nap is hardly enough time for me to do a lot of chores around the house or cook a meal, so instead I stay with him in the bedroom and soothe him back to sleep when he wakes up. In this way, I can help him get the rest he needs. And in the meantime, I try to take a nap, listen to an audio book or podcast, or read on my kindle.

Alternatively, William sleeps very well in the carrier at the front of my chest. All I need to do is sway gently side-to-side, and he sleeps for 1.5 hours or more (this is exactly what I’m doing while I’m typing this). But if I want him to keep sleeping, I can’t really do household stuff or cook because too much movement wakes him up.

For this reason, Jacob is doing most of the cooking (probably around 80%) at this time. I try to do what I can to help him and do other household tasks when I can. Usually, after William is fed and changed, there’s a 20-30-minute window when he’s happy playing by himself, and I can do some household stuff or some minor cooking. I’ve discovered that he likes it if I put him in his bouncy chair, so he can watch me do whatever I’m doing. In the meantime, I sing and dance, which entertains him greatly and, honestly, is fun for me too.

During the rest of the day, I go on walks with him, receive visitors at home, do errands online, read, or even watch movies sometimes! I have to say it’s quite a fun lifestyle, actually 🙂

How my husband and I divide baby- and household care: 0-2 months after baby was born

It seems like there’s no right way to divide labor in a household these days. Many of us are past the days when women take care of the kids and the house and men go to work. But when a baby is small, the mom is breastfeeding, and the dad is going to work full-time, what is a fair division of labor?

For us, the answer has been to stay flexible and adapt as our needs and our baby’s needs were changing.

The first two weeks: Crazy land

We started out sharing pretty much all baby-related tasks: we both changed diapers; we both woke up in the night; we both comforted him when he was crying; we bathed him together.

Even breastfeeding was somewhat of a shared effort since my husband would arrange all the pillows, I’d sit down, and he’d hand me William. When William started moving around or waving his arms, hitting himself in the face, Jacob would hold him in place on the pillow or let William’s little hand hold onto his finger in order to stop the crazy thrashing about.

During the first two weeks, we received help with the household and the baby from the maternity nurse and my mom. For those two weeks, Jacob did all the cooking since I was still recovering. After the first week, I started running a laundry here and there or (un)loading the dishwasher once in a while. But I didn’t have to do too much of the household stuff because my mom was still there.

From 2 weeks to 2 months

From 2 weeks on, Jacob, William, and I were on our own. This was the period when we were the most tired. I was trying to do more around the house while also taking care of the baby by myself since Jacob was at work full-time.

I don’t like taking naps, so I was trying to survive on the interrupted sleep I got during the night. While William was not one to cry for long periods during the night, he still woke up every 3-4 hours to nurse. At that time, breastfeeding took a long time, so I was usually up for 1.5 hours with him at each waking to nurse him, change his diaper, and get him back to sleep. And this was happening every 4 hours! I was exhausted.

At the same time, Jacob was trying to do his job well and serve his patients as he usually would, while also cooking all of our food and taking care of countless household chores (we still had to get done all the chores described here). He was also waking up almost every time William and I woke up, arranging pillows for the feeding, changing diapers, rocking him to sleep, etc. He was also exhausted.

Sharing night feedings

At this time, I came across the suggestion that the mom can pump a bottle of breastmilk, go to sleep, let the partner feed it to the baby, and then the partner gets to sleep. This was a lightbulb moment for me! It helped us immensely.

We had a nice evening routine: at 21:00, I pumped a bottle of breastmilk and said good night to my men. I cherished this time for myself: I brushed my teeth, combed my hair, cleaned my face, and put on hand cream. How luxurious these simple self-care acts felt! Then I hugged my pillow and enjoyed sweet, sweet sleep.

In the meantime, Jacob waited for William to wake up. Around 22:00 or 22:30, Jacob fed him the pumped breastmilk and changed his diaper. He put William in bed next to me by 23:30 and then went to sleep in the guest bedroom. It was tough to have him sleeping away from us, but in that way he could get uninterrupted sleep and wake up relatively rested at 6:30.

The next time William woke up was around 2:00 or 3:00. At that time, I fed him, and then again around 5:00 or 6:00. I usually went to bed around 21:30 and finally got up around 8:00. My sleep actually wasn’t too bad this way.

Fun during night feedings

Funny note: I listened to audio books during the night awakenings! I got rather annoyed by having to be awake for 1.5 hours twice each night, and I wondered how I could make it nicer for myself. The answer struck me: listen to fun audio books! Suddenly, those awake times weren’t so annoying anymore, and I was learning interesting things from my audio books. What’s more, I quickly got the Gold Night Owl badge on Audible 🙂

During this time, I was trying to do my fair share in the kitchen. Since William was napping quite well during the day, I was able to do quite a bit at home. Jacob and I were probably sharing our cooking duties 50-50, and it was working well.

Around 2 months, things changed, and we had to reinvent our division of labor…

All the help we got with our newborn

Caring for a newborn is hard work but not in the way I expected it to. It’s a roller coaster of numerous small, repetitive tasks, and it’s surprisingly difficult to do by oneself or even by a couple. My account of how my husband and I have been taking care of our baby would be terrible incomplete without mentioning all the people who’ve been helping us.

The first week: help from the maternity nurse

During the first two weeks, things were completely unpredictable. I pretty much had no idea what was going on. Luckily, in the Netherlands they have the wonderful system that for the first week a nurse comes to your house for about 6-8 hours a day and helps you with everything baby- and house-related. She helped me breastfeed, change diapers, take care of the house as well as of the baby. It is so, so great to have someone like that come and help in the first week after a baby is born! It is amazing.

While the nurse was at home, she helped me get a rhythm. She made sure that William fed every 3 hours (he was sleeping a lot of the time, so we may have forgotten to feed him otherwise). She reminded me to eat lunch or take a nap, which were all good ideas.

In the evenings when Jacob and I were taking care of the baby alone, it hit me how we really had no idea what we were doing, and at the same time there wasn’t so much we could get wrong. If he was crying, we’d: 1) try to feed him, 2) change his diaper, 3) cuddle him, so he falls asleep. It all felt so uncertain and strangely new but also strangely simple and repetitive. It was sometimes difficult in the evenings if he got fussy and cried for 10-15 minutes, but soon enough we figured out how to comfort him, so he could sleep.

The second week: help from my mom

Fortunately, my mom came to help out during our second week postpartum. That was very helpful because I was now able to take care of the baby a bit more but couldn’t also manage with all the housework. Jacob, my husband, was doing a lot of the housework, but he was also back to work full-time, so any help was highly appreciated.

My mom did all kinds of things such as run a laundry, load and unload the dishwasher, and cook. She also helped me take care of William, figure out how to dress him appropriately for the weather, hold him, so I can take a shower, and really everything else that he needed. It was very helpful and calming to have my mom by my side with my baby.

Recently, in William’s third month, my mom came to visit and help again. How good it is to have someone else help out with taking care of a baby! Not only was I more relaxed because I had more time to rest; I was also a better mom, wife, daughter, and friend (I believe) because I had more time to myself, so then I could be better to my close people. And also, it helps to have someone hold your baby while you’re peeing, so he doesn’t cry. (To be fair, when we’re alone at home, sometimes he just cries while I’m peeing, and it’s not the end of the world.)

On our own

From the third week on, Jacob, William, and I were left on our own. At first, I was rather scared! With Jacob at work, how was I going to take care of William for a whole day?! Luckily, once we spent a few days on our own, I realized it wasn’t that bad. We were managing pretty well – after all, the things that really had to be done were that I had to eat and go to the bathroom and he had to eat, get his diaper changed, get cuddled, and sleep. Everything else was optional.

I slowly figured out how to pee before he started crying and shower or eat while he was sleeping. I felt like a pro! We even started taking walks in the stroller when the weather was nice. Jacob, William, and I drove to appointments with the osteopath and chiropractor. On trips out of town, I breastfed in the car! Before each new activity, I felt scared about how we would manage, whether he would cry, etc. But we seemed to make it every time: even if he cried, we managed to calm him down, and things were somehow alright.

Weird note: I greatly enjoy packing William’s diaper bag. That’s something I’ve always looked forward to! Diaper bags are so cool with all their little pockets specifically created for diapers, wet wipes, towels, napkins, bottles, etc. We have a diaper bag for the stroller and a diaper backpack because I love them so much! And yes, we use them both.

Help from friends and family

Many friends have offered to help, but I haven’t quite taken them up on their offers yet. I have no problem letting other people hold or play with William when they come over, but I can’t quite imagine how friends can take care of my baby for hours on end at this stage.

My dad and my brother also came to visit several times, and that has also been helpful. It’s really convenient to have someone to hand the baby to for 15 minutes or half an hour in order to do something myself. Funny enough, the other person actually enjoys holding the baby, so it’s a win-win situation!

I’d like to thank everybody for their help. William, Jacob, and I are happy to receive so much help and love from the people around us. And if you ever feel like holding a baby for half an hour, let me know 😉

Photo: my dad and William

Photo credit: Yasen Manahov (a.k.a. my brother)

How to be productive with a newborn

Our son just turned 12 weeks! Last week, I described how I went back to the basics of time management when he was born. I also went to the very basics of task management, and it’s been super effective.

Many new tasks came up when our little boy was born: order diapers, fill out the form for his daycare, read an article on his development, etc. I started jotting these down since I didn’t want anything to slip through my fingers.

Usually, I advocate the GTD approach where tasks are sorted by context: some need to be done on the laptop or my phone, others in my sons room or in the kitchen. The logic is that when you find yourself in the specific context, you can check the respective list and see what tasks you can do there.

With my newborn, however, I found it more helpful to have one list. I’m not sure why; perhaps because my different contexts were pulled more closely together by my being home with him. I began keeping one list on my phone with the creative name ‘General Tasks.’ I’d arrange the tasks on it in terms of which I wanted to tackle next. It was very easy to open up my list whenever I got a moment and see what task I could tackle at that time. This list served as a catch-all place for the tasks that had crossed my mind at some point.

I also added tasks on the bottom of the list such as ‘Organize a photoshoot in the spring’ with a due date of April 1. These are quite far in the future still, but they will come on to my plate in due time. Since I don’t have that many tasks on the list, it doesn’t feel overwhelming to have these longer-term tasks on there too. If at any time it becomes too much, I’ll move them to my ‘Someday Tasks’ list.

In my previous blog post, I wrote about the ‘Today’s Want To Do’ list, and that’s different from the ‘General Tasks’ list. The General Tasks list includes tasks that I’d like to get done sometime, in the near or far future. I’d consult the General Tasks list whenever I had time on my hands to do something. Today’s Want To Do list is really about what I hope to accomplish today.

It’s interesting how when things became more chaotic, I simplified my system. Perhaps that’s because it feels like I’m doing more task management at this point than project management (i.e., I don’t have many separate projects but rather it all more or less revolves around one project). I’m sure this will change when William becomes associated with more ‘projects’ and also when I go back to work.

But for now, simplicity works like a charm. At least one aspect of my life is not chaotic 🙂

Photo credits: Ani Manahova (a.k.a. my mom)

Time management with a newborn

Somewhere I read the following advice: “Once your baby is born, you need to set really low expectations for what you can accomplish in a day. You can expect to get two things done per day, one of which is to take a shower.” Oh, was this true for me!

It was very difficult to get used to such diminished productivity in the usual sense of the word. Of course, in fact my productivity was very high but in a very different way. I had just given birth to a tiny human, my body was recovering, I was learning to breastfeed and to take care of the little new person.

But in terms of usual productivity, I was managing to take a shower and to respond to messages on my phone. That was about it. There were days when I didn’t even manage to respond to my friends. Crazy.

I was fortunate enough to receive help during the first two weeks after my baby was born. But after I felt recovered, I wanted to figure out how to get more things done again.

The trouble was that a newborn’s rhythm is very unpredictable. I didn’t know when my little one would be hungry, sleepy, or require my care, so I couldn’t plan my days in any way.

Today’s Want To Do

I quickly came up with a system I called ‘Today’s Want To Do.’ (I called it ‘Want To Do’ because there was no guarantee I’d complete everything on my list on a given day.) I created a simple to do list and added entries on there. There were very few and simple tasks on there usually such as: Shower; Do laundry; Dry laundry; Empty dishwasher; Load dishwasher; Tidy up living room; Read book; Do recovery exercises; Go for a walk; Take a nap. (Note: These would not all get completed in a single day!)

I arranged the entries in order of importance and tackled the thing on top of the list whenever I got a few minutes. This was helpful because once my baby was asleep, I didn’t have to wonder what to tackle but could just glance at my list and get something done. This also ensured I didn’t start doing something random and later realize I forgot something more urgent.

A sample Want To Do list for a day.

Importantly, I had to be prepared to stop in the middle of the activity if my baby started crying. This was difficult! I don’t like leaving things half-done, but I had to. Once he was calm and/or sleeping again, I could pick up the activity again.

Sometimes I also had to add mealtimes to the list. Especially in the beginning when everything was chaotic, I had to make sure I ate lunch at a reasonable time because otherwise I ended up very tired and didn’t know why–until I realized it was 15:00, and I had only had breakfast so far.

I arranged the tasks in order of importance but also in temporal order, i.e., how I wanted to get things done in time. For instance, laundry would come before going out for a walk because the laundry takes time to be done. Lunch would come around noon (duh!) because if I postponed it too much, I’d end up tired, cranky, and, needless to say, hungry.

Back to Basics

This was a very basic approach: a simple to-do list organized by urgency and temporal order. Yet, that’s all I needed at that time. I tried creating a schedule of my and William’s rhythms, but apparently that’s impossible with a newborn. I tried to plan for the upcoming week (e.g., I’ll do laundry on this and this day, I’ll go for a walk on Tuesday afternoon, etc.), but that type of planning for the future didn’t work.

Instead, I had to commit to putting small, simple tasks on a list and getting to them when I had a chance. I have to say, it worked very well probably because I put all my thoughts on paper (or in an app, in my case), so I felt like I was taking care of the things I considered important or urgent or just plain necessary.

Sometimes, going back to basics is the only thing that’s necessary.

Is it even possible to divide chores equally?

I have recently gotten the same question repeatedly: how do you make sure you divide chores equally between two people in a household? Often, this question is actually the disguised, “How do I make my partner do as much work as I do at home?”

My answer is two-fold: first, you need to distribute the workload and make sure that each person is doing their part; second, you need to let go of the comparison.

Distributing the workload

It is important, I believe, that everyone in a household has tasks to do. This ensures that they feel like they’re contributing to the home and that they have a role to play as well. I’m not saying that they will enjoy the chores they need to do but rather that it builds a sense of support and responsibility to the household.

This really struck me when we were visiting a friend of ours and his family a couple of years ago. Our friend, a father of two boys, was emptying out the dishwasher, when his five-year-old son came over, took the basket with the silverware, and began putting it away. We thought, “Wonderful that your boy is helping you out!” and our friend responded, “Oh, he’s not doing it out of selfless desire. He knows that this is his responsibility, so he does it.”

We thought this was quite special: a five-year old have a specific chore that is his to take care of. Of course, our friend could put away the silverware faster than his son, but that’s not the point. He chooses to give the task to his son in order for his son to begin learning what it means to be part of a household.

I feel that adults living together should definitely split the housework. This doesn’t always have to be 50-50 (perhaps one person has more working hours than the other, or there may be other circumstances), but it has to be a balance that both people feel happy with.

I’m also a fan of clear expectations when it comes to chores. Whenever possible, there should be arrangements about who does which task when. Then, there are minimal possibilities for confusion, hurt feelings, and blame.

At home, we split some chores in the following way:

  • Trash and recycling: Jacob. This is a rather big job because it involves carrying bags, collecting all the paper and cardboard and taking it out once a month, bringing glass to the recycling location, and sometimes driving stuff to the dump.
  • Laundry: Marisha (i.e., me). I don’t mind doing laundry, so I’m happy to take up this chore. It takes a decent amount of time, but I’m fine with it as long as I don’t have to do anything related to the trash.
  • Folding laundry and ironing: our cleaning lady. It saves a lot of time not to have to do this.
  • Cooking: shared. On Sundays, we cook together for about 2 hours; on Tuesdays, we each cook for about an hour but at different times because of our work schedules; on Thursdays, we each cook for about an hour and half, again at different times.
  • Buying groceries: shared. I wrote about this more extensively here, but in brief, each of us goes groceries shopping once a week.
  • Loading the dishwasher: shared. When you have something to put in the dishwasher, put it in. Don’t put it on top or in the sink. It’s as simple as that. If the dishwasher is full of clean stuff, then unload it and put your dirty stuff in. In case you’re really in a rush, then you can leave your dirty dishes on top, but it shouldn’t happen too often.
  • Unloading the dishwasher: shared, but I do it more often. The idea is that when you see the dishwasher is full of clean stuff, you should empty it out. Somehow (I wonder why) I notice this more often, so I do it. However, I don’t mind because…
  • Washing pots and pans: Jacob. Our cleaning lady cleans the dirty pots and pans when she comes, but at other times of the week, after other cook-ups, we get many dirty pots and pans. I really don’t like washing them (I much prefer emptying out a clean dishwasher), so Jacob does that.
  • Bringing stuff from the freezer: Jacob. We have a chest freezer in the basement, and taking stuff out is sometimes a pain because the thing you need (i.e., minced beef) may be buried below lots of other frozen stuff (i.e., chicken). I don’t like doing this because it’s difficult to find stuff and it’s cold, so I’m glad Jacob does this job.
  • Preparing food planner: Marisha. Is anybody surprised that I plan out what we’re going to eat when and what we should cook when? Probably not. For more info on our food planner, go here.
  • Vacuuming, mopping, dusting, cleaning kitchen, cleaning bathroom and toilet, cleaning fridge, washing windows and mirrors, folding and ironing clothes: our cleaning lady. She takes so much work off our plate! The things she does in four hours would probably take us eight hours. For us, it’s completely worth the money.
  • Preparing cleaning schedule for cleaning lady: Marisha. Clearly, making schedules is my type of job, and I don’t mind making one for our cleaning lady as well. It tells her what to do on each day, and it also makes sure that different tasks get done with the regularity that’s suitable for them.
  • Buying and refilling cosmetics and cleaning products: mostly Marisha. I keep track of which cosmetics and cleaning products are running low and make an online order once in a while. I do the same for toilet paper, tissues, etc. and buy them from the store. Jacob keeps track of some cleaning products that are a bit more specialized. I even recently made our first order of diapers and baby wet wipes, woohoo!
  • Ordering supplements: Jacob. He knows much more about supplements than I do, so I entrust that job to him.
  • Filing documents: Marisha. Jacob doesn’t like filing documents, while I actually kind of like it, so that’s an easy one.
  • General tidying up: mostly Marisha. To be honest, I just notice things that need to be tidied up a bit more than him, so I take a few minutes a couple of times a week to tidy up. But if something is really messy and it’s not my responsibility, then I ask him to tidy it up.

Those are a lot of chores… Phew! If you have any questions about them or if you think of something I haven’t covered, let me know!

Letting go of comparison

In the previous step, I described how we try to make sure we distribute the workload equally, so each person has an equal responsibility and contribution to the household. But how do we know if our contributions are exactly equal? What if one person is doing slightly more than the other? Isn’t that unfair?

In a way it is, and in a way it isn’t. It’s very difficult to quantify everything we do for each other and for our household. For instance, last week I had my baby shower, so Jacob took over my weekend groceries shopping session. Did I have to explicitly return the favor? No. This week he was busier than usual, so I packed all of his lunches. Did I ask for something in return? No. Two evenings ago, he assembled furniture while I read a book. It made me feel strange that he was “working” when I was relaxing, but that’s just how it happened in that moment. When he had a small operation a few weeks ago, I helped him with the maintenance of the wound every day. When I have back pain, he treats and massages my back. How do we even begin to quantify these things?

At some point, it comes down to trusting that the other person is helping and even doing extra things that we’re not seeing. When I feel that Jacob is not doing enough, I give myself a little bit of time to see whether I’m just irritated or whether there really is something in the division of chores that should be adjusted. If there is an actual need, we talk about it and make changes.

It’s not difficult to distribute household labor if both people have the same intention: to maintain a pleasant, comfortable space and lifestyle and to help each other. As long as people share this intention and communicate about their needs and preferences, I believe they can find a division of chores that feels fair to both. It’s important, though, to stay open to the other person’s perspective because it may not match our own 100%.

At some point, we need to put down the measuring stick and trust that each person is putting effort towards a pleasant home and lifestyle. Unfortunately, it is never possible to make sure we’re each doing the same exact amount of work, but that’s also not necessary. We each contribute in unique ways, and it’s sometimes difficult to quantify them all.

How do you divide chores in your household? Let me know by commenting below or on FacebookTwitter, or LinkedIn.

Photo by Wendelin Jacober from Pexels

How we handle buying groceries (does this even require a hack?!)

After the blog post about the Weekly Review, I was asked for more info on how we handle groceries shopping. At first, I thought our approach is so simple that it’s not particularly interesting. But then I realized that the way we buy groceries is not typical, so it may be helpful if I explained it.

Schedule groceries shopping

I hear from people who go every day after work or every other day. Alternatively, they may be in the middle of cooking when they realize they are missing some ingredient, so they or their partner need to make a quick run to the shop. Unfortunately, this wastes a lot of time, and I’d be annoyed if I had to go buy groceries in a busy supermarket so often.

For that reason, we have groceries shopping on our calendars. We’ve figured out what days and times fit with our schedules, and we mostly keep to those. We go twice a week; we don’t need to go more often, but if we go less often, some of our produce goes bad in the meantime (we tried going once a week at one point, but it didn’t work for us). We buy lots of vegetables, and it’s a waste if some of them go bad before we use them.

Jacob goes shopping on Wednesday or Thursday, and I go on Saturday or Sunday. This works well since we can get all the ingredients before our bigger cook-ups, which are Thursday and Sunday evenings.

Always make a list

One of the most important tips about groceries shopping is to make a list. It makes you more efficient when you’re choosing what groceries to buy, and it also saves you money because it means you’ll be fewer extra items that you don’t in fact need.

Now, it could work to bring a list on paper, but there are better ways to be efficient given that you probably buy similar ingredients every week. I recommend using an app for lists on your phone (there are plenty such apps) where you can set due dates and reminders for each item, can make certain items recurring, and can make multiple lists.

We use an app called Wunderlist, and an extremely helpful feature is that we can share the shopping lists with each other. Each person can put items on the list, they will be synced, and the other person will see them. No need for endless texting: “Hey, can please get lemons and olive oil? Oh, and please also get dishwasher tablets.”

We have one shopping list for each shopping trip, thus, one for Wednesday/Thursday and one for Saturday/Sunday. We also have separate shopping lists per store in case we need to buy something from a specific shop. For instance, we get avocados from Albert Heijn, so I put that item there.

This is a part of our shopping list for this Saturday. All items are recurring and due today because today is Saturday.

We also make our regular purchases into recurring tasks. In other words, I buy carrots every Sunday, and I don’t want to have to add them every time. Thus, I have them be due this Sunday, but once I check them off, they are due again next Sunday. This saves a lot of list-making time.

Consult the Food Planner

As I explained in the previous blog post, we make a food plan for each week. Every Saturday, I check the food planner and see what we’re going to cook. Then, I check the shopping lists for the upcoming week and see if all the ingredients we need are on there. That way, I don’t forget to buy some of the ingredients I’ll need for cooking.

Before I go groceries shopping, I check the fridge and see what we have. Sometimes, for example, we haven’t eaten all our potatoes yet, so I don’t need to buy more. In that case, I just check off the recurring tasks for potatoes and know I don’t need to get them this time.

Ordering groceries online

We order some ingredients online because they may be difficult to find in our nearby stores. We order local meat (grass-fed beef, free-range chicken) and fish (fresh mackerel, wild salmon), which arrive cooled or frozen. We put them in our chest freezer and have them last us a long time. This saves us a good amount of money.

We also order bones from animals such as grass-fed cows or wild deer and make bone broth or bouillon from them. The bones also stay frozen, we make bouillon in batches in the slow cooker, and then freeze that too. We defrost and warm up one jar of bouillon at a time.

In addition, we get some frozen fruit, such as berries. In the summer, we go to a blueberry farm nearby and pick blueberries. We picked around 15 kg this year and froze them all. When we want some berries, we defrost them and enjoy (they’re amazing with honey!).

Lastly, we buy nuts online. We mostly eat macadamia nuts and Brazil nuts, and when we order them in bulk online, we save money.

The approach in sum

Overall, I feel like our approach to groceries is very simple:

  • Make a list (or several) of what we need;
  • Share those lists with each other, so we can both add and check items off;
  • Make separate lists per shopping day and/or store;
  • Schedule when groceries shopping will take place and who will do it;
  • Look for better and cheaper options online for certain ingredients.

How do you handle your groceries? Do you have any comments or questions about our approach? Let me know by commenting below or on FacebookTwitter, or LinkedIn.

Photo by Matheus Cenali from Pexels

How we take care of meal preparation and cooking (including our Food Planner)

At our home, we cook almost all our meals, including, breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and only cook 3 times a week. How do we do that?

It all starts with planning

The first step is to plan out our upcoming week (we do this during our Weekly Review). We look at our calendars and see when/if we’ll be eating out during the upcoming week. On average, each of us eats out once a week. The rest of the meals we will prepare at home.

Then, we open up the food planner. It’s a spreadsheet that lists what each of us is going to eat when in the week and also what we need to do each day in terms of meal preparation. You can access my sample food planner spreadsheet here, and this is what it looks like:

This is a sample food planner for a week. The columns are days of the week, and the rows are my meals, Jacob’s meals, and the cooking or defrosting tasks per day. 2d, 3d, or 4d denotes how many days a thing should last us, which determines the dose we make.

Meal preparation

We have three cook-up sessions: Sunday, Tuesday, and Thursday evenings. The Sunday session is the biggest, so it lasts for about 2 hours. The Tuesday one is the shortest, and it takes about 1 hour, while the Thursday one is medium, lasting about 1.5 hours.

On Sunday evening, we cook:

  • Breakfasts Monday-Thursday (we freeze the Wednesday and Thursday ones);
  • Lunches Monday-Tuesday;
  • Dinners Sunday-Monday;
  • Prep some veggies (such as cauliflower rice) to cook later in the week.

On Tuesday evening, we make:

  • Lunches Wednesday-Thursday;
  • Dinners Tuesday-Wednesday.

On Thursday evening, we make:

  • Breakfasts Friday-Sunday;
  • Lunches Friday-Sunday;
  • Dinners Thursday-Friday/Saturday.

We usually eat out on Friday or Saturday evening, so we don’t prep for that meal.

How we do our cooking

On Sundays, we cook together. When we’re both in the kitchen, it’s fun because we talk about all kinds of things. We usually prepare variations of the same (favorite) meals, so we know what we’re doing with little discussion. But when we decide to try a new recipe, we need to coordinate a bit more and discuss the different steps.

An important consideration is not to get in each other’s way. For this reason, we have two chopping stations (luckily, we have a big kitchen counter) with two chopping boards (one for each of us) and multiple knives.

The way we have divided responsibilities, Jacob chops most vegetables and takes care of things cooking on the stove or in the oven. That’s a lot of work, but, luckily, he’s faster (and dare I say more skilled?) than I am in the kitchen, so he handles it well.

I grate vegetables in the food processor (carrots and apples for a salad and cauliflower for cauliflower rice). I prepare the salad dressings and other mixtures (e.g., egg mixture for frittata). I also make dessert (e.g., chop up apples to bake in the oven with cinnamon or make sweets from dates).

We can’t always cook together, though. Jacob has irregular working hours, so on Tuesdays and Thursdays he cooks during the day and works in the evenings, while I cook in the evenings after work. We know beforehand what each of us needs to make that day, so we do it in our own time.

This is what our fridge looks like on a typical Sunday evening when all the food has been prepared.

Storing prepared food

I should also mention storing food. It’s important to store food in a way allows it to stay good and also so you can see what’s in different containers.

We recently bought lots of glass containers, which have the benefit of being transparent, so we can see at a glance what’s in there, and they also don’t leak health-damaging ingredients into our food in the way that plastic containers do. Glass containers are an investment, but I highly recommend them, especially if you like to heat up your food in those containers (for instance, your lunch at work; it’s really not a good idea to heat up food in plastic containers in the microwave because the plastic leaks into your food and messes with your hormonal health, even if the containers are BPA-free). Once we prepare the food, we store it into these containers and put it in the fridge or freezer.

We prepare our lunches in this way, so they’re easy to grab in the morning. I also put our salad dressing in little glass containers, so we take those and pour the dressing over our salad at work instead of doing it beforehand and then eating soggy salad.

Food prep in a nutshell

I can imagine that elaborate food preparation may sound intimidating if you’ve never done it before, but it only takes a couple of iterations to get the hang of it. We spend almost no time on the actual food planning anymore (5-10 minutes a week depending on whether it’s an irregular week) because we have a routine we like.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed, there are lots of food prep platforms that can help. I’m aware of a couple: Paleo Leap Meal Plan and Nom Nom Paleo Meal Plan. These tools can save you lots of time, effort, and trial-and-error while you’re still getting used to meal planning, but they are paid. So you need to think what makes the most sense for you to do.

Our food preparation has a couple of stages:

  • Plan meals and associated tasks in our Food Planner;
  • Decide and schedule when each person can cook and what they need to do;
  • Do cooking and meal prep;
  • Store food in fridge or freezer;
  • Enjoy!

It feels amazing to me to cook three times a week but have food ready for every single meal of the week (it only needs to be warmed up). It’s delicious because we eat food we love, but it also saves so much time!

Would you like to try our Food Planner? Let me know if you have any questions or comments. Do you have a different way of handling your cooking, or perhaps you don’t meal prep at all? Let me know by commenting below or on FacebookTwitter, or LinkedIn.

Photo from Marisha Manahova

The missing piece for our household’s functioning–Power Hour!

Last week, I wrote about how our household functions well because of the Weekly Review. That really does work well, but there was something else that wasn’t going quite right…

The problem: Non-urgent, nagging tasks

I noticed that some things were falling through the cracks. You know how sometimes an important but non-urgent letter arrives, and you think, “Ah yes, I’ll deal with this,” and in the end you don’t? This was basically what was happening to us.

It happened to Jacob with sending stuff back a couple of times. He ordered a couple of shirts online, tried them on, didn’t like them, and meant to return them. He left them on the dining table, so he could see them easily and thus remember to send them back. But returning them didn’t feel urgent.

I reminded him several times to start the return procedure, but he told me to, “Relax, pumpkin.” Okay, I relaxed. When he decided to return them, he realized that they should have been returned within 15 days, and today was day 16. Too bad. Now we were stuck with unwanted shirts.

I tried to identify the problem. What had gone wrong in this situation? Well, this task didn’t have a time when it could be done. The assumption was that when Jacob had time, he’d get to it. But things that don’t seem urgent or important often don’t get done in a timely manner.

The solution: Power Hour!

And then it hit me: We need to make time to do these things! All kinds of random errands and seemingly unimportant or non-urgent things need a time when they can get done. So I blocked an hour per week on both of our calendars when we can do this. Gretchen Rubin calls this Power Hour, which is a strikingly fitting name.

This is how Power Hour works: throughout the week, we put stuff that needs to be tackled in our Inboxes (a container for each of us), and during Power Hour, we take the stuff out and do what needs to be done. It works surprisingly well because an hour doesn’t feel like a lot of time to dedicate to nagging tasks, but it’s enough to keep things going and not get bogged down by forgotten tasks (or shirts that don’t fit).

This is one of those really practical ideas that seems simple but makes a big difference. At least for us it’s been very helpful. You certainly don’t need to implement this as a couple; one person can benefit from Power Hour just as much.

Would you like to try Power Hour? How do you tackle nagging, non-urgent tasks? Let me know by commenting below or on FacebookTwitter, or LinkedIn.

Photo by Rodolfo Clix from Pexels