Save Time (and your sanity) By Determining Your Bare Minimum

posted by Andrea | 03/9/2016
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minimum and maximum

The other day, as I was quickly wiping down the bathroom counters and swishing some bleach around in the toilets, I realized that I have yet to share one of my MOST time-saving, sanity-saving tips here on the blog!

Don’t worry, it really has nothing to do with math (much to Dave’s disappointment!)

The photo above just seemed to fit the title of this post! 

You see, as I rushed to finish a very “quick clean” of my bathrooms, I thought about how helpful it is for me to have a mental checklist of “bare minimums” for various aspects of my life — whether it’s cleaning my home, running my business, taking care of my family, or even caring for my own personal hygiene. These bare minimums provide somewhat of a “standard” for me to follow — a “line in the sand” that I just won’t let myself cross, no matter how tired or busy I might be.

Of course, I try to do MORE than the bare minimum whenever possible… but when push comes to shove and other people, tasks, or obligations require more of my time, I know that if I can just do my bare minimum, my home, business, family, and personal lives will continue to run quite smoothly.

Let me explain a bit more…

Bare Minimum for Myself:

  • I take a shower every day (I always do it at night after the kids are all sleeping)
  • I brush my teeth at least 2 times every day
  • I get dressed, do my hair, and put mascara on every day

Doing the things I mentioned above only take a few minutes to accomplish and I KNOW that they make me feel better about myself. So unless I am gravely ill, or there is some sort of crisis at home, I will do everything listed above every day — even when I’m extremely tired or not feeling 100%.

As I’ve shared before, I can easily get dressed, do my hair, apply mascara, and brush my teeth in 15 minutes total… and even on very bad days, I can spare 15 minutes for myself.

Of course, many days I’m able to more than this — the helpful aspect for me though is just to have this invisible “line” or standard that I won’t cross. Even if I’m busy, all 3 kids are sick, Dave is working longer hours, and I’m trying to meet a deadline, I won’t let myself go days and days without showering or sit around in my pajamas all day.

I’m fairly confident that once I move past the baby/toddler phase of life, I will have more time to devote to myself; but right now, I believe that my time is better spent elsewhere. As long as I can have that 15 minutes in the morning to get ready, and another 10 minutes to shower at night, I’m satisfied!

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Bare Minimum for My Family:

  • All the kids get dressed every day
  • We eat 3 meals a day (preferably all together at the table)
  • The kids get a bath at least every other day (we usually do baths every night as our kids love baths)
  • My kids will know that they are safe and loved no matter what

Again, we usually accomplish a lot more than this — but at the very least, my standards for our family are to be fed, to be clean, to be clothed, and to be loved. I will not compromise on any of those things unless something very drastic happens.

I might not necessarily care what they wear or what they eat (and we certainly have had fun “pajama days” before) but I won’t let my tiredness or busyness or other distractions prevent me from being able to take care of these basic necessities for my family.

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Bare Minimum for My Home:

  • We make all the beds every day
  • I change out the kitchen towels, washcloths, and sponge every day
  • I change out the bathroom hand towels every other day
  • We stay on top of dishes and laundry throughout the week (Dave helps with this)
  • I clean the bathroom toilets and sinks at least once a week
  • I vacuum the carpeted areas at least once a week
  • I sweep / Swiffer the hard floors at least twice a week
  • We stay on top of clutter and do a general pick up every single night

I know for a fact that my bare minimum for my home is more than what many people would consider “bare minimum”… but please keep in mind that this is MY bare minimum. There are no rules as to what a bare minimum must include, there is no right or wrong way to set your own bare minimum.

It’s probably somewhat obvious by now, but I enjoy doing housework and I have a husband who helps me out a lot! Dave and I both enjoy being in our home significantly more if it’s neat and tidy… and we are both happier and less stressed if our home is in order. Doing these bare minimum tasks each week allows us to feel comfortable in our home — which is very important for both of us.

I would much rather stay up 10 minutes later or give up 10 minutes of free time to quickly start a load of laundry or load the dishwasher if it means I’ll achieve my bare minimum. I realize not everyone feels the same way about their home… and that’s fine!

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Bare Minimum for My Business:

  • I publish one blog post every weekday (unless I have a planned blogging break)
  • I post each blog post to social media after it is published
  • I weed through my emails and get my inbox as close as I can to ZERO every day (I can do a lot of this from my phone)
  • I complete my VA work each week
  • I prepare invoices and record all income and expenses every month

This might not seem like much for someone who essentially works full-time… but again, this is my bare minimum.

This workload rarely presents a problem for me (even on my most exhausted days) and I know that if I can consistently keep up with the short list of tasks above, my business will continue to run smoothly.

I really enjoy the work I do, so I certainly try to do more whenever possible; however, having a bare minimum list is a great way for me to feel like I’ve done “enough” and don’t need to keep pushing to always do more when there are other things (and people) that require more of my attention.

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Like I mentioned above, I don’t actually have these lists typed out and pasted on my kitchen wall or my bathroom mirror — they are just unspoken mental thoughts that I have in the back of my brain.

I know what my bare minimums are and I know what I need to do to meet those minimums each day and each week.

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But what if you don’t even have time to do the bare minimum?

I know some of you are probably thinking this question… so I’ll address it now versus typing up countless emails and comments 🙂

Basically, I always, always, always make the time to do my bare minimum. ALWAYS! 

As its name implies, a “bare minimum” is the absolute lowest point… and I will not let myself go below it. I set my own bare minimums according to what I feel I can reasonably manage, and I don’t cross them, no matter what.

I don’t have a huge number of things on my bare minimum list because I know that on really bad, stressful, busy, and tiring days, I honestly won’t be able to do much more than my absolute bare minimum. However, I WILL always make time to get dressed, make my bed, feed my children, keep the house relatively picked up, do my necessary blog and VA work, etc. etc.

That said, I’m certain my bare minimum list would quickly fall by the wayside in the middle of a crisis situation (I’m not exactly sure what that would be, but I hope I don’t have to find out)… and that’s OK. The important thing for me is that I can currently complete all my bare minimums without a huge amount of effort each day. 

If I get to the point where I’m constantly struggling to find a way to meet my own bare minimums, I know I need to take a step back and evaluate what is going on. Do I need to scale back on my workload? Do I need to hire someone to do something for me? Do I need to work more efficiently? Or do I just need to remove something from my list? Whatever the case may be, I want my bare minimum list to be very “doable” on an everyday basis.

In fact, I honestly can’t even remember the last time I failed to complete anything on my bare minimum list. 

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I want to reiterate once more that this is MY bare minimum list!

YOUR list will most likely be very different from mine!  The point is not WHAT you set as your bare minimum, but rather that you know what your bare minimums are and that you are committed to not crossing that line.

Once you realize what your bare minimum is for various aspects of your life, I think you will feel a huge sense of freedom and relief knowing that you no longer have to do “everything” all the time. Yes, there will be days when you have lots of extra energy and you can plow through a bunch of to-do’s… but there will also be days when you feel like you can hardly crawl out of bed. On those days, just striving to achieve your bare minimum will be all you can accomplish, but it will also be enough!

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So I’d love to know…

What are some of YOUR bare minimums?

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24 comments

  1. Weekly Favorites - Adventures In Frugal Land

    03/19/2016

    […] Save Time (and your sanity) By Determining Your Bare Minimum via Andrea Dekker […]

  2. Jennifer

    03/11/2016

    I love this post. I have very similar bare minimums. I love doing laundry, and I love washing dishes and cleaning the kitchen. Homemade meals are a must, and since we have well water our toilets, sinks and showers need to be cleaned pretty regularly. I have some bare minimum business goals as well since I’ve started working only part-time. As for my son, I strive every day to make him laugh hysterically at least once per day. Some days it’s surprising him with unexpected “hide-and-seek spots”; some days it’s simply tickling him until I’m afraid he might wet his pants. I have to hear that laughter once per day and feel that little spark in our relationship!

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  3. Meghan

    03/10/2016

    This is a great post! My bare minimums are: dishes done, counters and table wiped, dish towel and cloth changed, lunches packed, family room picked up, dishwasher turned on before bed, face washed/ teeth brushed.
    My boys are 5 and 8 and clean out the dishwasher every day; it’s amazing!

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  4. Kris

    03/10/2016

    I love how you put into words similar thoughts I’ve had for years! Bare minimums for me include brushing my teeth, flossing, and washing my face every single night, no matter how tired I am or late it is. I can’t fall asleep comfortably without it! Similarly in the morning, I can’t function fully or leave the house without a shower and little makeup. For my home, I always try to do all the dishes before bed and have my spaces tidied. It might not always mean my clothes are put away, but they at least always will be put somewhere neatly to deal with the next morning. 🙂 Great post, Andrea!

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  5. Marisa

    03/10/2016

    This is such an important idea because it makes it possible to be consistent in your housekeeping without becoming overwhelmed. You have an end-point, when you’ve done enough & can choose to move onto something else, or do do more. Cheryl Mendelson explains this idea in her book “Home Comforts,” but she doesn’t give it a name. I love it that you’ve touched on it here. I think it’s probably something that “natural homemakers” seem to know intuitively, but others of us have to be told outright or learn the hard way.

    Also, I think it’s really sweet of you to be so careful and reiterate how this is your bare minimum for your home & family, and you aren’t attempting to judge anyone else’s bare minimum. You always do this in your posts and it just speaks to your sensitivity to others and what they might be thinking or feeling as they read your blog.

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    Andrea Reply:

    Thanks Marisa!
    I LOVE Cheryl Mendelson’s book! And yes, this list is a great way for me to know I’ve done “enough” and don’t have to keep pushing if I don’t want to!

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  6. Jessica

    03/09/2016

    I love how you put titles on things that I practice in my daily life, like the “leave each room better than you walked into it” (my grandmother always said “if you see it needs doing, do it”, same sort of thing).
    My bare minimum is my morning and evening routine. 15-20 mins in the morning to get dressed, make beds, start a load of laundry and 15-20 in the evening to take care of dishes, preset the coffee and pack lunches. That’s obviously not including feeding my children, but that’s a given. I’ve struggled my entire adult life with dishes, no joke. I always want to put it off until the morning but I know that it affects my entire day if I don’t. BUT I can always come get motivated by reading your blog

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    Andrea Reply:

    You are not alone in your hatred of dishes!! Washing dishes and unloading the dishwasher are 2 of my least-favorite household chores (and I really have no idea why). Dave is great about washing the dishes for me though, so that has been extremely helpful!

    Another thing I did a few years ago was set a timer to time how long it took me to unload the dishwasher… I was shocked that it only took about 3-4 minutes! So now, every time I’m trying to procrastinate on my least favorite chore, I just tell myself, you’ll be done in less than 5 minutes! That has worked really well for me — maybe it might help you too 🙂

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  7. Megan

    03/09/2016

    I don’t have set bare minimums but probably should. Thanks for the idea!

    This is an especially important thing for anyone dealing with depression, which can make something as basic as unloading the dishwasher seem like climbing Mt. Everest. You might set a bare minimum each day, something you can push yourself to do like take a shower, put the trash out, put away any clothes lying around your room, or make one phone call. Doing even one thing like this can give you enough of a dopamine boost to take on a second thing and then a third. You can’t just “snap out of it” the way some people think but you can take little steps to pull yourself up. Bare minimums seem like a great way to get started. (Disclosure: I’m not a mental health professional. My comment is based solely on personal experience.)

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    Jessica Reply:

    Totally agree, as someone who struggles with anxiety and depression. Much love to you

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    Andrea Reply:

    Yes Megan, you are correct! Depression is a killer when it comes to getting anything done! I do think having a VERY SIMPLE and SHORT bare minimum list might be helpful for those days when depression is extra “thick”. Just getting dressed and eating something is huge progress!

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    Kris Reply:

    Having personal experience with every single one of the things you mentioned, I agree 100%, Megan. Definitely does help to push yourself to do just one overwhelming thing which in turn helps motivate you to get a few more things done!

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  8. Emily

    03/09/2016

    Love this!! A few of my bare minimums include two loads of laundry a day (not always put away but otherwise I get behind), kitchen table cleared and dishes washed every night. We school around the table and it stresses me out to do school in a messy area. On tough homeschool days my bare minimum is time spent in God’s Word with my children. 🙂

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    Andrea Reply:

    laundry queen! I don’t know how you do it! You are such a good mom 🙂

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  9. Paulette

    03/09/2016

    I’ve never looked at my daily schedule this way. I LIKE this idea so much. I have certain tasks I like to accomplish every day also, but never thought about the idea of getting them done no matter what in order for my household to run smoothly. Thanks, Andrea!

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    Andrea Reply:

    Yes Paulette — it is very helpful for me. Another reason I love the bare minimum is because it gives me a nice stopping point so I don’t always feel like I should be doing more and more and more. I know that if my minimum is done, I can stop and things will be OK. However, if I have more time and energy to keep going, I have that option as well.

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  10. Veronica

    03/09/2016

    This is a great post, Andrea! Other than the main takeway of setting your bare minimum, the thing that stuck out to me most was that you mentioned switching your sponges out each day. Have you written about a post about this before? I struggle with keeping my sponges organized, sanitized, etc…I would love to hear more about your take on this!

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    Andrea Reply:

    haha — I literally laughed out loud when I read your comment! I’m glad that my sponge tip was so useful to you 🙂

    right now, we use washable sponges (they are like a little microfiber pad — but I can’t find the same ones anywhere right now — so sad). Anyway, we use a different sponge every time we wash dishes (because sponges totally gross me out) and then we just bleach them with all the other towels and rags.

    This system has been working well for us for about 4 years now — and interestingly enough, I get LOTS of questions about it. maybe I should do a blog post on it 🙂

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  11. Liane

    03/09/2016

    I use an app to keep track of my monthly deep cleaning jobs and my weekly upkeep. For my daily must do bare minimum I have a checklist too since it was easy to add to my app. Actually I broke it into two lists so another person can use on on another apple device.

    I decided to give them cute names:

    Bed, Bath & Beyond:
    Make beds start laundry wipe bathroom counters, sinks, swish toilet bowls, and pick up shoes and coats etc left where they fell
    Daily Grind:
    Unload dishwasher, load up breakfast stuff, wipe counters and appliances, sweep floor etc.

    I try to finish in 30 min or less. I have no children at home but I seem to get a barrage of phone, text and doorbell interruptions.

    My idea is an old one, should Queen Elizabeth drop by, I won’t drop dead of embarrassment if she asks to use the powder room or have a glass of water!

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  12. Pascale

    03/09/2016

    Great post Andrea!
    Thank you for sharing your bare minimums. I’d like to share a useful tip. Coming from a family of dentists and doctors, it’s best to brush our teeth at least 30 minutes after drinking or eating especially if we choose acidic foods or beverages. Doing so will prevent enamel erosion from toothpaste abrasion and sensitivity.
    I brush my teeth first thing in the morning, before having anything to drink or eat and I brush them right before I go to bed making sure my last beverage was at least 30 minutes prior to brushing my teeth.

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  13. Lauren

    03/09/2016

    Some of my bare minimums: We always eat dinner together as a family and it’s almost always a home-cooked meal. I quick-clean the guest bathroom every single day. I clean up the kitchen after every meal. I do a whole house quick-tidy at least once a day. I sweep the kitchen, dining, and living room daily. I do one complete load of laundry: wash, fold, put up. I wake up early to spend time with God, reading the Bible and praying. I can’t function if my house is cluttered or dirty, so even if I’m sick or exhausted, I still try to do the above.

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    Andrea Reply:

    Love this list Lauren!

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  14. Christine @ The (mostly) Simple Life

    03/09/2016

    Great post! It seems like your bare minimum should stuff you do naturally anyways. It’s just when things get crazy it helps to think about what your bare minimum is to make sure you prioritize the important stuff.
    My bare minimum for our house changed when I went to work full time and had to be ok with a little less perfection. The dishes need to be done and counters cleared off though or the house just doesn’t feel right!

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    Andrea Reply:

    Yes, for me and you the bare minimum list is things we naturally do — however, it is amazing how many people don’t “naturally” think to do any of these things until they are way behind and everything seems overwhelming. Also, I like how you noted that your bare minimum changed when you started working full time. I know for a fact my bare minimum changed after having kids and deciding to work full-time from home. if my newly married self could see my house now, I would probably be appalled! But now, it’s good enough for me!

    I have a feeling you and I have similar thought processes (especially when it comes to home things)! And yes, the house just doesn’t feel right if the kitchen isn’t clean 🙂

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