6 Specific Ways We Simplify Busy Mornings

posted by Andrea | 10/2/2018

As a self-proclaimed homebody, you would be shocked to know that our current Fall schedule has our entire family up and out the door every single weekday morning for some activity or another!

Whether it’s bringing Simon to preschool (and then running errands), attending a Bible Study at church (with nursery for the kids), heading to story hour at the library, or participating in 2 different community play groups, we have fun things to do every weekday morning — aren’t you proud of me!

Of course, getting Nora on the bus and the other 3 out the door with me can sometimes feel like a mini circus act — especially since Clara likes to sleep in and we always eat a hot breakfast.

However, thanks to a handful of specific steps we take the night before, our mornings rarely ever feel overly crazy, stressful, frazzled, hectic, or too busy. In fact, we often have plenty of time to watch a show, play a game, read a couple books, or throw in an extra load of laundry before we leave each morning.

This is not because I’m extra-amazing or because I never sleep… it’s simply because our family does 6 specific things every night to simplify our mornings.

The points I’m sharing today are probably things you’ve read and heard 50 times before… BUT, I hope it’s still helpful for you to re-read them today; especially since I’ve provided several very specific examples and details about how exactly we utilize these 6 concepts to DRASTICALLY simplify what could otherwise be a very busy morning.

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1. We SET OUT every item of clothing the night before.

Yes, I know… this is the most basic morning-simplifying advice ever. However, there’s a difference between “deciding what you’ll wear” and actually SETTING OUT every single item of clothing you will wear the next day.

Every night before baths, we have the kids get their PJ’s out and bring them to the bathrooms, then they choose their clothes for the next day and actually SET THEM OUT in a convenient spot for the next day.

We tell them the weather forecast, remind them of what’s going on the next day (Nora, you have P.E. — Simon, you’re going on a field trip, etc.), and offer helpful suggestions. We reserve the right to veto some of their selections, but most of the time, we let them pick out whatever they want to wear — as long as it’s weather appropriate.

This includes: 

  • pants/shorts/skirt/dress
  • undershirt/shirt/sweatshirt
  • socks/shoes/sandals
  • any accessories (watch, bracelet, necklace, special hair items)
  • any outdoor gear they might need (coat, boots, hats, sunglasses, umbrella, etc.)

Nora puts her clothing in the half bath off the kitchen as that’s where she gets dressed and ready in the morning. The boys put their piles on the dresser in their bedroom.

Dave puts his clothes in our bathroom, and I have a space on the bottom shelf of our closet for tomorrow’s outfit.

Some of the items stay in the mudroom (which I’ll discuss later) but everything we need to wear the following morning is picked out and SET OUT the night before… and 99% of the time, we don’t let anyone change their minds (Nora almost missed the bus the one morning I let her go back upstairs to pick out a different outfit!)

The process of picking out clothes takes the kids 5 minutes… then we’re done for the day and don’t have to worry about any issues the next morning.

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2. We pack lunches the night before.

Again, this is some of the most basic advice… BUT IT WORKS!

I’ve gotten into the routine of packing all our lunches as I’m cleaning up dinner. I figure I have lots of food items out already and the kitchen is already messy… plus, then I only have to clean up the kitchen once!

This after-dinner timing also works well since Dave and I eat leftovers for lunch most days — I pack up leftovers for our lunches as I’m cleaning up the rest of the food from dinner, and toss the pans in the dishwasher. I’m to the point where I can almost always estimate the right amount of food for our family’s dinner and 2 lunches the next without any other leftovers — score!

The kids weigh in on what they’d like for their lunches, and depending on what our plans are for the next day, I either pack the food in our lunch boxes or put it on a plate with plastic wrap over top.

I know it might sound somewhat extreme to pack lunches for those of us who will be eating at home — but if I’m making a few lunches anyway, I might as well make them all. Also, as I mentioned above, our schedule this year has us out and about at various school, church, and community activities almost every weekday morning, so knowing we have lunches ready to eat at home makes it so much easier for me to serve lunch to my “starving” children right after we walk through the door. Plus, it helps me avoid the temptation of stopping for fast food on the way home! 🙂

This is the most labor-intensive “step” of the 6, but since I do it while I’m cleaning up dinner, it really only adds an extra 15 minutes onto the clean-up process. And I’ll be honest, I enjoy being in the kitchen alone while Dave is playing with the kids upstairs!

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3. We have all bags (and vehicles) packed the night before.

Along with what I mentioned in #1 above, we make sure all our backpacks, diaper bags, school bags, purses, wallets, gym bags, library bags, etc. are packed and ready to go the night before.

I also make sure the the van is packed and ready to go with whatever we’ll need for the next morning.

  • If I’m getting groceries after dropping Simon off at school, I’ll make sure my grocery bags are in the car and that the stroller is NOT in the truck as it takes up too much space. I’ll also make sure I have my grocery list ready to go and any coupons in my wallet.
  • If we’re heading to the library for story hours, I’ll make sure our big bag of library books is loaded up and ready to go in the van.
  • If we’re headed to church, to a community play group, or to a friend’s house, I’ll make sure we have anything we need for those outing ready to go in the van (or at least in the mudroom).
  • I often run errands on our way to places as well (bank, post office, pharmacy pick up, drop food off for a friend, etc.) so I try to have all those items in the van ready to go as well.

We often use the big bench in our mudroom to line up everyone’s bags, shoes, coats, etc. the night before, so we can all just “grab and go” when it’s time to head out.

It might sound silly, it might sound a little extreme, it might sound overly simple — but it works for us for now!

This step takes roughly 10-15 minutes, depending on what we have going on the next day.

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4. I plan our breakfast the night before.

I don’t go crazy with breakfast, but I do enjoy making (and eating) a hot breakfast every morning — which requires a bit more planning than just eating cereal.

I usually rotate between the following options on weekday mornings — all served with a variety of fresh fruits:

Saturdays = really big breakfasts (fried potatoes, eggs, bacon, sausage, sautéed veggies, pancakes, etc.)

Sundays = cinnamon rolls, eggs, fruit, and yogurt.

Now that I’m in the habit of making big breakfasts every morning, it’s not a big deal at all — however, I still need to plan ahead in order to make it work. 

  • Do we have enough eggs in the house to do omelettes or quiche? If not, I’ll choose a different option.
  • Do we have bread I want to use up? If so, I’ll make french toast.
  • Do we have a bunch of breakfast meat already cooked? If so, I’ll try to incorporate more of that into our meal. If not, I’ll go with oatmeal or pancakes and eggs.
  • Do we have fruit cut up and ready to go? If we’re almost out of fresh fruit, my fall-back is frozen fruit smoothies (which the kids love!)
  • Is it a special occasion? If so, Dave or I might get donuts to surprise the kids when they wake up.

This thought process takes me LESS THAN A MINUTE, but it’s something I think through every night so I have a plan when I wake up each morning.

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5. We look over our planners and make to-do lists the night before.

For as long as I can remember (even back into middle school) I have religiously looked over my planner and made a to-do list for the next day BEFORE going to bed.

This nightly practice frees my mind of the need to remember throughout the night, allows me to sleep better, and gives me an instant productivity boost the moment I wake up, as I already know what ‘the plan’ is for the day.

Fortunately for our marriage, Dave functions exactly the same way (we’re both oldest children!) and thanks to our ultra-planned dispositions, our children are following suit!

We usually try to tell them what the “tentative plan” is for the next day before they go to bed (unless it’s a really exciting surprise that might keep them up all night!)

We talk about…

  • the weather (and what they should wear)
  • what school activities they have (and if they need to bring anything special to school)
  • what errands we will run
  • what we’ll have for breakfast, lunch, dinner
  • if anyone is coming over (their favorite!)
  • if it’s any sort of special day (birthday for someone we know, field trip at school, etc.)
  • if we’re going anywhere special — and if they might need to take rests in the afternoon so we can stay out later at night
  • what we’ll do at home (baking special treats, doing a craft, playing with a neighbor)

I know this might sound like over-kill (honestly, sometimes it feels that way to us too) but it’s a better alternative than having them ask me 582 questions about what we’ll do, what we’ll eat, where we’ll go, what the plan is, etc.

We’ve found it’s easier and less exhausting for us to tell them the plan the night before so they can mentally prepare. 

This step takes 10-15 minutes tops — depending on how many questions our kids have and how many things Dave and I need to talk through after they are sleeping.

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6. We get to bed on time.

I don’t think this one needs much of an explanation — but it’s a super important part of simplified mornings at our house, so I wanted to include it in my list.

If your mornings feel rushed, crazy, chaotic, stressful, busy, or frazzled, do yourself a HUMONGOUS favor and simply go to bed a little earlier so you can wake up a little earlier (and don’t hit snooze!)

This step takes ZERO extra time — just the forethought that we need to get the kids in bed by 7pm, and get ourselves to bed by 9:30 (maybe earlier)! We must plan our evening hours accordingly so it’s not 9:15pm before we realize we still need to pack up what we’re working on, shower, make our to-do lists, pack bags, etc.

It took us a few weeks to break our summer habit of staying up quite late, but we’re used to it now, and it’s no problem to get to bed by 9:30 most of the time.

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Of course, we have occasional bad days when plans change, someone gets sick, a full glass of juice spills all over the chosen outfit, the library book that WAS in the backpack magically disappeared, etc. etc. but those are the exception… not the norm.

I realize this post has A LOT of information (2200 words — good grief!) If you feel overwhelmed, just choose ONE of the 6 concepts above and try to implement that into your routine. After you get the hang of one, choose another concept and implement it as well.

It won’t happen over night (or even in one week) but over time, I’m confident these steps will help you and your family to enjoy less stressful, less busy, less chaotic mornings — which will hopefully lead to feeling happier and less frazzled ALL DAY LONG!

What are your best tips to simplify busy mornings?

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28 comments

  1. Rachelle

    10/02/2018

    Great post Andrea! Lots of helpful ideas for sanity saving strategies and delish food … going to try the cinnamon scrolls today …Yum yum
    Enjoy your blog so much, thanks for all the time and effort you put in for us readers

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Thanks Rachelle!!

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  2. Jenny

    10/02/2018

    Let’s hear how you can keep lunches from getting soggy and horrible (sandwiches, wraps, leftover pizza) if you have any tips for that. I’ve never succeeded except PBJ and maybe cheese sandwiches.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    hmmmm… we’ve honestly never had any issues with soggy lunches. Obviously, we don’t eat pizza unless we can do it in a toaster oven at home, but anything else has been just fine for us. Maybe we aren’t picky, but even Dave and I enjoy sandwiches, salads, soups, leftovers, etc. with no issues.

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  3. Melissa D.

    10/02/2018

    Are those cinnamon rolls a recipe from your blog? They look delicious! If not, can you share the recipe? Great tips! I did/do much of the same, especially when my kids were younger.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    I don’t have that exact recipe on the blog — but this one is basically the same (just using store bought frozen dough instead of making the dough from scratch).

    [Reply]

  4. Sarah

    10/02/2018

    I’m working on making it a habit to make my to do list for the next day, and going to bed earlier.

    One question… Do you have an issue with Nora’s food being a little metal tasting? My son has the same lunch box and he won’t eat strawberries and a few other foods, which he normally loves, because he says they taste like metal by the time lunch comes around. I’ve started packing the fruits in a snack Ziploc baggie and putting it in the lunch box, which seems to help. Also, I was packing his lunch the night before, but he was hardly eating any of it and said it didn’t taste good by lunch time even though he has the ice pack in there.

    I’m just wondering if Nora has any trouble with this. My solution has been to just prepare it all the night before and stick it in the lunch box in the morning and he is now eating it all… Just wish I could prepare it the night before

    Thank you for this very helpful post!!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Getting to be on time was challenging for Dave and me too — but we’re totally used to it now. Our bodies more than ready for bed by 9:30pm!
    As for the lunch boxes, no — Nora has never mentioned anything (and you know how picky she is about tastes and textures of food!) I always pack her lunch IN the lunch box right after dinner, and then put the whole metal box in the fridge. The next morning, I put the box and ice pack in the pink lunch back and she doesn’t touch it until noon.
    Do you have the PlanetBox brand? If not, that might be the issue. Also, how old is your box? We got ours 3 years ago — I wondering if they changed the metal they use at some point. It might be worth contacting their customer service about.

    [Reply]

    Sarah Reply:

    Yes we have the PlanetBox brand and I bought it right before school this year… You spoke so highly of it that I had to give it a try. Yeah that’s why I asked because I know how picky Nora is. Thanks for your response.

    I also bought their smaller water bottle, and it seems to work very well for my son. I fill it with ice water in the morning and it lasts him nicely all day long. I love that it is so easy to clean… Was having a hard time finding one that seemed durable and easy to clean. I’m really glad I spent the extra money on this one.
    Blessings from NM

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    so weird! I specifically asked Nora about it this morning and she said everything tastes just fine. I even mentioned a “metal taste” and she looked at me like I was crazy!
    It honestly might be worth contacting them and asking some questions (like if they are using different materials to make the boxes). Maybe they’ll send you another one???

    As for the water bottles, I’m glad to hear you like those!!

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  5. Casey

    10/02/2018

    These are all great tips! I especially love the list making at night before bed….def. going to give it a try, as I certainly lay there at night making a mental list. Thanks! 🙂

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    I think you’ll find that actually writing it down will free your brain and help you sleep so much better!

    [Reply]

  6. Avia

    10/02/2018

    I basically do everything you do except lay clothes out the night before. I do think that would be a great addition to our nightly routine.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    the clothes thing is huge — it’s amazing how much time I “waste” in the morning if I don’t pick out my clothing 🙂

    [Reply]

  7. Tina

    10/02/2018

    Girl, you counted the words, lol!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    haha — no! The WordPress platform automatically counts the words of all my posts. It was literally exactly 2200 for this post!

    [Reply]

  8. LoriB

    10/02/2018

    Prepping lunch for the whole family the night before is an “aha” moment for me. Genius! That extra 15 minutes at night would save time, energy, money, etc. Lunch would be relaxed and stress-free. Great idea!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    oh wow — I’ve been packing and making my lunch the night before since 5th grade (seriously)! It will revolutionize your mornings!

    [Reply]

  9. Heidi

    10/02/2018

    My girls pick out all their outfits on Sunday afternoon and put them in a hanging shelf in their closet. They have choices each morning but they’re limited. Being here in the south, we pretty much go straight from summer to winter so there’s not many variations of clothes they need. We also freeze a lot of our breakfast items which makes things much easier.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    my kids (especially Nora) can’t handle choices in the morning — she just needs a straight “this is what I’m wearing today” every morning! And yes, freezer breakfasts are amazing!!

    [Reply]

  10. Jennifer

    10/02/2018

    When do you clean up breakfast dishes? If I make a hot breakfast, I always have more to clean up. At least pans or baking dishes.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    I guess I just clean up as I go — I use my griddle and cast iron pan for basically everything breakfast related. The griddle just gets wiped down and put back in the cabinet, the cast iron pan is wiped out and put back on the stove.
    I think it’s one of those things that seems overwhelming until you get in the habit of doing it regularly. Like for me, traveling with small children seems SOOOOO overwhelming and totally NOT worth it — but we have friends with 6 kids who travel all the time and insist it’s “so easy”!
    Making a hot breakfast is actually faster for our family than pouring bowls of cereal because my kids won’t eat cereal and the whole morning is a struggle. Then they’re all hungry again an hour later because they didn’t eat enough for breakfast. When I make a hot breakfast, they eat quickly and can easily make it until lunch without a morning snack — so it simplifies our entire morning!

    [Reply]

  11. Ann

    10/02/2018

    What backpacks do you have for your kids? I love the chest strap and I gave in and let him pick his own this year. I exchanged it once when it broke within 24 hours, have repaired it twice already, and now the zipper is shot.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Nora’s is the Land’s End backpack — she’s had it for 3 years and it’s still going strong. I got it 60% off in a back-to-school sale 3 years ago.
    Simon’s is the same style but from a thrift store for $2 🙂

    [Reply]

    Kate Reply:

    Yes to the Lands End backpacks! In 3 years, we haven’t had one wear out yet. And if you look for them during the off season, they are very reasonable. I think I ended up paying around $10 after my coupon. We have their lunch boxes too. I even wash them in the washing machine sometimes and they’ve held up great.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    good to know! I thought about washing Nora’s last year, but didn’t dare risk it. Maybe I will!

    [Reply]

  12. Paulette

    10/02/2018

    Oh Andrea, how I wish I had you as a resource years ago…how much simpler my life would have been!! And I firmly believe children thrive with structure and daily routines. Big score for you and Dave!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Thanks Paulette 🙂

    [Reply]