Top Tips for Busy Families

Take the strife out of family life with these timely ideas.
Lynnmarie P. Cook

What is wellness, anyway? It's much more than the absence of sickness: It's the sum of small choices such as turning off your computer for real conversation and teaming up with your kids to foster esprit de corps in otherwise disparate lives. It's thinking with precision, acting with character, and counting your blessings. And when time is tight and nerves are frayed, it's the way to bring order to your life. Here are our favorite tips.

Managing Morning Madness
Get up one hour before the rest of the family to exercise, journal, drink coffee, shower, or dress in peace. Let this quality time help prepare you physically and mentally for the day ahead.

You're Driving Me Sane
Use car time to spend quality moments with your children; reserve nagging for another time. Keep a file box in your car with a folder for each family member. Include clothing sizes; contact information for doctors, coaches, and friends; class schedules; and teachers' names.

Keep Your Cool After School
Tired of running a taxicab service between 3 and 6 p.m.? While children need the structure of planned activities, Sally M. Kaplan, a professional organizer in Atlanta, urges us not to overbook kids; we all need downtime. Stay active alongside your child--you could swim laps during his swim team practice or speed-walk around the soccer field.

Shopping Without Dropping
Write food categories on index cards, and place them in a 4 x 6 file box. Alphabetize the cards by topic: baby items, beverages, cleaning products, dairy foods, and so on. Make time each Sunday to clip coupons, and teach the filing system to your kids. Toss old coupons at the end of each month.

Mastering Meal Preparation
Learn to cook meals superquick (by stir-frying or pressure cooking) or superslow--you'll love coming home to the aroma of a meal in a slow cooker.

Surviving Suppertime
During dinnertime, turn off the TV, and let your answering machine catch the calls; use the time to reconnect with your kids. Give each child a pre- and postdinner chore such as setting the table, preparing a salad, filling glasses, wrapping leftovers, or sweeping the floor. While the kids are busy, use the reprieve to relax with a cup of coffee and catch up with your spouse.

Picking Up When You're Pooped Out
Each evening before you retire, tidy up newspapers, magazines, school papers, and mail. Get backpacks together, and place them by the door. Check if any library books are due.

Winding Down
Give everyone a chance to chill out before bedtime. Establish a quiet hour to read a book; enjoy restful music; draw; play a game; or, best of all, to cuddle and talk.

Help is on the way
Call a pro who handles household organization for a living. To find out if there's one in your area, call the National Association of Professional Organizers.