The Common Room has a post full of time-and-space-saving household tips, and wants to know what ours are.
All right, in no particular order:
1. Have a few meal-saving and/or leftover-using standbys either in the cupboard, in the freezer, or in your head. The ones in the cupboard or the freezer might include anything from a frozen whole casserole to some precooked rice or pre-grated cheese; and the ones in your head would be anything that quickly stretches, fills out, gussies up, or finishes off a meal without your having to run to the store. Joyce Radway might have depended on caramel junket, but I personally prefer chocolate or vanilla microwave cake if I need dessert, or the bottom half of a dessert, in fifteen minutes. Tightwad Gazette lemonade is another auto-pilot recipe that fills in when we want a drink that's fancier than water but don't have any juice around: 1/2 cup sugar, 1/2 cup bottled lemon juice, 4 cups water. (You can easily make more, just keep the same proportions.) Of course nobody needs lemonade or cake; but sometimes a meal needs a little cheering up.
Lillian Gilbreth to your house to do a time-and-motion study of your storage and home routines. Failing that, have a hard look at things yourself, and change things around even if you've been doing it the same way or putting stuff in the same place for fifteen years. This summer I did some mega-cleanouts and changed some things around...yes, in some spots, after fifteen years. One example: we have only shelf in our kitchen that's tall enough for cereal boxes. Over the past few years, the shelf gradually got taken over with tall cookbooks and kitchen binders, to the point that we kept having to drag the cereal boxes up and down from the basement cold room, or leave them out in the tiny recycling area by the porch door. So, duh...this summer I cleaned out a deep drawer that used to hold our biggest slow cooker (before it died prematurely), and put the cookbooks into the drawer. Now the cereal can live back in the kitchen again.
I also cleaned out a vintage kitchen cupboard in the cold room...I mean, really cleaned it out, with soap and water and all that...got rid of some vintage stuff in it like a sausage stuffer (really), along with some vintage crumbs and dust...and found that there actually was room in there to organize some previously un-organizable stuff. Now we have what amounts to a "holiday/party cupboard," because the top part is holding things like our ice-cream maker and popcorn, the surface down below has a basket with paper plates and other picnic stuff, one of the drawers has picnic-table cloths and clamps (the other drawer has canning supplies), and the cupboards on the bottom have things like turkey pans and cake plates.
And I finally got around to safety-pinning all the pairs of mittens and gloves together, in one bin. Think that's what King Lemuel meant by "when it snows, she has no fear for her household?"
3. Have a spouse or kid or buddy who likes to grocery shop with you. After this many years, I just have to laugh sometimes about the ruts Mr. Fixit and I get into, but you know what, sometimes the ruts are GOOD. I don't have to worry about picking up vitamins or fruit or tuna or bread or laundry soap: those are part of his mental list. He doesn't have to remember to get milk or vegetables or flour or toilet paper or coffee or...okay, you get the idea, those are mine. We meet at the end, double-check on anything unusual we needed, and that's it.
4. Laugh when you can. At Mr. Fixit's birthday this month, we were out of appropriate wrapping paper; even the tissue paper was gone. We all came up with different no-cost solutions. I stuck magazine pictures on a packing-paper package. Dewey Squirrel gave him a present wrapped in a Christmas gift bag and topped with a (yard-saled) sympathy card. The Squirrelings also came up with creative wrapping ideas.
5. One space-saving idea: we usually like lower-tech solutions for things, but there's one development in technology we do like: boxed DVD sets for TV programs (goes without saying that we like them even better when we can get them used or cheap). Of course for people who watch everything on the computer anyway, it doesn't matter. But if you've been trying to store, say, VHS copies of Mission Impossible or Star Trek or Fraggle Rock or whatever, where you get about two episodes to a tape, DVD sets are a huge improvement. Could we have imagined, years ago, that we'd go to Giant Tiger and bring back not only the whole first season of Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys, but also the entire run of Ray Bradbury Theater, for less than the cost of family movie tickets and in packages small enough to fit into a purse? (Warning about the Ray Bradbury programs: they are interesting stories with a great cast, but they are also capital-C Creepy, and they're full of unexpected twists, so please please please preview before watching with kids around.)