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Avoiding Post-trip Chaos

(originally appeared on my personal blog 11-9-2007)

In her “Ordering Disorder” column this week, Melissa Summers of Suburban Bliss asks for advice about how to get back on track after a weekend away. This is actually something I have been thinking about a lot. Even before we bought our cabin, we were frequent short-trip takers, going up to Tahoe for the weekend or visiting someplace new for a night or two on a whim.

When I did not work outside the home, re-entry into the work week wasn’t as difficult after going out of town for the weekend. It wasn’t ideal, because I don’t prefer to grocery shop with children present, and I still had to spend Monday mornings rushing around looking for someone’s lunch box, but at least I had some breathing room.

However, once I started working in an office (especially when I started working full-time last year), I was paralyzed by panic at the thought of spending the weekend away from home. How we could accomplish the many weekend chores we routinely complete on Saturday and Sunday if we were gone? This worry significantly cut into the amount of relaxation I could achieve on a family excursion. All the laundry waiting in the laundry chute, all the groceries to buy, all the grass to mow - not to mention all the dog hair to vacuum.

Now I approach this problem in three ways: prevention, triage, and intentional neglect.

Prevention is the simplest way to avoid post-vacation freak outs, but it is also the least likely path less organized people will take. With the hub-bub of preparing for a trip, I imagine people not as crazy as I am will be inclined to forgo my prevention strategy in favor of a “let’s worry about it later” tactic. Not that I am better than you, but I am able to plan and prepare for the future in the most obnoxiously thorough of manners, if I feel like it. In my planning, I make sure we have these pieces in place before we leave for a weekend getaway:

* A meal plan for the following week
* A grocery list for the following week, which corresponds to the meal plan
* At least one load of essential “weekday” laundry washed and dried
* An idea of our commitments for Monday (does anyone have a dentist appointment at 8 am?)

Optional: We might buy the actual groceries for the following week in advance, but if that’s not possible, I will at least have a plan for what we’ll eat Sunday night when we return, if applicable.

Also optional: I like to vacuum before going out of town, but this doesn’t always happen.

That’s prevention. You do stuff ahead of time.

This tactic is employed when you return from your trip. You probably already do some form of triage every day: What must be done right away and what can be done later (either later that night, later that week, or never - see “Intentional Neglect”)? For us, top priorities are making lunches for Monday (we always make the lunches the night before - we’re saints), tossing in a load of laundry from the weekend, putting away the crap we’ve hauled in from the car, and bathing the children. Oh, and eating dinner, if applicable. If no one went to the grocery before our trip, Dave will run out with our prepared list and buy the food for the week while I put the kids to bed. Everything else: forget it until some other time - or add it to the Intentional Neglect list.

Intentional Neglect
With Intentional Neglect, you decide (probably during the Triage phase) which items on the Weekly To Do list will go undone just for this week. For our family, mowing the lawn and cleaning the bathroom would probably fall into this category. Now that we have twice-monthly gardening and housecleaning services, it’s easier than ever to live with that shaggy lawn and ring around the toilet bowl because we know those chores will be done (by someone else) soon. In addition, putting away laundry frequently falls off the Sunday night “must do’s” - everyone can pick his or her (clean) clothes out of the pile on my bedroom floor until I get a chance to put it away (probably never). But if you’re the type of person who cannot live for even a day with unfolded laundry and unraked leaves, you should move the “unable to neglect” items into your Prevention category (squeeze lawn care into the midweek routine, maybe), or possibly into your Triage category (sort and fold laundry while the kids are taking their much-needed post-vacation bath Sunday night).

I have more to say on this topic, like how having some meals in the freezer and a monthly meal plan (and a master grocery list on Google Docs!) will simplify your routine even if you don’t go away for the weekend. But three things are preventing me from typing more: my full-time job, the fact that I’m currently preparing for a trip to our cabin, and my fear that you’ll get too bored. Now let’s see if I can follow my own advice and sneak in a load of laundry before we hit the road.