Big Family Hacks

The Responsible Woman, by James C. Christensen

I’m on the record as being very pro-big families. As we become more and more of a minority you have to be clever about how to pull it off logistically since society is increasingly built around the 1.6 kid family. Given Latter-day Saints’ (albeit increasingly fading) penchant for large families I thought it was appropriate to post the little hacks and tricks we’ve come up with on the way for others. Anything we haven’t thought of is welcome in the comments. 

  • Keep all clothes in the same area by the laundry room.

This one is more doable for us since our kids are all the same sex, but keeping all dressers by the laundry room saves the time cost of carting clothes back and forth, which becomes significant at scale. 

  • White noise for naps

It’s frustrating being awaken from a much-needed slumber because your parental authority is absolutely required to referee an argument. With enough kids (in a small enough house) these sorts of interruptions become consistent enough that without white noise an uninterrupted nap is just not in the cards. 

Lock the door and put on a white noise app high enough to drown out ambient noise. When this is used an adult or responsible older child needs to be in charge in case of emergencies. Additionally, white noise can be very useful for putting down a younger child while the older ones are still making a raucous. 

  • Podcasts are your friends.

I easily listen to 1-2 hours of podcasts a day while I clean. I have no idea how my parents’ generation kept house without them, and having a well-curated playlist is one key to not getting boredom stress. Personally I don’t have the attention span for audiobooks but a lot of people rely on those, and you can get those for free from your public library. 

  • Fast-forward-cleaning

Literally sprinting from cleaning task to cleaning task can reduce the cleaning time for an area by a lot. Try it. It’s cognitively exhausting since you have to be constantly figuring out what your next task is going to be but it’s handy in emergency situations. Focusing on one item at a time can help reduce the cognitive load. For example, sprinting through the house putting all the toys in a bag, then dumping the bag in the toy room, then the same thing with books, then clothes, etc. 

  • The push-everything-into-the-middle-and-sort method. 

Sometimes the clutter becomes overwhelming and you could spend hours picking up this or that and moving it to its appropriate place. One method for deep cleaning these spaces is to use a push broom to push everything into the middle, then sit down and sort the clutter into piles while watching a show on a device, then put the piles into their appropriate locations. I’ve watched many movies doing this, and it’s a way to make sure you get everything while making cleaning more enjoyable.

  • No small pieces rule. 

We avoid all toys with small pieces because in the chaos of a large house they inevitably get broken or separated from the toy. 

  • Invest in experiences, not stuff. 

When you are taking care of a lot of human beings you have legitimate reasons to have a lot of stuff, but even so this can still get out of hand and lead to a lot of clutter. Even Marie Kondo gave up when the kids came. When it comes to stuff, whether SUVs or dolls, we usually get a little pleasure bump, go through the hedonic treadmill, then we stop playing with the toy after a while. Memories last longer, and you don’t have to organize and clean them. 

  • Gym daycare

YMCAs or local gyms often have childcares that accommodate all of your children for one flat rate. Don’t feel about taking advantage of this. Society owes you.

  • Rule of law in the house

Sometimes I feel like half of my cognitive energy as a parent is spent deciding sophisticated legal questions that would “cross a rabbi’s eyes” as Tevia sings in Fiddler on the Roof. Child A made an agreement with child B, child B reneged on it according to A’s interpretation, etc. For example, asking multiple children to clean an area “until it’s done” is a sure recipe for freeriding, retaliations against freeriding, etc. Children are very sensitive to fairness, and an open-ended request like that is opening you up for more time spent in judicial proceedings than cleaning. Instead, with cleaning we quickly learned to assign each child their own area over which they have 100% responsibility. Having the rules decided on and affirmed in advance helps prevent having to spend energy on a thousand different subjective judgment calls. 

  • Automate learning 

Growing up I had fantasies of reading my children lengthy tomes of children’s literature every night and lecturing them from a whiteboard for hours about the mysteries of the universe. 

While I still sometimes harbor these fantasies, the automated learning resources we’ve been blessed with make it difficult to justify spending the time. Audiobooks, educational YouTube playlists (my kids particularly enjoy Ted x Ed and Crash Course movies), and Kahn Academy videos have some of the world’s best produced content and teachers across all subjects. It would be arrogant to think I could compete with that. Of course that’s not to say that I don’t spend time with my children, but when I have deep learning/talking time with my kids it’s about higher issues; somebody else can teach them about mitochondria or read Harry Potter to them. I used to be needed when they ran into a wall with a particular issue, but with ChatGPT even that process is becoming automated. 

  • Make your hobby their hobby

It provides you with more one-on-one time, developes your and their breadth of interest, and helps you understand their world better. 

  • Expensive but cheap baby products

Because of the US’ fertility patterns the secondhand baby product market is a clear buyer’ market. Dual earner brain surgeons with their one child will buy a nice baby carrier that they’ll only use for a year or two then sell; any high income area of the US has a Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace that is filled with this stuff for bargain prices. 

  • Home gym

Even if your local gym is cheap and close, getting ready to go the gym and driving over is often not feasible or affordable in terms of time or money. Also, the transition time when you’re waiting for that guy to get off your machine is not negligible, and with a large family wasted time comes out of your flesh. A more efficient alternative is to build up a basic, cheap home gym with one inch plates, a basic pull pulley system, a pull-up bar (outside, not one of those door frame ones that destroy your house), and a really heavy kettlebell or two. Stationary bikes are nice for winter months and multitasking while working out, but you can get the same effect simply by doing wind sprints in front of your house. Unless you’re training for bodybuilding or powerlifting competitions this should be more than enough for your purposes. By having your own stuff you can fit in sets in the cracks in your schedules when you can, and don’t have to block off an hour for travel and working out. This has helped me increase my total volume dramatically. I’m somewhat overweight but I can still do 9 pull-ups from a dead hang because I try to do a couple pull-ups every time I go into my  backyard. It doesn’t have to be expensive either, for years I used a bucket that I had filled up with cheap concrete and it did wonders. 

A sidebar to the above, more and more the literature is showing that high intensity interval training—where you train for less time but more intensely—provides the same benefits as steady state cardio.  HIIT is incredibly painful, but also very rewarding when you get a complete workout in ten minutes.

  • Take advantage of bathroom time. 

It’s been a while since I just sat in a bed and read alone. Also, you can get a surprising amount of work done on a phone.

  • Geolocation apps

Losing keys or a wallet is always a high-stress event, but especially so with a large family where the time margin for error is so much slimmer and the amount of stuff it can get lost in is so much higher. Thankfully now there are location app devices that you can attach to your keys and wallet, and an app on your phone can tell you where they are to within a half inch. These have saved us an untold amount of stress. 


Reading between the lines of the above gives you a sense of how much chaos is involved in managing a big family. Obviously I don’t want to discourage anybody from pursuing a big family ideal. In a society of ennui I have as much excitement and meaning as I need; my cup runneth over and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I just need more sleep. 

PS Additions from the Mrs:

-Meet friends at parks and wilderness areas instead of trying to make home guest ready or worry about kids overrunning someone else’s house.
-Libraries are magical, but secondhand for books that young kids will destroy.
-Screentime makes kids less fun.
-If it’s not fun (most of the time) you’re not doing it right.

7 comments for “Big Family Hacks

  1. But steady-state cardio most days is the only answer if you care about running performance! (Reality: I didn’t exercise seriously between the time I started grad school and when my youngest kid turned 5. Not recommended. A good jogging stroller would have helped.)

  2. We have 4 daughters. The youngest is now 46 and has just come back from fighting fires in Canada.
    We redesigned the family bathroom into 3 separate areas; shower/bath in one room, toilet in small room, and a double vanity in the hallway. This way 4 people can be in the bathroom at one time which is a pinch point at least once a day.

  3. Honestly your post just further convinces me that big families are a concept whose time has come to an end…..

  4. Stephen, I could not stop smiling while reading this post. Almost thou convinceth me we could have coped with more than four.

  5. As someone with 10 kids, I grok this post.

    And the haters can go hate somewhere else.

    And geolocation apps/devices are a lifesaver.

    And – embrace the chaos.

    Also, I am training for Scottish Highland Games, so – two hours a day at the gym. But the kids love the Gym Kids Club and are sad when I don’t go (which is rare, like when I have a cold). But it’s good for the kids to get out.

    Plus, then they get used to going to the gym, so when they hit 12 and can’t do the Kids Club, they can become your training partner(s)…

  6. My parents “hacks” with a blended family of 10 kids…in the 80s…both parents with full time jobs.

    – Teach the kids to be independent as soon as possible and as much as possible
    – Have the kids get themselves to school, make lunch, do their own laundry, ironing, clothes buying, etc.
    – Have all kids pay for their own cars and cost to run said cars.
    – Bickering and anger between kids were not tolerated. No time for that.
    – Do your assigned communal chores. (this rotated between everyone weekly)
    – Keep your personal space clean at all times.
    – Do your best to eat dinner with the family every evening. (this got way laxed once you were 16 or older as we had jobs in the evenings. No job, no car, no dates, no fun)
    – Let a parent know where you are going and apx what time you will be home. (no cell phones to track our every move)
    – Dont expect parents to attend your game, recital, school concert, etc. (kind of like they knew they would miss 80% of them so they missed them all) (we were all busy working and didn’t participate in this stuff much anyway)

    Side note: Not sure it was the items above or not, but all 10 of us are still married and still in the church even tho we were not that churchy growing up. We were allowed to choose doing church activities or not, missions or not, going to church or not (jr high age) and we never had home evenings, family prayer, family scripture etc. Five of the 6 boys went on missions and all of us got married in the temple. Not that it means anything, except maybe our non traditional church family beat the odds.

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