Lighten Your Load
Practical tips for saving time and energy
By Lisa M. Petsche
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Typical responsibilities of family caregivers include chauffeuring, shopping, running errands, paying bills, coordinating medical and other appointments, yard work, home maintenance, housekeeping, preparing meals, managing medication and assisting with personal care. It’s easy to become overwhelmed by all of the demands on your time.
There don’t seem to be enough hours in the day to get everything done, let alone spend time with other important people in your life (such as a spouse) and tend to your own needs.
Don't despair, though. There are many practical ways to save time and energy in order to lighten your load. Read on for some of them.
- Curb perfectionism. Not everything needs to be done to a high standard; take housework and yard maintenance, for example. Set a time limit for chores if necessary.
- Establish and stick to priorities, so you don’t waste time or energy on unimportant things.
- Accept offers of help and ask other family members to share the load. Be specific about what you need.
- Pay for help if you can afford it – for example, a dog walker, housecleaning service, grounds keeping service, handyman or accountant.
- Get a portable phone so you can multi-task while conversing, and an answering machine to screen calls.
- Get organized. Buy a wall calendar with plenty of space for noting appointments, and create or purchase a caregiving binder for keeping records. Hire a professional organizer if paperwork or your whole home is in chaos.
- Get a computer. Internet access can help you stay connected to loved ones, keep up with local and world news, and gather information about medical conditions and community resources, among other things. You can also connect with other caregivers through Internet message boards and chat rooms.
- Collect recipes for one-dish meals, such as casseroles, stews, soups, stir fries and main course salads.
- Cook double batches of recipes and freeze half for later use.
- Keep a supply of heat-and-serve entrees in the freezer.
- Buy convenience foods that reduce preparation time: packaged salads, shredded cheese, fresh or frozen mixed vegetables and boneless chicken breasts, for example.
- Order takeout once a week. Keep menus in a folder for easy reference.
- Get rid of things you don’t need or use, to cut down on dusting and maintenance. Concentrate cleaning and tidying efforts on the rooms that are used the most.
- Do full loads of laundry whenever possible. Ensure everyone in the household has enough basic clothing to last for a week. Buy clothing that can be machine washed and dried (or hung to dry) and resists wrinkles.
- For gardening, stick to low-maintenance flowers & shrubs. Use mulch to discourage weed growth.
- Get a mulching lawn mower so you don't have to bag grass. Or hire a neighborhood youth to cut the grass, as well as rake leaves and shovel snow.
- Arrange with the bank for direct deposit of pension and other checks and automatic withdrawal of regular bills.
- If you have a computer, sign up for online banking so you can pay bills, transfer money and check balances from home.
Shopping and Errands
- Shop through mail order catalogs, using the telephone or Internet.
- For gift giving occasions, purchase gift cards; many kinds are available online now, as well as on display at department stores and drug stores.
- Take advantage of stores and other services that offer home delivery (for example, grocery stores, drug stores, dry cleaners).
- Research mobile services in your area, such as hairdressing, dog grooming, car washing and detailing, and automobile servicing and repair.
- Keep lists of groceries needed and errands to be done.
- Coordinate errands and avoid peak use times of the day, week or month when visiting stores, banks, government offices and other establishments. Also avoid rush hour traffic.
- If your relative can safely be left alone but either of you is anxious about the prospect, supply him or her with a portable phone and get yourself a cell phone so you can stay in touch. A personal emergency response system may also help put your mind at ease.
Care for your Relative
- Investigate available resources in the community, which might include: visiting library service, meals on wheels, friendly visiting, volunteer driver programs, accessible transportation, recreational programs and home healthcare services. Take advantage of respite services such as day care programs and nursing facilities that offer short-term residential care. (Information can be obtained from your local office on aging.)
- If finances permit, hire a personal support worker or companion for your relative so you can get out more often.
Lisa M. Petsche is a medical social worker and a freelance writer specializing in health and elder care issues.