Why You Need A Paper Planner

   Mental load – it’s a catchy new feminist term for all the mental gymnastics moms and women, in general, do to keep their households running smoothly.  A comic from a French cartoonist titled “You Should’ve Asked” has been making the rounds on social media.  While I don’t think women are the only ones’ saddled with an overwhelming mental load, I do think that every woman struggles with it.  But, how does someone, in the words of Taylor Swift, “shake it off?”  Easy, a paper planner.  I’ve used a paper planner from my first semester in college and to this day I find it is one of the most valuable items anyone, especially working moms, can use.  From the tactile satisfaction of using your favorite pen on fancy paper to never forgetting another birthday again, there are so many reasons to invest in a paper planner – I’ve compiled my favorites here.

 

        Satisfaction of finishing a to-do list.  Seriously, is there anything better than checking things off a list?  I’ll wait…exactly, there isn’t.  Whenever I’m able to cross out everything that needs to be done I really feel like I’ve got my life on track (even if it’s patently a false presumption).  I’ve used a habit tracker in my bullet journal since I started using that system and the satisfaction of coloring in that little square has started multiple good habits – flossing, taking my probiotics, reading to Livia and having “no spend” days to name a few.  Clicking on an onscreen box doesn’t even compare.

        There is a planner for you.  Do you want a pretty planner?  Look into a Lilly Pulitzer or Vera Bradley.  Do you want a simple, blank planner?  Can’t go wrong with The Simplified Planner.  Do you want to customize everything?  Check out an Erin Condren.  Want total flexibility?  Try bullet journaling.  Paper quality the most important?  Look at the Rhodias.  These just barely touch the surface of the planner universe.   I can think of, at least, another 10 planner designs off the top of my head.  Seriously, whatever is the most important feature (or features) to you there is a planner system that accommodates it.

        Never forget anything ever again.  This is the number one reason I need a paper planner.  I’ve religiously used a paper planner since I started college seven years (geeze, seven years already?) ago.  In that time I’ve used two Mead Five-Star Planners, a Vera Bradley, a Lilly Pulitzer, The Simplified Planner and the bullet journal system – I don’t forget about things like birthdays, appointments or parties anymore.  I can schedule doctor’s appointments a year in advance because I write it all down.  The freedom that comes from unloading that mental load is surprising.  Moms, especially, carry a large mental load and having a planner gives space to get the clutter on paper.  Keeping upcoming events on paper, lets me know well in advance if I have something coming up and I need to make plans or arrangements.

        Bill tracking is easy.  This in the same vein as “Never forget anything ever again.”  It’s easy to write down “pay the mortgage” on the 20th of every month with a reminder three or four days before or to write a reminder that the car insurance gets auto drafted on the 8th of every month.  If you, like me, constantly forget if you’ve already paid the water bill, I write down the check number, the date it was sent and the amount of each bill I pay.  So when I have a moment of panic, I just flip back until I find the bill I was looking for – problem solved!

        Easily get a quick at a glance look at the day, week or month.  This is my number one complaint with digital planners – getting a good weekly or monthly overview is impossible.  I love being able to flip to the month and know what is going on in seconds, instead of having to click on the little calendar boxes for each item.

        Paper planners can keep everything together.  From grocery lists to bills that need to be paid, to party invitations or reminder cards I have all sorts of stuff in the pockets of my planner.  Even better, I can throw half of those away once I’ve transferred the information into my planner.  It’s a great place to plan meals, keep track of kids growth and milestones, make Christmas and birthday lists among hundreds of other uses.  I am the queen of forgetting good gifts or baby names and since I’ve started keeping a running list of things I don’t have to spend time and effort trying to remember what it was I forgot.

        Paper planning provides “unplugged” time.  We, as a whole, spend far too much time in front of screens.  I enjoy the organic and tactile process of getting away from the computer, cell phone or TV and just planning.  It’s time I can spend to focus on getting everything cluttering up my mind onto paper.  Honestly, even if this were the only benefit of using a paper planner I might do it anyway.  I hate how much screens eat up my time even when I make a conscious effort to put the phone down and walk away from the TV.  Screen time hurts our eyes, our circadian rhythms and makes us much less happy with what we have – having a specific time to put all of that aside is grounding and makes me a more pleasant person.

        Planners are keepsakes.  I’ve kept all of my planners since Doug and I got married and sometimes I like to pull them out just to see how different our lives were four years ago.  Sometimes I’ll flip back through an old planner to get inspiration for meal planning.  My favorite is to look back on the months that I was pregnant with Livia and remember the excitement that came along with expecting our first baby and after she was born, I wrote down her height and weight from doctor’s visits (because I’m terrible at baby books).  One day, maybe, she will come across this stack of planners and get a look at what our day-to-day was like before she was born or when she was a little kid.

 

        Paper planners save my butt.  They keep me on top of everything I need to take care of and they remind me of anything upcoming.  I love being able to take quick notes about something funny Livia said or did to remember in the future.  The freedom that a planner gives me to forget all the clutter in my head keeps me sane.  What is keeping you from using one, if you don’t?  What is your favorite planner design or planner system?  Let me know in the comments below!

Once A Month Meals Review


Around Christmas time last year I was listening to a favorite podcast of mine, Hungry Squared  and they did an interview with the founder and creator of Once A Month Meals (OAMM from here on out), Tricia Callahan.  I was intrigued, “I only cook once a month and my family gets to enjoy home cooked meals all month long?  Where do I sign up?”  I listened to the podcast, used their coupon code, read all the literature online and set my cooking date:  January 2, 2017 (the day I was off since New Year’s Day fell on a weekend).  Let’s start the new year out with a bang, right?

What is Once A Month Meals, Anyway?

If you are unfamiliar with OAMM, it’s a paid service that helps you plan, prep and cook a month’s worth of freezer meals in one cooking day.  You choose and modify a full menu or mini-menu to suit your family’s tastes, diet preferences and method of cooking, as well as, how many servings you need from each meal.  There are thousands of recipes in their collection, and they have all been tested by OAMM to freeze and thaw well.  OAMM then prepares a master grocery list, master prep list, cooking steps, freezer labels and thaw/reheating instructions.  It’s a lot – my monthly instructions were nearly 20 pages long.  

My Experience:

In the podcast, Callahan said again and again, first-timers shouldn’t start out with a full menu because they get overwhelmed and then never try it again, but who’s one to listen to warnings?  Not me.  I chose to go with a heavily modified full easy-prep menu, most of my recipes were dump slow cooker meals.  I did, however, listen to her warnings to shop and cook on separate days, in fact, I shopped on two different days and prepped on a third.  She was right, starting with a full menu was intense.  I chopped something like 5 pounds of onions, my eyes hurt so bad I ended up using swimming goggles to protect my eyes.  I lost one of the sets of directions, and so my whole prep/cook process was thrown off.  We lost power midway through and I had to stop prepping and cooking for a few hours until we regained power.  It was basically a disaster, I’m sure most of it could have been avoided if I would have heeded Callahan’s warning and made sure I had all the literature I needed to accomplish what I set out to complete.  Honestly, though, closing our freezer full of meals that evening was one of the best feelings of accomplishment I’ve had in awhile.

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I was so proud of how full our freezer was, both of meals for Doug and I and liquid gold for Livia.

 

 

Why It Wasn’t For Me:

In case you couldn’t tell from the above, January was the only month I’ve done OAMM for our family.  Aside from the easily and uneasily avoided mishaps, there were other reasons I chose to forego additional months.  First, I learned really quickly that prepping a ton of a meal neither I nor my family, have ever tried isn’t necessarily a good thing.  There was more than one recipe that turned out bad, either the texture was off, the flavor was bland or it just wasn’t something we enjoyed.  It’s a real problem when there’s no backup plan because all the meals for the month have been prepared and frozen.  Another issue is that OAMM doesn’t eliminate the need to cook during the month, all of their recipes had a protein, most had a grain but few included vegetables.  My family likes vegetables and I really like to have at least one green food on our plates at night.  This process left me scrambling to find a box of mac and cheese or a can of green beans in our house because, once again, I’ve already cooked our meals for the month.  Additionally, it’s a lot of work.  From choosing the menu to grocery shopping, to chopping five pounds of onions, to the freezing everything correctly – it’s an entire weekend gone.  Sure, I probably saved time, but I lost sleep and sanity over it and it wasn’t worth it for me to complete again, and who wants to spend an entire weekend slaving over meals?  Finally, I relearned how much I actually enjoy cooking during the week.  There are days I would love nothing more than coming home to a prepared meal cooking away in the crockpot, but as an everyday part of my life I really missed the satisfaction and relaxation cooking brings me.  I love spending time cooking in the kitchen while visiting with Livia or watching her stack cans of tomatoes.  And, honestly, the time I was saving I was just sitting on the couch and watching Netflix, so it wasn’t really a huge win.

One caveat to my whole experience, I am toying around with the idea of completing a few mini menus before this baby comes in December.  I’ve started working on my list of freezer meals to stock our freezer and it seems easier to just let someone else figure out how many chicken thighs I need to triple this recipe or the best way to freeze this casserole.  I’m still early in my second trimester and I don’t plan on doing any freezer stocking until after 30 weeks so I have plenty of time to make up my mind, and I’ll probably let you know how that all works out.

My Takeaway:

Once A Month Meals is a fantastically developed program – the interface, instructions, and community are all top notch.  However, it’s a ton of work at one time.  Try grocery shopping for all of your food for an entire month in one go, it’s a lot of food and I was really stressed out about getting enough of everything, and accidentally skipping an item on my list, thus throwing everything into disarray.  You may not mind chopping a potato or two, but when you need to dice five pounds of potatoes you get really bored, and, then imagine you have to dice another five pounds of onions on top of that.  For my family, the effort wasn’t worth the return.  I have the time to cook in the evenings right now and I enjoy cooking, it helps me decompress from a day at work and it helps Livia develop an interest in cooking.  I’ve streamlined my meal planning and grocery shopping process, and I discussed it here, and it really works well for us at this moment in our lives.  But, if we were a busy family, with multiple kids doing multiple extracurricular activities or sports, I would probably be much more inclined to try again.

Have you ever tried freezer cooking?  What system works best for you?