Crowded House


Ever had the “joy” ?!  of managing a “kitty” for a group of people who all contribute and then share some resources like food or other household goods?

Today’s post is for those who have had the experience of sharing a house for an extended period, or even just a weekend breakaway, with relatives or a close group who had to co-share on food and accommodation. Everybody trying to be polite by what and how much they use…but somebody always feeling on the short end of the stick – a little grumpy that they pay more and eat less (never visa versa)… or an individual feeling he/she has the administrative monster on their shoulder to manage and collect the money should you all contribute and one buys for all???

If you have not done this… there is a very real chance that you might have to do this some time in your future…so, read on…here is my story and my solution which turned the craziness of a crowd and the crippling effect it had on the hostess and her leisure time, into a situation where we have found peace for all !!

I call it the DOT SYSTEM. This is the point where my family – if any of them read my blog, will switch off the computer and turn to the news on TV. They know it by now.

It’s boring – I know.

I don’t care.

I stand by it. Try it. It worked wonders for us. It still works.

This is how it came about:

I am living overseas as an expat. That means going home every year to catch up with family and friends.

We are in the fortunate position to have a holiday house which is unoccupied during the year and therefore available for us and our extended family whenever we pay a home country visit.

We love having the family over since this is the only time we get to spend time together. And they love coming over. And STAYING!

Here are just a few of them in the pool…

We would not have it any other way. But it gets hectic. REAL hectic. When you are at any given point , twenty plus people for 3 meals a day for a period of 3-4 weeks, it means a LOT of grocery shopping, a LOT of eating, a LOT of figuring out who needs to pay what….

As the owners of the house, we were  naturally the “hosts”..but our family are nice enough to know that everybody needs to contribute to the food when they stay for that long a period.

We all pitched in with money and I then bought groceries from the “kitty”. But , besides the fact that I, or any volunteer, crippled themselves with bags from the grocery shop…. it also meant that by the time you got home with the drinks, and twenty people sink into the supplies…an hour later much of it was depleted it became a never-ending re-curring situation of stocking up supplies.

Then came the DOT system. Very simple.

Every family (we are about 4 families staying in one place), buy their own groceries.

In the first instance – that took the load of ONE person to go shop all the time…so immediately the “shopping burden” shifted equally well to each family that is on vacation in stead of a few individuals.

Every family got assigned a pack of cheap dot stickers in a different colour.

As soon as the bags hit the counter, you put a dot on every single item in your assigned color. DONE.

My kids love putting the dots on the items, so this motivates them to help unpacking the groceries when I get home and “blue dot” them before I pack away our families’ supplies. And from that point on, my kids know that they can have ANYTHING in the house, as long as it has a blue dot. Even the little one who can not read names yet, knew to ask only for drinks or candy with blue dots on them.

Sounds simple, right? The trick is that you still want to do something “together”…and you are thinking – how “un” social to buy your own food and drinks when you go on a holiday together. And herein lies the secret…

The menu for each week (end) was planned and put up on public display. This required one morning of detailed planning to write down what we would need for each meal, but then everybody could go shop in their own time, enough for their own family and we still had the joy of sharing our meals together. Say for example – we would plan a BBQ – we would say – BBQ with lamb chops, a green salad, baked potatoes. Then everyone would buy only enough chops for his family, bring 3 potatoes if they are 3 people or 6 potatoes if mom knows everyone in her family eats 2 potatoes, and a few ingredients of your idea of a green salad. We found that we had a lot less waste, as every person had put in exactly how much his/ her family usually eats instead of one person trying to judge everyone’s appetite and then wasting the food in the end.

This system was initially greeted with some scepticism. But after one holiday of succesful implementation, it was cheered by everyone with great accolades !!

What great relief it was when I only had to do grocery shopping for 5 and not 25 people and when I did not have to answer “what can I bring from the shop/ add for dinner……” every time somebody went to town. I could relax about the food…everybody had put their contributions in comes dinner time and no more fuss trying to figure out who owes what on the food bill!! Each family has dedicated shelf space and basically everybody sticks to their own supplies….

There are certain items for which you don’t have space and it is not practical to have 4 of each for example MILK! Nobody wants to make coffee for the group and then have to pour in milk from 4 different containers. Those “shared” products are marked with its own unique dots – see the PINK dot in this picture. These are either sponsored by the host or paid from out of the small group fund.

This system got 10 DOTS in my records !!! And I am sure my family will agree.

Here, somebody liked it so much, they got a little carried away with it all and even “dotted” the sandwiches that were prepared to go on the grill?! Not that you need to go that far!

There are small little details that makes this system a winner and I would be happy to share those should you have any questions.

But I would like to hear if you have ever been faced with a crowded house and your solutions of making it a manageable win-win situation to deal with the food sharing ! Let’s learn from each other.

TIll next time.




No responses to Crowded House

  • samantha Soranson says:

    Hmmm…what about toilet paper???? dishwashing liquid, paper towel??????Also what is the punishment for someone who eats from your dots???? Do children get the same punishment as adults???? I love this idea Ilze but I do know my husband – and secretly also me – I would just have to sneak into the wine and chip cupboard and change all the dots!!! You are amazing but still crazy!!!!

    • Ilze says:

      Toiletpaper and dishsoap gets sponsored by the hosts…but in the past I have assigned it to each family on a rotation basis !! 😉
      If you eat from the other people’s dots, you can’t come the next holiday …and my family would never risk that !!! But the best part is if you sneak into their dots, they do the same to yours….so you are even. And we don’t assign dots to you and your husband are free to come visit ! Unless you plan to stay a month..then we will let you pick your color dot !!

  • Nidia says:

    Hallo Ilze

    Baie dankie vir jou vars en vindingryke idees! Ek geniet jou blog ongelooflik baie. Moet asb. nie ophou nie.

    Nidia (vriendin van Grethe)

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