When I decided to stop longing for order and do something about it, I wanted to get the biggest gain for the least amount of effort. Was there a magic formula out there to give me more time with my kids, declutter my house, purge my junk, create creative storage systems, track my spending, file my paperwork, and curate my memorabilia? I read productivity books and listened to organization podcasts looking for the answer. The answer was....no. There are certainly many, many tools to use and frameworks to help us, but all of them have one thing in common - You have to DO the work!
Before I was ready to actually do anything, I needed to decide what it was I wanted to accomplish. I knew I wanted to get rid of the sense of dread I felt at the thought of some tasks in my life, I knew I wanted to spend less of my time cleaning my house, I knew I wanted to stop losing things, I knew I wanted more time with my kids and husband, I knew I wanted more of the feeling I had when I walked into someone else’s house that smelled good and had no clutter, I knew I wanted to feel in control of my finances, I knew I wanted a wardrobe of clothes that I liked and fit me. That’s all - - not too much to ask, right? Just that list in and of itself was overwhelming - where in the world would I start?
I consider the beginning of my journey to be when I sought wise council. I did this through working with a coach. Coaching was fantastic - I could just spew out all my frustrations, my fears and my shortcomings, and I learned about tools that I could apply in my own life. The biggest two takeaways from that experience were:
Boom, mic drop - I realized I was drowning in my own pool of expectations. I had asked myself, “Why can’t I do it all? Why can’t I work full time, commute 2 hours/day, keep a clean and orderly house, maintain a garden and flowers, be an involved and loving parent, a dependable volunteer, an active church member, a caring friend, a helpful daughter, a loving wife, remember to schedule and go to regular health care appointments for everyone in my family, arrange childcare and transportation for two kids, manage the family budget, maintain elaborate scrapbooks of all our family activities, plan said activities and vacations, read enriching books, keep up with a hobby, stay informed about current events, and assure that I had time for myself?” Why couldn’t I do all of those things?? Because it was IMPOSSIBLE for one human being to do all of those things to the level that I expected them to be done. I had to have help, and I had to be realistic with my time and set boundaries. Coming to that realization was life changing. I sincerely want you to come to that same realization. You are not a failure.
"Why couldn’t I do all of those things?? Because it was IMPOSSIBLE for one human being to do all of those things to the level that I expected them to be done."
If you’re like me, you can focus on a fraction of things you’re responsible for and do them REALLY well, but then the other areas of your life suffer. I would go on like that until the areas I wasn’t paying attention to were in real danger of being destroyed, and then I’d switch my focus - and it would cycle like that over and over again. It was exhausting. Eventually I learned to prune my responsibilities down to what really mattered to me and lower my own standards so that I didn’t leave any area of my life in total disarray.
I started with the hard part - the head and heart part What matters most to me? How do I get there? What/who can or should I eliminate from my life that is keeping me from what matters most? Where can I afford to lower expectations in my life? Once I got through that, I started thinking functionally. What could I do in my everyday life that would make me feel more ‘in order’? The answer to these questions are multi-faceted and broad and what inspired me to start this blog. I look forward to sharing some of these changes I made in my life with you in future posts. I'd love to hear your experiences about making changes that helped you feel more in control of your life - share in the comments or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A great read:
I've always wished I were more creative. I have this intellectual understanding of creativity, and if there were a formula for it - I’d be all over it! I took piano lessons from the ages of 6 to 17. I got pretty good - played at church, accompanied the school choir, won a couple of awards, played for a few weddings, and even taught lessons. I never felt like a true musician, though. I understand the mechanics and the mathematics of music, I appreciate the beauty, and enjoy playing. But what I can’t do is play by ear or improvise -- and man, do I wish I could! I like to create, but it’s a task for me, not something that just comes naturally.
If this rings true for you, too, don’t despair! Regardless of your level of creativity or craftiness, it’s still fun to create something yourself, even if it isn’t a concerto or a Pinterest-worthy craft. It’s also rewarding to create something that adds value to your life by providing beauty or, even better, order! I like to think of a problem I have keeping things in order and then brainstorm ways to solve that problem. If solutions include something that someone else has already made, and it’s affordable, honestly, I’d just buy it. There have been a few problems I’ve encountered, though, that I couldn’t find a solution for anywhere. So I thought through what the ideal scenario would be and then planned out how I could put items together to solve that problem.
Here are two crafty solutions I’ve used to get my life and home in order:
Problem: My family used way too many cups every day! No one knew where they’d left their cup, and if they happened to find it, they weren’t so sure it was really theirs. This resulted in getting out new ones over and over until there were cups all over the place. This caused clutter, lots of dishes, and just plain annoyed me.
Solution: A place for each family member to park their cup for the entire day that was marked with their name so they always knew where their drink was.
Process: I’d seen projects for this sort of thing online years earlier, but when I searched for something to buy, I didn’t have any luck. I started by putting sticky notes with each family member’s name on the counter and placing the glasses behind them. It sort of helped, but the notes got all wet with the sweat off the glasses, and they weren’t all that cute either.
I considered trying to craft some sort of rectangular tray contraption out of wood, but thought better of it. I searched for a plastic tray of the right size, but just couldn’t find what I wanted. So instead, I happened to see a 4 pack of rope coasters one day when I was at the store. I used a fabric marker to write a name on each coaster. Then I used sticky tac to adhere each coaster to the end of the kitchen island counter. We still have the occasional rogue glass, but it’s such an improvement! I think it works because it’s simple and straightforward. My husband doesn’t mind it because it doesn’t take up a lot of room and isn’t too decorative or “foofy,” and my kids can handle it because there’s a clear expectation of where to put their cup.
Be Present Box
Problem: I was struggling with the boundary definition of order. My job requires me to be available 24/7, so I have an iPhone that I check my email on constantly. It was becoming an addiction. I have a one hour commute each way, so I’d clear my inbox of unread messages before leaving work and when I walked in the door at home, before I’d even say hi and hug my family (or sometimes even in the garage before walking in the door) I’d check email again to make sure nothing monumental had occurred in the previous 60 minutes. Then, throughout the evening, I’d check email - deleting and flagging them to do it in a productive manner, of course. When I heard my son tell me it was my turn in UNO because I was mesmerized by a screen instead of paying attention to him - well, let’s say, I did NOT feel like a stellar mom. I realized it didn’t matter how many hands of UNO I played or how many minutes I spent outside while my kids jumped on the trampoline, it mattered that I was actually present for these experiences.
Solution: I typed a note in my Reminders app on my iPhone: IDEA - Make something to put my phone in that says, “be present.” It sat in the list of reminders for weeks, but finally on a trip to the store, I picked up the needed supplies to make this idea a reality.
Process: I purchased a paper mache oval box that my iPhone 6 would fit in and a package of lowercase small wooden letters. I had some scrapbook paper and paint at home and made my own version of modge podge.
I explained to my then-5 year old that he was going to help me make a box to put my phone in after work so I would spend more with him and his brother. He chose the scrapbook paper and helped me trace and cut it for the outside of the box and the top and edges of the lid. He helped me mix the ½ cup Elmer’s glue and ¼ cup water that we used to adhere the paper to the box. Then we painted over the paper with more of the glue concoction. He chose the color and helped paint the letters of the words “be present.” It was special to me to do this craft with my son knowing that it was intended to make a difference that he could see.
Now this box sits on my counter (next to my coasters) and after work, or at any time I’m home with the kids when they are counting on me being present, I put my phone in the box and put the lid on. On the first night I tried this, my mom called and had to leave a voicemail because I didn’t hear it. I got nervous that I might miss something that was really important, so I decided to get a bluetooth speaker to pair with it so I could hear texts or calls. (When I got my FitBit Charge 2, I set notifications so I felt a vibration on my wrist instead.) I’ve already turned off all notifications for email and social media so those will not make any noise to distract me. Just having the phone out of reach so I don’t unconsciously pick it up to check my email or scroll through Facebook has made a major difference in my evenings with my children.
Recently, I heard my oldest son explaining what the box was to say to his friend who was visiting, “This is the box my mom puts her phone in when she gets home so she pays more attention to us.” It’s sad I had to make a box to accomplish this, but the end result is what matters to me.
Do you have any other crafty ideas that keep your life or house in order? Share them with us in the comments!
We’ve already established that order can mean doing things in sequential or chronological order, but another way to define it is what most people think of when they think of organization - - arranging items within boundaries.
This type of order is often applied to physical stuff which can be corralled by bins, containers, and dividers – oh my! In my house, the perfect example of how arranging items within boundaries creates order is with my husband’s T-shirts. There are so many of them - “good” T-shirts, work shirts, white undershirts, and even long-sleeved T-shirts.
Imagine a guy’s frustration when he can’t find his favorite “good” T-shirt. To make it easy to find the shirt he wants, we first have to separate the “good” T-shirts from the work T-shirts, which for whatever reason (likely my below average housekeeping skills which I’ll write about later) seem never to smell quite as fresh as I’d like no matter how much hot water, tough detergent, or fabric softener sheets with pictures of sweet smelling things on the box that I use. Then, we hang up the "good" ones – yep, T-shirts on hangers – that’s how fancy we are.
Those perpetually smelly work shirts all go together in one drawer so they are contained. When the drawer begins to overflow, he purges them. When he does get rid of some shirts, he can actually find the T-shirt he wants to wear without having to pull all of the shirts out. A jam-packed drawer also results in wrinkles – and really, who likes a wrinkly work shirt?
White undershirts are a staple for my husband so they tend to get dingy fairly often. Since their home is in only half of the middle dresser drawer, before buying new, we have to throw out the old. Lastly, he has long sleeved T-shirts, which are kept up high in a bin on the top shelf in the closet of our bathroom because they are rarely used. Only a few fit in the bin, and his favorites are on top, that way if we get a new one, the obvious choice is to get rid of the one on the bottom.
We can arrange all sorts of things in our homes the same way we organize these T-shirts – define a place and amount of space for items, group like items together in locations that are near where you most frequently use them, and when the pre-determined amount of space fills up – purge so you can keep your stuff contained and can easily find what you’re looking for. I’ll have many ideas for this kind of thing in future posts, but what I want you to think about now is how applying these principles to your mental health and relationships is so very similar and meaningful.
“Everyone has the same 24 hours in a day, it’s just how you use them.”
My Grandpa Pete, the wisest man I’ve ever known, often said, “Everyone has the same 24 hours in a day, it’s just how you use them.” Time is a natural boundary, but we often try to force too much in that finite space. We should purge our metaphorical T-shirts to keep from wrinkling the ones we actually want to wear and make it easy to access the really important ones.
Setting up boundaries to protect our relationships is perhaps one of the most difficult things I’ve encountered in recent years. In their book, Boundaries: When to Say Yes, When to Say No - To Take Control of Your Life, Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend wisely said, “In addition to showing us what we are responsible for, boundaries help us to define what is not on our property and what we are not responsible for. We are not, for example, responsible for other people.”
I felt that by placing a boundary, I was making one area or person suffer by giving another priority. This may be a little bit true, but the trick is being ok with that and realizing that there are relationships that take precedence over other areas of our lives and that I’m not responsible for others’ reactions to the boundaries I set. You only have so much storage space, so you must purge your life of what’s stained and smelly to allow room for the things you love the most.
Cloud, Henry and John Townsend. Boundaries: When to Say Yes, When to Say No - To Take Control of Your Life. Michigan: Zondervan, 1992. Print.
A woman with many roles in life who knows the necessity of keeping things in order!