Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Laundry Quandary

"I just love to do laundry!" said no one ever.  Laundry is a household task that is never ending.  It feels like all those clothes actually breed in the hamper.  If you are lucky you can enjoy the blissful feeling of being caught up for about 12 hours.  And then someone changes clothes, spills something or throws up on the fresh bed sheets.  It's all down hill from there.

I recently had a what one might call a laundry epiphany.  I was reading on the Internet about this very subject.  I had new thoughts about two elements of the way I handle my laundry.  I tried out these new ideas and they have streamlined my routine.  Although I do the same amount of laundry, I do it more efficiently so I spend less time on it. 

The first thing I changed is not separating lights and darks.  I have always done this.  It's the way Mom taught me how to do laundry.  I do still have a hamper for things that are white, but light and dark colors are not separated in my house anymore.  I have not seen any negative repercussions from this.  This simple act is saving several minutes per load because I can throw everything from the hamper into my laundry basket without sorting it.  Multiply these saved minutes by the number of loads you do a year and that adds up! 

The other thing I changed is putting a hamper in my sons' room.  I've had one for them since they were born.  I quit using it when they were toddlers because they just wanted to empty it out on the floor causing me more work. Now that they are older they don't have the urge to empty the hamper.  Although their urges to make messes around the house have not ceased!    Having this responsibility is also helping them learn to pick up after themselves.  I am teaching them to turn things right side out before putting them in the hamper so they are ready to fold when the come out of the dryer.  Nobody ever taught my husband this.  It drives me crazy that half his laundry is inside out or worse, partially inside out!  Learning this habit from an early age will help them when they have to do their own laundry.  And one day, if their wives are doing their laundry, I hope they will appreciate me teaching my sons proper laundry protocol! 

Having separate loads for different family members is saving me more time than I would have imagined.  In the past, if I let four or five clean loads pile up before putting them away, it took me a good 15 minutes to sort out each person's' clothes.  That doesn't even count folding them or putting them away.  It was just making piles of each person's clothes.  Each load I do now has either adult clothes or kid's clothes. Since my boys are twins and they share clothing I wash all their clothes together.  If I had children of different ages who didn't share clothes I would do a separate load for each child.  You could also do separate loads for husband and wife.  I decided to continue to wash our things together because it's just as easy.  My husband folds his clothes and puts his clothes away.  I put his clean clothes in a pile for him and as soon as I pick up one of my items I fold it right then instead of putting it in a pile like I used to do.  My hamper that I keep just for whites contains everyone's white items.  I only do whites once a week though so it's not a big deal to sort them out. 

The reason these two simple changes have streamlined my routine is that I am touching my laundry less.  I don't sort dirty clothes at all.  I spend less time sorting clean clothes.  And since I all my boys' clothes are in one load I fold them in their room eliminating the three trips I usually made from my room to theirs carrying their piles of clean clothing. 

One thing I didn't change was the way I handle towels and sheets.  Those items get washed weekly in loads separate from the clothing.  I also throw kitchen linens in with any load at any given time so they don't pile up on me.  They are easy to extract from the clothes as I am removing them from the dryer. 

As you examine your own laundry quandary think about how you can decrease the number of times you touch the clothing.  Every time you do this you will gain a few minutes, which will add up into hours and into days as our quest for clean clothes never ends.  And I will keep reminding myself that I am very blessed to have a laundry quandary because that means my family has more than enough clothing to wear. 

Monday, January 21, 2013

The Power of Lists

If I told you that a simple piece of paper and a pencil could make your life less stressful would you believe me?  It is TRUE!  Just as clutter in our physical environment can drain our energy, mental clutter has the same effect.  My life is full of lists.  When I fail to make lists I can tell a difference in my productivity and focus.  I want to share with you why and how I make lists.

1. Lists help get all that mental clutter outside of myself so that I can focus on what needs to happen and how I am going to make it happen.  The simple act of writing down all that is swirling in my brain and looking at it makes me feel in charge.  It allows me to see what needs to happen.  Sometimes, I can see that X needs to happen before I can do Y, so that means X gets priority treatment.  Sometimes, I see the best way that errands need to be run so that I am not backtracking, saving me time and gas.  Sometimes, I realize that there is a task that can wait until another day.  It really doesn't seem as pressing now that I've dumped it from my brain onto the paper.  Sometimes, I realize that I can delegate the task and not even do it myself.  That's ALWAYS nice! 

2. Lists help me be intentional with my time.  When I am intentional with my time my productivity soars.  I feel a sense of accomplishment when I check things off my list.  As I wrote in my last post, this feeling of accomplishment leads to a feeling of fulfilment.  When I am not intentional with my time I am easily distracted by any number of things.  I find I am less easily distracted if I have a mission to accomplish.    

3. I have many lists in my home for different purposes.  The lists are in a location where I can see them, add to them and check them off.  I have a running grocery list so I can immediately write down an item I need when I think of it.  I have a menu list, usually for two weeks at a time.  This helps me know what I need to purchase at the store as well as know how I need to prepare for our evening meal.  For more info on meal planning see my post "Mamma's Mealtime Mania."  I have a list of projects I want to get accomplished around the house such as cleaning out the kitchen cabinets or painting a closet.  Each night I make a list of things that need to happen the next day such as errands, vacuuming, and preparing for a Sunday School lesson.  This list might also include one of those projects from the previous list like painting a closet.  I  don't usually include things that I do everyday such as making the beds or emptying the dishwasher.  But it could.  If making a big list of EVERYTHING you need to do makes you feel good then do it!  By the way, I have been known to do something that was not on the list and then add it to the list after I accomplished it just so I can mark it off the list. I know, it may be a little OCD, but whatever.  It works for me! 

4. If I had to choose the most important list it would be the daily list I make each night for the next day.  How we spend our time each day culminates into how we spend our lives.  Making the list at night is important because it gives you a head start on your day.  It's already mapped out.  If you are the type of person who likes to jump out of bed and get going you can immediately get busy.  If you are the type who is still a little foggy in the morning and needs a while to totally wake up you don't have to try to think that early in the morning.  

5. I don't let my lists stress me out.  My lists help decrease my stress because they tell me what needs to happen next.  If I feel that something on my list is causing me stress I try breaking it down into smaller parts.  For example, if I write "clean the house" on the list that's too big and too vague.  I can change that to "dust the downstairs, vacuum and  clean the bathroom." Do you see how breaking the task down into smaller chunks makes the tasks more concrete?  This allows me to wrap my brain around what exactly needs to happen.   

6. I am not a slave to my lists.  Although I use them as a guide, there are times when snuggling with my boys, spending time with my husband, spending some time alone with God or talking with a neighbor is far more pressing than anything on my list.  When everything on my list doesn't get accomplished it simply goes on the next day's list.  And sometimes things even get thrown off the list because my attitude or perspective has changed on that particular item. 

If you are not already a list maker I challenge you to become one.  See how it can lighten your mental clutter, increase your productivity and help you feel less stressed.  See how the power of the list will increase your focus and allow you to make intentional decisions about how you spend your time. 

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Feeling Fulfilled

Within the last month I have spoken with two moms who were contemplating making the switch from working outside the home to becoming stay-at-home moms.  Both expressed concerns over feeling bored, isolated, unscheduled, and worried about the temptation to stay in their jammies all day.  For the last five years I have been staying at home with my twins.  I do have a small business, but it does not take much time each week.  I can honestly tell you that in the last five years I have NEVER felt bored!  In my opinion, boredom is a state of mind.  You have the power to change that.  There have been days when I have felt unmotivated or just down right worn out.  But those two feelings are very different from being in a state of boredom.  In fact, most days I wish I had more hours in the day because there is so much I want to do! 

I have heard some stay-at-home moms say they don't feel fulfilled.  I can honestly say that I feel fulfilled.  In fact, I was recently asked to return to work in the profession that I worked in before the boys were born.  It was tempting, but when it came down to it, the main reason I would have returned was for money, not fulfillment.  I decided that I would rather have a little more time at home with my boys than money.  I can always earn it later.  I can't get the time back. 

I want to address the importance of having a plan for the day. When you say the words schedule or routine some people automatically cringe.  They associate those words with BOR-ING.  However, as I've said before in earlier posts, a schedule actually allows you to think less and be more productive.  I am not here to tell you what your schedule should look like.  Although you may have certain commitments like getting older children to school on time, you are in control of the majority of your day.  Take charge of those hours! 

Here's the key to having a schedule: flexibility.  Life happens and sometimes things just don't go as planned. It's ok.  When this happens know that when you wake up the next day you have the opportunity to try it again.  I am not talking about scheduling every minute of your day.  Ugh!  That is just setting yourself up for feeling frustrated.  Having a reasonable idea about what needs to happen each day is key to feeling like you have accomplished something which leads to a feeling of fulfilment.

Let me share with you what our typical schedule is during the week so you can see an example.  Monday, Wednesday, & Friday: 7:30 get up, brush teeth, get dressed, eat.  Out the door by 8:40 to Preschool at the Y.  While the boys are in school I am either exercising, running errands, or working on a project at home.  11:30 pick the boys up from school.  Eat lunch with Dad at home. We typically have 1:00 to 5:00 open to play with friends, work on a science project, bake cookies, watch a movie, or go somewhere like the library, park or pool.  Anything can happen within those 4 hours.  On Tuesdays my mom usually has the boys so I am able to get projects done, shop by myself or or just have a break.  Thursday is kind of a free day for us.  It's the only day we don't have to get up and go somewhere.  We are taking advantage of it because we won't have that when it's time for Kindergarten in August.  On these days sometimes we DO stay in our jammies all day.  It's ok!  Because we aren't doing it every day it's a treat, not the habit of a slacker.   

I find that making lists helps me tremendously.  I am preparing an entire post dedicated to this subject, but until then, trust me, make lists!  Make them each night for the next day.  You will feel prepared for the day when you get up.  Keep running lists of things you need to do.  At all times I have a list of projects I want to complete, such as cleaning out my closet,  a list of things that need to happen each day like making a cake to take to church for a funeral dinner, and a grocery list so I can add items to it when I run out of them.  Keep the lists in a place that is accessible so you can view them and add to them, and of course cross things off them.

Caring for your children and your family is the most important job you will ever do.  Work at it like you would work for an employer.  You would not show up to a board meeting at your office unprepared.  Take the steps to prepare for your role.  Suit up, show up, give it your best and find fulfilment! 

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Ditching Scrapbook Guilt

Today is the first day of the new year.  We literally turn the page on the previous year to see a blank slate of opportunities held within the coming year.  Many people evaluate their lives at this point each year.  I enjoy dreaming, planning and mapping out what I hope for in the new year.  I enjoy thinking about what's to come in the next 12 months.  What will this year hold for our family?  Where will we be at this time next year?  What do I want to accomplish?  What do I want to let go of? 

Today I write about letting go of something I've held onto for the last five years that I no longer can grasp: scrapbooking my children's lives.  I began with the best intentions.  I got together with a few girlfriends and we would scrap and chat.  These were fun and productive evenings, but as with many things, life got in the way and we stopped meeting for this purpose.  My twins were 5 years old in October.  Guess how far along I am in their scrapbooks?  I have their 6 month pages finished.  Hey, if I didn't have to do two I would have had a whole year done, right?

I kept telling myself that I would get caught up.  First, I thought when I moved into a home that allowed me ample space to spread out and create that I would be a scrapping queen.  Wrong.  But I do have it organized in a lovely way so that I can easily get to it.  That counts for something, right?  Then I told myself when they started preschool that I would have more time to tackle such endeavors.  It doesn't happen now either.  I see a pattern.  I am interested in working on it but not committed enough to make it happen.  This is truly a lesson that can be applied to many areas of life. 

So, what shall I do?  I will finish documenting the second 6 months of my sons' lives and then I will sell my equipment, embellishments, gadgets, and gizmos at my annual garage sale.  I will make online albums that take a fraction of the time and quite honestly may hold up better over time than my handmade ones.  I will ditch the guilt that lurks in the back of my mind.  I will enjoy making new memories instead of obsessing about how to find time to preserve the old ones. 

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Clean Enough

Let's get down and dirty to talk about cleaning.  It's not the most fun thing I do each week, but I've found some things that help make it more bearable.  First, let me tell you a little about my house so you will know what I am dealing with.  I live in an old two-story home with hardwood floors in every room, even the bathrooms.  It's about 1,800 square feet with a living room, dining room, eat-in kitchen, 1/2 bath and laundry/office on the main level.  The upstairs has 2 bedrooms, a playroom and a full bath. There are three main things that helped the task of cleaning become less of a chore to me.

1.Define what it means to you to have a clean house.  This may sound strange, but just think about it for a minute.  To you does a clean house mean spotless and shiny like a magazine photo?  Does it mean everything is super-organized?  Does it mean that toys are put away each night before bed?  Does it mean you have clean towels each time you shower?  None of these answers is right or wrong.  Determining your expectations for a clean home will help you create an action plan.

I used to feel that for my house to be clean everything needed to be in it's place, the floors mopped, the bathroom sparking and generally looking like a magazine photo.  But there is one problem with this idea:  I don't have a live-in maid and I had two little boys 4 1/2 years ago.  When I had this mindset it was truly a rare occasion that my home met this pie-in-the-sky expectation.  So I lowered my expectations, got rid of the guilt of never measuring up and now take pride in my house that is "clean enough". 

2.Organization will truly change your life.  Some people are born organizers and some aren't. If organizing doesn't come naturally to you get an organized friend to help you out.  Watch and learn from him or her so you can develop this skill yourself.  I feel that if everything in your home has a designated place you have conquered  80% of the battle of keeping a house that is  "clean enough".

I will cover organization more thoroughly in another post but here are a few general tips to get you started organizing.  Put like items together, i.e. all spices in one drawer.  Put items used together in the same place, i.e. stamps and envelopes in the same drawer near where you will use them.  Baskets and bins are useful in every room.  If you haven't used it in a while sell or donate it to clear up more room.

3.  Develop a strategy for keeping up on your housework.  By doing this you create an action plan rather than just "wishing somebody would clean up this mess!"  For me this includes daily, weekly and bi-weekly tasks.  Since developing a schedule for cleaning my home I no longer look at something that's getting dirty, like the bathroom sink, and think, "Ugh!  When am I going to find the time to mess with that?"  I now think, "Well, that's no big deal because it will get cleaned up on Friday."  Sticking to the schedule actually allows me more freedom because I know it will get done.  I don't dread trying to figure out when to squeeze one more thing in my schedule because that task is already scheduled. 

I am sharing my schedule to give you an example of what this looks like at my house.  My way obviously isn't the only way, but hopefully this will help you have a jumping off point if you don't know where to  start. Every day or two I keep up on clutter by putting things away.  It only takes a very few minutes because it's done regularly and because everything has a place.  I also sweep the kitchen floor as it tends to be a crumb magnet for two little boys.  If I make a mess on the stove it gets cleaned up when it happens. The table and counters are wiped after use.  The playroom gets picked up two or three times a week.  Every Thursday is when the towels and sheets get washed.  Other laundry gets done as needed.  I fold and put my clothes and the boys' clothes away, but my husband is responsible for his. His closet is messier than I would like, but it's his space and it has a door so I don't worry about it. 

I alternate cleaning my first floor and second floor on Fridays.  This means my whole house isn't "magazine ready", but remember I gave up that expectation.  On the weeks I clean the first floor I dust, sweep all rooms with the vacuum and broom where appropriate, clean the 1/2 bath, clean the stainless steel appliances, mop the kitchen floor, and clean the toilet and sinks in the upstairs bath. I mop other rooms as needed.  Since I have been keeping up on other kitchen tasks they don't have to be done on "cleaning day".  The weeks I clean the upstairs I dust, sweep, clean the entire bathroom, sweep the high traffic area in my living room and clean the 1/2 bath downstairs.  I also vacuum the high traffic area on my front porch each time I have the sweeper out to help eliminate some dirt from even getting in the house.  

So that's what I do.  It might not sound like enough to some, it might sound like too much to others, but this system really works for me.  My "cleaning day" takes about two hours each week to complete.  It's so worth it to me to designate the time to get it done.  I honestly don't dread it because I love the feeling of knowing that my house is "clean enough". 

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The Magic Wand

How many of you really love cleaning your house?  I know there are people out there who really do enjoy this activity, but I am not one of them.  However, I do enjoy the feeling of having everything in it's place and rooms that are fresh looking and smelling.  I recently overhauled how I clean.  I also re-examined my expectations for living in a clean house with two little boys who make a messes faster than the Tazmanian Devil!  Wouldn't it be nice to wave a magic wand and viola, a clean house? Alas, the only wand I have is a toilet wand. 

In my next post I will share my thoughts about how I clean my own home. But today I want to address a large majority of women: those who work full-time outside the home and have a spouse who works full-time.  Why are you cleaning your own home?  You ladies have a magic wand at your disposal; it's called delegation.  A cleaning person is not just a luxury for those who have a six-figure income.  It's a necessity for a two-income family.  Back in the days where most women stayed home it was just expected that she did the majority of the housework. This made sense.  The husband worked away all day and someone had to take care of the home.  So why are many people still in the mind set, even in our "enlightened" society, that most of the housework falls on the woman's shoulders even when she is gone all day long just like her husband?  On top of that we have a mountain of activities kids are involved in these days.  Enough already!  Find someone to clean for you on a weekly or bi-weekly basis and see how your life changes. 

"Well, that's high and mighty of her saying that," I can hear you say.  "She doesn't know my financial situation." You are right, I don't know your financial situation, but I do know this:  peace of mind is priceless.  Coming home to a messy house where you struggle to find what you need or are grossed out by the condition of the bathroom zaps your energy.  Are there ways you can find some "extra" money hidden in your budget to hire a cleaning person?  Are you so busy trying to play catch up at home that you buy takeout food even though you would rather cook your family a healthy homemade meal?  You actually could have time to do that and save money if you let go of the cleaning responsibility.  Or maybe you always go out with friends instead of having them over because you are embarrassed at the state of your house.  Having people in rather than going out will save you money.  Maybe you have a lot of things that you need to get rid of that are just taking up space in your home.  Have a garage sale and earn the money to hire a cleaning person. As a bonus, you will also feel more relaxed in your home because of the reduced amount of clutter. 

These are just a few ideas to get you started thinking about how you can incorporate cleaning delagation into your life.  If your husband is opposed, tell him that you are giving him the opportunity to do all the cleaning for the next month.  I'll bet he decides that you can find the money somewhere!  

It should not be too hard to find someone to clean for you.  Ask around, post it on Facebook, and look in the classifieds.  If you are fearful to commit to someone then tell your potential recruit that you are looking for someone to help you "catch up" on housework.  This allows you a trial period to make sure you like their work, can trust them, and see if the scenario works for you.  That way if it doesn't work out you don't have to fire the person because it was just a temporary position to begin with.  And if it does work out then you can ask her to come back regularly. 

As a very part-time work-from-home mom I am dutifully keeping up on the housework in my home.  In my next post I will share how I have made that job less of a chore.  But you can bet when the time comes for me to get back into the workforce full-time the first thing I am doing is finding a cleaning person!  My time is much too valuable to spend with a toilet wand.  Bring on the magic wand!

Saturday, March 24, 2012

The Uniform

I started thinking recently about the idea of becoming emotionally attached to things.  For the most part, I don't view myself as someone who places a lot of emotional attachment to my possessions.  My home is filled with the things that I love, but not necessarily things that evoke great emotion.  The memories I have are in my heart and in my head.  They can't be taken away from me even when I sell an object or move to another home. I want to share a little story about an item that I realized in the past week may have some emotional attachment thrust upon it from my subconscious mind.  

In my basement sits a box labeled "mementos."  This box has made it's home in 5 attics or basements in the last 15 years (That's right, we have lived in 5 houses in our 15 years of marriage.  We have an old house obsession.  I don't believe there is a 12-step program for this kind of addiction! )  Right now I cannot even tell you what's in this box, except for one item: my sixth grade Optimist cheerleading uniform.  Before it had a home in this box, this uniform sat in another box in my parents' attic for over 8 years. 

On the surface this uniform really doesn't mean anything to me.  But I asked myself this week, "Why have I lugged this thing around all these years?"  Then I realized maybe it was because it was part of dream that never became a reality for me.  Ever since I was a little girl watching high school basketball games I wanted to be a cheerleader. In sixth grade I got the chance to cheer for the Optimist Basketball League. There were no tryouts.  Our uniforms were hand made by somebody's mom's friend.  There were no stunts or pyramids.  But I had fun.  So when 7th grade cheerleading tryouts rolled around I was ready.  I was going to be a "real" cheerleader.  Except I didn't get chosen.  I was determined to make the squad in 8th grade.  But I didn't get chosen then either.  After a failed attempt in 9th grade I resigned myself that I must not be cheerleader material. 

The story doesn't have a sad ending though.  When I didn't make the squad in 7th grade my parents suggested I join the swim club.  I enjoyed being in the water and enjoyed the competitive nature of racing.  Until then I had never played any sports except in gym class.  After my failed attempt in 8th grade I decided that I would try running cross country.  I found that I was good at it!  I have lots of endurance.  Maybe God was preparing me to be the mother of twin boys all these years later!  I enjoyed running and enjoyed the camaraderie of running as a group.  Today I still run and swim for fitness.  How many 35-year-olds do you see cheerleading for exercise?  Through disappointments I found a love for two activities I still enjoy today that I might not have otherwise found. 

So that brings me back to the box in the basement.  The next time I clean out the basement I am saying, "Adios" to that old uniform.  I don't need it and I am not attached to it.  Do you have anything in your home that is taking up space because you have consciously or subconsciously become emotionally attached to it?  Maybe it's time to say good-bye to holding the clutter in your home and hello to holding the memories in your heart.