(warning -- long post ahead with tons of pictures!)
My husband and five of my children return home today from their adventures in California. I felt one huge twinge of envy the first time they called after they'd left the beach. They talked over one another as they excitedly told me about the many crabs they caught.
But that was my only twinge all week. I was too busy, too excited about what I was accomplishing, and too happy with a restful week to worry much about what I might be missing.
This week has been just what I needed. I got naps every day, several short ones and some wonderful nourishing long ones. I spent a few hours playing outside with my little ones and went on a couple of walks.
But mostly, I tackled my home with the intensity of a hurricane. I made note of every nagging thing and then went to work to take care of it.
I feel like I've been paddling upstream lately in a leaking boat. I just can't patch the leaks fast enough and keep paddling at the same time. I was fighting a losing battle.
But this week, I was given a chance to pull the raft onto a lovely bank of the river and really give some attention to the craft and its accessories.
I discovered there were more leaks than I realized. I figured out that my paddles, or my tools for moving forward -- my calendar, my schedule, my routines and habits -- were showing signs of strain. While they were adequate for the lighter rapids I'd navigated in the past, my boat is fuller now and I need stronger oars. I had concentrated time to think about what would best move our family forward and prepare for the journey ahead.
I also discovered many tiny leaks in my boat in addition to the huge ones I've been worried about. I spent some time fixing and attending to the problems this week and while I didn't get to all of them, I finished more than I thought I would.
I also found some time to enjoy the journey. I rode my bike with my kids. I took some lovely photos of some wonderful families. I went to my book club.
I felt wonderfully refreshed as I spent some time anticipating some of the rapids ahead and discovering new ways to tackle them. I may not be able to do much about Katherine's poor sleep habits, but I can do a lot to manage my life with less sleep in a calmer, smarter way.
Since I know that some of you are also feeling overwhelmed by the rapids ahead and wondering if you'll drown under the weight of it all, I thought I'd give you a peek of some of the things I finished this week. They might give you some ideas of leaks you could also tackle or some new ways to tackle your to-dos.
The point isn't for you to tell me how great I am for doing so much. My friend told me "you're so organized" as I told her some of what I've done, but I replied, "If I was so organized, I would have done all these things years ago!" The point is I haven't been as organized as I could have been and my stress level has risen because of it. The foundation of a smoothly running household needs to be in place so I can be the mother my children need.
Fixing the Big Leaks
* My main project all week was the family office. With all of us using it for homework, crafts, work and miscellaneous, it deteriorates quickly. I went through every paper, every shelf, and every bookcase. I gathered up the household files I keep in the kitchen and the mudroom as well and went through all of them. I realized that I need to have just ONE centrally located place near a computer to keep things. I've had a mail center in the mudroom for years, but I realized that it was taking more steps to mail things because first I had to print the letter (in my office), then find an envelope and stamp (in the mudroom), then find the address (on my computer in the office) and so on. I need things close at hand and easy to use. I need one inbox, not three, and I needed a plan for tackling the papers and other to-dos that get thrown at me (more on that later). When I finally finished the office, everything had a clearly labeled place and I have several empty shelves. I know just where to go to get anything I need to mail a letter, make a craft, or work on my current projects. I'm starting to wonder how I functioned with everything so spread out in the past?
And just to show you how bad things had gotten, here's a couple "BEFORE" pictures from several weeks ago:
Still on the agenda -- getting our kids' computers fixed. One doesn't work at all, and the other works intermittently, which means the kids are using my computer a lot for their homework.
* My other main project was tackling our housecleaning tools. I'd organized them all in the laundry room downstairs a while ago, but no one puts the cleaning supplies back when they're done and if they do, it's not where they're supposed to go.
I also had some cleaning supplies in the kitchen as well as the laundry room so when I went to clean something, sometimes I had to check two places before I found the cleaner I needed. I put all the extra supplies in the laundry room and took everything out of the kitchen except for kitchen specific supplies (dish soap, rinse aid, etc.).
I sometimes find myself with time to kill while my kids are in the tub or doing something nearby but with no cleaning supplies nearby to work with. I've been wanting to get better organized for a long time, but this week gave me the concentrated time to see the project to completion. I bought what I needed and created a cleaning caddy for each bathroom.
Each item is has its home clearly labeled so even if my kids take them from where they go, I will know where to put them back. I also wrote the contents on the side of each box so that I can quickly see if anything is missing later on.
I also created cleaning caddies for each floor of the house. Each contains everything I could possibly need to clean anything (well, except bathrooms). I've got what I need for windows (squeegees, windex and paper towels), and walls (magic eraser, degreaser, all-purpose cleaner), as well as new cleaning cloths. The caddy is easy to carry and also has its contents labeled so I can easily restock it when needed.
Tending to the Small Leaks
And there were a lot of them. Here's some of what I tackled:
* I bought Weed 'n Feed and spread it on our lawn. It has needed it for a while (along with some edging and some tweaking of our sprinkling system -- but hey, I can't do everything all at once!)
* I bought Round-up and sprayed it on the morning glories and other pernicious weeds that haven't responded to our pulling them up all summer.
* Our front yard hose has been a pain to pull out for several years because the plastic reel we bought when we moved here worked very poorly. I bought a sturdier hose reel, put it together and set it up.
* I didn't get to the bike mess in the garage, but I did order a couple of bike racks online that should be here this week.
* I organized all the bedding. It's been taking over the laundry room, so I bought under-bed bins and put each person's bedding underneath their own bed. A simple solution.
* I made several batches of homemade strawberry freezer jam. We were on our last container and some of my kids won't eat anything else on their sandwiches.
* While I worked elsewhere, Lillian had a ton of fun getting out our Halloween stuff and decorating our house.
* I put up several hook & eye locks so that certain areas of our home can stay organized without the "help" of some of our little kids -- we now have them on the pantry, the family office closet, and Lillian's side of the jack-n-jill bathroom she shares with the three little girls.
* I made a diaper basket for the nursery so I don't have to go out to the family room when Katie needs to be changed in the middle of the night. It's on the table next to the chair I use to nurse and rock her.
* Our master bathroom has never had a place to store towels except the ones on the towel rack. There's always been a pile of clean towels on the floor. But not anymore.
* Our half bathroom near the kitchen has never had any storage in it, not even for toilet paper. I fixed that problem beautifully. I assembled, put up and stocked this cabinet with cleaning supplies (the only bathroom without a caddy), toilet paper, and soap.
* I like to read sometimes after my husband's fallen asleep, but he hates having a light on in the bedroom. So I go out in the family room, but I hate that I have to turn on all the lights just to read a book. So I bought a lamp and set it up.
* I found this artwork at Target while on one of my many errand runs this week. Just $30 for all three, and it makes me happy to have these up on some of my previously empty wall space. Plus I think the colors go really well with my kitchen.
* I got a timer to put by our piano so kids can more easily keep track of how long they've been practicing.
* I planned some dates with my husband and planned to plan some more (wasn't that a cool sentence?). We've gotten in a rut of just going out to dinner and running errands for our weekly date, and it's time to make our time together a bit more fun. We're going to the Scarlet Pimpernel next month, and I've created a binder of other ideas I'm going to work on.
* I hung up white boards in my kitchen for each of the kids who can read. Lillian made magnets for them. We'll be using them to keep track of chores, write notes back and forth, and hang important papers, like this week's spelling list.
* I took a huge load of stuff to DI and I filled our garbage, recycling, and yard waste cans to overflowing.
* I picked up my husband's dry cleaning.
* I took my husband's car in for a wash and a vacuum. You know what I found out a month ago? I've always vacuumed our cars out ourselves, sometimes taking hours to get them done thoroughly (especially that big monster Clifford the big red van). Guess how much more it cost to have someone else do them? $10. It's worth $10 to save me the time and aggravation, plus the people at the car wash clean the inside of the windows, wipe the dash and the cupholders and give you a free scent for your car. It's heavenly, and it made me wonder how many other things I'm doing the hard way?
* I bought a real ironing board for the first time in my life. We've used one that hangs over a door since we were first married, and it made a lot of sense in our first apartment, where double doors opened into our closet and we could easily iron what was needed.
Since then, I've about given up ironing, much to my husband's disappointment, partly because I've always had that ironing board on some door in an obscure corner of the house. No more. Now I have a real ironing board I can set up near my laundry room and while I watch videos or my kids play in the family room, I can iron away. I know my husband will appreciate the effort, and I'm going to set aside some time every week for the task. I also tried to put up a hanging rod in the laundry room to hang shirts on that need to be ironed, but I got partway through and realized I was missing some of the hardware I needed. I'll have to finish that up later.
* I wanted to set up just one tool center in our mudroom so I don't have to go hunting every time I want a hammer, a screw or a studfinder, and I made a good start on the project, but I didn't have time to finish it.
Getting New Oars (My plans for moving forward)
I've thought many times in the past few months, "I just can't do more than I'm doing." My plate's been so full with everything on it -- the needs of eight kids, running a household, my mother's group, book club, photography, and more. I mentioned before that every problem seemed to require more of me and I wasn't sure I could do it! The truth is, with the way I've been doing things, I really couldn't do any more. But I took some time this week to really analyze my habits and my tools. I realized I can't do more, but I can do things better.
I realized first, that I need to eliminate some distractions. Second, I need to work more efficiently. And third, I need to work more diligently and consistently.
Here's the plans I've set up to tackle those three goals. Most don't require huge changes, just small ones that will make a huge difference.
* I've started checking email just three times a day. My habit has been to check email and my blog roll several times a day, whenever I have some time free or my kids don't need me. It doesn't take a huge chunk of my time -- I've had TimeTracker installed for a long time and I already limit my total time on the computer -- but it does take ten minutes here, fifteen here, and it distracts me from the other tasks that are more important. Sometimes I'll go to my computer to get something specific done, like look up a phone number or start something to listen to while I clean, and then I'll forget that's why I'm there, as I click through my emails or check some of my friends' blogs.
I do need to check email fairly regularly because I often get time-sensitive information, like emails from my husband or my kid's teachers and sometimes things require an immediate response. However, morning, noon, and after the kids are in bed should be sufficient.
* At the end of each day, I will handle any messages that need action, whether by putting them on my calendar, responding to them, or filing them for future reference. This is what I will do before I check any blogs.
* I will only check blogs in the evening after the kids are asleep and after I've tackled my physical inbox and my email inbox. I started doing this early in the week and it's made a huge difference. The habit has been easier to change than I expected. What's made the most difference is that I changed my home page from my own blog (with its handy blogroll) to my calendar. Now, when Firefox pulls up, I have to really think about why I'm on the internet and where I'm headed.
* I need to schedule my housework a bit more. I already spend a couple hours every morning getting the kitchen clean and doing some of my other work -- Mondays and Thursdays I wash laundry, Mondays I've been mopping the floors -- but there are a couple of things I never get to that need to be handled weekly.
I've moved mopping the floors to Tuesday, so Monday can be my no-errands concentrated project day. I'm going to work through lingering to-dos every Monday. I'll start by making sure my in-box is empty, then I'll begin work on my current projects, like making the phone calls I always put off because I think there will be time later, scheduling appointments or home repairs, finishing up organization projects like the mudroom, etc.
I'll continue doing grocery shopping on Wednesdays, but I'm going to do my other errands on Thursdays. I don't like going to the store, so unless I have a set day, like I've had for groceries, I put it off until it doesn't happen. Finally, Fridays will be my day to tackle ironing and mending. I have my mother's group on two days a month, but the other two days should give me enough time to keep up with what needs to be done.
In the past, I've had to wash all the clothes one day and fold them the next because of the volume of clothes I wash, but we recently added another washer and dryer set to our laundry room (I know, I'm spoiled rotten) and I can now move through and finish the laundry in just one day. Mondays and Thursdays will be those days.
* I'm going electronic with my calendar and to-do lists. I've been searching all year for an online calendar that does everything I want it to do. I settled on Cozi last week. It doesn't do everything, but what it does do is powerful and easy on the eyes (some of those online calendar sites are hideous!). I've been using a binder for most of the year, printing up my own calendar and keeping track of all my to-dos and shopping lists, but I'm working on getting everything entered into Cozi now. I will still print it all and have it accessible in my binder, but the ease of moving things around from list to list and especially of entering in recurring tasks and having them show up each week will save me a lot of time.
* I'm changing around a few of the kids' chores. In the mornings, the kids tend to leave a large mess in the kitchen for me to clean up. Sometimes I'm in there to remind them to put their dishes in the sink, but often, I'm doing little girls' hair, helping someone find their shoes, or getting my own shower and I discover the mess later. I've decided to ask for each school child to take three minutes and work in the kitchen before they leave for school. Three minutes should be plenty of time to put away their own dishes and to get some of the other things done, yet it's not overwhelming to any of them. Assuming they all work as well as I would (a big assumption, I know), those three minutes per child should save me fifteen each day. Fifteen minutes a day for five days is over an hour a week I've freed up for more important things.
* I'm changing Lillian's zone and adding a dinner helper night for each child. Lillian's been dinner helper this year for her zone and makes dinner all by herself on Thursdays. She'll keep that Thursday assignment and have "Straighten the family office" as her zone after school instead (should be a huge help towards keeping that room in order). Then every child will take one night to help with dinner. Because Lillian loves to cook, it's been easy to rely on her help, but it's time I consistently taught the others the basics of cooking.
* I'm adding a Friday Frenzy to our weekly routine. Our Saturday Family Work Day is a great tradition, where our whole family works to get our home clean and do other projects. Because the basic maintenance takes so much of our time, however, many other projects fall to the wayside. I'm going to change that by getting more of the regular work done on Fridays. I've assigned some basic tasks to each of my children to complete on Friday afternoons, so our Saturday work time can be more efficient.
* I've printed up a master list of each child's daily and weekly chores as well as written them down on their new white boards. No one's really getting much more than they had before -- three minutes in the morning, one night a week to help with dinner and Friday chores that used to be done on Saturdays are the only changes -- but I can see how this will really improve our family life.
* In keeping with this, Lillian and I spent some time making a master list of all the jobs we do for Family Work Day, and made a note of how often they need to be done. Each week, we spend time writing a list of everything we need to do that day. Since many of the things are the same every time, we can save that time by using our new list and marking quickly which jobs need to be done. We're also less likely to forget a job this way.
* I spent some time decided how much time I want to give to photography. The answer is enough to keep my skills and have some fun -- I love it too much to quit -- but not so much that it takes away from my family. For each hour I spend shooting, I spend about two hours developing the photos. I decided two or three shoots a month is reasonable right now and I chose the times and dates that work best for me and put them on a schedule on my photo blog. I'll revisit the schedule again in January.
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Are you still reading? Wow, there should be some award for you for slogging through all that!
In short, this week has been wonderful and nourishing. I feel refreshed and ready to tackle that river again! I can't wait to see the rest of my family, hear more about their trip and get back to my real life again.
And what a great life it is.