Mar 10, 2015

When There Was Time for Me . . .

Before there was Teddy and Sydney, before there were piggies going to market, drippy noses to wipe and miniscule adorable clothes to fold, I used to do things - things like draw. My favorite media was vine with black pastel, and I had the most fun with mark making. There's something about those purposeful slashes, jabs and squiggles  - it was like kickboxing with a crayon.  I loved the way my nails were never quite clean, and my hair smelled of charcoal dust, and my clothes were crusted with rubbery eraser bits.  I would get so deep into projects that it was my sustenance - literally so - because I would forget to eat food. If I did eat, I didn't taste it.  Sleep would not come until I got to a 'good place' to stop. Many times I woke up face down on the paper, in a panic that I may have drooled on the result of my 11pm inspiration.

Was I any good?  Maybe? Sometimes? But that's immaterial anyway. The quality of work (or lack thereof!) never really mattered. What mattered was the act of creating something from absolutely nothing. Now you see a blank sheath of 80 lb. cotton rag . . . .  but now . . .  now you see stuff on it. It was really quite empowering. Maybe that's why I didn't drink in high school. Drawing made me feel high enough.

Like many people, I had many interests.  I liked to run for the joy, and the challenge, and of the wrung-lung sweat of it.  I would run in weather so cold it felt like needles were piercing the back of my nose. I also played violin.  I played tennis. True, my only decent hit was a totally unintentional, but rather wicked, backhand spin, but it was fun! I sang alto and mezzo in various choral groups, and took classical voice lessons just to see if I could do it.  I wrote bad lyrics, and even worse poetry. Not because I had to. Just because. 

No matter where I was in life, I made time for enjoyable things that required nothing more than the volition, the compulsion,  to create or do something.  Not for praise or accolades or money. Just for personal fulfillment. I've always answered that sensory and visceral call.  In fact, nothing has ever come between me and some form of self expression - not a failed marriage, a move to a big city, demanding jobs, situational depression, caretaking for my grandmother, going back to school as an adult, or marriage to great guy. Nothing.

That is, until I had two beautiful, sweet, funny, heart-of-my-heart kids. Wow. That sounds so unjust . . . as if they are the cause of this disconnection with myself.  They are not.  In fact, they have opened up new pathways of love and happiness I didn't know possible. But the truth is, I'm too tired to create the way I used to. And exercise? The very word gives me a headache.  Raising children (with my helpful and involved husband) knocks me flat on my very un-tennis-y butt every darn day. Is this in some way evidence that I'm not a natural-born Mom? Others make it look so easy. Maybe I'm not that good at it.  I don't really know the answer, but I try.  I begin each day brimming full of optimism like a 1990's motivation poster: Live life to the fullest!  Live, love, laugh!  Today is the first day of the rest of your life!

Somewhere in the day, like around dinner time, the positive mantra changes to something like: "Stop telling me to live, 1990's  Motivational Posters!  I'm eyeballs high in living! "

Kidding aside, at the end of 15 hour home day, I'm an empty cup with the handle falling off. Don't get me wrong- I do my best, and hope the parenting books I'm reading will keep my children out of therapy. But it takes all I have to parent.  There's really not much left of me for me.

All the books talk about the importance of 'you time' so that parents have other things to look forward to. So I have these good intentions for creative time.  I've got the supplies.  I have ideas. Oh I have tons of ideas. I even schedule creative time in my planner. But the most I can manage after the last child is asleep is an adult beverage, and a hot marinade in the bath tub. (A tub, that I wish with all of my being, was a sensory deprivation tank.  I am not kidding about that.)  When I feel sufficiently numbed by the water, I let it drain, and I imagine all the stress of the day going down with it. That feels good. Emptying with it is yet another opportunity to do something creative. That doesn't feel so good.

Just about every bath is bittersweet in this way for me. *sigh*

But then, there'll be a glimmer of what the future might be like. I compare it to a sun streak in a dark forest, or better yet,  a sun streak in an abandoned building (the abandoned building is of course, a metaphor for my head.)  Perhaps I got enough sleep the night before, or the kids were especially helpful and sweet to each other. . . . let's just say the planets were aligned.  And the result is I crafted, or edited photographs, or wrote this. Very. Blog.  When that energy rushes through me I feel like a rooster who needs to crow. I feel invincible. Confident.  Worthy, like I have something of value to contribute.  Do I have something of value to contribute most times anyway? Yes, sure, don't we all?  But try telling that to the right side of my brain.  It's very hard of hearing.

I've accepted that life is full of trade offs.  I don't expect that it will be this way forever.  In fact, if I want the best for my kids, then I would be doing them a favor by letting them see my most authentic self.   I want to give them and my husband that.  I want to give them more than paltry weak shafts of light, but high noon, in your face, Vitamin D springtime sun. If I can provide a good example, perhaps when they have families of their own, they will naturally reserve time just for them to do what they love. We all need this attention to ourselves to rejuvenate, to stay sane.

I've been reading The Fringe Hours: Making Time For You . The author has very convincing arguments in favor of doing a little for yourself each day - much more if you can swing it. At this chapter in my life, I can't do the things I used to do in the way I was used to doing them. But I can give myself a half hour a couple of times a week.  Maybe there's a way to include the kids on a few projects. It's a start . . . . and hey look  - there's that light again . . .

Jan 10, 2015

Say No to Something This Year!

Time Management coaches, including myself, like to spout the maxim: "If you are saying yes, you are also saying no."

Meaning: when you agree to take something on, you are saying no to all the other possibilities that could fill that part of your day.  It's meant to help us realize that time is finite and has a limit, so choose carefully how you want to spend it. 

I have four large areas I'm working on this year. In order to give those goals the time they deserve, I have to let go of some stuff - physical things that take time to maintain, and various other things that sap my resources. 

Baby Gear and Clothes
I had a yard sale last year and got rid of a great pile of baby stuff, but I kept back the expensive items in the hopes of selling it on Craigslist or EBay.  I never got around to it, and watching it gather dust made me feel like a procrastinator with a capital "P". Once my brother and sister-in-law announced they were expecting, I gave it all to them.  I said No to setting up and monitoring online accounts, meeting strangers, packaging, mailing and an undetermined profit. I said yes to clear shelves, happy relatives, and the very satisfactory feeling of being of assistance to people I love.

my neglected little jungle fights for survival no more!
I used to give my plants a lot of attention. I obsessed over their bugs, and gave a lot of thought to organic fertilizers and chlorine-free water. When the kids came along, I gave away the big lush plants because they were being destroyed by chubby and curious hands. The smaller plants were moved to my office dormer behind a gate to save them from Child 1 and Child 2.  Since then, the care given to the plants has been sporadic.  Many times over the past four years I've saved them from pitifully drooping to robustly thriving again.  This fall I got busy and the specter of death looms over them again. 

I'm also going to dig out two sickly looking rhododendrons and an ever green that was damaged by snow last year.   It's time to put the ragtag flora and fauna in a compost pile, except I'm not doing that yet (another thing I'm saying no to this year.)

Bill Paying/Budget
My husband is going to take this over, and after 8 years of doing it, I'm so ready to pass the baton! With his involvement, we'll do much better with budgeting our daily expenses, and planning for the kids' education and retirement. I can continue to support our endeavors by staying within budget, couponing, and maintaining/increasing the value of our home with improvements, and generally being creative and thrifty. 

TV, Internet, Social Media Distractions
I like TV, and I cruise Facebook like it's Main Street on a Friday night in a small town. (Is there AA for this stuff?) But besides a little non-quality relaxation, what does it get me? There are so many other things I want to read about, so many interests I want to explore. But I have a hard time letting go of my screen fixes, because they're easy go-to's when my brain needs a coffee break. So this year, I'm employing the concept of Appointment Viewing; I'll make a special date with Downton Abbey (PBS) and Outlander (Starz).  And I've got a timer with an annoying buzzer to lessen the time suck effect of social media. I already know I'll fall off the wagon with Big Bang Theory and Friends reruns. But the times I DO succeed will be worth it. 

What does saying no get you? Some good stuff, like time and energy.  The less responsibility, physical stuff, and negative energy you have weighing you down, the more freedom you have. When you say no to ancillary demands, you can say yes to what matters to you. Your potential is boundless, possibilities are without borders, and your ability to do something meaningful is suddenly unlocked. Maybe you want to go back to school. Maybe you want to write the next great American novel. Maybe you just want get your hands dirty in a garden, treat yourself to regular massages, or spend quality time with your family.  But to do so, you must say no to things that are tethering you. What will you say no to, so that you can embrace what it is that you really want?

Jan 8, 2015

I'm an Organizer, and My House is Messy!

When people learn that I'm a Professional Organizer and Time Management Coach, some times they'll respond with a sort of bright-eyed awe: "Your home must be perfect!" 

Why, yes, my house is perfect.  But it's not what they think.

I smile and say: "That depends. What is your definition of perfection?" Then they throw certain phrases around, such as "everything in its place, neat and tidy, children playing with one toy at a time, no dirty dishes in the sink, no piles of paper", etc. 

Well, I've got news to share and I'm not one bit ashamed. A good portion of my house is MESSY a good portion of the time. Sure, it frustrates me, but I've sort of temporarily made my peace with it.  Here's how and why: 

It's Not Forever
The kids are 3 and 4.  I would love for them to read quietly in a corner sometimes, but they are not those kind of kids.  They are spirited, boisterous, inventive, and man are they busy! Their games look like elaborate barricades rivaling the French Revolution, involving every item in the house that isn't nailed down. We straighten up twice a day together, so they are learning to weigh whether its worth it or not to dump the Lego bucket again. But it only takes a few minutes of play for it look like a cyclone of Dust Bowl proportions just blew through. I  can only hope it gets more manageable as they grow, and not worse!
Guest bed turned boat.  The giggling captains are buried near the stern, port side.

There's 3 of Them, 1 of Me
We have a 3000 square foot house (too much I think!) and I'm the only party interested in straightening and cleaning it, and I'm at it every day.  I used to think this isn't fair, especially since my husband finds time to relax more than me.   But the big picture is that we function well as a family unit, and each of us brings different talents to the table. Steve works full time and is an involved parent.  He also searches for recipes, cooks every single delicious dinner, and shops for it too. Those kind of trade offs make us an effective team, especially since we hire no outside services to help us. That said, I can't keep up.  It's a big house that I straighten, but I straighten it alone.

It's a Choice
art class - mixing colors
I admire people who have made it a priority for a neat, company-ready house. My mom did it, and so did my grandmother.  It was a matter of pride to do so, and I applaud these super ladies! But simply put, that kind of fastidiousness not one of MY priorities at this time. It doesn't even make the top 10! In this household, I wear every hat imaginable, including running a small business, home improvement, and homeschooling  (until they are of public school age.) It is with deliberation that I choose how best to spend my resources to get things done. So do I stress over the flour still on the floor from baking cookies with little people? Not much.  

The Day Has to End
There are times that I'm stretched so thin, I could work well into the night every night and still have things to do. However, I don't think that would be physically possible for me. Many is the evening that I fall asleep flat on my face still fully dressed at 9 p.m.  It wasn't like this when I was 25 -  I had much more energy.  Now I'm 45 and there's a limit to my output. So to keep things balanced, I have taken a page out of my husband's book, and that is: the work day ends after we put the kids to bed. It's the only way we can stay borderline sane, and it works. After we say goodnight to the kids for the umpteenth time,  I might take on something outlandishly crazy like wash my hair. And if I want to read, work on a creative project, blog or do any thing else for myself, this small window of time is when I can squeeze it in.

So getting back to the intro, what does organized look like?  What you see in magazines, on social media sites, and in books on the subject, is a picture perfect IDEAL. Some people actually live this way and are delighted to do so; some achieve it right before company arrives. In a way, I'm grateful for this crazy idea that we have to live containerized lives because it compels people to call me for my services!  However whenever I can, I encourage my clients to forget this pre-defined ideal of organized perfection.  I recommend they concentrate on getting organized enough - enough to pay bills on time, find anything quickly, get out the door with minimal effort, keep a schedule that allows them to work on their dreams, purge the old, tired, ugly stuff for new energy, etc.  I help them create a balanced life they can maintain.  

Don't let the media, or a lifestyle guru, or anyone else dictate what organized looks like. Being organized is about living with purpose. 

In my mind, living with purpose IS perfection. 

I think there will be a time in the near future when the physical chaos of our own home will shift to something more manageable.  I do believe that neat(er) spaces foster creative energy, and provide soothing and calm places of relaxation. Until then, yes, my house is messy, but none-the-less perfect!

Jan 6, 2015

Hello 2015, Bye Bye Holidays (Yes, All of Them)

As a kid of five, I remember two generally unkempt homes in our neighborhood that had gigantic colored holiday lights up all year. In some places the wires sagged away from the roofline, and the same bulbs went unrepaired season after season.  My young mind wondered why all the other houses on the block managed to keep up appearances, but not these two?

When I see houses like this now, I'm far less judgy. Perhaps an elderly couple or disabled person lives there with little family nearby to help.  Perhaps the family works so much that repairing and taking down lights is beyond what they have time for. Perhaps they ARE just lazy, but even so, those are their choices and none my business!

No matter what is the reason for the season, most people who celebrate ethnic, religious or secular holidays realize there must be a close to it at some point. Otherwise it wouldn't be singled out or special.  Just like graduates put away their cap and gown, and brides carefully store their gowns, so too the holiday trimmings and decor need to find their way back into boxes until the next time around.

So when is the right time to take it all down?  Here's a rough guide: 

Christmas Revelers
Some time after "Isn't our tree BEAUTIFUL?!" . . . . but definitely before "Oh, look at our kindling." Fire hazard aside, you know it's lost it's appeal when you stop watering O Tannenbaum. Might as well send it to it's final resting place before it turns into a crispy brown husk. 

And the beauty of an artificial tree is that they're so EASY to dismantle, right? Are you really going to try to call it your President's Day tree?

Some choose to take down their Christmas-specific decor relatively early and leave up the tree and lights til the day after Epiphany, January 6. At this point, the 12 Days of Christmas are officially over. You could stretch it out more, but it would really be hard to top 12 Drummers Drumming. It's okay to let it go - the season will come back in about 11 months.

Chinese New Year Celebrants
Up to February 18, clean or purge thoroughly and literally, symbolically throwing away the old, the icky and the bad.  But after February 19 cleaning and purging is no longer good! Keep every speck of dust, or you might accidentally throw out any hopes for good luck!

Hanukkah Merrymakers
Usually soon after the 8th day of Hanukkah. In 2014, the last day was on December 24, so put that dreidle away before the kids misplace it again! 

Kwanzaa Observers
Kwanzaa lasts for a week and ends January 1.  Soon it will be time to put away the green, red and black, but keep the 7 Principles alive all year!

If Spring doesn't come this year, you must have neglected to toss your greenery before Imbolic on February 2. Tsk tsk! Forget the groundhog, I'm blaming you :)

Thanksgiving Feasters
Fall is waaaay over. The harvest is long past. The horn of plenty is empty of its bounty. On the other hand, if your gourds have sunk in on themselves, you just might be growing penicillin!

Kidding aside, even those hanging on to the last vestiges of holiday cheer are probably getting a little antsy for closure.  Whether you do it a little at time or in one fell swoop, you will feel better. 

And after the initial shock and surprise of seeing how uncluttered the living room looks, come back here for more tips and tricks on uncluttering everything else!

*Photo Credit:


Jan 5, 2015

Plan for 2015 - Priorities vs. Real Life

What if you have chosen a priority, but keep procrastinating on getting started?  How do you know if you if you're ready to commit? Well, I'll share something with you about me. I think about losing weight ALL THE TIME. . . . every time I get dressed.  Every time I look at myself in a mirror, or look at old pictures of a physically fit me.  If I SERIOUSLY wanted to lose weight now, I wouldn't have just eaten four double-chocolate brownies.  (Four very dense, very rich brownies. Holy cow my stomach hurts.) 

The truth is, I just don't want to lose weight bad enough to make it a priority. When I'm ready, I'll shore up what will power I have, and take on anything else needed to get there. I might have to research information on sugar addiction, emotional eating, diabetic predisposition, etc.  But I'm just not ready to start the work or stop the behavior. So am I really ready to commit to losing weight? No. I'll just be a squishy version of myself for a little while longer.

BUT I am definitely ready, and for the most part excited, to do other things to support making HEALTH and WELLNESS a priority for 2015.  Here are the specific activities I've started:

  • drinking more water
  • playing actively with the kids
  • taking vitamins at breakfast and dinner
  • replace caffeinated soda at lunch with water
  • replace sweet snack after dinner with tea
  • healthier snacks for me and the kids mid afternoon (1 new snack a week)
  • exercise with the kids as part of our morning routine 2 days a week
  • smaller entrees; more veggies/salad on plate
I can take comfort in the above that I'm not a complete gelatinous lump.  But what I'm trying to show by example is that I pretty much know when I'm ready, and I'm guessing you do too. You can feel it in your gut that now is the time for change. You're ready to accept the work it takes to get there.  

When I really want something, I find myself thinking about it a great deal.  Not just in a "oh-I'm-so-tired-of-splitting-my-pants" sort of way, but thinking about what I want to do, in specific, productive ways.   I look forward to measuring my progress, perhaps competing with like minded people online. I read about the subject, finding new resources to keep me excited. And I talk about it with friends and family. 

What they won't hear me talking about for the next three months is brownies.  I've got too many other things I'm working on!


Jan 4, 2015

Plan for 2015 - Finances/Bill Paying

If you've been following this month, I've hit the subject of Time Management pretty hard. But let's take a mental break from that. 

Let's do something quick and easy that will make almost any household run more efficiently . . . such as putting together a bill paying/finances center.   

By mutual agreement, I'm passing the torch of managing our finances over to Steve.  I am soooooo ready to let it go, and he will bring a new perspective to our budget and lifestyle. But since he will be doing this task at my desk, I want to set things up for him so that everything is at his fingertips.  

The mail comes in at the first level, but the office is on the 2nd floor.  There is no way we're making extra trips up the stairs that we could avoid. So we separate the bills from the rest of the mail, and put bills to be paid in a hanging wall organizer in the mudroom. Steve grabs the bills when he's ready to pay them. Separating them from the other mail is key: then you don't have to go through stacks of paper and chance misplacing one. Basically, late bills = bad.

We pay almost all of our bills online through our bank. For bills that don't fluctuate, such as mortgage, insurance and loans, we set up on auto pay. For bills that change month to month, we connect to one site, key in the amount and when it should be paid. Boom. Done.  It actually takes more time to open the paper envelope of the bill than to pay the bill. I must admit, I resisted online payments for a long time, but that's because I'm old school, and by nature, I tend to be overly cautious. Now I love it. When I have to write a paper check from time to time, the process feels outdated and archaic to me. 

We don't, but you can.  I run my business out of our home and need paper copies for taxes, and filing bills is faster than printing out receipts or requesting/printing spreadsheets from all the necessary companies at the end of the year. It would be bliss to give up filing and storing the paper, but perhaps you could enjoy this. It's fairly awesome for the environment, and lowers the overhead of the people you do business with. 

I used to have a complicated system of separating expenses into categories, but found it is much MUCH simpler to lump paid bills together by month, using a durable 13-slot separator for the year. If something big is going on such as a renovation, or a very large purchase such as a vehicle, I give it a separate file. But for the most part, the above works like a charm. The 13th slot can be used for income taxes. 

A letter opener, stapler and a box of envelopes are good things to have around. And there is always the occasional bill that requires a paper check.  In that case, I've provided a zippered plastic envelope that holds the checkbook/register, stamps, calculator, return address labels, and a pen.  

I use an open fabric covered container that has been around since the 90s - you can tell by the colors! But there are a myriad of ways to do this according to your own preference. Some clients like to use a hanging file in a bankers box or filing cabinet. Some like a hanging magnetic pocket on the side of the fridge. Some like a tray or a binder. It's all good. 

One of the great things about having it all together in one container is that the container is mobile - a nice benefit if you aren't tied to a PC. Bill payers that utilize smart phone/device, or people who write out all their checks, can enjoy the freedom of moving to any space, any time.

We also choose to keep a few more files here that just seem to go with receipts, and this is mostly for the ease of filing, and tax preparation.  So along with the stuff mentioned, I have manilla folders for our 2015 and 2014 Health Service Account, our 2015 Investment Portfolio, as well as taxes from 2014. And because we will attack our budget soon, I'm temporarily keeping 2014 receipts at hand until we bite the bullet and become more in control of our income.  (Perhaps some day I'll  blog about that . . . )

Some kind of list or notebook is good to have around with your passwords, usernames and account numbers - all in one place. I used to keep it all in my head, but then I thought: what if I get amnesia or a rare form of mid-life Alzheimer's?  How will we have access to anything?  (See what I mean about myself - overly cautious.)  

You'll like how easy it is to quickly pay your bills and get back to something you'd rather be doing!