I look at everyone else, and I think, ‘How on earth does she have the time to do all that she does?’
I look at my staggering, never-ending-to-do-list, the expectations heaped on my plate, the thoughts swirling around in my head like an unappetizing casserole I never ordered, and I think – this is not a way to live.” – Tsh Oxenreider, “Spend Your Days: How To Control Time With Rocks, Bullets, Chisels and a Boat”
Confession time: It is really hard for me to spend quality time with my littles when my house is a mess. We sit down to read Little House In The Big Woods, and everyone else is riveted. Me? I’m trying to ignore the pile of dirty dishes in my peripheral vision. “Good moms have sticky floors, dirty ovens, and happy kids,” I say.
“Good luck with that,” say the dishes. Breathing exercises ensue.
And then there is mental clutter – the “I should” list. You know, the string of undone tasks that your brain’s PA System starts blaring in your head while you’re trying to snuggle your little one close?
If any of this sounds familiar, this post is for you.
How clutter stole my joy (and what I did about it)
I used to think that my desire for order was something that I needed to give up for my kids, and to a degree that’s true. Anyone that’s seen my kitchen after they help make dinner knows that.
But what if – WHAT IF – there was a way we could both be happy? What if they could have all the experiences that lead to sticky floors, and I could have a home that felt peaceful?
A few years ago, my husband and I bought a farmhouse that was less than half the size of our previous home. Because I’m an optimist, I tend to think I can handle more than I really can. Homeschool, make meals from scratch, dive into homesteading with NO EXPERIENCE, write here on Mommypotamus, tidy the house and care for my (then) newborn along with my other two little ones? Sure!
Trying to manage too much landed me in adrenal fatigue, and in order to heal I had to reclaim my life from clutter – both mental and physical. Through that process I learned three things that changed the way I do things around my house, and I want to share them with you.
#1: Clutter Costs Your Relationships
Your short-term memory is not a USB drive. It’s more like a magnifying glass. This means you can think of only two or three things at once before you get distracted by your own mental load. A distracted parent is a parent who gets frustrated easily, forgets important things, and feels like she’s not doing anything particularly well.” – Kelly Holmes, “Never-Ending To-Do List: A One Hour Solution For Busy Parents Who Want Less Stress And More Fun”
As you know, having a low frustration tolerance is not a recipe for joyful parenting. Realizing how clutter was affecting my daily life motivated me to make some changes. I used the approach described in The Life Changing Magic Of Tidying Up to declutter my home and – after trying and quitting several methods – found a way to manage my to-do list that works for me.
You know what happened? Clearing clutter – both physical and mental – created space for a lot more joyful moments in my life. I began to enjoy time with my littles without feeling guilty about all the things I “should” be doing.
Is it a work in progress? Absolutely. As new opportunities or items come into my life, I have to decide what old task or item to let go of to make room for it. Instead of feeling sad about those choices, though, I feel relieved!
#2: Clutter Drains Your Wallet
Do you have clothes in your closet that you haven’t worn in years, but hang onto “just in case?” Sometimes these attempts to be frugal can end up costing us money in the long run. For example, have you ever:
• Spent more money on storage fees than the items being stored were worth?
• Had to pay a late fee because a bill got lost in your clutter?
• Forgotten about a doctor’s appointment and had to pay their fee anyway?
• Held on to something because it would “come in handy” someday, only to find it was broken or too out-of-date to use later on?
• Accidentally bought a duplicate of something you already owned because the original was lost in your clutter?
I have done all of these things, except the doctor’s appointment was a chiropractor’s appointment. Decluttering has helped me save money and given me the mental bandwidth to do things that were previously on the “someday” list that I never seemed to get to. (Like planning more family trips.)
#3: Clutter Sucks Away Your Time
How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” – Annie Dillard
It’s tempting to think that if we just have enough boxes, bins and labels we can manage things, but constantly rearranging stuff we don’t need takes up a lot of precious time.
For example, before I decluttered my kids playroom it was a constant source of stress for us all. Sometimes it seemed like they spent as much time managing their toys as they did enjoying them.
When I worked with them to let go of items they no longer used, we got rid of more than half of their toys. They were resistant at first, but we talked about all the children who would love to play with the toys they’d outgrown and that seemed to help. The real clencher, though, was when they realized how much more time they had to play each day because cleaning up took so little time. They were overjoyed, and now cooperate happily every time we do a new sweep.
What worked for my littles applies to us as well. It’s time to spend less time managing stuff and more time enjoying life.
Is my house always in perfect order?
Nope! I don’t strive for perfection, as you can see from the snapshot above. My goal is to able to find things quickly, not master the art of perfectly folding fitted sheets. Also, that thing about having a mental conversation with the dishes as I read a book to my littles? Still happens sometimes.
However, it’s pretty easy to get things back into shape now because I’ve already done the deep decluttering work.
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