October 25, 2021
Clutter drives me absolutely crazy. It doesn’t matter if it’s a pile of paper or a pile of laundry, I can feel my eye start to get a little twitchy. When Marie Kondo burst on the scene and told us to lovingly let go, I was in. The minimalist inside did a happy dance. I know I function better when my space is organized and I can find what I’m looking for. What I didn’t realize was how much mental junk I was holding on to every single day. Just like that sink of dirty dishes taking up space, so had the clutter taken up residency in my brain. From 2 am freakouts of forgetting to send a work email to did I sign the pumpkin patch field trip permission slip?! After a while life started to feel like a never-ending game of whack-a-mole and I was desperately trying to not let the mole win.
I’ve dealt with anxiety pretty much all of my adult life. Although I didn’t put a name to those feelings until later on, looking back the telltale signs of panic attacks and excessive worry were certainly hallmarks of my days even as early as high school and college. Perhaps earlier, but I can pinpoint moments in time that feel like they happened yesterday where fear gripped so hard I felt like I couldn’t breathe. Anxiety has been a dance with depression, a teetering seesaw that could easily tip in either direction. So, for years I did my best to hide that part of me. But that is also exhausting, not to mention insanely difficult. Therapy helped. It gave me clarity and a better understanding of why I longed for that level of control in the first place. In the years since I’ve added a hubby and three kids into the mix, and again I’m finding the need for tools to bring mental order so I don’t slip back into those old patterns of letting anxiety rule my life.
Just like Marie Kondo taught us with our homes, we need to take a look at our mental health and do the same. First, we need to sort out all the things on our plates. In my world, that generally looks like hubby, kids, work, family, friendships, faith, home, community, and something just for me. If pandemic living has taught me nothing else, it is the need to have something that is mine and that I look forward to. Knowing there are these sweet moments woven in throughout the week allows me to better show up for the tasks that daily life requires. I cannot stress this enough because oftentimes what happens is the to-do list keeps growing and we think if we just cross one more thing off, that will help alleviate the stress. But dear friend, unless it’s something dire, I would challenge you to step into something you love, linger in the moment and see what it does to you. I am taking this to heart alongside you. As I type this a million other tasks are whispering to me. But I promised myself when the kids were in school I would carve out some time to write and also sing/songwrite. What is calling to you? Where could you squeeze in time? Pencil it in and treat this time as an appointment. Even if it’s just once a week, or a few minutes scattered throughout the day, I promise the investment in yourself is worth it. What I have found is that the people in my life get a better version of me when I recharge after engaging in things that fill my heart with joy, rather than the stressed-out version that even I don’t want to hang out with.
Ok, we have added ourselves to The List and are breathing in the idea that the passions of our hearts are worthy of being on that list. The next step is to take a birds-eye view of all the things going on in life. Work projects, kid activities, family events, school functions, house projects, chores–all of it! And write them down. Then highlight all the things that can only be done by you. This can be kinda tricky because I think sometimes we think we are the only ones that can do a task when the reality is we simply like our way best. Ohhh, I’m so guilty of this one. But then I have to ask myself, is this worth the cost of me not doing something on the list that only I can do? Can your kids fold laundry and put it away? Of course, it won’t be like how you do it, but is it (sort of!) done? Maybe that is good enough. I’ve come to realize that done is better than perfect. Applying that philosophy has allowed me to delegate to unlikely sources. Everything from Costco assembly/build-your-own style meals around our table (things like Rotisserie chicken, pita bread, hummus, and salad–do with it as you will, just eat!) to using the drive-up feature at Target and for groceries. I’ve also come to love my dishwasher for its capability of washing just about everything I can think to put in it as well as teaching my littlest how to Swiffer.
Anything I can do to simplify is a timesaver which leads to more time to do the things I actually want to do. When I do cook, I love to make extra and freeze it for a night when I don’t have as much time. There is nothing more wonderful than simply reheating and having dinner on the table. As I type this I have Taco Soup defrosting that will make its grand appearance tomorrow night. Another good one is listening to a podcast or taking a phone call while folding laundry or taking a walk. By using any kind of multiplier (doing one activity that doesn’t require a lot of brainpower, such as washing dishes, coupled with something needing a bit more attention like listening to a work training) now suddenly you have gained back time to move on to the things that require your full attention. This is also great for decompressing or connecting, maybe a chore with a favorite TV show or making dinner with your kids and talking about their day. When I am more intentional with my multipliers I am always amazed at the little things I’m able to sneak in that add up to extra time.
Now let’s take a step back, of the things that can only be done by you, what needs to be done now? And what can wait? Can we push some of these things a day or a week? Barebones, what do I need to do today for me to be a happy, sane, productive human? When I look at it that way, it takes some of the pressure off. By putting the items into the calendar they are (voila!) out of my head. I know I will see what needs to get done when I get to that particular day. What this leaves me with is a clear picture of what today requires and a rough draft for the coming days and weeks. I’m a big fan of a paper calendar because I can see everything all at once. My hubby swears by the calendar on his phone. Honestly, the best system is the one you will use! Having the date for the field trip, potluck dinner at youth group or snack duty for softball already scheduled now means I’m not scrambling last minute to prepare what my kid is going to need. Along with this train of thought, I am a big believer in laying things out the night before. Everything from clothes for the kids, to snacks and lunches, to notes for myself of action items for the next day. Of course, life happens and I can’t always do this, but I have found when I take a few extra minutes the night before to set things out then the following morning is oftentimes a lot smoother!
Next step, delegate. Collective groan, maybe. This one is hard for me because my husbands’ work schedule is insane so it’s tricky to plan, but what I have come to realize is that my kids are capable. They can do chores and even if there’s push back, I know the lesson of responsibility is (usually!) worth the fight.
This is also a great reminder that done is better than perfect.
When my girls were really little and “helping” only made more work for me, I had to adjust my expectations of what I could accomplish in a day. The most profound realization was that I wasn’t putting joy, happiness, or togetherness on my list. When I began to “measure in love,” (I love Rent and could totally break out in song here!) my priorities started shifting and the weight of perfection started to lift. This is where I had to learn a very valuable lesson of letting things go. There are certain times in life when the highest priority is not having the cleanest house or breaking yourself to reach the next milestone in your work life.
This was such a challenge because I desperately wanted it all and if I’m being totally honest, I still do, but the mental stress fuels my anxiety, and my overall health suffers greatly. Looking back I know I wasn’t showing up well in any area of my life, rather I was a shell racing towards an ever-extending finish line. And I was miserable. I was missing the sweet moments of life right in front of me while in pursuit of “what’s next.” Now I’m not saying, don’t have goals. Actually, quite the opposite. I’m saying listen to your heart right now.
What do you want?
And what are some of the things, the mental clutter, that might be getting in the way? Our hearts are honest. If we listen, they will tell us. Although it might be a faint whisper, it will always lead us back to our truth. But sometimes to hear it, we need to turn down the noise on the rest of our lives. And the beautiful part is that at different stages, ages, and times in our lives our hearts might be telling us different things.
Here’s another thought. Where did the mental junk come from in the first place? Ironically enough, sometimes the clutter we default to wasn’t even put there by us. Sometimes it’s the expectations we synthesize from other people, our past, or other areas of life that take root and just so happen to shout the loudest.
By tuning into our heart voice, we can weed out the right now, from the later, from the not ever. For me, this has looked like letting go of my ultra-clean house. The result of my focus on cleaning means missing time with my family as well as working on my passions like writing and music. The other thing I’m letting go of is not volunteering for every opportunity that comes my way, but allowing others to step into the roles I once held. My hubby and I are also launching a Pilates studio this Fall and I have needed those pockets of time to not only work on that business but also have enough energy for everything else. All of that being said, it has brought to light the deep desire that keeps resurfacing which is the need for joy. A bit of perspective is also realizing that these seasons of life don’t last forever and time spent on something now could look very different in 6 months to a year.
Another source that has given me freedom is looking at time in terms of a week rather than a day. Instead of feeling the pressure to exercise every day, it feels better to ask the question, did I move my body this week? Awesome! Did I do something fun with my kids? Find time to have a heart talk with my hubby? Laugh with a friend? Get work done? When I look at the week, it feels better than seeing the things I may have missed in a day. Instead of beating myself up, I look for the win.
It’s easy to get caught up in the whirlwind that encircles us, and that is usually when I find myself struggling with making decisions. But when I think in terms of my priorities, then the hierarchy begins to form. When I’m brave and ask for help or let my kids watch a movie so I can work, I am mindfully making a choice that will ultimately lead toward bigger goals. What I’m finding is I have more to give because I’m no longer running ragged. I’m making a plan and priority list ahead of time that serves as a roadmap. This roadmap might work this week but a month from now when softball practices kick into high gear, I’ll make adjustments. And that’s ok. Or when the hubby ruptures a bicep (that was us a couple of weeks ago!), then we adjust. There’s no way to plan for everything because sometimes life just happens (or a husband has to have surgery!) But we can make a plan with the things in front of us and let go of the things that don’t serve our heart’s purpose in this season. It takes bravery and a bit of discipline because the need to do it all can be very strong. Let’s take a deep breath together because I want to do this alongside you. To embrace the things we love most and for the things we don’t love but must do, let’s pencil them in or delegate them out. Or perhaps, maybe with a little courage from the Marie Kondo on our shoulder, we can even eliminate a few things altogether.
What are some things in your life you are seeking more of? Connections? Tying heartstrings? Work goals? Chasing big dreams? Slowing down? A little bit of all? Let’s do it together!