Discord to Harmony
I've been feeling emotional lately about the fact that my kids are growing up before my eyes. I can't tell if it's just that I'm emotional in general and it will pass, or I really am this upset about it.
I love when we have family days together where it's not just screen time all day, which is likely to happen in our house if we don't intervene. I've been really wanting to spend more time actually being together. My minimalist endeavor has already freed me up somewhat to be more spontaneous, and to sit with my kids without feeling pulled toward the housework.
In the past week or two, I've read to them more, played more, taken more time to teach them things, let them help me in the kitchen... We even made gingerbread houses yesterday (from a kit, because I'm not supermom!). I love that on Sunday, when I stepped outside and noticed what a beautiful day it was, I said, "Let's all go outside!" instead of wasting it working in the house. I could do that because most of the housework was already done. The kids brought toys onto the front porch and played "vet," Travis and I both did some raking and trimming, and the kids "helped" by using the leaf blowers. I mean, they really did help some, but I was just happy they were happy and doing something active and cooperative! AND, when we were ready to go back inside, they said, "No!" They play so well together outside, and I need to remember to make that happen more often.
The word "homeschooling" has been entering my mind often lately, and I never anticipated that. I have never wanted to homeschool. I still don't, really, but what I do want is more time with my kids. Especially Norah, who goes to school before 8, gets out around 2:30, and then most days, I am gone for work from about 3:15 to 7:30, and then it's bedtime. I picked up some extra students this year because truthfully, we'd been living beyond our means and I didn't even really realize it. But I am getting really sick of this schedule.
We are all happier when we are at home. Most kids are cranky at the end of a long day at school, and mine are no exception -- even Ridley, who only spends three hours at school. I have always felt that most kids are best served by going to school, socially as well as academically. I think positive peer pressure can be great in terms of encouraging good behavior and academic performance. And obviously, each teacher is highly trained in their specialty (grade level or subject), so has a much greater ability to teach effectively, I think, than most parents.
But there are plenty of downsides too. Testing. High expectations for children to sit still and listen. Testing. Very little one-on-one instruction. Testing. Kids who bully or encourage bad behavior. And missing your kids. I miss Norah.
I miss her when she's at school, and when I'm at work, and I miss her when she's home but too drained to do much of anything. And I'll miss her creativity and her thirst for knowledge and her self confidence and her pure giddiness if conventional school quashes those attributes that make her unique.
Norah's teacher called me today. Norah could not focus today.
All day long, she was in her own world. She was not listening, she was doing other things, she was talking and distracting the other students, she was doing everything at a snail's pace. I'm not surprised. I know she gets like this, on some days more than others. She was still absolutely wild and off-the-wall after I brought her home. All over the place with silliness. I know she can't be allowed to act like that at school. She has to fit neatly (or at least somewhat) into the mold of just one child in a classroom full of students who all have to do as they're told, or the whole thing falls apart for the poor teacher. I know.
But I cried. I cried for Norah, because I'm not sure she can help it sometimes. I think she's a genius. Really, a genius, and I don't say that lightly.
My strengths as a creative person have a flip side in which I have trouble sticking with things that are boring to me.
Norah's strengths as a creative AND extremely intelligent person have a flip side in which she has trouble sticking with or paying attention to things that are boring to her.
This problem runs in my family, but her version of it is very visible. I was a quiet daydreamer as a child, so I was not disrupting anyone with my inward distraction, and it often probably went unnoticed. Norah is loud (she just has the one volume setting), and her wonderful self confidence (which I wish I had) means she doesn't care who hears her talking or giggling to herself, and she also doesn't really care how many times the teacher has to redirect her. She's not embarrassed or ashamed, she's just annoyed that she isn't allowed to do whatever she wants all day, because she is bored, and her own mind is so much more entertaining than worksheets.
I absolutely can understand the teacher's frustration here, 100 percent. I am often frustrated with her myself, especially when she turns into a grumpy lump and says, "I'm bored!!" in situations where that statement is either disrespectful or just plain ridiculous.
But still, even if it's difficult to deal with, I just want whatever is going to be best for her. I want to set her up for success as an adult, because isn't that what the goal should be, as much as we don't want our kids to grow up? Her quirks are a part of her. Some will serve her well later in life, some others will probably (hopefully!) self correct, and a few will continue to be a struggle -- but she'll find ways to cope with them as I'm learning to cope with mine.
In the meantime, I'm really kind of lost here. I don't know what options to pursue. There are so many, such as:
Are there other options? If you can think of any, please, please reach out to me. I'd also love to hear thoughts about the ones I've listed. It's been suggested, both now and when she was in kindergarten, that we look into seeing a doctor. However, we would not want to medicate her, not to mention we don't have money to burn on appointments, so it seems pointless.
Please help me brainstorm!
Thank you so very much, even for just taking the time to read all this -- I greatly appreciate it.
Living. Today, I lived. I got to live in my house today.
Last week, I gave an in depth description (too deep?) of how "Do It Now" saves me from myself! And it truly does. Since then, I've been putting it into practice daily.
The difference is insane.
I'll save my before/after photos for the end though, because that's not really the focus of this post.
The whole point of my minimalism endeavor and "Do It Now" is to just get all the literal housekeeping stuff out of the way and give myself more time and energy for the things I am really longing to do. I've almost accomplished that already, mostly because I had been getting rid of things for uh...10 years (!!) before I started this blog. It's just that lately I've been focusing on it more heavily and with the clear goal of truly getting down to our minimum amount of stuff. I'm continuing to get rid of lots of stuff, and I'm doing much better with getting things done right away instead of procrastinating to the point where it feels like a much bigger job than it should be. I do know that if I let myself fall out of this routine for even a couple of days, things will feel overwhelming again, so my goal here is just to be consistent!
Meanwhile, today has been the most relaxing day I've had in a very long time. We hosted Thanksgiving for Travis's family (our first time ever hosting!), and since I only had to prepare a couple of sides, I was able to mostly just focus on getting some cleaning tasks knocked out in the two days or so before the big meal -- and I had LOTS of help from Travis, and a little from the kids too! We mostly used disposable dishes (which I composted or recycled afterward!), so there wasn't much clean-up to do, and I went to bed full, happy, and relaxed in my clean house!!
This morning, it was so nice to wake up and not feel like I was already behind. I really don't mind doing the routine things when I get to enjoy my house as I go instead of looking at all the messes and just feeling bad about myself and feeling bad for myself! So I gladly put away the Thanksgiving decor, tablecloths, etc., did two loads of laundry and put them away, swept and mopped all the floors, and made a lot of headway in our bedroom, which is always the last room to get attention since no one sees it but us! I feel so silly typing this out because this is just what normal people do, right?! Normal people just do what needs to be done around the house and don't make a big deal out of it! But alas, I am not normal (I do say this with great affection toward myself and anyone who feels the same)!
So. Living. Today, I lived. I got to live in my house today. In between the necessary chores, I got to sit down and be with my family, guilt free. I held the puppy without feeling like I should get up off the couch, and as I sat there, the peacefulness of less clutter made me smile. I didn't even have to cook, thanks to all the leftovers. I didn't go anywhere, and I'm sitting here now knowing I don't have to accomplish anything else today. This is all so basic, but feels profound to me. I'm so relieved and so glad that my gut instinct was right. This was what I needed, to declutter my house and my mind. I need many more days like this, and I hope I can make that happen.
I also had time to think about a couple of upcoming creative endeavors. One will be a gift to you all very soon, so I won't spoil it yet! And the other is still in its early stages, so I'll save that for later too, but I can't wait to work on it! It's nice to have goals that feel reachable, scratch my creative itch, and might help propel me toward some bigger dreams later on.
I really want this blog to be a place to interact, and I want to inspire others who have been stuck in a rut to pull yourself out of it with me! Great things are coming our way, friends! Feel free to comment below or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. I hope you all had a nice Thanksgiving!
Here are some before/after photos of some areas of my house. Some of these are looking even better now as I type this! (I'll include some photos from yesterday too!)
Living Room Before
Living Room After
Dining Room Before
Dining Room Ready For Thanksgiving!
My music nook before and after. I have plans to hang the instruments on the wall.
Tiny Hallway Before and After
Kitchen and Pantry Before
Kitchen and Pantry After
Laundry room. The first photo is before, the rest are after. I lost the photo I took last month of our old washer and dryer. Our washer quit working, so my step mom gave us her stacking set and it makes a huge difference in the room! With the old ones, it was really a tight squeeze to get through to the back door.
Norah's Room Before
Norah's room almost done... She did this all herself! We couldn't believe our eyes!
THANKSGIVING!!! My poor husband didn't make it into any of the photos because I'm an awful wife! Not really, I was just too busy eating to take photos...he took most of these. :-D
In my last post, I mentioned that I've come up with some coping strategies for working with my weird brain (which honestly may be a bit ADD, and yes, I left out the H on purpose), and keeping my house consistently clutter free.
I promise, this blog will not turn into *just* a cleaning and decluttering blog, but I do want to share my whole journey as I work toward having more time to put into more exciting things, and I'm hopeful that my habit of overthinking everything could help others who struggle with this as much as I do.
The word "simplify" has been ringing in my ears lately, ever since a friend with tarot cards told me that simplifying my life would decrease my stress level and anxiety. Whether there's something to that or it's just a coincidence, it seemed profound to me given that I'd been thinking a lot about working toward minimalism and the freedom it could offer me.
How can I simplify this problem so that I feel capable of tackling it?
I remembered that there have been short periods over the past few years where I did have things pretty well under control, and I felt great, and I was excited to wake up every morning and actually spend my day doing things I wanted to do! But, did I mention I'm forgetful? It took me some time to remember what strategies I used back then that worked so well for me. This time, if I fall out of my routine, I'll be able to look back here and remember what it was that I did!
So. Simplify. There are a few things that have made a huge difference for me when I've implemented them in the past, and I'm going to share the most effective one with you in this post. This is something I've just started doing again over the past few days, and I'm already feeling SO much more hopeful about this process.
DO IT NOW
(a.k.a. Stream of Consciousness Cleaning)
This will not work well for everyone, but it works wonders for me. Every day, I am making it a habit to spend a set amount of time focused only on this: "Do it now."
Here's what that looks like in practice:
I might set a timer for one hour. I start by picking up the *first* item I see that I know needs to be put away. I put it away without allowing myself to internally debate about why I can't or shouldn't or don't want to put it away right now. I just do it now. If that item takes me to another area of the house, fine. I'm *not* trying to stay in one area when I do this, because that would enable me to say, "I'll put this away later when I'm ready to leave this room." (Helpful hint: you have to be fully dressed and wearing shoes before you start the timer, because this process may take you outside or to the basement or attic.)
Next, wherever I ended up when putting the first item away, I pick up another thing that is in the wrong location and I do it, right now.
I might do a *quick* task like picking up the broom and sweeping the floor if I notice crumbs or fur, or taking out the trash .
I continue this process for that hour, and I don't allow myself to take any breaks because I don't want to lose momentum. Momentum is the key here.
I also don't start any big projects, like cleaning out the whole pantry or organizing a closet. If something belongs in a closet that is disorganized, fine. It goes in there anyway and the closet stays as is for now, unless I see something that doesn't belong in there and I can quickly put it where it goes (which might be the "donate" box). I also wouldn't fold a load of laundry, though I might put a load in the washer or dryer or put already folded clothes away. But folding takes a big chunk out of my hour, and I can do that while also being attentive to my kids later in the day or listening to a podcast.
Why it works:
I've realized that even though I feel like I clean all day sometimes, I'm usually only spending an hour or so doing actual cleaning tasks. All those other hours are being spent thinking about how much I don't want to clean, looking at the piles and trying to decide where to start, wondering how things got this bad, and procrastinating. I'm *thinking* about cleaning all day and letting it hang over my head instead of just doing it and freeing up the rest of my day.
Also, it's even harder when I get stuck in that cycle because procrastination breeds more procrastination. If I have put something off for so long that six months later I'm still seeing the same mess, I think to myself, "If this stuff has been here for this long, surely it's a difficult task and will take hours to do."
It's *never* true.
Today, I cleaned up the back yard. We had toys back there that the kids don't play with anymore, and the puppy had strewn some of them all over the yard, mostly in chewed up pieces, and the trampoline was out of place from the last time Travis mowed, and a couple of the plastic adirondack chairs around the fire pit were knocked over, etc., etc.
I had been noticing how bad it looked back there for a month or more, but it's been cold and rainy lately and I just plain didn't feel like cleaning it up.
I came home from a memorial service today and no one else was home, and it was a nice afternoon, and for some reason I just decided to "do it now." Now, this was different from my daily, run-around-the-house, "Do It Now" sessions, but it's the same principle.
Lo and behold, it was not a miserable job. It did take about an hour, but I kind of enjoyed being out there with the puppy, and it was a good feeling to get it done. When Travis and the kids got home, my son even came out and played and helped pick up sticks to put in the fire pit. The actual task of cleaning up the yard turned out to be a pretty enjoyable part of my day, and now I can look out there and feel happy that it's done.
This method also works well for me because what I *am* allowing myself to do is to get distracted and change the scenery constantly. I am focused on picking things up and putting them away, but again, I am NOT focused on one area. This is the ADD in me. My brain doesn't like to stay on one subject for very long, especially when it's something mundane. When I force myself to, say, clean the kitchen and only the kitchen for 30 minutes, after maybe five or ten minutes my mind starts to wander to things I'd rather be doing, so I start to move more slowly. And as I've said, I also get stuck thinking, "I can't put this away because it goes in another room and I have to stay in the kitchen."
So, to reiterate and SIMPLIFY the "Do It Now" method:
I hope some of you find this helpful! If you have a weird ADD brain like I do, try it out and tell me how it goes, and if you know someone who might benefit from this, feel free to share!
More next time!
Since my last post, a sweet friend let me know that she was concerned I was being too hard on myself. I thought in case I was coming across that way, I should clarify.
When I say that this problem is my own fault, that's actually a big relief for me. If I am the cause, I can be the solution. Even if I didn't have a wonderful, supportive husband who never questions my latest strategy and never says a word when it fails, I would still have the ability to make meaningful changes in how our household runs.
That is an exciting revelation!
My desire to have a less cluttered home that is easier to manage has always been fully my own. I have had people say to me, "If your husband wants the house kept better, let him do it himself." But it's me who has always longed for a simpler life. (The fact that I'm also the one who's home most of the time is beside the point, except that it contributes to my annoyance with the clutter since I'm constantly tripping over it!) I don't want to have to maintain hundreds of items we don't need or use or even want.
That's what minimalism is to me. Having what I need (or what significantly improves the quality of my life) and what I REALLY would be heartbroken to let go of, and nothing more. For me, anything more than that just becomes more work than it's worth.
I say "for me," because that may not be true for everyone, and one person's minimalism could look very different from someone else's. The level of stuff that a person is happy with will vary a lot from person to person. If you have many items in your home that you feel you need or really want, and the time it takes to maintain them is truly worth it to you, then that might be your "minimum" amount of stuff. That's my definition of minimalism, although perhaps different from what you will find in the dictionary.
I have come to terms with the fact that I just can't handle a lot of things in my house, and that is okay with me. I'm glad to get rid of things now, and to make a little bit of money selling some of them, instead of holding onto them needlessly for years until no one wants them and my kids have to figure out what to do with all my stuff.
I used to feel cursed by some of my inconvenient personality traits. I'm forgetful, I feel socially awkward, and I can't keep my house clean, among other things. But over the past couple of years, I've come to appreciate my strengths and to think of my weaknesses as unavoidable side effects of those. I easily get side tracked and bored with mundane tasks because I'm creative and I'd rather be doing things that feel more important or only have to be done once and can pretty much be permanently checked off my list. But my creativity is enough of an asset to me that I don't really mind the side effects of it. I just have to come up with ways to get around them or work WITH them, instead of always feeling like I have to try to swim against the current of my natural tendencies.
In my first post I said, "[...]I love people...all of them." Now, let me add: even me. If you struggle with this too, or something else, I hope you aren't too hard on yourself. Find ways to make life work for you, and give yourself grace.
I've got a few ideas already that I've begun to implement, and I'm excited to share those with you in my next post! Stay tuned, and if you'd like to be notified when that post is up, go ahead and enter your email address below to get my newsletter!
(Note: I have not yet set up the newsletter, but if you have already filled out this box, I have received your info and will start sending out updates very soon!)
I've had an epiphany.
It's my fault.
The state of my house is my fault.
Looking around my house at the piles and the clutter and the random items out of place, I pondered what I would say about them here, on my blog. What would be my excuse for the paint cans we're still tripping over, months after we finished painting our son's room? How did my kitchen get this out of control so quickly? Why is the paint scraped off of half of our dining table, and also part of our butler's pantry? Whose junk is this?
It's my junk. These half done (or barely begun) projects are my projects. At least a dozen of them, and most will require much more than an afternoon to complete.
This realization is a bit of a slap in the face. But there's a silver lining. If I'm the problem, I can fix it. Or at least I hope I can.
First I have to figure out where the disconnect is. How is it that I'm the one making the messes, but I'm not seeing it happen? Here are some things that I think are contributing to the issue.
1.) I'm slow. I'm slow at almost everything.
I'm a painfully slow reader, which is why I've never loved doing it. I'm a slow processor. This is one reason I started this blog: I am much better at forming coherent sentences when I have time to think about how I want to say something, which means I'm a much better writer than I am a speaker. And this wonderful quality of mine is not just limited to the thoughts in my head -- it affects physical activities, too!
I have a distinct memory of putting on my marching band uniform in high school on one occasion. Time was always of the essence once our bus rolled into the parking lot. I decided I was going to race my friend Mindy, but I didn't tell her. I just wanted to see if I could put on my uniform faster than she could when she wasn't even trying. I couldn't.
2.) I will avoid doing things if it involves any minor annoyance or discomfort.
It's cold in the laundry room or attic? I'm not going in there just to put something away.
I have to get out the step stool or a key? I'm not bothering with that either.
There's a pile of junk in the way? Whatever it is can wait for another day.
3.) I'm going to use that item again soon and it goes in one of those annoying places.
(Soon could mean in a month or two, and that time frame could very well get dragged out into a year.)
4.) I don't have a place for this item. I'll deal with it when I have figured out where it should go.
5.) I want to do projects, but I underestimate the amount of time needed and overestimate the amount of time I have.
I could go on, but you get the point.
The things I do have a decent handle on MOST of the time are laundry and dishes. I know that I will start to feel hopeless if I can't at least keep those two things reasonably under control. I do a load of laundry almost daily, unless I really have a lot going on. I'm not always the best at getting it put away once it is folded, though. And dishes pile up so quickly. I can fall behind on those if I forget to stay on top of it, but when I remember, all it takes is a few minutes here and there throughout the day. (The paper clutter and other things in my kitchen that don't belong there are another story.)
If I have to spend a long time in my kitchen, I like to listen to podcasts, although this could contribute to my slowness. Sometimes I set a timer for 10 minutes and race against it. It really does help me and my weird brain to stay focused on the job.
I have been doing a great job of getting things out of my house lately. I'll make a separate post soon about where I take things we no longer use.
I'm not sure how to tackle all of these issues I seem to be facing so that I can just LIVE in my house and enjoy it while I focus on the things I really want to be doing.
I'd love to hear your suggestions and personal experiences, and if you would like to be notified of new posts in the future, you can enter your email address below to receive my newsletter!
Dear Readers (if you're out there),
This first post of mine will be an introduction.
Hi, I'm Erin.
I am wife, mother of two, musician, teacher, DIYer. I am an aspiring composer. I am creative. I am awkward. I'm a Pennsylvanian living in the South. I am introverted, but I love people -- all of them. I care about the world, and in particular the environment. I care about spending time with my family and really BEING together. I have too many pets (two cats, plus one who sorta claimed us, a Golden Doodle that was passed to us from another family, a bearded dragon and goldfish which both belong to our seven-year-old, and most recently, a Husky/German Shepherd mix puppy that we literally found in the middle of a busy road at night). I'm sure we've got some Palmetto bugs around here too, but we try to keep them outside. :-P
I'm starting a blog.
Why am I starting a blog?
Right now seems like an important time for our family. We have faced some changes and challenges lately. My dad has advanced Parkinson's and has just moved to the Florida Keys to live with his brother in order to be cared for without having to go into a nursing home. My mom and her husband live in Pennsylvania, so for the first time in my life, neither of my parents is close by (at least not full time). (Side note: my in-laws are, and we are very grateful for them!) We are all at once relieved that my dad is finally getting settled in at his new home, and sad that he's no longer just 45 minutes away from us.
We are working to change our financial situation. My husband, Travis, is an elementary school teacher here in the great state of South Carolina, where teacher pay is fantastic (can you sense the sarcasm?), and I teach piano and violin lessons on a part time basis. We have almost always struggled, except when he did well for a while selling his T-shirt designs at shirt.woot (check him out at www.oakenspirit.com). We saved up some money, moved to a larger (and much older) home, and have never since been able to replenish our savings account. It's very disheartening, especially since we have always been pretty frugal, so it's hard to find anything to cut back on, and it seems like unexpected expenses keep popping up just when we think we're almost out of the woods.
So why don't we just get better jobs? Why don't I just go work somewhere full time or get a second part time job?
Travis and I are artists at heart. He teaches art (digital art as of this year) and is a fabulous writer. He is really the most creative person I know, and has already completed one book in the YA Sci-fi category and another which is a children's chapter book. He's got other ideas in the works and has been searching for an agent for these two for quite a while, which has been a trying process to say the least. I hate to see him start to lose hope at times, because he deserves to be successful at this.
And as I mentioned, I'm an aspiring composer and songwriter. I won't go overboard discussing that in this post since you can find out by exploring the site, but my plan is to have all of my music linked here soon, including some recordings and some sheet music, which will all be available for download.
In order for Travis and I to pursue these dreams of ours and hopefully turn our hobbies into our careers, we need to be able to devote a significant amount of time to them. Maybe it's silly, maybe it's a poor decision to keep trying, but we can't bring ourselves to give up on what we each feel we were meant to do.
So, rather than going back to school for better jobs or spending all our time working at mediocre ones, we are looking for small ways to make (or save) a few extra bucks here and there. I've picked up more students this year. We're working on figuring out a more exact budget (our strategy has always been to just try not to spend more than we need to on anything, but we don't often sit down and actually look at the numbers). I've made myself available to do a little bit of interior painting. I'm selling some things. Travis is still doing some T-shirt designs, even though it is more hit-or-miss than it used to be.
One philosophy I am trying to embrace as a way to save both time and money is minimalism. A quote by Buddha recently caught my eye: "Attachment leads to suffering." Truthfully, I haven't done any further reading to find out the context that was meant here. But, to me, it resonates because when I am attached to too many THINGS, I suffer. Having too many items in my house means I have to find time to care for them all. To clean them, clean around them, put them where they belong, fix them when they break, make sure the puppy doesn't eat them. It feels like an endless job to care for all of our belongings, especially to keep them put away so my house doesn't feel cluttered. Some people can have a lot of things and not go crazy. I'm not one of those people. If I see piles of stuff in my house, I can't focus on anything else until I have it under control. I feel robbed from spending time doing the things I'd much rather be doing, like reading to my kids, talking with my husband, taking a walk in the woods, making music, visiting a friend... Really, I'd rather do almost anything than clean, especially when it feels like it takes hours every day and I'm still never done. This is my biggest frustration in life right now, and has been ever since I've had more people in my life to clean up after than just myself.
Part of the reason I'm starting this blog is to keep myself accountable. My goal is to declutter my house and get it to a point where I can easily maintain it and get out of what feels like Housewife Hell, so I can spend more time BEING a mother, a wife, a composer. I have no idea how long this will take. It feels like I've been working on it in spurts for ten years. Because I have been. But I'm going to continue to work on it, and if I can continue to make progress on a regular basis, maybe I'll get to a point where it doesn't take up so much of my time.
I also want to be accountable for continuing to make new music, even when I feel like I don't have much time for it. So, at least once every few weeks, I hope to feature a new song here. I may even try to collaborate with my four-almost-five-year-old, who loves to sit at the piano and improvise! I've thought it would be fun to take parts of what he plays and turn them into real compositions.
This blog will be updated at least twice a week, so if any of this sounds like something you'd like to read about, I'll have details and updates on all of it in future posts, coming soon! I'd love to see your questions and comments below, and you can also enter your email address below if you'd like to be notified when I post new content or offer discounts or giveaways!