And, generally, when something is on my mind, I write about it.
So, I thought I’d follow up the series on improving chore routines with a short little series on the basic habits that help keep a home running smoothly. They are simple little things that make a huge impact. Even though they’re simple, I still sometimes try to cut corners and get away with leaving them undone, but I really should know better by now. I definitely know enough to write about it well, but I need to recommit again and again to living it out well, too.
So join me as I talk about the home management habits that make all the difference while homeschooling.
Habit 1: Assemble
The habit to begin with is the assemble step. In Getting Things Done, David Allen calls this “collecting.”
But I wanted all a words. I ♥ alliteration.
In this step, we gather everything that needs to be gathered. What needs to be gathered? Everything loose: loose change, loose thoughts, loose toys, loose legos, loose screws, loose schedules – whatever is rattling around homeless, disconnected, and unresolved. In GTD-speak, these are “open loops,” and they make us feel scattered, ineffective, and stressed.
So, we need to close them.
And that begins by first assembling them.
This is a great first step because it’s a small step with low commitment. You don’t have to do anything or decide anything. All you have to do is gather up all the things rattling around the edges of your home and mind into one place. Make them into a big heap (or pages of scribbled notes), and that’s it for now. In the next section I’ll give you some triggers that will help you figure out what loose ends you might have buried below consciousness, causing low-level stress that might actually be simple to solve.
Set Up Your Containers
To assemble, you have to have something you’re gathering everything up into. I suggest 3 sorts of containers to hold the multitudinous stuff you will collect:
a cheap spiral notebook for loose thoughts
a large box for loose things
a file folder for loose paper
Assembly is a big project if it’s the first time you’ve done it. Allow several days and maybe even several weeks to just let things rise to the surface and rise to your attention as you look around. So often it’s like peeling layers: you gather up one only to reveal another you hadn’t noticed before. So give it time and try to be thorough.
Assembly is also an ongoing habit. It also goes by ubiquitous capture (ubiquitous is fun to say)
Assemble the physical things around your home that are homeless or need to be dealt with. Just shove them in your big box. That’s all. If you know it’s garbage, throw it away, but don’t spend any time deliberating. If you stop to think, just toss it in the box.
Open drawers, peer into closets, move the couch (and the cushions), look at the top of your dryer, paw through the pantry, walk through the bedrooms. If you’re anything like me, each room has a place where the piles accumulate. Get rid of the piles – or, at least, make them all into one big portable pile.
Yes, call the children to deal with the unearthed toys (or have them start a box of their own).
In addition to gathering the stuff to be more effectively (and actually) dealt with later, another benefit to handling all the miscellany this way is that in short order you can visually see what your house looks like without the piles. I highly recommend, especially if you are not naturally visual, to stop and really notice what your space looks and feels like without the clutter hanging on and nagging at you. That step breeds motivation and inspiration. Once you get a glimmer of what your space could be without piles, you’ll grow more and more ruthless about weeding out the clutter that is really the physical evidence of procrastination.
When assembling as an ongoing maintenance habit instead of as a project, you’ll set your stuff you can’t decide on now into your box or a basket in the closet to process later – an inbox of sorts. Then, when someone says they lost their thingamajig or you need that missing screw, you have one place you know to look. If it’s been found and its home is unknown, it’s in its one temporary home.
Assemble Ideas & Loose Thoughts
Open up that notebook and make sure your pen still has ink or your pencil is sharpened.
If you’ve never done this before, I’d love to hear how many pages you fill when you’re done. I’ve never counted and I do wish I had, but I’m pretty sure my record was something like 7 or 8 full sheets one time. And I’ve filled 2-3 during many “loose thoughts” assembly sessions.
This is a key strategy and one I return to over and over again. If you start suffering from vague overwhelm or nagging unease, this is for you.
Begin by sitting at the table with some coffee or ice cold water, a notebook full of blank pages, and a sharp pencil or your favorite pen. Think. Write down the fragments that come to mind. Getting them onto paper will help clarify what’s on your mind and allow you to deal with it more concretely.
After you’ve gotten as much out of your head and onto paper as you can, take that notebook with you on a walk through the house. Jot down any thoughts triggered as you look around: “The bathroom door squeaks. I should spot-clean the hall carpet. I want to hang pictures on that wall.”
Spend a couple days just filling up that sheet. It’s a brain dump. Let it all out and get it all written down.
Start another sheet of paper for each of the following categories and start writing down ideas, notes, and reminders:
What’s coming up? What do you need to do to get ready? What should be on your calendar that isn’t? What would help you make and keep a more accurate calendar?
Jot down notes to yourself that occur as you look through your calendar.
What do you want to accomplish? What path do you want to travel? What attitudes do you need to change? What habits do you need to break and build? What areas do you want to grow in?
Write down whatever comes to mind! You aren’t committing at this phase, just emptying your head so you can deal with it later.
What needs to happen in your house and life weekly? What chores need to be done? What schoolwork? What errands? What chunks do you need to fit into your week?
Just generate a list and add to it as you live out a week, paying attention to what’s there and what should be there.
What needs to make up every day? Teeth-brushing items. Small daily habits that add up quickly and that are easy to forget about need to make it to your list, too. What would help you start your days strong?
Make sure to write down even what you already do well. This isn’t a pity party list or self-criticism. Remember to give yourself credit for what does get done.
Plans are about the future, but what about the past? This is the area I need to grow most. For the most part, I just toss all my lists and all my plans after they’re done or no longer relevant. I would like to do better about keeping summaries of how things go so that the next time around I can improve. Using a digital calendar like Google Calendar or scanning into Evernote my daily to-do cards would be a great space-saving and searchable way to do this.
Assemble as a Habit
This sort of extensive brain dump is a preliminary step while beginning an organization effort or when you find you feel scattered and discombobulated.
In normal day-to-day operations, you’ll still assemble, but it will be in small pieces:
Put loose things into your inbox by default rather than any open counterspace (and train other family members to do the same).
Write things down right away as they occur to you; always keep a notebook or device handy for this.
Input appointments and commitments into your calendar right away; don’t try to remember them.
Every morning or evening, spend a minute or two doing a mini brain-dump.
You’ll be amazed at how much this simple practice helps you feel lighter and more in charge of the influx of information, tasks, and responsibilities.
Ilse and Knox are budding readers and did each check out two early readers from the library. I returned them quickly and didn’t write them down because they were just silly twaddle. Why are good early readers so difficult to find? Why is it expected that kids aren’t going to like books unless said books are about tv characters or gross topics?
In the car on the way camping we listened to a Hank the Cowdog book and started Little House in the Big Woods. My husband likes Hank, too, and came away with a new favorite phase: “roasted on the grill of fate.” I finally sat down and set up and synced our various iPods (non-app iPods) so that the kids could use them for audiobooks. Now I just need to figure out a way to regularly charge them. We’ve been more consistent with quiet time these last couple weeks and an audiobook is a reliable way to engage the younger ones and settle them down quietly.
I feel like I need to settle in to some audio books, too, for my listening. I’ve been on a podcast binge and really should move to something more sustained and less shallow (not all podcasts are shallow of course, but many of the ones I’ve been listening to are!). I am a bit of the way into Nicolas Nickleby, which I got for free on Audible last year. Audio is my favorite way to read Dickens. Then when I feel up to it, I also started An Introduction to Philosophy by , but I haven’t been feeling up to it lately.
In my own reading life, I’ve finished a few. I really enjoyed Something Other Than God by Jennifer Fulwiler, and it provided meat for many conversations, which was all to the good. It was interesting to draw parallels and differences between it and Rosaria Butterfield’s Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert, the most notable parallel being that the lynchpin was obedience and submission to truth and not understanding. They both came to a point of saying, “Whatever You say, God; I’ll trust You on this, even though I don’t get it.” and then that act of faith opened the floodgate of faith and understanding. Now I should read Surprised By Oxford while I’m in the genre of conversion stories.
In the fiction department, I finished The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman. It was weird, but fascinating, and a quick read. I think Gaiman is able to capture the feel that the old, original fairy tales might have had in their time. That is to say, they are creepy, but comforting in an odd sort of way, too. I mean, the guy quotes C.S. Lewis and G.K. Chesterton in the preface to all his books I’ve read, so he’s got to be ok, right? Still, this is an adult’s story and not a kids’ story. Even for Gaiman, it’s creepy, and it would probably not make sense in many places to a child.
I’ve started about 6 books, but haven’t gotten any traction in them. I pick one up and enjoy it, but then pick up another one next time. I need to settle in to one pick or my summer reading will be atrocious. However, my next read for sure is going to be Consider This: Charlotte Mason and the Classical Tradition by Karen Glass, which Karen graciously sent me a digital review copy of. I’m also still plugging away at these:
Scholé Sisters is launched! I’m so excited! We’re giving away a prize bundle of all my, Pam, Sarah, and Brandy’s ebooks and MP3s on Monday’s post. Don’t miss that opportunity!
For the first two weeks, we have a post every day. We want to start off by establishing what the principles of classical education are and how they play into life and education at home. Then we will settle into a regular rhythm of a meaty Tuesday article and a discussion-starter on Fridays, where we hope to get some good conversation rolling in the comments section.
When we take classical methods and use them in order to get good test scores, in hopes that our children will get good jobs, or in order to get into a prestigious college, then we are actually pursuing the ends of modern – not classical – education.
The goal of education is really the chief end of life itself:
The aim of education is to know God better, and the more we know God, the more we love and obey Him.
It’s been awhile since I’ve had a picture post. It’s about time. :) I’ve been bad about photo-taking, though, so half these photos are not even mine. That’s ok, because that actually means they’re a lot better than anything I’d have taken. It’s good to have photographers in the family.
My brother was married a couple weeks ago and the reception was in our backyard. It was a fun wedding and a good party and it all went very well – thanks to good friends who can step right in and help get things done!
For example, at one point the mother-of-the-bride dropped off the gorgeous wedding cake on a table in the main thoroughfare of the house the day before the wedding. It’s, uh, been 25 years since she’s had toddlers.
What could go wrong?
Said good friend was there, looked around and said, “So, do your kids want to spend the rest of the day at my house?”
Everybody needs friends like that. Thanks, Kirsti, for all you did!
What one needs after putting on a wedding is to take 5 young children camping, right? Right.
The kids had a blast. All I can say is that if you must camp, you should definitely do so with 6 other responsible adults who have no children of their own.
Well, the funniest fitness picture is the one above of my brother-in-law teaching various forms of push-ups to the children. Who knew Ilse could do such a good plank?!
We also finished 4 weeks of swimming lessons for the three older kids. That felt like a marathon!
I probably wouldn’t have gone outside if it hadn’t been for our appointment at the pool, though, so it was good for us all.
While the kids were getting their exercise, I took some myself. After looking at them off and on for two years at least, I finally broke down (peer pressure was involved, I promise!) and got a Fitbit Flex. Costco had them, so the risk was low because a return would be easy. It’s not going to be returned unless it stops working, though. It’s actually a lot of fun to generate stats. :)
Now that every step “counts” – literally – I have definitely been more active all day instead of just a single walk or run a couple times a week. Running up or down the stairs to get something is something I’ll just pop up and do because otherwise I’ll have a stretch on my graph with zero steps! I’ve learned that there’s no way in my normal daily life that I can get 10,000 steps around the house, though, and that’s mildly depressing but good to know.
Turns out my house is laid out too efficiently to be much good for exercise.
But, I have to keep up with (that is, stay no more than 8k steps below!) my friend on the leaderboard, so up I get in the morning and head out the door for a 30-45 minute walk. I had better make it 60 if I’m serious about passing her up. A Fitbit is definitely more fun with friends.
I’ve been writing less here on the blog not only because of these events going on, but also because I’m working on writing that is yet to be published.
Next week we launch Scholé Sisters! I’ve edited and scheduled the first week of content and let me tell you, this is good stuff. I am so excited! Sarah, Brandy, and Pam make an awesome team to work with. We’ve had way too much fun talking rabbit trails over iMessage and Voxer as we’re getting this site up and running. I hope you’ll all come join us in the conversation over there when it “opens.” Every Friday there’ll be a conversation-starter post that we hope will lead to some rich and encouraging discussion. This will be real, in-the-trenches-with-you classical homeschooling: we have our ideals, but we also have our share of rough days and laundry piles. I am so thrilled to be a part of this!
I’ve also turned on the afterburners to wrap up my Simplified Organization project. It started out as a domain purchase and ebook outline over a year ago, and as I worked here and there at writing the ebook, I kept wondering if there was a better way to do it. It seems like ebooks can be helpful and inspiring, but they also easily just sit on the virtual shelf and are difficult to reference in the muddle of trying to do real life. Plus, it was starting to get way too long.
So after poking around online and talking to a few people about it, I realized it made much more sense to make it an online course! My husband the programmer is working on the technical side of it, but the plan right now is to have it be web-based content that’s really easy to navigate and pull up the instructions or inspiration you need to get your home and habits up and humming. I’m really excited about how it’s shaping up, and I’m even more happy that going through all these principles and instructions has forced me to implement it myself much more consistently!
And that’s good, because next week we start ramping up for a gradual back-to-school season.
Wait, what? I’m going to have to actually do all these plans instead of just writing about them? Drat.
That’s a deadline I’d rather not think about, but the shift back into steady routine is always welcome when it arrives.
Well, it’s the last week of my plan to improve our chore routines. It’s been helping a lot, even though summer things like swimming lessons and camping trips interrupt the routine. It’s still good to get that introduction phase over before the school routines are added back in. This week we’ll talk about the real challenge: how to get the kids to keep their rooms clean!
So, I think most parents with average kids know this problem – at least, most people I know do. Kids’ rooms can be disaster sites! Even if they pick it up, it can go from tidy to disaster in about 1 minute flat. I grew up as a kid with a disaster room, and though I’ve gotten better, still even my own bedroom seems to attract disorder and disarray. Bedrooms are an out-of-the-way, non-public spot. The natural tendency is the let one’s guard down, to have bedrooms be the spot one unwinds and allows carelessness.
So, one short-cut solution is to keep bedroom doors closed.
I’m not joking. It totally worked for me as a kid. My mom knew it was bad, but if she didn’t have to see it and be reminded, we could both just ignore it and not start a fight.
Bedrooms are last in my 6 week series because though I think a clean bedroom is a critical aspect of an identity-forming atmosphere, it’s the best corner to cut of the six areas I’ve mentioned when life is crazy and there is no energy for consistency. Been there, done that, periodically revisit it, we’re all still alive and functioning.
Bedroom-maintenance takes a lot of work and energy on both Mom’s and kids’ parts for the first couple months of learning the habits, and it’s going to be an exercise in frustration if there’s no reserves left to make it consistent. So, wait for a different season if that’s where you are. It’ll be ok. There’ll come a time to get to it, if you keep it on your radar but let go of the stress that it all has to happen now.
We are at a point where I think we need to conquer the bedroom-as-disaster-zone habit. We’ve had bouts of consistency, enough where I know what works for us and what doesn’t, but I’ve let my vigilance go too soon and it all slides downhill faster than anything.
As I’ve learned as I’ve acquired the habit of making my bed, the state of your bedroom communicates to you what sort of a person you are. Are you a person who likes things neat or a person who is a slob when given the choice? If you don’t give yourself or your kids the choice for long enough, then you all acquire the habit and the taste for order (in an -ish sort of way, nothing meticulous here). So it can be a very strategic place to work on habits of neatness – more so, I think, than with schoolwork. As orderliness in one area becomes a habit and a part of our identity, it will become easier and more natural to learn neatness is other areas.
That’s my theory, anyway, and I’m going to try to put it into practice and see if it holds.
Beastly Bedrooms: Minimize the Problem
There are several strategies we can implement before we get to habits that will make working and learning the habits easier and more effective. Mostly, they all boil down to declutter. The fewer things the kids have to manage and the easier it is to put the away, the more likely they will feel success when doing the work, and the feeling of success is a vital component of intrinsic motivation.
Reduce as much as possible the number of toys in their bedroom. It was easiest to keep kids’ rooms clean when we had a no-toys-in-bedrooms policy. That’s ideal if you have an arrangement where that works. Because of our mix of boys, girls, ages, and rooms available in the house, this is no longer viable for us. However, now the boys’ room only has Legos and books – no other toys. The girls’ room is a little more problematic, because my daughter has her own Legos, dressup clothes, and her dolls, and then random other items she ends up collecting. To minimize her mess, I got her a Lego container that fits under her bed for storage, I moved the dolls to live with the kitchen stuff downstairs so they can be a part of playing house, and I let her use a small jewelry set of drawers my grandpa gave me to keep little things she wants to keep – but that’s her storage limit. One of the drawers under Geneva’s crib holds her dressup.
Reduce the number of clothes. Whatever drawer or basket or shelf system you are using, the clothes have to fit in the space with room to spare for children to be able to manage putting their clothes away. If the drawers are overfull, it is difficult to put things away at all, much less well. We want to find as many ways to make it easy for them as possible.
Label drawers and shelves. This falls under another way to “make it easy” for the kids. Where things go might make sense to you and to me, but apparently it isn’t as obvious to the kids. Don’t fight that, work with it and make it crystal clear.
Use open containers. This is another way to make it easier – by removing the barrier of opening a lid, putting something away, and closing it again. You can reduce that three-step job into one step by just giving them containers without lids. I like shallow Sterilite bins that slide under beds, and I just store the lids in the basement.
A few other ideas I’ve seen around that I haven’t put into practice but am considering are giving your children a shelf or peg for them to hang their clothes they’ve worn but want to wear again tomorrow. Then it’s easy to just plop that outfit on the shelf or peg rather than dump it on the floor or toss it in the dirty hamper. You can also teach them to put their pajamas they can still wear another night under their pillow when they make their bed. I think that would help reduce my laundry load considerably! Right now, the easiest thing to do with clothes they have to deal with is toss them into the open hamper in their room — so that’s where they go most of the time. Giving them another easy option for clothes that can be worn again is a great idea.
Beastly Bedrooms: Maximize the Solution
Have you ever had the experience where someone’s offhanded comment is, to you, brilliant insight? This happened to me last year while chatting with my mom and youngest sister when my mom was giving my sister a hard time about the state of her room. She then admitted that said youngest sister was still much better than I had been. She then said, “Kirsten’s room gets just as messy, but she picks it up more often.”
What if it were that easy? Maybe it is that easy.
Bedrooms will get messy. What if, instead of fighting it and feeling frustrated by it, we all just pick it up more often. Does everyone else already know that and I’m just obtuse?
So much of my head-banging frustration over not only the children’s rooms but also my own has been relieved with this simple change in perspective:
Don’t stress about the mess happening; just EHAP often.
After all, the more often you pick up, the less likely it is to get completely out of hand and impossible to deal with. Also, the more often you pick up, the more practice you get at cleaning up — it becomes normal, rather than a big deal.
Make sure room-cleaning is on the once-or-twice-a-day loop, not the once-or-twice-a-week loop.
In the kids’ bedrooms, for us this looks like these guidelines posted for the kids to see:
picking up clothes & making beds is a morning chore
no computer or playing with friends unless bedrooms are clean (it has to be clean before asking or the answer is no)
bedrooms have to be picked up after EHAP jobs (this means the time between EHAP & dinner is used to clean up their bedrooms instead of to play if they haven’t been keeping it tidy or putting things away when they’re done)
Then, if when they grumble about one of these, I point out that if they put things away when they are done with them, their room would never need tidying. I’m hopeful that after 10,000 such reminders, they might get it someday and try it out.
Of course, maybe sometime I should try it out myself.
For my own bedroom, this just-pick-up-more-often approach means that when I make my bed, I also tidy up any clothes out of place or otherwise spend 2 minutes EHAPing in my bedroom. It means I am working on hanging my clothes back up or setting them aside on a shelf at the end of a day rather than making a heap at the bottom of my closet.
My room does collect the clothing piles when seasons or sizes change, and that does mean some piles will stick around for awhile. But that needs to be a temporary issue and not one that drags on because I’ve stopped seeing the piles. I think dealing with those times would make a good part of an interval plan, so that the goal would be to have the piles all gone by the end of the interval.
As we all grow more accustomed to putting things away and to living in clear spaces, it will become easier.
Do you have any other strategies to share for keeping up with beastly bedrooms?
We have winners! Thank you to all of you who entered and who left comments sharing your response to our series and also sharing your struggles. We were thrilled with the response, and are talking about how to do more giveaways. :) Thank you!
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