Over the years, I have read countless books, articles and blogposts on the subject of a well-maintained home.I have gleaned something useful from nearly every one of them — but there is also a common problem.
Over and over again, these articles tell me to “get up earlier and knock that work out before your day gets going.” Or even worse, they assume I have only one or two kids who leave home for the school day while I stay at home for a quiet day of housework. They add insult to injury by assuming my husband equally divides the housework and childcare. Um…No. If that were my life, do you really think I would spend this much time trying to figure out how to make it all work!?!
What is rarely discussed in all this plethora of helpful rhetoric is the reality that I and most of the women I know REALLY deal with. We don’t have rhythmic, predictable schedules. We don’t have hours of uninterrupted time. We don’t have plenty of eager help. And we’re TIRED. Really, really tired. You can’t tell a woman who is already only getting half the sleep she needs to “just get up earlier.” That kind of advice will KILL her. If anything, you should tell her that a well-maintained house isn't nearly as important as getting a nap.
So what is a woman who lives in the real world supposed to do? Is she doomed to choose between a clutter pit or exhaustion?
I say NO. We can live in a well-run home that is always company ready AND we can be rested AND we can even have time to do some things we enjoy. Do I always live in that perfect place? Absolutely not. But I can see some light shining on the path that leads to that place.
Simplify and Delegate
The real ticket involves a complete re-evaluation of how we live and with what we live. I don’t mean with what PEOPLE we live — although our people can either help or hinder our situation. I mean the STUFF with which we live and the STUFF with which we fill our time. Our choices in these areas determine so much about HOW we live.
First, let’s look at TIME:
How are we REALLY spending our time? Often, we think we are so unbelievably busy that there just isn’t time for the truly important things, but if we are honest, we would have to admit we often spend hours cruising social media, watching Facebook/YouTube videos, chatting on the phone and basically wasting time. We need to reign in our wasted time.
But sometimes cutting back on our wasted time isn’t enough. At one point, I found that I was using absolutely every single minute efficiently, but still didn’t have enough time for basic needs — like sleeping. What gives? Obviously, I had said “Yes” to way too many things. I had filled my schedule with stacks of obligations that God had not dealt with me to take. These weren’t things I had on my heart. They were things that people had asked me to do. Instead of respectfully declining, I had said yes to all kinds of things I didn't want to do because I didn’t want to let anyone down. T oo often, those things were actually someone else's responsibility and I had allowed them to push it off on me. So while everyone else was sleeping, I was working 20-22 hour days. Yes, you read that right. Apparently, I’m a slow learner. It took my body breaking down to get me to be honest about my time and my little people-pleaser problem. Don’t let that be you. Everything you say yes to is also something you say no to. When you say yes to chairing the PTA, you say no to evenings at home with your kids. When you say yes to a 3 hour chat with a friend who is always in a crisis, you say no to cleaning, baking, or doing something else you had on your heart. We need to evaluate both our yeses and our no’s to make sure they are lining up with our goals.
For me, I was so active with our ministry, our kids education, our ministry, cooking wholesome real food, our ministry, turning everything into a DIY project, our ministry, keeping our home clean, doing everything anyone asked of me and more of our ministry, that I was only getting 2-4 hours of sleep every night, including weekends, and there were no days off. God didn’t ask that of me. I just didn’t know how to say no.
It’s time to take a really hard, honest look at WHY we are so busy and tired. I have to warn you, it won’t be easy or intuitive. I found it took a lot of honesty about what was going on inside me that made it so hard to look someone in the eye and say “no”. I didn't see these things overnight. Some of this stuff was pretty deeply rooted in me. It has been coming off in layers.
At first, everything on my schedule looked so important. None of it looked like things I could let go or that someone else could be doing. And in truth, a great deal of it would require training others to do what I did — there really WASN’T anyone who could just step in and help. It took about 5-6 years to free my schedule up enough just to get a good night’s sleep. Along the way, I was learning to be brutally honest with myself about how I had become so over-loaded. The problem started we ME, not all the people who expected me to do those things. A simple, “I’m sorry. I won’t be able to do that” would have been enough, but for years, that was a sentence I just couldn't bring myself to say. My self-worth was completely tied up in my ability to be useful and necessary. Evaluating and simplifying how we use our time isn’t for the faint-hearted. If you can muster the courage, though, there is real freedom in getting your responsibilities down to a reasonable and manageable size.
Once you’ve looked at how you spend your time and why you spend it that way, you need to see how much of your time lines up with your true goals (not the ones others have imposed upon you). It will take some soul-searching. Ask yourself as you go through the tasks of your day whether what you are doing is taking you toward or away from your goals. If you find there are things that are not taking you toward your goals, it’s time to do some cutting away.
The obvious first step is to cut away anything that is unnecessary. Things like wasted time, too much running around, volunteer work that you don’t have on your heart, yet is simple to step away from, etc. Some things will be obvious and easy. Cut those things away first and fast. (There are already 6 other people signed up to do a job that requires two. You can step away from that without a hassle. Or turning off the TV at a certain time. Easy.) Other things will be more difficult. You'll need to take a deep breath, and tell the local Stuffed Elephant Society that you can't make 600 peanut-flavored cupcakes this year. They will cry. They will tell you no one else can do this but you. They will tell you that you are insensitive to their needs and the needs of stuffed elephants around the world. Once they realize you really aren't going to make 600 peanut-flavored cupcakes, they will simply find someone else. Life will go on without you and your all-night baking session. Now that you have that task off your back, you can handle stepping down from the "Save the Sidewalk Weeds Campaign."
The next step is delegation.
I am not a natural delegator. Even when I am overwhelmed and exhausted, it seems easier to just “do it myself.” This isn’t a good quality. You really CAN’T “do it all.” You will sacrifice something somewhere. And while it sounds like you are being a true servant of others by doing it yourself, really you are HINDERING others. You are preventing other people from stepping in and learning new skills. In ministry, I found that as long as I was running departments, planning the events, and generally “doing it all,” no one else even thought about whether or not they would like being used in those ways. But when I began stepping back from things, other people stepped up to the plate. Those people didn’t do things like I did. (This can be hard to take at first. Breathe deep. You'll get over it.) Instead, they brought fresh ideas, fresh energy and often had more time to dedicate to the task. Not only did they do things differently, often, they did things better. At our church, we have whole teams doing the things I used to do alone. When I began to delegate all those programs, departments, planning and other areas to other people, we were able to reach farther and actually do more as a church. Two are better than one. And in my case, teams are better than one.
The same holds true for running a household. Mom could do the laundry, cook the meals, pick up after the kids, do the errands, clean the house, manage the kids’ time for them and basically “do it all.” She could be the family slave. I know. I used to do it all, and I certainly felt like the family slave. I had absolutely NO time to do anything I enjoyed. If I sewed, it was because we desperately needed clothing (and going to the store would be unthinkable). If I cooked, it was because the family needed fed. I couldn’t remember the last time I went to the art museum, ballet or symphony. I couldn’t even remember the last time I had savored my tea — I just gulped it as I rushed about my work. My family would enjoy their evening breaks, but I would keep working.
Then one day I had an epiphany. I’m not training my kids in basic life skills. Unless I plan to come to their future homes and continue to do all these things for them, I’d better let them learn these skills HERE. I began a quest to hand over responsibility to my kids. I didn’t just dump it all on them, though. That wouldn’t be good leadership or good delegation. I gave them a new task, trained them to do that task, helped them as they did the task, then watched them do the task on their own. Now that task belongs to them — they are ready for it.
I had a second epiphany a couple years ago. I had delegated the household cleaning to the kids and was working on their time management skills, but I still felt overwhelmed. I still felt like the family slave. I still had absolutely no time for personal enjoyment, and very little time for sleep. Then one day it dawned on me. If I allow myself to be the family slave, I am training my daughters to one day be the family slave in their own homes.
I don’t want that for them. I want them to work, yes. But I also want them to have time to pursue things they enjoy. I want them to be balanced. But how will they learn balance if they don’t see it in ME?
I did even more delegating. My kids now each do all their own laundry, they are each responsible for certain household chores, they are responsible to manage their own time and responsibilities without any nagging from me, AND the older kids help with the younger kids while I have a bit of downtime. My kids are watching me learn balance.
Do my kids sometimes make mistakes? Do they sometimes forget important things? Yes, of course. But that is part of the training. When something goes wrong and I don’t take over or nag, they are learning real life consequences for their mistakes in an environment that is safe. We can discuss what happened. They can learn - and the lessons they are learning, they will never forget. Those mistakes will serve them well in life.
I am still gradually delegating more things and learning more balance, but my life is already so much better. And the best thing? I no longer feel guilty. I know that when I go sit down while my kids work, I am training them not to be a Future Family Slave. I am teaching them how to delegate in their own homes and lives so that they can live a balanced life.
That is satisfying.
Have a great day!
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