Thursday, March 25, 2010

Fitting It All In (a little at a time)

As the mom of (almost) eight, I often get questions like this: "How do you do it? I'm amazed at all you accomplish." or "How do you ever find time for yourself?" There's a huge perception that if you have a lot of kids, there must never be any down time. But really, while one of the most frustrating parts of having lots of kids is that there is always more to do than can be done, there is also time to rest, time to think, and time to develop talents and work on personal projects.

I've decided that there are two types of approaches to housework and projects. One is the tortoise approach, the "slow and steady wins the race" philosophy. This type of woman approaches her work a little at a time, at a steady pace. She'll do one load of laundry, folding it and putting it away each day. She cleans up after every meal, picks up the toys and books whenever they're out of place, and enjoys the peace of a clean and comfortable home. But while she does great with the day-to-day things, she avoids the big projects and panics when she's in charge of a big event.

(this is Tommy, by the way. He's our desert tortoise hatchling. Do you know they live to be a hundred years old? That means, assuming he survives life at our house, we may even have to make provision for this guy in our will.)

Then there's the rabbit philosophy, the "hurry up and finish so you can rest for a while" woman. She loves to tackle the huge projects. It's so thrilling to clean out the garage in one fell swoop. She loves to do a huge clothing sort or go through all the toys in one afternoon. She'll tackle organizing and scrapbooking her family's photos a year at a time and finish in the course of one week. Then she'll move on to the next project. Her laundry piles up and then gets done one day a week, in a big marathon folding session. But sometimes the day-to-day things get overwhelming. The mail ends up in a huge pile of papers that get ignored until the pile is overflowing and then tackled in a marathon "I'll-never-let-it-get-this-bad-again" session. The pantry gets stocked at the huge sales during the year, but she'll run out of milk or the needed ingredients for that night's dinner. There are always several areas of the house in perfect order, but several more in a great state of deterioration.
(this is a stock photo because no WAY am I crazy enough to have a pet rabbit!)

Most women will probably identify more closely with one or the other philosophy, but will find themselves using both in different areas in their lives.

In general, I'm a rabbit. I love to tackle the big things. I love big organization projects and the satisfaction of really making a huge difference as I create my yearly photo books or clean out the pantry or wipe down all the cabinets. But that approach also has its disadvantages. I'll work really hard to get the family office cleaned and organized just so but then I'll ignore it for months until I find myself facing the same mess again. My garage is very clean right now, but the storage area needs a major overhaul. And then there's the day-to-day stuff that I really should use a better slow-and-steady approach on. I'll get really organized with my menu and my plans for weekly shopping, but then let the daily follow-through slide until I'm facing the 5:00 hour and wondering, "What in the world do I cook?"

It's best as a mother and a homemaker to be both a tortoise and a rabbit, and I've been learning some great lessons from the tortoise the past few months. At the beginning of the year, I was feeling a bit discouraged by all the things I was not making progress on. I was emerging from the forced slow-down of morning sickness and feeling more energy, but also annoyed that the energy wasn't being put towards all the projects I'd been putting off: I’d outlined a series of essays I wanted to write back in September but hadn’t touched it in months; I’d gotten a new camera for my birthday in November and still didn’t know how to use it; It had been ages since I’d scrapbooked or designed anything, and so on.

As I prayed for guidance and tried to set goals for the year, it was obvious I needed to manage my time better. I was allowing my extra time to get swallowed up in whatever felt needed at the moment, using up all my rabbit energy for things that were urgent but not necessarily important. For instance, I felt like I was using up all the time with the twins were in kindergarten just doing housework. While my house was clean and my laundry folded every week, I felt like my personal projects were constantly being put aside.

As I analyzed what I was doing and could to better, I made two resolutions and some plans:

1. I would have my kitchen cleaned thoroughly, including floor swept, first thing in the morning before doing anything else. My goal was to have it done by 9:00 every day. Before, I'd putter around in the kitchen, get it mostly done, then go attack another area of the house, leaving dishes in the sink and crumbs on the floor to be tackled later.

2. I would no longer use the time while the twins were in school to fold laundry or do other mundane projects. Mornings are my best thinking and project time and I was wasting it by folding laundry and doing things that did not require much mental concentration. I know I'm disciplined enough that the laundry would still get folded, but I can always do something like that in the evening when I'm tired, when writing or creating would be impossible.

Next, I wrote down a list of everything I wished I was doing with my life, all the things I felt I didn’t have enough time for as well as my regular commitments. Then I wrote down how often I'd like to be doing them. For example, my mother’s group is a monthly event, while visiting the library, writing for my blog, writing my Sunday emails, and grocery shopping are weekly activities. Exercise should happen three or four times a week. By the time I was done writing, I had a huge list of things I wanted to fit into my life.

Next, I made a weekly schedule, determined what the most important things are, and gave them the best times. Monday mornings, I set aside an hour to write for my blog. Tuesday and Thursday mornings became my volunteering at the school time. Later Tuesday morning became our library day, and Tuesday afternoon, I decided I would bake something each week. Wednesday morning, I set aside another few hours to write. And Saturday afternoon, I decided I'd set aside an hour each week to do a photoshoot.

Did I fit it ALL in? No. Some of the things I had on my list just plain didn't fit into my schedule and I had to say, "someday." But I've learned a lot over the last few months of trying to be a tortoise, and I have been so excited by how much I HAVE fit in. I’m learning my camera and improving my photography so quickly, using just a few hours each week. Doing something creative has brought me joy, and I love having something that I can finish each week that doesn't have to be done again (unlike, say, the dishes, the laundry, the vacuuming, the cleaning, etc.)

I've been more consistent on posting on my blog, though I still have dozens of half-written posts I haven't gotten to yet. I'm making progress on my essays, little by little. Until I got too huge with pregnancy, I woke up before scriptures three days a week to exercise and felt so energized because of it. It was also a treat that Joey decided to wake up with me. I enjoyed spending time with him.

As I approach the end of this pregnancy (six and a half weeks to go now!), I'm having to re-evaluate and slow down. I've stopped going to the school so I can have a few more hours at home, I'm resting more in the afternoons, and I'm no longer waking up early to exercise. I have fit in more walking, more outside time with the kids, and a few fun outings, but I'm writing less and I've had to return a few photography books back to the library without finishing them (it feels like the ultimate insult to leave a great book unfinished!).

Once the baby's born and summer's here, I'll have to change the schedule and evaluate again what I have time for and how to fit it all in, and I'm sure I'll tackle that challenge like the rabbit I am, in one fell swoop, giving it lots of thought and energy and plans. But to implement it, I'll have to be more like a tortoise, and that's okay too. I'm learning to make room for that little guy in my life.

Are you more like a tortoise or a hare in how you tackle the workload in your life? What have you done to fit in the most important things in your life? How do you manage those months when you have to slow down?

(also posted on my blog, Hands Full & Loving It (Mostly)


Sarah said...

What a wonderful blog! I am a stay-home mom of 5, ranging from age 6-1, so I have lots of little bodies around all the time! I find myself switching back and forth from the tortise to the hare and it seems, nothing ever gets done. I am really going to try some of the things you suggested. Thanks!!

Jodi said...

Thank you for writing this. It's exactly what I needed to hear right now. I'm a hare, also. You have encouraged me to find a balance.

Stephanie said...

Thank you! for this post! I got to the end of it and was in tears with hope. I just found out I am pregnant with #7 (& possibly #8). We already have 6 (ages 1 to 17) and I've felt so out of control and with the news, I felt on the edge of losing myself. But your example reminds me that I can do this. I just have to get more organized and be consistent.