family, motherhood

Home Executive: Part I

I started out my morning by cleaning off my desk. Small task, but it’s more that I know if I don’t do it, and I keep letting it pile up, I won’t be able to get any work done. Sort of like last night, the First Reader and I taking the time to walk the kids through various chores until the house was clean again. It wasn’t bad – just untidy. However, if we let it get bad… that’s the lesson we’re trying to teach them. Don’t let it get out of hand. When it starts to slip, sometimes you don’t notice, but as soon as you do, act on it. That’s a lesson worth more than just in housecleaning.

Although it’s important, this clean house thing. As we told them yesterday, we want to be able to welcome unexpected guests into our home at any time. For various reasons, neither the First Reader nor I grew up that way. We want them to have friends over. We want to have guests and not be dealing with kid clutter. It’s important… and having a clean house supports the family’s overall mental health, in my opinion. We can relax and enjoy our quiet moments in the evening without having to deal with a visual mess that stresses us. Or even if we’re the kids and don’t see it, it’s still there, keeping us from being able to do what we want, when we want. Funny how self-discipline and making oneself adhere to routines and procedures actually leaves us more at liberty.

I’ve been thinking for some time about a Happy Homemaker series of posts. (I’m also working on the food anthro post, but that’s a whole ‘nother ball of research.) So today you get this. I was a stay-at-home Mom for the first ten years of my children’s lives. I also ran a small business from home (still do) and juggled client service around babies, toddlers, all the way into teens. Right now, I’m betwixt and between. Hunting for full-time work to begin the new career I’ve trained for, and managing a busy household at the same time. It will change again once that job has been landed (I have a prospect, not perfect, but it would give me some experience points) and I will have to manage the house more remotely and in odd hours. I’m quite certain I’m not the only mother in this situation – and while I can’t speak directly to fathers, I can offer some of the things I’ve learned and done to make it work through the years.

Time management is key. It’s very easy to get caught up in one task and forget another. I have a tendency to hyper-focus on a task, and not even hear things like the dryer buzzer going off. But more importantly, I have found that planning out a day keeps me on track and accomplishing everything that needs to be done. Prioritize, and don’t feel like you have to check it all off that day. Some things may have to roll over to the next day. Some things you will want to say ‘must’ be done, and push yourself to do them even when you’re tired and don’t feel like it. I have to fight this when I’m down in the dumps, and don’t feel like cooking.

Planning ahead will help smooth out those days where just nothing goes right, and you feel like standing in the middle of the chaos whirlwind and screaming. Don’t do that. Instead, pull a pre-made meal out of the freezer, set a timer, and do just one thing for ten to fifteen minutes. You can do anything for just that long. When I was a young mother, I found an online support group run by a woman who went by FlyLady (she was a fisherman) and her mantra was shining the sink, putting on shoes, and doing whatever you had to do for fifteen minutes. It saved me a lot of struggles. I could do that… I never did get good about shoes, but the principle remains true. If you lounge around in your jammies, you’re not going to get as much done, or feel the same way about yourself as you will if you pretend you’re going off to work and get dressed like it.

Preparedness is a vital part of keeping the house running like a well-oiled machine. Nearly out of toilet paper? Pick up a package. Keep running lists of what is needed, rather than making many small trips to the store. Those waste time and money – I’ll get into the money thing more in another post about frugality – not to mention making you feel frazzled and under fire all the time. If you want to have the pre-made meal in the freezer for a bad day, you’ll have to plan ahead and make it when you’re having good days. Certain things are great for making enough for dinner, plus extra for freezing with little to no effort on your part. Baked Mac ‘n Cheese, lasagna, chili, and so on. I could probably do a list post just of those sort of meals, but they aren’t hard to find online. Prepare for more serious crises, too. What would you do if your spouse was in a car accident on the way home? What would he do if you keeled over one day? Game out scenarios. Don’t let your emotions get in the way, you have to plan for the worst, because one day something bad will happen. if you’re having trouble with the serious scenarios, start out with a plan for smaller disasters, like a massive snowstorm that leaves you with no electricity for a week. Or if you live in the South, what happens if your HVAC goes out in the middle of summer?

Write it down. It does no good to think it all through, have it in your head… and then it’s gone. Stress does funny things to memory. I know this from bitter experience. Make lists, set up calendars, create a budget, and then USE them. It takes 27 days to form a habit, I’ve been told. I’ve learned that can vary from person to person, and I have learned that missing a day can lead to missing three and then you’re really in trouble. Give yourself permission to fall down, catch yourself, and get right back up. Don’t give in to the guilt trip when you fail at some task. Take a deep breath, wade into the mess, and start cleaning it up. I’ll come back to that, by the way, since I’ve done this to myself and have learned how to deal with overwhelming messes (and I don’t mean physical dirty-dishes-and-laundry although that, too). Over the years I have used notebooks, google calendar (great because you can set notifications and have them emailed to someone else) Tasks Free (a simple to-do app) and many other methods. Currently using Every Dollar for budgeting, for instance. One of the recent conversations I had with the First Reader involved my knowing where all of this is and how to use it, while he doesn’t. He needs to know and be involved, too. Both partners in the household have to be completely transparent, in case one needs to step into the other’s shoes for a while. Or forever.

Whew. That’s a lot of words. I’ll come back to this again – and I’ll leave you with this. When I was a very young married woman, I had no idea how to cope with marriage, running a household, and later, dealing with babies while I did all that too. I had to learn, and a lot of my learning was looking about for books, or online groups and helps. I’ve always been a researcher. This post and the series I plan to follow it is my form of giving back. There’s young people out there – and yes, young men, I am talking to you as well – who don’t know how to handle ‘adulting’ and hopefully I can offer something that will help. That’s it. And there are comments if you have questions.

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