Make A List

For the month of April I’m blogging alphabetically about quick, easy, and practical ways to relieve stress. To see the other posts in this series, click here.

make a listI work really hard most days. So hard that, as I’ve already mentioned in this series, I don’t even grant myself the time I deserve for should-be priorities like eating, resting, cuddling my babies, laughing, or having fun. So you know what really upsets me and sends my stress level through the roof? When I sit down to dinner with my family, completely exhausted, and look around at my house and realize that it looks like I haven’t done anything all day. I run myself ragged, but, at the end of the day, it seems as if everything I’ve done has been undone by little hands, and things I really wanted to get done remain undone because I was too busy to get them done. It makes me feel like my life is completely out of control. It makes me feel like a failure.

Part of my problem is that I have really high expectations about what I should be able to accomplish in a day. I usually want to get about 50 more things accomplished than time will allow. As you can imagine, that means I don’t accomplish what I want to accomplish each day. The truth is I simply can’t accomplish that much in one day. No one could. There is only so much time. And only so many tasks can be completed in that finite amount of time.

I’ve always been a list person. Whatever I need to do goes on my list. Partly, so I don’t forget about it. And partly, well, because I’m a list person. I think up a new task, it goes on the list. The only thing I love more than making my list, is crossing things off my list.

So, at the end of the day, as I look around my messy house that I spent the whole day cleaning, I also see my list. My list full of un-crossed-off items. And I get really upset and uptight. How can there still be so many things left on my list?? How am I ever going to get all of these things done?? How will I prevent the world from spinning out of control?? (There goes that catastrophic thinking again…)

So, in preparation for this post, I’ve changed the way I make my list. And it’s worked out so well for me!

Every morning, I take out a sticky note. On the sticky note I write the six and only six things that I’m going to accomplish that day. (Sticky notes won’t hold much more than 6 items, so it keeps me from cheating. Otherwise, I might try to add a few “bonus” items.) Items 1 and 2 are the same every day: 1. school with A & J 2. read aloud. That only leaves me with 4 little ol’ spots for all the many things I think I need to do. This makes me prioritize my projects and it makes me stick to a reasonable number of tasks. I don’t have to accomplish my list in any order, my goal is just to accomplish it by the end of the day.

This little exercise has been so good for me! It feels so good to get to cross six things off my list every day. It feels so good to look at my list and know that I actually accomplished what I intended to do that day. It feels so good to sit down to dinner and know that, even though my house is a mess and I’m exhausted, my list is complete. It gives me tangible evidence that I did, in fact, accomplish something, even if I feel like there is still so much that could be done.

Success in the Midst of Chaos

Life is so busy these days.

Honestly, I feel naive to even say that. By this point in my life, I’ve come to realize that life is busy. Period. Different seasons have different feels. Some seasons have more peace than others. But all seasons of life are busy in their own way. Life is, was, and always will be busy.

So, yes, my life is busy. But it’s also one of those times that feels unpleasantly busy. When that happens, I tend to scale back wherever I can. This week I skipped our co-op and a rosary group that I really enjoy. Perhaps that was counterproductive, as I love the time I spend with those ladies, but not having to get all five littles out the door and monitor their behavior at both of those events was a huge relief for me.

Busyness (Despite several online dictionaries’ assurance, I’m still not convinced that’s how busyness should be spelled.) aside, we’ve accomplished quite a bit around the house. Since we’re going to be moving within the month, which is not something we had planned, we have quite a bit to tackle around here. Lucky for me, my stress projects have put a very positive dent in all that needs to be done. This week we have also:

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My sweet Andy helping paint our kitchen when we moved in back in 2010.

1. Painted both boys’ rooms. Ben’s room was covered in crayon, not because I allow my children to color on the walls, but because Ben always finds a way to cut or color or spread toothpaste or glitter on things that shouldn’t be cut, colored, toothpasted, or glittered. Andy and Jack’s room was just gross. There was like this gray funk over all the walls. It must be a growing boy thing. Both rooms are now beautiful and neutral. Hopefully they will remain that way for the next month.

2. I cleaned the grout in the master bath. Seriously – do other people struggle with grout like I do?? It’s just gets so nasty. Is there some secret to keeping it clean? Or an easier method to clean it? Toothbrushes and magic erasers are the best methods I’ve found. Needless to say, there will definitely be no grout in the new house after we renovate. I hate grout! It is my house cleaning nemesis. Fortunately, all the grout in my house is almost clean. All I have left to tackle is the kitchen.

And somehow, in the midst of all the chaos of everything else going on…

3. …I had a really great little visit with one of my confirmandi. Well…he’s not a confirmand anymore – he was confirmed last spring, but I don’t know how else to refer to him. Anyone have a cute way to refer to the kiddos they’ve sponsored for Confirmation? Anyway, he texted because he’s having a tough time and wanted to chat. He came over Monday afternoon and we had a great little visit while my kiddos ran around like lunatics. Even though it was a great visit, he needs some prayer. Would you mind offering a quick prayer for him?…………….Thanks!! :)

So that’s it for me. Small successes in the midst of crazy, busy, chaos. But, hey, that’s life right? Share your small successes over at Small Success Thursday. Make it a great day!

Stress Projects

KeepCalmStudio.com-[Crown]-Keep-Calm-And-Complete-A-Stress-ProjectI have been super stressed out this week. On top of some smaller stressors that I’ve been dealing with, my hubby and I are making a major decision. We’re considering an opportunity that would cause some major stress, but also (hopefully) bring great rewards. I’m terrible at making decisions of any kind, but it’s way worse when the decisions are important. As we pour over pros and cons and would-bes and could-bes and should-bes, my stress level has reached heights I haven’t seen since I quit working outside of the home.

I’m not so great at coping with stress, so, at first glance, I thought I was going to have to sit out this week over at Small Success Thursday. I realized that it’s weeks like these that particularly call for a recognition of one’s small successes, and, after some thought, I discovered the silver lining to my stress.

I don’t handle stress well. I get really irritable and short-fused. To try prevent myself from attacking my family while they sleep, (I’m exaggerating – no need to call C.P.S.) I scale back on everything that I possibly can scale back on to deal with the task at hand. School gets turned down to the bare minimum: reading, math, and catechism. I make really easy meals. I don’t do the laundry. I don’t do a lot of playing with the kids. I just go into crisis mode and deal with the task at hand.

At some point I get really frustrated because I can see all that I’m putting to the side, yet I also realize that I’m not making any visible progress on whatever is causing all the stress. Then I start doing projects. I choose things that I know I can do well and see through to completion. I do this to compensate for the inadequacies I’m feeling in regards to my daily routine and other areas of my life.

I don’t go through this process intentionally. In fact, I’ve never even thought through this process before today. But this is how I operate under stress. Always.

I know that in reality this process is just a really poor coping skill. But my poor coping skill has a silver lining: I get things crossed off my to-do list that I would never otherwise tackle. I will forevermore refer to this maladaptive coping skill as my stress projects. So what did I take on this week?

1. I cleaned the grout in the hall bathroom, foyer, and laundry room. We have light grout and a lot of people in our house. I’m embarrassed to say, it gets dirty – really, really filthy. But now, thanks to my stress projects, it’s clean in several rooms of my house!

2. I weeded a lot of the front yard. We have a tiny lot, but this year it was absolutely overtaken by roadside aster. Embarrassingly overtaken. It looked like a carpet of little white flowers. But, in one of my efforts to avoid the tasks at hand while simultaneously making myself feel accomplished, I got out in the yard and tackled the weed problem – or at least a big chunk of it. We’d tried putting some weed and feed on it last month, but it didn’t work. Thus, my efforts were needed, but not something I normally would have taken on willingly. It looks so much better now!

3. I made festive halloween treats to send to work with my hubby. Back in the day, I used to make treats for my hubby to take to work with him from time to time. Thanks to work and grad school and multiple pregnancies, I haven’t done it in years. As I was working on the treats, I actually asked Josh what made me decide to make them. (Not because I was complaining but because I really couldn’t recall what gave me the idea to do it.) I didn’t realize it at the time, but it, too, was a stress project. A super cute stress project, if I may say so myself!

I’m so grateful for Small Success Thursdays. I really was feeling like a failure this week, knowing how grumpy I’ve been and seeing all that I haven’t done. Because of SST, I actually stepped back and realized that, while I may have come up short in a lot of areas, I succeeded in some areas too!

Life Hacks: Lay Flat to Dry

You might file this in your “Thank you, great master of the obvious.” file, but I was super thrilled to come up with this in my laundry room recently.

I have waaay too many articles of clothing that are labeled “lay flat to dry.”

I also have waaay too little space in my house to lay things flat.

“Lay flat to dry” items are the bane of my laundry-doing existence. I mean, what’s a girl with a nonexistent laundry room to do with those? If they go in the dryer, they shrink. If they get hung up, they dry in weird configurations with practically permanent hanger marks in the shoulders, making them impossible to wear.

In the past, I’ve laid these items over the side of the tub and over the shower curtain rod. That works ok – assuming you remember to flip them every now and then AND no small children cut or color the fun pieces of fabric adorning their bathroom. Also, depending on what specific items of clothing we’re talking about, this method limits you to around 6 articles of clothing: 3 on the tub and 3 on the rod.

But I have hacked my life! I have solved my problem!

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Just hang the items upside down with skirt hangers!

On some fabrics, the skirt hangers do leave little indentions. But, if they do, the marks are at your waist, which means they are not nearly as noticeable as big hanger indentions on your shoulders. For the most part, I get nicely dried, non-shrunk, non-weirdly-molded clothes. Plus, there’s more space than I usually need in just one doorway. I have the shirts in the picture above generously spaced, but hung more closely together, I can get all of my “lay flat…” items hung up and drying in my laundry room doorway, where they are safe from little hands, don’t need any rotating, and actually look nice when they are finished drying.

(insert fist pump here!)

SST # 4: The Laundry Edition

Small-Success-Thursday-550x330I’m going to cheat a little bit today. At least it feels a bit like cheating. I’m taking one small success – finally getting the monster that is dirty laundry to submit to me – and breaking into the three smaller successes that helped me achieve this goal.

I’ve noticed over the last few days that FINALLY I don’t feel like my life is dominated by the laundry. I used to always have laundry EVERYWHERE. Piles sorted in the foyer* waiting to be washed, a mountain of clean laundry on the couch waiting to be folded, towers of laundry on the coffee table waiting to be put away, and more towers (usually toppled over) in the bedrooms that had been delivered to their proper owners, but never put in the drawers. My entire house was covered in laundry and I hated it. I truly don’t know the words to convey how much I hated the laundry and how suffocated I felt by it’s unending presence. But, as I said, earlier this week I realized that I don’t feel that way any more. So what changed?

2014-02-26 16.39.281. Daily load of laundry. Several years ago, someone suggested that I do one daily load of laundry and I’d always be on top of my laundry problem. It sounded simple enough in theory, but I was never able to successfully implement it. I don’t know why. What is so hard about one load of laundry? For me it was impossible. It either sat in the washer, forgotten, until it mildewed and then became another day’s load of laundry, or it got washed & dried, but never folded, only adding to the heap of laundry that took up half of our sectional. Eventually, the heap on the couch was so wrinkled and covered in cat hair (it was her favorite bed) that I was unsure if it even really qualified as clean anymore. But this winter everyone got sick and things changed.

From November – January, the kids in my house passed around disease after disease. Several of these diseases had some kind of stomach bug component. Four kids with stomach problems equals lots of laundry. It got to the point that I’d just leave the washer open to collect the next round of soiled clothes, linens, etc. At the end of the day, or when the washer got full, whichever came first, I’d run the load. But I have a pet peeve about running a partial load of laundry. (If I’m gonna wash, that baby better be full. I need to get the biggest bang for my buck.) So, if the machine wasn’t already full, I’d walk around collecting items that could be washed in that load. Because I needed the sheets, pjs, favorite blankies, etc., I couldn’t just leave them forgotten. I had to see these loads through to completion. And  I did. In the process, however, I also developed a new habit. Ever since, I’ve been doing a load of laundry a day. I didn’t mean to finally conquer this habit. But I did it! And I love it! And it really has made my life so much easier. No more piles. No more mortification. Just clean laundry, that gets folded and put away EVERY DAY! Woohoo!

2014-02-26 17.08.112. Allowing kids to fold. I’ve also been told many times over the years that folding laundry is a perfect chore for little ones. I always disagreed. Socks, maybe. But not the clothes. They just aren’t neat enough. With all the laundry we were doing this winter, I had to surrender my perfectionist tendencies and let the little ones fold. The leaning towers of clothes that are somewhat folded, somewhat balled, and somewhat heaped….well, they don’t look great. But they’re certainly better than a mountain of unfolded laundry taking over half of my couch and staring me down every time I pass through the room. So I’ve surrendered to their folding. I admit: I often refold my pile before I put it away; I just can’t help myself. But no one else seems to mind. And I most definitely appreciate the help with this never ending task. So, after dinner, if I haven’t gotten around to folding the day’s load of laundry, the kiddos do it. Now there’s no more pile of clean laundry taking over my couch.

2014-02-26 19.26.143. Utilizing the dry cleaner – and not feeling guilty about it. Another pile I forgot to tell you about was the pile of Josh’s work clothes waiting to be pressed. The fact is, I just don’t have the time to iron. The only time I can really get it done is in the evening after everyone is in bed. That’s just not ok with me. I need the evening to wind down and recharge and to spend some quality time with my husband. It’s not good for me (or anyone else) if I work straight through until bedtime. But I just felt so guilty about sending his work clothes off to the cleaners. I am perfectly capable of washing and ironing those clothes, which made it feel doubly wrong. It felt like I was being lazy and wasting money by asking them to do what I could easily do for myself. Whether there’s any truth in that statement, it’s irrelevant in light of the fact that Josh needs clean clothes to wear to work and a sane wife to run his household. By sending the clothes to a cheap dry cleaner to be washed and pressed, I gain a lot of freedom. It may be real or it may only be perceived, but the fact remains, it takes a big load off of me. And it really doesn’t cost much, just a few bucks a week. So, after swallowing my pride**, and surrendering the task to someone else, I lost another pile of laundry to deal with.

So, yesterday, as I was moving the clothes from the washer to the dryer, it occurred to me just how much I used to hate, loath, and dread doing the laundry. And, then, I realized that I don’t feel that way anymore. It’s just a simple little task that I really don’t think much about. I throw in a load before we start school in the morning, move the load around lunch time, and fold it (or have the kids fold it) in the afternoon. At some point before bed, everyone takes their own clothes and puts them away. Easy peasy. The laundry monster has officially been conquered!

That’s it for me. What are your small successes this week? Join the linkup over at Catholicmom.com!

                                                             

*Our “laundry room” is barely bigger than a closet and it’s just off the front entryway. The only logical place to sort laundry in our house is in the foyer. That means, for the majority of the time we’ve lived in this house, if you showed up at my house unexpectedly, you were going to be greeted by mountains of dirty laundry. I was simply mortified every time this happened to me.

**One time, about 5 years ago, one of Josh’s coworkers commented on how good his shirt looked and asked which cleaner he used. Josh responded that I had done it. The guy was blown away, both by the fact that wives still did things like that for their husbands and how good it looked. I’ve hung on to that ever since. Somehow, I got my pride and wifely worth tangled up in the fact that I could/should press Josh’s shirts. Clearly, that was neither healthy nor realistic (for us).

SST # 2: The Organization Edition

Small-Success-Thursday-550x330I am so, so excited about all we have accomplished this week! You may argue that these feats aren’t small successes, but I don’t see any reason not to rejoice in them simply because of that. I know that it’s always easier to enjoy the big successes and overlook the small, daily successes, but these projects are such a big deal to me that I literally get butterflies in my stomach each time I open a door and see them in all of their neat, orderly glory. (Yes, that really is what it’s like to experience life from the perspective of a neat-freak who gets hard core nesting impulses [which go above and beyond those impulses driven by my normal perfectionist tendencies] all throughout pregnancy.) As such, they have made a tremendous impact on my week in so many more ways than just the mere fact that the task was accomplished. So, without further ado, I give you this week’s “small” successes.

2014-02-07 14.17.201. Garage Organized. I have been trying to get our garage organized since we moved into this house almost 4 years ago. Every time we came or went or opened the garage to let the kiddos ride their bikes, the chaos in that garage induced anxiety, guilt, and frustration. Not to mention the sheer embarrassment of knowing the neighbors were able to see that pigsty. (Again, yes, this is really what happens in my brain. I don’t pretend to be normal. I’m just me.) Anyway, as of Monday, my garage is immaculate! It is certainly still full of garage type things. And there’s still only room for one car in there. (Although, I suspect, that if we really tried, we could get them both in now. I just don’t have any interest in really trying.) But, now, it’s organized and neat and lovely.

Last night, Josh got home from work and the garage was standing open, something which he’s never witnessed before. It was the first thing he commented on when he walked through the door. It was actually a very charming moment, as it gave me the opportunity to express, and him the opportunity to understand, just how grateful I was for all the hard work he put in to help me get that garage in order. If garage organization is too big to qualify for a small success, that moment 2014-02-07 16.46.11between us certainly was not. It was somewhat fleeting, but it was ever so lovely to see him really experience my gratitude. How funny is it that the simple act of leaving the garage door open (an act which I didn’t think through in advance) was all it took for him to get how truly grateful I am for the massive change that has taken place out there.

2. Toy closet organized. While the tools were out and things were being organized, Josh also tackled the toy closet. We have this fabulous closet in our foyer, which makes it ever so easy to have toys accessible for playing in the living room, but stored completely out of sight. It’s a fairly large closet, which makes it all the more fabulous. I really wish I would have taken a proper “before” picture, so you could understand just how awful the closet was. All the practicality of having the toys so easily accessible had been lost in the chaos that hid behind that door. There was no way the kids could ever find anything in there. Everything was just thrown in. We cleaned it out regularly, but, because there wasn’t any real organization in place, just numerous buckets stacked on top of each other on the floor, the clean never lasted very long. It was usually only a matter of days before everything was dumped back out into one massive sea of toys. Once that happened, it was only a matter of time before the kids would start complaining that they had “nothing 2014-02-13 14.43.39to do,” mostly because they didn’t know where anything was. Anyway, all we did was hang the bottom two selves. No big deal at all. But it’s made a world of difference in the way that closet functions. It still looks as good as it did on the day we organized it, and the kids know where all their stuff is. Despite the simplicity of the project, it is such a major success for the smooth functioning of our household.

3. Girls’ closet organized. Our little one is moving in soon, but I wasn’t sure what to do about her clothes. We looked at dressers, but it just seemed silly to buy a dresser that was going to have to live in the closet due to lack of space in the bedroom. In our room Josh is currently using a hand-me-down chest of drawers that gets the job done, but definitely isn’t my taste. Since we’re in the very slow process of redecorating the master bedroom one small piece at a time, it seemed wiser to buy Josh a new dresser and move his current chest into the girls closet. I like that plan, but I never found anything that was the right mix of price and style. As such, I came up with this much simpler and oh-so-easy solution. I just grabbed a few stacking shelves from Lowes, cleaned out the mess that was previously living in Leila’s closet, and, now, it’s ever so functional for both my little girls. The tall shelf on the right is our little one’s dresser for the time being. I think it cost a whopping $12 and it is so easily accessible for all the infant wardrobe changes that have to take place during the day. I couldn’t be happier with this budget-friendly solution!

2014-02-11 09.01.414. Stuff to Community Storehouse. In the process of all this closet and garage cleaning, we were able to put together a pretty big pile of stuff to send the the Community Storehouse, which is one of my favorite local charities. Among other things, they run a resale shop, so we sent some of our gently used, space hogging items off with them to find a new home. It makes all of this organizational success even better to know that someone besides me may benefit from the new-found neatness hiding behind the closet doors in my home!

(Super exciting side note: That’s our double stroller in the bottom right corner. With two little girls 16 months apart, we’re obviously still going to need a double stroller. We’ve had the one pictured since 2006 and I’ve always hated it. [That’s probably why it’s still in such good condition!] I could hardly push it in a straight line, but you can forget about me turning it. If Josh wasn’t available to push the stroller, I didn’t use it. BUT, it turns out Josh hates that stroller too. While we were putting together the pile for Community Storehouse, Josh suggested we put the stroller in the pile, which means….WE’RE GETTING A NEW STROLLER!! Woo hoo! What a very exciting baby gift for me! I can’t wait!)

So what about you? What were your small (or not so small) successes this week? Join the link up at CatholicMom.com!

Bath Time Multitasking

mop the bathroom

That’s also what I mean when I say I cleaned the bathtub.

Maybe that’s bad…

But I just tell myself that I’m multitasking.