I love my life. At the physical center of that life is my home. I love my home. I love the colors, the textures, and the accents that make my home a reflection of those who live in it. Because of that, when my home is out of sorts, I am out of sorts. I don’t do well when things don’t flow smoothly.
Twenty years ago, I declared war on my natural tendency toward perfectionism. In my naturally extreme style, instead of balancing myself, I forced myself into another extreme. (Why is this so common for people?) I went from washing walls on a weekly basis to piles of dishes and clutter because I didn’t want to create stress in my home. Of course, that backfired. Sure, others weren’t stressed but my stress compounded exponentially until it was time to insist on balance.
The problem is, occasionally, I still make these wide swings. Now, I’m not as extreme as I once was, but I still find myself in bouts of disorder and my initial response is the overwhelming urge to overhaul my entire life. Do you see the extreme? Right now, my dining table has some trash on it, a machine that needs to be put away, play dough canisters, a Playmobil Roman coliseum, and a dish. There’s a basket of clean laundry on the floor and a bit of miscellaneous clutter here and there. So, do I immediately think, “Clear the table, clear the floor, wash the dish, fold the laundry, and put away the clutter?” Oh no. My first thought was, “Clear the table, clear the floor, wash the dish, fold the laundry, put away the clutter, the pictures need new tacky putty, the ribbons are sloppy, the walls and trim need scrubbing, the bookcase needs oil, the couch needs reupholstering, I need to oil the floor, the wires are driving me nuts, they have to go…”
Can you see how crazy it gets? I don’t why I do this, but I do. It feels like if I don’t put every single aspect of my life in place, all at once; I’ll fall apart. Of course, the reverse is the truth. If I try to overhaul everything simultaneously, I’ll burn, fizz, and die with nothing accomplished and much left for others to scramble as they try to pick up the pieces I dropped along the way. You can’t be all things to all men all the time all at once all by yourself… not even for yourself.
What is even more pathetic, is that I also usually begin thinking of things like how to revamp school, the 1001 projects I have either started or planned to start, or realize that I must start yesterday, oh and inevitably, I’ll want a new schedule. Just in case the previous overkill was insufficiently grand for me. Want to know a secret? Just thinking about all of this tends to ensure that I am instantly overwhelmed. My natural response? I crawl into myself, ignore the slight disorder that brought it on, and convince myself it’ll go away if I just ignore it long enough and thanks to wonderful husbands and children, the surface problems do.
A few times, I’ve been uncharacteristically wise. I’ve seen the path of destruction my flesh wants to lay out for me and I’ve laughed and said, ‘No way!” However, instead of shoving my head in the proverbial sand, those times were amazingly successful because I put a few simple rules in place for myself.
1. Start with one idea. I know, deep isn’t it? It may be as simple as Flylady’s “shiny sink” example or as complex as a new housework system for the whole family. It doesn’t matter what it is, but it has to be specific, attainable, and specialized. There’s no General Practice for this idea. You want a specialist. I remember one time, it was a simple thing of putting all sewing things away before I went to bed. I was sewing often at the time but not non-stop. I needed to take the time to do it and do it right. When I’m sewing for eight hours a day and six days a week, I don’t have time to put everything away each night. It doesn’t save time and clean-up, it makes more work for me. But when I’m working on one or two projects over a several day period, I can afford, and should take the time to do it.
Another time, it was keeping my laundry ironed. It was very important to me for that time to keep it crisp and finished… so I did! I added other things as I reestablished whatever routine had been replaced by the tyranny of the urgent and reaped the rewards but the key was, “Start with just one idea.” You can’t just master one thing over a few weeks, months, or years and then move onto the next. You do have to juggle more than one ball as a wife and mother- especially as a homeschooling wife and mother. However, getting a rhythm back when you’re rusty starts with the first ball. You slowly add the others in until you’ve reached your limits. You can switch out a red ball for a blue or a yellow for a green but you can’t pick up all the balls you have and start tossing them willy nilly hoping you’ll keep most in the air if you haven’t been practicing all along. That being said, there is definitely a limit to how many you can juggle period. We are not superwoman. We may roar, but we re not superwoman.
2. Aesthetics over Ascetics. For me, if the world around me isn’t beautiful, I feel defeated. I am not invigorated by a spartan utilitarian life. I am inspired by color, beauty, and creativity. I’ve tried not to care if the silverware matches or the tablecloth is pretty but it never works. I do care. I find a sparse room with bare essentials just as unsatisfactory as I do a room loaded with junk. I cannot stand a bare wall but neither do I like one cluttered with no place for your eye to rest. A bare table can be lovely but a vase of flowers speaks to my soul. When I find myself overwhelmed by the magnitude of what I know needs to change, one of the things I can guarantee is that I need to clear any clutter and ensure that what is supposed to beautify is doing its job. Otherwise, out it goes and in comes something that does. My tastes change. This used to bother me but it doesn’t anymore. When I was in junior high and high school, I loved walnut and mahogany. After I’d been married for a few years, I discovered I liked oak, birch, and unstained pine. In recent years, I’ve discovered that some things, I prefer painted. In the most recent months, I find myself drawn to cherry, rosewood, and ebony. When once I would never have considered a black picture frame, now it is all that I buy. If the day comes that I don’t like to see those frames, I’ll switch to something else or paint them.
Whatever I do, I need to make sure I love the rooms I own. There is no excuse for me to have a room that I find distasteful. I have the means, the ability, and the time to keep my house the haven that my family and I need.
3. Spice it up with variety. If I focus only on decor or only on housekeeping, or only on a schedule, I’ll burn out. I need variety. Even when I’m working on a novel, I have to mix it up. The reason that I have thirty novels in progress isn’t an inability to finish what I start, but (aside from not wanting to lose a good idea when it comes to me) the need for variety to keep me from going stir crazy. This translates into my ‘real world’ life. If all I do is keep the clutter picked up, I’ll stagnate into a robotic machine. It’s just how I am wired (and a lot of my friends are the same so I know it’s not just my natural quirkiness). If I only hand out schoolwork and correct papers, I’m doomed to despise home educating but if I throw in something that I enjoy (even if it’s something ridiculous like explaining why gerunds are so cool!) suddenly the dreaded chore is just another job in my life. I may never delight in it, but I don’t dread it anymore. A spice cake without the spice is bland and blah. Spice it up.