How to Declutter Your Day To Make Room for What Matters
In the grand scheme of life and households, I’m not sure we fall into the category of “super crazy busy.” Nonetheless, we are a family with two young kids, jobs, and lives to manage and enjoy; and for much of 2017, I felt like each and every day was passing me by all too quickly. Every day I woke up with a list of things I wanted or needed to get done; and despite never sitting down for a minute of the day, every night I would fall into bed anxious, exhausted, wondering where the day went, with nothing checked off my list. At the beginning of 2018, I decided to actively restore a sense of calm to my days and our household, so I started reading books, listening to podcasts, and having conversations that planted seeds of simplification, paring down, and slowing down. It was in the midst of all this refection and consideration that I had a bit of an “a ha” moment. When our house is feeling too full, cluttered and busy, I shift into decluttering mode. I get rid of the things we no longer need or love in order to make room for the things we do. I group like items together and then label them so they have a clear, dedicated and logical place. The result is a restoration of order and a renewed sense of peace across our home. So I wondered: if this process works so well in our home, why can’t the same actions on our schedules have a similar affect on our days? So I set out to declutter our days just the way I would declutter a junk drawer; and the result has been a more comfortable pace to life, a more productive mama, and a much happier home! Let me explain!
Before you can begin transforming your days, you first have to do a little reflection. Just as you’d look around the house and take stock of where the clutter is piling up, take stock of your days too. What and when are your stressful moments? What always seems to fall through the cracks? What are you always scrambling to get done? What part(s) of the day are the most stressful? What part(s) of the day are working great? What things always take longer than you think? Where are systems breaking down? Only by really honing in on the various parts of your day and getting real about what’s working and not, can you even begin to fix it!
In Our House. After the stress of last Fall, the holidays and some travel, I felt like I was dropping balls right and left and constantly “putting out fires” throughout our day, only to flop into bed with a list of to-dos completely un-touched. My main areas of stress were (just to name a few): getting the trash out the night before trash day | working too close to deadlines so if the baby took a short nap, I was in a serious pinch that required staying up too late | I was getting the kiddos into bed too late because I was getting dinner on the table too late because I was starting to make dinner too late because we were getting in the door too late | not getting good quality homework time in with Henry because we were sitting down to do work at the Baby’s most needy time of day.
Assess What You Have
To declutter your family’s schedule, start just as you would declutter a room, closet or junk drawer: take everything out and assess what is there. Obviously, you can’t take everything out of a day in a literal sense, but you can step back from the daily grind, calendar in hand if necessary, and consider everything on your family’s docket. Take stock of obvious commitments such as work, school, church and teams/clubs; but don’t overlook other important things that also have to get done like grocery shopping, laundry, homework time and housework. Think about which things are absolutely necessary and/or important; which ones are nice to have or like to have; which obligations are unpleasant or unnecessary; and finally, consider forgotten and hidden tasks that are taking up space and energy in your life without you really noticing. If necessary, write everything down on a piece of paper, by category or by family member. Just as you would empty everything out of the junk drawer to see what’s there and determine what can fit back in…get all your obligations and responsibilities down on paper so you can see everything that needs to fit into the limits of your calendar.
In Our House. Without detailing every minute of our lives…the “necessary obligations” for our family included work, school, church, household management (e.g., groceries, laundry, housework), and homework time. Our “nice to have” obligations included activities for the boys, social time, and fitness and recreation activities. “Forgotten or hidden” tasks included returning library books, contributing to classroom projects/activities, coordination of parties, activities and social events, etc.
Get Rid of the Junk
Next, “get rid” of anything on your schedule that is an easy decision: those things that are truly unwanted or unnecessary. Think about the tasks and obligations in your life that are like the empty candy wrappers, old receipts, duplicates or vending machine prizes in your junk drawer. What can you easily sweep away without a second thought? What are the things you don’t really care about, enjoy, or make sense for your family? Take these “no brainer” items off your plate so you can more clearly see the things that really matter or are truly necessary. If you’re doing this with a pencil and paper, cross off those items you are saying “no” to and no longer choosing to put on your schedule.
In Our House. I used the word “junk” here to help with the decluttering analogy; but for me, I didn’t necessarily clear away “junk.” Rather, I had gotten to a place where it became VERY clear what things in my life needed to go. I had some work obligations, social obligations, and self-imposed personal obligations that I knew were truly stifling me and causing me a lot of stress. So instead of continuing to suffer through the chaos, I decided it was finally time to cut these anxiety-inducing obligations out, and so I did.
Prioritize the Things You Need and Love
With the “junk” cleared away, it’s time for the hard work: analyzing everything left and figuring out if and how it fits into your life. Before you can start randomly assigning certain tasks to certain days/times/windows though, take some time to prioritize. You can do this by making an ordered list, color-coding, using numbers, or assigning labels such as “want to do,” “really want to do,” and “must do.” No matter how you do it, the main goal is to identify what truly needs to be on your schedule and what things can come off or at least be scaled back.
In Our House. I really had to take a step back here and figure out what absolutely had to get done. Yes, I want to sew and make pretty things (and even work here on the blog!), but none of those things fell into my “must do” category. My “must dos” are to take care of my children and our household (and everything that entails). With those two obligations firmly set in place, I could then more clearly see where and how I needed to spend my time.
Group Like Items Together
I may be forcing the decluttering analogy a bit here, but stick with me. Next, take a look at your commitments, tasks and obligations that are still on your list. Think about what can be “grouped together” in order to save time, make them fit better on your schedule, and/or become more efficient. These may or may not be “like” things in the traditional sense; but by lumping logical tasks together, you will only need to find a single spot on your schedule for them to get done (rather than 2 or 3). This not only makes certain chores and tasks easier to complete, but it frees up precious time for other (more fun!) things!
In Our House. In recent months I’ve identified some tweaks to the ways I do things that have made a huge difference in not only how much gets done but how our days go. Here are just a few of my favorite time “hacks”:
- Use Bath Time to Clean – Since I have to be in the bathroom anyway to supervise the kiddos, I’ll use those few minutes they are splish-splashing to wipe down counters, sort laundry, re-fill soap dispensers, and swap out dirty towels.
- Empty the Dishwasher While Dinner Cooks – Most of our meals require a few minutes of something defrosting, baking, sautéing or simmering. I like to use these minutes to empty the dishwasher and get a jump start on reloading the dirty dishes.
- Put Away Groceries and Take Out Trash All at Once – Unboxing groceries usually leads to a heap of recycling on our kitchen floor. So I don’t have to deal with the headache of trash more than once a week, I do our grocery shopping on the day before the trash is picked up. That means I can clean out the refrigerator, break down grocery recycling, load up our trash cans and walk them to the curb all in one swoop!
Keep Only What Fits Comfortably
This next step was the biggest and most important for me in truly changing the way our days went and how I felt going to bed each night. When it comes time to put everything back in place on your schedule, it all needs to fit…comfortably. Just like in your junk drawer…even after all the purging and analyzing and prioritizing…if you kept too many things for the size of your drawer, it still won’t close. In the same way, if you fill up every single block on your planner with various “important” tasks and obligations, your days are still going to feel too full; and all it will take is a single appointment to run long for your whole day to be thrown into chaos.
Everything you want to keep on your schedule may not realistically fit, so this is the time to get really real with yourself. Think about how much you can truly, realistically fit into a day, a week, a month…a nap! And I don’t mean a “best case scenario” day. I mean a normal day with the usual triumphs and catastrophes, lucky breaks and roadblocks. Leave space for things to go wrong, and make time to catch your breath, sleep, exercise, eat meals and have quiet time. Decide how full of a “drawer” you can realistically handle so you don’t end up cramming and jamming it shut day in and day out.
Just like with a closet or junk drawer, how ruthless you were in your decluttering will determine how many tough decisions you have to make. This is where your priority list comes in handy. Schedule in those “must haves,” and then little-by-little work in those “want to haves” and “really want to haves” until your drawer is comfortably full and organized, yet closes easily every time.
In Our House. I tried very hard to hone in on the aspects of our days that were “too full” and figure out ways to alleviate the pressure. Here are a few easy changes that have made a huge difference:
- I used to start and do all our laundry on Sundays, but I wasn’t able to get it all washed, dried, folded and put away before midnight. By starting loads on Saturday night instead, I am now able to get everything done well before Sunday supper. (You can read about our laundry routine here.)
- For whatever reason, getting all the trash rounded up and out to the curb on trash night was throwing our whole evening routine into chaos. By shifting the trash duty to grocery time (see above), there was no longer this late-night scramble once a week!
- Henry really wanted to play baseball this Spring. But as I looked at the schedule, I just saw too many nights where dinner, baths, and bed (a routine that is already slightly stressful) would be too late for both him and the baby. Together, we decided to table baseball for this season; and he signed up for an afternoon basketball class instead.
- I had a horrible habit of waking up and setting 4-5 blog/home goals for the day. How many do you think I actually got done each day? Ummm…I was lucky if I scratched 1 off the list. I now choose 1 thing, and only 1, that I can work on each day. Not only is this keeping me from feeling scattered all day long; but more and more, I am going to bed with my one thing accomplished!
Contain and Label
Last but not least, every good decluttering project ends in baskets and labels, so let’s not leave that part out here either. Certainly we’re not going to contain and label our schedules in a traditional sense, but you can absolutely take those “grouped items and tasks” and put them on your schedule in a place that fits, is comfortable and makes sense. And…if it works, don’t hesitate to label your days or part of your days (like…”laundry day,” “grocery day,” “homework time.”) Just like a label on a basket tells you and everyone else where something goes, labeling your days/hours helps communicate to you and your family when, where and how certain things will get done.
In Our House. I am pretty sure most households have a “usual” time that you do things. Here are just a few of our daily “containers”:
- Sunday – Church day, laundry day
- Mondays – Grocery day
- Wednesdays – “Crazy Nights” (when we have three busy events all in a row!)
- Friday nights – Pizza and movie night (aka – Mom doesn’t cook!)
- After dinner – Homework time
Phew – these last few weeks have been a little nuts, but I am super excited about getting back to some good ol’ DIY projects in the next few weeks. I’ve got a new Cricut tutorial coming your way, as well as some home updates I’ve been promising! Have a great weekend, and see you back here next week!