02 Oct Select Neglect – a True Confession
I often have people make the remark, “I don’t know how you do it! You must be so busy with 10 kids!!!” It’s true, family life with many children is busy and just because it is super busy does not mean it’s bad. There are huge rewards, lots of bonding, always stuff happening and tons of enrichment. But people do wonder how I manage; and, I thought today I would give a more personal look into my life in case it can help you.
When I started my family I had high expectations about marriage, parenting, daily life, the home etc. As a newlywed couple, it was challenging to make some adjustments for personal preferences and styles regarding who would do what, how things would work, etc. Yet we were both adults and it did not seem rocket science. As children came along, life changed dramatically. They had no on-off switch, no volume control and seemed to be getting into everything turning my life upside down. It didn’t take long and we were soon outnumbered. There seemed an endless list of to-do’s and not enough hands to get things done. My husband focused on the work front and I had chosen the home front. It didn’t take long for me to feel overwhelmed, incompetent and just run over by life’s demands. I had never been a “domestic” kind of gal, but more of an extroverted career-minded woman, so family life proved quite challenging for me and I had a lot to learn about EVERYTHING.
On the birth of my third child in four years, I was pulling my hair out. I felt I was getting no where with anything or anyone. Someone recommended to me the book, Confessions of an Organized Housewife by Deniece Schofield. (It was eventually re-written as Confessions of an Organized Homemaker, but I prefer the original over the later edition. Even though it might not be politically correct and out of date on some points, it really helps solidify some basic principles and approaches that are timeless. I still highly recommend it, though it’s out of print). I wanted to know how women pulled off cooking, cleaning, childcare, budgeting and more. The book was highly practical with tons of principles, applications and approaches. One idea that really struck to the core was to select neglect. Deniece Schofield admitted you can’t do it all. You must figure out what’s most important and do that. You must consciously select to neglect the things that are less important. That was like a major revelation to me!
I wanted a happy family and a lovely home, but that didn’t seem what was happening at this point in my life. I realized had to tackle the chaos and achieve a system that was do-able and efficient. So I got to work, one habit at a time, working on the basics, like meals and laundry. It took time but the book provided a lot of strategies for me to develop efficient thought and motion processes and become more organized. I approached it all over a long-term basis, ie. years. As I became more organized, I could take on more. I was developing a system that helped me to be in the driver’s seat, rather than under the wheels. I was stunned how much I could accomplish when I put thought and order of priority into my life!!
Over time, I kept adjusting what I could do to make my marriage happier, my kids happier, my house nicer and me happier. I’ve never done it perfectly and don’t care to. I’ve learned to smile more and take things less seriously. People who come to my home see a happy family, in a happy environment. I like a tidy home, but am not concerned that it be a sterilized home. I have a cleaning schedule, but don’t micromanage everyone to have it all pristine. I like to have everyone relax and enjoy playful moments, but might not wash my floors as regularly as someone else. It certainly helped when we switched our kitchen flooring from an ivory color to shades of grey and blue. I don’t wash towels after every use, but ask everyone to use their towel all week long until laundry day. I don’t wash bedding weekly, but as needed. I even used to go through children’s laundry years ago to determine if I could just re-fold it and put it in the laundry basket, without washing it. So often they put it for washing and it smelled clean, had no stains and still looked pretty decent. I figured why make extra work when it wasn’t super necessary.
Of course my husband was happy to see me less frazzled, demanding and run down when I selected neglect. He was just happy to walk across the floor without stepping on a million legos. I had the expectation that the whole room had to be immaculate and was killing myself for my standards. He didn’t acknowledge or share my hard work approach. Over time I realized my house was a home, not a hotel–a safe refuge, not a place where you had to always watch your every step. My family wanted to relax, play and enjoy each other. I had to learn that fine balance between doing and being, between accomplishing tasks and giving time for relationship. Life did not need to be chaotic. I could steer it into greater fulfillment by the choices I made.
It all comes down to a lot of reflection on what is important in your life, who is important, what are your goals, your dreams for your family, etc. Often we are besieged by urgent, get caught up in to do list and really neglect what is truly important, like our marriage. Thinking, planning, making deliberate decisions about advancing in what is important needs to happen, otherwise we could completely miss the boat.
I started getting in the habit of beginning each morning with a time of reflection about my life and what I needed to accomplish each day. For me it became a time of prayer, because I would ask God what was important, what needed to get done, and asked Him to take care of the rest, and everything. To begin each day with a good plan, helped me to neglect a lot of lesser value items and focus on what really mattered. I would keep a list of little things that were not priority so that if ever I had some time, I could tackle them, for example remove the summer footwear from the closet and put into storage. Breaking down jobs into smaller tasks helped me chisel away at a lot of housework that previously consumed my day. See what you can do to not get bowled over by too much. Even just to take care of yourself, you need to say “No” to yourself to get off the gerbil wheel and go to bed early. Sometimes moms can’t seem to stop to relax, laugh, and enjoy our life. We need to select neglect. It keeps gas in our tanks. We feel lighter.
Life is not about being perfect. It is about loving, filling ourselves and those around us with joy, peace, laughter. Stop being hung up on “not being enough”. Take time to enjoy. The dirty floor can wait for another day. Some day you will find time to organize the drawer, but your children are with you now, play with them. Don’t live life on turbo boost. Slow down. Think. Weigh what is the best thing to do right now and don’t beat yourself up that you don’t get everything done today. For myself, I started more consciously ordering my daily priorities to reflect my deepest values: God, marriage, family, daily work, relatives and friends… in that order. I struggle and work towards following those priorities daily, weekly, monthly. I want them to take priority and consciously decide to, by leaving lesser values for other moments if I have time. What would be on your list? Think it through. Do the people around you see those values lived in that priority?
My kids are all grown up now and have almost all left home. Now I have time to organize things that I never got to, to sort through things that have piled up, to clean areas that I never tackled well. There’s a time and season for everything. Don’t be hard on yourself, but at the same time don’t be a couch potato. You are the heart of the home. Be love for others. Create that loving environment. Realize the urgent is not necessarily important. Be willing to select neglect to find greater happiness each day for yourself and those around you. You will be much happier for it.
This video visually shows two different approaches to life. We can either let things happen or make things happen. What is your approach?