Your family, on a mission

Photo by Michael Brownlee

Jill at Secret Genius asked me the following great question:

“It seems each topic you post is something I want for my life — I just haven’t found the best way to get there. I have a tendency to over-analyze and over-research and over-organize so that I never actually get anything done! … I have SO many new practices I want to implement that I don’t know where to start! I want to work on my budget, declutter my house, set up a system for meal-planning and spend more purposeful time with my daughter, (not to mention work on my photography and blog!) but I feel like my daily chores (and the distraction of the internet) keep me from getting to those bigger projects… So… How do I know where to start? Should I do one thing at a time? Or multi-multi-multi-task? How can I do a better job of staying on task until it reaches completion?”

Awesome question, Jill. In some ways, the answer to your question is the secret to productivity at home, because it helps us whittle down to whatever it is God calls us to do, and then to leave the rest, guilt-free. There are so many good things calling for our attention, how do we sift out the “good” from the “great”?

I want to tackle this issue, but I think it’s going to take (at least) two posts to give it the answer I want. There are many layers to the idea of “getting things done” at home, and it’s good to peel them back, one at a time, to see where we’re doing well, and where we could improve. It would get overwhelming to take a big bite out of this whole issue and try to improve in all of it. We’d look at this enormous mountain in front of us, and throw in the towel before we even take the first step.

Perhaps you already have.

Today, I want to focus on the heart of productivity in the home, the “why” behind what we do. From my experience, if I don’t have a compelling reason to do the daily liturgy of laundry, errand running and cooking, I lose heart, my energy dwindles, and I can even grow bitter.

Who wants that in a mom or a wife?

Here’s what is helping me: our family’s Core Values.

Don’t worry, I’m not talking about writing up a big mission statement or memo, or turning in TPS reports. I’m simply talking about sitting down with your spouse and deciding – specifically – what you’re about.

Because once you decide “what you’re about,” as a family, then it’s much easier to decide how you spend your time, what you can freely say “no” to, and what you can devote a whole afternoon to accomplishing. Guilt-free.

Let me show you our example.

Here’s our family’s Core Values:


Simple, nothing fancy, nothing revolutionary. But we whittled down our life’s purpose to these four things, and everything we do should fall under these umbrellas. If something doesn’t reasonably fit, well then, we shouldn’t worry about doing them.

Here’s just a few examples of how these Core Values help us make decisions.

1. Live simply.

Photo by Always Canadian

We won’t commit to things that will fill our schedule to the point of insane busyness with little result. We will not go into debt. Christmastime is spent more on creating things together and spending time with loved ones, than it is in buying things and dealing with crowds. We stick to our little mantra in our home, “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.”

2. Grow.

Photo by Leila Lu

We value the way God has made each of us individually, and we encourage personal and communal growth. It seems like our 3-year-old daughter is artistic and right-brained, so we want to foster the space for her to create and explore her interests. If our son is athletic and shows interest in sports, we’ll provide a reasonable way for him to pursue that – but if he’s not, we won’t force him to be someone he’s not. We’ll encourage him in his weaknesses, of course, and give him a safe place to develop his areas of growth, but we’ll all do our best to allow us each to flourish in how we’re made.

This also means we choose selectively how we spend our free time. Because it’s important to me that I create, I purposely schedule in time to sew, or craft, or decorate, or whatever. It also means I invest time and resources into making our surroundings beautiful, because being surrounded by good aesthetics is a high value of mine. My husband is an introvert, so we do our best to give him time to be alone. He also loves the outdoors, so if given a choice to do something outside or in, we’ll try to do it out.

3. Honor relationships.

Photo by Justin Lim

People are more important than things. We choose to value friends, family, neighbors, strangers, and enemies more highly than our personal possessions, our right to comfort, or a false sense of security. If a friend needs a place to crash for the night, we will welcome him to our guest room, even if our place is a wreck. I’ll have to swallow our pride, but that is better than turning away a soul needing a haven. We’ll schedule in time for me to have a coffee date with a friend, because that friend is important. Even if it means not getting anything done that afternoon.

4. Celebrate.

Photo by Lee

As a family, we like to celebrate both the big AND little things. We enjoy decorating for the seasons and holidays. We like fostering traditions, and spending time with extended family. For us, it’s fun to celebrate a birthday in our family for the entire weekend. And little things are cause for celebration, too. Being newly potty trained deserves a fun dessert after dinner. Finishing a tough project at work might mean a late-night movie and popcorn. We’ve chosen to make celebrating a priority, so we don’t feel guilty about spending valuable time doing these things.

So… What does this have to do with Jill’s original question? I know this isn’t a direct answer to your question, Jill – but it’s fundamental to its foundation. As I mentioned, I’ll tackle the answer in several posts, but it’s good to start with the Core Values in your life. If you decide that a perfectly clean house just isn’t going to make the cut, well then, clean what’s needed, and don’t worry about the rest. If living simply is a priority, then decluttering might be high on the agenda.

Core Values might direct you towards a good place to start.

When it comes down to it, the mammoth mountain of tasks in front of you – all the organizing, decluttering, cleaning, budgeting, sewing, gardening, meal planning, parenting, showing hospitality, and being a balanced person – are overwhelming. There’s a reason you feel overwhelmed and unable to start – because it is a lot of stuff.

So here’s what I encourage you to do, firstly:

  • Decide your family’s Core Values.
  • Shower yourself with grace, knowing there’s nothing you can do to make God love you more than He does.
  • Roll up your sleeves, and just do something. Even if it’s doing all the dishes, or cleaning out your closet, just accomplish something today. Pull out your Daily Docket and use it. If three MITs are overwhelming, just do one. You eat an elephant one bite at a time.

Now it’s your turn – what do you think? Do you have official Core Values with your family? Would it be too much to jot a few ideas? Do you think doing this would lesson the stress of “doing it all,” or would it just be one more thing to do? I’d love to know if this idea helps or hinders you.

Tsh Oxenreider

Tsh is the founder of this blog and just finished traveling around the world with her husband and 3 kids. Her latest book is Notes From a Blue Bike, and believes a passport is one of the world's greatest textbooks.

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  1. We have a list of family goals {spend quality time together; work less-play more; live simply; eat healthy & exercise daily; etc.} that we have posted on the chalkboard in our kitchen as daily reminders of WHAT we want…that way if we get side-tracked, we can refocus.
    Also, I’ve been highlighting 3 things a day that need to get DONE – everything else is bonus. That way I’m focusing on the most important things first (I actually did a blog post about this today). And I’ve been tackling one larger house thing a day {laundry, clean all bathrooms or weed garden).

    LobotoMEs last blog post..{ organize ME }

  2. Sarah and I created a list of our values when we first got married. At the time, I was working as a consultant where we worked with companies, in part, to define their corporate values, and I figured “why not do this for our marriage?” It was a fun exercise, and it was neat to work through it together.

    Of course, that was almost 7 years ago, and we’ve had three children, moved three times, built a house, changed jobs twice, etc. So it’s probably time for us to go through the exercise again. Another cheap date! Thanks for posting this!

  3. this is an awesome post. thanks so much. We try to live simply and make sure that all we do honors God, but sometimes we need to refocus.

    Aimees last blog post..Air Conditioned Fun: $1.00 movies for Charity or Free Family Film Festival

  4. Excellent Post Simple Mom!!
    Family values.. have yet to really state it in black and white for the kids to adhere to. It is certainly not too much to jot down a few Core Value ideas but the actually see it through can be quite difficult.
    I definitely want to be more productive. Have been rather slacked and drained out these few months by the changes in routines for the kids. Maybe I should take it one at a time instead of drawing out a long list to cross out each time.

  5. GREAT post!!! Where were you 30 years ago when I was young stay at home mom? 🙂
    I have always been a big list maker but try really hard not to let the list get to big or dominate my life. It is just a way to get things that are important down in writing as this tool helps me to stay on track. Who would have thought that crossing something off a list when it is completed could be so satisfying. And I don’t beat myself up if something on the list doesn’t get done, because it will be there tomorrow.

    I taught all 3 of my girls the “list trick” and did so when they were young. There were several times when I would get calls from them when they were in college and overwhelmed by whatever it was that was going on. My advice to them was always, make a list and work through the list. Funny how something so simple has helped us so many times to refocus on what is important and let the rest of it go. Guilt free!!! Yippee!!

  6. This might actually be a great thing for me to do in regard to my days, not just to our family as a whole. Such as “what am I about as a stay at home mom?” I keep waking up with little energy for a variety of reasons, but one of them is a lack of purpose. I love, love, love staying home with my kids, but when each day starts feeling the same, it’s difficult to remember what I’m about (am I about a super clean house or a to-do list checked off? Am I about arts and crafts and endless experiences for my kids? Am I about free time to read and craft? etc) I think my problem right now is that I’m not sure what my days as as stay at home mom are about. Thanks for giving me something to think about – defining (in writing no less!) some purpose into my days!

    Lauras last blog post..Defiance of a Prayer

  7. I am loving your blog, and this post especially resonates with me. I want to print it out and put it on the fridge! Keep up the great work.

    bananass last blog post..My dust bunnies have names and personalities

  8. Elysian Girl says:

    this could not have come at a better time…

    While struggling to maintain my house, my child’s happiness and my sanity, I have also decided to lose weight and begin my own business.

    Yes it is a lot at once, and maybe I should have mastered A,B,C and D before trying to attempt E and F.

    I am excited about the perspective you have presented as I think that the greatest feeling one can have at any age is to have “purpose” in life. (Laura described this so eloquently!). I am off to define mine and one thing I need to focus upon to achieve a shining (with a fear scratches from wear and tear!) image of what I wish myself to be!

  9. I love this! I want to make our goals more concrete. Really lovely.

  10. I love this blog! Seriously, it hits at the heart of the lessons God is teaching me and offers me practical advice and poses great philosophical questions. My “motto” which my family has adopted is “To slow down enough to share the gospel with others and my children”… and truly it makes it easy to leave the sink full of dishes to chat with my son but it also motivates me to have him help unload the dishwasher because it’s his contribution to our family. Finding that balance is tough most days but when I spend time in prayer and remembering God’s word – it gets easier! Thank you so much for keeping up with such a great blog!!

    Ellens last blog post..Tired

  11. I haven’t read all the comments, so forgive me if this is redundant…

    I know a lot of us homeschooling moms are impressed with the many hats author and fellow HS mom Susan Wise Bauer wears. She seems to do it all and reading Jill’s question made me think of this post:

    Bauer does a lot – just not all at the same time. I thought that excellent advice for the modern mom and fit well with the discussion here.

    Monicas last blog post..More chicken wranglers

  12. Thank you for this. I just had a birthday this last weekend and what better time to re-examine “what I’m all about” and to craft those thoughts into meaningful words and to infuse those words with actions.
    There are three words that have been bouncing around in my mind for several weeks now:
    Joy. Peace. Patience.
    Three of the fruits of the Spirit. Seems like a good place to start.

    Jills last blog post..The Tattoo Story (part 2)

  13. We developed an acronym for our family, using the word UNITY.

    United together with Christ
    We are united with each other, with Christ as our guide. We believe our marriage must come first and must be Christ centered. Our family as a whole must be united as 1 to better serve our Lord.

    Neighbors with those we serve
    We believe in being close to those we feel called to serve. It is important to us to be near our church and the people we are called to.

    Invested in the families of Kensington (this is where we serve as missionaries)
    We are invested not only in children and teens but also their entire families. We believe that God can save any family, no matter how desperate the situation. We feel called to serve the family as a unit and to support families in need.

    Trust in the Lord with all your heart…Proverbs 3:5-6
    The Bible is our foundation for everything. This is our favorite verse, one we believe guides our life.

    Yearning to fulfill God’s calling for our family
    We realize that God can call us anywhere, at any time and we always want to be seeking this calling.

    Keeping just the simple word UNITY in our minds at all times helps us in SO many areas: marriage, child-rearing, ministry, etc.

    God Bless,

    Carisas last blog post..Check this out…

  14. So helpful! Thank you.

  15. Yes! This is awesome. My husband and I have an understanding about how we keep our lives simple. We live below our means, and we carefully choose our commitments so they don’t take away from time together. If we have an event one day, we leave the next day free.

    I’ve been learning to limit my blog reading, turn off the computer, stop researching, and start doing so that I can try all of the things I want to do. Sometimes I find that a project only takes an hour or two. Then why was it on my project list for a year?

    Rachels last blog post..July is No Spend Month — What’s it About?

  16. @Laura – I love that idea! Good thinking there, about defining your core values as a mom.

    @Jill – Fruits of the Spirit are excellent starting points. Good thinking.

    @Rachel – I’ve SO been there. Why on earth was I waiting for months to do this, when it took me just a part of an afternoon?

    Loving all the thoughts and responses! Thanks so much for sharing. My readers are the best. 😉

  17. Wow did I love Jill’s question-that is my life!! Am addicted to this blog. It has helped in so many ways with such amazing ideas. Now if I can just get organized!!

  18. Today, I will rest my physical body and play with my kids. Need to work on the rest.

    Rachels last blog post..Eccentric Leg Squats for Runners

  19. Wow! This coincides perfectly with a book that I’m currently reading. My goal right now is to live an authentic, deliberate life. I’m excited now to sit down with my husband and write down the core values for our family! 🙂

  20. Thank you so much for everything you do on this blog! With every post I am encouraged and I have learned so much! You are a God send! I am excited to sit down with my husband and decide what our core values are, I also agree with Laura about figuring out what your core values are as a mother (SAHM). I am struggling with the same things she mentioned. Its like she stepped into my mind and wrote it out for me. Thank you again!

    Melissas last blog post..

  21. This post was a catalyst for a superb conversation between me and Hubby about our family’s core values. We started a really cool list and will continue to hone it throughout the weekend. Thanks for the wise words!

    Julies last blog post..Poverty. What am I going to do about it?

  22. Thanks for sharing your core values!

    My husband and I did a similar exercise recently and found it to be very helpful. The way we framed it was: if we were to create a new coat of arms for our family tomorrow, what would the motto at the bottom say? Thinking of it that way really helped us focus on what we were trying to achieve with that exercise. (Though we still haven’t quite nailed down what exactly it is yet.)

    Jennifer (Et Tu?)s last blog post..Welcome, National Review readers

  23. I love this post Toblerone, I’ve been thinking about it for hours.
    We have our goals set, which are based on what we want from life, sun, sea, financial freedom, the usual. However I’ve realised over the last 2 years that most of my life has been on autopilot and I really need to slow down and take stock of everything. Thank you for making me think.

    Lauras last blog post..Prom night…..nothing frugal about it!

  24. I have the same problem, so a few months ago I made a list of all the things I want to tackle. I then decided to work on one item each month. So far it’s working out great – I can file away ideas I have and pull them out in the appropriate month. I don’t feel overwhelmed trying to do everything at once. It’s been interesting and I don’t get bored with a topic since it’s a one month blitz!

    Pams last blog post..Another dining out source

  25. Absolutely love this post. I swear Jill was in my head, writing down what I am too overwhelmed and incoherent to verbalize myself!
    I love the idea of writing down core values. I know that some values are more important to my husband and vice versa so we need to really see what is important to both of us and cut out the fluff!

    Darcys last blog post..She just never stops…

  26. Brilliant advice. I really struggle with the same thing myself (over-organizing to the point where I don’t get anything done– you should see my bookmark list!). It’s good to put things in context, plain and simple. Thanks for the article.

    Kyo´s last blog post…Photo

  27. I’m so glad you wrote this post – it’s a great one. I’m wondering if you ever did a specific follow up? I know a lot of subsequent pieces dealing with productivity might have related ideas, but at the top of this one you mentioned that you wanted to respond in at least two posts. If that second one exists, I’d love to read it!

  28. Helping people is a best way to show kindness. I really admire your work for helping others by sharing information you ever have. Thanks.

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