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.”
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.
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.