Embracing the Mess

It has been over a year since I wrote on this blog. A lot has happened in that time. I have been trying to decide the right moment to start back at this blog, the time when I have figured out my new life with two and can handle a regular blogging schedule again. I am getting there (and I have some future blogs posts about that whole process), but I learned something tonight that made me just want to embrace this messy season of figuring this all out. And so here I am, back at it. I am jumping in!

It has been one of those weeks. My floors are disgusting. I have been trying to get the same 3 tasks done all week (still not done) and I have felt like such a parenting failure the past 2 days.

Dustin had a meeting tonight, so after dinner I started doing the usual post dinner clean up – wiping down the table and picking up the floor. These are typically the jobs Dustin does with Gideon. When Gideon saw me picking up the food under Jeremiah’s chair he said “Mommy, I can sweep. I want to do it.” He then went and got the broom and dustpan and began sweeping. I was so tempted to help him or say, “ok that’s good” and just take over, but I saw what ownership he had of this task and didn’t want to squelch that. He swept a bigger area and then honed in on the dustpan, sweeping as much on as he could. He announced to all of us, “Don’t step in my pile.” He then opened the cupboard and took out the garbage and dumped the contents of the dustpan into the garbage. He then said, “uh, oh I dropped a pea,” and looked for the pea he dropped on the ground, finding it and placing it in the garbage. He then told Jeremiah not to get into the garbage “because we don’t eat the garbage.” And he finished by putting the broom and dustpan away.

Even as I type this I am crying. Sometimes life is just messy. Often training kids is really messy. It doesn’t always go in a step by step, orderly process with everyone smiling and humming a tune. In fact, often it is the opposite. But the truth is, just because it isn’t neat and tidy and clean doesn’t mean learning, growing or maturing isn’t happening. I have felt so discouraged this week because I have had to work on the same areas of training with Gideon over and over and over and wondered is this all in vain. Tonight was such a reminder that it isn’t. It is worth it to slug through the hard moments and to do them well, to keep at it. It is precisely within the mess this is happening. Gideon didn’t really sweep all that much up and it isn’t always a neat and clean process having him help, but tonight was such a reminder to me that work is being accomplished. He is learning. And even if my bathroom has sat dirty all week and the packages haven’t been mailed, we are raising boys who will become men. Someday they will need to be responsible for their lives and the lives of those God will call them to influence. A piece of that work happened this week. Gideon self initiated sweeping the floor and did the task from start to finish.

God reminded me tonight – embrace the mess. Don’t give up or give in when it is messy or not going the way I hoped or envisioned. Let Gideon sweep the floors, keep working on getting those tasks done and expect that sometimes it is just going to be messy!

Little by Little

January through March were months of promise for me. With the fullness of the holidays, all the tasks flooding my mind to prepare for the baby were put on a list to tackle come Janaury. The beginning of the year came and I eagerly anticipated checking item after item off as I worked hard to prepare. As the year turned, so did my transition from second to third trimester, and I hit my wall physically. With Gideon’s pregnancy this didn’t come until the final month. This completely caught me off guard. I wasn’t prepared for it.  Over the past couple weeks I have been discouraged. My time and physical limitations have been one of the hardest transitions for me as a mother. Yet truthfully, this is not a new lesson for me, it is just one I can’t ignore as easily with children.

The story of the Tortoise and the Hare comes to mind. For much of my life I have been a Hare when it comes to a goal. Sprint out of the starting place and run hard, until I collapse. After college, I knew God had called me to theatre, so I worked at Taproot, helped start a theatre company and worked a second job. I wanted to work hard to do what God had called me to. Two years in, I was fried. I was working 7 days a week with not much rest. My passion had dwindled and I had very little energy left to continue. This was the first time God really spoke to me about diligence. Yes, He had called me to theatre, but I was running ahead and if I kept up at this pace I wouldn’t make it.

“The plans of the diligent lead surely to abundance, but everyone who is hasty comes only to poverty.” Proverbs 21:5

“Wealth gained hastily will dwindle, but whoever gathers little by little will increase it.” Proverbs 13:11

These proverbs are talking about money, but I have found the principle helpful with other areas of life too. My physical limitations as a pregnant mother of a toddler are requiring me to not just have a to-do list, but one listed in order of priority to ensure the highest priorities get done first. I am being forced to embrace the idea of getting a little done every day. And holding on to the promise in these proverbs that diligence – the daily little by little endurance – will lead to fruitfulness and completion. The truth is, progress is being made. It is slower than I would like, but this lesson of diligence is an important one. Whether it is a financial goal, a personal goal or work goal – diligence is key. Making daily choices to keep at it, little by little. You may not be able to accomplish the full goal this week, this month or this year but incremental, consistent work will produce results with lasting impact.

Tackling Organization Projects

We are in “preparation mode” at our house – getting our home set up for a second child. There are some organization projects I am working on that will help our home run more smoothly when the baby comes. I have been thinking a lot about organization and wanted to share some thoughts I have had in the process.

I know organizing can be an overwhelming task. Even for me (who is a natural organizer) certain organization projects are overwhelming to begin. When there is a lot of chaos and disorder, knowing where to begin can paralyze me at times. A few things I have found helpful in approaching organization in a home:

1. Start with the question – where can this item live? 

I have found organization sticks when I think about an item or group of items having a home – a place it will live permanently (until I reorganize and give it a new home). This means every time I use this item I retrieve it from its home and when I am done using it, I return it to its home. Sometimes this takes a bit more strategy than just running out and buying an organizer. Don’t get me wrong I love buying organizers. But, the organizational tool needs to support the system behind it; otherwise you will spend a lot of money on organizers you end up not using. So, starting with the question – where do I want this to live? Inherent in this question is, where will you always put this item. Things to consider in deciding where it lives – How often do I use it? Would it be helpful if it was in a certain room of the house? Is there something I typically use it with? These questions will help narrow down where you want the item to live. If you use it often, put it in a place you can access it easily. If you don’t use it often, it can be stored somewhere not as easy to access. Store items that are used together near each other.

2. Put items where you use them

I know it sounds simple, but honestly this can be overlooked. I don’t know how many times I put my travel size containers in a location nowhere near my other travel bags.  When going through a certain closet or drawer I would discover them and think oh, yeah I forgot this was here. That sure would have been nice on my last trip. Those travel size containers were taking up space and I never used them; not a good way to steward that space and item. I finally decided to keep the bag of travel containers inside my suitcases. I always grab my suitcase when I go on a trip and therefore every time I went on a trip I would see the travel size containers and utilize them. Plus most of the year the suitcase sits empty, so it’s a great way to conserve space by having the suitcase be their home. When you place an item in a location where you use it most often, you will use it and be able to more easily find it when you need it.

3.Think through the larger organizational picture of your home or room

This can be daunting and can initially feel paralyzing, but it makes a huge difference in the long run. This doesn’t have to be a super detailed understanding of where every item goes, but sometimes it will help when deciding on where an items lives. For instance, when we moved into our townhouse we had a lot of shoes that needed a home. I wanted the shoes to all live by the front door, where we utilize them most. But, this wasn’t possible due to the amount of shoes we had. So, we needed to store some in our bedroom. We had other items that needed to be stored in our bedroom as well, so not everything could fit in the closet. I had to think through all the items in our bedroom that needed storage and come up with a strategy for organizing them that made sense and utilized each storage space well.

4. Pull everything out and categorize

Often if I feel stuck on how to best organize a room, I find pulling all of the items out and separating them in categories (hats, games, puzzles, shoes) really helps move the process along. I can go into a room with a plethora of random items and be completely overwhelmed with where to begin, but the process of categorizing them starts making order out of the chaos. It is often after this process I start to really see where they can live and how to best organize them in a way that is functional. I have also found keeping categorized items in one place helps you remember where they live. For instance, we have all our games in the same cabinet. We put all our jackets in the same area, etc.

5. If possible, use items you already have for organizational storage

This will take some creativity, but it could save you money and help reduce clutter by utilizing items you already have. A friend gave Gideon a toy with many parts. I had been storing it in the paper bag she gave it in, but was wanting something different. I was thinking I might need to go buy something to store it in, but then I found some wicker baskets that I no longer used. So I put the toy pieces in those wicker baskets and then put the baskets on his bookshelf. I was able to utilize something I already had and find a home for this toy!

6. Buy organizational tools for your system

Once you have decided on a home for an item and exhausted your creative options for storage, it might be time to go and buy an organizational tool. I had been storing Gideon’s baby clothes in canvas bags that I had on hand. I knew it would be helpful to have a more effective, organized system for storing baby clothes. Rummaging through bags of clothes with a baby and a toddler would not be fun, especially when trying to find that item “I know is here somewhere!” I decided on a storage system that would live on the top shelf of the closet, with the clothes organized by months. After looking through storage options we already had, I realized it was time to buy some storage containers to put them in. I was able to find some on sale after Christmas!

Hope

Advent started last Sunday. All week we have lit the hope candle and been reflecting on the hope we have in Christ. The last couple years during advent I often have mixed emotions as we focus on an element of God each week. A couple years ago I remember being anxious the week we were to focus on peace. This week I have felt discouraged. It seems my to-do list is unattainable, we have all been sick (and therefore more irritable), and this week almost everything I try to accomplish with Gideon has been met with resistance and I have been weary in training him. In the middle of the week Dustin pulled our hope Scripture montage out and had me read it. It is a collection of verses we have put together specific to hope. I laughed as he asked me to read it because I knew it was just what I needed, but inwardly was resistant to what God might want to do in me. The verses transformed my perspective. It is into a broken, fallen world Christ came. It is into my broken, fallen life God comes and shines hope. If I were to come to advent brimming with hope, then I wouldn’t need Christ. If my hope meter was full, his coming wouldn’t mean much. Why do I so often want to detach myself from the Truth that I need Christ to come into my brokenness? Why do I so often try to manufacture His hope on my own strength?

Into my difficult week, His hope did break through. When Gideon is resistant to our instruction and he flails his arms at us it has become our habit to tell him we need to pray. We will pull him aside to a quiet place and pray – for our hearts, for his heart. Although we shouldn’t be surprised, it continually amazes us how God works in all our hearts during this time. As I mentioned above, this week has been constant with this and I often wonder if transformation is occurring. At one point in the week Dustin and I were having a disagreement in front of Gideon. There was a pause in our conversation and Gideon looked at both of us and said, “pray.” It was a grace-filled moment on multiple levels. For one, Dustin and I really did just need to stop and pray. Second, I saw that God is working in our family, including Gideon. Our times of prayer during our worst moments as a family are not in vain. And thirdly it reminded me it is these moments – our worst moments – God most desperately wants to enter. It showed me that we don’t need to run away from these difficult times as a family. Instead as a family, with our children, we avail ourselves to Christ and see the power of His love and hope breaking through our brokenness.

So, although my idyllic picture of sitting around as a family beaming with hope was not quite the picture of our week on hope, God showed me His hope in the midst of our everyday life – its challenges, its difficulties and messiness. And ultimately, this is more compelling – that the God of the universe chose to enter our mess, to bring us hope in the midst of our daily discouragements, challenges and difficulties. This is real hope for our real lives!

Cleaning Rhythm Part II

Last post I talked about creating a cleaning rhythm, and the principles I have used to guide mine. This post I will walk through the nuts and bolts of how I came up with a specific cleaning rhythm document.

First, I distinguished between three types of cleaning: Tidy, Standard Clean and Deep Clean.

Second, I determined how often I wanted to do each one:
Tidy – daily
Standard Clean – weekly
Deep Clean – monthly & quarterly

Third, I created an excel document with Daily, Weekly, Every 2 Weeks, Monthly, Quarterly along the top. Under each of these categories I typed each room name and then typed the tasks I wanted for each room. For the purpose of this blog, I will simplify and won’t break down into rooms.

Daily
– make beds
– pick up clothes
– pick up toys
– dishes done

Weekly
– Clean bathrooms
– Vacuum & mop floors

Every 2 Weeks
– Dust
– Clean tub

Monthly
– Clean Car
– Clean Fridge
– Clean Microwave
– Clean Stovetop
– Apply Stainless Steel Cleaner to microwave, fridge, dishwasher and stove
– Wipe down cabinets
– Thorough wipe down of countertops/ Apply Granite Cleaner

Quarterly (Jan, April, July, Oct)
– Wipe out inside of kitchen drawers
– Clean windows
– Clean Blinds

This third step really helped me identify what rhythms I wanted for cleaning. As you will notice there are some specific types of cleaners I need to use on our stainless steel and granite counter tops. I wanted to be sure those happened monthly, so I was sure to specify these tasks so I wouldn’t forget to do them.

Fourth – the challenge of putting this into my schedule.

*A helpful hint: Start small and add gradually. I started just with the daily and weekly cleaning tasks, incorporating those into my daily and weekly rhythm. I no longer need to refer to my list for daily and weekly cleaning because it has become such a part of my rhythm and routine of life. Once I got into a good rhythm with these, then I started incorporating the deep clean tasks.

** Another helpful hint:  learn what is realistic, especially with kids, and adjust accordingly. I also gauged what I could cut, if need be. We host community group on Tuesday nights, so I wanted the weekly clean to be done by Tuesday night. Mondays I clean the bathrooms and Tuesdays I vacuum and mop. I typically do these during Gideon’s nap. Vacuuming and mopping is something Gideon enjoys helping me with, so if I can’t get to it during his nap, I know he can help me when he wakes up. I also know I can easily cut mopping and vacuuming our rooms for one week, if I really can’t get everything done. It took me a little while to figure out what cleaning tasks are realistic with kids (energy wise and time wise during a nap), but it is really workable for me now.

For the monthly tasks I assigned specific tasks to a week of the month. For instance, I always dust on weeks 1 and 3 and always clean the tub on weeks 2 and 4. In an ideal world these would be done twice a month, but again, if I only get to them once a month that is still keeping them in good maintenance. Here is an image of the calendar I created with the breakdown each week. This calendar is directly above our family calendar in our kitchen, so I can easily look and see what needs to be done each week. If it’s helpful to just start with one deep clean task, just start there. The goal is for it to be workable and manageable. Again, starting small and gradually adding is so helpful for this.

2013-10-25 11.10.59

As you will notice, I assigned specific tasks to specific days. I put them on these days simply because I knew I would be able to do it during Gideon’s nap, but again, I am not locked into these days. I know that as long as I get it done that week (or even the next week, if I need to) that is just fine.

I don’t have very many quarterly cleaning tasks, so I just determined which months I want to get those done, and put “Quarterly Clean” in my calendar the first week of the month. When I get to that month, I will just incorporate that cleaning into my schedule. And I give myself the whole month to get it done.

Cleaning Rhythm Part I

This July we moved from our one bedroom apartment to a three bedroom, 2 ¾ bathroom, three floor townhouse. I had my cleaning rhythm down at our old place, but over the past couple months I have been figuring out cleaning at our new place, coming up with a new rhythm to keep up with everything and not be overwhelmed with it all.

As I was documenting my new cleaning rhythm for our townhouse this week, I thought it would be fun to do a blog post about cleaning. This first post, Part I, will outline the principles I use to guide my cleaning approach. Next week, in part II, I will get into the nuts and bolts of creating a cleaning rhythm.

From a young age I have loved to clean. I remember times when I would “get lost in my bathroom.” I would go in to go to the bathroom and before I left I would look in a cabinet and see dust or notice the shower was getting grimy. So, inevitably I would proceed to clean out everything from the cupboards or the shower, wipe them down and put everything back organized. What was supposed to be a 5 minute time in the bathroom would turn into a 30 minute, “let’s deep clean the bathroom.” I found great joy in this. This habit continued as I got older and had living spaces of my own. I would stumble upon an area of the house that needed cleaning and proceed to deep clean. The only problem with this approach was this time of deep cleaning would happen spontaneously and therefore I would neglect something a little more urgent to clean. When I was single the only person this would affect was me. When I got married and now with kids it is much harder to spontaneously deep clean. Over the past couple years I have come up with an approach to cleaning that is consistent, thorough,  and planned (so I know when I am spending 30 minutes deep cleaning the fridge) yet with flexibility.

I recognize not everyone has the same love of cleaning as I do. In fact, I often talk to people who are overwhelmed with cleaning and keeping up with this aspect of a home. My hope in sharing my cleaning ideas is it will spark ideas for you, and hopefully show how cleaning can be less overwhelming and more manageable. Lastly, there is no right way to approach cleaning. The principles and methods I outline are simply what I have come up. My hope is there will be some helpful things for you, but this is by no means the only or right way to do it!

The principles that have guided my approach:

1.There is a difference between a standard clean and a deep clean. Each need to be planned accordingly.
My time working at Green Glove Cleaning really helped me understand this. A standard clean is the maintenance cleaning. A deep clean is going to require more time and elbow grease. So, I need to plan for these accordingly. I have found a rhythm of a weekly maintenance clean and a monthly and quarterly deep clean.

2. Deep Cleans are a necessary part of maintaining a home and stewarding our resources.
I will never forget the deep clean I worked on while at Green Glove. The kitchen cabinets had this sticky film caked to them. We tried for over an hour to get it off, but it became apparent the residue of cooking oil had done its damage. The cabinets needed to be replaced, it was beyond repair. As we drove away I thought what a waste of money. If the cabinets had been cleaned on a regular basis this problem never would have occurred. It showed me how important it was to keep up with those deeper clean tasks, which often in the moment seem like a waste of time. In the end not taking the time to keep up with cleaning may cost you lots of time and money.

3. A little every day goes a long way
This is especially true with kids or for those with busy schedules. It may seem daunting to clean the entire house, but broken down into small manageable daily tasks it becomes less daunting.

4. Start training kids at an early age
Yes, their “help” at a young age will be minimal, but instilling this discipline will pay off. From a young age kids want to help and do what we are doing. Rather than saying no because they won’t do a good job, as thorough a job as you would do, or it will take longer, say yes! If they constantly hear no to their enthusiasm to help it will be counterproductive. Their spirit will be crushed.  As they grow older they will fight you to help because there is a pattern of discouragement or fear they won’t do it right. Start with a task they can do and give lots of encouragement. Train them along the way, showing them how to clean a particular area of the house. Start giving them areas of cleaning they can be responsible for. For instance Gideon is responsible for taking his plate to the dishwasher and putting clothes in the clothes hamper. He is very capable of doing both of these successfully at 17 months. We give him lots of praise and gratitude for his work. He also does a lot of “helping” mom clean the rest of the house – dusting, dishes, vacuuming and mopping. When he wants to help I say yes (even the times I want to say no because I just want to get it done quickly). I show him how to do it and give him lots of opportunity to try. This gives kids ownership, instills responsibility and they have a lot of fun! Plus as they get older they will gradually become more and more responsible for additional areas of cleaning (that you have gradually encouraged and taught along the way). What used to be your job of cleaning the whole house will now be shared with your kids and they will have learned to become responsible adults!

5. Consistency means you can have greater flexibility
Because I have come up with a manageable, consistent cleaning rhythm, if there is a week I don’t have time to clean the microwave or vacuum the floors it won’t be the end of the world. The consistency means there is a level of cleanliness that is maintained and those weeks that are busier I don’t stress as much when not every cleaning items gets done. But, if I am not in the habit of consistently cleaning, then the decision not to vacuum could be more detrimental or stressful because it desperately needs it. This is why I also like to call it my cleaning rhythm, not schedule. I am in the rhythm of consistently maintaining the cleanliness of our home, not strictly sticking to a schedule.

6. Consistently cleaning gives the freedom for hospitality
If I am consistently cleaning and the main areas of our home are well maintained (notice I don’t say perfectly clean), it is so much easier to open our home in hospitality. We can spontaneously ask someone over and I don’t immediately freak out because the house is a disaster. Yes, they may see crumbs on the floor because it’s Friday and I vacuum on Tuesday, but it will be a few crumbs, not an entire floor filled with dust, crumbs and dirt. For instance, we hosted friends yesterday. I didn’t need to clean the house before they came over because every week I maintain the main areas of our house. We got to enjoy their company and I did not stress one bit about it (they were even the owners of the cleaning company I worked for!!)