At times, I love being part of a generation that has grown up with Internet access. An all-you-can-eat buffet of information is available 24/7. I come early and often and hungry every time. There are podcasts, eBooks, articles, videos, infographics, and data graphs by experts and enthusiasts in your choice of field and shade of values. I could lose myself here. I have lost myself here, stuck in a loop of information consumption.
But endlessly consuming information is not how I want to spend my life. I also want to create. I want to be intentional with the information I take in, prioritizing what supports my ability to create and lead the life I want.
I subscribe to many podcasts and have paid for multiple online educational program memberships. Realistically, I can only consume a fraction of this content. So I’m taking a step back to consider more intentionally what information I want to take in. What matters to me?
Practicing and honing my writing skill
Maintaining and expanding my French language skills
Improving my gentle parenting techniques
Organizing and decluttering my home
Exposing myself to new ideas and perspectives (Ok, I wrote this one almost specifically for Simon Sinek’s “A Bit of Optimism” podcast.)
Writing this list is a good start… but I need to go one step further and identify 1-2 primary sources of this content. In podcasts alone, I could subscribe to ten each related to writing, French, parenting, decluttering, and mindset. Then I get overwhelmed and try to keep up with all the content instead of taking in important bits and bites and doing something with what I’m learning (like actually writing instead of learning about writing). I need to be more ruthless.
I cut out writing podcasts because I attend a monthly workshop, and for now, I want to allow that to be my main source “of truth.” I cut down to ONE French podcast to practice my listening skills (which is where I’m weakest). I chose two parenting podcasts that I resonate most with and feel I get the most out of. I unsubscribed from all decluttering podcasts since I’m currently in a program with its own content (that I need to keep up with). And, of course, I’m keeping “A Bit of Optimism” because the perspectives, respectful discourse, and Simon’s optimism are soup for my soul.
During a several month-long hiatus from my blog, I’ve been doing some thinking (shocker!) and some reading (gasp!) and I decided to pivot a bit from how I originally started my goals for this year.
Over the last few years, I keep returning to this desire to get my house in a state that feels less cluttered and chaotic. There’s a lot of other changes I want to make in my life, but whenever I try to, I always seem to come back to my house. When my home is a mess it seems like an endless distraction and source of stress.
I’ve started and stopped a home decluttering project quite a few times and I’ve come to accept the following things:
I need to start viewing this as a lifestyle change and not a one-time project
While I love how Marie Kondo organizes everything in a neat and aesthetic way even inside dresser drawers, it’s not a sustainable means of housekeeping for someone like me. I need to embrace ease and accessibility over perfection
I’m not messy. Keeping a home tidy is a skill I can hone with practice
I want to teach my children how to keep a home so that it’s not something they are either doing without or trying to learn on their own in their 30s
The only way to make progress is to get started. I’ve read books, (The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo, How to Manage Your Home Without Losing Your Mind by Dana K. White, and The Clutter Connection by Cassandra Aarssen), listened to podcasts, followed social media influencers, etc. I know numerous strategies, theories, and tools. There’s multiple methodologies because there is no perfect way… there are ways that work best for some and ways that work best for others. But the only way to learn what works for me is to dive in and do it. 10 minutes a day, 5 minutes a day, even 1 minute a day just as long as I’m getting up, showing up, anddoing.
I full-heartedly agree with this statement and I still sometimes catch myself trying to accomplish way too many things with the idea that they are all “important”.
True, usually these tasks all have varying degrees of importance — cleaning the toilets, wishing my in-laws a “Happy birthday”, watering the houseplants, showing up on time for work, making time for a walk, etc. All of these things have benefits to doing and/or consequences for not doing, and for that reason, my brain would like to bucket them all as “important”. But, my dear perfectionist brain, these are not all of equal value.
I’d like to take a moment to remind myself of my top tier items of importance, that is, what is essential.
Making time to take care of my needs
Giving my family quality connection time free from distractions
Providing food on my family’s plates
Everything else — and I do mean everything else — can wait behind these things.
It’s funny, even as I sit here, my brain is working hard to find things to add to that list, thinking I must be missing something! Listen, brain, three things is plenty; it’s more than enough. Are other things worth doing? Yes, for sure, but I cannot think of anything else more important than or equal to these three things I’ve listed. Everything else must at best be considered secondary.
And, by the way, brain, you’ll notice that I put “Making time to take care of my needs” as numero uno in our list of utmost importance. This is important, brain. We need to prioritize ourselves. It’s not selfish; no one can give from an empty cup. Got it? Got it.
Thank you, reader, for sticking through this conversation with myself.
How did my first weekend go without my phone? Well, did I keep my phone out of reach in a drawer the whole time between when my children were awake until when they went to bed? No. Did I learn a lot about my phone usage beyond social media? Yes.
A previous me might have been disappointed in myself and considered the times when I reached for my phone a failure. Instead, I see this as an opportunity to get curious and either change more habits or refine my phone restriction.
What did I want when I reached for my phone?
To keep tabs on my sleeping baby on the web cam
To record my toddler’s and baby’s sleep in my phone app
To have my phone on hand in case I was contacted about a problem regarding the food I ordered to have delivered
To capture moments of my toddler and/or baby being especially cute/funny
To check the time
In order to truly let go of my phone, I realize I need to take a look at the above and determine whether the need can be met without my phone or whether I need to redefine my no-phone-on-weekends rule to allow for certain exceptions. So, one by one, I made that call..
Keeping tabs on my sleeping baby on the web cam This one I was actually able to catch in the moment. Instead of pulling the monitor up on my phone, I did so on my tablet. On the surface, it might not seem like a better switch, but I have a lot fewer apps on my tablet and its size allows me to look at the screen more easily without picking it up (which would increase the temptation of going down a rabbit hole of other apps)
Recording my toddler’s and baby’s sleep in my phone app First of all, I’m not even sure whether recording my children’s sleep is actually helpful or if it just stresses me out that they aren’t getting as much as experts say they should be. But I’m not yet willing to let it go. In the meantime, I could keep a small notepad with me and jot the sleep times down on paper to be added to the app during my allowed phone usage times.
Having my phone on hand in case of contact from a food delivery service I don’t really have an answer to this that allows me to keep my phone tucked away without consequence. I’ve been contacted by food delivery by phone call or text before and if I miss these, typically the order is held until it is canceled. So, I’m making a phone use exception here. When I order food through a delivery service, I can take my phone off Do Not Disturb (which I usually keep on) and keep it close to my person.
Capturing special moments of my children I think this one may require some deeper thought. On the one hand, one of my main goals of putting the phone down is to allow myself to be fully present in the moment, on the other hand, I do really enjoy looking back at photos and videos I’ve taken. My gut says that most moments are probably best lived rather than seen behind a camera lens and I should embrace that by allowing most photo opportunities to pass.
Checking the time This one is pretty simple.. I can get a watch. I think I even have one somewhere, or I have an old FitBit that also tells the time.
All-in-all, I’m pretty proud of myself and despite the fact that I wasn’t perfect, I’m calling my weekend efforts a win. It feels like a great example of my living to my self-given title: mindful perfectionist. Seeking perfectionism where it matters and embracing imperfection for everything else.
You know you’re getting older when you are constantly saying to yourself and others that you don’t know where the time has gone. January is OVER? And the first week of February is almost gone too!? Well, no time like the present to figure out what my goals are for the next eight weeks.
My yearly focus is lightening the load or finding things I can remove from my life (distractions, toxins, burdens) to make things easier and better for me. This quarter (January-March), my secondary focus is rest so I’m looking at what I can take away from my life to help me feel more rested. March also happens to be when I’ll be transitioning off maternity leave back to a full-time working mama, so that’ll be interesting (honestly, I expect that to make resting easier. Stay-at-Home-Mom life is no picnic).
To find my goals, I looked at each of my goal categories (self-care, connection, resources, purpose) and asked myself, “What makes this load heavy? How can I make it lighter?” Here’s what I came up with:
SELF-CARE (mental and physical wellness)
What makes the load heavy? (or also, What drains my energy? What makes me feel stressed?)
Social media and self comparison — feeling like I should be doing more and/or better
Feeling physically tired almost all the time
Worrying about the future
CONNECTION (family, friendship, human connection)
What makes the load heavy? (or also What strains my side of the relationship?*)
Feeling pressured to keep my husband sexually and emotionally satisfied
Resenting my husband asks me to help him or be with him with his task priorities
Resenting everyone in my family because I don’t have enough ‘me’ time
*I’m particularly proud of the fact that I asked myself what strains my side of the relationship rather than trying to think of how I can improve the relationship by changing how the other person is thinking or feeling, which is definitely something I would have done in the past. One thing I’ve learned over the last year is that, though I may be able to influence the thoughts and feelings of others to a degree, I can’t control. But if I focus on improving the relationship from my side, it’s likely to strengthen to relationship as a whole.. or else, perhaps it’s not one that was meant to last.
RESOURCES (time, financial security, possessions)
What makes the load heavy? (or also What resources feel severely lacking or overwhelming?)
Having too much visual clutter and constantly feeling like I ‘should’ get it under control
Lacking quality alone time
I tried to come up with a third item so that I could have nice, balanced lists of three for all the categories, but ideas just weren’t coming to me and I realized whatever I came up with would likely never be prioritized anyway so I’m leaving it be.
PURPOSE (Creation and community contribution)
What makes the load heavy? (or also What is blocking me from pursuing my passions?)
Not having enough time without a baby in my arms for me to work regularly on my blog or other hobbies
Fearing failure or imperfection makes me hesitant to try
Having already given myself permission to stop at two ideas for Resources, it seemed appropriate for this one too, which was the hardest of all the categories for me to come up with something.
Limiting and prioritizing
One of the things I struggled with last year, was being too ambitious with my goals for myself. Just because I technically can accomplish several goals, doesn’t mean I should commit to doing so and “lightening the load” can mean lightening my goal commitment too. When looking at my lists, I realized three out of my four categories reference a lack of time so that’s definitely something I want to tackle, oh, and lookie, the fourth category also mentions the negative affects of social media, which is a huge time suck for me. So…
Goal 1: Reduce time spent on social media
I want to keep myself to two goals, and looking over my list, the stress from all the clutter in my house really feels like the heaviest weight on me. I’m constantly shaming myself for it all, feeling overwhelmed by it all, and I’ve been convinced for awhile that the more items you possess, the more time it requires to take care of them. So, to reduce my mental stress and hopefully get even more time back in my day…
Goal 2: Reduce physical clutter
Goal 1: Reduce time spent on social media
When I pick up my phone, I usually end up on Facebook or Instagram pretty quickly and though I’ve uninstalled the apps multiple times to try to limit how much time I spend on them, it seems it is far too easy for me to reinstall them. Worst of all, while I’m numbing out on my phone, often my toddler and/or infant are present which means I’m neither connecting with them nor am I spending my time in a way that makes me feel rested or in any way better. Maybe this will prove to be too much too soon for me, but I’m going to try to approach this by ripping the bandaid off… on weekends and any other days when my whole family is home, I’m putting my phone in a drawer (and perhaps even turning it off) where it will stay until at least the two kids are in bed.
New Goal 1: Put the phone away on weekends
Goal 2: Reduce physical clutter
Something I’ve wanted to tackle for awhile is Courtney Carver’s Project 333. In short, it’s limiting your closet to 33 items for the duration of 3 months (roughly a season) and donating or putting away all the rest. The result (ideally) is less mental fatigue when selecting an outift and less time spent on each laundry load (because if you have fewer clothes, you have less to wash and put away each time even if you have to do laundry more often). I’ve also been interested getting rid of the big hulking dresser in my husband’s and my bedroom by moving everything to either a drawer under my bed or the closet.
New Goal 2: Limit items in closet to 33
Goal 3 (Pending completion of goal 2): Donate dresser
I originally started this post mid-December… and then life threw a few wrenches my way and here we are, mid-January.
Anyway, the turn of the calendar year and the passing of this blog’s 1-year anniversary has put me in total reflection and planning mode (though let’s be honest, this is my default mode).
2021 in Review
My focus phrase for 2021 was to “let go”, and while I’m proud of the progress I made, it’s definitely a life journey. I’m still learning that letting something go does not necessarily mean I fail; sometimes it means that whatever I’m letting go of is not right for me in this moment.
In 2021, I created a goal list based on 5 categories:
Self care (my mental and physical wellness)
Connection (my relationship with family, friends, and other humans)
Growth (my personal learning and development)
Resources (managing my time, money, and possessions)
Purpose (my contribution to society)
This is the biggest one and the main source of content for my blog. I divided the year into quarters and set each quarter to have a focus of different essentials for sustaining human life:
nutrition (which I “let go” in order to focus on birthing my baby and surviving the day-to-day with a newborn)
My focus here was to expand our family and to prepare for that expansion. I’m really proud of myself here, that instead of giving myself the goal of “get pregnant”, which is wildly out of my control, my original goals were to “track my menstrual cycles” and “have sex during times of peak fertility”. When I did have the good fortune to get pregnant, I changed my goals towards actions I could take to prepare my body and mind for a VBAC (vaginal birth after cesarean). I admit, I became a bit obsessed with this focus, wanting to do all the things so much as rumored to help with a successful VBAC that I struggled a bit to prioritize them and do anything very consistently (though my baby did end up born via VBAC, safe and healthy).
I had planned to learn and practice using water colors this year by going through projects from a few water coloring subscription boxes I had sitting for many months. I met my first quarter goal of completing one project, and then never did any more.
With the ultimate goal of reducing the time I spend picking out and washing/putting away clothes, I wanted to “finally” complete Project 333 (TLDR; a recurring 3-month challenge to select up to 33 items for your closet and donate/put away everything else). I partially did this — I created clothing lists, went through a lot of my clothes, put away a lot of clothes, and put some clothes in a “to donate” pile. However, I never fully committed to sticking to only the list and some things not on the list still remained in my closet. I still really want to give this challenge a dedicated try.
I made my blog my purpose for the year. I had hoped to published 45 blog posts during the year. In the end, I published 32 blog posts in the year 2021. It’s 13 posts shy of my goal, but I’m chalking this up to too ambitious of a first-year goal and I’m still proud of those 32 posts.
What worked? What didn’t?
Having goals that aligned with my toddler’s current interests (like sweeping the floors). While they interested him, he gave me a regular reminder and motivation (and help!… sorta) to get it done.
Aiming only for things within my control
Setting bare minimum goals, I have a hard time talking myself out of showing up
Clearly defining the goals
Choosing goals that can be made into a daily habit
What didn’t work?
Relying on my toddler as a long-term trigger for completing daily chores. When he lost interest in cleaning the floors, I lost my regular reminder.
Taking on too much and not prioritizing my goals
Increasing my goal too quickly
What’s Next? Planning for 2022
Last year, my focus was “let go”. This year, I’m focusing on “lightening the load”. I’m taking a look at my life and what I can reduce or remove to make things easier on me.
The first thing I’m reducing? Instead of 5 goal categories, I’m focusing on 4, effectively combining “Growth” and “Purpose” to “Purpose: Creation and contribution”.
I may change this in the future, but for now, I still like giving each quarter a sub-focus related to the four major things that sustain life, but I’m reorganizing them to better align with the time of year:
Rest | January-March: Reset, recover from holiday pressures and stimuli, embrace the pull of hibernation
Breathe |April-June: Move the body, get fresh air, create space in areas of overcrowding
Hydrate | July-September: Replenish fluids lost in the heat (ok, I’m still thinking of how to expand this one beyond the obvious
Nourish | October-December: Try new recipes, learn food/spice pairings that optimize the nutritional gain, streamline meal planning
Happy New Year, readers! Here’s hoping that this new year finds you healthy, loved, and supported and that 2022 will not be 2020…too.
I did not intend to take a long hiatus from my blog, but in mid-November, I had a baby, and in early December, my son’s daycare classroom closed for two weeks due to covid exposure (we tested negative); we celebrated (modestly) the birthdays of three grandparents, the holidays hit, and shortly after that all four of us got covid (we’re all now recovered and doing fine, thank you for asking). I kicked off 2022 feeling exhausted from still being in early postpartum, caring 24/7 for a newborn and a toddler, recovering from a respiratory illness, and not being able to receive childcare help from family. Looking back, though, I am grateful that I didn’t have to do it entirely alone — I have a wonderful husband who helped me (when he wasn’t sleeping off his illness) and family that dropped off some extra food. That, and the constant self-reminder that this wasn’t forever.. that the guilt I felt from leaving the tv on most of the day to occupy my toddler, the lack of fruits and veggies on the plates, the general lack of bathing for all of us — it was temporary. We were taking it one day at a time, accepting things as they were, and not asking more from ourselves.
Of course, my first light at the end of the tunnel…the first daycare promise of reprieve in 2022, was taken from me by our first snow of the season. The next day was a delayed opening that threatened to be another full day closing, and the next day I had a full day of daycare but was taken out by a migraine. And the next day… is today! Is the fourth time the charm?
Seriously, though, after airing my grievances, I want to pull myself back to a mindset of gratitude. I’m lucky I even have daycare as an option because so many people don’t. I’m fortunate to have a supportive partner in my husband because so many people don’t. I’m lucky that I have extended family close by, wanting to help and able to cook. I’m grateful that my family got through covid with just a few days each of feeling ill and tired. Honestly, I feel lucky that what we had was covid instead of something else (stick with me here) because 1. it gave plausible cause for my 6-week-old’s fever, sparing her some rather invasive testing and possibly unnecessary antibiotic treatments, and 2. our family of 4 now all has some natural immunity, that will hopefully carry us through the rest of this current omicron covid case surge. Given a choice (as though such a thing could ever be a choice), I wouldn’t have asked to expose our family to covid, but since we did get it, I must admit I’m grateful to have gotten through it and to have a grace period where it no longer feels as threatening. We’ll continue to practice the same precautions we always have (which did work well for us for almost two years of the pandemic), but my stress load feels a bit lighter.
So even though I would have liked to have already started planning my goals for 2022, this first quarter, January, and this week, it just wasn’t in the cards. Now that I feel like I’m back on my feet, I can take time to bring myself back up to speed.
It’s commonly said that a key component of building a new habit is getting a (timely) reward for doing the habit. Since it’s almost July, I’ve been taking a look at my goals for the month, the new habits I want to build, and have run into a roadblock when it comes to determining a “reward” for these new habits.
Here’s my hang-up: Sure, it sounds nice to say that after I do XYZ, I eat a piece of chocolate or buy myself a new shirt or watch a movie or take a nap, BUT if these are meant to be rewards, then that means I should be restricting myself from engaging in those until I make the habit. Restriction is its own new habit, and I’m not big on it, personally, because it leads to that thing I want having increasing power over myself and my thoughts. If I want to eat a piece of chocolate, I’ll do it. If I want a new shirt (and generally, I’m good at sticking to a budget, so I rarely buy new clothes or things unless I really like them or need them), I’ll buy it. Really, what’s to stop me from rewarding myself without accomplishing the goal, except for the same willpower that is insufficient to get me to achieve the goal without a carrot dangling in front of it? Frankly, I’m having a hard time wrapping my brain around the idea that I’m rewarding myself for completing a new habit but rather punishing myself for not doing it.
As a mom of a toddler who follows numerous young child behavior specialists on social media, one message seems common — encourage intrinsic rewards. And yet, if I look up “habit rewards” the list of examples is almost always limited to extrinsic rewards (treats, things, escapes).
So, how do you identify intrinsic rewards for habits that don’t provide an immediate result? Or, for example, with my physical therapy exercises to strengthen my abdominal muscles while I’m pregnant and actively pushing the boundaries of those abdominal muscles, how do I continue to motivate myself to do the exercises when even after I’ve been doing them religiously, at my check-up I find out that my condition has worsened?
I think this ties back into my mental exploration of why saying “I should” do this isn’t helpful in that it all comes down to reminding yourself of why you’re trying to make this a habit in the first place. If you can’t see immediate results (or as with my previous example, are seeing what looks like the opposite result) then you need to constantly remind yourself why you wanted to do this in the first place. What are you trying to accomplish? What are you trying to avoid? I may have taken one step back in my progress with my exercises but I may have saved myself from taking nine additional steps backwards if I do nothing.
Hello, motivation? I’m not feeling it today. The problem is, I’ve been procrastinating work off and on all week, and the result has been a much more limited output than what I promised—Womp womp. Enter embarrassment, shame, guilt, and a desire to continue to hide from my responsibilities rather than power through them and turn this whole mess around.
Sometimes I feel like a perfectionist imposter. Perfectionists are often described as people who have an immaculate house, are always punctual, and give 110% effort to their work. This. Is. Not. Me. I’m the type of perfectionist who tells myself I should have a clean and tidy house, looks at the mess around me, and cannot begin to get my house to an acceptable level of clean and tidy (especially since there are four other mess-contributing members of the household, two of which are constantly shedding fur), feels overwhelmed, binges Netflix and judges myself harshly for having an embarrassingly unkempt home. I set high expectations for myself, don’t try to meet them, and then berate myself for not meeting them. And then I also feel bad that I’m not even a good perfectionist (whatever that means).
Look at me; I digress. I’m working toward setting more realistic expectations of myself, defining these expectations more clearly (so I don’t move the goalpost on myself), recognizing my accomplishments, putting pride in my work, and not adding to my anxiety and stress.
Why am I procrastinating on my work right now? Maybe I’m embarrassed that I fell short of expectations with my first go around. Maybe I feel extra pressure to KILL it to make up for the previous disappointments. Maybe I feel like an imposter in my work.
Ok, brain, I hear you. You’re scared of feeling like you disappointed yourself and others. Let’s pause. Reframe. Why should I do my work right now? Because the sooner I have it done, the sooner I can get feedback on it so that if I need to change my direction, I can get there. Because it will feel so amazing not to have this looming over me anymore. Because the more time and effort I put into it, the better the result will be. Because I can and have done amazing work when I’ve put in the effort.