Notice the title of this post is not “Are you overwhelmed?” because I know most of you are.  That’s why you’re here right?  It’s hard not to be these days.  Many of us have full-time jobs, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have full-time work to do at home as well.  Even if home is our full-time job, that doesn’t mean we have all the time in the world to get everything done either.  Kids, pets, friends, our own interests and plans—they all take time, which is frequently the one thing we don’t have.

How are we supposed to find the time to get our homes in order when we have to spend so much time doing everything else?

First, breathe

Really.  Right now, take a deep breath in and out.  Let the tightness in your chest loosen.  Let the oxygen get to your brain.  Just breathe for a couple of minutes.

Feeling a little better?  I’d be willing to bet you are.  Frequently we are so busy running from one thing to another that we forget that sometimes we just need to give ourselves a couple of minutes to reset.   It’s important, however, to stop running in circles and take just a minute to clear your head.

Ok, I’m breathing.  My house is still a mess.

Figuring out what to do first is important, but hard.  This is how is has gone at times in my head:

I should start with the porch.  It’s the first thing people see when they drive up, so that’s where I’ll start.  So first I’ll bring the stuff that needs to go to the transfer station there.  Oh, but there’s the old fan upstairs and the old bed in the shed, so I’ll get those.  Hold on, now I’m in my room and the fan isn’t even the START of the problem.  Maybe I should start here.  I mean, maybe if I make my room an “oasis of calm” or whatever, I’ll be able to deal with the rest of it.  Ok, I’ll do my room.  Well, let me just start the laundry first.  I should do these dishes while I’m here.  And bring the bottles and cans out to my car for recycling.  And grab the stuff for Goodwill…now there’s no room in my car for the stuff for the transfer station.  I guess I can’t do the porch today.  Maybe I should do the living room.  I mean, that’s the first thing people see when they come IN the house.  I need to hang the TV on its bracket…but I wanted to paint before I hang anything.  Did I decide on a color?  I did, but now I’m not so sure….

And on and on.  Before we know it we’ve spent a day running from task to task, accomplishing very little and making no real progress.  So what can we do instead?

First, grab some paper and a pen or pencil.  If you can’t even find that, just use your phone, computer, or whatever you’re reading this on.  We’re going to start by writing down what is going well.  Even the most disorganized of us frequently have some area that we are keeping up with consistently.  For example, with the exception of some extreme cases, we’re not sitting in a house that’s filling up with actual trash.  We bring the garbage out, or we have someone do it.  In my house, that’s two of my kids.  I used to scramble after work to get it all done, but now my youngest empties all of the small trash cans around the house, and my oldest takes out the trash and the recycling and pulls the bins to the curb on the night before pickup day.  It happens every week, except when we had so much snow that we could barely get to the bins, much less pull them anywhere, but even then the garbage and recycling got out of the house at least.  So think about what is working in your house, and write those things down.  Even if it’s just one thing, write it down so you can see, in black and white, that something is getting done.

Here is my list:

  1. Trash and recycling
  2. Laundry (washing drying, usually folding and putting away)
  3. Litter boxes (I take care of the big cats’ litter, my youngest takes care of her kitten, who is still living in her room)
  4. Keeping the dining room table clean – in this case it’s because my older kids host a bi-weekly game of D&D on it, so it can’t become a dumping ground like flat surfaces tend to be.

It’s not a long list, but it’s a start.

Make a “brain dump” list

Here’s the scarier part.  Get more paper or a new document/note.  Make a much longer list of everything you can think of that needs to be done in and around your house.  It’s going to be a LONG list.  It’s going to make you think that you’ll never get it done when you first see it, but bear with me.

The reason we make this list is that we are holding all of these tasks, small and large, in our head and it is causing us anxiety.  I first heard of this idea in the book Getting Things Done by David Allen.  His theory, and I agree, is that all of these things are in “pending” status in our brains taking up valuable space that could be better used for other things.  In my case, those things tend to be decision-making, and actually doing some of the things on my list.

Do you feel that knot in your chest, just underneath your breastbone?  That’s anxiety.  As you write your list, you may feel it lessen because although the list seems impossibly long, it’s not being carried solely in your head anymore.  Here is a good resource to get you started and this post on Lifehacker walks you through different categories in a helpful way.

Keep this list handy, because you will no doubt think of things to add.  We’ll try to be as thorough as possible in one sitting, but there will always be things we didn’t think of at the time or that hadn’t come up yet, and we don’t want a new list to build up in our heads defeating the whole purpose of this exercise.

Maybe try the breathing part again a few times while you’re writing your list.  Don’t let the overwhelmed feeling get the best of you and make you stop writing.

I have a list. What now?

For this week, I mainly want you to concentrate on what has already been working, and then add one “basic upkeep” thing, and try to knock some small items off your list.  David Allen recommends looking at your list, and if anything on it would take 2 minutes or less, do them.  Right now.  Even if you only spend half an hour on this, that’s still 15 things you can cross off your list.  Spend an hour and you can cross off 30.  That’s no small amount!

Daily/weekly home upkeep

Some of the items on your list will probably relate to things that should be happening on a daily or weekly basis, but aren’t. Maybe you’re not good at keeping up with dishes.  Maybe you’re behind on laundry.  Whatever it is, try to add just one thing onto each day this week.

If you’re weak point is dishes, do or delegate them after dinner every night this week.  Even if you’re tired.  Even if dinner is late.  Even if whoever is doing them didn’t create all the dishes.  It doesn’t matter.  Just add them in.  Honestly, doing them nightly will add about 15-20 minutes of work, possibly less.  It won’t take as long as you think.  If you’re way behind, just set a timer for 15-20 minutes, do the newest ones first and then do as much of the backlog as you can before the timer goes off.  Repeat nightly.

If you can’t keep up with the laundry, try getting just one small load done each day/evening until you’re caught up.  Don’t over-fill your washer.  It’s bad for the washer, and turns one load into a mountain of work for you instead of a small bite.  If you’re home during the day, make sure to throw it in before lunchtime.  If you have an outside job, throw it in when you come home.  Change out of your work clothes, gather up a basket of laundry, and go.  By the time you’re done with dinner, it will probably be time to switch it to the dryer.  Once you’re nearly ready for bed, grab the dry clothes, fold them and put them away/drop them in their owners’ bedrooms.  Done.  One load down.

Whatever your stumbling block is, add it in this week, but in small bites.  If you have more than one issue (or ALL of the issues) pick one to work on this week.  And remember, these are ONLY the tasks/upkeep that should be being done each week.  This is not the time to start decluttering, painting, or any other time consuming project.  We’ll get to those.  Just not yet.

Here are your actions steps for this week:

  1. List of what is going well – Post this somewhere you (and your family if you have one and want them involved in the long run). Whether that’s on the fridge or in your bedroom or bathroom, or as your phone lock screen, just get it up there.
  2. Brain dump – Write it all down, keep it handy so you can add to it.
  3. 2 minute tasks – Go through your brain dump list and do anything you can that will take 2 minutes or less. Do as many of these as you have time for, and cross them off.  Don’t get hung up on the whole list. Read a line – 2 minute task?  Yes – do it.  No – move on.  Don’t stress, just move on.  We’ll get to them all in time.
  4. Add one thing – dishes, laundry, vacuuming, whatever should be done daily/weekly, pick one and add it to your day.

That’s it.  That’s all you need to do this time.  Next week, we’ll start tackling some of the other tasks.

Let me know how you do.  How many items are on your lists?  What task did you add in for the week?  How many 2-minute tasks were you able to cross off?  Share in the comments if you’d like.

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