One of my big goals for this new year is to finally get things under control, broadly speaking. Ever since I left the workforce about three years ago I’ve tried various Fly-Lady-inspired methods for getting organized and developing a routine to stay organized. I am a naturally scattered and lazy person, but I yearn to run my household with a lovely rhythm, knowing that every task has its place on the daily or weekly schedule, that it will all get done so long as I follow my routines.
Yet, in three years, that has not happened.
To give myself some credit, I’ve made great improvements. I’m more organized and do have more of a routine than when my first child was born. Yet I have never quite been able to conquer that nagging feeling of being a day late and a dollar short, so to speak. I have good days and even good weeks but, most of the time, I feel at least a little bit overwhelmed and out of control. The bills get paid on time, but it’s always in a frantic rush at the last minute. The house stays somewhat orderly (emphasis on “somewhat”), but there are always tons of things on my to-do list that I never get to, leaving me with a vague sense of failure at the end of each day. My husband spends almost all of his time outside of work just helping out around the house, yet it’s still not enough. I visit friends and have free time for myself, but it’s always with the feeling that there are 1,000 other things I need to be doing.
I’ve been surprisingly good about letting go of anxiety by making the conscious choice to trust that God will work it all out if it’s in his plan…yet I’ve been getting the sense that I’m not living up to my part of the bargain, that there’s something different that I needed to be doing. But what?
After standing in a sea of new Christmas presents and suitcases full of clothes from an out-of-town trip and having a little “I NEVER HAVE TIME TO GET ANYTHING DONE AROUND HERE” freakout session last week, I picked up Holly Pierlot’s A Mother’s Rule of Life to re-read in a search for answers. As I flipped through the first few pages, something immediately jumped out at me: the Rule of Life for Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity. In discussing what a Rule of Life is, she gives the example of the Missionaries’ daily schedule:
Daily Schedule for the Missionaries of Charity
4:30-5:00 Rise and get cleaned up
5:00-6:30 Prayers and Mass
6:30-8:00 Breakfast and cleanup
8:00-12:30 Work for the poor
12:30-2:30 Lunch and rest
2:30-3:00 Spiritual reading and meditation
3:00-3:15 Tea break
4:30-7:30 Work for the poor
7:30-9:00 Dinner and clean up
9:00-9:45 Night prayers
A few things immediately jumped out at me: the first thing I noticed was that the main goal of the Order, working for the poor, only took place between 8:00 – 12:30 and 4:30 – 7:30. The second was how long they allowed for meals and cleanup. The third was how much time they devoted to prayer. The fourth was how early they went to bed. And the final thing I noticed was the simplicity, the focus only on prayer and working for the poor. Just reading through the schedule made me feel peaceful. What a calm, lovely rhythm the Missionaries of Charity must have to their days.
I looked at this Rule over and over again, and it struck me how very different this schedule was from my own — and not just because we have different vocations. Unlike my daily schedule, theirs spoke of focus; of calm trust that time with God is time well spent; of not trying to do everything all at once. They allow plenty of time for each activity, not trying to cram meals and cleanup into a small time slot, not staying up a few hours later to get more done. It occurred to me how very different their schedule would be if I’d created it for them:
Daily Schedule for the Missionaries of Charity…If I had created it
5:00-6:30 Prayers and Mass [no time on schedule for rise and clean up]
6:30-7:15 Breakfast and clean up [shorter time so that they can hurry up and get to work]
7:15-11:00 Work for the poor [more hours here]
11:00-12:30 Teach religious education classes to children [new activity]
12:30-1:30 Lunch and rest [shorter time so that they can hurry up and get to work]
1:30-3:00 Visit hospitals [new activity]
3:00-3:15 Tea break
3:15-7:30 Work for the poor [cutting out Adoration to get more done]
7:30-9:00 Dinner and clean up [shorter time so that they can hurry up and get to work]
9:00-10:00 Make Rosaries to give to the poor [new activity]
10:00-10:30 Night prayers* [shortened since, hey, nobody has that much time for prayer]
10:30-11:00 Spiritual reading
* Night prayers would usually be skipped in order to finish up things that didn’t get done during the day. In practice, bedtime would be more like 11:30 for the same reason.
Basically, I’d try to do it all: we wouldn’t limit ourselves to working for the poor! We’d visit hospitals and make Rosaries and teach religious education to children and even squeeze in a few more hours of work for the poor; I’d cut out a lot of that prayer time to focus on more “practical” things; I’d squeeze in a few more hours of productivity by cutting down time allowed for meals, morning rising, etc….And the poor sisters would be frantically running all over creation, collapsing into bed at the end of each day feeling overworked and scattered, feeling rushed as soon as they woke up the next morning. They’d live in a state of feeling perpetually overwhelmed and behind…sort of like I do.
I decided to completely re-think my own schedule, and my approach to life.
Inspired by the beautiful simplicity of the Missionaries’ daily schedule, I decided to rethink my own schedule with the single goal of creating harmony and peace in my household. Rather than looking at my list of things that “had to” get done around the house and seeing how I could squeeze them in, I first wrote out how long it takes to do the very basic things such as eating, dressing, baths, etc.; then, after I had allowed for realistic estimates of how shockingly long it takes to complete basic tasks with three kids ages three and under (e.g. 1.5 hours for each meal and cleanup), I set out to fill in the time I had leftover.
I turned to my husband for help. He suggested that I prioritize my list of household tasks that need to be done each day/week/month (including things like visiting friends and free time for me), and then we’d go through the list and write in each task where there was an open slot on the schedule. I brought my list over to the couch and started ticking off items. I had just gotten started when my husband interrupted me with, “That’s all.”
I paused to ask him what he meant. “That’s all you can do in a given week,” he said. “Look at your schedule, it’s full. That’s it.”
No way. That couldn’t be it. I had barely even gotten started reading my list! But he was right. When I looked at my schedule with the primary goal of creating a peaceful life and household, trying to emulate the focused simplicity of the Missionaries’ schedule, I realized how very little I could realistically expect to do.
Of course I’ve always known that I can’t do it all — I’m a natural slob so it was no problem to accept the fact that my house is going to look nothing like Martha Stewart’s. But I had never realized just how little I can really do in this phase of life. My goal when sitting down to create routines and schedules was always to “get things done,” so I’d aim to squeeze in as much as possible. I would drastically underestimate how much time was needed for each task in an attempt to fit more in (I realize now that nothing takes “just five minutes” around here). When my goal changed to “bring peace to my household,” it became glaringly obvious that obtaining peace was going to involve sacrificing a huge chunk of my to-do list; that I would have to give up not only on the idea of being able to do it all, but the idea that I can do much of anything other than just keep diapers changed and kids fed and the toys and dirty dishes put away and have some quality time with the kids and free time for myself.
I looked at all the things left on my list: vacuuming the upstairs, a second weekly grocery store trip, cleaning bathroom sinks, organizing the kids’ clothes and shoes, regular dusting, a deep clean of the stove and oven, doing a big fridge and freezer cleanout (just to name a few) — when were these things going to get done?! My husband pointed out that this phase of life is only temporary, that in the future we’ll have older children to help. In the meantime, if we’re to have a peaceful household, it will come at the expense of these tasks. They’ll get done only sporadically, whenever he or I have some unexpected free time to tackle them, if at all. But there is simply no room for them on my standard schedule.
In some ways it’s been difficult to come to terms with how little I can do. It’s hard to believe that my to-do list for tomorrow has only “laundry” on it — surely I can do more than that in a whole day! Yet when I picture doing laundry in a peaceful state — unflustered by having to stop folding clothes for diaper changes, laughing along with my toddler as he very inefficiently attempts to separate lights and darks — I realize that it requires a lot of time.
I realize now that at the root of my near-constant feelings of not getting enough done was only slightly due to laziness or disorganization: it was due mostly to having too much on my plate, to an unwillingness to take anything that I’d deemed “important” off of my to-do list, and to a reluctance to give up control. I wasn’t willing to admit that I might be limited by inconvenient facts of life like, say, how many hours there are in a day.
Letting go of the majority of my household to-do list is actually just the tip of the iceberg of what I’ve realized I need to change about my daily life, but I’ll save that for another post since this one is long enough. Luckily blogging made the cut of things to do during free time, so I’ll undoubtedly be writing more about this subject as I attempt to make 2008 the first year that I (with my husband’s help) turn my house into a home that is a calm, peaceful place to live.