The mental neat freak

September 10, 2013 | 140 comments

A few weeks ago I went to the salon to get my hair cut. One of the little lifehack-y things I do is to think carefully about what luxuries I’d most enjoy, so that when Joe or my parents ask what I want for Christmas or my birthday, I can give them a list of things that I actually love and would use. The result is that I have a nice collection of gift certificates to my favorite salon, and I’m able to get my hair cut by a talented stylist.

It’s a nice place: music that was somehow both hip and soothing pulsed in the background while I had an aromatherapy scalp massage before the shampoo, and while my hair was cut the resident masseuse came by to give me a hand massage. It was a luxuriously relaxing way to spend a couple of hours.

Which made it really weird when I was all stressed out and frazzled at the end of the day.

When Joe came home that evening, I was at my wits’ end. I was mentally fatigued to the point that I felt like I was on the brink of a breakdown, and could barely restrain myself from yelling at everyone about everything. When Joe asked what was wrong, I snapped, “I’ve been doing nothing but working ALL DAY. I JUST NEED A BREAK.”

It was kind of awkward when he reminded me, “Didn’t you spend half the afternoon at that nice salon?”


I stopped whining immediately, per that law of the universe that states that you’re not allowed to complain about anything for at least six hours after you’ve had an aromatherapy scalp massage. Yet I still felt miserable. No matter how many times I admonished myself to FEEL GRATITUDE NOW, I still walked around in that red-zone state where I desired a break like a drowning man desires oxygen.

The Mental Neat Freak

I need to do lots of this. But in my head.

As summer drew to a close, I had more and more days along those lines. Then, once the Fall semester got in full swing, almost every day played out that way: on paper, it looked like I had gotten some relaxation time. My daily schedules were busy, but they included some moments like a leisurely conversation with a friend at a Scouts meeting or going to the grocery store by myself, which gave me nice breaks from the usual toil. Yet, without fail, at the end of each day I would feel so maxed out that if one more person asked me one more question I thought I might morph into the Incredible Hulk and go throw the car into the neighbor’s tree just to vent.

Clearly, something had to be done.

But I worried that maybe there was no solution, because the problem might be that I’m pathologically ungrateful. Part of me had come to suspect that nothing short of hiring a chef and a live-in masseuse and a butler straight out of Downton Abbey would make me happy — after all, I’m the kind of person who isn’t satisfied even after long trips to nice salons.

Then I had one of those God-sent conversations with a wise friend who had just the right words at just the right time, and I came to see the real source of the problem.

My friend pointed out that there have been plenty of days when I did not end up in the red zone, and, unless I had been leading a secret (and very fabulous) double life, none of those days had involved butlers or personal chefs. With saint-like patience, she had me walk through each aspect of a good day, and analyze what made these kinds of days less stressful than others. I’ll save you all the fascinating details of my minute-to-minute schedule, and just skip to the part where I had a thunder-and-lightning realization.

The big moment occurred when I was trying to explain to my friend why I did not find the salon trip relaxing. “What would you have rather been doing?” she asked.

I knew the answer immediately: “Writing.”


“Because I’m a lazy shut-in nerd. I don’t know.”


I really didn’t know why. So I just started thinking out loud. “Because it’s relaxing — like, relaxing in a way that other ‘relaxing’ things are not. Because it gives me energy. Because I feel clear-headed and energized when I’m done.”

“This is good. Keep going.”

And finally, after digging my way through piles and piles of words, I hit the core of the issue: “It brings order to my brain. It’s like…there are all these things that happen in my days that make my mind feel — I don’t know how else to describe it — messy. Like I’m surrounded by chaos, but on the inside. And it keeps piling up and piling up, to the point where sometimes I feel like I’m drowning.”

“And writing helps you tidy up, so to speak, ” she said, finishing my thoughts for me.

“Exactly!” I replied. And then I fell silent for a second. Because I knew that this insight she’d led me to was huge.

Example of something that makes my brain feel "messy": toddlers writing on the crockpot with crayon while I'm trying to get dinner ready.

Example of something that makes my brain feel “messy”: toddlers ruining their dinners by eating the crayons they used to write on the crock pot while I was cooking.

After talking through it some more, I realized that:

  • Just like with physical space, it is possible for your mental space to get “messy.”
  • Again like with physical space, it is critical to your sense of peace and wellbeing to regularly clean up your mental space.
  • I am a mental neat freak.

It was fascinating to figure out what kinds of activities lead to that feeling of internal disarray — and it wasn’t necessarily activities that I don’t enjoy. Basically anything that requires mental multitasking leaves me needing time to put my thoughts back in order, which explains why I often feel most stressed at the end of afternoons when I do playdates with other families, even though I considered them to be good days. Socializing while trying to keep track of six young children is the equivalent of throwing a big party in my brain: fun, but it takes forever to clean up afterward.

I think the biggest insight, though, was this:

Just because an activity is relaxing doesn’t mean it’s good for helping me regain a sense of internal order.

At my friend’s suggestion, I asked myself, What activities most help me “clean up” my mental space? The list I came up with surprised me:

  1. Writing
  2. Jogging while listening to music (oddly, it has to be both — one or the other doesn’t do it)
  3. Reading a well-written book

Plenty of activities that I might enjoy and even find calming in a certain way (going to the salon, for example) were not good activities for ordering my thoughts. I might walk away feeling happy, but the mess would still be there. I still don’t understand why this is the case. Why does reading a book help me process scattered thoughts more than, say, watching a TV show? No idea. I’ll analyze that to death later. What matters right now is that I understand that it is the case.


My bathroom counter before I came in with a trash bag and showed the clutter who’s boss. (This is what it feels like to be in my brain sometimes.)

And the more I thought about it, the more I realized that I’m a mental neat freak. You know those people who get all stressed out if their houses are messy? That’s me, but in my head (which I guess makes sense, since that’s where I live most of the time). I can stumble along for a while without mental clean-up time, but, like a neat freak living in a house that keeps getting messier and messier and messier, if it goes on too long, I snap.

This is a huge insight for a lot of reasons, one of them being that it helps me manage my time and energy in this crazy season of life. I already knew that different people need to do different things to unwind, but it gives me a new level of clarity to realize that:

a) different stressors cause a different level of “mess, ” and I need to plan for “clean-up time” accordingly, just as I would with my real living space, and

b) when my down time is limited (which is always), I need to distinguish carefully between relaxation activities that do and don’t allow me that critical time to order my thoughts.

Anyway, I have probably just made myself sound like a robot. I’m guessing that people who live more in the real world and less in their brains might not find this to be as important as I do, and may not know what I’m talking about at all. But I wanted to share because I figured that there have to be at least a couple of other people in the world who are wired like I am, who might find it helpful to realize that they’re not necessarily ungrateful if they don’t feel great after doing something that was supposed to make them feel great — the problem might be that they just needed a little time for (mental) clean-up.

The fountains at El Monumento. "El Monumento date nights" should have been #1 on my list.

The fountains at El Monumento. “El Monumento date nights” should have been #1 on my list.

(And, for the record, before I sat down to write this post I was in Incredible Hulk mode again. I feel great now.)


  1. The other Becky

    Yes! Yes! Yes! Thank you for putting this into words. And by the way, try crossword puzzles. You can’t always find a good book when you need one, but there are lots of places to find crossword puzzles.

  2. Mary

    I’ll see your mental neat freak and raise you a house neat freak. When the house is disordered I can’t order my head but often WHILE I’m cleaning the house, my mind comes along for the ride and I feel so much better when I’m done. I feel like I can take on the rest if my surroundings are in order and controlled.

    • Cherie

      Yes, to both.
      I definitely notice if I don’t have time be mentally organized, especially after noisy or hectic social occasions.
      But, I’ve also realized that the messier the house is the less I can handle. And cleaning it does double duty, organizing my brain and the house. Especially straightening things. If there are no random piles I am much better at running errands, handling noise, etc.

  3. Emilie

    This makes so much sense to me! I often do things that seem relaxing or leisurely, but I will often feel guilty after doing them, as though I didn’t achieve much. I can really relate with your reflection on the fact that relaxing things don’t necessarily bring order to your life. You have given me a great thunder-bolt moment too! And I LOVE the new site. Brilliant work as always!!

  4. Michele

    This makes me feel so much better! I just have two little ones so far, but I worry how I’ll cope when I have more because my mental clutter has increased so much with the recent addition of the second child. I’m a lot like you…writing really calms my introverted brain!

  5. Considerer

    Writing therapy, I call it. It helps massively.

    And thankfulness – an attitude of Actively Seeking the Good Things. That’s where I’m at – keep at it 🙂

  6. Clara

    Oh my goodness, that fits me too!!! I crave writing or reading when I am overwhelmed in my head. Yet I sabotage myself by not giving myself what I know I need to refocus, center and clear my head. I think I need to go write about this to process it. 🙂

  7. Marcy K.

    If find that noise really affects me and makes me agitated. Especially if my husband has the day off and is watching TV while I’m working (I work from home.) The absolute crap on TV makes my blood pressure go up and up. If I can turn it either up or off I feel much better. I’m thinking of getting those headphones you wear at a shooting range. Maybe that will help and also be a signal to people to stop interrupting me.

    • Melanie B


      Oh yes! Me too! On days when my husband wants to watch football I always get majorly stressed and end up having fights with him. Finally he moved the tv to the office where he can shut the door and I learned I need to use his football watching time to do something creative, not just to veg on the computer. So now that’s my sewing time. After an afternoon or evening spent sewing I feel so much better.

      And I feel kind of bad because he likes to watch tv at night to unwind and we end up sitting in separate rooms on opposite sides of the house because i need the time to write and read and I can’t do it while the television is on.

      But it’s not just the television. I have banned all toys that make noise from my house. I just can’t handle mechanical buzzing and beeping and music on top of all the sounds of the kids. Sometimes I try to put on music to listen to and then find myself all stressed and wanting to scream at any child who asks a question or even talks to another child. Then I realize I just need to shut off the music.

      What’s really bad is when it happens while I’m listening to prayers like a rosary or the divine office podcast. Nothing like snapping at your kids to shut up because mommy can’t hear her prayers.

      My husband produces a radio show and is sometimes behind the mike too. I have never listened to a single show, even when he is on the air. It airs from 4 to 5 and for me that is when my ability to listen to anything is just gone. I feel kind of guilty, but the radio just drives me crazy.

      • Bonnie

        Me three!

      • Laura G

        Well said, all! Melanie, I do the same things you detailed! Radio on, thinking I’ll relax, and then I’m blowing at the kids. Duh! The classical station is driving me buggy all of a sudden! And audio prayers/ yelling at kids, been there, done that! Especially in the car, when they’re trying to tell me about their day and I have Chaplet of Divine Mercy on. Hmmm, glad to know I’m not alone, and we can encourage each other to see these needs we have and make the changes necessary, before we blow!

        • Rachel

          I’m like this with music/noise too! For me, it’s when I try to concentrate on more than two things. So I can cook and chat or cook and listen to music or chat and listen to music but I can’t do all three. Same with driving – have to concentrate on that so can only either talk or have the radio on. Although if my brain is messy I can only do one thing at a time.

  8. Mandi @ Messy Wife, Blessed Life

    Wow, you know what, I think I’m a lot like you! At least in this way! And I never realized it before. I’ve been having a lot of these days – where on paper they look like easy, relaxing days, but I snap at my husband when he gets home and I don’t know why (and he certainly doesn’t know why) but under the guise that I’m SO overwhelmed and can’t handle EVERYTHING I HAVE TO DO. Now I just have to discover what exactly helps me (I suspect writing is one for me too).

    On a side not, I followed some of your organization tips and I am enjoying a mostly clean bathroom now – because the shelves in the bathroom have opened topped baskets and I actually toss my stuff in the appropriate basket (make up in one, hair stuff in another, etc.) instead of letting it clutter up! AMAZING!

  9. Marcy K.

    I meant turn it down not up 🙂

  10. Amelia

    Oh wow! I can so relate to this. This is totally why I blog. Blogging or writing is super relaxing to me and does help order my mind. I especially need this after a day of homeschooling or playdates (because I LOVE playdates and being social and being with others, but trying to watch kids and socialize at the same time IS tiring). It’s also why in many ways I find my older kids to be more exhausting than my baby. The constant questions and chatter clutter up my mind…and I do need to write or read to “clean it up”

  11. Casey @ My Love Is Too Little

    I guess I’ve never really analyzed whether or not I feel mentally cluttered, but I’m sure I probably do. The thing is, physically, I’m disorganized and create clutter, and it really doesn’t bother me all that much. It has to get to what most people would consider a ridiculous level before it bothers me (much to the detriment of my husband’s nerves). So I’m guessing it’s probably the same with my brain. I can stand quite a bit of clutter in there before I implode.

    I definitely find reading to be relaxing and rejuvenating; I’m not sure yet if writing is. I know when I’m feeling agitated and needing to work through things mentally, I tend to engage in a long mental monologue that allows me to process and organize my thoughts. Honestly, this is probably me writing things down mentally (since I don’t always have access to computer/pen-and-paper). Once I’ve worked through my monologue, I feel better and the topic bothering me almost just disappears from my brain.

  12. Rosie

    Excellent, so with you girl! In my very rare visits to the salon, maybe 2-3 times a year I almost always come back home after that little break (usually getting my hair cut at a Cost Cutters or something cheap) and going into full blown read-up mode (that’s a Pittsburgh term for cleaning up) feeling like I can’t sit down and relax, etc. You’ve got me thinking more on what would relax me…a hot bath w/a good book w/o a little one knocking on the door, going shopping for things to organize my home…Great article, thanks for sharing! What the mainstream might define as relaxing for the majority REALLY isn’t REAL is it? 😉

  13. Kelly the Kitchen Kop

    Yep, I think you hit the nail on the head AGAIN.

    For me it’s being caught up on the blog and email (but the problem is that it’s so RARE) and even more importantly, having time to sit down with my iPhone calendar and ORGANIZE my to-do list. If I’m so crazy and running so much that I don’t even get 5 minutes to re-order my day and make sure I’m not forgetting anything huge (it’s happened many times!), then THAT has me all in a tizzy.

    What really frustrates me is that it robs me of JOY in the meantime, and fills me with guilt for not “enjoying every minute with the kids because they grow up so fast”, blah blah blah…

    I try to tell myself, “THIS is our time, when we’ll look back and wish we’d lived in the moment more.” But when I’m feeling so disordered, it’s just impossible for me to do. Or it seems to be impossible anyway.

    Your post has helped me realize even more how important it is to STOP for even 2 minutes and regroup so there’s a better CHANCE at that ‘joy in the moment’ thing.

    Thanks Jen!


  14. Karen Bell

    I relate 100 percent!! This is so insightful and I will remember these tips going forward. Thanks Jennifer!

  15. Elisa | blissfulE

    My first comment on your new site. 🙂 Love it!

    You are my hero, Jen, and I think this mental breakthrough of yours will be a terrific help to me, too. Thank you!

  16. Stephanie

    Yes. Me too.

    Though reading this helped clarify something I had not put into words. My husband and I both always expect “time away” to energize me – like going to get my hair cut, running errands, or going out with a friend. Those things are nice, and certainly they are nicer when I can do them alone, but they are not energizing. It’s always been a frustration to come home from them tired, when my husband feels like, “but you just had time to yourself. How can you be tired?” There is a huge difference between time alone to get things done, and time alone to regroup. Thanks for putting my head into words for me. =)

  17. Amy @ Consecrated Housewife

    Nailed it with this one, how many times have I gone to get my hair done only to come home feeling stressed out? And, yes, writing does help me feel like I can cope. This post is actually an answer to a prayer conversation I had yesterday with God. Thank you!

  18. Jules

    Actually this is hugely helpful and I’ll probably think about it all day, though I know at least one “clean up” activity already. Work has been rough lately and I took last week off. All I wanted to do was go walk in the woods, which I did a lot. Work hasn’t changed at all this week, but I’m totally fine with it now.

    Thanks for the post!

  19. Kirsten

    Oh my goodness, yes!! Yes, yes, yes.

    See the head of that nail? You hit it.

  20. Meredith

    I get it– this describes me near perfectly. Also explains why my hair is long overdue for a cut while my library bag is bulging with interesting reads (when given time to myself, I’d rather recharge at the library branch than the salon around the corner!)

  21. Lisa Rose

    Excellent post. Your insights provide so much food for thought. I’m too slow at writing for it to be relaxing but boy, when my desk (where “everything that needs to be attended to” gets thrown)is completely covered, as it is now, I just feel agitated and unsettled. For me, cleaning up my desk = mental cleaning, now that you mention it. Think I’ll do that right now.

  22. KimP

    I think it is important to realize that what is relaxing for others may not be relaxing to you. I finally admitted that pedicures, while relaxing and luxurious for other people, stress me out. I can think of ten other things that would relax me more, but there was a time when I was frustrated because the pedicure was SUPPOSED to be relaxing. So why was I all stressed and resentful of the time I spent in the chair with someone working on my feet???? I have finally realized that what makes other people happy doesn’t necessarily make me happy, and I need to focus on activities that make me relax, no matter how geeky or uncool they are.

  23. Katrina

    Yes! All so true. I really need some mental organization to happen around here.

  24. Lynne

    You can’t even understand how much posts like this encourage me. I mean the part about the crayon on the crock pot and the picture with the potty on your hearth, and especially the part about snapping even after having a relaxing afternoon with no kids. Truly, I thank you!

  25. Sandy

    When I read your blogs I feel like you are my (more creative) twin, expressing what I often can’t! This insight will change my life. Thank you!

  26. Lynne

    And unrelated to mental clutter, but apropos of “Incredible Hulk Mode”–I find that taking 1200 mg of calcium each day has made an astounding improvement in my {mental} life. Who knew?

  27. Cathy

    Yep, me too!
    I used to find it weird that when I would be stressing out, that one thing that seemed to calm me was balancing the checkbook, and getting entries caught up in Quicken. Go figure. I also relax to a well written book, or by writing in my journal.

  28. Happy

    Thank you so much, Jen. I *started* my day stressed and overwhelmed – and your post totally pinpointed my problem: mental clutter. Time to go clean it up!

  29. REM

    I just read this while waiting for my mother in law to pick up my toddler for the afternoon. I was stressing over what to say when she asks me what I’ll be doing with my time, because I am embarrassed to admit I plan on spending the whole day just writing instead of cleaning or doing something productive…. This is exactly what I needed to hear!

  30. Pam

    This is me! Lots of guilt for “getting away” and doing relaxing fun things but still snapping left and right. This is summer when my grandmother died it was the biggest mental overload of my life and I had to keep going with every day life and even getting to the point of doubting the existence of God because I wasn’t able to process what just happened and what death is really all about. I just lived the funeral nightmare over and over in my head while making sandwiches and doing homeschooling. I was given the gift of going on a silent retreat. To read and write and just process everything that was going on in my head. Best. Thing. I could have done.
    Thank you for the post!

  31. Dorothy K.

    Thank you so much for sharing this huge insight into problem solving in your life. I feel this way when my husband and I do not make time to clean up our mental/emotional messes. I love the comments your readers shared, too!

  32. Emily

    This was exactly what I needed to read! I have just started my first sememster of college and I have been wondering why I did not feel relaxed and while I felt to stressed after a good day. This explains it. Writing is my favorite thing to do. When I blog, the world just relaxs and I feel so happy. Now to find other things that make me feel that way! Thank you for sharing this insight!!! I will be praying for you!

  33. Georg.

    I totally understand!
    I’m a list-maker. Once everything is listed & prioritized, it doesn’t seem so unmanageable. And I love crossing things off my list as I go!

  34. Erin

    Yup. I’ve been reading/working through Jon Acuff’s book “Start” and it’s helped me order my brain… when I do it.

  35. Sara

    I need to talk with your friend….because I don’t consider myself a writer at all, at all, but I find that that time out with friends or the salon doesn’t refresh me, either. The mess is still there when I get home. I wish I knew the answer!

    • Jennifer Fulwiler

      The thought exercise she suggested that helped so much was this:

      She told me to imagine a “perfect” day (something realistic though — no spontaneous trips to Hawaii). We walked through each hour of it, and she’d stop and say “Why would that make it ‘good’? Would it still be a ‘good’ day if that didn’t happen?” It was very revealing.

  36. Melanie B

    Yes! I hadn’t thought about it in terms of mental housekeeping. That metaphor makes so much sense though. This is why I blog. I need to be able to order my thoughts and create a neat mental space. People ask me how I find time to write, I think this will help me to formulate a better answer. I find time to write because writing is what keeps me sane. Same thing with reading. I can go stretches without writing if I’m reading a good book and I can go stretches without reading if I’m writing frequently, but I have to have time each day to do one or the other.

  37. stasha

    Oh my goodness!!!! This is it!!!!! I was wondering why some days I feel better even with less time off compared to going out with other moms for few hours…..why after haircut or pedicure I feel more exhausted than after reading a book until 2 in the morning…..I now know why shopping for clothes leaves me on a verge of a mental break down vs grocery shopping when I pull my list out and start crossing things off and checking off may have saved my sanity with this post…..thank you again

  38. Cristina @ Filling my Prayer Closet

    I know exactly what this craziness feels like. I didn’t realize it until after I spoke on Sunday about some things in my childhood that I’d been carrying around with me for a while. I keep all of “that” kind of stuff neatly packed away in boxes in my head. Because, I too, am a mental neat freak. I think, without realizing, I dusted off a box opened it up and shared it with my parish, because it’s too cluttered in my head, you know? Anyway, thanks for making sense of it. I transcribed my talk here…
    Have a Blessed week,

  39. Amy

    As I read this I felt as though you had crawled inside my head! I feel the same way, though I have never really articulated it quite like this. I try to schedule time with a babysitter regularly so I can go away and write for a while, which is critical to prevention of Incredible Hulk mode in my world. Love this post! And I love the new blog look!

  40. elizabethe

    ME. me. me. I have this happen all the time. My mental de-cluttering exercises are reading a book, writing, and making a schedule or a list or browsing a bookstore alone. I find taking 10 seconds when I can feel that stress starting to build up — but also don’t have time to sit down and read or to write anything — to just jot down all the things I need to do in the next 2 hours (or whatever) and then assign an estimated time I am going to do them really really helps.

    I have a feeling this is something like a temporal/information processing issue. And there are two aspects I need to make the decluttering effective in addition to the thing you talk about in the post about how writing helps to clarify unformed thoughts.

    1. Putting time on paper. My brain can’t automatically tell whether or not I can fit all of the things I have to do into my given time slot and so I have to “do the work” and write it down. When I do this I find that my brain is a terrible time estimator and I am stressed out for NO reason at all. I always overestimate how long things will take unless I really sit down and think about it. What I think will take 30 minutes usually takes about 10.

    Spending an hour or two to make a long-term schedule is REALLY REALLY helpful to me.

    2. Losing track of time. The importance of having a time period of “losing myself” where I am just not aware of time is really key. Reading, writing a blog comment, browsing in a bookstore or library where I don’t have to worry about when I have to be somewhere else. I love getting a pedicure or my hair done or a massage, but can you ever truly “lose yourself” when a stranger is touching you?

    When it’s all said and done, I usually just need maybe an hour of this every other day but it is so crucial to my mental health.

  41. Allison

    What a wonderful friend!

  42. Kendra

    And not only is the process of writing itself calming, when I’m done, I’ve sorted out how I feel about one particular issue.

    As the great (and recently maligned by me) Flannery O’Connor said: “I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.”

    • Caroline M.

      I like that quote! That describes it exactly.

  43. Jean G

    I could just ditto what many others have written above. I’m a big fan of yours, and have been ever since we were first introduced (on Choices We Face.) But it wasn’t until this post that I fully comprehended the reason. You speak to my inner brain-in-a-jar. (I owe you for that apt visual too.) This insight you shared today–courtesy of the ministry of a great friend–is helping me in ways I cannot begin to describe. Wished I’d understood it sooner–I’m retirement age–but better late than never. Thank you SO much for sharing!

  44. Em

    Have you ever heard of the book, The Highly Sensitive Person by Dr. Elaine Aron? I think you might enjoy it. I had a lot of lightbulb moments when I read it and it really helped!

  45. The Surly Mermaid

    Thank you.

    I mean that.

    Thank you.

  46. Mark S.

    Well done. This is very important. One little addition: please don’t demand too much of yourself that it becomes a stress when you don’t get the mental mess under control immediately. Oh, and please forget about trying to prevent it. Roll with it. You have it.

  47. LPatter

    This is so me. I am an ENFP, so connection with people is big for me, but if you read the ENFP overview (which I did recently) I saw that we’re the only extroverts that act like introverts sometimes – because we have to have mental clarity that our actions line up with our deeply held principles. I also, because of my P, have to work hard for planning, order, and deadlines, which are a necessary part of my state in life right now. I was so relieved to find that yes, I am an introverted-extrovert because I had begun to be very, very confused. I think that’s why I also relate but find your writing (and self-analysis) so interesting – I relate strongly to your N and P but find your I and T refreshing 🙂 My hubby is an INTP. Soooo good to do this kind of analysis – and have someone remind us we’re not (a) lazy (b) another life form (c) crazy. 🙂

    • Jennifer Fulwiler

      Isn’t it amazing how helpful it is to know these things about yourself? I think I used to think it was a little self-indulgent to put too much thought into your personality type, but I’ve found it to be invaluable in helping me overcome my weaknesses. 🙂

  48. Laura

    I am definitely the same way! My relaxing activities are reading a good book, crafting, and going for walks with my husband.

  49. Jenny

    yessssssss. on ever level. and explains why i was still such a crabby wife to my sweet husband even after a trip to the salon and a night out with my sister last week. i was mentally exhausted from the socializing/small talk that both ‘relaxing’ occasions cost me. such a huge insight Jen!

  50. Caroline M.

    Thank you so much! This was a really big epiphany for me, because I also have days in which I engage in “fun, happy things” or even luxurious things, but I still feel like eating people by night-time. Although for me the solutions are less word-driven, because I work with words at a computer screen in an office all day. For those of us dealing with words all the time, it can help to get away from words (including talking to people, listening to music with lyrics, etc) and engage in something word-less like listening to instrumental music or physical activity – that way we can actually process what the heck is going on. Good stuff.

    • Jennifer Fulwiler

      This is a great insight. I remember a time when I was writing a lot when I worked, and it was definitely helpful to step away from that in order to unwind!

  51. Denise

    Yes, I live in my head all the time, too. Your insight rang thoroughly true to me! I get to the point where I’ll tell the kids, “I need you all to be quiet for xx minutes – Mommy’s head is full.” And I’ll just be honest that my head “being full” means grumpy Mommy is there for a visit, please forgive me for letting her get invited. 🙂

  52. TheReluctantWidow

    Yes, thank you. Now I understand my own moods. Some days, I can have entire day to myself so to speak, but the day is filled with meeting someone for ice tea, getting my nails done or a hair cut, etc. And so I come home after being away from my kids for several hours and within 30 minutes I want to hide in my bedroom and never come out. Now I understand. It’s because I didn’t do the things that help me to order the chaos that is my brain. I had no real “downtime” which I need so badly, horrible introvert that I am. This insight is something I am going to ponder so that I can find the things that really breathe calm and order into my life so I can handle whatever else gets thrown at me. Please give your friend a hug from me – She is awesome! (You are too. I really appreciate you sharing!)

  53. Joanie

    Thank you and BLESS you! This explains a lot for me and how I’m wired and what I can do to help myself. Thank you for sharing!

  54. Shauna

    Wow. Just wow! A huge shout-out and thank you to this clarity for me. I stay home with 3 loud ADHD kids who are all under the age of 7. I want to live with the joy of the Lord and speak graciously (Prov. 16:24) but find that, like Paul, I often do that which I do not want to do, such as speak harshly or too bluntly or unkindly. Now I can put into words what shoots me over the edge as I , too, am NOT ‘re-fueled by hair salons, playdates, or phone conversations(unless they are with deep-thinkers such as your friend who helped you arrive at these understandings found in this post). Thank you for this. My husband will now gain great insight into me when I get him to read this. I know I am a neat freak physically (my house, me)… adding mental neat freak to my personality traits helps explain why I get so drained by life with kids. The revelations here are invaluable. Thank you for your insights.

  55. Anne McD

    Okay. First of all, writers of the world, UNITE!!! There is something about the written word, whether its coming out your fingertips or reading someone else’s, that seems to take the etch a sketch of your brain and shakes it clear again. Case in point: I finished a book about a homeless girl turned single mother who had a love affair with flowers that spoke for her when she couldn’t, and I walked away from that book more patient and wanting to be with my kids. It wasn’t another self help book, but it touched my soul and spoke to me in such a way, not as a mother, but just to me, that I felt refreshed and ready to take on the next thing. I heated somewhere that “me” time is good and right, if it refreshes you so that you are now able to go back to your work and do it well. Ironically, aromatheraputic hair cuts do not constitute “me” time for you. I guess that will have to come under plain old needs that just have to be met. Darn. 🙂

  56. Iona

    The timing of this post could not have been better. 🙂 I’m going to forward this to all of my friends now!

  57. LaRisa

    I just found your blog from a post on facebook, but I so relate. I spent all day Saturday on a girls day out retreat, and then came back Sunday and was so grumpy. Now I know why!!:) I don’t know that writing is therapeutic for me, but I’ll figure out what is!!:) Thanks for the tips!!:)

  58. Iris

    YES. I think we overlook mental relaxation, especially if we fall into the category of “people who live in their brains,” as important as physical relaxation. We are body AND mind AND soul after all.

    I’ve discovered that one sure way to let my mind rest and reorganize is watching Duck Dynasty. Yes, Duck Dynasty. It’s a good show, it’s funny, it’s ridiculous. For half an hour, my mind takes a break for analyzing and thinking and reanalyzing and just, has fun.

  59. Erin

    I think you’re on to something here! Lol I can completely relate.
    This will probably be one of your most popular posts and with good reason. Thanks so much for sharing your story!

  60. AnnF

    Mental defragmenting!! I relate perfectly, thank you for putting it so clearly. Now to insert the joy back in after my mind has been defragmented 🙂

  61. TanyaO

    Yes! Wow, yes. I’d like to say something more articulate in response, but, yeah….. the clutter……

  62. Edi

    Nerdy introverts, unite! I am completely floored by your epiphany. It answers a huge question mark that has been hanging over my own head forever. Even though I am not a “Writer”, I am a person who has to get stuff out on paper to process- integrate- accept – and act on things in my life. This just makes so much sense to me. I am so glad you shared this with the rest of us. Thanks. So glad I don’t have to feel bad anymore that my attempts at “relaxing” or “pampering” don’t fit the bill for me.

  63. Laura

    This is exactly how I’ve been feeling lately. I might have to try that Hulk method of throwing the car in the tree and see if that works. If it doesn’t, I will sit down and contemplate all that you have written because I think that somewhere amongst the knot in my head I will find clarity in those words. I’ll just need to think about what types of things give me that mental order that I know I crave. Thank you.

  64. Becca

    Yes! Thank you for this!

    I’ve been reading your words and nodding along and sharing with friends for a couple years. This is my first comment, though I would’ve or should’ve commented with praise on many many other posts! I just didn’t have the brain power to put words to my messy thoughts!

    I have been having similar ephiphanies about myself lately, and it is so comforting to know I am not alone, not crazy, not lazy, not less-than. I just recently started asking for help with my little ones so that I could have some space to mentally recharge. Rowdy moms’ night outs weren’t doing it, nor was grocery shopping by myself, or the other things I was trying (though they were all great fun!) I need (relatively) big blocks of time by myself.

  65. Catherine @ Catholic Mom Apologia

    This is so insightful! I’ve been so busy the last few weeks I’ve hardly taken any time to reflect and I am feeling it. Nothing like a good book and some time to blog and everything seems better. My problem is when I can’t tear myself away and then the afternoon/evening routine is shot–maybe that wouldn’t happen if I gave myself that time every day.

  66. Jen

    Ah, I’m so glad you feel this way too! I’ve been keeping a journal since high school and it realllllllly helps me stay sane. Just gotta get everything out sometimes. Blogging helps too!

    Not sure if you’re familiar with the 4 temperaments, but I’m totally a melancholic and it sounds like you might be one too! We live in our heads a lot 🙂

  67. Dawn

    This is classic Introvert behavior. I don’t know what your type is, but there are even some Extroverts that have this trait. Susan Cain’s book _Quiet_ and Adam McHugh’s book _Introverts in the Church_ have some great insights on the type of processing that’s happening in the brain and why writing and thinking time is so helpful in this “clean up” that you describe. I am TOTALLY like you. I need time to get my brain untangled and re-ordered, and the best way to do that for me is to write. With making art being a close second.

  68. Apparent Tales

    YES!!! I can completely, completely relate! Thank you for putting into words what I didn’t even realize I’m always feeling, but you are so right! At the beginning of summer I had an entire weekend “off” to go to my sister’s bachelorette stay-caction. I did have to bring my 2 month old, but one 2 month old is a vacation from 4 under 5 years of age. I came home furiously cranky and emotionally exhausted. My poor husband tried to understand what went wrong. Did I not have fun? Did I sleep poorly? Where the young bucks too young to keep up with? But it wasn’t the girls, it wasn’t him or the even kids overly excited to see me-ness. I missed them terribly, so why couldn’t I just be refreshed and grateful to see them? Now I get it! It was me! I need routine, I need time to write/read (alone in my own head) and I need to exercise. Even two days without at least some of those aspects is very hard for me when so much else is expected of me with all the responsibility we carry having a big family. My problem is these types of “relaxation” or release activities (especially reading and writing) can’t be done quickly. I get more frustrated if I have to be interrupted when I’m on a roll. So then what?!! How much time do you get a day to write/read? How?

    • elizabethe

      Yes. This is where I am. I get so frustrated when i am interrupted, it’s almost better to not start. I keep desperately trying to schedule in the time to write, but it’s not enough to really get lost. I know I need to write, I desperately want to write, but there is no time. and no resources to make the time.

      Maybe a prayer to Francis de Sales and St. Michael are in order in times like this. I know I feel like I’m in a battle with my own head.

  69. Ashley Anderson

    I know probably a million people commented something along the lines of ditto but I’ll go ahead and make it a million plus one. You couldn’t have worded it better. This is so perceptive and articulate and wonderful. And me! And this comment up above by Dawn–I’m going on to our lib website to put holds on those books right now. (Oh, and I linked to this piece in my blog today. Maybe a miracle will happen and a few more people will find your wonderful blog this way. 😉

  70. Michele Zagorski

    I am the same way, except I need to spend time in my workshop making skin care products. I think a large part of it has to do with CREATING…you create stories, I create organic skin care. I also believe much of it has to do with focusing carefully and completely on ONE THING, and BEING ALONE.

    • Jennifer Fulwiler

      Yes! I think there is a direct connection there. A friend of mind finds that sewing is the activity that helps her bring order to her world, in exactly the same way that writing does for me. Thanks for the great insight!

  71. MargoB

    Jen, I *love* your posts about Things Introvert!! I’ve wrestled with some of the same things you post about, and always enjoy your insights into how to find/gain fruitfulness in/from them.

    Don’t quit with those!

    And THANKS!

  72. caroline

    Thank you for writing this. I am wired like you are, so your realizations give me insights into me. And I agree with the 1st commenter – crossword puzzles are great for me to unwind.

  73. Elizabeth K.

    Oh. my. gosh. First, you described my last two weeks–which have actually not involved a spa, at all, which is sad, and have involved going back to work, but i couldn’t figure out why I have been so angry, especially at the end of the day. I though it was the heat. Well, it probably was, somewhat, but I think it’s something a lot like what you just said. Wow.

  74. Maura


    I was taken by your comment that you thought that you might just be perpetually ungrateful, which I thought was odd, until I remembered that when I was at home raising small children I thought I was perpetually selfish for wanting some time alone every day. Both comments are self-blaming, when actually the situation itself is so demanding that blame is not a word that should be thrown around like that:) because you are doing a hero’s job.

    Also, I am the 6th of 8 children – all born within 12 years. But I come from your parents’ generation, and my mother was accustomed to big families, so she had a couple of things going for her that perhaps mothers today don’t. First, she called on younger relatives – cousins, etc. to be mothers’ helpers. So the summer my mother was pregnant with me, with five children under 8, my cousin Pat spent the summer with us as to help out. I repaid some of my mother’s debts. The summer I was 14 I spent two weeks with Pat’s brother’s family of five children under 7. The summer I was 16 I was a mother’s helper to Pat’s family, which included 4 children under 4. Mothers today with big families – or just families – could benefit from that kind of networking.
    Secondly, my mother had the benefit of generations of raising large families, so just as some people pass on the family trade secrets, she knew many of the ways to organize and manage “the troops.” Not saying that you and other mothers today don’t have those skills, but suggesting that expectations were different on many levels, and they started out with plenty of experience.

    God Bless you and your husband for generously raising a big family and thank you for sharing your family life with us.

    • Jennifer Fulwiler

      That’s such an important point, Maura. There are a lot of conveniences that we modern moms have available to us that previous generations did not, but in many ways it’s harder since our society is so fragmented and we don’t have all the benefits that come with living in generations-old communities. Thanks for your wise words!

  75. Jessica

    Could you please share the source for the lovely icon over your fireplace? Is it your cousin’s work? I’ve been looking for a holy family piece of art for my kitchen and can’t find the perfect one!

    • Jennifer Fulwiler

      Yes, it’s my cousin’s work. He gave us the original! Isn’t it amazing? It’s my favorite thing that I own.

  76. Meg

    YES. For my entire life, I’ve struggled to get the other people in my life to understand that “going out to relax” does not relax me. Sitting at home, with only the people who live there (preferably just the dog, really), is fine. My mother will invite me out to dinner “to relax” and while the lack of prep, cooking, and dishes is nice, the going out and being around other people part completely cancels it out.

    I’ve found that knitting while either listening to podcasts or watching television on the computer is the best way to tidy up my mind. It keeps my hands busy (and makes presents! always on the to-do lists) but lets much of my mind wander around and solve problems and sort out situations.

  77. Monica

    Wow. Thanks for posting this, because I think I’m a mental neat freak, too. I get crazy (like, staying awake at night because I think I’m going to forget something — yeah, good move!) when I don’t have mental order, and this school year has been so much more smooth because I have my Evernote lists and my online calendar and my weekly calendar all lined up.

    Of course, I’d love it if my house was clean, too…

  78. Jodi Dauses

    I LOVE LOVE LOVE this! I can go out to get a pedicure, have dinner with a friend, escape the chaos here for few hours and STILL not feel “relaxed”. I also couldn’t put my finger on why until my hubby pushed me. “I just need to clear my mind – to relax- to WRITE!”

    You articulated so well how I feel. Thanks for the encouragement. I also am a convert to Catholicism and have been following God’s wild ride for my life we are expecting our fourth baby.
    I’m “scratching” out my learning here

  79. Bonnie

    Im a INFJ. My very first thought about this post was, my gosh, how did you expect, as an introvert, that going to a salon and (presumably) interacting with people would refresh you? You should already know interactions with others DRAIN your energy. It’s no surprise to me that you interacting with six kids every day, even though they are your heart walking around in human form, will drain your psychic energy and quickly put you in the red zone in a matter of hours. What you need for refreshment is ALONE time. ALONE. How does a wife and the mother of six kids who homeschools get alone time every day? Well, writing of course. And you mention jogging with music or reading. Someone on here mentioned sewing, which is really a great one.
    I grew up in a family of eight. All of us in a three bedroom house often made me crazy. My alone time as a teenager was soaking in the bathtub (at 11pm after everyone else was in bed) while reading the Readers Digest. Wonderful! Interesting, informative, wholesome light reading.
    When I went to college my roommate was such an extrovert it made my head spin, and it drove me crazy. She was a wonderful girl and friend, but she made me weary. She was so very offended when I would seek to get away from her! I really suffered because there was no peace and quiet in the dorms, no place to be alone. I spent a lot of time very upset and feeling horrible. Then I found the best time to be alone was on Friday and Saturday nights when all the extroverts would empty the dorms to fill up the bars. Ahhhh. Peace at last. Time to think.
    I think you have to figure out where in your busy and full life you’ll be able to get your necessary alone time. It’s as vital to us introverts as the air we breathe. Personally, I recommend a long soak in the tub (bubbles optional) with the Readers Digest!

  80. Marie

    I can really relate to this post, Jen. In addition, I feel frazzled when I neglect my housekeeping duties and meal prep, for what I believe at the moment is more beneficial to society. Church work, pro-life work, play date organizer, music ministry, etc. all feel good while I’m doing them, but I become crabby and edgy when my daily duties fall to the wayside and I remember I haven’t made supper or done laundry in 3 days and there’s no bread or milk in the house.

    My main job is to be keeper of the home, and love on my hubby and kids. If I would stick to these, I would have an element of calmness surrounding my days.

    Could you write about this?

  81. Megan at SortaCrunchy

    Well OBVIOUSLY you struck a chord here! And I so completely understand what you are talking about. Yep. Get it completely.

    (Can I just say that my miracle cure for the Red Zone anxiety is Rescue Remedy spray? Two sprays on the tongue and a few minutes later, I am a much, much more Zen’ed-out mama. For those days when you just can’t get to the keyboard.)

  82. Kelly @ Love Well

    I get this – not in the “I’m just like you” way, but in the way that’s simpatico, that says, “I’m not identical, but we are the same.

    My big revelation lately is that the ways I recharge are often vastly different than the ways my friends recharge. People kept saying to me, “You are so stressed with all that solo parenting and the four kids and everything. Why don’t you go to a coffee shop and just read a book for a few hours?” And I would think to myself, “Why DON’T I do that? That sounds delightful.” But another part of myself recoiled at the idea, because I think that part of me knows that is not what refreshes me.

    I’m still figuring this out, by the way. So don’t hold either of my internal selves to any of their revelations yet. Your post is just another brick in the wall of my discovery. (Link in the chain? Another cotton ball in the jar?) (I’m tired.)

  83. Monica Benninghoff

    I clean my house best after I’ve cleaned my utility room. If the laundry area is clean and tidy, it makes ALL the difference!

  84. Bonnie

    I wrote a comment earlier, but after I hit “submit” it never showed up. So I’m going to try again. Hope this time it takes.
    I’m an INFJ (Myers-Briggs profile.) The first thought that occurred to me after I read your post was, my gosh, as an introvert you should know going to a salon and (presumably) interacting with people there was going to drain some of your energy, not refresh you. In fact, your life as a wife, and mother of six who homeshools is a massive energy drain on you every day. Your introverted self needs time to recharge, and that means time being ALONE. So it’s no surprise writing, or jogging to music, or reading are recharging activities for you.
    I grew up in a family of six kids in a three bedroom house. Needless to say my family members drove me crazy. We’re all introverts to some degree, even my parents, so no one thought it weird when any of us sought solitude. I remember even as a little kid I liked to sit in the closet or lie under a bed for part of the day. (Later my mom told me she thought that was a little weird, but she never tried to stop me doing it.) When I grew older I was a voracious reader. As a teenager, the most refreshing and rejuvenating time for me was late at night after everyone else went to bed and I could soak in the tub with the Readers Digest. Wonderful! Light, informative, wholesome reading while taking a bubble bath! Ahhh! In college my roommate was such an extrovert it made my head spin. She was a lovely girl and a good friend, but she was very offended when I sought to get away from her. The dorm was constantly noisy, and I spent a lot of time feeling horrible and exhausted. Pre-Myers-Briggs, it was hard to understand what was wrong and why I couldn’t find a comfort zone. Later I realized my problem was that I never could find quiet time and quiet space for recharging myself. Even the library was “noisy” with low talking and whispering. The quietest time in the dorm was on Friday and Saturday evenings when most of the extroverts left the dorms and filled the bars!
    I don’t know how, with your responsibilities and obligations you’ll be able to carve out solitude for yourself, but it’s as vital to you as the air you breathe. I hope you’ll realize your need for alone time is not just some kind of selfish exercise in narcissism, but an essential part of your mental and emotional health, and without it you won’t ever be able to cope with the busyness of your life and the needs of those who depend on you.

    • Bonnie

      Opps! I just saw my previous post has showed up! Sorry for the rehash!

  85. Jeni

    I’m like in the depressed hulk mode I guess. Just had this “conversation” with the hubby this morning about how his job is more stressful (it is of course really stressful) but mine is just dealing with the kids, and yet I still have breakdowns and can’t manage to keep the house clean. He’s even watched all 3 littles for hours at a time and concluded I just need to google how to clean the house.

    Well Jen, I am glad I got around to reading this today. I did google how to clean a house with small kids and all I need to do is spend 15 minutes shining my sink, wiping down counters and making the bed. I had no idea the bed was my source of crazy. I thought it was the baskets of toys and dirty and clean laundry cascading over ever surface of the house while the 8 month old simultaneously bites me but won’t let me do anything but nurse him! SO needless to say, your post was the most relatable and helpful thing I’ve read today on the Internet.

    Deep breaths! Now if only cleaning brought mental peace. Or being bit by the baby was my zen. Darn. I’ll try to be mindful of what recharges me. I could use that lightening bolt revelation. Does your friend do private consultations? I need a good friend like that!!

    As always Jen, thanks for this. <3

  86. Jeni

    Also is it very strange that I found my last dental cleaning and filling appointment highly relaxing? Someone explain that to me.

    I’m just starved for attention I think.

  87. Julie

    Oh, how I can identify. It keeps hitting home to me (namely via outbursts directed at my children), that I need to get my mental space in order so that I can handle reality. And that a lot of that depends on getting my physical space in order. All those piles on the floor, all those dirty dishes, all those papers waiting to be filed away and things waiting to be written on to my calendar — they’re like blinking neon signs flashing “work, work, work” at me everywhere I look. Sigh. I’m really feeling it today. So are my poor boys.

  88. Mama A

    I NEVER come back from the salon relaxed, lol. The thought of making chit chat with all of those people for about two hours straight leaves me more mentally exhausted than when I went in (massages are a different story though, because massage therapists usually don’t talk to you!). I’ve started getting my hair cut early in the morning and then stopping by a coffee shop with a good book for an hour before heading home!

  89. Jen Arch

    Praise the Lord, there is someone else like me out there. My house is in constant disaster. I am bitterly angry that I never have enough alone time. So I finally started journaling again after a long haitus and it DOES help, at least for me to clarify. And I agree with Mama A…I never ever want to talk to anyone when I am at the dentist/getting haircut, manicure, etc (which are few and far between anyway). Thank you for writing this!

  90. Jenna@CallHerHappy

    First of all, I feel like I am reading a whole new blog with this new look. It’s awesome!

    And second of all, I am a list maker. That’s how I clean my head. I need to get it out by writing it down.

  91. Tamie

    Yes, yes, yes! I recently took the Myers Briggs and scored as an INFJ. Life is making a lot more sense now. I have always loved logic puzzles, griddlers, things like that because they help me feel like I’m puuting my brain back in order. Lately I’ve been into candy crush and its gotten me through many rough days. Somehow getting all those three in a rows just makes me feel ordered and relaxed. And I tend to solve a lot of problems while I am playing.

    • Bee

      I’m an INFJ too! I read that we’re very rare; 1% of the population. That made me feel better because I so seldom find others who “get” me and have wondered why I can’t seem to make really good girlfriends. And so true about the logic puzzles: I can spend hours trying to figure out which person out of Abbey, Betsy, Carol, Darlene and Ellen was wearing the white, blue, green, pink or yellow bathing cap and on which days she went to the pool! It’s so true the sorting out of life seems to happen while those executive functions are busy.

  92. KelleyAnnie @ Over the Threshold

    This actually sounds very familiar to me, which is a bit surprising because I think in general, we are not all that similar in our personality types (what you’ve mentioned you are on Myers-Briggs). But I definitely get having that feeling that everything is totally stressful when from the outside, it looks like it shouldn’t have been. Maybe the difference with us is that yours is logic and concrete even driven while mine is emotional and abstract stress (as a Feeler, vs. you, a Thinker). I also find that writing is the BEST way to straighten all that out.

  93. Carolyn @ 4Life4Life

    This post helped me a lot. I first read your FB post and commented under that– I definitely recommend you staying away from getting a personal account. Visiting FB absolutely clutters my mind and this post helped me to see that more clearly than what I originally wrote in my comment from your Facebook post.
    Thank you for writing this, Jen.

    • Carolyn @ 4Life4Life

      … I find myself mindlessly gravitate to FB during my down time and I will spend a half hour there, when I could be writing. I walk away from FB more agitated and stressed out, and I don’t even realize it. This is why I recommended you not do Facebook. I have never taken blogging terribly serious, and more as an outlet. Your post helped me to reflect on the times when I feel most energized and willing to do household tasks– AFTER I’VE WRITTEN.

  94. Krista

    I agree about the book-versus-tv thing. Books calm me in a way tv can’t. Part of it is the actual noise–tv produces sound waves while book does not. And part of it is that tv pushes you along its road and makes you passive, while books lead you along but require you to be active. Reading and imagining the story as you read is stimulating. Tv does all the work for you and is deadening, but not restful.

  95. Jennifer g.

    That’s how I feel about talking with girlfriends or my mom. It helps me organize my brain. And I can tell when I haven’t had a good chat. I’ve never thought about I now I need to organize everything up there though. I just I needed connection and release, but you hit the nail on the head. Thanks for the insight!

  96. Carolyn

    I second Em’s comment above. Definitely read The Highly Sensitive Person by Elaine Aron. It is not so much sensitivity in the sense of getting your feelings hurt, but having a highly tuned nervous system (research proves it’s genetic), so your stimulation threshold is lower than most people. There are many blessings for this as well, one being creativity and another intuition and empathy. Also, Quiet by Susan Cain, about introversion is very good! Thanks for this post, Jennifer!

  97. Denise P.

    Thank you for putting into words what I have been trying to sort out all week. I am the literal neat freak. I like to clean and make lists. All week I have battled in my head that cleaning is not as important as playing with my little one. And I know that it is not. But on the days or weeks when the actual mess is out of control and I haven’t taken the time to write a list of things that need to get done I find I get crabby and irritable and never feel rested. Now I just need to find the balance between spending time with the kiddo and completing the housework so that everyone’s needs, including my own, are met.

  98. Barbara

    Thank you so much for this! My husband can never understand why working through my to-do list is more calming to me than watching a movie or otherwise “relaxing.”

  99. Victoria

    I completely get this! I am the same. I often will think that I don’t have time to make lists so I will try to get things done with out one but most times I just can’t. It stresses me out. I find I am more relaxed and work more efficiently if I just give myself 5 minutes to brain dump all the things spiraling around in my head onto paper first and then start working at it, even if I never refer to my list again until the end of the day I find I will have gotten more done with less stress if all I did was write it.

  100. Joy

    I am a first time reader and I LOVED this! (I found it through Simple Mom weekend links) I am also an INTP and am not a writer, but I finally gave myself permission to “doodle” (or you can call it art/zentangle) on a regular basis – especially when my mind is cluttered. I have also figured out that there is a link between my migraines and a cluttered mind. great post. Thanks!

  101. Lisagrace Alsbury

    Can I just say a HUGE thank you to your God-sent friend who listened to you and helped you process this?! Because I don’t know that I would have ever made this connection to my own life & tendencies without the two of you. Thank you for this, thank you, thank you, thank you.

  102. Kim P

    I can’t add anything more useful or insightful than what’s already been said, but I couldn’t resist saying, “AMEN! AMEN! AMEN!”

  103. Amelia@monogramsnmud

    I couldn’t agree with you more. I have started getting up at 5am to mental clean house for the day ahead of me otherwise I just can not manage. I don’t you’re alone at all…especially when it comes to stay at home moms with kids spanning the elementary, prek, & baby stages.

    Thanks for a great post!

  104. Emily

    Great post and so true! I usually realize when I find myself in a rut or overwhelmed, I need to sit down with my notebook of writing and just let it all out. I never read it again, I save the notebooks but I might as well throw them out. Barely anything is usable in my blog. BUT, I need the mental clarity that comes from writing everything down.

    It’s like when you clean a closet and you have to make a mess of the entire hallway or organize everything. That’s how it is in my head and when I finally get it down on paper. I can focus on what needs to be a priority and what I can get to later or consciously forget about if it doesn’t serve a purpose.

  105. Melissa M.

    Seriously this was the thing I needed on this fine Saturday morning!! So many things you said I could relate to myself perfectly. I have been there…more times than I care to count probably…where even getting away for a few hours doesn’t FIX what I think needs fixing. I used to work part-time and now I am a full-time SAHM. I struggle everyday with purpose and what that means for me particularly. It’s probably NOT the right way to see things, but it sometimes gives me comfort knowing I am not alone. I fly off the handle and often times can’t even tell you why. My answer is often “Just because” like my family should know what that means. Thanks for sharing this post and your thoughts…it definitely was a nice read and gave me a little perspective.

  106. Emily

    Oh my. This is fantastic insight! This is SO me and makes SO much sense. Why have I never put this together before!? Thank you for this!

    Our mental “clean-up” activities are very similar, too. Just never thought of them that way. Except I walk instead of jog. But yes, it must be to music.

  107. muriel

    I feel this way. I also feel stressed when the house is too messy, particularly the kitchen counter or entry.

  108. K

    For me, there are 3 different things I need to do when I get “personal” time: home-related stuff – meal planning, thinking about the different tasks that need to be done, etc; necessary “me” stuff – hair cuts, maybe a manicure, clothes shopping, maybe working out…; and MOST important REAL ME activities that may or may not qualify as “relaxing” but they REPLENISH my soul – deep conversation with a good friend, journaling, listening to my favorite music… I used to confuse “relaxing” with “replenishing” but had an epiphany like you that they are NOT the same!

  109. Cara {RedHouseDryGoods}

    I am so glad to see this put into words! I feel this way during the summer, when there is nowhere to hide, and on weekends when everyone needs something – especially when I start to work on something. I’m sad to say it, but sometimes (like right now, on a Saturday night) I find myself looking forward to Monday, when everyone goes back to where they go on Mondays and I can do the coupon clipping and grocery shopping in peace! Thank you, thank you for writing this, it feels so good to know I am not alone and not crazy!

  110. Erika Marie @ Simplemama

    As everyone else on the internet has said – thanks for this. It’s good to know we are all not quite so different after all. 😉
    If I had a day to myself, I wouldn’t mind some pampering time but, like you, I’d include some time for writing, reading and house cleaning/organizing – ALONE. But those days are akin to fantasy vacations – they come rarely, if ever.
    So what about the day-to-day survival? Yes, writing is a great way to organize my mental self but unless I hide from my family (they’d find me) or send them all away (which would take away the point of being a mom/wife), I can’t rely on writing or reading or any scheduled ‘alone time’ to stay sane on a DAILY basis. At least not in this season of family life when we have a baby that wakes up from what he considers “naps” too soon or when he does this every 20 – 40 minutes in the evening when I FINALLY have some time to myself. By the time I put him back to bed I’m so tired I can’t spell or think of any words beside um, a, and the.
    The problem is that, like you, I NEED writing time or my thoughts get too loud I can hardly hear anything else! But often times, I put this need higher than my calling to serve my family first, I see my kids as getting in the way of writing instead of my writing getting in the way of my primary vocation. It’s a tough balance.
    I find the end of the day/dinner prep time to be the hardest as well and definitely relate to your “hulk” analogy. But I can’t just stop making dinner and sit down and write for an hour instead (like I’d rather do). Right?
    So what I wonder is WHEN? When do you write and how do you balance your calling as a mom/wife with your “side” calling/career as a writer?

  111. renee

    What a brilliant breakthrough! You were speaking directly to me, it seems.
    Congrats on a successful session with your girlfriend!
    renee from minneapolis

  112. Amy Rogers Hays

    I love”when my down time is limited (which is always), I need to distinguish carefully between relaxation activities that do and don’t allow me that critical time to order my thoughts.” Because I too find that what’s relaxing on paper sometimes leaves me cranky by the end of the day, but of course there are great days without someone taking care of all my tasks. I’m not sure if my list is the same as yours as to what constitutes those things, but I’m going to try and pay attention in the coming weeks to what does and doesn’t clean up my brain!

  113. amy

    well stated. it took me a long time to figure out why i was exhausted by being around people. someone finally said to me that she experiences the same thing. we can actually enjoy the socialization but in the end feel like we’ve run a marathon. i have a very extroverted son who wears me out. sometimes i just have to say give me a little while.

  114. pam c

    Thank you…….

  115. marialaura

    Amen, Sister. My husband asks: why do I do Sudoku? Because IT IS THE ONLY AREA IN MY LIFE WHERE THERE IS ORDER. (How is that for a passive-aggresive answer???) EVEN IF I don’t get it right, it shows there’s order in the universe. Sorry. I’m a mother of 11!!!
    It is always fun AND ENLIGHTENED to read your site. Keep up the good work.



  116. Stasia

    Yes I can relate as well. For me, its either taking a nice hot bath or sun bathing that allow me to get my mind in order. I find that I get really grouchy if I don’t take the time to do this. I also find that I start to practice more and more unhealthy habits (like eating junk or drinking a lot) when I don’t take time for myself this way. It took me a while to realize this was true and longer to be comfortable taking that time for myself. But I’m a happier person and the people around me are happier too.

  117. WB

    I’m guessing others have posted this, but you do sound like an N on the Myers Briggs profile. I’m an S, and we’d love something like a massage, anything that is pleasant for the physical senses. We live in our physical environment. I mentally declutter when I clear off my kitchen counters. Also, being an introvert, I get even more out of it when I’m alone. In fact, when I do go to the salon for more than a quick cut, I bring a magazine and tell the pedicurist that it’s the first time I’ve had all day/week to have some peace and quiet and she seems to appreciate it. I give her the warmest smile I can and a nice tip and everyone is happy. Just a thought about how to enjoy those salon gift certificates more. Although, I’m guessing you’re an F, whereas I’m a T–an F values harmony more whereas a T tends to be on the blunt side. But you could always bring a book in your purse and ask if they’d mind, if it was a possibility. Or come early and read in the lobby while you wait. Reading helps me mentally declutter, too.

  118. Nicole

    I was thinking about this recently, about how just sitting down with my journal for 5 minutes seems to make a difference when things feel crazy. I wonder if it has to do with the fact that we are bombarded with information all day – kids’ stories, Facebook feeds, Pinterest, phone calls, emails, news articles, meetings, commercials – all things that we’re taking in. But with writing, we’re constructing and producing – pushing out instead of taking in. I think that makes a difference in my brain somehow. Thanks so much for this post.

  119. Deirdre

    A-ha! As in, wow, huge revelation that now seems so obvious. Thank you for sharing this—I’ve had that same exact experience, where a day with built-in “self-caring” like lunch with a friend turns into a harder than normal day. It reminds me of Gretchen Rubin’s truth that what is relaxing for others isn’t necessarily relaxing for you.

  120. Ellen

    Amen, this makes so much sense to me. I have a horrible time with both physical and mental clutter which is why “tidy the house” is near the top of the list of what relaxes me mentally. Outer order, inner order. (Given a weekend off, I will spend the first chunk of time putting the house in order, then enjoy the rest of it vastly more). Another would be making to-do lists for the coming week or for holiday preparation.

    Other than that, a massage (if the dear therapist is quiet), a good book from beginning to end, knitting something simple, writing, clearing out my inbox.

  121. Teresa Grodi

    Wow. This just helped me so much. People always thought I was weird when i’d work at 12-hour, open to close shift at my bar and feel great about it. My living spaces and closets need to be clean and in (some) order or I feel like I am drowning every moment of my life. This now makes sense to me.

  122. Tee

    Ach, WOW! Did I ever need to read this today? (Still working my way through back posts.) Isn’t it funny how the Lord puts certain things… in this case, old blog posts… in your path right when you need them?

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