As I sat down last week to reflect on the last year, I used an idea from Modern Mrs. Darcy, and came up with a list of things that worked for me in 2015 and things that didn’t. It’s been such a helpful exercise that I thought I’d post my list for you.
Not only does it give me some direction for 2016, but it’s allowed me to realize that I’m actually on the right track in several areas of personal habits. Rather than feel the overwhelming need to switch everything up, I just need to grow in a couple areas and then keep on with what’s working. And that’s encouraging!
I’m always interested in learning about other people’s habits, and I’d love to hear what worked and didn’t work for you!
What worked for me in 2015:
Eleven months ago a lovely person entered my life: Sandy Garcia. She comes one morning a month while we’re at Classical Conversations to give our house a deep clean. A house-cleaner is not something I would ever have thought to consider, but it was a birthday gift from David, who learned about Sandy through a friend. We rearranged our budget to make it work, and words cannot express how grateful I am!
Sandy is dependable, very thorough, takes initiative to clean things I’d never get to (hello, dusting all the spices and jars on my open kitchen shelves), and has such a sweet, cheerful spirit. Because of her help, I’m more ready to invite people over and less stressed about fitting house cleaning into the cracks of my day.
If you look at me as a homeschooling mom of four kids and wonder, How does she do it all? The answer is: I don’t! I’m sure this season won’t last forever, but right now, other than a quick vacuum and wiping down my bathroom, I don’t clean my house at all. It’s the gift that keeps on giving.
I needed my habit of regular de-cluttering more than ever this year when we adopted Gabe and Noah, and it’s still working great. If the idea of tackling unruly closets and kitchen pantries makes you shudder, I’ve learned from experience that if I do one really thorough purge of a space, I can easily maintain it with just 20 minutes every few months.
Right before Christmas a few of our closets looked like they’d been hit by a tornado, so I did a quick sweep and tackled organizing a couple a day while the kids played outside (it is pretty much impossible for me to organize anything with my children around). I still regularly come up with a bag or two worth of stuff for His House, but I’m discovering that as we try to watch our purchases carefully, I need to get rid of less and less.
De-cluttering — and trying to keep from amassing lots of things in the first place — is my secret to keeping our house neat. People walk in the door and comment, “It doesn’t look like you have four kids!” Honestly, I don’t do it to impress anyone with my clean house; I do it for me. My brain feels foggy when our house is a mess, and forget trying to home school. We enjoy our home so much more with surfaces cleared and places to sit and play.
3. My early-morning routine
I’ve learned that because I’m an introvert, I desperately need a few moments to myself before my kids wake up in the morning. Also: if I don’t read my Bible first thing in the morning, it’s just not going to get read. Here are two magic hints that make this habit work for me: 1. I go to bed by 10:00, and 2. I get the coffee ready to brew at night. Somehow the knowledge that all I have to do is stumble out of bed and hit the “Start” button on the coffee maker, motivates me to get up instead of sleeping in.
I make my coffee, plug in the string lights in our bedroom, and cuddle up in bed under our puffy white duvet. I read my Bible (usually a Psalm or a chapter from the New Testament), and often a devotional book (currently it’s I Come Quietly to Meet You, by Amy Carmichael, but last year I read Streams in the Desert). I sip my coffee and choose a few verses or a quote to write in my journal, and usually that turns into writing a prayer.
This routine helps me wake up and feel grounded in Christ before facing the day. I start my day intentionally — one step ahead of the kids — rather than in reactionary mode. Of course there are times I stay up too late and sleep in and I don’t beat myself up for it, but by and large I’m happier when waking up early (I want to insert here that I didn’t attempt to follow this routine when I had infants waking up throughout the night . . . back then I needed every minute of sleep I could get!).
4. Afternoon rest time
I only have one regular napper left, but this year I stuck to our whole-house afternoon quiet rest time, which we call “play time.” I’m so glad I did. After a full morning of home school, I am exhausted and need a break, and all of the kids need some down time to hit the reset button. If you’re wondering how this worked adding Gabriel and Noah to the mix, it was a learning process, but now it works great.
When we first adopted the boys, Gabe napped on my bed, then transitioned to just a few naps a week, and now he rarely needs one. Currently, Noah naps in our room, and Gabe has play time in his bedroom; usually half with Amie and half by himself. He doesn’t always love it, but has adapted so well to the routine, and I love hearing his little voice in the other room. He’s grown leaps and bounds this year in his ability to self-entertain and play imaginatively.
The big kids usually do their own thing or play together quietly in their bedroom. I either take a nap, read a book, catch up on blogs, or as of last week, take 30 minutes to exercise. Everyone is revived after play time!
David and I used the Goodbudget app on our phones this year. We set budget categories together, and used the app to track our monthly expenses. It syncs our phones so that when either of us checks it we can see how much money is left in each category.
The slightly time-consuming part is entering each expense, but as we’ve gotten ourselves into the habit of recording right after we make a purchase, we’ve found so much freedom in both knowing exactly where we stand for the month. It’s not perfect — we overspend sometimes and have to regroup; to sit and map out what went wrong and what expenses are coming up for the next month. But it’s the best way we’ve found to pursue financial freedom together. We argue about money less than we ever have, and it’s wonderful.
6. Investing in attachment
I’ve mentioned this in my other adoption posts, but I feel like the single most valuable thing we did with our time last year was to invest in attachment. I know this isn’t as necessary with infant adoption; but it was much-needed with our toddler/preschool aged boys. I am so, so thankful for the wisdom of friends and blog posts that pointed us in this direction. The boys didn’t just need to attach to us as their family, they needed to feel safe, to heal, and to learn what this new life is all about. In retrospect, I really don’t think that could have been accomplished if we spent our days rushing from one activity to the next, doing lots of play dates, always out of the house.
You guys, it was hard. It was lonely. It was thankless. But entering our ninth month with the boys, I can already say it’s been worth every moment of wanting to bang my head against the wall. I realize that this kind of isolation wouldn’t be healthy long-term, but for that first season after our adoption it was good and right. All of us have changed so much by spending heaps of time together, sticking to our routine, working on behavior issues and manners, being consistent with discipline, cuddling and reading books and playing with toys.
And although sometimes each day (okay each hour) felt like an eternity, when I look back on that season, I see it was such a short amount of time. We still follow a simplified routine, but are slowly re-engaging with commitments, and those long hours are paying dividends in our life today.
7. Waiting a week to set up our Christmas tree
We’ve always set up our Christmas tree Thanksgiving weekend, but this year, with four kids in the house, I didn’t think I could handle seven extra days of Christmas excitement. So we decided to wait until the first weekend of December. It was a lovely decision and I hope it becomes our new tradition!
We were able to recover from Thanksgiving weekend, and that extra week gave us time to actually get excited about Christmas decorations. We turned on Christmas music, pulled boxes down from the attic, and set up our (artificial) tree together, then later that night the big kids and I watched Elf. Who knows, maybe next year we’ll try to get a real tree!
What didn’t work in 2015:
1. Not exercising regularly
I went through spurts, I really did. But I didn’t sustain a good habit of exercise, and I felt the effects of that physically and emotionally. I told David if there is one thing I could change about myself in 2016, it would be to exercise for 30 minutes at least 4 times a week. And between running and our P90X DVD’s, I’ve started my plan to do just that!
2. Eating gluten
When we adopted Gabe and Noah, all of our good eating habits went out the window for quite awhile. I didn’t sweat it — we were maxed out just trying to keep our heads above water. And racing around after four kids made me so.very.hungry. A salad at lunch just didn’t cut it. After a month or so we reintroduced green smoothies and salads (now we make sure to add a protein to our salad to fill up our bellies), but I never eliminated gluten and dairy like I had before, and my body became more and more sick.
I think if anything I’m growing more sensitive to gluten, but I just loved all my comfort foods so much I couldn’t bear to part with them. However, now I’m ready for a change. It’s no longer worth it anymore to eat whatever I want and feel terrible. I’m committing to a gluten-free lifestyle in 2016 and eating minimal dairy, and it feels like a relief.
3. Social media on my phone
I can’t explain why, but Facebook and Instagram just do not work for me (wait: have I mentioned that at least a dozen times on this blog?). They make me restless, anxious, and envious of my friends. They make me distracted around my kids. I’m trying to find a solution to this because there are friends and family I really want to stay connected with. But in the meantime, my Christmas gift to myself this year was to delete all social media from my phone.
4. Staying inside too much
This is a weakness for me. While David gets itchy if he has to spend more than two hours inside, I’m just not an outdoorsy person, and honestly think I wouldn’t notice if I didn’t set foot out-of-doors in a whole 24-hour period. But this isn’t really good for me.
It’s easy to just send the kids out to the fenced-in backyard — and sometimes that’s fine — but I want to be out with them, going for walks, sparking their imagination, puttering in the garden, weeding and watering. I’m realizing that if I want them to grow up being active and enjoying the outdoors, I need to do the same myself.
5. Not involving my kids in chores
Speaking of weaknesses, this is a big one. There are several things the kids do to help out at home — pick up toys, take dishes to the sink after meals, put away their laundry (Judah and Amie), but they could do much more. Honestly, it’s just easier and quicker for me to do things like laundry and wiping the table and counters on my own. It feels exhausting to take the time to teach them skills and honestly I hate the battles when they have bad attitudes. I don’t mind daily housework really, and it’s messier to have little hands “helping” me. I crave the relaxing part of my day when I can cook dinner or bake cookies all by myself.
But all of that’s selfish, plain and simple.
My kids need to learn more responsibility — they need to learn that we’re all a team and when we work together, the whole house runs more smoothly. I don’t want them growing up thinking of Mom as their personal servant/chef. They don’t love chores, but they do all love to help me cook. Our kitchen is tiny, so more and more I’m trying to grab just one of them to come help make dinner with me, and help with clean-up too. If I’m lighthearted about the process and view it as a chance to spend some quality time together, it’s less burdensome for all of us.
6. One bathroom
I am so over having one bathroom for a family of six. There. I said it.