“During quarantine, when we’re in absolute chaos, it’s not futile to cling to small moments of control,” says Justin Earley, a Virginia lawyer and author of “The Common Rule: Habits of Purpose for an Age of Distraction.” “It can help to say, ‘I’m going to be the kind of person in quarantine who gets up at the same time every day.' The possibility of any big wins are far, far removed from our grasp; it’s a good time to do little things.”
When Princeton, N.J., psychologist Eileen Kennedy-Moore counsels new mothers, for example, she encourages them to “accomplish one thing each day.” That one thing might be as simple as getting a shower. On bad days, completing that task might provide one accomplishment to hang on to. On good days, one task might quickly become five.
It’s “about recognizing that our circumstances are harder now, and we need to give ourselves a break,” says Kennedy-Moore, author of “Kid Confidence: Help Your Child Make Friends, Build Resilience, and Develop Real Self-Esteem.” “I don’t think any of us are functioning at peak productivity.”
Want some ideas for how to achieve your own small wins? Put this list on your fridge for when motivation strikes. Tackle one habit or task at a time.
Delegate one task. Parents need to identify what is getting on their nerves from everyone being at home. “What is causing Mom or Dad to feel at a breaking point?” asks Linda Diamond, a productivity and organizing expert in Georgia. “That’s where we need to start.” If Mom can’t look at another dirty floor, it might be time to ask the kids to help mop the kitchen floor each night. “The more parents invite children into the process and let them know they trust their input, the more kids will take initiative and feel confident,” she says.
Apologize for losing your temper. “Small wins don’t have to all be about productivity,” Kennedy-Moore says. “They can be the relationship wins that also really matter.” Because families are on top of each other, “it’s a matter of when, not if, you lose patience with the people you’re living with,” she says. “A small win could be going back afterwards, when you’ve lost your temper, and saying that you’re really sorry and coming up with a plan for what you’ll do differently next time.” This also teaches kids about relationship repair.
Laugh. “Laughter diffuses stress and tension and connects us. It puts everything in perspective and helps you appreciate absurdity,” Kennedy-Moore says. “Try to be ridiculous, do something wrong, … especially if you have little kids around; they love to laugh. With older kids or teenagers, you have to be careful, because you don’t want to even come close to laughing at them. Try self-deprecating humor. Go for silliness rather than sarcasm.”
Clear the table. “Whether it’s the parents or the kids, we’re all kind of working and doing our schoolwork on the dining room table, out in the communal space,” says Sara Eizen, an interior designer in Seattle. “At the end of the day, pack it up.” She suggests a bin, or if you can’t order bins online right now, a reusable grocery bag or a tote. Eizen uses a bin to gather her laptop, wireless mouse and keyboard, and then stores it in a cabinet. She also has a bin for her son’s online work.
Have one communal meal. “If you make the table the center of gravity, then you make community the center of gravity,” Earley says, explaining that the difference between roommates or housemates and family is whether you eat together. Sit down for one meal together; light a candle or get out the cloth napkins, and turn a common space into a community space.
Turn off phones for an hour. “For me, this is a great example of a super-small habit that has a macro, life-shifting effect on my life,” Earley says. “Anybody will find that if you actually turn off your phone, you’re suddenly flooded with these anxieties. You have to confront the fact that becoming unreachable might actually become a worthwhile pursuit.” Earley turns off his phone when he comes home from work and leaves it off until his kids go to bed.
Create a vision board. Give everyone in the family poster board and the supplies to decorate it: magazines, scissors, glue, glitter, markers. Let kids and adults cut out words and images that convey how they’re feeling, or where they imagine traveling next, or what they want to do during the shutdown or after the danger from the virus eases.
Fold linens. Clean out the linen closet. Fold the fitted sheet, flat sheet and one pillowcase the best you can, and stuff them into the second pillowcase. “They’re all right there, and you can just reach in and grab an entire set,” Eizen says. Because she notes that most of our linen closets are too stuffed with towels and sheets, she suggests storing the sheets in the room that has the bed it matches. “Loosen up the linen closet a little bit,” she says. “Put the sheets in the bedroom closets.”
Sort the artwork. Both Eizen and Lindsay Boudreaux, interior designer at Shotgun Double in Alexandria, Va., recommend sorting your children’s art projects with them, then sending the favorites to the service Artkive, which turns flat and three-dimensional artwork into a book or a mosaic-framed print that you can enjoy.
Sort pens and markers. Have kids go through their art supplies and identify dried-up markers, broken crayons, empty bottles of glue and even dried-out ballpoints that can be tossed.
Organize the junk drawer. “If someone does want to tackle some small organizing projects, try the junk drawer,” Eizen says. “It doesn’t have to be super overwhelming, and it’s such a good feeling when it’s done.”
Write up family recipes. If you’re cooking every meal, every day, you’ve probably learned what your family does and doesn’t like. Write the favorites on recipe cards in a tin or save them in an app — or even make a family cookbook with Shutterfly.
Corral kids’ clutter. Help kids find their own small organizing wins. If a child is an athlete and has a lot of medals, “swirl them around in a Mason jar,” Eizen says. “Corral little things so they’re not all cluttering around.” You can also hang clear shoe organizers on the backs of doors so kids can put away all the little toys on their floor without losing sight of where they are. Eizen also recommends Lego tape for getting Lego creations off the floors and onto vertical surfaces.
Rotate toys. If you are feeling stressed out by toys everywhere, try limiting the number that you have out at one time. Move them on and off garage and closet shelves to keep your sanity and to inspire bored kids. “If anyone is spending more time at home right now, it’s the kids,” Eizen says, because they’re not at school during the day. “And many of them don’t have as much to keep them busy.” Changing things out makes old things seem new.
Sort books with kids. Ask kids to help you go through their bookshelves. Which books have they outgrown? Which ones do they want to store, and what are they ready to pass on to others? You also might figure out what kind of books they might be ready for and hunt for used ones on sites such as ThriftBooks.com until the libraries open.
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