One of the joys of my job is working with interesting, smart, accomplished people. Some are stay-at-home parents, some work outside the home part time, others full time. Some are married, others are divorced, and some are single. Whatever differences exist, they all seem to have one thing in common: a sense of feeling overwhelmed, all of the time.
We’re driving ourselves crazy trying to do everything, instead of identifying ways to do fewer things and a few things better. One way I’ve been suggesting that clients think about organizing is by considering how to simplify and prioritize the things on their to-do lists, as well as to think through what can be eliminated or delegated. And, perhaps most important, when they can say no.
The endless emails and texts that arrive on our computers and phones 24 hours a day are a major reason we feel constantly overwhelmed. There’s never a break in the action. Even though you may have signed your children up for summer camp almost a year in advance and scheduled their doctor’s appointments for the next six months, there is still a sense of never being on top of things. There are deadlines at work, things that must be brought to school, events that need an RSVP, grocery shopping, gifts to buy and animals to take care of. If it seems unending, that’s because it is. Because I can’t stop the influx, I’ve decided to turn off my phone each night at 9. That is when I say that I’ve done enough and that anything that didn’t get done will have to wait until tomorrow. It’s a hard stop and gives me some control over my time. Give it a try.
No matter how hard you work at keeping your house clean and orderly, it’s a battle you’re never going to win. So think about which spaces are nonnegotiable — those areas that you absolutely need to have clean and tidy — and just let the other rooms go. For instance, I like the island in my kitchen to be cleared every night. I also like having no clutter on the dining room table. But if my daughters’ rooms are messy, which they often are, I can live with that. For some people, it might be that their bedrooms or home offices need to be straightened up each day, but it doesn’t matter if there are dirty dishes in the sink at night. I have been in enough houses to know that no one’s looks like a picture in a magazine. No one’s. So let yourself off the hook.
Parents often feel guilty if they are unable to attend every event at their child’s school or if they can’t volunteer for something regularly. It is okay if you are not present for everything. Your child will survive and understand. If it’s too stressful for you to take off work or to take another child with you, you’re not going to enjoy it anyway. On the one hand, it’s wonderful that schools welcome parental involvement. On the other hand, it can be hard to not go to everything when you think every other parent is there. But no one will think less of you if you can’t be there all the time.
Because it can be easier to do housework ourselves rather than explain it to someone else (and then worry that it’s not being done correctly), we just do it. But it is important that we delegate tasks when we can, even if the person doing them doesn’t do them the way we would. Have your kids fold laundry or load the dishwasher. Send your spouse to the grocery store every weekend, or hire someone to help you with household or administrative tasks. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness. It’s a sign of leadership and efficiency.
Make yourself a priority. This is not selfish. If you don’t schedule time to do the things you need and want to do, it will make you less — not more — productive and organized. Block off time on your calendar and commit to giving yourself at least an hour or two each week when you are doing something for yourself. It could be lunch with a friend, a workout, a haircut or a walk outside. Finding time to re-energize is a must. If you don’t give yourself a break, no one else will.
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No chat Thursday at 11 a.m. The Home Front online Q&A takes a break this week. It returns Feb. 9, when Zach Gibbs of the Shade Store joins staff writer Jura Koncius to talk about window treatments. Submit questions at live.washingtonpost.com.