“I just don’t like who I’m becoming.”
THE TIME HACKS: We had Westall work with certified coach Alexandra Hughes, of In Essence coaching in Alexandria, Va. Hughes suggested four Time Hacks:
1. STEP OUTSIDE THE CHAOS: First, Hughes advised Westall to just stop in the middle of the swirl, step outside of it and begin to think about the vision of the life — the space and time — she really wanted to create. You can’t declutter or make a plan to get out of chaos unless you know where you’re going.
2. DO IT NOW: Sometimes, there are other, emotional reasons, deeply rooted habits and old patterns of thinking that lead to clutter and chaos, Hughes said. Sometimes, clearing clutter is the only way to clear enough space and time to see the old patterns more clearly in order to begin to change them. Otherwise, you always end up spending most of your time putting out small fires, she said. “Decluttering space may be the first step in decluttering one’s time and mind,” Hughes said.
3. REFINE HOUSEHOLD SYSTEMS: And use technology to help you, rather than distract you. With a clearer head, clearer space and clearer vision of where you want to go, Hughes said, it will also become clearer how to set up systems to support that. Making them automatic means they aren’t decisions you have to make, put off or beat yourself up for not making anymore.
“With a full-time job, studying, carrying the majority of the house management load and child-care responsibilities, Joanne is left feeling stressed, anxious, disorganized and short-tempered,” Hughes said. “She knows that if she sets up systems to support her over the long term, she will feel calmer and more able to model healthier emotional regulation, and organizational skills for her son.”
4. TAKE TIME FOR YOURSELF: Westall never took time for herself. In a coaching session, she had an Aha! Moment. “She said, ‘I realized that if you don’t put gas in the gas tank, you just get mad and kick the car,’ ” Hughes said. Hughes suggested finding an activity and a space that replenished her.
DAY 21: When we caught up with Westall, she was taking a few days off and had time to read and study for an advanced degree in adult education. Her house was decluttered and under control — even her kitchen drawers and bathroom shelves. And her son and husband were enjoying how much calmer she — and their time together — has become.
“Before I stepped outside the chaos, I couldn’t really see that I was the one creating it,” she said.
She started clearing her mind, and getting clear on her vision for the life she wanted by clearing her clutter. Westall picked three rooms where the clutter and chaos were the worst — her computer room/closet, her son’s room and the kitchen — and dedicated chunks of time over two weekends to decluttering.
“One of the bad habits I’ve always had is indecision: ‘I’ll think about this later.’ Or ‘I’ll decide this later.’ But when you have a small house, and I love this house, you have to make good decisions. I see that not making decisions is a recipe for chaos. The space mirrored my time.”
Once she started making decisions, she found she had greater clarity about what was important to keep. She stopped buying new stuff. And instead of always deferring decisions, she keeps a “later” bucket in each room. Once it’s full, it’s time to go through it. “Now, I have this voice in my head saying, ‘Do it now. There is no later!’ It’s Arnold Schwarzenegger’s voice. I’m not sure why,” she said. “But it’s working!”
Westall realized that she’d always resisted regimented routines, instead preferring spontaneity and “going with the flow.” But that wasn’t working. So she found a looser way to think about her schedule: Laundry has to be done by Sunday night. Cleaning must be done by Saturday morning. That’s motivated her to tidy and do a little bit every day, so when Saturday comes, she doesn’t have to spend hours cleaning, and instead has been going for walks with her son and mother, or spending time by herself.
In her new household system, her new standard is “good enough.” She’s not striving for perfection anymore. Three meals on the table is enough, they don’t have to be gourmet. One night, she served barbecue hotdogs, and discovered they all lived. By Sunday morning, she has to plan the menu for the week. And lunches, tidying and prep for the next day has to be done by 8 p.m. at night. She sets calendar reminders to go off to let her know when 8 p.m. is approaching.
She didn’t consider asking for more help to get the chores done. Her husband mows the lawn and does his own laundry. “He helps,” she said. We’re not at 50-50, but at this time, it is what it is and I’m happy with how things are.”
Now, her house is more orderly, her stress has dropped, the routines have made getting out the door in the mornings smoother and she’s feeling calmer. Westall has been making time for herself — she’s sitting out on her back patio reading and writing in her journal — something she never used to let herself do. She got a step tracker and hit 15,000 steps for the first time because she’s been able to go on walks.
She considers the time as a reward for putting a little bit of deadline pressure on herself to get everything done to help her feel more in control.
“I’m realizing I can’t look after everybody else. I can’t be that good, peaceful self I want to be without that time for myself,” she said. “I can’t do it on empty.”
Now, mornings aren’t perfect, but they’re better. She still has to call her son to get him out of bed. But the lunches are made. There’s no clutter, the clothes are organized, so it’s easy to find things, like her keys. And she’s calm. There are no more meltdowns and temper tantrums. And just the other day, mother and son had calmly said, ‘I love you,’ and wished each other a good day.
“We had a trivia board game evening the other night that was so fun. I just really feel like everything is falling into place,” she said. “The picture of me on the porch? That’s someone I would dream of being. My best self. And now that’s me.”