If you want to have a productive, realistic schedule as a stay-at-home mom, you have to first build yourself a framework–and then make it work for you instead of against you.
It’s kind of like the dreaded diaper bag (is your husband as reluctant to dig through yours as mine is? That thing is like a black hole!).
The thing is, it always starts out fine. I lay out the things I’ll need–diapers, wipes, wallet, a packet of cheese crackers, chapstick, and a handful of other necessities–and tuck them neatly into their pre-designated pockets. The first few days of a new diaper bag totally “sparks joy,” right?
But then, little by little, the stuff starts creeping in. Coloring sheets from church and notes from school meetings. Little cups leftover from rushed Costco samples. Post-it note grocery lists and receipts from the dollar store. Snack wrappers, baby socks, discarded headbands, matchbox cars, a Lego minifigure, and someone’s used tissue that we can’t find a trashcan for.
Most of that stuff is not even mine, but somehow it all gets shoved unceremoniously in my bag.
And sometimes my life feels like that, too.
I start off the year just fine, with a simple routine and a plan to work on my most important projects and goals. But then the stuff starts to creep in. Stuff that doesn’t belong to me, but gets handed to me because I make myself available to hold on to it:
- Assignments and to-dos fly in from everywhere: Volunteer positions and service opportunities. Parental-help-needed homework. Preschool party sign-ups. Doctors appointments, freelancing assignments (I write, edit, and make art, “on the side”), and babysitting requests.
- Opportunities pop up in my email inbox–most of them wonderful! I can join the PTA and help shape my daughter’s school year. (Oh the power!) I can sign my kiddos up for art classes, sports, and dance. (How cute!) I can fulfill requests for pictures, letters, and phone time with friends and family. (Yay!!! I love you all!!!) Playdates! Play groups! Sales and coupons! Gym classes! Online courses!
The problem is, if I take on too many of these things–even though they are mostly wonderful!–after a while my brain starts to feel like the inside of my diaper bag:
I know the most important things are still in there, but it gets harder and harder to find them among the mass of other things I’m carrying.
So what can we do?
How can you get back to what’s important when your life (and your brain!) is so full?
And how can we build a stay at home mom schedule that really lets us do what’s important to our life, health, and happiness, without sacrificing what is necessary?
Well, when my diaper bag gets crazy, I take a few minutes to clean it out and decide what I really need in there. It’s a gross process. Sometimes it makes me feel like I’m lazy (you’re not lazy, by the way) because, hello? How long has this open applesauce packet been in there???
One time I put a bunch of butter packets from Panera-to-go in the side pocket of my bag, and forgot about them until I reached for my hand sanitizer and instead got a hand coated in melted butter. True story.
So yeah, the clean-out process can be icky. Uncomfortable. Embarrassing. Even daunting. But it feels so good to toss the garbage, remove the extra stuff, wash out the butter, and start fresh.
So when my life gets crazy, I do exactly the same thing.
I clean out, take stock, and only put back the things that will serve my needs and the needs of my family. There is no reason for me to carry around excess–in my diaper bag or in my life. All that does, mama, is weigh us down.
How to “clean out” your life.
There are probably a million ways to approach this, but after some trial and error my favorite tactic is to (1) make a list of all the things that I want to fill up my life with, and then (2) make a time map.
I’ve been doing it this way for years, and it has become a really comforting, re-balancing process for me now.
Making Your List
I’ve organized my life-list in a lot of different ways, but my new favorite is one I came across in an article on Power of Moms.
You start by making a list with three columns: Essential, Necessary, and Nice.
The essential things are the things that keep you and your family healthy, whole, and happy. This will differ from person to person, but for me these are activities like getting enough sleep, making time to write or create on my own, going dates with my husband, spending one-on-one time with my kids, having family movie nights, and reading my scriptures.
The necessary things are the things that keep your life and home in order. For me these are things like grocery shopping, processing my email inbox, balancing the budget, and making sure all my kids get bathed–hopefully on a regular basis. :/
The nice things are the things that are fun but not essential. Depending on your family and personal goals, this might be things like checking instagram, going to the park, keeping a blog, or attending a regular playgroup. Whatever things you like to do, but don’t need to replenish your energy or spirit, those fall in to the “nice” category.
Keep in mind that you and I might be different! Maybe you’re an extrovert and it is essential for you to attend a playgroup every week to let your kids get their energy out and allow you to connect with other moms. In that case, it goes on your essential list! I’m an introvert, so it is essential for me to have alone time everyday. Maybe alone time is just a “nice” to you. That’s fine!
There’s no judgement in these lists: you’re simply acknowledging what you want to prioritize.
I’ve been going over my own list this week as I adjust to the new school schedule. Here’s how it played out for me:
Next time I’ll walk you through step 2, creating time for your priorities by using a time map.
We’ll go over the process of building out your “ideal week,” and also talk about mapping out those things that need to happen less-than-weekly, like a monthly day trip or a yearly family vacation.
For now, I want you to pull out your calendar, and schedule 30 minutes of time to make your list. It takes a little thought to process all the things you do, and all the good intentions in the world aren’t half as effective as a half-an-hour of focused time when it comes to creating change. So schedule your 30 minutes, and make your Essential, Necessary, and Nice list.
Next time I’ll show you what to do with it!
p.s. Find part 2 here: Weekly Planning for Moms: Building a Time Map
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