Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Some reflections on time management for the keeper at home

In a famous book on marriage, the author states that a wife who excels in the domestic sphere must be good at balancing her time. Thus, she might not spend as much time in the kitchen as the neighborhood's best cook, nor as much time scrubbing her floors as her fanatically clean next-door neighbor, nor as many hours playing with her children as the woman at the end of the street. Rather, she is adept at knowing where to put her time and when. When she turns her hand towards an endeavor, she does her best and, consequently, she does it well. But, she knows when it's time to move on to the next thing in her day. Overall, her family's needs are well met and her home is clean, homey, and orderly.
I, personally, have found this blance to be the most challenging aspect of homemaking. I am good at many individual things, but I'm weaker at managing my total time and resources.
When we first married, my husband's career took us away from family and friends to a another state. We did make new friends quickly, mostly from church and through my husband's new job. However, these relationships had not yet had time to develop to the depth of the ones we had back home.
I talked frequently with my beloved mother and with my dear mother-in-law, but I was too far away from them geographically for them to guide me on a daily basis. I had already learned some elements of home tending. But, I was on my own when it came time to put them all together as a new keeper at home.
At the same time, I quit a job in public relations to devote more time to freelance writing. Of course, I also wanted to devote time to my new husband, my new home, and my new church congregation. All of this was exciting and fun, but I had one problem: I didn't quite know how to order my days.
How much time should I spend each day on writing? What should I do if I planned to write, but someone invted me to do something fun or asked me to meet a need? How did I explain to people that though I no outside boss to answer to, I did need to treat some periods of the day as if I were "at work writing"? How far should I do in setting boundaries to protect my "writing time".
On the flip side, I wondered, "How do I write without letting it consume me? Is this taking me away from other priorities? What do I do when everything is "flowing", and I'm tempted to keep writing and writing, while dinner burns? Am I letting this pursuit become an idol in my heart?
Then, there was housekeeping. I sort of knew how to time cooking a meal so that everything came together. But, I had other questions: How do I know when my home is clean enough? How often do I vacuum and dust? How do I organize the items in our household, and how do I keep them that way? How focused should I be on inventorying the items in our pantry? What do I do on the days when I'm sick? Often, I would dab at this and dab at that all day long, only to wonder at bedtime why my house still felt so messy and disorganized.
Keeping a home and running a home business are both open-ended jobs. So, too, is a woman's ministry as a Christian. In none of these three areas do you clock in at 8:00 and clock out at 5:00, leaving your work behind you.
By contrast, I have worked some retail jobs where that is precisely what you do. You have a defined starting time and a defined ending time. You do your best while you are on the job. But, once it ends for the day, you go home. You easily turn your mind to something else.
In regards to being a Christian, managing a home, and working as a freelancer, your home is your office. Even when you sit down to relax, you can spot something that needs doing. You see the mail waiting to be sorted and answered, a manucript to polish, or a few smudges on your living room wall.
Over time, I have learned so much more about managing a home. But even now, I have to keep re-adusting how I spend my time as different circumstances in our life come and go. It's sort of like using a steering wheel to keep a car in the proper lane. Sometimes, you move a bit to the left; sometimes to the right; and, sometimes, you go around a curve.
Great home managers (usually these are women who have been at it a while) intuitively know what needs doing and when. They are in tune with their husband's needs, and they understand how and when to meet those needs. They can sense when to stick to a task, and, thus, it's time to ask the children to play quietly by themsleves for a while. They also know when to interrupt the task in order to spend some spontaneous time with the children. They keep track of when to rotate mattresses, when to mend clothing and polish shoes, and what needs to be done in the yard or garden. They know how to do things themselves, and they know how to delegate, when appropriate.
Great home managers also know how to adjust with the changes in life's seasons. They keep up with the essentials even when there is a new baby in the house or a child is ill. When their children leave home, they adjust easily, for they know how to fill their days with meaningful activities.
Great homemakers also generally happy in their domestic responsiblities. They may not accomplish everything they want to, but they have the peace of knowing that they are tending to what is most important. Because they manage thier overall schedule well, they do not often experience the feeling of working all day with nothing to show for it.
When I was going through my time management confusion nearly 26 years ago, there weren't many written resources available to help. There was no Internet. Many of the homemaking books of that time were focused on how to build a great marriage or how to do some craft or how to cook. Not many of them taught you how to put all of those things together into a workable routine.
Of course, if I had known a little bit more about God's plan at the time, I would have prayed more about my schedule. I would have been at peace about seeking his kingdom first, knowing that he promises that everything will fall into place. And, I would have sought more help from godly women. God has always intended that the older sisters in a church be resources for the younger women.
However, as a young bride, I wasn't fully aware of God's design. And, I was too prideful to admit that I didn't know what I was doing and needed help. I looked around me and thought that everyone else just naturally had everything all together, and that this should come naturally to me, too. That was before I learned that even the "great" homemakers have their challenging days and their weaknesses to overcome.
I remember that my first sweet baby had her days and nights mixed up for some time after she was born. I thought she was the most wonderful baby ever born. I adored nursing her and spending time with her. I fed her totally on demand, and, to this day, I am thankful that I did. But, I did not know that there were gentle ways to help her with her eating and sleeping habits so that we both could get more rest. Nor, did I know how to bond with her without letting my house slide into domestic chaos. I loved my husband dearly, and I put a lot into being his friend and companion. But, he was nearly as exhausted as I was between working full time and covering for me at home. Neither he nor I knew how to make our little nest peaceful with a baby that cried for attention all night long.
When my daughter was around three months old, an older woman from church brought our family a homemade pizza. I remember being embarrassed at not having things "more together" for her surprise visit. I'm certain, however, that God wanted her to drop by at that moment. It opened the door for me to talk about how things were going. She had been unaware of my struggles, but, upon hearing about them, she immediately comforted me. She also gave me some useful suggestions. I did not know to ask for help, but God sent it anyway.
Today, there are more books on time management on the market. There also are a number of home-related web-sites that walk people through the process of what to do and when. For those of us who are "time-management" challenged, these books and web sites can give us new vision for our homes. They can provide some badly needed structure for our days. Some women simply follow the schedule that a particular author has drawn up, and they stick to that. Others look at the author's thinking behind the suggested schedule, and they use what they learn to draw up their own schedule. Either way, books and web-sites can be a boon.
Some people react to books or web sites about home management by becoming even more frustrated. They find it hard to live up to all that an author promotes, and this makes them feel that they are failures.
Or, like me, they try to follow the advice in too many books or web sites all at once. It's better to stick to one simple plan for a while than to try to go in two or more directions.
A third problem is that you may throw yourself into a pre-written schedule without considering God's and your husband's priorities. Remember, you are making a home with your husband, and his goals and needs should take precedence over the plans draw up by a particular author. Remember, too, that author cannot predict what will happen in your home on a particular day. Perhaps your child wake ups with strep throat. Maybe, this is the day you need to get your teeth cleaned. Or, it could be that a neighbor might finally ask you to teach her more about the Bible. In using an author's schedule, you have to allow for unforseen events.
I think we can benefit from any of the homemaking plans on the Internet. The key is to tailor it so that it works for your family and for you. Even Flylady says that if you don't get the things in one of her emails done, just delete that email and start over the next day.
One of my favorite Internet plans for keeping a home is the 12 week grand cleaning plan. I think you can link to that from "Organized Home". If not, you can find it by typing the words "grand cleaning plan" in your search engine. There is also a 12 week grand cleaning plan that is designed to help you get ready for the holiday season.
The reason I like this plan is that you can print it out, and you can use it at your own pace. You can spread out the plan over a period much longer than 12 weeks, if you have to. It also is laid out so that while you are cleaning and organizing, you are also accomplishing the tasks you would do in a spring or fall cleaning. Once you finish the plan, you can start over again. If you do, your home will stay in fairly good order year round.
There are a few other on-line plans thatI like, as well. But, I'll leave it up to you to search for one that works for you.
One of the simplest plans that I've read about is also used by many business managers. You keep a running to-do list, in which you jot down everything that needs to be done in the near future. More importantly, you draw up a daily to-do list. You number the items on the list according to their priority, or you put a star by the two or three most essential. Even if you only manage to accomplish one or two items on your list, you can sleep peacefully knowing that you tended to that which is most important. You can always move those things you didn't get done to another day.
If you do select this method for ordering your time, it is important to be firm in your priorties. Unless you know that you have indulged in some sin like laziness, you cannot allow yourself to feel guilty that you did not get to everything on your list. That defeats the purpose of assigning a level of urgency to each task.
Now, this brings me back to God's plan for learning from your husband and from sisters at church. I have trouble ordering my priorities. (That is, in fact, a major problem for most disorganized people). I tend to think that everything on my to-do list should be a number one priority. Or, conversely, I will get caught up in one project to an extreme and not move on to the next when I should. So, I am grateful for the godly people in my life, who are sounding boards to help me sort things through.
No matter how you do allot your time, remember this bit of advice from a couple of older women, "Be ordered, but not obsessive. Be consistent, but not compulsive."

Enjoy!
Elizabeth


1 comment:

A Hopeful Hollar said...

What a lovely post on keeping our homes. It sounds like your a lady I would love to have over for tea!