18 October 2011

Staying Out of (Time) Debt

Dear Lissy,
Last week we cleaned out your little girl room and we've been working on switching you over to a young lady's room.  I was so pleased at 4:30 check yesterday afternoon to find fresh flowers, classical music, the lamp turned on, and both your brothers hanging out in your room.  You're already learning how to create a welcoming space and extend hospitality.  I also had more fun than one momma can handle sneaking up and replacing your comforter and curtains with new ones after dinner.  Your shrieks of happiness were worth every minute of trouble.  But part of last week's work was paying back a debt we'd spent a year accumulating.  A time debt, if you will.

Debt occurs when you delay payment, but not gratification.

Financial debt is the result of enjoying services or goods with the intent of paying for them "later".   It is not uncommon in our society for families to have thousands of dollars of debt outstanding in student loans and credit cards. 

Time debt is the result of accumulating tasks that need to be done "later".  It is just as common to see homes where everyone in the family has overburdened themselves with weeks worth of tasks and chores that are long overdue.   In the case of time debt, these tasks were pushed aside in favor of personal time or another activity.  

Financial debt incurs interest that quickly overtakes the original balance.  Even with appreciable debt like a home mortgage, the homeowner ends up paying far more in interest than the initial cost of the home.  

Time debt also incurs interest, and far more time is necessary to complete a task than if it had been done right away.  The old timers said "A stitch in time saves nine" and they were right! 
  • Meal dishes and prep areas can be quickly wiped down directly after a meal, but become a scour & scrub nightmare if left even overnight.
  • Laundry left in a dryer or crammed in a basket has to be unwrinkled before wearing.
  • Showers and tubs can be wiped out in moments after bathing or scrubbed once a week:  it's your choice.
  • Toys can be picked up when playtime is done, or you can spend all day sorting toys into their proper storage containers when they get hopelessly mixed together in a playroom casserole.
  • Minor home repairs either become major contractor-worthy events or accumulate to the point that the home depreciates in value.
Financial debt burdens a family financially, emotionally, and spiritually.
We quickly lose our ability to become "cheerful givers" when we are burdened past our limit with payments and bills.  It robs the joy from our marriages and lives, and hobbles our ability to create a stable, working budget.

Time debt also burdens a family financially, emotionally, and spiritually.
When our time "falls behind" we build up a list of undone projects, lose things, and end up paying penalties and fees for everything from library books to the mortgage bill.  It's incredibly disheartening to look at your home and see months' worth of projects and work to be done.  Above all, constantly running behind at home sucks up our time and cripples our hospitality.  We don't have time or space for others.

It takes years of discipline to get out and stay out of financial debt.
For most homes, it's enormously important to transfer operations to a zero balance or cash-based budget. That's a difficult transition.  It's far more "fun" to Christmas shop on a credit card and spoil your people.  Grocery shopping becomes a whole new challenge when you only have a certain number of dollars each week and you can't put that special birthday party or Easter dinner on the credit card.  And then there's the months or even years of paying back the debt you've already accumulated.  Ugh!  But once that commitment is made and followed, there comes a time when all of the previous debt is paid off, and suddenly you have far more each week than you ever dreamed of.  It's worth it!

It takes years of discipline to get out and stay out of time debt, too.
It takes a lot of discipline to clean up after yourself as you go.  To put things away instead of putting them down.  To train your children to put things away and clean up after themselves.  To create a time budget.  Sacrificing afternoons and evenings for months or years to not just keep on top of the daily work, but "make up" for lost time is hard.  It's much more fun to head to the park, beach, or museum.  But then the day dawns when you have an abundance of time and space, so much that you don't even know what to do with it all!

We spent a year not properly cleaning and organizing your room.  We quickly swept toys, clothes and papers out of the way rather than taking the time to pick up each day.  I didn't inspect what I expected.  So I spent 7 (!) hours one day last week hoeing through toy casserole, clothes from all sizes and seasons, and hundreds of school, church, and personal papers that had been stuffed into containers, under your bed, and into drawers.  It was hard work, but we've created a sleeping area, a play area, a reading area, an art area, and a dressing area.  Toy sets are corralled together in totes that make it easy for you to pick up.  Art supplies are organized in an old shoe organizer Daddy mounted on the wall.  We've added some pretty things to make your space warm and welcoming, too. And I'm inspecting faithfully every day at 4:30 so I know that you're maintaining that space.  I want to keep from falling into "time debt" again in that space.  As you establish your home, make it your intention to stay current with the tasks that need to be done.

You'll never have more time & energy at your disposal than you do right now.

So in love with you, my sweet one!


  1. Excellent reminders. That was so good, Bekki. Thank you.

  2. We spend so much time talking about financial debt, but most people never really address time debt. This is so helpful because it really is easy to let that time debt pile up.

  3. Another wonderful post. What a gift you are giving your daughter, as well as the rest of us.

  4. WOW! Found this through WFMW and probably should've put on closed-toed shoes to read it! Hahaha! GREAT advice! Thanks for sharing!