29 February 2012

Lessons We've Learned From a Month of Hard Work (Part 2)

Dear Lissy,
We're in the midst of a two day snowstorm. . .our first real snowfall this winter!  I must admit it was a little sad seeing my sweet snowdrops get buried, but they'll survive, I'm sure.  I wanted to finish up the lessons we've learned from redeeming our time in the afternoons.  We've spent 28 days (give or take) going through room by room and thinning out and re-organizing our belongings.

Working together toward a common goal is good for both a family's esprit de corp and personal happiness
I had no doubt that the three of you would obey and work hard during our blitz month.  I didn't expect you to get so "into" it, though.  The four of us have a real sense of accomplishment and unity after working together for a month.  During the last four weeks, you kids have taken ownership of our home.  You've each had blitz zones in addition to your bedrooms to keep up with each day.  A special bonus?  Dad was inspired by all our hard work and punched out several maintenance projects, too.
We've been happier and more content during a dark, cold, snowless month than we normally are even during the summer.  Having a purpose and a goal and working for it together brightened each of us up tremendously during a difficult time of year.

Take the time to clearly state (or even better, write down) what is expected, and then take the time to look at what each person has accomplished at the end of the day.
"Clean your room" has entirely different meaning to a 14 year old than it does to a 40 year old.  Taking the time to write measurable tasks like "Make the bed", "Empty the trash", and "Place all books neatly in the bookcase" is important.  Always express your expectations clearly and make sure your child understands.
We also all long to share our accomplishments and successes.  When a job isn't followed up, it probably will be done half-heartedly or not at all.  I took the time each day to look at what you'd done, praise you, and give any further instruction on the area that was necessary to finish the job well.  It's important as a home manager to inspect what you expect.

Stuff = Time, Clutter = Procrastination
This came as a big surprise.  It takes a lot of time and effort to keep up with stuff.  It takes far more time both to pick up and to actually clean.  Our entire house can be picked up in just a few minutes now.  I can clean through in about 90 minutes.
Clutter is simply a monument to your procrastination.
"Don't put it down, put it AWAY!" has become our war cry.  Maybe families that don't educate at home don't have as much trouble with this as we do, but when you've got four people in the house all day, every day, it can get messy fast.  Chop up one week of busy schedule, stir in a week of head colds, add in a few sewing, electronics, and lapbooking projects, and you have a recipe for disaster.  Double the recipe if you've got too much stuff to actually put everything away.

Aim for excellence, not perfection
My ultimate goal was to go through every room in the house, get rid of extraneous stuff, and re-organize what remained to reflect how we actually used the room. There are a handful of cupboards and drawers that I set up about five years ago that didn't need to be re-organized, but still need a thinning.  I don't have perfection, but the house is in excellent shape.
I also had to let a lot of deep cleaning and maintenance I would have dearly loved to do go by the wayside.  I would never have met my goal of having the entire house simplified and re-organized if I had added deep cleaning and maintenance projects into the mix.  There will be time for deep cleaning after school and  mud season are over!  Michael J. Fox, and actor of my generation summed it up beautifully when he said: "I am careful not to confuse excellence with perfection.  Excellence, I can reach for; perfection is God's business."  You can completely stress yourself and your relationships by insisting on perfection beyond excellence.

There is a difference between easy-simple and bare-simple
A bare home with no curtains, decor, or visible belongings would be very easy to maintain.  We weren't striving to redecorate our home to Danish modern, but to make it more functional and easier to maintain.

  • Each room has a purpose or is zoned into areas with a specific purpose.
  • We thinned our belongings to reflect what we actually need and use on a regular basis.  If two or more functional items served a similar purpose, we only kept one.
  • Our belongings each have a specific home where they should be put away.  If we obtain more, it either has to fit in the designated spot or something else has to go.
  • We no longer have overflow storage in baskets, tote bags, Rubbermaid containers, and boxes.  Everything is stored in closets, drawers, and cupboards or placed on shelves or hooks.  Extra items we wanted to keep but don't need for daily living (fabric, books, holiday & seasonal items) are all in labeled totes in the attic.
  • I downsized purely decorative items to include mostly those of higher quality or special sentimental value.  
  • We have a plan for restoring our home to order on a daily basis as well as a few simple rules to keep it neat as we go.
  • Switching to Mrs. F's laundry method allowed us to drastically downsize our wardrobes and streamline our laundry area. 
I still have a few drawers and cabinets to thin out, and we'll blitz the yard and garage later this year, but we've already noticed a huge difference in the spirit of our family.  A well managed home where there's room to learn, play, make a mess, and enjoy each other and friends is a gift.  I hope it's a gift that I will pass down to each of the three of you as you begin your own homes some day.

Much love for all your help and joyful spirit,

 Love, Momma

22 February 2012

One Quick Tip: Label Your Leftovers

Dear Lissy,
Label, date, and store leftovers on the same shelf to make sure they all get eaten up!

Labeling is standard in the restaurant industry, and works like a charm at home, too.


21 February 2012

Lessons We've Learned From a Month of Hard Work (Part 1)

Dear Lissy,
Late in January we decided to re-organize and simplify our home.  The upkeep was overwhelming, and all of my organizational systems were designed for a home full of toddlers, not teenagers.  After a string of construction projects upended nearly every room in the house, we were all ready to tear our hair out.

I decided as part of my One Golden Day goal to redeem the afternoons.  I had fallen into the sloppy habit of using afternoons as "me" time instead of working.  I enlisted all three of you and we started cranking every weekday afternoon from 1-4 p.m.  Here's what we've learned. . .

There is ALWAYS a valid reason why you can't work
A string of valid problems -- the never-ending sinus infection, a leaky ceiling in the sewing area, a broken foot, ministry demands, and a hundred other less worthy excuses --  meant that a lot of the normal work that needs to be done to keep a family running smoothly had been left undone during the past couple of years.  During this 28 day blitz I worked through with a head cold, a demanding school schedule,  the winter round of doctor/dentist/orthodontist/optometrist appointments, additional ministry responsibilities, and a bunch of drop-in company.  The most important lesson of this month for me:  You make time for what's important to you!

Less is More
We've gotten rid of so. much. stuff.  I've ousted furniture, toys, books, clothing, knick-knacks and artwork, kitchen gadgets & appliances, linens, and serviceware.  Our newly streamlined house has a spaciousness that puts us all in a place of grace.  Deep peace and power accompany simplicity.  There is also an insane desire to redecorate -- I'm hoping that will pass.

In All Labor There Is Profit
I tend to be hyper-organized and knew that 2011's "Just Do It" philosophy was going to be important for this project.  Each day I chose a few places to hit, and at the end of the month, every room was simplified & organized.  Because we all pitched in and worked hard, the job got done.  It got done a bit haphazardly, but it was done before our finish date.  In the past I would have spent hours making checklists, and detailed to-do lists for each person.  Good ol' fashioned, callous-making, backbone-breaking work got the job done just fine.  The only place success comes before work is in the dictionary.

Starting is The Hardest Part
There was more than one time during the past few weeks your Dad kissed me on the forehead and demanded I stop working and go to bed.  Once I get started, I'm the Energizer Bunny.  But, oh, the getting started nearly kills me every day.  The accountability I had to the three of you to keep up with the plan was often the only thing that got the ball rolling.
I got especially overwhelmed by areas that needed a lot of work rather than a quick re-do.  Often I would have one of you pull everything out of a squirrel's nest, sort it into categories, and wipe down the containers and area you had just emptied.  I'd come through once you were done, purge out everything we didn't need, and replace the rest into the newly-cleaned area.  Splitting up the job that way made it much easier for all of us.  The old saw is true:  Well begun is half done.

It's Far Easier Keeping An Area Tidy Than Getting It Tidy
Each day we went back through the areas we had already blitzed and made sure they were still neat and organized.  When an area that we had organized wasn't working, we changed it so it would.  By the end of the second week, it was taking us 15 minutes to get the whole house looking its best.  Now the four of us can have everything spifferoo in 5 minutes if we keep up with our regular mealtime and laundry routines.  It will always be a lot of work to keep our 130 year old home clean, but we've made it easy-peasy to keep it clutter free.  We've all learned during the past month that it's easier to keep up than to catch up.

We've been richly enjoying the freedom that comes with discipline, the joy that accompanies obedience, and the wisdom that comes with doing what you know to be right.  I wish the systems I set up when we moved here 12 years ago had still been humming along nicely so that we didn't have to do a big overhaul, but I'm glad you've been part of the process and learned how to simplify and organize.  It will continue to be a process of growth for us in the weeks and months to come, I'm sure.  I have several more lessons I'll send you in another letter.

Simply loving little you!

11 February 2012

Duffins (Doughnut Muffins)

Dear Lissy,
The four of us have been working VERY hard in the afternoons to go through every room and hit a three point checklist:

  • Remove, sort, and purge out anything we don't use or need.  This includes reducing our furniture, books, belongings, and wardrobes substantially.  
  • Sort & containerize each room. This involves creating "centers" - self contained areas that reflect how we use them as well as insuring that we have a place for everything.  We spend about 20 minutes a day "blitzing" and keeping these areas neat before beginning new projects.
  •  Taking care of minor maintenance projects. We've stripped wallpaper, replaced trim & caulking, stripped & resealed linoleum, installed hooks, tightened up doorknobs, oiled hinges, and replaced outlets.  We still have a ton of projects that need Dad's expertise, but everything is looking spiffier. 
Amidst all the afternoon hubbub, I'm still making everything from scratch for our meals.  These little gems taste like a glazed cake doughnut and use only pantry ingredients.  You and your brothers adore these muffins, but Dad and I get "carb coma" and have to enjoy them sparingly.  The muffin recipe comes from our beloved Miss Pat, but the glaze is a recent addition.

(Doughnut Muffins)
from Miss Pat's recipe box
2 cups flour
1-1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1/3 cup oil
3/4 cup sugar
1 egg
3/4 cup milk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Combine dry ingredients except sugar.  In mixing bowl, beat oil, sugar and egg until light.  Add milk alternately with dry ingredients.  Scoop batter evenly into nine lined muffin cups.  Reduce oven heat to 325 and bake for 25 minutes or until golden and pick inserted into top comes out clean.  Remove to wire rack to cool.  While muffins begin cooling, make glaze.

3 Tbsp. melted butter
1 cup confectioners' sugar
1 scant tsp. vanilla
2 Tbsp. hot water

Whisk ingredients together until very smooth.  Dip muffin crowns in glaze, and allow to harden.  Re-dip muffins after initial glaze has hardened.  Store muffins in air-tight container when completely cooled.

We still have two full weeks of our 28 day house challenge left.  I'll write you a little letter after we're all done about some important lessons we've all learned during this blitz.

 Love you, Sweetie,