Tuesday, January 5, 2016

One Thing

Freddie, as all 18-month-olds do, has reached Chaos Level: Expert recently, becoming a master of happy-shrieking, good-natured destruction.  Jamie, on the other hand, has reached the pinnacle of the Fucking Fours: angry defiance, extreme tantrums, and huffy pouting over such injustices as having to wear shoes or brush his teeth.  Charles is distracted and lethargic; he only wants to do what he wants to do.  Ninja class, reading, LEGOs: yes.  Chores, homework, participating in family anything: no.

The kids are inside almost all the time this time of year – the outdoor excursions end quickly and always demand immediate application of hot cocoa and snacks to offset the calories burned sustaining life in the just-above-freezing “so cold my toes are falling off!” arctic weather here in Northwest Washington.  Consequently, toys, costumes, crayons, and snack droppings are scattered among wet boots and discarded gloves ALL OVER THE DAMN HOUSE DO WE LIVE IN A FUCKING BARN and I can barely keep the three of them and any friend who comes over from tearing each other’s eyes out in shocking displays of acute cabin fever.  I’m campaigning to buy a trampoline so that when these boys are literally bouncing off the walls, I can send them out to bounce off each other instead.  Tony does not think a trampoline is necessary.  Tony thinks a trampoline will take up too much room in our yard.  Tony is not often home with these fire-breathing monsters.

When I’m not home making meals or holding my wee Tasmanian Devil because his teeth hurt and he simply MUST be held at all times or reading stories or negotiating truces between dueling brothers, I’m at work or ferrying children to and from their activities.  Also the gym, I go there a lot.  I won’t say it’s my “happy place,” but it is my “without children” place and I always feel better after I bust out a few quick miles on the treadmill or sweat through a boot camp class.  Despite this, my house stays relatively clean and organized, the laundry done, the dishes clean.  In fact, you might walk in and think to yourself, “Wow!  This place is amazing!  How does she keep things so clean and organized?  And her hair is awesome, too.  What is her secret?”  (As long as I’m dreaming, let’s make it good, shall we?)  (You would not actually think any of those things.  But you might think that things could be SO MUCH WORSE than they are.)  (My hair looks awful.)

First secret (it’s not a secret): I have a housekeeper, who is fantastic.  She comes every other week.  I think we can all agree that two weeks is long enough for a house with two adults, three boy children, and a dog to go to shit, but for at least a day after she visits, the floors, bathrooms, counters, and mirrors are all sparkling clean.

Second secret: The One Thing Rule.

The One Thing Rule is where I look around at my house/life in disarray and I ask myself, “Self, what’s one thing you can do to make it better?”  I don’t aim high, oh no.  I aim low, and I usually find that the one thing I can do right now to make things better is minor, like wiping up the table after breakfast or clearing the mail and newspaper detritus from the counter or starting a load of laundry or cutting some vegetables for dinner or organizing the pile of hats or making myself a cup of coffee and raiding my secret chocolate stash.  Then I do that one thing.  Often, when that one thing is done, I have time to ask myself again, “Self, what’s one thing you can do to make it better?” and I see yet another spill I can wipe up or I think of the meat I can take out of the freezer for dinner or any number of things that I immediately notice as I look around.  I continue to ask myself what one thing I can do until I either run out of time or I look around and feel better about my life and my house.

In the aggregate, all of these little things I need to do cause stress.  They’re overwhelming.  I look around and I can’t see the end of all the picking up and the putting away.  Feeling messy and disorganized leads me to feel like I’m sliding into mediocrity, which leads me to think such super helpful and inspiring stuff as “Why do I even try?” and “You’re never going to have a nice house” and “YOU ARE FAILING.”  I think we can all agree that no one wins when we pursue that line of thought, so I just ask myself “What’s one thing you can do to make it better?” and then I do that one thing and then I feel a small sense of accomplishment.

Yesterday, my one thing that I could do was to put something away in the garage closet (yes, we have a closet in the garage.  It’s just as stupid as it sounds).  Junk started falling on me because it’s a fucking closet in the garage and so of course it’s a convenient place to toss anything you’re too lazy to put away correctly.  I got cranky and frustrated with the mess that NO ONE CARES ABOUT BUT ME (seriously, do we live in a barn?), so I decided that one thing I could do would be to reorganize the boxes of gift bags and ribbons I had on the shelves (the source of much falling junk in the closet).  It took me ten minutes, which cut into my gym time a tiny bit (I ran faster to make up for it), but the closet is organized now.  I also threw away a bunch of garbage and moved some boxes around so I can walk around the entire car when it’s parked in the garage.  I can’t pretend that anyone else even noticed, but it made me feel much better.

The One Thing Rule works best in the afternoon or when there is plenty of time to burn before the next event (dinner, bedtime, etc.).  It does not work well when you’re trying to get out of the house in the morning and you know that life would be easier later if you just started the dishwasher/put in a load of laundry/prepped dinner for that evening.  There’s never enough time before work to do these things, so I don’t even bother.  I use the One Thing Rule when I have a few minutes of “spare” time and sometimes I even do just the one thing I can do with one hand, since Freddie is often in the other hand.

Go ahead.  Try it.  Just one thing.  It could change your life.

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