What’s in it for me?
C’mon, admit it. Most of the everyday responsible actions you take...from getting out of your warm, cozy bed on a cold morning to going to the dentist or getting a flu shot are because there’s something in it for you. You get to keep your job, keep your teeth, and keep from getting sick, to name a few. I mean, how many people do you think would actually pay their taxes just because it’s the right thing to do if they didn’t also see keeping their freedom as a pretty major benefit? It’s human nature to want something in return for your inconvenience and sacrifice. Even kids understand this concept from a young age, as evidenced by my son who once offered to pull out all of his teeth for the tooth fairy if she’d just bring him enough money to buy a Lego death star. (Little did he know that, with a little patience, she’d end up with all of them eventually anyway.)
We parents teach our kids this notion of hardship eventually leading to a payoff when we incentivize them to behave, to do their chores and their homework, and to sacrifice for others. Be it sticker charts, extra privileges, or even just heaping on the praise, we are reinforcing this idea that doing the right thing, even when it’s hard, yields positive dividends. Even when we want to improve our own behavior, we promise ourselves little rewards for rising to the challenge. And there’s nothing wrong with that, just as long as we select a prize that won’t end up sabotaging our efforts. (A new outfit for your slimmed-down body is probably a better reward for sticking to your diet than a celebratory cake...just sayin’.)
But incentives only work when we consciously identify what they are and specify the actions required to earn them. Case in point: I figured out a long time ago that a tidy, uncluttered environment keeps me calm and reduces my stress level more than just about anything else. I have two teenagers, so it’s a given that I’m going to feel stress in my life. But I know that the visual peace of a neat home and knowing exactly where to find everything will allow me to better manage all the anxiety that naturally accompanies the thought of paying for college, not to mention my babies driving and dating. That’s a reward that is well worth spending an extra minute here and there to put things away...even things that were left out by others. It’s the thing that motivates me to regularly clean out my closets and get rid of all the excess stuff I don’t really need. Just knowing that I will have sufficient room to house and conveniently access my well-thought-out purchases is all the enticement I need to avoid making impulse buys I might struggle to put away when I get it home. That effort is a gift I give myself because I’ve already determined that the payoff is huge. I don’t keep my home organized for the benefit of guests or my family. It’s for me. Which is good, because these days I rarely entertain, and my family couldn’t care less how tidy and organized everything is as long as they can find their remotes and locate the router when the wifi needs resetting.
So what’s in it for you to have less stuff? What do you get out of purging your excess...passing up a great sale...forgoing freebies and hand-me-downs...giving away some of those sentimental objects you have stored away but will likely never use?
Might some of these benefits of streamlining help you pare down?
Take some time to think about your top ten motivators for cutting back your belongings and write them down. Then dangle that carrot where you can see it clearly. Review it regularly to remind yourself what’s in it for you to tidy up before bed, to find a home for everything you own, to stop acquiring, or to donate or recycle all the stuff you can do without.
With a little awareness and the right incentive, even discovering the more of less will be easy peasy.
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If you're suffering from what I call "Covid Fog", you are not alone! Almost everyone I've talked to has experienced this phenomenon on some level during the past six months. Covid Fog is when you have difficulty sharpening your focus and/or maintaining it for as long as you used to before the Coronavirus pandemic shooed each of us into our respective corners of quarantine. Several factors contribute to creating Covid Fog: looser schedules, more frequent interruptions, lack of structure, changes in routine, mild depression, fatigue, boredom, grief, a dearth of motivation, and lapses in self-care are just some of them. Whatever the cause, the results can affect everything from your job performance to quality of life issues. Adopting strategies to help you find your focus is an essential first step in coping with the uncertainty that is 2020.
Here are my top tips for finding and maintaining your focus:
With a little intention, perseverance, and these strategies, even finding your focus through the Covid Fog can be easy peasy.
Could it be that it was only eight short months ago when we were ringing in the new year and ushering in a brand-new, shiny decade full of hope? The anticipation of the coming U.S. presidential election and Olympic Summer Games energized the country and the world. In our house, it was the beginning of the countdown to our first-born starting her senior year of high school in September and turning 18 in October. Our son was eagerly awaiting a summer of hard training for his next vigorous cross country season in the Fall. My organizing business was finally booming and my husband’s career humming along very nicely. 2020 promised to be a banner year for the Sheridan family.
Then BAM! Seemingly out of the blue, a pandemic of epic proportions, quarantines, school closures, sports cancellations, postponed primaries...followed by murder hornets, protests, wildfires, hurricanes, fire tornadoes…and worst of all, death--lots of it, job losses, endless bread lines, potential foreclosures, and financial ruin for many...all piled up in a big heap, bringing everything to a standstill. The old saying that the only things in this life that are a certainty are death and taxes never hit more close to home. So here we are: at the crossroads of hope and uncertainty. What now? How do we merge these two seemingly divergent paths into one? How do we maintain hope amid all this chaotic uncertainty?
First, let’s take a step back to consider just why confronting uncertainty is so uncomfortable for most of us. Perhaps it’s because it threatens our need to feel in control. If we can’t see a roadblock up ahead, we can’t take an alternate route or steer around it to our advantage. Right now, most of us are just wondering when...when schools and businesses will reopen; when we’ll get financial relief; when a vaccine will be available that can allow us to resume something resembling normalcy. It’s hard to keep up with all the unexpected twists, turns and detours on Rt. 2020. Nevertheless, there are still three very crucial things that do remain totally within our control, should we choose to exert it. Let’s start there:
Whether you are ill (from anything) or fit as a fiddle, the choices you make about caring for yourself will affect how you feel both physically and mentally. Tune in to your body, as well as your soul, and make changes in any of the following areas, if necessary, to improve your well-being:
Whether you are quarantining alone or with others, your overall attitude plays a major role in your ability to cope with your situation. Keeping your outlook positive despite your circumstances will not only boost your own spirits, it can become a beacon of hope for others who may need a reminder of all the goodness still surrounding us. Attitude is how your perspective and priorities dictate how you interface with the world around you.
Whether you are working multiple jobs as an essential worker, furloughed at home desperately seeking employment, or finding yourself in the unexpected role of homeschooling parent, your actions are always a matter of choice and thus totally under your control. How well are your actions reflecting the attitude you want to convey? Are you eating junk food on the sofa, yelling at the other side’s politicians on TV, wallowing in gloom, self-pity and self-loathing, or are you reaching out to make a positive impact, using your available time to engage in proper self-care, helping others, hopeful thinking, and positive self-talk? The choice is yours. Make a good one.
Let's face it: this has been a difficult year so far and the only thing we can be certain of is that yet more uncertainty surely lies around the next corner. But by staying focused on the things that are still within your control, even confronting uncertainty with hope intact can be easy peasy.
Space truly is the final frontier! Everyone seems to be on an endless quest for it...for space in their homes...on their desks...in their busy lives! Yet it eludes most of us. Just as soon as we find some....poof! It’s gone and the search begins anew. But what if instead of spending all of our space, we kept some of it….empty?!! Today, I’m making a case for space!
First, how is empty space even useful?
Preserving your empty space boils down to choosing space over stuff. You may be asking...if empty space is so valuable, then why do people tend to choose stuff over space? Good question! Clients usually call me when their lack of space begins causing a problem in their lives. They are aware that they need more space, yet still seem compelled to fill it back up again when given the opportunity. Why? Here are some of the most common reasons, along with my counterpoint for each one: Do any of these sound familiar?
Fear of being without something you may need (clothes, paper towels, shoes, serving dishes).
Counterpoint: If you run out of something, you can go shopping, do laundry, borrow from a neighbor, order online. If none of these are possible, you will likely find a way to make do in an emergency. Such emergencies will be very rare and far outweighed by the everyday benefits of having more space. Think up a back-up plan in advance if that makes you feel less afraid to part with something. (Personal aside: At the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis when toilet paper was difficult to find, I came up with multiple contingency plans for if/when we ran out. I never had to use any of them, but now that I have them, I don’t feel a need to use up my valuable space hoarding toilet paper.)
Avoiding a deep-seated (and usually misplaced) perception of poverty and/or a misperception of “wealth”.
Counterpoint: Having more stuff doesn’t make you rich. It actually costs you more in the long run. Would you rather be “rich” in stuff that gets in your way, or rich in time and energy that can be spent on having new and meaningful experiences, learning more about the world, and forging/maintaining important relationships? Which will matter more at the end of your life? Remember, that old adage “You can’t take it with you” refers to your material wealth, aka your "stuff".
Unwillingness to make choices (aka decision deferral).
Counterpoint: Making decisions gets easier and quicker with practice and takes less time when you do it on a daily basis. Developing a habit of making decisions in the moment takes effort but will pay huge dividends in the long run.
Need to fill up the other aspects of life that feel empty (relationships, self-esteem, productivity, sense of control).
Counterpoint: Space gives us freedom. We need space to live in, move in, fill up with the people and activities that bring us joy. When we do that, we will not feel emptiness; we will feel fulfilled.
So how do we create and maintain empty space?
Simple: Choose space over stuff. Now that you understand the value of empty space and why you may have chosen stuff instead in the past, it will be easier to make more intentional decisions in the future. There are three key components to this:
With a little conscious decision-making and a few good habits, even holding onto empty space can be easy peasy!
The most stressful time of day in my home is late afternoon/early evening during the week. That's when I'm typically running from here to there, picking up one kid or the other from practice or rehearsal...sometimes both. There's homework to get started, after-school anxieties to unwind, and often other types of social drama to smooth out. And on top of everything else...dinner. I call it the witching hour. Thankfully, (to quote Elizabeth Warren) "I've got a plan for that". If you're struggling with dinnertime stress too, a weekly meal plan is a must!
Having a plan in place for anything will eliminate a great deal of stress from your life, and meal planning is no different. It allows you to do all the thinking required at a time of your choosing, rather than forcing you to figure out a solution when your brainpower is already stretched to the limit. Aside from reducing your stress, meal planning:
Contrary to what you may think, meal planning really doesn't take that much time or effort once you have a system that becomes a routine.
Step 1: Gather your meal ideas
Note that I say "ideas", because for those of you who don't enjoy cooking, the word "recipes" may be scary. Rest assured that meal planning does not require you to become the new Gordon Ramsey. You don't need complicated recipes or fancy knife skills...just a list of the things you like to eat for dinner. For those who do enjoy working with recipes, your idea list should include your recipe source, whether it be a URL, Pinterest post, cookbook, magazine or one of Grandma's handwritten recipe cards. The key is to be able to find it easily when you need it. (Be sure to include page numbers on your list too, where appropriate.)
If you have picky eaters in your home, selecting recipes that can be easily modified to suit everyone will save you time and effort. Remember, you are not a short-order cook! Ask your family for feedback and ditch the recipes no one likes. Note the recipes that are more time-consuming or complicated so that you avoid them on busy nights. Keep building and adjusting your list as you go.
Step 2: Plan around your calendar and refrigerator
Pick a day each week to do your meal planning. Look at your calendar for the week ahead to see which days will be your busiest and require a make-ahead or quick meal. Which nights are you having company or planning a special meal? Also check the refrigerator and freezer to see what ingredients need to be used up before they go bad and plan to incorporate these into your plan. Take advantage of shortcuts on busy nights, like buying precut veggies or partially-made components. You can still wow your guests with a "homemade" pie made from store-bought pie crust you bake yourself! Or use your own homemade, make-ahead mixes for some of your favorites. (Get recipes and instructions for some of my favorite homemade mixes!)
Step 3: Write it all down in one place
Write down your dinner menu for each night in one central place. Your plan should include:
Tip: Always plan an extra "back-up" meal for nights when nothing goes according to plan and you need a quick and easy save. This meal should rely on pantry or freezer staples you know you'll have on hand. (My favorite back-up meal is Broccoli Soup.) It should be quick to prepare and not require advance preparation.
Step 4: Shop for your plan
As you compose your meal plan, create your shopping list at the same time. Include all ingredients you will need to make the meals you've selected for the week and add breakfast, lunch and snack items. Shop once to save time. Take your plan with you to the store in case they are out of an essential ingredient and you need to make a substitution. (Don't forget to note changes on your written plan.)
A tool like the downloadable EasyPeasy Meal Planner PDF can help you get started. It may feel a little ovewhelming at first, but once you are in the habit of meal planning each week, it will become second-nature and will require only a small investment of your time. You'll wonder how you ever managed without a plan!
With a little forethought and planning, even feeding your hungriest crowd will be easy peasy.
Valerie Sheridan is a professional organizer, wife, mother of two, and Founder/Owner of EasyPeasy Living.