It’s extraordinary how much of our lives are run by our habits. It’s our choice which actions we allow to become habits, although many habits are formed unconsciously. The trick to make life easier is to run supportive habits, rather than bad habits. Charles Duhigg’s book, “The Power of Habit” has an excellent and easy to understand model of how habits are formed and operate. Stephen Covey’s book, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” talks about general strategies to live by in order to be effective. These books are all very good in theory, but how can we apply the theories to every day living?
Here are a few ideas in different areas of the house that have made my life easier over the years.
In the kitchen: I admit, the kitchen is not my favorite place to be. I go there because I have to eat and I have to feed my family. I don’t love pouring over recipes finding the next cool taste explosion. I don’t have a million little gadgets for shredding this and that or spiraling those, or whatever else they all do. I prefer to get to know a recipe well and then make it by approximation from memory, because when I do a new recipe, it takes me ages to read and do, read and do. I also hate cleaning up in the kitchen. My worst nightmare is when all the pots and pans have been used, they’re spread all around the kitchen, a dozen chopping boards are out, miscellaneous forks, spoons, knives that were used in the cooking process are sprinkled around. In short, it’s a disaster. It seems so overwhelming to have to clean up at the end of the day.
My solution: Actually, I stole this idea from my friend, Barb. One night when she was over for dinner, the kitchen was in its usual “creative state” and I was stirring something on the stove, some of it splashed over. I was non-plussed; I would wipe it up with all the other spills when we cleaned up after dinner. But Barb actually said, “Oh, NO!” as if it was the worst disaster that could have happened and quickly got a cloth to wipe up the spill. Fast forward and we were around at her house having dinner. Barb was making dinner, but it didn’t look like my kitchen when we made dinner. Everything was clean, there were no dishes out, certainly no spills. Everything was used, then put away. There was basically nothing to clean up, except the plates we had used, after dinner. Wow!
Here’s the habit: Run a sink of hot soapy water as soon as you’ve finished with the first thing that needs to be cleaned and clean it right then. Cleaning as you go. Not very radical, but it makes a huge difference to my energy level at the end of the day if I don’t have to clean one more thing! Give it a go and let me know how it feels.
In the laundry: Also not one of my favorite things to do. Actually, more specifically, I don’t like to fold laundry. Before we had kids, I just used to wait until I or my husband were nearly out of something before we washed. It would be a few loads but not too bad. Now we’re a family of four and we’re all active, which means extra workout clothes as well as regular clothes. It all adds up to loads of laundry. If I used my old strategy, it would be such a huge pile of clean clothes to redistribute to their various owners and overwhelming. But I’ve found through trial and error that a load of darks on Tuesdays, Thursdays and two on Sundays and a load of whites on Saturdays, towels and sheets one day in the weekend depending on our schedule, pretty much takes care of our laundry. Sorting the clothes as soon as they come out of the dryer according to their owner, then folding them makes the job a lot easier. Each person’s pile of clothing is so much smaller and only takes a few minutes. (And my husband folds his clothing when I give them to him – soon the kids will be folding their own too!)
Here’s the habit: Break larger tasks into smaller ones by doing them more frequently and looking to see how you can make it seem even smaller again.
Paperwork: In my life, before becoming a mother and then a professional organizer, I used to let my paperwork pile up for a couple of months, then spend a happy half day every 2-3 months sorting, throwing out and filing my paperwork. But I soon discovered the regular pile of paper couldn’t co-exist on my kitchen table with a child who was learning to negotiate a spoon and wanted to put everything in her mouth. Something had to change. I went to keeping my paper work sorted into three color-coded folders – Red: must do now, Yellow: do soon, and Blue: maybe/someday. I discovered that I basically never, ever did the maybe/someday category, so started to get rid of that as soon as it came in the door and started to get off those mailing lists, so that reduced the paper I had to deal with in the first place.
The next shift was to automate as much as possible. All our statements and regular bills are paperless and on automatic payment where possible. Going paperless saves trees, saves the postie gas and having to deliver them and saves us time paying bills. We still review them regularly, but no more icky stamp/envelope tongue in this house! The final step to managing paperwork is to take care of it immediately. Now I have to admit, it doesn’t happen every day, but at least weekly, all the mail is opened and dealt with. We scan anything we need a record of, then shred the actual paper. No more paper piles.
Here’s the habit: Start with the incoming mail and get that under control. Every day (or week) deal with what’s come in. Pay the bills, file or scan the paperwork that you need a record of.
In the closet: Actually, this is one place that I haven’t ever had trouble with. I like to keep my clothes sorted so I can find what I’m looking for quickly, and I don’t have an over abundance of clothing, so it’s easy to maintain control. So how do I do it?
Here’s the habit: Have your clothing sorted in a way that makes sense to you. I have jackets, dresses (not very many of them – if I had more, I’d sort by length), pants, long sleeves shirts, short sleeved shirts and sleeveless shirts. Whenever I wear something, I put the hanger in a central part of the hanging space, sorted by type of hanger. That way, when I’m putting away the laundry, it’s easy to find a hanger. For my folded clothes, I fold them so they stand up in the drawer. That way, I can see all the things I own and can find what I’m looking for quickly. I’m also pretty religious about getting rid of something old or something I’m not wearing when I buy something new. This way my drawers and hanging space never gets over stuffed. Accessories are stored on specialty hangars or on the shelves. We have a no shoes house, so shoes are in the shoe rack by the door.