"How do you do it all?"
First, I need to define "all" for the purposes of this post. I homeschool my three children, one of whom is is autistic. I am enrolled in a graduate program. I write fiction, and have finished two novels. I have a happy marriage that I dedicate time to. I keep a fairly clean home. I am the president of my local congregation's children's program (I am in charge of Sunday instruction for the children 18 months to 12 years old). My husband and I are in the process of adopting, and he just opened his own law practice, so he's not around the home a lot to "help out" with stuff.
That is what "all" means.
Let's be clear: I do not have a job outside the home. I do not have a robust social life. I do not maintain a bevy of intricate hobbies like scrapbooking or card making or anything else worthy of pinterest.
That all said, I do manage to do a lot of stuff, and here's my personal tips on how I get it "all" done. If they help you, great. If not... I don't care. Because they help me a lot.
1. I wake before my children. I get my butt up out of bed at 5:30 every morning, whether I feel like it or not. This gives me the chance to get ready for the day in peace, and when each child wakes, I send him back upstairs to get dressed and start his morning chores. If they wake up before me? It takes me twice as long to get ready, and when I'm dressed, I'm greeted by a living room full of crumbs (because they fixed their own breakfast, see?) and fighting children.
2. I settle for "good enough." There are a lot of little things that go into this, but the over-arching idea is that I never try to be perfect at anything. Ever. I know what's important, I prioritize, and I let the rest go. This idea includes:
2a. I let my children take care of themselves to the extent they are able. They comb their own hair, dress themselves, and make their own beds. They have chores that I do not redo when they are done. Yes. It's sloppy. But they won't learn otherwise, and it frees up an hour or two of my day, every day.
2b. I don't repeat chores. If I sweep the floor at noon, and it looks crummy by five? It stays that way. It gets swept once a day, no more.
2c. I keep frozen entrees on hand and I am willing to buy fast food sometimes. Yes, I try to serve healthful, homecooked meals more often than not, but sometimes the day gets away from me or errands took longer than expected. I shrug it off and move on.
2d. I get dressed as simply as possible. I have fifteen Old Navy Vintage V-Neck T-shirts. Fifteen. Because they always fit, they go with everything, and they can be dressed up or down. Every day I throw one on, shorts/skirt in the summer, jeans in the winter. Done. It's not super cute, but it's good enough.
2e. I do not sweat the small stuff. Kid won't smile for a picture? Fine. Take a picture of him being a grump. My movies aren't in alphabetical order, the toys aren't in the "right" buckets, and the three year old is wearing a costume because it's just easier that way.
3. I never "wait" for stuff. The 90 seconds your soup is in the microwave? That's enough time to unload your dishwasher. Kids are brushing their teeth? That's enough time to wipe down counters or pick up dirty laundry. I never, ever stand around waiting for something to be ready or done. I fill that time, and my little annoying tasks get completed.
4. I believe in the FLY Lady. Not completely, but a little bit. I wipe down my bathrooms once a day instead of scrubbing for an hour once a month. I spend fifteen minutes de-junking a drawer instead of overhauling the whole thing. Little bits of work make a big difference if they're focused and deliberate.
5. I say no. I turn down anything that doesn't enrich my life. Book club gets boring and judgmental? Gone. Kid's not enjoying his extracurricular activity? Dropped. Lovely girls' night invitation, but I don't have time and it would be more of a stress than anything? No, but thank you for thinking of me.
6. I serve meaningfully. I say yes to service opportunities as much as possible. Sometimes people don't want what I can offer, and I don't feel bad about it. If I can only dedicate an hour to cleaning the church building, I volunteer to do bathrooms instead of vacuuming. Vacuuming takes a lot longer (church buildings are big). I'd rather spend a solid hour doing something right, rather than doing half a job and leaving somebody to do the rest of it, making me feel guilty, and encumbering others.
7. I'm incredibly selfish about my schedule. Quiet time in our house is from 2 - 3 PM. During that time, I write. I do not clean, catch up on phone calls, nap, watch TV, or anything else. School is in the mornings. I don't do morning play dates, and I don't make morning appointments. Ever, unless we aren't doing school that day. If hubby and I have a date scheduled, nothing will make me change it. A kid in the emergency room, sure, but anything else? Nope. Oh, you decided to elope? Sorry, we can't make it. That's the downside of eloping, friend.
8. My kids play independently. I read to them and play board games with them. I snuggle and tickle and do all those mom-things. But when they're playing Darth Vader vs. Superman? I don't need to be involved. They have each other; I lovingly fasten capes around their shoulders and shoo them off to play on their own.
9. I use screens wisely. The TV does not run all day around here. Movie time/ Wii time is earned by completing chores and school work, and it occurs after meals (right after lunch and dinner). During movie/Wii time, I do homework or I blog. The boys are entranced by the screen, so they don't tear the house apart, and I focus.
10. I make exceptions for the things that matter. Making a big, humongous deal out of my kids' birthdays matters to me. So we put stuff on hold in order to make that happen. Being involved in my local writing group matters to me. So my family eats pizza that night so I can get myself ready to go out. These things build me up, make me feel good, and ultimately pay off more than I invest in them.
The stuff that matters to you might be different, and the stuff that's "good enough" for you might be different, too. I have a very good friend who says store bought birthday cakes are good enough, but she spends her time making homemade cards for every special occasion. That's how it works for her. That's her balance.
So that's what this advice comes down to: Find your balance. Not someone else's version of balance. Decide what needs to stay, what needs to go, prioritize, and find a way to make it work. In the beginning, I made detailed checklists and schedules. Once I got into the groove of things, I was able to relax on those a bit (though I'll send them to you if you're interested, if you're the person who benefits from seeing a template, just ask).