Is it even possible to divide chores equally?

I have recently gotten the same question repeatedly: how do you make sure you divide chores equally between two people in a household? Often, this question is actually the disguised, “How do I make my partner do as much work as I do at home?”

My answer is two-fold: first, you need to distribute the workload and make sure that each person is doing their part; second, you need to let go of the comparison.

Distributing the workload

It is important, I believe, that everyone in a household has tasks to do. This ensures that they feel like they’re contributing to the home and that they have a role to play as well. I’m not saying that they will enjoy the chores they need to do but rather that it builds a sense of support and responsibility to the household.

This really struck me when we were visiting a friend of ours and his family a couple of years ago. Our friend, a father of two boys, was emptying out the dishwasher, when his five-year-old son came over, took the basket with the silverware, and began putting it away. We thought, “Wonderful that your boy is helping you out!” and our friend responded, “Oh, he’s not doing it out of selfless desire. He knows that this is his responsibility, so he does it.”

We thought this was quite special: a five-year old have a specific chore that is his to take care of. Of course, our friend could put away the silverware faster than his son, but that’s not the point. He chooses to give the task to his son in order for his son to begin learning what it means to be part of a household.

I feel that adults living together should definitely split the housework. This doesn’t always have to be 50-50 (perhaps one person has more working hours than the other, or there may be other circumstances), but it has to be a balance that both people feel happy with.

I’m also a fan of clear expectations when it comes to chores. Whenever possible, there should be arrangements about who does which task when. Then, there are minimal possibilities for confusion, hurt feelings, and blame.

At home, we split some chores in the following way:

  • Trash and recycling: Jacob. This is a rather big job because it involves carrying bags, collecting all the paper and cardboard and taking it out once a month, bringing glass to the recycling location, and sometimes driving stuff to the dump.
  • Laundry: Marisha (i.e., me). I don’t mind doing laundry, so I’m happy to take up this chore. It takes a decent amount of time, but I’m fine with it as long as I don’t have to do anything related to the trash.
  • Folding laundry and ironing: our cleaning lady. It saves a lot of time not to have to do this.
  • Cooking: shared. On Sundays, we cook together for about 2 hours; on Tuesdays, we each cook for about an hour but at different times because of our work schedules; on Thursdays, we each cook for about an hour and half, again at different times.
  • Buying groceries: shared. I wrote about this more extensively here, but in brief, each of us goes groceries shopping once a week.
  • Loading the dishwasher: shared. When you have something to put in the dishwasher, put it in. Don’t put it on top or in the sink. It’s as simple as that. If the dishwasher is full of clean stuff, then unload it and put your dirty stuff in. In case you’re really in a rush, then you can leave your dirty dishes on top, but it shouldn’t happen too often.
  • Unloading the dishwasher: shared, but I do it more often. The idea is that when you see the dishwasher is full of clean stuff, you should empty it out. Somehow (I wonder why) I notice this more often, so I do it. However, I don’t mind because…
  • Washing pots and pans: Jacob. Our cleaning lady cleans the dirty pots and pans when she comes, but at other times of the week, after other cook-ups, we get many dirty pots and pans. I really don’t like washing them (I much prefer emptying out a clean dishwasher), so Jacob does that.
  • Bringing stuff from the freezer: Jacob. We have a chest freezer in the basement, and taking stuff out is sometimes a pain because the thing you need (i.e., minced beef) may be buried below lots of other frozen stuff (i.e., chicken). I don’t like doing this because it’s difficult to find stuff and it’s cold, so I’m glad Jacob does this job.
  • Preparing food planner: Marisha. Is anybody surprised that I plan out what we’re going to eat when and what we should cook when? Probably not. For more info on our food planner, go here.
  • Vacuuming, mopping, dusting, cleaning kitchen, cleaning bathroom and toilet, cleaning fridge, washing windows and mirrors, folding and ironing clothes: our cleaning lady. She takes so much work off our plate! The things she does in four hours would probably take us eight hours. For us, it’s completely worth the money.
  • Preparing cleaning schedule for cleaning lady: Marisha. Clearly, making schedules is my type of job, and I don’t mind making one for our cleaning lady as well. It tells her what to do on each day, and it also makes sure that different tasks get done with the regularity that’s suitable for them.
  • Buying and refilling cosmetics and cleaning products: mostly Marisha. I keep track of which cosmetics and cleaning products are running low and make an online order once in a while. I do the same for toilet paper, tissues, etc. and buy them from the store. Jacob keeps track of some cleaning products that are a bit more specialized. I even recently made our first order of diapers and baby wet wipes, woohoo!
  • Ordering supplements: Jacob. He knows much more about supplements than I do, so I entrust that job to him.
  • Filing documents: Marisha. Jacob doesn’t like filing documents, while I actually kind of like it, so that’s an easy one.
  • General tidying up: mostly Marisha. To be honest, I just notice things that need to be tidied up a bit more than him, so I take a few minutes a couple of times a week to tidy up. But if something is really messy and it’s not my responsibility, then I ask him to tidy it up.

Those are a lot of chores… Phew! If you have any questions about them or if you think of something I haven’t covered, let me know!

Letting go of comparison

In the previous step, I described how we try to make sure we distribute the workload equally, so each person has an equal responsibility and contribution to the household. But how do we know if our contributions are exactly equal? What if one person is doing slightly more than the other? Isn’t that unfair?

In a way it is, and in a way it isn’t. It’s very difficult to quantify everything we do for each other and for our household. For instance, last week I had my baby shower, so Jacob took over my weekend groceries shopping session. Did I have to explicitly return the favor? No. This week he was busier than usual, so I packed all of his lunches. Did I ask for something in return? No. Two evenings ago, he assembled furniture while I read a book. It made me feel strange that he was “working” when I was relaxing, but that’s just how it happened in that moment. When he had a small operation a few weeks ago, I helped him with the maintenance of the wound every day. When I have back pain, he treats and massages my back. How do we even begin to quantify these things?

At some point, it comes down to trusting that the other person is helping and even doing extra things that we’re not seeing. When I feel that Jacob is not doing enough, I give myself a little bit of time to see whether I’m just irritated or whether there really is something in the division of chores that should be adjusted. If there is an actual need, we talk about it and make changes.

It’s not difficult to distribute household labor if both people have the same intention: to maintain a pleasant, comfortable space and lifestyle and to help each other. As long as people share this intention and communicate about their needs and preferences, I believe they can find a division of chores that feels fair to both. It’s important, though, to stay open to the other person’s perspective because it may not match our own 100%.

At some point, we need to put down the measuring stick and trust that each person is putting effort towards a pleasant home and lifestyle. Unfortunately, it is never possible to make sure we’re each doing the same exact amount of work, but that’s also not necessary. We each contribute in unique ways, and it’s sometimes difficult to quantify them all.

How do you divide chores in your household? Let me know by commenting below or on FacebookTwitter, or LinkedIn.

Photo by Wendelin Jacober from Pexels

How we handle buying groceries (does this even require a hack?!)

After the blog post about the Weekly Review, I was asked for more info on how we handle groceries shopping. At first, I thought our approach is so simple that it’s not particularly interesting. But then I realized that the way we buy groceries is not typical, so it may be helpful if I explained it.

Schedule groceries shopping

I hear from people who go every day after work or every other day. Alternatively, they may be in the middle of cooking when they realize they are missing some ingredient, so they or their partner need to make a quick run to the shop. Unfortunately, this wastes a lot of time, and I’d be annoyed if I had to go buy groceries in a busy supermarket so often.

For that reason, we have groceries shopping on our calendars. We’ve figured out what days and times fit with our schedules, and we mostly keep to those. We go twice a week; we don’t need to go more often, but if we go less often, some of our produce goes bad in the meantime (we tried going once a week at one point, but it didn’t work for us). We buy lots of vegetables, and it’s a waste if some of them go bad before we use them.

Jacob goes shopping on Wednesday or Thursday, and I go on Saturday or Sunday. This works well since we can get all the ingredients before our bigger cook-ups, which are Thursday and Sunday evenings.

Always make a list

One of the most important tips about groceries shopping is to make a list. It makes you more efficient when you’re choosing what groceries to buy, and it also saves you money because it means you’ll be fewer extra items that you don’t in fact need.

Now, it could work to bring a list on paper, but there are better ways to be efficient given that you probably buy similar ingredients every week. I recommend using an app for lists on your phone (there are plenty such apps) where you can set due dates and reminders for each item, can make certain items recurring, and can make multiple lists.

We use an app called Wunderlist, and an extremely helpful feature is that we can share the shopping lists with each other. Each person can put items on the list, they will be synced, and the other person will see them. No need for endless texting: “Hey, can please get lemons and olive oil? Oh, and please also get dishwasher tablets.”

We have one shopping list for each shopping trip, thus, one for Wednesday/Thursday and one for Saturday/Sunday. We also have separate shopping lists per store in case we need to buy something from a specific shop. For instance, we get avocados from Albert Heijn, so I put that item there.

This is a part of our shopping list for this Saturday. All items are recurring and due today because today is Saturday.

We also make our regular purchases into recurring tasks. In other words, I buy carrots every Sunday, and I don’t want to have to add them every time. Thus, I have them be due this Sunday, but once I check them off, they are due again next Sunday. This saves a lot of list-making time.

Consult the Food Planner

As I explained in the previous blog post, we make a food plan for each week. Every Saturday, I check the food planner and see what we’re going to cook. Then, I check the shopping lists for the upcoming week and see if all the ingredients we need are on there. That way, I don’t forget to buy some of the ingredients I’ll need for cooking.

Before I go groceries shopping, I check the fridge and see what we have. Sometimes, for example, we haven’t eaten all our potatoes yet, so I don’t need to buy more. In that case, I just check off the recurring tasks for potatoes and know I don’t need to get them this time.

Ordering groceries online

We order some ingredients online because they may be difficult to find in our nearby stores. We order local meat (grass-fed beef, free-range chicken) and fish (fresh mackerel, wild salmon), which arrive cooled or frozen. We put them in our chest freezer and have them last us a long time. This saves us a good amount of money.

We also order bones from animals such as grass-fed cows or wild deer and make bone broth or bouillon from them. The bones also stay frozen, we make bouillon in batches in the slow cooker, and then freeze that too. We defrost and warm up one jar of bouillon at a time.

In addition, we get some frozen fruit, such as berries. In the summer, we go to a blueberry farm nearby and pick blueberries. We picked around 15 kg this year and froze them all. When we want some berries, we defrost them and enjoy (they’re amazing with honey!).

Lastly, we buy nuts online. We mostly eat macadamia nuts and Brazil nuts, and when we order them in bulk online, we save money.

The approach in sum

Overall, I feel like our approach to groceries is very simple:

  • Make a list (or several) of what we need;
  • Share those lists with each other, so we can both add and check items off;
  • Make separate lists per shopping day and/or store;
  • Schedule when groceries shopping will take place and who will do it;
  • Look for better and cheaper options online for certain ingredients.

How do you handle your groceries? Do you have any comments or questions about our approach? Let me know by commenting below or on FacebookTwitter, or LinkedIn.

Photo by Matheus Cenali from Pexels

How we take care of meal preparation and cooking (including our Food Planner)

At our home, we cook almost all our meals, including, breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and only cook 3 times a week. How do we do that?

It all starts with planning

The first step is to plan out our upcoming week (we do this during our Weekly Review). We look at our calendars and see when/if we’ll be eating out during the upcoming week. On average, each of us eats out once a week. The rest of the meals we will prepare at home.

Then, we open up the food planner. It’s a spreadsheet that lists what each of us is going to eat when in the week and also what we need to do each day in terms of meal preparation. You can access my sample food planner spreadsheet here, and this is what it looks like:

This is a sample food planner for a week. The columns are days of the week, and the rows are my meals, Jacob’s meals, and the cooking or defrosting tasks per day. 2d, 3d, or 4d denotes how many days a thing should last us, which determines the dose we make.

Meal preparation

We have three cook-up sessions: Sunday, Tuesday, and Thursday evenings. The Sunday session is the biggest, so it lasts for about 2 hours. The Tuesday one is the shortest, and it takes about 1 hour, while the Thursday one is medium, lasting about 1.5 hours.

On Sunday evening, we cook:

  • Breakfasts Monday-Thursday (we freeze the Wednesday and Thursday ones);
  • Lunches Monday-Tuesday;
  • Dinners Sunday-Monday;
  • Prep some veggies (such as cauliflower rice) to cook later in the week.

On Tuesday evening, we make:

  • Lunches Wednesday-Thursday;
  • Dinners Tuesday-Wednesday.

On Thursday evening, we make:

  • Breakfasts Friday-Sunday;
  • Lunches Friday-Sunday;
  • Dinners Thursday-Friday/Saturday.

We usually eat out on Friday or Saturday evening, so we don’t prep for that meal.

How we do our cooking

On Sundays, we cook together. When we’re both in the kitchen, it’s fun because we talk about all kinds of things. We usually prepare variations of the same (favorite) meals, so we know what we’re doing with little discussion. But when we decide to try a new recipe, we need to coordinate a bit more and discuss the different steps.

An important consideration is not to get in each other’s way. For this reason, we have two chopping stations (luckily, we have a big kitchen counter) with two chopping boards (one for each of us) and multiple knives.

The way we have divided responsibilities, Jacob chops most vegetables and takes care of things cooking on the stove or in the oven. That’s a lot of work, but, luckily, he’s faster (and dare I say more skilled?) than I am in the kitchen, so he handles it well.

I grate vegetables in the food processor (carrots and apples for a salad and cauliflower for cauliflower rice). I prepare the salad dressings and other mixtures (e.g., egg mixture for frittata). I also make dessert (e.g., chop up apples to bake in the oven with cinnamon or make sweets from dates).

We can’t always cook together, though. Jacob has irregular working hours, so on Tuesdays and Thursdays he cooks during the day and works in the evenings, while I cook in the evenings after work. We know beforehand what each of us needs to make that day, so we do it in our own time.

This is what our fridge looks like on a typical Sunday evening when all the food has been prepared.

Storing prepared food

I should also mention storing food. It’s important to store food in a way allows it to stay good and also so you can see what’s in different containers.

We recently bought lots of glass containers, which have the benefit of being transparent, so we can see at a glance what’s in there, and they also don’t leak health-damaging ingredients into our food in the way that plastic containers do. Glass containers are an investment, but I highly recommend them, especially if you like to heat up your food in those containers (for instance, your lunch at work; it’s really not a good idea to heat up food in plastic containers in the microwave because the plastic leaks into your food and messes with your hormonal health, even if the containers are BPA-free). Once we prepare the food, we store it into these containers and put it in the fridge or freezer.

We prepare our lunches in this way, so they’re easy to grab in the morning. I also put our salad dressing in little glass containers, so we take those and pour the dressing over our salad at work instead of doing it beforehand and then eating soggy salad.

Food prep in a nutshell

I can imagine that elaborate food preparation may sound intimidating if you’ve never done it before, but it only takes a couple of iterations to get the hang of it. We spend almost no time on the actual food planning anymore (5-10 minutes a week depending on whether it’s an irregular week) because we have a routine we like.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed, there are lots of food prep platforms that can help. I’m aware of a couple: Paleo Leap Meal Plan and Nom Nom Paleo Meal Plan. These tools can save you lots of time, effort, and trial-and-error while you’re still getting used to meal planning, but they are paid. So you need to think what makes the most sense for you to do.

Our food preparation has a couple of stages:

  • Plan meals and associated tasks in our Food Planner;
  • Decide and schedule when each person can cook and what they need to do;
  • Do cooking and meal prep;
  • Store food in fridge or freezer;
  • Enjoy!

It feels amazing to me to cook three times a week but have food ready for every single meal of the week (it only needs to be warmed up). It’s delicious because we eat food we love, but it also saves so much time!

Would you like to try our Food Planner? Let me know if you have any questions or comments. Do you have a different way of handling your cooking, or perhaps you don’t meal prep at all? Let me know by commenting below or on FacebookTwitter, or LinkedIn.

Photo from Marisha Manahova

The missing piece for our household’s functioning–Power Hour!

Last week, I wrote about how our household functions well because of the Weekly Review. That really does work well, but there was something else that wasn’t going quite right…

The problem: Non-urgent, nagging tasks

I noticed that some things were falling through the cracks. You know how sometimes an important but non-urgent letter arrives, and you think, “Ah yes, I’ll deal with this,” and in the end you don’t? This was basically what was happening to us.

It happened to Jacob with sending stuff back a couple of times. He ordered a couple of shirts online, tried them on, didn’t like them, and meant to return them. He left them on the dining table, so he could see them easily and thus remember to send them back. But returning them didn’t feel urgent.

I reminded him several times to start the return procedure, but he told me to, “Relax, pumpkin.” Okay, I relaxed. When he decided to return them, he realized that they should have been returned within 15 days, and today was day 16. Too bad. Now we were stuck with unwanted shirts.

I tried to identify the problem. What had gone wrong in this situation? Well, this task didn’t have a time when it could be done. The assumption was that when Jacob had time, he’d get to it. But things that don’t seem urgent or important often don’t get done in a timely manner.

The solution: Power Hour!

And then it hit me: We need to make time to do these things! All kinds of random errands and seemingly unimportant or non-urgent things need a time when they can get done. So I blocked an hour per week on both of our calendars when we can do this. Gretchen Rubin calls this Power Hour, which is a strikingly fitting name.

This is how Power Hour works: throughout the week, we put stuff that needs to be tackled in our Inboxes (a container for each of us), and during Power Hour, we take the stuff out and do what needs to be done. It works surprisingly well because an hour doesn’t feel like a lot of time to dedicate to nagging tasks, but it’s enough to keep things going and not get bogged down by forgotten tasks (or shirts that don’t fit).

This is one of those really practical ideas that seems simple but makes a big difference. At least for us it’s been very helpful. You certainly don’t need to implement this as a couple; one person can benefit from Power Hour just as much.

Would you like to try Power Hour? How do you tackle nagging, non-urgent tasks? Let me know by commenting below or on FacebookTwitter, or LinkedIn.

Photo by Rodolfo Clix from Pexels

The Home Weekly Review: Why our household is functioning well

In our home, we manage to get quite a lot of stuff done without too much stress, and we also get to relax and do fun stuff together. How do we do this? The key is the Weekly Review.

There are a couple of things we need to keep track of in our household. Both Jacob and I have work obligations that we need to communicate to each other, irregular working hours, and additional projects that need extra coordination. On the home front, we do substantial meal preparation since we cook all our food (each of us eats out about once per week), and we also exercise 3-4 times per week. Not to mention that we’re getting ready for a baby, which (who knew?) means that we’ve had to do more shopping than we’ve done in years.

How we started

Soon after Jacob and I started dating, we needed to coordinate schedules. We’d usually spend the weekends together, and on Sunday evening, when he was dropping me off, we’d talk about when we’d see each other next. Needless to say, this wasn’t the best time to have that conversation because both of us were trying to remember our schedules for next week off the tops of our heads. This led to lots of back-and-forth texting in the beginning of the week and too much logistics for a fresh couple.

One Sunday afternoon, I suggested a simple idea to him:

“Hey, how about we sit down and look at our calendars now to figure out what we’re doing next week?”

It was super quick and easy. We spent maybe 15 minutes comparing our schedules and figuring out when would be a good time to meet up. We kept this up for months until we moved in together. At that point, there were many more things to discuss, so I proposed adding some structure to the Weekly Review. I adapted it from my own weekly review which I do for work, and it was surprisingly effective.

We still do the Weekly Review every Sunday. We usually do it in the afternoon (before our meal prep), and it takes 30-60 minutes depending on how many things we need to discuss. Here’s what our Weekly Review looks like.

What we include in our Weekly Review

  1. What did we do this week?
  2. What went well?
  3. What didn’t go so well?
  4. Did things fit our priorities?
  5. What will we do next week?
  6. Food plan
  7. Financial overview

We sit next to each other with our laptops, and we go over the past week according to our calendars. There are several reasons why this exercise is useful:

  • It reminds you of everything you’ve done that week;
  • You may remember that you need to follow up on something or finish something up, so you can create a reminder or task to reflect that;
  • You can assess what went well during the week, so you may choose to attend an event you liked again, hang out with people you enjoyed, or continue to apply a time management strategy you tried out;
  • You can also assess what didn’t go so well. Maybe you thought you’d be finished with a task in an hour but in fact it took three; maybe you tried to pack in too many tasks in too short a time and felt stressed or overwhelmed; maybe you didn’t spend enough time on something you find important (such as putting together baby furniture…) or you worked hard but didn’t make time to see your friends.

The past week

I assess my week in this way, and then Jacob assesses his. We try to figure out what we’re happy with from the past week and what we can improve. We can also, of course, make suggestions about the other person’s things or share if something the other person did didn’t work for us.

We also ask ourselves whether what we did in the past week fit our priorities. You can have a very productive and perfectly organized week, but if what you did didn’t make you happy or if you missed something and couldn’t fit it into your life, you need to think about making a change. It’s okay if not each week fits our priorities, but we need to watch out for many weeks in a row feeling unsatisfying or draining. This could add up and lead to burn out, unhappiness, or health problems, so it’s much better to catch it early.

The upcoming week

Then, we move on to the next week. Again, we look at our calendars and discuss what we’re going to do. We discuss any logistical issues or things we may need to coordinate (who needs the car when; when we’re going to see which friends; when we’re going to assemble some baby furniture… do you see a pattern here?).

Then, we also check our tasks and projects (Wunderlist lists and Trello boards) and think about when we may do what. This we can often do individually, but we can also ask the other person in case we need some input. Often, we catch time conflicts in this way and manage to resolve them because there’s enough time (instead of it happening the night before).

We also leave some time as ‘couple time.’ We used to make the mistake where we completely booked ourselves with stuff, up till the end of the evening. It’s easy to do when I wanted to finish a little bit of work after dinner or when Jacob was studying for an extra qualification. In the end, we chose to reserve some time for those things but also leave some time for quality time together. A little bit of time like this a couple of times a week allows us to feel connected even when we’re doing a lot and juggling many other responsibilities at the same time.

Other stuff

Then, we look at our food plan for the upcoming week. I usually make the food plan because I care about eating delicious and non-boring food which is also healthy and makes me feel good. Jacob likes his food to be healthy, but he doesn’t care much for variety; he could eat the exact same weekly menu all year round, but I can’t do that. Thus, I look up cool recipes and add them to our weekly menu to spice things up. This also gets us ready for our meal prep session which follows after the Weekly Review.

Finally, we do a financial overview. We track our spending and use You Need a Budget, an app that helps us reflect on our spending and set budgets and financial goals for ourselves. We check this as part of our Weekly Review to see how we’re doing on different budgets, where we need to stop spending, where we can spend more, or what categories we need to transfer more money to. This also makes us more aware of our spending and how we might like to change that to reflect our priorities better.

Until next week!

And that’s it for the Weekly Review! It has both purely administrative and logistical uses such as time management and planning, and it also facilitates reflecting on our priorities. We both really appreciate the Weekly Review for what it does for our household; seriously, Jacob never wants to skip it because it contributes to a much smoother work- and life-flow. And for me that’s great because what could be more fun on a Sunday afternoon that the Weekly Review?! Really, nothing!

Are you tempted to try the Weekly Review? Do you do something similar in your own way? Let me know by commenting below or on FacebookTwitter, or LinkedIn.

Photo by Janina Pieterse

Our method for organizing our home (including worksheet)

My husband and I got serious about organizing our home this time! Okay, I got serious, meaning I printed out worksheets and stuff. Jacob just went along with it, poor soul…

Applying Organizing from the Inside Out

As I mentioned in a previous blog post, I read Julie Morgenstern’s Organizing from the Inside Out and decided to apply her system to our home. She proposes three stages to the organizing process:

  1. Analyze: You (and anybody sharing the space) discuss the current state of your physical environment and what you’d like to get out of it;
  2. Strategize: You come up with a strategy for how you will use different areas of your home or office and then decide where things will be stored in each area; you also estimate how much time you will need for organizing each section of your home;
  3. Attack: You go through your stuff, decide what to keep, what to give away, and what to throw away; you organize the things you decide to keep; you also continue maintaining the system in the future.

I made a worksheet to fill out and follow when doing this in our own home. You can find the worksheet here, but I highly recommend reading the book before diving in. Julie Morgenstern includes so many practical tips that the system can be useful to anyone, including people with very different preferences and challenges.

Analyze

Jacob and I liked the ‘Analyze’ portion. We answered the five questions (see worksheet above), which was useful because each of us had a different take on things. The most useful questions for us were, “What’s working?” and, “What’s not working?” I need to note that we were already fairly organized, so we didn’t need to sit down and think about our motivation and problems from scratch; we already knew why we like to be organized, and we just needed some tweaks. But it’s always good to revisit the motivation and the bigger goals in order to be on the same page.

Strategize

Then, we moved on to the ‘Strategize’ portion. We found that we didn’t need to list all the areas in our house by activity, supplies, and storage units, as is suggested in the book. Most of our areas and storage units work well, so we just mentioned those. We focused on the areas that aren’t working well and how we’d like to change them. We explored our current habits, what’s not working, and how we can improve the situation.

For example, we have an issue with our ‘Home Information Center,” i.e., the place where stuff (mail, deliveries, etc.) comes in and where stuff needs to wait until it’s dealt with or stored. We have dedicated inboxes where we’re supposed to put the stuff that comes in, but the trouble is that we never look at those inboxes, so we also don’t put stuff in there. Instead, we just put mail and packages and stuff from other people on the dining table and on the counter, but things pile up quickly. We try to use the thing itself as a visual cue to remind us to deal with it, but the counter gets cluttered so quickly that it becomes impossible to remember what we were supposed to do with what.

As a solution, we decided to create dedicated inboxes as well as outboxes (one of each for Jacob and one of each for me) and place them on the counter (instead of on the shelf where the inboxes are now, making them more difficult to reach). We’re also going to establish a habit of going through the inboxes and outboxes at regular intervals, so stuff doesn’t get forgotten in there.

This is one example, but we tackled and problem solved for several such problematic areas in our home. I wrote down the solutions we had identified and any additional items we might need to buy to make these solutions possible.

I have to say we didn’t map out the space or rearrange the furniture as suggested in the book. We weren’t looking to make any of these changes, so for us that didn’t seem necessary.

We also didn’t estimate how long each organizing activity would take us. We’ve set aside a couple of blocks of time each week for organizing, so we’ll keep going until we’re done. Also, I like to set a Pomodoro timer to go off every 25 minutes when we’re organizing/decluttering: it forces us to take a little break, and it also reminds us of the time that has already passed.

Attack

Then, we went ahead, took the plunge, and started organizing things. We began with the living room as that’s our most clutter-attracting part of the house.

1. Sort

First, we took out our stuff from shelves, containers, etc. and looked at it. We started with the visible stuff: the stuff on the dining table and the counter or the stuff that didn’t have a place. That gave me an immediate feeling of progress because these are the things I’ve been wanting to be gone.

2. Purge

Next, we decided what we’d like to keep and what we’d like to discard (either give away or throw away). There were also some things we moved to storage in the basement.

3. Assign a home

For the things we wanted to keep, we assigned a home. We took convenience into account: how convenient is it to use this box on this shelf? How often do we use this and how important is it that it has such a prominent location in our living room? What would make this document collection easier to peruse?

4. Containerize

Next, we identified which things should go into which containers. I’m not huge into containers; I know some people put everything in a separate container, but that seems like an overkill to me. Also, when you get more stuff of a certain type, then you have to get a new container… it’s a bit too much for me to have super specific containers for everything.

But we definitely use containers for some types of things, and we added a couple of boxes to group similar items and make them easier to reach and use.

5. Equalize

We discussed what would be the best way for us to maintain our living room in the shape it was now and agreed on a weekly time to go through our stuff and get up to speed, if necessary. I can say much more on this topic, but I’ll keep it short for now.

And this was it for our living room! We have a system that suits our habits better now, so I’m hopeful that it will stick. Next up: the kitchen…

How do you organize your home? Let me know by commenting below or on FacebookTwitter, or LinkedIn.

Image from Michael Basial (CC BY-NC 2.0)

How to organize your home for functionality, not for perfection

Every autumn, I get a yearning to organize my home and make it super tidy. Wouldn’t it be nice if everything was in its perfect place and looked just right?

However, this type of compulsion to tidy up can leave me overwhelmed and exhausted, as I wrote about in this blog post, so I resist it. I try to engage with it only as long as it’s helpful instead of when it’s making me annoyed or impatient.

I’ve read a couple of organizing books recently, and I’m currently reading Julie Morgenstern’s organizational classic Organizing from the Inside Out. While reading the first few chapters, I completely fell in love with the idea of a perfectly organized home. How pleasant and peaceful it would be to have a completely tidy room! But then I thought better of it. Is it really?

I noticed an interesting distinction: Julie Morgenstern talks about organization in terms of functionality and efficiency, while I think mostly about aesthetics. She emphasizes that you should observe your own habits and tendencies and build your environment in a way that supports you. For instance, if, after coming home, you like to dump your mail on the dining table, take that as a given. Perhaps place a box for incoming mail right there on the dining table or very close to it and create a routine where you go through that inbox every evening after dinner. It’s much easier to maintain a system, she argues, if it’s adapted to your needs rather than if you have to adapt to your system.

Adapt your organizational system to your habits

This has been a major light bulb moment for me. I don’t usually care much about functionality or efficiency. As long as things have a place, I’ll put them there, even if it’s a little inconvenient. But Jacob, my husband, really likes things being convenient, and I can see why.

So, right now we’re in the process of moving things around in our kitchen. In the past, we assigned spots for pots, pans, and plates based on where they fit. While this is also clearly important, sometimes the arrangement is not super convenient. We don’t keep our spices, for example, close to where we cook, and it’s not particularly nice to have to move spices back and forth across the kitchen multiple times. This means we end up leaving the most commonly used spices out on the counter, which annoys me.

As a solution, we’ve now moved our spices to a shelf right above the cooking area, which is super convenient. We used to keep our teas there, but teas don’t need to be close to the cooking area, so why keep them there? Hopefully, we’ll now put away our spices rather than leaving them on the counter.

This is a small example, but it has important consequences if applied on a larger scale. If things are convenient to use and easy to put away, then our organizational system has a much higher chance of surviving. Then, we can have a tidy home without the maintenance feeling tedious or burdensome.

Perspective shift

For me, this has a bigger consequence as well. Being tidy, to me, represents having things in perfect order. If one thing is in the wrong place, this means I’ve failed, which makes me so uncomfortable that I need to move this thing immediately.

In contrast, if the emphasis is on functionality, the whole perspective shifts. When things are reasonably tidy, great, the organizational system is working well. When things start getting messy, it means our habits have shifted a bit, and the current system doesn’t accommodate them as well as it could. We can identify the problem and make a few small changes, so the system starts working well for us again.

Note that the emphasis here is not on perfection. It’s on having a reasonably well-functioning organizational system. Also, it’s perfectly fine and part of the deal that we need to constantly keep adapting our system, so it can be in tune with our current habits and demands.

Do you have an organization system that works well for you? Or, on the contrary, one that doesn’t work well? Let me know by commenting below or on FacebookTwitter, or LinkedIn.

How I reached an optimal level of tidiness

Photo: Me in my early teens, thriving on a messy room. Apparently, that’s possible too.

I love an organized house. If it were up to me, my home would be super tidy, and everything would have an exact place. It feels so peaceful to look at a perfectly organized room.

In fact, when I lived by myself, that’s how it was. I had a specific way of organizing the pillows on the couch or of putting the tea cups in the kitchen cupboards. When some friends came to visit, they found it extremely amusing that all my spices were arranged in rows, with the labels all facing forward. I didn’t get why this was so amusing; how could you possibly arrange your spices differently?!

The challenge

Things changes when Jacob and I moved in together. While he’s not extremely messy, he’s more towards the middle of the spectrum, while I’m at, well, one end of it. He was going to move into my place, but he owned quite a lot of stuff, so we very deliberately went through all his stuff, chose what to keep and what to give away or throw away. This was much better than just moving all his stuff.

For the sake of fairness, I went through my stuff and removed unnecessary items as well. After all, I wanted to make space for him to move in with me, and I didn’t mind getting rid of stuff I wasn’t using.

But when we actually started living together, I found it difficult not to have everything my way. He was good about being clean and more tidy than before, but things were still not how they had been when I lived by myself.

However, I realized that my standards were not realistic for other people and, honestly, they were too much even for me sometimes. I liked it when things were tidy, but it was exhausting to keep them like that all the time. It was irrational to expect another person to keep to my standards for no better reason than that I just liked things that way.

My own exposure therapy

So for the first one or two months of living together, I basically did a form of exposure therapy. I saw my spices arranged differently, not in rows, with some labels not facing forward (what a tragedy!). I had the urge to re-arrange them, but I resisted. I saw letters, keys, and wallets on the dining table and didn’t put them away. I saw my toothbrush and the toothpaste placed in a different spot on the sink and resisted the urge to move them back. (Nope, that one still gets me! There’s a just a specific spot where my toothbrush and toothpaste go!)

It wasn’t exactly easy to give myself this exposure to things not being in the way I’d place them. I realized what the problem was: I thought that whenever he left something in the “wrong” place, it meant he didn’t care. He was disregarding my preferences and, thus, my feelings. I told him about this, and he was rather surprised. He said the two things had nothing in common in his mind, and over time I came to believe him.

Knowing that this was important for me, he tried harder to be tidy. For instance, he began putting the car keys in the key bowl, so I could find them easily as well. Nowadays, if sometimes I accidentally leave the car keys on the table instead of in the key bowl, he calls out, “Where are the car keys? Why are they not in the key bowl?!” I apologize and promptly put them in the key bowl next time. Who would have thought this day would come!

The optimal level of tidiness

Unwillingly, I have to report that I’ve also become happier since things in our house became less strictly organized. It took a lot of pressure off of me! I didn’t have to always have everything in perfect order. If I didn’t feel like tidying up right this moment, I could leave it for later. This never felt possible before! In the past, the out-of-place objects had some sort of power over me, compelling me to put them in place.

Now, I can choose whether I want to put things away or not. I also don’t have to make the space perfectly organized, but it’s alright if it’s “good enough.” This “good enough” is still a work in progress, but it’s much less strict than before.

And, most importantly, I know that we can communicate about our living space. If at some point our surroundings get too messy and start annoying me, I can simply say to him, “Hey, things are getting a bit messy, do you mind if we tidy up a bit?” He understands what I mean, and we simply put things away.

And now that we’re about to have a baby, my tolerance for messiness needs to go way up! As I read in one book, “When your toddler is feeding himself, don’t try to run around, keeping the floor clean. Let it go! Your kitchen floor will be clean again once he goes off to college.” Oh, dear. That’s a long time to have a messy floor.

What is your optimal level of tidiness (or messiness)? Let me know by commenting below or on FacebookTwitter, or LinkedIn.

Photo credits: my mom.

When self-care becomes non-negotiable

Perhaps surprisingly, self-care is not super easy for me. Most of the time, I manage to follow the priorities I set for myself, so my life feels like it’s in accordance with what I want. This may be relatively easy for me because I’m an Upholder according to Gretchen Rubin’s Four Tendencies framework, which means that I meet my own expectations as easily as I meet other people’s expectations. But that doesn’t apply with equal strength to everything.

One major point of difficulty is self-care. Self-care is a popular topic right now, being discussed by life coaches, health professionals, and writers. You might think that, as an Upholder, I wouldn’t struggle with this, but that’s not the case. I admit that I find it easier to do things for myself (such as find time to exercise or set aside me-time) than some other people, but that doesn’t mean it’s completely easy.

Lie down!

A week ago, I had a funky experience. I was doing my thing around the house, getting ready for work, when I got a sudden, sharp pain in my belly. Not a great thing when you’re pregnant. A few seconds later it went away, so I continued going about my business, but then it came back again. I thought it might be something, so I lay down and called my obstetrician. She told me to lie down for 20-30 minutes or until it goes away. She said it’s not super worrisome, but I should try to prevent it from happening.

After speaking to her, the first thing that crossed my mind was, “Lie down for 30 minutes?! But I have a plan for today, I have work to do!” My mind was in go-go-go mode, and I didn’t want to lie down, but apparently my body needed me to pause. When self-care became non-negotiable, I obliged, but it would have never happened otherwise.

Take breaks (again…)

Along the same line, I’ve known for a long time that I should take frequent breaks from sitting for the health of my back. Did I do this regularly in the past? Not really. I’d set a timer for 25 minutes and mean to get up and walk around when it went off, but it was so much easier to keep working–it’s just unpleasant to be interrupted. So I’d end up ignoring the timer and only getting up when I got stiff.

As I described in a post last week, pregnancy has forced me to change this behavior. Since my back is getting much more tired now, I really do get up when that timer goes off (okay, most of the time I do…) and walk around. But I’m only doing this because of the real possibility that I may get a trapped nerve in my back if I continue sitting all day without breaks. Again, the circumstances have made it unavoidable that I have to take care of my back.

Get more sleep (finally)

Big surprise: I’ve been needing more sleep since I got pregnant. I sleep 8.5-9 hours a night, and if I sleep any less, I wake up tired and groggy. This is crazy! 7.5-8 hours of sleep used to be fine, but that just doesn’t cut it anymore.

At first, I tried to make it through the day with my usual amount of sleep and maybe catch a little snooze for 15 minutes after lunch. Nope, that didn’t work; I was just irritable and tired.

So now I’m making sure I get more sleep. I start my bedtime routine at 21:00, get in bed at 22:00 (or 22:30 at the latest), put on my sleep mask and earplugs, and sleep until 7:00! I feel like a boring person for going to bed so early, but it makes such a big difference to wake up rested. I decided to enjoy good sleep for now while I still have the opportunity.

Is self-care selfish?

I keep wondering why it is so difficult to take care of ourselves even when we know we should. We all know we should make time for our own needs and health, but it feels harder to do that than to work, clean the house, or help a friend, for example.

I think it’s because we feel that we are the only ones benefiting from our self-care, and we’ve been taught not to be selfish. Technically, we’re not the only ones benefiting because we’re much better able to do our work or take care of others when we’ve taken care of ourselves, but this is often difficult to see because the benefits for other people are not immediately obvious.

Pregnancy has been a good reminder for me that taking care of myself means simultaneously taking care of someone else. Having this reason has made it easier for me to rest more, although I still feel guilty and like I should be doing more.

I recently came across a post from Molly Galbraith where she says that every woman has the right to take care of herself not because that makes her a better caretaker but just because she is worth it. This struck me. It applies to any human being: we shouldn’t need a reason to take care of ourselves; we should just do so because we inherently deserve it.

How to ensure we take care of ourselves

I think many of us are not quite there yet, although it would be great if we were. For all of us who struggle with self-care, it may be best to:

  • Find a good reason (a strong ‘why’) which leads us to engage in self-care (as pregnancy is for me right now);
  • Find an effective accountability system: join a group that will keep you accountable, find a buddy for a certain activity, or get a coach (in my case, it works when my husband says, “You’ve been standing for a long time, you need to sit down (or lie down) for five minutes” or “You’re tired, you need to go to bed”);
  • Find a system that works for you (such as my timer that tells me to get up and walk around).

While it would be great if we could take care of ourselves simply because we’re worth it, I believe that anyway we can get ourselves to engage in self-care is achieving the goal.

How do you take care of yourself? What do you struggle with? Let me know by commenting below or on FacebookTwitter, or LinkedIn.

Photo by Min An on Pexels

What I do to alleviate back pain during pregnancy

Recently, my back has been getting tired as my belly has been growing. This is what I’ve been doing to relieve the tension.

The most important trick: take breaks!

Jacob, my chiropractor husband, had told me a long time ago that since I sit at a desk at work, I need to take frequent breaks. I’ve often gone back and forth on this one, taking breaks for a few days or even a week and then going back to being too lazy to walk up and down the hallway. I used to set a reminder every hour that said, “Take a break!” When that reminder popped up, I’d think, “You’re not going to tell me to take a break!” and keep working.

But I was recently reminded of the importance of taking breaks. It really makes a difference if I get up for a few minutes and walk around or do some simple stretches. My back is better able to stay seated afterwards and doesn’t get as tired.

Therefore, I’ve re-established the use of the Pomodoro method (I’m currently using the Focus Booster app because it has a nice small clock that can stay on top of whatever other app I’m using, so I can always see how much time I have left of my work period). The Pomodoro method alternatres work periods (typically 25 minutes) with break periods (typically 5 minutes and every ~2 hours a longer break) and emphasizes focusing on one task at a time and avoiding distractions.

Funny enough, I also use this method for other activities such as cooking. Jacob and I have two long cooking sessions a week (on Sunday and Wednesday evenings) which usually last 1.5-2 hours, and we cook all our food for the next few days (including breakfast, lunch, dinner, and any snacks). If I remain standing in the kitchen for 2 hours, this kills my back. Therefore, I set a Pomodoro timer, and after 25 minutes, I take a break. I usually sit or lie down, and after 5 minutes I’m ready to continue cooking.

These frequent breaks have nicely come together with my Doing Nothing practice. I try not to check my phone during the 5-minute breaks and instead allow my thoughts to wander and do their thing. Only now do I realize that a brief message or notification can distract me when I’m in working mode. Even if I read it during the break between two work sessions, I sometimes keep thinking about the message when I start working again and can’t focus as well as I did beforehand. More generally, responding to messages or checking social media during a brief break can easily extend a 5-minute break to 10 or 15 minutes, which is then not simply a brief, refreshing break.

Exercise and walking

Since the beginning of my pregnancy, I’ve been following a training program for pregnancy called Moms Gone Strong which includes strength and cardio exercise. This program is amazing and has helped me challenge myself appropriately and continue to strengthen my back. I usually train 3-4 times a week.

I also do prenatal yoga from Yoga with Adrienne 1-2 times per week. It helps me relax and get some pressure off my back, and it generally gives me that wonderful zen feeling that yoga brings.

I really like walking, so I try to get in a 30-minute walk every day. If I have the time, I go for 1-1.5 hours, taking a short break every 30 minutes or so. I love going for walks in nature whenever possible.

A couple of months ago, my lower back muscles started cramping up quite a bit. Jacob explained that this happens because now, due to the growing belly, my front core muscles can’t really work anymore, so my lower back muscles end up carrying the weight of the whole belly and also help me stay upright. Because of the structure of my lower back and spine, the muscles end up cramping up, which is painful.

Jacob suggested that I roll my back and glutes on a lacrosse ball. Yikes. I hadn’t done this before, so it hurt like a *$@%*&#*$&*# the first few days when I was rolling on the ball, but immediately afterwards the cramping up was released and I was more pain-free for the rest of the day. Now I use the lacrosse ball almost every day, and while it’s not exactly pleasant (i.e., it still hurts), it’s much more bearable than at first. It definitely helps to release those cramped up back muscles!

These are the tricks I’ve discovered so far to alleviate backache and that work best for me. Let me know if you have other awesome tips I should know about!

Have you tried any of these suggestions? Let me know by commenting below or on FacebookTwitter, or LinkedIn.

Photo by Clem Onojeghuo from Pexels