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.