Behold, my linen closet. Home to travel bags, medical sundries, fabric swatches, outdated magazines, and my famous “Wayward Toys” basket. (I swear, one day I’ll put away all the Candy Land cards that I found in the backyard.) Oh yes, and somewhere in there are my linens. Linens we use, linens we don’t use … linens that fit beds that we haven’t owned in several years.
For the most part, my house is relatively well-organized. A place for everything, and most things in their place. But my linen closet—with its cavernous shelves stuffed with too much stuff since moving day (four years ago—four!)—eludes me. Each time I go to organize it, I simply don’t know where to begin.
Lately, I’ve been thinking: My closet is not unlike the mind of your average modern mom. Crammed full of to-do lists, agendas, schedules, advice, and the expectations (realistic and otherwise) of herself and everyone else. With all this clutter, we have little room for the things that bring us joy and forward movement in our lives, the realization of which usually makes us think, “I need to do more.” So we run around, getting stuff done, but as each day comes to a close, we’re frustrated, overwhelmed, and no closer to our goals.
What if the key to making changes in your life (healing past wounds, finding your purpose, achieving your dreams), is not doing more, but doing less? What I’m speaking of is the act of creating space in your life. Creating space is an essential precursor to experiencing positive change in your life. Without it, you’re a hamster on a wheel, always running, getting nowhere. (And let’s be honest, who hasn’t felt like a hapless rodent in the endless home-school-work-market-home circle.) In a culture that idolizes the mom who can “do it all,” it’s tough to place a higher value on slowing down, on really being present in our lives rather than getting that next to-do done. There is no more effective tool, though, for jumpstarting productivity and working toward your goals than creating space in your life for the things you wish to accomplish.
One day, over the holidays, I had a grand epiphany: As I stood in front of my linen closet, I thought of every home show I’ve ever seen on The Learning Channel. Before they make any renovations, they always clear the room. Ohhh, I thought to myself, in order tackle this mess, I need to create some space. Thanks, Trading Spaces. This year, I’m going to create some space in my linen closet, and in my mommy-mind as well. Here are some simple ways to get started:
“I just need to load the dishwasher, then check my emails, make the beds, then it’s off to pickup the kids …” We all have a looming to-do list, but being in constant “doing” mode is a fast track to mommy burnout. Finding time to take a deep breath is physically and emotionally restorative, and can help you let go of the fear that life will fall to pieces if you slow down.
Try this: Gently close your eyes and inhale to a count of 4, hold your breath for 1 count, then exhale for a count of 8. Bring awareness to your breath, following the air as it fills enters and then leaves your body. Repeat throughout the day to bring a cultivate of space.
Moms know better than anyone that there’s only so much you can get done in a day. We’re so busy, though, that we often fail to prioritize our tasks. The things that make us happy are first to be struck from the list as we struggles to meet the needs of our families. Find time for a hobby, a sport, a creative project, or anything you feel passionate about, and you’ll create spaces between the chores of motherhood. You’ll recharge your batteries and demonstrate to your family (and yourself) that you are right up there on the list with the milk, bread and eggs.
Ask yourself: What is missing from my life, the addition of which would bring me joy? What could I eliminate from my daily/weekly/monthly schedule to make room for myself as a priority?
Ask for Help
Moms are famous for taking it all on, no matter how high the pile, but we don’t win a prize for doing everything ourselves (unless you prize sleep deprivation and the occasional ulcer). It really does take a village to raise a child (thanks, Hillary), but most of won’t ask for help because we’re afraid we’ll come off as incompetent parents. If you learn to lean on the people in your life and let them lean on you, you’ll create community and connectedness … and you can toss your martyr hat out with yesterday’s grocery list.
Try this: Think of one task you could delegate to someone supportive in your life. Who could you ask for help? What would that free you up to do? Would releasing that task from your responsibility help you be a calmer, happier parent?
Let Go of the Fantasy
Open any parenting magazine and you’ll find tips for juicing your own raw breakfast, hand-making birthday party invitations, and crafting little mittens out of old sweaters. If only we could find the time to do all these things, we’d be … perfect moms! News flash: There’s no such thing. Liberate yourself from the Perfect Mom Fantasy! Now, instead of beating yourself up for not measuring up to someone else’s ideal, you can focus only on doing the things that truly make you happy.
Try this: Make a list of the tasks you’re having trouble accomplishing. Now list all the negative things you’ve said to yourself for not getting them done. Do any of these projects fall into the category of “Perfect Mom” fantasy? If so, could you let them go?
“Could you bake 50 cupcakes for our bake sale?”
“Could you host a post-season party for 15 Little Leaguers at your house?”
“Could you be our parent volunteer on frog dissection day?”
“Oh dear lord, no.”
If this conversation is making you queasy, then I’m surprised you have time to read this article. Most moms think that anything asked of them related to their child is part of the job, regardless of their bandwidth to take it on. If it fits in your schedule, then by all means, get out the cupcake liners and start baking! But always remember that creating boundaries around your time doesn’t make you a bad mom, it makes you a better one.
Try this: The next time you’re asked if you can take on a task or obligation, allow yourself to reply, “Let me think about it and I’ll let you know later.” When you have a quiet moment, ask yourself what you’d have to say “No” to in your life in order to say “Yes” to this request. Not worth it? You know what to do.