Episodes Podcast

Mom Brain: Saved by systems, part 2

PLEASE NOTE: If you do not struggle to keep your home or your life organized, this episode is not for you and will sound super basic, boring and neurotic. If you do not suffer from Mom Brain, Dad Brain, ADHD or other executive functioning issues or have health or mental health issues that interfere with your ability to be a proactive, orderly person, it’s okay if you skip this one. If any of those things DO apply to you or if other life circumstances still make adulting a challenge, I hope you will find something helpful here.

When we left off, we were discussing the importance of having a clear vision of how you want your home to look. Click here for more info. Once you know what you want for your home and you’ve considered the people who live there with their needs and patterns then it’s just a matter of making that dream a reality.

 Having that clear vision helps us stay motivated and make good decisions but if we don’t set up systems, progress comes to a screeching halt.

How do you feel about routines? Do you thrive on routines? Do they work for you? I hate routines. I don’t know why. I don’t know where it came from but to me, a routine is basically an invitation to rebel. I can do a routine all of once or twice before I feel like I deserve a break from my rigid, oppressive schedule. 

Why systems

But the part of my brain that craves order is totally behind the use of systems. In my volunteer work I like to write out my procedures and compile them into systems because I love that I don’t have to think about tasks I repeat again and again and it just improves my workflow. Also I can hand the systematized parts off to someone else easily if I need to because it’s a machine anyone can operate! THAT feels good to me and lowers my stress level.

So it’s easy for me to see how systems can benefit the rest of my life. And I’ve been working on applying the same principles everywhere else. It’s slow going but progress IS being made. And progress is all that I ask! 

Who else has a hard time turning new systems into habits? For me to carry out a plan enough days in a row to make a habit out of it is a rare and beautiful thing. But in order to add systems into my life they have to be familiar. They have to get into my muscle memory and require minimal brain power.

Create a habit

I’m incredibly lucky to have a life coach for a father who helped me figure out a solution when I was trying to get into the habit of cleaning up after myself as I go. What do we do when we want to learn a new skill? We practice. Not when the opportunity arises but on a schedule… Consistently and intentionally. So, if I want to create a habit of changing my baby’s diaper without leaving a mess of wipes, the dirty diaper, the toy I distracted baby with and the wipes he tore out of the package then I can practice doing it, just like any other skill. And that’s what I did. I set a timer and two or three times a day and I sat down to change the baby’s diaper- whether or not it was needed with the specific intention of going through the steps and getting used to doing it the way I wanted to. This worked!e So, we tried the same thing with a couple of my kids’ morning routines. They really just weren’t getting it down and were leaving things out every day if they remembered to do it at all. So we did drills. When I called a drill, they would drop whatever they were doing, climb into bed and then go through all of their steps like they are getting up for the day. And what a world of difference. Of course, as I speak I’m realizing we are due for a refresher on that.

Another important point. As we are learning a new skill a lot of energy gets directed there. So when we shift to a new skill and put energy into that one, previously learned skills may slip a bit. That’s okay! And totally normal. Get in a few practice rounds again, get intentional about it, and you will be surprised how quickly it will come back to you!

So, I’ve talked about how to apply a system but not which systems to use or what to do. There’s a reason for that. There are systems prepackaged and ready to go all over the internet. A quick read through should tell you which ones would be worth a try for you and which ones are not so much.

If you struggle with Mombie brain or even Mom brain or ADHD or other executive functioning issues, then I think Konmari or A Slob Comes Clean are both great places to start. Dana K. White has a book called Decluttering at the Speed of Life that looks like a possibly less overwhelming method of meeting your clutter threshold for those who are intimidated by Konmari. 

Flylady is also geared toward struggling brains. I learned so much from that program so I can recommend it in good conscience. My sister in law just introduced me to Clean Mama which looks a bit like a simplified version of Flylady but I haven’t spent much time there yet so I’ll have to leave it to you to let me know what you think. 

DIY Systems

Or you don’t have to follow a program at all. Design your own by creating one system at a time. I think this is a great way to end up with a method that really works for you and your family. Pick a problem area to start with: laundry, or dishes, or papers, or your entry way, and assess what is preventing you from maintaining that area the way you’d like to. Are there solutions to any of those problems? I have a spot in the kitchen that attracts papers like I attract mosquitos. So, I’ve opened a note in my phone and I’m tracking categories of papers that get left there and deciding where I’d rather they go. Then I can create a system for those papers that hopefully bypasses the counter. That’s how most of my systems come to be. 

For example, when our towel laundry was totally out of control. Every method I attempted to manage our laundry problem failed miserably so I started looking at what our biggest obstacles. The number one by far was just the sheer number of towels and washcloths. I’d much rather do that load once or twice a week than continue giving my kids access to unlimited washcloths which they will blow through like a box of tissues when they have a cold. So I cut the supply back to a handful of dishtowels and washcloths and two towels for each person to manage on their own. Then I wash them about once a week (ideally) and that’s been life changing for us. Minimizing is usually at least part of the answer for most of our household flow issues.

My ADHD brain likes this method of working backward from the problem because it begins with motivation. I see the chaos that is caused in an area of my life by the lack of a system. I then tackle barriers to possible solutions, and work my way all the way back to what would solve the problem and then streamline as I practice that. 

Cheater meal planning

For many years I was a committed fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants cook. I don’t love to cook. And making the same meals at the same time every days is way too routine for me. But I also panic when it gets close to dinner time and I don’t have a concrete plan. For sanity’s sake I HAD to develop a system to make feeding people less of suck on my time, energy and brain power. I’m now firmly in the habit of meal planning over the weekend and doing grocery pickup Monday mornings. I now don’t have to stress about what to make for dinner and I don’t usually have to run to the store last minute. It’s taken a huge weight off my mom brain. Grocery pickup has changed everything for me. I HATE shopping. Also, I can do all my meal planning and shopping on my phone while I nurse the baby or whatever. I sort through my favorite recipes or Pinterest, and then flip back and forth to my grocery app and load my cart. Then I send the order, show up on Monday morning, and my little helpers load it all right into my car! I also love that I can add things to my cart throughout the week instead keeping a  grocery list that will probably get lost and I’m less likely to forget about items we need.

These systems work because they were created with me and my family in mind. I don’t have a favorite way to track them but what works well right now is having them on my phone calendar with alerts. I get a little reminder that it’s time to wash the “yucky towel” load. Sometime on Saturday or Sunday I send in the grocery order. 

For years we got away from having a chore day thinking it was better to do a little each day but it turns out my family, like me, really does better with getting the house ALL the way clean once a week instead of almost clean every day. So, I set aside my chore chart hang-ups and created a magnet board with all the jobs on it. We tend to be visual people around here so we each get a section that has all our chores in it and as we finish, we move the magnet to the other side of the board to show our brains we are making progress.

Reality is messy

I hope I sound terribly organized right now. But, full disclosure: my house is a mess. Halloween threw up in my front room where we are sorting through the bins, trying to see what costumes and decorations we can let go of. There are dishes in the sink, a couple loads of laundry in the tv room, cereal on the tile and remnants of our little toddler-nado every where you look. 

Our first Konmari was over four years ago and we’ve been through a couple moves, a pregnancy, a baby and many other changes since then. I have really difficult pregnancies so my family largely has to fend for themselves in that time and that changes the landscape of our home considerably. Then it takes about that first year postpartum to work my way from snuggling with baby in bed every possible moment to ready to reclaim my space. We recently hit that year mark and I’ve slowly been putting systems into place but at a snails pace since I’m still nursing and homeschooling and we have lots of life going on around here. I’m 100% ready for a full Konmari overhaul again so we’ve set that ball rolling but it’s turning out to be even trickier than I imagined for this family of 8 with our busy schedules and lack of executive functioning and our 1 year old wrecking ball. The hardest part for me is always giving myself the permission to focus on something that doesn’t seem like an immediate issue and let everything else slide. So, we sort and we make a mess, and we work through the process even as the house goes a little upside down around us. Because if we focus on keeping the house nice, we don’t get through process. Once our belongings are reduced and we are left with only the belongings that contribute directly to the life we want, then upkeep is an entirely different ballgame. It still requires attention every day and systems to keep things in order but maintenance consumes a fraction of the time and energy than we are spending now. In the meantime, expectations are low and we stay focused on the vision and our priorities.

As you are probably already aware, a system that works well today, may not work as well next month or next year. In our home, we each have a different color dishes that we are responsible for and then one person is assigned to community dishes after a meal. This system is currently broken and needs a reboot or tweaking so it’s also currently under observation. Another bonus about a system you created is that you get to recreate it however YOU like.

What works for you? Is decluttering a challenge for you? Do you have a good system for that? Do you Konmari? And how has that worked for your family. Drop a comment below and let me know!

Overwhelmed? Start here

Before I wrap up I wanted to share a couple other tricks that I use when I feel like I am losing control over my environment and frustration and resentment is starting to build up. One thing I picked up from the Flylady program that has stuck is using a timer. She says, You can do anything for 15 minutes. My brain says I can do anything for 5. So that’s usually what I do. When I’m REALLY stuck and feeling paralyzed and can’t get started or I feel like there’s too much to do and I won’t be able to make a difference, I turn off my audiobook or podcast, turn on some high energy music and then set a timer for 5 minutes. Then I start wherever I want but usually putting away clean dishes. Then, when the timer goes off, I reset for 5 and jump to clearing counters, then I might put away some folded laundry… whatever I want to do. When I need to, I use 5 of those minutes for a break but it’s best if it’s a laundry folding break or something like that because otherwise I DO lose momentum. By the time I AM ready for a real break, visible progress has been made which in itself is motivating and makes it easier to jump back in.

Do you ever walk around your house from room to room and everywhere your eyes fall is something that makes you grumble or grit your teeth. Ugh, I still need to get that pan back to my friend, ugh, there are crumbs in the silverware bins again, speaking of crumbs, look at the toaster shelf… ewww, I can’t believe that doorknob is still loose… etc. Eventually those little annoying things can start to have a big impact on the way I feel about my home and myself. So every now and then I will make a list of those little jobs and determine whether they are most likely to take about 5, 10, 15 or 20 minutes and organize them that way. 

So if I’m ready to leave the house 10 minutes early, or I am waiting for someone to show up in 15 minutes or the kid I was helping had to run to the bathroom, I can pull up my list and knock out one of those little jobs that was driving me crazy. I used to keep the list inside a cabinet door but now it lives in the notes section of my phone with every other piece of my life and my brain. I’ve never made it all the way through the list because I start to feel better about my home and myself pretty quickly and then my motivation dies off which is fine because if a task isn’t burning a hole in my brain then it best sit tight while I deal with all the other ones that are. I recently heard the phrase, leave the little fires burning and I love it. Every project doesn’t have to get done. Everything doesn’t have to be perfect. If you’re happy and comfortable and your home is functional and conducive to the life you are trying to create, then that’s winning!

I would love to hear about systems that work well for you and any tricks you’ve learned to overcome the pitfalls of mom brain and to be more effective in your life.

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