Saturday, June 30, 2007


The time has come, the Walrus get a handle on my Stuff. The Stuff in my house. The Stuff I need to do. The Stuff I want to do. Not to mention the Stuff my kids and husband want and need. Stuff, stuff, stuff.

And also, I'm rather pissed off about it, because this used to be the area I excelled in. I used to be a process improvement consultant for pete's sake!

What's wrong? Have I forgotten everything I used to know? No!

A big reason I've lost control of my Stuff is that my life has changed quite a bit in the last 6 years. Six years ago, I was living in a big roomy house with one other adult and 2 mild-mannered cats. I had a paying job that I got up and went to every morning. Brendan had a job that he got up and went to every morning. I did my grocery shopping on weekends, and got to see some movies once in a while, too. We took turns making a Sunday dinner with our good friends next door and the four of us would laugh and talk and drink wine and watch bad movies.

Today, I live in the same big only-now-feeling-slightly-cramped house with another adult, two kids, those same two older, grumpier cats, and two frogs (but the frogs are a long story). Brendan works for himself and has an office just a few miles away. We have one car. I spend my days working on the cabin business and my mlm businesses, but my main job is rearing the kids (and I do approach raising small children as a job, which is probably another post someday). I go to the grocery store in the middle of the day (or at night when I can leave the kids at home--M is a nightmare to shop with lately). We stopped having our Sunday dinners because our friends have two kids of their own now and it's just too insane with all eight of us here. We do it every once in a while, when the weather is nice and the little ones can go outside.

My current job is 24/7 and I do it mostly here in the house. My old jobs I got to leave behind at the end of the day, get a change of scenery and a chance to collect my thoughts. I got a true break. Even when I'm out of the house, I don't get a chance to reflect about what needs to be done because we're usually doing errands relating to the house and/or kids.

In my current job, I need to be highly flexible and ready to change tasks at a moment's notice. I know that I thought the same of my old jobs, and sure, flexibility and adaptability are always important qualities in any kind of PeopleGuy. But now it's . . . more-oh-my-gods-unbelievably-MORE. I have to be ready to stop whatever I'm doing and jump up and change a diaper or soothe an injury or help negotiate a disagreement or clean up a spill or watch a funny dance. And my coworkers are extremely unforgiving. I remember in previous jobs, needing to suddenly jump on a problem, but then my coworkers were adults (even if they didn't always act that way) and would generally understand if I, say, needed to pee or something before jumping on said problem. My current coworkers are sometimes literally unable to understand certain facts of reality, such as sometimes Mommy really really needs to pee/sleep/think/whatever, which I think makes things just a teensy bit more challenging. For me, anyway. YMMV.

So, yeah, things are different now! All those changes, yet the way I manage the Stuff in my life hasn't adapted. So I'm inefficient, things are falling through the cracks, and I can never seem to keep up with the laundry. I feel unproductive much of the time and I really really hate that.

But--I'm starting to turn things around! I really am. I feel as though I'm on the cusp of Figuring It Out and Actually Getting Organized. Yippee!

We're decluttering all the time, getting rid of things we just don't love and just don't use. I'm reorganizing the space on the inside of the house and in the yard. We did get that big ole dumpster back in March and really really cleaned out the basement (due to be finished sometime in my lifetime, I hope). I'm trying to boil down the Stuff in our lives to essentials only. I'm making progress!

I've read so many great books lately that are really helping me straighten out my priorities and manage things more efficiently. The Not So Big House (and other books in the same series) has really opened my eyes to creative ways to utilize the space in my house. I have already taken some steps toward reorganizing some rooms--got new furniture for the kids to have "desk" spaces of their own (and therefore out of my kitchen), rearranged and thinned out my books, and I've been able to keep the kitchen (where my desk is) almost spotless for the last month since I've cleared off more counter space. Now I actually want to cook!

FlyLady is another inspiration, which I have relied on to help me with my kitchen goals (the only room in the house that gets used regularly that is also fairly decluttered and clean). Conceding defeat ages ago in the vacuuming/dusting/bathroom cleaning categories, we have had a cleaning service come every other week to handle those jobs, but I do keep my sink shiny. I really like the method FlyLady advocates for decluttering rooms, which I've used in reorganizing our library, guest room, and Morgan's room. Now I don't receive the thousands of emails from FlyLady anymore; I get way too much email as it is. But her ideas of letting go of perfectionism that hinders progress (yep, that's me) and developing routines are awesome.

I finally bought and read Getting Things Done by David Allen on the recommendation of a few fellow Objectivist bloggers, notably Diana, Eran, and Gus. Wow. I need to go back and reread the finer details again, which I plan to do as I implement the system. Here's why I think it will work for me. His method is to get every single little freaking thing that you have To Do and write it down, organized into various well-organized lists. And that's been my problem lately. I have lists, but they are not logical or well-organized (I see that now!). I have a calendar, but it's all mixed up with my lists. And I don't have a good way to process my incoming Stuff.

Here's how I plan to implement Allen's ideas--Backpack. It's a web-based management program that you can get for free (although I've upgraded to get the security and a few more features). I can use the Calendar feature (still might switch back to Google Calendar, but I think I'll give this a try first) as well as create my lists as Backpack Pages. The neato thing is that I can include links and pictures right on my pages, which will come in handy for my businesses and big projects like redoing the basement. I will still need an inbox for processing the Stuff that enters the house, but my Next Actions and Project Planning stuff will go on a Backpack Page. Also, I can access my pages from my phone if need be, or print them, share them with Brendan, whatever.

Of course, my final inspiration is one of my old process improvement standbys from days of yore (when I had a "real" job that is!): The Goal by Eliyahu Goldratt. His Theory of Constraints is in many ways revolutionary (at least when I first began learning about it) in the manufacturing world. I applied it to the service world (my specialty) and there ain't no good reason why the principles won't work at home. Want to know the Big Secret? Focus on the bottleneck. That's pretty much it--and it's amazing to find that it's a big revolution in operations management, but you wouldn't believe how infrequently the focus of process improvement efforts is NOT the bottleneck but a) what people THINK is the bottleneck or b) whatever the Head Honcho's Hot Button Of The Moment happens to be. Again, another post for another time, perhaps. But for now--I need to identify and breakdown the bottlenecks at home. And the bottleneck I've identified is my lack of an organizational process that I can rely on and use to maximize my personal productivity. So I'm breaking it down, baby!

Why must all this be done? Apart from preserving what's left of my sanity and brain cells, that is?

I have so many things that need doing! I have so many other things that I WANT to be doing! I want to keep up with the laundry and read books that interest me and read books to my kids and go geocaching and blog all of my amazingly interesting thoughts and walk on the treadmill and cook healthy meals and have date nights with my husband and get together with my friends and homeschool my kids and possibly have a third child and live a nice comfortable orderly house. Not much to ask, really.

Well, time's a-wasting and I've got Things To Do (obviously). Cheers!


Monica said...

Great post. I do love The Not So Big House.

Rational Jenn said...

Thanks. It's nice to write about this--part of the brain dump process.

I'm glad you like The Not So Big House, too. It's becoming one of those inspirational, possibly life-changing books for me (not quite on the order of Atlas Shrugged though!).

Part of me wants to sell every single thing we own and start all over again! Ah well, I am making progress in the meantime.

Rational Jenn said...

Not to mention, I'm ever hopeful that my wonderful husband will read this and become as inspired to de-crapify the house as I!

(Not that he isn't busy being productively busy, but...) :o)