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Not to put too fine a point on it, but The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, organizing guru Marie Kondo’s bible on decluttering, really did change my life, and I read it at a time when I needed it most. I discovered this book about seven years ago, when so much of my life was in chaos. I was going through a divorce and drawn-out custody battle, and it felt like I had so little control of anything else that was going on around me.
But this tome, so tiny and compact, called out to me and became a life raft of sorts. While I’ve always been a minimalist, I still had stuff I needed to prune out, including my son’s belongings and a seemingly endless mountain of mail that never received the attention it needed. This book offered me a plan on how to tackle these organizational obstacles.
But the lessons went well beyond physical decluttering. I also learned how to declutter other aspects of my life, including how I spend my working time and my free time. From this book I learned to focus on activities that spark joy for me and organize my days so I have more time to do those things. Here are some tips I’ve learned along the way:
Clutter-Free Space Equals a Clutter-Free Mind
I work from home, and in order for me to work effectively and efficiently, my environment has to be clean and clutter-free. Otherwise, I am too distracted to concentrate — I’ll always find a dish to wash or a load of laundry to start. My work desk is set up in a corner of my dining room, where I have a birds-eye view of the kitchen, and there’s nothing more disconcerting to me than counters filled with items to be put away. So, before my workday starts, I take 10 minutes to do a counter sweep and clear away everything on top and spray the surfaces with a cleaner while I’m at it. This gives me the mental clarity to get into “office mode.”
Establish a Morning Routine With Kids
I only have one kid — a son who is a junior in high school — so I have it a little easier than most households, but even still, having to keep after a teenager to get going for school is challenging most days. I admit, even with the best-laid routine, our mornings still go awry. I see this as a work in progress, but the one thing that does help is for me to wake up about half an hour before my son and get my morning routine started — this involves making my bed, having that first cup of tea, some light stretching, and a little morning NPR. This at least puts me in a better mindset even if the morning goes sideways and we’re late for carpool … again.
Speaking of morning routines, a bedtime one is also necessary. My son is too old to have a bedtime routine so he just does his own thing (and what teenager can be wrangled into one anyway?), but I have to have one in order to put myself into sleep mode. This includes tidying up the common spaces (I don’t think I can sleep thinking of dirty dishes). This doesn’t have to take long. Twenty minutes is all you need to put everything away; save the deep cleaning for the weekend when you have more time. And when I finally retire to my bedroom, I try not to bring my laptop with me and further stimulate my mind. I bring a nice hot mug of herbal tea instead and read a book to wind down.
Write Out a Schedule
I have this quote by Annie Dillard, from her book The Writing Life, written on the first page of my planner: “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing. A schedule defends from chaos and whim. It is a net for catching days.”
It is a sentiment I try to live by. I work a full-time job and have freelance clients on the side, plus I’m raising a son half-time as a single mom. Organizing my time is essential in order to do everything I need to do in a day. I use Google Sheets to block out the hours in my day, factoring in school drop-offs and pickups, carpool, making dinner, and going to the gym. Oftentimes I over-commit — things crop up like doctors’ appointments or a long, unexpected phone call from a relative, a last-minute project — and I have to remind myself that the schedule is merely a guide; not accomplishing everything in it is not a sign of failure. But having one is immensely helpful in guiding my days.
… And Plug in Downtime
A spreadsheet for your schedule might seem rigid, but I also block out downtime throughout, especially on the weekends. Saturdays are spent on household chores like grocery shopping, meal prepping, and laundry, but Sundays are blocked out for doing things I love, such as hiking, going on day trips with my son, having brunch with friends, knitting, or napping. And I always cap it off with a hot yoga class in the evening. Scheduling relaxation and self-care at the end of the week prepares me for the challenges that lie ahead for the following week, when the cycle starts all over again.