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Put Time Back on Your Side

Create lists (lots of them). Delegate household chores. Downsize.

This is the second part of a two-part excerpt from Too Busy for Your Own Good: Get More Done in Less Time--With Even More Energy by Connie Merritt

Delegate Chores and Housekeeping
Cleanliness may be next to godliness, but spotlessness is next to craziness. Some of the loudest applause I receive is when I tell an all-female group, "Divide and conquer your housekeeping!" I stress that the goal is to give up on the dream of a spotless home without letting the place go to seed. If you're single and living alone, look to lowering your standards of what you call "clean." I can't tell you how freeing it was when I gave myself permission not to have a spotless home.

Each family member can contribute to the efficient running of your home. The first step in doling out chores is to make a list. Go around your house and make an assessment. Then list all the chores and housekeeping in your home that will make it livable. (Remember--it doesn't need to be perfect!) Now it's up to you to figure out which chores to delegate to whom. Enforce that this is not voluntary; it's part of what it means to be a family member.

  • Cleaning. Make each person responsible to declutter and clean his or her own bedroom and bath. The common areas, such as kitchen, hallways and family rooms, can be divvied up by week according to ability. Heavy cleaning, such as for windows, screens and blinds, should be done together on a weekend morning.
  • Meal prep. Believe it or not, this is something everyone can pitch in to do. (See "Is Your Busyness Your Fault?" for more on this.)
  • Laundry. Working mothers should not automatically be the ones doing laundry for the entire household. Each person can be taught how to wash, fold and put away his or her clothes and change the sheets on the bed. For young children, you can encourage them by telling them this is the way "big kids" do it.
  • Pets. Who feeds, exercises and cleans up after Fido? Is the cat avoiding the litter box on purpose? The feeding and cleaning up of the family pet is rotated among all family members. If a child has her own small pet (hamster, fish, snake, lizard) in her room, she must feed and clean up after it.

Listmania
Become a list maker. My friends laugh at the lists I have for everything. Oh, sure, I am a bit obsessive, but I've never been without my toothbrush when trapped in an airport or without my husband's size when I find 501s on sale. Here are a few of my favorite and indispensable lists:

  • People lists. I use ACT! contact management software on my computer. It has lots of basic fields, including name, address, e-mail, phone numbers and website, along with blank ones that I use for birthdays, anniversaries and preferences. I code and group everyone according to where he or she fits (friends, family, church, clients, readers, organizations, media, etc.). It's a drag to set up, but a lifesaver for labels, holiday cards, targeted mailings, etc.
  • Goals. Writing your goals on paper not only gives you a chance to dream wonderful things for yourself, it invokes powers unseen to work on your behalf. I have been formally and intentionally writing my goals since I was in high school and can attest that this works.
  • Packing lists. Have one ready for every type of travel you embark on. Make your lists detailed right on down to your specific toiletries, electronics (especially chargers) and underwear. This is especially needed if you do "carry-on only" for business trips. My packing lists include "Business Travel," "Tropical Travel," "Cold Weather Personal," "Travel with Husband and Dog," "Day Trail (on horse)" and "Overnight with Horse" (like moving a condo!).
  • Shopping Lists. I've noticed that when I go shopping without my list, I forget items and spend more money than I should. Without my list, I can't remember if we need tomatoes, so I buy some; but if it turns out I had them already, now we have so many that they end up rotting. I often get distracted by some free sample and buy it on impulse.

Keep the household lists posted so everyone participates and learns to be a better shopper.

  • Groceries. Weekly shopping for meals and supplies becomes faster and cheaper (no impulse buying) when you include brand, size and general price.
  • Big box. Bulk items at the warehouse stores can save bundles, but if you leave it up to impulse shopping, you might get lost in the massive aisles, debating whether to purchase a year's worth of Heath bars that are on sale.
  • Items for delivery. You can save so much time when you don't have to drive and park. Bulk buy your supplies for office or home business, for school, for projects and for pets from a list so you can take advantage of sales and free or reduced delivery fees for orders (usually offered for purchases over $50).
  • Clothes. You'll save oodles of time (and untold dollars) when you keep a running clothes list. Organize it by person and occasion, favorite brands and sizes such as "Lisa-- underwear, CK, brief, medium" or "David--dress-up, navy blazer, 40 long." Keep it handy in your calendar (electronic or paper), crossing off and reprinting as needed. Watch for holiday sales, seasonal specials, rebates and twofers.

The Great Purge
Another big part of your new organizational initiative--and the second order of business during your family meeting--is getting your home in order by purging your unnecessary stuff. Dividing up chores will only help so much if your house is overstuffed to begin with. More important than your workspace, your home needs to be an oasis of order and space.

A cleaning of this magnitude may seem like more trouble than it's worth, but by freeing your home from clutter, you will save time in the long run. You must be ruthless about "the purge": If you haven't touched, worn, read, played with or used it in the past nine months--toss it! This is not mere reorganizing, but de-busifying. Organizing is rearranging current piles in a new way; de-busifying is getting rid of stuff so you'll never again have to organize it.

Set a deadline for when each person will go through all of his or her personal stuff--clothes, books, toiletries, toys. Let them all know that if they don't do this, you will do it for them--and they don't want that! Set a date that all of you will go through the garage, storage areas and basement. Don't forget the kitchen and pantry--surely there are items that you've never gotten around to cooking with and never will. Donating non-perishable items to a local food bank not only is good for your space, it's good for your community.

Load up on large garbage bags and used boxes, and get ready to do some tossing. You should have three distinct destinations for everything you will no longer need:

  • Sell items that have some value in a garage sale, online auction or consignment store. Make sure the price you're asking justifies your time and effort to sell these items; you might feel better about donating certain items, even if they are fairly nice or new.
  • Give away items that have no value to sell but are still usable to someone.
  • Trash anything broken, damaged, junky or threadbare.

Exceptions can be antiques, heirlooms and high-value memorabilia--not all the piddly ones. Olympic medal, yes; all 83 soccer trophies, no.

Once you know what you have to get rid of, put items on online auction. With a little research, you can discover which items are ideal for selling online; it varies and is always surprising. (I've sold an antique stove, custom saddle and goofy souvenirs.) Set a day for your garage sale, and anything not sold online within a week will be put up for the garage sale. Whatever items you can't sell then should just be tossed out or taken to charity with the giveaway items. All profits should go into a special fund to provide some relief for the family or to reward everyone for a good job. A friend of mine earned so much from her "purge" that she settled a debt that was looming over her. (She had a lot of stuff.)

Make the Purge Permanent
When Lyle and Donna married late in life, they merged their households and downsized to a small condo in a beautiful location. Once there, they discovered they had two or three of many of their appliances, plus a bunch of stuff they forgot they even owned. The move accomplished a purge on its own, but they were in danger of reverting to their old pack rat ways. They both agreed to an in/out rule--whenever you bring in something new, you must take out the item it replaced. They found that if they didn't want to get rid of the old one, it was probably not a good idea to buy a new one. As a result, they kept clutter down to a minimum and spent their money on traveling to exotic places.

You will stay less busy if you keep your commitment to re-evaluating everything you buy, right on down to the souvenirs and tchotchkes you pick up on vacation. (Those shell leis are fun, but do they go with anything besides your pareo on vacation?) I promise you when you institute the in/out rule, your home and life will stay uncluttered and peaceful.

No Eulogies for the Death of Busy
Making your home a sanctuary is one of the greatest gifts you can give your family and yourself. You'll need courage and conviction to institute some new (and often tough) house rules, but you will be thrilled with the refuge your home provides for you and the whole family. Once you live in a home that is a safe haven from "busy," you'll want to tell the world. Be careful when you're tempted to tell your too-busy friend that she should have a family meeting and release her inner bitch! Fight the urge to preach or teach. Don't eulogize your process or try to convert other busy people to your family's new way of being. Just let them wonder why you're so happy all of a sudden.

Connie Merritt is a nurse, speaker, business professional and award-winning author. Her new book is Too Busy for Your Own Good: Get More Done in Less Time--With Even More Energy.

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