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Put Time Back on Your Side

Create lists (lots of them). Delegate household chores. Downsize.
January 3, 2010

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.

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:

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

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:

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.