Being Actively Intentional
If you read my last post, An Intentional Year, you know that my overall goal for 2015 is to be more intentional. I shared a breakdown of some of my overall goals in different areas of life for the year, but how does that translate into the everyday? How do I not get overwhelmed by that big list?
Again, as I mentioned in that post, I think the beauty of goals vs. resolutions, is that they are flexible and you can change them. It’s a target to hit, but maybe over time it becomes less important while something moves into it’s place. You might decide that this is the year to remodel the bathroom, so you set that as a goal, but then an unexpected job offer comes and you find yourself moving. Obviously you’re going to let that goal go and replace it with something else, like, pack all the things!
I shared that I’ve been up to a few things in the past week or so since my computer crashed, and I wanted to take some time to share those with you because I think there’s great value in seeing how other people do life. We can learn a lot from each other, and sometimes just reading or hearing about someone else’s experience in an area is that flip of the switch that we need to move forward in our own lives. Or, it can remind us to be gracious with ourselves when we feel like we’re just not getting there, wherever “there” might be.
One of my goals this year is to simplify life around our home because it’s going to be a big year for us. I recognize that if there are any small things I/we can do now that will make life move more easily, it’s worth it to do the work now.
The biggest question I asked myself in the past week as I’ve been making a small list of stuff I want to organize or work on, was “What’s stressing me out?”
When you take the time to ask yourself that question, to really sit with it for a while, to pay attention as you’re doing life every day, you might be surprised at what nags at you. When I sat back and paid attention, the things that were bugging me were all small things that led to bigger stress. So, I decided to make some small changes and see if that makes a difference. I want to live with these things for a while, and see how it feels for us, then make changes as needed going forward. Already though, it feels good.
So, what have I been up to?
1. Sorted our Christmas Decorations
As I was putting things away, I took a few extra minutes to go through our decor. I don’t have bins and bins of stuff. As much as I would love that, we just don’t have the room. In fact, I didn’t even use all of what we did have this year. I have one giant tote with wheels on one end that has been here since before I arrived. That’s my “Christmas Bin”. Things can collect dust easily here, so it’s important that stuff can get sealed up and I’m grateful for this thing! I do have our Christmas trees (we have a 6′ one and a 4′ one that my parents brought the first year we stayed here) in a lightweight duffle bag for now.
I’ve gotten rid of most boxes and containers over the years because most of our stuff isn’t breakable. Things you encounter when everything you own gets brought in a suitcase. Anyway, my preferred method is to use ziploc bags. I have various sizes for different decorations. As I was putting things away I made sure to put like with like, and to label the bags. As I decorate for the holidays I can stuff all the bags into one bigger one, throw them in the bin, and yet know what is supposed to go with what when it’s time to pack things away.
Anything that I knew we weren’t using anymore or didn’t need or that was broken got tossed. It felt good to clean things out a bit. I have no idea if we’ll still be in this house come Christmas, or if we’ll be in the new place. Wherever we are, I know that pulling stuff out will be easy.
2. Organized the linen closet.
One of the recommendations from the IHeartOrganizing post I mentioned in my last post was to choose 3 organizing tasks to do, and that as you complete them add new things to your list. Breaking things into manageable chunks means success is more reachable and less daunting.
Our linen closet has been pretty organized mostly because it’s not that big, and as the kids have gotten bigger and we’ve said good-bye to things like crib sheets I’ve gone through it and sorted. The one thing that was bugging me was my tablecloths and Christmasy stuff.
Years ago when we spent our first Christmas here a group of people that were supporting us sent in a gift with a dozen Christmas place mats and some other things. I’ve used them through the years, but they really weren’t my personal taste or style and it was more because that’s what we had. Over time I’ve collected stuff I love and that we can use throughout the year if we want, so it was time to let some things go. I sorted the pile of linens I had and decided to pass them on to others that might want them. Now when I open that door I can see what I have, I know it’s what we’ll use and it doesn’t stress me out.
3. Gave stuff away.
Generally it’s not the cleaning and organizing that’s hard for me, it’s the figuring out what to do with the stuff we don’t need part. We don’t have thrift stores here and we’re careful about how we give away things whether it’s helping with a community need or donating items we don’t need or use any more. With that in mind I wanted a way to give stuff away that was not only not going to cause any extra issues, but also be simple.
I’m part of an expats/missionary Facebook group for people living in Haiti that is there for information, to ask questions, and to even let people know you have stuff for sale. The problem is that when people offer stuff up for sale or to give away, they’re often in Port au Prince – an hour and 15 minutes away. Those of us living in other areas don’t often get to get in on those deals unless we’re super fast, and have the means to make a special trip in to get the items. For small stuff it doesn’t make sense to put it up because people won’t want to make the trip out here to get it. So, I started a small “virtual garage sale” group with our local missionary community and posted the items I wanted to give away.
Along with the linens I had cleaned out, I went through my nail polish stash, threw in a pack of disposable diapers we’d never need, and a few other random things that had been nagging at me. All of the items were in good condition and were being given away simply because we didn’t need them anymore. You know what? Everything was claimed within 2 hours! I know I’ll be seeing all of these people in the coming weeks and can hand items off as we get together, so I’m not worried about people not picking stuff up. And, it’s nice to know that while I might not have a use for something any more, like Christmas place mats, someone else might really enjoy them.
4. The “Cloth Napkin Experiment”
Napkins have been an ongoing source of strife for us. Over the years we’ve had the square disposable ones in a holder on the table, and the kids would pull one out and others would come and they would fly all over the kitchen because of the fans. One would get used and left on the table. Eventually Chris bought a restaurant style dispenser, and it’s been better, but the napkins don’t always fit well so you pull one and then the stack starts to come out and half of them are hanging half out of the dispenser. And they were still flying around the house. Let’s not even mention the ones in the cupboard! I buy bags of napkins, we fill up the dispenser, but then the bag in the cupboard gets shuffled around as we get other things out and napkins come out, they get jammed in the cupboard and it all makes me crazy! And, I’m pretty sure that at least half of the napkins we buy don’t ever get used on faces. They get wasted. Heck, some of them even get doodled on!
As I started thinking about the small stress causers in our home I realized the napkins were making me crazy! We already have to sweep daily because our house is all open and the dust and dirt just gathers. But, on top of that the napkins were always everywhere!
As I was sorting the linens, and actually taking the time to iron a table cloth before putting it away, I realized that I had a dozen and a half cloth napkins that we only used a couple times per year. Why? Because we had disposable napkins. I thought about what would happen if we switched to using only cloth napkins for our family. Would we be more intentional and thoughtful about using them? Would I be finding them all over the kitchen??? Hmmm.
I talked to Chris about what I wanted to do and why, and he agreed. We’d try using just cloth napkins at meals for a while and see how it went. I had an extra basket lying around that I wasn’t sure what to do with, and realized that if I tucked it in a low traffic corner of the kitchen it would be the perfect place for kitchen laundry. After meals if the napkins were dirty, in the basket they go. Other things like dish cloths and hand towels could go in there too. It would actually help our family transition over time to some of the things that will change in our new house when we have more space, as well. I talked with Yonese when she got back to work and explained what we were doing.
We’re only a week in, but you know what? There hasn’t been a single napkin on the floor, chairs or even table. After meals we clean up, dirty stuff goes in the basket, and done. The kids haven’t been “needing” a napkin without reason. We’re being more thoughtful. We can wash things. I’m wondering why it took us so long. We’ll still use disposable napkins when we have bigger groups over just because that’s easier, but for day to day stuff it feels SO freeing to not have that annoyance around. Seriously!
This is what simplifying in life should do!
5. Organized my Pinterest boards.
Okay, this might seem a bit funny when it comes to simplifying and de-stressing, but hear me out!
I’m a meal planner more out of necessity than anything. We try to only do a big grocery shop in Port au Prince about once a month. We do shop in St. Marc throughout the month, and weekly Yonese goes to the market. But, there isn’t a store just down the road where we can run to get any item we need, so I have to be intentional about having an idea of what we’ll be eating. This means we can work at keeping groceries to only what we need in the house, not bringing home stuff that doesn’t have a purpose. Food is one of the biggest expenses here, so planning helps keep things in budget as well.
I choose to plan meals a month at a time because of our shopping system. That’s just what works for us. That doesn’t mean I rigidly stick to the plan, but it gives me a basis for shopping for most of our food. I do keep certain items on hand regularly for changes when needed. I’ll share more about this process in the next week or so.
One of the tools that I use when meal planning is Pinterest. I love the wealth of information that’s available there. Over time I’ve collected recipes in different boards and would refer to them when I was thinking about what new things I could add to our meals.
But, it wasn’t working for me.
The problem is that my categories/boards were too broad. I had a board called “Meal Ideas” that I would put everything that was a main course into. I had over 200 pins in there. When it came time to scroll through it for new ideas it was confusing and overwhelming. I had some smaller boards with more specific things, like “Potatoes” or “Pumpkin”, and those things had me on the right track, but I wasn’t there yet.
Over the weekend I went through all my boards, but started with my food boards. I broke things down into smaller categories, and in order to keep them all in a “set” I started each category with “Food”. Pinterest will alphabetize things in your list of boards, so when it comes time to pin new things all of my recipes are grouped together in my list of boards to choose from. Now, instead of having a “Meal Ideas” board, I have Food-Beef, Food-Chicken Dishes, Food-Side Dishes, Food-Potatoes, Food-Breakfast, Food-Breads. Now, when I pin things I can pin it in a place that makes sense, and as I’m planning meals I can click on the exact type of recipe I’m looking for. This will make my process go faster, and be less overwhelming.
Along with organizing my boards overall, I went through each board and cleaned them up. I think anyone that uses Pinterest can tell you that it’s so easy to pin all the things! There are times where I have something coming up, like our Ladies Christmas Gathering, and I pin all the possible craft ideas that might work with what I’ve got available. But, after the fact, we’ve either done the things I pinned and I know we won’t do them again, or some things were just repeat ideas. So, I cleaned them up. Every board.
Yes, it took some time, but it was worth it. Now what I have left is content that I know I’m still interested in or will actually do. The stuff that is relevant now. There isn’t all this extra stuff. And, there’s room to add new ideas and likes.
I think that as we get more and more reliant on the internet we need to learn to use these resources intelligently. For me, it was a case of feeling overwhelmed and dis-organized. I wasn’t using the tool in a way that was actually working. In fact, it felt overwhelming to try and find anything in there so I was pinning new stuff, but not actually looking at what was already there. Now? Now I’m excited to be able to see what I have and to have a system for adding new things. It feels like there’s breathing room again.
6. A new approach for buying stuff.
Our situation is unique when it comes to buying the things we need or want for our home or the mission. There are a lot of things we can’t get here in country, so we order those or buy them when we’re back on vacations and bring them in our luggage. Typically what happens is we either know that someone is coming in, or we know we’ll be traveling. We’ll order stuff and have it sent to the person coming, or it arrives before we get to our destination and we have to pack it all. It’s a good system, but for me the stress comes when it’s us that are the ones traveling.
What typically happens is I have a running list of things that I need to get or order. I order a bunch of stuff ahead of time, but keep certain things on my list to pick up while we’re on vacation. When we arrive at our friends house we go through everything that’s arrived and start putting it in suitcases, then leave those in their garage for the next 6 weeks while we vacation. But, I’ve still got my list! And I shop along the way. And we have to carry that stuff with us as we travel between the US and Canada and our families homes. Or we don’t, and then when we get back to Seattle I spend at least a day doing a mad shop by myself to get all the last bits. And I bring it back and shove it in suitcases.
Are you feeling stressed yet? I am just thinking about it.
I could tell you that there’s really no other way to do it. But, I know that’s not true. And, when I think about the whole process the thing that is the hardest for all of us is the time I need to take to do the shop, as well as the sticker shock of doing a major shop before we come back. I’m talking things like deodorant, girlie products, cough medicine, new clothes for the kids for the next year, etc. When you have to plan a year at a time with maybe having chances to order stuff in between it’s a lot to think through, and it can feel like a lot of money all at once.
To eliminated that shock I want to change how I do this whole part of our lives this year.
In the past year I started using a tool that I call my “Wish List”. It’s a printable that I designed that has 3 columns on each side. One side has Household, Mission and Leslie on it, and the other has Chris, Olivia and Alex. There is no date. As I think of things that are wanted or needed I add them to list under the appropriate heading. Printer cartridges? Put it under Mission. Tank tops? Under Leslie it goes. Then, as opportunities arise to order things in I can start shopping online and cross things off the list. It also helps me work through the process of whether something is a want or need.
Wants aren’t bad, and many of them stay, but by leaving it on the list for a while it allows the space to really flush things out. For example, I’ve had “new couch covers” on my Wish List for a while. The ones we have are still functional, though they are stained and have developed holes from washing. But, still something we could live with. I didn’t order anything when Chris’ parents came, but after I cleaned up the Christmas decorations we talked about it and decided that it was worth it to get new ones in a natural fiber fabric before the hot season comes so we won’t be sweating while sitting on them because of the synthetic fabric. Not something I had factored in when I bought this set, but something that has become an issue. We’ll keep the old ones as “wash day” covers, so they’ll still get used until they’re trashed, but after sitting on the Wish List for a while we were able to make a decision that fit our timing on when to purchase new ones.
The biggest change that I want to make in this whole shopping area is that I want to spread out “the big shop” instead of taking time to do it when we’re back. When I do take a day to go shopping, I might enjoy the day to myself, but frankly, I come home beat, and then I still have to pack everything. The sticker shock is also hard to stomach and every year we have conversations about reminding ourselves that it’s actually not a lot of money when you consider it spread out over a year. It’s just a ton of money all at once.
My goal for this year is to keep that running Wish List, and then spread out that shopping month by month. Even for things like cough medicine, because, hello! You can order than online now! And the price might even be better than in the store. If I can do the bulk of it before we get there, then we know what we still have room for, and it means that shopping can actually be more fun instead of this big job that I need to do before we leave. It also means more time with my family, or even being able to take the kids with because I won’t be so frazzled with having to cram it all in. I’m excited to see how this changes things for us this year.
7. I quit Weight Watchers.
Whaaaat??!?! (Record scratch…)
I know, I know! Did I just say in my last post that one of my goals for this year was to keep losing weight and to be diligent about tracking my points?!?
Yes I did!
Here’s the thing though. My subscription to Weight Watchers was $22/month. And, the only real tools that I used were the tracking tools. So I was basically paying $22/month for an app on my phone and iPad. Um, ouch.
At the time that I signed up in 2012 there weren’t a lot of other options though. Trust me, I looked. I’ve done calorie counting in the past and the problem for me is that it messes with my head. Even when making healthy food choices I would feel bad about using calories. That might be strange, but it just didn’t work for me. Too much guilt and then I would just stop. It wasn’t working. The thing I liked about WW’s was the point system. Points are different because it feels like a game to me. I can also earn points for activity. And, with WW’s you get an allotment of points over your daily usage to use in any way through the week. Using all those points should still result in weight loss because of how they’ve designed the program. And it does for me!
It was a stress point because I always had that “I’m paying for this every month!” thing in my head. Guilt if I didn’t use it, like I did for the first half of last year. Paying for something you’re not using sucks. I think if I was back in Canada and could use more of the features like being able to go to meetings with the membership it would be more worth it. But, I just wasn’t using any of the other online tools, like the community stuff at all. I have a friend here who holds me accountable and who I can freely talk with about this stuff, which has been great, so I haven’t felt the need to plug in that way.
Over the weekend I went into the iTunes store to see what other apps might be available now and searched for “point tracker”. I found one called ProTracker. I love it! It has the same style of set up as Weight Watchers so the transition was easy. There is a bit of a learning curve with some things, but not much difference. The best part? It’s a one time payment of $3.99!
Please don’t misunderstand what I’m saying here – I love Weight Watchers! But, financially it wasn’t working for us anymore and I needed to ease that burden. I’m thankful that there is such a program because it’s one that really works. In our situation it just isn’t the best choice for me.
8. Reworking my planner system.
I love day timers! I know I have calendar apps on my phone and programs on my computer that can link our entire lives together, but I’m a paper and pen kind of girl. Trust me, I’ve tried! I do have certain things in my phone so I get reminders, because that’s useful, but I like to write things down and cross them off. I’ve always been that way and don’t see it changing any time in my life. I just feel more accomplished.
The problem is that I struggle to find a planner that really works for me. Yes, there are a ton of great ones out there, but there’s always something missing or that doesn’t work for me. I don’t need a lot of the features that some have. Because I’m also having to keep track of not just home, but work too, there are things in there that I like to have handy, but have no way of keeping permanently in the planner. I’ve tried having a “household” binder on the side, but then things weren’t all in the same place, so I still felt very disorganized.
One of my big things that I’ve been working on in the past week is completely revamping my planner system. I’m really excited about it because it will be more flexible for what I need. I have A LOT more to share about this, but I’m going to hold off and make that it’s own post. There’s a lot of ground to cover and I think it might be fun to learn the inner workings of Leslie’s brain :)
Well friends, that’s a not so nutshell version of what I’ve been working on to get a good jump on my goal of being more intentional in 2015! I hope it’s somewhat encouraging to see how a real person breaks things down into real pieces. With so much social media and access to the global world I think it’s easy to feel like we’re not hitting the mark, and we need to remember that we’re all just people and we all just need to try to do our best each day. That means finding things that work for us. What works for me won’t necessarily work for you, but it might give you and idea for something that will!
Have a great day!