How to enjoy a simple peaceful Christmas

ChristmasWhat a good feeling! Six days until Christmas and everything is done apart from a little baking of Christmas cookies (my annual favourite – cranberry shortbread) early next week. The presents have all been purchased and wrapped, one roast is in the freezer and the gammon has been ordered, and we are about to leave for a week’s break down the coast tomorrow.

The secret to this miracle is deliberately choosing to keep Christmas simple this year. As a family we got together to plan the Christmas meal. The last couple of years I did a cooked meal on Christmas eve, but this year I bailed out. I didn’t feel like the stress of cooking a hot roast meal again. We have decided to get the guys involved – they will be cooking the meat on the Weber – and the ladies will be doing some simple veggie dishes on the side. The desserts will be made ahead of time.

As far as gifts go, we agreed on a Rand limit per person and the giving of only consumable gifts (such as chocolates and beauty products). This will minimise the wasteful clutter of gifts that often end up not being used or liked. It was so much easier to shop for consumables this year, rather than trying to think up creative gift ideas for each person. And the gifts are more likely to be enjoyed.

If you are still in the throes of getting ready for Christmas, you are welcome to make use of my top 10 tips for a stress-free Christmas that I recently posted on the LADD website. While they are specifically directed towards people with ADHD, they are also applicable to anyone who wants to enjoy a calm and peaceful Christmas period.

Here’s wishing you a blessed time with your friends and families this Christmas.

Hope for hoarding husbands (and their long-suffering wives) – Part 1

Tony in our garage

Tony in our garage

My husband Tony is a bit of a hoarder[1]. There are two spaces in our home where his hoarding is particularly evident – his study and the garage.  For my own sanity I moved out of the study and created an office for myself in the granny flat.  I found the teetering piles of sailing and car magazines in every corner overwhelming and not conducive to working productively.  He is different that way – as long as his desk is cleared periodically, he can work happily among the piles.

The garage is hoarding on a grander scale than the study.  As a DIY enthusiast, Tony tends to hold onto a wide range of tools and bits of wood and metal rods and electrical wiring, because ‘you never know when you might need them’.  This is in addition to our camping gear, kayak, bicycles, various braais (most of which I believe are beyond their ‘shelf life’) and surplus furniture, leaving just enough space for the cars and trailer.  In the past six months or so, the piles had increased to a point where the garage was no longer usable for doing DIY projects as he couldn’t even access his work bench. The situation was exacerbated when a close friend, Dave, died in April, leaving his tools to Tony.  In fact we ended up with half of Dave’s garage contents, again an assortment of all sorts of things that could be useful one day.  I just about despaired.

At the dump

At the dump

But change is afoot.  Every few weekends over the past couple of months we have made a foray into the garage and the piles are diminishing.  It is not a fast process but slowly but surely Tony is letting some things go.  Certain items are being donated to friends who will have a better use for them. This weekend we fixed a desk that we no longer need and by Monday evening it was gone, sold on OLX.  It has left a nice space next to his workbench.  He also let go some of his stockpile of wood from an aborted woodwork project – which we took to the dump.  The best thing is that he is feeling motivated to go into the garage again.  Last night after supper he was pottering at his workbench, tidying things up and creating another throw away pile.  He has all sorts of plans now to improve the garage (with a bit of help from me).

The gist of this blog is that it is possible for hoarding husbands (or wives for that matter) to start to work through and diminish their hoard to a reasonable level in their time and at their pace. Lessons learnt from my experience with Tony (and some of my clients) are:

  • Don’t push too hard. Nagging and judging tend to result in the person digging their heels in.
  • Encourage them when they are showing signs of wanting to deal with their stuff.  Support, love, beverages and meals all help.
  • Don’t take over.  Allow the person to make the decisions about their stuff.  Just being there, and sometimes prompting them with questions about why they want to keep each item, is enough – your presence helps them to keep moving forward.
  • Don’t push quick decisions. Doing this will invariably end up in no decision and hence no progress.  I have learned to give Tony time to try out the tools, test how they are working etc., and then to decide whether or not to keep them.
  • Accept their limits.  A couple of hours at a time sorting the garage is all that Tony can usually handle, whereas I can sort and organise all day at three times the speed.  If I get frustrated with the slow pace, I disappear for a while.
  • Praise progress made.  This goes a long way.

The cherry on the top of all this progress is that Tony decided this past weekend to cancel his Car magazine subscription (more on this next time). He has given me the task of selling his 20 year complete collection online. Any takers?

[1] He has happily agreed to this blog being written, being a good-natured sort of guy.

Are you overcommitted?

overwhelmed5In today’s busy, fast-paced world, women are stretched in every direction.  Not only are we taking on more in the sphere of work, we still remain the primary caregivers of our children and/or aging parents.  The term ‘the sandwich generation’, coined by Dorothy A. Miller in 1981 to apply to those who are looking after both children and parents, applies to many of us.  As people live longer, often into their 90s, you even have the ‘club sandwich’ phenomenon of people in their 30s and 40s caring for aging parents and grandparents (as described by Carol Abaya*).  Apart from work and family care commitments, we also involve ourselves in non-paid work-, faith- or hobby-related activities, such as being an active member of a professional association, church group, community association or evening class.  On top of that we try to fit in some exercise!  No wonder we become tired and stressed. 

The Mirriam-Webster dictionary describes ‘overcommitment’ as “to commit excessively – to obligate … oneself beyond the ability for fulfilment, or to allocate resources in excess of the capacity for replenishment”.  Essentially, it means taking on more than you are able to adequately achieve; to stretch yourself beyond your resources.  These resources may be your time, your emotions, your physical capabilities, or even your finances.  Earlier this year, I came to the end of my emotional and physical resources in a particular area of commitment and had to let go and step back. It was a hard yet worthwhile decision for me. For the next few months I just focused on slowing down and getting the rest and recreation that I needed to recover (hence no Simplicity blogs since January!)  I am still in the process of regaining my energy but I know that I did the right thing even though some people may have felt let down.

So what are the signs that you are overcommitted?  A key sign is resentment.  You start to resent the time or energy spent on an activity or responsibility. It no longer gives you the fulfilment or joy that it used to.  This may apply to people that you care for – the caring has become a heavy burden. You may also start to be more anxious or stressed than you normally are, or find yourself snapping at people. Small things start to annoy you when previously they were not a major hassle.  Another feeling may just be sheer overwhelm – that it has all got too much for you.

When you start to experience these feelings, give yourself some time to sit down and review the commitments and responsibilities in your life.  It is useful to write down all your daily and weekly activities including all the things you do for others (e.g. taking your mother shopping or your children to after school activities).  Honestly assess how you feel about each of these activities.  Some things are clearly our responsibility and it will be difficult to let them go, while others can be taken over by somebody else.  This may be difficult sometimes, because we are used to playing a certain role and may be reluctant to let it go.  Do not be afraid to let others step in and provide a supporting role. For example, I recently dropped off a friend of my mother’s to visit her while I went to the gym.  She was able to cheer up my mum, who is going through a bad patch, in a way that I cannot.  It was great to hear from her later that she was feeling so much better and that the visit had done her so much good. It relieved me of the feeling that I was the only person that she could turn to for help.

When I recently let go of the responsibility that had become so overwhelming to me, I was surprised at how many people applauded me for taking this step.  Being honest about our limitations is actually extremely freeing and even gives others around us the permission to be honest about their own struggles with life’s responsibilities.  So, I challenge you to look at your own life and to seriously consider how you can let commitments go if they are becoming major stressors in your life, or at least to look for additional support to help you to manage your commitments better.  You will feel so much better for it!


How to get motivated to do the tasks we put off

We all have tasks that we hate to do, that we put off and procrastinate over.  In my last blog I listed a few of the tasks we could do to get the year off to a good start, things like cleaning out our email inbox or catching up on filing.  In response a few of my readers and friends commented that their biggest challenge is not whether they consider a task worthwhile or necessary but it rather feeling motivated enough to do it.  And that is the issue – we often rely too much on how we feel, and if we don’t feel like it, we don’t do it. Let’s face it, if we wait until we feel like doing certain things, they will never get done.  Trying to motivate ourselves with sheer willpower or discipline also doesn’t work for very long, and then we lapse into our old patterns.

So how do we work around this issue of feelings so that we can get the jobs done that we do not enjoy but are a necessary part of life?

1. Emotional detachment

The first thing we need to recognise is that we don’t have to feel like doing a task to actually get on and do it. In her book ‘Organizing for Life’ Sandra Felton describes a continuum of three types of women with respect to managing their homes. At either end of the continuum is the ‘cleanie’ (who is obsessive and passionate about a clean organised home) and the ‘messie’ (who would love a clean organised home but never seems to get there). In the middle is the ‘successful average housekeeper’, i.e. the woman who is able to keep her home well managed and looking good (but not perfect) with apparently minimal effort.  After interviewing a range of these ‘average’ individuals, she found that one of their key traits was emotional detachment.  As Felton states “They don’t wait until they feel like doing the job. This does not seem to occur to them. Instead, they shift into an automatic mode of moving the body through certain routines they have established and do on a regular basis”.   By emotionally detaching themselves these women free themselves to get on with the job without wasting emotional energy and time in procrastination and guilt.

2. Routine

This quote by Felton also points to one of the most effective ways to establish emotional detachment with respect to the jobs you hate to do – make them part of your daily or weekly routine.  This will prevent things from piling up until you have a much bigger unwanted job to tackle.  Make the task small, short and regular to improve your chances of success. For example, spend 10 minutes every afternoon clearing your email in-box.  Diarise it so it becomes easy to maintain. You can also link a new habit to an old one to help it to stick, e.g. flossing after your brush your teeth.  Don’t establish too many new habits at once as you are likely to fail.  The interesting thing about routine is that a lot of small and short actions add up. Before you know it a lot of jobs that you hate are no longer big mountains but have been whittled down to small manageable molehills.

3. Change what drives you

When we only do the things we feel like doing, we are allowing our lives to be run by our emotions. But each of us is so much more than emotions.  We have core values and positive visions and goals for our lives which we can use to drive or motivate ourselves.  A key way to motivate yourself to do the things you don’t enjoy is to link them to a vision or goal which this task will help you to achieve.   This is especially useful for bigger projects that won’t fit into the ‘daily routine’ variety, e.g. repainting a room. You can define a vision for why you are doing the task (e.g. a beautiful calm bedroom where you can read and relax).  Make sure that your goal is positive as this is more likely to motivate you.  If you start to lose steam in the middle of a project, remind yourself of your end goal or vision to motivate yourself to get the task done.  If the goal is not motivating enough, promise yourself an appropriate reward when you have finished.

4. Capitalise on the times when you do feel motivated.

Lastly, we all experience those unpredictable moments where we suddenly feel energised to launch into a project or task that we have been putting off for some time.  Recently a friend of mine planned to declutter and tidy her house at the beginning of the December holidays, but felt too demotivated to get going.  Then, with a few days to go until term started, she and her daughter suddenly got energised. Within a couple of days they repainted and decorated the kitchen, started on the dining room and cleaned out their storage room.  They made the most of that initial burst of energy and kept the momentum going.   Use the memory of these times as a reminder to you when you feel demotivated that you can successfully tackle these jobs again.  Maybe it will give you the push you need to get going.

But more than anything, I suggest that you start to introduce some small, short and frequent new routines into your life.  You will start to notice the difference that they make in helping you to develop an emotional detachment from the tasks you love to hate.  And in turn there will be less big jobs lurking in the background and a freedom to enjoy life.

A fresh start at work in the New Year

The first week back at work in the New Year can sometimes be a little quiet and demotivating. The usual busy pace has not picked up yet as many colleagues are still away on holiday. Often the external pressure that keeps you motivated and productive is lacking. If you are self-employed and work from home being productive at this time can be even more difficult. However, I would challenge you to use this time well to lay a good foundation for the year. These valuable hours can be used in a number of ways to set you up for a more productive, focused and less stressful year. I have done several of these over the past few days and already I feel more prepared for the year ahead.

Set your work vision and goals – Write down your broad vision for your work this year. Then break down your vision into realistic and achievable goals. Where possible set target dates or milestones for achieving each goal, e.g. the completion of a course to further your professional development. The immense value of setting your vision and goals is that you regain a sense of control over your work instead of letting it control you.

You can also extend this exercise to set personal goals, especially in the area of work-life balance which will impact positively on how your handle your work (such as getting enough exercise, spending time with family and friends, eating well etc.) I suggest that you place your vision and goals in a visible place so that you can refer to them during the year.

Clean up your office and desk – The end of the year is usually rather frenetic, so we seldom have the time to tidy up our office space and desks before the holidays. Tidying up your office space has a positive psychological impact as you begin to feel less overwhelmed as the clutter disappears. It also has the added benefit of making it easier to find things as the year gets busier, although this does depend on using a paper and report filing system that works for you. There is no point filing important documents away that you cannot find. I challenge you to go as paperless as possible this year, including shifting to electronic accounts.

Tidy up your computer – Over the year our computers can get cluttered and disorganised as we rush against deadlines. Now is the time to declutter your desktop – keep only links to the programs, folders and files that you use regularly and currently. Go through your document filing systems and sort and purge documents that you no longer require. If you do not have much of a system, now is a good time to create one. Keep it simple and easy to navigate. Another area that may require new categories, sorting and purging is your email. This can be quite an overwhelming and tiring task, so I suggest doing it in small chunks of an hour at a time.

Fix technical gremlins – During the year you may have postponed dealing with certain problems with your computer, scanner or printer due to lack of time. These are the kind of problems that do not prevent you from working but can slow down your pace of work, e.g. your email program not responding as quickly as normal. Fix these problems now so that when the work pace picks up, your technical equipment supports you to work efficiently. It will also help you to keep your cool, as there is nothing more frustrating than technical equipment gone wrong.

Search for useful apps for your smartphone – There is an amazing and extensive array of apps available to help you to organise your life and your information better on your smartphone. Use this time to experiment and find those apps that work for you.

Stock up with stationery supplies – Lastly, despite our growing dependence on our pcs and smartphones we still need some stationery supplies to support our work through the year. So stock up on your own basic personal supplies as well as printer paper, cartridges, filing supplies, business cards and other items necessary to keep your work functioning like a well-oiled machine.

Every job has its challenges and pressures, but laying a good foundation at the beginning of the year will help you to handle them that much better. I hope these suggestions will help you to get off to a good start. Have a wonderful 2014!