don’t be lazy

#getdressedWhen I am stressed out, I fall into an inevitable pattern of Lazy About Little Things. I leave the breakfast dishes on the counter until just before school pickup (or sometimes, until after). I leave laundry in the dryer, where the kids have to dig through the (clean, dry, but now wrinkled) things to find a uniform shirt. I leave my empty coffee cup on my desk all day, whisking it away only when I hear Wade pull in the garage (because after 21 years together, I know how much that grosses him out).

I am not a lazy person in general. No matter how overwhelmed I am, there are certain things that always get done: I get everyone to school and to practice on time, I show up for work every day, I keep food in the fridge. I run, consistently, and I try to eat and sleep enough. Beyond that, though, all bets are off.

My house is clean, but not always neat. And at some point, the clutter starts to make me insane, because it makes me feel lazy.

Saturday morning, I woke up early. Charlie had 8 am basketball practice; he and Wade would be gone for a couple of hours. Henry would sleep until at least 9. I could make coffee and read my novel and ease into my day.

Or I could get my disaster of a kitchen under control.

By 8:45 am, every counter in my kitchen was clear and shiny, the floor was mopped, and all the stainless steel shined. The accumulated piles of crap on the bar had all been sorted and carried to wherever they really lived (coat closet, kids rooms, game room, our room). The bathroom smelled like bleach and glass cleaner.

And I felt like a new woman.

My mantra these days is don’t be lazy. Instead of leaving my cup on the counter, I’m taking the time to put it in the dishwasher. Instead of abandoning the laundry in the dryer, I’m folding it. Instead of leaving my shoes under the ottoman, I’m taking them upstairs. It only takes a second and it makes me feel like I have a grip on things, even when I don’t.

When I am being crushed by the big things, the little things take on a kind of insane significance — in both a good and a bad way. Carrying the coffee cup from the office to the dishwasher can feel like a gigantic waste of time when I am editing a particularly difficult piece of copy on a deadline. But leaving the cup on the desk all day becomes a reprimand, a reminder of how much I am struggling to keep up. It’s a lose-lose, honestly. And I still have that disgusting cup on the desk to deal with.

In some ways, this is just an offshoot of my whole get-dressed-every-day philosophy: Staying on top of the little things, like the dishes and the school papers and the top of my desk, is an easy way to feel less bogged down and more like I’m making progress. And in a strange way, reminding myself not to be lazy makes even the smallest effort to pick up feel like an accomplishment. Not because loading the dishes is really an accomplishment but because not being lazy really is.

What’s your strategy for staying on top of things when you’re behind at everything?

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6 thoughts on “don’t be lazy

  1. Thanks. I needed this today…after a day of being lazy just as you said. I too feel so much better when things are done but today emptying the clean dishes from the dishwasher that finished running overnight didn’t get done until 6pm….15 min before I knew my husband was pulling in the driveway. Dirty dishes that had piled up all day quickly filled it back up. Sometimes even writing a list doesn’t guarantee to get some of those things done.
    I guess my strategy is to push myself to not sit in front of the computer and check out Facebook (or blogs!) and just do all those easy things that I know will make me feel so much better when I do make a cup of tea and relax…like my reward.

    • The Internet is such a temptation for me, too, Gina — because I can always claim that it’s “work,” at some level. And also because it’s just…there.

      And I agree with you entirely about feeling like the reward is earned once the little things are done. After I detailed my kitchen this weekend I made coffee and toast and sat with my novel for an hour. Because I’d earned it! And it felt good.

  2. I love this post and subscribe 100% (well, really, 98%) to the message. My husband gets up every morning with our son and they go downstairs to play. I get up at the same time, but before I go downstairs, I make the beds and open the window blinds, and before I’ve even hit the ground floor, I feel like the day has been productive. Some days, I may not do much else to keep the domestic engine running, but knowing the beds are tidy and the bedrooms are full of daylight makes me feel like we’re on a tight ship. When I manage to clean up the dishes after each meal (my husband and I both work from home — yes, we do), shred some junk mail, and fold some laundry, the world is my oyster, no matter what else has gone wrong (and this in a year when my son’s school district has faced a financial crisis of epic proportions, my father got sick and died, and my mother developed dementia and has had to move 3 times). I can’t control what swirls outside our door, but I can make the beds, dammit, and sometimes that’s enough.

  3. After my husband retired, I quit doing housework…until I can no longer stand the condition of what he calls a clean house! So, I’ve started to do one job every evening and then I reward myself with either sewing or reading time! (I quit doing housework because I’m still working full time and since he is home, he can and should do it. Which, according to him, he does. Only, no so much!) Oh, and my method is to set a timer and see how much I can get done in 15 or 20 minutes.

  4. I definitely think it’s okay to give myself a pass once in a while to leave the dishes all over, but it really does make me feel, almost claustrophobic. Sounds weird, but it is what it is.

    When I’m really feeling overwhelmed (and since we just moved cross country 3 months ago, I still fell overwhelmed with all the house stuff) I organize or tidy one thing – usually a bathroom, the tupperware drawer, or the car. It ALWAYS makes me feel better.

    EJ, I LOVE the idea of making the beds and opening the blinds every morning. Totally going to start doing that.

  5. When I was in college, my dorm room had a deep closet where I stuffed all my clothes, books, etc plus leftovers under my bed. So although my room looked clean, I was still known as the messiest resident. Go figure. Today, I still store things in a very big closet with lots of shelves and other designated places like an ottoman or my desk. Of course, if it piles up too much, I set a time when I can organize everything. When I was first married, I bought books and cut out articles about organization. I would spend hours using the authors’ tips, only to find out it was a waste of time because it didn’t work for me. Each person has to find the way that works, knowing that there are always some things that family members can’t seem to keep organized, no matter how much we nag them. So we compromise. Furthermore, make it a habit that everyone has to pitch in. However, I found one trick that worked when my sons were young – all personal items had to be placed in their rooms immediately. It kept the rest of the house looking fairly good and, of course, their rooms messy, their problem. Today, many decades have passed, and the one big rule I follow is to downsize. It’s amazing how much we accumulate over the years and never use. Secondly, I had a husband who was very organized (in some areas, not all) and thus was a good model for me, especially for organizing closets. The trick here is to find a specific place for everything and put put them in that place as soon as possible. It doesn’t take long to make it a habit. As far as calling the disorganization lazy, I don’t agree. There are times that we are simply overwhelmed – holidays, especially Christmas, sports’ activities, appointments , illness, and our own and our family members expectations. Do not feel guilty. Decide what you can do and get the help of the whole family. One last thing, so your husband is grossed out by dirty coffee cups – so what, that’s his problem, not yours!!

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