“The way you do anything is the way you do everything”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt’s only been a week since I decided to change the way I live and already I feel a weight has been lifted.

I’ve been moving through my house, getting rid of stuff. This preliminary run-through is the easiest–there is a huge amount of stuff in my house that so obviously needs to go. I’m not quite sure why I needed to commit to getting rid of a significant portion of what I own to dump these first things–it’s so clear that they are simply not needed. It’s almost like I required permission to give them away. My old mindset required I keep them–they are functional and I might need them some day… But now that I know I’ll be getting rid of a huge portion of my current belongings, these things seem glaringly unnecessary.

It’s amazing what a change of perspective can do.

After only the first few days of this first phase of simplifying my life (the “Culling of the Crap,” as I call it) my house–and my mind–feel different: Lighter. Calmer. I am more committed than ever to drastically overhauling my home, my attitude, and my life.

I read an article not long ago that really stuck with me. It began with the phrase: The way we do anything is the way we do everything. Basically the idea is, “the habits we practice in one area of life, become our life.” You can’t let you house fall into disarray and have the rest of your life together.

At first I bristled at this idea. My house may be a shambles but my life certainly isn’t. But the more I read, the more I realized that she was right. My house is a disaster area, and my life kind of is too. This part of the article really spoke to me:

Perhaps take a peek at the area behind your car seat. Is it filled with mail, receipts and left over lunch bags? When we drive around with a bunch of stuff that we know needs to be dealt with, it drains our energy. When we open the car door and immediately groan, it’s going to affect our mood. You see, if you’re not dealing with little things—opening mail, filing receipts, or even throwing away daily garbage, chances are you’re not dealing with other little things in your life like returning calls promptly, volleying back emails, and following up on your to-do lists.

Yes, as I kept reading, I recognized myself, and the truth in the author’s words. It made me feel ashamed, but it also planted the seed that brought about this drastic change. I don’t want to be this person. I don’t want to live my life this way.

I want to change. Desperately.

It’s going to be hard. So, so hard. I’m going to back slide. I’m going to make mistakes. But I will continue moving forward and one day, when I read an article about how the state of my bathroom reflects who I am, I’ll be proud instead of ashamed.

So I’m moving forward and every day I get rid of something else. These are still the easy decisions, and basically if I even consider getting rid of something right now I just do it, because this is the first pass and if I think it might need to go now, it will definitely be going later.

I just need to keep reminding myself that this is about simplifying MY LIFE, not just my possessions. This change is going to affect every aspect of my daily existence. It’s going to be such a positive change. So when I start to feel panicky about how I’m going to decide what should stay and what should go, I remind myself that I’ll figure it out.

And it will be so, so worth it.

13 Comments

  1. I’m glad that isn’t actually true! I would be a mess in all areas instead of only focusing on the areas I cared about. What a stressful sentiment. And designed to keep me at home. Maybe that’s where all that super mom stuff is coming from.

    That’s great that having clean things and less stuff makes you feel happier, since cleaning is easy to fix, and minimalism has advantages, but the state of your bathroom really does say nothing about you unless bathrooms are important to you. You can be strong and competent even without whatever the patriarchy is telling you you need, whether that be a thigh gap or sparkly car or no time to yourself.

    1. And the first thing I would declutter– magazines telling me my entire worth was based on whether or not there’s anything behind my kid’s carseat. Seriously? Where do they come up with this stuff? It’s part of the industry to make moms guilty and anxious so they spend more money.

      1. I don’t think the message is that a mom’s (or woman’s) worth is based on what is behind her kid’s car seat. I think the message is that if you don’t take the time to take the trash out of your car, you’re probably not taking the time to take the trash out of your life, so to speak. You’re probably not taking the time to prioritize what is really important and you are probably allowing commitments that you don’t really care about to clutter your schedule so that your time is not really yours. You probably don’t finish projects (or even clean them up) before you start new ones. The fact that I’m responding to this email right now instead of getting my lesson plans ready and making copies is a perfect example of how my messy car is an extension of behavior elsewhere in my life. Because I started doing this before I did what I need to do, I’ll probably be stressed for the rest of the school day, scrambling between classes to get things done and not finishing and then making my kids wait, wasting their time and mine. I think the point is to look at these trouble spots in our physical environments as manifestations of larger patters that play out in our personal and professional lives.

    2. I don’t know. I think the state of your bathroom does say something about you. It says what’s important, what you care about and what you prioritize. I will let my bathroom get absolutely filthy, like truly disgusting. If I were to see a similarly dirty bathroom in public I would be appalled and probably file a complaint, but I let my own bathroom get that way and use it one a daily basis. I don’t really see how that can’t say something about who I am as a person. I’m not saying it says I’m a bad person, or a dirty person, just that I’m a person who for some reason isn’t willing to hold myself to the standards that I set for others in public spaces. Why is that? And how does that play out in other aspects of my life? I think that is the point of looking at these things, trying to figure out the underlying themes in the way you conduct yourself in the world.

      1. Do you think it only says something about you, or do you think it also says something about your husband and children? Or are they exempt? Because women are in charge of the bathroom.

        “if you don’t take the time to take the trash out of your car, you’re probably not taking the time to take the trash out of your life”

        This is absolutely not true. We have 24 hours a day and what does Laura Vanderkam say, 168 hours/week. Every hour that I spend taking trash out of the car is time that I don’t spend dealing with the other stuff in my life. We have to make trade-offs. There’s an old saying that men have clean cars and messy houses whereas women are the reverse. Being clean and tidy and organized in one aspect of your life doesn’t say anything about the rest of your life. Being clean and tidy and organized in every aspect of life means you have to have fewer aspects in your life, period. And that’s fine if that’s what you want, but it’s also fine to do a few things perfectly while satisficing with the rest of your life. (Willpower research also notes these trade-offs– some highly productive, powerful, and efficient people are also overweight not because they lack determination or will, but because they use it up at work doing things most of us don’t dream of.)

        I get that my comments aren’t helping. It’s great that you’re working on making yourself happier, and you’re trying to figure out what makes you happy. But there’s room in everybody’s life for focusing on what is important and not focusing on what isn’t. No matter what some article says about interconnectedness or housework.

    1. Thanks. I really do feel good about it so far. I’m getting so much stuff done, not just cleaning but other projects that have been sitting around, unfinished, for forever. I finally hung all our frames that have been in piles since we moved, and yesterday I put the gate up so the baby can’t climb on the elliptical trainer. Both have been on my to-do list for ages and I finally had the incentive to actually get them done. It feels great.

  2. Wow, brave start. I had to do some downsizing before DD1 ( “storage” room became her bedroom– wasn’t intended for storage but that’s where the boxes we didn’t really have anywhere to put when we bought our house went) and then with dd2 (our office became her bedroom). It’s hard. But it seems inevitable with me that as soon as I todd something that I am sure I have no use for, shortly after it is needed for some reason. Totally frustrating. (Somewhat similar to how there is always that one piece of paper on your desk at work that us always in the way when you are looking for something else, but then the one day you need it it has disappeared.)

    I have been able to get rid of baby stuff although it was a little hard. Books and toys are harder though.

  3. Wonderfully written post. Very clear. Loved your response to first commenter and I do understand BOTH viewpoints. Both can be valid for different times and different people. THANK YOU for inspiration and the Minimalist blog connection. Simply: THANK YOU.

  4. I believe I see where you are going with this and it isn’t as much about the bathroom as a shift in your mental state. It does, as nicoleandmaggie points out, really all come down to time. As we all know, it is tyrannically limiting and something (most things) gotta give. You are in the position to decide, and you have chosen to do that consciously, which is an important first step.

    My advice to anyone who wants to move in the direction of minimalism is to first take the time to decide what stays. What is truly important to you? Where do you believe that your precious time deserves most to be spent? Of course, this is a constantly moving target but you have to begin somewhere. This should probably be a painful process because we simply don’t have the space to prioritize more than a couple of things. The next step is to ruthlessly and unapologetically prune back the rest.

    If this project is actually just about having a tidy house, then I am off target. Either way, I would recommend that you avoid the “glossy pages” (pinterest, shiny mommy blogs, magazines etc.). Those Potemkin villages have little value in real life.

  5. To respond to what Nicoleandmaggie said – I wouldn’t clean my house for the patriarchy either! But there are lots of other good reasons to do it. I have to vacuum & dust weekly because of Monkey’s dust allergy. I sweep and wipe kitchen surfaces to avoid nice and roaches. I put things away so I don’t step on them & break them, or don’t lose them. From reading your most recent post, I’d say you have some fire hazard issues as well. And mold/mildew in the bathroom can cause respiratory problems.

    You absolutely should let go of things that are purely aesthetic, if they don’t matter to you. I don’t make beds. I don’t fold throw blankets, and I leave bills sitting on the counter (to remind me to pay them). But there really are good reasons to keep your house clean, especially now that you’re a homeowner.

    I’m not saying this to make you feel guilty. It’s just that this is what finally motivated me. Because I definitely wouldn’t do it for the patriarchy!

  6. I agree with this, in regards to myself, 100%. The car example id spot-on and a simple,way of explaining it. For what it’s worth, my house is very clean, until you look in the store room, or the bathroom cabinets, or the pantry, etc. I put my energy where mostly needed, but there are black holes in my house… And there ARE black holes on my life too.

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