Do you work too hard?

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Not long ago, I told a friend that saying I’m tired is like saying the Titanic experienced a minor snag. True enough, exhaustion has been part of my life as a mom, spiking during periods like new babies, moving house, holidays, and other types of overwhelm.

I’ve been told it’s normal. Normal to want some quiet time. Normal to dream of moving to New Zealand.

Maybe you’ve just had your first baby. Maybe you have children with special needs. Maybe, like me, you are trying to juggle the needs of several different-age kids and your freelance writing business.

Either way, I’m going to share five questions I’ve asked myself to help myself let go of unrealistic expectations (pffft) and put mental health first.

One, do you work too hard? No, wait. That’s not a question. Start over.

Do you iron? Ironing is seriously overrated. A few wrinkles on a shirt haven’t killed anyone yet. Besides, wrinkles straighten up, more or less, while you wear the item.

Do you do too much laundry? Around here, clothes get tossed into the hamper when they are dirty. I separate darks and lights, but otherwise, everything gets shoved in the wash together, including underwear, bedding, and towels.

Do you cook too complicated? It’s best to choose dishes that request not just little prep, but little cleanup as well. Soup is a perennial favorite.

Do you delegate? Do you let people do what they can for themselves? If a toddler can pick up her toys, great. If a tween can clean her room, fantastic. So what if it’s not perfect? It fosters healthy independence and helps lighten your load.

Do you take the time to recharge? Do you remember when you last watched a movie? Read a book just because? Called a friend? When I realized that my answer to these was “I’m not sure”, I acknowledged I was on the verge of burnout. I began making an effort to eat and sleep better and to do more things that refresh and rejuvenate me.

5 places to start decluttering

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As I was putting the house in order before Pesach, I was amazed, like I am every year, at the sheer amount of stuff that was going out for donation or recycling. The holiday is over, but I’m still decluttering, because I’ve started to overhaul the closets for summer.

I’ll tell you a dirty secret: the reason why I love decluttering so much is that I hate cleaning. Or, at least, I hate spending a lot of time on cleaning. The less stuff you have to take care of, the easier and more straightforward cleaning becomes.

So here are my suggestions on where to start freeing up valuable space.

  1. Closets. Most of us own stuff we’ve forgotten we have. Some of it can actually be put to good use. Other items go in the donation bag. Kids have things they have outgrown, socks with holes, and that shirt with paint stains I can never get completely clean.
  2. Kitchen cabinets. I’m a secret container addict and can never resist buying pickles in a pretty glass jar, then washing it and stashing it away for future use. While recycled glass is frugal and eco-friendly, at some point my jar collection threatens to take over my kitchen space.
  3. Toys and books. From my experience, only a handful of toys and games are worth keeping longterm. We get more gifts of toys and books than we can use, some of them double sets, and while I cherish every gesture of friendship, there’s only so much we can keep.
  4. Yard. For me, it’s extremely easy to forget everything that isn’t actually in the house. This includes cracked flower pots, broken tiles, and various odds and ends.
  5. Storage. It’s easy to forget about items that have been sitting in the depths of my storage shed for years. But storage isn’t supposed to be a “shove inside and forget” concept. It should be a convenient place for useful things that simply aren’t used regularly, or seasonal items like rubber boots and umbrellas.

With every trash bag that leaves my home, I feel like I can breathe a little easier. I hope I can stay in the momentum and keep gaining space, peace, and order.

5 Game-changing laundry hacks

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Laundry is the kind of perennial chore I always try to make more efficient. I have four children and line-dry all our clothes, so you can imagine I always have a load either to hang, fold, or put away. Still, with a few handy hacks, I keep my laundry basket from overflowing.

1. Baby wipes for small stains.

Many stains will disappear miraculously if you treat them quickly by rubbing a baby wipe over them. I know there are wipes made specifically for this purpose, but I have found baby wipes to be quite efficient – and much cheaper.

2. Air rather than wash.

At the end of the day, if the clothes I’m wearing are not exactly dirty but could use freshening up, I will often hang them up on the line (not over the back of a chair). Often, a bit of time in the sunshine and breeze will leave the clothes crisp and fresh as if they had actually been washed.

3. Use vinegar.

In lieu of fabric softener, combined with water to soak particularly smelly clothes, or with baking soda to clean your washing machine.

4. Pre-treat sweat stains with shampoo.

Works a treat on those pesky underarm areas and soiled collars. A paste made of baking soda and vinegar is another treatment option.

5. Pre-sort the laundry by having two different hampers.

I thought everybody does that, but was surprised to find out that some people have one big hamper for everything and sort right before washing. It’s a lot less hassle to keep darks and lights separated in the first place.

 

 

Sanity saving tips for stay-at-home moms

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At the time of writing this, I have four children aged 11, 9, 5, and 2, which means I have been a mom for over a decade – and during all this time, I have been at home with my children, whether “just” a stay-at-home mom (more than a full-time occupation in itself!) or, in recent years, also a freelancer juggling writing and editing jobs and publishing her own books.

I have home educated and done crafts, started a garden and changed a gazillion diapers, milked goats and potty trained, nursed four babies and broke up countless fights, treated children and chickens for lice, kissed boo-boos and wiped noses. Now that I have preteens, I constantly find myself having conversations with kids who are convinced they are infinitely smarter than I am.

It has not always been easy. There were (and are) days when I just wanted to get away for a bit. There are frumpy days, dragging days, tear-my-hair-out days.

But I still wouldn’t trade it for anything, and with time and the gift of perspective that comes with it, I have learned to lean on a few strategies that help me keep (somewhat) sane.

1. Be realistic. I know that there are going to be all kinds of days. Sometimes we are all sitting in peace and harmony around the table and I’m doing fractions with the older girls while the little ones are coloring. Sometimes my kids are doing their best to get the house demolished. Sometimes I have plenty of energy; sometimes I’m down with a stomach bug or just feel blah. But whatever happens, you get to have a fresh start the next day.

2. Focus on the basics and prioritize. I used to iron. I never do that anymore. I don’t do labor-intensive recipes and I don’t wash my windows from the outside. I know that I do a staggering amount of work each day and I refuse to feel guilty about not cramming in more.

3. Don’t let things pile up. If at all possible, wash those dishes before you go to bed. In the morning, you’ll be glad you did. The longer you leave things to pile up, the harder they are to tackle eventually. I keep laundry manageable by sticking to throwing in a load every other day and having it folded and put away before the next load is due to wash. I do a tidy-up several times a day and try to clean messes (such as a dirty stove) as soon as they pop up. I don’t do it because I love to clean (ha!), but because I hate being overwhelmed.

4. Delegate! There is absolutely no reason your children should expect you to do things for them which they can do for themselves. Insist that everyone picks up after themselves, serves themselves, and helps out with age-appropriate chores. Very young children can learn to pick up after themselves, keep their play area tidy, and wash their glass after they have a drink. No, it isn’t always easy, and yes, I struggle with this, but I refuse to raise little entitled layabouts who expect full room service.

Don’t forget to enlist your spouse if possible – just because you are the one who stays home, it doesn’t mean you have to do everything by yourself. You are always on duty and deserve a break (more on that in a bit).

5. Don’t compare yourself to others. We all have that friend with the immaculate living room and the kids who all play cello. But guess what? We are all different. Be kind to yourself. Think about what would happen if you stopped, for just one day, doing all the myriad of “nothings” that accumulate during each 24 hours – mopping up spills, keeping everyone clean and fed, tackling the garbage and all those little “insignificant” jobs your family only learns to appreciate when you happen to fall sick. Yeah, you see my point. Don’t judge by performance – evaluate by work performed, and you’ll likely see you’re already doing awesome.

6. Take some time off and break the routine. When was the last time you read a good book? Spent time on a hobby? Took an unplanned hike? Called a friend? Got enough hours of sleep? Had a bath without someone banging on the door? Be honest, and you’ll see that you deserve some pampering.

While it isn’t always possible to get time alone, you can also be refreshed by having a break from routine with your children – a picnic, watching a movie together, putting your feet up while little ones play in the pool, even just curling on the rug as you read side by side with them.

Don’t feel guilty – there is always more work to be done, and life is too short. So do what you can to grab that portion of joy and beauty in your day.

On the Purim-Pesach highway

Purim is in two days, which officially marks the beginning of my least favorite time of the year: the weeks between Purim and Pesach.

I always say that all the Pesach prep is probably meant to really help us get into the shoes of the enslaved Israelites in Egypt. It’s more than just spring cleaning, which many people around the world do. It’s practically overhauling one’s whole house. It’s getting obsessively neurotic over every crumb and every trace of leavened bread. It’s packing and unpacking dishes, cookware, and practically all the kitchenware – twice in the span of a week.

By the end of that time, I’m just left with my tongue hanging out, desperate to have my life back.

But there is a silver lining. This period is also the absolute best time of the year to acquire various roadside finds, as people are going through their houses and closets and throw away things, often in excellent condition. You know what they say – one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. A big part of our furniture consists of such timely finds that have been serving us for long years now.

While I’m generally a big fan of saving space and getting rid of stuff, sometimes you just happen to be in need of something, and then you’re actually driving by and it stares you right in the face – like for example this good-as-new bed frame we had hauled home last week. After a thorough treatment with furniture polish, I can already envision how it will shine in its intended spot. Naturally, I don’t buy furniture polish – I’m currently experimenting with a few homemade, eco-friendly versions.

Happy cleaning, everyone. Remember not to work too hard and just enjoy this beautiful time of year when the earth seems to be stirring awake.

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“Should be” vs. “Is”, or the Kitchen Sink Saga

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Last week, I discovered a massive leak under one of our kitchen sinks (yes, we’re lucky enough to have two). After mopping up the mess and emptying the cabinet under the sink, I did what any reasonable woman would do: asked my husband to fix it.

Unfortunately, my husband declared that he’s too busy in the next few days, and that I can just use the other sink in the meantime.

Now, the second sink was OK as an emergency backup, but I have always used the first for my meat dishes and didn’t want to mix them up.

So basically, I had two choices here:

I could stomp my foot and get angry, and rave about how inconsiderate my husband was and what’s the point of having a man in the house if not for such emergencies?!

… Or I could roll up my sleeves and get the job done myself.

(There’s also the option of paying someone else to do it, of course, but it’s kind of out of our budget right now).

I swung by the hardware store, bought a piece of piping after consulting the nice man behind the counter, watched a couple of YouTube tutorials, and dug in.

Did I do the job perfectly? No.

Did I accidentally poke myself in the face with the loose piping, split my bottom lip, dribble blood all over my front and, for the next few days, look like a poster girl for a battered women’s shelter? (I wish I were joking).

Um, never mind.

But is the sink usable again now?? Yes!!

And every time I wash the dishes, I experience this warm glow of satisfaction: I did something that I thought I was incapable of. And you bet it feels a whole lot better than sitting around and grumbling about how unfair it is and how I’m not supposed to also work as a plumber while taking care of four children, running a household, and doing my best to pay the bills.

This little kitchen sink episode illustrates a truth that had taken years and years to penetrate through my thick skull: it’s so much better and healthier to take a deep breath and deal with how things are, rather than keep getting hung up on how they “should be”.

And this, my friends, is – in a nutshell – the difference between the younger me and the me of today. I spend less time thinking about the discrepancies between ideal and real, and more time rolling up my sleeves and getting things done to the best of my ability.

In case any of you Freejinger ladies are reading this (you know who you are!), that’s the process that has brought me to the point where I am today.

I have heard a lovely metaphor, that life treats us like sea glass: the waves, sand and rocks create constant abrasions that smoothe out our sharp edges, tone us down, and shape us into something new and beautiful, and much more pleasant to handle than prickly glass shards.

For me, this process has included internalizing that dreams, ideals and self-appointed rules sometimes don’t match reality, and you have two choices: roll with the waves and become a piece of sea glass, or…

Shatter on the rocks.

I’ll bet you can guess which choice I’m making every day.

Finding the balance: working from home with your kids around

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Stay-at-home moms are on call all the time. There’s always something to do at home – it’s more than a full time job! Between settling sibling fights and washing another never-ending stacks of dishes, it’s no wonder most moms of little ones are ready to collapse at the end of the day.

If you throw in home education and extracurricular activities, you get an even busier life.

And if you are also trying to set up a home business or establish yourself as a freelancer? While it may seem (and is often true) that working from home is a family friendly option, enabling parents to still be there to take care of their kids and save time and money on commute, it does come with challenges of its own.

Many work-at-home parents still have hired childcare, which basically makes it no different from any other job – they do have set office hours, it’s just that their office happens to be right where they live. But if you, like me, choose to work from home so that you don’t need to hand your children over to anyone else, your hours become very fluid. You may find yourself locked up in the upstairs bathroom having a video call with a client because that’s the only place where you can be sure of privacy and you really, desperately need those three minutes right NOW.

It may seem extremely difficult, next to impossible, to find time when you seemingly don’t have any, and I’ve had to become very disciplined. I don’t remember the last time I have watched a movie. I only read for pleasure on Shabbat (as a copyeditor, I basically read for a living during the week). My friends (the ones I have left) often complain that I don’t return calls. I often get up early and go to bed late, and I still have to struggle with guilt for having to do some things during the day when my children are awake and need me.

I have implemented early bedtime, even for Shira who will soon be 11, and have also gotten my kids used to the idea that I’m not always available for whatever it is. We have a home office, but I don’t use it because I can’t leave little ones unsupervised during the day. So if I do have work to complete during daytime hours, I settle with my laptop in the living room and my children know that I’m there for any emergency, but not for fixing sandwiches, reading stories or helping them make beaded bracelets – not for the next hour or two, anyway.

The older kids are encouraged to have quiet time while the baby is napping so that I can work. This includes both my own books and my paid job, though my books often find myself having to wait as I focus on a deadline for a paid project.

I still think I have got a pretty good deal. I am there when a child is sick and needs extra care. I choose my own hours and decide how much work I can take up (the more I do, the more I get paid, but one can only do so much). I run errands whenever it is convenient, I have no commute, and I can always take time off for family occasions.

A few insights:

1. Simplify. Opt for less stuff, less commitments, and simpler meals. Clutter is your enemy, especially when the whole family is home every day and all day long.

2. Avail yourself of any help with kids and/or housework you can get. If you live near family that is willing to help, so much the better for you. Don’t worry, no matter what you do, there will still be more than enough work left over for you.

3. Avoid the guilt loop. While my husband walks into our home office to take care of his stuff and make phone calls without interruption, I have often felt guilty for saying no to sitting on the carpet and coloring because I’m working to a deadline. At other times, I’ve felt guilty for neglecting the deadline and sitting down to color.

You can only do your best. If I find myself struggling with feeling I have not done enough, I look back at the end of the day on all the things I’ve done for my family – from cooking meals to giving baths, from wiping noses to paying bills, and earning the money to pay those bills, too – versus the “me time” (usually a stolen 20 minutes to work on a book, some crochet at the playground, and texting a friend for a bit) and I realize I have absolutely no reason to feel guilty. In fact, I even can and should become my own cheerleading team, applauding all my efforts and appreciating what has been achieved.