This year is going to be a tough one for us. Javier started a one-year Master’s program in May, so the challenges of parenting two kids in NYC just went up, exponentially. Some days it’s just me holding down the fort. It’s only one year, and from a 30,000-foot view, it was the right decision. But some days, the endless tidying and to-dos make me want to throw a tantrum just so I can be put in time out.
When the kids go to bed, and I finish folding that load of towels, empting the dishwasher, sweeping the crumbs off the floor, and stowing the matchbox cars so I can sit down for 3 minutes of solace before getting myself ready for bed, the last thing I want to do is stress some more about the other “stuff” that needs to get done in life. So I’ve adopted some survival mechanisms to help keep this boat afloat.
1. Start making lists.
I make checklists of things bouncing around in my head… sometime just to get them out of my head – “buy toothpaste, mail rent check, take Miguel to doctor, purchase plane tickets”…etc. Getting it down on paper frees your mind of the need to remember it and prevents it from popping up on you later like a jack-in-the-box right when you’re about to fall asleep tonight. And the act of crossing out or checking off an item is like a tiny mental reward that makes you feel like you’re accomplishing something. The list will never end – but you can keep checking those boxes.
2. Unsubscribe to junk mail.
You think it doesn’t affect you, but clutter causes stress. Whether it’s dirty clothes on the floor or junk emails clouding your inbox. It subconsciously makes you feel like you have wayyy more on your to-do list. Take five minutes, and click “unsubscribe” to Edible Arrangements, Victoria’s Secret, and Gap (is there ever not a sale?).
3. Contain clutter.
Everything must have a “place.” Use shelving units, plastic containers, and attractive baskets to help organize books, toys, and unpaid bills. Get an actual hamper for dirty clothes (instead of using that chair next to the bed). Toy bins and junk drawers are like black holes – even though they keep the items out of site, they cause stress every time they get opened. And if you don’t want to invest too much, even simple things like putting small toy pieces into Ziploc bags can work wonders.
4. Outsource your home cleaning.
If you can afford it, it might make sense to pay for someone else to do the deep cleaning. I feel guilty if I do (at work all week and spending my time at home cleaning?!) and guilty if I don’t (how lazy can I be? It’s 1.25 bedrooms!). While it killed me to spend money on something that takes me 2 hours each week, that’s 2 hours I no longer stress, and 2 hours I get to be with my boys without feeling compelled to vacuum around the Lego pile.
5. Get your finances in order.
We’re lucky. We live relatively comfortably (in our 1.25 bedrooms), because we don’t sweat the money too much day-to-day. But we all sweat the money – on some level. And for me, it was like a deep, subtle knot deep in my stomach that never fully relaxed. Are we saving enough? Should we start a 529 college savings plan? Can we really afford to live in this neighborhood? Insecurities like this bubbled up from time to time, so about a month before Miguel was born (in full-on nesting fashion), I took the advice of a fellow parent and called up Dyer McCabe and John Higgins of Kilter Group. After a series of one-on-one meetings (in the comfort of our own apartment!) they helped us develop a living balance sheet to actually see our cash flow, setup systems for automatic savings, maximize growth on long term investments, secure life and disability insurance, and get started on our wills. I cannot say enough good things about Dyer’s knowledge of the financial world and genuine passion for teaching his clients how to manage their monies – it’s been both empowering and an incredible relief off my shoulders to know this “stuff” is taken care of.
6. Hit ‘reset.’
The rat race can feel like a never-ending series of transactions. But realize that those transactions, however mundane, make your life work. Take 5 minutes a day (at work, while the kids nap, or while sitting in traffic) and force yourself to breathe, actual full breaths. Exhale as slowly and effortlessly as possible, focusing on unraveling that knot in your belly, and say “thank you” for it all. You’ll likely only last about 20 seconds before being swept away by your stream of thoughts or your next to-do, but sometimes one breath is all you need to refresh and start again – clean slate.