Teeny Tidy Task #2 Implement a Daily Ritual

Our daily rituals don’t have to be complicated to be powerful. These simple habits which we have either consciously added or passively practiced day after day can enhance our lives or impede us from reaching our goals.

We get so used to our daily habits that we forget that we are choosing these actions. Our rushed mornings happen because we don’t leave enough time for ourselves. Our evenings start to blend together because we have been doing the same unfulfilling things every night without giving them a second thought. If you are unsatisfied with some aspect of morning, afternoon or evening, try adding a simple ritual to that part of your day. Implementing a new habit is bound to give you a fresh outlook on how you spend your time.

You might already have an idea of how you want to change up your routine and if so, go for it! But, if you are feeling stumped, I have compiled a list of ideas to hopefully get your ass in gear.

After reading this list, you might be tempted to take on a handful of these routines. Don’t do it! Changes like this take time and if you try to tackle everything all at once, you will no doubt return to your previous ways. Skim through the list and choose a ritual that jumps out at you. You might be surprised by what a difference a small change like this can make on your attitude and your day.

SCREEN FREE WAKE UP. Don’t look at your phone (or any other screens) for the first thirty minutes of your morning. Keeping your phone next to your bed will be too much of a tease (guilty). Instead, charge your phone in the kitchen or anywhere other than your bedroom.

TEA TIME. It took me a long time to get into tea (how can I make this an alcoholic beverage?), but after persisting long enough, I now fully enjoy my tea time. Sometimes my husband and I enjoy a cup of tea in the evening after the kids go to bed. Sometimes I relax with my tea during quiet time when I am feeling sluggish in the late afternoon. If I want to treat myself (which I always do), I will enjoy a few mini chocolate hazelnut biscotti (from Trader Joes) with my tea.

SHARE YOUR BEST. Right before we turn off the lights and tuck our kids into bed (HA! I wish it was that easy), we take turns sharing the highlights of our day. Ending the night on a positive note is great for kids and adults alike. Either write it down, share it with your family or a friend or just say it to yourself. Even shitty days have good moments that are worth remembering.

LISTEN TO MUSIC. Lately, I have been listening to my favorite local radio station (the Amazon Echo makes this super easy if you don’t mind talking to someone that doesn’t actually exist like an idiot) while I am making breakfast. I find that listening to music helps me be a less bitchy mom and a tad more fun. Also, it helps me feel just a little bit connected to the world without going full blown CNN or gasp, face to face contact.

GO ON A DAILY WALK. This is my ultimate ritual goal that I have yet to master. It is hard to always find the time and energy, but the best part of my day is usually when I have gone on a walk. Nothing reenergizes me like being in the great outdoors. Plus, it helps me beat my husband in our never ending Fitbit competition.

TWENTY MINUTES OF FOCUS. Set the timer for twenty minutes and focus on something you want to do with no interruptions. Make sure you silence your phone and put it in another room. Your focus could be on anything- cleaning, writing, playing with your kids, talking with your spouse, reading a book, researching a place you want to visit, etc. I know this sounds ridiculous, but these days our attention span is pathetic and sometimes we need to be given limits to get anything done (guilty again… shit!).

MAKE YOUR BED. I couldn’t leave out my main mantra! Making your bed each morning is a simple and effective way to start your day on the right foot. Accomplishing this little task first thing will make you feel productive and will motivate you to accomplish more small tasks throughout your day. Plus, it looks damn good!

PLAY A PODCAST. My favorite times to listen to a podcast are when I am driving in my car or when I am on a walk. If you are a parent, this is a great way to feel more like a normal person and less like a walking tissue for your snotty kids (just me?). Podcasts are another great way to be in touch with the world just enough, without having to surround yourself by real humans. Your mind will thank you for the energy boost and you will actually have something interesting to share with your spouse that isn’t kid related (#lifegoals).

DRINK YOUR COFFEE OUTSIDE. Getting fresh air at the beginning of the day can make such a difference. If you have kids, this gets them out the door and often they will entertain themselves so you don’t have to (the ultimate parenting win). If this one sounds insane because you have crazy rushed mornings, wake up twenty minutes earlier (I understand if you hate me for saying these ungodly words… I would slap myself if I were you) so you can enjoy this coffee ritual.

CLEAN COUNTERS. Make it a rule in your home to wipe down your kitchen counters before turning in for the night. This is one of those tidying tricks I learned from my mama that keep me sane and make for happy mornings. While you’re at it, clean up those nasty crumbs in the sink too (top five pet peeves).

READ BEFORE BED. Here is another goal of mine I have yet to implement consistently. Reading before bed just makes sense. Turn off the telly, peel your eyes off of your damn phone, and crack open a book (I mean power on your kindle). Reading before bed will help you relax and prepare you for a good night’s sleep. Reading for even just six minutes can reduce your stress levels by sixty eight percent, says cognitive neuropsychologist Dr David Lewis. Lewis sums it up perfectly: “It really doesn’t matter what book you read, by losing yourself in a thoroughly engrossing book you can escape from the worries and stresses of the everyday world and spend a while exploring the domain of the author’s imagination”.

FIVE MINUTE STRETCH. If you have the motivation to hit the gym or go on a run in the morning, well done (please tell me your secret). I have yet to embrace this healthy habit so instead, I suggest stretching for five minutes when you first wake up. It will get your blood flowing to your body and your brain, give you a boost of energy, and it can even help relieve back pain. Oh and it feels fucking fantastic!

MEALTIME MOMENTS. Right before my family eats dinner, we hold hands and then throw them in the air and say “a family!” (oh my god, this sounds insane when I write it down). I’m not sure how the tradition started, but it makes us all smile and it’s a great way to acknowledge each other before digging in. Implementing a mealtime pause or reflection is a great way to recenter yourself.

REVIEW TOMORROW. Before you go to bed, think about what you need to get done tomorrow. Write it down so you don’t have to think about it while you are trying to fall asleep. Include the bigger things like appointments and meetings but also include the smaller things like taking the trash out or paying the bills. The satisfaction of checking things off your list will help you get shit done and you will feel accomplished at the end of the day. If you have kids, talk to them about what’s in store for them tomorrow. They will like knowing what to expect and might be better about getting ready the next day (I said MIGHT, don’t hold me to that).

Take a minute to share the ritual you have chosen in the comment section below. If you came up with your own idea, I would love to hear all about it.

Why I Ended My Love Affair with Target

My adorable kids during one of our many Target trips.

Oh Target, how I loved thee. On days when my kids were driving me crazy, I knew I could escape through your red doors and everything would be okay. If I needed food for dinner, a present for my nephew and another cup of coffee, you were my one and only.  As a new mom, you provided me with simple comforts (other tired parents that made me feel less alone, a reason to put on a bra and clothes that fit my postpartum body) when I desperately needed them and I thank you for that. But times have changed, and so have I. Your once soothing atmosphere has begun to feel suffocating and so it is time for me to move on.

A TYPICAL TARGET DAY

I drop off my daughter for a half day of preschool and head straight over to Target with my baby in tow. There, I see no less than three other preschool parents doing the exact same thing. We give each other an awkward yet knowing nod and I make my way to Starbucks to buy a latte (because you know this isn’t going to be a quick ten minute shopping trip). I’m feeling good and I’m pumped to get this show on the road. My first stop is the dollar section (thank you child laborers) where I can’t help but pick out a few random trinkets because they cost less than my latte, so why the hell not.

I  head on over to the grocery section, but wait! I can’t pass by those new summer dresses. And look at those cute jogger pants… I need those too. Okay, focus Abby. I go get the eggs and milk and move on to the cleaning supplies section, but before I can grab the paper towels, I am bombarded with the Nate Berkus office supplies. I see a gold stapler that  would look baller on my desk. Oh and gold scissors to match? Definitely need those! Are those pineapple shaped bookends? I didn’t know I even wanted those but now I have to have them.

I realize I need to get the hell out of there, but then I remember I haven’t grabbed the diapers which was the reason I came here in the first place. I take the elevator to the second floor and for a moment, I try to gather my self-control because I know what’s coming. The elevator doors part, and there in front of me are those damn kid clothes. This isn’t fair! My postpartum hormones can’t handle your adorable baby hoodies with ears and the pink dinosaur graphic tees. I angrily throw in the outfits and make a beeline for the diapers. I avoid the home section like the plague and head back to the elevator, thinking I have won a small victory, when I see the men’s clothing section. Fuck. I am buying all this stuff for me and yet my husband never treats himself.  I should at least get him a new t-shirt or work pants since he needs those things way more than I need this gold stapler (well, not wayyy more).

My cart is getting full and my baby is way past nap time so I sheepishly head towards the checkout line. The cashier picks up one item at a time to scan and bag it and the continuous beeps remind me that I bought way more than what I came here for. Two hundred dollars later and I am filled with an adrenalin rush (yay for new pretty things!) but also a pang of regret which I know will hit me more later.

IT’S NOT YOU, IT’s me

So why the break up? Target in and of itself is not a bad thing and plenty of people have a healthy relationship with it, but after examining the problem areas of my life, I realized that this shopping ritual was holding me back. I was spending money (and a shit ton of it) I didn’t have on things I didn’t need that were cluttering up my home and my mind. The exhilaration I got from shopping was short lived and I was left wanting more.  I was trying to fill a void in my life and it wasn’t working. Going to Target was like turning the television on at the end of the day- I did it because it was a habit that was entertaining and comforting, but it was getting in the way of who I wanted to become. Sometimes, being comfortable can be a curse. If you crave change in your life, you have to embrace being uncomfortable and break out of your routines. I realized that I had to let go of my Target addiction if I wanted to discover more about myself and what I wanted (and if I hoped to retire one day).

My daughter exploring the great outdoors.

LIFE SANS TARGET

After kicking the shopping habit, I am discovering that I have plenty of time in my week to do the things I really want to do. I have more time to get together with family (the reason I moved here in the first place). I get shit done that has been piling up on my to do list. I take a little time to connect one on one with my baby. Sometimes I do a whole lot of nothing and it feels amazing. While my daughter is at school, I put my baby down for his nap and I make myself breakfast while listening to a podcast with zero interruptions. I have time to enjoy the peace and quiet and listen to my own goddamn thoughts and it is fabulous.

Creating pockets of slow time in my day to reset myself is key to me being less irritable and happier overall. I wake up excited to take on the day. I spend more time outside: going on walks, playing at the playground, gardening or simply hanging out on my deck with my kids and husband.  The fresh air and tweeting birds somehow shoo away the grumpy attitudes, and we come away from the experience feeling reenergized and more relaxed. These are not transient feelings like my Target highs. These are experiences that enrich me and my family’s lives and they typically don’t cost a cent.

do you have a love hate relationship with target? leave a comment if you can relate to the complexities of my love affair.

Make a Change, Part III: Make Room for Change

You’ve written your sucky life list and your kick ass life list and you’re revved up for how to set this plan into motion. In order to change your life, you need to clear some space in your schedule. Being busy all the time is killing your ability to try something new, which means you are stuck doing the same old same old and your life is passing you by. Decluttering your to do list, social calendar and unfavorable habits will make room to accomplish the things on your kick ass life list. Decluttering is not about restricting yourself. It is about releasing the time sucking activities and allowing you to envision the life you want.

I am not someone that likes to restrain myself, but when I decided to cut back on a couple of things that were adversely affecting my life (chocolate and TV to be more specific), a sea of opportunities flooded my way. I found myself doing new things that I hadn’t even realized I wanted to do. I began blogging, listening to podcasts, running, going on adventures with my family, enjoying the outdoors more, and began cooking new meals for my family. Before, I was mindlessly watching TV every evening while snacking continuously until I went to bed.  My dessert obsession was a huge distraction throughout my days and it was getting in the way of me doing the things I actually wanted to do. Breaking those habits that were hardwired into my life was liberating. After that, I decided to write these lists in the hopes that I could continue down this path of enriching my life with new experiences.

This process of reducing the things that are taking up your time is uncomfortable. If you decide to cancel cable like I did (and intentionally watch less Netflix/HBO), you might find yourself at a loss of what to do with yourself. You’re not used to having free time and it feels uneasy and possibly distressing. Don’t shy away from this! Embrace this time and see what happens. It is amazing how the ideas start to trickle in. Maybe ideas that you wrote down on your list, maybe something completely different. Be patient and see what happens. Find a way to carve out a couple of hours at night or maybe even a whole weekend if you can. Then allow yourself to fill that time with something different. Start to create the life you had imagined but didn’t have the time or energy for. The results will surly be life changing.

Make a Change, Part II: Dream Up a Kick Ass Version of Your Life

Now that you are finished writing your “what sucks about my life list”, its time to write the “my kick ass life” list. This is the one that addresses everything you wish your life was, but isn’t. Here, you will write all those things you’ve imagined doing, if only you had the time, money and energy.

Let me be clear, this is not just a typical bucket list that only includes lofty goals like moving to another country or jumping out of an airplane. Those goals might make an appearance on this list, but you will also want to include smaller ambitions that will concern your day to day life. Things that you could change immediately.

Start off by reviewing your sucky life list and begin problem solving. Imagine this is your buddy’s list and you are going to save the day and fix all of his problems. Not going outside enough? Go on daily walks. Feeling rushed in the mornings? Prep the coffee and do the dishes in the evenings to make for a calm start to the day. These solutions should make up the beginning of your kick ass life list.

The next step is to take a moment to imagine what you want your life to look like and then start writing down everything that comes to mind (leave a blank line or two under each idea). Here are some questions to get you thinking (don’t feel like you have to actually answer these, they are just to help get the ball rolling if you feel stuck):

  • Where do you see yourself living? Apartment in the city, cabin in the woods, big house in the suburbs, your van, bouncing from hostel to hostel, on a farm?
  • How would you make money? Would you be working from home or in an office with coworkers? What would your job be?
  • Does imagining yourself training for a marathon excite or bore you?
  • Do you want to live within walking distance to your in laws?
  • Do you prefer to go out for meals or would you prefer to eat at home?
  • Where do you want to vacation?
  • What kinds of things do you want to do with your kids on the weekends?
  • What time would you like to start and end your work day?
  • Would you prefer making your coffee at home or buying a cup at your local cafe?
  • Do you want to have sex more often?
  • Go on date nights?
  • Start your own business?
  • What kind of parent do you want to be?
  • Who do you want to interact with on a daily basis?
  • Do you want to join a local sports league?
  • What kind of friends do you want to spend time with? Describe your ideal friend and their interests.
  • Do you wish you had a smaller home that is easier to maintain?
  • Where are your kids going to school?
  • What addictions do you want to quit?
  • Do you want to move so you are closer to family?
  • Do you want to eat healthier meals?
  • What hobbies would you explore? Think back to high school or your childhood, what did you do with your free time? What were your high school electives?
  • Do you want to be in your yard, working in your garden?

When you are finished, use the blank lines below each kick ass idea to get even more specific. Go on more walks? Go on a walk through the neighborhood every day after dinner. Want to quit your job? Work on resume and research job openings over the weekend. Hoping to eat out less? Meal plan and shop for groceries every Sunday. Writing exactly how these goals would look in your day to day life is an integral part of implementing change.

Now, you have two very powerful lists at your fingertips. Check out “Make a Change, Part III: Make Room For Change” to learn how to set these ideas into motion.

Make a Change, Part I: Write Down Everything That Sucks About Your Life

As our lives continue to change, so do we, but not always how we hope to. Choices that were right for us at one point have lost their charm and we crave something different, but we’re at a loss as what to do about it.  In this three part series, you will learn to examine and address the problem areas in your life, dream up a life you would want to wake up to each morning, and learn what is necessary to make those changes a reality.

The first step is to write a list of everything that sucks about your life. Everyone has aspects of their lives that they dislike and want to change, but making those changes can feel overwhelming and we often give up before we even try. This feeling of defeat takes over when we have all these frustrated thoughts, but we never do anything about them or even directly identify them. By writing this list, you will begin to address these issues and start to take control of your life.

What should you include in this list? The massive problems as well as the itty bitty problems. Anything and everything that sucks about your life, even if you have no idea how you could fix it. Even if it seems silly. Here are a bunch of examples to get you thinking (some of which are from my actual list):

EVERYTHING THAT SUCKS ABOUT MY LIFE RIGHT NOW:
  • Not outside enough
  • Yelling at my kids too much
  • Boss is a douche
  • Watching hours upon hours of TV at night
  • No energy for sex
  • Living paycheck to paycheck
  • Eating too much junk
  • Bathrooms are always dirty
  • No time to do my hobbies
  • Feeling rushed in the mornings
  • Constantly distracted by my phone
  • Fighting with my spouse
  • Not getting enough sleep
  • Tired of having roommates
  • My job is not fulfilling
  • Winters are too long where I live
  • Not enough ‘me’ time
  • Eating out too much
  • Overwhelmed by laundry
  • My commute is way too long
  • Don’t exercise enough
  • Want to travel more

Keep writing until you have it all out of your system. I have written many lists in my life, but I had never written a list like this before. There is something magical that happens when you take something from your brain and write it down. Ignoring your problems no longer feels like an option and you begin to imagine what it would be like to address these issues and start living a more intentional life.

Next up, Make a Change, Part II: Dream Up a Kick Ass Version of Your Life