"The part of the day I am struggling with most right now is mornings," Karin said. (Tell me about it.) "So I decided to apply 'planning ahead' to that. And you know, I was really surprised. I understood on a basic level that if I made lunches the night before, then the mornings would be easier. But I didn't realize what a positive impact that would have on the rest of the day. Instead of starting off with a big buildup of stress, we just got out the door and then enjoyed a walk to the bus stop."
I didn't ask whether she went in her jammies.
Listening to Karin, it was clear that the goal isn't really more order; it's less stress. The issue isn't getting something done right, but avoiding the anxiety that comes from chaos that's not managed. So I'm inspired, and a little jealous, that her part of the experiment went so well.
Let yourself off the hook
Of all my friends, Tania's house is the neatest. She has, like, fruit bowls on the counter and stuff. I thought that this translated into a sense of peace and simplicity, so I was surprised to hear that Tania decided to let herself off the hook on her housekeeping.
"We decided to get a housecleaner once a week," she confessed. (Oh, please don't tell your husband it was because I made you help me.)
"Did it make life simpler?" I asked.
"I clean obsessively before she comes, and I clean after," she admitted. Okay, work in progress. But I did realize one thing: She's a lot harder on herself than any of her friends are on her. When it comes to my house, she always tells me how great it looks, and it's never as clean as hers. Maybe letting yourself off the hook means being as nice to yourself as you are to your friends. I'll keep trying that one. After all, I remind them they're great moms when their kids pull belly-screamer meltdowns in public, and I should remind myself, too. The next time I drag a screaming child out of the market, I'll try to be as encouraging to myself as my friends would be to me.
Do one thing at once
I don't know any mom who doesn't pride herself on her multitasking skills. We can talk on the phone, wipe a nose, and look up something online, answering questions about eating habits of birds as we go. But as I considered it, I wondered whether this might be an inherent part of our problem. In the first weeks with newborns, we learn to do so many things at once. Maybe we never unlearn it. Maybe sometimes we should.
"Are these withdrawal symptoms?" I thought as I stood in the kitchen chopping vegetables and twitching from a desire to have my laptop in front of me.
"This doesn't feel right," I muttered as I drove the kids to the market without a cell phone crammed against my ear.
"I can't concentrate!!" I thought as I forced myself to pay attention to the girls without picking up all the messes I saw around the toy room.
On the last day of my week of simplifying, I rolled out of the house, late as usual. I drove along with the ticker of self-annoyance going around my head. "Why can't I do this right? I should have planned ahead, or said no, or let myself off the hook, or whatever. But I should not be walking the halls of school in my jammies yet again."
Fergie came on the radio, singing "Girl can't help it." I turned it up and the girls started singing along. Suddenly it was a gorgeous day and I didn't mind everything so much. That was when it hit me: Driving to school, worrying about being late, trying to get there sooner, and berating myself for my mistakes was doing too much all at once. The only thing I really should have been doing in that moment was driving to school, singing a song in my jammies. Because that's where I was.
"Do one thing at once" isn't just about not multitasking; it's also about paying attention. It isn't always possible to get help or say no or let ourselves off the hook -- life wouldn't happen if we did too much of that. But my week of simplicity taught me what it's all really about: learning to be in the moment and trying not to worry about the rest so much.
And life with kids being what it is, that may just be as simple as we can hope for.
Elizabeth Soutter Schwarzer, also known as DaMomma, blogs at http://forums.parenting.com/blogs/parenting-post/posts/.