Friday, February 8, 2013

My Happiness Project: Time

This month I am focusing on time, and more specifically, how I can make the best use of it.  If I do not pay attention to how I choose to spend my time, the days quickly slip away from me and I feel restless, irritable, and generally unsatisfied with my life.  I want to make better use of my time not so I can cross more things off my ever-increasing to-do list, but so at the end of the day I go to bed feeling like it was a day well spent.

For the first months after giving birth to HP the bar for what I considered a successful day was low.  If at the end of the day we were both fed and alive, I marked it down as a win.  Now that he is older and has fallen into a more predictable rhythm, I am able to set higher standards for myself.

I have two resolutions for the month:

(1) To only check social media once a day.  I appreciate how social media allows me to connect to distant friends and family, but I find its usefulness diminishes the more frequently I use it.  I lose five minutes here, ten minutes there, and before I know it HP has woken up from his nap.  When I limit my social media I am able to better appreciate the time I do spend online and to use it in a way that augments, rather than detracts, from my life.

(2) To actively evaluate how to spend my time throughout the day.  This resolution may sound vague, but I mean it in a very specific way.  When HP goes down for a nap, I often do the easiest thing instead of the thing I most want to do.  For this month, when I am about to make a choice about how to spend my time I am going to stop ask myself, "What do I really want to do right now?"  One of Rubin's happiness paradoxes is that "happiness doesn't always make me feel happy", and I have a feeling I will need to invoke that wisdom often to uphold this resolution.  Sometimes prepping dinner will make me the happiest, because it means the late afternoon is not as chaotic.  And sometimes eating ice cream and watching an episode of The Good Wife is what I most need.  The purpose of this resolution is not to always make the most productive choice, but to actively engage in the decision making process so I am making the right choice.

February quickly slipping away.  So far, my February resolutions have been a big, fat fail.  I blame the sleep deprivation, but really, I should just blame myself.  There is no reason I can't implement these resolutions, even when I am tired.  Perhaps when I am making decisions I should more often consider that my time would be best spent napping.

Here's to a month (or three weeks) of making each moment count.

Friday, February 1, 2013

My Happiness Project: January Review

January has come to a close, and with it the conclusion of the month of "order" in my happiness project.  It is easy to get discouraged by the fact that I did not make as many changes or accomplish as much as I wanted, but writing this post helped me realize that I have made a lot of progress, especially considering I have an infant and was traveling for a week in the middle of the month.

I will start with my daily resolutions.  I trimmed down my list of possible resolutions to two--making my bed in the morning and picking up the house in the evening.  I quickly learned not to be a perfectionist about the evening pick-up.  If the toys are put back in their place and the kitchen table is cleared, I am satisfied.  It's better to do something than nothing at all.  I am not sure why I have opposed making my bed all these years, since I love getting into a made bed at night and my life just feels more organized when I glance in our room and see the smooth covers instead of a disheveled heap.

These simple tasks, as trivial as they may seem, bring a lot of happiness to my life.  Having an ordered environment helps me to be productive in other areas of my life.  If my house is picked up, I want to get stuff done.  If my house is a mess, I want to curl up on the couch and watch trashy television.  Sad, but true.

In addition to my daily resolutions I worked to create order in my house as a whole.  I still have a lot more to tackle in this area, but I knew that going in and gave myself two months to finish the bigger overhaul.  Here's what we have accomplished so far:

(1) Reordered the pantry, consolidating containers, creating a system that freed up the bottom shelf for HP's things.  Now that he's crawling he is getting into everything at his level.  Keeping glass jars of dried goods within his reach was a recipe for disaster.

(2) Henry made a built-in spice rack while HP and I were in Missouri.  It's even better than I imagined.

(3) We found a larger refrigerator on Craigslist.  The one that came with the house was teeny-tiny.  I thought we would be able to make do, but we were constantly rearranging to make leftovers fit and many times there just wasn't enough space for all of our groceries.  Since we only go shopping once a week and cook all our meals at home, we really do need the extra space.

(4) I went through all of the kitchen cabinets and drawers and purged plastic and little-used items.

(5) Henry built a cabinet organizer for the cookie sheets, casserole dish, bread pans, and cooling racks.  Before they would either slide down if I put them on their side or were difficult to access if they were stacked on top of one another.  Now whenever I open that cabinet to retrieve an item I get a small rush of happiness.  It really is the little things.

(6) We bought a desk and bookshelf for the guest room from the Texas State Surplus Store, which will help with this month's organization projects.

(7) We moved the books from the living room bookshelf to the guest room and put HP's toys on the living room shelf.  Now he can easily access his toys and I do not have to constantly watch to make sure he isn't grabbing books and ripping out pages (which he did this morning when he was alone with a book in his room that I forgot about).

We still have A LOT to do.  The enclosed garage is this weekend's project, and it is a complete disaster area.  Right now it's hard to make it more than a few yards past the door.  Other items on the list for the month include:

  • Figuring out a system for HP's clothes and toys in his room 
  • Setting up a new changing station
  • Going through my closet (and either making shelves or buying a hanging shelving unit)
  • Putting items in our new desk
  • Cleaning out the guest room closet
  • Going through the bathroom cabinets
  • Taking a load of stuff to Goodwill and the Habitat ReStore
Phew.  Just the act of writing that out makes me feel overwhelmed.  I am trying to take Rubin's advice from Happier at Home to "go shelf by shelf." On my resolution chart for this coming month I have added a column for "creating order" and am asking myself to spend thirty minutes a day on one of the larger projects listed above.

Part way through the month I also added the resolution to "suffer for 15 minutes," which is another tip from Happier at Home.  She used this method to tackle large, nagging projects instead of putting them off indefinitely.  This week I have been working on our Christmas thank-yous and cleaning out my email inbox.  Once those are finished I will move on to organizing my digital pictures, an item that never seems to make it off of my to-do list because I find it so daunting.

I am amazed at how much a physical chart helps me maintain my resolutions.  I originally tried to use an Excel spreadsheet, but the fact that I had to get on the computer to mark things off discouraged me from using it.  When I did open the document, I ended up getting distracted (Facebook!  Email!  Blogs!) and wasting time. Using pen and paper and placing the chart in a visible location have been instrumental to my success.

While I am continuing the larger projects of order (and will still try and maintain my resolutions from this month--especially picking up in the evening), February is a new month with a new theme: Time.  I will outline my resolutions tomorrow.