December 5, 2014
Well I did it!
I took on the biggest problem in my life, the one dragging me down, causing me stress, sucking away my fulfillment, and I turned it upside down.
I didn’t completely solve it, but I got rid of the problem.
My problem was a house full of clutter. Too much stuff in too little space.
I had more clutter in my home than I could cope with. I spent years building it up a little at a time, and then years believing I could unclutter my home the same way – a little at a time. But it didn’t work. I would make some small gains, sometimes even a few large gains, but some of the clutter would remain and grow again. I was not satisfied. This was not the home I wanted to live in.
I was willing to accept my cluttered home because I kept telling myself it was the price I had to pay to be the mother, wife and career woman that I wanted to be. If I wanted to spend time cleaning and organizing, but my kids wanted me to play a game or do a science experiment or go for a bike ride with them, I didn’t want to deny them. I always gave in to my desire to be an intricate part of my kids’ learning and exploring and growing every day, to drive them to everything, to watch every soccer practice, to volunteer for every school event, to lead every girl scout meeting, to go out with my husband whenever the kids had a sleepover, to say yes to every freelance journalism opportunity.
That all seemed far more important to me than my house.
But I knew the clutter was a bigger problem than I was admitting to when my husband told me, “You don’t want your kids to grow up this way, because they will never learn the value and enjoyment of a comfortable, beautiful home.”
Wow! That was my true motivation.
I know when I really want my kids to change a certain behavior, the best and most direct way to achieve that change is to model the behavior myself 100% of the time. And here I was, modeling behavior that was not the way I wanted my children to live.
After trying hopelessly for months to let go of some of my possessions and fit the rest comfortably in our home, I admitted it couldn’t be done. I wasn’t willing to give up enough of my sentimental possessions, enough of my clothes, enough of my music, enough of my writing, enough of my kids projects – to fit in the space we had.
So I found a bigger space.
It was initially an impossible task.
I knew we wouldn’t be able to buy a bigger house, because years of financial struggles had wreaked havoc on our credit. I knew we wouldn’t be able to sell our house that was still underwater with two mortgages. I knew we wouldn’t be able to pay more per month for our housing costs. I knew a bigger home would likely cost more to buy or rent.
But I also knew I was creative and motivated and had become an expert in real estate through my own business. So I created an arrangement to leave my home with 1800 square feet and no basement and move into a new home with 3000 total square feet including the basement – plus two full bathrooms instead of one.
My new home satisfied my four main desires – more space to store our stuff, a basement family room for my teen and pre-teen to hang out with their friends, separate office space for myself and my husband, and separate full bathrooms for the kids and the parents. Plus, a bonus – access to a clubhouse with work-out facilities, a pool, a party room and more!
And of course, it was in the same school district and same community where we had already laid our roots. I was not willing to leave the schools where my children had been thriving.
I knew this would be one of the hardest things I had ever purposely dragged myself and my family into. But once we committed to it – contractually, financially and then emotionally – there was no going back.
Box by box, we sorted and packed up everything. More than 500 boxes. And that’s just what we moved.
I also packed up another 200 that we put in the garage for a massive moving sale. We sold no furniture, no large items, nothing worth more than $10 – yet we made more than $400 in one day. It was a freeing, life-changing experience.
Even after that, we still had more than 100 boxes worth of leftover items. I gave much away through freecycle.org, the wonderful community that helped us tremendously during our financial struggles. I was so happy to see my beloved possessions passing to other families who would give them new life. I gave more away to charities. I even drove some to thrift stores and earned another $100 selling them.
I devoted my entire summer to this project. And yes, I spent days ignoring my children without feeling guilty. Of course, I fed them and drove them and got them to bed. I continued to manage the family finances and calendar and went to all my kids’ games, performances and other events. But I said “no” to the ongoing barrage of requests: “Can you help me with this?” “Can you find that?” “Can you do this for me?”
I told my kids and husband I had to focus on the move. And I did.
I didn’t cajole the kids into shutting down the electronics by offering to take them somewhere fun or play a game with them or do a project with them. I turned away and let them rot their brains with video games and apps for a few months while I kept sorting. And packing. And planning.
We didn’t go on vacation all summer. I didn’t visit friends or spend time online. I delegated my business dealings to a manager. I cut back my freelance projects.
Just as “The Secret” revealed about the Law of Attraction, I convinced myself we would find a way to pay the bills even with far less income from me. And suddenly, at the beginning of summer, my husband started a new project that became a stable, ongoing income stream able to cover our basic expenses for the first time in six years.
The move-out was liberating, not stressful. It was resisted by the kids in words but not actions. Every time I gave them boxes and directives to sort their possessions, they exceeded my expectations. They sorted everything into Keep and Sell/Donate boxes. They didn’t keep too much. But they didn’t let go of everything either. They knew what was important, and kept possessions that were meaningful to them. And they understood this project was important to me, and stopped constantly demanding my time.
Now we’re approaching winter, and I’m still not done with the move-in. I have boxes in every bedroom and in the family room and office that still need to be unpacked. I have boxes in the garage and POD that still need to be brought into the house. I have some items left in the garage at the previous house that still need to be sorted.
But my new living room has room – to move and relax and breathe comfortably. Lots of space. Empty space. Nothing on the floor but furniture. Nothing on the shelves but what fits and belongs. The same in my kitchen. And each day I make more progress.
I accomplished this with self-imposed deadlines I could not break. I paid for ads for my moving sale, so I had to have everything in my house sorted into Keep or Sell/Donate boxes by the sale date. I canceled my storage unit, so I had to have it cleaned out by the expiration date. I signed a lease to rent my house, so I had to have it empty by the lease start date. I paid movers to bring my furniture, so I had to have all the floors and shelves and desks cleared and ready to go by moving day. I paid for a POD to be moved to the new house, so I had to have it packed with boxes by delivery day.
My next deadline is December 15, the day before my daughter’s birthday, when the POD will be picked up. It has to be empty by the pick-up date. And five days later is my daughter’s sleepover birthday party, and the basement family room has to be free of boxes by the day of the party. Another self-imposed deadline.
And we will succeed in finishing that room by the deadline.
It can be done.
The nagging crisis that has been hanging over my head for the past six years is gone. And I accomplished my goal by creating ONE SINGLE PRIORITY and putting it ahead of everything – even the kids.
Did I do in spite of my family or because of my family?
That’s not the point.
The real point is I did it for myself. I did it to regain my sanity. I did it by putting this goal ahead of my family temporarily for a few months, so I could be a better mother.
I didn’t ignore my kids or husband. I did the basics as a mom and wife, but I showed my family that I could work on my own goal and say no to them sometimes. And they would be okay. And I would be okay – I would not be wracked with guilt.
I modeled the formation, execution and completion of a big, overwhelming goal.
In the 15 years since I returned to my hometown, I’ve had many goals I have worked towards, thought about, written down, cut out pictures to illustrate, posted notes about, and achieved – including getting pregnant, having two healthy babies, buying a house, paying off all our credit cards, losing the weight from pregnancy, finding and keeping a great nanny, teaching my kids reading and math before kindergarten, nurturing my kids’ passions, returning to my journalism career, starting a real estate business, training a good property manager, building our real estate portfolio, refinancing our business debt, buying a van to fit my kids and their friends, and on and on.
After achieving all that, why did I doubt I could unclutter my house – something that seems so simple on its face?
It all goes back to the perfectionist tendencies that haunt us as mothers: I knew I would never be able to have the perfect house, so I couldn’t push myself to work towards a better house, until I realized the damage it was doing to my family – the disorganization, the yelling, the stress.
The house wasn’t causing me to have a short temper with my kids, but my dissatisfaction of it was.
I see it happening to other mothers around me, for different reasons.
Many of us have a nagging crisis, and we don’t know how to solve it. It’s too big. It’s too overwhelming. It’s too expensive. It’s too scary. There’s not enough TIME. (Boy, do I know that feeling!)
You may even think it’s hopeless, but that’s not reality. That’s the vision you’ve created.
It’s time to create a new vision.
It’s your life, and you can take control. It’s not rocket science. It’s not even hard once you decide and start moving forward.
If you’ve got an albatross around your neck, you’ve got to tackle it. Get rid of it. Solve the problem. MAKE IT YOUR NUMBER ONE PRIORITY. For your sake and your family’s sake.
Your house may be beautiful, but your health may be a wreck. Or your friendships. Or career. Or your kids’ grades. Or your relationship with your husband.
Your situation probably didn’t become a crisis overnight. And it’s not going to be solved overnight. But you will not solve it by doing other things that seem more important. You have to solve it by taking steps. Every day. Big steps. And it will still take A LONG TIME. Maybe days, weeks, or months – like it took me.
Whatever it is that bothers you the most, admit it. And then write down what you are going to do to change it.
Right after we moved, my daughter found a note to myself in the back of my desk from five years ago that said: “I’m going to buy a 3000 sq ft 6 bedroom house in our school district in 2011 with seller financing for my family to live in.”
She laughed and said, “You didn’t do that. You failed!” But her glass is half empty.
My glass is half full. I achieved the essence of that goal – I got the 3000 square feet. I got six “rooms” because we have three bedrooms on the main floor and three “areas” in the basement for the family room/guest room, my husband’s office and my office. I got a house in our school district. I didn’t buy it with seller financing, but I got a rent to own agreement. It took three more years than I wanted – but I got it in time for my kids to enjoy it during their teen years, which was my main deadline.
Now I think ahead to the two other goals I have had for the past several years that remain unfulfilled: having enough money to buy all organic food during every grocery shopping trip, and taking vacations where we want to go, not just where we can afford to go.
And now I know I can get there. If I tackled a problem that plagued me for six years, which created tension in my home every day that is now gone, I can tackle anything.
And so can you.
As an Over Achieving Mom, you have to let your ideal parent vision go temporarily to solve your biggest crisis.
Tell me what it is, and how you’re going to solve it.
And let’s accomplish it together as a community of Over Achieving Moms.