My Life Changing Moment

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

I used to be a messy, disorganised, cluttered person. I didn’t enjoy it, but I didn’t know how to be anything else. I didn’t know why I was how I was. I didn’t know how to change.

I remember vividly one morning looking at the house and how disgusted I was by it. I couldn’t face the dishes in the kitchen from the night before. I couldn’t face the breakfast dishes that had joined them. I couldn’t face the toys the kids had left all over the floor, or the clothes that were waiting to be washed, and taken off the line, and folded out of the basket. I couldn’t face any of it. It was disgusting. 

I want to make clear here that I was disgusted by my house for myself, not because of what anyone else would think. I did not like living like this.

The mess made me feel angry and confused and weary. The piles everywhere messed with my brain. I was tired from trying to remember where everything was. I was weary from the never-ending cycle of attempting to clean it up, then feeling so tired that I let it get messy again.

That morning, I couldn’t face any of it. I ran away. I crossed the street and had a coffee with my friend and let our kids play together. I knew I was just procrastinating, but that’s what I decided to do. 

And that’s the morning that Moz did something that I had wanted him to do for a while. He brought a mate from work over to have a cuppa. They were doing some electrical wiring in the vicinity so they dropped in to say hello and to have a drink. 

I wasn’t there. They didn’t get to see me or have a nice conversation. What they got to see was my super-messy disgusting house. And Moz never tried that again.

I felt terrible. I really did. But I didn’t know how to change.

Then one night I listened to Focus on the Family on Ultra106.5. That night a lady called Sandra Felton introduced her book, ‘The Messies Manual’. She talked about the underlying reasons we live with mess, with a cluttered house, the reasons we procrastinate. She spoke to something deep inside me. I bought her book and I have never looked back. I now have several copies of her book that I lend out to friends who share with me their problems with keeping a tidy house. 

I know that Felton is not the only one giving this kind of advice. There are so many books, blogs, podcasts and courses helping those of us who need organisational help. But I want to publicly thank her for what she did in my life. I am so grateful for the clean house and the clear head and, yes, the headspace for my writing that I don’t think I’d have without her advice.

Sandra Felton shares so much wisdom, but today I will just share the major idea that helped me the most: Her decluttering method.

Sandra calls this the Mt Vernon Method. You start somewhere, say inside the front door at the hall table. You have three boxes: a box for the things you will give away, one for things to throw away, and one for things that belong somewhere else. As you look at every surface, and open every draw and every cupboard, you look at each item and put it in one of those three boxes. And you put back in the drawer the things that belong in the drawer and those things only. And no keeping things ‘just in case’. (She does say that you can have an extra box for those things you can’t decide about. When that box is full, you store it for a predetermined amount of time and then look through it and make the decisions then.)

This is a marathon, not a sprint. As you can, you attack the next space in the house. When you have to stop for the day, you stop. But you just keep going, until over time you declutter your whole house.

I had kept far too much stuff in our house. We had moved four times in a year, I hated the packing so I had left a lot of our goods packed up in boxes just in case we needed them again. I was also keeping every little bit of rubbish, sorry, I mean craft supplies that I thought could possibly be useful for children’s activities. Toilet rolls, cereal boxes, scraps of wool and so on. I was keeping a lot of memorabilia too, like all the letters my grade 10 boyfriend had written to me. It was all taking up space in a tiny house, spilling out onto benches and the floor. Taking up cupboard space so that things we actually needed could not have been put away even if we had wanted to.

I was hanging onto stuff to give me security. But stuff can’t do that. All it did was take away my peace. I needed to throw stuff out. I went through and ‘Mt Vernon-ed’ my house and suddenly our hall cupboard could be used for hanging up our coats, all our food could fit into our pantry, and all our clothes could be put away in our chests of drawers.

In my house now, I even have several drawers that are empty. Not all the drawers and shelves have to be full, you know. You don’t have to keep stuff just for the sake of it.

I am now in love with clear surfaces, with clean lines in a house. With ‘a place for everything, and everything in its place’. As I got organised and cleaned up I found that I enjoyed the experience. That I wanted more and more organisation. Not just of my stuff, but also of my time and my thoughts. 

There are other methods that might work better for you. Marie Kondo famously tells people to pull everything out (for example, make a pile of every piece of clothing you own) then only hang on to those things that ‘spark joy’. Dana, from A Slob Comes Clean, prefers a bit-by-bit process that starts with getting rid of the ‘trash’; the rubbish that is just sitting there in whichever room you are deciding to clean first. I think that’s a great starting point too.

It doesn’t matter much which method you use. If you find that you can never get on top of the cleaning in your house, maybe consider that you might have just a bit too much stuff, and get rid of some. For me it was the starting point of a new way of life.

Hearing Sandra Felton speak on the radio was the start of the Quiet Life journey and I’m so grateful to her and to God for sending her along at just the right time.

If you would like to hear me say a bit more about this, you can find my podcast at ruthamos.com.au and you can sign up there to receive this blog in newsletter form too, straight to your inbox.

How do you declutter your house? Have you come across any organisational tools that you’ve found particularly helpful? I’d love to hear about them.

A new way to divide (and conquer) your to-do list

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I’m trying something new in the organisational process. I’m always ready to try something new, I’m always hoping that I’ll find that thing, that perfect thing, that will give me more energy and make my days go more smoothly. And right now I think I’ve had a bit of a brainwave, even if I do say so myself.

The problem.

I work from home, running three businesses.

  • My editing business – academic editing, technical editing of insurance reports, that kind of thing.
  • My fiction writing – the R. J. Amos business.
  • And finally, my non-fiction author business (Ruth Amos): this blog, the podcast, and books.

The difficulty I have is figuring out what I should be doing at any one time. In some parts of the day (usually the mornings) I have energy, I can think, I can do creative work. Other times (after lunch, anyone?) I’m tired, I can’t think well and I need drudge jobs to do. Jobs that I can do with music on in the background, or jobs that require a bit of waiting around for things to load. Jobs that don’t require my undivided attention and creativity.

So, when should I do the different jobs that my different businesses need me to do?

It’s always easy to prioritise the editing jobs – they are money in my pocket, and they are jobs that other people need done.

But if I always do those jobs first, if they always take up my time when I have energy and I can think, then I’ll never get books written. And that would be a problem because I quit my job to write books.

Also, when I get to the tired times, I often don’t have enough brain to decide what to do with my time. I have enough brain to do a job, just not enough to think about what that job should be.

The solution (I hope).

I have decided to break my to-do list into two parts: thinking jobs, and non-thinking jobs.

All the writing comes under ‘thinking’. As do the phone calls, planning, academic editing, and recording of podcasts. All the things that need energy.

Under ‘non-thinking’ are tasks like posting promo material, website maintenance, the less technical editing, book formatting, reading, and listening to podcasts.

This is a change for me because now ‘writing the blog’ comes under ‘thinking’ but ‘posting the blog’ comes under ‘non-thinking’. A job that once was a single task has been divided into two. The same with the podcast. I need to record the introduction in the morning when I have energy, but the editing together of the different audio segments, and the posting online, those things don’t require the same energy and come under ‘non-thinking’.

I am hoping that dividing things this way will help me to make the most of my creative hours, but that it will also help me to make the most of my tired times. That having the list already divided in this way will help me to decide quickly what I should be doing, rather than letting me aimlessly scroll social media while I try to figure out which task I could summon up the energy to concentrate on now.

Social Media

Speaking of social media, dividing jobs in this way should also help me stay away from that distraction when I have the brain for creative things. It’s pretty creativity-zapping, the social media entertainment flood, and I need to stay away from it while I’m trying to do my thinking tasks. This means that you won’t get happy birthday messages from me until the afternoon, but I think you’ll cope.

I will go onto Facebook or Twitter when it is time for me to post promo things, when it’s time for me to let you know that my blog is ready, when it’s time to post a newsletter, but try to stay off when I’m concentrating on the ‘thinking’ tasks. I think it will help.

So that’s me, how about you?

Have you tried something like this? Are you as addicted to to-do lists as I am? Are you a morning or afternoon or evening person? When do you do your creative/thinking tasks? Let me know in the comments.

Defending from chaos and whim

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Last week I quoted Annie Dillard from her book The Writing Life, ‘How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing.’ She goes on to say,

A schedule defends from chaos and whim. It is a net for catching days. It is a scaffolding on which a worker can stand and labor with both hands at sections of time. A schedule is a mock-up of reason and order—willed, faked, and so brought into being; it is a peace and a haven set into the wreck of time; it is a lifeboat on which you find yourself, decades later, still living.

I love schedules.

A friend said to me last week that her daughter really needed a schedule, that she needed to know what’s going on, that she doesn’t cope well with changes of plans. I’m so like that. Even if the change to my plans is a pleasant change, if we’re now going out to dinner, or have people coming over (and I’ve been really bored), I still struggle to come to terms with the change.

Moz is much more spontaneous, so we worked out what to do with that. We decided that Saturdays would be our spontaneous day. We have a plan for spontaneity. Planned adventures. We don’t always go on an adventure, but because I’ve planned beforehand that we will, if something spontaneous happens, I’m ready.

Some schedules are printed out firmly on pieces of paper, or highlighted in a calendar app. For other people, they just know that first they will do this, and then at around midmorning they will change to doing that. It’s sitting in the back of their minds, almost subconscious, but still giving their lives order.

My life is changing right now, I have more work on and I need to fit more things into my week. It’s not an unwanted change, it’s more that life’s gone back to the way I thought it would be in June of last year.

The last few weeks have been nice and slow, I’ve been working on my own projects, my writing, my blog and podcast, and figuring out marketing. I have had a couple of regular deadlines—blog on Monday, podcast on Wednesday—but also a lot of flexibility.

But that’s going to have to change.

I’m not sure quite what the schedule is going to look like yet, but if I don’t have one, there are a couple of options for what’s going to happen, and neither of them are nice.

I might just panic. Say yes to every job and then work stupid hours to make sure the jobs are done by the deadlines. I have done a little of that in the last week and editing from 7.30 am until 9.30 pm is not how I want to spend my days.

I also don’t want to live in an emotional panic-state at all times. I want to be calm. To be able to make sensible decisions, not fear-ridden disasters.

The other option is that I will never get to my own creative work. It is much easier to do others’ jobs first and put mine on the back-burner.

As I said, I only have a couple of deadlines, they are self-imposed, and the worst that will happen if I don’t meet them is that I will be disappointed and slightly embarrassed. However, if my editing job for the big company is not complete by their deadline, then I might lose my position there and that would not be so good.

So that makes me shove my stuff to the end of the list. Do all the work for others first, and do mine if I get around to it. Which may be never. Because there is always resistance to doing creative work—if it’s not someone else getting in the way, then it’s me telling myself I’m too tired, or I don’t have great ideas today, or it would be better to nap, or eat chocolate while watching Netflix (in the name of research, of course).

So I’m hoping that over the next couple of weeks I will find myself a schedule that works. A schedule where I know how much time I am committing to the new work I have, and how much I am committing to my own creative work. That I will use that schedule to help myself sit down and do the appropriate work at the appropriate time, calmly, knowing that the hours I have put aside are enough for what is required. And hopefully, a schedule that has time set aside to be spontaneous too, to work, and rest, and play, and all in the right amounts.

It will always need tweaking, I’m not even pretending I’m going to get it right, but I think I need something anyway, something to order my days, a ‘peace and a haven’ set into my time.

How about you? Do you like schedules? Are you more of a spontaneous person? How do you keep track of your time?

This is a bit of a process blog, a blog that is helping me to figure out how I am feeling right now. I hope it helped you to process too.

Are you missing some of my blog posts? They come out every Monday. Sign up to follow the A Quiet Life blog on WordPress, or you can sign up to my newsletter on www.ruthamos.com.au  and you will receive every post straight to your email inbox. You will also find my podcast, my book ‘My Year of Saying No’, and any short stories or other books will be up there as they come along.

If you would like to support this blog and the podcast then you can head over to Patreon.com/quietlife and help me out for as little as a dollar a month. Thank you so much!

My dream life

I’ve been reading a new organisational book. I think they’re a bit of an addiction for me. I just love them. Especially if there’s a picture of a coffee cup or a journal and pen on the cover. I’m very sensitive to suggestion.

They usually have excellent advice and this latest book is no exception. It had really good advice on how to write lists and prioritise. How to make your special project a priority. How to encourage yourself and keep track of the progress you’re making.

I really enjoy the books and I’m always disappointed when I get to the end.

While I’m reading them I’m so full of hope. They just sound so confident, so sure that if you just follow their advice (to the letter) then your life will suddenly be amazing. All you have to do is follow their particular method of organising your day, their method of keeping track, their method of making lists, and suddenly you’ll be making millions by working just 3 hours a day and all your dreams will come true.

It reminds me of when my lovely in-laws bought a George Foreman grill. You know ‘knocks out the fat’ – it was essentially a toasted sandwich maker with a disability. Shorter front legs made it slope forward and all the fat ran out when you were cooking stuff. The parents-in-law bought one, then the brother-in-law bought one. The family loved their Georges – every week we met for dinner and they would rave about how great the food was. And, truth be told, it was pretty good food – my mother-in-law is a pretty good cook! We didn’t buy one. We didn’t have a whole lot of money to spare. So the lovely in-laws bought us one for Christmas.

After a couple of weeks we met up for dinner again and they asked us ‘How’s the George?’ We had to tell them – it made everything better! The food was better, we were exercising more, our sex lives were better, our jobs, the kid’s behaviour, everything was better! Oh dear.

This is how I think when I’m reading these books. It’s all going to work. It’s all going to be better.

It’s not that my life is bad to start off with. In fact, it’s pretty excellent already. I don’t know what I’m expecting!

I’m sure that some of the things I have put into my life from reading these books have helped my life be more organised and less stressed. The strategies are pretty much the same in every one and they are good strategies. But I always feel let down by the end of the book because I get to the end and I still have the same life, the same time pressures, the same job. And that’s not going to change by me putting in some new organisation program.

I know that the fault lies with me. With my inability to say no to anyone who asks me for help (should I write this here? Don’t ask). And, also, with my health at the moment. Maybe I only read them when I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed, maybe I don’t need them when I’m getting things done and feeling like I’ve got it together.

There are things I can change, there are things I can’t, and there are things that I think I wouldn’t change, even if I could. And all these things add up to my life.

Maybe the trick is to find a book that perfectly describes your life and tells you that it’s great just as it is. Or maybe to write your own self-help book that tells you that you’re pretty good, really. That you can make it just as you are. Because each of us is different. We have our own dreams and hopes and pressures and needs and stressors. We don’t fit into anyone else’s ‘get it done’ mould.

I guess one of the things that makes me, me is the enjoyment of reading organisational books. So I’m going to enjoy that enjoyment but I’m going to choose to not beat myself up at the end. And I’m going to be grateful for the life I have. Like all the organisational books tell me to. Here’s to life!