Monday, December 11, 2017

How to Find Margin in Your Life

Have you heard of this concept of MARGIN?

Look at your life like a piece of ruled notebook paper. Then each day you start writing down all the SCHEDULED things first. Take kid here, must buy dog food because we are 100% out, homeschool each kid, proofread this book, dentist appointment, sports practice there.

I should probably just stop here and remain sane but I don't. That's a full day.

Instead, I fill in everything else that I WANT to get done, like:
try to get in a shower
give that kid a haircut
go for a walk because it's 70 degrees in February in Kansas
do dishes (the kids can certainly help with that)
do laundry (teach kids how to do that)
take the kids on this cool outing
co-op planning
have some alone time with my husband
have a Nerf war with my kid
play Shopkins with my other kid
check into this and that
call this person
email this person
fill out this permission slip
try to send this article
TRY to figure out when I could possibly ever go see my grandmothers
make a meal for a sick friend
finish update on book
volunteer at the food bank with the kids

And my list goes on and on with important things and not-so-important things. Any of this sound familiar?

My page is soon full. Like full on the lines and in the margins. I have tried to book my entire 24 hours by planning about 73 hours of stuff. And we all know time does not work that way. But it causes us stress anyway.

The idea is that you should just write down what you really need to get done and leave the margins empty, thus leaving margin in your life. Some days it works and some days it doesn't but you have to keep trying or, no, you won't end up in the looney bin (I've tried), but you will end up a frazzled, overwhelmed, stressed-out, mean, quite likely physically ill human being.

Do you think God wants you to live that way? I know I didn't have all these children so I could be too busy all the time to even give them a hug in passing and too full in my mind with details to remember their names. Trying to make a good life for our kids should not mean filling every second of our own time while the kids are out happily making mud pies WITHOUT US.

I love life. I am curious and want to suck up as much life as I can before I die. But in that big-picture view, I am missing a lot of little things that are VERY important. In needing to get this TASK done, I am missing out on CONNECTIONS.

While I don't have as much margin as I'd like to these days, I'm trying to figure it out. Here are some of my tricks.

Meal plan and make sure you have all the items you need. Look at your calendar and make sure what you're planning is doable. Don't plan coq au vin on a day where you will literally have 10 minutes to make it and eat it. Instead, have one of those go-tos like Slow Cooker Pulled Pork Soft Tacos or Crockpot Chili. I'm working on this (see below) but, interestingly enough, have not had time yet to finish it ;-)

Make sure you are stocked on dog food and Band-Aids and allergy meds and inhalers and toilet paper so you aren't running out at the most inconvenient time ever.

Teach your older kids how to do laundry so clean clothes are not an issue. At my house, I have not started this yet and need to! They bring clothes up from the dryer and they put away their own clothes, so that's something! (Update, since I wrote this we have moved and we have a super simple washer/dryer system on the main level. The kids do laundry now.)

Take a look at your schedule for the week on Sunday and picture how it's going to feel. If you start feeling stressed just looking at it, you need to make some changes. Your body doesn't like to feel like you're going to whoop it with adrenaline every day until you die.

Do something small every day toward a big goal
When I start on a writing project, I get FOCUSED. I am a work horse. I am in the zone. That doesn't work when you have 5 kids and you're with them all day and homeschooling. While I long to go on a weekend writing retreat (I'd go here and I daydream about it), I just am not that kind of mom. I've tried to be that kind of mom but I am a stick-close mom. I feel badly if I am gone for 5 hours after taking my son soccer refereeing then I go work at a Panera Bread. I've left my kids for exactly ONE overnight in almost 16 years. I don't see that changing soon.

That said, while I'd love to knock out so many different things (writing, organizing, etc.), I have to realize slow and steady does win the race. It's how I got my first couple of books finished. It's how I do a lot of things.

Plan one NOTHING day
I'm finding that since I gave myself permission to not pack our lives to the brim, we have started trying to take off Thursdays. So on those days, after lunch, after school is done, we can go to gymnastics for an hour up the road or not. We can go on a field trip or not. Go to the park or just laze around reading.

Combine homeschooling
If you homeschool, here's one small trick I use for homeschooling all 5 of my kids at once for History and English and sometimes even Science/English or Art/English.

Say "no" or "not right now"
This can be hard for those of us with little concept of boundaries (we need to read this book) and it can also eventually be your guilty pleasure and it can give you margin. I feel horrible saying "no" because I picture myself someday in a deep ditch wanting help out and everyone around me says "no" because I told them "no." Dumb, right? Sometimes "not right now" works as well and is less final so you have time to decide on something.


When my kid FaceTimes, it's like having an extra kid in the house (her friend she is FaceTiming). It's okay to say "no" if it's not a good time for the family.

Take a look at how much your kids have friends over ... taking on an extra kid for hours or days at a time is a big deal. I'm cooking for an extra person when I already cook for 7. I'm mentally making sure I have that extra person with us when we go places. I'm paying for that person when we go places. I'm picking up after that person when they leave their things at my house. I'm endlessly texting the kid and the parent about pick-ups and drop-offs and details. "What's one more?" could turn into a margin-suck without you even realizing it. I am a HUGE FAN of playdates and teen hangouts, but they don't need to happen daily, is all I'm saying!

My kid doesn't have to make every single sports practice, religious ed meeting, Scout meeting, etc. My husband and I teach our kids it's okay to skip stuff every now and then and we are doing it by example :-) You are not a crappy community member and slacker: you are keeping your family sane. And, boy, do we savor those gorgeous spring evenings outside when we have skipped an event and stayed home to just PLAY.

Do you have any margin in your day? Time to just chill out? Visit with a neighbor who is lonely? Get yourself some empty brain space and empty to do list paper space and see what cool things come from that.

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