Changing Bad Habits: slow and steady

I’m working hard on changing my natural inclinations.  A seriously hard thing to do!

It all comes down to one thing: Forcing yourself to do something over and over until it becomes habit. 

Wether you’re talking about exercising, changing how you eat, managing stress, fixing procrastination, or, in my case, cleaning.  Just be careful: there is always something waiting to get in your way.

For a long time I’ve looked at my friends homes and wondered how they manage to keep them looking so clean and tidy.  Is it just when people come over? No, I had to scratch that notion when I’d popped in unexpectedly or visited multiple times in a week.  It seemed effortless for them!  Okay, some of my friends had very little “stuff” (I have stuff, lots and lots of stuff) which meant that they didn’t have to put “stuff” away constantly.  But that wasn’t it.  Somehow they just did it.  They did everything necessary to keep their homes clean on a daily basis even with kids.

Are they just more uptight than I am?  Are they less busy?  Okay, maybe some of them were, some of them had time away from all their kids at once (childcare or school of some sort) but not all of them.  Maybe their husbands helped more… well maybe that is true but I think the underlying issue both my husband and I have was the true cause: we weren’t in the habit of being clean.

In fact, I’d NEVER been in the habit of being clean.  I grew up in the middle of a 7-person household of chaos.  My mother is a worse packrat than I am (sorry mom, it’s true).  The idea of clearing out old, unused items was not part of my DNA, in fact saving things “just in case” was constantly ingrained in me.  Our house was always cluttered and never completely clean.  I don’t remember vacuuming as a child or even really sweeping (we didn’t have a ton of carpeting). I do remember doing some dishes but a clearer memory is dishes always waiting to be done.  With so many people living in a small house (we lived in a 3 bedroom ranch:  all four of my sisters, my parents and I along with a future brother-in-law or two at times).

It’s no wonder that a cluttered, unclean house was what my home always seemed to settle into.

My situation is not unique.  All of us have something that we’ve just “always done” that we wish we could change.  For a long time I was at a complete loss as to HOW.  When I got pregnant with my fourth child (when the twins were just a year old and Punkin was only three and  a half) I decided that I couldn’t allow it to slow me down.  I adopted the mantra: No excuses.  It was very hard in the beginning, I repeated my mantra multiple times every hour as I struggled not to leave dishes or tissues or toys out as we moved through our busy days.  It was so easy to say “But I’m taking care of twins, a preschooler and I’m pregnant” for everything.  I kept thinking that there were plenty of people with less than I have (resources, time, responsibilities) and manage to do more.  I kept pushing myself to take Nike’s catch-phrase to heart and told myself to Just Do It.

Some days it worked better than others but as the weeks (and months!) went by I found myself having an easier time of just taking care of things.  Of course it was increasingly frustrating that my husband wasn’t going through the same transformation (my kids were but I was teaching them every minute of every day).  As the house got more and more under control I found it easier and easier to keep up.  My pregnancy started to slow me down the last month or two but because I was into a routine of more cleanliness I was still able to keep up… at least somewhat.

I still struggle daily and I do beat myself up over what I still can’t manage to keep up with (one week the laundry is totally done and the next it’s piled up to the ceiling!).  I am working on balancing giving myself credit for what I do get done every day and the fact that there are always excuses to slow you down.  There is always “something” going on in your life that you can use as a scapegoat for your slacking.  A new job, a new baby, twin toddlers, a husband who works long hours, a cold, sick kids, rearranging rooms, rain, too much sun, installing a new heating system, doing taxes, a party coming up, etc.  All these things have occurred in my life recently and I could have used any of them as excuse to give up but did not allow myself to.  At the same time I’m pushing myself I often have to review my day hour by hour or even minute by minute to ascertain that I didn’t slack and yet still didn’t manage to get “anything” done.  Things like building garden beds, trellises, planting and caring for a 22×28 garden area, doing 10 loads of laundry in a day, grocery shopping, cooking multiple meals, playing outside with my kids, listening to my kids and focusing on them are important even if they aren’t the same as managing all of the day-to-day dishes and clutter.

My life is about little changes.  I am balancing all my responsibilities while slowly changing my underlying tendencies.  Man, it takes a lot of time and a lot of effort but I’m really pleased with the rewards for all my efforts over the last nine months.

On a side note:  I am seriously hoping that after I pop this kid out that I’ll be able to get right back on track.  I’m allowing myself to use the birth of a child as a reason for slowing down but not an excuse to backslide or stop completely.  After all, my mantra is No Excuses.

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