Editor's Note: The following is a report on the practical applications of Kathy Peel's new book, Desperate Households: How to Restore Order and Harmony to Your Life and Home, (Tyndale House Publishers, 2007).
You step over piles of clutter as you rush to get the kids ready for school. When you open the refrigerator, you discover that you’re out of milk again, but dry cereal will have to do for breakfast. There’s no time to run to the store because you’re running late. Then your kids tell you that they can’t find any clean shirts to wear because you haven’t gotten to the laundry. You wish you could go to school in their places because you just want to escape from the chaos in your house for a while. Does this remind you of your household?
If not, how about this: Your young son comes in the house from playing in the backyard and immediately tracks mud all over your clean carpets. You yell at him and feel bad when he cries, but doesn’t he realize how exhausted you are from cleaning the house all day long? And now you have to finish cooking a dinner from scratch. Your daughter offers to help you cook; she even says it would be fun for her. But fun is the last thing on your mind right now. You send both of your kids away so you can focus on getting everything done exactly right.
Neither extreme is healthy. You can have a clean, organized, and peaceful home – and time to enjoy it – if you seek God’s wisdom about managing it.
Here’s how you can enjoy harmony in your household:
Manage your home as well as you would a business. Recognize that running your home is much like running a business. You and others in your household provide important services like food preparation, child raising, laundry, transportation, housecleaning, caring for the sick, caring for the lawn and garden, home and car maintenance and repair, acquiring goods and services, and financial accounting. Managing your household is important work that requires someone to take charge, and the person who assumes responsibility for serving as the manager deserves appreciation and respect. If you’re a single parent, you’re your family’s manager. If you’re married, figure out who can best serve in the role (you or your spouse) – according to who has the most amount of time at home (even if you both work outside the home). Understand, though, that while just one person serves as the manager, he or she manages a team of family members who all pitch in to do the work – just like in a professional workplace. Divide the various household chores among yourself, your spouse, and your children, according to each person’s giftedness and availability. Know that your work at home has just as much dignity, honor, and value as professional work. Do your best to work together to create a home that runs as smoothly as a successful business.
Discover your personal management style. Instead of wasting time and energy trying to run your home the way others do, figure out how to make your unique design and God-given gifts work best for you. Make a list of activities that energize you, and another of tasks that drain your energy. As you study the list of what you like to do, notice what patterns you see repeated in them. Do you enjoy working with people, numbers, tools, words, ideas, techniques, colors, fabrics, food, or physical things? Then ask yourself how you can spend more time and energy on tasks you enjoy and do well. How can you maximize your strengths and delegate the jobs that drain you? Are there other family members who like to do what you don’t like doing yourself? If so, could you delegate those tasks to them? If not, could you barter with a friend to switch tasks sometimes at each other’s homes, or hire help to get certain tasks done? Remember that there will always be jobs you hate doing, but you can learn to work with your strengths and work around areas where you’re not gifted and through people who are.
Write a family mission statement. Sit down with your spouse to think and pray about setting priorities for your family. Why does your family exist? What is God’s purpose for your family, and what’s your basic approach to achieving that purpose? What are you trying to accomplish as your family’s manager? What core values guide your decisions? What type of atmosphere do you want to create in your home? What type of memories do you want your children to take with them once they grow up and leave home? Realize that if you fail to set clear priorities and build your decisions around them, your family life will likely end up quite different from how you’d like it to be. So write a family mission statement that explains what’s most important to your family, and why. Then keep that mission statement in mind when you make decisions every day, so you can build your choices around what’s most important to your family. Whenever your plans are interrupted by something unexpected happening, pray for God to help you put those interruptions into perspective so they don’t cause you unnecessary stress, and to give you the wisdom you need to respond to them well.
Communicate wisely with your spouse. Share the workload around the house. View each other as the equal partners you are, and seek to bless each other when you do chores, rather than resenting the work you have to do. Forget tradition when dividing household responsibilities; instead, divide them by who’s most gifted to handle what and how much time you each have at home. If your husband is a better cook than you and has the time to cook, encourage him to do so. If your wife can perform house and car repairs and is available for it, invite her to do so. Figure out how you and your spouse’s strengths and weaknesses complement each other. Expect that you’ll each sometimes fail to complete chores on time or well; whenever that happens, forgive and help each other. Whenever you disagree about a job that needs to be done around the house, pray for God to help you resolve the conflict with wisdom. Discover projects you both enjoy and can work on together to strengthen your bond.
Build teamwork among your family members. Give every family member in your house the opportunity to express their goals for your household. Then do whatever you can to work together to pursue common goals. Avoid nagging or yelling when trying to motivate family members to pitch in with their share of the work around the house; realize that nagging and yelling never motivates people and creates negative relationships with them. Instead, identify expectations clearly (define what your family considers to be a clean house, and how certain chores should be done to be done successfully) and negotiate with kindness and respect. Use incentives like praise and rewards to positively motivate your family members – especially your children. Remember that you’re doing your kids a favor when you require them to help with household chores; you’re helping them learn valuable life skills they’ll need when they live on their own, and you’re giving them opportunities to invest in their home to increase their sense that it belongs to them, too. Be sure to thank each of your family members for the chores they do, even though they’re expected to do the work. Let them know regularly how much you appreciate their contributions to your family’s household.
Establish a calm morning routine. Recognize that mornings are the launching pad for the day, so if they go well, your whole family will start the day off right. Plan to get up early enough to spend time with God in prayer and through Bible reading and meditation. When you interact with family members, keep your communication positive. Spend time the night before organizing key items you’ll need in the morning, such as by setting out your clothes and making sure you have enough food and drink for breakfast.
Set school day rules. Save energy that you would otherwise use to argue with your kids by creating rules to manage school days well. Give your kids the opportunity to express their thoughts and feelings about school day logistics such as how they should get ready for school on time, do their homework, communicate with you about important items like permission slips, etc., and seriously consider their input when setting the rules. Then, presenting a united front with your spouse, let your kids know clearly what you expect. Keep in mind that your rules can change as your kids grow, according to what works best at a particular time.
Create healthy meals and fun mealtimes. Aim to plan and cook healthy, delicious meals for your family regularly, and to enjoy eating those meals together as often as possible. Involve each family member in planning menus for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Then post the menus in a prominent place, and shop for all the ingredients in advance. Have everyone pitch in to help prepare the meals as much as possible; assign everyone a job (even young children can help wash fruit and vegetables or set the table). Make eating together a high priority; try to arrange your schedules around eating at least dinner together whenever you can. Ask each other questions to encourage interesting and positive conversations at the table.
Bust clutter. Rid your house of clutter that’s causing stress in your environment. Rather than trying to tackle a big job all at once and becoming overwhelmed, schedule small bits of time to regularly work on getting rid of clutter, room by room, until your whole house is organized. Prepare for your work by having trash bags, storage bins, etc. on hand. Eliminate what you don’t want, need, or use. Concentrate on what you use, need, and care about. For every item you handle, ask: “When is the last time this was used, worn, or played with?”, “Does it deserve space in our home? If it weren’t here, what would be here instead?”, “Are there memories attached to it?” and “What will I do with it – fix it, sell it, store it, toss it, or donate it?” Be sure to follow through on your decisions promptly to avoid second thoughts; put objects you’ve chosen to keep in their proper places and drop off donations and take out trash soon after de-cluttering. Set deadlines for your work to stay on track. Every time a new items comes into the house, take an old item out to make room for it. Think and pray about why you’ve accumulated too much stuff in the first place, and how you can avoid cluttering your house with more stuff in the future.
Use your time wisely. Set up a “control central” area in your home to organize and track your family’s schedule (consider places like a desk, countertop, or home office). Use a “daily hit list” to categorize the various jobs you hope to accomplish each day into seven areas: home and property, food, family and friends, financial, special events, and self. Then consider what you can delegate to others, and what you can delete. Move necessary jobs that you haven’t finished on a certain day to the next day’s list. Set realistic expectations for how much you and your family members can accomplish in a given time period. Make lifestyle changes gradually and rely on God’s strength as you do. Encourage each other and hold each other accountable as you all try to manage your time well while creating a better environment at home.
Manage your money well. Build your financial decisions around what’s most important to your family; remind yourselves of your priorities often. Figure out how you’re currently wasting money, and how you can save money without sacrificing a fulfilling family lifestyle. Scrutinize every area in your budget for ways you can reduce expenses. Before buying something, ask: “Do we really need it?”, “Can we make do with what we have?”, “How often will we use it?”, “How much care does it require?”, “Is it durable?”, “Does its design and quality meet our standards?”, “Is there information available to help us make our decision?”, “Is the price right? Could we find it at a secondhand store?”, “How much difference will its addition to our home and family life really make?”. Avoid debt and pay down any debt you already have. Save for unexpected expenses and large purchases like family vacations or new appliances. Learn how to invest wisely. Give generously. Develop an effective filing and bill-paying system.
Take care of yourself. Realize that you can’t successfully manage your family’s needs if you don’t take care of your own needs. If you go to bed feeling more resentful than fulfilled, realize that you may be burned out. Step up your efforts to care for your body, mind, and spirit by setting some specific goals for your physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health. Every day, no matter what demands you face, make time to do something that refreshes you. Say “no” to activities that don’t reflect your priorities so you’ll be free to say “yes” to activities that help you pursue your dreams. When evaluating whether or not to undertake an activity, ask: “Am I passionate about this?”, “What will it cost in terms of my time and energy?” and “What are the potential benefits?”. Ask God to help you pursue the right dreams in the right way, and trust Him to make them come true at the right time. Be assured that each small positive change you make in your life will eventually lead to big blessings. Develop and nurture a close relationship with God from which to draw strength every day.
Adapted from Desperate Households: How to Restore Order and Harmony to Your Life and Home, copyright 2007 by Kathy Peel. Published by Tyndale House Publishers, Carol Stream, Ill., www.tyndale.com.
Kathy Peel is founder and CEO of Family Manager. Her company trains, coaches, encourages, and equips women worldwide to build strong families and happy, organized homes (www.familymanager.com). Kathy has written 18 books, which have sold more than two million copies. She is AOL’s Family and Kids Coach and writes for numerous magazines, including Family Circle, Reader’s Digest, Parenting, and HomeLife. She is a popular speaker and media personality whose Family Manager Makeover stories have appeared on programs such as Oprah, The Early Show, and HGTV.