I think it was J.K. Rowling who, when asked how she managed to write those epic books while raising her young children as a single parent, responded that while she was writing her house was a disaster, her bathrooms unclean and the laundry left to pile up. She said you can’t do it all, all the time.
When I first heard that truth I “Amen, sister”-ed and mentally high-fived a thousand angels. And then I probably went back to cleaning my bathroom.
I’ve been home with my four kids full time for eighteen months, since just before the youngest was born. I stepped down from a part-time role in youth ministry because frankly, having four kids in five years will break you a little. That and no one wants to watch that many kids for free anymore (not even grandma).
So I found myself home a lot more. And suddenly every cabinet and closets and hidden nooks and crannies in my home began screaming for attention. I noticed all the things I should be attending to that I’d previously been unable to pay attention to when I was working part-time outside of the home. My to-do list had monthly projects like cleaning out every closet and cabinet or finally getting around to organizing all those photo albums. Once I started paying attention to these projects that could but did not need to be done my lists grew exponentially, multiplying like those proverbial rabbits.
And one day I realized that my house was regularly clean, the laundry was done and put away and the major monthly projects were slowly getting done, but my "career" was non-existent. There is more order than I could possibly need in my home, but not enough fulfilling, creative work in my life. And I was filled with more angst and less energy than I’d ever felt during my most chaotic days of being a “working mom.”
Over the past few months I've set about trying to reverse that. I redesigned my weekly rhythms, building in time for creative work and writing when I am most mentally energized, in the mornings at the beginning of the week. I reprioritized when and how I get things done. I tackle my work first, the work that gives me energy and stretches my mental muscles. I fit in workouts in different pockets than I had done before, in an effort to give my best time to the work. And I leave cleaning for the end of the week, when I’m pretty mentally fried anyway. (I’ve also taught my kids to dust and clean bathrooms which has changed my life in immeasurable ways.) I’ve also reprioritized what needs to get done to keep our house afloat and keep me from going crazy and let go of what could get done but could also just as easily be ignored. I stopped putting five big “organization/cleaning” projects on my monthly to do list. I put one on there and don’t stress too much if I never get to it. This means my photo albums are unfinished and my closets a bit chaotic. But my soul is singing in a way that it wasn’t before.
I’m writing more and planning other projects. I’ve engaged in activist work in a way that has connected me freshly to God. I’m happier in my home because I don’t feel a slave to it, which in turn makes me better to my people who live in that home. They were simple tweaks, inspired by the realization that all the order and organization in my home would never bring me the joy fulfilling and energizing creative work would. And the reminder that J.K. Rowling didn’t write those beloved books while also keeping a spotless house. It’s better for me and my family when our house is a little messier but mama feels a little more whole.