My life has been anything but simple. Maybe that is why I have become so determined to live more and more simple as each day passes. I actually work to slowdown; to take in the beauty around me, and to genuinely enjoy living. This does not come without it's challenges. One expression rings true for me more often than I like, "Life gets in the way of living." It seems I am in a constant battle against the throws of life, but I am becoming an expert at rolling with the punches.
Most recently life has been quite possibly more challenging for me than it ever has been, and that is saying a lot given all the challenges I have faced in my 40 plus years. As a homeschool parent in our unique circumstances I am quite certain it has never been more important to me to keep a regular schedule and stay on track. This is a feat that proved near impossible of late. Rest assured we have entered a 'life lull', and I couldn't be more relieved.
The key to flexibility? Planning. Yes, that's right. Planning. It is my planning that permits me the freedom to be flexible. Only certain things get written in pen, because ALL things can be rescheduled, restructured, revised, and rewritten. Having a plan helps me keep my head about me when all of life is spinning out of control around me. What plans are the biggest stress reducers in times of extreme chaos? Here are the top on my list:
Educational Plan - I always plan at a minimum one week out. Ideally, I will plan a month ahead. Of course, this is written COMPLETELY in pencil. The freedom it gives me is unmatched by anything else. It is so much easier to pull out my planner, look at the plan for the day, and work my way down the list. No real thinking is needed; just read and do! It may be a bit intimidating at first, but the return on the investment is priceless. Having it all written ahead of time makes it so much easier to shuffle things around if need be, and most importantly accomplish more than we would if we were completely flying by the seat of our pants. My new favorite tool for keeping this all together is My Well Planned Day planner. I use the paper version. It rocks!
Meal Plan - Having a meal plan is a close second to the educational plan. I can quite lose my mind if I have had a stressful, or unexpectedly busy day, and I find myself with three hungry kids and no plan. It's in times like this that I resort to poor decision making. I let laziness, or tiredness, or stress, or whatever you prefer to label it, win out and order a pizza, or pick up Chinese, or even go out to eat. Living 20 minutes away from everything makes this an even more costly venture. My time and money, and my health, are very important to me. So, if I want to protect those areas of my life and the lives of my family I must have a plan. Over the years I have used different strategies to accomplish the same goal. One resource you may enjoy is called Pepperplate. I loved it for a time, and will surely return to it one day, but for now I am a pen to paper meal planner. Quite simply, I just make a list of breakfasts, lunches, and dinners for about three weeks. I base my grocery shopping on those meals, which is done every two weeks, and plug my meals in my planner (in pencil). I don't always have the said meal on the said day, but I can be prepared for busy days and plan to cook more involved meals on more relaxed days.
Self-Care Plan - With the education of my children planned out and the food we'll eat prepared for, it's time for me to think about what it is that keeps me sane. What do I do to feed my soul, to tend to the care and keeping of me? As mothers we give 100% of ourselves, and that will surely run short if we don't keep ourselves in good health; spiritual, mental, and physical. I may not be able to pursue all the things that interest me all the time, but I can keep my eye out for opportunities, and even create them as the need, or dare I say desire, arises. One book that really helped me along in recognizing was The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron. I worked through it years ago with a friend. I am glad I stuck it out. It did require some commitment. I've always thought to do it again, but the time has not come for such things as of yet. Also, I currently use YouVersion to do my morning studies. It's awesome, because you can do studies and easily catch up if you miss a day or two, or more. Meal planning falls under this category as well since planning ahead allows me the freedom to prepare homemade, fresh food for myself and my family. I also make an effort to surround myself with uplifting individuals and consciously invest my time in quality people. All relationships take a certain amount of work. Choose where you spend your energy wisely, and you will be greatly blessed by your efforts.
Financial Plan - I do not claim to be any sort of expert in the area of finances, but the responsibility for my household finances has landed in my lap. I have learned by experience what works for me and what does not. I simply must keep a monthly budget and maintain the importance of tithe at the very top of my list. I am not sure what your experience has been, but I can tell directly in my pocketbook if I have fumbled the ball in the tithe department. It has been my experience that my finances are MUCH easier to bear when I faithfully pay my tithe. Bill paying and budgeting other expenses is most challenging, by far, when I somehow fail to remember to pay my tithe. In general money goes much farther if you have a plan, and don't just throw it around thoughtlessly. In times of great stress, it is SO MUCH easier to just pop on my computer, look at my list of commitments, and pay the bills. No real thinking is needed. It is a total life saver. If you have not taken advantage of online bill pay, you simply have to give it a try. It saves loads of time and money. Love it!
Special Occasion Plan - With so many children in my charge there is no way we can have any type of gathering without at least some advance planning on my part. Over the years I have gotten better and better at simplifying things, praise God! Having raised seven children to adulthood, four public schooled/three homeschooled, and currently raising three more as homeschoolers, along with waiting for grandchild number 13 to enter the world, just getting our immediate family together is a major undertaking. Some events get planned months in advance, while others can be put together in a couple of weeks, or even days when necessary, but the common thread is to plan. Period. Also, I have learned to not be shy about asking for help when I need it. The perfectionist-control freak in me has learned to allow such "intrusions". ;)
Homestead Plan - This kind of ties in with my homeschool plan, as our plan is to raise our children to know and understand the homestead lifestyle. It has become very important to me to live as close to the land as possible. It is a purpose that I value in importance for teaching my children. The land we tend, the food we eat, being responsible and accountable, our contribution to our community; all of these things are of great importance to me. Homesteading fits perfectly into our lifestyle and offers many lessons on planning and flexibility. On a homestead there would not be much accomplished if we were lacking much in either area.
Housekeeping Plan - There was a time in my life when this would be at the top of my list, and look where it landed. At the very bottom! Of course, it is necessary to plan for the care and keeping of your home, but I dare say that it is the easiest to slough off and the most forgiving. All the things listed above, yes all of them, are incredibly more important than how much laundry you have, or the counter full of dishes, or even how many weeks, or months, it's been since you mopped your floors. It took me years AND YEARS to become comfortable with this fact, but it is entirely life changing once you arrive; I mean completely arrive. Of course, if you ever want to achieve a certain level of clean, or even maintain a semblance of cleanliness, it is purely essential to have a plan. Even a loose plan is helpful. Your truest of friends don't come over to inspect your house, they come to see you. Learn to relax a little and recognize that everyone that has any amount of children home full-time lives in various stages of mess and disorder.
So, the conclusion? Planning the various parts of my life integral to my daily living gives me the freedom to be flexible. I have learned to value my time above all other resources. Whatever I can do to guard and protect my most cherished resource is well worth my effort and pays off in great dividends, most of all the preservation of my sanity.