As the season shifts, I feel the current of our family life changing, too. I shouldn’t be surprised; the seasons are God’s way of keeping us on our toes and reminding us that we can continue to expect this cycle of life, death, and rebirth. Consistency doesn’t mean change is ever easy, we all know. On this note, I recall the wisdom of an ancient: “be steadfast in your principles, but flexible in your approach.” The changing of seasons usually requires a shift in systems.
We all know about the seasons of life but think about the systems you have relied on in each.
Childhood, a season of discovery and learning, full of wonder and imagination, is new and exciting. Our systems are not our own, but provided by our caregivers, who know the wisdom of prioritizing education, exploration, and play. Educators help us develop cognitive, social, and emotional skills through structured environments chock full of opportunities to chase curiosity and express creativity. Guardians provide systems for physical and mental well-being with love and structure, facilitating friendships.
Adolescence, a season of self-discovery and independence, brings questions for authority as we develop our own identities. Our systems often collided with those of our caregivers as we focused on self-expression, exploration, and personal growth. Parents, mentors, teachers, and peers tried to help us navigate the season’s complexities by providing guidance, support, relationships, stability, and hopefully, opportunities for self-discovery, albeit not unscathed.
Early adulthood, ripe with ambition and achievement, usually focuses on career-building, starting families, and establishing ourselves in the world. Our systems likely prioritized career development, financial stability, and personal relationships this season. We sought wise guides to help us navigate the challenges of this stage, relying heavily on networks for emotional support, and meaningful connection on sleepless nights.
Most of us are now in the season of midlife. It’s an interesting season, I think you agree. One foot in each world, often reflecting and re-evaluating, but still learning and marveling at this adventure called life. I mentioned in last week’s letter, this is a season to prioritize self-care, personal growth, and connection. Spiritual practices, therapy, and self-help resources are a few of the systems I’ve used to discover meaning and purpose in my life as I face personal and professional challenges.
I don’t feel equipped to speak on the latter seasons of life, but I have come to understand a simple truth. Whatever the season, systems are a priceless navigation tool. As I evaluate my and our family’s needs at each stage, I’ve found that systems help me gracefully embrace change.
Different seasons call for different systems
In case you also feel this changing of life’s seasons, I wanted to share some of the systems that have been empowering me, fueling my journey, as a forty-four-year-old mom of three capricious school-age darlings.
Time management systems:
I’m slowly becoming a creature of habit. Daily routines and schedules help me balance work, family, and personal time. I’ve also learned to work with my energy, not against it. I liberally exercise the right to nap when needed and find I’m better. A twenty-minute nap can buy me another four hours of evening time that usually gets gobbled up with homework, cooking, and telling kids it’s time to get in the shower.
Time-saving systems help me with meal planning, preparing, household chores, and errands. Not only is our April workshop about meal planning, but I’m about to embark on the challenge of efficient freezer-meal prep in the next two days. As the pace of life has picked up, I’m grateful for grocery deliveries, and determined to nail this batch-cooking thing. I’ll let you know how it goes.
Asana is my go-to for work tasks. And even if I don’t practice it perfectly, I’m a huge fan of Clean Mama’s simple weekly cleaning routine.
After my first book was released last May, I hit an emotional and psychological impasse. There’s more I could say, but out of consideration for your time, I’ll just say I had to take my counsel. I called a friend with a trainer, and asked if I could work out with them daily. To say it’s been life changing is an understatement. Stress management systems, such as meditation, yoga, or exercise, are vital for self-care.
Similarly, it’s important to carve out down time. I enjoy reading in the bath (currently: The Chaos Machine has my mind blown), listening to podcasts (IMHO, news in the form God intended), and I try to watch a show with David in the evenings. (Lately, we’ve enjoyed Poker Face, Ted Lasso, and Shrinking).
There is no way I can call myself organized. Every drawer in our home looks like the dust mites are organizing their annual Crap Convention. That doesn’t stop me from trying, though. The systems I’ve put in place are weak, but they keep the wheels on, albeit with paperclip and string.
Our filing system consists of a basket for bills, a pile for family photographs, a pile for church notes, and a pile on each child’s memory box. I see the irony. You do what you can. We have an emergency folder for important documents, and a box of receipts for every year.
Although not official, I have a loose inventory system for household supplies and pantry staples. Our canned goods are color coded, so I just look for holes. And we eat the same thing pretty much every week, so when we get low on green beans or black beans, a kid will let me know.
Emotional support systems:
Falling into place as last but not least, I count among my systems an incredible IRL community of friends, neighbors, and nearby family. If you know me, you know I’m willing to be open, vulnerable, talk about therapy, or what I’m learning, with almost anyone. I think this willingness to share my challenges is part of what has gifted me with such an incredible community of humans. Together, we fight our dust mites daily, borrowing cans of Rotel and sharing insights from books read or podcasts heard.
If you’re reading this and think, man, I wish I had my life that together, quick reminder: I haven’t talked about so many of the systems I’m not as good at. For example, budgeting and I don’t get along well, I’m the worst offender when it comes to punctuality, and historically, the member in bad standing in any type of philanthropic or organized volunteer effort.
But I am willing to speak to what I can, so here are some tips for how to triage your life and implement a few systems:
How to streamline your life:
- Identify areas of stress or inefficiency:
Take note of any frequent stress or frustration. Cluttered home? Disorganized schedule, too many half-finished projects, loud children? Stressed about clutter, task load, or time? Hold it loosely for a day or two. Don’t try to fix it, just acknowledge that it’s there, and tell yourself that you are confident in your ability to uncover a system that will help simplify that challenge.
- Research and gather information:
Give it a quick google. Are there any potential systems that could be helpful? I’m not talking about apps—usually good old paper and pen are a better start. This could be a cleaning checklist, brain dump note pad, or journaling routine. Read a book, call your mom, and/or pray. Ask friends, family members, or professionals who have successfully implemented systems in similar areas.
- Plan and implement:
Decide on a goal. Do you want an hour of peace and quiet? Time to go to the grocery store? A pedicure or bubble bath? Name it, then get resourceful. We are all busy, but it’s ok to rob Peter to pay Paul, here. Freezer prep a week’s worth of meals and buy some crock pot liners or foil trays to shave time off clean up. You may have to do some math to find the time, money, or energy to do it, but you can. (Just no math questions for me, mkay, thanks.) I’m not the math expert, remember? But I can tell you that small, achievable goals will build to more complex, reliable systems over time.
- Evaluate and adjust:
Give it a week or two, then ask yourself how this works for you? Tweak the schedule. Redesignate an item’s “home.” Call a family meeting. Go walk around the Container Store. Change the laundry. Make adjustments to improve efficiency or meet changing needs. Ask for feedback from others affected by the system and adjust accordingly. Celebrate successes and learn from failures to continuously improve the system.
When armed with a system.
I don’t mean to over-simplify or over-sell it. Armed with a system, life is more streamlined, efficient, and stress-free. By identifying areas of stress or inefficiency, researching potential systems, planning, and implementing a system, and regularly evaluating and adjusting the system, a middle-aged mom of school-aged children can better maintain a clean and organized home, distribute household tasks efficiently, save time, reduce stress, ensure the safety and security of her family, and prepare in case of emergency.
As our family life shifts in step with the season, I remember the importance of being steadfast in our principles and flexible with our systems. Just as the changing seasons bring new challenges and opportunities, we must be willing to adapt and adjust our approach to maintain consistency and stability in the face of change. While change may not always be easy, the cycle of seasons reminds us that it is a natural part of the human experience and that we can navigate it with grace and resilience.