Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Post-It Notes

Post-it notes changed my life. Really, I'm not kidding.

In the beginning, I used them to remind myself of things that I might otherwise forget: frozen peas at the store, a hair cut, mopping the bathroom.

I stored them, in two sizes, in my purse, in the car, in my luggage on trips, in the school room, in the kitchen, on my bedside table. You could find me by following the trail of Post-its.

I used them for bookmarks, to leave notes for my husband and children, to leave notes for myself. But looking back, I can see now that the most significant role they played in my life as a homeschooling mom was that they reminded me of the personal things: the walk I should take, the Bible study I was doing, the books I planned to read, the changes I was making for myself. These little notes meant that I remembered what I had purposed in my heart and I did it often enough to craft, over time, a life that was closer to the one I had envisioned.

Personal changes are the hardest for the homeschooling mom. There are so many needs, so many demands, so many voices calling for her at all hours of the day. How can she stay centered on her purpose and on the truth? How can she attend to her needs? Which needs are valid? Which ones should she put aside for now? How will she find the resources to remember what she was hoping to do for her own personal well-being and growth?

This is so difficult that many moms give it up. They just throw in the towel on personal disciplines and an inner soul life. They run on adrenaline and nerves and caffeine and do the next urgent thing that is shouting at them. I did it, too.

I learned that, yes, I can function that way for a while. On the outside, no one can tell the difference -- at least, not at first. Everything hums along. But on the inside, after a week or two, I become increasingly empty and strung-out. I start making decisions that I regret. I grow irritable and brusque. I get sick. I lose perspective. I have fewer and fewer inner resources to draw from because I am not replenishing, I am not resting, I am not restoring my soul along the way.

What worked for me may not work as well for you, or for your friends. We are each unique. But we all have a need to connect with God, to be still, to reflect, to engage in meaningful relationships, to play, and to exercise our bodies in a way that releases stress. We all need to address our hunger for joy. If we neglect these things, we will pay a heavy price. Perhaps not immediately, but ultimately, our lives will be shadows of what they could have been if we don't take care of ourselves.

Your list of things to do is just that. Next week there will be another list. Trying to get on top of it is like shoveling the walk while it's snowing. Ultimately, you have to come to terms with this, just as I did. Whether it's that you can't get on top of it all, or your house is always messy, or you are always tired, you have to make peace with the fact that managing a household is like this. In the midst of it all, you need to make time for some things that are not urgent, that are invisible, that are life-changing, that are restorative.That's where the little, unassuming Post-it note comes in.

Here's what I did to help myself attend to this issue:

1. When I was making my weekly checklist (which I described yesterday), I wrote down three things I was doing for myself that week on a medium sized post-it note. For example, I might write: the title of my Bible Study, my exercise, and one other fun, soul-nourishing activity. I attached the post-it note to the top corner of my weekly page. At any point in the week, I could make another one and replace it. But there it was, reminding me of the invisible, important personal life that powered everything else I did all day.

And there was one thing more I could put on that little post-it. During times that were not our most hectic, I could add one personal change to work on. Just one. A month later, I could replace it with another one. This small nudge helped me grow, slowly and surely, in the direction I longed for. Over the years, those brief notes were vastly important to my future, to my develoment as a person, to the quality of our life together. Funny, isn't it, how the smallest things can be most significant?

2. On weekday mornings, I used our reading time (as I described earlier in this series) to have a quiet time and look over what we would be doing that day. This is when I glanced at the weekly checklist. This is when I looked at the post-it note attached to the corner of the page.

3. I learned that I could reasonably attend to three things just for me, outside of getting a shower. I went over in my mind in the morning a plan for when I might do them. I made sure that I didn't have too many expectations for myself that day, which would make personal time impossible.

A nice balance in my personal times gave me something mentally satisfying (my Bible study or a book), physically refreshing (a walk or work in the garden), and something that was a way to play, a joy break. On most nights, I could spend an hour in the evenings when the boys were in bed doing some of this. But I learned the value, too, of capturing a few moments in the morning while they were reading, and in the afternoon right after we were finished with school and they ran off to their own delights. Overall, I kept my personal time, including devotional time, to two hours. The weekday schedule could handle this consistently, and it was enough to keep me fresh.

4. On weekends, I took a half-day and used it just for me. Here is where I got away completely from the day-to-day grind and recharged for the incoming week. I did things that I didn't have time for during the week: visiting a greenhouse; taking a longer hike; browsing in a bookstore; shopping for clothes; spending time with my husband on a special date. Some weekends, I spent Saturday morning on the porch with music and a special breakfast and a favorite book. Writing my weekend joy-break on the weekly checklist helped me to be more consistent in doing it. Although I did occasionally get interrupted by urgent needs which spoiled my original plans, I still benefited from this attempt to carve out time for refreshment. It happened more often than it would have if there was no plan for it.

I found that if I was attending to my own personal growth and need to recharge, I could handle with good humor and perspective all of the things happening in my household. This personal time is what helped me grow, gave me space to breathe, and let me see the richness of my life and savor it. My most creative and inspiring ideas came from these moments, or right after them, when I was fresh again. And school was at its very best when I could start each morning fully restored and recharged.


  1. I have been homeschooling for thirteen years. I have never, in all that time, figured out how to take care of myself while I took care of everyone else. I have tried, in bits and pieces, over the years, but I couldn't seem to make time for myself on a consistent basis. This post was so helpful for me. I need real, concrete ideas. Surely even I can make time for the items that will fit on a post-it note.

  2. I hope you find a way that works for you this year. Personal time is the hardest thing to put into place. Most moms who are working hard for excellence struggle with finding time for themselves.

  3. Thank you for these series of posts they are so helpful for a new homeschooling mother like me!


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