I used to have someone come in and clean my house every other week when I was working. I loved it, because just when my house would really need a cleaning, there was this magical day when I would go to work with a dirty house, and come home to a sparkling clean one.
When I quit my job after our son was born, I decided I wanted to save money on housecleaning so I could use it for more fun things, like books and hobbies since I had a little more time. Which means that I needed to find some housekeeping skills I had not used in a very long time. (How hard can it be, right?)
We like to cook a lot, we have two small children and two cats. That adds up to a whole lot of mess very quickly if we don’t stay on top of it. The house quickly becomes overwhelming. I’m probably not unusual in that there are few things I like less than cleaning a big mess. It literally gives me anxiety so I like to procrastinate. #honesty
I miss having someone clean my house. But, as my dad says, “It builds character.”
In the book, “9 Things You Simply Must Do” (a must read), I love author Henry Cloud’s example of “acting like an ant.” He observed that ants build an entire city, with a complex network of tunnels, hills and valleys, by carrying one grain of sand at a time.
If the ant picks up a grain, the city will get built. But if the ant looks at the grain and says, “That is not a city! What a waste of time!” there will be no city in the end.
All-or-nothing thinking keeps people stuck in destructive ruts…. All success is built and sustained just like a building is built, one brick at a time. But one brick seems too small and insignificant for all-or-nothing thinkers. They have to have it all, and one brick, one dollar, one pound, one new customer, is not enough for them.”
I observed something similar when I was learning to snowboard. I would stand at the top of a run, look down a steep mountain run and think, “How am I ever going to get down??” When I looked down the mountain, I would be paralyzed with fear. But then I decided to focus on one turn at a time. Point my board down the mountain and cut across the run, turn, and do it again, turn, back across the run. I focused on one section and one turn at a time. Before I knew it, I was at the bottom of the run. Eventually I got to the point where I could fly down the hill without even thinking about it.
I am a 100% all-or-nothing thinker and I get overwhelmed by big tasks. I’m the one sitting at the top of the mountain with my snowboard, looking at Instagram on my phone so I don’t see the steep hill. I’m the ant looking at all the grains of sand saying, “That doesn’t look like a city!” I see dirty dishes on the table, and because they don’t look like a clean kitchen, I leave them till later. I see clutter on the floor, but because it doesn’t look like a clean house, I save it for later. I see a dirty sink, but since quickly wiping it out doesn’t look like a clean bathroom, I save it for later. But later doesn’t come often enough, and when it does, it’s a miserable game of catch-up.
The concept applies to all of life. Saying no to a donut at work, taking a 15 minute walk, eating a salad, cooking a healthy meal – all little tiny grains of sand that add up to waking up feeling so good you could build a city. Changing the dirty diaper, wiping the little face, making a snack, crawling under the kitchen table to clean up a spill, saying a bedtime prayer, giving a hug – all little tiny grains of sand that will one day be the finished city of our children’s adulthood.
So when things feel overwhelming, I start moving the grains of sand. When the kitchen sink is piled high with dishes, I start with one dish and put it in the dishwasher – a grain of sand. When the children need mama time and I have a mile-long to-do list, I take 10 minutes and read a book to them – a grain of sand. With God’s help, I am making my home a haven one grain of sand at a time.
Because people, I’m carving down my mountain. I’m building a city. And you are too.