Unstuffing Life

Creating margin in our over-busy lives.

This year, we adopted seven-year-old twins. We already had four children in our four-bedroom home. Plus my husband and I share a room.  So it’s snug as a bug in a rug, yet we had to got to find room for two more.

We moved our fourteen-year-old son in with his nineteen-year-old brother. That meant buying a bunk bed and moving in another dresser plus more junk. They both had a lot of purging to do before throwing the rest of their clothes and belongings under the bed and across the floor. Because boys. Don’t try to imagine the smell.

My sixteen-year-old daughter moved half of her bedroom furniture out of her room and sent all her china collection and stuffed animals to storage. We rented that storage room just for her. And she filled it half up. Because girls. Then she scattered the rest of her belongings across the floor and draped clothes over the remaining furniture. Because teens.

Finally, my ten-year-old son attempted to organize his toys and clean under his bed. He was only marginally successful. Because Legos and plastic dinosaurs.

The twins came with boxes and boxes and bags and bags of stuff. Stuff to be thrown out and stuff to be saved for remembering their past. Back to storage we drove. Because full garage.

Then we looked in the garage. We looked because we couldn’t step inside. Out we hauled boxes of curriculum. Because homeschooling. And out we dragged containers and containers of Christmas decorations. Because ‘tis not the season. And once again we found ourselves wedging things into the storage facility.

You don’t want to open the door of our storage space.

When we were adding new family members, we realized our home had no margin. We were all ready to welcome them with open arms, but we had nowhere to put them until we created space...by removing the clutter.

And then came the schedule.

There are two more people demanding more of my schedule:

  • Doctor’s appointments
  • Therapy
  • Soccer teams
  • Choir practice
  • Bedtime stories
  • Read-aloud time
  • Homeschooling

The list goes on and on. I made lists. I posted schedules around the house. I lost my lists. I lost my mind.

I needed more time margin. I needed to let myself—and my family—breathe.

What would that look like? I had lost all perspective. I was drowning in an ocean of good things. And I couldn’t see the end.

So I asked my husband. I asked my friends. I asked for prayer. I sought God’s will concerning my family.

And I found several lifesavers—strategies to regain my life and relax my family life.

1. Keep this time in perspective.

I will not always be consumed with adding new family members. This is a time of transition for my family.

Remember when you first brought home your last baby? Remember the fog you were in for months, enjoying your new addition yet hanging on to each hour for dear life? That stage didn’t last forever. You survived—even thrived. You built a beautiful new life for yourself and your family. You pared down to the essentials, and you found joy in the small moments.

There are many seasons of transition in our lives. Each one is a time for intentionality:

  • Having a new child
  • Beginning homeschooling
  • Starting a new stage in homeschooling, like high school
  • Moving to a new home
  • Changing jobs
  • Facing illness, job loss, or a death in the family

Each time we face a new transition, it’s important to realize what we are going through. We need to unstuff life to create more space.

2. Keep first things first.

Not everything has to be done right now. Not everything is critical. Many activities that are important at other times are not so important during these transitions.

We need to help our family—and allow ourselves—to adjust to change.

We need to feed and clothe our family.

We need to seek God’s will in the life stage.

We need to give love and security to our spouse and children.

Not even homeschooling is the most important thing. During transition times, I remind myself often relationships are most important. It takes effort to concentrate on these priorities. If we spend all day every day maintaining these relationships, we are successful. We need to unstuff life to add more love.

3. Keep quitting an option.

I hate quitting anything. It always makes me feel bad. But I’ve learned over time that not every season is the right season for everything. Some things are for later.

I quit going out for some of my beloved activities, like homeschool mom’s dinner and writer’s group. Those were good things, healthy things, but my family needed me home in the evening more than I needed those outlets. I’ll return to many of these activities later when the transition settles down.

When we focus on keeping first things first, it may become clear we need to stop other good activities. We need to choose the best over the good. Stepping out of the club. Saying no to field trips. Even excusing ourselves from ministry. Those will all be available later. Now is the time to take things out so we can make room for the new. We need to unstuff life to find more time.

4. Keep taking breaks.

I learned to become more intentional with my breaks—daily, weekly, and monthly. Extra relationships to nurture and extra work in my family depleted my energy. And a mom running on empty is a mom freaking out. No one likes to watch mom freak out.

Afternoon rest time. Sunday naps. Monthly fun days. Periodic family vacations. Summer break. These scheduled breaks worked miraculously.

  • They gave me something to look forward to—hope that an ending is in sight.
  • They gave me a chance to recharge—protection against mommy freak-outs.
  • They gave me joy—renewing my happiness in the stage of life and relationships God gives me.

Taking breaks is really hard for me. There is always more to do, always something to make better. The kitchen should be cleaned. The floors should be swept. The laundry should be folded. The papers should be graded.

All of those things will be there after break. But our sanity won’t last if we don’t create margin in our lives. We need to unstuff life to maintain our joy.

Before packing more people in the house, I had to take a lot out. And you know what? I didn’t miss a thing. I only went back to the storage unit once to retrieve something and that was homeschool books for the new semester.

I have, however, made frequent trips to stuff more into storage. Because every time I take something out of the house, I feel better.

Every time I take something out of my life, I breathe better. It is as though God never intended me to stuff all of the good activities into my life at once and pretend I’m all-powerful. It is almost like He wants me to focus on the tasks He has given me today and enjoy Him above all.

Because glorifying Him.

Lea Ann Garfias

Lea Ann Garfias, the author of Rocking Ordinary and the Homeschool Made Easy series, has been featured on television, radio, podcasts, and live events. Besides author, Lea Ann also bears the titles homeschool mom, soccer mom, professional violinist, and wife of a hot Latino. She and her husband David live with their six hilarious children in the Dallas area.

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