Back in September my husband, daughter, and I took our yearly vacation to the beach. It was good, but while there I came to grips with the fact that I was tired, burnt out, frustrated. Pick an adjective, I was there, or in the neighborhood. 

When we got home I tried to convince myself I was “refreshed” and continue as before, but it wasn’t working out. So, I took a break, stepped away from my blog and other things and examined my life. Or rather, I looked at what was missing from my life. 

It occurred to me after all this reflection that somewhere along the line I misplaced it,my life that is. Not all at once, but incrementally, which is the worst way really, because its like the proverbial frog in the pot – he jumps out of a boiling pot, but will cook himself to death in a pot where the heat is turned up slowly. 

With the clarity that comes with hindsight, I realized that I have been ever so slowly turning up the heat on my own pot for, oh, about ten years now. Women as a rule are people pleasers, doers, the glue that holds things together. It is one of our greatest assets, and one of our greatest downfalls. Often, in the course of being that glue we sacrifice or morph a little too much and one day wake up and realize we are a shadow of our former selves.

What to do? What to do?

The short answer: Get a life!

The long answer: take a look at your life and decide what is missing, what is important, what you want back in this thing we call life and make it happen. That’s what I’ve been doing.

In formulating this post, I took pen and paper and quickly jotted down a list of things that I have over the course of time deleted, severely limited, or sporadically done that were once an important and enjoyable part of my life. In just a few minutes I came up with 25 things.  TWENTY-FIVE THINGS!!! Twenty-five things that I tell myself I can do tomorrow, next week, next month, or next year, in favor of what needs to be done now. That is no way to live…happily.

So now that the information has been gathered and assessed, the only thing left to do is make the changes needed to put me back in the saddle of my own life again. Time to get movin’!

Yesterday my family came home from vacation. We stayed in a beach house where we lived amongst someone else’s house full of too much stuff, only to return last night to our house full of still (!) too much stuff. The irony did not escape me.

While on vacation I chose to just “chill.” I didn’t take all the projects I had originally intended to take, opting only to work on my genealogy project. I took two books but read only one. I let my mind slowly empty of all the excess stuff. It was refreshing and calming.

I also used the time to reflect on what was clutter in my life (beyond actual belongings), and what was missing. I determined that I was a long way off from where I want to be and that it was time to start editing. Good editing doesn’t just take away, it adds where needed to make the most of what is already there.

Due to a few unforeseen hiccups our vacation “wasn’t the most perfect vacation ever” as my husband so aptly put it, but it was great to get away, and as a bonus, it gave me all the inspiration I needed for the next phase in my life.

Yesterday the stress monster was closing in fast and I was in danger of cracking like an egg. Instead, I did one simple thing. I left work two hours early. That one small gift to myself changed the course of my evening, and considering the amount of calm I’ve experienced today, it has set the course for the rest of my week as well.

Too often we push ourselves harden than we should with the “I can take it” mentality. In reality, should we take it? Should we push ourselves to the brink? Perhaps I’m mistaken, but I was under the impression that we are here to enjoy life, make the most of it, do good unto others and all that jazz. I’m pretty sure dashing through life beating ourselves up along the way is not the best approach to achieving an enjoyable life.

To that end, I sifted through some of the abundant writing on stress management, and compiled my favorites into a short list of methods to defy stress and regain the calm.

1. Recognize the problem, not the symptoms. What is the root of your stress? Decide how best to alleviate it.

2. Take care of yourself first so you can take care of your life. (This includes eating right, exercise, drinking lots of fluids, and taking your vitamins and medicines as prescribed.)

3. Allow yourself extra time. Don’t overbook or underestimate how long a task will take.

4. Schedule “me time” to do the hobbies or activities that you enjoy and that refresh you.

5. Ask for help. (This is one I’m terribly bad at doing, but when I do, I’m so glad I did!)

6. Practice good time management. (Plan ahead, don’t procrastinate on nagging tasks, use technology – smart phones, etc – to your advantage.)

7. Develop and maintain personal relationships. (Whether its your spouse, family, friends, neighbors, coworkers, or spiritual – these are the relationships that can help you through any crisis and visa versa.)

8. Laugh. A lot. (Which makes you feel better – a rolling on the floor, tears in your eyes, belly laugh or a lot of frowning, being irritable and snapping at those around you? Enough said.)

9. Use the words “yes” and “no” to your advantage. Say “Yes!” to things that make your life better, and “NO!” to things that add to your stress. (It’s easier than you think! Give it a try.)

10. Get perspective – sometimes its just a matter of seeing our lives from the right angle. (Instead of comparing your life to someone who seems to have it so much better, try comparing it to someone who has it a million times worse. Try volunteering, helping a friend or neighbor in need, expressing gratitude, or watch the world news.)

It’s not by accident that many of my favorite methods all relate back to time. We have a limited amount of it here on earth and need to make the most of it. I don’t know of anyone who wants to get to the last days of their life, look back and say, “Wow, that really sucked.”

Often we get comfortable in the rhythm of our daily lives and go on autopilot in terms of personal development. Sometimes this is a coping mechanism for things going on in our lives, and other times it is just another way of avoiding what we know needs to happen: Change.

Change can be a wonderful, exhilarating thing, but it can also be stressful and scary. Especially when it pushes us outside our comfort zone, causes us to rethink our situation, or to reach for goals and dreams that we want but may be afraid of actually achieving (Will it be all that I hoped it would be?).

For me, major change tends to occur in chunks. I’ll let a lot of things, big and small, build up that need adjustment, and then I’ll essentially go off the deep end and change everything. I think of change as a train whistle (cue Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues”) in the distance. I hear it, but it’s still way off. I know it’s coming, so I start looking around my life at what needs adjustment and I do little things to prepare for it, but overall I try to ignore it’s impending arrival. I let things build up. I procrastinate. As the train whistle gets closer and louder, I begin the mental preparation for what lies ahead. Then, finally, when change is blowing through the station and I know its time to stop procrastinating – I jump and see where it takes me.

I’ve been hearing that whistle for a while now. I know change is coming for me, and I’ve been slowly getting ready. There are a lot of areas in my life that need adjustment, improvement. It’s time to kick the preparations for change up a notch and get ready for a better version of me.

When I first started working as a teenager my commute to work was 8 minutes in traffic. As I moved around my hometown, my commute grew to 15 minutes, then 20, then 25 – all completely manageable and even luxurious by today’s standards.

Eleven years ago I moved to my current town and my commute to work has ranged from the 1-1/2 hours (minimum) it was a few years ago to the mere 45 minutes that it is now. My husband also commutes to work. His average commute time is right around one hour each way. On a really, really good day he can get to or from work in 30-40 minutes. However, there has been any number of days where it has taken him up to three hours to get one way.

At 45 minutes I consider myself relatively lucky for this area, but I’ve never completely adjusted to the idea of commuting. Yet, compared to the growing number of workers participating in Extreme Commuting, our commutes are a cakewalk. That realization doesn’t make it any easier to accept or appreciate the long hours spent in the car. I used to be person who loved to throw a bag in the car and hit the road on the weekend. No more. These days when the weekend comes, I don’t want to leave my driveway if I don’t have to do so. (Sometimes the thought of a trip to the grocery store five minutes away seems monumental.)

In putting together this post, I ran across a very informative article in The Washington Post that cited a litany of ill effects from commuting, many of which I recognized from personal experience. The part of the article that struck me most, however, was this sentence: “Long solo commutes are especially tough on women, Novaco said his research found. Women, he said, generally “had more responsibility for getting family up and running and were significantly more likely to report being rushed to get to work.” My life, in a nutshell.

Prior to the arrival of our daughter, Little M, my husband and I generally managed to shrug off, or at least learn to deal with, the physical, emotional, and daily life effects of commuting. However, with the entrance of Little M, that has changed considerably. It’s one thing to realize your garden is a mess because you don’t have time to weed, its an entirely different thing to realize your child is growing up way too quickly and you are missing it because your life is spent in the car.

I had several topics in mind for blog posts this week, but the one that is predominantly on my mind this week is CLUTTER. Clutter, as my husband will gladly tell you, is the one sure-fire thing that can turn me into a giant stress ball in a matter of minutes, and subsequently, him into a psychiatrist talking me down off the ledge.

It all started when I was a kid. I grew up in a somewhat cluttered household (entirely too many knickknacks) and it has been my personal mission since leaving home to be as clutter free as possible. I’m not a minimalist by any stretch, but I do love the calming feeling of clean, clear counter space and walkways, and the joy of less than full cabinets and closets.

Most of my adult life clutter has not been a problem in my house. Then twenty months ago I had a baby, Little M, and life got complicated. Stuff accumulates a lot faster with children and it is harder to find the time to sort it and get rid of it in my preferred methods (sell, donate, recycle). Now, I work at it everyday and two of my favorite blogs 365lessthings and unclutterer (and the fear of clutter related stress) help keep me on task.

So what’s the problem? 

The further along the decluttering path I travel, the more other people’s clutter freaks me out.  Especially when the clutter belongs to people I know, love, care about.

So what do I do? How do you not become a ball of nerves when you are visiting someone’s home and are afraid to lay down your car keys because you don’t know if you’ll find them again? When you have to clear a space at the table in order to eat a meal? When you have breached the subject of too much stuff – gently, and not so gently – but it falls on deaf ears? How do you deal? How do you stop fantasizing about backing a truck up to the front door, loading all the stuff up and hauling it away? How do you remind yourself that it’s not your problem, your home, or your life, and to just let it go? I don’t have the answers to any of those questions, and it frustrates me. A lot.