Bringing Order to the Chaos of Home

Many parents I’ve talked to over the last six months feel like their home life is a tornado of chaos. While COVID has definitely exacerbated the stress and the feeling of chaos, it really has only pointed out what was already there for many families: life feels out of control. Trying to manage all of the activities for the kids, the services used to run the household, and the ever-expanding nature of work leaves parents feeling exhausted and spiritually dry.

Contributing the exhaustion of modern family life is the fact that is takes work to run a house…and so much of that work is invisible to us! As Elizabeth Emens points out in her book Life Admin, the admin we do at home should be considered work because “it’s a means to an end–something we do not for its own sake, but in order to achieve some other goal” (8). If our home lives are saturated with work, specifically Admin, what does this work look like? Life Admin looks like…

  • Calendar Management: Making sure we know our kids’ activity schedules so that they get to their practices on time.
  • Delegation: Asking our spouse and/or kids to do something for us around the house or to make a call.
  • Outsourcing: Managing when the landscapers comes and setting up the recurring payments.
  • Financials: Paying attention to the household family. Setting up payments, balancing the checkbook, paying for goods and services.
  • Taxes: Even if you pay someone to do your taxes, it often ends up the responsibility of the tax payer to gather up the appropriate documents.
  • Maintenance: Taking cars to the shop, coordinating home repairs, getting estimates.
  • Document Management: Making copies of important documents, signing kids permission slips
  • School Management: Following up with your children to make sure they’re logged into their virtual classes, holding them accountable to turn in assignments, trouble-shooting the inevitable tech problems.
  • Pets: Keep tracking of supplies (inventory), scheduling vet appointments and times for walks and exercise

If all of this is going on, what hope is there for families? I think a couple foundational beliefs are important:

  1. Acknowledge that it takes work to run a home! God calls us to be good stewards he has given us and home life is one of the those good gifts. Building anything good (marriage, career, family) takes work. Merely acknowledging that fact puts you on the path to overcoming some of the chaos and exhaustion of modern home life.
  2. Realize so much “Life Admin” is invisible. So much of the work we have to do at home and in life is sneaky. We don’t realize it is work. Therefore, we can be working much more than we realize, leading to burnout. Making as much “Life Admin” visible to ourselves and our families can make us aware of how much have to do.
  3. Pursue what’s most valuable. We can often set ambitious goals for ourselves at work without ever putting any thought into goals for our family. But in actuality, our families are the most important things God has given us, outside of Christ. Therefore, some of the things we’re pursuing in life aren’t really that important. Some household tasks can be eliminated or minimized in order to make room for the most important things.

Practical helps. Here are a few practical helps I’ve found help to reduce stress with managing my home:

  1. The Inbox: The inbox is a physical box where all the “stuff” of your life goes: bills, mail, things to sign, etc. It all goes in the inbox. Preferably the box would be put in a drawer or closet so that it’s not gnawing at your subconscious every time you walk past your kitchen. Then, make sure to schedule time once a week to process your inbox. The reality is that most bills are not urgent: you won’t incur late fees it you wait a week to pay it. Even things like driver’s license renewals can be done on line and therefore can wait a week. But what about the “urgent” things that need to be signed right away, like a child’s school permission slip? It’s probably best just to throw it on your kitchen table, sign it right away, and stuff it in your kids backpack. Most things in life, however, don’t fall into this category.
  2. The Weekly Plan: Taking the time to plan your week is one of the five essential habits of a Christian leader. Why is it so important for Christian leadership? It’s so important because weekly planning produces a massive amount of productivity: doing things which glorify God. When you actually think through your life, you can plan to steward the gifts and talents God has given you. When you live with intentionality, you can plan to do good works. I think many Christians miss out on doing good works because they don’t plan to do them! If planning helps Christian leaders live with intentionality, I believe that it can help families as well. Here is a tutorial on weekly planning. Although the tutorial is based on weekly planning for work, you can incorporate Life planning into it. For example, your “Deep Work” times at work might correlate to your highest priorities activities at home.
  3. Prep Day/Sabbath Day: I have found it helpful to devote one day off as a “prep” day. The whole day is devoted to taking care of tasks around the home, Life Admin, and other things. Any appointments would also be scheduled for this day. Having one day designated as a prep day keeps the “work” of life from filling up and spoiling the other days. In addition to a prep day, your family needs a sabbath day of rest. While Christ has fulfilled the “legalistic” aspects of the sabbath so that we don’t have to observe one particular day, we still need a day of rest because we are human. God established the week with a work/rest pattern and it leads to the flourishing of our families when we follow it. Here are some thoughts about getting started with a sabbath rest.

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