Summer is in full swing. Do you know how I know?
Both kids and parents are going to camps, conventions and conferences. Families are going on vacations. The posters are starting to showing up on the bulletin boards. “Boys’ soccer camp”. “Girls’ ballet lessons”. “Mens’ & Womens’ volleyball leagues looking for players”.
This happens every year, like clockwork. School gets out, parents take a bit of leave for a summer vacation, and schedules explode into a flurry of business.
But even with all this activity swarming around us, even though we’re around people all the time, many of us still seem to be stressed and disconnected from the group that matters most – our families and close friends.
How’d we get into this mess?
The Problem: Excessive Sorting!
What we’ve gotten very, very good at is sorting.
It’s 7 in the morning. Mom jumps out of bed, and wakes up Dad. Mom goes to take a shower while Dad wakes up the kids. And within 45 minutes or so, we’ve sorted the family.
Dad has been sorted into a car on the way to a job, where he’ll be sorted further into a group of people doing the same job.
Mom might be staying at home and cooking/cleaning, or she might be on her way to a job as well.
The kids may all get on the same bus, but when they get to school they get sorted by age and put into classes.
We’ve taken a family unit, broken them into component parts, and scattered them to the four winds for 8 hours or so. And in our modern culture, this is somewhat unavoidable.
But then they come home, and it’s back to normal….right?
Nope. When they get home, they’re sorted again. The 5-year-old daughter has dance classes that she has to get to. The 8-year-old son has baseball practice. Mom has a book club, and Dad has a bowling league.
These might not all be happening on the same evening, but there’s a fair shot that any given evening will have one or more of these things going on.
And when everybody gets home later on, it’s just in time to sort everybody into their own separate room and put them to bed. Then it all starts over again the next day.
The Root Of The Problem
The problem with sorting is that it’s how many of us grew up, it’s how we work, it’s how we play, and many of us don’t know anything else.
And since it’s all we know, we sort and sort until we wind up sorting ourselves right out of relationships.
But we need relationships. Mom and dad need time for a relationship with each other. The 5-year-old daughter and the 8-year-old son need relationships with both parents. And ideally, the kids need a decent relationship with one another.
So how do we deal with this?
Un-Sorting Our Schedules
The solution, oddly enough, comes from the world of accounting – a zero-based budget.
Most companies (and families!) use what’s called a “baseline budget”. A baseline budget basically takes whatever you did during the last budget cycle and makes a few changes up or down. Everything is assumed to be valid; the amounts you’re spending on each is the only real difference.
A zero-based budget clears the entire slate and requires every individual item to earn its place every budget cycle.
Applied to our situation, this means taking whatever you’re currently spending your time on and giving it a good, hard look to see if it’s actually worth doing.
So how does this work?
Set Your Priorities
For this next step you’re going to need a few pieces of paper, a pen, and an hour or two. If you have a spouse/partner, you’ll want to involve them in this process as well.
Get a piece of paper, and ask “what do we want for this family?”
The answers to this questions are going to depend on the person, but I’m betting that it’s going to include things like “good relationships”, “well-educated and emotionally healthy children”, “a manageable household”, etc.
Make a list. Even if something seems silly at the time, write it down. Number the items on this list.
Now make another list. Write down everything you’re planning to do or have done in the past year. Swimming lessons, little league, dance lessons, Mom’s book club, Dad’s bowling league, going to movies, going out to dinner, family game nights, fishing trips, organized family reading time, work, school, etc.
Yes, even work and school. There may not be a way to change those arrangements next week, but you need to evaluate how they’re affecting your family!
Match those things up with the list of what you want for the family. Put a star next to the items on each lists as they match up (“well-educated kids” might match up with “swimming lessons”, for example). You might discover that you missed some things on the first list when your’e analyzing your activities. If so, add them to the first list.
Now you’re going to compare the two lists. What activities aren’t aligned with your values? What values are you not doing much to promote?
One more list. Last one, I promise! Now come up with some things you could do (or do more often) to promote the values that are currently lacking. It’s a nice bonus if you can couple values together into an activity (“family togetherness” and “creativity” could be combined into “family art project”, for example).
In light of these two lists, you have a tool to help you plan a reasonable schedule. Now lay out what your schedule would probably look like if you scheduled in accordance with your values.
What’s Left Over?
If you give this a good, honest try, you may discover something fascinating – many of the “need to do” activities you’ve been filling your life with are poor fits for your deepest core values, and many of your core values aren’t finding good expression in your current activities.
The reality here is that, while everybody has an opinion regarding what you should do, there really isn’t an objective
right or wrong answer.
There is, however, an answer that comes from you, rather than others, and helps you reinforce your family’s values.
Are you feeling like you’re more disconnected than you’d like? Might this be a good time to sit down and take stock?
Robert Wall is a reformed packrat who helps busy people find solutions that minimize their clutter and enrich their lives. He also writes thought-provoking articles about decluttering and intentional living at his site Cluttered To Clean. You can connect with him on Twitter or via his Facebook group.