Last night I was reading this excellent article by Amber Leventry called “If ‘COVID Clutter’ Is Getting You Too, There’s An Actual Reason.“ I felt like she was describing the experiences that my family and many of my friends are feeling too. “COVID Clutter” is a perfect way to describe it.
I have always partially worked from home with my kids around. Dealing with distractions interrupting me while working is not necessarily new. But these past three months have tested every organizing and time management skill I have…and most days I feel like I am failing. However, it hasn’t been all that bad. In fact, it may be a better clutter than the fast paced lives we were leading prior to the virus.
COVID CLUTTER TYPE 1: Visual Clutter
First, lets talk about the inability to keep anything in order because we are home 24/7. Yes, Amber, I too walk around my house daily saying we have too much stuff to put away. I am like a broken record to my husband. But, the paradox of it all is that we are using so much of what we have. We need rotating activities for the kids. It is hard to let go of too many toys or books right now. But, we have also had the time and space to really understand what we use and what we don’t. Three months at home has given us a great perspective on what is actually essential to our family.
My two young kids are a whirlwind changing activities constantly. They lose interest in a craft project after 10 minutes then leave every supply out on the kitchen table. They drop LEGOS in EVERY room of the house they occupy. Our yard is littered with bikes and toys they “forget” to put back in their designated spots. The visual clutter can completely unwind me. I have to resist putting it away constantly because I would really get nothing done all day!
The Positive Side…
We created new family routines and they are working. Having so much time with the kids has allowed me to really tackle this problem in a proactive way. We enforce the “vacuum rule”. If I can accidentally vacuum the toy, the kids know it is probably not in the right place. We set up incentives for them (i.e. screen time) if they put everything away. They don’t get them until they “pass inspection.” Every night we make them clean up the whole house before we start dinner. These routines are easier and easier because they are predictable and enforced daily. At least by bed time the house is back in order and I can recharge the rest of the night.
COVID CLUTTER TYPE 2: Interruptions
Now lets talk about how I am interrupted every 1-5 minutes. In the time I have written these first paragraphs I have had to chase a woodchuck out of our garden. I helped a kid put on shoes, helped with a puzzle, found glue, and answered multiple text messages.
Interruptions have always been a challenge pre-COVID. But, many of us find ourselves in the position of working parent, teacher, and camp counselor. We are fill in day care providers (while our spouse works), cooks, cleaners and problem-solvers. In the past, I would throw on a movie for an hour and half after school. This would give more time for a project wasn’t quite finished with or time to get dinner ready. It wasn’t a big deal in short spurts. I can’t do that for 6 hours straight everyday (although I know some parents have to). Or, I had our mother’s helping out entertaining the kids so I could have blocks of time to work. Now the home responsibilities fall more on me so my husband can get out of the house to work. I need to be present, involved and loving during this transitional time for my family. Staying focused feels nearly impossible some days.
The Positive Side…
My husband and I are working as a team to support each other. We give each other the space and time to work without interruptions when we can. And like most people in the time of COVID, we have had to let go of expectations. We have found ways to work around less income. The most essential projects and tasks to keep our family afloat and safe are done first. If we have time we tackle the rest. We expect to get less done, and that is a relief. Working smarter with our limited focus time has created even more time for our family. We know we are lucky to be able to make those choices and hope that all families can find the balance they need financially and emotionally.
COVID Clutter Type 3: Increased Communications/Electronics
If electronic communication was difficult to manage before, we have begun a whole new level. People are communicating even more because of boredom or need for connection during this time. Keeping up with work and school at a distance has made video chatting mandatory. It is hard to keep our kids off screens most of the day when they are one of the only ways to stay connected to their friends safely and keep up with school.
I am grateful to have these options. But, some days it is just too overwhelming to keep up with it all. There are Zoom calls for school, work, and virtual birthdays. My kids friends are calling my phone to reach them on Facebook Kids Messenger while I am trying to work. In the meantime the normal communication traffic I incur for running multiple businesses keep coming in. Just thinking about it all makes me need to pause and take a breath!
The Positive Side…
We are all communicating more and connecting with people we care about, not just the people we have to. Everyone wants to check up on others, which is what makes a great community. We are normalizing using technology to meetup in groups. Its not just for work anymore, but to catch up with family and see loved ones. My kids are learning new polite social skills by having to chat on a phone or a screen. We see our distant family and friends more frequently as we try to gather together from our separate homes. Technology is keeping us together for better or worse.
COVID Clutter – Type 4: Homeschool
Many parents out there have already celebrated the end of the school year. Our town is in the home stretch. I cannot begin to describe how hard this has been for so many families. However, without the incredible administrators and teachers who have organized our lessons, I would be truly lost at this point. They’ve tirelessly created videos, read books, done one-on-one meetings, and photocopied all of our worksheets so we can just focus on getting our kids to learn and maintain a small routine. They have communicated so well to keep us on track and remind us of upcoming events. Most of which I would likely forget without their multiple reminders.
Their proficient use of Google classroom and prepared weekly work made our experience so much better. It was one less thing I had to think about organizing to get through our days. Teachers couldn’t stop my kids temper tantrums. Or their refusal to do their work. But, at least I had all of the materials ready to go each day.
The Positive Side…
We are getting a break from school demands. We don’t know what to expect in the fall. At least there will be one less thing to juggle each day for a couple of months!
COVID Clutter – Type 5: Fear & Uncertainty
I must acknowledge the mental clutter that also causes its own set of challenges at this time. We are all wrestling with uncertainty. The science on COVID seems to be changing daily. The viewpoints of what is safe and what is not is different from person to person. The world is opening up, but it is still restricting. Do you mingle with your neighbors? Can your kids play with others? Should you start letting relatives back in your house? What does our financial future look like in 2 months, 6 months etc.? Should I plan to have my kids in a camp? Will they even go back to school in the fall? Am I afraid to read the news today or read one more argument about politics on Facebook? Question after question each day never has a clear answer.
Many of us have seen our work models change, our businesses alter, our clients or income decline. We are filling out loan paperwork, unemployment paperwork or trying to reach businesses or agencies that are understaffed and unresponsive. Laws and rules surrounding all of these items are changing each day. Political climates are heating up to add more anxiety to households. No one can predict what the next year will look like.
We are all tired. Everything feels out of our control. We are all worrying about what is best for our family. For some this can weigh on the mind constantly.
The Positive Side…
While our world may feel smaller, I see many families going back to basics. Sharing quality time, eating a good meal, buying less, using what we already own… just being with each other without endless obligations, tiring extracurricular activities and pressures from every angle. We are controlling what we can within our own households. And we are doing it better than we think we are.
The New Normal
We are connecting with our neighbors and sharing our resources. More of us are enjoying nature and the beauty of what is around us. Most importantly we have a renewed and appreciation for our loved ones and friends. This is the greatest balance to all the “COVID clutter”.
Maybe what we are going through is a new kind of “clutter”. But we are really just experimenting with creating a simpler life for our families. Maybe going back to “normal” will make us pause and appreciate we already had everything we needed without all of the excess. Maybe “COVID clutter” is actually better. We have always had a complex web of mental, emotional and physical clutter prior to the virus. What will happen when the societal pressures from work, peers and commercialism return? We might actually look back and say that life was simpler during COVID after all.
Tell me how your experiences with “COVID Clutter” have affected you. Email me at Kristin@livablesolutions.com or comment below.