Thursday, July 2, 2009

The calming effect of lists

Maggie doesn't make lists...but she does have a calming affect on me.

18 months ago, my husband and I learned of peak oil. A year ago, we relocated to the PNW and bought our 'homestead' (if you can call it that: a somewhat isolated 1 acre plot out in the country surrounded by large farms). When we moved here last spring, we saw the gas prices going up and the economy coming down. We felt tremendous pressure to get 'set up' for the worst. We scrambled to buy the house, get in a very late and meager garden, harvest every last apple and pear that we could, and acquire all the 'tools' we'd need. We were suburban DINKs who had no idea where to start and we were horribly overwhelmed. We'd make runs to Coscto to stock up on any food that we felt would keep regardless of if we'd ever eat it. I readily gave up new clothing and shoes (and sold my 'fancy' car) so that we could afford a water filter, cords of wood and fencing for the goats. But, I felt like I was in a constant state of panic. When I broke down one afternoon because I couldn't get the apple cider press to work and I thought the hundreds of pounds of apples we'd washed and readied were going to go to waste, I knew I’d hit a turning point. I knew then that I needed to take a step back.

Eventually, we came to realize that we couldn't do it all at once. We were only two people and we both had full time jobs. We also realized that if we didn't put in 100% (or more) at work, we'd be in danger of losing those jobs. Some things on the 'farm' would have to wait.

We ended up making a huge list of all the things we needed and wanted. This list included things like a grain mill, a pole barn, a well, a pressure canner and even tile to resurface the counters in the kitchen and the bathroom. Then we spent some time prioritizing that list. We divided things into what we needed and what we'd like to have: things that were necessary and things that were a luxury. We also took the time to decide if we could make do with some things to allow us time to save cash for others. This list was constantly changing - the day we found out that our siding was trashed and had to be replaced, the entire list shifted around. Then we discovered that water damage over the front overhang was going to require another shift so that we could pay for the repairs. A larger tax refund than we'd ever before seen allowed us to shift again (in a good way).

We still use this list. Every time we think of something else that would make our lives easier, it goes on the list before we make the purchase. And every time we stumble upon a deal, it helps us knock one more thing off the list and a chance to shift things around once again. For example, we really need a small barn. We need a better way to keep and separate the goats (particularly before the next kidding season). We also are pretty sure we are close to needing a new roof on the house. These things will go on the list and get prioritized appropriately. There is also an advantage to this in that it allows us to keep track of how far we’ve come. Nothing gets deleted – things just get crossed off. This also gives me a sense of purpose. I can forgo buying a new sweater knowing that we have a goal for something I do want more (like a barn) and that each sacrifice gets us one step closer.

Over the past month, I've been slacking on the list-making. Not only adding things to the big one, but just my little day to day lists. My husband makes fun of me because I am constantly making lists. My boss just discovered that I do this and joked that his wife will put something she's already done onto a list just so that she can cross it off. Yep, I do that too! While the idea of listing out all the things that need doing sounds like it could seriously stress a person out, it has the opposite effect for me. Once it's on paper, I don't have to hold it in my fore-brain anymore. I'm free to think of other things. Plus, having it all spelled out means that I can effectively prioritize the things that need doing and therefore make the most of my time.

I have no idea why I got away from this habit lately, but I now realize that it is a MAJOR contributor to my stress-levels. I've been making small lists again and I'm about to organize one for all the things that need doing into one big pile. I also think I need to update the list of items to accomplish in my sidebar as well.

Even thinking about making a new list is helping me relax. Good, just in time for the long weekend! ;-)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Cat, you're doing a great job! I've been following your blog and working my suburban homestead. I, too have found that slow and steady gets the job done. And making lists frees up my brain and allows me to relax. I also have come to the conclusion that keeping my job for as long as I can will make my life much easier in the longrun as I can continue to prepare. BarbieP