home schooling paths
E-journal January 26, 2010

Energy Vampires

by Ellyn Davis

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Simple Measures

Last newsletter I wrote about trying to bring order to the chaos of clutter in my house and I discussed “Hoard and Clutter Syndrome,” a malady that severely afflicts 1 in 40 people in the U.S. and mildly affects millions more. You can read that newsletter HERE.

According to the Mayo clinic and other research on those who qualify as clutterers and packrats, people hoard and clutter for the following reasons:

  • A belief that the hoarded items will be needed or have value in the future
  • A need for reminders of happier times
  • A feeling of safety and comfort from being surrounded by familiar things
  • Fear that there won’t be enough money to replace an item if you ever need it
  • Feelings of being wasteful if things are discarded
  • Decisions to discard personal possessions activate brain regions associated with processing punishing or unpleasant events

Interesting isn’t it? Not one of the reasons people clutter and hoard have to do with lack of organizational skills. They all have to do with feelings and beliefs.

But I contend that, as homeschooling moms, in addition to the feelings and beliefs that lead us to clutter, a lot of our hoarding and cluttering occurs because we simply don’t have the time and energy to deal with all that's on our plates.

Personally, I think the researchers have overlooked one very important fact about hoarding and clutter. When you are raising four kids, trying to juggle housework, schoolwork, a home business, and running all over creation taking kids to piano lessons, dance lessons, home school co-ops, 4-H meetings and who knows what else, some days you just don’t have much time and energy left to even care whether your house is a mess.

Most of the time your day is so full that any major clean-up attempt is deadline driven—usually by having guests come over or when it’s time for the next home group meeting at your house. So clutter wasn’t particularly a hoarding problem, it was a time and energy problem. When faced with the choice of whether to go through the pile of papers in the box in the corner of the room or read a little one a book, the book would win hands-down, every time.

OK, what are some simple measures we can take? If we take the view that clutter is first an energy/feeling/belief problem and secondly an organizational problem, we can begin decluttering our lives by identifying our "time and energy vampires.” These are the people, activities, and beliefs that literally "suck" the time, energy and enthusiasm out of us.

People as Energy Vampires

When I first started homeschooling three boys, I tried to keep up with women's Bible studies, homeschooling field trips and other get-togethers, but it didn't take long to realize these social outings didn't provide me with enthusiasm, they only wore me down.

Not only can groups be draining, but certain individuals can cost us a lot of energy. In our former church, there was a woman who was like a huge emotional vacuum. Within 15 minutes of being with her, her neediness and negativity would suck all of the optimism and energy out of me. Although it sounds cruel, I had to learn to avoid her.

I also had to learn to say no. It's amazing that people will assume since you're home all day, you're available. They wouldn't dream of calling a career woman at her office and asking her to take the afternoon off to listen to their problems, but they will call you and assume you're free to help them. I learned to think of myself as a "career woman," only my career was managing a home and educating my children. I didn't just work a 40 hour week, I was on the job 24/7, so didn't have to apologize or lie when I said, "I'm committed this afternoon."

There are two key solutions to the "People as Energy Vampires" problem. (1) Pare down your involvement to only those few social activities that have real meaning to you, and (2) Get an answer-phone and let it take all calls for certain hours each day. If your household is like mine, just leaving an answer-phone on most of the day saves me about 45 minutes in answering telemarketing calls.

Activities as Energy Vampires

One of the best pieces of stress-reducing advice I ever got was from a time management book. It said to mentally visualize myself going through a typical day. This meant visualizing getting out of bed, getting dressed, fixing breakfast, brushing my teeth, and so on...every little activity I typically did in a day. As I screened through my day, the book said to notice any time I felt irritation, tension, or resistance, and jot down that activity.

What an eye-opener! The first thing I realized is that it irritates me to be interrupted while I am in the bathroom. Sounds pretty stupid, right? But what this meant was that I was starting every day irritated because there was hardly ever a time I wouldn't be interrupted while I was in the bathroom. Stupid problem. Simple solution to eliminating that source of irritation: Always close the door when I go into the bathroom and tell everyone that when the bathroom door is closed I am not to be disturbed.

By the time I finished visually screening a typical day, I realized that there were dozens of annoyances like the bathroom scenario. None of them was significant enough by itself to ruin my day, but a day filled with 40 or 50 unconsciously irritating moments might have something to do with my being frazzled by suppertime.

Certain routine activities are always accompanied by some amount of emotional or physical pressure. What are your stressful activities? The laundry? Cooking? Shopping? I've never particularly liked to cook. Plus, taking a car-load of small boys to the grocery store has got to be on my list of "Top 10 Ways to Torture a Tired Mother." So I had to experiment with getting the grocery shopping done without wearing me out (or freaking me out when I saw the receipt), and with developing some simple menu plans that didn't exhaust me after a long day. Plus, I had to be realistic about my limitations. As much as I might want to provide my family with three, lovingly created, nutritious, home-cooked meals a day, it would be psychotic of me to think I could pull it off and still do everything else I needed to get done. So in my household, we have meals where everyone is on their own to fix something for themselves, meals that another family member prepares, meals that I prepare, and meals on the go, depending on everyone's schedule and what will give us the most family time around the table.

Your house

Another thing that can be done is to go through each room of the house and note anything that is irritating. Rooms have a powerful effect on our sense of well-being. They can make us feel like prisoners in our own homes or make us feel gracious and relaxed. Are there certain colors that make you feel tense? That make you feel relaxed? Could the room be re-arranged so that the pattern of traffic flow is better? Could simple changes be made that contribute to a sense of peace and order?

You don’t have to agree with the underlying principles of Feng Shui, but you can appreciate the fact that it was developed to create harmonious, supportive surroundings through color and placement of objects. So it doesn’t hurt to take a look at some of the Feng Shui suggestions for your home.

Your tools

Do the tools you have enhance your productivity? For example, I started out writing our catalogs on an old IBM electric typewriter ($25, second-hand), made photocopied reductions of the book covers, and had to cut and paste everything together. It was a massive, time-consuming, mess-producing job. So, guess how I began to feel about the catalog? I dreaded the thought of starting each new one, and the whole time I worked on one I was a witch. It was like trying to build a modern house with stone tools.

Then one day I heard Mary Pride say she always tried to invest in things that increased her productivity. I began to look around at all of the equipment I relied on. Everything from my vacuum cleaner to my typewriter was out-dated and difficult to use. So I began systematically replacing my "tools," starting with the equipment I used most and that caused me the most aggravation. I also began investing in skills that made me more productive. I learned how to use word processing programs and scanners and Adobe Photoshop. I read every household and time management book I could get my hands on. I tried to increase my knowledge and skill in every area that drained energy.


Another stressful area for home schooling parents is the "schooling" itself. In our desire to make sure we don't leave any educational gaps, we tend to overdo. We need to evaluate our homeschools by the 80/20 Principle. What are the key areas we need to be concentrating on? How can we eliminate the unnecessary and ineffectual? What simple changes can we make to decrease stress and enhance enthusiasm?

Next week I’ll share about lifestyle and beliefs as energy vampires.


Helpful resources for the clutter-overwhelmed:

Getting Things Done by David Allen

Simply Organized by Emilie Barnes

The Messies' Manual by Sandra Felton

This Year I Will... by M. J. Ryan

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