S1: I think everybody sort of feels like 15 years old all the time when it comes to responsibilities.
S2: I really do.
S1: I really think we’re like we’re I don’t way I’m supposed to know how to grocery shop. I’m supposed to know how to change my furnace filter. I’m supposed to know what a furnace still does. I don’t.
S4: Welcome to how to. I’m Amanda Ripley. Do you ever feel like you just cannot get a handle on your life, your laundry, your to do list? Our listener, Samantha, wrote to us after she and her husband had moved from a condo to a bigger house in Pennsylvania to suit their growing family. And they had it all in some ways. Two little kids, a house, a job for her husband that allowed Samantha to stay home with the children, even a lawn. So why did it feel like they were constantly failing to do the things adults are supposed to do?
S3: Oh, you want to put stuff in your basement? Oh, well, it needs to be waterproof with the list of everything that sort of needed to get done and would like limited time and funds. It was very difficult to know where to start. We’re both very like, do our research. I read some books kind of people. Their stuff is like How to Take Care of Your Home for Dummies. And it was like carpentry skills and it was like, no, but like I don’t like I had to.
S4: Build the house.
S3: Right? I don’t want to build the house, but I do want to know, like, how do we organize?
S4: This feeling of being lost and overwhelmed started with the move, which is probably inevitable, but it didn’t go away. Even after the moving boxes did. Samantha and her husband started to feel like they just couldn’t measure up to everyone around them, whether it was their neighbors with the perfect lawns.
S3: We were like thinking to ourselves, we definitely have the worst house in the neighborhood. I wonder if our neighbors now and then the pandemic hit and some industrious kids in our neighborhood started a landscaping business. And then we had neighbors who thanked us for finally, like, I mean, like like we were like they were like, oh, it looks so much better. Thank you for finally doing this. And we were like, Oh, got a lot of passive aggressive. This is even passive aggressive.
S4: Or the other parents who somehow had time to canned their own vegetables.
S3: I’m one of the few friends that I grew up around here that looks to me like I don’t know. Can Yeah, that’s awesome that you have that but that looks like a lot of work.
S4: Now I know what you’re thinking. Just stop worrying about what the neighbors and the canners think. Who cares? But this wasn’t just about trying to keep up with the Joneses. Samantha and her husband weren’t canning or landscaping, but they still felt like they were drowning.
S3: We shouldn’t need to use as much effort as we do to get the dishes done, to get the laundry put away, to get those daily grind things taken care of so that we could get to the bigger stuff. Right. I think that was the thing that where we sort of struggled with was like, we feel like this should be easier.
S4: On today’s show, we’re going to try to make the daily grind a little less grueling. Our guide is Kendra Adachi, and you may know her as the lazy genius. She’s a bestselling author and podcaster, and she’s helped many people figure out how to manage the mess.
S1: I think that this undercurrent of feeling behind in your life and that it feels like it should be easier and that you don’t know where to start, is so deeply, deeply familiar. We think that there is this toolkit of being an adult that everyone seems to know the answers for. Everyone knows the rules. Everyone knows the unspoken rules. And we’re the idiot. We’re the one who doesn’t know. And I just want to tell you that that’s not true. We all feel like we don’t know what we’re doing.
S4: Kendra has specific steps you can take to prioritize what’s most important to you and work smarter, not harder, and ultimately let go of some of the things that just don’t matter. So put that laundry down and grab a pen. We’ll be right back. That drowning feeling we all have from time to time when we just can’t keep up with our to do list. Well, today we’re going to learn how to tread water and maybe even swim. But first, we need to accept that the waves are always going to be there.
S1: I give myself permission to recognize that in any moment. Because of my circumstances, because of my hormones, because I have a kid who’s home sick, because I have any number of things that happen in my life that are out of my control. Right. That there are going to be things that come into my life, that mess up my plans, that mess up what I intended, that mess up the calm, and for me to hold my own plans, likely to hold my own sanity lightly and to be kind to myself when things come into my life that make me go, Oh, wait, I know what happened. I was doing so good and I feel like I’m behind again. To stop and take a deep breath and say, Hey, you’re doing fine. You have tools right now. You just need to take a deep breath and realize that the drowning is not literally going to drown you, that you can step back and see this a little more intelligently. But if we don’t start with that kindness, I think we’re going to continually feel like we’re not enough.
S4: It sounds like what you’re talking about is avoiding the double burden you have, the one burden of feeling underwater. And then there’s the second burden that we can bring on top of that, which is feeling bad that you feel under 100%.
S1: Exactly. Exactly.
S4: Yeah. Like generalizing that out to just, you know, being incapable, being incompetent, having your act together. Right. And you’re saying, let’s just do one bird.
S2: Let’s just do one. Let’s just do one. One is plenty. What is enough? Right.
S4: And I’m curious, kind of like, how did you. Like, I love your podcast. I love the way you simplify by prioritizing as opposed to pretending that it’s simple or that it’s easier to simplify. Oh, can I.
S1: Steal that line?
S2: That is so good.
S4: I think I stole it from you. You still write that? It’s really good any time. So were you at some point trying to do do everything and have it look perfect and and then kind of how did you get to a place where you could. I love how you said hold your sanity lightly.
S1: Yes. Yes, absolutely. So I have grown up as a as a perfectionist, for sure. Part of that was just kind of like survival in my home. It was a pretty unstable home life. And I grew up in the South, like I live in North Carolina. I’ve lived here my whole life. I mean, every culture and every part of the country has things about it, right? That there is definitely something unique about being the oldest girl in a Southern family that has a list of things you’re supposed to do and a way that you’re supposed to be.
S4: And it’s like a 4000 page.
S1: Oh, my word. It’s the longest encyclopedia ever of how to be a person. And you try to be a genius about everything. We’re like, okay, we’re going to do this and I’m going to get it together and no one is going to know that I am. I don’t like this at all that I don’t even like canning, but it looks pretty and pictures and it’s what everybody does. So that’s what I’m going to do, right? So you try to be a genius about everything, but then when you hit a wall and everybody does, I think that most people know that’s not fair. But I think a lot of people experience their wall in the form of having children because that does change a lot of things. But there is something that happens in your life a new job, a new home, a new place that you’re living, a diagnosis. There are a lot of things that hit us where we are confronted with the fallibility of this genius plan. It’s like, Oh, this isn’t going to work anymore. I cannot I cannot maintain this. So what we do, though, is we swing far to the other side, to the lazy side, where you say, Well, I’m just not going to care about anything.
S4: Kendra says that we as a society have come to think of being a hot mess as authentic and being super organized as fake.
S1: Like, if you deeply care about things and you spend your time on something that you love, your pretending, you’re pretending. And on the other side that if you have someone come over and your house is a rack and you’re like, I know everything’s just the worst. Somehow you’re being more real and neither of those things are true. And both of them take a lot of energy. And so like.
S4: A false dichotomy.
S1: Yes, it is. It absolutely is. And so what I want to do, why.
S4: Does it why does it take a lot of energy to care about nothing?
S1: Oh, I know, right. Because because we are human beings with souls and priorities and things that we care about and passions.
S1: Bother. Yes. And it still love it still bothers you.
S4: Doesn’t feel.
S1: Good. It doesn’t feel good.
S4: That’s true. I can attest to that.
S1: And it’s it’s hard. It’s really hard. It’s really hard to manage those things. And so what I want to what I want to do right now, I just want to affirm. Samantha, you are already you didn’t know it. You are already a lazy genius. Because because when you said the thing about canning, I was like, put my arms in the air. I was so excited because here’s the thing. A lazy genius is a genius about the things that matter. And lazy about the things that don’t. And you are the only person who gets to decide that. There are plenty of things in my life that matter more than canning. So you know what? I’m going to be lazy about canning and I’m going to buy cans that someone else filled. And that’s great, you know.
S4: And they’re awesome.
S1: At it and they’re so good at exactly. And so what I what I really hope, just like and.
S3: I’m not worried about.
S2: Yeah, right, right. Right.
S4: Because they’re so freaking good at it. Exactly. Exactly. Right. And so it’s like figuring out and it is hard, right? In a hyper consumptive culture where we’re inundated with a lot of products and pictures and social media posts, it is hard to figure out what matters most. What are some things that really do matter to you, Samantha?
S3: So the thing that matters the most to us was to be home and be present with them. Maximizing our time together like that is our priority. So also with that in mind about wanting to raise good humans has been a lot of narratives about parenting, such as Your kids should see you doing the labor it takes to do your home. You should involve your kids in the labor that it takes to take care of the home that they live. And I think those are great and wonderful. However, I just want to put on headphones and like do some of my batch cooking and listen to my podcasts.
S1: Yeah. One of the most challenging things that I come across in my work every single day is people who don’t know how to name what matters to them. They don’t know what it is that you just said. They get a little bit focused on the minutia and they’ve just been in it so long, you know, they’ve just been in that deep water in responding to that urgent for in whatever their season of life is for such a long time that they don’t really know what matters to them anymore. And so the fact that you and your husband and your family, that you all have named things as kind of the guiding light, the guiding force, the engine of your decisions is incredibly wonderful and helpful.
S4: That’s our first step. Take some time to reflect on the big picture of your life. Consult your imaginary future self. What do you think will matter most to you? Looking back at this time, then we can move into the second step. Essentials.
S1: Get rid of what is in the way so that you only have in your life what is essential to what matters. Now that the difficulty in that we won’t say difficulty will say challenge will make it a little more positive. We’ll see. The challenge in that is that we like, well, Kendra. There’s so many. Like, what do you mean? There are so many things in the way. And also a lot of those things are necessary, like upkeep of the house. And so that’s why I say start small, which is the most annoying advice of all time. It is. I hear it. I know it. I hate.
S4: It too. Way better than simplify, right?
S1: It’s true because not everybody wants to simplify. That’s not a priority for everyone. Right. Exactly. Rather than saying, okay, well, what is in the way of family time, we could start there and you might have a list of things that feel like they’re in the way of family time. But I want you to I want to challenge you to try to keep making your problems smaller, because smaller problems have an easier solution to find and one that works a lot quicker. And then as you kind of solve these small problems every day and you iterate with what’s working and what’s not, and you kindly adjust as you live your life in the season that you’re in, because that’s really important to your stay at home mom with two young kids and a big old house. That’s a very particular season than being in a high rise, you know? So. So all that to say, you know, start small. Start small with where you are. So based on what you just said matters to you. Can you think of a smaller challenge, a smaller problem, a smaller pain point that is in the way of one of those broader things that matters?
S3: My external pain point is feels very like seasonal right now. So I have a under one year old and I have a four year old. And the chore that is driving me up a wall. Let’s fix managing their border.
S1: Okay? Huh?
S3: It is. So I. I had talked to my friends about this before, and I’m just like, of all the things I thought that was going to come with parenting, the amount of time that I have to spend being like they’ve now grown this and like take taking stock of their wardrobe with this, with the seasons changing and like that. But that feels like seasons and all.
S1: Well, I think it’s really important to you is you, Samantha, you were sort of sharing that pain point almost apologetically, like, well, it’s a seasonal problem. It’s not. And I would say 90% of our problems are season of life problems. They are we try and force solutions from other seasons into the one that we’re in now. And when they don’t work, we think something’s wrong with us or we feel bad for being like this is like a problem, but it’s so small. It’s just my kids clothes I should probably have bigger problems are more like I should care about other things differently than that, that this is my problem that I’m naming. And I just want to say like, no, you’re doing the right thing.
S4: It sounds almost like it’s important. The stories we tell ourselves about the pain points. Yes. Right. Like, is it like for me, one of my pain points, if you if I turn on the camera right now, you’d see around my office like piles of crap. And I have a lot of shame around this because every time I walk my I’m like, I’ve got to clean up my office. Like, it just feels like, you know, messy bed, messy head, you know, that whole. Like, if you don’t have organization in your office, it probably reflects a deeper disarray, right, cognitively and that you’re not on top of things. And there’s so many stories tied to these piles. And is part of it like changing the story?
S1: Yes, I think it is. That’s why we love Brené Brown. It is. People have said this phrase all the time, but we should all over ourselves like I should have a cleaner office, I should have a better system for my kids clothes. I should help them, you know, do X, Y and Z, whatever it is. And whenever I find myself saying I should do something, it’s not that I’m wrong. It’s not that it’s automatically wrong because some things like I should pay my bills. I should, I really should, because there are consequences to not doing that. Now, do I love it? I don’t. And are there things that I could do to make it easier for myself? Of course there are. So it’s not that should is automatically like this thing isn’t real or doesn’t count or you should ignore it. But it’s worth paying attention to if you are saying, I should probably do this, why? Why do you think that’s the case? Is it because someone else does it and that someone else has a life that you’re like, well, it feels like they’ve got it together a little more than I do. Maybe I should do that. Or is it because they’ve experienced the consequences of that choice? And even though I don’t want to do it, I probably should. That would probably be a good thing to do.
S4: Okay, so we’ve prioritized what matters most to us, not to other people, and then tried to identify some of the pain points, including the everyday stories we tell ourselves. When we come back, we’re going to roll up our sleeves and make some changes, the kind that stick. So don’t go anywhere. We’re back with Samantha and Lazy Genius Kendra Adachi. Before the break, Kendra was taking us through the first few steps to making your mess manageable. After you identify your priority. How do you make it part of your everyday routine?
S1: That’s why I think starting small is really important. Then you organize that. It could be literal things that you organize in a closet. It could be the story in your head. Put it in its place. Where does it truly belong based on what matters? And now that you’ve gotten rid of what’s in the way of that. The fourth step is to personalize it, to feel like yourself in the process of what? In the thing that you’re doing, how can you feel like yourself? How can you remove the expectations that other people have of you? How can you feel alive and energized, like listening to the music you want to listen to when you’re cleaning your bathroom, as opposed to making it a teachable moment, which you don’t really want to do right now. And that’s okay, you know. Fourth is personalized, and then the fifth one is to systemize is to keep that in a flow. Because a lot of times will do something. We’ll create a system, will organize. We’ll make a list of the chores that we need to do for our house, the regular upkeep things. But if we don’t have a system to go back to it, you know, to kind of keep it moving, then we just remain frustrated. We’ve just prolonged our frustration to six months from now when we haven’t done the chores. And so that’s kind of the process of that. You can apply to any small problem, like your kids clothes, like, whatever. But you’re absolutely right. What you said to me and it’s so much of it is about the stories that we’re telling ourselves about these things, and we want to put those in the right place, too. We want to tell ourselves the truth about how we see our lives, how we see what matters, how we see our chores, how we see our relationships, how we see our neighbors. Like, let’s let’s focus on what really matters here. What really matters with your relationship with your neighbors. And you didn’t say this at all like that. You want to impress them. I don’t think that matters to you based on what you said. Reading between the lines, that does not matter to you, but you do want to feel connected to them. You know you do want to feel connected to them. If that’s the case, let’s think about like, how can I connect with my neighbors even though I don’t plate flowers in my yard the way they do? I have a very similar neighborhood situation where all of my neighbors are retired and their yards are immaculate. They are beautiful yards. They are amazing. And I’m just like, is the grass mowed? Maybe. I don’t know. Like, I don’t care. I’m very lazy about my yard. And so there are things that we can do to connect with each other, even though we have different priorities. Isn’t that the whole goal? Being a person, being like a community of people, being like a nation even is that we can connect with each other even though we have different priorities like it’s and and doing that in those small ways, like working those muscles in small ways. Like we have different priorities in our yard, but we can still be neighbors. Like it helps us practice those things and really small human ways.
S3: And I think for me, the other thing that has been so I don’t know, like. It’s expanding, who is in my community and also asking for practical help, which has been like so necessary for this stage of life.
S4: Is there an example that comes to mind of how you’ve let your neighbors in?
S3: In August, I got mastitis, which is a clogged milk duct from nursing home, couple urgent care trips. It was painful, very painful. And I couldn’t do stuff. And we were sort of like at the mercy. You were more so at the mercy. And at that exact same moment, there was a hand, foot and mouth out. Of course.
S2: There was.
S3: So it was one of my friends whose kid had gotten over it a couple of days before. We were like, Done, done. I knew I was also having my sight, but it was like, What do you need? And I knew her good enough to know if I asked for something like she would do it. And I told her I was like, I really need my kitchen cleaned because the point where it’s in right now is so overwhelming. And she, like, came with a meal from her freezer, like, and cleaned my kitchen and it felt so vulnerable at that point. But like, if one of my friends had asked that of me, I would have done it in a heartbeat.
S1: Right. Right.
S4: And that’s how you create and strengthen connection. That’s right. Is by asking for help and. And taking it and giving it.
S1: Yeah. And I think that. I love that. I think that’s an important distinction, too, is that there’s a difference in asking for help and taking help when it’s offered. I think that both of those have a different level of difficulty depending on the person. Like at this actual moment. At this actual moment. So I have when we are recording, I have my second book releases in seven days and it has been a cluster. My life is very stressful right now. Very stressful. And I texted my mom is watching my kids this afternoon so I don’t have to do school pick up so I can have a longer day. And she texted me and she said, Do you just want me to get your kids? I was like, Yes, please, thank you so much. And I just said, I’m just drowning. Like there’s so much to do. And I know it’s only a season. I’m in a season of a busy work project and I know it’s going to be over soon. It’s not always going to be this way, but it is this way right now. And I know it’s a struggle and it’s really hard. And she said, Well, I have I have a couple of hours this morning. Is there anything I can do? And I was like I was almost said, no, there’s nothing. And then I thought, my refrigerator’s a disaster. My refrigerator has been not been cleaned out in a long time and I don’t even know what’s in there. And we’re just like playing Tetris right now. It’s like Jenga and Tetris together inside my refrigerator and can you clean out my fridge? And my mom is in my house right now cleaning up my fridge. And I don’t like I didn’t need her to do that. My life is not dependent on whether my fridge is clean, but guess what that is? And that has been a pain point for me because every time I open my fridge.
S4: And you open.
S1: Every single time, it’s overwhelming emotionally and.
S4: Yeah, like I remember in the beginning of the pandemic, my son, you know, like a lot of kids, he created a little flyer and put it under, you know, on all the doorsteps in our neighborhood. Like, if you need help, get in the supermarket or show you this, you know, pretend like this, you know, and other kids did it, too, which was great. And it was like that moment of feeling like solidarity. We’re all in this together. And like, no one, no one took him up on it, probably because they felt like they felt weird. They didn’t need him as badly as other people might. Right. And so they were trying to be in their own way, good neighbors. I mean, I do the same thing when friends offer to help and you feel like they don’t mean it, but, you know, you got to know that you’re doing them a favor, too, sometimes, right? When they say, yeah.
S1: Absolutely. You said it before and you said, like, that’s how we connect with each other.
S4: Here’s our next rule. Connection is a priority for a lot of people, and rightly so. But part of strengthening your connection is asking for help, accepting help and giving help. All three matter.
S1: You know that that metaphor of, like, glass balls and rubber balls, you know, you want to you want to pay attention to. If you’re juggling all these balls, there are some things in your life that are glass balls and you really don’t want to drop them. The rubber balls you can drop. Right. That metaphor flits around. And I want to actually give permission to be like, you’re also going to drop the glass balls sometimes, like you’re going to do it. And because if you have the expectation that you’re not going to and when you do, you’re going to feel terrible about it. And so I am just a I call myself a professional permission giver. I’m just like, hey, it’s going to be okay. You’re going to you’re going to mess up. You’re not going to be able to manage every moment. You are not going to be able to manage your life. Like set it and forget it. You are not a robot. We can’t optimize everything. So instead of trying to do that, let’s look at some principles that you can apply in your own specific life that can help you.
S4: Which brings us to our last rule. It’s really helpful to remember that you’re always in a season of life and just like the real calendar, it will change eventually. In the meantime, though, don’t force yourself to wear a winter coat in the dog days of summer. That’s probably not going to help.
S1: I think that we need to be honest about our seasons and we think that what worked in a previous season is supposed to work now. And instead, I want us to just be more mindful and present with the season that we’re in. And usually when people do that, a lot of life change occurs on a, on a more soul level, which then kind of spills out into the practical. You can have order in places that matter to you. You can. But in order for that to happen, there are a lot of other things that are going to be let go. There are metaphorical closets that you keep closed and their physical.
S2: Closets that you keep close, you know.
S1: But we just don’t have enough messaging that that that third way exists.
S4: Yeah. Yeah. I think the season of life thing is an important one because I feel like this season is going to last forever. But before you know it, you do have time to try to to mow the lawn and maybe too much time.
S2: That’s why.
S1: Your retired neighbors are all in the yard, because they don’t have to do as many things as they used.
S4: To. Right. They figured it out the time you tell them, wow, your flowers are great. I hope they’re like, yeah, your kids look amazing.
S2: My mom was still alive.
S4: Your flowers are alive. Your kids are alive. Done. High five narrative. If you enjoyed this episode, you might want to check out a previous episode we did called How to Stop Having It All Before You End Up With Nothing. That’s like the perfect pairing for this episode. Or check out how to can all your own fruits and vegetables. Just joking. We have not done that episode. Not yet. Thanks to Samantha for sharing her story and her lessons learned with us and to Kendra for all her great advice. She mentioned during the show that she has a new book coming out. It’s called The Lazy Genius Kitchen. Go check it out. And by the way, we recently got a listener letter we wanted to share after our mascot episode. Becky works at Robert E Lee University, and after the death of George Floyd, she felt compelled to try to change the name. So as she wrote us, she drafted a letter to the president of the university and the board of trustees, and she shared it with some of her friends. And then before she knew it, the idea had grown into a large community of people numbering in the thousands who wrote letter after letter demanding change. In July of 2021, though the board voted to keep the name, it was a massive disappointment for Becky, but at the same time, she wrote, there were some significant changes. The name of the school didn’t change, but the portrait of Robert E Lee was removed from diplomas. Founder’s Day was discontinued. What was Lee Chapel is now University Chapel and important conversations were started just like our listener. In our mascot episode, she found that there was opportunity in the conflict, even when everything didn’t go the way she wanted. Thank you for your letter, Becky. Other listeners, if you have thoughts on episodes or advice of your own, please keep them coming. We love hearing from you. You can always email us at how to at Slate.com or leave us a voicemail at 6464954001. And we might have you on the show. And if you like what you heard today, please give us a rating and a review and tell a friend that helps us help more people. How TOS Executive Producer Is Derek John Rosemary Belson produces the show. Our theme music is by Hannah Brown, remixed by Mira Jacob, our technical director. Charles Duhigg created this show. I’m Amanda Ripley. Thanks for listening.