I started wading through the clutter in January. One week later I was disheartened. There was still a lot to do. I shared my dismay with my brave friend who had come over and worked alongside me for a bit, she said, “It will take a year.” She reminded me this was a process and that it would take more than a weekend to declutter. And here I am today, still working on organizing, decluttering, de-junking my house. I have made some progress and have discovered some surprising clutter.
The piles of toy parts, the box of notes from high school, and the bags of stained baby clothes, I expected. However, I was surprised to discover hidden pockets of clutter of a different variety. These were things I thought I would never misplace or lose track of. I unearthed encouraging words left unsaid, found compliments piled in the corners like stacks of magazines, and discovered a hoard of fun under the couch.
I found a box full of family time that still had the packing tape on it from our last move. Nothing really prepared me for the waves of regret that quickly eroded my pride in the progress I had made. The cost of clutter had not really hit me until that moment; clutter steals and hoards what we are capable of giving to others.
I had not realized that my disheveled closet was hoarding confidence or that the chaotic art room had my children’s creative tendencies squirreled away in half empty crayon boxes and dried up paint bottles. I started to think that maybe we just weren’t as creative, fun or as kind as we used to be, but it was just that the clutter had taken over and obscured these attributes from our hearts and minds. My creative, kind and fun-loving family was there all along.
It was just that we could only see the mess.
It didn’t take me long to realize I could not hold on to the the regret that came along with this discovery. I certainly could not afford to stockpile regret, so out it went and in came a new way of living and loving.
How to clear out the surprising clutter
As we clear the clutter, we discover that our hearts expand to give more generously to those we love most, and isn’t that what we all want? I don’t need the old train table the kids played with years ago or the 20 reusable grocery bags that have taken over my side entryway, I do need every bit of my capacity to encourage my children and to love my husband well.
My words of affirmation and kindness must be said, otherwise they are just as useless as the boxes of VHS tapes in the basement. The fun hoard, along with the dust bunnies and dog toys, needs to come out from under the couch, so that our home can be a place of joy.
Clearing the clutter allows our hearts to be tuned into what is most important — the people we do life with. As I continue to declutter my home I am now more excited about what I will gain. An expanded heart ready to jump into joy, fun and love versus what I will lose.
You can read more from Bethany Howard at bethanyhoward.com. She writes about finding fuel for joy and growth in the details of the daily. Her greatest leadership exercise has been her roles as wife and mom to three. She is a graduate of Leverage: The Speaker Conference.
Once upon a time I thought if I could make enough spreadsheets, post enough lists, or structure my planner enough, then I could build the scaffolding for smooth, meaningful days. I imagined days where love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control could just spill right out of my heart.
Turns out “fruit” doesn’t grow on spreadsheets. Nothing against lists, mind you. But through God’s gentle teaching over the past several years, I’ve embraced the natural rhythm of days and grace in the midst of busyness.
It’s a beautifully confounding idea that the miraculous is often present in the mundane. A moment setting aside a scrambling schedule in order to kneel down, look a little one in the eye, and just listen to what is on their heart, is worth all the crossed-off lists in the world.
In short, I’m learning that the “small” can be momentous. That the moments make the days. And that it’s the humblest things that make life the richest.
How a jar can unify your family
Take for example the idea of a simple jar and a few pebbles. What if these everyday things could help unify your family throughout the day? What if it weaved hearts together? Here’s what I propose:
1) Find a jar, bowl or vase.
2) Obtain a group of pebbles, glass gems (as you might use in a fish tank or for the game Mancala), or other memento—one style or color for each person in the family. Even just a slip of paper with each person’s name written on it would do the trick.
3) Each morning every person takes a pebble of another person’s chosen color. Slip it into a pocket, lunch box, brief case, purse, pencil box or backpack. Gather before parting ways for the day to talk about prayer requests for the day.
4) Throughout the day, whenever that person comes across the pebble, it’s a prompt to say a quick prayer for the person it represents, and whatever they might be facing in their day.
5) At the end of the day, take a moment to go around and debrief about the day. Each person asks the person whose pebble they drew how their day was. Then let them know how or when they were prayed for.
6) Finally, deposit each of those traveling gems into your chosen jar. Over time, the intermingled pebbles (or other items) serve as a visual reminder of how cherished each person has been in thought and prayer.
A message in a bottle
In my research for the newly-released Message in a Bottle Romance Collection, I’ve come across some incredible stories of objects and messages in simple vessels. This is just one way to make a living message of your own and create a beautiful tradition.
For a chance to win one of five copies of that book, tell us in the comments: What is one simple but important message you would love your family to carry in their hearts each day?
Amanda Dykes is a drinker of tea, dweller of Truth, and spinner of hope-filled tales. She spends most days chasing wonder and words with her family, who love a good blanket fort and a stack of read-alouds. Give her a rainy day, a candle to read by, an obscure corner of history to dig in, and she’ll be happy for hours. She is the author of the critically acclaimed Bespoke: a Tiny Christmas Tale, a contributing author to the newly-released Message in a Bottle Romance Collection, and enjoys connecting with her readers on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
My husband and I are fans of the book The Five Love Languages, by Gary D. Chapman. Our love languages relate to more than just the day to day, but it also impacts how you approach your sex life.
The 5 senses guide to sex
It came as no surprise my husband’s love language is physical touch, and knowing this caused me anxiety because I thought physical touch just meant sex and I needed to be ready for it at any time. I took a risk and asked him about it. To my surprise, we talked about sex in a productive way. It wasn’t easy at first, but over time I gained confidence. Together we learned sex is more about the journey than the destination. One way to enrich the journey is through the five senses guide to sex.
Sound is not only about what you say to each other, but also how you say it. Let your tone and inflections be gentle; try greeting each other with kindness or a soft word after a long day. Create a good vibes playlist on Pandora or Google Play to set the mood. Our men listen for our verbal cues ,so it is important that you provide verbal sounds or whispers to express how much you enjoy your husband in the moment.
Taste is more than things like brushing your teeth or chewing gum for a fresh taste. It’s also about the food and drink you share together. Think about how your lips taste, or how your body tastes, especially after a work out. Go ahead and rinse the salt off!
Smell is an aroma that is pleasing to you and your spouse. Try lighting a candle, using a pleasant smelling lotion, or spraying fragrance that he loves.
Touch is about caressing, massaging, holding hands and skin-on-skin contact. Always kiss while saying hello or goodbye. Wear something that feels soft. Put clean sheets on the bed so it’s fresh.
Sight is about getting out of the loungewear and feeling good because you know you look good. Text each other throughout the day to let your spouse know you are thinking of him and can’t wait to see him. Before you part ways for the day linger a little longer between changing clothes, make sure you catch each other. Or while you’re out shopping make a stop at the lingerie store.
Later, put on an impromptu fashion show and he helps you decide what to keep and what to return. If it helps set the mood, replace one of your bulbs in your bedroom with a red bulb. Maybe it is just the signal you need to help you both get in the mood. Lastly, schedule it. Honestly, when I look at all the things on my schedule for the day and I see “sex” pop up, it is a visual cue that helps get me prepared well in advance.
One Small Win: This list is just a small start, but I challenge you to step out of your comfort zone and let one or all of the senses be your guide. The goal is to build and/or enhance physical intimacy in your marriage.
Julie Landreth is a speaker and a “wife coach” who loves sharing with women her passion for prayer and ways to actively cultivate a thriving marriage. She leads a growing number of women in San Jose, CA through her curriculum: Consistency and Persistency: The Art of Praying for your Husband. Having been married 12 years, she and her husband have cultivated a marriage filled with intentional love, effective communication, sustainable fun, and a date night every Friday night for the last nine years. She also finds deliberate ways to spend quality time with her 9-year-old son who shares many of her artistic talents. Follow her along on Instagram at @julielandreth.
Valentine’s Day is great—it nudges us to celebrate romance. But we don’t want to celebrate only on special occasions, not when we can weave romance into the rhythm of our lives.
How do we keep celebrating romance all year long?
Between kids and jobs, home responsibilities and extended family, it is easy to let our marriage relationships go on auto pilot. But if we want to have a good marriage, a romance-filled marriage, we choose to be intentional about it.
We love intentionally
1. Discovering the best in our partner — every day — and celebrating it. Set this standard in your marriage and hold on to even in the most stressful times. Nothing builds romance like knowing your husband well and expressing appreciation for those things that are easily taken for granted.
2. Speaking to each other with respect. It makes me so uncomfortable to overhear couples speaking sarcastically to each other. It is a bad habit we fall into without even being aware of it. It costs nothing to speak well to each other. And when we don’t — it’s a romance-buster.
3. Dating each other. Dating is what helps us fall in love in the first place. It is the thing that most married couples give up first after saying “I do.” But dating is a great way to take a little retreat from those things that can pull us away from each other. At first you may have to look at dating as a project – setting aside time, money and energy for something (or someone) that is important.
I know that it can be expensive to date, but if you are creative, you can have a great date without breaking the bank. You can find inexpensive date ideas here. The point is, to go out and have some fun, to recapture a little of that romance you had early on and saying, you know what? We enjoy being together. We like each other.
4. Doing thoughtful little things. Little things add up to ongoing romance. Write a love note, buy him his favorite sweet treat, send a flirty text – have fun with it! Just let your man know you think about him when you’re apart. Do some of the little things you did when you were falling in love. There is real impact in doing these simple things, they say to your husband, “You matter so much to me.”
They sparked romance before, and they can ignite it again.
In our marriage, we learned that more effort had to be put in after the vows than before them. Today, I see my husband die to self every day to make sure that I know I am loved and that I’m happy. And I try to do the same for him. I can’t think of a better way to be married than how we are right now. It took us a long time to get there – we had to get past some things – but I can’t imagine anything better.
When we choose to love intentionally – by design and not by default – our wedding day becomes the beginning of a great romance story, not the end of it.
We’re talking about Loving Intentionally this week, and I want to share one of my tools for guarding my heart and tongue against the bend in our culture (and often our friendships) to demean, belittle, and yes, bash our husbands. We can be intentional about setting boundaries around what we let into our hearts or out of our mouths. Here’s one way I do both.
An Open Letter to my Friends who Talk Bad About Their Husbands: Why I Love You, But Can’t Hang Out with You Anymore
This is really, really hard for me to do, but I have to tell you why I can’t hang out with you anymore.
I get that marriage is hard. I do. I’ve fought with my husband (remember, when we got married, we had four teenagers, so we had plenty to “discuss” those first years of marriage,) disagreed with him, and sometimes (OK, many times) not been the wife I needed to be.
But here’s the thing: I want to do better. I want to be the wife my husband needs. I want to speak well of him and to him. I want to improve, a little bit, every day.
And when I’m around you, it’s hard. I feel like, because you throw your husband under the bus, you want me to throw my husband right under there as well.
I will not have the kinds of conversations that make men the butt of the joke, because not only am I married to a man, but I have two boys I want to respect as men as well.
I will not agree with how awful your husband is because I don’t know his side of the story.
I will not laugh at TV or movies that feature the guys as “Doofus Dads.”
I will not let you bait me into bashing husbands, yours or mine.
I’m sorry if this seems like an unexpected change-up – like I’m changing the rules of our relationship. But that uncomfortable laugh I make when you put down your husband?
From now on, I’m speaking up. It’s not OK to talk about any man like that in my presence. Ever.
Now don’t get me wrong. If you want me to pray for the tough time you’re going through, if you want to cry on my shoulder and have me recommend books on how you can improve your relationship, I will bring the coffee, milk chocolate and password to my Amazon account. I am there for you friend.
But if you only want to complain, and not let God make a miracle out of your marriage, I need to step away. Because I need to be with women who support the men in their life. I want to surround myself with women who are not perfect wives, but will inspire me to be a wife who follows God and blesses her husband out of the overflow of that relationship with God.
So if you want to be that kind of girl – come on over to my house.
But if not, I’m going to need to bow out. I know God wants more for you than what you have now. I’ll be here when you want that cup of coffee.