Theme Days

I first read about theme days in one of Sarah Barry’s many great posts. It was right around the time of year when everything shifts: we lose daylight, we have to bundle up so it takes longer to get out the door, and our regular routine is happily and joyfully interrupted by holiday fun. That’s the time of year when I start paying more attention to what works around here and what could be better, so the timing was perfect. 

The concept of theme days really had me thinking and making notes. Surely I’ve mentioned before how fascinated I am by the everyday and how small shifts shape our happiness, yes? I could tell this would be something seemingly mundane that could have a huge effect on how I manage this household, and I looked forward to giving it a try.

I started by making a list of what has to get done every week, no matter what:
meal planning
meal prep
at least one load of laundry

Then I made a list of what I’d love to do weekly but don’t always get to do:
wipe down bathrooms
dust (by this I mean walk around with a microfiber cloth and deal with the obvious dust, not actually removing everything from every shelf and cleaning to spotlessness or polishing furniture)

Then I jotted down a few notes of what I’d like weekends to look like:
Friday night–wine, cheese, movie
Saturday–family fun, time for toddler and Dad
Sunday–church, rest, good meal, going to bed feeling prepared and rejuvenated for week ahead

I also sketched out what our weeks usually look like, with everything from when I’m at my office to when we’re at storytime, and I came up with the following theme days:

Monday–meal plan
I work on Mondays, so the expectations are very low for getting much done at home, but I always have 15 minutes to look at what is in the fridge / freezer and what’s on sale at the grocery.

Tuesday–shop and prep
Our farmers market is on Tuesday mornings, so we head there first, then to the grocery store. Our favorite storytime is at 10:30, so it’s a good impetus for running these errands efficiently. Then I wash, chop, and prep as much as I can so that I don’t have to start dinner any earlier than an hour before we eat each night. I also prep healthy snack items so we don’t have to resort to packaged stuff every day. 

Wednesday–administrative tasks
Phone calls, emails, appointments, budgeting, etc. (these are my least favorite tasks, so it’s nice to get them done midweek and not have them hanging over my head)

Thursday–wipe down bathrooms, dust, Swiffer, vacuum
Dusting is the toddler’s new favorite pastime. Parenting complete! We spend a grand total of 20 minutes completing these tasks. I switch each week, focusing on living areas one week and bedrooms the next. Nothing gets done perfectly, yet my house has never been cleaner, probably because these tasks are actually getting done instead of being put off until they can be done perfectly. Go figure.

I cannot tell you how much better the laundry situation has gotten since devoting a day to laundry and only laundry. I don’t mean that we’re stuck in the house washing 50 loads or anything. In fact, I only do two loads a week; the problem was that those two loads were happening so haphazardly that I’d forget something was in the dryer (or the washer–is there anything worse?) and it wouldn’t get folded, or it would get folded and never put away, or just lots and lots and LOTS of other first world problems related to laundry, you guys. Now I literally wake up and think, “Friday. Laundry day,” and get started. When we get home from library playtime, I think, “Get back to the laundry,” and I switch loads over. Then when we sit down to watch Sesame Street, I think, “Fold the laundry,” and it all gets done! And folded! And put away!

Saturday–family fun
On Saturday mornings, my husband and our toddler get outside for a bit, usually taking a walk to a coffee house for a chocolate croissant, and give me what Gretchen Rubin calls a Power Hour, an hour to take care of any loose ends and nagging tasks I have hanging over my head. They get a little time together, and I get a chance to knock out what’s on the back of my mind so that I can enjoy the weekend. Then we do fun little family activities, either actual events on the calendar, like birthday parties and arts markets, or simple things we make fun, like popping popcorn and watching a movie together. 

We go to church and then just enjoy reading, playing, watching football / baseball / golf / whatever sport is on at the moment. Sometimes we get together with extended family, too.

What theme days have really done for me is lighten my mental load. My husband and I talk a lot about mental load and how easy it is to add and add until we’re managing more than we intended. It sounds silly, but I used to spend way too much brain power on deciding whether or not to wash clothes that day and moving tasks from one to do list to another because they simply weren’t getting done. This system gives me the structure I need without hindering me. If a Tuesday afternoon gets hectic, I’m not paralyzed by trying to decide the best use of Wednesday; I know I need to catch up on meal prep and may need to put off a few administrative tasks that aren’t pressing. And if I end up with a little extra time one afternoon, it’s easy to decide what to do because I just work ahead. 

This simple change has added structure and taken away an element of decision-making, and I am so grateful.

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