Light and Loveliness

Reflections of Emily Sue Allen

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Motherhood / Organization / Soulful Simplicity

Plan One Day Ahead

Welcome friends.

This is day 13 of Soulful Simplicity, a 31-day series through the month of October. The first week of the series can be found here. I hope you are enriched by this series. If you have any questions or would otherwise like to connect, feel free to send me a note: lightandloveliness [at] gmail [dot] com.


I wasn’t always a plan-ahead type. I have a bit of a creative streak, and gravitate toward spontaneous and unscripted, but over time I have realized that flying-by-the-seat-of-my-pants is much harder to do with a bunch of kids. Each has their own personality and way of doing things, and even if I rally to get them moving in the same direction, there is always a risk that one or more of them will choose a critical moment to make it extra challenging to get things done. Having kids in the mix requires extra effort and extra patience to stay focused.

I’ve learned our days at home are only going to be as smooth as I have the vision for. I now have six children whose attention and motivation are my responsibility to capture and steward well, which is no small task. If I have no plan for the day, and I have given no thought to how I will begin the morning, what I will be engaging for the day, and the small details I will need to remember on a list where I can remind my tired mom brain what in the world needs to be done, I can almost guarantee you all of us will struggle through the entire day. If I do have a plan, the day often goes much smoother.

Having a vision for the day doesn’t necessarily mean everything will go well, but it does give me the best shot at a day that accomplishes some or all of what needs to be done, and with minimal disruption to the family peace. I know the idea of having a plan for the day is nothing novel, but despite its simplicity, it is something I now do every day because it helps me that much.

Looking ahead one day allows me to hone my vision on what my top priorities are for the next 24 hours, tailoring my effort and attention toward those tasks.

To plan one day ahead, I find a moment in my day (usually evening for me) to sit and jot down a list of what is coming at me in the next 24-48 hours. What errands need to be run? What appointments do I need to make or show up at? What is our meal situation? Who do I need to connect with by email or phone? What are the top priorities around the house? How can I group or combine or delegate tasks effectively?

These are all questions whose answers end up on my list. The list allows me to complete everything in an efficient manner so I don’t expend any more energy than necessary, and all the high-priority items are addressed. I put anything and everything that requires my attention so that when I look back on my week, I can see on paper what progress I’ve made. Going back to the list to remember the small things I’ve done helps me to remember what even happened in that blur of days and helps me celebrate my small victories.

I personally keep these lists along with doodles and random writing in a moleskine journal, which I’ve now been doing for at least 8 years. The rules of my journal: no tearing out pages, no stressing about neat writing or anything looking a certain way…just fill those pages with the bits of life that are pertinent to me or happen to be on my mind at that time. I sometimes jot down writing prompts and ideas. I write out lists of goals or things I want to accomplish for the week, but mostly, it is something I return to every few days to make my “Plan One Day Ahead” list.

My version is not terribly fancy, but it is along the same lines of this new term I’ve been hearing around called bullet journaling (the is new to me, but the process is not). Avid bullet journalers seem to have an affinity for fun colors, nicely designed journal pages and fancy writing, but I opt for anything-goes largely so I don’t waste a bunch of time trying to make a “pretty” list. For me, its all about function. If you search around for bullet journaling, you will find a number of great resources that explain the method, and you might find you benefit from having a pen-and-paper thought organizer for yourself.

If you feel like you struggle to keep your focus through the day or you end the day feeling frustrated about what you didn’t get done, this idea might help you clarify your vision and keep your energy that otherwise might be lost going toward tasks that help you get ahead.

Do you have a method that helps you keep your focus? I’d love to hear about it.

“I will walk within my house in the integrity of my heart. I will set no worthless thing before my eyes.” Psalm 101:2b-3a


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Creativity / Family / Homeschool / Organization


One thing I find is an easy but fun activity for my kids to do on a rainy day is to paint. There was a time that I was adamantly against all activities that risked making a huge mess, and the idea of toddlers and preschoolers painting, in my house, with brushes and paint and water, made me break out into a cold sweat. For a while, I thought of it as a who-would-ever-do-that-to-themselves activity, and as such, we didn’t do much of it. Somewhere along the line, it occurred to me that if I spend my time and energy trying to keep them from making messes that inconvenience me, they are going to internalize a belief that they should not go, explore, do, and create with freedom…which is not at all what I want for them. Granted, it still has to be manageable, but I’ve learned that the best things in life get messy and that’s ok. For those who aren’t so sure they are ready for a painting day, I put together a few tips that have helped me make this activity fun for them and not a big deal for me.

1. Get a cheap dollar store tablecloth to keep with the paint supplies. And if you don’t have one, use a kitchen trash bag laid out flat at each workstation. I just fold up the tablecloth (without cleaning it) and store it in the painting box. I sometimes keep the kitchen bags for a few sessions, but eventually I toss them out.

2. Use washable, watercolor paint. I’m sure we’ll try some other kinds in the future, but for now this is what works for us. I’m still searching for a ‘favorite’ brand. Crayola works fine, and RoseArt works but isn’t great, and our favorite paint thus far (the round palette) is an unmarked mystery brand and I’m not sure where it came from. If you have a kids washable watercolor paint that you love, I’m all ears!

3. Use a ceramic bowl for the water. A cup will work, but a bowl, especially a heavy ceramic cereal bowl does not tip easily. I typically let each of the kids have their own bowls at their workspace instead of sharing, and they always enjoy making the water turn different colors.

4. Find a great container to store all the paint supplies in one place. I actually use these clear plastic tubs all over the house. (more on my organizing methods, which are functional but not impressive or beautiful, at a later time). Our tub is labeled for the kids (any tub with “Kids” on it is open for their use…tubs not labeled with that are off limits)…plus I do have another tub of painting supplies for mommy. 🙂 The tub includes all our paint sets, brushes, kitchen bags/tablecloths, and sometimes the apron makes it in there. Most often, the kids take their shirts off  of their own accord during painting. Well, actually, half of the kids spend 90% of the day in their underwear already, so the apron doesn’t get used much.

5. Don’t be afraid to display artwork for a while and then toss it out. Seriously, I if I have to save every paper they fill with paint or marker drawings or scribble words, I will drown in paper. I love celebrating their creativity for a time and then moving on. We often talk about how it is good to let go of some things to make room for new things, and everyone understands the drill around here. I do keep a tub (like the one pictured above) to drop the more ‘special’ art pieces that I plan to save for a longer time (or forever). That tub will be sorted and archived in a more permanent way whenever I get to it, but the tub is a quick way to get it out of my hair and keep it safe from little hands, gusts of wind, and the abominable paper monster.

6. Paint alongside your kids, even if only for a few minutes. When I stop what I’m doing and sit down to paint with them, they absolutely love it. They like to watch how I do things, and they also like to chatter on and on while they fill their pages with beautiful colors.

7. Have everyone help clean up. My kids know (as with pretty much any ‘special’ activity at our house) that in order to participate in the fun, they must also participate in the cleanup. One usually dumps the water and rinses the bowls. Another rinses out the paintbrushes. And I have to say, they really love doing anything that requires cleaning stuff in the sink. And the last one puts all the paint sets and washed brushes back in the container. The only thing left for me to do is fold up the tablecloth and make sure all the painted pages get to the right place. Easy peasy. It’s actually one of the easiest-cleanup activities we do.