Whenever I want to make ongoing improvements in my life, there is usually a habit or two connected with that change which I need to alter. I’ve learned to set “rules” for myself to encourage me to make those changes. Now some people react to the concept of rules, fearing they will be an imposition or a constraint. I look at them as a means to help me focus on my goal and make a concrete change.
For years my family lived with an accumulating pile of mail on the kitchen counter. Day by day, the mail gradually increased. After I finally took the time to go through it and start fresh, to my dismay, the pile quickly grew back. In order to halt this vicious cycle, I created a rule and announced it to my family: Don’t let the mail touch the counter. This rule encouraged us to make a quick sort, getting rid of junk mail immediately, and then disbursing the rest of the papers to the appropriate locations. That rule has become our standard, and I’m pleased to report that we no longer have mail lingering in our kitchen!
Here are some guidelines for establishing your own rules:
- How do you decide what rules to create? Work backward. What are the stress areas in your home? Is it surrounding the mail and paper clutter? Is it dealing with accumulating clothes on the bedroom floor? Do you have too many things dropped in the “drop zone” as you enter your house? Consider the solution to that problem area and designate one change that would help you breathe easier.
- Don’t try to make too many changes at once. Plan on one new rule and get your household on board as much as possible.
- Be specific. If you say very generally, “This entryway needs to stay clean,” you don’t have a clear direction. Rather, think about the actions you and your household members need to take. A more effective rule would be: “As soon as we enter, we will hang up coats, purses, and backpacks, and put lunch bags in the kitchen.”
- Write out your rule and put it where you and your family members can see it. It will simply stay a “good idea” unless you have concrete reminders. Remember: new habits come with consistent repetition.
- Be patient. I call them “rules” but in the beginning treat them as guidelines. First, you need to make the mental shift, then your behavior has to catch up.
- If it doesn’t seem like you can faithfully follow your own rule, try tweaking it a bit. If your goal: “I will respond to all emails by the end of the day,” is simply not realistic, try modifying it to “within 24 hours.” Part of the process is figuring out what will actually work for you. Progress, not perfection!
- When one rule starts to catch on, introduce a new challenge.
Let’s face it, these principles can be applied to any type of behavioral change in your life, including healthier eating habits, losing weight, practicing better time management, etc. We are simply applying this concept to your home. But by focusing on one simple change and making a rule to support that new habit, you are taking a concrete step to make your home more ordered, more functional–one step at a time.
For a printable resource to brainstorm rules that work for you, click here