Monday, December 27, 2010

A simple life inventory can help you live well in 2011

Some time ago, we dubbed life in our busy household “blissful chaos,” with emphasis on the “chaos.” It’s sometimes so chaotic, in fact, that my husband and I can do nothing more than laugh and fall into bed at night, exhausted. In the midst of all the busyness, it can be tough to move beyond what often feels like a series of small crises (like having to fish a Matchbox car out of the toilet or a pebble from someone’s nose).

Even as our children get older, we’ll trade one kind of busyness for another. We’ll swap diapers and toddler beds for things like dance classes and T-ball. We recognize that the pace of our lives isn’t likely to slow down.

Nevertheless, we agree that we don’t want to get swept up in busyness for its own sake. Instead, we want to know that we’re using our time and money with purpose and intention. That’s why we decided to take a small “life inventory” of 2010, asking ourselves questions that include, “What specific activities brought us the most and least joy this year?” “What were our greatest financial successes and missteps?”

Focusing our time with our summer activity list helped us to squeeze in lots of simple pleasures that we might not have otherwise experienced. We flew kites and had a squirt gun fight, roasted marshmallows in our backyard fire pit and built sandcastles. On the other hand, my husband and I both agree that we spent far too much time on the computer this year and wasted precious energy trying to keep the house picked up during the day when we’re home with the kids. On both accounts, we’d rather be investing in the lives of our children and in our relationship as a married couple.

As for our financial successes, we are fortunate to have had many in 2010. Those successes include paying off our minivan and saving enough money to install a gas stove in our home. The latter was possible as a result of reigning in our food budget and funneling the money we saved to help us reach our goal.

We also fulfilled a promise to our children and brought home three fluffy chicks last spring; those same chicks are now roosting in the coop that my husband and his father built. Our hens are also finally giving us a few eggs, which has been cause for much excitement around our house.

As for our missteps, these include making a small tactical error during a construction project and ending up $800 over budget, waiting until the last minute to do our Christmas shopping (which meant major budget strain this year), overspending on food some months, and failing to rethink our retirement account contributions. And though we were able to complete a number of projects around our house, we had to dip deeply into our savings account to do so. This means that we need to focus on rebuilding our account in the coming year.

By recognizing what we did well and what we’d like to improve on, we’ll be more prepared to set realistic goals for 2011.

What went well for you this year? What areas of your life could use improvement? In any season of life, taking a simple inventory could help you focus your time and resources on the things you really want to accomplish. I’d encourage you to pause in the busyness of this season, and in your life as a whole, to look back at 2010 and use what you learn to chart a course for the year to come.

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