Why It’s Okay to Fail the Daily Tasks if You’re Winning the Challenge: The 31 Days of Living Well and Spending Zero Challenge, Part 4

I was standing in the middle of nowhere. I had a map in my head that showed the forest, and a map in my hand that showed the trees, and I wasn’t sure I could reconcile the two. The map in my hand said go left, but the one in my head said go straight. Did I choose to follow the directions or follow navigation by approximation?

We’re almost at the two week mark of Ruth Soukup’s 31 Days of Living Well and Spending Zero Challenge, and I realized that I’ve sidestepped or skimmed over more than half of the daily tasks. This has been really evident this week, when the daily tasks have been all about cleaning up your house.

The Map in my Hand

Jon and I are not natural housecleaners.  We are an equal opportunity couple, and we do clean our house because we have to. We clean bathrooms, wash dishes, and fold and put away clothes. Toys are picked up, beds changed, and floors vacuumed. We don’t do any of these things enthusiastically, though, and a solid week devoted to cleaning is driving me nuts.

Some of my reluctance to fully embrace the housecleaning part of the challenge is because we have more stuff than room for stuff. Finding places to put all of the books, toys and assorted other items is a challenge without some major decluttering, and I am the only member of my family to embrace the idea. Some of the reluctance to put a ton of effort into cleaning is because we are renovating our kitchen, so kitchen items are stuffed everywhere to leave the counters free for tools, building materials, and actual progress on the rebuild.

My house is cleaner than it’s been in a while, but I’m far from feeling like a housecleaning success.

So when I opened Saturday’s #31DayLWSZ task for the day (Day 10: Clean your Kids’ Rooms), I was prepared to be discouraged. Little Bit has toys everywhere, and even worse, toy parts. She likes to take things apart. That’s great for her STEM skills, but less so for the state of her room.

Lo and behold, the email started with a reminder from Ruth:

“However, if it takes longer than one day to clean your house or if life just gets in the way, please, please, please don’t abandon the challenge! The real objective is to spend 31 Days of Spending Zero. The rest is to simply help you on the way. So if your house isn’t 100 percent clean at this point, don’t beat yourself up. Keep going and move forward. Look at how far you’ve come in just ten days! We’re nearly one-third of the way through the challenge, and you’re doing great!”

The cleaning and the daily tasks are just the trees. They are just the landmarks that help you along the way. Housecleaning is not the destination. Resetting our spending habits is the destination. How we get to that destination is up to us.

The Map in My Head

So how is Team Jividen doing when we look at the goals of the challenge? If I just worry about fulfilling the Living Well and Spending Zero part of the challenge, and not the domestic skills that fill the daily tasks, are we successful?

  • We’re putting a dent in our freezer and refrigerator stock, and I know what’s left in my pantry. I’ve been much more deliberate about repurposing and reusing our leftovers. The only thing I think we need to throw out is some jello my daughter and I made last week that no one seems to want. We’ve eaten healthier without buying as much junk food, and no one’s complained yet about not having the food they want.
  • We’re saving at least some money on groceries, and being much more cognizant of the price of what we do buy. Our grocery bill did creep up, with $5 on a bonus milk run, $10 for 32 ounces of coffee at World Market, and $60 at the grocery store. We had more toiletries and paper towels to buy, blowing my $25 for the month non-food grocery budget out of the water. The fact that I spent so much on a shopping cart filled up mainly with produce and dairy definitely more aware that the price of Half and Half had gone up at our favorite store by almost $1, and I may be rethinking our shopping routine. Considering that I would have spent around $250 so far for the month, I’m feeling okay (not great but okay) about $125.
  • I’ve become much more cognizant of the ways I’ve been spoiling Little Bit, and I’m already seeing some changes. When we went to the store this weekend, there was no temper tantrum about the lack of cookies in the shopping cart. She may not have been thrilled at the idea that she was going to have to spend her allowance if she wanted sweets next week, but she accepted it without argument.
  • No takeout, no eating out, no fancy coffees, no trips to the movies. In 2 weeks, we’ve kept to all meals at home (or at my in-laws’ house), entertaining ourselves without spending extra, and cutting out most of the little luxuries that eat into our budget without us thinking much about it. Even rainy Saturdays have managed to be filled with cookie baking, Pandora dance parties, and a closet-decluttering “fashion show.”
  • My house IS cleaner. Little Bit did agree to get rid of some of the clutter in her room, and learned to make her own bed. We donated a bag of old Halloween outfits to a costume swap, donated a bag of well-used clothes to a salvage operation, and have a few bags ready for Goodwill. We may not be ready for a Better Homes and Gardens shoot, but we’re making progress.

I may not be comfortable following the same map as everyone else, but I think I’m finding my way nonetheless. The daily tasks aren’t my favorite points of emphasis, but I’m committed to resetting my habits for the better.

Navigation by Approximation

I’m not ignoring the daily tasks entirely. My closet and work area needed a good decluttering, and I’m sure I will find useful things from the rest of Ruth’s emails. I just don’t want to get bogged down in feelings of failure when I get to the end of the day and my house isn’t Pinterest-ready. I’m no one’s idea of a domestic goddess, but that doesn’t mean I can’t spend a month learning to live well and spend less.

If you find yourself getting bogged down in the details of the daily tasks, go back to the beginning. Remember why you chose to do the challenge, and focus on the progress you are making toward fulfilling your goals.Don’t let bombing the daily tasks derail your success at the challenge. Not everyone’s path to success needs to be the same.

I was standing in the middle of nowhere. I had a map in my head that showed the forest, and a map in my hand that showed the trees, and I wasn’t sure I could reconcile the two. The map in my hand said go left, but the one in my head said go straight. The map in my heart said just don’t go back. Reach the destination. I walked straight, looking at the trees but seeing the forest.

What do you do when you find yourself getting bogged down in your immediate goals or tasks rather than your end goal? Do you reset your tasks, recommit to them, or change your focus? 

2 thoughts on “Why It’s Okay to Fail the Daily Tasks if You’re Winning the Challenge: The 31 Days of Living Well and Spending Zero Challenge, Part 4

  1. I’m not much of a cleaner either. When I’ve challenged myself to eliminate clutter, I usually try the big bang approach, but rarely commit to maintenance. Maintenance is boring, but effective.

    • Good to know it’s not just me. I know I need to do the maintenance, but I always seem to prioritize other things.

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