Before You Can Get Organized

Getting Back to Life Skills 

 

You may be asking yourself why I am talking about life skills. Read on.

On my last vacation in Rio, one of my best Brazilian friends called me in real distress.

 

life skills learning

She was very anxious and started to cry as she told me what was going on. “I feel miserable, inadequate, like a real failure as a mother and wife.”

I paused to listen and she eventually asked me if I could help her as a professional organizer.

“I really need to get this ‘housewife’ thing together. My house is a mess. I feel like a machine that leaves the house at 7 a.m. and comes back to put my kids in bed. I have no control of what’s going on and have no time for anything.”

Mind you that my friend is an upper middle-class professional, married to a professional, living in an upscale neighborhood and she has not only one, but three people helping around the house: a full-time housekeeper, a part-time house cleaner and a part-time nanny.

Please, don’t laugh. It may sound absurd, but it’s not. Because it’s not the first time I’ve heard this story from a friend.

You may think my friend is crazy. You may think she’s a slob or that she’s lazy. But that’s not the case. I’ve known her for well over 20 years and I can tell you, she’s none of those things.

You may also think that this is characteristic of the Brazilian/South American culture where domestic workers are still so prevalent.

But the sad truth is that as a professional organizer who is invited into the “deep” corners of many, many homes, I observe the same happening with us here in the US.

Overworked, over-scheduled couples (and kids!) living day in and day out in homes that are in a constant state of disarray.

Why is it happening?

 

The Lost Art of Basic Life Skills

The passing of life skills from generation to generation is being lost.

We are losing the old art, previously taught by our ancestors, of taking care of ourselves and our houses, of making them into a home.

In the past all the basic life skills needed to run a house, manage a family and live in a clean place, wearing clean clothes and eating home-cooked meals were passed from the elderly women in the family to the younger ones.

That all changed when women started to enter the workforce and demanded to be treated as equals. The result was a vacuum.

Let me pause here.

I think women have the right to have careers and pursue their professional goals. I’m not saying we should stay home and dedicate our (marvelous!) brains solely to raising our children or caring for our homes. I’d become depressed if I did just that! Yet there’s no denying that equality created a major social shift.

Now, I have no nostalgic ideas of the “Leave It to Beaver” America where the men go out and develop themselves intellectually and professionally while we tend for the daily doings of the home.

However, because both parents work in the majority of families, moms aren’t around to teach girls basic life skills — and boys aren’t being taught because well, they never were!

So, now we have this huge vacuum where we see adults of all walks of life, rich and poor, getting dressed out of the laundry basket, scrambling to keep their daily routines together, unable to getting their bills paid — not for lack of money, but because the mail never gets opened — and almost never eating homemade meals.

 

I Also Cried Those Tears

My interest in life skills started when I got married and moved out of my parents’ home in Brazil.

It dawned on me that I knew nothing I needed for my new role in life.

As a middle-class girl in Brazil, the daughter of two professionals, I was sent to school every day and was cared for by maids at home. (Just so you know, boys are raised like young princes in Brazil. Annoying.)

I had never touched a cleaning product, washed a single item from my closet or cooked one meal.

So, when I married an American and landed at a military base in Japan, I had, for the first time in my life, to clean a toilet, shop for groceries, cook meals and do all “that stuff.”

During the first few months I destroyed more garments than I dare to admit, including my husband’s favorite sweatshirt, and we ate really, really bad food. I have a really sweet hubby! :)

I learned on the job, and like my friend I felt inadequate and incapable of getting “this housewife thing” many times.

 

A Matter of Equal Need

I believe we ALL need to know these skills — boys and girls, men and women. Learning the basics gives us a head start for a thriving life.

And that’s what I will be covering to help you get things in control once and for all: the basic life skills.

Now it’s your turn. I’d love to hear what you think about this topic.

Single or married, we all need life skills. How are yours?

Leave your comments below!

 

Comments

  1. Ivana says

    Helena, I am so happy I found this series about basic skills!
    My mother unfortunately wasn’t trained in them, so she struggled to do them herself, and never teached neither me nor my sister how to maintain a household. When I wanted to help, she always send me to my room to do my homework for school (I can still hear that command in my mind). Now I am married and struggling with everything. I am so thankful for Internet as a source of advices and information that I lack.
    I am looking forward your series!

  2. says

    Thank you for this series! I’m in the same position as your friend.

    My mom was the professional in the house when I was growing up. My dad did the house and kid thing, when he was home, but he was on the road most of the time (musician). We had to eat at home out of necessity (cost) but the house itself balanced between disarray and chaos. I watched my sibs after school from age 8 on but because of being young, no household duties were done.

    Now I’m in charge of my own household. 2 kids under 4, a hubs that works 40+ hours, plus I work from home as a career counselor for a university, so I’m a part time WAHM and full time SAHM. Again, our house is barely managed, although most days I get a home cooked meal on the table.

    I tend to hide in my office during the day because at least that chaos is mine. The rest of the house sends me into anxiety. I would love to have an organized home for my kids, hubby, and me to really enjoy but what little work I get accomplished is quickly overrun by the rest of daily life. Every seems to be on board with keeping up with anything I put into place but I don’t know how to do it!

    Hubs had no stability as a kid so no household skills learned there. We both want our kids to know how to care for themselves and future families but have no idea how to model that behavior for them!

    I’m looking forward to seeing where to start :)
    Thank you!!

  3. says

    Thank you for this series! I’m in the same position as your friend. My mom was the professional in the house when I was growing up. My dad did the house and kid thing, when he was home, but he was on the road most of the time (musician). We had to eat at home out of necessity (cost) but the house itself balanced between disarray and chaos. I watched my sibs after school from age 8 on but because of being young, no household duties were done.
    Now I’m in charge of my own household. 2 kids under 4, a hubs that works 40+ hours, plus I work from home as a career counselor for a university, so I’m a full time SAHM and part time WAHM. Again, our house is barely managed, although most days I get a home cooked meal on the table.
    I tend to hide in my office during the day because at least that chaos is mine. The rest of the house sends me into anxiety. I would love to have an organized home for my kids, hubby, and me to really enjoy but what little work I get accomplished is quickly overrun by the rest of daily life. Every seems to be on board with keeping up with anything I put into place but I don’t know how to do it!
    Hubs had no stability as a kid so no household skills learned there. We both want our kids to know how to care for themselves and future families but have no idea how to model that behavior for them!
    I’m looking forward to seeing where to start :)
    Thank you!!

  4. says

    Loved your post! I also believe that basic life skills are getting lost through generations. I am a middle-class girl from México and I listen to my grandma´s stories about how things were in “her time” and I seeing how I´m growing up as a woman of “my time” it´s completely in opposite direction. We are so involved in Social Media, technology, work, socializing, and entertaining ourselves…that we are forgetting about the basics. I have experience it in many roles: as a daughter, now as a home-owner, when I was a nanny (in London), and now (as a Professional Organizer) in my clients households. I´m really looking forward on having the chance of teaching those basics to my own (future) kids, and preventing the fatality of losing those skills in future generations. Thanks Helena!

    • says

      Thank you Claudia!
      So excited this topic is resonating with many that, like me, are trying to simplify life while teaching our kids -and ourselves- the basics that will make that simple possible.
      I agree with you 100% that we are so well “prepared” for the technological part of life, but are leaving out of the equation the skills needed to manage daily life, to pursue careers, relationships and personal growth.
      Like you I also see that in my client’s households and I came to ask myself: how can one want to be organized when we don’t know how to run a home? This thought led me to step back a little. :)
      Helena Alkhas recently posted..Home Organizing Ideas: Organizing a Narrow Entry

  5. says

    I am so excited about this series! It’s a topic near and dear to my heart.

    I was fortunate to have a mother who modeled those life skills, even when she worked outside of the home.

    I’m trying my best to do the same for my daughter, but often wonder if it’s working, so to speak.

    I also try to share those life skills through my blog.

    But even though I’ve got the knowledge and tools, there are still days that I feel like I’m failing. Like someone said in the comments above, running a household is a lot for one person.

    I can’t wait to read the rest of the series!!

    • says

      Sharon,
      thank you so much for your comment!
      I hear you loud and clear when it comes to asking ourselves, as parents, if the message is going through because we seem to live on a cycle of teaching and re-teaching our kids. I am positive the kids are listening, but like anything else in life they’ll only come to appreciate and make use of our teachings when they really *need* it.
      I just made the first video of the series and will love to hear your thoughts about it!
      Cheers!
      Helena Alkhas recently posted..Top 5 Tips for Traveling with Kids

  6. Tera says

    Very true that both boys/men & girls/women need to know those essential life skills. I am a SAHM so I am blessed to have more time to be able to manage my home & teach my children, 2 of which have special needs. It’s still impossible for one person to do it all, so I try to set up chores & tasks each can do both to teach my kids life skills & help our home be more manageable.

    • says

      Tera, thank you for your comment.
      It makes me happy to know you can care for your children. It’s a special time and it goes by so fast! I agree, it’s impossible for one person to do it all and it’s wonderful your children can not only help you but also learn from you.
      Come back soon for new posts!
      Helena Alkhas recently posted..Before You Can Get Organized

  7. says

    What a powerful statement about our lives! Many times my clients share that they lack basic skills in taking care of their home and belongings because they were never taught these skills. It takes commitment to make changes like these, as well as resources. Professional organizers are empathetic, skilled professionals that make a difference.

  8. says

    All the things you said are so true. Parents forget the importance of teaching children abilities or skills for life. Is no all about being taught in school, is about to pass on common knowledge like cooking, cleaning, making the bed o doing the laundry. In most of the cases when children grow up, they’re going to live alone away from home, so the best you can learn how to buy groceries or cleaning a toilette, the better understanding on how things work and how to manage a household in every aspect, from the cleaning to the spending of money. Those skills help to manage other aspects of life.
    In my home, my mother taught my brother and I the basics on cleaning and cooking, she always believe in the idea of giving children responsibilities making chores like dusting, sweeping or mopping. Have the rooms clear and clean and keeping it that way.
    I enjoyed so much your post, because a big chunk of organization problems is the lack of life skills.

    • says

      Nacho, thank you for you comment!
      So interesting to hear your perspective from Mexico and you’re so lucky you have a smart mother! ;-)
      Growing up in Brazil and now raising my children here I see the huge difference and I make it a point to teach the boys all the chores needed on daily life. They’d rather not do it, but I know how this will be useful in life and how they’ll appreciate it one day (or so I hope! :)
      And I completely agree with you. Organizing is so related to being able to perform and carry these basic skills in daily life. The more I observe, the more this concept grows on me.
      Helena Alkhas recently posted..Before You Can Get Organized

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