Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Stuff I Love: The Beautiful Life Management Planner

I'm one of those people that likes to research a product really well before I buy it. I also find that I can be a bit of a spontaneous shopper, as well, but when making a major purchase, I like to get the goods on it first. I rely greatly on reviews, Consumer Reports magazine, and the web site Consumersearch. If we're in the market for a specialty products (such as Josh's hiking items or homeschool curricula) we go to sites that are more specialized.

One of my greatest pet peeves is review of a product that goes something like this:

OMG! I like totally love this! It looks really cute and my boyfriend likes it. We haven't tried it yet, but I totally give it 5 stars!

Or something like this:

I thought this would be bigger. I know the package says the size, but most items like this are bigger. I guess it works okay, but I'm only giving it one star.

Or this:

I didn't like this book. One star.

My main complaint are reviews that are made far too soon, like before a product has even been used, or a week into using it. I want to hear from the people who have used something for a long time and found it to be a success or failure. And I want to know precisely what makes it a success or failure in their estimation.

So, with this review of the Beautiful Life Management Planner, I stand to be one of my own pet peeves. Honestly, I've only had it for a few weeks, and I've only used for a little more than one week. But I am so excited about it, and many people have asked me about it, so I want to share the deets on what it is and why I love it.

I need to go back a bit in time. At last year's homeschool convention, my sister-in-law and I were looking at a popular planner marketed to homeschool moms and, while we like it, it still didn't seem to be versatile enough to warrant the price tag. Because not only do we need a teacher's planner, but a household management planner, an appointment book, a record of goals and accomplishments, shopping lists, menu sheets, and a long-term, year-at-a-glance- type perspective. I walked away with my usual inexpensive Rod and Staff school planner and continued using a cheap spiral notebook to keep track of all the other things.

The spiral notebook worked to an extent, but it was full of random lists, phone numbers, and such that got junky and confusing really quickly. Shortly after we moved into our new house, as I unpacked a box of books, I came across a thriftbooks purchase, Open Heart, Open Home by Karen Mains. I thought it was a perfectly suitable book to read at the start of our new adventure, in a new house and town. Our heart has always been hospitality, and this book really renewed and reinvented that vision as I read it. One particular chapter greatly stressed time management. While I consider myself fairly disciplined with my time, I was convicted that I do a lot of time wasting. And that isn't conducive to answering any call of God.

As it relates to opening our home, nothing makes inviting people over more stressful than racing around the whole day before they come, cleaning the house. And then racing around again Sunday morning before church to get the meal ready or worrying about what to make in the first place. It doesn't take much for me to call off the notion of inviting people over- unmopped floors included.

I had barely begun considering how I could manage the house better when I saw an ad in a homeschool magazine that offered a free article called "Planning to Be a Blessing". Something about that title really caught my eyes and I think hits the nail on the head- planning my days, weeks, years better can result in being more of a blessing to my family and others. The ad was for a company called Grace Works and mentioned that they sold a variety of planners. I didn't waste much time checking out their website.

What I saw, I loved, and knew right away that this was what I had been looking for! Grace Works offers a variety of planning pages to help the natural-born organizer or the organizationally challenged! I would say I fall closer to the former type. I love making lists, checking them off, and get a sense of accomplishment from this (hey, it's the little things in life!). However, I don't necessarily have a lot of practical know-how on how to organize a full life of homeschooling, keeping the house, ministry, bills, appointments, etc. And I am not a natural-born cleaner (I didn't inherit that gift from my mom!)

There are two main planning systems that Grace Works offers. The Simplicity system and the Beautiful Life Management System. The Simplicity system has a basic set of planning pages that include a place to jot down things to do, errands to run, upcoming birthdays etc. It can be supplemented with a variety of practical and wonderful sheets including an itemized grocery list, menu sheets, prayer log, devotions log, exercise and nutrition sheets, and even one designed to write down memories, like the cute things your children say that you don't want to forget.

I purchased the Beautiful Life Management system starter set. This system offers much more detailed instructions regarding home management- specifically, it assigns cleaning tasks to each day of the week and a number of minutes to spend on them. This was the primary selling point for me. I have long known I need some kind of system of household chore maintenance. I tried Fly Lady but she just wasn't my thing. I am more of a pen and paper girl than a virtual girl, so logging on to Fly Lady was half the problem.

The thing I love about this system, however, is that it goes far beyond telling you what chores to do each day. It has several divided sections, the first being your BLM sheets, one for each day. Not only are the household tasks listed, but there is also a place to chart your water and vitamin consumption, exercise, your schedule or food log, your list of things to do, reminders to prepare for dinner, and a place to write down a special memory at the end of the day. I honestly can't think of anything that is missing from the sheets or that there isn't room to add if you need to.

There is also a divider of "Keeping in Mind" pages to jot down errands you need to run, a quick shopping list, letters or cards to write, and short and long term projects. The divider for this section has on one side a place to write down 10 quick and easy meals in case you get in a bind and need a supper idea pronto! The other side has lists of additional things you need to do to keep your home maintained (for me, it's things like matching socks, vacuuming around the wood stove, and giving the kitties their flea treatment each month). Another divider is for your personal devotions, a sheet called Morning Latte. It's a great tool for accountability to be spending time with the Lord each day. Another divider includes a year at a glance fold out calendar and then 12 months worth of individual calendars. Another divided section is for frequently called phone numbers and addresses. The final divider has sheets called Mountains of Success, a place to chart goals you have set for yourself. The starter set also comes with a 4 CD workshop by the system's creator. This is such a blessing, inspiration, and a great tutorial on how to use the system and not be enslaved to it. The kit comes with a pack of tea, too, to encourage you to sit and relax and get to know your planner.

As I said, I am a pen and paper girl. I don't have a mobile phone that sends me a reminder on Mondays to clean out my refrigerator. The Beautiful Life Management system fits into a 5.5 by 8.5 heavy duty spiral binder that I can put in my purse and take with me everywhere. (Today it's going to Caleb's ortho appointment with me, the paperwork all filled out and tucked inside, along with directions on how to get there).

I bought a few additional sheets to supplement my system, because I'm such a list keeper. The menu planning sheets and itemized shopping lists are invaluable to me!

There were fleeting thoughts as I looked at the available pages online that I could come up with something like this myself. I'm so glad that thought came and went quickly and that I invested the $40 to get this planner! The guess work has been done for me and I find that this feels much more official than if I had created something myself.

Let me share how it has already made my life easier.

On Saturday, we had company coming for dinner, a young couple we've met at church. I'd only been using the system and planner for one week, but on Saturday, I found that the only thing I really had to do was dinner prep! All week I had been faithful to do the recommended chores each day and I found that my house was clean and presentable (not spotless, not without strewn toys, etc) and that I wasn't ashamed to have anyone step into it. I got to enjoy my Saturday! Even with company coming.

The second Monday of using the system rolled around and I found that my pantry was still mostly orderly and my refrigerator clean. I didn't even need to spend the assigned number of minutes on each of those tasks, so I ended up cleaning my oven (whoa!) and straightening the cupboard we use the most, the one that holds coffee, tea, sugar, flour, bread, and our vitamins. I can see how, if I remain faithful in following this, it will get easier and easier because I'm doing preventive maintenance!

I read a verse yesterday in 1 John 5:3 telling us that if we love God, we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome. It's wonderfully freeing to not live under rules, but to live under grace and to obey God out of pure love. I was reminded that my commandments to my children should not be burdensome, either, but that our relationship should be based more on love. Then obedience to the commands we do give will not be a burden, but they will hopefully want to respond out of their love for Josh and I.

I mention this verse because for some, using a system like this sounds like it would be completely burdensome, following rules each day. For some it would be like pulling their fingernails out! I get that. Again, I tend to want to be organized, to follow a list. However, who really, in their natural self, wants to live within parameters? So often we try to for a time, then get tired of it, or frustrated, and give up. I'm trying to keep in mind that this system is not designed to be burdensome, but, as they say in the included workshop CDS, it's designed to be my servant and to work for me, not the other way around. Even though I like that feeling of control that I get from following the rules, the freedom I gain from this should play out in love...

Being able to spend more time loving my husband and kids, playing with them, listening to them, because I'm not worried about mopping the floors. I do that on Friday. It assures me that I will get to the tasks, but all I need to focus on is what is planned for today.

I'm not freaking out and grouchy because we have people coming for dinner and everything is a mess! Or I can't find the paperwork I need for the ortho appointment. I tucked it in my planner on depapering day. Less stress = more love!

I feel more relaxed about having people over. Again, our home is lived in, but the bathrooms aren't gross and I'm not exhausted by the time they arrive.

My husband can walk through the front door and sigh in contentment (as he did last night) that the entry is finally empty of boxes of books.

I sigh in contentment because I deliberately planned for healthy meals ahead of time, bought the right ingredients, and watch my kids eat good stuff instead of what I could quickly throw together for lunch.

For me, these "commands" (which are only suggestions) in the BLM system are not burdensome, they are refreshing and helping to purposely live out the call God has put on my life.

I hope you'll check out the Grace Works site and see what they have to offer, especially if you're looking for a way to better plan your days and months. I have been so blessed by this product (and no , I don't receive any perks for writing this blog! I just like to pass on a great thing and give praise where it is due!). I think the name of their company speaks volumes... God's grace works, rules don't. These planners are designed to help you be a blessing to the people you love and to answer God's call on your life, not to enslave you to a set of rules. With Christmas and the New Year coming, this could be the very thing you'd like to put on your wish list or buy for yourself to get a great start on a new year!