Usually, Not Always (I Join the Organizing Party)

The internet is a flurry these days with organizing posts. Or maybe the flurry is already past (I'm not current with my blog reading) and people are moving on to planning for Christmas and drinking pumpkin lattes.

I'm still living the end of summer and it takes me a good couple weeks to wrap my brain around a shift in schedule and to get our family organized for this new calendar season.

I may be coming to the organizing party late but I don't want to miss out altogether. I'm grabbing my wine glass, and some hors d'oeuvre (I do love cheese and crackers) and jumping into the conversation.

My inner organizer is very happy right now because, after a year of many moves, we're finally physically settled in our new home. There is a place for everything and everything in it's place (can you hear my happy sigh). My focus has now shifted to organizing our time, specifically as related to homeschooling.

I need to structure our days for learning and living together. Five of us, 24/7. There needs to be routines for keeping up with the house, feeding everybody, educating the kids and ourselves, earning an income, exercising and adventuring, and all the downtime and margin in between.

In the past year I've written a couple posts about getting organized and I still stand by those posts.

I continue to use those same strategies, especially time blocks and anchoring activities, though I'm always tweaking for changing circumstances and priorities.

My biggest tweak of late is going paperless in my planning and slowly downsizing my dependence on a Home Management binder. Now that I have a laptop that can sit on the table, on the kitchen counter, and even on my lap - I use digital lists and calendars. I am not a "close the computer and walk away" home manager.

This computer is my tool for communicating and connecting, managing our home (shopping, paying bills, etc.), and now planning and organizing our lives and homeschool. Paperless planning is just a better fit for our lives and our desire to live without less physical clutter. (And yes I do regularly walk away from the internet side of my work but my laptop is always accessible and used often.)

But going digital is not really what I joined the party to say.

I joined the party, albeit a little late, to share my biggest piece of organizing advice, which is: 

usually, not always

If you're scratching your head at that (while balancing your wine in your other hand) let me give you a bunch of examples from our routine:

  • I usually, not always get up by 6:30
  • I usually, not always start writing by 7:45
  • The kids usually, not always do math in the morning.
  • We usually, not always eat lunch around 1:30. (yep, we eat lunch late)
  • I usually, not always read right after lunch.
  • I usually, not always grocery shop on Wednesday mornings or afternoon.
  • Damien usually, not always starts his computer programming work at 2pm in the afternoon.
  • The kids usually, not always spend some time outdoors between lunch and supper.
  • We usually, not always eat animal free.
  • I usually, not always start cooking supper by 5:30.
  • I usually, not always read to the younger two kids before I go to bed.
  • I usually, not always go to bed around 10pm.
  • We usually, not always hike on Sundays.

I think you get the idea.

Our family has chosen a path of personal and familial responsibility and freedom. We don't go to school, we don't go to work. We learn and earn a living but both are dependent on our own initiative. We love living this way and it affords a certain freedom to our days. Freedom to say we usually (fill-in-the-blank), not always.

If we live by the clock completely we lose the joy in the life we are building together. If we live by our whims completely we would never get anything done and there would be no money in the bank to buy groceries and pay rent. Usually, not always helps us find that balance between.

I do think the usually, not always principle can be applied to other living situations as well. This is how most people live anyways. They just carry guilt or frustration about their natural human frailty and inconsistency (raising my hand here).

Here's the truth of it: we're humans, not machines.

Humans cannot "be on task" like machines with continual, steady output. As a society we do way too much rushin' around, bowing to other people's priorities and schedules, and trying to fit in. Usually, not always helps us put the breaks on this tendency. And it helps us put the breaks on our own drives to produce, accomplish and perform (think workaholic, schedule-aholic, organize-aholic) in ways that are harmful to our health and our family's wellbeing. I'm just as guilty as the next person for bowing down and worshiping the idol of "productivity".

I'm challenging myself to step away from this mindset. To embrace the freedom in my life, while still accomplishing my goals.

So what about deadlines, dependability, and accountability? I absolutely understand the need for those in both home education and life in general. Those who know me and work with me can attest to my "stand and deliver" philosophy. But I argue a good work ethic includes usually, not always. How can it not when we're human, not machines?

When we find ourselves in a place of veering too much to not always (i.e., not meeting our goals on a regular and consistent basis) we need to critically re-evaluate our schedule and plans.

Why is it that we can never get up when we want to? Do we need to go to bed earlier? Why am I struggling to usually get a healthy meal on the table? Is there too much crap food in the house to choose from? Or are my afternoons too busy for cooking, as we try to cram too much into our days. Are we losing touch with our core values (living someone else's dreams, not our own) and trying to do more than is humanly possible? Are we trying to be everything to everyone?

And that's it friends, my big organizing advice for the season. (Excuse me as I take another bite of my hor d'oeuvre. Who made this anyway? What a clever use of zuchhini!)

This is my current groove - we usually, not always do a bunch of stuff in our days that helps us meet our goals for adventurous, creative, and healthy family living.


I've been thinking about this idea a lot while writing and editing this. There is no escape from it, humans are a usually, not always organism. Nature is a usually, not always reality (as any farmer could tell you).

And in our technological society of open heart surgery, cross-continent flights, and high speed internet, this is a scary truth. There are no guarantees. And yet we continue to trust, risk and believe and that's a beautiful and frightening thing. This thing called living takes courage, doesn't it? (Sorry to get all philosophical on you at our organizing party. If you'd rather not think about the philosophy behind organizing take another sip, a large one at that, of your wine.)

If you ever want to talk about what this looks like with regards to homeschooling I'd love to chat. My coaching incorporates these ideas. Usually, not always; freedom and its partner responsibility. Principles I'm figuring out as I go and am passionate about sharing and helping other homeschool families apply to their own lives.

How does this sound to you? Do you, or could you, give yourself and your family the same freedom? To usually, not always fill-in-the-blank.
Also, I know some of you live in cultures different than my own. Do you think usually, not always is more culturally acceptable where you live?
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  • Rachael

    Rachael on Sept. 14, 2012, 1:17 a.m.

    Usually, not always = why I'm a freelancer. Yes.

    And oh, those trees. Especially in the first photo. I want to lie down under those tress and look up, up, up....


  • elisabeth

    elisabeth on Sept. 14, 2012, 1:18 a.m.

    Oh!!! Sigh deeply. Feel better. Experience welling up of joy about life. 'Usually, not always'!! It's ok, it's organic, it's natural! THANK YOU! :)


  • Leanne

    Leanne on Sept. 14, 2012, 1:53 a.m.

    I love the "usually, not always"..we fall into that category. (In case you were wondering!) On a side note, I just finished reading, "Lost On A Mountain In Maine" to my 8 & 11 year old girls, good, short, true story.


  • Kathleen

    Kathleen on Sept. 14, 2012, 2:10 a.m.

    Wow, you are on a roll these days with your posts! Loved this. Although my family's life is quite a bit different than yours, I think we subscribe to this philosophy too. I work hard to create a rhythm to our days and am happy if we usually stick to the rhythm. But the "not always" part leaves room for spontaneity and surprise, a crucial element to a joyful life, at least for me!


  • Anonymous

    Anonymous on Sept. 14, 2012, 3:57 a.m.

    Your property pictures look so identical to our place in Rocky Mountain House, by the Clearwater river, I just can't believe they aren't the same place!


  • Ashley

    Ashley on Sept. 14, 2012, 4:24 a.m.

    Renee, I loved the practicality of this post, but you also made me laugh out loud. Awesome. There's something kind of funny about a "usually, not always" mentality. In a good way. It's giving yourself permission to have fun and be loosey-goosey every now and then. I usually, not always eat healthy. For example, today I ate really good and then chowed down on a made-from-scratch chocolate brownie at the end of a really long, exhausting day. And that makes me happy! Good advice, great photography, a good read and an uplifting note to end my day on. Thanks!


  • Kimberly

    Kimberly on Sept. 14, 2012, 2:17 p.m.


    This is a wonderful post, really great! I'm the type of person that feels I need to get things done, and I need to do it all! WOW! What a crazy mindset I have, I need to step back and just let things happen organically..I like usually not always, it leaves room for so much more to happen within a day.


  • Rachel Wolf

    Rachel Wolf on Sept. 15, 2012, 12:06 p.m.

    Oh, yes! We started our homeschooling rhythm in earnest two weeks ago. And last week we took a spontaneous road trip. The truth is, Renee, I almost said no. Because we had lessons to do from 9 to 12 and a rhythm to honor and a schedule, darn it. But then I paused, checked myself, and realized that this is why we've chosen the life we can. So we packed up and hit the road. The highlight of the week for all of us was the day we took a hike and painted watercolors on the top of a bluff. Why would I pass that up in exchange for my iron-clad schedule? Here's to "usually but not always"! xo


    • renee

      renee on Sept. 15, 2012, 12:10 p.m.

      I was so excited when I read on your blog that you were headed out for a few days. I knew you had just started your homeschool groove for the year and I thought, "here is a mama who gets that the schedule is our tool not our master". xo


  • Anne

    Anne on Sept. 15, 2012, 6:53 p.m.

    Renee and commentors, cheers to these beautiful heartfelt thoughts. you all inspire me to be a better person and love my imperfections.


  • Ashley

    Ashley on Sept. 15, 2012, 7:51 p.m.

    Renee, what type of online programs are you using for organization?


    • renee

      renee on Sept. 15, 2012, 8:43 p.m.

      Google calendar and Evernote. Rachel at Small Notebook has written a couple times about Evernote. Do a search over there to find her posts. I might write about it one day here if there's an interest. 


      • christie

        christie on Sept. 16, 2012, 5:04 p.m.

        There is interest. Actually I remembered to come back today to see if you addressed in the comments how you're using evernote in that photo. I'll head over to small notebook check that out.


  • elisheva

    elisheva on Sept. 16, 2012, 10:05 a.m.

    I am going to remember this and re read this post , and remember that it is okay if every once in a while things don't work out exactly as planned. to let go and just enjoy the ride and trust that He uses our weaknesses in our lives too. thanks for the reminder that He doesn't demand perfection from us. may we know when to stop and just enjoy - just like Mary , there was i am sure more on the to do list, but she stopped and listened may i do the same. listen to my maker, my husband, my kids life around me, my body my self - listen rather than following life like a mindless robot. and some days if all we get done is clean up mess, calm the tantrum storm or taking more time to hold a crying baby or going out of our way to sit with our sick neighbor - is okay even if that list of accomplishments isn't done. i am thrilled an israeli mom like me who is in her first year of homeschooling found your blog. cant wait for your next one. thank you and God bless you richly today as you serve your maker and your family.


  • Kris

    Kris on Sept. 17, 2012, 12:22 a.m.

    I am interested too. I saw the image and thought, Is that Evernote? I think I'll go read the comments. :)

    I almost downloaded a planning app for my iPad but then I thought, no, I need something for my desktop/laptop/ipad, not just the iPad. Evernote and Google Calendar might work. hmmm... Right now am using Excel.


  • Heather

    Heather on Sept. 24, 2012, 12:27 p.m.

    This is the best piece of advice I've read/heard in a long time (and I've read a LOT of organization and time management posts!), so thank you for joining the organizing party. "Usually, not always" is both convicting and liberating, and I think will help me to be both the intentional and organized person I need to be as well as the easy-going, light-hearted person I want my kids to member me as being. Thank you!!


  • Lisa

    Lisa on Sept. 25, 2012, 7:01 a.m.

    I really needed this post, thank you for writing it! I tend to judge days as good or bad based on my productivity and while there are times that's okay there are many times when it's not. Thanks for chiming in with my husband who also reminds me that we're humans, not machines. I will bookmark this and reread it when I need a reminder to show myself more grace.


  • sheila

    sheila on Oct. 3, 2013, 6:33 p.m.

    This is so great!! So glad I found it through Simple Homeschool. 


    Usually, not always . . . I'm putting it up on my fridge!!


    • renee

      renee on Oct. 3, 2013, 6:40 p.m.

      Thanks Sheila - and thank you for commenting. That was a great post that Rachel wrote. I really enjoyed it myself. 


  • Allison

    Allison on Oct. 4, 2013, 3:09 p.m.

    Great Post! This whole week was a "not always" week for us! So today is Friday and we have a chance to actually stay home and get back on schedule, I see that we really need a transition day! So today will be art and music and "science"  (aka outdoor exploration). We have gotten good and messy with our paint so far! It's good to homeschool!


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