In the Bucket. IN!

Today feels like a day of insurmountable obstacles: everywhere I look, another problem I can’t stand to deal with. Laundry, obviously. Fruit flies. The stuff I bought yesterday and didn’t put away. Consumerism in general. The minimum number of servings of fruits and vegetables that should be eaten by our family per day (thirty-five) (PER DAY). The spilled Pixos all over the dining room floor. The way so many things seem to migrate to the floor. The difficulty of continually training children to pick it all up again.

The way caffeine and alcohol and shopping and food do/don’t help. The inevitable, looming problems of aging. The difficulty of spelling words such as “aging” and “eying,” especially when I was so sure the difficult part was that they DID have the E before the ING. The messiness of my purse. The three phone calls I need to make. The decision about whether to let all the children go to a birthday party they were all invited to, and what to do about presents. The first empty jam jar from the homemade jam, and the question it raises of where to store it until next year. A work deadline so tight it’s likely a matter of someone else’s lack of planning constituting an emergency on my part.

So far I’m handling it by surmounting small things. It feels TOTALLY POINTLESS to pick up and put away Elizabeth’s headband when it is only one item of hundreds on the playroom floor, but I have LONG SAID that “all or nothing” is one of the WORST mental downfalls for me. All or nothing is the attitude that makes people say that if you eat a cheeseburger it’s dumb to drink diet Coke, or that if you cheat on your diet you might as well write off the whole day/week and start over tomorrow/Monday. It’s the attitude that makes people think that if you’re not going to be totally ripped, you’re an idiot to bother taking the stairs. It’s the attitude that makes people think there’s no sense donating to charity if they can only give $5, or $1. And it’s the attitude that makes me sink into despair as I contemplate all there is to do and the futility of doing any of it.

But no! We resist it! It is NOT all or nothing! All or nothing is not an appropriate attitude for a person who owns a math medal! Picking up the headband may be a drop in the bucket, but it IS A DROP, and the drop is IN THE BUCKET. That is better than having it out of the bucket with all the other drops! One drop > zero drops, just as cheeseburger calories < cheeseburger calories plus Coke calories. MATH. IT IS ABOUT MATH So that is what I’m doing today. I’m moving like a zombie, a zombie killed by despair and reanimated by children fighting over NOTHING, as USUAL, but I’m doing little things one after another. I emptied the dish-drying rack. I took one thing out of the Target bag and I put it away. I put in a load of towels. I put away Elizabeth’s headband. Those drops are IN THE BUCKET, people! IN THE BUCKET!

50 thoughts on “In the Bucket. IN!

  1. Lora

    This is good. I also fight against being all or nothing. When I am not paralyzed into inaction, I tend to run myself ragged and snappy trying to get it *all* done in too short an amount of time, and don’t enjoy one iota of my day. I am going to try to think in drops today.

  2. el-e-e

    You are contemplating all this very early in the day!

    I am VERY much on-board with your Math. I need to apply it both to my desk job and home.

    And gosh darnit, we’ve been having fruit flies, too! Is it the stupid heat wave or something? A National problem? Sheesh.

  3. Michelle

    This just resonated with me this morning… as I catch up on my blog reader… while there are 473 other things on my “to do” list right now. But I did load (and start!) the dishwasher and Finn got a healthy breakfast. Sometimes just making the first little step is the hardest, at least for me.

    PS. The fruit flies? A glass of red wine with plastic wrap over the top (I secure it with a rubberband) poke tiny holes in the plastic wrap (I use a fork) and sit it where the fruit flies are. Leave it over night or for a day or two, they’ll all be in there!

  4. Beths

    I feel this way pretty much all the time. Why pick up the house when the kids are going to decimate it?

    No joke. My kids had to pick up Pixos off the floor probably 8 times yesterday so the baby wouldn’t eat them. That’s all I said all day long. Pick up the Pixos! Archie will eat them! Rinse and repeat. And repeat and repeat. Last night, after they went to bed, I threw all the ones left on the dining room table away. I don’t know if it was revenge or pragmatism.

  5. Morrigan

    And for those of you (like me) who don’t drink red wine, Michelle’s fruit fly solution works brilliantly with apple cider vinegar too!

    Thanks for the reminder to kick my butt out of the all or nothing mode.

  6. NM Liz

    Crawling out from my lurking rock to say thanks for the Monday morning laugh! I’m 39 weeks pregnant and the current state of the house is, umm, Not Good while my energy level is Low and my patience with a 6 year old is Very Low. And it’s been raining for days. (I live in NM — I don’t know how to deal with days of rain and 100% humidity.) I’m going to be telling myself all day that this thinking is not appropriate for a person with a math medal! One drop at a time! Even if that drop is making muffins instead of folding the laundry — it’s still something that’s done before the baby appears.

  7. Emily

    Amen! Also, I’m using Michelle’s fruit fly trap suggestion right now, but I use apple cider vinegar, just a drop or two of dish soap, and no plastic wrap. The carnage, it is immense!

  8. Slim

    Just this morning, I found myself congratulating myself for putting a camp handbook in the recycling. The hundred other documents needing a similar fate? I am hoping they’ll see what happened to the camp handbook and just throw themselves into the recycling. Why fight it, permission forms?

  9. Kali

    Summers were always my most difficult time when the kids were little. I loved the season, loved the children, but oh lordy, life could wallop me six ways to Sunday with the despair of never-ending obstacles.

  10. Pavette

    Baby steps. One thing at a time. Get one thing clean that you can go back to and look at to re-center yourself. For me, it’s the container drawer that I organized matching up all containers and lids and trashing all the non-matching ones. I keep visiting this drawer when I can’t stand to look at the toys/clothes/etc on the floor anymore.

  11. St

    Michelle has the secret! You can use wine or cider vinegar or even a rotting banana. I use a toothpick for the holes. They get in and can’t get out.
    I’d have lost my mind by now if I didn’t figure that one out!

  12. Life of a Doctor's Wife

    As a former English major who hasn’t taken more than a statistics class in the past 11 years… I take great comfort in your words: “MATH. IT IS ABOUT MATH.”

    Because you are right. And it is important for So. Many. Things.

    Bookmarking this one for future One of Those Days days.

  13. Belly Girl

    Couldn’t agree more.

    Also, the party? Bring one gift and one card from all the kids. Maybe spend slightly more than you would usually budget for the gift if your kiddo was going solo to the party.

  14. DomestiKook

    I refuse to believe that the answer to any problem can be explained by MATH. That’s why I don’t watch Numbers. No, seriously I don’t watch it becaus I REFUSE to believe they can solve crimes using MATH. That’s like making the most awesome chocolate cake ever, then you cut into it and it’s full of sardines. blech! Trust me this makes total sense in my head, WHERE HERE IS NO MATH.
    Also, to get all those hundreds of tiny things done I always do what my mom taught me: Pick something up everytime you walk by and put it away. Take a handfull of small things and deliver them to their proper place, or wipe that counter, transfer that laundry…you get the idea. It gets done eventually.

    OOHHH!!!! Make the kids put stuff away for video game points!

  15. Chrissy

    How is it that you always express so eloquently exactly what *I* am feeling? Scary!

    I love how you described it as drops in a bucket. SO encouraging! One thing that I have learned to do is to set the timer for 15 minutes and FORCE myself to work on one task for the entire time. Any children with whines/needs/questions is also FORCED to wait until I am done before they can have my attention (Oh the agony!) That’s the only way that I can ever achieve having folded towels/loaded dishwasher/picked up living room. Otherwise I just run on rabbit trails, starting one task and walking into another room and starting another and stopping to mediate a fight and then completely losing my mind at the futility of life.

  16. Saly

    Ok, well fruit flies love apple cider vinegar and it kills them dead when they land on it. Leave it out overnight. It will help.

    Drops in the Bucket. Perhaps that will be my mantra for tonight for all the work that didn’t get done this weekend.

  17. shygirl

    Well didn’t YOU just motivate me to get off my butt and do something productive :)

    I have been sitting here all morning, staring at my disaster area of a desk, goofing around online instead of doing the work I’m supposed to be doing, and pretending I don’t see the desk-mess out of the corner of my eye even though it is totally stressing me out.

    Then I read your post and thought “well! Swistle could use some company today, so get with it!”. I’m with you: IN THE BUCKET is going to be my official mantra for the rest of the day. Thanks for the motivational kick in the pants! :)

  18. Joanne

    Now I’m thinking of my favorite line from Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil – “Two tears in a bucket – mother f*ck it!”.

  19. debra

    As my grandmother used to tell me–it may just be a drop in the bucket, but that’s how a bucket gets filled–drop by drop.
    This is exactly how I have been feeling the last few days. Thanks for the reminder!

  20. bluedaisy

    I have the same attitude–all or nothing. It’s a particularly pesky one when you have wee ones running around! As others mentioned above, I am going to try to think about the drops IN the bucket instead of the drops out of the bucket…perspective really does make a difference :)

  21. sara

    I’ve got to give that theory a try. I’m all or nothing too, which results in a lot of nothing getting done. Hmmm, drop + bucket = progress. I like it.

  22. Whimsy

    Amen. Absolutely. You said it all.

    And recently I started doing a clean-one-room-of-the-house-each-day and it’s pretty successful. But only because I have ONE child and a husband who is only home on the weekends. So once I pick up a room, it stays decently picked-up (excepting what Bean decides to destroy). So it works for **me**, but probably not for a lot of other people. It would probably make other people crazy because they’d pick up a room only to have it destroyed within an hour. Ugh. Makes me sad to even consider it.

    I’m super helpful today, aren’t I?

  23. shygirl

    shriek house: if you do design a DEFY ENTROPY button or badge or t-shirt or whatever, I WILL BUY ONE. Doooo eeeet!

  24. Marilyn (A Lot of Loves)

    Your house sounds an awful lot like my house. Sometimes it’s just too much and I just pretend it’s the cleanest house ever. La la la! And other times I crazy clean it. But more often than not I’m doing the drop in the bucket thing too. Hard to believe my house was neat as a pin before the kids came along. They are messy creatures.

  25. the new girl


    I have fifteen hundred of those horrible ball pit balls ALL OVER MY BASEMENT (thanks to my husband who can never say, ‘no,’ but that is another issue.)

    I sigh and step around them, HATING to pick them all up AGAIN. And yesterday, I did. I put them all into giant black trash bags and hid them in the laundry room.

    All or nothing thinking is so tempting but I agree with you. Not that helpful.

  26. may

    Time for a PiF contest thing!!! That’ll get your spirits up. And mine. I mean, whoever wins. : )

  27. Mizz Drizz

    When I feel that way, all the time, I go back and visit my friend The FlyLady. I do not do a very good job of following her religiously like many people do, but when I need a pick me up and some motivation, I go to her website and start getting things back in order. Go check her out! Unfortunately, she does not teach all of our little darlings to pick up all of the crap they have flung all over the house… even worse when it’s The Hubs I’m picking up after…

  28. LA and BD

    I loved reading this. I tend to be “All or Nothing” too, so it’s nice to know I’m not the only one. I often tell myself “just start SOMEWHERE” when things feel overwhelming. Thanks for sharing!

  29. Kelly @ Student of the Year

    You know, I think we should all band together and form a ‘f*cking sick of all this sh*t’ club. What you’re actually sick of can vary, but we’ll have a general theme of house messiness, lengthy to-do lists and never-ending malaise. Who’s in?

  30. Swistle

    Kelly- It would be SO FUNNY to have that put on t-shirts. I’m imagining people seeing me at the store with five kids and that t-shirt.

  31. Kelsey

    I like the thought of drops in the bucket because I’ve been having lots of those days lately. Esp. w/ the kids fighting… Oh my word – is it time for school to begin yet???

  32. Mimi

    Yes! Drops in the bucket! HELL YEAH. I will be repeating this to myself tomorrow when I have so freaking much to do. Thanks Swistle!

  33. Kate

    I know this is an old post, but I’ve been meaning to comment for awhile and decided to just do it (IN THE BUCKET!). Thank you. Thank you so much for writing this post. The “Drops IN the Bucket. IN!” mentality has stuck with me and helped me through some very hard times. I may have only been able to do one teeny tiny thing on my giant list of things to do, but that teeny tiny thing IS done, which is better than nothing. I don’t know what it is about this post/phrasing that has resonated with me so much, but thank you.

  34. Katie

    I love this post! I had to find it and comment so I could tell you that I was walking around my house today picking things up and saying aloud “drops in the bucket, people.”

    My kids thought I’d lost it for sure.

    Whatever. It is a drop and it is in the bucket.

  35. Ellen

    I’m having a totally overwhelmed, everything feels like TOO MUCH sort of day. And in my despair I remembered this post. Having reread it, I feel fortified to spend my evening putting drops into the bucket zombie-like.

    (Also, at the risk of sounding dramatic, I feel like weeping on your shoulder and thanking you for being so honest on your blog. I know I am not the only one bolstered by knowing that someone else has these feelings.)

  36. Tasha

    This is an old post but I re read it today and it is a fresh reminder.

    Since I read this post years ago, I have often used the phrase “drop in the bucket”. As Im still trying to get my bearings now that I have 2 children (2yr, 10wks), Im encouraged not to give up. The list of things to do is ceaseless and constantly stopping to tend to children makes it seem pointless to try.

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