When children enter a family, a good many things begin to multiply: Cheerios, bodily fluids, tempers, under-eye circles, and socks. Not just any socks, but tiny socks. Not just tiny socks, but tiny socks bent on disappearing and, if not disappearing, at least wreaking havoc on every morning’s routine and every week’s laundry.
I walk around my house and see the evidence: one solitary black sock sticking halfway out from under the couch, a ruffly pink pair on top of the changing table, one muddy pair discarded four inches to the left of the dirty laundry hamper, and upstairs, a basket of clean clothes almost entirely put away except for a smattering of socks that belong in five different drawers in two different bedrooms, and returning them to their respective locations seemed an insurmountable feat after the many shirts and jeans and work pants and school uniforms that already made it back to their homes but sapped every ounce of laundry-related energy I had available.
Frankly, I’d do away with socks entirely if I could. But I live in a place where temperatures sometimes drop to single digits. My children have wide and chubby little feet, which resist shoes entirely without smooth socks to help them slide in. Not to mention, they do carry their father’s genetic material, which means their feet will begin sweating and stinking to high heaven any day now.
So I am resigned to my situation. (Please join me in a moment of silence for the moms of, say, four or five or seven children.)
I have run through my morning to-do list: one potty trip and two diaper changes, one bowl of cheerios and two bowls of oatmeal, three cups of white milk, one school uniform, two sets of play clothes, one backpack, one lunchbox. Check, check, check.
“Ok, time to go!” I shout. “Everybody to the stairs, please.” I pull three coats from the closet and dole them out, and then three pairs of Velcro wide-width sneakers.
Crap. Socks. “Everybody stay put,” I “suggest.”
I squeeze past their bodies, still tiny enough to cram in together on the bottom step, my peas in a pod. I clomp up the stairs, convinced I am actually slower when in a hurry. I open up the top dresser drawers in the boys’ room and root around; the only matches to be found are the socks they don’t like. (“That is bumping my toes. It is squeezing my leg. I don’t like that color.” Et cetera, et cetera.)
Ian can wear one gray and one navy. Does Leo need socks today? It’s not too cold.
Then to Ruthie’s room. She’ll have to do with one ruffly sock and one plain.
I head back downstairs where, if my children are still seated on the steps, I will promptly call the Pope because it would deserve a miracle designation, but no, no phone calls will be placed to Rome today. I contemplate making a lasso with the elastic from all the stretched out pairs of tiny child socks I just sorted through, but resign myself to shouting instead.
“Hey! Where’d you go? Come sit down; it’s time to go. Guys! We are going to be late!”
Yet another morning derailed by tiny socks.
I had a sock epiphany awhile back, during a podcast recording of all things. Emily, Lynne, and I were chatting about our homes and our children; they both have several more children at home than I, and I learn so much from them about logistics and streamlining and keeping my sanity intact. On this particular day, it was socks.
“That’s it!” I declared. “When we’re done recording, I’m moving all the socks downstairs to the coat closet.” Had this been a video conference call, I’m confident Emily and Lynne would have seen a little illuminated lightbulb floating above my head. Who says socks must be kept in the underwear drawer?
Alas, I never moved the socks. Life and its to-dos continued to crash over me like waves onto the shore, and who has time to organize, sort, or make room when you are desperately trying to keep up?
Around the house, “should” and “always” combine to create a cocktail of inefficiency and frustrating sticky points. I keep socks in the underwear drawer because it seems they should belong there; in fact, I’ve always kept them there. I’ve always kept chip clips with the Ziploc baggies, coffee in the pantry, vitamins in the bathroom, Sharpies in the junk drawer. But at some point, I’ve just grown weary of walking back and forth across my house in search of things, like an anxious pacer wearing tracks into the floors.
So much of my day is often derailed, slowed down, or hung up—courtesy of toddler tantrums, misplaced keys, or the needs of the people I’m eager to serve. I can’t help that, but if I can streamline my stuff, I’ll have more energy for the relationships that matter most.
So when we moved this summer, I arrived to our new house bound and determined that no child’s sock would ever darken the doorway of a bedroom unless attached to a foot.
We enter and exit our house most days through the back door, and we have a tiny IKEA bench and shoe rack there. Right across the hall is the pantry, and below the rice and pasta shelf, next to the toilet paper and craft supplies, I designated a spot for children’s socks.
Even better, it’s less than ten feet from the washer and dryer. As I dump the freshly dried clothes into a basket for folding, I set socks aside as I go. They move straight from the dryer to their bin in the pantry, and straight from there onto my children’s feet. This new routine saves less than five minutes, probably, but it also saves some shouting, some frantic running around, and some sanity.
Sometimes, my “shoulds” are tied to an internal expectation I can’t meet, an area of life in which I feel inferior to someone else, or times when I’m trying to take responsibility for something out of my control. But other times, the word “should” just keeps me doing things the way I’ve always done them; strategy and efficiency are not my personal strengths, and I tend to choose the path of least resistance. As time goes by, I’ve realized how these little things can derail my day and complicate my routines and so are worth reevaluating.
I’m learning not to care where household items “should” go and instead, pay attention to a couple particular things: At what points in my day do I feel stressed or frustrated, and what am I doing when I need a particular item?
So chip clips in the pantry, coffee beans with the mugs, vitamins in the kitchen, Sharpies with the Ziploc bags.
And socks in a basket in the pantry, across the hall from the shoes.
Lindsey is a writer, reader, and mom who is slowly learning to trade perfectionism for freedom. A Florida-to-Michigan transplant, her faith and sense of purpose are shifting as she experiences seasons in the world and in her own life. Lindsey is also the co-founder of The Drafting Desk, a newsletter for anyone trying to pursue grace instead of perfection. You can find her on Instagram @lindseycornett.