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How to communicate effectively in your marriage: 11 questions to ask your spouse

This month, we’re focusing on relationships in The Organised Life Project, and specifically this week, marriage. We’ve looked last week at why a Date Night is essential. This week’s task might be a good one for a date night – we’re focusing on how to communicate effectively in your marriage.

All the experts agree: communication is essential for a good marriage. But how often do we actually sit down and talk?

I know it’s really difficult. When you’ve got small children, it’s so hard to have a conversation that lasts longer than 30 seconds sometimes. We all have huge pressures on our time and our attention. But surely our partner deserves some of that attention?

If you look online, there are lots of articles about having difficult conversations with your partner. They advise you to be positive, be non-accusatory, to listen more than you talk and so on. Those principles – especially the ones I’ve listed – are really important.

How to communicate effectively in your marriage - 11 questions to ask your partner

But what if you’re in a pretty happy marriage, and just want to make it better?

I’m going to suggest a few questions to ask your partner. You can do this over several days or weeks, or you could spend a date night asking each other these questions. Of course, listen to each others’ answers. Share your own thoughts. These are big questions, and you might find it overwhelming to think about it all in one go.

11 Questions to help you communicate effectively in your marriage

What makes you happy at the moment?

Where would you like to be in 5/10 years time?

What plans should we make for our home?

Where would you like to go on future holidays?

What is going well in our family life?

What is going well in our spiritual lives?

How would you like to spend our next few date nights?

What would you change about how we spend our time?

What would you like to improve in our marriage?

Which activities could we do together in the future?

What’s your favourite memory of our relationship?

Why do these questions help you to communicate effectively in your marriage?

As you can see, all the questions are phrased positively, and generally allow for open-ended responses. There are some that I know I could discuss for ages. (Holiday planning, anyone?)

I’ve deliberately left out ‘tricky’ questions: things about finances, or in-laws, or work. By all means, they are discussions that you’ll need to have, but I do think it’s important to balance the tricky questions with more encouraging ones!

Are there any questions that you’d add to this list?

Why you need a weekly date night

In August, we’re focusing on relationships in The Organised Life Project. We’ll firstly be focusing on our marriages (or the significant relationship in our lives, whether you’re married or not) and then on friendships. This week, we’re looking at why you need a weekly date night, and how you can fit one in to your busy lives.

What’s the point of a date night?

In the first few years of a relationship or a marriage, you really can focus on each other. You can spend hours over dinner, go out to watch a film, spend whole weekends just hanging out. You probably have very few commitments and it’s easy – comparatively – to have a date night.

I actually feel that when you have children, it changes your relationship hugely. You move from being able to completely prioritise each other, to prioritising someone else. It feels like every single second is taken up with the minutiae of daily life. Your identity changes: you go from being a wife to a mother. From a desirable woman to a milk-producing, baby-producing vehicle (or that’s how it sometimes feels). There’s less Agent Provocateur and more Mothercare.

A dedicated date night is one of the few chances you have to be solely wife and husband. You can focus on each other. It’s a chance to reconnect, to check in as adults rather than just parents.

I believe regular date nights, whether at home or out, are really important for your marriage. They help you to see your husband or partner as the person you fell in love with, rather than just the other person responsible for doing the washing up. It’s a chance to have a proper chat rather than snatches of conversation between nappy chances and meals. Put simply, a regular date night is vital for your relationship.

I couldn’t find a recent photo of Tim on a date night so here’s one of him with a heart!

How often should you have a date night?

For most of us, the thing we are really short of is time. I know that’s definitely true for me, tying to juggle work, children, housework and a blog. Yet it’s through spending time with my husband that I really fall in love with him.

So I aim for a date night once a week. I’ll be honest, we don’t always make it. It’s usually at home – I’d say we go out only about once a month. But once a week, we try to have a meal together after the kids have gone to bed, and then do something – watch a film, go for a drink, or even just chat – together. We try to put our phones down and actually listen to each other!

Realistically, we can’t afford to go out once a week. Even if we could afford the cinema/restaurant/gig, we couldn’t afford to pay the babysitter! So we probably go out once a month. The other weeks, we stay at home.

What should you do on a date night?

Er… Well, this is entirely up to you! For us, we like to have a meal without kids (yes, a takeaway counts), and then do something together. It’s partly about having the time to focus on your marriage and partly about not doing the everyday jobs. That’s why Friday or Saturday nights are ideal.

You might like to look at some date night subscription boxes, or have a look at date night ideas on Pinterest. We’ve really enjoyed having a Date Night subscription from The Spicery but we do like cooking. We’re also partial to a Dine in for £10 deal.

You might theme your date nights. One couple we know did Alphabet Dates – working their way through the alphabet with themed date nights. It’s always nice to challenge each other to organise a date night, but don’t let it become a chore. It’s so important just to be together.

What about going out?

Of course you should go out if you can! One of the best things we’ve been able to do in the last few months is to find a babysitter who we can pay. She’s an older teenager, really loves the kids and is often more available than other mums.

I actually really prefer paying a responsible teenager to babysit. There’s much less obligation, and she’s much more flexible than our friends would be. But of course, if you can set up an arrangement with another couple, or if you’ve got grandparents who will babysit, take them up on the offer.

So this week, your challenge on The Organised Life Project is to schedule and plan some date nights. Put them in your diary. Book a babysitter for once a month.

Enjoy your date nights!

 

 

Tackle a big garden project

The final task for our ‘Transform Your Garden’ challenge is to tackle a big project. Choose one thing to focus on and get it done, ideally in a weekend.

Think about the overall structure of your garden, and things that could make a difference.

Fences and walls

Look at the boundaries of your garden. Do they need repairing or painting? Do you have fence panels that are damaged? Could changing the colour of your walls or fences make a difference?

Borders

Look at the shape and style of your borders. Do you need to cut them back? Or perhaps you need to introduce some different colours? Have some plants become overgrown or invasive? Could you change the colour scheme slightly?

Furniture

Pay attention to your garden furniture. Does it need a coat of paint, woodstain or oil? Do you need to replace or update your cushions? Think about how you are going to store your garden furniture over winter: do you need to get a cover?

Kids Toys

If you have a trampoline, swing set, slide or sand pit in your garden, the chances are that it’s had a fair amount of use already this summer. I know ours have! Take some time to inspect the toys, especially the netting on the trampoline, and top up the sand in the sand pit.

Garage or garden shed

Perhaps you need to spend a bit of time sorting out your garage or garden shed? Is it a tangle of bikes and hosepipes? Do you need to get the half-full tins of paint down to the tip? If it’s a wet day, this might be a good option.

Veg patch

Perhaps you want to dig a veg patch, or even make raised beds? That’s a good project for a long weekend, depending on your digging skills!

Whichever project you choose, make sure you get everything you need together before Saturday morning. (Or whenever your chosen date is.) The last thing you want to have to do is to head down to the DIY centre first. And get a takeaway on Sunday evening – you’ll deserve a reward for your hard work. I just hope we get some decent weather!

If you have several projects that you plan to do over the next year or so, choose a few and note them down on your Annual Cleaning Schedule. Over the rest of the Summer and Autumn, try to mow the lawn once a week and have a 20-30 minute weeding slot once a week as part of your weekly routine.

If you’ve missed the other projects in our month-long focus on gardening, you can find them here: Transform your Lawn in a Day and How to weed your garden effectively and How to clean your patio, paths and driveway

Next month, we’re focusing on relationships, especially marriages and friendships. I think it’s going to be a fantastic month with some lovely reflections, so pop your email into the sign-up box to join us.

I’d like to join The Organised Life Project

Come and join us on our journey to get organised. Get weekly step-by-step tasks to organise your entire life.

How to clean your garden paths, patio and driveway

This week, we’re focusing on the paved areas of the garden. If you’re lucky enough to have some kind of driveway, or a patio, or even a little garden path, the chances are that it needs some attention. I am completely guilty of neglecting our patio and driveway, and we have a serious moss problem! Here’s my guide to how to clean your garden paths, patio and driveway.

This is a task that ideally needs to be done in one go. The time it takes depends on the size of the area you’re cleaning. The good news is, you don’t need a pressure washer to do it.

How to clean your garden paths, patio and driveway

  1. Remove any furniture (or cars).
  2. Sweep the areas really thoroughly, including the corners.
  3. Remove any weeds. Use a weeding knife for the tricky ones.
  4. If you are using a pressure washer, follow the instructions on the machine and follow the correct safety procedure.
  5.  If you are using a specialist cleaning product like Patio Magic, Everbuild or Algon, or simply soapy water or even a bleach solution, mix it up following the instructions. Soapy water will require more elbow grease but if you use a washing up liquid like Ecover it will be better for the environment.
  6. Use a watering can to apply the cleaning product. You may need to leave it to work (again, check the instructions) or you may need to get scrubbing with a stiff-bristled brush.
  7. Rinse if necessary with a watering can or hosepipe.

You’ll probably need to do this once or twice a year – in Spring and Autumn, depending on your situation and your garden. But like many things in the garden, it does make a big difference.

For more gardening projects, have a look at How to transform your lawn and How to weed your garden effectively.

Next week, we’re tackling a big task. Choose one project that you think you can get done in a weekend!

How to weed your garden effectively

This week, we’re going to tackle the weeds in our gardens. I’m going to show you how to weed your garden effectively, and we’re going to make inroads into the weeding. By the end of this week, hopefully there will be far fewer weeds in your garden!

As I’ve been researching this, I came across the term ‘weeding schedule.’ That is exactly what you need: ideally, a couple of slots in your weekly routine where you can go out and do half an hour’s weeding. That’s the best way to keep on top of it. So if you can, try to build this into your schedule in the summer months.

Hopefully, your lawn is looking a bit better. You might have some weeds to get out of your lawn – you can pick up weed and feed at a garden centre or you can dig them out by hand. This week, we’re focusing mainly on the borders and the edges of the gardens where the weeds grow. Don’t worry too much about the paths – that’s next week!

Transform your garden in one month

How to weed your garden effectively

If you want to weed your garden effectively, start at one end of the border. Choose one border and set yourself a time limit. I’d suggest 20 minutes if you don’t do this often, or 30 minutes if you’re feeling a bit stronger. The reason is that it’s hard on your back, and you don’t want to do yourself any damage. Plus, you can get a lot done in 20 minutes.

Using a hand fork (and kneeling on a kneeling pad), dig up the weeds quickly and without too much fuss. If you can’t get right to the bottom of a deep-rooted dandelion, don’t worry too much – just move on. Yes, it’ll grow back in a few months but you’ll be able to keep on top of it.

Work around the plants you actually want, forking through the soil and pulling out every scrap of weed. I’ve weeded bindweed out from a garden and I know you have to get every last scrap of that! We struggle with ivy in our current garden and it’s the same.

If you can, get some mulch (you can buy bark mulch from garden centres) and spread it over where you’ve weeded.

How to weed your garden effectively

Larger areas: How to weed your garden effectively

If you’ve got a bigger area where there aren’t any plants, like a completely neglected corner, you can spray weedkiller, leave it a week or so and then come back and clear it. It is easier, but the weeds do eventually come back if you don’t keep on top of it. You can also buy weed-suppressing fabric to put over these areas and then put stones or wood bark on the top which is really effective.

So this week, your challenge is to spend 20 minutes or so weeding your garden. The more sessions you can do, the better! So let’s get weeding!

How to declutter your wardrobe

The fifth month on The Organised Life Project is all about our clothes. You might really enjoy this month or your might be dreading it. That’s fine. Like every month, we’re going to take it step by step, starting off with a mission to declutter your wardrobe.

You could either do it all in one go or split it up to do a little bit each day. Personally, I find it hard to carve out a few hours to do something like this all in one go, so I do it in 15-20 minutes each day.

Three Steps to Declutter your Wardrobe

Whichever way, the method to follow is exactly the same: take everything in that category out of your wardrobe and lay it out on the bed. Deal with each item separately, asking yourself the following questions:

Is it in good condition?
Do I wear it?
Do I feel good in it?

If it needs cleaning or mending, don’t put it back in the wardrobe. Instead, put it by the front door, or in the laundry basket or somewhere you won’t miss it.

If you don’t wear it, or don’t feel good in it, don’t put it back in your wardrobe. Pass it on to a charity shop or bin it. Life’s too short to wear things we don’t like.

If you DO wear it, but don’t like it, make a note of it. You need to replace it or find something similar that you do like – which we’ll work through in the next few weeks.

A Plan to Declutter your Wardrobe in a Week

Monday: Shoes. Make sure they are all clean, in good shape and work with your clothes. Remember you need some party shoes!

Tuesday: Go through your underwear drawers. Get rid of anything you no longer wear or that you no longer like. That includes the nursing bras that you stopped wearing a year ago! Remember to do tights and pyjamas as well.

Wednesday: If you work, go through your work clothes today. If you don’t have a work wardrobe, focus on your tops. Remember to only keep what you like and wear.

Thursday: If you did your work clothes yesterday, do your casual clothes today. If you did your tops yesterday, do your trousers and skirts today.

Friday: Time for the final clothing items: dresses and sports wear.

Saturday: Declutter your bags and accessories today. Go through your coats (check the pockets first) and any hats, scarves, gloves etc.

Sunday: Go through your make-up and jewellery today. Get rid of any make up that has expired – this post will give you a few guidelines.

I really hope this process leaves you feeling refreshed and inspired rather than like you have nothing to wear. Over the next few weeks, we’re going to put together a focused plan to create a capsule wardrobe that really works together, so stay tuned. Next, we’re going to define your style.

Transform your Lawn in a Day

A few months ago, I asked my lovely OLP community (If you’re not in it, pop your email in the sign-up box at the bottom of this post and I’ll send you an invite.) what they would like help organising. Their response? Help me organise my garden.

So here we are. It’s July, and we’re going to organise our gardens. I’m a little bit ahead this month because I knew this was coming up, so I’ve tried some of the strategies I’m going to share.

First of all, let’s get some perspective. We’d all, in an ideal world, love to have beautiful, weed-free gardens with stunning floral displays all year round. Some sunshine would be lovely too. We’d like space for the kids to play, perhaps a mini-allotment with some perfect rows of organic vegetables growing, and a sun-soaked terrace complete with a lovely furniture set and a bottle of wine chilling.

That’s my dream. Unfortunately, my time is limited, so that dream is a little while away.

For so many of us, with so many demands on our time, the garden becomes a really low priority. But the good news is that it doesn’t take much to make a big difference. The other piece of good news is that, if you select the right plants, you can design a low-maintenance garden which you’ll be happy to enjoy year-round.

Transform your garden in one month

How to transform your garden in a month

I like to share the big picture with you, so I’m going to outline the next few weeks:

Week One: Sort out your lawn.

Week Two: Tackle the weeds

Week Three: Clean the paths, patio and decking.

Week Four: Tackle one big structure (either the fences, or a tree, or a border, or garden furniture etc.)

Personally, gardening is one of those jobs that I really have to do when the children are either asleep or being looked after by someone else. Although I love the idea of planting seeds together and watching them grow – and I have done this a few times with Ben – there are too many dangers in the garden for me to leave Samuel to potter. So I have to wait until they are in bed, or until Tim will take charge for an hour at the weekend, to tackle my projects.

That’s why I’m only giving you one task each week. Well, once you’ve got the lawn under control, you need to keep mowing it every week ideally. And once you’ve tackled the worst weeds, you need to keep on top of that. So these jobs do add up… But let’s get started.

Transform your lawn in a day

This week: Transform your lawn in a day

Mowing will be the first task. It’s really sunny at the moment but not too hot, so you can mow the lawn fairly short. Don’t worry about stripes or anything like that – just get it done.

Then get an edging tool. Neaten up all the edges of your borders, and wherever the lawn is starting to creep over the patio or paths.

Finally, get some grass seed (it’s in the supermarkets, you don’t need to make a special trip) and seed over any bare patches, You might like to dig up any weeds at the same time and re-seed those patches too.

That’s it. One of the nicest things about gardening is that things look better almost instantly. So with the lawn mowed and tidied, it’ll start to transform your garden.

 

How to organise your health, check-ups and appointments

Throughout June, we’ve been focusing on our fitness, and hopefully our cardio, strength and flexibility are all improving. Now it’s time to look how how to organise your health – from appointments to prescriptions.

Personally, I’m pretty familiar with the inside of my GP’s surgery. I’ve got several allergies, asthma, eczema, and I’ve also had two babies. Thanks to repeated ear infections, both my boys are pretty familiar with the doctor’s waiting room too. Thankfully, none of us have ever suffered from a serious illness or disease, but I’ve picked up a few tips which I’ll share with you.

1: Regular Check Ups with a professional

Make a note of the last time you had check ups or appointments for the following, for you: Dental check up, smear test, sight test, hearing test, and any others that you have regularly. Book in for any you are due.

2. Vaccinations and regular check ups for your children

If you’re in the UK, find your children’s little red books. Make a note (or photograph) all their vaccinations and check ups. Book in for any they are due.

3. Regular checks for yourself

Decide on a way to record your menstrual cycle, if you don’t already. There are some really good apps for this. You might not be trying for a baby, but it’s always helpful to know where you are in your cycle.

Also, decide on a day each month when you’ll check your breasts for any lumps. Many women do this on their birthday date (i.e., if your birthday is on the 8th July, you’d always check on the 8th of each month).

4. Make a list of any repeat prescriptions

This one has been a lifesaver for me. I have seen different specialists for my eczema, and each specialist recommends different products! So I have a list on my phone of the ones that work and I can then request them from my GP. I have the medical name (rather than the brand name), the quantity and the strength written down. Then, when I’m in the doctor’s surgery I can easily pop a form in.

5. Register for online prescriptions

Pop in to your surgery and ask if you can register for online prescriptions. They will save you loads of time and hassle.

6. Put your GP, dentist, optician and any other specialist’s numbers into your phone

We’re always having to fill out these details on various forms – make it easy for yourself.

That’s it! Six easy tasks to help you to organise your health.

Ready to move on to the next step in organising your life?

Next week, we’re moving on to focus on our gardens! This has been requested by those of you in my Facebook group. If you don’t have a garden, you might want to do a bit more decluttering or catch up with previous months. I’m not the world’s best gardener, but I’ve got lots of ideas! I hope you can join us.

 

How to build Strength Training and Stretching into your exercise routine

Now our cardio is improving, and we’re doing a couple of sessions of exercise each week, I’d like to talk about how to build Strength Training and Stretching into your exercise routine.

Why is Strength Training important?

There is, quite simply, loads of research to say that strength training is important. We lose between 3 to 8 percent of our muscle mass each decade. Strength training can help to minimise that. It can also help to boost our metabolism and make our cardio workouts more effective.

It also tones us up. Personally, my arms and back are actually fairly strong. I’m used to picking up – and carrying for fairly long periods of time – a sturdy toddler. I carry boxes full of exercise books pretty easily. But for me – and I think many women are like this – my core is not so strong.

So I’m going to focus on building in planks and sit-ups into my routine. You might want to do press-ups, use weights, or follow some of the strength training videos on YouTube. (As an aside, isn’t YouTube an AMAZING resource? I am loving FitnessBlender especially.)

What about stretching?

I kind of always thought stretching was a bit of a waste of time, to be honest. Now, I do really enjoy doing it, especially after long days of carrying a toddler around! I think stretching – which ideally should be done 3-6 times a week – is something you can do while you are doing other things. So 10 minutes of stretching while you’re watching TV or on the phone to your mother is an easy way of doing it.

If you want to take your stretching further, again, there are loads of videos on YouTube, or you could easily join a class.

This week’s challenge: How to build Strength Training and Stretching into your exercise routine

Step 1: Decide what two activities you are going to do regularly (every other day or every day) to improve your strength.

Step 2: See how many of your chosen activity you can do. Aim to increase it by a small amount each session.

Step 3: Choose three stretches to do. Try to do them 3-6 times a week.

Step 4: Celebrate! You are making amazing progress. Take some measurements with a tape measure and see how you tone up.

Ready for the next step? Head over to How to organise your health.

Organise your cardio

Hopefully, you’ve identified a few times in your week when you can exercise, and you’ve identified the kind of exercise you can fit into that time. Perhaps it’s running, dancing, swimming or walking. Perhaps you’ve signed up to a class. Hopefully, you’ve committed to something! 

This week, we’re going to focus on cardio. For most of us, that’s what we need to dedicate the time to. And we all know that it’s time which is the biggest barrier to exercise.

We need to get the most beneficial effect out of the time we dedicate to cardio exercise.

We want to get maximum value out of minimum time input. I don’t want to be getting fit in 30 minute sessions only to be told I need to spend 1 hour exercising. I don’t have any more time! I want to get the most out of the time I have. 

Step 1: Identify your starting point

I’m going to keep this simple. If you want lots more detail, head to How You Get Fit Cardiovascular Fitness.

All you need to do is to do your chosen exercise for as long as you can, and time how long you can keep it up before you need a rest. So if you’re running, time how long you can run for before you need to walk. Don’t go crazy, keep it at a decent pace but not so you’re ready to collapse at the end! 

That’s your starting point. Every time you exercise, you need to push yourself to run for a bit longer, or run a bit faster. 

Step 2: Work out how much you can increase it each time.

Something I’ve learned about exercise is that it’s really easy to make progress, especially in cardio. But you need to take responsibility for this yourself.

If you’re just starting out, take it easy. Say you can only jog for 1 minute before you need to walk, next time, jog for 1 minute 15 seconds. You’ll gradually increase your jogging time and reduce your walking time. It’s the same for swimming, cycling and other things. 

In terms of classes, your instructor should give you different levels of challenge, so try to increase it a tiny bit each time.

You have to take responsibility for this, or your fitness won’t improve. You cannot rely on anyone else to do it for you! 

Step 3: Experiment with some HIIT

High Intensity Interval Training is the fastest way to improve your cardio. Fortunately the sessions are also short. There are absolutely LOADS on YouTube, and lots of exercise DVDs also follow this pattern.

The idea is that you work really hard for a short period of time (say 60-90 seconds hard work) followed by working at less intensity. 

This week, I’m going to try to add a HIIT workout to my routine. Or I’ll replace one of my runs with a HIIT workout. Just a 15 minute one, I’m not going to go crazy! Are you going to join me?

If you’re ready for the next step, head over to Strength Training and Stretching.