August 31, 2020

Juggling multiple roles in a 3 Generation Household with Lisa Zawrotny


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Today I welcome Lisa Zawrotny to the show. Lisa had a deeply overwhelming time in her life juggling multiple roles as a caregiver of her mother who suffered from Alzheimer, a wife, mother of two, and business owner.

(If you'd rather read than listen, scroll down to the trascript)

What you will discover in today's conversation: 

  • What it means to care for a loved one with Alzheimer and small children at the same time. 
  • What her biggest take-aways are from that time of her life and what she recommends to those that are in a similar situation. 
  • Lisa's take and tips on how to let go of the things of a loved one that has passed

If you find value in this conversation with Lisa please share the episode with your family and friends because if you find value in it, they will too.

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Lisa Zawrotny

Lisa Zawrotny, founder of Positively Productive Systems and the host of the Positively Living Podcast, shares the powerful healing of simplicity, self-care, and structure with clients and audiences.

As a Certified Stress Management Coach specializing in Productivity & Organizing, she teaches you how to declutter your life inside and out and design customized systems and habits that help you do less, live more, and breathe easier.

Lisa became a professional organizer and productivity coach after a deeply overwhelming time in her life juggling multiple roles as a caregiver, wife, mother, and business owner. She is now on a mission to help the chronically overwhelmed make space for what matters in their lives. In addition to stress management, she has certifications in life coaching, time management, and meditation and is a member of the National Association of Productivity & Organizing Professionals.



Reading instead of Listening (Transcript) 

Conny Graf 0:04
Welcome Lisa I'm so excited to welcome you to the podcast.

Lisa Zawrotny 0:08
Thank you, Conny, it's a pleasure to be here.

Conny Graf 0:11
I'm so happy to have you because you are a professional organizer and productivity coach I can't even say yes. And you said you became a professional organizer when you were overwhelmed and you were struggling with different roles in your life. So, tell us a little bit about that.

Lisa Zawrotny 0:35
It was inspiration from something that I had to go through personally and that's how I came to help others today. It actually started when I was a caregiver for my mom and I had, I was actually pregnant with my son at the time that I moved my mom into our home to take care of her. And then I was pregnant with my daughter subsequently and through that time my mom had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's.

And I cared for her in this very unusual in a sort of extreme sandwich caregiver situation. So I had baby toddler, and mom, who was just progressing, getting worse and worse with this disease and trying to care for all of them and not just care for them but I realized that it was very important to me to do as much as they could for them in very much the same way, helping them all be socialized and to be able to, you know, have fun and to be to see people and to, you know, just live a really good life I wanted my mom to have her golden years, the best she could whatever was going on with her mind and I wanted my children to thrive. And that left

Very little left for me to take care of myself, it left, very little to attend to most of the things that are home. You know, there was a lot that basically piled up during the time of survival mode.

Conny Graf 2:09
Yeah, I can totally understand that because I'm thinking already just taking care of a loved one who has Alzheimer's or goes towards Alzheimer's, have some experience with that is overwhelming on its own and then you have two children which you want to be the best mom for and then even me as a clutter clearing coach can say yeah, of course the house comes last and everything is kind of pile up. Unless you're super human, which in one way it sounds like you are because I think it is crazy.

So, one thing that I always, always like to do is focus on the positive so one thing that comes to my mind that could be positive, within all this chaos and overwhelm is that your children had their grandmother, and your grandmother, because she was able to be in your home, rather than in a care home, she had the family and she had the children too So was there some positive moments that you could see in this whole overwhelm that made you want to continue because you could have also decided to give up, no on this whole thing.

Lisa Zawrotny 3:28
I think that's a wonderful reflection that happens to really dovetail nicely with my whole attitude in general and even, you know the nature of my business of finding finding the positive and finding the good and finding the opportunity, of course, the biggest good that I see from it, is that this experience, led me to where I am today.

But I like your question of what was good in the moment. Well, you know, part of my upbringing, you know, my mom came from Germany she was a really hard worker. She was a caregiver to everyone else and she modeled that for me so I knew that I wanted to care for her the best that I could. And I happen to agree that I love the potential for multi generational families and living together and of course there was some good interaction. Yes, at some point, fairly early on, she wasn't able to care for them like most grandmothers could it was more of a when you have like an older sibling and you have to set them on the couch and put a pillow there and then you have them hold the baby and you watch them and stuff like that.

But I had always thought I think the one thing that I came back to. Was that it's never a bad thing to have more people around you who love you. and that goes for her went for me, it was for my children as well so the fact that we loved each other and even when she didn't quite know who we were, I feel like she could still sense that love so to me that was like the big positive.

Conny Graf 5:02
Yeah, I totally agree so I like even if she doesn't know who you are, she knows there's people around you that love you I'm pretty sure of that that they feel that on the inside, that the soul knows it, you know like whether or not the brain knows that I'm sure the soul knows it and I, and that's kind of what I wanted to get out because I feel like, what, what often happens, which is sad, but understandable is that people get foot into care homes and then they're not having this personal interaction they're not having, like their grandchildren close by, maybe you even would feel like I can do this to my child to see grandma like this and I feel like it's more natural to have everything together that's how it used to be. So I think it's really beautiful that that you were able to do that but now talk a little bit I mean that must have been crazy because you basically have three children at home. You have

Lisa Zawrotny 6:02
four if you have my husband's I'm kidding, I'm kidding.

Conny Graf 6:06
You know, it depends it depends. I hope he was not a child and help you out.

Lisa Zawrotny 6:11
Oh no, I know what you mean we're choking sometimes there are many times I think he feels like he has another child with me so it's fine. But in all seriousness, yes it was very much like having three children except the challenge of course with her is I wanted to make sure that she had, dignity, you know kept her dignity I know that's very important and that's actually one of the tendencies. I don't know if it's just without timers but I think in general we all want to keep our dignity with whatever we're doing so. It was a challenge to be able to set up each day, and the things that we were doing where we were going. You know how we would interact in a way that would feel like a team effort and not simply me being, you know the the drill sergeant, but, you know, which could happen because out of the overwhelm and you're wanting to do something you could basically pass them around and.

Conny Graf 7:12
And yeah, I imagine that was a hart. So, I imagine you have some chaos. So, what was the point where you feel like was there a moment where you feel like okay it started to change and you were able to create some peace and chaos or some order in the chaos, or was that after your mom passed or how did this happen.

Lisa Zawrotny 7:40
There were stages and what I mean by that is you know when you and I had talked before and had this really great conversation about our perspectives on organizing and and productivity in our lives and our tendencies. You know, you had said you're you were born this way this is just your your inclination right and i think that I had some of that in me there was always this nature of, of being organized or wanting and seeking structure.

And so I know that I did that in order to maintain, everything I had notebooks very dedicated notebooks for my children and for my mother, keeping track of, you know, doctor's appointments and and you know general health and everything that was going on so I, in many ways, there was a lot of organizing going on for how we structured our days and how we lived and what we needed to do and what the, the greater priorities were where it lacked was in some of the maintenance things that happen in the house like putting away laundry or or paperwork was especially a big one and you know that was exacerbated by the fact that when I moved my mom and she had had a family business so I not only brought her and her stuff, but also the paperwork but there were there were moments.

There were moments to when I was able to find a way to delegate. So that was a huge tip that I always suggest, if there's some way you can ask for help. I didn't have as much as they would have liked and I'd love for people who are now in my situation to have more than I did. But I sought out support and support groups and look to the office for the aging for help and there were some opportunities throughout that time where I was able to essentially let her go to what was like a senior daycare for a few hours a day, you know, things like that, there were these moments or pockets in time to help me with catching up the challenge of course being that those were also the times that I would have been best suited for some self care but, you know, you do the best you can. I would say that taking stock of it all and really coming out of it was after the fact.

Conny Graf 9:58
Yeah, I would imagine, even though you would probably have welcomed some more organization in, but there is this, even as as organized as you sound and I am, I'm pretty sure I would have been just as chaotic, or the house would have just been as chaotic because there's just times in life when you have to have priorities I like go and talk a lot about priorities and align your home and your life with your priorities and when the priority is a human being, then this stuff can just wait.

Lisa Zawrotny 10:36
Right. I mean some of the lessons that I learned is that if we had fewer things if I had taken the things that I know now and understood more of what was important and use those priorities and values to reduce what we had I would have had to manage less and less would have piled up. So that's a big life lesson for me and something that I, I hope to share and inspire people with now.

However, as you said, there are going to simply be some times in our life where huge transitions that are going to bring the chaos with it. Yeah.

Conny Graf 11:11
Yeah. And, and I totally agree so less things are less overwhelming it's just like we have a lot of things we sometimes need some crazy situation before we learn to change. And we hear other people talk about oh yeah less things without you. But until we having this situation it's kind of hard to do.

Lisa Zawrotny 11:35
Yeah, until you're in it, it can be a challenge but I'm hoping that by sharing the story in can be that, that bit of inspiration to say, Hmm, let me look around and see if there are some things that I, I simply don't need you know, thinking to have any situation I mean we've been in it throughout the world right now we're recording during the time where COVID-19 is impacting us all and, you know, to kind of say well if things were to drastically shift if there was a big life event, how would I fare do I know where things are Can I get to them you know and and so I realized, of course I had to learn the big life lesson but,

Conny Graf 12:16
Yeah. So one message that I often say is like as your no your mother couldn't do it because you said she had got Alzheimer's but if you're still healthy I feel like and you have children I feel like it's the motherly or the parental thing to do to kind of get organized, or declutter to a degree, so that you don't overwhelm your children. When, when they have to take care of it and it's not always possible, but it's one thing how you can show your love for your children, by not overwhelming them, I feel with with this stuff.

Yeah, of course can be hard, because you're going towards you have to become aware that you're going towards a point in your life where you're not here anymore and that is really hard.

Lisa Zawrotny 13:08
That's right or at the very least you're anticipating a point where you might have to move or you know some kind of shift has to take place that you're not necessarily looking to happen right now but you're anticipating it. And while you were talking about what we can do, you know, on behalf of our children.

My mind also went to how I model for them, even at this young age I modeled for them in terms of the, the changes that we made and the drastic downsizing that we went through actually multiple times over once after I was finished, caring for my mom after she had passed and then another time. We actually moved a year ago and I think it's an incredible experience for them to question our need for things, physically and and also ways in which a simpler life is can be such a better life, you know, and I think I was wondering.

Conny Graf 14:09
Yeah, so did your children, tell you anything that they appreciate now more about the simpler life

Lisa Zawrotny 14:16
I think sometimes they don't say it directly although my son sometimes will say like he likes when his room is in order and it's just easier for him when we talk more about the, the moments and the activities is such as well look at how quickly you cleaned up your room. And that happens when everything's in order and when you don't have as much to clean. The other way that I have seen the benefit is not by them directly saying something.

Children will always be direct with you but if you look for the signs, actually this is for anyone. I say children but I can see it in adults too. When we just don't act as frustrated and anxious you know when there's a much more calm, kind of feel about a person and you can tell when you're interacting with them. I also see it too and how their creativity bumps up when they have, and this is, we're talking a physical space, but I think a physical space lends itself to a very calm mental space and I can see where they have the ability to, you know, work on a new project or to or something changes in them in terms of how they're creating I can see that.

Conny Graf 15:30
Yeah, totally. I always say as within so without so and vice versa so oftentimes too and that's kind of what I experienced is when you're around or when you're frustrated actually going and decluttering or organizing something will help you put your thoughts in the right order to, you know, and or then sometimes you need to put your thoughts first in the right order before you can go and do something out in the physical world so it has it has, it goes both ways.

And I was thinking towards like maybe they realize through that experiences and and spending time together can be so much more fun than just buying more stuff that you then have to kind of take care off and all that, I think, even as children I think we see and like you said you role model that for them, and they may not know it right now as children but later on they will for sure to benefit from that.

Lisa Zawrotny 16:33
Yeah. And of course we have the benefit of me constantly talking about this because of what I do and what I coach so it's this ongoing conversation, but it really is interesting to hear their perspective and you're right. There's this constant conversation that we have, where they may not realize how good it is for them but they can see the benefit and the comparison, simply by saying, Well, we've downsized and we've released so much of what we didn't need and now look what we can do, look what we get to do. Look what we can afford to do. And that change that flexibility in that freedom. Those are all things that are are very exciting and I think that they can start to make the connection.

Conny Graf 17:20
Yeah, that's kind of what I thought that happened. So talk a little bit how that all happened then with your business so your, your mom passed, I'm really sorry about that but that's. So then she passed, and then eventually, you started your business so how did that go that probably was not one day this and the next day the other

Lisa Zawrotny 17:45
It was a process and I'm glad you asked because I think there's another really good life lesson in there and there's so many that were in there but this one in particular was this concept that is sort of embodies it's like a mantra that I have now you know when there's a phrase, it's an unknown quote like

when life isn't adding up it's time to subtract

and when my mom passed away it was very. It was very different situation because the first thing I felt was relief, but then I felt guilt after the relief because there had been so much pressure and it took a while to grieve, but the the gut response that I had almost immediately was well now what do I need to do, how do I need to fill up this time Do I need to get a job, how do I support my family and I was kind of like, in this, you know, kind of like spinning mode of trying to figure out what to do. And thankfully, in that moment,

I looked around and I said, I need to stop. I need to stop and I need to clear a path and so by clearing a path that was, that was the path that led me to what I do now because the first thing I did was say okay. What don't we need what needs to be you know actually physically cleared up. How about me What do I need now I need to get back to a doctor I need to take care of myself I need a break I need you know things that nourish me and fill me up so I I talked about it like decluttering myself inside and out or my home in and myself inside and bringing back self care that I'd really let go and we love to look at that as something that that's optional, but it's simply not and so I and I read books listen to thought leaders embraced gratitude I tried all these things and I,

I really just filled my bucket back up and cleared the space in our home and shifted everything up my family a bit, and it was a bit rocky as they got used to it but then they could see the results and I could feel the difference, and as I went along that path and saw what effect it had not only on me but my family. I immediately said okay, now it's time to help other people do that and it started with sharing my ideas and then it started with. Okay, it's time to help people declutter so I went in as a professional organizer on site and started to help people. Release What didn't serve and make space and and set things up in a way that would create calm and help them function and, And the rest, as they say, is history.

Conny Graf 20:26
Yeah, but I do, I do feel like literally I always say decluttering is self love because you're like you just said you're cleaning up your inside by actually being mindful about the things you have around you. And at the same time you make your life easier. And yes, you know, and self love and self care is not just bubble baths. Champagne and whatever. It's actually the little tiny things every day and if you can make your life, every day a little bit easier because you have certain things either in the right spot, or gotten rid of it.

It's a huge component of self care and I'm thinking too it probably helped you with grieving too because, like, the father, grief is like like black and white it kind of goes together. So yeah, it's totally beautiful that you now can you share your experience with people you come from a different place, because you actually walked it and you had to. Yeah. So what is your number one tip for somebody because I get asked that a lot and I have lost people so I can always give my perspective but I want to hear your perspective.

How do you get rid of things of a beloved one who pass. Most people have so much trouble because they feel like they're disrespecting their mother or their loved one by giving the stuff away What do you say to that.

Lisa Zawrotny 21:58
Yeah, that's such a good question. The first thing I would say is if you're not ready, don't do it. Actually, that's what I would say, because part of our grief process is allowing our heart to open again, as we're going through it and allowing that pain, but I truly believe it's also part of the healing process it's like reopening a wound and then it can heal, more cleanly, in a way. And so given that I would say go in stages. Take your time. Start with things that are and this is for I think any kind of decluttering I would imagine you'd agree with me you know to to pick out something where you're like okay can handle that now frequent Lee, people will start with something like clothing. Now that's not to say if there's a special hat or a special jacket or something that really connects to you, different story. I just mean, in general, there are probably you know a good percentage of the clothing that you could allow to be released, and each time you do it know that you're going to go through this process, that there's no timeline for grieving but there's no timeline for for decluttering. The other thing I know you asked for, like, one thing I guess the one thing is take your time. But, but some of the pieces of that are. Let it be meaningful to you and know that it's your process, and it's different for everyone.

Conny Graf 23:29
Yeah, I totally agree I totally agree. It's, it's really hard but I think it helps grieving actually I actually really feel like because it's hard to grieve is so hard, but if you actually face it in little chunks and you start. Yeah, I always start, I always say start with the least emotional so whatever you have around this person there's stuff that is more emotionally charged and stuff that is less and just start with the less emotionally charged things. And, and work your way up and yeah there is no timeframe and there is no, I always say like I never tell you to get rid of anything it's totally up to you, only you know when you're ready. That's right. And when you can do it.

Lisa Zawrotny 24:15
Yeah. And if you can find a one thing that helped me to just from a practical side of it is, when I say when you can bless someone else. So if it was something that I wasn't sure that I wanted to let go of, but someone else needed it, that made it a lot easier.

Conny Graf 24:32
Yeah, yeah, I totally can see that, and that's also my experience with working with clients when you can tell them somebody could really use it with your mother or your, your father in law or whoever past would be so happy to know that somebody else can really use her thing and loves it now too you know so,

Lisa Zawrotny 24:55
yeah. And one additional thing that you mentioned that I wanted to touch upon because it's, I think the crux of why this is difficult, is when we connect objects and we're so we're specifically talking about decluttering physically when we connect objects to people. That is when I think that we struggle the most and so I would remind you that those objects are not those people. It's the memories of them so whatever you can do to capture a memory sometimes it's as simple as taking a photo of it or telling a story or maybe sharing it with someone. And so when you work with maybe an organizer like Conny or me or you have friends who are helping you if you share that story. That's how you keep them alive in your hearts and you make that connection it's not the object, but it's the connection.

Conny Graf 25:45
Yeah and I totally agree and I also feel like it doesn't. So even if you do still have kind of a connection to the object, if you have it just stored away in a box somewhere. It's not like it How does it serve you so all the things that I have from my mom or my dad from my favorite arms that died, are actually out in the open. Yes, and I see them, and they're with me, so I kind of feel like there's through with me so I have nothing in boxes anywhere. And if you can get to that point and that's not something you get there overnight that's totally but I feel, then it's good for people. It could be good if you associate an item with, with a loved one because it actually reminds you of the good times or it reminds you of that person. I also like one of my favorite things I have from my grandmother is her pot cooking pots like where she always cooked her meals and, and now I'm cooking my meals and for the last 25 years ago. So for the last 25 years. This pot like, if anything if my house were burned down, I would go get a pot, like, it sounds silly but that pot is my grandmother and I feel you can turn it off when you do the process you can turn it into something beautiful and I.

Lisa Zawrotny 27:08
Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, and what you're describing is being very selective and finding something that connects to the legacy and that you're using and that you're honoring I think that's fantastic. I have one of those like enameled cast iron pots from my mom to beautiful oval super heavy man do not drop that thing on your foot. And I love baking bread in it and it's just you know it yeah those are those are the kinds of things that you want to be able to do when you're selective, and then the other decluttering trick too is when you have a collection of something, it doesn't always have to be the whole collection. It can be a few items that you can use, or display. And really, and then they also become a conversation piece like you were able to share that, that story with us which I love. Yeah.

Conny Graf 27:56
Yeah. So tell us a little bit where people can find you, where are you hanging out online. What's your website.

Lisa Zawrotny 28:05
Well, I would, I would love to have everyone come find me online, the easiest place to find me and where I hang out everywhere else is to come to my website positively productive calm. Also, if you're a podcast listener I've got one of my own positively living, and that's an all the different platforms as well and those are, you can find me on Facebook and Instagram as well positively productive on Facebook or positively underscore living on Instagram, I'd love for you to say hi.

Conny Graf 28:33
Yeah, beautiful I will put all the links in the show notes so people can find it really easily. Thank you. And, yeah, you are a particular productivity coach too so we're probably gonna do a second edition. In the future sometime where we talked before about productivity, but I really feel like this is an important topic to talk about. So that's what we kept it up today at cluttering with grief and 30 generation household. Any last wisdom or tips you want to share with the listeners.

Lisa Zawrotny 29:06
I think I'll share my favorite quote or it may be a paraphrase if I get the words a little bit off but from Sophia Bush which is that you're allowed to be a masterpiece and a work in progress. At the same time, simultaneously. So keep in mind whatever you're going through whatever you're doing whatever you want to change that you're amazing the way you are celebrate that celebrate the progress you're making and celebrate where you plan to go as well.

Conny Graf 29:32
Oh, I love that, I love quotes so that I will have to go look that one up. That's a beautiful one.

Lisa Zawrotny 29:37

Conny Graf 29:37
thank you so much Lisa for being on my podcast for sharing your journey and your wisdom with us.

Lisa Zawrotny 29:45
Thank you, Conny was my pleasure.

Conny Graf 29:47
Bye Bye. Have a good day.

If you have any questions

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