Musings + Essays

On Shortcuts.

By: Jen Shoop

For a long while, I was in denial about the capacity of the washing and drying machines in Old Louise. They’re petite and stacked — not quite as small as the ones we had in the unit we shared after we were first married, which could hold about one pair of underwear and one washcloth per load, but nowhere near the capacious joy of the industrial-sized ones in my parents’ laundry room. For months, I would attempt to jam all of our sheeting and pillowcases and occasionally a spare towel or two into one load and would then grumble about the agony of disentangling and ironing them afterward. A few months ago, I finally came to terms with the fact that I was overloading the machines and needed to commit to a full day of laundering if I wanted to properly clean, dry, and iron my sheets.

I was thinking of this just yesterday, as I embarked on hour six of operation change-my-sheets, a weekly to biweekly (as in once every two weeks) occurrence chez Shoop, depending on the busyness of my schedule. It dawned on me that the simple practice of cleaning my sheets has become an all-day commitment (“can’t do it Tuesday, as I’ll be out most of the afternoon and don’t want the sheets sitting in sog for a few hours”), and I was startled to find that I wasn’t frustrated by this observation. I just nodded with a sensible kind of, “What are you going to do? If you want crisp sheets, this is the price you pay.”

You see, there are no shortcuts in life. Or so I have learned with time and maturity, through the opening and shuttering of a technology business and through the slow and steady evolution of this writing/blogging one. They say that it takes around 10,000 hours to become an expert in something, whether that something is playing an instrument or perfecting a golf swing or speaking another language. 10,000 hours. Anyone who promises you the easy way out, the 1,000 hour bypass, is selling something specious.

Sure, you could outsource the laundering. In fact, there’s an easy calculus to the value of my free time vs. the amount of time I spend ironing vs. the cost of having the dry cleaners downstairs handle it. But if it’s something I’m determined to do on my own, that I don’t half mind, well — I realized just yesterday that it’s not worth doing it all if I’m not going to do it the right way from the start.

And so I’m done with the notion of shortcuts.

And I’m over the word hack — especially when “life” is appended to the beginning of it.

And I’m finished with feeling guilty for not accomplishing something “big” every single day.

Instead, I’ve made peace over the past many months with the occasionally disappointing pragmatics of what can be achieved in a day, an amity that has proven to be one of the many unlikely and lovely gifts of motherhood. Some days my to-do list leaves me beaming with accomplishment. Other days, I’m relieved to have folded and put away a single load of laundry and successfully prepared three meals for mini. Lately, I’ve grown unbothered by these inequities in my day-to-day to-do lists and increasingly pleased with the general feeling of momentum I have established in my home. I think this is in part owing to the maturation of this pregnancy (over halfway there!) and the general feeling of mounting excitement for the future, and in part owing to the slow and final acceptance of my new and seemingly permanent roles in life: mother, homemaker, writer, wife.

About a year ago, I had lunch with a girlfriend downtown. She is in a committed relationship (but not married), deeply dedicated to her job, and with no immediate plans for children or pets. I couldn’t help but compare the ballasts of our lives: she was plotting upcoming extended travel abroad and important business meetings and I was probably pondering whether the next day was a suitable laundry day. She asked, unprovoked, how I was doing in that genuine way she has, her earnest eyes searching me for an honest and non-pat answer. I found myself faltering. I shared that some days I feel “less than” when asked what I do for a living. That other days I feel a biting sense of guilt when I nip out for the last hour of one of my nanny days to get a manicure and an afternoon latte, haunted by the thought that I should be doing something productive and work-related every hour I have the nanny on hand. And that still other days I relish my role as a mother and homemaker and can’t imagine spending half my week doing anything else. I then bristled at my self-absorption: I am aware of the insane privilege of having the opportunity to choose what I want to do, of finding a passion-come-profession that meshes well with motherhood, of having the financial resources to have a part-time nanny and enjoy an afternoon manicure and a latte to begin with.

That shuttlecock of guilt and uneasiness and self-shaming has all but disappeared in the past many months. I wrote late last year that I’ve never been so at peace in my life, and while I’m not sure where this calm has come from — whether it is age or the fading of painful memories or the confidence that parenthood has afforded or simply the inevitable comfort (complacency?) that comes with doing anything for a sustained amount of time — I find it much easier to shrug off the occasional flare of embarrassment I experience when someone asks “Where do you work?”, to pat myself on the back at night even when the only checked-off to-do items were routine chores around the house, to tell myself: “You are enough.”

And I can tell you this: there were no shortcuts involved in this evolution.


+I had some girlfriends over for Monday to watch The Bachelor and I made these (along with several snack recipes from this cookbook, my go-to for fun recipes for events like the Super Bowl) and they were INSANE.

+Looking for bump-friendly exercise gear as I went for my annual physical and the doctor politely nudged me into getting into a more formal exercise routine. (“What do you do for exercise?” “Um, I chase a toddler and walk around Manhattan.”) I promptly signed up for pre-natal yoga and went on the hunt for maternity-friendly exercise gear. This tunic-length sweatshirt (sized up) looks promising, and I just ordered these.

+Such a great neutral rug, and on super sale. Adds great texture/volume to a room!

+Jumping on the bandwagon with these…so adorable!

+It took me awhile to accept the return of the scrunchie, but I saw a chic gal at my nail salon wearing a scrunchie, a boxy neutral-colored sweatshirt, skinny jeans, and some GG sneaks, and she looked so on-point for a quick errand run. I want these.

+Currently in my cart: this linen maxi, this polka dotted midi (both for our summer vacation in Italy — I believe both are friendly for nursing moms!) and these boots (found them for $75!)

+I dream of this bag.

+I was so sad to hear of the brilliant poet and writer Mary Oliver’s passing. So oddly timed that I would have written about one of her poems (<<a must read) just over a month ago.

+A great H&M steal if you’re into my oversized headband lewk.

+All of the sudden, I outgrew all of my bras (#pregnantmomproblems). I don’t know what I did last time around because I don’t recall buying any different/new sizes. I think I just made do and/or wore sports bras? But anyway, I decided to treat myself to my favorite bra in a larger size in the prettiest shade of pink and a couple of these uber-comfortable CKs in the cutest patterns, on sale for only $11/pop!!! I got the pale pink, a polka dot, and a stripe.

+This is my favorite maternity shirt. Found it on sale for $19 in select sizes here.

+Into metallics right now. Love these for mini (on super sale) and these for me (also on super sale).

+Just added this to my next Amazon order — read the reviews!

+Would love to wear these post-baby.

+This post may in part inform my allergy to speed reading.

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18 thoughts on “On Shortcuts.

  1. Wholly agree with the fact that there are no shortcuts for a job well done… most of the time. I work in Excel at work a lot, and shortcuts literally save me so much time (keyboard + pivot tables, etc)! If I find that something is taking me a long time (whether in Excel or not), there’s usually a more efficient way to do the task. I’m always on the lookout for efficiency (not necessarily shortcuts).

    1. Hi, Melissa — SUCH a good point. You’re right. There are definitely certain areas of life where there are quicker/easier ways to get things done. xo

  2. Love this post and would also love to hear about your cleaning schedule! What is your go to response when someone asks you where you work? I’m a relatively new SAHM and still find myself fumbling over this – “uhh, right now I just stay home with her…”

    1. Oh SARAH. I hear you. It’s funny because a friend of mine mentioned that whenever someone would ask her this, she’s explode into a lengthy explanation as to why and how long she was planning to stay at home with the kids, and the person on the other end almost always blinked in disbelief — “ummm I didn’t mean to imply anything…” And so she found out it was usually more about her own fears/expectations/self-shaming/self-judgment than it was about anyone else’s. Anyway, that doesn’t answer your question, but perhaps will help you (as it did me) realize that few people mean anything by asking, and that if they do, they’re probably not worth your time TBH. Anyway. My answer is: “I split my time between writing and staying at home with my daughter.” I recognize it’s tougher when you’re a full-time SAHM. I think my mother used to say something like: “I’m a full-time mother.” Sometimes I make things easier on myself by having a pat reply that becomes so routine as to not even register on me and then follow up with a change in topic, something always at the ready, whether it’s weather, the flu season, etc, etc. It’s like “rip off the bandaid, now onto the next topic, and don’t even bat an eye.” I hear you. It’s tough going at first!!! xo

  3. I am a life long “sheet ironer”….my friends have teased me for years about my “ironing habit” insisting that there must be a 12 step program for such an addiction. If there was such a program I am certain I would fall off the wagon immediately because I love ironing and especially ironing my sheets and sleeping in ironed sheets. My husband (of a long time…37 years) says he could never go back to sleeping any other way and is so grateful that I like to iron so he can sleep in the benefit of my “habit.” My newly married son often comments on how he loved the iron sheets of his childhood and his wife insists “don’t get any ideas!” I am probably one of your oldest followers but I love your blog, I love your writing (I am an English Writing Major), I love your parenting (from what you reveal in your blog) and your partnering (from what you reveal in your blog) and your willingness to share all of that with all of us.

    1. Hi Julie! Thank you so much for taking the time to write in. You are so kind, and I am terribly flattered by your compliments, especially coming from a tenured mom and wife like yourself 🙂 Sheet ironers unite!!! xoxo

  4. I just love all of your posts. They always give me so much to think about.

    Similarly, the comments here have made me want to request a post related to cleaning – as odd and boring as that sounds. From what I’ve gathered, and the fact that you iron your sheets(!), you must have a great game plan and have probably gathered quite a few tips and tricks over the years that I would love for you to share!

    1. Hi! Ah, you are so sweet and I appreciate that. Glad my ramblings have struck a chord 🙂 CLEANING. Yes. Let me get my thoughts together on that one. I love how so many of you are interested in the domestic arts, and I use that term non-ironically. It takes art and commitment to keep a home in order! xoxo

    2. Definitely agree on the cleaning post! Would love to read more about your routine, life maintainence for your household and any and all product recs and “life-hacks” – I happen to love that phrase because it makes me feel like I’m just one habit away from feeling like I can conquer running my household!

  5. I have also learned, probably with age and experience, the same in that there aren’t many shortcuts in life. Whenever I’m tempted to shortcut something, I weigh the probability of having to do the whole thing over again if it goes wrong. It’s usually worth doing it right the first time. I also read Jeff Bezos’ most recent shareholders letter the other day – it similarly mentions the time it takes to become good at something and setting the right expectations. I think it’s worth a read.

    I also commend you for ironing your sheets! I am usually also disappointed with the amount of things I can get done in a day or weekend – it’s usually far short of what I’d like to get done. But, there’s also life to live, and it’s important also to take the time to care for yourself and others.

    I’m glad you are going to do pre-natal yoga! I had a very pregnant yoga teacher recently and she was positively glowing 🙂

    Last thing! I wanted to tell you that I’m now completely hooked on Marie Kondo’s show, ha!

    1. YES! April, so glad that the show was worth your time. I had been thinking about you rolling your eyes when you saw the title of my blogpost and wondering how you’d fared once you’d dug in…YAY! This makes me happy.

      You are so right, too, that it’s always a balance. Is it worth the time ironing my sheets vs. doing something more emotionally/intellectually rewarding, like reading or calling my mom? I always think about the adage “time is a tool to express your values.” To me, having a tidy and well-kept home is critical to my happiness and comfort. Order outside = order inside. And so I afford the time to tidy and iron and all of those things because it makes me a happier, better functioning person. But it’s a good provocation and a smart way to think about whether something is worth doing at all! This is why I had been semi-comfortable with a minimal exercise routine over the past many months. At this point in my life, spending time with mini, reading, working on this blog, tending to our home are more valuable to me than aerobics. You may think that sounds out of wack but it’s how I feel right now. All that said, I am now trying to shuffle things around to accommodate a moderate exercise regimen (yoga!) and it will be interesting to figure out what needs to get chopped.


  6. First of all, I just wanted to say that I am so impressed that you iron your sheets! I have rumpled gauze & linen sets that don’t lend themselves to ironing, but this must be life-changing for crisper poplin sheets, as I imagine.

    I am so happy that you are at peace with your multiple roles — as the daughter of a homemaker, I’ve always felt that it is one of the noblest professions for ANYone, woman or man. It’s not the path my life has taken up to this point, but I’d take it on in a heartbeat if circumstances were different. My mom sacrificed so much to be at home with us, and my parents had an arrangement that blessedly worked well for our family. It’s so nice to hear that you are comfortable in a similar role; I know that your kids will be so grateful to have had you so close in their daily lives.

    On a different note — those GG sneaks! Love! I don’t think I can do a scrunchie again — that’s one trend I’m content to leave in the ’90s — but I’m tempted by almost everything LoveShackFancy creates. Hmm…

    1. Hi MK – This is such a sweet note, and so encouraging 🙂 Thank you for writing it.

      The ironed sheet thing I have to admit is a newcomer in my housewife repertoire. When we first moved to Manhattan, mini was little and still took two naps and so our nanny would often do our laundry and clean our apartment because she had more free time. (Nowadays, there’s no chance a nanny would have that “spare time”). Anyway, she took to ironing our sheets for us and it blew my mind. “AHA, THIS IS HOW ADULTS LIVE.” Suddenly my bed looked so much tidier and more welcoming. And also: the sheets feel better! Everything about ironed sheets is heaven. And so I became a lifelong convert and took it on myself. xoxo

  7. Someone recently told me to look at a toddler’s diet in terms of how well they ate in a week, rather than a day, to minimize mama freak outs when they refuse to eat any protein/veggies/anything other than puffs all day. Maybe that is also the lens through which I should view my to do list? At least for now, when I am at home with no childcare. I also struggle with feeling guilty when I don’t use my free time during nap productively. Even though I’d argue that chasing toddlers can be almost as exhausting as caring for a newborn, it seems MUCH harder to justify “rest when the baby rests” when baby is a year and a half!

    Also…we had those little salt water sandals from yesterday’s post last summer and they are SO CUTE.

    1. Ooh, I like that perspective — think about things in weeklong stretches versus daily sprints. I’d imagine you’d be impressed with all you achieved. But also — importantly! — cut yourself some slack! I am writing from the perspective of someone who has a part-time nanny half the week, so I am also able to stuff chores/errands into my “work days” whenever I have something on my list that will be particularly challenging with a toddler in tow. Even with that childcare support, I have found myself increasingly comfortable with taking mini’s nap times (on my days alone with her) to sit on the couch and read or watch an episode of TV. For a long time I felt guilty about this and would not permit myself such “luxuries.” But the truth is that when the baby is awake, you really don’t have time to yourself! It can be hard to even book a flight or send off a quick email, as I was reminded yesterday, when I needed literally five minutes to book our travel down to Naples and it took me about 30 owing to a sweet toddler tugging on my shirt, spilling water everywhere, asking me to “come, mama,” etc, etc! This probably sounds insane to non-parents, but it’s the truth! Further, when I was gainfully employed, I would often have the ability to take little five or ten minute breaks to scroll through my emails, take care of a little personal shopping, glaze over at my desk, etc. And I often used my lunch breaks to run errands or sit outside and read! I use that memory to justify the fact that I now can take an hour every day to just while away the time and recharge the batteries however I choose if I need to. Anyway, I digress, but my point is that sometimes just taking a breath and giving yourself an hour of free time is the most productive thing you can do. (And you earned it.)

      And scene. xoxo

    2. Haha, thank you for permission to cut myself some slack! The truth is that besides cleaning up lunch dishes, I have been pretty relaxed at nap time since the holidays. They were so busy that once January rolled around, I was like I need a BREAK. However…might be time to buckle down and do a little chore or two 🙂 It was good to remember that I ran so many errands during my work lunch break in the pre-baby days. Errands that now take twice as long! So yes, let’s be kind to ourselves and adjust expectations!

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