Living a simple life is not easy. There is no easy solution or road map to follow. It’s not for everyone, but it can make you happier. Last time we talked about editing your life in order to make room for the things you love. For me that meant cutting back on work hours so I could spend more time with my fella. If that sounds crazy to you, then you aren’t ready yet. For me, it is crazy to spend the time I have at a job rather than with someone I love. What could be more important than that?
Now that you have identified what is important to you (time, family, painting, exercise…) you can begin to make room in your life for them. This needs to happen in a tangible way and in an emotional way. First, the tangible. Go room by room, drawer by drawer and get rid of shit. Really purge! I went through my already sparse closet and still found a few things I never used. It made me feel good. I went through my pantry and took out all of those cardboard boxes and plastic bags and replaced them with jars. We bring the jars (or other containers) to the market and buy things like flour, cornmeal, quinoa or sugar in bulk so we don’t have paper/ plastic waste and we are making use of lovely sauce jars. Easy right? Just don’t let your emotions play a part in your purging. You can do without a lot of the “things” you have decided have value.
Clutter is very stressful and distracting. Walking into a messy room, or a cluttered kitchen just feels funny and uncomfortable. Every item in your home demands attention, and If you have kids, you might have a lot of “things”. If you have gone overboard on the buying, don’t worry. You can still fix it. The first step is: Stop Buying. Just stop. Little Bobby doesn’t NEED that Angry Birds plush toy. Little Stacy doesn’t NEED that coloring book, or that Princess video. Want and need are not the same. The sooner kids learn the difference the easier it will be. If your kids think Target is a fun place to spend a Saturday morning then you need to check yourself. Most of the kids at my school constantly tell me about things they “got” or things mommy “bought” for them instead of things they “do”. And that makes me sad.
First and foremost, edit their rooms with them. You can’t go into your child’s room and just take their things away. Respect goes both ways. This is true whether you are 4 or 40. You can’t tell a child, “I bought it for you so I can take it away.” That is absurd and disrespectful. Instead, sit the child down and talk as a family. Start by saying that decision has been made to make do with less. Show her a finished space, and how you are unattached to what you are giving/throwing away. If you make it sound like a fun thing, and a cool thing – and if you are doing it – the kid will jump onboard.
Or you might have a fight on your hands. And that’s fine too. You (literally) bought it so now you have to deal with it. Give little Bob one hour to make two piles: Keep & Give. When you come back in an hour you can gauge if he needs more help or not. If he needs help, let him know that you (the parent!) will be making those choices if he cannot. Be brutal and merciless with your editing and let him know that after you will be MAKING some fun new things.
That’s right – make. I promise that your kid doesn’t want or need a shit ton of store-bought, plastic toys. For the little ones: take all of those empty plastic juice or water bottles and fill them with anything. Seriously. Feathers, cotton, sand, bells, a little olive oil and some sequins or marbles. Babies enjoy rolling them, shaking them or putting them in the old pie hole. The fancy folks call them “Sensory bottles” but I call them cheap and easy. The point is, you don’t have to spend a ton on toys. The bigger kids will enjoy making cookies with you, or putting together a puzzle. Take them to the wood shop and build your own wooden toys. If you are saying. “Who has time for that?” then you might need to edit your commitments again. I mean, are you spending a ton of money on a fancy gym membership when you could be hiking with your kids? Exactly.
Hopefully after you have finished editing your home, closets, wardrobes, drawers, car, kids rooms and closets – you’ll feel lighter. You’ll feel happier. Your kid will feel the same. Life just feels nicer when it is free of crap. Below is a handy little system to help you stay on track. And remember, let your children have the responsibility of editing and cleaning their own things. It is not your right to decide what is important in their life. And, don’t pick up after them. Keeping the house “perfectly clean” isn’t the goal here. The goal is for a simple life in a simple home.
- A place for everything… – Your child (and family) should know where to put something when it is not being used. If you are about to set something down on an available patch of surface space: STOP. Take a second to ask yourself, “Where does this belong?” and then take it there. Basically stop being a lazy jerk and put the dishes in the sink. Put the clothes in the hamper. Put the toys back in the toy bin.
- Have a simple paper system – Incoming bills, notices, tax docs, school papers should all have a place where they are filed and looked at. Hopefully you are not using paper as much for bills and things, but in some cases it just can’t be helped. Help your kids to have a system for homework and projects as well. I can’t stress how important it is for a kid to feel personal responsibility. Never ever leave papers for “later”. File immediately. Throw junk mail out before it even reaches your door. Don’t leave papers lying around.
- Clean up before bed & before walking out – I abhor waking up to a messy kitchen. I make sure (most of the time) to clean the dishes and the kitchen before bed, or before leaving the house. and stop multi-tasking. Multitasking is less efficient and more stressful than seeing one task to its completion. Just take a few minutes to de-clutter flat surfaces before bed and before you leave you house. It’s a good habit to get in, and your kids will do it if they see you doing it.
- Re-purge every couple of months – No matter how hard you try, new stuff will happen. Just make sure you keep tabs on it. Maybe the first weekend of every month you de-clutter something in your home. Maybe you throw an item out if you bring a new one in. I don’t know, it’ll be personal for you. But just don’t let your shit get out of control again.
Just remember the word “now”. If you can remember to do what you need to do now, then later won’t be an issue. Hang your clothes up now, not later. Wash the dishes now, not later. Pay that bill… well, you get the picture.
Less stuff = more time = more happiness.