At our house, we’ve started gearing up for next year. Nothing crazy (I’m not that organized), but we’re starting to think about how we want our life to look come September. My son will officially start Kindergarten, and I want to carry over a lot of the informal learning we’ve been doing to this point. I also want to be sure we continue to have ample time to play. But, there are a few things I’d like to improve upon for next year, to keep my own stress levels (and those of my children) at a minimum.
I’ve been doing a lot of reading lately, on simplifying. On the topic, I’ve recently read two fantastic, inspiring books: In Praise of Slow by Carl Honore and Simplicity Parenting by Kim John Payne. Both books suggest, outline, and investigate the benefits of slowing down the pace of life, and simplifying, to get more satisfaction out of our days. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking, and ruminating, but now that spring is here, I think it’s time to finally get to work.
So, here is my simplified version. I’ll call it Simplicity 101, or “How to Reduce Your Stress in 5 Easy Steps:”
1. Weed Your Collection
Speaking from experience, as well as from what I have read, I can attest that the less clutter you have the more breathing room it affords. My dark horse is books. I (used to?!) feel that one could never have too many books. But, I have to remind myself of one of the tenants of life that I learned in library school, a well-weeded library collection circulates better. In essence, the less you have, the more it gets used.
Kim John Payne, in Simplicity Parenting, stresses a point that I’ve oft heard repeated elsewhere, too many choices is not a good thing. Especially for children, it can be downright overwhelming. He suggests a well-loved collection of favourites that one can really delve into.
Whether it’s toys, books, or clothes, too many choices leads us to a state of paralysis. We don’t know what to choose, so we don’t choose anything. Or worse, try to choose everything. Step number one, just start weeding. Payne suggests taking your stuff and cutting it in half. And then in half again. Imagine this. Breath it in. I can almost guarantee you won’t miss what you give away (we haven’t yet).
2. Schedule (and stick to) a “Me Hour.”
Whatever it is that you love to do, set aside a portion of each day to do it. Sometimes it’s as simple as a solitary cup of tea every morning (this was my ritual before I had kids, and I adored it. I always felt so grounded and peaceful). Other times, it’s a quick run and shower before the kids get up. For me, these days, it’s easier to take my “Me Hour” at night, after the kids have gone to bed. I cozy up on the couch and devote some time to reading – for pleasure.
Of all the families that I have interviewed, when I ask what the hardest thing about homeschooling is, the number one answer is: finding time for myself. Don’t be a homeschool burnout. Take your time and savour it.
3. Turn off the TV (computer, iPhone…)
My husband is the one who brought this one home for me. He lamented to me how many families he sees at the park, kids playing, parent’s nose stuck in their iPhone. Many times, he comes home from an outing with the kids saying he was literally the only one there not on the phone (this used to be him, too, until his phone broke. A blessing we are both truly thankful for).
As Honore points out in In Praise of Slow, multi-tasking isn’t actually to our advantage. By trying to do everything at once, we aren’t truly present anywhere.
This one is a big one for me. In our home, we rarely watch TV, but we do use the computer a lot. I look things up for the kids. I check activity schedules, upcoming events, and other things to plan our day. Oh, yes, and I blog. Blogging has been simultaneously the most wonderful thing I’ve discovered in the past year, and the worst. Sometimes, I adore it too much. When I find myself reading about someone else’s kids (beautiful and wonderful as they all are!), while my own play alone on the carpet, I know it’s time to take a break. I also know that the time I snap at my kids the most, is always when I am “trying to get something done” on the computer.
I love “the information superhighway,” and I’m not going to stop using the computer. But, I am going to continue to consciously schedule my time, and work on staying away from using the internet as “down time” throughout our day. Well all know Facebook can be addicting. So, here’s a reminder to stand in solidarity. Be present with your children. Trust me, they’ll thank you.
4. Give Six Second Hugs
I think it was in The Happiness Project by Gretchen Ruben, that I first heard about this. Apparently, to really do any good, a hug has to be at least six seconds long. Any shorter, and our minds and bodies don’t have time to register the wonderful benefits of this loving touch.
I guess, first off, this step should simply be, hug more. Hugging is a wonderful ointment that soothes the worst wounds. It repairs bridges better than a lot of words (something that I need to remind myself of), and benefits both parties. So hug! Hug your children (and kiss them, too) and hug your friends, and, of course hug your spouse. Just make sure it’s for at least 6 seconds.
5. Get Outside
My journey to consciously reconnect with the outside world really began with Richard Louv’s Last Child in the Woods. Perhaps most of you have read it, but if you haven’t, go out and read it now. Seriously. For the past year or two, I have made a much more concerted effort to get outside with my children (we try for everyday). A little bit of outdoor play is magic for all of our moods. Just a bit of fresh air and we are like new animals.
Even better, however, is when we find the true wild places (such as they are in our corner of the modern world). Hiking through the woods in one of our regional parks, or (as we did today) spending an afternoon at a natural beach, is truly soul renewing. Once you are aware of it, you’ll start to feel the pull of the natural world even more. I have gotten to point where I literally see an ocean or forest, and my whole body relaxes, almost instantly.
Sure, for your kids’ sake, take them to the playground. They’ll have a blast. But, for your family’s sake, take them to the wilderness. Not only will it foster their creativity, it will relax and restore all of you.
So, there you are: Simplicity 101. I’d love to hear your experiences with any of these things. I know there is much that I’ve missed, but I can guarantee from experience, that doing these 5 things will lighten your load, and put a new “spring” in your step!