February 16, 2015

How to Get Simplicity in Your Overwhelming Life

We live in very overwhelming times… We know a lot of people, we participate in a lot of activities, work creeps into family, social media is constant and we have a lot of things to keep up with.  Our lives are very different from times past.  We like to say we are progressive, that our quality of life is better, that we have appliances and gadgets that make our lives easier, but is this true?
When my kids were little, I convinced myself that I needed a fancy new washer and dryer to keep up with laundry.  My old cheapies worked just fine, but didn’t I need something with more cycles?  A front loader to save water?  A dryer with a larger capacity?

Well, we got them… and I’d be a big fat liar if I told you they made my life easier!

Those things have more bells and whistles than I could ever use, and these bells and whistles have come with high repair costs.  Plus, I have to clean the gaskets and empty the drains.  These fancy things that were supposed to make my life easier have actually become time and money sucks for my family.  And they are just one, very simplistic example.

What about your phone?

What about your cable?

What about all of the activities your kids participate in?

What about that part-time work schedule?

It is so easy for the “easier things” to make our life a lot less simplistic – and it often has to become overwhelming before we do anything about it.

 Another trap I have fallen into is putting too many activities on my families’ plate “for the good of the children.”  This is so easy to do, especially with four children and sports that seem to pop up throughout the year. 

The older my kids get, the more I realize that simplicity is a constant way of life.  But, I have developed a check list of sorts that helps me to ascertain the best practices for my family.  When things seem to get really out of whack, I often go back to this to see where we are out of balance. 

Do What the Kids Want

Now, before you crucify me for letting my kids run the show, listen… Of course I don’t mean let your kids do whatever they want.  I mean to listen to their opinions and beliefs.  Last year, our family got way out of our simplicity zone.  My kids were involved in a variety of activities, and I took on a way larger work load than I ever had before.  It was a bad combination, but I put my head down and figured we would muddle through.  Bad idea.

My kids were exhausted, I was exhausted, and it often ended in some pretty big explosions that I would rather not revisit.

I thought that I was being a great mother, putting my kids in so many activities that they wanted to participate in.  I quickly learned that just because a kid asks to be in something doesn’t mean they want to actually fully participate in the activity.  In fact, I find that what my kids want is often a lot simpler than what I think they want. 

Last year, we wound up playing a variety of sports and, while they were fun to try, we were practically dragging the kids to their games in the end.  I didn’t want to let the team down, so we finished the seasons.  But it was the opposite of simplistic for our family.  This year, I’m looking for camps, or classes that we can try out on a one-time or short-term basis before we agree to participate. 

Don’t Try to be Perfect
Nothing stresses me out more than trying to keep up with the Joneses.  Unfortunately, however, this is a practice that I think everyone participates in at some point (or multiple points).  And, I think it’s a practice that is easier to fall into than avoid.

When my babies were little I met a person at the park that commented on how it looked like I had it all together.  I had three kids under the age of three in tow, and I had actually put on makeup that day.   At first, I just took the complement and thanked her – but then I thought again.  She had a newborn.  A new newborn.  I knew she was exhausted and I wanted her to know that she wasn’t alone.

So, I told her the truth.

I hadn’t washed my hair in a week, I hadn’t taken a shower that morning and I had snot all over the inside of my shirt from wiping little kid noses.  I hid it all well.

We had a good laugh and she thanked me for being honest.  I think so often we try to be perfect and try not to let others see us for who we truly are, but that most often ends in disaster.  You can’t keep up with it all – none of us can.  So asking for help or excepting help from others is mandatory… and doesn’t mean that you are weak.  Simplicity is a group effort!

Limit the Noise
When my kids were home fulltime, I craved silence.  Just a little bit of time to myself to think was heaven.  But, I often found that instead of relishing the silence to think, I just cluttered it with outside noise.  There are so many things competing for our time today… the television, your phone, YouTube, podcasts, TV on demand, it is all at our fingertips.  While these avenues can be a great way to decompress, I have found that filling my empty time with noise takes away some of the simplicity of life. 

I find now that I get a little nervous in the silence.  When my kids are in school, it just seems too quiet… but I am taking some steps to learn to embrace it.  I got to thinking – I know I operate better when I give myself space to think, but does this transfer to everyone?
A recent study published in Scientific American says yes.  Our brains need more mental breaks, and these breaks “increase productivity, replenish attention, solidify memories and encourage creativity.”
Now who couldn’t use more of that?

I think that our constant focus on receiving and taking in information has given us little time to actually process all of the information we receive.  Additionally, we often view downtime, or vacation time as weakness and leave our free days at work unused – in fact a recent survey found that Americans have an average of nine unused vacation days per year.  And, when they do take vacation, many will admit to obsessively checking their phone and email - not quite the break they need!
We look at idleness as a problem, but…

“Idleness is not just a vacation, an indulgence or a vice; it is as indispensable to the brain as vitamin D is to the body, and deprived of it we suffer a mental affliction as disfiguring as rickets,” surmises Tim Kreider, a New York Times essayist.  “ The space and quiet that idleness provides is a necessary condition for standing back from life and seeing it whole, for making unexpected connections and waiting for the wild summer lightning strikes of inspiration – it is, paradoxically, necessary to getting any work done.”

All I can say to that is AMEN!

Stay one step ahead
I try to stay ahead of my kids to keep their mornings and other “out the door” times simple.  This means packing lunches the day before, laying out clothes for the next day and meal planning.  Bulk cooking has been a life saver for me, giving me the ability to spend time connecting with my kids during the afternoons instead of spending time in front of the stove.

There are some amazing online resources for bulk cooking – many even offer a full shopping list and plan of action.  Basically, you set aside a full day to cook up a month’s work of meals.  For our family, this is a lot of crock pot recipes and casserole recipes that I can have in place before the craziness of the afternoon hits.  This way, dinner is on the table and weeknight clean-up is a snap.  If you aren’t into doing the cooking yourself, there are some different companies that offer the convenience of doing the work for you.  You will, of course, pay a premium in price, but that reward of a more simplistic evening is well worth it!

For me, simplicity comes from planning.  It may sound like more work in the beginning, but it winds up allowing for much more quality time in the end.


Susan Nowell @ My Place to Yours said...

I read a recent comment you made at Flower Patch Farmgirl (in reference to Shannan and Cory taking in little Avery), and decided to check out your blog. :-) I have no idea why I'm the first to common on this weeks-old post because it contains so much wisdom!

As a 54-year-old mother of two grown daughters and two preschool grandsons, I commend you on recognizing the need for simplicity in the lives of yourself and your children. There is so much competing for the attention, money, and time of young parents today, and most of those things will never matter in "the big picture." However, your children WILL remember the time you spend with them and the opportunities you take to teach them to look beyond themselves. When a child (or adult!) learns that everything is not about them—and never was!—they will have learned one of the most important life lessons possible.

I don't know all of your story since this is my first visit here, but I love your honesty (about the challenges of parenting!) and your "bottom line" desire to simplify. You won't regret either one of those.

Susan Nowell @ My Place to Yours said...

Oops! "...first to COMMENT..."