This blog post is the first of an occasional series focusing on minimalist parenting, aka simplicity parenting, aka voluntary simplicity with kids. Whatever your term of choice is, we’re hoping to offer some inspiration on a subject that hits close to home for me, as the parent of an active two and a half year old.
For me, voluntary simplicity is a journey. It’s a path I’ve been wandering since before I became a parent, but one that calls to me more frequently now that my life is ripe with the day-to-day challenges of parenting a young child. The book Simplicity Parenting is a great primer on the whys and hows of integrating simplicity into your family, and if this topic calls to you as well, I recommend checking it out at your local library. If you’re ready to get started on the minimalist parenting adventure today, here are 5 steps you can take to make your life a little bit easier, happier, and more meaningful.
1) Simplify Your Stuff.
Think of one area of your home that could use a little love and attention, and set aside 30 minutes to de-clutter. I highly recommend purging anything that you don’t love and use frequently. The less stuff you have, the less time it takes to clean it up and take care of it. This week I tackled our linen closet, which in addition to holding linens also houses a plethora of backpacking gear we haven’t used in three years (yep, our 2.5 year old might explain that!) In addition to organizing, I used my “will we REALLY use this again soon enough to justify keeping it” filter to sort through both the linens and gear. It can be hard to let go of things (like that flannel duvet cover I spent too much money on and never use) but when I do let things go, I find that clearing the physical space clears up my mental state too.
2) Simplify Your Kids Stuff.
Take a good look at the toys that you are coexisting with. If you feel overwhelmed by the quantity, a great approach is to put most of the toys away and rotate through them as your kids lose interest. We use the Montessori basket approach and have 5 small baskets that hold the toys that are available, the rest are kept out of sight (which for my 2.5 year old still means out of mind) in my son’s closet. Instituting a one-in-one-out policy, whereby every new toy that comes into the home is balanced out with a toy going out (passed on to friends/recycled/Goodwilled, etc.) is another easy approach to implement. I use the closet storage space as my barometer for when it’s time to pass things on to a friend or our local Swap & Play — if the closet is reaching the point where I dread opening it to swap out toys and books, it’s time to find a new home for the toys my guy isn’t playing with as frequently or has outgrown.
3) Simplify Your Schedule.
Schedule a day or an afternoon each week that is set aside for family time. (I know, it’s a little ironic to schedule unscheduled time, but this is what it’s come to for many of us!) This is proving to be a very big challenge in my household of social butterflies, so it remains high on my list of simplicity parenting actions to take in the future (when our calendar opens up?!) The research showing that boredom leads to creativity is just one of the reasons to clear your calendar and give your kids a chance to be bored!
4) Simplify Dinner Time.
Once a week I pull out a piece of scrap paper and plan out dinners for the coming week. This simple step saves me time every day – there’s no more deliberating about what to make, and better yet, no more running to the store for a few more ingredients before the inevitably chaotic reality of trying to cook with a little one who’d rather I was on the kitchen floor playing trains. Meal planning can take some getting used to, and if you’re intimidated by the idea I recommend checking out Fresh20, and letting them do the work for you!
5) Simplify Your Goals.
Simplicity parenting is a journey. For me and probably many others, it’s a journey with detours and roundabouts and missed turns. Start simply – pick one thing to try this week and give it a shot. If you forget, run out of time, or are waylaid by a sick kid or busy week at work, try again next week. The beauty of pursuing simple living lies in discovering what sticks and serves to make your life a little easier!
Kerry Lyles is Development and Communications Director for the Northwest Earth Institute. Want to learn more about living simply? Check out NWEI’s Voluntary Simplicity discussion book, or join our Parenting Simply EcoChallenge team and take on a simplicity challenge for two weeks this fall!