There is no milestone quite like that last day of school. It’s like crossing a threshold to a new, crisp chapter of life, and is often met with high expectations and big plans.
In a big family like ours, these lofty plans range from “figuring out what I want to do after high school” to “building a monkey bar system in my bedroom so I can avoid the lava on the way to your bedroom…in the middle of the night.” And I must say I’m all about indulging both ideas and everything in between….except the middle of the night part.
Another popular theme is getting into shape. I think especially as the kids get into their older teen years, they’re seeing the value of taking care of themselves–or at least, seeing how the results of eating however they want doesn’t really work out like it once did.
All of this is lovely to hear. What they’re striving for takes planning, goal setting and some specific mom-helicoptering to steer them towards achievement–none of which I’ll be around a whole lot for since I’m out of the house most of the day, for most of the week, working. And maybe that’s a good thing? 😉
When you’re in a big blended family, clutter feels inevitable and living minimally feels unattainable. I mean, for starters, I collect kids, and they collect all the things: rocks, transformers, slime, unicorns, hair accessories, makeup, books, markers, movies, knickknacks, apps, cookie crumbs, dust, grime, yuck. It’s exponential—like a black hole of swirling stuff that, when piled altogether, looks more like garbage and not like things at all. It’s like living inside of one huge junk drawer.
To be honest, I think I am affected the most by it because I’m the one who cleans the most. So I noticed the buildup the most. While cleaning, I would move things from point A to point B and then back again until I came to terms with the fact that there really wasn’t a spot for whatever it is. But I still wouldn’t get rid of it because I never understood the problem, until now.
Another good reason to purge is we could never find anything. There wasn’t a designated spot for things–now there is. Also the kids’ rooms were always a mess because there was too much. Their disorganization and sloppy living situation wasn’t their fault–they were, in reality, just following my lead :-/. Dealing with the stuff takes alot of time and I want to deal with it less and less–but once and for all.
So to ease the chaos and become more environmentally responsible (end goal in sight), I’m trying something new in the hopes that it makes me, and therefore my family, more aware of how we are a part of this planet.
It starts with education. I’ve read everything I could about living minimally, decluttering and living mindfully—all at once . The reason Marie Kondo’s book is such a hit is because in between adorable Japanese musings of decluttering, we actually are getting a step-by step lesson in how to get rid of stuff that doesn’t spark joy. Indeed, when you start with stuff that has less emotion tied to it (i.e. clothes) it’s easier to rid yourself of things that are emotional to let go of (i.e. that stupid necklace from an ex-boyfriend I’ve had in my jewelry box…seriously…why was it in there and what gave it the right to take up that kind of important space for SO LONG? Yes I cried when I put it in the go-away pile).
The art of tidying up, of decluttering, of minimizing and all the other lingo is really about the art of letting go. When you let go of things that don’t spark joy, you become profoundly aware of what does spark joy. Suddenly you’re surrounded by that stuff, and that stuff only and voila! Life is better.
This is easier to do on your own, than in a family of nine, where the kids have had to face their own things and not necessarily on their own terms. A great point was brought up by one of my teens: paying attention to the difference between joy and guilt when parting with things. For example: This object under your bed that you forgot about was a gift and you don’t exactly love it, but feel ungrateful getting rid of it. Fumio Sasaki’s Goodbye, Things addresses this issue several times to a T. If you’re reading Marie Kondo’s books (The Life-Chanaging Magic of Tidying Up & her sequel Spark Joy) , please read Sasaki’s book along side it—it’s great supportive material.
And here’s something new: getting rid of stuff has all of us reconciling: diet & exercise, people & relationships, jobs and tasks–it has cascaded into the realization that we have choices to make and when we’re more present & conscious and far less distracted, we’re at the helm of how our lives go.
I have also learned this is a practice and not an end game, via Regina Wong’s Make Space. There will be mistakes and we will need to edit as time goes on, but this big purge is astounding enough to make us all acutely aware of consumption. Our discard pile is still growing and what’s amazing is that no-one is visiting it, changing their mind about putting something there. At the same time we’re learning about needs versus wants, and when we think we need, we’re prompted to ask ourselves…yeah but, do we really really need it?
Decluttering things that are closer to the heart is so crazy emotional. There is no other way around it, than to just let it be. I have allowed myself to sit with the emotions of letting go of something that might seem materialistic and trivial —but difficult for me. How is it that a material object can become so gummed up with sentimentality that it feels like I’m casting a puppy into a volcano? I have had this awful experience recently while getting rid of Leopold’s wooden firehouse. I made myself post it on Facebook Marketplace and when we let it go, I was overcome with such grief, that it took me the rest of the day to recover. I felt heartless, sick to my stomach and wondered if what I really did was give away something that sparked joy. I was worried that I ignored my gut feeling and mad a mistake.
But After awhile of sitting with the grief, I began to realize why: It wasn’t the object at all, but the meaning it held. I was ultimately coming to terms with the fact that I don’t have babies anymore. After 18 years, we officially have no-one to pass toys and books and clothes down to. There is no need to open up the baby bins and pull out our favorites. Those things have reached the end of the line and it was time for them to move on. Even writing that ties my stomach in knots. Leopold is not a baby, nor is he a toddler anymore—and there is no-one to fill his shoes—literally. 🙁 I have A LOT of letting go to do in that department. For now, I have a favorites bin that my heart-wrenching baby stuff goes into (well, a few bins…it’s a process).
In many ways tidying up and agreeing to live more minimally has helped me do more than reclaim my sanity. Clutter takes time to clean, takes money to purchase and then store and ultimately blocks joy and serenity, preventing personal growth. But cutting it all loose enables the process of letting go, of acceptance and finally, creating space for living a better life. Not just for you, but for your whole family.
Together we’ve set a goal: Can the things we let go of be turned into money and be put into savings? Can every impulse to buy something also get turned over to savings as well? Can that savings amass to the point of buying us all that vacation we’ve been talking about going on for years? The answer is yes. It’s time for a new chapter for our family. We’re learning that being together is all we really need.
Two months before Christmas, I made a horrible mistake.
I started reading several books about minimalism, intentionalism, mindfulness and using the power of less to add more to your life. This recipe for disaster had me not only dragging my heels when the rest of the world was out shopping and spreading transactional cheer, but also considering the stuff we already had and finding reasons to discard & donate.
Only two trips and two Volvo-loads of stuff later, I returned home to find our stuff had multiplied.
Because, like….Christmas hits us like a tidal wave every single year. I used to run and hide, but now I charge ahead, knowing I’ll get bowled over anyway. It is a no-win scenario because in the past, we have been known to walk into Christmas with loose intentions, and way-too-high expectations. There is some kind of sick victory in loosing the battle, truly believing I’m winning (I believe that is called denial). Needless to say, everyone got what they wanted because I’m a sucker (and guilt monger) for disappointment. It’s not a bratty kid thing, I definitely think my kids understand the concept of gratitude. It’s just that there’s something missing from it all.
The more I think about it, the more I believe it’s a moment of pause that each of us is lacking. And in “pausing” when you are getting, getting, getting, and then maybe expressing gratitude, (i.e. taking a breather from screens: another out-of-control form of over indulgence for my family), etc–you tend to generate the kind of awareness that causes a natural assessment of consumption. And, according to all of these books I’ve plowed through–when you become aware of consuming, it spreads to all areas of your life: Self care, clearing clutter (and not just stuff, but people and jobs that no longer serve you), mental health, emotional well-being, diet and exercise….in other words, leading you towards the kind of life you’ve always dreamed of: A life of purpose–discovered through the process of letting go.
And what comes next? You guessed it: When we begin living a life that is in alignment with exactly who we strive to be–happiness is the end result.
I don’t know about you, but I’m double fisting that Kool-Aid and making an extra batch to send in the kids’ school lunches. This very clear and linear road to success has me just about throwing things out the window and I’m trying not to second guess my propensity to set us all up for failure.
Even though all of this information would have been nice to have long before Christmas, you know the So Called Mom way: Better late than never.
And in achieving this higher state of awareness, all I need to do is convince the other seven kids (plus Pippin, who is already skeptical) to hop on board.
Any tips & tricks you have on getting minimal and intentional in a big family are welcome!
In the meantime, here are the books that have exorcized my demons:
For the last 18 years of doing this whole mom thing, I always found ways to destroy myself so that I could endlessly rule the world of never good enough. You’ve been there, right? I thought so.
For me, it was only one of two ways: I work and miss out on mandatory mom-stuff and watch my kids grow up in fast forward –OR– I stay home, pace the house and wind up crying in an empty bathtub by noon because I’m watching myself grow up in fast forward. It was a can’t-win cycle. What if I was so absent that I didn’t know my kids’ teachers names every year? (that has happened). What if I was so present that my kids –and their teachers– couldn’t stand me anymore? (ahem, that also has happened).
And what if I just chilled out. What if I accepted that working (ALOT even) was the best medicine–for all of us? Once I realized this, and then forced myself to have the patience to try it long enough–I began to realize my little ducklings were following in my footsteps:
Jake got a second interview at Costco. On his own!
And everyone else is helping around the house–dishes, cooking, cleaning (sort of) and finally realizing that all of the things that have magically appeared in front of them, really costs money. And is the result of hard work.
Take your daughter to work day just so happened to land on a fancy luncheon event that debuted a video I edited. This shows the kiddos how glamorous working really is…#overdoingit
The end product is less time spent together, sure. My days (and many nights) are consumed by me in front of my computer nailing deadlines and making sh*t happen. On the sidelines, this is a subconscious hip-check into feminism for all of them: Your mom works, is successful and has a meaningful life that isn’t all about you (painful to write/think/say that). Also: The time you have together is about quality not quantity. Get inspired by it.
I have returned from Paris with a renewed sense of motherhood….
It’s like a light switch has been flipped on: I have begun to set boundaries around my work schedule (which previously was either all over the place or just all-the-time) and make significant room for family time. This includes volunteering at a place I never felt was important until now: my kids’ school. Sure we all know the value of volunteer work–people in general need extra help, teachers especially. But I never once saw that as being something that has a direct connection to my kids’ confidence at school before–so I’m focusing on being as present as humanly possible–both at school and every event and extra-curricular they have going on: gymnastics, tennis, horseback riding, homecoming….wait, doesn’t this put me back in helicopter-mom territory again? Hmmmm, there’s got to be a balance there too….We shall see!