Simplifying life with kids
The jury is in. There is new research showing that clutter is stressful – who would have thought? However, if you have a baby or children, clutter and overwhelm are pretty much a part of life – stuff, noise and a brain full of ‘to-dos’ is hardly stress free.
The good news is that in spite of it being mostly unrealistic to float around in a zen, minimalist state, we can simplify our lives and reduce the stress and pressure whether we have a new baby (that will take at least nine hours of hands on care) or a tribe of noisy, messy kids.
Have a look around you. Do you really need all that stuff? What can you do without? What haven’t you used in the last six months? What haven’t you worn in the last year? Less stuff means less work – less cleaning, more space and less stress. Go through one room at time and either throw out, sell, give away or donate everything you don't need or don’t absolutely love. Then, before you fill up your cleared spaces with more stuff, consider, do I really need this? Will it enhance my life? Save your money for experiences that will enrich your life and your family – you don’t need to spend money you don't have on things you don't need.
Delete, delegate and simplify
Take a look at everything you do each day and make a list (this could take a week to do), then check which things you have to do, what you like or don’t enjoy doing, what can wait, where you can take shortcuts – then delete, delegate or simplify. Meals, for instance, can be simplified – without resorting to takeaways too regularly. Make a slow cooker your new best friend: batch cook and freeze; organise a baking group with friends – meet up at one house, do a cook-up with other mums while you share supervision of children, then each take home food for several meals. Try eating more raw foods; use paper plates occasionally; prepare dinner early in the day so when ‘rush’ hour hits, you can feed the hungry crowd without a child crawling up your leg while you are using sharp knives!
Divide your workload
Don’t knock yourself out trying to clean the entire house from top to bottom while your baby or toddler naps, only to find you are exhausted when he or she wakes up. Plan one larger job each day such as vacuuming, cleaning the bathroom or tidying one space and don’t try to do more. If you have a baby, try wearing as you do chores because he or she will enjoy the ride and you can interact with as you multi task. Then when your baby naps you can ‘sleep while the baby sleeps’ or enjoy some me time.
Clear out the toys and get rid of anything that isn’t being played with, isn't working or has been outgrown. Fewer toys can mean children play more creatively instead of being overwhelmed and confused by too many choices. Pack away toys and just bring out a few things at a time, then a few days later, put these toys away and bring out some different ones. You might feel a lot calmer with less clutter and mess to clean up or trip over. It can also help to create some designated play spaces, rather than having toys scattered throughout the house.
Get kids to help
Even the smallest children who can walk and talk can learn to help if you make it fun. Kids under six learn best by imitation, so work with them rather than expecting them to follow orders. Also consider ways to make things easier for them to help with tidying, for instance – hooks and hangers they can reach, drawers/toy baskets/boxes with labels/pictures so they can put things in the right places. And remember, the less stuff (clothes, toys, junk) the easier they (and you) will find it to maintain order and calm.
Switch off screens
Background noise is stressful, flashing lights from screens are distracting for you and your child. Switch off screens and connect with each other. Create real learning experiences through shared activities (and they don't need to cost money – nature is free). If you are allocating a small amount of designated screen time, when that show is over, model the habit of switching off.
Create a haven from the chaos
Keeping small corners attractive, or one room tidy, can provide a sanctuary when most of the place is in a muddle. Little things like fresh flowers look cheerful and burning essential oils (keep burners away from small children) can create a calm and welcoming environment.
Children won’t remember whether they wore designer clothes or whether they were ironed or not and they won’t give a toss if they ate cheese on toast and fruit for dinner some nights or if they ate a picnic dinner in the bath – saves clean-ups – mess goes down the plughole, you are multi –tasking so it saves time and everyone has fun!
Above all, guard your own energy by learning to say no to activities and people that will sap your energy, and yes to activities that nourish you. Life is about choices – make the choices that fill your own tank so you have energy to enjoy your family.
Pinky McKay is an Internationally Certified Lactation Consultant, mum of five and best –selling author of ‘Parenting by Heart’, 100 Ways to Calm the Crying, ‘Sleeping Like a Baby’ and Toddler Tactics (Penguin Random House) see Pinky’s Books, audio programs and seminars at her website http://www.pinkymckay.com.