Friday, November 13, 2009

Trying Something New

Have you read the book, "Simplicity Parenting"? I have, twice. It is the first book I have found that really put into words so many of my values as a parent. With this book as our guide, Chris and I are working to simplify our house and our lives. This is a tall order considering how little we already have, really. But we think it would be better for our kids to have fewer choices when it comes to clothes, toys, books and things like that. It is simply too much right now--one does not need 10 pairs of shoes! This process is difficult given how anxious change makes Erin, but if I do it when the kids aren't home, they truly do not notice the change (how sad is that? Do they really have so much that when you take half away they can't name what is missing??)

So I started in their closet. Both girls are links in different chains of hand-me-downs, so they are very well off with clothing. Too well off, in fact. When I took out the jeans that they never wear, the shirts that were "too scratchy" and the tights that "itched," I wasn't left with that much. From there, both girls agreed to try a month where they had only 8 outfits available to them--basically one for each day of the week (mix-and-match depending on weather) and one extra, as well as 3-4 favorite dresses. Erin was anxious about this idea, but she picked her 8 outfits carefully and packed up the rest. Megan was easy--she picked out her stuff for Stripes Day and Yellow Day and Dots Day and then a few dresses. All was well. And I can tell you, it has been over a month and Erin finds it SO easy to get dressed in the morning! Megan, who has always been pretty easy going about clothing, is also totally fine with this new system. I will say the one kink in this system is that when Chris and I fall behind with the laundry (which is pretty regularly, I admit), there can be issues. Not so many as to cause stress yet, but I can see how that might happen. I'll keep you posted.

Toys...they simply have too many! Now, because of our firm belief in not buying them stuff, most of it comes as hand-me-downs and, of course, gifts from our fantastically generous, loving and quite large extended family. At first, I didn't mind because everyone who buys them gifts was generally quite accepting of our no-plastic-made-in-China-crap request and usually got them educational, fun toys that used their imagination. This was good. But it has gotten to be too much. Our basement playroom looked like a toy store and the dress-up bin was so overflowing it was getting stressful for them to play dress-up! I took boxes down there and quickly took away nearly half of it--things they don't use, things that are broken, things that only have one purpose, that kind of stuff. Then I took another box and packed away things that Evan will probably use someday, but it doesn't have to be out right now. Finally, I created a Toy Library for the girls--they can take a toy off the shelf and bring it into the unfinished, storage side of the basement and trade it for a toy I had taken out. This way they have fewer choices out, but they can get "new" stuff when they want. I was able to remove three cubbie shelves from down there and, again, the girls have hardly noticed. Their construction toys are still there, their musical instruments are still there, the dress-up stuff is still there (though there is less of it) and they are so much happier to play down there now. It feels good!

Books. Now, here I admit that I have a major problem--my kids LOVE books. Erin devours them, reading several chapter books a day. When I first thought of simplifying their book choices, I couldn't imagine ever taking books away...most parents have the opposite problem! But then I began to go through them and, like the toys, quickly found quite a few we just didn't need anymore. Once those were packed away in a box for our local thrift store, I went through again and removed even more. These I put in a box on the storage side of the basement, again for a library the kids can go to when they are bored with the selection they have out. As with the other simplification ideas, this has worked wonders. The girls have discovered some "lost" old favorites, Erin has slowed down her reading a bit (which was actually a goal of ours, if you can believe it) and Evan delights in having his own shelf of board books. What a change!

So that is how we have started. This weekend I'm hoping to finish the girls' room and the classroom (guest room) and perhaps start on the kitchen. I know simplifying to the point I want will be a huge job, but room by room it is getting done. I think we will all be happier when it is done. The change so far in the girls has been wonderful. I think one reason I'm writing this is that truly, truly, we didn't have that much stuff to begin with--so I can imagine if it was overwhelming for me, some of you might also feel overwhelmed. And perhaps right now the change is working because it is new and interesting and perhaps in mid-February taking the toys away won't seem like such a great idea...but for now, I really do think I have happier kids. I'll keep you updated as the year goes on.

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