Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Simplify, Simplify, Simplify

I remember when I was at university I saw the book ‘Simplify your Life' by Elaine St James on the counter at the university bookshop. Despite my rather meagre student finances I bought it immediately and read the whole thing on the bus ride home. I was hooked. The notion of deliberately choosing a life that is ‘outwardly simple, inwardly rich’ resonated deeply. Since then, voluntary simplicity has been a driving value for me. I haven't always succeeded, but I have always aspired to live this way.

Now there is (of course!) a book called ‘Simplicity Parenting'. I haven’t read it but Grace has reviewed it very positively, and having read the first chapter on Amazon it certainly looks like a good read. It has got me thinking a lot about what ‘simple parenting’ means to me.

An old-fashioned childhood

I want my children to have an old fashioned kind of childhood … to climb more trees and watch less TV. To take all morning to get dressed, to read the same book 20 times in one day and to make forts with sheets over chairs in the lounge. To have one special doll and love her, not a collection of 40 Barbies and always be wanting more. To take all day to potter in the garden, or bake biscuits in the kitchen.

A stay at home mum

My life is simpler because we actually stay home a lot, rather than fill our days with playgroups, music classes, toddler gymnastics, play dates, and coffee groups. Our mornings are much calmer as there is no pressure to be anywhere. I don’t need to pack lunches and bags. I don’t need to pay fees or organise resources or sit on committees. Now we only have one car life is even simpler … if we can’t walk there in the pushchair, we can’t go! Plus, getting kids into the pushchair seems so much simpler than herding them in and out of carseats.

Avoiding mall trall

We try as far as possible to avoid the excesses of todays commercial culture (oooh, that sounds terribly self righteous). We don’t watch TV with the kids so they don’t see the ads for all the amazing toys. We try not to take them to malls and department stores, so they don’t see things to ask for. We try not to clutter our home with plastic junk. The odd time we do find ourselves in a K’Mart and experience the pester-power of a 3 year old we are quickly reminded of how much staying away keeps our life, and our home simple.

Beware the supermums

You know the supermums don’t you … the ones whose 2 year olds are already ‘preccious readers’ and are heading off to gifted programmes. The ones who anxiously teach colours, letters and numbers, agonise over each developmental milestone, and phone Plunketline twice a day to check everything out. These mums will stress you out … I tend to give them a wide berth!

Let go of perfectionism

My life is complicated by my ambition to be some of kind of perfect Waldorf mom who cooks biodynamic food from scratch, sews and knits and needle-felts and has nothing in the house that is formed or synthetic.

But for me, real life isn’t like that. Friends and family have different values, and I’d rather spend time enjoying my children than fermenting yoghurt. My heart broke the first time I saw how much Munchkin loved Dora the Explorer. It didn’t fit the picture in my head of what she ‘should’ be into … but that is my issue not hers.

And so when a loving aunty gave her a Dora doll for her birthday, and my grandparents gave her a Dora book I chose not to worry. Not to try to ‘hide’ the doll, or have a ‘little chat’ to the rellies about why we don’t have those things in our house. Instead, I bought her some Dora stickers to go with it and decided that life would be a lot simpler if I let go of my Waldorfy perfectionism.

We have even started watching the odd DVD here … I have three DVDs for Munchkin. She goes through stages of being quite into them, and when she’s having one of those days and Little Guy is refusing to settle they are a god-send. I am glad I fought the battle for as long as I did, but for me the decision to stop being a TV Nazi has made life a lot easier!

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. What makes life at your place simple, or complicated?


sarah said...

Alas, I am one of those horrid mothers who had a precocious reader and who phoned Plunketline - if not twice a day, then certainly often. (My child had a rage to learn and a chronic illness. I worried endlessly about both.) Dd was in a gifted programme at age 4 because she was desperately lonely - we didn't stay long though. I also went to the mall with her regularly, because we lived in the mountains and if I wanted to go out I was stuck in town all day, and the mall was shelter. We found all its quiet spaces!

But I also walked everywhere, spent long peaceful mornings in pjs, made forts with muslin and silk, and baked biscuits, bread, etc. As much as possible I have striven for my ideal in a real-world setting.

The thing that has complicated my life the most is a feeling that I have to be a certain way, do certain things, to be okay. But I'm getting better these days!

Hope you are well :-) :-)

Anonymous said...

I agree with you that it's all in the balance. There are certain things to hold dear and close and those are things to maybe push harder on. And then there are things to let go of a bit. And to get yourself to be okay with letting go a bit is the real battle. At least for me.

Anonymous said...

Being home more definantly simplifies things for us. If we have things on it is usually in the afternoon.
Homeschooling helps us to stay home more aswell.
We have an afternoon each week deditcated to tv watching. This stops the girls asking to watch the tele all the time as they know when wednesday afernoon comes around we will all snuggle down to watch litle house on the prairie.

Gypsy said...

Oh Sarah, I'm sure I would still find you very simple and happy company!!!

Kelly and Kelly you are right, being OK with letting go is the battle - its that constant fight with my inner perfectionist that says 'this isn't how it should be'.

Family of Girls interesting that you choose to have things on in the afternoon - I have always preferred mornings but now I can see how afternoons are probably easier. I like the idea of a TV afternoon ... great to limit it like this. I LOVE little house on the prairie.

Annicles said...

I also yearn for the simple life and strive in many ways to acheive it. We don't homeschool so mornings are just about eating breakfast and getting to school. However, the evenings are generally pretty relaxed affairs. Our rule is no tv, computer or wii during the week, and 2 hours of tv and an hour of computer or wii at the weekend. They know it's coming and they can choose what they are going to watch in advance. The only thing we don't ration are David attneborough type programmmes and the world at war.

During weekday eveings we get homework and music practice done before supper and then sit down as a family to eat. We eat every meal at home together sitting around our big kitchen table. After supper we play music (either on our instruments and have a good jam or a cd) and play board games, get out the art materials, read poetry to each other or whatever takes our fancy. Sometimes the kids just want the sheet and the table!!!

On a side note, I went to my eldest's parents evening last week and the comment I got many times was the teachers could spot the children who had limited electronic input because they were the children who were unfettered by societies ideas of normal and had a wider scope to their learning and questioning. Made me feel good about putting those boundries in early and sticking to it. If my kids see adverts they have fun pulling them apart and pointing out how the advertisers are manipulating children's emotions! It always makes me laugh.

Gypsy said...

Annicles that it such a great comment - your evenings sound perfect! Interesting about the teachers, I have heard that a lot too - especially by kindergarten teachers who think TV affects play majorly.

The girl who painted trees said...

I really enjoyed reading this article and the comments that followed.

I once babysat for a great family of four kids an done day in the summer their tv broke. The parents decided not to purchase a new one until Christmas. The kids already had pretty strict rules about tv watching, but I remember how much fun it was to babysit them because they would play so creatively. On the other hand, I also babysat regularly for a family whose kids watched tv way too much, played video games, and owned very few books. If the tv wasn't on, they had no clue what to do. It was very sad. I always went to the library to get books to read to them when I babysat them.

I used to be very strict about tv in our household, but the reality of having a 2 year old and 3 month old have allowed me to relax my expectations a bit and I allow my daughter to watch commercial free things we have taped or have on dvd occasionally.


Gypsy said...

Girlwhopaintedtrees welcome to the blog and thanks for commenting! Interesting experiences with your babysitting ... there is going to be a whole generation who don't know how to really play its very sad. I found it was the toddler and a baby thing that made me introduce a bit of telly too ... at least with DVDs we can avoid the ads. Its not ideal but its good to know others make the same compromises!

Anonymous said...

Life is simple here when I remember the importance of putting my family first. I am a chronic over-committer and often stretch myself far too thin, to the detriment of my kids and husband. When I remember that the important things are right here in front of me, and I need to make them my priority, life suddenly becomes manageable again. I also find that if I spend too much time on the computer it's all too hard.
I became obesessed for a while with the food my girls ate and the amount of TV watched, but like you I discovered the joy of letting go and letting other people important to us be involved in our lives without the constant monitoring by me. I fear I may be a bit of a supermum, but I'm trying to combat that every day!
One car would be wonderful, I'm trying to work up to that eventually.

nova_j said...

yes, yes & yes! for me the biggest factor in simplifying our family life is just staying home! i know a lot of people feel like their kids are "understimulated" at home and turn into ratbags when they're not at kindy/daycare because of that, but with our lot it has definitely been a case of more outings = more conflict & misbehaviour :( and when we *stop* going to kindy etc for a week they're actually much happier overall... we still pursue it because we still want them to have a bit more peer contact than we manage otherwise (we're loners!) but it has proved itself critical to our family to keep it severely limited :)

Annicles said...

Aaahh - the tv is used a lot less now that when the children were smaller, but the way I used it was to replace the nap that they all kicked out of the windo at between 18 and 24 months. Far too young as far as I was concerened. I needed a quiet time. Looking back, I was exhausted - every couple of years I popped out another one! So the children didn't watch anything until they were about 2 and then it was a dvd for around 45 minues (or longer if I fell asleep on the sofa!). The amount they watch, or ask to watch as they have got older.

At school, where I teach 4-7 year olds, you can spot the children who watch a lot. 2 reasons. 1 is all their imaginary games are based on and prescribed by what they have seen. 2 is they have a much weaker grasp on reality. They expect to be able to kick a friend and he will get up and be fine. We have to do a lot of roleplay at circle time about how fighting does hurt. i also play a game called real or not real. I start with objects and made up things - a stone = real, a nyerp = not real. So it is obvious! then we move onto tv shows - power-rangers = not real, dolphins on tv = real. It is very hard for them to understand.....

Rachel said...

I feel the same way. I'm glad my child has an attachment to a few special stuffed animals rather than several different ones just to "have them."

We let her watch DVDs but I'm glad to avoid the advertisements and be in control of what she watches. I regretted Dora the Explorer at first, but it really is better than most other choices. What helps keep things simple at my house is that I let her watch during the early mornings when I'm not at my best, and then we turn it off for the rest of the day.

Lightening said...

I tend to find myself naturally drawn to the idea of simple living too. I don't find it easy to stay there though. The world these days seems to be so much the opposite that it's hard to constantly fight that drag. It's worth it though. I figure that even if only get part way there, it's a simpler more wholesome life for my children than if I hadn't fought the pull of "busyness" life is constantly throwing our way. Good luck with your endeavours. :)

Jo's Place said...

I've only just managed to read this post, but I totally understand where you are coming from. I hate plastic, but family have brought my little miss a heap of it. Thankfully it is good quality stuff and she does have a lot of fun with it. I do however stay away from those horrid $2 shops with all the cheap plastic crap, scares me no end that stuff.

As for TV, my partner is a TV addict and it drives me mental. I will have cartoons on for Miss C in the morning, then that's it. Depending on the day we have had, I will pop on Barney for 1/2 hour when she wakes up, so she sits in one spot and eats her after noon tea. Other than that, it's off and if it's fine we are outside playing, learning and she is just being a kid.

We have two outings a week, Playgroup and Mainly Music. Other than that I might catch up with friends while the kiddies play, but it's not set in concrete so if we feel like staying home we do. In saying that though, living out West we have so much we can do (bush walks, beaches etc) that I think we are fairly lucky. We can still get out and have wonderful learning experiences, yet stay away from those dreaded malls.

One thing that really scares me is all the crap food I see parents feed their kiddies. Processed and pre-packaged food is tasteless. I feel sorry for some kiddies at Playgroup their lunch boxes are full of tasteless food, no wonder they don't eat it.

Must fly, off to Playgroups Christmas party, it's a beautiful day so we are going to walk :)

Anonymous said...

I am still a tv nazi, but have 'let go' of the food a little. In the last two days DS 2.5 has had his first chocolate, his first chocolate biscuit, first jelly, first iceblock and first icecream in a cone. It felt good!

Fire said...

It's always so nice to read your blog Gypsy. We went for no TV at all when the kids were young, and unlike most of your commenters, found that this actually made our life easier - children behave so badly after TV that I think you pay several times over for the "break" you got while it was on. If I had my way, we wouldn't have a TV at all, but I did use to find it amusing that the children literally didn't know what the box in the corner was for, or that it had an "on" switch!

There are some ways in which the simple life hasn't quite worked for us though - the children have far too many toys, and even though we've only ever had one car it feels like one car too many a lot of the time!