I wasn’t planning to have a break from the online world for most of April, but it just kind of happened… it started from a place of complete overwhelm. We had a lot going on all at once for our family and I just knew I had to step away from everything else and concentrate on me and mine for a while. I’m a huge believer in knowing when you need to press that survival mode button, cut out anything unnecessary from your days and ride out that rocky patch. There was a time when I would have just struggled on regardless, trying to do everything and be everything to everyone, but now I know better. It’s ok to say no to things, even things that you do really want to do and even when the only person you are saying no to is yourself. Saying no doesn’t mean it won’t still be there for you later when the time is right to come back to it, it’s more like just saying ‘not now’, my time and brain space is needed elsewhere at the moment. I always forget that bit when I’m really excited about something and I want to do all the things right now, but waiting for the right time is just a better idea in the long run.
I’m not naturally good at splitting myself between several projects at once, I’m more the sort of person that likes to throw themselves wholeheartedly into one thing at a time. It’s the reason that I found it really hard to be a working Mum in my old job as a nursery nurse and why I love the flexibility of blogging which pretty much allows me to pick it up and put it down as and when I feel like it. When everything is going well and ticking over nicely, I can juggle a few balls at once… but whenever I start to get that feeling of overwhelm creeping in, the first thing I do is put down as many of those balls that I can get away with and simplify life as much as possible.
In fact, I’m starting to accept, well I suppose the truth is that my children without even knowing it have forced me to accept, that the key to a happy life is a simple one. I think we have such a desire to over complicate everything these days. I suppose the internet has opened us up to the rest of the world and suddenly we know about all the different possibilities of things that we could be doing. Which is great, it’s fantastic to broaden our horizons, but the problem is we start to think that we should be doing all of them, and doing them right now… and inevitably we try to do too much. I suppose it’s the fear of missing out thing at play here… am I depriving myself and my kids if I don’t try to squeeze as many of these different things into my life as possible? Well no, not at all. But I am depriving myself if I fail to prioritise the things closest to my heart so I can give them the attention that they deserve, and put the rest to one side for now.
We’ve been living a pretty simple life in comparison to most people for a while I suppose… home education means that we don’t have lots of rushing backwards and forwards to do, or many social invitations, school fairs and bake sales etc. that we are obliged to join in with. There are lots of opportunities to join in with different trips, classes and groups within the home ed community but I feel genuinely free to pick and choose from them as I like, and often that means not joining in with a lot of things. Sometimes that’s because it’s not a good fit for our family right now and a lot of the time it’s simply because I don’t want to overwhelm myself with too many commitments.
But, after having some time away from social media and with Carl off work for a couple of weeks, I had some time to press the pause button and be really present in my life… I’ve realised that despite having all the freedom of homeschooling and the opportunity to shape our life into whatever we want it to be, we still aren’t really living out our values a lot of the time. I’m saying no to things that I should be saying yes to because I’m overwhelmed in other areas. I’ve said yes to the wrong things and it’s left me no energy or brain space to yes to the things that matter more to us. Things that we would like to be an important part of our family culture, like time out in nature, adventure, practising acts of kindness, creativity, a love of learning…
So, what is it that’s cluttering up our lives and stopping us from getting to the things that would bring more joy and purpose to our lives? Well the first one is our actual physical clutter. Our stuff. It’s the amount of time we spend picking up toys, it’s the sinking feeling I get when I see a pile of junk at the bottom of the stairs that’s been there for I don’t know how long, it’s the rising feeling of stress as I hunt for a pair of age 3-4 pants in a huge pile of clean washing just dumped in the corner of our bedroom. It’s like a layer of overwhelm that constantly sits there so that everything else that I try to do is just that bit harder. I never feel on top of the house, I never feel content with the way it looks and feels. It drags me down and makes me feel like a failure. There has got to be a better way than this.
Well I believe there is a better way and mainly it involves getting rid of a whole load of stuff. We’ve already made a good start while Carl was off work and everything feels better already. I really wish I’d taken some ‘before’ photos but look out for a full post (and maybe even a little video) on decluttering our house coming soon.
The other thing I’m trying to do is introduce more routines and rhythms into our lives. Having a structure to your day when you have young children is really hard. Starting off a routine and convincing them to go along with it can be tricky, and then you need the determination to keep going with it until it becomes a habit, mixed with the flexibility to adapt when things need to change a bit. We’ve always been a go with the flow family, which can sometimes work brilliantly, like when you have a newborn in the house for example and you don’t have much option, and can sometimes be a complete car crash. I think what happened is that we’ve been in survival mode for so long that we kind of got stuck in it. We had three children in under four years and we forgot that there was another way to live where forward planning could actually happen and things could be somewhat organised. I spent a long time thinking that routines would never really work for us, having three young children all with different needs (and different moods depending on what day of the week it is!), I needed to be spontaneous and be able to react to whatever it was they needed in that moment. But what I’ve realised is we do need routines for those things that really have to happen. They need to just happen, every day or every week. It needs to be almost on autopilot. We kind of had routines that we’d fallen into for things like laundry but there wasn’t a lot of thought put into them and they really weren’t working for us. For things like dinner time and getting dressed in the morning, and when I got my blogging work done and when we cleaned and tidied… well that was different from day to day. And when you do things differently every day, you have to put so much more thought into them, and my brain was just tired from making constant decisions. When will I get my shower today? When will the kids be quietly occupied so I can clean the kitchen? Should we go out today or stay at home? And sometimes I was so fed up of making decisions that I just didn’t make any… and that’s when chaos takes over.
Once the essential stuff is taken care of by daily and weekly routines, we have more time, and more mental capacity to pursue the things that really make our hearts happy, and I can turn off my overthinking brain for a while. The idea is to make sure that everything that needs to get done gets done, but we spend as little time and energy on it as possible… and that’s why we’re simplifying!
Adding consistent, simple but effective routines to our life is most definitely a work in progress and a process of trial and error, I will keep you updated as we settle on what works for us.
A simple life for us doesn’t mean less, once you put it into action it actually translates to more. More time to do the things that contribute to the life we want to give our children, and more time to pursue our own individual passions. More energy to say yes to things that we really want to make happen for our family. It’s about knowing what our priorities are, sticking to them and being ok about letting other things go and putting others on hold for now. It’s about not trying to do too much at once, so that we really can make the most of every minute of our kids’ childhood.
I have recently watched Minimalism on Netflix and I have also been reading Allie Casazza’s blog and listening to podcasts like The Purposeful Home and Cohesive Home and all of these have really inspired me to get on with making these changes in my life. I feel like simple living has always been in my heart, I’ve always been the sort of person that would rather have less and be relaxed than have more but be stressed all the time, but I’m now learning that to really get the full benefit of living simply you need to have a certain level of self discipline and structure, which is the part I need to work on. I know minimalism is a bit of a buzz word at the moment and no I haven’t read the Marie Kondo book (yet), but I really feel like this is one of those things that is so obvious that it might actually be the actual real life secret to a happy fulfilled life… Only keep things that are useful or bring you joy, only do things that you have to or that align with your values and move you towards your goals, only surround yourself with people that you love…. it’s so simple it must be true right?
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