Monday, January 20, 2014

My year of Less is More


Over the past six months I've been doing a lot of reading and thinking about how to simplify our family life.  Most people I speak to just tell me I'm in a crazy season of life with kids going in twenty different directions and it's compounded by the number of children we have.  And the season will pass.  Yes, it will pass, but then it will be gone.

What will I think about this season when it is gone?  I suspect I will look back at all that we managed to achieve (as I do in a collapsed heap every December) but will our life as a family be stronger for it?  Will our relationships be better?  Will we have enjoyed being together?  Will we have memories of a mum who was enjoying her kids or a mum who was just snapping out instructions to get everyone where they needed to be?

Here's a bit of personal processing for you.  I'm quite optimistic about how much can be packed into life.  I'm not a competitive person, or a perfectionist, so I don't feel the pressure to do things particularly beautifully or be highly successful.  But my weakness is that I believe it is possible to pack lots in.  Do another degree?  Sure!  Work four days a week?  Sure, why not?  Have five kids?  Yeah, no worries. That's totally doable.  Get them all to learn two instruments, practice them and do the spot of schooling and occasional sport?  Sure.  Let's DO IT!

Except … it's not been so great.  Mostly for me because I'm the one believing it is possible, so I'm the one providing the motivation and drive for the juggernaut I've created.  And I've got sick.  Nothing big, but just endless niggly warning signs.  Cold sores. Migraines. Exhaustion. Feeling panicky. Gynaecological issues.  My brain is so there for me - full of the ideas and the plans.  But I'm thinking that my body is fighting my brain pretty hard.

While my health has FORCED me to rethink things,  it's started to dawn on me that ideologically I've got some problems with it.  The way we've been living is actually pretty inconsistent with my belief that we should aim to tread lightly on this earth and hang loose to the things of this world.  That relationships and people and time with them are more important than things.  It was kind of easy to do simple parenting when they were little.  Use a second hand cot.  Cloth nappies. Second hand clothes. It was more about material possessions than activities.

But the trap with the extracurricular craziness that has descended come the start of school, is that I think about experiences differently to possessions.  Somehow I've got sucked into a vortex of believing this really is all necessary for my kids.  It's such a slow burn thing.  It just accumulates slowly over time.  And hey, everyone else is doing it.  I tell myself that my schedule is just a little more mental because of the volume of kids.

Of course, just like possessions are blessings, so are these amazing opportunities and experiences to learn and develop fantastic skills.  But when it takes away from the energy and time we have for one another, for other people and focuses us inwards on our achievements, I'm starting to rethink the impact this has on us.

Welcome to the start of my year of Less is More.  Less stuff, activities and spending,  leaving more resources, time and energy for other people.  I hope it will be an interesting and challenging one.

Keep up with the rest of my adventure here.


5 comments:

Anne-Petra Green said...

Thank you, Jenny! This is SO me! Food for thought...especially as I start the new year!

Jenny said...

Thanks AP - I'm looking forward to thinking through it all a bit more myself!

Fiona Cheng said...

Thanks so much for this Jenny. I have been thinking similar things but it really helps to have someone else say it too. The pull of a life filled with busyness and achievements is vey powerful. i think I've worked out that if you don't actively work against it then it's got you.

Lydia Smith said...

Oh this brings back memories! I am now in a different stage of life with children grown and gone (but they seem to keep dropping back in!) and grandchildren, but even now I have to intentionally watch myself to prevent over-commitment craziness.
I think I realized the toxic nature of over-programming kids years ago when I asked the mum of one of my older son's school friends if he could come over and play after school one day. She rattled off to me the list of sporting and musical commitments he had after school every day and Saturdays and the impossibility of fitting in another thing - and I suddenly thought "When does this child play?". He was 8 years old.
After that I made a concerted effort to let my children have as much downtime as possible. It still crept up on us, as did other families expectations ("You mean Ellen isn't doing jazz and tap as well as classical? She'll miss out on the concert!!!")but I eventually discovered that what my children missed out on was business, over-scheduling, stress and a crazy mother. Plus we saved money. Plus they developed a rich play life and learned that their entertainment wasn't going to be served up to them in organised slots.
Still had busyness issues, and its amazing how quickly activities pile up when you've got a number of children of differing ages!
I don't think anyone gets it completely right - but I really encourage you to try!

H said...

Getting rid of things we no longer need, use or want feels really liberating. Life IS simpler. I have lived happily without a car or TV for two years. (Husband has recently installed TV on his computer but I don't really register that it's there). I liked crime shows until I realised that I'd easily see people get "shot" not once but multiple nights, potentially any night of the week, if I had no plans. Life seems purer. I have gifted, donated, sold and recycled things through council clean ups, Gumtree and Freecycle. I now know that almost everything I have is wanted and needed. I like that I can almost always remember the person who bought it gor me, or the place I got it, or the bargain I found shopping second hand too. Life is still busy and stressful (and we don't even have kids or a mortgage yet!) but it is less so than it was before. I don't have to walk far to public transport, but that too helps as I get exercise incidentally. There is nothing to lose! :)