This year, consider applying the springtime ritual of cleaning and getting things in order to all areas of your family’s life. Don’t just scrub corners and clear out closets—evaluate how too much stuff, too many options, and jam-packed schedules might get in the way of your family living a calmer, happier life.
East County parent Jayna Russell is a mom to twin toddlers and a third grader. She finds the pressure to consume and provide unrelenting. “There’s always something I’m not doing, something I need to buy, some glaring evidence that I’m falling short, and it’s exhausting as a parent.”
In a world that urges parents to do more, buy more and schedule more, there’s good news. You can take a deep breath and embrace the benefits of simplicity. Because having and doing less (not more) is the key to helping families thrive.
In his best-selling book Simplicity Parenting, author and educator Kim John Payne says, “When you simplify a child’s ‘world,’ you prepare the way for positive change and growth.” Here are practical tips for simplifying life to help your family thrive.
Start by clearing out actual clutter.
A streamlined and organized home not only decreases anxiety, but it produces calmness and a sense of well-being that benefits the whole family. “It’s a real pleasure to declutter and to see clear surfaces again,” says Payne. “It’s calming for you and your children to be surrounded with clean lines and a simpler palette rather than a riot of shapes and colors.”
As every parent knows, toys, books and other treasures seem to multiply overnight. That makes tackling the toy box the logical place to start. Keep favorites and toss out anything that’s broken or missing pieces. Donate toys your child has outgrown or no longer plays with. Scale back further by creating a fun toy “library” for kids to rotate items in and out of the play area. Simply store away a couple of bins and switch them periodically.
Clean up chaotic schedules.
After streamlining belongings, Payne encourages parents to look at the family calendar. “Just as too many toys may stifle creativity, too many scheduled activities may limit a child’s ability to direct themselves, to fill their own time, to find and follow their own path.”
Think of your family’s schedule less as a calendar to fill and more as a tool to guard your time and guide your days. Leave ample space for play, rest, reading or doing nothing at all. Use mealtimes, bedtimes and other downtime to connect, share joys and challenges, and gauge and manage stress levels.
“Without a ton of stuff weighing us down or schedules packed so tight we can barely breathe, we have space just to be together,” says Russell.
Clear away virtual clutter.
Screen time is a fact of life. School work, assignments and communication with others happen electronically. It’s not realistic to set it to zero. But, with so much screen time necessary every day, think of screens such as TV shows and gaming as non-essential. Use them sparingly and ruthlessly eliminate where you can.
Embrace newfound “space.”
Once your home feels lighter and your schedule more spacious, don’t rush to fill them up again. Instead, give kids room to play, create and explore. Provide opportunities to practice independence and life skills, but resist the urge to structure or overly direct activities. “Children use and grow their imaginations quite naturally,” says Payne. “They only need time to do so—plenty of open-ended time and mental ease.”
Use your newfound freedom to foster closer bonds with family not just on special occasions, but every day—something the Danish call hygge which loosely translates “to cozy around together.” Authors of The Danish Way of Parenting claim it’s one reason Denmark is known as one of the happiest countries in the world.
Finally, as you shift the focus away from accomplishments and acquiring more things, cultivate your family’s values by caring for one another and those in your world. Notice opportunities to practice empathy, generosity or other values you want your kids to take with them into adulthood. Adopt a simplicity mindset and give your family room to see what blooms.
For Russell, what blooms is something beautiful. “We cook together, draw pictures, take walks and look at the stars,” she says. “Instead of individuals living separate lives under the same roof, we enjoy the pleasure of truly belonging to one another.”
Jody Lee Cates is a local mom and writer of our award-winning column, Parenting with Purpose. She also blogs about healthy relationships at www.jodyleecates.com.
This article won an award from San Diego Press Club! Jody Cates won second place in the Column—Serious subject category for her “Parenting with Purpose" column, featuring this article. See all of San Diego Family's awards HERE.