As some of you know, I started this blog at the beginning of 2013 in order to explore the theme my husband and I had chosen for last year: Create & Simplify. Last year was the first year we decided to orient our year around a theme, instead of a list of resolutions. It was much more rich and helpful, a compass to help us stay on course through the changes the year brought. I’ll soon share the theme we’ve chosen for this year, but I’m not ready to set aside last year’s theme yet.
I’ll start with simplifying half of our theme because it’s easier for me to talk about. This theme helped me to cut out the extra stuff that drains our time, energy, and money, and instead focus on our kids, making memories with friends, and being outdoors together. We decided to change the way we celebrated small holidays that don’t have a special meaning for our family, like Valentine’s Day and Mother’s and Father’s Days. We went on family hikes when we could, and made it a point to be together, but we didn’t add anything beyond that. And we didn’t feel like we missed out on anything.
At the beginning of the summer, I ran into a mom from my kids’ school at the dentist office. We got to talking about the upcoming trips we were taking with our families, especially how busy it gets just trying to leave town. She went through the list of things she’d been in the process of crossing off her vacation to-do list. It ranged from the typical—finish laundry, arrange for a dog/house sitter, stop the mail—as well as an extensive personal care list—haircut and highlights, manicure-pedicure, a salon spray tan, and teeth whitening. I went from nodding along, totally relating, to feeling panic. “Oh crap. She’s already crossed things off her list I haven’t even thought about yet.” I’d thought of a few things, of course, but I hadn’t put in nearly the amount of thought or preparation she had.
If we could afford to, I would probably put many of those things on my own list. I’m not judging this other mom. I get it. We’re hovering around the forty-year mark and were planning on spending extensive time in bathing suits. I’m all for doing what you can to make that more enjoyable. But I couldn’t afford a lot of pampering right then, nor could I afford the stress of adding it to my list last-minute, trying to measure up to a standard I’d just heard about.
Then I remembered to focus on simplifying. And it helped me set all that pressure aside. I’d already given myself permission to opt out of unnecessary things. Over and over, this was my favorite part of our theme to simplify: it game me a way to escape arbitrary pressures, not from a place of judgement on others (I could again empathize with this other mom) or out of self-pity (it wasn’t my resources keeping me from participating), but because I’d embraced the experiment to simplify.
I was also thankful for our theme when putting together birthday parties, party favor gift bags, Valentines for school, and stocking stuffers—occasions that send me to the dollar store and craft stores for trinkets that quickly wind up in the trash. I did a few small things, if they seemed fun, but when they began to feel like too much, I’d remind myself to simplify and be done with it.
Same goes for dealing with clutter. Donating extra stuff we didn’t need or passing it on to others was a simpler solution than trying to sell it. So except for participating in one sale that I’d already agreed to, I gave things away.
And the bad
It wasn’t all easy-breezy though. This summer I decided not to enroll my kids in many activities, camps, and sports. We also dropped our gym/pool membership going into the summer. We had decided to go on a beach vacation with good friends, and it turned out to be the highlight of the summer. But we needed all our extra money to make it happen. So instead of running around, taxiing kids to practices, games, and classes, we stayed home in order to simplify our summer.
And it sucked. Other than the ten days we spent away together at the beach, this summer felt like one of the longest and most draining we’ve had. It was hard on me and my kids not to have any schedule or structure. We needed to keep ourselves busy. And in lieu of prearranged, structured activities, it was up to me to come up with something to do. Every single day. All day long. It was completely draining and anything but simple. I won’t do that again.
This is one reason I’m not ready to give up the theme yet. I’m still trying to find a balance that actually feels simplified. And I know there are still things we need to streamline, like errands and meals, for starters. But we are also going to add a new theme for 2014. And if it feels like too much, we can always simplify.
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