We probably all know the situation. There is something on the coffee table. A mobile phone, a good book or a nice candle holder. A one- year-old comes approaching with big wide eyes and arms stretched out to grab whatever is there to grab. With a big grin he holds our mobile phone, book or the candle holder in his tiny and sticky hand. We already see it drop or go into his mouth. We don’t want either, so we take it off him and put it back on the table. Right back within his reach. This time we see the child approach again and we try and stop him right away. “No!“ maybe followed by a “You can‘t have that.“ or “This is not for your tiny fingers.“ But the child won‘t listen. The object is too interesting. The child is too curious. So the game can continue forever. Or we simply put the objects out of reach.
This is the first lesson in simplicity our children teach us: Don‘t have stuff lying around that you do not want to have in kid‘s reach. While the children grow and we will at some point run out of places high or hidden enough for the child to get to we will learn a much more rewarding lesson: Don‘t have stuff lying around at all. Ever.
There are a few lessons in simpler living in between. Your children might teach you some of those. Some you will have to discover for yourself. Here are a few we have learned over the past three years:
1. Everything in its place
Have a place for everything. Too often when we clean up we end up with a pile of little things we don‘t know where to put. Even if it is just a drawer you create especially for “random stuff“ – this helps you to have surfaces clean and tidy. And you don‘t end up looking for those things all the time because you know they must be (somewhere) in this random stuff drawer.
2. Touch objects only once
Often we go to the bathroom and on our way back through the hallway we see something that belongs to the kid‘s room. We pick it up and bring it into the kitchen where we leave it because we find something that needs to be put in the drawer in the bedroom… someone might eventually at some point take it. Or not. This is probably how one of our friends ended up with car keys in the fridge (true story!)
So instead if you grab an object go all the way to where it belongs and place it there. You might end up walking around a bit more? Maybe you end up picking up more things on your way and so end up having less stuff lying around and fewer times to walk around the flat.
If you want your children to clean up after themselves and place things where they belong – do so yourself. Do it slowly and carefully. Don‘t just quickly throw the cloth from the table into the sink. Don‘t kick your shoes off and push them near the shelf. Make an effort to carefully carry the things to where they belong. Your children are watching you. But they need to see every movement. They can‘t follow if you are too quick. They will try and be quick too and might leave things in the way or even break them. And no matter how many times you repeat and repeat and repeat… they will end up doing what you do, not what you tell them to do.
4. Simply HAVE less stuff
Once you get into the habit of putting things back where they belong, of tidying up and clearing the surfaces you might soon realize that you don‘t look at or use the things you have now put into the cupboard or drawer that often anymore. You might forget about them altogether. If so – you could just get rid of them. At some point this tidiness might even lead you to not buying things anymore.
5. The simple toy story
We dare to say that most children in the western world have far too many toys in their room. Small babies are surrounded by stuffed animals, balls and blinking mobiles. The older they get the more toys move into their play space. Often it‘s well intended to encourage and nurture the child‘s both happiness and development. But the truth is – they don‘t need that much. Often they don‘t need anything at all. This is why we have started The toy revolution. Of course kids like shiny and blinking toys. But we like chocolate or this 5th cup of coffee too. Do we need it ? Children are explorers. They are creative by nature. They make the most wonderful toys out of a spoon and a cup, a twig or a ball and a blanket. If you are gifted with too many toys and can‘t bring yourself to give them away – keep them in a box. Limit the amount of toys in the play area to keep it simple and clear. It‘s nice to have „something in the back“ that your children might „forget about“ for a while. Don‘t be scared of kid‘s boredom. It doesn‘t exist. And even if they do get a little bored every now and then – THAT is encouraging. Challenging.
6. Simplify your schedule
Being busy is a motto of today. We are all busy and we are always on the go. There is stuff to do, people to see, schedules to fill… and then you have kids. The choice is yours – will you keep up with the world, filling your diary with stuff to do, or will you simply let a day go by sometimes? Separate the things you need to do, the things you want to do and the things that you do because… if you have no good reason, maybe skip it? Give yourself and your kids a break. Sure, it’s nice to have all those coffees with friends, but why should your toddler behave through all those adult conversations? Schedule less. Try to just be with your kids. There will be time for coffees and lunches with friends. There will never be another childhood for your kids.
7. Simplify your kids’ schedule
And then there is the baby gym, swimming classes, piano lessons, and other stuff that is never too early to start with… or is it? Your child probably has enough exercise as is (see one of our many posts on movement if you have doubts ), and playground seems like a social enough place. Resist the urge to fill your toddlers days with scheduled program. Let him play freely and just watch what happens. There will be time for filling his diary with ‘stuff-to-do’. Let your kids be. Let yourself be. And enjoy every moment of it – it will be gone to soon, when the time comes for filling in the schedules.
We could go on and on. But we want to keep this post simple. There may be follow ups. There will surely be more lessons to be learned. More stuff to be thrown out. We’ll keep you posted.
What do you do to keep your life as a family simple and sane and your house clean? Tell us, we are always keen on another lesson in simplicity!
Anna & Nadine