Thursday, May 16, 2013

What Happened When I Simplified Our Lives (Or, I got sick of cleaning up and decided to get rid of stuff instead)

I've been attempting to de-clutter our house for the last couple of years. Seriously. It hasn't been working. I'd get one little spot cleaned up and then another room would be cluttered and disorganized. I'd get rid of one toy and three more would take it's place. It was frustrating.

Recently I realized I'm dealing with post-partum depression and anxiety again. I won't get into all that too much right now but, after reading a bit over at Honest Mom, I know I will write about it at some point. Suffice it to say, I had some really, really dark days. About a month ago I finally figured out what was going on and I got some help. I'm feeling a lot better (although there are still ups and downs) but I'm taking it one day at a time.

All that to say, feeling overwhelmed at home hasn't helped me deal with the depression and anxiety. I decided I needed to eliminate as many things that were overwhelming me as possible. Going places was stressing me out so I canceled all our plans for a week. The constant battle with clutter was overwhelming so I decided to eliminate the clutter. We have so much stuff that is not used--so many toys that were getting dumped on the floor every day...

So, after re-reading Simplicity Parenting, I decided I needed a new strategy new strategy. Starting about two weeks ago, every time I went in L's bedroom I would grab an armful of toys, clothes, or books and drop them in the spare room/nursery. Instead of picking through her box of miscellaneous trinckets, I just eliminated the whole box. Unread books, extra dress-up clothes, almost everything with a character on it went into the other room. After a day or two I spent a morning and finished removing the unneccesary stuff from L's bedroom, the living room (where most of the toys live), and our arts and crafts cupboard.
The spare room after our first round of sorting. This is the bottom layer...
I was able to do all this fairly quickly because I was just moving stuff to the other room (aside from throwing out the obvious trash/recycling items). I wasn't having to make decisions about what stayed and what went. I knew it would be less stressful to do that later with my husband's help. Together we could decide what to trash, store, or donate/sell.

Having made such drastic changes so quickly, the impact was immediate. I was worried about how L would react to having a good 75% of her stuff disappear. But she didn't say a word. At first when I was just taking an armful at a time she didn't notice. Later she just watched. Then she asked what I was doing. When I explained that I was reorganizing she jumped right in and picked out stuff to go in the other room.

When I was finished and everything that was left was put away, L spun in a circle in her room and said, "It's a dream come true! Thank you for my new room mommy!"

No joke. She's a little dramatic but that's really how she felt. She was relaxed and happy. She was excited to show J her new room when he got home from work. She's wanted to just stay at home and play, she hasn't wanted to go anywhere. But that's not the only change. Since the "big purge" (as I call it in my head), L has been a different kid. She's her old self again.

She's happy. She's less moody. She's calmer, kinder, and sensitive to the people around her.

She's eating. She's not hanging on me and whining to nurse all the time.

She's sleeping better--she's napped every day since the purge (nine days and counting!).

She's interested, motivated, and focused. She asked to help with cooking and cleaning and suggests games or activities or stories. But she's also more content playing independently with me joining in occassionally.

She almost never asks to watch television anymore and when she does she's easily redirected to read a book or play outside.

The meltdowns over character specific items have stopped. She's perfectly happy wearing flower underpants under her ballgown and isn't demanding I help her find the cinderella panties when she's finished playing Sleeping Beauty and wants to be Cinderella.

She hasn't asked for any of the removed toys, save for a backpack. So, she has her Elmo backpack back. But she didn't say a word when I brought her the Elmo backpack on not the bright pink one covered in princesses.

She's stopped changing clothes as frequently. She still goes back and forth between play clothes and dress-up but she'll put the same play clothes back on when she's done playing dress up.

She's cleaning up after herself without being asked. She's putting away toys and hanging up clothes. Every now and then she needs a reminder but those reminders do not result in a meltdown.

Did I mention that she's been happy and sleeping?

Simplicity Parenting discusses how too much choice can lead to feelings of being overwhelmed in kids (and adults). I think we were both there. I know I was overwhelmed by the amount of stuff and trying to keep everything put away so I can only imagine how she felt. Simplicity Parenting also talks about how kids attach emotional significance to their toys and when they have too many they can get stressed out trying to stretch their affection and keep track of so many special items. When L was carrying around four purses all crammed with little trinkets she wasn't having fun playing, she was just trying to keep track of everything. She was stressed out and not enjoying herself. Changing clothes 20 times a day? She couldn't make up her mind. It all seems so obvious now.

The change has been so dramatic. It's been motivating. It's helped me to let go of stuff when I'm sorting through everything. I find the hardest thing is my emotional attachment to the things I imagine she might have an emotional attachment to and the things I feel like I should keep just in case she wants to play with it some day. And worrying that people who gave certain items as gifts will be upset that we got rid of them.

But it's silly. She wants to play with a very small number of toys. She wants to read the same few books over and over again. And that's what she needs. The security of repetition and routine and the space and freedom to be creative and use her imagination.

In addition to purging all the excess (the grown-up bedroom is next!) we've started a few other daily family activities to help build a little more rhythm into our days. But more on that later. This post is already much too long! But it's been a long time coming...  

This post is part of Frugal Days, Sustainable Ways, Seasonal Celebration, and Tuesday Baby Link Up

17 comments:

  1. Love it! Good job, that book is fantastic. I recommend it to every new parent!

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  2. I love this and will link to it on my weekend links post. I especially appreciate what you said about gifts from other people. I sometimes hesitate to throw things out that have overstayed their welcome because they were a gift. I have to remind myself that if it's truly GIVEN, then the person releases ownership. When I give, I hope I do this! Not all people do. Some people give with a string attached, an agenda. :-(

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    1. Thanks Carrie! I love how you worded that, "if it's truly GIVEN, then the person releases ownership". I'm going to remind myself of that!!

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  3. I came across a link to your blog from The Minimalist Mom. Thank you for sharing your story. I need a good kick in the pants to take on the kids' toys. I am often not sure what they will miss and what they can do without. I am going to work on it again! Thank you.

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  4. Wow, I love this -- thank you for the inspiration! I am slowly purging too -- starting with my own closet, I got rid of 3/4 of it and I am so so so much happier!

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    1. You're welcome and enjoy working on your closet! You've inspired me to go through mine again :)

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  5. Thank you so much for the shout-out!

    I find your post completely fascinating because the clutter in my house is freaking me out. And I've been fantasizing about purging like you did. I wonder if getting rid of the overwhelming stuff in my house would ease the overwhelming feeling in my mind.

    Great post - thanks for the inspiration!

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    1. You're very welcome! I hope getting rid of stuff helps ease your mind! I highly recommend just getting stuff out of sight for a while (don't even worry about getting rid of it!). Just pack it away and see what a difference it makes. It's been absolutely life changing here! Good luck!!

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  6. I can relate so strongly to this post. I am currently pregnant with my second son and the clutter in our house (particularly my son's room) has been stressing me out. So I've started selling and giving away some of his things and ours. It's my form of nesting this time around and it feels great!

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    1. I got rid of a lot of stuff while I was pregnant too! I was amazed by how much stuff we also brought into the house. I feel like I'm finally catching up! Congrats on your pregnancy and happy nesting!

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  7. This is inspiring! Thanks for this post, Emily. I am a serial disorganized mom and I am slowly learning how unimportant "stuff" is and that if I got rid of more "stuff", it would be a wise thing for me. I heard a great though on the radio today: drive to the dump and have a look at all of the things people throw away. Then, imagine how much money people spent to get those things, how many arguments were made over those things, and how quickly they were thrown away. Then, focus on putting your energy towards things that DON'T end up in the dump - like relationships. :)

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    1. Actually getting rid of stuff is hard for me too! I've realized I need to just hide it all for a while to convince myself I can live without it...it's also harder to put it back when I love all the empty space! It is so true--how much of the stuff we don't need we spent so much time and money stressing about getting in the first place!

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  8. I am going to have to check that book out. I have way too much clutter and it stresses me out as well. Thanks for recommending it.

    Thanks also for linking up at the Tuesday Baby link up next week. I hope you will join us again this week.

    http://www.adventureswithcaptaindestructo.com/2013/06/tuesday-baby-link-up-week-34.html

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  9. Emily - My name is Traci and I am an associate editor with Simplicity Parenting. You tell such a powerful story here, and I wondered if you'd be open to me sharing it with our larger community on our blog? Please drop me an email if you're interested :)
    traci at simplicityparenting.com

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  10. Hey Em, I read this post when you wrote it and just came back to read it again before giving myself a little pre-purging pep talk. I'm glad to see the post has gotten recognition by others because it really is super. This part especially hits home with me: "Simplicity Parenting also talks about how kids attach emotional significance to their toys and when they have too many they can get stressed out trying to stretch their affection and keep track of so many special items. When L was carrying around four purses all crammed with little trinkets she wasn't having fun playing, she was just trying to keep track of everything. She was stressed out and not enjoying herself." You really hit the nail on the head. Thanks!

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  11. High five to you. Saw this on pinterest. Youre relatable and inspiring. I usually do a halfhearted troll but your post was succint and makes me want to give it a go too. I wish you the best! Thanks -jewel c

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