After promising my children that we would “live more” during 2015, I found myself wrestling with how to keep that promise. There’s just not a lot of down time any more. It seems there are always diapers to be changed, laundry to be done, dishes to be washed, meals to be fixed, disputes to be arbitrated, clutter to be picked up, floors to be vacuumed … you get the picture.
To “live more,” I quickly realized I’d have to …
- Twenty years from now, my kids aren’t going to care remember whether the refrigerator door was free from fingerprints, but they are going to remember whether Mommy took time to finger paint with them (or at least let them finger paint, even at the risk of “a mess”).
- That doesn’t mean that we’re going to let garbage pile up knee deep and dishes grow mold while we stand around singing “Kumbaya” or “The Alphabet Song.” It does, however, mean that at least one of us (ahem) needs to figure out what does and doesn’t really matter. A kitchen that’s clean enough to safely prepare food? That’s a priority. A bathroom that doesn’t spawn microscopic life forms? Priority. Spotless mirrors and glass doors? Not necessarily a priority.
- For me, prioritizing means making sure that certain chores consistently happen at certain times. The dining table (which doubles as craft/school space) needs to be cleared before each meal. Period. It’s a lot easier to clean up spilled milk when it’s not soaking through a math book. The table needs to get wiped down, and the floor under/around it needs to get vacuumed after each meal. Period. Clean-up is a lot easier *before* crumbs get mixed in with Play-Doh or tracked all over the house. The bathroom is most easily cleaned while the littles are bathing. I need to be in there anyway, and it’s easy enough to wipe down counters, clean the mirror, scrub the toilet, and steam mop the floor while they’re splashing away happily in the tub. Granted, the mirror may be covered with water spots by 3 p.m., but as long as all surfaces get wiped down once a day (or even every other day!), the bathroom won’t test the limits of bacterial evolution.
- On the flip side, we live here. The 48-piece floor puzzle my 3-year-old put together all by herself, the one she wants to leave on the living room floor until Daddy gets home so that he can see her work? It’s OK. It can stay out. The floor doesn’t have to be clear at all times. We have small children. And they live here.
- The jumbo cardboard block tower with a blanket roof that’s populated with dozens of Safari Toob critters and guarded by a mishmash of Playmobil knights (armed with LEGO weapons) and their dinosaur Anamalz companions? It can stay out for awhile … even after a 29-inch Godzilla roars through the bedroom and reduces it to rubble. It’s OK if active play consumes the bedroom floor for awhile. We have small children. And they live here. (Come bedtime, though, everything *must* be picked up and put in its place. In the event of a fire or other emergency, I don’t want half-asleep children tripping over toys as they try to make their ways out doors or windows!)
- In the midst of a recent “I’ve told you to pick up your toys at least three times. WHY IS THERE STILL JUNK ON YOUR FLOOR?” Mommy tantrum, I grabbed a box to start packing stuff up. And about two minutes into the process, I realized that my kids weren’t opposing me. There was no mad scramble to save “stuff.” They were actually pulling things off shelves to add *to* the box. They craved order almost as much as I did, but didn’t know how to achieve it on their own. No small wonder. I’m seven times their age and still struggle with achieving the order my brain craves.
- I took a deep breath and called the girls to me. We hugged. We regrouped. And we talked things out. When I looked at their room through their eyes and with an open mind, I realized that most of the toys that consistently created problems were things that they had outgrown.
- The rack full of wooden peg puzzles? The only person who found it irresistible was Buddy Bear, and he’s far more interested in dumping puzzles than doing them. I put one age-appropriate jumbo knob puzzle in his room and packed up the oh-so-tempting puzzle rack until he’s actually ready for it, much to the relief of his older sisters who’d spent way too much time cleaning up his daily puzzle messes.
- The Fisher Price Little People Princess Songs Palace Bitty Bear got for her second Christmas? She liked it when she got it, and she played with it for a few months. But it had barely been touched in the past year, and it occupied precious space the girls wanted to put to better use. “I think we should give my castle to another little girl,” Bitty Bear said. So we did. It went to a 2-year-old whose single mom was struggling to make Christmas happen for her kids. It brought a smile to her and her Mama’s faces, and the space cleared to welcome LEGO creations and Zoob monsters brought smiles to the faces of my girls.
- After the castle and puzzle clean-up, it became easier to part with other outgrown toys (that truth be told, I was far more attached to than my kids). We tucked one large box of high quality, open ended, wooden toys away for Buddy Bear to enjoy in a few months. We donated two more boxes overflowing with pink, plastic commercial toys that had done little more than occupy space since coming into our house.
- And the pre-Christmas purge was just the tip of the iceberg. Now that the girls have tasted the freedom of decluttering, they’re continuing to par down possessions. Their beloved My Little Pony figures? The ponies stay, but we all agree that we don’t need the half dozen junky plastic brushes that accompanied them. The Melissa & Doug sorting clock whose “4” mysteriously disappeared some months ago? Goodbye. Completed sticker story books? Trash. Old art projects that DD1 hoarded for months? Tossed to make room for fresh new work.
3. Be more organized.
For me, this means lesson planning and meal planning. Not an unrelenting, etched in stone, “law of the Medes and Persians” plan, but a plan nonetheless. If the weather’s nice, we may well put academics on the back burner and head to the zoo for the day. If the girls are happily painting or reading or building the next great invention, I’ll leave them to their own devices. But when quarrels start and small bodies struggle to occupy their time appropriately, I have a plan. When a child interrupts our read-aloud time to announce that she’s starving and ask how long it is until lunch, I have a plan. When an unexpected ice storm strands us all five at home for the better part of a week, the refrigerator and freezer are well-stocked, and I have a plan.
4. Enlist help.
Though it may be obvious to most, it’s taken me eight years of marriage and motherhood to realize that I really can’t do it all alone and that it’s OK to ask for help. No, my 6-year-old can’t do laundry all by herself, but she can sort socks and turn underwear right side out. My 3-year-old isn’t ready to take on the dirty dishes, but she can sort clean silverware and put it away. Even my 1-year-old can help pick up blocks or hand me books to re-shelve. What’s more, they’ll all three help willingly and cheerfully (most of the time!) if I “use my nice words” and ASK for help. They respond much less positively when I try to do it all alone, get overloaded, and start barking out orders that must be carried out now, now, NOW. (Kids want to have their time and efforts respected just as much as the rest of us do!)
5. Take time to enjoy life.
There are 24 hours in a day, 7 days in a week, 52 weeks in a year. There is no way to “make” more time. To “live more,” we must take the time we have already been given and consciously choose to use it to its fullest potential. …
Spend more time reading to the kids and less time reading online.
Spend more time enjoying what we have and less time in the race to acquire more.
Spend more time making memories and less time fretting over messes.
Spend more time forging connections that will last a life time and less time cleaning stuff that will need to be cleaned again tomorrow.
Choose to invest limited time in the things — or more precisely, the people — that really count.