Stuff and simplicity

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kids-12

At any given moment, if you were to pop around to our house unannounced, there would probably be piles of washing waiting to be folded and put away, overflowing the green chairs in our hallway. As you stepped over the plastic toys and pushed passed the jolly-jumper hanging from the door frame and waded through the various baby-bibs cultivating dribble and milk and browning banana and finally made it to the playroom, your feet would probably crunch over a thick layer of dry Weetbix crumbs. Madeleine likes to crush her own Weetbix each morning before the milk goes on and, as much as I'd like you to think otherwise, I do not vacuum every day.

If you looked inside my handbag on any given day you might find, nestled in with the purse and keys, a couple of broken crayons, a half-empty container of bubble liquid, a sippy cup, yesterday's gummed-up rusk in a zip-lock bag, and about a thousand used tissues.

The sheer amount of stuff involved in modern parenting staggers me, and accepting at least some of that stuff into my life and home was one of the most difficult transitions I had to make as a parent. (When I lived alone, I would actually take pleasure in adjusting a book on a table until the seemingly 'casually-put-down' angle was just right. Yes, I am that person.) As someone who likes everything to have a purpose and a place, and as someone whose home is also her workplace, cumulative kid-detritus can quickly feel overwhelming.

While I was pregnant with Madeleine I had plenty of noble ideas about children in "the olden days" not needing all the STUFF that our consumer society deemed necessary today, and that I would make up in interactive play for what we limited in toys and things. But as any parent could have told me, stuff creeps in. And some of it, while not strictly necessary, does actually make your life easier. Parenting two small children while working, and on extremely limited sleep, is tough. It is tempting to take the easy way, to let the stuff in because it saves five minutes here or buys 10 minutes of peace there. I'm not going to feel guilty about that.

But not all stuff makes life easier. Some stuff just gets in the way. In the way of creativity, of clear-thinking, of mental health, of the path to the kitchen. And some stuff might be good stuff but when combined with about a billion other small pieces of "good stuff" it becomes bad stuff. Claustrophobic, messy, over-crowding, unwelcome stuff.

Last week was not a good week around our place. For various reasons were were all stretched, capacity-wise, and tempers began to fray. By Friday afternoon, my subconscious had somehow centred the entirety of my own unravelling temper on all the stuff in our house. It was driving me crazy. WE HAVE TOO MUCH STUFF I CAN'T BREATHE IN THIS HOUSE. And so I started on a paring-back rampage.

It was cathartic in a way that probably should have been predictable. I worked until late that night on the playroom, sorting out toys to give away or throw away, putting some in a cupboard out of rotation, and bringing others out. At the end of it I'd removed two giant garbage-bags worth of toys and other bits and pieces from the room, and Madeleine's previously overflowing toy-box was only one third full. When she came down in the morning, she was thrilled. There were her favourite toys, easy to find. Here were some "new" toys she'd never discovered because they'd been buried under all that stuff. Harry had his own little cart in which to store his toys, and Madeleine quickly cottoned on to putting Harry's toys away whenever they were dropped.

That afternoon, Madeleine lined up her two dolls in chairs next to Harry, pulled a collection of books from the shelves, and proceeded to "read" to all three babies. I hid in the kitchen, sipping a cup of tea while leaning on the bench, and listened to the stories. Later we pulled out the paints, one of Madeleine's favourite activities, and it was approximately 78 percent less stressful than usual for me because with the room so much cleaner and more organised, the combination of two-year-old and brightly coloured paints didn't seem anywhere near as chaotic.

Not once did she ask where all her stuff had gone.

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