Friday, November 26, 2010
Nik's birthday and Christmas both fall in December, so for a couple of years now, we have experienced a double whammy of new toys and other gifts. We are also expecting a new little person at the end of January, and although I know new babies are small, the accessories that multiply around them can quickly take over one's home. Since our house isn't getting any bigger, my thoughts have been turning more and more to decluttering, simplifying and scaling back. We need to make space.
I know I am not alone. Everywhere I look, people are fighting the battle of too much and too many. Too much stuff in their houses. Too many commitments in their calendar. Too much shopping to do (especially at this time of year). Too many things to get done before the day is through. And, like me, most of these people know that there are huge benefits to scaling back: A cleaner and less cluttered home. Appreciation of the little things. More time and space to breathe, to be, to grow...
It sounds idyllic. Who wouldn't want to live that way? And yet, most of us don't. I am as guilty as the worst among us. In one breath, I profess love for simplicity, and in the next, I am adding detail after hopelessly complicated detail to my daily life. This seems most obvious now that Christmas is coming. Of course I want a family-friendly Christmas, centered on the true meaning of the season, with plenty of in-the-moment, unhurried quality time... But what about the Christmas cards with letters and photos, the gingerbread house from scratch, the real tree standing decorated in the living room, the pine garlands over the door and in the basement, the gifts for family, co-workers, neighbours, the new outfits for Christmas Day, the stocking stuffers, the advent calendar, the hamper contribution, the Christmas child shoebox, the church carol sing, the dinners, the parties, the baking... How do you know what to drop? How can you reasonably drop anything?
I wish I was like this only at Christmas, but my tendency to go overboard permeates most aspects of my life, and has been with me for a very long time. My figurine play as a young child involved the most elaborate set ups of most of the toys in the playroom. When my mom got after me to clean my room as a young teen, I would get quickly sidetracked organizing an overflowing 'junk' drawer, and after 30 minutes be sitting in a bigger mess than what I started with. Research projects and papers in high school and university always ended up taking over my life in the last week or two before the due date. At work, I volunteer for extra projects routinely. And, as I've mentioned in previous posts, I have become a voracious reader on all topics to do with children and parenting. As my mother has often said of me, I "don't do things by halves."
This characteristic is undoubtedly affecting my son. Baby Nik, thanks to second hand shopping and the generosity of family and friends, had just about every baby accessory they make. As a nearly three year old, he already has a ridiculous amount of toys. They may be neatly organized into designated spaces in nearly every room of the house, but put them all together and it would be an impressively overflowing pile. Books and clothing have also been obtained in abundance, and, while I try to resist overscheduling, in his first 3 years he has already been to story time, rhyme time, swim, rhythmic movement, yoga, and playgroup style classes. No music lessons yet, but I caught myself eyeballing an ad for them just the other day, and preschool registration has also been on my mind. An intervention may be in order.
I not concerned about having the time and space to do and have all of these things, because I know, through the powers of organization, you can fit impressive amounts into small space. I am worried though, about what effect this lifestyle will have on us, longterm. In his inspiring book, Simplicity Parenting, Kim John Payne writes about the effect of too many. He says, "Children given so very many choices learn to undervalue all, and hold out - always - for whatever elusive thing that is offered." Too many options for what to eat, amuse ourselves with, watch or wear... This is the typical lifestyle of our affluent culture, and we are marinating in it. How can it not cultivate an attitude of discontent?
2011 will be a year of adding a fourth to our family, and a subsequent break for me from my paid work. I would love for it also to be a year of scaling back, focusing on choosing mindfully instead of being swept away by a sea of too much and too many. Practically and spiritually, I think it would be at once extremely challenging and hugely beneficial.
Now, if only I can get my husband on board...