2014 Recap: I Must Have Been Busy!

Well, it’s been almost a year since I last posted here. My journey of motherhood has been very much hands-on for the last year. I’ve not been so interested in having a virtual life on the interwebs when my two little suns (concentrated balls of energy and light–yup! That’s my boys!) are so very much PHYSICAL, and ALIVE. My desire to be present with them (because I believe that if children need anything from their parents, they need their REAL presence) has forced me to reevaluate my online life and my own screen time. We’ve been going on walks, playing chase, reading books, swimming, taking baths, doing laundry, eating food, raking leaves, and laughing. We’ve been doing other things. Anyway, here I am feeling like I need to justify why I haven’t been writing anything on my blog the past year… REALITY CHECK! I’ve been parenting. I think that sums it up just fine. Moving on…

Last year I wrote that my intentions for 2014 were to go outside, make more music, be available to myself and others, grow, and do less surfing (online) and more writing.  Since the year has turned yet again, it’s a good time to reflect on my success at following the trajectory of those intentions.  On all accounts, I added more of these things in my life than in previous recent years, except for the writing (hence, my absence here).

1. Go outside. I was definitely outside a lot, although I would still like our family to be in the woods more than we have been so far. We’ll get there. We certainly were at the coast a lot, and despite two boys with very different sensory needs, we found a sweet little spot south of Newport (Ona Beach) where both boys could enjoy playing in dry sand.

2. Make more music. This was an important one to me because once upon a time I was a singer-songwriter, and music has always been a primary part of my life. While music-making is still a much smaller presence in my life than it was before kids, B and I both made an effort to bring live music into our lives on a regular basis. We took both boys to a Kindermusik class, I took my guitar and fiddle out of their cases and now they live on hooks on the wall, always available for playing, which both J and A love. We sing as a family all the time. J and I often will “read” Rise Up Singing and learn bits of new songs from it. We now have a family ukelele and a child-size guitar, both always available for the boys to play.

3. Be available to myself (and others). I learned some important lessons about self-love, community, and reliance this year. I learned more about saying no to things beyond my top priorities so that I have the resources and energy available to devote to those things most important to me (this year it was parenting our sons well, and fostering good mental health for myself and my partner). I’m not just talking about outside commitments and activities, but also saying no to expectations and assumptions my mind likes to make me think are important. I’m proud of the ways I stayed true to this intention in 2014 and I’m looking forward to carrying what I learned into 2015 and continuing to hone the balance of energy between self, family, and community.

4. Grow. I am saturated with information and knowledge (we all are), but what have I LEARNED? How am I GROWING, and what is causing it? Is the information I’m consuming actually helping me to grow in the ways I want to? In 2014, I’ve thought a lot about the ways I use technology and social media.  It’s one of our parenting goals to limit the time the kids see us using screens to a bare minimum.  That means that by the time they are asleep and there’s just a wee bit of the day (and my energy) left to squeeze out before I collapse from exhaustion, scrolling blankly through Facebook or marathon-binging on an instant streaming TV series are attractive and tempting activities because I *think* they will be relaxing.  But I’ve made an effort to bring these choices to a more conscious level this year.  If I only have those few hours before I fall asleep available to myself and to my partner without distraction (i.e., the kiddos), how do I want to spend them?  They are so precious! It’s so easy to go on autopilot and automatically check Facebook, but half the time I do that, I’m too tired to actually read anything or comment on anything. The more I try to bring my use of social media to a more conscious level, the more contempt I have for it because of the way it makes me feel. Sure, there are the great things about it (blah blah blah, we all know what they are), but it’s also such a time-suck and an energy-suck, not to mention a very clever tool of capitalism and thus, specifically designed to make me feel like my life is inferior and incomplete in a multitude of ways. So what does this have to do with growth?  Getting better at making conscious choices for my life, I guess, and being comfortable with what I choose because I’m getting better at being my own authority in my life.

5.  Less surfing, more writing.

Obviously, these last three are really all tied together. Beyond what I’ve already said, I’ll add that I definitely did less internet surfing than I’ve ever done in my adult life, and it felt good. Yes, I probably missed some important things (like “the news”), but to be honest, there is no dark void in my life because of it.  I’m a big fan of voluntary simplicity, and beyond material simplicity (which I’ve already worked on, continue to work on, and think I’ve hit pretty close to the “sweet spot.” Something that gets overlooked a lot, I think, is mental clutter. I used to always listen to public radio programming in the car. I used to watch Democracy Now! every morning, follow various critical blogs, keep up on what movies were coming out, keep tabs on climate change activism, and track which environmental disaster occurred where this week. Do I still care about these things? Yes. But I want to become less of a consumer of information and more of a creator of the world I want to leave for my children. To do that I need to focus my efforts, my mental space, and my heart to my *actual* sphere of influence–my relationships and my local community.  And I’d be willing to bet that even though I’m barely aware of the news, I could tell you the gist of what’s getting reported and I’d be pretty damn accurate.  If I want to be a good parent and a good partner, those things take time, energy, and mental space.  I also need time, energy, and mental space for myself. Something’s got to give.  What gives in your life?

While I didn’t do nearly as much writing as I dreamed of doing, I’ve got some pretty exciting ideas that were planted and fertilized in 2014, and I think that 2015 is going to be fruitful, grounded, and productive.

Coming up in my next post: It’s already the third week of January, so I suppose I’m a little late to the party, but it’s time to state my intentions for this next year.

5 Ways Parenting Has Changed Me

1. Smiling has become so much easier to do.
2. My economy is based on hours slept, not capital gains. I am rich in hugs, touches from tiny hands, crackers, and unmatched socks of all sizes.
3. Something’s happening in Syria…I know that much…
4. My world has gotten so small, so local. It makes me realize that yes, things like climate change or what is happening in Syria are important, but that I can’t actually affect any kind of change in Syria. My influence lies here, in how I raise my children, and how I build relationships within my own community. That is all I can have an actual influence on, and that is enough. It’s not just enough, it’s really where I need to put my energy in order the help the world.

5. Poop. There’s so much poop in the world. Wash your hands, people.

The Four Load Experiment

January 15, 2014

I did something rash today. With two full baskets of clean clothes waiting to be folded and one waiting to be transferred from the washer to the dryer, I went into each bedroom, the bathroom, and the kitchen with another basket and gathered a fourth load of laundry. And then it hit me.
This is all we need.
Anything that is left in the drawers and boy’s baskets is just jamming up a system that might just run a lot smoother if we got rid of everything that is not in our current laundry rotation. Well, not get rid of, but rather put away out of sight until the season, size change, interest warrants an update with an infusion of different clothes.

So I grabbed a trash bag, and set to emptying our drawers into bags.  If it was not in the current laundry rotation, we probably weren’t going to miss it. That was my hypothesis.  I wanted to see if I was right. My goal was to take every item of clothing that was currently stagnating in the drawers and put it away, out of our daily lives.

Why? Because I don’t want to spend my life doing laundry, thinking about laundry, annoyed by laundry, overwhelmed by laundry. Because folding and putting away laundry while my kids play in the next room is not the same as being present with them. Because I like simplicity, and I like creating systems that work smoothly and efficiently so I can spend more time and energy on those I love instead of the stuff I have.

And then the anxious thoughts started.

But what if something happens? What if my children don’t have underwear? What if there’s no short sleeve shirts in the laundry right now? WHAT WILL WE WEAR? WHAT IF SOMETHING BAD HAPPENS?

Wow, those are some interesting thoughts, I thought. Want to reign that in a little bit? Is anything bad actually going to happen? Will your children really be unclothed? And by the way, your children don’t wear underwear yet.

I confess that as I went from room to room, I couldn’t actually go through with emptying the drawers and baskets. I just had to leave two items in each basket. Just in case.

It stayed like that for a day while I ruminated on my initial runaway train of fears that having fewer clothes immediately accessible would spiral into domestic chaos and throw us into a dire state of emergency. I had left those two items in each drawer and basket as a security blanket, and I pondered why I had made that decision, when my original goal was to leave the baskets EMPTY, save for the incoming clean laundry.

My security blanket…Security from what? 

C’mon, I thought. What are you so afraid of? Do you think it’s actually going to happen? Where are those fears coming from? Are they really YOURS, or something you’ve been taught to fear?

So then I felt like I should be brave, so I went back and put those two extra just-in-case items from each basket into a separate bag.

This is what I’ll get out first. Just in case I need it.

I kept things this way for awhile. I wanted to know:

Did I miss it? Did I need it? Did if make things easier for it to be gone? How much do we really need to be comfortable and provided for? How often do I need to restock/ rotate? Is that a more enjoyable task than folding laundry and putting it away ? Did it make any difference in the quantity of labor needed to clothe my family, or make it a more enjoyable task?

The results of this experiment were:

1. I did end up putting the last two items back in the baskets. It turns out we did need those two extra items in addition to what was in the laundry rotation.
2. Yes it has made a difference–in the way I feel about the necessary task of laundry. It doesn’t seem like an endless task now. Interestingly, I’m still doing the same number of loads total, but it’s much easier to fold and put back in the drawers now so the system as a whole works more smoothly, making my life easier. It take s up less mental space because it does not get out of hand, mountains upon mountains of laundry accumulating in each room. Just one tidy basket in each room, and when it’s getting close to the top I know I need to put that basket in the wash because that person is about to run out of clean clothes!

3, I will need to rotate clothes seasonally and size-wise more frequently because what is left in the drawers is really temperature specific and we’ll all need different selections when it’s not quite so wintry.

4. It’s made me appreciate clothes more, and also not care about them so much. The Four Load Experiment put the focus more on function and quality (comfort) rather than fashion and whimsy (although those pieces are all the more enjoyed).

The experiment continues…

Five weeks later, I organized all our stored clothes, including the ones I had stuffed into garbage bags at the beginning of this experiment. Beth and I have just one tote each of stored clothes now.  There is one tote each of 12 month, 18 month, 24month/2T clothes, and a tote of 3T/4T stuff for J to grow into.  I also packed another tote full to the brim of kid’s clothes to sell at the consignment store. During this reorganization and purge, I pulled out a few more clothes for my shelves, because those four initial loads  didn’t seem to have as much of my clothes as my other family members. Definitely still enough, but after repeated washings these five weeks, the few shirts I had are noticably more worn than five weeks ago. Also, I’m getting a bit bored of my standard “mom uniform,” plus the seasons are changing, crocuses are blooming, and mild 50-60 degree days are here to stay (mostly).

So my hanging shelves are nicely full again, but not overflowing with clothes.  If after a few weeks of this return of more clothes, I notice that I haven’t worn an article of clothing even once during this time, I’ll likely put it away again, or better yet, part with it for good.

The best thing about the experiment is that now I KNOW that we don’t need to have more clothes than four loads worth.  The world did not implode, and everyone had lovely, clean clothes on their bodies, every day.

The disappointing thing was that it didn’t reduce the amount of time I spend doing laundry.  I still wash one or two loads of laundry most days.

How many clothes is the ideal amount for you and your family?  Would you be willing to have fewer clothes, and why would you take those steps to minimize your wardrobe?  What are the motivating factors for you?