The Myth Of Multiples

My one year-old son eats at the table with us for most meals. I read a book about good eating habits and child development and it suggested that children thrive when sitting at the table with adults for their meals. He sits in a booster seat with a plastic mat attached to the table in front of him. It gets pretty wild especially on nights when we’re eating something saucy.

After cleaning the little plastic mat for the sixty-seventh time I considered getting a few extras. It would be so nice to not have to clean the mat after each meal.

I quickly realized my flawed logic: we don’t have a housekeeper and no matter how many plastic mats I purchased I would never avoid having to clean them.

Sleep deprived new parents are easy prey for the myth of multiples. So is anyone with a busy life looking for more time. The idea of having multiples of everything from umbrellas to bottles to boots is often sold as a time saver for a hectic life. What isn’t sold is the hard fact: multiples mean delayed work, not reduced work, and often more work in maintaining them.

Before decluttering my home I lost or misplaced four sets of baby nail scissors in ten months. Sure, they were small but I would find them later, after I had bought a replacement set, stashed in a drawer of random items. Other multiples looking for friends.

More clothing won’t save you time in the laundry room. Now that I have a small wardrobe it’s easier for me to keep the laundry pile from overflowing. I can visually see when most of my clothing is in the laundry basket and my closet is bare. Before, with my huge wardrobe of which I only wore 15%, there was always lots of clothing in my closet. Now, I still do the same amount of laundry but I’ve created a habit of doing a load of laundry every two days.

When you break away from the myth of multiples you have space to create good habits. I’ve always struggled domestically. Cleaning house is just not my bag. I know some people love dusting their baseboards but I would much rather read a magazine or call a friend. I still don’t love cleaning but it’s become easier with less to clean. I don’t find the tasks as daunting now and have gone from ‘clean when I can’t stand it anymore’ to a doing a few small things each day. It’s become a habit instead of a dreaded chore. And I’m never losing another Saturday to three weeks worth of laundry again.

Need a pep talk on getting rid of the unused? Check out the Psychological Security of Stuff by Faith at Minimalist Moms.

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  • So so true Rachel. The problem also with multiples I have found, when it comes to children is the choice. You may buy three different mats, but should they differ then they always want the one that’s dirty anyway. I made a rod for my own back with my first born, purchasing all different type of cups etc… she would refuse one and ask for another – the one with the cat on, or ladybird or whatever one I hadn’t given her! I still have problems with this now, as mealtimes became more about who was on the fork/spoon/dish/glass rather than just getting down to the eating part. When I get frustrated by this I remember who caused it – me! My advise to new parents is keep it simple. The gadget manufacturers promise you the world, but nothing manufactured will make baby sleep, get baby to eat, get baby or toddler to do anything – only patience and perseverance from the parent can do this. Gadgets also spread like wildfire, as soon as one Mom has it at baby-group – next week everyone has one thinking they are missing out – No gadget will be the best gift you give, the greatest gift you can give a child is your time. (I’m actually writing a post about this at the moment…)

    • We have one plate, one bottle and two sippy cups for Henry right now. And I am really trying to stick to that!!
      So true about gadgets. I was suckered in by a few after some rough nights. Like the Sleep Sheep. Did nothing for him but I was really desperate.
      Your sentiments about time with your child is spot on.

      • If it gets really tough try ‘The Bedtime Fairy’ – Costs nothing except a little creativity and storytelling, and maybe a little treat once a week – which could be a visit to local play-area rather than a toy. We had it tough with first born (Leah) and sleeping – bedroom fairy cracked it. She still mentions it now and asks if BF will visit from time to time and she is coming on 6 so it must also be a lovely memory for her. Here’s to a good nights sleep!

  • The one place I think multiples are important is table settings, i.e knives, forks, spoons, glasses, plates. Without multiples in this area a dishwasher is impossible and I love my dishwasher. Some of the more radical minimalists have gone so far as to have singles of these things. I agree that all the areas of simplicity in your post would make life easier but there is a tipping point where having too little could become annoying.

    • I think you have to know what works for you and what your 95% of the time lifestyle is. We had 16 dinner plates and are now down to 8. Perfect amount to run our dishwasher every other day. Our home is small as is our dining table – if we have people over it is usually casual food and not a big sit down thing.

  • Annoying and limiting rather than freeing… We used to have a biweekly gathering of friends for a potluck dinner. It was at that point, I expanded my flatware from 8 sets to 12 and we still were often short (we otherwise inherited full everyday place settings for 12). I suppose that every family could have brought a few sets but what a headache — in addition to getting a potluck dish together, kids out the door, etc. you have to remember the right number of forks? And then not to get them mixed up with the other 3 families’?

    This also, is an area where there *may be* false economy in the extreme category. Dishwashers use substantially less water, soap, and energy (heat for water) than washing the same quantity of dishes by hand — having fewer dishes does not (necessarily) reduce the number of dishes needing to be washed, it just increases the frequency which each individual dish needs to be washed (4 forks for a family of 4? we couldn’t make it through a meal!).

    • I agree with your comments. You have to find what works for you. A single person living alone may find it pretty easy to own one set of dishware and just wash it after every meal. A family of four? Not so much.
      Potluck: if something is bi-weekly in my life I consider it a regular occurrence and plan accordingly. I guess it’s about finding out what creates more work and what creates less work. Maybe for a big regular potluck like that you rotate who brings an extra set.

  • I agree! Housekeeping isn’t my favorite thing either, but it’s so much easier now that we have less stuff. Seeing how much less time I spend on housework these days keeps me motivated to avoid bringing clutter into the house.

    • I agree – it’s very motivating to not bring more into our home.
      At one point we had our Costco size package of toilet paper in our dining area because there was no room for it in the two bathrooms. I had to move it and sweep around it every time I cleaned(not to mention hideous eye sore – who wants to look at toilet paper during dinner). Not anymore.

  • We have been guilty of the “flawed logic” you describe here! I believe it was with the exact same issue as well… a plastic mat for baby spills :)

    Another area that tends to have the same problem (for us anyway!) is our 5 year olds’ stockings & underwear drawer. Since wearing a skirt to school is obligatory, she needs to wear stockings every single day. One way or the other, she tends to get them dirty VERY soon and they disappear in the cycle of washing-drying-ironing-folding..

    So it’s fairly easy to think: “Hey, the drawer’s empty, I need to buy some more!” while in fact she has enough.. they’re just lost somewhere in the cycle of cleaning. I loved reading your post. It’s something “we parents” can absolutely learn from!

    Greetings from the Netherlands!

  • Definitely true! Having multiples is deterred work, not less work.
    I find the same thing with clothing, I have little and I always know if it’s time to do laundry because I’m running out of clean clothes soon. It never piles up like crazy. It’s never more than two loads now.
    We do keep extra sets of dishes because we use a dish washer, and also for having people over. That being said, my husband borrowed an espresso machine and coffee mugs for our daughters birthday party recently, as we only have a stove top French press/percolator, and a few mugs. It worked perfectly.
    I love multifunctional stuff, and making everything in our home count. Having beautiful, hand made household things like a wooden broom and dustpan, bowl full of fruit, the perfect tea pot (if you use one!), linen napkins, glass jar of cereal… You know. Stuff that you need and use and is practical, but beautifully made so it can be displayed out in the open, and serve as your decór as well.
    DD has two sippy cups, one of which is in use and the other being washed or waiting in the cupboard. If we had more, it would just be clutter.