Thanks to Karen for alerting me to this People article.
Gotta love People magazine for boiling down a book into a few points.
The book Life at Home in the Twenty-First Century: 32 Families Families Open their Doors examines modern American families through the lens of household material culture – the things we own and the ways we use our home. People magazine had a very short piece on the book titled “The Clutter Problem” a few weeks ago. Couldn’t find a link to the article but have a picture of it above from the Rookie Moms website – thanks Rookie Moms!
I’m fascinated by this book because it was the same one referenced in the New Yorker article on Spoiled Children that was the inspiration for Amy’s guest post on unspoiling your children. I looked through the preview pages on Amazon and a few of the chapter headings jumped out at me:
Material Saturation: Mountains of Possessions
From reviews and descriptions the book appears to be more academic in nature but includes coffee table worthy photos documenting modern American homes. I’m intrigued but not quite ready to pull the trigger on buying it. Maybe it will show up in our local library.
What really jumped out for me in the People summary is the statistic on toy consumption.
America has 3.1% of the world’s children but buys 40% of the world’s toys.
Yikes. I read that and instantly felt some guilt about our recent toy purchases: a Melissa & Doug instrument set, a Bob the Builder home and a puzzle. Did we really need it? Couldn’t I have fashioned some new toys or instruments out of recycled yogourt containers, cardboard and homemade glue?
Of course, I then countered with surely we are not in the same bracket as the 3%? We have a lot less toys than the average family we know.
Living with less is a negotiation. The longer we’re on this journey the longer I see that for us it’s not about absolutes, it’s about trying. Our new home is a bit bigger than we’re used to but it was a great fit for us for reasons above and beyond the square footage. I try and keep our son’s toys limited to two boxes and his train table and I try and buy used when I can. I try to find ways that living with less works for us instead of comparing ourselves to others.
Does that toy statistic shock you? Do you think that of the 3% it might be a lot smaller percentage that actually has most of those toys? I’m interested to hear from American families on this. Is it really more like 1% of the world’s children have 35% of the world’s toys?
I love this slice of small(er) town life. I love that the horse tram drivers always give us a wave if we’re walking on the Promenade and that we haven’t been asked to show our seasons pass in months. I love that it’s quiet and friendly and that people look familiar even if you’ve never met them.
One thing I don’t love about the Isle of Man is the recycling.
Vancouver spoiled me. Vancouver has convenient readily available recycling for both apartment and house dwellers. I could take all of my recycling to the waste disposal room in our condo building: paper, plastic, tin, cardboard.
We also had less to recycle in Vancouver because our food had less packaging on it. It might seem strange but it’s hard to find unpackaged produce here. I’m used to fruit and vegetables out in the open, you can smell and feel the oranges and kiwis and melon and you don’t have to put them in a plastic bag to be weighed.
Now most of our fruit and vegetables are packaged in plastic with best by dates printed on them.
We have more waste and fewer recycling options in the Isle of Man.
The new building we moved to has no recycling bins. None.
After some sleuthing I found nearby recycling options for glass, tin and gray card (light cardboard). Every other week I tie several bags of recycling to our stroller and get the job done.
After a lot of research I found out there is public recycling available for plastic, cardboard and clothing. The only snag is that the walk there is over an hour.
Not having a car can be inconvenient.
We like not having a car. It simplifies things for us. We can’t overload our schedule, we have to be deliberate in our planning and it saves us a lot of money.
Sometimes though, it makes life harder.
It would be a lot easier to have a car for my high maintenance recycling routine. Bundling a toddler, stroller and a few weeks worth of cardboard and plastic onto a bus, or out for a very long walk, is a lot of work.
Simple doesn’t always mean, perfect or easy. And sometimes it complicates things.
I’m not ready to give up recycling. I’m also not ready to buy a car to make it easier. So for now I’ll make do. And maybe write a letter or two asking for better recycling options in my area.
Anyone else made a choice for simplicity that complicated, or created more work, in another area of their life?
This is a guest post from Amy Suardi of Frugal Mama. This is a timely and topical post for me after reading the New Yorker piece a few weeks ago about America’s spoiled children. Amy has some great strategies here – thank you, Amy.
Most American children are being treated like royalty and are treating their parents like serfs. It may sound dramatic, but two-thirds of American parents think their kids are spoiled, according to a poll commissioned by Time and CNN and an eye-opening article by Elizabeth Kolbert for The New Yorker, Spoiled Rotten.
The problem is not just the sheer number of toys, electronics, clothes, sporting equipment, and TVs that kids have; it’s the way they treat their parents. Or is it the way parents treat them? Most of us have first-hand experience of the scenes of American life described in Spoiled Rotten and similar articles where kids manipulate their parents into tying their shoes, cleaning up their toy-littered rooms, and buying them iPads in response to a week-long whine.
If we don’t have any burning conviction or dire need to be the toughy, it’s easier for parents to just do what the kids want. At least for now, anyway. What will happen when they’re young adults, of course, remains to be seen, but sneak peeks are already leaking out. Colleges complain that kids can’t do anything without their parents coaching them via cell phone, and psychotherapists are being funded by lost young adults (or more likely, their parents) who don’t know how to make themselves happy because their happiness was always orchestrated by you-know-who.
As a mother of two sons and two daughters who range in age from two to ten, I am in the thick of this American parenting thing. And I get why unspoiling our kids does not come naturally. Ironically, making kids work takes work. Then again, having self-sufficient, respectful, helpful kids is too good of a thing to come easily.
I can count myself in the one-third of Americans who do not think my kids are spoiled, but I don’t possess any special virtue and I don’t stand on any moral high ground. It was by necessity that we ended up with kids who help me clean the entire house on the weekends, who change diapers and play games with their little brothers, and who don’t have personal electronics, load of toys, or even very much screen time. But it’s by choice that we continue down this road.
How did we do it? Here are three of our strategies:
1. Have goals for your money
Not everyone is living on a tight budget where spending less is a must, not a should. For the first ten years of our marriage, my husband and I grew our family on one salary. We were on a mission to give our kids a comfortable life without going into debt, and that required living simply, being resourceful, and cooperating with our neighbors. It was easy to say no to clothes for myself or even cable TV because we had limits (one salary) and goals (buy a house). Now that we have that house and a bigger salary, our budget has loosened. But to avoid sliding into spending money just because we could, we set new goals: saving for retirement, renovating our house, and building college funds.
Having clear financial goals helps keep us on track — and when we talk to our kids about those goals and how we prioritize spending — it’s easier for all of us to say “no” to little extras that eat away at our bank account and fill our lives with clutter.
2. Start an allowance plan for the kids
When kids have their own money, begging is reduced to almost zero. When my kids were toddlers, I could take them to Target without the store becoming a moral battlefield (besides the one going on in my own mind). Once the kids got how money worked, the peace was over. We now give our kids an allowance every month and any discretionary spending must come out of their allotted amount. “Can I please, please, please have this sparkly, pink pony?” can calmly be countered with, “If you want to spend your own money on it,” and that’s usually the end of that.
Our allowance system has evolved over the years, and now we require our kids to portion it into three categories — spend, share, and save — and record running totals. Our daughters (now 10 and 8) are learning how to manage their money, how saving over time adds up, and how to keep a running tally of what they have available.
3. Adopt a system for household chores
Asking kids to help unload the dishwasher every now and then is not going to work. At least in our house, irregular requests are highly resisted, but a system of assigned tasks leaves little up for debate. We started with each child getting herself ready for school and bed in time. A list of tasks (brushing teeth, packing lunch, straightening up the room) must be completed in the allotted time. An X on the chart is equal to going to bed early that night, whereas smiley faces add up to occasional prizes.
For everyday family needs — like setting the table, straightening up common areas, and entertaining little ones before dinner — kids are assigned days of the week. And on the weekends, when our house cleaning and laundry gets done, my daughters and I divide up all the chores. Cleaning wheels or card-and-pocket charts work great for keeping the system fair and organized.
These systems don’t just happen naturally, of course. In the old days, when manual labor dominated daily life and goods were costly, children were an essential part of the family economy. Nowadays, asking children to help, or saying “no” to something we can easily afford, seems almost quaint. But bringing up children that can take care of themselves, help with the housework, and entertain themselves without grabbing our iPhones is a beautiful thing. And as mother of five and author of The Happiest Mom, Meagan Francis, says, kids need to feel needed in an essential way. Maybe today’s child-centered parents would feel better about setting limits if it were for the child’s good. The cherry on top? It’s good for parents too.
Amy Suardi is the author of Frugal Mama, host of the TLC Frugal Mama Makeover series, and regular writer for Parentables.
I’m not perfect. I’m not a perfect minimalist or mom and I’ve tried, and failed, at a lot of things. I don’t do it all.
While I’m really happy with my life, the balance of family time, the chance to be a stay-at-home mom and also a work-at-home mom, I still fail, and fail regularly, at a lot of things. I either try them out and they don’t work for me or I set a goal and don’t meet it.
My home usually looks okay but far from Pinterest worthy. I enjoy tidying the kitchen after dinner, wiping down counters and washing pots and pans, but I’ll put off cleaning windows until the dirt disturbs the view. I like to, and have to, invite people over to force my hand at some of the dirtier household tasks.
This morning I pulled a pair of Henry’s jeans out of his dirty laundry hamper and spot cleaned them so he could wear them. You need to be really on top of laundry if your two year old only has three pairs of trousers/jeans and it’s a cold summer.
Here are a few of my confessions for recent failures or things I’ve tried and given up on for now.
I’m back to using a dishwasher.
Since moving into a new home with a bright and spacious kitchen, I’ve gone back to using the dishwasher every other day. I still do all of my pots and pans by hand and a few dishes. But our dishwasher is doing the lion’s share of work. I liked doing all of our dishes by hand but at some point I slipped into using the dishwasher and I liked it more.
The other thing that changed is that our new home came furnished with a lot of dishes. In our previous flat all of the mugs, plates and bowls only filled half the dishwasher. There wasn’t really a point to running a half full dishwasher.
Last Friday our dishwasher bit the dust so I’ve been doing everything by hand until it gets fixed later this week. It’s really not that bad. But I will fully admit that when the dishwasher is back in working order I’ll be using it.
My home isn’t feeling that minimalist right now.
In the last two months bits and pieces, books and pens and the usual detritus of a home, have found their way out of their drawers and shelves and I haven’t put them all back. I’ve got a pile of clean-ish clothing hung over one of the doors on our wardrobe. I sorted Henry’s toys and books the other week and I’ve yet to do anything with the ones that need to be donated or stored.
I’ve been getting the vacuuming done and dinner on the table but not a lot else done around our house.
This is my excuse:
My son has watched more television than I’m comfortable with in the last eight weeks.
Due to severe afternoon and evening fatigue and bouts of nausea, Henry’s watched way too much Bob the Builder. We’ve been able to get out in the mornings but the afternoons have been a struggle. I am so thankful for the beach across the street and the horse tram the comes by every twenty minutes and that my husband will come home in the evenings and play the chasing game with him. Henry has definitely gotten a raw deal the last two months thanks to his sibling.
Accept the season you’re in.
Tsh over at Simple Mom writes a lot about the season of life that you’re in and that you have to accept the limitations of them.
I’ve had to accept that I’m not in a season of getting a lot done at the moment. I’ve been too tired to write in the evenings and some of my home projects, like decorating, have fallen by the wayside.
It’s okay. I’ll get back to them. I’ve turned a corner now that I’m in the second trimester and I’m not so tired.
I’ll get back to them but the last two months has been a good reminder about the season I’ll be entering in January. A season without a lot of sleep and with a new baby to take care. I’m not lowering the bar but I’m trying to be mindful of what’s realistic in the next year and a half. I’m trying to keep my mind open about the adjustment period and the growing pains of adding another person to our family.
I’m trying to remind myself that life is going to change and the best way to deal with that is to change with it.
Anyone else in a season of life that has lead to a bit of clutter and letting some of your goals take a back seat?
If you’ve pared your wardrobe down significantly you’ve probably made a few donations at a charity shop or thrift store. It probably felt good, as it should.
But did you think about how much of your clothing would actually be resold?
Did you think about where those cheap t-shirts from Target would end up?
Did you know that the market for those cheap second hand clothes is dwindling? That in a lot of cases you would be best off cutting up those t-shirts for use around the house. Great resource for using old t-shirts from Kristen at The Frugal Girl: Reuse, Refresh, Repurpose.
Cheap clothes have a high cost.
I know all of this. That my cheap clothes aren’t ethically sourced, they’re made for pennies by people working in terrible conditions and that they won’t last.
And yet… I find it really hard to break the cycle.
I find it hard to invest in expensive clothing.
I find it challenging to source clothing that is ethically made and comes in my size that I like. Love the Versalette but not sure it would fit my 6ft size 14 frame.
So I have t-shirts from the Gap that I will only get a year or two of wear from. I have pieces from J. Crew that were made in Indonesian sweat shops.
The only inroads I’ve made wardrobe wise is with my shoes. I have a pair of Frye boots that are American made. I had hoped my Tiekts flats were ethically made but a bit of research reveals they are made overseas (no specific country listed).
I need and I want to buy well made, ethically sourced clothing but I have yet to really commit to it. The only thing I can give myself props for is that we buy a lot less now. So we have a lot less going to donations and from there less that will end up in a landfill.
Have any of you made the switch to local and ethically sourced clothing? Can you share any brands you like or stores that specialize in this type of clothing?