Less stuff and lighter in spirit

 

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I found these iphones 4, 5, and 6 plus chargers in a drawer.

We moved into this house 25 years ago this month. I have a few areas of the house I like to call “hot spots.” You know, the places where things fill up with stuff you don’t know what to do with. Our closet was definitely one of those hot spots. This weekend my husband and I decided to clear out the closet so we can do some remodeling.

One of my friends warned me when I told her we were getting ready to clean out our master bedroom walk-in closet. “You know what happens when you do that,” she said. “It never stops. You’re going to start a whole house-wide cleaning.”

I bought several clothing racks and we moved our clothes we decided to keep in the guest room—until construction is done. It’s amazing how much easier it is to see what you own and what you want to keep when it’s hanging neatly in the light of day, and not tucked away in a dark closet.

On Saturday, eight hours later with tired, sore back and legs. I was done. I can’t believe the amount of clothing I had stuffed into that closet. We made several trips to the closest Angel View Thrift Shop with our old clothes. Why is it hard to get rid of stuff? It seems exhausting because every item forces a decision. If way back in your closet, clothes are gathering dust, it’s probably a clue to let things go. I feel like I could have thrown out much more than I did and maybe I will.

The excitement on Saturday got me going on the drawers on each side of my sink Sunday morning. Then, I went into the bathroom shelves. There’s no end in sight to all the fun I can have. I still have my kids rooms to go through, too. Whenever they visit, I try to get them to throw their belongings out that they chose to leave behind. They never get around to it, though. I think I’d feel 20 pounds lighter in spirit to go from room to room clearing out all their junk.

We have way too much stuff. It feels so good to let it go. Once you start throwing things out and have made a few tough decisions, it gets easier. Just throw it out and I promise you, you won’t miss a single thing.

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Our casa where we raised our kids.

 

How often do you throw things out and clean out closets? Do you feel a sense of freedom by lightening your load?

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“LESS IS MORE”

 

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My son at the beach.

My husband said that under his breath last night. He was talking about a client who tries to time the market, buying and selling stocks and bonds–and make decisions that are too complicated. It made me think about our upcoming weekend plans where we’ve promised to clean out our closets and throw away stuff. It was 25 years ago we moved into our house! Yes, it’s time to clear out junk and go with the mantra “less is more.”

“Less is more” was first credited to a poem, Andrea del Sarto, by Robert Browning in 1855.

 

“Who strive – you don’t know how the others strive
To paint a little thing like that you smeared
Carelessly passing with your robes afloat,-
Yet do much less, so much less, Someone says,
(I know his name, no matter) – so much less!
Well, less is more, Lucrezia.”

Later, a German-American architect Mies van der Rohe used “less is more” describe a stripped-down style of building design.

While researching “less is more” I ran into an article about a “less is more” Christmas plans for young kids in the Washington Post in “Trying to tame holiday gift excess? Here are 4 alternatives to a mountain of toys” by Lindsey M. Roberts:

When family life counselor Kim John Payne published “Simplicity Parenting: Using the Extraordinary Power of Less to Raise Calmer, Happier, and More Secure Kids” in 2009, he was warning us about how our supersize lives were affecting our kids. He was seeing kids who were unable to play by themselves in rooms full of toys, throwing frequent tantrums caused by overscheduling, and being diagnosed with behavioral disorders they didn’t have. He knew something needed to change.

“The too much, too soon, too sexy, too young — it’s become ubiquitous,” he says.

It turns out he was onto something with that “less is more” approach, particularly when it comes to holiday toys. Each year, as minimalism grows in popularity, Payne sees more parents embracing the call for less stuff and more time together.

The article interviews four people from a blogger to a book author about how they have pared down Christmas giving with their kids.

I remember our first Christmas with our baby boy. We had a Christmas tree that almost touched the ceiling and presents stacked almost as high. It was ridiculous and decadent. I also remember our son being fascinated with a bow and playing with it for hours on end. He completely ignored the Little Tikes blue car, the Playmobil table and chairs, and other creative brain-enhancing toys we purchased for him. It was an eyeopening experience and after that, we dialed it back. I also asked the grandparents to not overdo the gifts—and if they’d prefer—they could contribute to the college fund we had set up.

In Embracing “Less Is More” For Better Health, in the Idaho Senior Independent, an article by Carrie Stensrud talks about how “less is more” is important for those on a later end of the life spectrum, too.

From “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up:”

“Minimalism is a style of extreme spareness and simplicity. Originally demonstrated in expressions of music or art, minimalism has gained momentum as a lifestyle, inspiring folks to keep only a minimum amount of belongings and sell or donate the rest. Some have taken the idea so far as to leave their homes and move into “tiny homes,” downsizing from a traditional house to spaces as small as 400 square feet.

“Despite varying degrees along the minimalist spectrum, the bottom line remains: ‘Less is more’ is better for your physical and mental health.

“To compound the problem, general disorganization results in not being able to find things when you need them. The risk of falling increases with rushing, worrying, and losing focus.

“Clutter around the home also creates places for bacteria, dust, and mold to collect. Exposure to increased levels of environmental hazards can aggravate allergies and other respiratory conditions, cause generalized inflammation, and even lead to chronic illness.”

I’m convinced. “Less is more” and I’m tackling my closet tomorrow.

 

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The blue car and Sherman the cat.

What are your thoughts about “less is more?”

 

When should we jump in to defend our kids?

When they were young.

I was always a stickler for what was right or wrong and I never shied away from addressing any issue. I would go to bat for my kids whenever I felt they were being slighted. Looking back, I see that is a trait of helicopter parenting and I might have done more good for my kids by letting them fight their own battles.

Here are a few battles I took on when I thought my kids weren’t being treated right:

I wrote an email to my son’s AP History teacher to complain about his grade. He was .05 off an A and I felt the teacher should round it up. I got a note back explaining that if he were to round up my son’s grade, he’d have to go back and do the same thing for every other student in his grade book who was a fraction off the next higher grade. (Not a bad idea, I thought!) My son was being passed over for his school’s nomination for the coveted National Merit Scholarship award because of the B, but he lived through it.

When I felt a coach was picking on my son, I made an appointment to complain about it, only to find out that he had earned the “coach’s award” for best attitude and effort. That surprised me and I’m embarrassed about that meeting to this day.

When my daughter was given five days of after-school detention for forgetting to bring the photocopy of Christmas song lyrics to music class, I complained that the punishment was over the top. In fact, other kids were given two nights detention, so there was a definite crossing the line by the music teacher—in my humble opinion.

There are countless other incidents where I went to battle for my kids. I do believe I taught them the difference between right and wrong and that they should stand up for themselves. At least that’s what I told myself at the time.

I couldn’t understand why other parents would stand by and let bad things happen to their kids. I do now. Sometimes it’s better to keep your mouth shut and shrug your shoulders. I’ve found that some of the things that would have bugged me to no end, will soon disappear on their own within a few days or weeks. By making an issue out of little things, they can turn into big ones and burn a lot of energy and create angst.

My daughter complained to me last night that during a meeting with students on a group project, the guys were complaining that all the women coming forward about sexual harassment were “just looking for attention.” That infuriated my daughter to no end. I asked her if she was going to put up with it or wanted to go to the professor or counselor and complain. She decided to let it go. She’s a week from being done with the class and just wants to get through it. I told her I would stand by whatever she decided.

When my son received a letter telling him he was kicked out of school during the summer after his freshman year for bad grades, I was horrified. But, then I stood by and watched him research his options online. He wrote a letter to contest the decision and got hospital and doctor records to substantiate his unfortunate circumstances of an injury and surgery which caused too many missed classes. He was let back in without me doing a thing. After that, he earned As.

Me and my boy.

One thing I know about parenting is all we can do is try our best. It’s been my goal to raise kids who know the difference between right and wrong and will try their best as well.

What do you think about parents fighting battles for their kids? Are they helping or hurting them by getting involved?

Warning: No Cartwheels Allowed!

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My son getting ready to jump on a mini trampoline.

When I was a kid, we cartwheeled all over the place. At my children’s elementary school, girls were cartwheeling around the playground daily. Their second-grade teacher cartwheeled in the classroom much to the amazement of her students. Yes, we all wore shorts under our skirts, so there was nothing unseemly about it. I find it fascinating that all the cartwheeling was being done by girls. I wonder why boys don’t find it as much fun? I used to try to string a bunch of cartwheels together and keep in a straight line across the grass. Recently, I tried to cartwheel on the beach, but alas, it’s a skill I no longer have–and it hurts!

Now, I read that a principal in a Canadian school has outlawed the cartwheel. That’s right, cartwheels are not allowed on the school grounds. The main reason? Because they are fearful of lawsuits if a cartwheeler were to get injured or injure someone else. Not that there has ever been a single report of a broken bone or sprain due to cartwheels.

Here are some excerpts from articles about the new cartwheel ban:

From CBC news:

‘Let them cartwheel’: northern Ontario mom speaks up about proposed ban

A mom in Callander, south of North Bay, Ont., says she is outraged that her daughter’s school is considering banning cartwheels on school property.

Stephanie Balen says M. T. Davidson Public School has the rule listed in its draft-form student handbooks. That document will be voted on by the student advisory council in early October.

Balen’s nine-year-old daughter Grace goes to the school and wants to be able to do cartwheels on the school grounds during recess.

Balen says it’s important to stop the ripple effect before it gets out of hand.

“What if they try to do something else? What if they say you know, you’re not allowed to run, you’re not allowed to breathe, you’re not allowed to laugh,” she said.

Jennifer Hamilton-McCharles wrote for The Nugget:

Cartwheels banned from school playground

Cartwheels have been banned at M.T. Davidson Public School in Callander.

Cartwheels are not permitted on school property in the playground rules section of the school’s draft handbook for 2017-18. The rule came into effect this school year even though injuries have not been reported, principal Todd Gribbon admitted.

“The activity can cause concussions, and neck and wrist injuries,” he said.

Gribbon said the school handbook is in draft form and the safe school advisory committee will meet Oct. 2. to review the document.

However, the 14-page document doesn’t offer an opportunity for feedback. But parents and students are required to sign the code of conduct sheet and return it to the school.

The Nugget checked a few other North Bay schools’ code of conduct and didn’t find cartwheels banned elsewhere. They are, however, not permitted at some schools in Britain and Australia.

A Toronto school made news recently when it banned all balls from its premises after a parent who was hit by a ball suffered a concussion. A few schools in the U.S. have banned footballs, soccer balls, baseballs and lacrosse balls.

imagesLenore Skenazy of free-range parenting fame wrote on Reason.com:

Canadian School Bans Cartwheeling, Because We Can’t Be Too Careful

Risks? What about the risk of never taking a risk?

True—any activity, including a cartwheel, can cause injury. Walking down the stairs can cause falls resulting in concussions, neck, and wrist injuries. Walking outside can get you hit by a car. Swimmers can drown. Bakers can catch their hair on fire. Those brave enough to consume solid food can choke. Students sitting still too long can get embolisms.

The precautionary principle—why do something that could cause harm?—seems prudent until you realize it often doesn’t distinguish between a calculated risk and what if something terrible happens? Recall that just the other day, a New York Times reporter said it was a bad idea for a kid to mow a lawn, even if it’s the White House lawn, because there could be an accident. Really, we are idiots when it comes to risk. We think that there’s risk vs. no risk—so why would any ever choose the former?

In the real world, it’s always risk vs. other risk. The risk of walking to school seems too great to many people, who forget there’s a risk in being driven. There’s a risk in doing cartwheels that is offset by the risk of not doing cartwheels. Kids playing, loving the outside, running around, being active, learning balance—all aspects of cartwheeling—may heighten their risk of wrist injuries while lowering their risk of obesity, heart disease, and school-hating-syndrome. The risk of learning to take a risk decreases the crippling fear of risks. The crippling fear of risks (also known as “insurance brain”) leads to faulty risk assessments.

Which leads to no cartwheels.

In “Time to remove the bubble wrap” by Brynna Leslie of Ottawa West News:

“The activity can cause concussions, and neck and wrist injuries,” principal Todd Gibbon told media outlets. He confirmed, however, the rules were not being implemented in response to an actual event. In other words, no one had ever been harmed during a cartwheel on the schoolyard.

It’s the latest in a slew of ridiculous rules imposed by organizations to prevent kids from taking risks of any kind.

Dr. Mark Tremblay, director of healthy active living and obesity research at CHEO, says he was disappointed but not surprised when he read the news about the cartwheel ban.

“This fear of litigation and the sterilization of play that has permeated our society, I’m not sure anything would surprise me anymore,” says Tremblay.

He notes, however, that despite best intentions from school authorities, community organizations and parents around “keeping kids safe,” we are doing more harm than good by restricting children’s access to free, outdoor play.

“In any other aspect of our lives — take finances for example — we would do a cost-benefit analysis before making any decisions,” says Tremblay. “But when it comes to something like banning cartwheels, we only look at one side of the equation, which is the potential risk, without balancing the positive.

“What good might come out of kids doing cartwheels?  Maybe they’ll have fun, maybe they’ll have an opportunity to develop better motor skills, maybe they’ll get stronger.”

Tremblay notes that in our efforts to keep kids safe by keeping them indoors, we are inadvertently having a negative impact on their physical, social and emotional health.

“The physical health impact is extraordinary,” he says. “First, and intuitive to most people, if kids aren’t moving as much, their hearts, muscles and bones aren’t as strong.”

Tremblay notes that while organized sport has emerged to take the place of free play, far more injuries occur within structured activities, yet without the holistic health benefits of free outdoor play.

By keeping kids indoors, always structured, often on screens, we are conditioning them to be risk-averse or paranoid of the basic things in life, he notes. As screen time displaces social time, we’re also severely limiting interactions with other humans. By restricting kids’ opportunities to find and solve challenges, we are raising generations of adults who have difficulty managing emotions, are prone to anxiety and other mental disorders and are often incapable of problem-solving.

“The more we restrict and confine what people can do in the outdoors, the more we restrict the possible learning that can be done, the experiences children can have, the tools they can add to the tool box to be creative, problem-solving adults,” says Tremblay.

 

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An old-fashioned merry-go-round.

The question I need to ask is have we gone too far with this cartwheel ban? I think so! I remember when my kids were really little and we had all this fun, but “dangerous” equipment at the park. There was a stagecoach that I climbed in with my kids to pretend we were getting away from the bad guys. There was an old-fashioned merry-go-round made out of metal and a tall scary slide, that made me more than nervous when my three-year-old son climbed to the top–out of my reach. The city replaced all the equipment with the new modern plastic stuff on a spongy surface–and my kids lost interest in the playground once and for all.

As for cartwheels, my girlfriends and I practiced them for hours–along with the impossible flip. I never could master that one. And you know what? None of us got hurt one tiny bit.

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My daughter at age two with her first swim instructor jumping off the diving board.

What do you think about banning cartwheels and what does it have to say about our society today?

 

 

How much is too much for young kids?

 

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Ballet recital for my daughter in royal blue before swimming took over their lives.

I read a question from a mom wondering what to do because her eight-year-old doesn’t love swim practice as much as the other activities she’s doing. She wondered if anyone else had experienced this and what she should do. She also mentioned that her daughter is really good at swimming, wins ribbons, and also has tons of other activities.

 

How many activities are too much for a child? From CNN several years ago I read “Overscheduled kids, anxious parents” by Josh Levs:

“Parents need to teach their kids to balance human doing with human being,” said clinical psychologist Paula Bloom.
Kids need to know they’re not defined by what they do, she said. They need time to play, experiment, rest and figure out who they are.
“As parents, we’ve got to get over our anxiety that we’re not doing enough. Creating a sense of safety, helping kids have confidence to try certain things, those are the things that matter.”
As kids get older, they’ll show you more and more what they’re interested in, Bloom notes.
And, yes, we all make mistakes.
“As adults, your kids are going to tell their therapists, ‘Oh my parents never let me play piano,’ or some other activity. It’s going to happen. Being able to tolerate that is really important.”

When my kids were little, I kept them really busy. We didn’t have a neighborhood where they could go out the door and play. We had to schedule playdates. Then we got into signing them up with their friends for countless activities like tennis, golf, ballet and swimming lessons. One mom would say she heard about an activity and wanted to sign her child up if mine did, too. Pretty soon, my kids didn’t have a night after school without a scheduled activity.

When I was a kid, I’d go home after school and after 30 minutes to an hour of homework, I didn’t have too much to do. I think a lot of downtime allowed me to be creative, reflective and of course, hit that list of chores that Mom always left us to do.

What did we do without structured activities? Sometimes, my brother and I would fight. But mostly we made forts in the woods, whacked out trails with machetes through blackberry brambles, and rode bikes around a three-mile loop. We were pretty active and unsupervised with our imaginations running wild.

Advice for the mom of the eight-year-old? I think eight years old is pretty young to be committed to one sport—especially if she’s not wildly passionate about it and wants to do something else. Let her experience a variety of activities. Maybe swim seasonally or take a break and go back to it. We can’t want it more than our kids.

There’s plenty of time at eight-years-old for a child to be a child. There’s plenty of time for a year-round commitment in the years ahead. And maybe it won’t be in swimming.

Here’s a list from Kidspot from Bron Maxabella from an article called “How many extra-curricular activities should kids do?”

Signs the kids have too much on:

However, there are signs that are madly flashing to say we’ve overstretched ourselves. They may even be saying that we’re heading for a giant crash. Here are some of them:

  • The kids have started digging in about not going to the classes I want them to go to (still happy to go to their choices though!).
  • Each week feels like I’m on the rat wheel, driving from one place to another and arranging one child to go in that direction and another to go over there. The logistics are making my head spin.
  • The kids are doing a lot of things, but not many of them at their full potential.
  • There is only one school night a week (Friday) when no one has anything on.
  • There is hardly any time to just hang out together or have a mate over after school – this is probably the worst thing of all.
  • We don’t have enough time in the week to get homework done satisfactorily.
  • The kids are getting emotional and naughty because they’re tired, so everyone is crying and yelling far more than they should be.
  • It is getting harder and harder for the kids to unwind at night and even harder for them to get up in the morning.

Basically, by mid-term everyone is exhausted and by end-of-term we’re in a bit of a mess! The kids are tired, I’m tired, the whole routine is tired. We need a proper time out!

 

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My kids did have time to play super heroes.

How many days a week should kids have activities and how do you determine what is too much?

 

How not to raise quitters

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Piano duet at a yearly recital.

In an article called “My mom’s one sports rule? No quitting,” by Samantha K. Smith on espnW.com, I remembered the t-shirts one of my all-time favorite swim dads came up with for the Piranha Swim Team, “Winners never quit, Quitters never win.” We wore those shirts with pride for years.

From the article:

 

“When it came to giving her children unsolicited sports advice, our mother got a lot of flack from her five kids who knew her experience was limited. The one and only story she told of her high school cheerleading days was about how the front of her skirt was longer than the back because the girl who’d previously worn it was pregnant. So we often went to Dad for help with our free throw or pitching form; we went to Mom for rides to practice, trips to the mall for new sneakers, and to locate the water bottle stash. Our mother worked late nights at the YMCA for our discounted memberships and paid our uniform and league fees without question each season. But she had one strict, abiding rule when it came to signing up for a new sport: There was no quitting.

“This was why I had new, never-worn softball gear hanging in my closet for the duration of high school. I’d ordered the uniform but remembered Mom’s tenet: If I was unsure whether I could make the full commitment, I shouldn’t officially sign on to the team.

“Now I walk into the basketball gymnasiums of my childhood and see parents storming off with their children after a bad referee call, or children quitting teams midseason because of playing time. In an age of helicopter parenting and participation trophies, my mother set out to teach us one of her most valuable lessons about commitment. If you make one, you see it through even if, and especially when, it’s not playing out favorably for you.”

I did let my son quit a few sports, but only because we had him overbooked with “if this is Tuesday it must be tennis” running from one end of the valley and back to get from piano lessons to the court. During a stressful rushing afternoon, I hit a curb, got a flat tire and realized that enough was enough. Eventually, we settled on a single sport and music. Our routine and life went swimmingly well from then on.

I interviewed the Anderson family for an article in SwimSwam magazine. The Andersons have three daughters, two are Olympic medalists and the youngest currently swims for a D1 university. The mom also had the same rule as the writer above. She said that each year she’d sign the girls up for swimming with the understanding that they were committing for the year. When the weather was no longer perfect sunny and warm and one of them asked to quit, she’d remind them that they had agreed for the year. When the new season started, it was once again warm and beautiful outside and her daughters would commit again.

There’s something to be said for sticking through it all—so long as the situation isn’t abusive or dangerous. A lot of life lessons can be learned when things aren’t perfect.

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Once we settled on one sport, things began to go swimmingly.

What is your rule for your kids and activities? Do you make them stick with it through the season? Did your parents have a “never quit” rule?

Sharing daily inspiration with your kids

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Back in the day: summer vacation in Laguna Beach.

One year ago, Thanksgiving week, my college roommate and family came to our house for Thanksgiving dinner. My girlfriend stayed with us a few days past Thanksgiving and I learned how she and her two brothers and mom share a little inspiration daily. My kids and I started this practice and we’ve kept it up for a year so far–at least weekly. It’s brought a smile to my face all year long. Read more how you can share inspiration with your family thanks to the miracle of today’s technology:

When my college roommate was visiting after Thanksgiving, I would hear her phone ping every morning with texts.

Her mom, who is in her 80s, lives alone and asks that my college roommate and her two brothers make some contact via text every morning. That way, they know that she’s okay.

I’d hear the familiar ping of my friend’s phone. She’d say, “That’s from mom. Listen to what she has to say today….”

Then she’d read an inspirational quote that her mom sent. Her brothers would chime in and my friend would respond as well.

I thought, what a great idea. I’m a terrible worrier, and if I don’t hear from my kids for a few days or weeks, I get more worried. With one child in the Bay area and the other in Utah, I feel like they’re both too far away. I sent my kids a group text and explained how it would work. We would send an inspiring note to each other by noon each day. It only takes a moment, we’d check in and pass along some inspiration. Also, I’d know that they were okay.

“Put your heart, mind and soul into even your smallest acts. This is the secret of success.” —Swami Sivananda

That was my first text. I told them, “Now you guys need to respond by noon with a quote or a ok thanks,” I texted.

“Would that be ‘an’ okay, thanks. Not a,” my daughter texted back.

She then responded with a meme with the following words:

“What are a few things that have inspired you lately?

To be better than everyone. Cause I hate everyone.”

I take it she wasn’t enjoying my inspirational quote thing so much.

My son responded with “I don’t like inspirational quotes, so here is a good painting.”

A Vase of Roses–Van Gogh, 1890

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The next day, I sent a quote and my daughter responded with “Eew that’s so and so’s bio on Twitter. New quote please.”

I sent “Winners never quit. Quitters never win.” It was a quote we had on the back of our swim club’s shirts a few years ago.

“Except Michael Phelps quit and he’s a winner,” she pointed out. Yes, she’s right about that, too.

My son sent a painting by Henri Matisse.img_2866

“I like it. It reminds me of SpongeBob,” my daughter said.

“Fun fact: the SpongeBob art was inspired by his cut-outs,” he answered.

My daughter texted this:img_9775

It’s been interesting to see what they come up with on a daily basis. It adds a little joy to my day like we’re sharing special secrets.

And then my son called, “Thank you, Mom, for starting the inspiration thing. I really love it.”

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Me and my college roommate.