Giving the inexpensive gift of peace

Are you done with the holidays yet?  We’ve been done with them for years, but transitioning our kids and our extended family to the space we have landed in has been difficult for sure.  For now, we have to control what we can–but that’s more than we realized…

Today, someone on my friends list posted this article from about giving your kids fewer toys and the benefits to their happiness and well-being.  The article cited a recent research study and stated:

So… this really brings me to a nagging thought I’ve had over the last few years.  Parenting culture has definitely changed and in many ways–it’s for the better.  We are more attentive to children as small people–considering their feelings and giving them more room to “be children”.  With that change came changes in our own lifestyles and how we presented ourselves to the world.   I can just hear the words to Miranda Lambert’s song “Mama’s Broken Heart”–which sums it up:

My mama came from a softer generation
Where you get a grip & bite your lip just to save a little face

Go & fix your make up, girl it’s just a break up
Run & hide your crazy & start actin like a lady
Cause I raised you better, gotta keep it together
Even when you fall apart
But this ain’t my mama’s broken heart

This.  I was raised primarily by my Depression-era grandmother and these words really screamed at me.  Where I allow people to come into my house with a basket of clean laundry visible to them or a sink full of dishes waiting to be done–my grandmother would have been caught dead before she would have allowed such a thing.

It’s been a good change for humans, for sure.  We are allowed to be genuine and find community and focus on the bigger issues of life rather than put up façades and falsehoods for the sake of appearances.  There’s no question these were good and necessary cultural changes.  It continues to evolve and now men are being brought more into the mix–being given cultural “permission” to be an engaged, equal opportunity parent and share their vulnerabilities more openly.  They are being allowed to be human.  I don’t think anyone can question the magnitude of these positive changes.

That being said, I think that we have possibly refused to acknowledge that despite the good these changes have brought–we have definitely lost some things of value in the process.  That doesn’t mean we should turn back time and go back to the way things were; but it DOES mean we need to find new ways in our new structure of the world to try to gain those positive things back.  Stay with me here…

Long ago and far away, when BigGuy was a toddler, I dove heavily into learning about various educational pedagogies.  I looked at Steinert (Waldorf), Reggio Emilia, Sudbury, Democratic/Free models… I dug deeply into WHY these models did things the way they did.  What were the theories and/or evidence for many of them?  I was particularly intrigued by the work of Maria Montessori–which was very different from what I saw in practice in Montessori classrooms (we observed no less than 7 certified Montessori schools when BigGuy was 3 or 4 years old).  One of the things that intrigued me about Maria Montessori was her focus on the environment and her ideas about ages and stages at which the adult kept the environment for the sake of developmental goals.  For Montessori, much like our grandmother’s generation, everything had a place and everything in it’s place was the model.  Montessori added that spaces should also be visually appealing, but overall, organization was to be kept to model it for a child; and children were trained in a way to put things back before taking other things out.  At the time, I struggled with this as I felt it might stifle creativity.

Fast forward to the multiple studies about the impact of clutter on mental health and focus  and/or lack of coping strategies for stress (see articles citing research studies herehere, here and here).  I know that after reading the book “Simplicity Parenting” and following the advice to clear out my son’s room while he was NOT home, BigGuy came home and felt so good about his space that he hugged me and thanked me.  I was stunned.

All of this brings me to feeling like our cultural shift has provided many benefits, but could it be a contributor to the rising rates of attention and focus problems in our children?  Could we, perhaps, shed the negative REASONS we used to keep our house so presentable and find NEW reasons–still keeping it real but realizing this is needed for our health and well-being and maybe even possibly to help our children?

Our family has been on a journey to transition from getting “stuff” at the holidays to getting “experiences”.  Every year my stepfather sends money for the kids that is applied to our local pool membership.  We practically live at that pool each year and it’s affordable with the help of the financial gift.  I print out a photograph of the pool and put it in an envelope on the tree and the kids open it every year.  Every year, they are equally thrilled to know that a large part of our summer is secured.  We have managed to get memberships for the arboretum or a museum each year by pooling our own money with other financial gifts.  It’s been wonderful.

This year, I am adding the gift of what I’m going to call “less-ism”.  It’s not “minimalism” but it reduces the things we own and store to the things we really love and use.  Along the lines of  “The Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up” (aka Konmari), we have started purging the house of things we no longer love enough to take up space in our home.  My goal is to have my house look like a nice hotel room more than a minimalist environment.  Clean, not fully packed spaces that are easy to keep clean with belongings that we use often and truly enjoy.  Finally ridding ourselves of the books and clothes that should have been sold.  Reducing what was kept “just in case” (a by-product of growing up horribly poor but other people have a lot of other reasons for “accumulating”).

This year, I begin a journey to provide my family with peace by way of a peaceful environment.  It costs me nothing.  In fact, selling off a lot of these things and donating others has provided financial gain in addition to emotional gain.  By summer, I hope to be done and feeling at peace myself.

Consider giving your family this gift.  If the idea of parting with things scares you, consider packing things up in a box and storing it in the attic or basement or even in the space it currently resides in (but harder to get at when packed) and see if you are compelled to open that box in the next year.  If not, then it can go!

All of the peace of the season to you and yours…


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