This article is the second of two parts:
Part 1: Why “The Simple Life” is Rarely Simple
Part 2: How to Make “The Simple Life” Simpler (and More Joy-Filled)
In the previous part of this article, we discussed “What IS simple living, anyway?,” which was brought up due to a comment left on my guest post over at Keeper of the Home. The comment in question was very succinct:
“…Making everything from scratch, homeschooling, cloth diapering, keeping a livable house (not clean, just decent), growing a garden, teaching Sunday school–I'm exhausted and overwhelmed. I've always loved the pioneer idea but I don't know how to find the time–and I have all the technology to speed things up.”
I ended that article by asking, “So, what's the antidote?”
How can we take JOY in the busy lifestyles we've chosen? How can we make “the simple life” simpler?
Through all my mullings this week (and through the years as my husband and I have journeyed on this path), several ideas have bubbled to the surface. They are just that – ideas – so please take them as such. Please share YOUR ideas!
How do YOU keep “the simple life” simple? Please leave a comment below!
Find Little (and Big) Ways to Nourish Joy
There's an old Benedictine saying that goes, “There's enough time in every day for work, play, prayer, and study.”
Basically, everyone in the world has the same 24 hours, but we get different things done because of how we choose to use our time. Yes, as mothers, the required to-do list is extra-long and it feels like there's no time to do anything extra, but it is entirely possible to find 10-minute snippets throughout the day.
Think of it this way if it's helpful: when you're doing exercise, you can only do a specific exercise so many times before your muscles can't take any more and are unable to do another repetition. However, if you take a short rest, you can continue the exercise without hurting yourself.
Make a little time everyday to be at rest
Enjoy a tea, read a magazine, do a puzzle, work a sudoku, sit on the porch and stare at the horizon… For me, taking a break from the momentum of the day is extremely difficult, but I find that when I actually take 5-10 minutes to turn my mind off and enjoy my favorite tea, I am more ready to dive in to all the activities that wait through the rest of the day.
Make a little time everyday for something you really enjoy
Again, it needn't be long, but make time for the things that make you feel good. Knitting, reading, bicycling, having a glass of wine with your spouse, whatever it may be.
And yes, you hopefully enjoy some of the “required” tasks of the day as well: cleaning, doing dishes, cooking, teaching your children – but there's still something good about doing an activity that has no other purpose than to feed your soul.
Make time for a daily or weekly retreat
The point of a retreat is to do merely that: retreat. This is a time to reflect and pray and plan.
Some women find it most nourishing to make a half-hour retreat at the beginning of each morning. Others find it more beneficial to schedule a longer period of time sometime on the weekend.
I know of one woman who goes to a coffee shop every Saturday from 6 am to noon to do all her journaling and planning. Her husband creates fun Saturday morning traditions with the kids and she arrives back to the family refreshed.
Basically, whatever works for you to feel refreshed, organized, and ready to conquer the world is sufficient.
Make time for adult things
When we are responsible for managing all the busyness that comes with raising kids (whether they're toddlers or teens), we need adult interaction. For example, part of why I run our family business, Ethical Green Living and its blog, Nourishing Joy, is because it challenges and stimulates me – back in the beginning, I had to learn a new skill (coding HTML), I'm constantly researching new ideas and testing old ones, I get to pour myself into my secret-hobby-love of graphic design, I get to write books, and I get to interact with all of you.
Perhaps for you it's getting involved in community theatre or joining a choir. Or maybe it's something less time-intensive and it's just making time to read that Russian novel you've been putting off for the last decade. Whatever intellectually-stimulating activity best nourishes you, make time for it.
Be Rooted in Community
The quickest way to burn-out is to try to do everything yourself.
So, figure out how others can help you (and how you can help them).
“Share” your homeschool or child-care duties
If there's a homeschooling family in your area you know well or are comfortable with, see if there's a day when your kids can join them and give you the day off.
Of course, this works best in reciprocity, so offer to take their children and include them in your school on another day.
Sometimes this works extra well, as having kids of similar ages sometimes stimulates kiddos to focus better and then provides playmates when the school day is done – giving you more opportunity to get caught up on all those things you feel stress about. Definitely a win-win!
Share meal prep
Agree with a friend that once a week (or however often works for you) you'll each make a double batch of a meal, then trade the extra meal. This will give you variety in your meals and will keep you out of the kitchen at least once a week, since you'll just have to heat up the meal your friend gave you.
Share cleaning duties
Trade weekends with a friend for your weekly house clean. One Saturday, take your kids to that friend's home, politely kick your friend out, and take 2-3 hours to vacuum, dust, scrub, and polish the house. The following Saturday, your friend and her children can take their turn in your home.
Get Rid of Stuff So You Have Less to Manage
I don't know about you, but when I'm surrounded by clutter, my stress-level maxes out. I can't focus, I can't sit and enjoy my coffee, and I feel a deep churning inside me that won't settle down. In return, I have a shorter fuse with my children, I'm less creative as a homeschool teacher and as a cook, I don't make as much time to connect with my husband, and my daily tasks feel like drudgery rather than a joy.
And if I'm going to be a Home Manager, then I want to minimize the amount of stuff that I have to manage – namely, that I have to be responsible for tidying and maintaining.
Since we emptied our children's room of more than half of their toys and books several weeks ago, it has been SUCH a joy to easily tidy the house within 10 minutes each evening before bed – and thus actually wake up to a tidy house each morning. I never realized it would make such a psychological difference, and now I'm hungry to do a deeper purge of other areas of the house!
Do As Much As You Can Do JOYFULLY and Be Satisfied
If you're anything like me, you want to be active in your community, do everything you can to nourish your family, and give generously as often as possible.
However, it can be a “perfect storm” of good intentions. When we overbook ourselves or truly believe that we CAN be super-mom, rare is the occasion when we don't end up exhausted and overwhelmed.
So take honest stock of everything you do in a day/week and lay it out according to priority. Then make a conscious effort to make sure the “non-negotiable” items are taken care of, as well as most of the “I'll do this even when I don't want to because it will show my husband I love him” items, but be okay with sometimes missing out on the “would really love to do” bits.
For me, it's sourdough, washing diapers, and making my own condiments. The days I have enough time and energy to feed the sourdough starter, put in a load of cloth diaper laundry, and refill the ketchup bottle are good ones, but most days those are the tasks that get the old heave-ho. And yes, the baby gets a disposable.
And I'm okay with that.
Remember That Life Has Seasons
If life is overwhelming now, picture what it might be like in 20 years when all your kids have grown up and gone and you might be looking for ways to fill your time.
Life has seasons, and just like spring, summer, autumn, and winter each have their individual charms and challenges, life's seasons have their charms and challenges too. Embrace the charms (like my 2-year-old son's bear hugs in the morning) while acknowledging the challenges (feeling exhausted after dealing with the clamorings of young children all day), and remember that in another season, the same challenges will no longer exist.
Know Your Identity
If you find your identity entirely wrapped up in the roles you play – e.g. “mom,” “wife,” “volunteer extraordinaire” – you'll start losing sight of who you are as a unique person, beautifully created in the image of God. You are certainly all those other things too, but knowing what makes you unique and that each role is only PART of the whole of who you are brings a deep contentment all its own, even in the midst of busyness.
Make Sure Your Husband Gets Time to Refresh Too
This isn't just to make sure that life is fair – “you got to take a break so I want one too” – but this is to foster, nurture, and honor your relationship.
When my husband arrives home in the evenings, his rhythm is to pour himself a very small glass of port and sit on the porch enjoying a pipe. (Yes, I married a GQ gentleman straight out of the 1920's!)
He sits only for 5-10 minutes, but he calls it “the clutch” between going from a very fast-paced, labor-intensive job to being at dinnertime with three young children.
But I am more than happy that he takes that bit of time because when he comes into the house, he is fully present and excited to be there. The kids clamor to tell him about their day and he listens and tells jokes that make them laugh so hard they fall off their chairs. He changes diapers, reads stories, and puts the youngest to bed. I'm so grateful, and I know that small amount of refreshment makes all the difference.
How Living “The Simple Life” is Like a Road Trip
Again, an analogy: If you take a long road trip and drive without stopping until you reach your destination, yes, you'll make great time, but when you all finally get out of the car, you'll all be weary, sore, and likely dazed and feeling hazy.
But if you take breaks every few hours to stretch your legs, enjoy a picnic, or see something fun along the way, you'll be chatty and excited (and yes, still a little tired) when you reach your destination.
It's the same with “simple living.” If you take little breaks each day to nourish your soul and if you only do as much as you can do joyfully, you'll enjoy the journey far more.