"The rules are fake."
Man I love this quote!
Five years into motherhood, that is the very best way for me to describe the transition that I went through in becoming a mama and finding my way. This quote is by one of my favourite "minimalism influencers" (if that's a thing), the LA Minimalist, Annie. Annie isn't a mom, but she is the queen of addressing the false pretences and social 'rules' that we all think we have to live our lives by, many of which keep us bogged down in a weird no-mans-land of unhappiness without the faintest idea of why we are unhappy.
Now firstly, I really need to mention that this is just a reflection type of a blog post about my own experience. I am not an expert on anything (least of all parenting) and I have no business telling anybody what to do. But if in your heart you know that some of the current ways that motherhood seems to be just don't feel right, and you are kind of wandering around looking for another girlfriend that decided to hop off that cycle, maybe this is for you. I have a newly pregnant mama in the shop or sliding into my DMs at least once every two weeks hoping to do something "that feels right" and searching for something off the Toy's R Us mega registry beaten path.
Here's what I mean by not exactly feeling "right" -
- a very clear memory of my own childhood with my mom needing an outdoor rake to create piles of plastic toys to help us get started on cleaning up our toy room
- the insane lists online that tell you exactly what you're supposed to register for to have a baby shower, fully knowing that people have babies in Africa without crib wedges and fluffy carseat add-ons and are probably 1000% happier than most of us Westerners
- trying to get a handle on your consumption because the Earth is literally burning down but then approaching parenthood to find that it is the biggest explosion of new products and items you've ever experienced in your life
- a very vivid moment in my own journey of holding a brand new outfit from Winners after learning about just who makes these fast fashion clothes and swallowing hard to yank the tags off, knowing I had to put it on my child right that moment to make my own mum happy but that I didn't need it at all
- and then watching my baby giggle while wearing it and thinking about the kids and families that were in poverty so that my child could have yet another outfit that we didn't need
- one of the one million and counting reels and images on social media lamenting the impossible state of being a mother, but then relating to it and crying because they are so true, while also being told it's the greatest time of your life
- already feeling like you've got enough to manage with a household and life as a modern woman, but then thinking about how you now have to manage all of this STUFF - cleaning it, rotating it, storing it, repairing it, regifting it, donating it, selling it, replacing it
- reading about how what kids really need is time and attention, but that's not what our culture values whatsoever
Maybe you already feel like a minimalist or you like the idea of it. Or maybe you're newly pregnant and you're looking for a way to still keep on a path that is sustainable for our planet and that little babe's future. Or, maybe you're afraid to become a parent because it just seems so impossible to do and enjoy any of it.
I hear ya.
Here's my very honest take on my own shift.
1. You're the Parent, you Decide
So, I should begin by saying that the greatest struggles of my life have been boundary setting for people that I care about. I had a toxic empathy problem. If you could activate my empathy, I was pretty easy to manipulate into cleaning out your pantry, doing your gardens, changing my schedule for you, etc. I know now that this really didn't set me up well for being a parent myself, because I was still trying to do that with a newborn; accommodate everyone and make everyone else comfortable while I feel terrible. I ended up with post partum depression twice, and I can't help but wonder if this could have been different if I had of learned to have some confidence in myself and not worry about doing things the way other people wanted me to. I know that's an intense thing to put onto the Internet, but my stance on mental health has always been to tell the story if it can help someone; it's not embarrassing for me at all.
Anyway, I schlepped my newborn around like it was no big deal and had visitors over and said thank you for things I didn't want or need while people told me it was something "they just had to have" and "it saved them" or "they thought it was SO cute" and it really just felt like someone stepping over my boundaries over and over. I felt horrible asking for help. I piled up the toys and the handmedowns and the gifts and the crud that I did and didn't ask for into a mountain in my basement. I spent time that I should have been sleeping, taking a mental health walk outside, eating something that would have made me feel better, or taking a bath to help with all the abuse of birth and nursing but instead I was cleaning, washing things, managing things, storing things, trashing wrapping paper and feeling like the to-do list was never going to get done and that I really wasn't even doing or accomplishing anything anyway.
It was hell. I didn't even know I had PPD the first time around, I just thought that's how being a mother was going to be and how it was supposed to feel. I tried to stay over at friend's houses during get togethers of friends that didn't have kids yet while my baby screamed, I drove far distances for events with a newborn so that we weren't missing out on something someone told me was a big deal, I re-tore my tear from birth from not taking it easy, I felt lost and completely alone.
Then, when our oldest was about six months old, our five year wedding anniversary rolled around. We decided to take babe and go to Prince Edward County for a couple of nights at a little vacation rental.
When we got there, we saw that our space was a separate space off of the owner's own home. Somehow this family managed to empty out a chunk of their home (which seemed impossible to us at the time) and create this incredible property to host guests on. We ended up spending a lot of time there because we had a six month old with us, doing a few low key day trips to the beach and to some shops, but mainly hanging around our rental space and walking around the grounds. We ended up meeting the family, who somehow had the time to be out in their outdoor spaces every evening for hours, despite also having a baby and this business on their property themselves. We got to know them and they showed us around their home, a clearly very sustainable and alternative reality to the one I was living.
Looking back now, it was pivotal to me. This family had handmade furniture, straw bale walls, a simple kitchen and living space. They had a bigger house, but chose to not even use the whole section we were staying in. The one night they had us in, we saw just a wooden high chair, a large bean bag style bed on the floor beside their bed for baby, and none of the mounds of plastic crud and play gyms and play mats and exersaucers and jolly jumpers that were taking up my space. Their little girl was almost always just simply in a diaper, playing with a wooden spoon or some flowers on the deck outside.
Now, that doesn't describe my life at all right now, but it was just knowing and seeing that someone could do it differently, and nothing bad was happening was the key here. The planet was still turning, there were no authorities lingering around ready to install an exersaucer because they didn't have one, and that whole family actually seemed quite a lot happier.
The thing is, they just said no. They said no to a lot of it. And I know you can't tell from the surface if someone is happy, but they had a simple home, with the ability to run a great business, relax, be present, and do what they wanted. It was revolutionary to me.
If you want your child to have a simple life, that's your decision. If you don't want what society is putting on you, then say no. If you don't want all the crap, don't have it. You are 1000% allowed.
It might not seem that simple, and you may feel you're letting others down. But the truth is, they already had their turn to do it their way. And this is yours. And you're allowed to say no and to do it the way you want to, because it's for your own child, your own family. At the end of the day, you matter more than the weight of any social expectation, any supposed rule, any regret that is going to come from not doing things and raising your child the way you want to. You decide.
2. Parent Yourself + Stop Managing Stuff
I can only say this because I had such a rocky transition to the whole situation personally, and because I learned this first hand: parent yourself more than you spend time managing stuff and schedules and all the other things that we put on our plates. It is far more beneficial that anything else you will do to be the parent you'd actually want to be.
I learned in a very sad way, that you can never be the parent you want to be if you can't take care of yourself. I was definitely the queen of saying that having a clean space is "self care for me" but that's not what I mean here; I learned that for sure that's not the best way to take care of one's self.
Parenting brings a bunch of psychological things up that you may or may not have known were there. If you've ever heard of 'the inner child' and thought "okay, whatever" - it's a real thing, and she's going to definitely show up and need some attention. I found myself coming out with something my own mom would have said or done, and had my partner say the same thing about himself. Other times I felt this intense "wall" in me when my child would do something and I couldn't understand why I felt the way I did. It's like a reaction, or a reflex, or a subconscious thing. And maybe you had the most perfect experience as a child, but I have yet to meet anyone that hasn't had something to overcome if they are being truly honest. Plus, typically everyone has some personal idea of how they want to parent, and it's not always synchronous with their partner's, and it actually might take some learning and work to do it the way you want to.
I had a lot of reparenting to do. A ton! It is still a work in progress.
I found a few really amazing accounts for me to learn about how to do this. Everyone likes different things, but I appreciate respectful parenting philosophies (distinctly different from gentle parenting) and I found a lot of guidance through Janet Lansbury's podcast and The Mellow Mama's YouTube videos on the subject. I also found falling down the hole of manifestation and dealing with personal patterns and the roots of some trauma so that I could live more authentically to be very helpful. I know I'm summing this up in a single paragraph, but if you want to consciously parent, you need to get there and it's not very easy. This was work for me, and continues to be, that's for sure.
I think we always expect a transition to take some time, but that you've pretty much transitioned after a few months and then it's supposed to start getting easier. But that's really not true with parenting. Some things may get easier, but new things crop up. The fastest way for me to find a way to feel calmer and parent the way I wanted to was to simplify my life and head on the long reparenting road. It had nothing to do with cleaning my house, cramming my schedule and buying new stuff, which is exactly how I started out managing the stress of my new life.
3. Minimalism is Personal to your Family
Minimalism isn't exactly a status that you achieve or a state of being or something that can be a generic check-off to do list that looks the same for everyone. The other day I was asking my husband if we should buy something and he said "well, that's not very minimalist of you" and I got a bit huffy at him. You don't have to paint your walls white and have one pair of shoes or one plate or whatever specific thing you saw about someone else's minimalism. The best way I can define minimalism is to say that you're just not keeping things you don't need or love. It make sustainable living possible, it's a simpler and calmer way of life, and allows us to have 'better and not more' of something.
So, you decide what it looks like.
The point is, you're consuming less. You're tackling cycles of consumerism and unconscious consumerism all the time and growing. Different stages of life mean different amounts of things, like with the season of small children, and you're always realizing different things about what you truly want and value. It's not a perfect thing.
For me, I have found that my route to this with kids is to consistently follow the procedure of sourcing things we need second hand, and then buying very good quality otherwise, because I then can sell it to buy the next good thing. This process goes against the "buy a ton for really cheap, and buy more when it's garbage soon after" routine I participated in for most of my life. This has enabled me to completely check out of Toy's R Us, Winners, and the whole slew of Children's Place/Carters/Old Navy/H+M etc reality that I think might be the norm these days. It has really simplified things in our home and given me so much time and money back that otherwise would be gone.
I learned that having extremely good outerwear is important to our family, and that going outside is something I highly value and something that saves mental health daily - so we need to be able to get out there no matter the weather. I'll start by looking for something second hand, and if I can't find it, I go for a high quality version of that. My children are either wearing hand me downs, or things like Blundstones or a Toaster Suit; two opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to investment. Some don't understand that, but that's okay, this is how I can get rid of fast fashion and make it work for us. In the end I think I'm probably going to be spending less while not being a part of fast fashion; buying better makes selling things an option, buying cheap means they will likely be worn and washed out. The money gets reinvested in the next thing that the kids are always seeming to need.
Making it personal for us also means that I had to realize that some traditional Montessori style toys might just not be for my kids. We had a beautiful set of wood blocks, and a set of plastic Duplo blocks from a friend. The wooden blocks were not touched for years by my children no matter what I tried to do to get them engaged, whereas the plastic ones are used everyday. I realized that my hate for plastic doesn't really apply to secondhand plastics. When my son wanted a marble run set for Christmas, we opted for a secondhand plastic option versus buying a brand new very expensive wooden option. I had slowly invested in little wooden animals, only to sell them later because neither of my children ever ended up playing the types of games with them that I hoped and thought they might. So, although the wood toy room aesthetic is amazing on Pinterest, in reality, it was just more stuff in some cases. A simple life doesn't mean you have to meet anyone else's version of that minimal existence.
4. You don't have to have a baby shower, or Pinterest Party, or whatever else
Not much to say on this one, but just sayin' - ya don't have to. They've only been around for a century, but women have been having babies for much longer than that and somehow humanity survived. Ya don't need a registry, you don't need gifts, we don't need any of that.
If you are hoping to nix these things, I suggest having something figured out to tell family and friends that really do want to do something for you, because after all, that urge is coming from a place of love. Think of some things that you really do need, and ask for help with that and to have a lunch or a coffee and catch up so that the person can still feel like they are celebrating you. I would suggest asking for help with car seats, a stroller or carrier, life jackets, a better mattress, a wool cover for the mattress, cloth diaper investments (I will 1000% always recommend the Motherease Sandy's setup which we bought at Go Green Baby - no leaks, better for laundering, amazing), meals or gift certificates for takeout or dinners when babe is born, or money to start a savings account for baby. Asking for their favourite book as a child is a sentimental idea that can allow for that piece to be covered. Asking people you feel comfortable with to set a date to come over and spend time with baby while you take a nap, or go for a walk, is a gift for you both.
Thinking of some things ahead of time, and communicating that, is the key.
If you do not want clothing (maybe you have hand me downs already, or you want to try to buy differently and sell), or toys, or whatever, you need to very clearly state this boundary. It can be hurtful to not state it, and then get rid of the items you've been given; no one can read your mind. But if you can very clearly state that you are hoping to be more sustainable, and if you don't need something, you'll give it to someone that does need it (our go-to is hand me downs for other family and friends, and then the women's shelter), you have lovingly set the boundary. If you'd prefer second hand, say that. You should still expect that people are still going to give you things that you don't want, and we can't exactly take this as boundary crossing perse, as they are just doing what our society has us do when we aren't thinking so much about it. But be sure to follow through with what you said. It's a tough thing, because it comes from a place of love, and you might feel like you're being obtuse. But ya gotta do it if you want the current cycle to come to an end, and then I found that the source of some of our excess slowed down. Otherwise, it will continue and there will be hurt around the table.
And on this note - the same applies for ongoing birthday parties and other traditions and events that you're "supposed to do." Elf on the shelf a no? Pinterest party with all the matching decor, stress, and worry a no? Valentine's Day plastic present pile a no? It's alright to just not.
5. Get Clear on your Why for the Weird Times
Living with less can definitely get weird sometimes. For myself, I have found so much increased calm, time to relax and rest, time to be creative, time to connect with my kids, time to do the things we want to go experience rather than managing all the stuff (although I do still do that quite a bit).
But then, even still with all those good things, I still have have intense moments of wondering if I'm depriving my children when I hear someone else make a comment or doesn't understand what's going on. It might not even be ill-intentioned whatsoever! Maybe I've seen a video of a kid with an amazing toy or our child really gets into something we don't own purposely at a play group and I start to doubt myself. Or, a grandparent might offer an amazing toy or gift and although we know it's not our path, it just sounds really good and then you're just not sure what to do.
The truth is, no one really knows if they are doing this parenting thing right and no matter what you're doing, you're going to not be sure.
Our brains can definitely be weird sometimes, but expecting these feelings to come up throughout my sustainability journey has helped keep me on the path when things get tough.
To shift past all of this, I need to review with my partner whether or not he thinks we are doing the right thing. He always reminds me that this is exactly what we want to be doing. That it feels like chaos, discomfort, emotional overwhelm, overstimulation, and a loss of what's important when we go the other way or are immersed in spaces full of kid's things and watching them unable to emotionally or mentally handle the excess. If I can't happily handle the overstimulation - the touching, the wiggling kids, the volume, the chaos, the messy house, the TV show, the emotions, the clutter - then why do we expect that small kids can?
I then calm down and also remember that my "why" for all of this centres around my children's chance at having a better future. Consuming this much is not something that can last indefinitely, and that following a different path means that they won't have to break unconscious cycles themselves with as much work and effort and stress as we did someday, potentially avoiding a ton of debt and unhappiness.
So, it's the why that needs to be clear for the days when we have too many feelings and doubts and the efforts seem lost. Usually the why is the children, but knowing our brains can get in the way helps the doubtful days to pass easier.
You can do this
If you're here because you feel like you needed someone to tell you it's okay to do your thing, I hope you felt that.
If you're here because you want validation in that what you're doing already is the right path, even if it might not be the path of mainstream society, I hope you felt acknowledged and empowered to get away from that consumerism.
If you're just getting started on sustainability, I hope you feel like it's not all buying the right products - it actually has nothing to do with shopping at all.
I always love to share what I learned from my failures, my own weird journey. I hope you found something here that can help you out on your own path, and that living with less can be abundant and possible, even with little kids.
Leave me a comment below if you have any thoughts or questions!