Friday, July 26, 2013

SLOW DOWN! The Four Most Awesome and Satisfying Steps to Slowing Down and Simplifying Your Way too Hectic Life

Some women read romance novels, and follow them up with a dish from  Fifty Shades of Chicken. Some flip through the pages of their favorite catalogues, drooling over the summer weight cashmere. But for me, my fantasy is nothing more than  having a slow and simple summer. 

(Or maaaaaaybe a box of those chocolates with the cherries in the center, that come out at Christmas.)

This video perfectly illustrates how I imagine my perfect summer. Only with no riding in the street, just the sidewalks, and  less lead paint. 

But we all know, not everyone can pull off a wretchedly precious, Kinfolk-style summer. So let's get back to reality.....


The first step to slowing down, is recognizing that you're going too fast!

 For years now, I've been trying to find a  balance between all of the important compartments of my life, and the time and attention that each one needs. 

First and foremost, being a Mother, truly a full-time job when you get down to it. 
Also, caring for our home with the cooking, cleaning, laundering, errand running and an ever changing list of home related "to dos".  Caring for the pets, nurturing friendships, and trying to be a good wife and partner too. Then there is volunteer work at Noah's school, which I love dearly, but became so wrapped up in, at one point, in 2010/2011, I found myself having little time to get things accomplished at home, I felt quite stressed.

So I set out to makes some changes, and I am finally finally in a great position to do so! If you are interested in slowing your life down a bit too, even just a little, I'd love to share this adventure with you!
I'll be posting in the hopefully near future, a series of writings on simplicity at home, tips and suggestions on how to get real-life change going. But here's where you can start to begin......

Step one:  Recognize that your life is too hectic at the moment.

It might seem strange that my first step asks you to recognize that your day-to-day is too busy. I mean, of course you know that! You live it! Sometimes though, when you're rushing around and each moment is filled to the brim with activity, you don't have the moments to really stop and connect with what is truly going on. Your stream of conscious thoughts might say: "I feel so rushed", or "Wow, this is a lot to fit into one week", but you don't dip below the surface to fully grasp how this overloaded life style is affecting your happiness, your health and your spirit.

Mini - Slow Down Suggestion #1 - Connect with Nature! Did you know, that simply by stepping outside, smelling the fresh air, gazing at some gorgeous trees or vibrant flowers, that you can actually LOWER YOUR BLOOD PRESSURE among other calming benefits? Taking yourself out of your frenzied day for just a minute or two can work wonders and affirm that our lives are more than just the latest deadline or the ever piling laundry. We're all part of something bigger, the world is around us, and it's beautiful!

Step Two: Acknowledge how a chaotic lifestyle makes you really feel inside

Is there a quality of balance and tranquility in your busy life? Most likely not. Are stress and exhaustion, or a vague sense of dissatisfaction present in your days? Is something just feeling "off"?  Do you sense that over time, you've drifted farther from your vision of a fulfilling life ?

 It is not easy jumping off the busy roller coaster. For one thing, it might feel like failure! If you can't continue to hold down a job, keep a clean and beautiful home, lead your daughter's Girl Scout group and find time to volunteer in your local community anymore...... then what's wrong with you? Just because you were able to juggles all of these things in the past, doesn't mean that you fail when you set down some of your balls. It actually means that you got SMART! That you are finally ready to take care of YOU too! Connecting with how your frenetic lifestyle effects you, and choosing to slow down a bit is a small WIN in the story of you, not a defeat. :)

Mini - Slow Down Suggestion #2 - Make it a priority to find time for something that makes you truly happy. Don't worry so much about "should thinking".  I SHOULD be doing the dishes, I SHOULD be out with my friends, I SHOULD find a more productive use of my time.
I know that making way for free time can be daunting, especially on the busiest of days, but 
you might be surprised! Sometimes the smallest, shortest and most simple activity, can turn out to be the biggest reward.

One day I spent ten minutes arranging flowers. It was relaxing, a way to be creative, AND we had a week of enjoyment as the flowers sat on our table.

Noah and I stopped for a few minutes to make cinnamon rolls together. It didn't take long at all, and now we have a nice memory. It was worth finding the small amount of time!

Even on a Saturday night, sometimes the quietest  things can be the most fun. For example: bird watching in the backyard! Woo Hoo! *Blush*

Step Three: Take stock of what's important to maintain in your daily life and what you can cut out. BE HONEST with yourself!

At first glance, you might never imagine being able to give up your volunteer work, a highly organized and clean home, or asking your child to only be involved in time consuming competitive sports every other season. There are endless things that we could give up, or cut back on, but most of them feel, at least at first, like a non-negotiable. You really need to delve deep to take stock. You need to be honest with yourself. 

Take for example, something close to my heart, volunteer work. For the past five years, I've been involved to some degree, in multiple volunteer positions at Noah's school. It is important for me to give back, and at times, I've really enjoyed it!  For four years, I held a position on the PTA's executive board as "The Vice President to Lower School New Families".  A much too fancy title, but that's just what I did.   Greeting, communicating with and assisting all of the new families that came to our school over the past four years. I've also been a room parent, the facilitator of a school-wide parenting group, volunteered for various events, helped organize and curate a small library collection, and, my biggest job, chaired a very very large fundraising event in 2011.

Volunteer work was a huge part of my life, and personally important to me!  BUT..... over time, as I began to become more and more busy, rarely feeling able to say "no" to each new opportunity, my happiness and satisfaction levels went down, and my stress level went up!

If you were to ask me two years ago, would I ever give up volunteer work, I'd laugh and say: "Never"! Now though, I've come to realize that while volunteering is something special to me, what is more healthy and rewarding on a whole, is finding enough balanced time to get my most important goals completed first. I wasn't able to feel truly happy, let alone relaxed, unless I was able to check off my important boxes, like being available and present for my child, keeping a cozy, happy little home, and finding a bit of time to also honor my need for some creative "me" time. Writing, creating things for our home, crocheting and walking to name just a few.

It's important to understand that cutting back on commitments and activities can be very difficult and bring about feelings of guilt and failure. But, if you don't put enough consideration into creating a balanced life for yourself, if you put everybody else's needs in front of yours, you will end up exhausted, frazzled, and unhappy.

In the end, I finished out my four-year term as the VP to lower school new families, and declined the offer of another position on the executive board. Will I never volunteer again? Of course I will! I'm sure you can find me working the cooking decorating station at our next Harvest Party, or the Valentine's Dance. I've even entertained fantasies of being a room parent next year. The take-away point being, for me, for now, I've come to realize that I needed to cut out the time consuming, on-going volunteer commitments, to better balance and slow down my days. 

 Take care of yourself and you'll be better able to help enrich the lives of others. You matter too! 

Mini - Slow Down Suggestion #3 - Try something new! Rethink your usual habits . One day we realized that even though we worked so hard to move into our downtown, we never stopped and slowed enough to take advantage of what it had to offer! In such a silly way, we would pass up local eateries at lunchtime, instead making something at home, or driving somewhere that was just part of our previous "routine".  There is a local pub, with a seasonal outdoor deck, just one block from our home. WHY have we never gone there!? Countless times, while passing in the car, or hurrying on my way, we caught a glimpse of happy people sitting on the deck, sipping cool drinks and enjoying lunch. 

A couple weeks ago, we chose to try something new, and went to lunch at the pub. Not only was it fun and relaxing and delicious, it was incredibly nice to just do something new!

Even Noah had a great time, eating fish and chips, and exploring the inside of the pub with it's old Irish instruments and artifacts. Do something new!

Just go take a walk. I know it's Monday night, I know the lawn needs mowing. Just take ten minutes to walk around the block. You'll all be happier for it, and who knows, you might even make a new friend.

You've been watching the same shows for a while now. How about re-visiting a golden oldie or a program that you've never seen before? You might surprise yourself! Here Noah CRACKS UP at a Calliou episode.  (An old favorite that he hasn't seen since age four!). And if you're a parent, you will understand Jon's expression......

Trying making a pizza on the grill instead of ordering out. Fun!

And if you're anything like out the window at squirrels and take their picture. SHAZAM! A new relaxing hobby!

Step Four: Time to make a plan! What changes will you implement and how?

Ok, this is the fun part. I will post more action-oriented simplification tips and stories in the future. To begin with for now though, start brainstorming and learning about steps that you can take to simplify each little area of your life. Check out the resources on slow living and simplification websites like my favorite - Rhythm of the Home and SlowLiving Family. There are many blogs out there about people who chose to simplify their lives and to slow down. I particularly enjoy author Amanda Soule's blog, SouleMama and her book The Rhythm of Family: Discovering a Sense of Wonder Through the Seasons.

Just to be clear, although my favorite resources center around family life and the daily activities of a parent, learning to slow down and simplify is important for anybody and anybody! Man, woman, parent or non-parent. This is a shared, universal need  for balance and tranquility.

I'd like to tell you about my starting point for simplifying, the book, Simplicity Parenting: Using the Extraordinary Power of Less to Raise Calmer, Happier, and More Secure Kids.
It's been an INCREDIBLY helpful book, a wonderful and interesting read, and it has changed our lives! And once again, the the wisdom gleaned from these pages can be applied to adults and children alike. The bulk of the book speaks to parenting, but certainly in general, the suggestions for slowing down and simplifying your environment, schedule and mind can apply to just about anyone, anywhere.

Simplicity Parenting helped me to make an action plan. It addressed four areas of our lives that I could work to change. Our home environment, our daily rhythm, our schedules and, filtering out too much adult media and content, like the news and the onslaught of marketing directed at children.

I loved that Simplicity Parenting also went into discussing WHY simplifying can be so healing and restorative, and how we benefit from it in many ways.  In the future, I'd love to share more about the book, and some of the changes that have worked for us!

Here is just a mini example, of some of the simplicity and slow minded shifts that we have made in the past month. It's been FANTASTIC!!!!

Environment - While my house is naturally a pretty organized and tidy place, I learned that by simplifying and cutting back on the number of extra objects lying around, you really work to calm your surroundings and in turn, calm yourself! Everything is just a little less frenetic when you simplify. Also, for children with a mountain of books and toys, (that they most likely rarely play with) simplifying their choices and highlighting a few special options, really re-centers children's play! I'll show you some examples.

This is Noah's bed before. Not too bad, but if you look closely, there are about ten stuffed animals and three blankies. We spent every morning looking down the side of the bed and underneath for the little stuffed animals and blankets that rolled off during the night. Then it took more time to make his bed and arrange everything just right.

This is Noah's bed after simplifying things. One beloved stuffed animal and one special blanket. I know that it looks a bit stark, but you always have the ability to tweak things after simplifying your environment. You can add special items back in if you or your children really prefer.
Surprisingly though, Noah has been just fine with his new, more simple bed. He hasn't asked for the stuffed animals or blankies back (They neatly sitting within reach in his closet), and it takes just 30 seconds now to make his bed now. So easy! Win-Win!

The same thing goes for Noah's bookshelf. Before it was quite cluttered with extra nicknacks, and it's overly-busy. Not really a source of calm in a room meant for rest.

Small changes add up. I removed the bulk of his long ago forgotten collections. The books have been better organized, and I de-cluttered the whicker toy bins.

Taking away to add-in peacefulness in this corner....

Here's the best part about organizing a child's environment. By removing the old toys that Noah rarely used, that didn't promote imaginative, creative play, or toys that he out grew, I made way for new discoveries! First I carefully put most of his toys, neatly behind closed doors in his closet. Then I made "discovery baskets", containers that I change weekly, with a selection of toys that I've noticed Noah hasn't given any attention to in a long time, or ever! I filled each basket with a carefully curated selection of books, art supplies, toys and kits. It's like everything old is new again. It's been just amazing!

He started playing with this fantastic Snap Circuits kit that's been sitting unused for two years.......

And this old favorite that's gone un-noticed for so so long...........................................

Marble  maze!!!!

And Noah finally noticed the rock and gem excavation kit, that was gifted to him last fall. He loved this one so much, that instead of coming home from camp and asking to unwind in front of the television, he actually asked to go dig some more!!!!

I feel that the best part of simplifying one's environment, is the magic effect that it has on how we go forward in using our time. Instead of staring off into clutter, or so many options that there is total indecision, we go for what is presented, giving it a second chance, and often times realizing how great things are!

All of this play instead of video games, computer and TV, has given Noah a new appreciation for what we call "imagination play", which is just my blanket term for anything but screen time. He loves to ride his bike.............

And splash around in the mini-pool...............

Or simply just be content to practice a new skill. Noah is so proud. :)

And it's inspired all of us to join in the slowing down. We go outside more..........

And do more relaxing things as a family, like an afternoon at the pool once in a while, instead of just busy work.............

And we take this alien cat .............

.........for a walk...........

Because now we've made time for it!

If you too take the time to stop and smell the roses, or at least to stop and take a picture of a bee stopping to smell the Wisteria, then I can GUARANTEE your life will be enriched by this small step in slowing down!

Hope everybody is having a nice summer! Talk soon!


Dom's Mom said...

OMG!!! Tom just asked me what I was laughing at. I told him that Lauren had a nicer looking cat leash than the one he just bought!!!

Lauren said...

Hi sweet Meat!!!!!!!!
Hahahahah. Poor Tom. Listen, please tell Tom that no, his cat leash is WAY nicer, because mine is a rabbit leash. Seriously! I found it at the pet store. I love them though. They're very soft and it's like a mesh vest.

Miss you guys. Sending a big hug your way!!!!
xoxoxoxoxo :)