The Overwhelmed Family

The photo above was on a train ride from Vicenza to Roma. I’d like to say how lovely the trip was, but it wasn’t, we were way overwhelmed and under prepared.

 

Life isn’t so simple, I’m not sure it’s been simple since the industrial revolution, and today’s technologies make it increasingly more difficult to reconnect and slow down within our family.

Signs Your Family is Overwhelmed:

  1. Mom, Dad, and kids are easy to snap during the simplest tasks.
  2. Kids come home and immediately start a fight with you or each other.
  3. The look of disgust or anguish can be seen on their little faces the moment they get into the car.
  4. Tears come quickly at the slightest hint of the word ‘no’ or ‘time to go home’.

For some of these, we think that this is always normal, or this is just how kids are and how we are. However, this really can’t be the norm. Living this way every day or even weekly isn’t healthy and doesn’t need to be the case.

I’ve recommended it before, but I seriously can’t recommend it enough: Simplicity Parenting by Kim Payne. The signs above are what he calls a Soul Fever, and it can be reduced or eliminated if we take steps to slow down our family.

Recognizing these Soul Fevers is the most important step. My husband and I recently came home one night with our two daughters, completely melting down from leaving an art show. They had school all day, a playdate after school, a quick dinner then an art show, until 8 p.m. Although this doesn’t seem so bad, our girls just couldn’t handle it. The amount of attitude and tears was unbearable leaving the show. After some embarrassing yelling and prompting, my hubby and I took a seat on the couch (with kids still breaking down in the background) and recalled that this was our fault. We know their limits, we’ve done this before and recognized that they can’t handle long days and nights, especially on school nights. If we knew they would have to go to the art show we should have said no to the afterschool playdate and left the show earlier than we did. A small failure that we paid dearly for.

In the past we’ve implemented the one activity per day rule; we don’t plan more than one big activity per day, even on weekends. This worked out fabulously for us in the past, when they were really little, and we thought since they were getting older they could handle a bit more now. Well, we were wrong! We are back to our standard one activity a day and life is much easier. We say no to a lot of invitations since we know they just will not end well. Truthfully, it makes us more relaxed parents. We aren’t carting them all over God’s Creation, trying to fill every last second with something fun. There are times when we feel guilty that they will miss out on a rewarding and exciting experience, but nothing is rewarding if it calls for a tantrum at the end.

Tantrums do not have to be normal.

Every child is different, get to know yours really well and you’ll be able to tell why they tantrum. My oldest tantrums when she hasn’t had enough downtime and sleep. My youngest tantrums when she hasn’t had enough one-on-one attention (and sleep). We all ‘tantrum’ we don’t get enough sleep, Amen!

What does your family do to avoid the Soul Fever? Do you have family rules to help keep a calm and relaxed household?

Some of our rules:

  1. One activity/sport per season, per kid.
  2. One activity per day.
  3. One down day every weekend, almost like a Sabbath.
  4. Reward chart for good behavior during required activities (teeth brushing, bedtime, getting ready for school).
  5. Checking with our spouse before we say ‘yes’ to anything.
  6. No friend sleepovers (again the sleep factor)!
  7. No playdates on school nights (this one I’ve tried over and over again, but sadly she just can’t handle it).

How Living in Italy Changed my Idea of Minimalism

I’ve always been a minimalist per se. I’ve enjoyed scaling down to exactly what I need to make my life calmer and more aesthetically pleasing. Then we lived in Vicenza for three years and even had a baby there! Living in Italy was a perfect chance to observe how the quintessential Europeans live versus consumerist Americans. Here are some of my thoughts:

1. Europeans don’t know they are minimalists.

Europeans don’t really know that they are, what American’s consider, minimalist. They have lived this way their entire lives, making it much easier to continue on the same path of simplicity. Even the gear happy, Germans don’t purchase half the amount of stuff that we, middle-class, Americans do. Their homes are simple and they buy the highest quality items of what they use every day.

They also don’t have a problem living in closer proximity to each other. Even single family homes are much closer together than our ever-sprawling lawns that separate homes in the American suburbs. In Italy, we lived in a townhouse and almost everyone I knew also lived in a townhome, apartment or home that was less than 20 feet from the home next to it.

Household items are also limited, compared to American standards. Good friends of ours, in Germany, have a very fancy espresso/coffee maker. I know this to be a prized possession because it is literally the only thing on their kitchen counter – except for fresh fruit. It is used every day to make high-quality coffee at home, arguably better than any Starbucks I’ve ever had.

There are NO closets!

You read that right…there. are. no. closets. The government actually supplied us with wardrobes when we moved in. Think IKEA wardrobes that you build yourself. If you need a way to downsize your clothes, this will do it. We also each had a dresser but it was still very limiting and I learned to dress with less pretty quickly.

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2. There are fewer advertisements and options.

Billboards stamped over every last square inch of the highway just isn’t seen in Italy, or Germany or Europe for that matter. There are small ads here and there, but the majority of them I saw in cities. However, even the cities have about half as many adverts as we have in the U.S. I’m not sure if there are laws about billboards (like in Vermont) or if it’s just not culturally acceptable to have flashing lights in your face, everywhere you turn? I’d prefer if it was the latter.

Options are far, far less! There are a limited amount of stores that are selling what you want. In Italy, the largest number of stores I saw were bicycle shops, I kid you not. There are about two-three bicycle shops for every small town. Suffice it to say, Italians are big into biking, as are most Euro countries. But options are limited, only two types of children’s fever medications at the pharmacy, only seasonal fruits and veggies in the markets, and only two stores that carried clothing I would actually wear (although that may have been a personal problem).

Lake Garda, 2014

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3. Everything is not open, all the time.

The most difficult adjustment to shopping habits: stores not being open all of the time. Most stores are closed on Sundays in Italy and this includes many stores in the mall. Malls are not everywhere in Italy and you usually have to drive a good distance to find one, when you do finally arrive, you learn that they are closed on Sundays. It brings a whole new meaning to the Sabbath if you know what I mean. When you are forced into a day of rest you take it.

Photo by Narumi Nuber

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4. Their culture is not built on speed (except the Autostrada!)

There is a well-known fact about Italians if you live in Italy; Italians do nothing fast except drive. They do just about everything slow, it took me over a month to order a baby bike seat from one of the many bike shops in my town (this was a normal time frame apparently). Furthermore, it can take over 30 minutes from the time you order your meal until you actually start eating – they are probably cooking it from scratch so it’s usually worth the wait and you can drink plenty of wine during this time.

Italians are built to be slow.  They practice ‘reposo’ – afternoon time to relax or take a nap – the equivalent of siesta. Espresso, although sometimes drank quickly, is never taken ‘to-go’. I tried for months to figure out the word ‘to-go’, in Italian and it never seemed to work. I’m not sure if the Italians didn’t understand me or they just refused to allow me to take my coffee out the door. Even McDonald’s does not have to-go coffee cups in Italy, you can have your Big Mac in a bag to go but definitely not your cafe.

Agriturismo near Lake Garda: Please research agriturismos before visiting Italy, your trip won’t be complete without one.

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Basically, Europeans are forced into a life of simplicity and slowness. Europe is not perfect, they have their own political issues and economic problems, but I don’t think most would argue that their lifestyle is better for the soul. Italians live some of the longest and healthiest lives on the planet (see Blue Zones and Mediterranean Diet) and other European countries live some of the happiest lives on the planet (see Denmark).

Maybe you’ll see another post on how to apply these principles while living in America – but I’ll have to figure that out for myself first!

7 Minimalist Indulgences

‘Minimalism’ can sound like a harsh word. It conjures images of living in a white room, with white furniture, white clothing and maybe even pristine white children in shift dresses. I promise you it is not. What it is, is freedom. Freedom from always being behind on cleaning, freedom from a job that feels like slavery, even freedom from mundane tasks that seem to take up your whole day. There is room in minimalism to enjoy life immensely. I’m not talking about $10,000 vacations but little joys that you can find on a daily basis. Here is a list of 7 indulgences or extravagances I allow myself quite often for free (or very cheap).

1. BATH TIME: Bath time had to be number one on my list. It’s my time, all mine. Sometimes I read in the bath, sometimes I just soak and let my mind focus on my breathing to recenter myself and sometimes I give myself a real spa treatment with oils, bubbles or salts. Try it, on a weekly basis, I dare you!

2. A REALLY GOOD BOOK: It seems that there are readers, then there are non-readers. I’m of the belief that the non-readers have just not found what genres of books they enjoy, or even just a really great author that they just can’t put down. Cultivate your interests, dig deep to find some excitement in books. I promise a really good book is so much more rewarding than any movie. Right now I’m reading ‘Nefertiti’ by Michelle Moran, I’m into historical fiction and this is an exceptional one (my second time reading it) but if you’re not into historical fiction, please yawn and continue on your way to more exciting genres.

3. A TEA or COFFEE with FRIENDS: Nothing compares to downtime with a friend, to chat, to gossip, to create wonderful ideas with or plan great trips with. All mamas need to find the time to do this. I usually put my child in care during the week to find girlfriend time, but if this isn’t available to you, I insist you illicit your husbands babysitting skills on the weekends and find an hour or two to just get away with a friend (or sibling). If all else fails, invite your friend over for afternoon coffee and watch the little ones destroy your living room while you nonchalantly chat over your steaming cups. It will be worth the 15 minutes of clean up after they leave.

4. SEX: Sorry Mom. Earmuffs! Nothing is more indulgent than sex and I’m assuming that if you’re a mama that you’ve had sex and continue (although much less regularly) since the babies were born. Find time for this, SERIOUSLY! Enough Said.

5. A GREAT OUTFIT: You know you have that outfit (or at least you have it pinned on Pinterest) that you just love. It makes you feel like the best possible you. Wear this outfit on any regular day, not a special occasion, just a day where you run errands or pick up the kids or go to work on a normal Monday. Wear this bad ass outfit and feel awesome, if for no other reason then that you are awesome! (If you don’t own this outfit that you have in mind, save up for it and buy it. Oh and be prepared for the compliments!)

6. MASSAGE: Now this might be a little pricey, depending on where you go. Word of mouth is usually the best way to find someone who is good, but if you don’t know of anyone then I would recommend a massage school. Google it for your area, they can be really cheap and although the students are still learning I find that the massages are pretty close to any regular massage therapist. I’ve been to one amazing therapist when we lived in Tennessee and I can’t seem to find anyone that good ever again. When you find THE ONE, go to them, regularly. They will get to know your needs, where you are tight, sore, etc. I find I can always do my own nails and facials at home but I can’t massage myself (and my hubby doesn’t compare to an actual therapist, sorry babe).

7. DATE NIGHT: I love date night. It can get boring if you let it. Just dinner and a movie every time is boring. Soon we are trying a ‘date day’, going to a museum not far from here that I’ve been dying to go to and spending the day near the water and eating a wonderful lunch (I hope it lives up to my expectations). Next ‘date day’ we are planning on snowboarding because that’s what my husband likes to do and we can’t do it with two little ones. Make sure you are trading off and on for things you like to do with what your husband likes to do, makes it fair and interesting.

Single? Take yourself on a date, a place you’ve been wanting to go but have been waiting for someone else to take you. Just go!

Do you have any other indulgences you would consider minimalist? Things you love to do that don’t require shopping and bringing more junk into the house?