The Joy of Less

A life with a house full of kids means things will never be “simple,” there will never be a surplus of free time, and no matter how many possessions we don’t have, the house will never be spotless. And that’s ok. 

Written March 5, 2012

I learned something in the last two weeks. The best way to cure my sense of reluctance about leaving our place in Montana is to remove 90% of our possessions from the house, and keep on living there. When there is no couch in the living room and we sleep on air mattresses, suddenly, foot-dragging about leaving family and friends here in MT begins to dissipate, and I can’t wait to move to Minnesota.

The advantage to our current situation, though, is that I am discovering the joy of less. I’ve read about the “Voluntary Simplicity” movement, where people cast off superfluous items cluttering their lives and pare down to the essentials, freeing themselves from the drain of possessions. With that in mind, after moving a trailer full of stuff to Minnesota, I envisioned a contentment that is supposed to come from being freed of possessions. I also imagined a blissful amount of free time coming my way with a mostly empty house.

The only thing in our play room right now is a box of borrowed Legos

Hopeful visions, though, don’t always match reality. I have no blissful amount of free time in our emptied out house. I still have the same amount of meals to cook, clothes to wash and fold, diapers to change, and our kids still need as much care as always. And we are still preparing to move. But for the last two weeks, my husband and I both notice that there is a certain amount of mental freedom that comes from having less, especially in regards to our kids.

I have to admit, for the last two months, our kids watched way too much tv. With my mind and time consumed by preparations for moving to MN, I let the big black box on the wall become a babysitter for our kids too much of the time. Letting them zone out in front of the boob tube kept them quiet and let me get work done, but it certainly didn’t make me feel like a good parent.

Now, though, the big, black mind-drainer mounted on the wall is gone. We did borrow a little 12-inch tv and a VCR from my husband’s mom, but with no antenna or satellite to pick up tv channels and only a handful of movies to watch, television definitely is not a big draw right now.

Instead, the big draw at our house in the midst of moving is…drum roll, please…cardboard boxes. We all know the truism that when little kids open a gift, it is often the box that gets more attention than the toy itself. Right now, we are in cardboard box heaven. Box trains, box castles, box towers, box walls, and box beds get built in endless variations at our house. What is better than building a tower of boxes as tall as the ceiling and then kicking it down with wanton abandon? It seems naughty and destructive, which makes it all the more fun.

No toys, no problem: Building and demolishing cardboard box walls with the help of neighborhood friends.

With 99% of the toys gone, I’ve had the joy of watching our kids be more inventive for the last few weeks. We still have a package of markers, and art projects get cranked out in high gear. Most of our art supplies are already in MN, but cardboard rounds from pizza, paper towel tubes, and old calendars are all fair game for what our kids call “recycling.”

Our children also have been more social. Yesterday, I counted nine kids at our house as springlike weather brought most of the neighborhood kids to our backyard to play together. And a few nights ago, I watched our three oldest kids invent a rousing game of “Mean Cow, Sick Cow.” For nearly an hour, they took turns being the “cow,” while the other two kids chased the cow, tied it up with a scarf, and excitedly administering shots using a marker with the pointy cap on. Of course, multiple injections were necessary, always administered in the cow’s hindquarters.

Watching our kids play with next to nothing for two weeks also makes me look ahead. Eliminating most of our kids playthings in preparation to move gives me the opportunity to consider how I want us to live our lives in our new home. I don’t have specifics formulated yet, but I definitely love the concept that by giving kids less, they actually have more. We’re moving into a house that is nearly 100 years old, and nothing appeals to me more than having our kids playing in much the same way that the kids played in that house 100 years ago.

In the summertime, I want them to pass their days digging in the dirt, building secret hideouts in our windbreak, climbing trees, riding bikes, chasing chickens, and watching baby kitties grow up. I’d rather turn them loose with hammers and nails and some scraps of wood and let them bash their thumbs a few times than have them memorize every episode of “Sponge Bob.” I want my kids to be each other’s best friends. I want them to create secret clubs that parents don’t get to know about. And sometimes I want them to go off for hours all alone working in full concentration on projects all by themselves.

While I am sometimes tempted to just donate everything to Goodwill, I realistically know I’m not going to throw away all of our toys when we move into our house in Minnesota. Getting rid of our toys wouldn’t eliminate the daily kid clutter. After all, this week with no toys, we instead had cardboard box mess in our living room. And our flat screen isn’t going to be cast off anytime soon, but I do want a life with less electronic mind-numbing devices, myself included. It’s way too easy for hours to unintentionally slip by when staring at a screen.

These last two weeks, I’ve seen first hand how easy it is to live with less (not even a couch) and how little we really need to be happy. A life with a house full of kids means things will never be “simple,” there will never be a surplus of free time, and no matter how many possessions we don’t have, the house will never be spotless. And that’s ok. A lived-in house full of kids is a life well-lived in my book.

We are all excited to move to Minnesota and once again sit on our couches and sleep in our real beds, but we are the most excited about the million happy memories that are going to be created in our new house.  It is the people, not the things, that will truly make it  home.

© 2012

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