I’m starting a new series I’ll look at from time to time on simplicity in motherhood, parenting and life. Now, I’m not talking simplicity as in going green, etc.
Not that I knock going green, mind you, I just want to be real and honest and say my reasons for instituting simplicity in the home have little to do with the far away future or the environment.
There, I said it. Those are simply plusses. I believe that simplicity (and I’ll discuss what I believe that means for us mothers, and it will vary by person, of course) can bring contentment, satisfaction, peace and order where they may have been previously lacking in our home. I’m going to call the series after a frugality motto from the Great Depression….
I believe the key here is not to deprive ourselves or our families of things, but actually to provide them with something greater. Your child will remember spending personal time with you far more than they’ll remember a plastic toy they had or a super cute outfit.
I believe life with our children and families is about experiences and not things. However, things make the house run. Things go into our mouths and nourish our bodies. Things drive us to and fro where we need to go. In all things there is a balance, obviously, and trust me, I am no minimalist!
I don’t mind spending $100 on a pair of shoes that I will keep for ten years (I have a few pair like this). I don’t mind spending $40 on a pair of toddler shoes if that is pretty much the only pair of shoes they’ll be wearing for an entire season or more.
I don’t mind flying the whole family to another state for a trip or stay at the beach. So… hopefully having heard a few of those confessions you will not think I am advocating throwing out all iPads, iPods, handbags and stray kittens.
I think if we develop a mindset of frugality (note: frugality does not equal deprivation or poverty) then we’ll raise more responsible kids. Here are some thoughts on this motto and how it can relate to life with our kiddos.
1. Use it Up.
This is referring to consumable goods. I struggle with a balance here because I also firmly believe in storing up food for times of need, giving away, and simply to just be prepared. If you only have one bag of pasta when the hurricane comes and the store sells out, you are totally without.
With preparation in mind, I like to strike a balance. A while ago I started buying a few items each trip to the grocery store to keep in our garage in a stash.
I think of this stash separate to the food in our house. I’ve given some general tips on Keeping Food on the Table during a Busy Season, but generally I like to meal plan, go to the store and buy only what I need (for the most part), and then use it up. I “shop the pantry” before making my list and try to make multiple meals with similar ingredients to prevent waste.
My grocery bill is lower and I don’t have a pantry and fridge full of food that goes bad before I use it.
Actually, my husband just told me the other day that our neighbor – a young girl in her early 20’s who just took on a mortgage while studying and is struggling to find work – confessed she often went hungry and lived on ramen noodles. He asked if we could share our stash and I gladly agreed. This is using it up!
Additionally, we go by the “use it up” motto with toiletries and the like. In our shower – this will shock you all and I’m sure have you question my femininity – we have two shampoos, one conditioner, one body wash, one face wash, and one bar of soap!
That’s it. In our children’s bathroom they have one bottle of baby shampoo and one bottle of baby soap. That’s it. when they are near empty we replace them. I’ve gone into friends bathrooms who have countertops full of products that I feel can’t possibly all be consumed. If they are being used – great, use them up – if not, stop buying more!
2. Wear it Out.
Here we refer to clothes, or things that have a life of wear and tear and then must be retired. As I grow older I have started to prefer having a few good quality things over many things of subpar or average quality.
They last longer, go out of ‘fashion’ slower and help me to feel a bit more luxurious in my quest to simplify. When I’m shopping I’ll generally buy shorts, tops or dresses that are versatile and don’t scream “you wore that last week” so that I can rotate scarves, jewellery or shoes to freshen the look up.
This is coming from a woman, however, who dresses her daughter up in clothes she wore as a child. I’m not a trendy person, I prefer stripes, polka dots, white and navy and basic things that don’t go out cause they don’t come in. That helps me to keep things for a while.
Kids accumulate things. Since I’ve had mine fairly close together and I’ve done my best to take good care of everything, we have reused every single baby thing we haven’t worn out. Swaddles, bibs, infant seats, car seats, cribs, bumbo, etc. I didn’t have much “stuff” around the house because I just never seemed to need it. We’ve always had enough toys and I’m a fan of rotating toys, anyway.
I carefully launder and remove stains from their clothes and store them for future babies or for giving away to those who may need them. Without getting into the ‘hand-me-down’ debate, I think reusing baby items in the house is a wise use of resources.
Purchasing things in more gender neutral colors helps with this. When children grow to the point where they want to assert their own decision-making and style, fine, but as long as they aren’t walking around in a threadbare stained outfit, I couldn’t care less if it’s a hand me down. I am all about wearing things out.
3. Make it Do.
This is the hardest for me. If I feel that something isn’t quite working in the house then I am quick to think of a new and improved system. Normally my thoughts go to purchasing something to make it run more smoothly. Recently, I’ve attempted to truly give a great effort to upcycling and repurposing around the house.
Our tea towels, for example. This would sound ridiculous to men, but hopefully a few fellow mothers will understand. Our tea towel collection was horrible. Stained, non-matching and all together uninspiring. Do tea towels need to inspire?
No. When you are in the kitchen pretty much all day every day and you feel that the most used accessories are blah and gross, does it increase your culinary enthusiasm? No.
I decided I wanted all matching tea towels and so I rummaged through my fabric collection (which I need to use up) and found a piece of material that was big enough to make 8 good-sized tea towels.
Sounds simple and pointless, but believe me when I tell you that it has improved my mental outlook about being in the kitchen. Since we rent there are many things I can’t change, but that one thing I could I did. And it was free!
Learning a few skills or taking up some hobbies like sewing, refinishing furniture or crafting can help you take things around the house from yuck to pleasing with relatively little cost. It is a whole lot cheaper to paint a piece of furniture you already have and are over than to buy a new one.
Interestingly enough, I’ve found that when I think of a frugal creative solution I am almost always happier and more proud of the finished product than I am when I simply go out and spend money.
4. or Do Without
Oh no she didn’t. Do without? But why do without when I can charge it now? This logic might sound silly to you, but I guarantee it is one your children will adopt if you give them the chance. Doing without does not come naturally and is not altogether pleasant. I think that often we don’t actually have to do without something, but we simply need to be wiser in how we go about acquiring it.
If you have high cash flow then this is rarely an issue because you can have most things you need or want and still save wisely. For us, we have to watch our expenses. When I think of something I want, dadgummit, I want it now. Waiting is very hard for me in general.
However, I’ve learned to wait for big purchase items until we can actually afford them and pay them off within the month. We recently saved for a new computer. Not because we care about having something brand new, but because the personal one we had took 5 minutes to boot and was over 5 years old. That is ancient in computer time.
We could have put it on the card or done a payment plan with Dell, but my husband just saved some of his “extra” money for a few months so the purchase wouldn’t hurt us and then he bought it.
And because he had waited and scouted prices, he was able to get a much better computer for his money. Again, that isn’t doing without, but it was waiting until the purchase didn’t negatively effect our purse.
Also, it’s good to think about actual ROI (return on investment) here. What return will that purchase really give me? I recently had it in mind that I needed a tablet. I hem hawed and felt my husband wasn’t too thrilled about the purchase and finally came to this conclusion.
I in no way whatsoever need a tablet. We have two laptops (one personal and one provide by work) and two smart phones, and it has never happened that I have said to myself “if I had a tablet right now things would be easier.”
Therefore, I’m not getting one. Later, perhaps when my children are older and can appreciate one, I’m sure we’ll purchase it. But now, we truly can do without. We can do without a brand new car because our old car runs just fine.
We can do without a kitchen stand mixer because my hand mixer and my hands are in good shape for the shape they’re in. We can do without a new white slipcovered soft cushy couch that fits my aesthetic because the one we have is perfectly comfortable.
So, this is just my intro to the series and general feelings on the motto “Use it up, Wear it Out, Make it Do, or Do Without.” I know everyone is on a different journey and our upbringings, our passions and our current cash flow make all our situations different. However, I think it is important for us mothers to adopt an attitude that trains our children by example and shows that money doesn’t grow on trees.
Things are not what’s important. I want my children to know the thrill of saving and purchasing something long sought after and then – ironically – the knowledge that it just usually doesn’t feel as good as you thought it would. Oh sure sometimes it does.
But I can’t count the number of times I’ve coveted something, purchased it and then realized a few days later that I really would have survived without.
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