Experience, not things

Christmas has been and gone. The tree is down and the decorations are back in their boxes. It’s a new year already.

My partner had a few days off after New Years Eve, so we took the time to go down to one of my favourite beaches, Aramoana, for a walk.

The day reaffirmed for me that our lives should be spent enjoying experiences, not stuff. We’re here on this earth to love each other and spend time enjoying the natural world.

aramoana beach

Aramoana is a beautiful beach, a short drive away from Dunedin.

We’re not here to fight each other over the next after-Christmas door buster sale!

At Aramoana, we walked along the spit to the very end.

the spit, aramoana, dunedin

View along the spit, Aramoana, Dunedin, New Zealand

There was a family of wild sealions basking in afternoon warmth, barely ten feet from where we stood.

Sealions, Aramoana, Dunedin

Sealions on the spit, Aramoana, Dunedin

About a dozen of them, some resting, barely opening an eye to us.

sealions, aramoana

Relaxed sealions, enjoying the afternoon.

They were obviously really used to seeing humans. But it made me think about how relaxed they all were, compared with how stressed most people are at this time of year!

sealions, aramoana

Up close and personal with beautiful wild animals.

I also thought about how lucky we are to have such beautiful animals here in New Zealand. They’re national treasures. World treasures.

sealion

They’re also called “dogs of the sea”. I can see why!

I was there, on a practically empty beach, enjoying this amazing experience, while most people were probably at home watching the telly, unaware of what was right outside their door.

black swans

We also saw black swans and other wild birds.

Maybe it’s time we start treasuring our experiences more, and our stuff a little less, don’t you think?

Happy new year.

Decluttering before Christmas

One of the simplest and best habits to keep clutter under control during the holiday season – particularly kid clutter! – is to have a big clear out before Christmas.

My kids actually really enjoy clearing out their stuff prior to the Big Day. They associate getting rid of old belongings with making room for new, better items.

They see decluttering as a good thing, not a bad thing.

We set aside an entire day to do the job. Like most decluttering sessions, we work by category and give the process plenty of time. The kids themselves choose what is to go and what stays – although I’m there to help with suggestions and advice if they need it.

We set aside anything that is good enough to give to friends or to charity in a separate pile, and make sure it gets delivered right away.

Electronics and computer games go into a third pile, as they can be resold or traded for extra cash. The kids love this! So do I, as it’s an excellent lesson in how little things are worth once they become second-hand. The kids have become much wiser and now shop for their computer games in the “trade and save” section of the electronics store. They’ve wised up 🙂

We’re quite ruthless with the pre-Christmas clearout. My kids and I know, from experience, that once the new stuff arrives the old stuff would largely get ignored anyway. So it makes sense to pass it all on, so there’s plenty of room to appreciate the new stuff.

And you know what? We’ve never once regretted getting rid of anything. Not one thing.

So here’s my short list of tips for an effective pre-Christmas clearout:

    1. Give it plenty of time. Clearing out with my kids takes a whole day. Kids often take time to decide. Don’t push them.

    2. Work by category. An example of this is my daughter’s art supplies. Instead of sorting them where we find them, we gather everything together in one place, then sort them through, eliminating everything she doesn’t need or use. This sort of stuff sure piles up through the year!

    3. Suggest new owners. Help kids remember that their cast off items can be of genuine use to others. Their favourite shirt that no longer fits may make a friend very happy. A too-short jacket may keep another child warm through winter. Most children are kind by nature and love to know they are helping others.

    4. Remind them that new items are coming. If kids are wary about passing their old belongings on, remind them that Santa is on his way, and room will be needed for the new items!

    5. Teach them the value of trading and selling with high-priced items. Take the kids down with items to trade and sell and give them the money they earn from selling their items. They’ll soon want to get rid of more unused items, be sure of it!

    6. Bag up items right away and take the children to the charity drop-off with you. Kids need to feel that their generosity is doing others good. They should be a part of the whole process.

    7. Clean their rooms together, top to bottom, once the clearout is done. Teach your child to take pride in their personal space. There! Doesn’t that look terrific?!

Are you planning a pre-Christmas decluttering session? Do you have any tips or suggestions to share? If so, I’d love to hear them!

christmasballs2

Be true to yourself… and fly

Too often we try to satisfy the whims of others to try to keep the peace. We join a stamp-collecting club because our best friend loves stamps – even though stamps bore us to bits!

Or we join a basketball team because our partner loves basketball. Except we hate basketball!

Whenever we pretend to be something we’re not, we’re lying to our friends, our partners, and most of all ourselves. We’re not being honest with anyone.

When we lie to those we care about in this way, we weaken who we are.

True strength comes from learning who and what we are inside – learning who our authentic self is – and building on it.

Leonard Cohen quote

Minimalism centers us

Minimalism helps us find our centre, and clear all the mental clutter that others would dump at us.

If you feel like others are trying to tell you who to be, what to like, what to wear, what hobbies to do, what interests to follow – minimalism can help you.

Simply eliminate everything that doesn’t bring you joy. I’d clarify that by suggesting that you discard anything that doesn’t resonate with your genuine self.

You’ll know what doesn’t resonate by the fact that it just won’t feel right. You’ll feel like you’re filling someone else’s shoes, or playing a role in a production. It might work for a little while, but you’ll know all the while that it’s just not really you.

So if it doesn’t feel right, let it go.
Have a break.
Take some time away to think and reflect.

Anyone who makes you feel stressed, sad, or uncertain – take a break from them.

Anything that makes you feel overwhelmed, anxious or tired – quit it a month then decide if it’s truly important after all.

Eliminate clothes that feel uncomfortable, hobbies that drain you. Give some time back to yourself this holiday season.
Spend time with loved ones.
Reconnect with family.
Find your own sacred space – not someone else’s.
Re-discover your sense of who you truly are.

Find your freedom.
Be true to yourself.

And fly.

whiteflower_freedom

Do minimalists homes have to be black and white?

Not all minimalists live in shades of black and white.

I love color. My bedroom definitely counts as minimalist, but color is everywhere – in the wood furniture, in walls the color of seaglass, in greenery and clear light bursting in through the open windows and in vases of fresh flowers.

minimalist blue bedroom

My bedroom at the farm. Choose the colors that make you happy and give you peace. And not everything has to be black and white!

Minimalism is all about finding the things that bring you joy…and eliminating those things that make you feel heavy, cluttered or depressed.

My room is an oasis of peace and calm, and being there brings me bliss. I feel at ease, relaxing or reading a book.

I genuinely believe that a calm, beautiful bedroom free of clutter helps us feel more rested and happy, as well as supporting our relationships with those we love.

Minimalists don’t have to wear black, grey and white, although many do find calm by eschewing color. Choose the colors and items that make you happy. Build your life around them.

minimalist flat surface

The top of my tallboy. I have an antique Chinese box I keep some items of jewellery in, and an antique Chinese brass horse I’ve had since I was a child. Plus a small china dish to keep jewellery when I take it off at night. Three items – any more, and things would feel cluttered. The walls are painted the color of seaglass, which makes me feel rested.

For me, I base my wardrobe around my favourite colors of blue and green, and everything I wear is purposeful and comfortable. Color abounds, but my wardrobe has less than 33 items, and I wear everything I own. Nothing is unkempt, or kept simply because I bought it and feel guilty, or because I might fit into it again someday.

summer_capsule_2016

Minimalism frees us to be ourselves, outside of the demands of society. Own things because they make you happy and support who you are, not because you feel you should own them. If you want a neon pink house and it fills you with joy, then own that neon pink house and rock it with joy! 🙂

Be who you truly are.

With none of the stuff others tell you to have. Don’t be what other people tell you to be – you’ll never find your bliss that way.

Be your genuine self. No more, no less.

Three easy jobs to outsource to your kids

If you’re a busy parent like me, you’re always looking for ways to make life easier for yourself while teaching your kids valuable life skills.

So here is my short list of three easy jobs to outsource to your kids.

Kids are generally a lot more capable than you think. Give them an incentive, and they’ll not only start to pick up great habits from helping out around the house, they’ll make your life easier doing it! So here we go.

1. Maintain their own space.

Notice I could have said Tidy their rooms but I didn’t. Personal space maintenance is something quite different. It includes not only making their bed each morning and taking their dirty washing out to the laundry every night, but keeping their own belongings organised in the home, around the home. Wherever they are.

So if your daughter – like mine – likes to draw at the dining table, part of her task is to clean up and keep everything neat and tidy once she’s done. Every single time. If it helps, buy her a small crate to keep her belongings in that can be easily transported and put away once she’s done.

Make organisation easy for kids – but be aware that making organisation easy isn’t always about buying organisational products. Usually it’s a plain matter of having less stuff.

Maintaining their own space includes putting their school bags away when they get home, and taking their homework and lunch boxes out of their bags ready for late afternoon.

It includes ensuring their belongings aren’t strewn around the house. It includes teaching them how to care for their clothing, and how to throw things away that are no longer needed. Outsource this task, and you’ll make life lighter and easier for yourself for years to come.

Maintaining their own space is all about making the house liveable for everyone else in the home – and it’s especially important that kids learn this skill in large families, which can rapidly descend into chaos if they don’t take care.

2. Prepare their school lunches.

Children over the age of 6 or 7 are fully capable of preparing their own school lunches. You can make this task easier for them by keeping the school lunch food all in one place, in one part of the pantry where everything is reachable and easy to find.

Keep a set routine of what kids take for lunch, and soon they’ll know what goes in their lunchboxes and be able to fill them all by themselves.

In my case, my kids make a sandwich each (and put it in a sandwich bag), add a piece of fruit, a packet of potato chips and usually a muesli bar or similar. It’s not hard for them to do, and they get it done right before breakfast. Right before they…

3. Make their own breakfasts.

My kids (age 12 and 9) make their own breakfasts. They get everything out ready, make breakfast, east, and tidy everything up once they’re done.

I do nothing for them. This small outsourcing operation frees me up to get ready myself, and it makes breakfast times faster and easier. I can sit and have a cup of tea, knowing my kids are managing for themselves and learning how to be capable, while saving me time and energy. It’s a win-win.

Buttered toastImage by Nacho Rascon

Outsourcing to kids is a huge win-win!

With the three simple outsourcing jobs above, I save hours of time a week. Plus, my kids are learning how to manage for themselves. As time goes on and they become teens, they’ll learn to do more and more around the home, but these are basics practically any child can do.

I believe that, as members of the family, kids have a responsibility to contribute to keeping things running smoothly. While they cannot contribute financially yet, they’re still able to do small tasks that add up in a big way.

So…have you outsourced any jobs to your kids yet? 🙂

Teach kids to maintain their own personal space. It's a first step towards genuine adulthood.

Teach kids to maintain their own personal space. It’s a first step towards genuine adulthood.

Do caterpillars fear becoming butterflies?

Three years ago, I had everything I’m supposed to have: a great house, a husband and pigeon pair of kids, a Peugeot station wagon in the driveway, a huge wardrobe.

I cried myself to sleep every night.

I thought something was wrong with me, because none of it was making me happy.

In among the vast amounts of things that make up what we call a “successful life”, I never felt so completely lonely.

I wondered, Is this IT? Is this all my life is? Is this who and what I am? Shouldn’t it all mean more?

I know a lot of people go through the same processes I did. Some people might call it a mid-life crisis.

I call it my awakening.

Caterpillar

Fearing the chrysalis

Here I am, three years on. My huge house is sold – we’ll be leaving it all behind very soon. I’m taking my first steps into the void.

I’m separated from my husband, and I’ve found a new partner.

I’ve sold, given away, or thrown away about 90% of my possessions.

I have a capsule wardrobe of 33 items, or less.

I’m truly happy, for the first time since I don’t know when.

I feel calm, at peace, even while at the same time I’m scared at where this path of minimalism and simplicity is leading me.

I don’t know where I’ll be living even two months from now. I don’t have a job waiting for me. My life lacks security.

Despite the fear, I’m okay with that. I have faith in myself and I believe that I will work everything out.

Do caterpillars fear becoming butterflies?

Big changes – huge changes – are scary. But they’re necessary in order to grow and learn as human beings.

Becoming a minimalist, where I was a consumerist or maybe even a maximalist before, is a huge change. I’m flying away from everything I know, everything our society teaches: that more will make us happy, that material wealth is satisfying, and that what our neighbours think truly matters.

The truth is, there is no such thing as enough, if you base your joy in things. There never will be enough. Enough doesn’t exist. Never did.

But if we stop, listen, breathe, and take time to reflect on what truly makes us happy – if we face our fears head on – then we might find that our own personal enough is quite a small amount after all.

Monarch butterfly Peter Miller

Monarch butterfly by Peter Miller.

Kids and social media

Kids are going to use social media, whether we like it or not. And sometimes I wish we could go back to a world before teen sexting and Snapchat and Tinder, but we can’t.

So as parents, it’s our responsibility to teach our kids to navigate social media safely. We can hide our heads in the sand, or we can teach them to use it responsibly, learning to be ethical and sensible online citizens.

I know a lot of parents, me included, are wary about letting our kids – of any age – loose on the internet. But we can’t ignore this huge part of modern life, and if we don’t teach our children how to interact safely and sensibly online, they’ll behave online in ways that could hurt them and their future careers, as well as potentially hurting others.

So I think we need to teach our kids, talk to our kids, and educate our kids 🙂 It’s our job, and we need to do it right.

Is there a right age for social media?

A lot of kids are on social media younger than the various companies’ own recommendations. Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Musical.ly and Pinterest all have an age requirement of 13. For Vine, Tinder, Kik and Yik Yak it’s 17. YouTube is 18, or 13 with parental consent. Twitter has no formal age requirement. I believe that asking kids to wait until they meet this age requirement is appropriate, because it teaches kids that rules matter.

Talk about why your child shouldn’t have accounts on these sites before the required age and, if you want, make a promise to open their accounts together when they meet the age requirement i.e. on their 13th birthday.

In the meantime, open accounts for younger children on other, child-friendly sites, and step them through safety online so they’re ready for larger, older social media when they meet the age requirement. School websites and games machines are a good place for kids to start with technology, and there are plenty of safe apps and games for kid-friendly devices.

I strongly recommend the site Commonsense media for reviews of apps and social media sites as well as movies and other media. It covers safety as well as age-appropriateness, and is worth a look.

Personal safety and privacy – some tips

The first thing kids of all ages need to learn is to protect their own personal safety and privacy.

  • Never post their real life name, address or date of birth online. Not ever. Not even for Facebook (even though it asks quite forcefully!) or Google. Not for any form of social media.
  • If advertising and cookies can be turned off, that’s a great idea. Explain to your child the very true fact of the internet: if there’s no cost to the service, then you are the product. Ask them to think about the ways in which social media might be making money from their membership. What do they think of this?
  • For Facebook and other similar accounts, I strongly recommend accounts use the child’s real first name (i.e. “Jacob” or “Rosa”) so their friends can find them, plus a fake family name that is generic and very common (“Smith”, “Jones”, “Peters”, “James”). Their friends will soon learn how to find them online, but a fake name helps prevent identity theft, as well as preventing potential employers from doing searches for them in the future.
  • Profile pics should always be group pictures, so that while friends can identify them, stalkers and online creeps cannot.
  • Use 1st of January as a generic birthdate on all social media that requires a birthdate (even if that is the child’s genuine birthdate).
  • Keep friends and “follow” lists on Facebook, Instagram and suchlike locked down where possible.
  • Ask children to “friend” trusted adults – aunts, uncles, friends, other parents and guardians, and other members of the family that you know and trust, and yourself on all social media they join.
  • Teach kids to keep all social media posts private and locked.
  • Teach kids not to friend anyone they don’t know in real life.
  • Write passwords down in a paper notebook and store in a home safe or locked drawer, so that in case of loss accounts can be retrieved. Keep a separate notebook for each child.
  • Ideally, open the accounts together, so that kids new to the various social media sites can learn with you. If you’re not familiar, you can learn together. If you don’t have an account on any site your child wishes to join, create an account of your own there and become familiar with what the site is and what it does, and what risks it may present.

Family safety and security

Talk about internet security online with your child. Topics never to be discussed include:

  • Family interactions such as disagreements, details about other people’s lives etc. You child needs to learn not to post about other people’s business. Don’t be a gossip – they may get hits and readership, but they’re never trusted or well-liked.

  • When the family is going on holiday or out to dinner, and when the home is vacant. Personal information like this can be used by burglars to plan theft.
  • Where the family lives, including outside photos of the home from the street (identifiers). As above.
  • Never share usernames or passwords with others, and never let others use their account. Make a habit of logging out of all accounts when done.

Being kind – and respectful – to others

  • Discuss trolling, bullying and cyber-bullying, and how being mean online is a nasty and low thing to do. Talk about who to talk to (yourself, other trusted others) should they ever feel unsafe or attacked in any way, no matter how ashamed or threatened they might be.

  • Make your child aware of what cyber-bullying is, and that in several countries, cyber-bullying is a chargeable offence (Article on cyber-bullying laws passed in New Zealand).
  • Talk about how people in other countries are still people, with feelings and thoughts as well. Explain the difference between constructive criticism and plain old nasty comments.
  • Discuss how people with very many different opinions are online. You might not agree with them, but that doesn’t mean you have to be rude to them. If you disagree, be polite and / or say nothing.

Sexting and photo sharing

  • Explain what sexting is, and how it can be against the law to share images without the consent of the originator of the image. Talk about how harmful sharing naked images can be, and how underage image sharing is child pornography, and a serious offence in almost all countries.
  • Explain the “no identifiable marks” rule. If they must share an image, never share an image with their face in it, or with anything that can be personally identified as them.
  • Talk about what to do if they receive a message or image not intended for them – talking to a parent is a great first step, and the parent (you) can then contact the school or local police station if necessary.
  • Talk about what to do if an embarrassing image or text of them gets shared. Tell them they can trust you, and that it is the person who has shared the image / text who is at fault, not them.

social-media-sites-758x480

Above all, keep channels of communication open. Keep talking with your kids, and be aware of what’s out there and what is popular. Even if you don’t particularly use the sites yourself, if makes sense to keep in touch with what’s happening, so you can support your kids if need be.

Finally, it’s important for kids to be aware that social media sites have their own rules about what is appropriate behaviour and what isn’t. These rules can include the age of membership, what is appropriate to post, and so on. Some sites do not allow members to delete posts – your child should be aware of how to delete posts before they post anything, in case (for when!) they make mistakes!

Happy geeking! 🙂