Monthly Archives: June 2012

TYRANNY ON DOMESTIC SOIL (Teaching My Children to Work)

ImageLast week I suggested that you throw away all of your kids’ toys. Cruel as it was, it was surprisingly well-received. As if that challenge wasn’t pressing my luck enough, this post runs the risk of proving to everyone that this crazy mom of 5 is a slave-driving tyrant opposed to all things fun.

My sister-in-law Amanda observed my toy purge via Facebook from her sleep-deprived end-of-pregnancy state in St. Louis. She chimed in once to say, “No. No I will not get rid of all of our toys. I might hide them for awhile, but I won’t get rid of them.” Point made. I didn’t engage her in witty banter as usual since she was days away from birthing a 10 lb 2 oz bundle of joy to add to the 3 toddlers she was already busy with. I went on to post several other updates regarding the purge and then blogged about it without comment from Amanda (who was busy with diapers and feedings and healing from her 3rd c-section in 4 years.)

Then, a few days ago she tags me in this gem. It took me a couple of days to read it and sort through my thoughts on the matter. Assuming you didn’t just stop to read the whole article, I’ll sum it up for you. Researchers concluded after observing families in other countries as well as several in the US that our kids are spoiled and have no sense of independence or responsibility. While 6 year olds in other cultures are voluntarily cooking for and serving meals to other families, 6 year olds in America are expecting their parents to untie and re-ties their shoes. While 3 year olds elsewhere in the world are cutting grass with machetes and heating/preparing their own food, 3 year olds in our own neck of the woods are being told repeatedly and to no avail to do simple tasks like “throw this in the trash can.” While 8 year olds somewhere out there are carrying out major responsibilities that contribute to the welfare of everyone in their home without being asked, 8 year olds in our own homes are rudely asking “How am I supposed to eat?!” when seated at the dinner table without flatware, prompting their parents to get up and retrieve the utensils from a drawer, the location of which the child was well-aware. The connection was made from American parents’ lack of instilling responsibility while their children are yet teachable to adult children still living with and relying on their parents, and epidemic that doesn’t seem to exist in other cultures.

ImageHonestly, I hadn’t considered the idea that my 3 year old and 4 year olds are capable of learning to do things for themselves apart from jobs like putting their shoes away when we walk in the house and putting their books back on the shelf. (Let’s face it, I don’t expect them to clean up toys, we don’t have any!) So this really got the gears turning in my brain. What could my kids be learning to do right now that will prevent them from expecting everything to be done for them in the coming years though they are able-bodied? And I’m not talking about chores to give them that they will moan and whine about and protest and have to be reminded of constantly. I’m talking about training them to recognize when things need to be done and then take the initiative to DO THEM. The possibilities are endless, and I’m just scratching the surface! I have only just started and already I’m realizing that I have ENTIRELY UNDERESTIMATED these kids. I sat them down and had a talk with them. It went something like this: “Kids, it has come to my attention that you are very capable of doing a lot more things than I previously believed possible. That considered, we are going to make some changes. I don’t know what the kids at your preschool are expected to do at home, but here in the Politte house, we are going to be kids who know how to do things! We are going to be kids who HAVE JOBS! Mommy is going to teach you how to do a lot more things, and we aren’t going to play or watch any shows unless our jobs are done. You are 3 and 4 years old, so it’s time to start pulling your weight.” Blank stares. “So…. what are we? We are kids who……?” After a moment Adeline chimed in, “HAVE JOBS!”

And then we got to it. THAT DAY I taught them how to unload the dishwasher. (Don’t touch the sharp knives.) Adeline pulls dishes out of the dishwasher, Campbell hands them to Anderson who is on his knees on the counter having used a chair to climb up, he puts them in the cabinet. I taught them to use the washing machine, with the help of a stool. I taught them how to use the dryer. I taught them to make their own peanut butter (and sunbutter for those with peanut allergies) and honey sandwiches and to use separate knives so as not to contaminate the sunbutter. I taught them to use the microwave. When I say I taught them, I mean I stood there and talked them through the process, without ever touching anything myself, and my little children completed these tasks, themselves. I haven’t gotten around to teaching them to cut the grass with a machete, yet. All in good time.Image

This is not an effort to work myself out of a job (though it may turn out to be a lucky side-effect). Rather, I  am convicted that I don’t want to be faced with a house full of teenagers (and mine will all be teenagers at the same time) who are accustomed to having me do everything for them. That would most certainly bleed into the kind of adults they become and what they believe they are entitled to.

 I’m realizing that I have ENTIRELY UNDERESTIMATED these kids.

Part of the training I’m instituting involves NOT REWARDING them. I will occasionally reward them for their good work, but I’m not setting up a system that encourages them to believe doing things that need to be done = getting a treat, or money, or whatever. Unexpected treats are great, and we already do a lot of those, (because contrary to the way I am presenting myself, I am not a tyrant, I DO love my children, and I like to make them happy). But every task does not result in reward. Things need to be done, and we don’t get a cookie for doing what’s expected of us. We may decide to employ an allowance system, but it will be for jobs that benefit the whole family: emptying the bathroom trash, setting the table, yardwork, emptying the dishwasher. Jobs that pertain to individuals to not constitute payment: putting your own shoes away, making your own lunch, washing your own clothes, putting away your own books, putting your dishes in the dishwasher. I don’t know. We aren’t at the stage of promising payment for anything, yet. I’ll have to stew on that one. I want to encourage responsibility with money, so I see value in some kind of payment system. I’ll keep you posted on that one.

Now, maybe you think I’m the meanest mom on the face of the planet. If you do, that’s ok. But don’t come crying to me when your 28 year old is still living in his childhood bedroom, eating your food and occupying a line on your cell phone plan. I’ll have my own problems, (like re-learning to load the dishwasher and do the laundry.)

CHALLENGE: teach your kids 5 new jobs this week that you’ve considered to grown up for their age. Let me know how it goes!

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3 Things They Don’t Tell You About Going Minimalist

Mac here!  Today, I was reflecting on my recent journey towards minimalism, and I thought I’d share just a few things I’ve learned through the process:

1.  YOU are more attached to your children’s toys than they are.  

Or, at least, I was.  As I worked through my 15 Days to Minimalism (more to come on that), I found the place I purged the LEAST was in the toy department!  Stuffed animals stare at you with their big sad eyes.  You’ll find yourself struggling to part with toys that are part of a set, in which one item is played with and the rest of the items are toy box clutter.

Then there are the cute toys.  The ones where you think, “Oh, but they love these wooden blocks…” and you need a girlfriend there to mock you saying, “Oh, but YOU would LOVE it if they actually loved those wooden blocks!” because your kids NEVER play with the things.

2.  Everyone will support your choice to embrace minimalism, until you tell them what you’re getting rid of.  

You’re reading this and you KNOW I’m talking about you, because the response is so universal:

ME:  Hey! Would you have any use for an old grill (or a tote of kid’s clothes, or some scrapbooking stuff, or some cookbooks…) We’re really trying to get rid of stuff.  We’re going for minimalism.

YOU:  Oh!  You GO girl!  Do it now, before the kids get old enough to stop you!!!  I’m a minimalist at heart, but my spouse (or kid) wants to kill me when I get rid of ANYTHING!

ME:  Ha ha!  Oh, boy, it’s liberating, too!  Just yesterday, I got rid of (X).

YOU:  WHAT?!  You got rid of (X)?!  But (Y)!!!

We can fill in this equation with any variety of nouns and adjectives.  “You got rid of that doll?!  But it was part of your childhood!!!”  “You got rid that purse?!  But it was a Coach!!!”  “You got rid of that dresser?!  But where will you put your clothes?!!!”  “You got rid of that trivet?!  But it was magnetic!!!”  “You got rid of those drapes?!  But you could make something with that fabric!!!”

Obviously, everything in my home was something I loved, or at least liked, or at least seemed like a good idea–at the time.   But we are a growing changing family with needs that change and evolve over time, and tastes that change and evolve over time.  Just because something was valuable to you at one time, doesn’t mean you have to be stuck with it forever.  Your friends might protest, but stick to your guns.  Stuff really IS just stuff.  Bless somebody else with it.

3.  You might be a bit disoriented at first.

Shortly after I finished my 15 Days to Minimalism, I got that unsettled feeling in my guts.  Lucky for me, as someone who’s made a couple cross country household moves, I recognized it.  It’s the “new apartment” feeling.  Over half our stuff was gone, and now, when I pick up all the toys and do the dishes, my home literally looks like it’s staged to sell!  I probably wouldn’t have felt this way had I not torn into the process so suddenly, but it is what it is and the feeling went away after a few days, just like it does when you move into a new home!  A couple weeks later, I’ve adjusted to our new normal, and I regret nothing!

Hope that helps with your summer de-cluttering!

Just a note, I’ll be on vacation for a few weeks.  Double up on your bloggy love for Bectoria and Stephanie!  I recommend this post from Bectoria to spruce up your summer self-care routines and this classic from Stephanie will have you double checking your house for child safety hazards.  

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8 Simple Dresses

By Bectoria Crandall

“Sigh. What on earth am I going to wear today?” Cue 15-20 minutes of frustrating outfit trial and error.

Layering it up for a movie I was in. Wardrobe loved it!
(The Glasses were a Joke!)

If the above scenario haunts you each morning, trust me. You’re not alone. I’ve mentioned in other posts that once upon a time ago I was a very busy lady. At one time in my life I was attending grad school, working for CPS full-time (a million plus workweek-trust me!) all the while filling the rest of my time raising foster children. It was during this very busy part of my life that I developed a new strategy for dressing myself. I guess I just finally got tired enough of the nagging question mentioned above and decided one day to do something about it. Since then I’ve found that sticking with this strategy has allowed me to save big whilst dressing to the nines.

What’s my secret? The number eight. Okay, so NOW I’m starting to sound as quirky as my other posts! Let me explain…

Many ladies spend gobs upon oodles of money on various wardrobe items without giving too much thought to just how useful that item actually is.

Okay, so confession time… Those within my closest circles know I tend to splurge on little treasures dreamed up by my girl, Kate Spade. This is a fault that I’ve grown to live with over the years.

Setting my own little vice aside, allow this hypocrite to tell YOU how to be more frugal. Instead of wasting time and money on the insanity of fashion randomness why not plan out some bangin’ go-to outfits that you will love living in? How many you ask? Aha! That’s where my magic number comes into play!

Put simply, there are seven days in a week. If I only see you on Tuesdays and have just eight outfits in my wardrobe, then you won’t see me in the same outfit for quite some time. If you do see me on a daily basis, you’re not going to catch onto my trick because I’m still changing my stylish look every day and not falling back on the same, boring “old reliables”. Catch my angle? Here’s how I do it…

Let’s say I’m building my summer wardrobe. First I’m going to choose my base garments. I love summer dresses. And YES! I do keep a simple black summer dress in regular circulation throughout the season. (Nana-nana-boo-boo’s on you, Mac!). I also have some fun and flirty summer blouse & skirt/shorts combos that I like to wear. From here, I lay out the eight base garments or combos on my bed.

Building a seasonal warbrobe from what you have is very frugal but doesn’t mean you can’t go shopping and add to your wardrobe. I’m merely suggesting that you add some strategy and dare I say “savvy” to your shopping. When I’m at the stage of selecting my base garments, I check what’s missing. Maybe I have an awesome skirt but no proper blouse. I make a note of the item and then jot some ideas as to what could go with it.

Don’t tell Stephanie, but I’ve recently become more phone savvy and now store this info in my phone so that I can have it readily at-hand when I hit a great sale. This trick allows me to stay frugal while keeping myself fashion-forward.

Newly put-together outfits can replace or be added to your eight at any time. The point is that focusing on a minimal amount of “outfits” will allow you to look amazing without breaking the bank!

Quick Tip: Each season has its own unique wardrobe challenges. Weather, proper color and proper fabric cut and weight come to mind. I use these considerations at the beginning of each season to build a wardrobe that will work for me. (Hot Tip: Some items can cross-over into different seasons. Bonus

Note: Different outfits can have different looks with the right layers to compliment. For example, tossing a cute jacket over a simple summer dress can make it double as the perfect outfit for a girl’s night out. Take that same dress and layer it up with some nice jewelry and you’re ready for a more formal setting. I love picking out and taking note of all of my options. (Hint: Doing this will help train you to shop for more versatile pieces in the future).

Once I have my base garments selected, I move on to building each outfit in layers. First, I match outfits with shoes and purses. I then move on to more accessory-ish type of stuff. Jewelry, scarves, hats, belts, you name it can really add that finishing touch to whatever you’re wearing.

From here, I make sure that I have ideas in mind for if the weather suddenly changes. I match up jackets, long pants, you get the idea.

FYI: I recently added an exercise regimen to my daily grind. Here’s a shocker… Being a SAHM with little ones, my “morning” exercise routine can, at times, get delayed. Rather than scrubbing it in baggy sweatpants for half my day, I opted to pick some cute exercise clothes that look half-way presentable in the event I have to venture into public before I become fully human and am still in my “workout” clothes. I use the same strategy of “8” for my workout wardrobe.

Okay, so if you’re reading my workout paragraph and you’re good at math, you’ve found out my secret. Sometimes the laundry doesn’t get done on the same day each week! Don’t judge me!!!

Once I have my outfits matched up, I organize everything by taking photos of each look. These photos are then posted on the inside of my closet door. Sounds a little obsessive, I know, but man is this quick reference helpful at 7AM! I then hang my clothes in an order that works best for me and voila! I’ve got a hot wardrobe all set to go!

I realize that my methods often look like a hot mess of madness, but I gotta tell ya, I am constantly being complimented on my outfits. So, give it a try! I only hope that incorporating my strategies will bring you the same luck.

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You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch: Five Kids, Zero Toys

by Stephanie Politte

A couple of weeks ago, I had a momentary breakdown. I had stepped on a toy for the umpteenth time that day, and after having pleaded and reasoned with (and bribed) my 3 oldest children (aged 4, 4 and 3) to pick up their toys pointlessly for many hours, I made a decision. These toys have to go. I am not the world’s greatest housekeeper, so I am juggling more than enough with all that needs done in order for this house to continue running like a well-oiled machine to keep this house from being condemned. With all the laundry I have to wash and put away, (I think I actually put away laundry maybe once a month, the rest of the time I’m rifling through multiple baskets of clean laundry trying to find what I need for myself and 5 small children to avoid indecent exposure charges on a daily basis- Steve is on his own) the dishes I have to keep washed and kitchen I have to keep clean (this is probably my best work, but then, you know how I like to cook, a girl’s gotta eat!) and living room I have to keep maneuverable, I just don’t have the time (energy) to fuss with picking up the toys that accompany 5 kids under 5 years old. I didn’t get angry, I didn’t make wild statements to my children with regard to the consequences of their 4 year old actions and general disregard for personal responsibility. I simply said, “Kids, it’s time to clean this up, and we’re going to give away a lot of it. I need your help.” And we got to it.

It took Steve 3 trips (with a minivan) to cart off all of the toys that were in good condition that I deemed “giveawayable” and we threw away 2 full garbage bags of broken toys or toys with missing pieces. When all the dust cleared, we were left with a 30 gallon tote of toys with which I didn’t feel we should part (sentimental gifts and well-loved toys), a 30 gallon tote of stuffed animals (we only kept the absolute favs, you should see how many we pitched!) and a small toy container of dress-up clothes. These were packed away in a closet which is guarded by a toddler-doorknob cover. With every passing moment during the purge, I found myself feeling more and more liberated. To be free of so much STUFF, it was…. well, amazing. And for whatever reason, not one of my munchkins complained as they watched me sort through their prized possessions and toss MOST of them into the giveaway box. I didn’t do it while they were napping or hide it from them in anyway. They are completely aware that those toys are gone and have no chance of returning, and that the few that we kept are indefinitely packed away.

I’d like to say that this event was prompted by a conviction that we are too privileged but the reality is that I was just sick of having to clean the rest of the house AND pick up the myriad of toys in my kids’ rooms (over and over). It was selfish, I’ll admit. But I stumbled across a gem while in the midst of this project which served to validate my goal as well as convict me of quite a few other areas of excess in my life. If you haven’t read the book 7, by Jen Hatmaker, do yourself a favor and spend the $10 right now on Amazon to acquire the Kindle version and stop reading my ridiculous blog post so you can read her life-altering book.

Now, there are naysayers out there, (and yes, I’ve encountered them) who think I must be akin to the Grinch Who Stole Christmas and have a heart full of black tar and rusty thumbtacks for depriving my children of toys. To them I say, “Nuh-uh!” My kids have happily played together for 2 weeks without toys. They have made up songs, invented games, used their creative little brains to make their own fun! They have helped me with laundry and dinner and they have played outside! They have hunted for bugs, they have worked complicated puzzles (as a team) and they have fought less. POLARIZING JUDGEMENTAL STATEMENT TO FOLLOW: Having and owning a bunch of toys was bad for them. What good did it teach them? It made them possessive and encouraged them to exist in a cluttered environment that wreaked of entitlement.

When I was young, my family moved to Ghana, West Africa. I spent my early childhood in a third world country. We got rid of most of our stuff to move there, so unlike my American counterparts, I had very few toys. However, compared with the children of Ghana, I may as well have been the child of multi-billionaires. I remember clearly some of the “toys” my Ghanaian friends possessed. There were the dolls: one-piece, solid-colored, hollow, molded plastic toys in the shape of a doll. No moveable arms or legs, no hair to brush, no clothes to change, no accessories, blinking eyes or accompanying crying/cooing sounds. There were the trucks: a long stick attached to 2 small wheels. There were the airplanes: a big, fat june bug tied to a string flying around, basically flying bugs on a leash. I remember some pretty amazing toys they made. My parents have a bus that one of our Ghanaian friends made. The wheels are made from circles cut out of old flip flops (called “Charlie-waddies” there) and the body and seats are made from rusty tin cans that have been cut and bent into shape. We would never dream of letting our children build something that required cutting up a tin can, let alone hand them a toy made from a cut-up tin can, right? I also had an amazing brimmed hat made for me by another Ghanaian friend from dyed corn husks. My kids can glue a cotton ball to a popsicle stick. Hmmm… And here I think my kids need every single talking, flashing, racing, buzzing, diaper-wetting, “educationally enhancing” toy they can cram into their rooms and my living room. Why? They don’t get taken care of, they get forgotten, they get broken, they are not appreciated, and they are constantly taken for granted. They aren’t the right color, they aren’t the right character, they aren’t the right size. Even if they are just right, they aren’t as much fun as the box they came in. Even if they are as much fun as the box they came in, no one cares about them until someone ELSE wants to play with them. Meanwhile, a child on the other side of the globe is playing with a stick and two wheels (and thrilled with it.) I don’t say this to make you feel guilty that your child has toys or to promote the eviction of all playthings in your home. (After all, I didn’t throw EVERYTHING away.) But I DO MEAN to chip away at the notion that providing our children with every little thing they fancy is a worthy goal or noble intention. I submit to you that does them more harm than good, and that placing some constraints on the amount of toys they are allowed to own makes them more rounded individuals with healthier perspectives in the long run.

So, are you up to the challenge? THIS WEEK: bag up at least one large garbage bag of toys to give away, and pack away the rest of your kids’ toys, save for 1 or 2 stuffed animals to cuddle and give one week without toys a try. Can you handle it? I think you’ll be amazed at how creative your munchkins can be, and I doubt they’ll even miss them. It’s been 2 weeks, and my kids have not asked for ONE TOY the entire time. Who needs ‘em?! (Also, I haven’t had to pick up a toy in 2 weeks. BLISS.)

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My 3 Year Old Minimalist

“Nooooooooo…” My three year old sat there, starting to get frustrated as I stalled. “All done with lion!” Now he was starting to act desperate as he held out the plastic Madagascar toy expectantly. “Nooooooooooooooooo!”

My son hates Happy Meal toys.

Don’t get me wrong. He LOVES Happy Meals! The last time we pulled into McDonalds he reacted cheering, “We’re going to McDonalds today! Thank you, Mama! Thank you very much!” But after he eats his food (usually every bite!), he carefully examines the toy for a moment and says, “Nooooooooooo… All done…” Then waits for me to throw it out with his empty juice box.

I think my son is a minimalist. But that’s just one example.

A few weeks ago, I came across a really neat, really high quality Lightning McQueen plush toy. It was the right size to be nearly perfectly scaled next to the Tow Mater Pillow Pet he’s slept with every night. All this, AND he was on closeout for only FIVE dollars! I was so excited to gift the new toy to my son so he could unite these two “best friends.”

When I pulled out Lightning McQueen, he was OVERJOYED! (My son is obsessed with the Cars franchise.) But when we went to nap time, rather than uniting what I thought was a perfect set, he said, “Noooooooo Tow Mater!!!!” handing me his Pillow Pet.

I tried to reason to him, “But don’t you want Lightning McQueen AND Tow Mater? They go together, Sammy!”

“NOOOOOOO Tow Mater!!!” He started getting visibly upset. For a few nights, I did my best to reason with him, but Tow Mater lay exiled in the toy box and Lightning McQueen became his new pillow. Keeping two plush toys in his bed was simply unacceptable to my son.

See what I mean? Hard core minimalist.

Those of you that follow me on Facebook and Twitter, know that for the past couple weeks, I’ve been making huge strides toward streamlining our home and removing the excess. I’ve said I’m making our home minimalist, but that word is wide open to interpretation!

I gave myself 15 days, using my Chaos Control Cycle as a guide. Three days on my dishes and kitchen, three days on our laundry, three days on my bathroom, three days on our bedrooms, and three days in our living/dining room. With my time limits set, I devoted myself to evaluating every last item in our home… down to the last bobby pin! Last night, we dropped our last bag off at the Goodwill–leaving our home with probably less than half its original contents. Now I’m living with the aftermath, and frankly, I’m not sure what to do with myself.

I remember feeling like it took hours to clean and minutes to get it all dirty again. Now, cleaning house is a 20 minute venture, and I don’t know what to do with the rest of my day! My husband and I have always had trouble remembering to put our things away, but as each room has become minimized, the remaining items seem to naturally land in their appointed homes.

This is weird. It’s a whole new reality to settle into. My husband is thrilled. My 8 month old has been showing me an uncharacteristically zen-like calm. And my three year old…?

I was working in his room last week. “VRRRRRRRMMMMMM, VRRRMMMMM….” He shifted gears has he raced a big yellow Tonka truck through our apartment, stopping where I was throwing away all the stuff in his room. He paused. He stood up from the truck and looked around the room, hands on his hips.

“There you go!” He paused. “Much better!” And with that, he returned to his truck and zoomed away.

I guess that means he approves.

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