“Suppose you read about a pill that you could take once a day to reduce anxiety and increase your contentment. Would you take it? Suppose further that the pill has a great variety of side effects, all of them good: increased self-esteem, empathy, and trust; it even improves memory. Suppose finally, that the pill is all natural and costs nothing. Now would you take it?
The pill exists. It is meditation.”
Jonathan Haidt, The Happiness Hypothesis
Did anyone think my daily pill was going to be a multivitamin??? Nope! This month, I’m focusing on developing a mindfulness meditation practice.
In the past year, I’ve ready many books that encourage regular meditation. These are my favorites:
10% Happier by Dan Harris
The Book of Joy by His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the late Desmond Tutu
Raising Good Humans by Hunter Clarke-Fields
and now I am in the middle of The Happiness Hypothesis by my absolute favorite social psychologist [and quickly becoming my favorite author], Jonathan Haidt.
The titles of these books give hints as to why I want to meditate regularly, but I also just wrote a paper for my General Psychology course about the health benefits of meditation and there are SO MANY reasons to meditate. Meditation can improve your mental and physical health! It can lower blood pressure, improve sleep, reduce stress and anxiety, help with mental cognition such as retaining memory, alleviate chronic or clinical pain, and help treat addictions! Meditation is powerful stuff.
Of course, when I call it “the happiness pill,” I’m not insinuating that it makes you immediately happy in that sort of superficial, smiley, “today’s a great day!” kind of way. Meditation works in a more subtle and much deeper way to cultivate a sense of contentment and inner happiness. A better word for it might be “joy” such as the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu describe in The Book of Joy.
Meditation works because our lives are dependent upon our perceptions. I don’t want to get overly philosophical [or overly scientific], but everything we experience and feel and even remember is filtered through our brains. This has never been so apparent to me as it was while I was studying anatomy this past semester. Our brain interprets everything and that interpretation is based on what is already inside our minds and that interpretation affects future interpretations. Everything is filtered through a lens [or schema, if you want the psychology term] and what most people don’t realize is that we can change the lens through meditation.
“What we are today comes from our thoughts of yesterday, and our present thoughts build our life of tomorrow: our life is the creation of our mind.”
I don’t know if I explained that right or if it made any sense. If you’re curious about meditation, here’s a New York Times article by David Gelles [who also wrote the book Mindful Work] about why and how to meditate: “How to Meditate”.
My goal is to spend 10 minutes in mindful meditation four days a week. I actually started a few weeks ago, with just five minutes of meditation in the morning before the kids get up. It is harder than I anticipated — especially at 5am, where my brain doesn’t want to wander so much as fall back asleep! But I am determined to keep at it.
In other news, we are half-way through 2022 and real talk ya’ll—these monthly health goals are CHANGING MY LIFE! I am not kidding. If you’ve ever wanted to make some changes, I HIGHLY recommend this monthly approach. It is just enough time to solidify new habits and by tackling them one at a time, I never get overwhelmed. So far this year, I’ve kicked the late-night snacking habit, cut back on alcohol, gotten back to my daily yoga practice, increased my water intake, and started serving a salad at [nearly] every dinner! I am so excited about the second half of the year!
If you search online for zero waste deodorants, you’ll find PLENTY of options. But it’s a total crap shoot – a bit like finding the perfect menstrual cup [which I’ll discuss some other time]. No matter how many reviews you read, the only good way to know what works for you is to try some out.
So, when I began my initial search for a less wasteful deodorizer [over two years ago now], I just went with a brand that I trusted: Lush Cosmetics. Since then, I’ve tried four additional deodorants and [go figure] my favorite is the first one I picked two years ago.
Lemme tell you about it…
Lush Cosmetics Deodorant Bars
I LOVE Lush Cosmetics and have been using their bar shampoos and conditioners as well as the occasional body bar, scrubby, bath bomb and some of the other amazing zero waste products. Lush has brick-and-mortar stores, one of which was at the mall where Brett worked for a few years. This was particularly convenient because we didn’t have to have products shipped and Brett could wander into the shop and pick out new and exciting products [hence, the many bath bombs I’ve enjoyed]. Lush products are vegan, cruelty free and all natural. In addition, Lush is a also a very ethical brand, truly walking the talk.
So, it was just natural that I would try out their zero waste deodorants. In April of 2020, I purchased two of their bar deodorants: T’eo and Aromaco. I started using the T’eo bar first.
And I LOVED it.
Also, it lasted me all the way to July of 2021. In that time, I moved away from my beloved store and bought a second T’eo bar when we were visiting Nashville last summer. I’m still using the second bar.
Here is what it looks like now…
This bar smells FANTASTIC. It’s made of compressed powder which I gently rub on to apply, and has waxy base to hold it together. I do not recommend applying immediately after shaving, however, because OUCH!
It’s just a bar, with no container at all. Since I bought this in the shop, all I have to store it in is the brown bag I was given at checkout, which has worked fine for the past year [but is definitely falling apart at this point, as you can see in the photo above].
In the end, I tried the other bar but it was very hard to apply and did not smell as good, so I didn’t use it.
But, over the years, I have tried some other options…
Homemade Deodorant Spread
Another blogger had shared a recipe for homemade deodorant, which I decided to try. The recipe called for coconut oil, shea butter, baking soda and essential oils.
While I loved the idea of a homemade deodorant that I could keep in a mason jar, I didn’t love the smell or the cold [this recipe recommended storing it in the fridge] and I didn’t feel that it was actually doing any deodorizing.
Hammond Herbs Pit Stop Deodorant Tube
Recently, I decided to try the natural deodorant called Pit Stop, which I ordered from another of my favorite zero waste shops: Well Earth Goods. [This is the same online zero waste store where I purchase my dish soap block, dish brushes, toothpaste tablets and laundry detergent strips which I’ve posted about previously here].
This deodorant comes in a recyclable/compostable cardboard container. You push up from the bottom and spread on your underarms. It smells and spreads better than the Aromaco bar from Lush. The tea tree and lavender is strong, though, so you have to like the scent. I like it, but it smells very “clean” and not particularly feminine or masculine [or whatever those stereotypical scents are], like Brett and I could share it. [Ok, that’s just disgusting. We don’t share deodorant, I promise.]
Pit Stop is made in America, uses natural ingredients and, overall, I like it just fine.
But T’eo by Lush is still my fave.
Ethique Deodorant Tube
Another brand that I use for shampoo and conditioner bars is Ethique, so I decided to try their deodorant tube.
This deodorant smells AMAZING [very floral] and is applied just like the Pit Stop deodorant. Also, this tube is bigger than Pit Stop. Ethique is very convenient because they distribute through Amazon [as well as their own online store]. This cardboard tube is also recyclable/compostable, but now that I’ve tried it, I really want to try their deodorant bar, which is more like the Lush Aromaco bar.
However, I won’t be needing more deodorant for…at least another year or two.
And, even when the time does come for more deodorant…I’m still going to order the T’eo bar from Lush.
What can I say? It’s my favorite!
If you try one of these or have other zero waste deodorant recommendations, let me know in the comments!
Today is laundry day in my home. Years ago, laundry was ruling my life. There was always some laundry bin somewhere full of clothes that needed attention—either washing or sorting or folding or putting away. I got so sick of doing laundry every day that I decided I would only do laundry one day a week. Now, I take one day and focus only on laundry. I do all the washing, drying, sorting, folding and putting away once a week. It is heavenly. [I actually quite look forward to laundry day because it is the one household chore I can multitask while watching tv and I don’t have to do any other cleaning that day. Can I get an amen!?]
Recently, my laundry routine got an extra zero waste boost when I switched over to a more environmentally friendly alternative to the plastic jug of liquid laundry detergent.
Introducing: the laundry detergent sheet!
I absolutely LOVE these things. I just take half a sheet [or a full sheet for really dirty loads] and toss it in the drum and start the wash. They are better than traditional detergent in a lot of ways. First of all, they remove the need for plastic jugs, which I would guess are rarely cleaned and recycled. Secondly, they don’t contain unnecessary, unhealthy, or dangerous chemicals, which harm our health and the health of aquatic life and our shared water sources. And the rest of the reasons are for convenience: they don’t take up a whole shelf of the laundry room, they travel easily, they don’t spill or drip and get blue goo everywhere, they require no “guesstimation” regarding how much to use and prevent over usage.
[Buy them for yourself here, and read about the zero waste packaging, ingredient list, and FAQs.]
Seems like a no-brainer. Friendly for the planet, better for our health, and convenient to boot!
I buy them from Well Earth Goods [which is also where I buy my toothpaste tabs, stain sticks, dishwashing blocks, and a bunch of other zero waste goods]; however, you can find these detergent sheets lost of places now—even Amazon. BUT please don’t. I love Well Earth Goods because it is a small family run business located in Oregon and it’s the kind of business I like to support.
Please, please, PLEASE don’t just buy the cheapest option you can find [this advice goes for every single purchase]. There are many, many things to consider before buying. While it’s great to buy zero waste products, it is also now possible to support unethical and environmentally damaging companies who sell green products. The best choice is to support the companies that actuallycare about environmental issues – not those that are just jumping on the latest trend to make a buck.
That’s my two cents.
Anyway, back to the detergent sheets.
You can buy scented detergent sheets, but I think that clean clothes should be void of any smell…not smell like they’ve been doused in Aunt Bonnie’s floral perfume. Plus I’ve been using unscented laundry detergent since I had babies because the chemicals that create that overpowering “spring rain” scent can lead to skin irritations and there is some concern about carcinogens.
To make things even more earth-friendly, I use a stain stick [which I once posted about at length here],
…and wool dryer balls, which were the first zero waste gift I ever received after starting this journey [Thanks, Michelle!]
I just keep these balls permanently in my dryer, so that every load comes out nice and fluffy.
[Side note: I’ve heard complaints about static with the dryer balls as opposed to dryer sheets, but static is more about the materials you are drying. Synthetic fibers cause more static in the dryer. My family and I don’t have that problem because we avoid synthetic fibers – which I also recommend everyone do for the sake of Mother Earth and personal health. But that’s a post for another day. 😁]
So, there you have it! A totally zero waste laundry routine.
Well, here we are again at Valentine’s Day, trying to give thoughtful, waste-free Valentines to my kids’ classmates.
When Evangeline was in preschool, we gave cuties wrapped in twine with a little “leaf” tag that said “You’re a cutie!”
[You can read my post about how to make these valentines here.]
Then, when Evangeline was in Kindergarten, we made coloring bookmarks with a crayon to pass out on Valentine’s Day.
[You can read my post about how to make these here.]
Last year, I homeschooled the kids and didn’t have to worry about passing out class Valentines – and I’m not sure whether anyone else did either since a lot of schools were doing distance learning because of COVID.
But now the kids are back in school – Evangeline in second grade and Theo in Kindergarten – so we’re making the obligatory school Valentines again.
My daughter adamantly refused to give cuties again [what can I say? It was worth a try] and she fought very hard for heart-shaped suckers, but I really hate giving out candy and dread all the plastic wrappers that will end up in the trash. [This is the unfortunate result of having an environmentalist/personal trainer for a mother.]
So, we agreed on pencils.
I got the free printables from Perfectly Splendid [link here]. You have to check out all the awesome printables for Valentine’s Day that she has on her site, PositivelySplendid.com. [I also used her Bernie Sanders printable for a Valentine’s Card for my husband! Find them here. Too perfect!]
My mother-in-law was kind enough to print the hearts on card stock for me and then we got busy this morning cutting out the hearts, punching holes, and signing names.
Fair warning, my standard hole punch did not make a big enough hole for the pencils so I had to do some fancy punching to make them fit. But it still worked out fine.
Warning: There was some waste created in the making of these Valentines. Five plastic sleeves that the pencils came in ended up in the trash, but all the paper scraps were recycled and these pencils will hopefully get lots of use in the future.
Practical, [nearly] zero waste Valentines for the win!
My healthy goal for February is to serve a salad with every dinner.
It’s no secret that I am a lover of salads. I’ve posted many, many times about them. They are my favorite way to eat a lot of fresh, raw veggies.
Healthy Salad Dressings
I have been making my own salad dressings for years and I highly, HIGHLY recommend it. It is better for your health, better for your wallet, and allows you the freedom to customize a dressing that’s perfect for you. I usually mix the dressing right in my salad bowl, but sometimes I do make it ahead for when I’m taking a salad to dinner at a friend’s house.
To make, put equal parts olive oil and vinegar of choice in a jar with a lid. Add salt and pepper to taste, and a little bit of dijon [or any kind] mustard. Then shake to combine.
This dressing is customizable in a million different ways by using different vinegars, adding different spices/herbs, and adding lemon [or other citrus] juice.
Healthier Homemade Ranch
Like pretty much all kids, my kids like ranch. They like the vinaigrettes that I make too, but ranch is their favorite. I make my own healthier version by mixing the following seasonings into plain Greek yogurt: parsley, garlic, onion, dill, chives, salt and pepper. Use equal amounts parsley, garlic and onion. About half the amount of dill. Even less chives [this can be omitted altogether]. Then salt and pepper to taste.
Or you can just buy the ranch dip package at the store – but why when you have everything you need in your cupboard already???
Vegan Green Goddess Dressing
This is a recipe that I got from America’s Test Kitchen, The Complete Plant Based Cookbook, but of course I’ve modified it.
I basically soak a cup of raw cashews in hot water for 30 minutes, then blend with 3/4 cup water, fresh lemon juice from one lemon, garlic powder, onion powder, parsley flakes, salt, pepper [and whatever other seasonings I feel like] until smooth. I add water if it’s too thick.
So far this month, we’ve had side salads, taco salad, and “salad pizza” [which is just salad on top of my homemade pizza dough – more like a flatbread]. I’ve even had a “smoothie salad” – don’t ask. And my kids keep asking me for their favorite: chickpea salad.
Looking forward to this month of raw veggie salads!
When it comes to my own wardrobe, I’m a minimalist, fitting all of my clothing into three small drawers that fit into my closet [plus some hanging clothes that I rarely wear but keep for “just in case purposes” such as a black dress for funerals]. A few years back when I went through all of my clothes and purged everything I didn’t need or love, I found the whole process to be immensely gratifying. And, I’m pleased to report, that simplifying my kids’ clothes has every bit as satisfying.
Principle #1: Only clothes that are needed.
How do you know how much clothes your child will need? First determine how often you do laundry. I dedicate one day per week to laundry. Which means my kids need seven days worth of clothes [and maybe a few extras for accidents or emergencies]. Since a lot of our clothes are hand-me-downs, we do end up with extras of some things, but I make it a point to avoid getting extra clothes we don’t need.
For example, when I switched my son’s wardrobe over to warmer clothes, I found he needed more long-sleeved shirts and a few more pairs of pants for the winter. Brett found someone selling a used set of clothes — seven pairs of pants, two t-shirts, one sweat pant outfit — all for $15. But we didn’t need most of it, so we paid $8 for two pairs of pants and the sweat pant set. I found three long-sleeved shirts at a resale shop, and that was all that he needed. Theo is now all set for the winter.
Principle #2: Only clothesthat are used…for the most part.
This is so important to me since I have learned about the clothing industry and how it continues to wreak havoc on our planet and hurt economies and take advantage of workers around the world. So, as a principle, we always get our clothes used, unless of course there are certain items that we can’t find used. Underwear is one of those things, so I buy my underwear from Boody and I get my kids underwear from Pact — both ethical, sustainable brands that I love to support.
I mean, really, it is criminal that kids clothing gets worn for a season and then tossed. We need to keep clothes in circulation for as long as possible since each item of clothing represents costly natural resources and a lot of labor. I wouldn’t even care if used clothes cost more, but, of course, buying used is cheaper which makes it a win-win. And we find really nice stuff used!
We like to use Facebook marketplace [Brett handles that since I am not on Fb] or OfferUp or nearby consignment shops and even resale stores like Goodwill and Salvation Army to find used clothing. In our small town we have a resale shop where I have found new tennis shoes for Theo, an Express undershirt for Brett, and jeans for Evangeline. [I also found a beautiful North Face sweater that I really wanted, but didn’t need, so I passed on it. Hopefully someone who needs it finds that treasure.]
Principle #3: Only clothes to play in.
It’s a bit of a pet-peeve of mine how parents like to dress up their children. All of their life experiences until the first grade revolve around play, so they should be dressed for play. It makes absolutely no sense to me to put a little kid into dressy clothing and then try to keep that child from playing in it or getting it dirty. Let the kids be kids for goodness sake! Even at church, Christmas dinner, and weddings, kids should be dressed in play clothes.
The other problem with dressing up kids is that it requires you to keep an entirely separate set of clothes. Your kid will need a full wardrobe of play clothes and a full set of dress clothes. Why on earth?
We just keep one type of clothing for the kids: play clothing. They can wear it on vacation, on a hike, to church, to school and to play in the backyard. My daughters each have some dresses that they love and these are not special occasion dresses. Their dresses get as much use as the rest of their clothes. Which is fine. They like to wear frilly pretty clothes, and I expect these items to get throughly played in, dirty, messy, and worn out.
Principle #4: Only clothes they love.
I let my kids dress themselves. I have since each of them were three and old enough to open a drawer and pull out an outfit for the day. This relieves me of the stress of fighting with my kids about what to wear and allows them to choose clothes that they love and that express their unique personalities.
It seems to me that, as parents, we want our kids to look like mini fashion models because it improves our own image. I don’t think the kids care – nor should they! So what if they want to wear plaid with polka-dots? Who really cares?
I definitely don’t want to send the message to my kids that what they wear matters, that they need to dress a certain way to “fit in” or be accepted, that love is based on how someone looks. These messages are everywhere in our society, but I don’t want them in my home. I also don’t want to teach my kids to conform to fashion trends. Instead, I’d rather teach them to wear what is practical, comfortable and something they love – something that shows the world a piece of themselves rather than just a reflection of everyone else.
Over the years, with absolutely no help from me, my oldest daughter [now 7] has figured out her own way of dressing that is unique and absolutely adorable. I wouldn’t change anything about her style.
[I once wrote an essay for Parents Magazine about this very topic, which they published in 2018. You can read it here.]
Don’t be afraid to pare down the kids’ clothing! It feels GREAT!
I could not be happier for fall to arrive this year, but still I was a little surprised when all my neighbors started putting out pumpkins and scarecrows and Halloween decorations. I mean, it was still 90° around here! Certainly didn’t feel like fall. [This is my first time living this far south – and I’m just in southern Illinois.] Appropriately, today is a beautiful fall day – cool, crisp, windy, rainy. I LOVE it!
Besides today’s weather, the local produce is also screaming fall, so I decided to make my favorite fall meal [or side dish], comprised of my favorite fall vegetables roasted to perfection and tossed together.
Roasted Sweet Potato, Butternut Squash, and Brussels Sprouts
[I need to work on the name of this meal…it’s quite lengthy…]
I make this every year as a side dish for our Thanksgiving meal, but I make it as a stand-alone for my family many times during the fall. This is the perfect fall meal, because these are perfect fall foods that are in abundance during this time of year.
It also couldn’t be easier.
Peel and chop some butternut squash.
Peel and chop some sweet potatoes. [I like the color contrast provided by these purple sweet potatoes, but I usually just use regular.]
De-stem and half some Brussels sprouts.
Toss them all with olive oil, salt and pepper and spread on a baking sheet. Roast for 25-30 minutes at 425°.
We ate it with a side of vegan Tofurky sausage, but these vegetables are hearty and filling and can be a stand-alone meal too, which we have done many times. [If you’re not used to eating only vegetables for dinner, this is a great place to start.]
Side note: Roasted Brussels sprouts are a family favorite in our home. Despite their terrible reputation, Brussels sprouts are SO DELICIOUS. If you haven’t tried them, or more importantly haven’t tried them roasted, this is the time to do it. Like, right now. I have converted many Brussels sprout skeptics with my roasted side dish using the same method as above.
For my family of six [four of which are young kids], I roasted one small squash, two sweet potatoes, and 12oz Brussels sprouts. We had a little squash leftover, but otherwise, everything was gone.
Happy 4th of July! 🇺🇸 I like to celebrate Juneteenth as America’s true Freedom Day, but we are grateful for our country and the privilege of living here. I hope everyone is having a nice holiday.
But anyway, on to my simple living goals for July…
It’s been a long time since I’ve made simple living goals for the family, but since this is our last full month of summer break and the kids will be going to school before long, I am setting daily goals to make sure we make the most of what’s left of our summer.
Every day, we are going to try to spend time doing the following things:
My kids and I love being outside. Sometimes the weather doesn’t cooperate, but we still try to make it work. Yesterday, it stormed all day, but we still managed to get outside for a bike ride/run when the storm passed at 7pm.
The goal for July is to spend some time outside [preferably in the sunshine] every day to boost our vitamin D intake and our moods.
Most days, we take our dogs for a walk – which is no easy feat for me since I have to push a double stroller with my two youngest kids and hold a leash in each hand. My older two kids bike. We also like to go on family bike rides – to the library, the park, grandma’s house, or just around town – and I pull my youngest two kids in our bike trailer.
We can [and usually do] combine being active with being outdoors, but when necessary, we like to exercise inside by doing kids yoga or family fun workouts.
We are usually pretty active, but this month I am prioritizing active family time together every day.
I’m grateful that my kids love arts and crafts. They especially love creating with clay and paint – two mediums that get pretty messy so I usually try to avoid getting them out. But not this month! We’re going for it!
My goal is to engage in a creative activity every day, whether it’s just coloring pictures, acting out stories, making clay pottery, or even baking something new in the kitchen.
Grow Our Own Food
My favorite part of summer is getting fresh veggies from the garden! The garden that we started at our new home is doing great. We have already started bringing in zucchini and summer squash, the tomatoes are almost ripe, the peppers look beautiful, the cucumbers are growing like weeds and the sugar snap peas are so delicious we don’t even bother bringing them in – we just eat them straight off the plant.
My kids love this exciting [and delicious] summer tradition as well. We are looking forward to picking [and finding new ways to eat] our favorite veggies from our backyard each day.
What are your goals for the rest of summer? I hope everyone is enjoying the sunshine!
In my home, toys can get overwhelming fast. I have four kids who are six and under, so the playtime is real and involves legos, little people, costumes, race cars, dolls, stuffed animals, and a million other toys. Some days I feel like all I do is pick up toys.
So, a few years back, as part of my zero waste and minimalist journey, I began weaning down my family’s toy collection.
Now, I’m not going to say that now they have very few toys – the quantity is still quite large, but I keep it manageable through regular maintenance and a few rules that I’m going to share here.
“A place for every thing, and everything in its place“
This is a cardinal rule of minimalism and applies to everything in the home – especially toys. We have some “catch all” toy bins in the kids room for random toys, but almost every toy they own has a special box, container, drawer, or shelf. This provides structure for the kids as they pick up the room too.
Years ago, I purged all the excess toys for the first time and then organized them so that everything had a place. Then I set about the challenging task of teach my kids to put things away where they go. We are still working on this, but they are young so there is plenty of time.
This is the base rule – the rest are all about maintenance.
The “In and Out” Rule
Basically, if a toy comes in, then one must go out. [We use this rule for a bunch of other things too, especially clothes, so that we never end up with too much of anything.] We try to keep it down to only what we need.
If my kids have a new toy that they are wanting to play with then their attention will be taken from an older toy, so it gets donated.
Let the Kids Take Charge
I have my kids do this themselves. They get to choose which toys they no longer want. Over the years, they’ve gotten very good at recognizing what toys they don’t play with anymore and giving them up.
Recently, the kids wanted to go to a neighbor’s garage sale. I told them that we already have too many toys, but if they pick out some toys that they don’t want anymore, then we can go pick new [or “new-to-us”] ones from the garage sale. They immediately got to work and filled an entire bin with toys they no longer play with. We bought six toys from the garage sale and we donated about 50 toys. A good trade in my book.
It’s inevitable that toys will get broken and that kids will come home with worthless pieces of junk that interest them for all of five minutes, so I gather all of these types of toys into a bag the moment I find them hidden under the couch or buried at the bottom of a toy bin. I obviously don’t take any of my kids’ treasures, but so many little plastic toys end up scattered around our house that I have to declutter them regularly or it would get out of hand quickly.
The bag of broken, cheap, or discarded toys stays hidden away in my closet for a while – just to make sure someone doesn’t start looking for one-legged Cat Boy. I’ll tell you how I deal with this bag in a little bit.
Once again, I have my kids do this themselves when the toy quantity is overwhelming. I know it’s time for a purge when their room has toys thrown everywhere and it takes them an hour to pick it up. Most things that get dumped are just in the way of toys the kids really want, so I have my kids remove the obstacles altogether.
However, sometimes I do take toys that I notice the kids haven’t played with in a long time and quietly set them aside….
Out of Sight, Out of Mind
I’ve found that my kids rarely miss a toy. My son would definitely notice if all of his legos suddenly disappeared and my daughter would throw a fit if her stuffed animal Brown Puppy was suddenly missing, but pretty much anything else could be taken away and they wouldn’t even notice. I know this because they often lose toys and don’t even realize they are missing until I discover them in the bottom of some bin or the back of a closet.
So, I take the toys that I’ve gathered – the bag of broken misfit toys, and a box of forgotten toys – and hide them away for a while. After some time had passed and no one has asked for any of them, I donate, recycle, or toss appropriately.
BUT, sometimes, my kids do miss a toy and so I return it to them. For instance, in the photo above, we kept the farm toy, the pink flamingo, and the frog beanie baby, because my kids wanted them back.
I’m not a monster. I don’t just take my kids toys away. But I do recognize that too many toys is overwhelming for our home and for my kids. There is no reason to have so many choices when they really only play with a handful of favorites – until new ones come along to replace them.
A note about sustainable toys…
I wish I could say that all my kids toys are made of hand-painted wood and corn husks or some super sustainable option, but let’s be real – kids like toys with bright colors and fun noises, and kids will destroy anything that is not indestructible. Besides, I’m not the one giving my kids the majority of their toys. They usually get toys from other family members who may or may not [but probably not] be concerned about a toy’s environmental impact.
As much as plastic is bad for the planet and unsightly in my uber-chic green home [I kid obviously], it is a long-lasting material which means that toys can have life beyond just one childhood.
Let’s all make toys more sustainable by teaching our kids to take care of them [great life lesson, btw] and then pass them on to a new child to enjoy when they are done with them – rather than throwing them in the trash.
Also, buy used toys!!! Seriously! Kids don’t care [at least not until a certain age and only if we give the impression that only new toys are acceptable gifts]!
As a parent, I think that toys can either be a constant source of irritation, or an enriching and educational experience for the whole family. But for the latter to happen, we’ve got to control the quantity, so they don’t overrun the house!
Last year, I read SimplicityParenting by Kim John Payne and Lisa M. Ross, which is an excellent resource for parents who want to rid their family of all the excess so they can focus on what is really important for childhood.
“Children need time to become themselves – through play and social interaction. If you overwhelm a child with stuff – with choices and pseudochoices – before they are ready, they will only know one emotional gesture: More!”
Kim John Payne, Simplicity Parenting
It is a common misconception that kids need a lot of toys, social activities, educational programs, and scheduled time in order to become caring, productive, functioning adults. But in reality, kids need less structure and less “stuff” so that they have the space and freedom to become themselves. Instead of filling their rooms with toys and their lives with activities, we should be creating a space that gives kids freedom to discover, to imagine, to create and to rest.
Freedom to Discover
Instead of handing our kids tablets, videos, and phone apps that are supposed to encourage kids to learn, all we have to do is plop them outside. They will do plenty of discovering on their own.
[It’s ironic to me that there is a children’s television program called Nature Cat by PBS, which teaches kids about nature…while they are sitting inside on the couch.]
One of our favorite ways to pass the time is to be outside. It’s great for grumpy babies, tantrum-throwing toddlers, “bored” kids, and even me. My kids have no trouble at all finding something to do outside. Of course, we do provide them with tools like bikes, sidewalk chalk, bubbles, tire swing, etc. But truthfully, most of their time is spent chasing butterflies, examining bugs, smelling flowers, climbing trees, and playing imaginary games that they created.
My childhood was filled with lots of time outside. I was apparently from one of the last generations whose parents kicked us out of the house when we were annoying rather than sitting us in front of a screen. [Of course, my parents didn’t have the screen option available…or they might have.]
Rain or shine, we go outside. Another great book about time outdoors is There’s No Such Thing as Bad Weather by Linda Åkeson McGurk.
I highly recommend this book for parents because in America we are often afraid to let kids play outside. Afraid of the weather. “It’s raining,” “Its too cold,” “Don’t get dirty!” – These have become our excuses that keep kids from jumping puddles, building snowmen, and making mud pies [which are some hallmarks of childhood]. Afraid of strangers. Afraid they will get hurt. Afraid of what trouble they might get into. While it’s important to keep kids safe, they don’t need stifling and they don’t need overly fearful parents keeping them from exploring their world. The benefits outweigh the risks [which are minimal].
“As a parent, a great way to support them is simply to spend a lot of time outside, ask open-ended questions, and encourage your child’s innate curiosity and willingness to investigate.”
Linda Åkeson McGurk
Being outside also ignites my children’s imaginations. They spend hours pretending to be superheroes or animals or monsters. The great outdoors gives them space to let their imaginations run wild.
Which brings us to the next important part of childhood…
Freedom to Imagine
In Simplicity Parenting, they recommend giving kids toys that encourage imagination and avoiding toys that already have the stories written. For instance, why give your child a doll that is already a Disney Princess when you can give him or her a doll that they can imagine to be anything? Open-ended toys are great for encouraging kids to use their imaginations.
My children love imaginative play. When they were younger, I actively participated with them, but now as they are older, they play together for hours. Though we haven’t exactly taken the advice of Simplicity Parenting [though, I wish we had, but o read the book after our home was already filled with Little People, Paw Patrol pups, and action figures], our children still love creating worlds and characters and stories around the toys they have.
[Simplifying kids’ toys will be my next post in the series, since – though I’m not an expert at much – I am an expert at paring down the toys in our home.]
Even my youngest, who just turned two and is just starting to talk, can sit for hours engaged in imaginative play.
But my favorite way to cultivate my kids’ imagination is through reading books. I’ve been reading out loud to my kids since my oldest was 3-months-old. Even my youngest gets a story or two before bed – though she can barely sit still through Goodnight Moon.
For children, books are all about imagination. They allow them to imagine talking animals, magical fairies, unicorns and dragons. Books provide source material for children’s imaginations. It gives them the tools to see possibilities beyond their own limited experiences.
As minimalists, we don’t keep a lot of books, just the most cherished ones. For our reading, we go to the library once a week [sometimes more] and swap out books. I swear the library is the most underutilized resource in any community. We LOVE the library. Every week we have a whole new collection of books to read together. It’s like getting one of those subscription book boxes except free and we get at least thirty new books at each visit.
Please, use your library!
Since they were babies, I have been reading aloud to my kids before bed. As time has passed I have read increasingly more complex books to them – even some of my own childhood favorites like Mr. Poppers Penguins, Heidi, and The Chronicles of Narnia. My older kids are only 3, 5, and 6, but they are enthralled by these stories.
Don’t be afraid to read chapter books to your kids, even when they are very young. They will love it, and hopefully, a love of stories will translate into a love of reading – which it has for my 6-year-old daughter who reads 10+ chapter books a week.
We love reading so much, we’ve dedicated an entire room in our house to it – our “reading room.”
“We do not need magic to change the world, we carry all the power we need inside ourselves already: we have the power to imagine better.”
Freedom to Create
As I read recently in Brené Brown’s book, The Gifts of Imperfection, creativity is so important – for us as adults, and for our children.
“There’s no such thing as creative people and non-creative people. There are only people who use their creativity and those who don’t.
What we create is how we share ourselves with the world, and how we leave a mark on the world.
In our home, I cultivate creativity by giving the kids space to create without judgment. I provide different mediums [clay, paint, crayons, paper, tape, kids scissors – and also legos, magnet blocks, Knex, and other building tools] and no direction in order to create [We also likes structured crafts and building legos from the instructions – or “map” as my kids call it.] I also encourage them to write, act, sing and dance. It is truly remarkable what they come up with. My son made me a stand for my phone out of legos. My daughter made me a flower crown out of paper to wear.
I’ve noticed with my kids that the more screen time they have, the less they are interested in engaging in these types of creative and imaginative activities. They are bored more easily and they are much more fussy.
Which brings me to another part of childhood that I try to protect in my home: rest.
Freedom to Rest
As a fitness professional, I know the importance of rest for the human body – but I’m not only talking about sleep at night. We all need regular down time. Time to relax and take it easy. Time to be alone. Time to have nothing to do and no where to be.
For my kids this translates into not over-scheduling them with activities, extracurriculars, and play dates. I start to stress out when we have something going on every day of the week, and that’s when I know that something needs to go. We simply can’t do it all. Even if other families do, we can’t. I cherish our time to sit down together at dinner and go for walks around our neighborhood and relax together with nothing to do. So I protect those times.
This is getting harder and harder to do as my kids grow up and have school sports and music lessons and other extracurriculars all pulling at their time and attention. I don’t know what it will look like in the future, but I do know that I want my kids to have the downtime that they need to recuperate and to discover themselves, without the pressure to always be a part of something else.
What I’ve found to be true for my kids is that the more stuff, the more screens, the more busy time, the less room there is for these important parts of childhood – curiosity, imagination, creativity, and rest. In our family, we intentionally keep our toys to a manageable quantity and our activities to a bare minimum – so that our kids have more time to “become themselves.”