Do you need to declutter your life? One mum shares how she did it

Suzanne Acteson and family

Simplifying is about paring back in your home and your life, to find more space, joy and room for real living. It’s about being more intentional – sounds fancy but it just means doing things for a reason, with a purpose and an intention.

It was only a year ago that I felt like I was drowning in excess. We made the decision to pack up our family, our house and move overseas to France in search of the simple life. The whole process helped me develop habits that have made me realise, that less really is more.

I have to say from the get-go, I’m not a traditional minimalist. I agree with many of the minimalistic values, but not the strict nature of some regimes. It’s actually really easy to adopt the tips and tricks I used to free up space in my own life – even if you’re not doing something as drastic as moving overseas with your whole family. 

Here are three key areas to start you on the path of simplify your own life.

1. Decluttering! Starting with the toys

When we moved overseas we left with six suitcases, mostly full of clothes. We allowed each of our kids to take whatever toys they wanted, as long as they fit in their carry-on backpack. They chose a few stuffed animals, colouring and craft supplies, Lego, travel games and books – but that was it.

It did take a lot of decluttering to get us to that point. I worked my way through the house, bedroom by bedroom, drawer after drawer, sorting everything into keep, donate and throw away piles. I was amazed at how many things we threw away and donated! Piles of clothes, toys, and knick-knacks were taking up space and energy in our home. I kept everything our kids truly loved but they were none-the-wiser on what went missing from their never-ending stash.

Simplifying our household wasn’t just limited to the kids’ toys. I had to simplify my wardrobe too and in truth, I haven’t missed anything. I can’t even remember what I left behind. I bought a pair of boots today because I had holes in my old ones. When I replaced them I threw the old ones out. When we only buy what we need, instead of what we want, we save a lot of money, live with more quality and much less quantity. I still love beautiful items, but if I really need something, I save up and wait for it. It feels good to buy what we need, instead of a newer or shinier or softer version of what we already have.

2. Meal planning? Yes, me!

Very few parents enjoy shopping, cooking and preparing meals for their family. It’s a massive pain point for the majority of us. I’ve never been one to meal plan but thanks to our strict budget we’ve had to be organised and make an actual grocery list. I really do wonder why we haven’t been doing this all along.

Now we do a big shop each week, keep track of how much we’ve spent and have left for the week (a helpful by-product to planning is saving money). Given that we both know what’s ‘on the menu’ that day, we make sure it’s out of the freezer and one of us prepares it (helpful if you’re working and one of you gets in first).

Another way to make food prep easier is to bulk prepare veggies so they are ready for the next meal. It’s much easier peeling and cutting carrots once, than repeating the process each day. I started doing this by chance when I cut up too many carrots and onions one night and stored them in a container for the next night. I wondered why I hadn’t done this earlier. Time and energy saving habits leave more time for enjoying your evenings and less time slaving over your stove.

3. Are your kids over-scheduled?

This topic can be a touchy one and I understand that it is a very personal decision. We have always tried to not over-schedule our kids with after-school activities. They have one sport each, which requires one practice session per week and a game on the weekend. I understand the desire to expose kids to lots of sports to ‘see what they’re good at’ but when it comes at the cost of sacrificing your evening family time, always feeling rushed, and ultimately your own sanity, surely we have to question whether it’s really worth it.

Think back to when you were a kid. We played outside. We went to the park. We made up games. We put on plays. I had gymnastics once a week, but that was it. Did it keep me from playing lots of sports well? Not at all. You are not doing your kids a disservice by not enrolling them in three to four sports, you’re doing them – and you – a favour.

Embracing a new mindset and way of life

Simplifying is more than just getting rid of stuff, or not buying things you don’t need, it’s a mindset and a way of life. It involves making decisions for your family, that will help the overall wellbeing of everyone in the household. When you start to simplify, you will feel space and a renewed sense of energy. The clarity of your thinking is enhanced and your busy schedule isn’t mirrored with busy thinking.

If you feel like the toys, clothes and ‘wants’ are swallowing you, then simplifying your life – by starting with these three areas – really could make all the difference.

Suzanne Acteson is the founder of Habitots. In 2017, she and her husband moved with their three kids to France to slow down and savour their time together as a family while their kids are young.

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