Kick off for Summer of Fun!

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The first day of summer officially kicks off our Summer of Fun!  This tradition started five years ago and it’s the way the kids and I spend the summer.  The idea is simple: we promise to do at least one fun thing per day.  Some things take all day and some are very short. They can be anything from doing a craft, to going to a museum, going to the pool, playing outside at a park, or just having a movie night with popcorn.  I will post our Summer Bucket List as soon as the girls complete it.

The purpose of summer is fun is to remember to do things as a family while the girls are off from school.  We want to make as many memories as possible.  Usually, I will write about some of our trips as a way to remember them in later years.

Since then, we have found new ways to spend time together, and setting an intention really reminds us how valuable our time together is as a family.

The first thing the girls do before summer starts is to make a “Summer Bucket List” of things they want to do this summer.  We usually start this before Summer begins in the Spring, and slowly add to it.  I’ve found this helps to make a running list from where to start and expand from there.

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Our first summer of fun included a Snow day with fake snow, making craft jars, and visiting a local lake for swimming a few times each month.  We also set a few things the kids want to learn each summer.  They can be simple things like learning to eat with chopsticks or learning script.

Some years we plan one big trip.  One year we did a family trip to San Diego.  Other years like this one, we don’t plan a big trip, but we stay home and find local drives to do each Sunday.  You can find ideas for some of these drives on Sundaydrives.net . These drives create many memories and some are in local distances.  We also make a list of community events and local sites to see throughout the summer, like summer festivals, local zoos, and amusement parks.  Each year is different, but we also make tons of great memories.

We love sharing these ideas and all our adventures. It’s a cross between a digital scrapbook, a way to share the fun things we do with our family and friends, near and far. We hope you have a Summer filled with fun too and set an intention to spend the summer this way, instead of buying toys!

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Simplifying with Kids: Ten Tips for Decluttering Toys

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Photo by Valentina Yachichurova

This past month we began simplifying the kids items in our home.  We have three girls, and a boy on the way, with very different interests and age levels.  A typical toy area in our home might include fairy princess wings, crayons, space toys, and legos.  The toys in our house were a major clutter problem. Honestly, I think a lot of that was not their fault, but mine.  I really wanted to give them every learning opportunity.  However, I realized I may have gone too far when my sister suggested I could open a small children’s library.

This past Halloween, we actually took all of the old books to a Halloween Trunk or Treat, and we gave out books to the kids.  Finding a unique way to share old toys and books can actually be very fun for kids.  The smiles we received were a memory that I will never forget to include the smiles from the parents.  My girls realized how rewarding it can be to give someone something you no longer use.  My oldest daughter’s teacher actually complimented us on the idea, saying it was the most memorable “treat” her own children received.

While this process is extremely rewarding, it is not always easy, so we decided to share what we have learned through trial and error in the last few months.

We believe in giving our kids the ability to express their views when we make changes as a family.  Our kids are a big part of any life changes we decide to embark on, so we want them to know we value their opinions and input.   Surprisingly, our girls were happy to make the transition to having less stuff, once they saw how much more comfortable the house became.  They also love how much more time we now have with them.  This past weekend we just drove out to the Air Force museum in Dayton, a trip I will write about soon on Sundaydrives.net.

Sharing our process might be helpful to other families, so we wanted to give some pointers from what we learned.  We are no where near done, but we have taken a step in the right direction.  On that note, I think decluttering kids areas can be done in phases, so they don’t feel forced, or feel a sense of loss for any toys.

Here are  10 easy tips:

1.Start with a discussion.  We thought it was very important to be clear about our objectives and motivations for embarking on a journey to minimalism. We believed therefore, it was key to talk to our kids about the reasons we thought this was important and explain the benefits we gained as a family.  We had a family meeting and asked the girls what their thoughts were about the process.

Rather than impose our views, we let them see us declutter first for weeks, so it was easy for them to see the benefits.  In fact, our girls began to willingly suggest areas to declutter once we got started.  Talking about this process before we began physically decluttering, was an extremely important step so our kids understood that it wasn’t about taking their things away, but giving them more time.  You may want to focus on what you gain as a family, rather than on what they must give up.

2. Go at your own pace.  Minimizing is a slow process, as you are unraveling years of stuff, so be easy on your family. Kids may have developed an attachment to certain items, so it is important to begin this process slowly.  Everything does not have to be done in one day.  It took years to accumulate the stuff, so it is going to take a bit of time to get rid of it, this is perfectly fine.  Realizing that their attachment to certain items will wane over time also helps this process.

3.Set an objective and a reward.  A good thing we learned is to show the kids how doing this allows for more family time in the present. For example, when we decluttered one section of the toy room, we picked out a family game we would do after we were finished.

4.Schedule time and set clear objectives and goals.  Setting an end time will make kids feel that the task has clear objectives and boundaries, rather than a never-ending chore.  It’s the same at school.  When I was a teacher, I was trained to set clear objectives so that students could see the expectations. You will have a much easier time if you set a clear objective and time limit, so that they can stay engaged and don’t get overwhelmed with the task at hand.  For instance, one day might just be decluttering the puzzles or the stuffed animals for 20 minutes.  Set age appropriate time limits.

5.Take a weekend off.  Certain weekends we go and have fun. We go on our Sunday drives, but others we let the girls know ahead of time we will be decluttering.  Once you get the major areas done, such the toy room or the kid’s closets, you can go a bit slower and schedule maybe 10 minutes or 30 minutes.

6.Lead by example.  Kids internalize and pick up on more than we realize.  Before we got to my 10 year old daughter’s room, she came into my room with a bin of beanie boos and said, “Mom, let’s declutter these, I really don’t play with all of them anymore.”  This activity became fun because we started talking about the importance of each and how she played with them.  I learned they had names and personalities.  By letting her take the lead, I learned about how she plays with her toys, and really had fun in the process.

7.Remember attrition plays a role too.  This is my husband’s rule. You can easily keep a little bit more, but start buying less toys.  As they grow, certain toys will break or they will outgrow them, so don’t get into a big power struggle.  Remember, this was your decision, not theirs, so you don’t want to be super forceful.  You have to let them have a say, or they might not really enjoy the whole process or realize the benefits, because they will be so focused on the loss.  Minimalism is about focusing on what matters, so don’t focus so much on the process that you forget the objective.  It doesn’t have to look perfect.  Remember if they don’t get rid of whole lot, you can do that bin of stuffed animals again in a  few weeks.

8.Set space limits.  I’d suggest setting specific areas in your home for toys and books.  Not to say that occasionally you won’t have a few toys in the living room, but I’d recommend setting an area as the kids space.  You want the kids to know that things in the home have their place, so you can begin to slowly get rid of what is not being used.  Having toys all over the house doesn’t really let you see how much you have to reduce.  In addition, setting a limit, allows a manageable goal for kids to keep in mind.

9.Have fun!  Decluttering can actually be an opportunity to reap the rewards as you go, and set aside time to play.  Who said it has to be boring?  Maybe the monster is eating the toys that they take to the discard pile.  It’s a great time to play and learn about their favorite toys.

I learned a simple lesson when my daughter chose to play with a cardboard lemonade stand, ignoring all the fancy toys for weeks.  Sometimes having less toys, actually allows kid’s imaginations to soar to new heights. 

10.Give time and experiences, instead of more toys.  By going out and doing more things with you kids as this process goes on, you will find that they will start to value time with you more than material things.  Instead of trying to give them everything under the sun, remember that kids don’t need so much to have fun.

Kids will start to see experiences as more valuable than things as time goes on.  

I think it can be helpful to let relatives know of the changes you are making, so that your home doesn’t suddenly become cluttered again season after season.  Finally, remember that material things don’t bring the most joy in childhood, good memories do!

8 Reasons Our Family Embraced Simple Living

The decision to be more intentional about the way our family lived was not an easy one.  It took many years of trial and error.  It took doing things to pursue what we thought was the American dream. It took accumulating years of clutter.

We realized that what made us happiest was freedom. Freedom from things. Freedom to have the time to experience life.   Freedom to do the things we always wanted to do.  A lot of people ask me, what do you find useful about living simply?    

Here are few reasons our family embraces this idea:

The clutter kept us from pursuing the things we loved.  I often blamed my lack of organization for not having a better family schedule or not having time to pursue my passions, like writing and going back to school.  But the reality is, you only have so much time in a day.  I was being too hard on myself to think that I could really manage to keep things organized.  The stuff didn’t help at the end of the day, it made our life more complicated than it had to be.

Having less gave us more time.  Having less stuff actually gave us more time; we had more to time to work out, spend time with the kids on the weekend, and start to get involved in our new community.

It takes less time to maintain a home.  The amount of time it takes me to clean keeps getting smaller, as I reduce more and more clutter from our lives.  Having less actually opens up more time to do other things that we have been putting off for years.

Material things made me feel trapped.  The more things I accumulated over the years, the more a sense of unhappiness settled in.  Weekends became a time to organize and reorganize, and no storage solution seemed to help.

Physical clutter was a sign of emotional clutter.  I realized that the things that were supposed to make me happy, actually ate away family time and deterred my personal growth.  Releasing certain things has made me see that I was holding on to the past. I have been able to live more in the present.

Financial freedom. The burden of a large mortgage and property taxes at the top of our budget, never allowed us to save up for travel. We missed many trips with relatives and friends.  Having less, we are able to save up for college funds for our children and also save money to give them experiences, rather than more material things.

No longer caring about The Joneses.  I always said when I was young that I would never care about The Joneses.  But as life settled in, we realized that a home was a display of the success we had achieved; we were proud of it.  Over the years, our attitudes have changed on this.  The decisions we make have more to do on what we desire for our own lives, versus what other people think.

We feel more free.  Thinking of life this way is freeing.  What we realized is that what works for our family is what matters.  What other people think really doesn’t  really matter at the end of the day.  The less we cared about what people thought of our decisions, the more clear we became about what worked for our family and what we wanted in life.  We no longer had to pursue this illusion of success.

Overall, this experience has been very positive, but we have adapted a version of minimalism that works for our family.  We aren’t the exact label of pure minimalism, but we are living mores simply, doing what works for us.

I still own ten pairs of shoes, we still keep our eldest clothing for the little one, and we still have our momentos from our wedding.  But we have less, and we don’t feel a need to keep everything.  We also want less.   Living more simply doesn’t have to fit anyone else’s definition, other than what works for your family.  We are gaining a new perspective on life, and in the process living a sweeter life.  I hope you will consider how it might change something in  your own life.

 I hope you will find that living simply, is much sweeter.  

 

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Sweeter Living

Sweeter Living is about intentional living.  Our family made the decision to live a simpler life in order to travel more and enjoy life to the fullest.  On this page, you will find my ideas on how to live more simply and suggestions for families from anything to cooking, cleaning, and parenting.  We are a family of five, with three girls ages 10, 7, and 2 and another little boy on the way, so intentional living is not always easy.  By living with less material clutter, we have found the freedom to travel and follow our life’s true passions.  I hope your family can do the same.

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