Thursday, August 09, 2007

Living well on less...with kids

Q: I just found your blog last week and have thoroughly enjoyed the "Living Well on Less" posts. However, I find that I feel overwhelmed just keeping up with the essentials, let alone setting a really pretty table (and making more dishes to wash using serving pieces) or things like that. My children are 6, 3, and almost 1 and another is due in January. We do try to live quite frugally, but shopping with all three I find it much harder to thrift-shop then when I could go alone.

Have you ever been in this position and if so, could you tell me how you got past it and to where you are now, with all the pretty finishing touches?

A: I've been thinking about this comment for a while. The last thing I want to do is burden another mother with unrealistic expectations. I can only speak from my experience--as a mom of 2, who sometimes has her act together, sometimes not.

Believe me, there are days when peanut butter sandwiches are the only item on my menu! Still, my season with young children is passing so quickly. I want to make a lasting impression of beauty while the little ones are soaking in the details.

  • It doesn't take any longer to wash a pretty plate than an ugly one. Obviously, pots + serving pieces fill up a sink faster than pots alone. Keep your eyes open for some pretty oven-to-table casseroles or eye-pleasing glasses.

  • The more often you make an effort, the easier it gets. Set aside one meal a week for practice. If Sundays are hectic, try a day when you feel most relaxed. Dress the table in the morning, not when the pasta's boiling over on the stove.

  • Your children are NOT too young to help. I let my 5-year-old set the table from plates to napkins and ooh over his interesting color combinations. Children take pride in handling delicate objects.

  • Shop as circumstances permit. I never get to shop alone, but I still stumble upon great finds. Andrew has a change envelope for yard sales. He learns to handle money while I find what we need. I "bargain hunt" two hours a week, tops.

  • Make those finishing touches...whether it's a baking masterpiece, a "weed bouquet" or a new painting for the wall. You can occupy the children at the same time.

  • Creativity begets energy. I work faster and harder when I can tune into this inner rhythm. Psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi calls this phenomenon "flow."

Anonymous, we all have different talents. There is beauty in a neatly folded stack of towels, a hot supper, a freshly scrubbed little face. Keep up the essentials, but keep open to creative opportunities that work within your day. I pray that they will refresh your spirit as much as they do mine.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for this reminder that beauty doesn't have to be fussy. I always have the kids set the table but now I'll give them the opportunity to add their creativity. It will make the task much more meaningful. Now where did I stash the candles and tablecloths?

Anonymous said...

Thanks to this poster who intimated the same thing I thought when I read the post. It made me feel more burdened as well. I'm still trying to keep up with the cheerios on the floor

Hyperactive Lu said...

Great question and fantastic response! Thanks for the reminder!

Betty Canuck said...

I had a 'Dennis the Menace' type first born. He was walking by 9 months. By the first year, he was pushing tables around to get into cupboards and the stuff we piled up to prevent from destruction of his little hands. By 18 months I had packed most of the remainder of my 'precious' items up and given to my mother for safe keeping. A flood at her house destroyed the stuff my son did not.

There were many times when I felt defeated in my desire for a 'home.'

I guess the thing that kept me sane was in my replacement strategy. I shopped at the dollar store, the thrift stores and such. Nothing cost much. That way, when I was sweeping up yet another broken item I could shrug it off a lot easier because it was only $1 gone and not my precious wedding gift from my Great Aunt in Holland.

I put all our fancy dishes away and slowly pulled together a very stylish set of patio dishes. So setting the table every day did look nice. The placemats served to protect the table from banging knives and forks. The napkins were handy for spills.

Baskets and cupboard doors meant that my decor feature of plastic thrift store toys could be put away when the phone warned of a visitor. True, the bottom 5 shelves our bookshelves were bare and everything piled upon the top two shelves. But the fact that they were screwed into the walls meant they were safe.

Perhaps the focus isn't on the extra's at this point. The focus can be on the essentials. Make what you use every day pretty and yet functional.

And give yourself permission to find a hobby that you can 'protect' from little hands that allows you to feed your need for creativity and beauty. Something that doesn't require a lot of supplies and that can handle the grabbing an pulling of a toddler would be my choices, like knitting or crochetting!

Last, keep in mind that this is a season. It really is. I had a hard time with that, but my youngest is now 5 and I can tell you that we are out of the mess and destruction and I have lots of beautiful and pretty things. My children really appreciate them now and it is a joy to teach them!

Anonymous said...

Songbirdy, thank you for those concrete examples. You had a better answer for our anonymous than I did, especially about making the essentials beautiful. Well said!

I share your opinion on inexpensive things. Because everything I own is secondhand, I don't sweat a broken item every once in a while.

Mothers of many, I'd love to hear your thoughts! I lose credibility since I have only had 2 children so far.

Ann @TheAssetEdge said...

I love your quote, "a mom who sometimes has her act together, sometimes not." I think I feel that way everyday!

Congratulations on finishing the luncheon for your husband. How nice it must be for teachers to be blessed by a lovely home-cooked meal!

Anonymous said...

Great post!

As someone who has been working toward a much more frugal lifestyle, another tip I would add is: start slowly. Don't go nuts right away as you will overwhelm yourself.

Pick an area to focus on and go from there. Eventually you will have taught yourself how to look at anything and ask yourself, "Is there a better (less expensive) way of doing this?" You will make it a challenge and it is fun!


*carrie* said...


Thank you for this nice post. You are full of creative, lovely and practical ideas!

Anonymous said...

Meredith, as always this was a great post. It is so nice to hear a mother's perspective who loves her children, wants to be with them, and isn't just trying to "survive" them, but also enjoy them. I always leave your blog refreshed and encouraged as a mother to make my home a happy, calm, place to be. As the mother of three boys, sometimes I mistakenly think that they won't care about nice details or a well set table...but they do, and i always feel so much better when those details are in place. Thank you again, Meredith, for renewing my vision for my home and family.

Lee said...

I, too, am a mom of two, with the next due September 15. I have a very good friend who often tells me "Someday are to be counted successful if everyone survives." With one preschooler, one toddler and one in utero, I would echo the sentiment. Somedays you should focus on the essentials and aim for survival. BECAUSE- There will be many days that you will find the time and energy have been given to you to fill your children's world with energy and creativity.

Meredith, your blog is inspirational to me and I find many posts that I print and file so those days where I feel I can take on a little more, I can advance to the next step. :) With the goal always being pleasing the Lord and drawing my child to him first and the rest second. Blessings.

Alexandra said...

Amen to flow, tuning in is important. It won't work if you are not. You'll just be swimming upstream.

Anonymous said...

You know, all of you are right. Sometimes it is just not the time to be too 'frilly' as my sweet husband calls me at times, but just enough that you give the family a warm dinner and a pleasant place to be. I am the mother of 2 boys, now I have 2 grandsons who live with me and I have ALWAYS wanted a daughter. For as long as I can remember I dreamed of doing things, wonderful things with a daughter of my own. It was not to be. God sent me boys. So I just trust God and go on. He gave me a grand daughter so now my dream has come true. I digress...I guess what I feel sometimes is the need to have 'girly' things around. Something besides blue jeans and T-shirts. I take the time to set the table with a cloth, cloth napkins, and our nice dishes because it helps me feel good as a woman. I am a busy person. I have a day care business open 11 hours a day. I clean and cook for this day care at least an hour more each day. So I understand busy and not having time to do things for myself and my home. Sometimes you just have to MAKE the time. I do this by not watching TV at night. I would rather read a good book or work on a quilting project. Sometimes you have to let one thing go, (for me TV) to make something else work.
Thanks for the blog. As always it is an inspiration. Roxie

Kim said...

I love the idea of just trying it one day a week. I tend to get caught up in the black and white. Thanks for reminding us that there are a million acceptable shades of gray too!

Anonymous said...

"The more often you make an effort, the easier it gets."

I couldn't agree with this more. I don't have kids, but find this 100% true as far as cooking for my husband and I and entertaining guests. The first few dinner parties we had were exhausting, now it's old hat.

Someone Beautiful said...

This was another encouraging post. I get what anon said about feeling too overwhelmed, and what I find works is to just try to do one nice thing at a time. Trying to stay ahead on the little things works too-such as keeping laundry going anytime there is a load to wash. (Dirty play clothes go straight to the machine to soak and as the machine is filled later in the day, it gets turned on). I really like what Roxie said about making time for the things you really want to do by cutting out something else. Many of us don't have much time for TV anyway. One thing that works for me when it seems there is nothing to cut is to get more sleep! It is not a habit yet, but I see it working when I do it. By getting the sleep I need, I have more energy and enthusiam to get all the important things done-faster! :) Another thing I like to do, but don't do enough, is to speedily and thoroughly get a task done, knowing that later I will be able to do something creative and beautiful-or at least enjoy a nice shower and go to bed at a decent hour. :)

Anonymous said...

Another thing to consider is that some people just HAVE to express their is just bursting to come out. If you saw the movie "Amadeu" about Mozart, you could see that the music was swimming around in his head and he just had to put it on paper. Some of us just aren't that creative in an aesthetic sense and it is an effort to do some of these things. We do have other gifts, however. I appreciate the feeling of laundry caught up, for example,and I strive to accomplish things like that, but it's an effort to cut flowers from my garden and stick them in a vase.

Rebecca said...

Another great post! I am a mother of two girls with a third {boy this time} on the way. Somedays it is all I can do to get through the day. However, I like what Songbirdy commented: The focus can be on the essentials. Make what you use every day pretty and yet functional. I guess the point is that just start with the daily items & make those things pretty & orderly, then you can move on to the "extras". I love the feeling that order & beauty bring to our homelife! Thanks again for the thoughts!

3boysmama said...

Anon:(at 1:13) I completely agree with you! You expressed it well. I feel like I'm creative, just in different ways. My home is relatively clean and inviting, but I would never spend time with a decoratign book. That just sounds like a chore to me and overwhelming. The same reason I don't scrapbook. Too overwhelming. Now I do like the sewing machine. To others that may seem overwhelming.

And I still don't know how Meredith does it at a thrift shop with two kids!!!

Unknown said...

As a mom who has raised her kids and is now raising a step daughter, I can tell you that these days when your kids are young are very fleeting. It may seem like the days last forever and you will never do anything more exciting than wipe noses and change diapers, but like someone else said, it's a season.

While I agree you can do lots of little things to make your home cozy and pretty, realize as well that after the children grow up you'll have lots of time to do home things. To thrift for pretty plates and reusable lace.

One thing I did when my kids were little was to make sure they all took their naps at the same time. Then I could spend that time knitting or sewing. I always felt like I should have been cleaning or doing something for 'the family', but truthfully, I needed that creative time for me, in order to do the things I did. I see that now!

Most importantly, don't let it be overwhelming to you to create prettiness. Do it with a stack of freshly folded towels as suggested. Put some ripe red apples in a yellow bowl, or the zuchinni from the garden or the store in a green glass loaf pan. The fun is - to use what you have... in different ways.

But do treasure this time, it goes by fast.


Anonymous said...

Your post and the comments it generated were terrific and helpful. As
a Mom
to nine children, I could completely relate to the reader's question.
only remark I could add to the conversation is to recommend that the
start with prayer. Then she could observe her husband carefully and
try to
figure out what is most important to him in his home--or ask him
One man might despise clutter but doesn't mind eating cold cereal for
while another man longs for a good dinner even in the midst of happy
If she observes and prays, she is at a good place to begin.

It is hard to guard against, try to avoid pining away for things that
cannot have at this time. It is very easy to read blogs and want to do
everything that others are doing: sewing cloth diapers, homeschooling,
gourmet cooking, vintage thrifting, writing ebooks, starting a home
business. It's hard to remember that you can't do everything--in fact,
are not all called to do everything. That is why it is important to
work in
tandem with her husband. Together they will build the family life and
that is needed for their unique family and situation--not one that
the latest homemaking blog trend.


Anonymous said...

2boysmama: I don't have the desire to scrapbook either! That's funny. I REALLY feel in the minority on that one!

roseyg said...

I stumbled on your website as i was wondering how to occupy my 3 wonderful but oh, so energetic kids. They're 7, 5 and 3. It's comforting to know that I'm not the only one just trying to "survive" everyday. I'm lucky that my husband is not too fussy about super neat home as mine sometimes looks like a hurricane has just passed through! This is especially true at the end of the school term when i normally bring my work home with me (I'm a teacher). Thanks Meredith for reminding me that a happy family is more important than being a supermom.

roseyg said...

I stumbled on your website as i was wondering how to occupy my 3 wonderful but oh, so energetic kids. They're 7, 5 and 3. It's comforting to know that I'm not the only one just trying to "survive" everyday. I'm lucky that my husband is not too fussy about super neat home as mine sometimes looks like a hurricane has just passed through! This is especially true at the end of the school term when i normally bring my work home with me (I'm a teacher). Thanks Meredith for reminding me that a happy family is more important than being a supermom.

Betsy said...

I know this post is way old, but I thought I'd comment anyway! You should check out Hidden Art by Edith Schaeffer (maybe you mention it in another article). Anyway, it showcases so many ways to enrich your family's lives by building on simple talents/supplies you already have...