Mama Minimalist

The Evolution Of The Family Bed

We never planned to have a family bed.  Yet, parenthood never seems to go the way we plan does it? Our cosleeping setup has changed throughout the past five years and three kids.  We adapt as our needs change, and our bedroom adapts with us.  We are facing another change and our two oldest have expressed interest in having their own beds.

We began with my first daughter, Libby, in a moses basket beside us.  As I learned more about attachment parenting and we struggled to breastfeed she joined us in the bed.  She was a snuggle bug, and loved to sleep cradled up to her daddy.  Less then two years later our second daughter, Julianna, joined our family and we added a twin mattress next to our bed for Libby.

Julianna wasn’t as interested in snuggles as Libby was, but she did like to have mom within reaching distance as her “security blanket” was holding a strand of my hair.  She moved to a second twin bed next to ours.

The girls have had independent phases where they are okay sleeping nearby, and they have had phases where they needed to be next to us all night.  Especially Libby, she craves that sensory input at night in order to sleep well and body pillows and sleeping bags are not as effective.  We had an additional full bed in a second room for those times, or just for extra privacy and space.

After we had this setup for some time, and had already added in our third daughter, Éowyn, we all took a trip to visit family.  While we were gone our cat decided to use Julianna’s bed as a litter box.  The bed had to be thrown away and I happened to discover that two full beds fit perfectly against one wall of our room.

This is our favorite co-sleeping setup.  We have one bedroom for sleeping and clothing and the other two are free for living.  Two beds together is actually more sleeping space because you can utilize the edges  without worrying about falling off.  With the mattresses on the floor it is very cozy and extra safe for Éowyn (who unlike most babies will crawl off the bed in the middle of the night).

Just two beds has been the perfect set up in our family for several years. Recently we have needed to expand to accommodate some of the girls’ particular needs.  Éowyn has a mini-crib for her naps.  She is such an active sleeper and with two other kids I can’t nap with her to keep her on the bed.  Julianna has moved into a toddler bed in her own room.  (This bed converts back into a crib and we have plans to adopt out of the foster system, so we will need it in a few years anyway.) She may want to stay there, or she may want to come back. Libby likes to try new things and sleep in a different place every night.  Even if they are done bedsharing and it’s time to move a bed out, we have treasured the extra cuddles and are excited to see the girls growing up.

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Tiny House Facination

I am fascinated by tiny houses and I keep trying to convince my husband to move our family of five into a Tumbleweed home.

This summer we had the opportunity to stay in a 20 foot yurt while Edward did some work for a client.  Even though the yurt was small and there were five of us it felt roomy because of the high ceiling with a window and the windows on all sides.  I loved having windows on each side and in the ceiling and being able to watch the sun and the moon cross the sky even while inside.

I believe a Tumbleweed home would feel more crowded for us then a yurt because they tend to have a cozy feel instead of a wide open feel.   We examined the way the yurt was built and committed it to memory.  It is something we would be able to construct ourselves, and we plan to make one.

Even though we live in a “small” house of only 880 square feet we only use a fraction of it and the rest is for holding stuff that we only keep really because the house feels too empty without it. It was pretty amazing to be able to stay in a space that was the right size for our needs

I’m so thankful to experience what I’ve been thinking about for so long, and realize that it is truly something that I want to do, and something my family is open to as well.

What a Baby Needs: A Minimalist Approach

A common question from expecting parents is “what do I need to get for baby?”  I know I asked it when I was pregnant with my first child and again with my second, and even my third.  The answer changed for me with each pregnancy. Not because I already had everything, but because I realized I needed less.  I realized that my babies really had very few needs, a place to sleep, something to eat, clothes and diapers to wear, and to learn and explore.  I also discovered that by attachment parenting I didn’t need as many materialistic things to care for my infants.

A Place to Sleep

The most popular choice is in a crib.  I chose to exclusively co-sleep with my first two daughters.  We did not own a crib. I did a lot of research about infant sleep and how to co-sleep safely. By co-sleeping I saved my sanity with a high maintenance baby. My third daughter needed to nap in a crib because she rolled around so much in her sleep, but I did not have the budget for a new crib.  We did not want to purchase a used crib due to safety concerns, so we chose a mini crib for her.  These are small enough to fit through a doorway, but has a multi-height mattress to accommodate different ages (unlike a bassinet). This was not only cheaper, but smaller, easier to store, and more versatile.

Something to Eat

Feeding a baby can involve lots of items or very few.  With my first daughter we had trouble nursing.  I had several types of bottles and nipples, bottle brushes, formula, several breast pumps (and all their pieces), tubing for at the breast supplementation, cups, syringes, ice packs and coolers, and bags to carry it all. Breastfeeding went more smoothly with my second and third daughters and now my only baby feeding paraphernalia are nursing pads.

Once my girls starts solids I like to have a high chair, although they sit on my lap and eat from my plate most often.  Practicing baby-led solids meant I did not need any special equipment for making pureed baby food, or spend the money on expensive jar food. My daughters all prefer to feed themselves when we start solids and can effectively use utensils and eat without a mess by the time they reach their first year.

Something to Wear

I needed fewer clothes for my first two daughters.  My third daughter is a dirt magnet and loves to play in her food and needs to be changed a few times a day.  We also use more clothes in cold weather because we layer.  Because she was a winter baby I ended up using 4-8 pairs of onesies and socks, a coat, a pair of Robeez shoes,  4-8 play outfits, and 1-2 dress up outfits. This allows me to do laundry once or twice a week without having a mountain build up or running short.

Diapering with disposables can be easy and we started out with disposables and a changing table set up with my first. I prefer cloth and have tried just about every kind.  My personal favorite diapers are flats and one size covers because I can use the same covers and diapers from the newborn stage to toddlerhood with my youngest, potty training for my preschooler, and overnight diapering for all of them including my 5 year old.  I find 4-6 covers and 2 dozen diapers is plenty for all three girls. I have since passed along the changing table.  New babies are easier to change on top of a diaper on the bed, and there is no chance for my wiggly toddlers to fall off the bathroom floor.

Learning and Growing

All of my children have had strong needs to be close by a caregiver the majority of the time.  I have chosen to fill that need through baby wearing.  My first daughter would cry frantically unless she was held. I wear my babies almost exclusively for the first few months. Once they start sitting and crawling they start using a few basic toys.  My daughters have been happy during their first year or so with blocks, a stacking ring, a doll and some books.  (Although my youngest loves to tear books right now!) Of course they also love to explore the house and yard, and to be included in the day to day tasks.  My nine month old currently loves to “help” me in the kitchen with a spoon and a cup or pan to bang and roll.

I started out as a new parent overwhelmed by all the things I thought I would need for a baby, but after having three I’ve realized that the needs of babies are straightforward and don’t require a lot of items.  My parenting style makes the biggest in the amount of stuff required during the first year or two.  I am very glad to have chosen to practice attachment parenting both for the tangible and intangible benefits, not only do I get more baby snuggles, and a  close connection to my children but it also meshes well with my minimalist life style.

Minimalist Gardening

I enjoy gardening but I also enjoy living simply without a lot of clutter.  I have found that a few tools have been indispensable in the garden and that I don’t need a lot to plant good food at home. Here are the tools I like to have on hand:

Shovel 

I use my shovel for preparing beds, planting trees shoveling snow, turning my compost, spreading compost, and cleaning up after the chickens, goats and dog.  I wouldn’t know what to do without it!

Rake

I have a leaf rake and in the fall I use it for leaves, but during the rest of the year I use to for spreading straw in the animal pen and for spreading mulch around the garden.

Pruning Shears

I use these for trimming trees and bushes, taking plant clippings and breaking up larger sticks to go in the compost.

Five Gallon Buckets

I find buckets to be the most versatile tool.  I plant in them and have a vermiculture bin in them. They also carry soil, weeds, mulches, compost, and water and can go anywhere unlike the wheelbarrow I used to have.

Hoses

And of course garden hoses are wonderful tools. I didn’t have enough this year and did a lot of watering with a bucket.  Having garden hoses for watering really saves your back and makes it go much faster!

It doesn’t take many tools to get started with a successful garden and because these are almost constantly in use, I don’t feel bad about adding them into my possessions.

Taming Toy Clutter

It was a cesspool, a green slimy cesspool of random doll house furniture, colored pencils, barbies, kitchen utensils,  clumps of soggy paper, and mosquito larvae all contained in a plastic wading pool.

My daughters called it their cake.

It sat there for a week before I managed to fish everything out, clean what could be salvaged and quietly throw away the broken pencils and paper clumps.

Something clicked inside of me.  I couldn’t stand it anymore. I couldn’t keep up with the toys, the art projects, the mess. I was spending more time cleaning up then I was playing with the kids.  And they weren’t even noticing when I fell behind.  The toys had to go, but they weren’t mine to give away.

I finally made an executive household decision.  We would have winter toys and summer toys.  I packed up the majority of the books, stuffed animals, and random bits and pieces into black garbage bags and placed them in the garage.

At first Julianna (three years old) was upset. She thought I was giving them away.  I explained we would get them out this winter when it was too rainy to play outside all day.  It would be like a toy store in our garage.  Libby (almost five) liked the sound of that and helped pack them up.  The bags sat in the garage for a week almost unopened.   During that time the girls asked for two items out of them, a plastic pony and a Ikea tunnel.  I removed the requested items and put the rest into the rafters for the next few months.

They now each have a baby doll, two stuffed cats and a ball in their backpacks. Their dollhouse with a handful dolls and a few furniture pieces is all that is in their room. They also have bikes and the swing set outside, the kitchenette with about half the toy food and dishes, their musical instruments, books, crayons, paper, and scissors, and Éowyn has a basket of blocks, a ball, and stacking rings.

I love it.  I can pick up the house and yard in about 15  minutes.  These are their favorite toys and they play with everything almost every day.  I could go even more minimal with the toys but there are a few reasons why I think what I left is important.

  • It’s not mine.  These are all things the kids love and use and I need to respect the fact that minimalism is not their value.
  • Our home is their classroom.  We are unschooling and I think it’s important for them to have the ability todiscover new activities, broaden their interests, and experiment.
  • Sharing can be hard.  I left them plenty of each item because there has to be enough for all three of them to play simultaneously. I want each child to feel like there is an abundance to go around. For example, we have extra ride on toys so that when the neighbor kids join us we can freely share.
  • They have different interests.  Each child has different needs and toys that fill those needs.  Libby needs to move and run.  We have throwing, swinging, riding toys for her.  Julianna needs to imagine and play act.  The dollhouses, kitchen and stuffed animals are what she uses the most. Éowyn wants to be into everything, and eat everything.  She needs those classic baby toys that can be dumped, rolled, banged, and drooled all over.

It’s hard for me to look at those two big bags of toys in the rafters and not just put them on the curb.  A big part of me hopes when we pull them down this winter the girls will decide they don’t want to keep many of the things inside.  I don’t think that will happen though, because they like their stuff.

Right now we have a workable solution but I know it isn’t long term.  We will have to find other compromises. Even though I am the primary caretaker of these items, they need to be important to me because they are important to the people I love.

Balancing Needs Through a Basic Routine

I tend to be a methodical person.  I tend to do things in the same order each day.  If I vary from my small patterns I  tend to feel ungrounded, lost, and distracted. Five years ago when I had my first child, all my simple rituals were thrown out of whack.  I distinctly remember crying one morning because all I wanted to do was brush my teeth and my hair but I was nursing or walking the baby without a break.

I was trying hard to be the perfect mother.  I was dedicated to attachment parenting.  I would do anything for my child, but I still had needs too and I didn’t understand how to fill both my needs and hers.  Now that my third child is almost 9 months old, I’m starting to feel like I have this mothering thing down.  (Hopefully everyone else figures it out a bit faster!) I’ve stopped trying to be the perfect mother, and I’m allowing myself to be ME.

One of the things I’ve accepted about myself is that my day cannot be 100% child led.  It’s simply impossible for me to be with three children in three different places all at the same time.  I’ve had to create a rhythm to our days just to take care of everyone’s needs and I love it.  I’m thriving.  I had been following my children’s cues to the exclusion of my own and it was wearing me down. Getting back in balance has been a beautiful thing.

Here is the flow of our day:

  • Wake up and get dressed and ready (I try to beat the kids by a few minutes at least!)
  • Get the girls a snack while baby and I head out to feed the animals
  • Breakfast, cleanup and prep lunch
  • Playtime!
  • Lunch, cleanup and dinner prep
  • Rest (baby sleeps, girls watch a show, and I do some writing)
  • Snack, cleanup and dinner prep (if needed)
  • Playtime!
  • Dinner, cleanup
  • Pick up house
  • Playtime!
  • Evening snack, pajamas, and bedtime stories

The girls often will help me prepare and clean up our meals, but they are free to run off and play if they want.  They know it will only take me a couple minutes to wash up the meal and are old enough now that they can wait if they need some help. The baby has toys in the kitchen with me.

While I wrote playtime, it can also be project time.  For example, we all went into the garden and planted some seeds, and then the girls splashed around while I did some watering. Yesterday we all got washcloths and wiped down the refrigerator. I try to make my work fun and include the kids as well as join them in their activities.

Because I’m picking up as we go along and cleaning up the kitchen it never gets out of hand, and I’m able to prepare most of our food from scratch without stress.  I used to head into the kitchen around 4 or 5 every afternoon and we would all feel stressed and grouchy while I tried to cook dinner. Now I am with them during our “down” part of the day.

Also, there are always snacks available for the kids to grab when they want. I prepare them along with the meals. This means they don’t have to feel pressured to eat at meal times if they really aren’t hungry and it saves me cooking 4 different meals at different times of the day or having to cope with hungry grouchy children.

It seems so simple, so basic, but it’s taken me 5 years to figure it out.

What do your days look like?  Are there any simple changes you’ve made that have made a huge difference in the feel of your day?

Manifesto

Make room for what’s important.  Sometimes what is important is not what it seems to be at first glance.

My way is not your way.  Accept where others are with grace, including on the floor in a screaming heap.

Mine is yours.  Give more. Even that which I only have a little.  This includes my time, especially the time I spend cleaning up messes in the bathroom.

Assume the best in people, even when shoes are being chucked at my head from the back seat.

Pay attention to the small moments. They are what make the biggest difference.

More is not necessarily better.  Be content with what is.

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