Less is more. A decluttering story.

Regularly filling donation bins has become a pastime
Regularly filling donation bins has become a pastime

We have been on a quest to create space and organisation in our challenging home for two years.

We moved into college accommodation (3 storey townhouse with little to no storage space, and a tiny backyard) two years ago this month.  Term for my husband started almost immediately. Our youngest child was due to be born in 6-7 months. There was time for unpacking what we could, find what we needed immediately, and ‘the rest’ stayed in either boxes stored in the ‘study’ (the top floor landing area), under the stairs (a cupboard filled with dread in every house we have ever lived in, with or without stairs) or stored in my inlaws’ shed. We also had a massive wooden wardrobe stored in their shed, again filled with items we decided we did not immediately need.

In a three storey house, with 5 or 6 children learning at home… one rarely visits the top floor save for getting out of bed in the morning, and going to bed at night. Certainly the Study never reached its potential.

The challenges of a large family, together all the time, in such a difficult-for-us- home took their toll on our family in many ways.

We had a few holidays away from home, thanks mainly to generous offers from friends, or the occasional splurge on a week in a holiday house while the money was still there.

Our efforts turned from organisation to decluttering. We started to look at what we had in boxes, and knew we had too much. We also started to notice that we felt so amazing in those holiday cottages, without most of our ‘things’ and enough clothes to last us only a week.

After our own efforts and ideas ran out, we turned to a professional. We hired Rebecca Mezzino from Clear Space Organising Services for a two hour consultation. It was the advice and missing pieces we needed. We had advice on how to put our house ‘on a diet’ and received some real encouragement about our efforts to date. After that meeting we started to work on the strategies we had discussed – re-evaluating what we owned, looking at ‘prime real estate’ in our home, working out what was needed to make high traffic areas more successful and also accepting that we can never achieve perfection but need our place to be functional and give us a feeling of more space.

It turns out that we found decluttering addictive. We began to really notice our productivity, mental health and organisation sky rocketing in the areas that we were working on. We took the advice we had received from Rebecca and instead of a kind of ‘new year’s resolution trip to IKEA’ to buy more storage, we put a block on any spending for organising.

There were so many immediate benefits and there were others we had not anticipated. We began to stem the flow of anything coming into the house. Around the same time we were still receiving donations of bags of clothing or toys from well meaning acquaintances and sometimes friends. We let very little into the house, and passed on what we did not immediately love or need to use. We were also daily piling up bags and bags and more bags and boxes of clothes, toys, books that we knew we wanted to live without.

I have always believed in setting children up for success. So our view on toys and tidying for example, has always involved having a system that was easy for the children to manage, reach, and when things were too difficult for them to deal with, reducing the amount immediately available – either by rotating toys when we had room to store, but in latter years by simply having less.

We weren’t able to sell things for a long time. We had too much of a problem on our hands, and a house that was driving us crazy. We needed to pass on as much as we could, as quickly as we could. This generally does not involve trying to sell things.

Rooms began to improve. The children were wholly on board, and enjoying their own efforts to own less, and create more space in their rooms.

Then we moved on to stage 2. Even more fun, even more space, and even more time on our hands to concentrate on what matters to us.

We have learned so much. This beginning is the tip of the iceberg.

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Even more support

Exodus 17:11-13

New International Version

11 As long as Moses held up his hands, the Israelites were winning, but whenever he lowered his hands, the Amalekites were winning. 12 When Moses’ hands grew tired, they took a stone and put it under him and he sat on it. Aaron and Hur held his hands up – one on one side, one on the other – so that his hands remained steady till sunset. 13 So Joshua overcame the Amalekite army with the sword.

It’s tiring being the eldest child. It’s tiring being the parents! No matter how many children we have, we are all tired sometimes. Not everyone has a ‘village’ behind them, or surrounding them.

One of the criticisms or painful recollections I read or hear about large families, is that too much is expected of the older children, they are expected to ‘parent’ the younger ones, and that they were not allowed to just be children.

There’s a lot in this to break down, and discussing children and chores is definitely on the menu! But how about the pressures on our eldest children to be leaders, set an example, always do better so that the younger ones can follow?

My husband and I are both eldest children. We have also taken a different road from each of our families of origin. We are in that place where we will either be tempted to overload the eldests (because in a family of 8 the dynamic of who is the eldest is a flexible one)…. Or we will be accused of it. Probably already have been.

We see leadership qualities in all of our children. Our mission statement as a family includes what we see as a call to raise the leaders of the next generation. Leaders wherever they are, whatever they are doing, and whether they are assertive and ‘out there’ or quiet, gentle leaders.

Moses was a leader who grew tired. We had read the story in a morning devotion on a day we were struggling. My eldest was struggling in particular. A late night, stresses that were upsetting him… I realised that even leaders need their arms holding up now and again. That includes us as parents, and it includes all of our children, even the eldests!

I explained to my son the significance and the meaning of the Aaron, Moses and Hur story to me that day. I assured him that it was ok that he needed his arms to be held up. We are a team. We can each hold up one another’s arms when we are weary and need help. It’s ok to be tired. It’s ok to need help to do something that we can normally do, or that is within our control or power.

Yesterday that same eldest child stepped up to his leadership qualities and held up his Daddy’s arms with the gift of a beautiful letter of encouragement and scriptures. The leader of our household needed, and had his arms held up by his eldest son, his wife, and other of his children. In fact all of the children contributed silently and without needing to be asked, in different ways. Maybe just taking the pressure off, amusing themselves, playing quietly and allowing their Daddy to study.

Today: eldest needs holding up and that’s ok. We are a team. There are even more of us to support each other. We can go with the natural ebb and flow of energy and stress levels and emotional capacity.

We all need our arms to be held up sometimes.

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Be still.

Sunday morning was busier than normal because we had to get to church early with Matthew playing in the band and the children having Sunday School before the service. So we had to leave home at 8.30am. After 20 mins of myself and the children amusing ourselves, it was time for the children to go to Sunday School.

There are not many children or young people in our church. Sunday School was run by one teacher for the beginning of the session, and when we got there my children were the only ones attending. I was expecting to stay and help / watch / let the baby crawl around. But the teacher told me to go out for a walk before church.

I had no idea what to make of that. Sometimes there’s a vibe from mainstream parents that homeschooling parents are too present… my radar detects a little of this but still, it was going to be hard to resist, and equally, there wasn’t much time to do anything good.

I checked Google maps just outside the church. As I thought, there’s nowhere to really head for around there. So I felt as though it had been sprung on me, and I would much rather have been in Sunday School. (Times have changed!). I also had no sunhat for the baby, and the pram didn’t provide a great deal of shade.

I walked quickly, after looking at the map and deciding a plan of a route was pointless. I would walk, turn round, and then walk back.

I got to a sign post for shops. Tempting (but too early!). Then I noticed across the road, a street full of Jacarandas. Eldest son turns 12 soon, and the Jacarandas point to his birthday every year.

I crossed the busy road and began walking down the Jacaranda street. I began to listen to the birdsong, enjoyed the peace, and the beautiful purple blossom. Neither of us spoke. I noticed my pace slow, and I came to a stop under a tree. Unusual for me to experience anything like this, and it was an unexpected peace. I recalled these words:

be still and know that I am God.

For the first time ever I recalled this scripture without instantly singing in my mind one of the many musical settings. I was still. The peace was from God. I’d been to a Bible study in the week, and those words were part of the prayer time but they had been muddied by music I couldn’t get out of my head, and I was frustrated to find no peace there as hoped.

I then noticed on the other side of the road, a street sign with my son’s name on it. Wow! I exclaimed aloud and went across and took a picture. Then realising the time, thought I should walk back to the church. I was feeling satisfied and peaceful. I thought I should pray for my children, for my eldest son in particular, and then I moved on to the others. I prayed other personal things too, all related to the experience. I was aware of the multi sensory experience of this mini retreat. God does not intend our senses to be segregated or our worship and prayer to be disjointed. I felt that nearly all my senses were involved in this silent retreat, this worship time that had just come to me unexpectedly and that I had actually made use of.

I walked into the church building, knowing that however sitting with 6 children, solo, in the pew, with a particularly wriggly and tired baby, turned out to be… I had had my time of refreshment and was ready for serving God and my family.

Even now, a day later, I find that the peace and the retreat have had a lasting effect. Times are challenging in our busy family this week… I am even more blessed from the retreat that took me by surprise than I thought I could ever be.

Maybe a ‘real retreat’ will happen for me one day! But for now, this is God’s provision for me, and the tiny video I took of the trees, the birdsong… is my little reminder and top up whenever I need it.

Are they all yours?!

I am asked this question just about every time we leave the house. These days it is a reminder to me to just look at my beautiful children, thank God for them, smile, and simply say that they are.

Mostly the comment (it is usually more of a comment than a question) is followed up with compliments… How beautiful they are (yes, really!) and quite often how well behaved too… That one gets me every time.

I am more uncomfortable fielding compliments about my children’s behaviour than I am about their number.

There’s no secret, there’s no trick… There’s no amazing behaviour management program. I am definitely not writing the next best seller either. I usually say thank you and assure them that we keep it together pretty well outside the house and home is the safe place where we can all make mistakes.

The truth is, that we all make more mistakes than we want to remember, and most days I go to bed remembering not my children’s behaviour but mostly my own failures. I try to do better tomorrow.

There is grace in our home. For our children, and for ourselves. I was once encouraged by the words “Grace is for mamas too”.

Grace is also for the person commenting on our family size. How many blogposts and articles I have read, with lists of snarky replies to the equally snarky questions that come with the territory of leaving the house with a large family in tow. Whatever ‘large family’ means. I have only used one of those replies once. It was a good one, and I was not in a place where I was able to field it with grace, and certainly the person in question was in a professional capacity where comments of that nature were not required. It’s not my plan to either belittle another person’s question or to laugh at my own, extravagantly blessed family.

We are called to be different. To have grace for ourselves, our children, and others… When we all least deserve it. We are ambassadors for being even more.

We are Even More.

How the blog became and how it became this is that over time, ideas have grown more and more… even more. The content was always to vary.. could never hold together entirely. Then I realised. These words, Even More… have been in the back of my mind, a sentence… for five years. These words are mine now. I have taken them and re-used them. I think of them almost daily. Always in a good way.

Those words have not always been kind. Even more has not always been my friend. Here is how those words first came to reside in our house. In my mind, subconsicous… accusations…

We had 3 children. We were living in a rented house, had just announced to our families that we would be homeschooling our eldest child for a number of reasons, any one of them valid in itself.. and then we shared the wonderful news that we were expecting another baby. Four seemed like such a friendlier number than three, which to us felt unfinished. This is where the words happened. One person’s was not good. Her words (after the initial disbelief) were that we would be neglecting the other children EVEN MORE. Even more??? Even more than what? Than we were already? We weren’t aware there was any neglecting going on in the first place. Far from it! I had given up work two babies ago to concentrate on our family and look after our children as their primary carer at home… we didn’t watch much television, cooked just about everything from scratch… we did our absolute best and we were just embarking on a journey into educating our children at home. Again from scratch. Junk food school thrown in only occasionally.

So those were the words that came to reside in our house. Even more. Two more babies later… the words were still unwelcome visitors in my head when I think about how our family has grown, and the reactions to that growth each time we have announced our joyous (to us!) news!!

Recently I was telling the story to a friend. I realised… I can take back those words! They are mine now. I have even more experience, even more children, even more to keep me busy and even more to thank the Lord for..I am learning even more about grace. Our family gives us even more joy than we ever thought possible. There is even more encouragement.  Even more to write about…

So here it will be. Life, faith, large family… and even more.