Ditch The To Do List

All my life I have been a to-do-list-aholic. I’ve always had at least one on the go for most of my adult life, filled with a mixture of must-dos, should-dos, want-to-dos, and basically any task I thought might be a good idea, regardless of whether I had time to actually do them or not.  I thought it was a sure-fire route to becoming a highly effective person. I loved crossing off items on my list as I completed them, but it was rare that I ever ticked off all the items before starting a new list.

Just before I had baby number 2 in February, I ticked off the final item in my last ever to-do list. Let’s be honest, when you have a small baby you can’t get much done (unless you are very lucky and have one of those magical sleeping babies), and having a long list of tasks you don’t have the time or energy for in the back of your mind is not really helpful for making the most of the time with your baby.

My new approach is this: basically, I either deal with stuff straight away, or it doesn’t get done. I’ve found if I let things pile up I just never have a large enough chunk of time to deal with it. So I try and do things as soon as they come up. That way I never get too far behind with anything. For example I try to put dirty dishes in the dishwasher straight after a meal, rather than letting them pile up on the side.  If I’m checking my emails, I archive every email after I’ve read it (and dealt with it if necessary).  If things are important enough, they get done, and if they’re not, they can be done another day.

The only exception I make is, sometimes I make a short list of tasks I need to do when my eldest is at preschool. Because otherwise I walk back in the front door and my mind goes blank, and I spend the morning pottering around the house, and then remember eleventy things I really needed to do as soon as it’s pick up time again.  But if I don’t get everything done I throw the list away.

I’ve definitely found this approach helps me be a bit more present with my two daughters. I have a daily routine of chores I try to get done but beyond that I just try to be available to them. This has helped me deal with the realities of having 2 small children as having a big task list would just be a stick to beat myself over the head with. My priorities at the moment are a) keeping everyone alive, b) making sure the baby gets enough sleep and c) making sure I have plenty of quality time with my preschooler.  I’ve found the best way to achieve this is to be as flexible as possible and ignore the jobs I want to do around the house.  The children won’t be small for long and in a few months I’ll have more time to work on those projects.

And at the end of the day when they are tucked up in bed, I’m not starting on a list of jobs, I’m allowing myself time to relax, read, watch TV or even just go to bed early. I need to make sure my own cup is filled before I can look after anyone else’s needs. And what task is more important than that?



Back in January I set myself a buy nothing new challenge.  I haven’t been 100% successful with that, but over the past 4 months my focus has changed and now I’m making simplicity a priority in my life as a whole, not just with regards to shopping.  Here are the areas I am trying to simplify:

House: Although I failed at the buy nothing new challenge, I am still trying to stem the flow of new items into the house by shopping more mindfully.  If I need or want something I try and find something we already own to fulfil that need, borrow it, or buy it second hand.  However I have a very limited amount of free time and sometimes I feel it makes more sense to just go to the shops or order it online, and use my time for something else.  On the other hand, I am trying to declutter our house like crazy.  In particular I’m trying to clear out clothes, toys, books, excess arts and crafts materials, baby items (as we stop using them) as well as general household clutter.

Diet: Food is a big priority for me, as I find that what I eat makes a huge difference to how I feel, plus I also enjoy cooking and eating delicious food.  My focus is on eating simple, real foods like vegetables, fruit, meat, fish, nuts and seeds most of the time, and less processed food.  I am also mostly wheat, gluten and dairy free.

Mindfulness: Being at home with two small children is really hard work, but can be really enjoyable too.  I want to make the most of this time as I know I will miss it when it is gone.  I have found that practising mindfulness helps me stay present with my two girls and enjoy the little things more, as well as feeling calmer and less stressed in general, having more patience and losing my temper less.

Media: Does anyone else find media, especially social media, totally addictive?  Let’s face it, taking care of little people can be quite boring sometimes, and it is tempting to reach for distractions, especially when you can access the whole of the internet from a device that fits in your back pocket.  But I restrict how much screen time my 3 year old daughter has, and I feel I need to be a good role model to her and apply the same rule to myself.  I also don’t want her to feel that my phone is more important to me than she is.  It’s hard to find the right balance – I like to have something to read or look at while my eldest is at preschool and the baby is asleep in the sling so that I don’t go completely insane, but it’s addictive and I find myself looking at my phone all the time, just to check whether I’ve got any messages or notifications.

What am I hoping to achieve by simplifying my life?  More time, more money, more space, more freedom, more happiness and more enjoyment.

Finding Time for Mindfulness

When you are a mum there isn’t much time for formal meditation. However even the busiest person can find time for mindfulness. Mindfulness is like meditation on the go. I find since I have started practising mindfulness whenever I remember I have more energy, I am able to be more patient, I lose my temper less and I enjoy the little things more. I also find it easier to be present and pay attention to the here and now rather than seeking distraction (e.g. Facebook, checking email etc).

Here are my favourite ways to practise mindfulness and being present whilst looking after my 2 young children:
– on a walk paying attention to the sights, sounds and smells around instead of being on autopilot
– eating or drinking mindfully, paying attention to the taste and texture of what I am eating/drinking, even if just for a couple of bites
– take a deep breath and release any tension that has built up in my body through the day
– focus fully on any mundane, repetitive task I am doing, telling myself over and over ‘I am washing up/chopping/hanging out washing’ to help keep my mind present
– look out the window for a minute
– focusing on my breathing for a moment

My practice is very imperfect and I am no Zen master but it all helps. I think of it as a mini-break for my mind, a moment of peace from the chaos around me and in my own head.

What are your favourite ways to practise mindfulness?

Buy Nothing New: January

This year I have challenged myself to buy nothing new, as a way to simplify and break some bad habits like hoarding and buying things ‘just in case’.  The first month is up now and it’s really been surprisingly easy.  Although perhaps that is to be expected after the extravagance and shopping-fest that is Christmas.  Of the few things I have bought new, most have been on my exceptions list (e.g. wool to finish a crochet baby blanket, nursing bras).  The only other things I have bought new have been things that would have been impossible to find used, like a pair of toddler-safe scissors (as my little girl was distraught when hers broke) and home birth essentials like a birth pool liner.  I did very nearly cheat as we decided to get a single sofa bed (for guests and possibly hubby).  I thought it would be too difficult or time consuming to find one as I wanted to make sure we bought it before baby arrives, but I was lucky enough to find someone selling a good-quality one second-hand in my village, and we were able to pick it up the next day!  So I have learnt that I shouldn’t jump to conclusions, and at least try to find things used.

There have also been some things that I have made a conscious decision *not* to buy, used or otherwise.  Our kitchen tongs and turkey baster have both broken, and I reckon we can survive without those – a knife and fork will do for turning sausages and a spoon for the rare occasions we will be roasting something that needs basting.  I also decided not to buy any more things for the baby, even though I felt that we needed some more bedding just to be on the safe side.  I am noticing this is a really bad habit that will take some work to break, but at least I am becoming more aware of it now.  As it turns out, a friend had a clear out and gave us some more baby clothes and blankets, so we probably still have more than we need, but less than what I would have bought ordinarily.  Next, my husband has one of those book clubs at his work and we often get sucked into buying whatever kids’ books they have on offer because they always seem like such a good deal.  However, I would guess that we already have at least 100 children’s books, and we go to the library regularly, so there is really no need to buy anything more.  And finally, I have resisted buying any children’s magazines (a walk to the shop to buy a magazine and then read it together is a good way to fill an afternoon that is dragging).  I have kept all the ones we have bought in the past so we have re-read them and discovered that there are activities in them that my 3-year-old can now do that were too difficult before, or ones that we just never got around to doing, so we have kept ourselves busy doing those instead.

On the flipside I have been taking advantage of my nesting urges and cleared out even more clutter.  The amount of stuff I have found, and am continuing to find, that I can get rid of so easily, is a real eye-opener.  I’ve managed to get rid of so much junk that we’ve even been able to get rid of an entire piece of furniture that we were using for storage!  It’s making me realise how much we have bought mindlessly in the past, which is reinforcing my determination not to buy anything new.

Looking forward to February, I think the biggest challenge will be lack of time and energy, as our baby is due any day now.  This could be an advantage, as I’m pretty sure I’ll be too tired and busy to think about shopping.  But it could also be a disadvantage, as I might suddenly decide after yet another poo-nami explosion that actually, we do need more sheets (am I a little obsessed with sheets right now???), and will I have the energy to resist and just do yet another load of washing and drying?

How Much Stuff is Enough?

I’m 36 weeks pregnant and nesting instinct has well and truly kicked in.  Over the Christmas break we have brought all the baby stuff (from our first daughter) down from the loft and I’ve been getting the nursery ready.  It’s really made me realise how much unnecessary stuff we acquired first time around.  And it’s also made me rethink my ideas about what is ‘enough’, both in terms of baby stuff and in general.

For my first daughter, one of my friends had had a daughter 6 months previously and she very kindly lent us lots of baby clothes as her little girl grew out of them.  We also bought some clothes for our baby ourselves, of course, and we were given some as presents too.  We have since returned all the clothes that we borrowed, and yet we still have more than enough baby clothes left, without needing to buy a single thing!

I also found that we have lost a bag of baby sheets and blankets somewhere in the mists of time loft.  My first urge was to rush out and buy some more, but I can’t do that because I have challenged myself to buy nothing new this year.  And under my self-imposed rules, even buying second hand is the last resort.  So I have looked again at what we have.  We did manage to find some bedding, and we have been lent some more.  And I’ve realised that actually, we probably do have just about enough already, it’s just not in matching sets.  So I’m going to let go of my perfectionism and make do with what we’ve got.

It’s a baby step in the right direction I think, but I need to apply it to all areas of my life and home.  I have a terrible habit of buying things ‘just in case’ and hoarding things I don’t really need because they might come in handy one day.  This applies to food, clothes, craft materials, stationery, all sorts.  I have been decluttering the past few months but I’ve still got a long way to go.  I’ve got rid of a lot of the pre-baby clutter (abandoned craft projects and materials, clothes and shoes I no longer wear, hundreds of books and CDs, etc), but slowly and surely our house is filling up again with new, kid-related clutter, mainly toys, toys and more toys.

There are some people who manage to live with just 100 (or less) personal possessions, like Leo Baubuta and A Guy Named Dave.  I was going to say this is unachievable when you have young kids but then I discovered Single Mom Enough.  Wow.  So inspiring, and makes me realise that I’m just a beginner when it come to simplicity and being content with what you have.

What is ‘enough’ for you?  Do you/could you live with just 100 things?

Enjoy More With Less in 2014

I’m not a big fan of new year’s resolutions – I think if you want to make a change in your life, do it now instead of waiting for a day on the calendar to arrive – but I have some changes I want to make that happens to coincide with the start of the new year.

I’ve read 2 books recently, Simplicity Parenting and Buddhism for Mothers, which have really given me a renewed interest in living simply, as I feel it will benefit my whole family. I’m also a regular reader of 2 blogs I find really inspiring, Miss Minimalist, which shares stories from people who live a minimalist lifestyle (or are working towards it) and Zen Habits, which has practical advice for living simply. However the Christmas season and all its excesses have made me realise that I’m living far from my ideals.

So I’d like 2014 to be a year of less – buying less and doing less, in order to enjoy more. I live in a house full of stuff with a head full of distractions, with physical and mental clutter taking up too much of my time and energy.

I’d like to do The Compact again. This is a commitment to buy nothing new, for an entire year (with some exceptions). I’ve done it before, several years ago (for 6 months) and it really reset my attitude towards buying stuff. I don’t go shopping a lot, but since having K I’ve got into bad habits of buying too much stuff for her, too many toys, clothes, books etc, and often too much food (for some reason, having lots of food in the cupboard makes me feel secure). I want to teach her that materialism is not a path to happiness, and instead the way to contentment is being satisfied with what you have. It’s also partly down to environmental concerns, I just don’t think our constant need to buy more and more stuff is sustainable (watch The Story of Stuff). And it will make things a little easier financially, while I’m not at work and with another mouth to feed.

I’m also going to stop using distractions, which just eat up so much time, and as a mother ‘time’ is something that is in short supply, so I want to use it more wisely. For me, distractions include Facebook and blogs. I’ve already had to delete the Facebook app on my phone because I just find it too tempting and end up checking it on those long afternoons indoors when I really would rather be paying attention to my little girl. But often in the evening I go on it, with the intention of looking for 5-10 minutes, and end up on there for hours. Same with blogs, I use The Old Reader (an RSS reader) to keep up with all my favourite blogs, but I subscribe to so many blogs I never catch up! Another distraction is TV, I tend to plonk myself down on the sofa in the evening just out of habit, even if there’s nothing I really want to watch.

Instead I’m planning to prioritise my time, energy and money into two things, firstly working on my self (through the practices suggested in Buddhism for Mothers, and The Little Book of Contentment and other spiritual crap like that). Secondly I’d like to prioritise creativity (inspired by another book, The Rainbow Way, and a good friend of mine who blogs at Attachment Feminism, whose writing is going from strength to strength). I’ve *always* wanted to be a writer (when I started school I told my teacher that I wanted to go to university to study English and Maths, so that I could write books and then work out how much money I had made!), and although I’m not sure if I’ll be able to do it professionally right at the moment, I’d like to practise now to build up my skills so I can start working when I’m ready. I also love doing arts and crafts with K, and I like to do the odd craft project myself (currently crocheting a baby blanket). I’m also much happier and fulfilled when I have time to be creative, which I feel makes me a better mother.

What changes are you making in the new year?

Buy Nothing New – For a Whole Year

Am I crazy? I’m considering challenging myself to buy nothing new, for an entire year.  Is it really possible?  There are two parts to this challenge:

1. Buy nothing new

2. Instead of buying something new try:

  • doing without
  • borrowing
  • using something else that I already have
  • making it myself
  • freecycling/hand-me-downs from friends
  • buying second hand

My reasons for doing this are part environmental and part personal.  I think the amount of stuff that people tend to buy nowadays is completely unsustainable, and the way our economy works we are encouraged to buy more and more stuff.  How is this supposed to work when we only have one planet to live on, and when people in countries like China are now starting to move towards this more materialistic, consumption-based way of life?  I’ve actually felt slightly ill this week thinking of everyone going shopping in the sales, haven’t we just spent the whole of December shopping and then been given tons of presents?  I also think that people forget that the three R’s of the environment are reduce, reuse, recycle in that order.

On a personal level, I really just want to simplify my life and declutter my house.  With our second baby due in the next few weeks, our spare room is no longer spare, and I’ve been working hard to get rid of all the junk we’ve accumulated over the years to make room for another actual human being in our home.  As a result of doing this I’ve started to feel that nearly all the stuff we own could be considered junk, in that we don’t really need it.  So not only am I going to buy nothing new, I’m going to try and avoid buying anything second hand, unless it’s essential.

I’m also trying to prioritise my spending.  I’d rather wear second hand clothes and use towels until they are threadbare and spend money on good quality food.  I really and truly believe that food is one of the most important things you can spend money on.  I’ll happily wear clothes from a charity shop but I avoid eating cheap food.  This is partly for health reasons as I feel healthier and have more energy when I eat better quality food, but also because I really like cooking and eating good food!  For this reason eating out is also ok in my book.  Good food is one of the great pleasures in life, and this challenge is not about being miserable.

However I am going to have a few exceptions, which are:

  • food (obviously!)
  • toiletries and medicines
  • baby essentials like nappies (although we mostly use cloth anyway)
  • art and craft materials
  • wool for knitting and crochet (this is my main hobby other than blogging)
  • gifts for other people (because I don’t expect other people to live by my values)
  • ebooks – I could borrow books from the library but with a toddler and soon a baby in tow I don’t exactly get much of a chance to browse the shelves.  Also my ebook reader will be much easier to use one handed when feeding the baby!
  • underwear and socks
  • gardening stuff (I share an allotment with a friend, see above re: food)
  • shoes – I think every person should have one pair of brand new good quality, season appropriate shoes for every day use.  In reality this probably means one pair of ‘normal’ shoes/trainers, one pair of boots for winter and one pair of sandals for summer.  For me I will only replace when mine wear out, for K (and later the baby) it will be as she grows and the seasons change.

Anything I do buy new I will prioritise finding an organic/recycled/eco-friendly/ethical option.

Want to join me in my quest to consume less and simplify your life?  Share your ‘rules’ in the comments below (or link to your own blog post).

Edit: I have removed kids clothing from the list because I already buy most of K’s clothes second hand and I’ve saved all her old clothes for the baby, so it really shouldn’t be too much effort to buy all of their clothes second hand. But I’ve added shoes instead.