This is a guest post from Rachel Bowman, a full-time working mom of two girls under 4. Rachel started Just Getting Things Done when she realized she didn’t want to be that mom that doesn’t have any energy anymore, who thinks everything is a burden or a chore. She wanted to be a mom that enjoys her children and her life, and she knew she could figure out how to do just that. She uses minimalism, productivity and time management to do just that.
My husband and I don’t agree about the amount of stuff we should have or how much space our family needs. Lately I often find myself saying “We don’t need a bigger house!” “I don’t want more stuff!” “I hate shopping!” My husband, on the other hand, wants a master bathroom with double sinks, thinks we should get a new car, and is often thinking up things we should buy for our daughters.
Let me give you a little context. In the past seven years I’ve gotten married, bought a house, and had two children. Before that I lived in Europe for several years. I moved back to the US with 2 suitcases full of clothes and a few books. Now I live in a 1920s bungalow full of stuff with my husband and two little girls.
Sometimes I wonder how we got all this stuff. Neither of us spend that much money on things for ourselves. My husband has gifted me things for my many hobbies that have fallen by the wayside since having children: a sewing machine, spinning wheel, tabletop loom, and various knitting tools like a skein winder (that’s the only one I can remember the name of). The largest gift I have gotten my husband is a beer-making kit.
We’ve also been gifted a lot of stuff from family members. My grandparents moved to Florida and I got my grandma’s sewing machine, punch bowl, a set of china from the Forties, and a lot of other beautiful objects that live in my hutch. My husband’s uncle downsized and gifted us with a bunch of stuff. My parents have given us all kinds of things: patio furniture, storage furniture, a daybed. My sister gave us my grandparents’ wedding bed and dresser. Of course we gladly accepted (most) of these things into our home. I love old objects and I don’t want to lose anything that has family history. If I hadn’t taken my grandparents’ bed, my sister would have given them to a friend who may have painted them and, in my mind, destroyed them. My daughter sleeps in that bed every night.
Almost everything we have for our children was gifted to us too. From the swing, crib, changing table, to clothes, shoes, and hats. We’ve been fortunate to have all of this given to us. My sister saved it because I asked her to. But we’ve hung onto all of it in case we have another child.
I’ve also noticed that almost any activity we do or place we go with the kids, we return with more stuff. A trip to the dentist results in a goodie bag and cheap toys. Papers come home from daycare every day. Even when I take the girls to the hair salon with me they return with suckers and stickers.
Then there is my husband, who is often thinking up things to buy the girls. They should have a new water toy. So he buys them 3 or 4. They like making forts with a blanket so he thinks he should buy them a fort.
There are a few ways I deal with this.
1. Lead by example.
In this post I talked about my minimalist wardrobe. I have fewer clothes in the closet than my husband. I try to set the example that we don’t need that much stuff. We can be happier and our lives can be less stressful with less stuff.
2. Don’t buy much of anything.
If the girls need bathing suits and water shoes for school, then I buy what they need. If I need to replace a pair of my shoes, eventually I may do it. The truth is I usually continue to wear them past when they are worn out. In general, the only thing I spend money on is groceries.
3. Throw out or recycle the junk that really is junk.
Sometimes it takes me awhile to get there, but eventually I take this step. I have been doing my best to do this sooner rather than later.
4. Remove what I can when it is no longer serving us.
This is a harder for me to practice than I would like because it’s another of those things that seems to just pile up. Until I stop the flow of things coming into the house, this will continue to be a struggle.
5. Give my husband a hard time about the amount of stuff he buys the girls.
Now, I’m not saying you should do this. I am a questioner by nature and question everything. So when he comes home with something or it arrives on our front step, I question it. Why did you buy this? What is this for? Where will we put this? What are we going to do with it? I know this sometimes stops him from buying things. He can hear my voice in his head and I like to think it makes him really consider whether or not to purchase something. Even if it’s just so he doesn’t have to hear it from me.
See, we have some very different ideas about “stuff.” I don’t think we need as much of it as we have. I know that the girls have fun playing with an empty box. They like to collect leaves and twigs from the backyard. They like to watch clouds and birds in the sky. My husband? He thinks the answer is always to buy something new. I want to see if we already have something similar. I want to re-purpose something. I want to use my own imagination or my skills to turn something we have into what we need. Better yet, I want to let my kids use their imagination. He just wants to go to the store.
Then there’s the question of space. My husband wants a bigger house. My answer is always “I don’t want more stuff!” That’s what I think happens when you get a bigger house. You get more stuff to fill up all that space. I am perfectly happy with our house the way it is.
The good news for me is that I have already won this battle. We bought our small 1920s home before we had children.
We had an unexpected breakthrough on this topic recently. We watched the Dolly Parton Christmas special. It was about her life when she was a young girl, growing up in the Tennessee mountains. The next day when we were pulling into the garage my husband said “If they could live in a 2 bedroom shack with 8 kids, we don’t need a bigger house.”
Now I don’t want my husband to be unhappy, but I am baffled by thinking that a big bathroom will make someone happy. I just don’t get it. It’s not that important to me. I don’t think it’s a question of money or status with him. I think he just likes space. I like to make the best of what we have.
I’m sure my time in Europe helped shape my view. Have you ever seen House Hunters International? If you have, you’ve probably seen what European apartments look like. The Americans looking at them are usually complaining about how small they are or how they have to walk up 3 flights of stairs to get there. It makes me angry because I think they’re missing the point of what’s important.
I know and love my husband enough to not get angry with him for wanting more things or a bigger house. That doesn’t stop me from trying to show him (and sometimes persuade him) that’s not what we need to be happy. I respect him and try to show that in the way I act. I do my best to lead by example. I think it’s really the best way to have an impact on those close to you, including your children. In the end, I think this is just another aspect of our relationship that I hope we’ll look back on fondly.
How does your spouse respond to your desire for less? What ways have you found effective for communicating your desires? Share in the comments!
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