More or Less
When my son was in elementary school they used an online program to help the kids increase their reading comprehension. And though it did the job, its programing had a surprising drawback. When my child excelled at his reading assignments, my son felt worse. Why? Because the program was designed to constantly push them to improve. As soon as one of the articles was read and the questions answered, if the student mastered those questions they were given a “stretch article,” which translated to a harder assignment with harder questions. Every task was followed by another exercise with seemingly infinite, increased difficulty.
My son had these online assignments every day or week, depending on the teacher, and it was a program that was used for several years at the school. The challenging part came when my son realized he was never going to attain the goal if it kept moving out of reach. Although the program was successful in improving their reading comprehension, it was disparaging to never have a sense of completion or achievement from it because no matter how well the student did, there was always more to gain. Even though my elementary year old child scored high enough in the program to have college level reading comprehension, he was instructed to keep doing assignments and keep raising his online score. There seemed to be no cap to the program.
Up until I had children, my corporate America income represented my valuation. Without it, a part of me felt worthless. The challenge was finding a sense of value when there was no score or payment associated with my work. Moms don’t get graded and they don’t get a direct check made out to their name. I sought to feel more substantial than a zero.
My first steps were mommy groups, story-time, presentations and discussion forums. Despite all the mingling at brunches and playdates, I felt disillusioned in my role. If had my kid in ballet, a fellow mom had hers in ballet and gymnastics. It wasn’t enough to play with your child, one had to stimulate their brain with creative crafts designed to improve fine motor skills. If I needed to cook, I couldn’t just plop my kid in the playpen and have her entertain herself with her toys. She needed to be watching Baby Einstein for optimal cognitive development
Then there was the home aspect. Was my home clean enough? Was my furniture fancy enough? Was I creating scrapbooks to savor the memories of their childhood? Were they eating healthy meals? Were they organic? Dairy-free, gluten-free, high-fructose-syrup-free?
Despite all I did, being a mom wasn’t enough. I had to be more. Was I exercising enough? Did I get enough of the baby weight off? Was it better to dress nice enough to catch my husband’s eye or dress in sweats and sneakers to play with my toddlers in the park?
Year after year, the more I did the further behind I felt. The goal kept moving forward. I was never done. There was always more to improve, more to become.
In hindsight, my job in corporate America was considerably less stressful than being a stay-at-home mom. Instead of feeling relaxed by my “life of leisure,” I felt like steam in a pressure cooker. Ready to blow with the tiniest provocation. It was time to stop and reassess my life.
After weeks of introspection, I realized a great deal of my stress was self imposed. No one had held a gun to my head and forced me to try to keep up with the Jones’ of motherhood and house keeping. My son didn’t have the option to skip his online reading assignments, if he wanted to keep his good grades. On the other hand, no one was grading me. I did have choices and a more free will.
A friend once mentioned she found it peculiar that we had one green couch and one yellow couch in our living room. Decorating never having been my forte, I proudly stated we had bought our living room exactly the way it was displayed in the furniture store showroom. This included the couches, the matching white coffee and end tables, the shag rug, even the vases. My friend informed me that the two different colored couches were likely not displayed as an example of what the optimal living room should look like, but rather to show that the couch was offered in two colors. We laughed about it, but inside a part of me broke. Imagine my dismay, especially because of all the rooms in my house, our living room assembly was my favorite.
Upgrading our home furnishings to trendier items had been on my mind for a while. We had relocated into a new community and seeing each other’s houses when someone new moved in, was common in our neighborhood. It wasn’t long before I realized that doing that only made me feel worse about my own home, so I stopped.
It’s the same thing with every aspect of life. Clothes for example, it’s not enough to have a few beautiful and comfortable pieces you love. The fashion industry brainwashes us to think we always have to dress in the latest and greatest they create. Previously, it was tied with the seasons, but recent years have transitioned it to a weekly change. What was “in” seven days ago, is now booted out and replaced with something even more chic.
Now I’m delving into minimalism and as we go through our home I am re-evaluating my belongings. We started with the dining room, un-buried it, took everything out that didn’t belong and then went back and put a few choice knick-knacks to decorate and add our personal touch. Two aspects stand out.
The first is that my decor represents our family and our memories. It’s not some neutral clock or metallic swirly shape frequented in decorator magazines. It’s something that when regarded, strikes a chord in my heart. A framed portrait of when my husband surprised me with a wedding vow renewal in Jamaica or a musical figurine my kids and I danced to when they were little, with my aunt-mom lovingly watching us in the background.
The second thing is, as rooms get un-earthed from the clutter, the furniture and the few decorative touches stand out and converge. Our furniture was purchased across several years, various stores and even multiple states. There was a time I considered it mismatched and chaotic. Last night I walked into our dining and living room area and realized, that though items were bought in different places at different times, our tastes have remained the same. The bursts of color that we gravitate to are in every room and those are what tie it all together.
My son’s feelings, when he never achieved the elusive non-existent end goal in his school reading program, mirrored my feelings as a stay-at-home mom. Our society associates the American dream with always obtaining more and wanting what everyone else has. But that misses the mark. I’ve never gone into someone else home and wanted mine to be exactly like theirs. Maybe I liked how one person’s paint color or another person’s couch looked, but overall, I would not want to trade places with anyone else’s home. Why? Because as pretty, extravagant or tidy as theirs may be, it does not reflect my taste, needs or comfort, nor those of my family.
My daughter once attempted to console me when I vocalized a loss of what style to describe our house as. Smiling with extended arms she said, “I think our house is ‘kid style,’ because you make it so comfortable for your kids and that is what makes it so great!”
Minimizing means eliminating the excess in your life. You live with less. That is not to imply one is lacking. On the contrary, decluttering has generated a feeling of fulfillment with having enough.
And the feeling of contentment extends onto other areas of my life. Being a mom is enough. The food I cook is enough. The look of my home is enough. Everything and anything is enough, if it makes us happy.
The bottom line is, we don’t have to wear ourselves out incessantly reaching for the elusive “more.” If you have enough to make you happy, stop and take a moment to just enjoy it.