Tag Archives: de-cluttering

Happier at Home

I’ve become quite fond of Gretchen. Since reading The Happiness Project and attempting my own (and therein gaining a newfound respect for her diligence to such a project) I’ve been listening to her podcast Happier and I’ve read (and really enjoyed) Better Than Before.

I was wandering around my local library the other day (not quite deliberately enough to call it browsing) when I came across her book Happier At Home. I’ve never really had a great urge to read this one- for a while I thought it was the same as The Happiness Project but with a different cover or title, as some books seem to have for various international versions. But after seeing it there in front of me and reading the back to make sure it wasn’t the same as The Happiness Project, I thought “Let’s give it a whirl!” so I borrowed it. (I love libraries, they satisfy my penchant for zero waste, frugal, clutter-free living.)

Although I’d had my reservations about The Happiness Project, I enjoyed Happier At Home from page 1. Gretchen’s writing voice is different to her podcast voice. When I first tuned into her podcasts, I remember being quite surprised to hear the way she spoke. I’m not sure why…. Reading another of her books then reminded me of that slightly awkward, nerdy, slightly neurotic type A persona that I found difficult to fully warm to in The Happiness Project. But this time, instead of finding it disconcerting, I actually found it quite comforting to hear it again.

And so, I read about what is, essentially, her second happiness project, this one on a slightly smaller scale, set in and around her home. And, just as with The Happiness Project, I was inspired to take away from it some “Try this at home”s (find out what this is on her podcast- although it’s pretty self-explanatory!)


  • Go shelf by shelf (declutter- a constant mission of mine)
  • Kiss in the morning, kiss at night (Give proofs of love)
  • Give gold stars (Acknowledge others’ good deeds verbally not just mentally)
  • Go on adventures (Big and small, with both Mr L and the little Ls)
  • Give warm greetings and farewells (a kiss at least, hello and goodbye)
  • Dig Deep (My personal commandments need revisiting I think)
  • Suffer for fifteen minutes (Get a potentially tedious and large scale chore done little by little each day- mine, as Gretchen’s was, is collating some family photo albums.)
  • Follow a threshold ritual (Literally, cross the threshold of your house with gratitude)
  • Eat like a yogi (I added this one myself- more on this later, it’s a work in progress)

I wonder if I’d have been better off reading Happier At Home before The Happiness Project. Despite coming first, The Happiness Project is on a much bigger scale and was a bit full on for me. Mine kind of fizzled. This one’s much less rigid. It’s just going to aim to incorporate these habits into my day, rather than ticking off resolution charts or writing time lines.

We’ll see how we go!



March Happiness Project- Vitality

It’s autumn! I love a change of season and I especially love the first day of autumn. So my plan for March: Vitality.

Gretchen does this one first up. I guess she figured it’d stand her in good stead for the rest of the year. Which is partly why I chose to do it early as well (and also because, getting late in my pregnancy, I figured I might need it the most about now!)

I think I’ve pretty much lifted my resolutions directly from her. They are:

1. Go to sleep earlier– I really need to do this! Since giving birth to Master L, when everyone seemed to be full of the advice “Sleep when the baby sleeps!!” I’ve resisted having a nap when the kids have theirs, or going to bed as soon as they do. It helped that as tiny babies, both my kids were good sleepers so I seemed to have less of that new-baby sleep deprivation than other mums do, I think. Apart from the fact that, even at my most tired, 7pm is generally too early to go to bed (and I need to have dinner), I’ve always valued my child-free/child-asleep time so much, that to sleep it away myself seems like a waste. I welcome the opportunity to do my own thing, whether it’s getting dinner ready, tidying up, watching TV or surfing the net. However, now that I have 2 kids and am 30 weeks pregnant, I’ve come to realize that staying up being an adult is all well and good, but if you’re so tired the next day that you act like a child (and a tired one at that), it’s better for everyone that you sleep. For me, I need to not just go to sleep earlier, but go to sleep “cleaner”. Sleep hygiene is something I’ve never been great at, and now that we have mobiles and laptops and i pads to keep our minds buzzing right up (and even after) we turn off the light, I’m even worse. So I’m going to try the following to sleep longer and better:

  • Start the bedtime routine at 9.30- laptop off, last cup of tea, start getting kids’ milk ready, make sure kitchen either tidied to my liking or make conscious decision to leave it till the next morning (and be happy with that decision!)
  •  Upstairs at 10- no more checking phone for emails or FB updates
  • Read for up to half an hour before lights out at 10.30
  • Get a bedside clock ASAP so I can leave my phone charging downstairs and am not tempted to check it at 4am!

2. Exercise- I’m limited by what I can do at the moment (yes, I know, excuses, but really, I have horrible varicose veins that start in my groin and ache when I try and do too much on my feet) but I’d really like to swim or walk (well, stroll/waddle) 3 times a week. The dog will be happy about that too (not me swimming, but the strolling part). I’m conscious of being VERY unfit in this pregnancy, which I’m sure I’ll regret in labour, if not before

3. Act energetic– ok so being the size of a baby whale is not really conducive to this but the theme of this month is “Vitality”, after all! I came across a man called Richard Wiseman last night, a psychologist and author of 59 seconds: Think a Little, Change a Lot (I have asked the library to reserve me a copy). One of his basic theories about behavioural change is that if you pretend to be what you want to be, you will be. So pretend to be more energetic, and you will be! Same goes for happy, powerful, calm blah blah… (Maybe I could save myself this whole Happiness project series here!)

4. Toss, restore, organise– This is generally something I find fairly easy although we have still not got on top of things 100% since moving house. This weekend’s task is to get 2 more of our remaining rooms sorted out. I’ve also become a bit slack with tidying the kids’ toys in the evening- “Do an evening tidy up” is actually one of Gretchen’s daily resolutions for her vitality month. It needs to be reintroduced in our house! I’ve also been intrigued lately by a blog called Zero Waste Home– but more on that later.

5. Tackle that nagging task– oh my perpetual to do list!!! Gretchen’s rule- if you can do it in less than a minute, do it now (actually she got that from someone else, I’m not sure who though). To whittle my To-Do list away I’m going to try:

  • Once a week, cross an item off without doing it (ie just get rid of one non-essential task)
  • Schedule 2 items per week
  • Anything less than a minute- do it now!

6. Eat better– I debated about including this as it probably falls more in the domain of “Health and Fitness”, which I have planned for July. However I can’t help but feeling that my terrible diet (too much food and of the wrong type) probably also plays a part in my lack of vitality, not just through excessive pregnancy pounds gained, but in the general malaise and sluggishness that comes from feeling constantly full and never hungry. So although I think the motivation to really lose my baby weight won’t kick in until after the baby’s born, I’m going to try making some small changes now so that a) I feel better and b) I don’t have as much weight to lose come May. Starting with 3 meals & 2 snacks a day, instead of the constant grazing and mindless eating I’ve been allowing myself to do.

 That seems like a lot of resolutions for one chart. Let’s see how I go….


  1. Let it go
  2. Act the way I want to feel
  3. Do it now
  4. Enjoy the process

New Year’s Resolutions- the return

I know last year I wrote a post on NYRs and how I don’t believe in them any more, but this year I need to make a few changes. Not absolute rules, but efforts I intend to make to get more out of life and hopefully make things a bit easier.

 De-clutter my head and my time, not just my space

  Physical decluttering is an ongoing task which I’m quite happy to do and reasonably good at. I find it liberating and rewarding. Mental decluttering, on the other hand, I am terrible at. My job requires me to multitask at a sometimes crazy level, and over the years this has crept into my non-work life too, increasingly encouraged and facilitated by social media and portable electronic devices (5 years ago I didn’t even have wireless at home- to use the internet I had to go to my desk and sit at my computer- imagine how much more productive I’d be now if that were the case!!!). I surf the net in the evenings. I don’t read books, I don’t talk to Mr L in the evening, even setting aside the laptop to watch a TV show feels like a major act of restraint. And it’s crazy. I have discovered one or two things online (see below) that I think have the potential to enhance my life, but mostly, it’s crap. So I’m going to lay down some guidelines that will hopefully see me managing to fit in more of the things I want to do (see below) and wasting less of the time I have to do them in.

Improve my eating habits

  I could devote a whole post, no, actually a whole BLOG to this (and obviously there are many of those) but I have been eating waaaay too much, with the lethal combination of pregnancy and Christmas lead-up resulting in hunger being a very infrequent occurrence lately! Enough about that for now, but I need to rein it in a bit.

Get more sleep

  I think if I declutter my head I will be able to do this much more easily. I fill my brain with internet nonsense, interspersed with frequent FB and email checks, so when I do get to bed, my mind is still racing with thoughts about what someone has posted/sent me/responses I can post etc etc.

  I also REALLY need to get an alarm clock. How will an alarm clock help me get MORE sleep??? Well, at the moment I only have my phone as a time-telling device, and when I wake up and check the time, it’s soooo tempteing to see if that crucial email has come through, or read the FB notiftication that’s on my home screen. If I replaced my phone with a clock to tell the time and wake me up (if that ever ceases to be the role of my children) i can leave my phone downstairs.

Look into happiness a bit more as a principle, not just an abstract concept

  One of the more useful things I stumbled across on FB (in contrast to the previously mentioned time-wastage) was this TED talk by Shawn Achor. For a while now I’ve been quite intrigued by this friend of mine- really a girl I went to school with who I always considered way too cool to even dream of calling a friend. She is now living in the US and seems to have found this spirituality and sense of meaning to her life which intrigues me. I’m fairly sure it’s not a religious type of spirituality [forgive me if I’m wrong, if you ever happens to read this, Katrina!], it seems more about doing good and feeling good and spreading good.  Good is a bit of a bland word, I know, but it’s more realistic than love and more grammatically correct than nice-ness. Anyway, in a nutshell, this guy talks about how people really try and put the cart before the horse and have lists of goals and life plans and things to aim for, they strive to reach a state of affairs which they believe is synonymous with happiness. Assuming they actually achieve all those things, though, inevitably there is then something new to aim for and so the goal posts shift or the finish line moves further away and they’re still not happy. Instead, he proposes we start recognizing and acknowledging the happiness that already exists in our lives, and in doing so become more content, more fulfilled and thereby inadvertently more productive (and if not, then at least happier without even having to tick off our to-do list- I extrapolated there, I don’t think he actually says that.) As a goal-setter from way back this had an immediate appeal to me. As I outlined in this post,  despite having achieved a lot, for example, at school, I still left with a great feeling of having missed out….

[As I finish off this post, it turns out today I received as a Christmas gift a voucher for a Kikki K workshop. I can choose between organisation, DIY, goals or happiness, and I think I’ll have no choice now that I’ve written this, but to go with happiness. Exciting!]

Calm, Kind, Courageous

Something else that she-of-the-happy-spiritual-blog mentioned, that I need to look into more, is choosing 3 concepts or qualities that you want to focus on and then approach everything (particularly challenges) in your life with those 3 things as guiding principles…. More TF.

Do more of the following

  I’m hoping that with a less cluttered head space less wasted time (and one more child- yeah right!) that maybe I’ll find some time to do more of any or all of the following. Things I’d kind of like to do, if I had all the time in the world would be:

  • Reading- anything’ll do, I have a load of books on my e-reader to get started on, so this should be achievable if I can make time
  • Relaxing/meditating/etc- I’ve never been good at meditating, yoga, or anything that involves switching my brain off (or at least focusing solely on the experience at hand). Even as a child on long car journeys (any car journey, really), I’d entertain myself with elaborate fantasies about all sorts of things, and happily pass the time day-dreaming away. My mind is not used to being quiet.
  • Doing something creative- Sadly, I’m not remotely artistic (and actually not really creative either) but I can usually follow a set of  basic instructions to produce a recipe, an easy sewing project, or a craft item. Not that I’m wanting to inflict home-sewn clothes on my kids (well unless I got really good!) but there are loads of handy little things I often think it’d be quite nice to whip up, even for presents etc. Anyway I think the sewing thing’s a way off but I got a craft knife and a few other bits and bobs for Xmas which might see me making my own birthday cards or something in 2015….

Anyway, it’s Christmas Day today, so Merry Christmas, Nadolig Llawen and general happy thoughts to all….

I wanna be a greenie

I fancy myself as a bit of a greenie. My first dabble into conservation and the like was at the age of about 16. I suppose it’s the typical age for such idealistic pursuits, along with forays into religion and expressing non-specific ambitions to “help people”.  My own 16 teen-green efforts consisted of buying a “Save The Planet” t-shirt, cutting environment-related articles out of the newspaper and concealing pages of used paper (notes, letters, etc) into piles of newspaper which, at the time in my area, was the only form of paper for which there was any kind of organised recycling collection. I thought it was ridiculous they’d collect newspaper for recycling but not normal paper. My laborious deception was well-intentioned, although probably somewhat misguided, to this day I feel slightly guilty that I may have been unwittingly sabotaging the local council’s recycling process and that whole vats of newspaper pulp contaminated with my Year 10 French homework needed to be discarded.

Like religion, environmental issues (although more concrete) seem to generate a substantial amount of controversy and conflict on a community and political level, as well as immense confusion on a more personal one. Unlike religion, however, “being green” is something I do aspire to, even if I haven’t found many (or indeed, any) of the answers.

So I make no apologies for the fact that this simply poses questions rather than answering them. I make absolutely no pretence at having a deep understanding or having researched the issues in depth. It’s not a cynic’s knock-down of the way our society has attempted to protect our environment, it’s a genuine admission of confusion and brain-fry!

The facts as I see them are:

  1. Our planet has limited resources. They are likely to outlast me, I’m not so sure about my children though. While this is, to some extent, part of the natural cycle of the universe, including the evolution and extinction of species throughout time, it’s a beautiful planet and my children are (usually) beautiful specimens on it so it’d be a shame not to try and look after it.
  2. The most efficient way to minimise our impact on the environment is to use less of everything we incorporate into our consumer, convenience-orientated lives to start with, rather than trying to find inventive ways to dispose of our waste.

 The main thing I stubble with when trying to understand “environmental impact” (whatever that means) is that most disposal processes seem to use up some kind of resource.

  1. Landfill. Even without going into the complexities of a rubbish-tip ecosystem and all the various side-effects of letting our stuff fester in them, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that some of the stuff we throw away takes a loooooong time to decompose/dissolve/disappear. Actually there’s not much conflict there. I can see how, if it doesn’t have to go into landfill, that’s a plus.
  2. Recycling. I can’t help but feel that everyone feeling virtuous about recycling is kidding themselves (or being kidded) just a tiny bit. I’m not saying a glass bottle is better off in the rubbish dump than in the recycling bin, but when you think about the process of recycling, the whole thing (from the collection to the processing to the manufacture of the recycled stuff) is still using natural resources- fuel for the recycling truck, electricity and water and who knows what else for the recycling plant and the rest of the process. It’s not zero impact. Even more so with paper recycling. Not that I know much about the process itself, but surely a piece of paper in a rubbish tip breaks down much faster than a glass bottle…. Apart from saving trees (and apparently they now plant forests specifically intended for making paper and therefore renewable), I’m not sure what benefit recycling paper has, except that the rubbish tips fill up slower. Is the extra room in the rubbish tip worth the energy expenditure to recycle the paper? I don’t know and I don’t understand how you can make that comparison when you’re weighing up completely different resources.
  3. Food disposal. Apparently food in rubbish tips sets up some awful chemical reaction and generates methane and other planet-warming gases. Plus it makes up a large percentage of household waste (back to full rubbish tip issue again). In the L household, we don’t throw away a lot of food waste anyway, as (in Australia, anyway) we’d compost most food scraps or feed it to the chickens or the dog. But I don’t understand how our backyard compost bin (which I have not noticed emitting offensive gases of any sort, perhaps they are odourless) is so very different to food waste composting in a rubbish tip. Our Kiwi rental house on the other hand, has a waste-disposal unit, which chops up food residue and flushes is down the sink. Is flushing it into the sewer better than putting it on the ground? Doesn’t it upset the marine ecosystem? I’m confused.
  • All these issues are, of course, set in a personal context of sometimes conflicting motivations and priorities. For me, those are mainly:
  1. Cost versus “eco-friendliness”- eco-friendly are often more expensive than standard. Usually not a lot, but at times this is a consideration and I’m sure more so for people less comfortably off than us.
  2. Decluttering vs reusing- yes I love the idea of using old bath towels as dog towels then cleaning rags then goodness-knows-what until they are threadbare and falling apart. I could say the same for every container, piece of cardboard, hook, nail, piece of string which I could “repurpose”- in other words, leave to clutter up my home until I decide I want to use it for something else. But this just doesn’t sit well with me. I know there ARE people who have little drawers full of spare buttons, categorised by colour and size, and never need to buy a button again. But come to think of it, I don’t think I have ever bought a button either and neither have I used one from my (now in landfill) button collection. Besides, most people I’ve met who have this kind of stuff lying around, don’t have it sorted and stashed, they have it spread in a cluttered mess and can’t find what they need when the need it so have to go out and buy it anyway. Only you probably can’t buy 1 button, you probably have to buy a packet of 5….
  3. Aesthetics- yes I know it’s vain and superficial and all the rest of it, but when I said I fancied myself as a greenie, I meant a pleasant smelling, reasonably well-dressed greenie, not a social outcast dressed in clothes from 20 years ago and greasy hair. Sometimes you just want clean, brand new stuff.

 So what have I tried myself?

  1. Cloth nappies- ok well I must admit I think they probably are an environmental winner. I am not forking out for “biodegradable” (see later) disposables. However, my kids last a lot longer in a disposable than a cloth nappy, so I am using more cloth nappies per day than disposables. Apart from the obvious inconvenience, when you do the maths, you are talking about washing maybe 6-8 cloth nappies vs using maybe 3-4 disposables. Not to mention the extra clothes from the leakages because you forgot to change the nappy after 2 hours. I machine wash them in cold (usually) water and (always) air-dry them. They are made from synthetic fabric, coloured brightly with synthetic dyes in a factory which I’m sure is powered by hamsters running on a wheel…. Yep. Oh and they came in a zippered plastic pouch which I kept for ages intending to repurpose but threw out in a decluttering frenzy. Or was it when I found my baby with it over her head and thought maybe it wasn’t such a good thing to have lying around?
  2. Toilet paper and sorbolene as an alternative to baby wipes. Does toilet paper down the toilet have less “environmental impact” than a baby wipe in a rubbish tip? I thought it probably did but now I’m not so sure. And what about sorbolene, isn’t it a petroleum/hydrocarbon derivative…. Should I be using plain water???? Or just going without nappies altogether and doing that reflex voiding thing?? There are people who use old rags as baby wipes and wash them. Good for them. Some of these people even go to the extremes of using the same process in lieu of toilet paper for the adults in the house. What’s wrong with that? Unlike a baby, at least an adult can put their own wipes in the washing machine.
  3. Eco-friendly dishwashing liquid, washing powder, cleaning products. After shopping around till I find one I like, I do feel happy about using these.
  4. Home-made washing powder and cleaning products. The cleaning products I can cope with (bicarb IS an amazing thing and as long as you can cope with the smell and acid burn of white vinegar in your airways you’re fine) but the washing powder was a dud- the clothes just didn’t smell clean (I know, I know, aesthetics again)…. So I threw away the painfully sourced bulk quantities of washing powder ingredients….
  5. Biodegradeable plastic bags- whether you accept them for your shopping or buy them to line your bins, it is hard to live without plastic bags. (It’s actually also quite hard to buy fruit and veg that aren’t in plastic bags at times.) I always thought biodegradeable meant they were ok! They magically disappear without a trace! Right? No, apparently they disintegrate into tiny plastic particles, which get into the waterways and poison the whales or something…. Oh god really? No whales at the bottom of a rubbish tip…. When caught short walking the dog the other day and forced to pickup her business with a large wad of tissues I had in my bag and scoop it straight into the bin I thought “aha! Tissue is surely better for the environment than a plastic bag???” Then I thought a bit more about the practicalities and…. Um, well, no.
  6. Paper- at home, we’ve shredded it (with an electric shredder, which overheated and blew after about a week and is now in landfill) and used it for chicken bedding and then compost (it doesn’t compost very well, by the way), and now we’re burning it in our wood-burning heater. Paper + fire + O2 -> CO2 + small dose of guilt. Hmmm.
  7. Toilet paper- I used to use recycled, unbleached stuff, but truly, it’s ugly. I looked at a website recently called “who gives a crap?”…. Nice idea and I might be tempted to try it if we were in Sydney still, but it’s expensive! So use less, I hear you say…. Back to the baby wipes on the kids then…

 And so it goes on…. When talking about “environmental impact”, what is the magic equation? Is it better to waste water than electricity? Is putting stuff in landfill better than putting it in the waterways? Part the problem is I’m trying to compare apples with oranges.

Without a doubt though, if I can say no to the packaging, the containers, the plastic and reuse things, that surely has to be better then either discarding or recycling? Rethink, reduce, reuse, before you recycle. [Punchy slogan stolen from our local tip in Sydney, I always meant  to do one of their tours to find out more about all this stuff, but never got round to it.]

Moving away from Christmas “stuff”

I read this awesome article recently- The Gift of Not Giving a Thing. It summed up many of the themes and ideals I’ve been thinking about a lot since my daughter was born 6 months ago.

I’m not sure why her birth triggered this way of thinking. I suspect the upheaval and the change in dynamic that comes with the arrival of a new family member subconsciously prompted a re-evaluation of what’s important. Not just in a conceptual way but also from a practical point of view. You have stuff arriving by the armful if you’ve just had a baby girl when you already have a boy. “Whatever will she wear?!?!” Not only does this little creature seem to outgrow a size of baby clothes every month but she must apparently wear pink and you only have blue!! (Actually I had white and grey, baby number 1’s early clothes were all very unisex as we didn’t know what we were having the first time round- perfect for handing down to a baby sister, or so I thought, but our friends and relatives seemed to have other ideas and went shopping all over again- in pink and purple.)

When Master L was a baby, I remember spending time looking through his clothes, moving the things he’d outgrown to the “too small” box with mixed feelings of loss (he’ll never fit into a 000 again!) but also excitement that he was gaining weight, getting bigger and stronger and more interactive (and therefore more interesting) with every 0 he dropped. Plus there was a whole wardrobe-full of fresh, never worn, bigger sizes to be tried on. With Miss L (her older brother now an inquisitive toddler) I had significantly fewer opportunities to be sorting through all this stuff, clearing it out, keeping it tidy etc and so the extra stuff actually became work, not just an unnecessary luxury. Not to mention the space issue.

So after Miss L’s birth, I became quite interested in minimalism. A passionate de-clutterer already, I was still constantly amazed at the amount of STUFF we somehow accumulate, how little of it we use and, when we go away on holidays, how little I miss it and how much simpler life seems to be. My preoccupation with “organising” blogs gave way to a new passion for “minimalist” blogs. The best thing is, you don’t feel bad erasing them from your bookmarks bar when you’ve got the gist of their message- it’s decluttering!

I have friends and relatives who are major clutter-bugs. Some have small houses, a bit too much stuff and are just a bit messy, but can clear up when necessary. Others live in houses where you can hardly move for all the stuff and when you do, you tread on something or knock something else over. When I visit these people I indulge in de-cluttering fantasies. I imagine going through their houses with sturdy garbage bags, and THROWING STUFF OUT… shopper dockets, junk mail, old magazines, expired food from the fridge, worn-out towels, dishes whose patterns have been washed off over the years. Chipped mugs and glasses, little plastic bits and bobs from the kids’ board games. Paper clips and elastic bands, mismatching plates and bowls, plastic takeaway containers spewing from the kitchen cupboards. The almost-empty bottles of shampoo, conditioner, body scrubs, moisturisers from the bathroom! GET RID OF IT… ALL OF IT.

Anyway, I digress. But not far.

Ironically, babies and all their associated paraphernalia are partly responsible for my newly invigorated intolerance of clutter. Nothing prompts people to go out and buy you STUFF like a new baby. I should know, I have been the offensive buyer for years, I love buying baby stuff. Don’t really know why… but the fact is people feel compelled to BUY things every time anyone they know has a baby. In some ways this is good. You don’t need to buy any baby clothes, other people do it for you. Your child could easily last until its first birthday without you dressing it in a single item of your choosing. They also buy you all sorts of other stuff, which can be broken down as follows:

  • 10%- really useful. About half of these things you would never have discovered if it were not for your generous friends and you are really glad you did, because they are really useful. I put my Big Softies cloth nappies (which I use for just about anything except wrapping my babies’ bums in) and my L’il Fraser wrap in this category.
  • 70%- not especially useful but you feel compelled to use it anyway, the cloth bibs that hang too low or soak through straight away, that kind of thing.
  • 15%- stuff you hate but feel obliged to use as you feel too guilty to just shove it in the cupboard unworn. Many items of clothing fall into this category. That brown all-in-one that’s the wrong season, wrong fit, wrong shade of brown, in fact, just WRONG but you put your child in it once and spend the whole time apologising for it when you imagine other people give your child funny looks.
  • 5%- this stuff goes totally unused. It’s just too hideous, or too complicated, or too weird. Those pre-shaped Velcro-fastened wraps you can’t figure out how to put on your baby. The breast-feeding modesty cape (I refer you back to back to Big Softies- that’s one of their uses should you, rightly or wrongly, feel the need to be modest).

Most of my friends, my sister and my sister-in law have children now. Nothing strikes me as more futile than buying stuff for OPCs who you know, full-well, already have too much stuff. You aren’t sure what to get them but feel you have to get them a gift every birthday and every Christmas. You buy them stuff you don’t really like that much and you know the kid doesn’t need but you hope the parents will think it great nonetheless. You don’t really care what happens to your gift, you have Done Your Duty. And that duty arises largely because they will buy your kids stuff and chances are it will be useless.

So, in effect, instead of buying your own child something they need (which, generally, is nothing) and something that you also like, you traipse to the shops, wander round, hand over your money, wrap and give someone else’s child a gift and, in exchange, receive stuff you hate. This is stupid. Sorry, but it is. Yet remarkably few people have the guts to say “Let’s not exchange gifts this year, we have enough, the kids have enough, and what’s more I’m sick of taking all the stuff you give us to the charity shop when I can’t sell it on Gumtree or bring myself to re-gift it”.

I spent the day before Master L’s 2nd birthday sorting through his toys, getting rid of things that I never liked but had kept to be polite, making way for the influx of stuff that I knew would arrive on his birthday. He was overwhelmed on the day. He only learnt what a present is this year. We held some of the gifts back, unopened, for Christmas. We held some of them back as he received duplicates and now we have to spend time returning or exchanging them. Nice thought, but now for a birthday treat he gets dragged to the shopping centre (not his favourite place) while I exchange it…. And buy bribery smoothies and fruit buns and rides in Wiggles cars (well actually they’re free because I’m too mean to fork out the $2 to put in the slot, he doesn’t know the difference). Awesome present, thanks.

So for Christmas this year, we tried to go as much as possible for experience gifts or vouchers:

  • Parents- restaurant voucher
  • Sister & kids and also sister in law & kids- zoo passes
  • Mother in law- spa voucher
  • Father in law- clothing voucher

I hope to go to the zoo with my nieces and nephews, spend time with my sister & sister in law and really enjoy the experience instead of just feeling like a dutiful sister. We haven’t added a single item of clutter to anyone’s house and I’m giving them something they can enjoy, remember and talk about afterwards, which they probably wouldn’t otherwise have done. (Ok, so my father in law will be wearing his gift but at least he gets something useful that he likes.)

My friend with kids who we usually buy for (each of us trying to guess the other one’s tastes and never getting it quite right) said “Let’s not bother this year”. And so we plan to spend the money (in fact, probably less) on a girly afternoon tea in the New Year and a couple of fun hours enjoying each other’s company, sans children, rather than rushing round the shops, kids in tow, buying stuff in desperation and then swapping.

Do I go and buy extra stuff to make up for the presents my kids and I did not receive? No, I don’t think so. A good indicator they don’t really need anything in the first place. Do I make an effort to see people instead? I intend to. And if it’s too much trouble to meet up, well then I’ve gained on two fronts.