Self-directed learning

My children are only young but we have found a style of learning that works for us, and it’s called ‘self directed learning’. My husband and I went to traditional schools and our parents were traditional in their understanding of learning. And although we both survived and finished our schooling, we have both felt much more engaged in higher levels of university education where the objectives and parameters of projects are looser and have at least some degree of autonomy.

Knowing our children, we decided this was the way to move forward for their education. There is a big difference between school and education. Schooling is a system designed to produce workers. There are lots of good things about schools, but there are many drawbacks, especially for learners who are neurodiverse and will find the environment stressful. It’s fair to say, in our situation, engaging in a traditional school environment will actually cause more harm than good.

But we are now on the fringe; choosing a path that is considered odd and possibly irresponsible. There is a great freedom in choosing something different but it comes with a requirement to be thick-skinned and to be confident in your choices. Not something that is always easy; especially for some more than others.

During this pandemic, in 2020, what our learning looks like is different than what we hope it will look like one day. We are home-bound and that is almost completely fine, but we look forward to travel and engaging in cultural and social activities again.

In a typical day our children have complete freedom in their play; from watching videos of garbage trucks, to playing Minecraft, digging in the sandpit or building Lego. Our boys experience a world of freedom and imagination. For us, this meets their needs and allows them to reach their potential. Some will argue that at some point we all need to grow up and meet the expectations of others; a boss to earn a wage etc. But what will the world look like in 20 years when my kids are ‘grown up’? Right now, we are experiencing a massive change in employment conditions due to the pandemic, and many of us hope things will change thereafter… But even so, the casualisation of the workforce over the past 10-20 years has changed the nature of work for young people. So no matter what happens, preparing our boys to be more self-directed feels like the right choice, for us.

We can’t know the road ahead, so we don’t know where it will lead. But for right now, we are focused on following their lead and engaging them in their interests.

The rebel, the black sheep

Growing up, the black sheep of the family was always considered a rebel and not a favourable person to be within an extended family.

Looking back on people I’ve known to be the rebel, I feel a respect for their confidence in eschewing social norms, the things that are expected of them.

Perhaps being a rebel is a way to feel more connected to our inner selves. Maybe the act of rebellion gives us a sense of power. Particularly for women who despite decades of feminism still do more housework, are expected to take pay cuts and career back steps to manage family life and work, to have perfect bodies and skin and do everything else in the exhaustive list.

I want to be the rebel. I will live how I see fit. I don’t mind being a black sheep!

Global panic: take control of the anxiety

Right now the entire world is in the depths of panic. Its grip on our society is tight; each action making each person just a bit more worried.

But, hope is not lost. Yes, this is a global pandemic. People are dying. People are losing their jobs.

We cannot control everything, we have to accept this. It’s even more important right now.

What we can control:

  • Our spending
  • Our saving
  • Our home environment and the anxiety level
  • Our engagement with our children
  • Our relationships with others
  • What we eat and drink (to an extent)

There is no doubt the fall out from this disaster will be something our children’s children learn about in school one day. Let us take lessons from this.

  • Build up savings
  • Examine your life and get rid of everything that isn’t important
  • Have lots of margin in your budget, wherever possible
  • Be empathetic towards others
  • Take only what you need

So many of us, me included, are so privileged. I can buy everything I need for a month in one shop. I have a home, we are not in financial distress. My kids are home all the time anyway. I don’t work. My husband works from home already. All of these things make it pretty easy for me to cope. But I’m a sensitive person and my current anxiety is about everyone out there who does have it tough. Everyone out there, all of the world.

Right now we have to be kind, we have to think of everyone. We have to do this to come out of this intact.

Are you priviledged?

Right now our world is turned upside down. It seems many are struggling with the changes coronavirus has brought to their lives even if they are not unwell or still holding a job.

In Australia, although many people did lose their jobs, the government have provided extensive funds to most of those affected.

Schools are teaching via distance education and parents are balancing crisis schooling with working or managing the needs of younger children, or any other combination of commitments.

One of the ways in staying mindful and practicing gratitude is focusing on the enormous luck and privilege I currently have.

I’m healthy and so are my family. We have enough food and abundant activities. We have nature and technology.

If you are feeling overwhelmed, try to take some time to focus on the positive aspects of your life. Recognise the ways in which you are privileged and hopefully this week reduce your stress levels and allow you to be more present.

Kids do well, if they can

Ross Greene has a powerful idea about how to reframe our thinking about kid’s behaviour. The objective of this book, and many like it, along with countless blogs, Facebook groups and experts in the fields of psychology, teaching, and social work, is to empower parents to step back and recognise their child is normal and healthy for acting out, for extreme behaviours that are challenging to deal with.

The reasons for extreme and challenging behaviour is usually because expectations are too high for that child at that time. Every child is different and normal development is a huge bell curve – what may be normal for one two year old, might not be possible for another child until they are three. As a society, as a result of standardised EVERYTHING, we have become obsessed with asking children to fit into tiny boxes of ‘norms’.

Enough! We have to stop this. We have to start changing OUR mindsets as adults and recognising kids do well, if they can.

This amazing graphic by @kweins62 illustrates this better than I could ever hope to explain in words.

Kids deserve to grow up knowing that we can see they are doing their best. Instead of punishing and criticising, how about we stop, listen, think and then act. How about we work collaboratively with children to help them meet reasonable expectations? How can we support parents to learn this information, to put it in practice in their busy lives? How can we give parents the tools to be calm and connected with their children?

What things can you do to connect with your children? To see them for who they are, not who you or society wants them to be?

3 ways to overcome perfectionism

I was chatting with a friend about how difficult I was finding this current season of parenting. We haven’t long moved house and its to be expected that chaos may still feel like the dominant aspect of home life.

I often feel overwhelmed and exhausted by clutter, disorganisation and mess. I know I’m not alone! The first instinct I have in those moments is to clean and tidy. But this reaction doesn’t help me long term, as I am not learning better skills.

Sit with discomfort – learning to slow down, stay with the feelings of discomfort and feeling unsettled is part of becoming more intentional and mindful. You can accept difficult things and let them pass over you more easily by noticing your reactions.

Don’t spring to better organising – while it’s true having systems helps, organising your stuff won’t fix the problem. Decluttering helps, but ultimately working on your emotions and contentment will lead to less impulse shopping and stop the flow of stuff.

Be open to sharing – tell friends how you are feeling or write in a journal or blog. Know you’re not alone in these thoughts and feelings. By sharing you encourage others to notice and accept their own feelings, and you have a chance to process things through talking or writing.

Know that taking small steps to accept yourself is such a crucial but hard thing to do. Remember to show yourself self compassion.

Helping families of autistic children

One of the hardest things about being a parent to an autistic child is working out what you should be doing for them and then advocating for their needs.

A lot of parents are sent to ABA led therapy centres, but if you talk to autistic adults, they’ll tell you ABA is abuse.

My lesson has been realising that all the parenting advice is unhelpful for autistic children (and potentially for all) because it establishes a hierarchy and requires compliance.

What if we let kids be kids? What if we listened instead of demanded?

As a sensitive person, it’s heart breaking to see other families choosing to parent in an authoritarian manner and their kids struggling to make sense of it.

I’d love to see all parents taught about conscious parenting. To encourage their only personal growth journey and self awareness. To help children develop regulation and communication skills to recognise and manage their emotions. So we build empathy in children and ultimately society.

But how? I can write about it here, talk about it with other families but it feels like a drop in the ocean. I hope experts and writers find a way to have a broader reach for these topics.

Why and how I became a minimalist

As a long-time sufferer of anxiety, I had always liked things being in their place. I knew instinctively that clutter was affecting my mood and my relationships. I hated the amount of time it took to tidy up, all the time.

I became overwhelmed by managing a home and working full time. Then when I fell pregnant, I realised it wasn’t sustainable nor practical to have a house full of stuff. I started selling and donating everything I didn’t use. I read The Minimalists website voraciously. I discovered I loved white space, clear counters and knowing what I had, were things I used.

Enter children. It’s not as easy to be a minimalist and to stick to your beliefs and practices with small children. It’s not impossible, but it’s more difficult.

Toys, baby gear, washing, nappies and food – it all has the capacity to take over. It’s key to implement routines to reduce the stress that builds from piles of washing or toys all over your home.

There is absolutely no doubt that less stuff equals less tidying up. But with kids, it is unlikely to be no stuff equals zero tidying up – there is going to be a reckoning. I have had to raise my clutter acceptance level and learn to cope with piles of washing and toys, otherwise, I would be even more exhausted (is that possible?) from caring for my children AND constantly tidying. As I write this now at my desk, there is no clear desk space around my laptop. I have piles of paperwork to file, crayons, glue and a few magazines. But I know it’s only temporary.

Cutting yourself some slack on your journey through life is a true skill that comes with time. Some people are instinctively more kind to themselves, and others need to learn self-compassion. I’m unfortunately in the latter group! But, it’s a constant practice just like minimalism.

Once I got past the ‘stuff’ phase, I was able to incorporate minimalist thinking into all areas of my life.

I gave myself permission to give up the corporate life which I never enjoyed.

I gave myself permission to dress in comfortable clothes I liked, and eschew ‘fashion’.

I gave myself permission to stop colouring my hair and trim it myself.

I gave myself permission to read instead of cleaning.

If you think these things are silly – you’re lucky. Perhaps you were raised in a household that valued rest, or you’ve just always felt certain your needs were valid. Not everyone has that experience – and minimalism can be a way to build these coping skills.

Now five years since I discovered minimalism, I’m proud to say it still excites me to think and write about. I enjoy the ongoing process of examining my life and finding ways to improve it. I’m enjoying the benefits of spending less, having greater financial security is so helpful with small kids. Having this security has led me to be able to not work and thus pursue hobbies while raising my children.

Minimalism looks different for everyone but I believe each of us can benefit from adopting the mindset and finding ways to improve and simplify your own life.

How to stop buying stuff

I’m reading a book at the moment called “The Rent Collector” by Camron Wright. The main character lives in a rubbish dump and her family have for generations. The well-written illustration of the waste society generates is a powerful visual image we could all learn from.

Photo by Hermes Rivera on Unsplash

The purpose of this blog has always been about living with less. Living intentionally. Minimalism. Just less. But the problem facing us is overcoming impulsive buys that clog our homes and drain our wallets.

So how can we stop buying so much stuff?

  • Don’t go shopping – sounds simple but it’s true. Don’t meet up with friends for a coffee near the shops, if you need something, see if you can borrow it or buy it second hand, take your kids to the park or museum instead of the shops.
  • Try journalling – try evaluating your impulsive habits by writing about them
  • Learn a new hobby – take up a new hobby so you don’t go shopping!
  • Make some household rules around online shopping – oh yes, it’s convenient, but make some rules. Both parents have to agree, only for certain items that you need, have to check 3 shops to see if you can get it secondhand, ask your friends if you can borrow it first? Whatever helps you to stop the ‘save to cart’ and buy cycle. Give it a go!
Photo by Hutomo Abrianto on Unsplash

Make a goal for 2020 by either doing a ‘no spend’ month or year, try making a list of the items you know your family will need and sticking to it. Try using my system below to curb your spending.

Our 2020 shopping list

ItemMonthBudget
clothes for our eldest (op shop / secondhand bulk eBay)May25
bike parts and maintenance for husband’s hobby monthly50
running shoes for measap!200
gifts for boys birthdaysApril & July100
Christmas giftsDecember250
gifts for family and friendsas needed250
Lego as needed300

Maybe your priorities are different but when you are intentional about your spending, whether you write it down or not, you have much greater control.

Peace.

The value of things

With the price of clothing, jewellery, shoes and home decor plummeting in the past 50 years, we have lost perspective. When previous generations wore things until they were worn or not repairable, we now have multiple versions of things…

How many pairs of shoes do we really need?

How many coats, jumpers, pairs of socks?

Do we need to update our decor?

The answers are personal but there is no doubt our world would benefit from less consumption.

If you consider the impact of new things being produced and shipped to us, then disposed of when its no longer useful, perhaps our system is broken.

Perhaps we could return to buying things of greater quality that will last a lifetime?

Perhaps we could aim to buy secondhand wherever possible?

Perhaps we could make do with what we have already?

Perhaps we could borrow or share?

I wonder how it would feel to buy and take care of an item for a lifetime?