As a mom and wife, I am constantly bombarded with reminders of my inability to keep a perfect home, feed my family perfectly healthy meals, and stay current on all of the latest fashion trends, all while maintaining perfect patience with my kids. A few years ago, I was flooded with feelings of inadequacy, stress, frustration, and more importantly, I was devoid of peace and joy. It took a long time to realize that the source of many of those feelings was the idea that in order to live a fulfilling life, my life needed to look perfect too. I’ve now learned that maintaining a picture perfect life is anything but simple, and simplicity is what I really craved and needed during that particularly stressful time in my life. It didn’t happen overnight, and there were several “Aha” moments along the way, but I am now at a point where I can share 3 ways in which I have found greater peace and joy in my life through the process of simplification.
1. Avoid the Pinterest perfection trap
My daily life compared to Pinterest suggests that I’m falling short in just about every area possible. Not so long ago, the pressure to create a perfect home, host the perfect parties, cook perfect meals, and raise perfect kids nearly crippled me. Instead of focusing on all of the good things I accomplished at home and all of the positive things that I did with my kids each day, all I could see were my failures stacked right next to the piles of laundry and stacks of dishes. Then my 4th child happened, and any pretense I projected of having it all together flew right out the window. I was so engulfed in the trenches of motherhood that reality finally slapped me in the face. I don’t live in a Pinterest perfect world, and neither do you. So why do we hold ourselves to such unrealistic standards and expectations?
I’m not sure why it took me having 4 kids to figure out this simple truth, but as soon as I did, I embraced it and dedicated an entire year to simplification. What does that mean? I didn’t beat myself up over letting my child pick out a Halloween costume at the store rather than crafting it by hand. I stopped waiting until my house was perfectly decorated or perfectly spotless before inviting a friend into my home. When my last baby turned one, we celebrated two days late, and by celebrated, I mean we sang him happy birthday and ate cake. End of story. Did you know that a one year old has no recollection of his first birthday? I apparently did not—until after spending many sleepless nights planning the perfect Dr. Seuss themed birthday party for my second son’s first birthday. Complete with a homemade party banner, over the top games, a five-course meal, and hand-stitched gifts. In the end, the ungrateful little guy couldn’t have cared less about any of it, and was actually happy for the festivities to be over so that he could go to bed.
And, so, I’ve decided to give myself a break from unrealistic standards and expectations. I like the idea of an immaculate home, but I love the idea of a home that is filled with love, laughter, and faith even more. I want my kids to know that the things I value can’t be bought, styled, or baked. For me, the way to attain this is through simplification. As I’ve simplified my time, my expectations, and my life, I’ve opened myself up to more opportunities to create beautiful moments with my family that they WILL remember.
2. Learn to say no without feeling guilty
I learned something several years ago that became invaluable in my quest to simplify. Every single time you say yes to one thing, you are saying no to another. So naturally, the opposite is true as well.
When you say YES to exercise, you are saying NO to feeling lousy.
When you say NO to working late, you are saying YES to having dinner with your family.
You get the idea. There is only so much time in a day, so every time you say yes to one thing, you are saying no to another. Unfortunately, it’s taken me most of my lifetime to fully understand and appreciate this concept. There came a point in my life that I realized my people pleasing tendencies and inability to say no were creating unnecessary pressure and stress in my life. I was saying yes to good things, but in doing so, I became overscheduled and frazzled. Unfortunately, my husband and kids seemed to be the ones who suffered most. In an October 2007 general conference address titled, Good, Better, Best, Elder Dallin H. Oaks said, “We should begin by recognizing the reality that just because something is good is not a sufficient reason for doing it. The number of good things we can do far exceeds the time available to accomplish them. Some things are better than good, and these are the things that should command priority attention in our lives.”
It can be hard to say no, especially if what you’re saying no to is a good thing. I can tell you though, that I gained an unexpected amount of peace in my life once I learned how to say no to activities that took away from my ability to run a happy and smooth household. I’m not implying that you should go around saying no to every service opportunity or to all team sports for your children, but as a general rule of thumb, I try to stick by what Elder Lynn G. Robbins stated in our last stake conference. “If we are too busy for family, an alarm should go off in our minds telling us that good things are undermining the best.”
I would genuinely like to be more involved in my oldest son’s school, but to everything there is a time and a season. Right now, while I still have three young children at home to play with, teach, and nurture, it is personally not my time or season to say YES to serving on the school’s PTO. I will never be able to get my time or my children’s childhood back, and those aren’t things I want to mess around with. Just remember, it’s fine for people to ask something of you. And it’s just as fine for you to say no. Especially when saying yes puts you in a position where you feel like you are barely able to come to the surface for air. As I’ve practiced this skill, my time has opened up for more worthwhile and eternal priorities.
Eliminate whatever non-essential things are cluttering your day and stealing your time. I’ve always been an organized person, so oftentimes I think that I am exempt from having to worry about this principle. Fortunately, it’s not too late for me, and I am aware that clutter comes in many forms, not all of which are as obvious as an overflowing closet. In the September 1993 New Era issue, Elder William R. Bradford said, “A cluttered life is a life that you do not have control of. It is a life in which the things you have surrounded yourself with, and allow to use up your time, are controlling you and negatively influencing your happiness and eternal progress.”
My house may not be cluttered, but I have developed habits that don’t serve any useful purpose. There are times when I get to the end of my day with “no time” left for personal scripture study. I do however find time to watch a TV show and get through my entire Facebook feed before falling asleep. It doesn’t take much to look around and find all the gadgets, apps, toys, shows, and non-essential things that are taking control of us. Certain clutter in my life has been easy to clear away, but other clutter has required a lot more willpower. Elder Robbins also posed the following questions in his stake conference address:
- What apps will you remove from your mobile phone today that will simplify your life?
- What TV program can you sacrifice that you have been addicted to that really isn’t improving your life?
- What video game can you give up that may be hurting you far more than helping you?
- Are you living in a bigger house than you really need?
- Would selling the house, and dramatically reducing your mortgage cause you to breathe easier and give you a new sense of freedom and peace of conscience?
And with that, I just deleted Facebook from my phone. Literally, just now. I’ll be honest, I’m not really breathing easier yet. In fact, I’m actually panicking about my ability to see this one through. But tomorrow, when I’m outside in the yard with my kids, rather than keeping one eye on them and the other on my phone, I will probably get up to play with them, and that will give me peace of conscience.
God’s plan is a plan of simplicity. We are able to be greater instruments in the hands of God when our lives are simple and we can stand ready to act on His will. If you need to dedicate a year of your life to simplification in order to understand its implications, I urge you to do so! Stop setting unrealistic expectations for yourself. Learn to say no to things that rob you of your precious time and infringe on your ability to choose to live God’s plan of happiness. Take back your life and clear away the clutter. I certainly haven’t perfected the principle of simplification, and I may be too good at saying no to things now, but I will say that I’ve felt more love towards myself, more peace, and more joy as I’ve strived to simplify.