15 May 2012

Simple life and homemaking

I get many emails asking my opinion on this and that. I'm sure you all know I'm not a counsellor or any sort and I not familiar with any of the specific problems people are faced with, however, I hope to help by replying and by giving our readers the chance to as well. For all I know, these problems may well have been already tackled successfully by someone reading here who might have the solution. Below are emails from two readers - "Kate" and "Emma". If you think you have something helpful to offer, please leave your comment.

"Ever since I saw "The Good Life" series as a kid I wanted to live sustainably and simply. I am now mother of two small boys and stepmother of four. I work part-time because I found a job I like. My husband has a busy job out of choice as well as to pay maintenance, and with six kids life can get pretty crazy.I'd love to simplfy my life but I am struggling to do so with so much on. Other people suggest 'just plant some vegies with the kids, they'll love it', but the answer isn't as simple as that.Does one need to put these plans on hold while small children are so time-consuming? Is it possible to simplify amidst a busy life?"

There are many ways to live simply. You don't have to live the way Tom and Barbara did; you don't have to change very much at all. My suggestion is to simplify what you're already doing and to put a bit of time and thought into how you organise your family and home. For instance, you could make laundry liquid - that would reduce the cost of your grocery bill and get rid of a few of the chemicals in your lives. Stop buying commercial cleaners from the supermarket and use bicarb and vinegar instead - this is another way to reduce costs and chemicals. You could cook from scratch one or two days a week. Buy your meat in bulk, menu plan, take time out for some alone time, start recycling and get the kids to help.

It will be a great thing to send everyone off to school and work with a lunchbox full of homemade food, not packaged snacks. Could you have a baking session on the weekend to help with that? About 30 minutes and you'd have a couple of cakes or batches of biscuits made for the week ahead. Children love baking, teach them as you go and they might take on that task every week. Organising everyone to clean their own rooms and take their own dirty clothes, sheets and towels to the laundry will help you today and them tomorrow (although they won't know that yet). Expect them to make their own beds and put their clean clothes away.

The children could set the table every evening and then get everyone around the table for dinner and talking about what happened today and what will happen tomorrow. And don't forget to just stop and enjoy it all. Spending time with the children, reading to them, playing games and just talking, shows them that you love them just as much as saying it does. There are many more things you could do that will enable you to live a simpler life and I am sure they'll flow on when you start doing some of these things. It might not be a quiet life with six children, but there will be a lot of helpers.

"I really enjoyed your last 2 posts on "Finding your value at home". I have also noticed that in a lot of your posts you talk about how homemakers seem to be judged or undervalued in today's society. My question is "What should I do if my partner is the one that does not value me being a homemaker?" I am a stay at home mum to my 5 year old son and I study full time at University, I now feel pressured to work part time just to be able to financially contribute to the household. However I know that in doing this I will lose valuable time with my little boy. Because of study I don't have a lot of time leftover to cook, clean, etc. but I still feel like I'm contributing in some way by furthering my education and being there for my son before and after school. I have also offered to manage the finances (I consider myself quite the good saver!) but he still sees his income as "his" money that he should manage by himself. How can I get my partner to see the value in what I do? (We are unmarried and my son is not his, so I'm not sure if that might be contributing to his feelings on the matter)."

Maybe I have got this wrong but if you're using your time to study and "don't have a lot of time leftover to cook and clean etc." then you're more a student than a homemaker. You say that you feel like you're contributing in some way by furthering your education and being there for your son before and after school. Both those things are very worthwhile and important but to be a homemaker, you need to be working in the home as well. I may come across as being too harsh here, and I don't mean to be, I hope by writing this, you'll benefit. I fully understand what you're going through because when I was much younger I studied part-time for a degree while I worked and cared for my family. It's tough, you never have enough time but if you can do it, it gives you a tremendous feeling of achievement and satisfaction.

People usually value those things that give them something they need or want. You say your partner doesn't value what you do and that what you're doing is looking after your son and studying. You say you're not married and that your son is not his son - so that leads me to think you've not be together for a long time. Maybe that connection with your son will develop over time. Will he value the work you put into the home? I know when I was trying to convince Hanno that we could live like this, I decided that I would just get on with it and show him what was possible. I stopped trying to convince him and just worked to make a comfortable home that suited both of us, I shopped for bargains, reduced our grocery bill and saved us a lot of money, I started recycling, mending and gardening. When he saw what was possible with his own eyes, there was no argument. He dived in.

You have to have your priorities clearly in your mind. They are probably, your son, your partner, your life together and your study. But it seems like you want to be a homemaker too, if so, take care of them and yourself well and if you don't have time for full-time study, go part-time instead. Sure it will take longer to get your degree, but you won't be putting your life on hold while you're studying. You can be  a part-time student and a homemaker, and that includes cooking, shopping and cleaning, it will just take more time. But you'll be giving your son, your partner and yourself a great gift and you'll be living in a home that supports and nurtures all of you.

But let me be very clear here. You don't have to do part-time work outside the home to make a financial contribution it. You will make a significant contribution simply by being an organised and efficient homemaker. When your partner sees you contributing to the partnership and the home he will probably value your contribution more because it will be impossible not to see it. You'll be able to provide home cooked meals and reduce the costs of running the home because you'll make a lot of what you use and you'll create a warm and welcoming home in the process of doing that. And what a bonus that will be for your son as well. I'm not saying to give up study. I firmly believe we need many more educated women, not less. But if you can study part-time and be a part-time homemaker as well, I think you'll get the life you're looking for and you'll still be working towards your degree, and the chance of a satisfying paid job is still in your future.

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