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5 ways to embrace minimalist parenting
Inject breathing room into your family life — without becoming a "slacker parent"
Make room for y-o-u!
Make room for y-o-u! ThinkStock/iStockphoto
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n our speed-of-light, sound-bite world, either/or parenting messages seem to travel well. You're either eating organic or you're not. You're either cloth diapering or you're contributing to the landfill. You're either a hovering helicopter parent or you're a slacker.

We're all smarter than this, of course. We know family life is more nuanced than the messages we're hearing. And yet, with our mile-long to-do lists and too few hours of sleep, it can be difficult to coordinate our synapses enough to internalize that.

The result: Parenting anxiety and guilt. Guilt that we're doing too little, or perhaps, that we're doing too much. Some weeks, when it's easier to just make the kids' beds for them and then let them zone out in front of a screen while we catch our breath, we worry we're doing a bit of both.

I'm not going to tell you that I achieved Zen-like balance in five easy steps. I still struggle to balance home, kids, work, self, and community every day, and often I don't succeed. What has changed for me is that I no longer worry as much about it.

Don't get me wrong. We must fill basic needs for our children: Food, shelter, stimulation, security, and unconditional love, among others. But once those bases are covered, the field is open. I now trust that there are many right ways to raise kids. And "minimalist parenting" can be one of them.

Minimalist parenting isn't about throwing your hands in the air and assuming everything will work out. Few thoughtful parents want that. But almost every parent I know feels painfully pressed for time and mental space. This method of parenting is about curating your schedule and your belongings, and only letting the most important, most joyful, and most fun stuff into your world.

The best part: You get to decide what's important, joyful, and fun. Not a credentialed professional. Not Pinterest. Not even me. You. You're the expert.

A few pointers to help you get started:

1. Rethink your use of time. Whenever I tell myself I'm "too busy" to exercise, I remember that the president of the United States somehow has the time. It's not an apt comparison, and I don't mean to sound like I'm finger-wagging. But it reminds me that some of my busy-ness is my choice to fill my time with non-exercise-y activities.

2. Edit your stuff. I'm not going to tell you to get rid of all the things. But have you ever noticed how much work it takes to clean, organize, and store your belongings? One example: My overcrowded bedroom drawers. I have an overabundance of free T-shirts I've picked up over the years, and they've filled my drawers to the point of absurdity. I can't put my clean laundry away without rearranging my drawers (and cursing) every time. Those free T-shirts are costing me a lot in terms of energy and mood.

3. Repeat your family's favorite meals. Past homemakers were satisfied with "if this is Tuesday it must be chicken," but somehow I got the idea that every dinner had to be new and different. The reality is that my kids prefer repetition (when they're willing to eat what I cook). And that saves me time and prevents extra stress.

4. Trust that your child is learning. Clearly, if your kid is drowning in school, you have a serious problem to address. But if your child is doing fine — and by "fine" I mean some good days, some bad days, but mostly okay — you can trust that your child is learning valuable skills for life. Handling the ups and downs of school (or whatever educational setting they're in) helps kids become stronger and more resilient.

5. Make room on the to-do list for you. The only way you'll make it through this crazy adventure is if you take care of yourself. Self-care isn't a luxury — it's a necessity.

Minimalist parenting isn't minimal parenting, it's the mindful choice to do less of the unimportant stuff so there's more room for important stuff. Take a deep breath and consider what you might like to make room for in your life.

Asha Dornfest
Asha Dornfest is the co-author of Minimalist Parenting: Enjoy Modern Family Life More By Doing Less and the publisher of ParentHacks.com, a site crammed with tips for making family life easier. She lives in Portland, Ore., with her husband and two children.

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