Misplaced Minimalism and Plastic Whales

Toddlers, lockdown, and forgotten intentions

Words by Rebecca Givens

I haven’t thought about minimalism in almost two years.

My journey into motherhood has been a real ride. Amazing, unpredictable, exhausting, completely rewarding, and the biggest learning experience I could ever imagine. Have I stopped along the way to think about how cluttered our house has become?

Erm.

No, of course not. Life with miniature humans leaves little time for self-reflection. Last year was especially a whirlwind for the entire world—I worked hard juggling various jobs, began studies for an alternative career and, of course, looked after the small and incredible person who is now the entire focus of my life.

My child, like most toddlers, is a creative free spirit, inspired by what is around him and incredibly hungry for knowledge. Last year, locked in our homes juggling working and childcare, I didn’t notice the “Orders” tab on my Amazon account taking on a life of its own. As my son became keen to soak up world around him, I constantly sought out ways to facilitate this, through sensory activities, messy play, and skills-focused toys.

As I write this article at the start of 2021 with England in its third mandatory lockdown, we are legally permitted only to grocery shop or exercise (outside once a day for 30 minutes in our local area). The second-hand shops have locked their doors, the local play groups and libraries are shut, play-centers and the like are obviously closed. I tried to be as creative as possible in terms of devising stimulating activities with limited resources but, in all honestly, I found myself turning to online shopping to fill the gaps for the third time. When we have nothing else to focus on, the focus often becomes the “stuff.”

I am not suggesting that owning things does not add value to a child’s life in some way. I can’t completely criticize the entirety of my plastic Amazon treasury which has done so much for my little human. It has aided him knowing most of the creatures in the sea, helped him learn how to kick, throw, and build things, inspired him to explore what he likes, dislikes, and absolutely must take to bed (currently, a humpback whale). He is fine-tuning key motor skills with specifically designed toys, practicing how to interact and form emotions with his teddy bears, learning how to count with a caterpillar, and nurturing a passion for taking things apart and putting them back together again with his build-at-home cars. The list goes on.

The sentence “stuff can equal sensory development and happiness for my child” is true, yes, but so is the sentence “my kid has way too much stuff than he knows what to do with.” With things, I suppose the questioning lies in intention. As we approach my son’s second birthday, I find the need to take a step back and ask myself which purchases were well thought-out and which were quick distractions for a family working and locked in their homes. Intentional item or pacifier? I have learned that the line between the two is quite fine indeed. When you throw in birthdays and Christmases, a regular de-cluttering becomes essential.

One of the most notable things about becoming a parent is observing yourself mold into a new version of you. Watching them grow up, well, that’s the easy part. You are nurturing a blank canvas but having your own inbuilt priorities change happens so quickly, so silently… blink and you'll miss it. Bringing so much extra stuff into our lives during the treadmill that was last year happened without my full acknowledgement. I realize that I misplaced my joy for minimalism.

This year I vow to slow down, reassess, and consider ways in which I can bring living with less back into our lives. Not to clean up our home, but to reinstate the passions that I preached in the years prior to having children.

Minimalism can often take a backseat when you’re a parent, and that’s not just because kids are inherently chaotic and messy or because we had to spend a substantial amount of the year entertaining them within four walls. Minimalism can often take a backseat when you’re a parent because becoming a full-time caregiver to someone that needs you shifts your focus from you to them. I glance at the current book titles on my shelf, reading links saved in my phone, recipes pinned to my fridge, invites in my calendar—the vision board that is my life is completely and entirely centered on the tiny human currently asleep upstairs. It does take substantial effort to keep your own interests at the forefront of your mind when your headspace is preoccupied with their needs, development, and happiness (especially right now, when we worry about what they are missing out on).

Whilst my motivations and ambitions will always be driven by the person I love more than words can describe, I am reminded today that, as moms, it is okay to reclaim your own vision too. It is also okay to have imperfections and to have lost sight of this vision, to have lost sight of intentional living, especially during the year we recently came out of. We have juggled so much and cannot be too hard on ourselves, as it would be an impossible expectation to try and uphold all of our usual values 100% during an international pandemic.

At the same time, acknowledging our lost visions, talking about our imperfections, and setting aims to do better in the future gives us an opportunity to focus on our own learning for once, and not just our children’s. After all, our own growth will impact them in the long run. It is okay to be imperfect. It is okay to dust off old values. It is okay to completely restart our minimalism journeys.

On that note, I am off to reset.

Rebecca Givens

Rebecca Givens is a mom and writer from Stratford-upon-Avon, UK. As well as working as a digital marketer, she also ironically and consequently has a passion for analogue technologies and “switching off.” At the moment, her full bio sits on a 1930s Imperial Good Companion typewriter, somewhere in her garage. Get in touch to chat at rebeccarimmergivens@gmail.com.

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