Simple Living in Real Life is a series where we take a closer look at how different people approach simple living.
The theory of “living with less” is straightforward enough, but how does that actually look in real life? Each interview delves into how different people apply the ideas of simple living to their every day.
Simple Living in Real Life: The Family with Teenagers
Recently I’ve been thinking about the challenges families face in creating a simpler home, as they move through the various stages of life. And it’s clear that every stage has its own set of challenges.
While I can confidently deal with excessive toys, hand-me-down clothes and the sparkly bits of plastic little girls collect, I am clueless when it comes to teenagers. And given my own teenaged predilection for ticket stubs, band t-shirts and endless copies of GirlFriend magazine, the idea of creating a simpler home with teenagers fills me with fear.
Fortunately, Rita Ramstad from This Sorta Old Life is here to shed some light on this exact issue, as well as share her tips on creating a warm, personality-filled family home.
1. Tell us about yourself, your home, who lives there and what you do.
Sometimes I think simplicity is so appealing to me because our family life is complex: We are two divorced single parents, raising three kids between us–which means we juggle the needs and coordinate the schedules of three kids and four adults, as well as the extended families of all four adults. Each of our kids is on a different schedule with us, which means that sometimes we have one with us, sometimes two, and sometimes all three.
Earlier in our relationship, our lives felt crazy! We each maintained our own household, living 40 miles apart. I had a home in the mountains and Cane had an apartment near the city. Two years ago, my job was reduced and Cane’s student loans came due–and both of us realized that we couldn’t sustain the lives we’d been living. So, we decided to merge our households and find one central location. We moved to a 70s split-level home in a suburb located between our homes, which is also where both of us work. (Cane is a high school teacher and I am an instructional coach to teachers.)
We’re living in a place and house that neither of us would have chosen when we were younger, but we’ve grown to love it–I think, in large part, because it serves our life well. It’s a modest home just like many, many of the other homes that surround it. We’ve grown to appreciate its humble history and the needs such homes meet for so many real families.
2. With teenagers in the house, how do you encourage simplicity? Particularly when your kids have their own tastes/needs/money?
I suppose the best way we do this is by example. We don’t bring a lot of things into our home. We use (and re-purpose) things we already have. We have routines. We don’t over-schedule. We create spaces to support space in our lives–a reading platform in our backyard tree, a hammock for lounging, a family room we can hang out in together.
We are fortunate that this is an area of relative ease for us: None of our kids are particularly enamored of “things.” That’s partly due to their personalities. It may also be that we limit cultural messages to buy–we cut cable TV two years ago. Great decision!
3. Do you have any tips for staying on top of teenager-related clutter?
Close their bedroom doors! Although I’m writing this with a smile, it is one of our best sanity-saving tactics for living with our teens. Both of us regularly shudder when we look in our kids’ rooms–and we do, occasionally, declare them intolerable and demand a clearing out–but we think it’s important to let them have their own space and (within reason) do as they see fit with it.
As for our common living spaces, we do our best to keep it tidy all the time by picking things up every day. Before bed, we try to make sure that everyone’s stuff is put away. We have the kids keep their personal things in their bedrooms. We have designated places for backpacks and shoes. And, honestly, we nag a lot.
4. You write a lot about interior design, furniture and decor, and you have a fabulous, warm, character-filled home. How do you balance your passion for decorating with your desire to live a simpler life? Do you find that a difficult balance to achieve?
Yes! This is a question we return to again and again in our writing. It’s one we haven’t yet found a clear answer to. I suppose one thing that helps us is that we pretty much reject the idea of decorating. We do love art, and we adorn our walls with it, but we don’t love decoration for the sake of decoration. When it comes to making decisions about what to bring into our spaces, we have developed a few questions that guide us:
- Does the item serve or support a function?
- Is the item personally meaningful?
- Do we have space for it? If we don’t, are we willing to part with something else to make room for it?
Unless the answer is “yes” to at least two of these questions (and ideally, all three), we don’t bring it in.
Also, we don’t shop for recreation. We love browsing through thrift/vintage stores–because we love looking at things with history to them–but we don’t visit them unless we have something in particular we’re looking for.
5. Share with us one major change that’s helped simplify your life.
A huge change for us was combining our households/lives and moving to a central location where both of us work. In some ways, it’s been complicated. Merging families can be hard and messy! But living close to work, and sharing the job of running a home and raising kids, has made many things simpler for both of us.
Another major change: Working less. Two years ago, my job was reduced from full-time to 80%, which means that I work only 4 days a week. At first, that scared me to death. I was barely surviving on what I was making. But that is what prompted our decision to merge our households, and I now see that it was a huge gift.
We didn’t need two separate homes. Merging our families has been challenging, but it’s also been rewarding. Working less means that I now have more time to take care of our needs as a family. I’ve had time to pursue writing, something I’ve always wanted to do more of. I’m more relaxed, I’m healthier, and I’m more present in our life. Those are things I could never buy with the extra money I had working full-time.
From this experience, I’ve learned to question beliefs that feel like bedrock truth.
6. Do you have any tips on creating an interesting, beautiful home without creating clutter and excess?
When we merged our homes, we had tons of clutter and excess! It took most of a year for us to sort through it all and determine what we really need/want. So, our first tip is to give yourself the grace of some time. It took months or years to accumulate your stuff; you can’t fix it all in one day or week. Go slow, be thoughtful, allow yourself to examine the emotional component to stuff, know that you’ll get there.
Now that we know what we need and have most of it, we live mostly by the one in/one out rule. We don’t need 2 vases of the same size. If I really want a new one I’ve found, I get it only if I’m willing to let go of one we currently own. Our exceptions: Books and art. We love those, and we’re OK with that. If there’s something you love, we think you should give yourself permission to indulge a bit. (That said, we do regularly edit our collections of both and pass on to others items that we no longer adore.)
The most important thing, though, is to bring in only what you love. Wait for the things you love; they will appear in time. Don’t get something that’s not quite right “just for now” unless it truly is a necessity you can’t live without. We really don’t need much to survive, and thriving comes from a home/life you love.
Do you have teenagers living in your home? Are they clutter-magnets like I was?