MumsnetGuestPosts (MNHQ) Wed 07-May-14 12:49:24

Guest post: Slowing your home – 'women should stop trying to be all things to all people'

When MN blogger Brooke McAlary found herself worn out, in tears and constantly shouting at her family, she knew something had to change. She explains how simplifying her home and becoming more mindful changed her and her family's lives

- Read Mumsnetters' top tips on de-cluttering your home

Brooke McAlary

Slow Your Home

Posted on: Wed 07-May-14 12:49:24

(34 comments )

Lead photo

'I realised that doing things simply because they made us happy was a perfectly good reason to do them.'

"How did I get to this point?"

I asked myself this question repeatedly as I drove to my parents' house in a state of utter exhaustion. My young daughter was strapped in the back seat, my pregnant belly pushing against the steering wheel, tears streaming down my face.

I was done. I had nothing left to give. How did I get here?
Gradually, then suddenly.

With eternal gratitude to Hemingway, three simple words so elegantly summarise how I ended up in a situation I didn't want or expect. It happened so gradually, almost imperceptibly. And then suddenly, shockingly, I snapped and it was all I could do to keep myself together long enough to make the short trip to my parents’ house.

Looking back, I can see that I had chosen a life of anxiety, perfectionism, comparisons, sleep-deprivation, poor health, a lack of mindfulness, all coupled with the idea that I deserved more.

Gradually, these things took their toll. Until suddenly I found myself in a very frightening place. Strung out, worn down, angry, resentful, a shell of my true self. I was in tears daily, shouting at my family and barely getting by. Then – snap.

This gradual, then sudden decline is not reserved for dramatic breakdowns. It's not reserved for high-achievers, or emotionally sensitive people. Chances are, you know someone who has been through this or have gone through it yourself. Maybe you're still there, in the thick of it. Struggling to get your head above water. If you are, please take heart. You are not alone, and you can turn things around.

I began to see the problem. There was just too much. Too much stuff. Too many expectations. Too much to do. My priorities were non-existent, I spent the days at full-speed and was overwhelmed trying to be everything to everyone, every day. I was utterly and completely exhausted. Depleted. Empty.


For me, the fog started to lift after I reached out for help and soon after that I began to see the problem. There was just too much. Too much stuff. Too many expectations. Too much to do. My priorities were non-existent, I spent the days at full-speed and was overwhelmed trying to be everything to everyone, every day. I was utterly and completely exhausted. Depleted. Empty.

Somewhere in that haze, I stumbled across Leo Babauta's blog, Zen Habits. Call it fate, call it divine intervention, call it clutching at straws if you wish, but the hour I spent drinking in his words on living a simpler, more mindful life changed the course of mine and my family's lives.

I realised there was such a thing as simple living. It was possible to slow down and enjoy life. In fact, it sounded damn-well delightful. I was inspired to simplify our home, and while the last thing I needed was another task on my to-do list, I began de-cluttering.

First it was the junk piled up in the spare room. Then it was the garage. The wardrobe. The kitchen. The office. Gradually I began to learn more about living a simpler life and realised it wasn't just about our stuff. It was about our thoughts, our relationships and the way we moved through our days. And the amazing thing was - as I de-cluttered and pared back - so many of the other pressures I'd felt simply drifted away.

I learned to prioritise. I learned that it is impossible to do everything. I learned to stop and pay attention to what I was doing in that very moment - even if it was hanging clothes on the line or playing hide and seek for the 47th time that day. I learned to be present in my own life.

I got organised. Improved our diet. I realised that doing things simply because they made us happy was a perfectly good reason to do them. I embraced the lost art of doing nothing. Empty dates on the calendar and limited extra-curricular activities meant there was room for weekend naps and impromptu afternoon drinks with friends.

I began making small changes day by day. Some changes came easily, while others required a lot of effort. Some happened simultaneously, while others were my main focus for months at a time. But tackling each of these areas over the past four years has transformed my life.

Gradually I recognised that creating a simpler home isn't the goal of simple living. It's not about having a more minimalist, more pared back home for its own sake. It's not about creating 'a perfect life', and it's not about having it all together in order to impress others. It's just about creating a home that makes it easy for you to live the life you want. A simpler, happier, more connected life.

By Brooke McAlary

Twitter: @SlowYourHome

Snog Wed 07-May-14 18:16:11

Nobody taking any notice of what this blogger thinks which I guess is what she is advocating...OP your work here is done wink

amothersplaceisinthewrong Wed 07-May-14 18:20:12

I always say that "good enough" is good enough.

MaitreKarlsson Wed 07-May-14 18:23:11

Good post, thanks OP. Your initial stressed out/snapping experiences sounded very familiar to me as I felt like this a year ago - don't ever want to go there again.
Things are now much better and I'm making steady progress. Was already decluttering and finding it hugely helpful, so will also check out the blog.

Minniemarf Wed 07-May-14 19:39:27

This is exactly how I felt a few months back. I've been introduced to mindfulness and really believe it's working. My new mantra is 'if you are doing the best you can in your current circumstances then kick up your heels and dance'. I'm doing a lot of dancing wink

GotMyGoat Wed 07-May-14 20:01:13

It sounds exhausting to me, is it?

SirChenjin Wed 07-May-14 20:42:45

I'm not sure that I have time to de-clutter my very busy life on top of everything else that's going on grin. The OP sounds lovely on her website, but there are definite whiffs of Ms Paltrow. If it works for you though...

Bramshott Wed 07-May-14 21:23:40

Decluttering your home is all very well, but in trying to combine working with 2 x primary aged kids what I need is MORE TIME. I'm not sure all the decluttering in the world is going to help me find that...

Felis Wed 07-May-14 22:49:48

How do I simplify my life when I have to work and look after 3 children? We don't have that much stuff except the children's toys and all the pictures and crafts they do.

I'm exhausted but without a lot of money to pay for some more help in the house I don't see what I'm meant to do. I have to work or we don't pay the mortgage!

AwkwardAnnie Wed 07-May-14 22:54:33

Very timely post for me right now. I feel like if one more thing happened to add to my stress I'd break.

I need to declutter my life. Decluttering my house is a life long task, but I'm a crafter and clutter seems to be standard. What's more important right now is decluttering some of the commitments I have, and that I feel obliged to do as I don't want to let people down.

The truth is though if I don't shed some things I'll let everyone down as I'll be too ill to do anything.

Pinkbatrobi Wed 07-May-14 23:07:48

Bramshott, but that is exactly the point: you MAKE more time for the things that matter, by eliminating the clutter in your life - and I don't mean just the material clutter, but the thought clutter, the distractions clutter, all that is not ESSENTIAL and that just sucks up energy you could use to do something more positive and meaningful. Mindfulness works. That said, I am still very much work in progress...not so long ago I was running after everybody like a hamster in a wheel, going out of my mind and wishing everyday had 48 hours...the truth is, unless you slow down, you will always fill however many hours you have, and wish for more.

AnythingNotEverything Thu 08-May-14 04:41:38

I agree with Pink. If you constantly search for more time, you be forever disappointed. The trick is to do less stuff and have less stuff to service.

I know I will not look back in 10 years and wish I'd dusted the skirting boards more often. I think I already made this leap and it's lovely to let go of the stuff that you decide to ditch.

harryhausen Thu 08-May-14 07:17:23

A lot of this sounds familiar to me.

I spent a lot of my children's early years trying to be the perfect mother. My eldest is now 9 and last year I hit a brick wall. I was utterly exhausted and drained. My marriage hit a crisis too as we both realised we hadn't put much effort into being a couple for do long.

I decluttered a bit, not everything. I work from home so de-cluttered my office and then our bedroom which seemed to be enough to calm my mind. I paired back on after school activities and play dates. I spent more time just 'being' with dh - chatting, watching films, having a glass of wine - no 'date nights' which to be frank we both found a bit pressurised. We had plenty of weekends that were nothing days. At first I felt slightly embarrassed at the school gates saying to the mums who had spent the weekend camping with a group of friends or attending child sport events that we literally did nothing except made popcorn and played with the hamster.
I also limited my time on social media like Facebook. This really made me feel calmer.

6 months on I feel really good. Work can still be stressful but I find that my life feels simpler. The house still gets cluttered but I try and have a good clear out once in a while.

For me, some days I definitely feel like a 'good enough' parent. My kids are happy and me and dh are getting there!

jasminemai Thu 08-May-14 07:32:34

I agree. We have soon to be 3 children and both work full time, but things done get messy as we hardly own anything. For instance in living room/dining room we have tv, tv stand, sky box, fold up dining table which never has more than the light on and sofa. Its a decent sized room and looks much bigger as nothing in it.

All our rooms are like this so it means a 2 bed flat for 5 of us is more than spacious. I would have another child here in future.

CluelessCrapParent Thu 08-May-14 07:57:27

I hear what you are saying OP and to a large extent I very much feel the same.

I totally hate STUFF, I have moved and part decluttered 4 times in the last 4 years and there are still stuff lying about that I don't know wht to do with or where to put. Part of the issue is that most of the STUFF in the house are not mine. Disproportionate amounts are Dd's and DH's which makes it quite difficult to declutter.

In particular, electronics and electric stuff, I really wished I never agreed to that Xbox or Wii now that we hardly use. And each device/gadgets come with a multitude of cables and connectors and accessaories, and then there are all those cables/connectors/accessories from PC etc. of over 10 years ago....which I have no clue how to sort out even if I want to as a) I don't know what's what b) whether we need it and might regret binning it (technology gets obsolete quickly and we have to keep some bits so that tapes etc. can be played) c) it's DH's department anyway, but he just doesn't do it.

In fact, I hate STUFF so much that it actually drives me to think very hard about buying something (e.g. kitchen equipment) and I end up buying not a lot apart from food (which gets consumed), cosmetics and clothes (very occasionally). I just don't see the point of spending money then having to think "where do I put it?" and then eventually deciding to get rid of it.

Then there's DD's school and activities to be on top of and being the driver for that...

ADMIN. No one told me how much more complicated and high maintenance that gets the older you are...mortgage, finance/cashflows, insurance, house, tax returns, wills, inheritance disputes, pensions etc. etc. It just gets more and more complicated and time consuming.....

I'm just having a general ramble here.

I'm trying the best I can to simplify and streamline, but I don't see that I'll go back to a time when I could fit all my worldly possessions into one student room like I did when I was at uni, or, not even a 2 bed flat as a gradute if I had to...

mrscog Thu 08-May-14 09:03:53

This is a great post, and timely as I've been so worked up and anxious lately I've found myself feeling physically ill and on the brink of tears whenever I'm alone. Then I took a step back and thought about how much I'm juggling at the moment - I work FT, DH works at least 50 hours a week and has a 1 hour commute each way on top, DS is 2 (and willful), I pranged my car and have been sorting that out, we're in the middle of buying a new house so paperwork+++ AND decluttering/packing, our boiler has also broken this week. When I thought about all of that I thought 'no wonder I feel like absolute shit'! So this week, I've just calmly(ish) dealt with one thing at a time and I'm starting to feel better - car all sorted, British Gas are coming to fix the boiler, DS had a whole night of Peppa Pig and eating biscuits last night, but as a one off it won't harm him and it meant I could calmly sort a few things.

It's so important to sometimes break rules to improve your life so you can make improvements. Another thing I notice is how many engagements people tend to have - especially children's birthday parties, well you don't have to take DC (especially younger DC) to them ALL, they don't know what's going on. We're not really at that stage yet, as DS tends to only get invited to a few of our closer friend's parties which I'd want to go to anyway, but as we move into school parties, I'm going to try and say 'no' to a few whole class parties from time to time. And yes to physical clutter as well, it's my birthday in a few weeks, people keep asking me what I want, and my answer is nothing, I have everything I need right now, and more stuff will only make my life worse as I'll have to store it, remember to use it (or feel guilty for not using i) and then have the guilt of not using/wearing it. Will check out the Zenhabits blog!

Bramshott Thu 08-May-14 09:05:10

I suppose I was reacting in haste (ha!) to the post because I wanted there to be a revolutionary idea which would transform the way I feel (in a hamster wheel, can't stop running) and I was disappointed because I don't think clearing out a bit of stuff will be it! It's not stuff that's the problem, it's just all the things that have to be done - and I'm talking basic stuff like working, cleaning, gardening, homework, school admin, home admin... - it seems to increase exponentially year on year!

No amount of clearing out stuff will alter the fact that even if (like yesterday) I have travelled 200+ miles for work and still have several hours of work to do in the evening, that the DDs need their dinner money paid and their permission slips signed!

CluelessCrapParent Thu 08-May-14 10:06:54

Sometimes I feel so overwhelmed with all the stuff that has to be done that I'm like a rabbit in headlight, and I end up looking for distractions in Mumsnet, because it just feels like whatever I do won't make a difference not even a dent so I end up doing nothing and it gets worse etc..

I don't understand why it seems to be the woman who somehow ends up doing all the admin and keeping the show on the road...and it's all basic, maintenance, everyday stuff which is mostly taken for granted.

I need to keep chanting Baby steps and Inner Peace.

CluelessCrapParent Thu 08-May-14 10:09:34

Mrscog - I'm the same as you re birthday presents....nothing! I can't think of anything that I need or want this year (nor last year).

mrscog Thu 08-May-14 12:09:24

Yes, and people are so insistent - they could simplify their lives by just accepting my choice, it would give them 1 less thing to do!

CluelessCrapParent Thu 08-May-14 12:17:33

It's a guilt thing.

Gina44 Thu 08-May-14 12:46:04

Thanks for sharing Brooke. Seems like I'm not the only one who feels like they have to be Super Woman! When I hit rock bottom, my answer was to give up my stressful job rather than de-cluttering and focus on being Super Mum/Wife/Homemaker instead.

I've been doing that for a year now and life is certainly a lot calmer and more manageable. But I still feel like CluelessCrapParent and look for distractions..... And I also wrestle daily with the feeling that I've just 'given up' and surely I should be able to use my education and skills? Maybe when DS is a little older, but then I may be too old and ready for the knackers yard. Great.

socialmannerslady Thu 08-May-14 17:49:40

Cluelesscrap parent

I have a solution to that - you put it all in the garage! Thats what its for - at least thats what mine is for! Of course its all waiting for ebay/charity shop/when I can give to friends/sister etc. I even have a double bed in there. At one point - a piano!!

Not sure what you do if you don't have a garage tho....mmm

I would be really stuffed then.

Ad now the serious on my soap box bit...

But the thing that has helped me the most - is actually going back to work full time BUT on the premise that my husband HAS to divide all the chores 50:50. I started my new job by going on a training course for 10 days away from home. So he had to take over. Brilliant.

The reason why women are so knackered and end up like the OP is that husbands don't do their share. End of. If they did we wouldn't be so bloody haggered and worn down. I'm all for mindfulness - but what I like most is some help with the cooking cleaning washing and detailed scheduling of 2 sports mad hyperactive children that have a school that churn out newsletters 3 inches thick once a week with numerous form filling and 10 pence for this and 25 mufti days to remember.

This is the case whether you work or not !! I know as I have done both SAHM and working full time. The only thing about working full time is I have more leverage now to say - hey - I earn what you earn and work same hours as you so you have to do half! Its unfair however that women who choose to stay at home or those that don't earn as much - are treated as if this is some sort of second class option and feel they are expected to fill in this deficit. Its about time both men and women realise they in the year 2104 very few of us really have true equality. If we did - we wouldn't be taking it all on on our own and getting to this point.

My mantra - True equality in the home + mindfulness = happy wife & mother

MusicAndBooks Thu 08-May-14 20:10:06

socialmannerslady I couldn't agree more-well said! I am a feminist and my DH and I always shared the housework, both worked full-time and I had a full and happy social life-including yoga and mindfulness time. Now I have a 19 month DS, work two days a week, moved away from the vibrant city to another part of the country with DH's job so I do all the housework and never go out because he "brings the money in and works full time but I don't" and I don't have time for mindfulness or yoga and the cracks are starting to show. I can't stop crying at the moment and have become so short tempered with DS that my anxiety and stress is rubbing off on him so he plays up more-viscous circle.
That time out for your mind is imperative to keep sane! Good ideas from the blogger-the theory can be adapted

socialmannerslady Thu 08-May-14 20:30:10

Oh bless you Musicandbooks. I've been there with the 19 month old - its really hard going in those first years. Just all grind. and yes I remember the anxiety rubbing off on the child and then feeling worse. Totally all very normal. Easy to beat yourself up but try and be kind to yourself.

I was the same as you - doing my career in a part time kind of way, up in the night with all the wonky sleep and running workshops with clients next day and coming home to do the ironing etc

I'm glad to say (although some would disagree) that it does in fact get better - but you have to work at it. Somehow I muddled through those difficult days. I found a small amount of time for counselling & CBT so I could unwind at someone and get it in perspective. It helped me become a bit more self aware, gave me the courage to see how stupidly busy and perfectionist I was and how to take the small steps to reduce things down to a manageable level.

It helped me to understand my emotions and start to think about what I really wanted out of all of this and like the OP says how to simplify things and how to stand up properly and ask for what you want. None of it happened over night. It took some years. I did go back to yoga and I haven't stopped now for over 3 years - its something I just need to do.

I also try and run (even though I hate running and am not v good) but the therapy of it is good - its free and I can go out when I can fit it in. Even if its just 20 mins. It takes a bit of discipline but the feel good chemicals give you an energy boost. if not running then Nordic or fast walk or stomp around the streets!

Its very important to be kind to yourself in these years and however difficult - find some time for you because you DO deserve it.

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