Minimalist Practices to Help Prevent Parent Burnout
‘Parent exhaustion’ is the particular flavor of overwhelm and depletion that comes from meeting the demands of a small child day in and day out (and night in and night out). And when the exhaustion becomes chronic, it leads to parent burnout.
WebMD aptly describes parent burnout as, “a condition in which you’re so exhausted that you feel you have nothing left to give”. And explains that some of the ways parent burnout manifests include the following; brain fog, a short temper, sleep problems, forgetfulness, feelings of isolation, and obsessive-compulsive tendencies.
Yes, yes and yes. I have experienced the above symptoms at various stages throughout my journey as a parent, as I know many other parents have. It takes a lot of work raising a child. There is always something to do, and even the tasks that you’d think would be simple (like brushing teeth or getting a toddler strapped into a car seat) can become daily battles. So combine all those ongoing battles with all of the other responsibilities of life, and it’s the perfect recipe for exhaustion and burnout.
So after a particularly long week last week, I found myself beelining for the couch as soon as my toddler went to sleep for the night. And I sat in front of the tv like a zombie late into the night, with nothing left in me except the ability to bring spoonfuls of ice cream and cookies to my mouth. I also found myself irritable and having trouble sleeping throughout the week.
Reflecting on this state of overwhelm and exhaustion, I realized that I needed to address this issue of parent burnout and come up with some solutions. And not just the generic self-care advice like exercising, sleeping more and eating well. Of course these are helpful and important aspects of managing exhaustion, but I needed something more. I felt the need to revamp and implement some kind of systemic change within my life and home to simplify it, not add another thing to my to-do list.
So after some thought, I realized that embracing a more minimalist lifestyle was my answer. Minimalism is something I have become interested in over the past couple of years, and this recent bout of burnout was a good reminder to continue striving for this lifestyle.
The Minimalists describe minimalism as “…a tool to rid yourself of life’s excess in favor of focusing on what’s important—so you can find happiness, fulfillment, and freedom…”
Minimalism is about making more time and space in your life for the things that truly matter to you. It is about designing a life that fills you up and frees you up. And when we feel fulfilled in life and like we are focusing on the things that matter, we are less likely to reach that state of total parent burnout. We don’t get weighed down and overwhelmed by clutter in our lives.
So in this post, I’ll be sharing the following 3 minimalist practices to help manage parent burnout;
Decluttering at Home to Help Prevent Parent Burnout
Decluttering the home is one aspect of minimalism that I find helpful to embrace as a parent in order to simplify life. It is about removing those items from our homes and our lives that serve no purpose and/or hold no meaningful value. And by doing this, life becomes lighter. There is less time and energy spent managing all of our stuff.
Additionally, physical clutter is often a manifestation of emotional and mental clutter. So clearing physical clutter can simultaneously be a way to work through emotional clutter that contributes to overwhelm and exhaustion.
Plus, less stuff means more room for my toddler to run, play and burn his enormous amounts of energy. It also means less toys to trip over and pick up at the end of the day. And ultimately, just more time and space for doing the things that are fulfilling and that help prevent parent burnout.
I am also a very visual person, and the aesthetic of a simple home without clutter just makes me happy! So this little happiness boost that my surroundings give me can help balance out any frustration I feel, as I battle with my toddler to get his socks on or clean up a mess for the hundredth time in a day.
Sometimes it’s easy to start decluttering at home, but other times it’s a real challenge. We become emotionally tied to our material possessions and make them mean all sorts of things about ourselves.
To deal with decluttering challenges, I often reflect on a few minimalist questions and ideas. For example, the Millenial Minimalists suggest asking yourself the following when tackling clutter at home;
What is the function of each room in your home, and what do you need to carry out that function? Keep only those things you need to carry out that function.
The function of a bedroom for instance, is all about being in bed. So you need a bed and a relaxing environment. That’s it. The image above is not my bedroom by the way, but I wish it were! We do however, have just a bed, a plant, a painting, and a dog bed in our bedroom.
Even when I can clearly answer the question about what I need in each room though, it’s still hard sometimes (most of the time) to part with a lot of the excess items. So when I come across something that I’m struggling to let go, I ask myself some additional questions. Simple Lionheart Life poses the following questions;
Can I live comfortably without this item?
Would you choose to buy this item again if you didn’t already own it?
I love these questions, because they shift my attention away from my emotional attachment to an object and onto my present reality.
And if I’m still struggling to decide whether to let go of an item, I ask myself a third question;
- Is keeping this item worth my mental, emotional and physical energy, time and space?
When I answer this question honestly, I usually realize that the odds and ends in question are not worth my limited time and space. Maybe once upon a time they were useful, but if they have been hiding in a closet for the past year, it’s usually safe to say they can be donated.
You may ask how though, as a busy, overwhelmed and exhausted parent is one supposed to have time to declutter? What I have come to realize though, is that focusing on the time I don’t have, is simply a waste of time. Limited time is just a reality of parenthood. So reframing my perspective is very helpful.
What time do I have? Maybe it’s 10 minutes before bed. Or maybe my child takes a little nap in the middle of the day. Or maybe I build independent playtime into my child’s routine (you can check out my post on How to Encourage Independent Play for more on the topic). Or just maybe, I can skip that late night tv show and free up a chunk of time.
I often have to remind myself that there are plenty of ways to carve out pockets of time for my own projects. Sometimes it just requires a little creativity.
So while there is an initial time investment that goes into decluttering, it ultimately ends up saving a lot of time and energy in the long run (less time spent managing stuff, less time spent cleaning, etc). And we need that reserve of time and energy to play with our kids, feed them, bathe them, chase them and the countless other tasks involved in parenthood.
A specific category of decluttering parents may be interested in is children’s toys. Toys are important and great to have, but they can become a bit much when they are EVERYWHERE.
To manage our toddler’s toy situation, we have implemented a toy rotation system. We made the bookshelf/toy shelf shown in the image above, and these are the only toys we keep out for my toddler downstairs. We have 2 large boxes of toys in a closet though, that we intermittently rotate toys in and out of from this bookshelf.
Streamlining Routines and Chores to Help Prevent Parent Burnout
In addition to the physical and visual clutter that can add to overwhelm, disorganized and inefficient systems at home when it comes to chores and routines can take up a lot of precious time.
So I started to think about how I could simplify and streamline those annoying but essential tasks of daily living like laundry and meal prep, so that I could focus more on having fun with my toddler during the day.
Simplifying Food Storage, Grocery Shopping and Meal Prep
So starting with our pantry, I realized that it was very hard to find food in it. And toddlers are constantly eating (as am I), so it is just annoying to have to comb through the options and decide what to eat.
Everything was thrown on the shelves in disorganized heaps. And we were constantly throwing out and wasting food because we didn’t even know it was in there. Or alternatively, buying more boxes of pasta when we already had 5.
So to prevent these issues, I decided to make food items clearly visible and accessible in the fridge and pantry. I invested in some glass storage jars and put foods we eat on a regular basis in them.
I also got some vegetable storage containers for the fridge. It is so much easier to see what veggies we have when they are not hidden and stuffed away in bags.
This also makes it easier to see when we are running low on certain items. And that means making a grocery list becomes a quick and easy task. And grocery lists are important because long gone are the days of popping into the grocery store every other day and buying an item or two on the go. When a grouchy toddler accompanies you to the grocery store, you want those trips to be few and far between!
Another minimalist tip I have come across is to never stray from your grocery shopping list. I used to peruse the grocery aisles in search of exciting new packaged goods and dips and fancy cheeses, but I’ve stopped doing that for the most part. For one, I don’t have the energy to dawdle in the store. Secondly, those random cookies and spreads usually just end up going to waste because I find out that I don’t like them or I forget about them in the depths of our fridge.
So sticking to a list makes grocery shopping more efficient and helps keep our pantry and fridge organized. Plus, sticking to a list tends to save a bit of money that might otherwise be spent on random items that only look good in the moment.
I am also trying to prepare more meals in bulk. For example, this past week we made a big batch of veggie mix and diced potatoes, and it has been great to be able to quickly throw these ingredients into a burrito for a 1 minute meal during the week.
Another way to streamline meal and snack times with toddlers, is to get them to help out. They are really capable of quite a lot when we let them be. For example, you can set up your kitchen in a way that allows them to get cups and plates out for themselves. It may seem like a small thing, but it’s one less thing for you to do.
You can also consider setting up other areas of your home to be toddler friendly and encourage independence. I offer some ideas on this topic in my post on How to Create a Toddler Friendly Home.
Simplifying Getting Dressed and Doing Laundry
The next area I worked on streamlining was getting dressed and doing laundry in terms of my clothing and my toddler’s clothing (somehow my husband already has his wardrobe pared-down). Paring down my closet is something I have done many times before, but it seems to be an ongoing process.
When it comes to clothing and getting dressed in the morning, I just want to be able to throw something on that is comfortable and simple. And when your toddler hardly gives you 30 seconds to get dressed, simplifying the process is helpful.
Plus, every choice we have to make throughout the day takes energy. So I want to make getting dressed relatively thoughtless and simple for both myself and my toddler. This way I can reserve more energy for the bigger tasks and adventures of the day.
So I like having shirts and pants and sweaters that I can easily mix and match without having to worry if they go together or not. So simple neutral colors and basic designs make up my wardrobe. Below is a picture of all the clothes I have hanging and folded in my closet (aside from pajamas and socks and underwear). And I’m happy to say I wear almost all of them on a regular basis.
And I put clothes that I’m not wearing in the current season (it gets down to 0 degrees Fahrenheit in the winter and up to over a 100 in the summer, hence the need for seasonal clothing) along with special occasion clothes in a couple boxes on the top shelf of my closet. Since those things won’t be worn for at least a few months, I don’t want to have to look at them or sort through them as I’m getting dressed in the morning.
I wish I had a picture of my closet from a few years back to show, because it looks nothing like it does now. Just imagine giant heaps of clothes stuffed into drawers though, and that’s what it looked like. One of the reasons It has taken me so long to get to a manageable place with my closet, is because I have accumulated and kept clothes that don’t really fit my lifestyle. There was always a disparity between the reality of my daily life and what my closet looked like.
So it has been helpful to honestly assess how I spend my days and the clothes I like to wear those days, and just stick to those. Getting dressed becomes very simple this way. And I don’t need to waste time or money buying clothes that don’t fit my needs and reality based preferences.
And in regards to doing laundry, when there aren’t as many clothes, the piles are smaller. They are more manageable, and I don’t feel like I’m drowning in clothes.
Make Your Own Rules and Define Your Values to Help Prevent Parent Burnout
As beautifully stated by thelaminimalist, “Do what feels right to you when it feels right to you because #therulesarefake anyways”.
Sometimes we add a lot of mental and physical clutter to our lives, because we are trying to fit into what we think we should be doing or achieving. And for parents, how we think we are supposed to be raising our children.
So we need to stop comparing ourselves to others and stop saying “should” as much. We need to focus on what is truly right for us, because these are the things that keep our cups full and help prevent parent burnout.
This can be hard to do, but it is worth it. For example, I struggled a long time with insecurity about becoming a stay at home mom to raise my currently 2 year old. It is not what 99% of my friends with bustling careers are doing. But it is what feels right for me and my family.
Defining core values is one way to figure out and assess what is right for you. And to help define your personal values, Mind Tools suggests asking yourself a few questions. My favorites include the following;
Identify the times when you were happiest.
Identify the times you were most fulfilled and satisfied.
I like these questions, because they encourage us to find answers that relate to our value system based on our lived experiences. The answers to these questions are not based on fantasies or someone else’s version of our lives. And they provide guidance and clarity as we make choices about how we spend our time and energy going forward.
As Mary Oliver wrote in the last two lines of her poem The Summer Day,
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
– Mary Oliver
We all have a finite time on this Earth and we all have the same 24 hours in a day. And it is up to us to prioritize the things and the relationships that matter most to us and bring us joy and fulfillment.