The following article is from Issue Three of Fitra Journal – “Kindergarten to College.”
“I can’t,” many women admit that they don’t want to homeschool because they enjoy keeping a tidy home. There are, of course, other factors which allow them to be able to make this seemingly callous statement, such as that they have access to schools that are somewhere between decent to excellent, or they have an issue with mess or clutter such as OCD. There are studies that link women’s increased physiological stress levels to the “clutter” levels of their homes.* I’m going to assume this is because all of the family business of organization and cleaning usually lies squarely on a woman’s shoulders. It is a huge and stressful undertaking. While some women can be frank about not being able to add on the workload and multiple jobs of running a school in your home, others, such as myself, may undervalue this aspect of homeschooling – stuff builds up, it accumulates everywhere for every subject, project and interest. And it stresses us out.
At the beginning of our homeschooling journey I did okay with managing stuff. Of course, I only had two little kids then so our stuff was mostly their budding collection of toys for multiple purposes (indoor, outdoor, etc), craft supplies, and my homeschooling texts: how-to-books and a little curriculum. As we had more children and acquired more things it became harder. We moved out of the country and then back again, so we didn’t have all of the furniture that had taken years to accumulate. While the basics were first to be replaced – beds, tables, appliances- I remember longing for proper shelving and the joy I had when we were finally able to purchase a cabinet in which I could lock away our craft supplies from little hands.
I feel the tipping point of my own, and even my husband’s, stress levels happened when I returned to school to finish my degree. While my husband had always cooked and hands-on cared for the children, he didn’t deal with any of the organization tasks, such as buying near constantly needed new clothes, making and attending various appointments, thoroughly cleaning up all the toys and other kids’ items by separating them, fixing them, and rotating them out. There were numerous tasks we both underestimated the time and skill it took to manage. When other homeschooling moms ask me about starting a home-based business I think back to this stressful time. What could I have done differently? Not much. This is another underestimated thing about homeschooling – we must remain flexible. Circumstances are constantly changing. Just when the ink dries on your perfected schedule, a tutor moves away, your transmission dies, you break a toe – life throws us hurdles at a constant pace.
Not having a showroom-ready house was another issue tied to all this stuff that came up later for us. This problem existed a little bit while we were living in the States, mostly when people would want to drop by and I felt that my home was in shambles compared to my guests who were not running a very active, hands-on, often messy school in their homes. For someone who has never experienced homeschooling in any way it can be shocking to walk into a kitchen which not only has the typical dish and cooking messes many of us would be tempted to hide under the sink, but there are also art and science projects in various stages of progress, maybe a computer desk where you would expect a dining area or a sand table – maybe an indoor gym! I’ve had guests who were unable to hide the shock on their face the first time they saw my home. Others made uninformed, hurtful statements about the state of my home.
When we moved to Morocco, where the term ‘homeschool’ isn’t known at all, this issue became much more stressful. It’s just unheard of to have so much stuff. Part of the well-known Moroccan hospitality is in having your home guest-ready at all times. As long as we have been homeschooling, I’ve never had the luxury of a guest bathroom where there isn’t an occasional tell-tale sign of paint brushes having been rinsed in the sink or a pristine sitting room; our living room has long been needed as a play/work space for our children. Our clutter causes new kinds of stresses here in Morocco, including some guilt about having so much among people who have very little. Only the most expensive private schools I couldn’t possible afford have a comparable amount and quality of educational tools we have, alhumdulillah.
Ultimately, we need stuff to homeschool. We need to try various styles and activities to educate and engage our children, and sometimes we will find some things that worked great taper off or suddenly stop working, and all of this is in various ways is tied to stuff, getting new stuff, repairing or replacing well-used stuff, getting rid of old stuff… These are my four best tips for minimizing the stuff stress.
- Practice your self-talk
People are going to judge this appearance aspect of your lifestyle just as they do every other aspect. Remind yourself that your lifestyle and home are different and therefore look different. Remind yourself that you are doing the best you can in this unusual situation and that it is really okay to be different, it’s best for you and your family. Then, of course, be sure you are doing your best with all your stuff.
- Invest in organizing
You are essentially running a business. You need supplies, including some things to put all those supplies in and on. Be strategic about these purchases as they need to withstand the long haul. Think institutional quality. Among my must haves for homeschooling are work tables for the kids, strong shelving units and a lot of cabinetry to store (hide!) some of the clutter. I absolutely loathe poor quality plastic storage containers that crack and break within a few months, if not days, of buying them. I pick up rubber storage solutions whenever I find them here and also use a lot of different sized baskets. An important thing to keep in mind is that things that are not stored well will often get damaged or misplaced, purchasing organizing solutions is not a frivolous home makeover kind of thing at all, it prevents waste in the long run.
- Delay purchases
Creating a homeschooling budget has been especially challenging for me as our income is low and fluctuates, alhumdulillah. It’s ideal to have a budget though. One budget trick I often use is to avoid spontaneous purchases, which are super easy to make when you are homeschooling. Just about everything can be used for educational purposes! And your kids will introduce you to so many interests you have never explored before, you are going to be tempted a lot. Make a rule not to buy things on the spot, rather if you still feel that you need it in 10 or 30 days, then go back and get it. If it’s a unique item that you will never ever find again, well do you really, really need it?
This issue is difficult for some people for emotional reasons and for others for technical reasons. I try to take a pragmatic, business-like approach to getting rid of stuff, an out with the old in with the new attitude. My children have begun to ask me to keep some things, so I include them in this decision making process, which yes makes it more work! It’s ideal if you can ‘destash’ on a regular basis, at least once a year. Sell your unused stuff. If you can afford to give it away, that’s great, but you are going to undoubtedly be needing to buy more stuff, so why not pad your budget a bit by selling valuable curriculum, toys, and sporting goods that aren’t in use? Small ticket items may not be worth the trouble of reselling unless you can bundle them, such as a ‘lot’ of baby board books. You can do this informally through homeschooling and parenting groups online. You can list items on Ebay or through neighborhood sites like Craigslist or take them to shops that buy used children’s items. It would be great if you can participate in a group yard or trunk sale.
There is an Islamic principle to not heedlessly collect things. As long as you keep in mind that your intention for having all this stuff is to educate your child(ren) and make it a regular practice to unburden yourself of items you truly don’t need, that should give you some relief.
This article originally appeared in Issue Three of Fitra Journal, available through Amazon and other major booksellers.