Minimalism: A Key to Mental Health as a New Parent
No one will deny that parenting is tough. In fact, I think the only people who had an easy time parenting were Victorian Era royals who had hired help to do the job, or maybe the parents of the babies in Baby Geniuses.
But a great way to maintain your mental health as a new parent is by practicing minimalism as much as possible in other aspects of your life.
Minimalism, for these purposes, can be divided up into three areas: minimizing possessions, minimizing activities, and minimizing people.
It’s a good idea to start with possessions. It may seem odd to say this, since having a baby often means getting a lot of gifts from friends and family all at once. But often, having too much stuff lying around can make you feel scattered or less in control of you life, which is not how you want to feel when you have a baby running around.
It’s important to ask yourself which of your things are helpful at this point in your life and which aren’t. That way, you can separate out those things that you use currently and take good care of them and then set aside the others.
Now, that doesn’t necessarily mean you need to get rid of all of those things you’re not using at the moment in one fell swoop
(in fact, deciding what to keep and what to donate may put some unnecessary pressure on you during those first few months), but it does mean packing away those things you might want to keep so they are out of sight.
I found that just packing up my old clothes that I didn’t wear as much and putting them in the basement made me feel infinitely less cluttered. It’s tough to stay current and organized with your possessions, but as your baby grows and you want to have room for his or her special things, you will be thankful that you did it. It’s a small way to maintain simplicity in one aspect of your new and unpredictable life.
Another thing you need to minimize when you become a mom is your to-do list. I found that it was most difficult to maintain my mental health as a new mom when I tried to do too much. In those first few months I was trying to be a cool, adventurous mom, while also working part time, taking an online class, keeping up with social commitments, practicing my hobbies (reading, writing, music, etc.), and on and on.
Needless to say, I grew exhausted pretty quickly.
A good way to minimize your to-do list is to be realistic about it. Parenting is going to take up 90% or higher of your list most days, and I think it’s a good idea to be proud of yourself for completing those parenting tasks along the way (I often had things like “bath time” or “nap time” on my to-do list in those early months because, though it seems silly, it felt good to have everything laid out before me and then be able to cross things off when they happened).
You will want to do lots of other things as well, but having too much going on can make you feel overwhelmed very quickly. A simple way to minimize those other things on your to-do list is to hit all major categories with only one thing during the first year or so as a parent.
So pick one chore on which to focus each day (and if you feel like doing a few others, you can give yourself extra credit!), pick one friend or family member to visit with each few days or week (because you know they are going to be calling all the time trying to plan a time to see the new baby, but you just can’t be planning visits in all of your spare time), pick one hobby to enjoy during your free time (read one book, or learn one new skill).
This way, you will be doing the things you should be doing to maintain your mental health -- like cleaning your house, spending time with others, and having time alone -- but you won’t be trying to fill those major categories with too many little tasks along the way. Sit down with your spouse (or babysitter, or a helpful friend) and show them your list so they will know when you will need their help, and vice versa.
And I cannot stress this enough: schedule alone time. Schedule alone time. Schedule alone time. You need alone time. Your babysitter will understand.
This is a really important aspect of minimalism, which I think people often overlook as new parents. Many times new parents get caught up in introducing their new baby to all of their friends and family and contacting those friends and family about all the cute little milestones along the way. And while that’s all well and good, people can clutter the brain just as easily as possessions can.
New parents can get caught up with contacting other people, especially during a time when friends and family are constantly accessible thanks to social media. But text messages and missed calls will pile up during those first few months, and there is just no way you will be able to have the social life you once did (at least for a little while).
The best way to minimize people in your life is to decide which people are the most important to you. I am a list-maker, as we can all tell, and I often make lists of people with whom I would like to stay in contact. For me, this list includes people who I feel support me and contribute positive energy to my life.
It can be fun to hang out with friends who throw exciting events or have good stories to tell, but as a new parent, you need to maintain contact with those friends who connect with you on a deeper level. And actually, having limited free time will make it much easier for you to tell who those friends are.
Though social media is a good way to stay in touch with friends as a new parent, it can also add unnecessary clutter. It can make it easier for those friends who you know aren’t adding positivity to your life to stay in touch with you, which means time wasted talking to people who are not going to offer much return on your investment.
I’ve found that an easy way to distinguish friends on social media who are worth taking the time out to talk to as a new parent and those who aren’t is to take note of how those people are reaching out to you. If they are taking the steps to message you, email you, or even call you (does that still happen?) to ask how things are going, chances are that they are really interested in how things are going. If they just like every baby photo you put up; the chances are that they aren’t looking to put in the work that your friendship will now require.
Familial relationships aren’t so different from friendships, and new parents should also spend their time with family members who make them feel relaxed and comfortable. If you find yourself always arguing or becoming frustrated by certain family members, it’s a good idea to keep them at a distance during your first few months as a new parent.
It’s quite common for new parents to feel overwhelmed by the task, to be sure. But in order to maintain your mental health as a new parent, you will need to keep the other parts of your life from overwhelming you also. Minimalism is a good way to control the parts of your life that you can control so that you are able to enjoy the new parts that are a little more unpredictable.