I had to be away from home for a few days recently and left at very short notice. There was no time to think too much about what to bring although I knew it would be a minimum of three to four days away. I took a few black items in a suit carrier, one bag of smaller items containing underwear, shoes and toiletries and that was it. No time for carefully planned lists, no time to fret about matching accessories, no time to worry if I had brought the right shoes, no time to consider if I needed to bring something “just in case” and even less time to agonise about trend or fashion. It had to be simple, classic and black all the way in order to pack and get out quickly. It was quite a revelation. While I was away no time was wasted in choosing clothes each morning or trying different accessories or jackets as the choice was seriously limited. Now that I’ve returned home I’m tempted to do an almighty cull and reduce everything to that simple minimalist existence while the experience is fresh in my mind.

Ten children

An elderly friend of my mother, who died some years ago now, often regaled us with tales from the early days of her own marriage in the 40s and 50s. She had 10 children in total, all within a short space of each other, and a small two bedroom house to raise them all. She would often remark on the fact that her ‘automatic washing machine’ was a wooden wash board and how she would wash their school shirts at night, dry them by the fire and have them ready for the children again the next morning. This lady was not unique at that time and stories like hers are common. Today women have one or two children and find it exhausting. They will often be compared to the Irish women of the past who seemed to have a much tougher time and therefore modern females are considered ‘soft’ by many. We find it easy to scoff at an exhausted 30 something hauling little children out of a state of the art SUV and cruelly suggest that they don’t know anything about hardship. We are not comparing like with like and therefore these comparisons are damaging and confidence crushing. While there are less children in the average family today, we forget that 2 can be the equivalent of 10 in terms of labour. Two children today have more clothes than twenty children of the 40s and 50s. Our great grandmothers didn’t waste time looking for the wayward comrade of 62 pairs of miniature pastel coloured socks. Small girls today have shoe collections that would rival Imelda Marcos and our ancestors didn’t have to contend with the toys the average modern child accumulates. Storage and organising tasks alone require energy and time.

Food for kids

Then there is the food situation. Recently I have been struck by the sudden proliferation of books, websites, TV programmes and general information floating around about food for children. Kids are not a new phenomenon so at what point did they become such foreign little beings that we need instruction manuals on how to feed them? There are entire TV programmes centred on fretting, sweating adults who can’t get their little darlings to eat. There is also the other extreme, the ones that overfed their offspring like small pets and are now tackling an obesity problem. You don’t need a degree in rocket science to get this right, just a good grounding in common sense. I think that modern day parents and ordinary adults don’t spend enough time logically thinking about the things we are doing. We blindly follow advice from books, websites and other sources. Eating is something we all do, and we all know something about nutrition. The problem is that there is a great deal of conflicting information available and sifting through it can be a challenge. It’s also worth noting that children go through all sorts of stages with food, from eating anything and everything, to being extremely fussy, but that’s alright – children have always been like that.

No drama at the table

As far as I know my mother didn’t have a special book or website to consult on our behalf. I believe when I was born there was some dodgy information by a Dr. Spock doing the rounds, but even that has been largely discredited today. I just don’t remember great concern about disguising vegetables or training our palates. If we didn’t eat something on the plate there was no drama. There was no fear that we had become fussy eaters. She didn’t attempt to liquidise the food, dress it up, coax you into eating it or even, God forbid, create a ‘rewards chart’ for every time we ate a carrot! The food was good, the nourishment inherent and, as a miniature human being that relies on food to survive, you somehow intuitively knew that eating it was good for you. Once again it was all kept quite simple; natural food cooked at home as the real processed convenience stuff had yet to flood the marketplace.

Reducing stress

It is definitely true that if you want to reduce the stress then reduce the stuff and the choice. If you have fewer items of clothing then that’s fewer items to wash, iron and put away. Why do we need bathroom shelves overflowing with products and what about bathroom cabinets or medicine cupboards? Effectively they are just shrines to every ailment you ever had with old, half used prescriptions that you’ll never use again. Despite the weather and the fact that I’m still wearing jumpers and boots that I was using at Christmas it is the spring. The charity shops and recycling bins are calling; it’s time for a cull. Keeping it simple is the one thing that is largely ignored when we talk of the great women that had it harder than us in the old days. I have no doubt they worked hard but so do mothers today. Simplicity was also forced on them due to financial and technological constraints, but it was definitely the secret of our ancestors, great grandmothers and grandmothers’ success, so let’s not forget it today.