My first thought was that this is nothing new, but then I realised that the idea of applying the practical approach of anthropology and archaeology to the field of decluttering is inspired! Usually, we approach clutter and decluttering from a practical perspective, sometimes with an added element of therapy, but those approaches only really cover the physical and emotional effects of a deeper underlying issue: the fact that as a culture (and I mean modern, industrialised, Western culture in this context) we have been taught to cherish the physical over the emotional, things over sensation, the idea of possession over the idea of presence.
This is visible in almost every aspect of our lives, from the way we envy our friends, neighbours, even strangers, for their clothes, cars, homes and experiences, all the way to how we pacify our children with yet another toy to make up for our physical or emotional absence from their lives. It appears that our lives have been infiltrated by stuff, and stuff has taken the place of a real connection we might have had with those around us, especially with our families.
One of the classics is the question of the “family meal”. Most of us like the idea of the whole family sitting down around the dinner table and chatting away lively about what our day has been like, right? Yet how many of us actually manage to make this happen? Realistically speaking I’m sure most of us don’t. While this clearly is a reaction to the modern world and a wish to return to a simpler life, we appear to be unable to do it in real life.
Common responses to the question are these: “it takes too much time to cook and I’m already tired from a day’s work”, “it’s cheaper to do snacks for everyone”, “it’s too hard to plan it to fit into everybody’s agenda”, and so on. While those things are true to some degree, I also suspect that it’s a question of habit. Let’s debunk those responses for a moment:
It takes too long.
Well, it depends on how you look at it. Apparently heating frozen stuff and sticking to prepared meals not only ensures a boring experience for every meal, it also increases the lack of cohesion in the family. There is no incentive to sit down together, and in the end everybody wants to eat something else, which then negates the time saved by using prepared or frozen meals.
Another aspect of cooking is completely overlooked in this equation: cooking can actually be a great source of enjoyment! Many people claim they cannot cook, but that’s usually because they never tried and are too afraid to get it wrong. Let me tell you this: “there is no such thing as getting it wrong in the kitchen”. Of course, there can be days when it doesn’t taste just so, but that is something we in the trade call “learning”. On a personal note: there is something meditative about cooking, and going with your gut when it comes to deciding what to use for your meal can be a very liberating experience. If you never cook you can’t really expect for things to be nice, can you now? I would say: give it a go and have fun with it.
It’s too hard to fit into everybody’s agenda.
As I mentioned earlier, the family meal appears to be a classic wish of many people, so why would they not jump at the opportunity to get one going in your own home? Well, there’s our old friend, the habit, again. It’s hard to change the way we behave, and it will take a while: usually, it takes about 6 weeks to let go or acquire habits. This being said, it’s not impossible and many examples in my professional life prove that this is the truth. Admittedly, I have had failures as well, but those were few and concerned very specific habits. This family meal is probably one of the easier things to get going.
It’s cheaper to do snacks for everyone.
Let’s look at this one from a purely practical angle: if you cook a full meal for everyone at the same time, not only this will save time (and nerves!) but also you’ll save energy in the process because you’ll only cook one thing. There are likely fewer leftovers, which leads to less use of the fridge and freezer, and fewer things to throw away (which in turn will save you money).
An added side effect of this approach is that everyone will be adhering to the same schedule and eat at the same time, making family planning a little easier. I admit, if your family is used to doing their own thing, you may have trouble implementing this, but you could think of instating one family dinner night per week and take it from there. It will give you a chance to get more proficient at cooking, let go of your anxiety around cooking, and the family will have something to share. You’d be surprised what conversations a failed meal can conjure up!
All of this sounds like “return to the good old days” and to some degree I believe it is. I’m not claiming that those days were better in every way, though. We have progressed and many things are easier today, but we have been deprived of some of the positive sides of those good old days. It’s up to you to decide which ones are important enough to revive for yourself.
Bringing change into a family can be challenging, and it can involve changing a number of things at the same time: just making this ‘once a week family dinner’ adjustment will have ripple effects on the way you do your shopping, how you incentivise your family members to follow suit, how you arrange your own agenda, if you can find joy in cooking, etc.
If you are familiar with creating a budget, maybe it helps to think of these changes along the lines of moving things from one budget point to another, no so much adding more pressure on a different side, but to rearrange things to achieve a much more positive outcome in a totally different budget category: your own ‘happiness quotient’, or the ‘family cohesion level’. Those are the things we all expect to happen just like that, but sometimes small changes in the standard physical ways of doing things can have unexpectedly huge positive outcomes on the emotional side of things.
Give this a bit of thought, and then I recommend taking a moment to return to the website and look at the comments below the article. You’ll find s some interesting reading there as well…
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Hi, my name is Tilo Flache. My current mission: help my clients declutter mind and space.
This blog contains pointers for your journey towards a happier living experience.