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I’m Sierra. I live in the Boston area with my family.

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Why I Quit Everything

by Sierra on March 2, 2010 · 32 comments

in green living,parenting

Last September, when my five-year-old started kindergarten, she also went to swimming lessons twice a week, gymnastics class once  a week, music class on Saturday mornings, and a weekly play group at the community growing center.

My toddler had a lighter schedule, comprised of only swim lessons and a weekly playdate at the library. I had my own array of classes, workshops and meetings I was committed to. Oh, and then there was church.

In the past few months, we’ve quit everything.

Inspired by the wise women over at Slow Family Living, we gave up almost everything on our schedule.

The kids loved their activities, and so did I. It turns out that I love our free time even more, though. The seed of this was planted one afternoon last fall when I dragged Rio away from a friend’s house where she was having a great time jumping in piles of leaves so I could get her to her gymnastics class on time. What the hell am I doing? I thought.

Also, I really, really hate being out with the kids around dinnertime. They turn into little Gremlins, and I turn into one of those moms from an 80s movie who’s tearing her hair out in the background while the kids run amok and accidentally save the day in the midst of, say, building a tower out of expensive glassware in the middle of a store.

Speaking of expensive, all these extra-curricular activities were not cheap. Each one seemed reasonable, but put together we were paying almost $200 a month for classes and activities and memberships. That’s money that can go toward getting us out of debt faster, not to mention paying for things we really care about like travel.

So. We quit.

I talked the quitting scheme over with the kids in small doses. How did they feel about going to swimming? What did they like about gymnastics?

The two-year-old of course didn’t care at all. Her big sister had some opinions, and I was careful to listen to them. She likes swimming, for example, but doesn’t like to do it in the winter when her hair gets very cold after leaving the pool.

Sounds like a silly complaint, but her swimming class was timed exactly at our dinner hour, so two days a week she was cold and hungry while packing up her stuff to leave a busy social space. It was tantrum city, every Monday and Wednesday. Similarly, gymnastics classes are great fun, but the only one we could get her to had us driving home at rush hour, always running late to pick her sister up. The stress of that transition was no fun for anyone.

We didn’t quit absolutely everything: Rio got to pick one activity she wanted to continue, and she chose her Saturday morning music classes. They’re great: conveniently timed, close to home, and the only thing we have scheduled on Saturdays. Not at all stressful for anyone.

What we do now: Not much

Suddenly we have all these free afternoons. Rio goes to play at a neighbor’s house about half the time. Serena and I take long snuggly naps. We watch cartoons together, and bake cookies.

Along with quitting all the external stuff, I’ve put down my agenda about educating and enlightening our family. We spend more hours relaxing and playing together, and fewer hours Being Productive. That’s just fine with me.

The best part is being able to do pretty much the same thing every evening. Their dad comes home, we’re all hanging out there reading or watching a movie. We throw dinner together, eat, and then he takes the kids upstairs for a bath and bedtime. Every day. So smooth.

The other best part is being able to do whatever we feel like with our afternoons. Library? Sure. Science Museum? Fine. Playdate? Great. Suddenly cancel all existing plans in favor of getting naked and eating popcorn on the kitchen floor? Sure, kids.

This is really hard, but really good.

I have a lifetime habit of overscheduling myself. Its hard to hold empty space in my days for play. I keep noticing with surprise that all my days are booked from morning to night with new activities or playdates or commitments. All that free time is gobbled up before I have a chance to spend it.

Except it’s not really free time. There’s a cost to giving it away. It costs me the ease and simplicty the kids and I enjoy when we come across a day with nothing on the calendar. That’s a pretty high price to pay for a swimming lesson.

When I can hold the space, it’s good. It’s so good I’m still looking for more things I can throw off the boat to lighten our load. More ways I can relax into just being with these little girls, for the remaining moments they’ll be little girls content to swim in an ocean of “free” time.

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  • http://asimplelife.livejournal.com/ Tara

    One of the reasons I joined the Y was because I wanted to have inexpensive access to things for kids as well as things for adults. It works out because they also have playcare for pre-school kids up to 2 hours a day for $1.20 an hour (seriously!) and Lily loves it. She goes to playcare while I grab a yoga class and everyone is happy. They also have a plethora of classes for kids from gymnastics to swimming (and a swim 'n' gym for those who can't make up their minds). On top of that, they also have Friday night babysitting for a couple of hours if your kids over pre-school age, many interesting events over the year & themed sleepovers for older kids as well. Nick and I took ballroom dancing there in the fall and it was fun despite the discovery that we are not dancers. Heh.

    All this for $100 a month for the entire family.

    I actually joined the Y after looking into swimming lessons for Lily and discovering they were $100 anyway. It made more sense to join the Y. Because the cost is so low I also don't feel so guilty for wasting money if we miss a lesson or two. We can always go swimming during an open swim at a more convenient time if Lily really misses it. There is also no obligation – we can cancel anytime. To this day I am amazed at the value you we get for that money — and it's partially tax-deductable thanks to a fitness credit here in Canada.

    Generally speaking I don't like stuffing our lives full of stuff — whether it be social obligations or consumer goods. We spend the majority of our time not planning anything. Yesterday we baked cookies, the day before we decided to paint. Creating music is always happening to some degree in the evenings. I like having our time as an open space to do what we feel like doing. The Y fit into our lives nicely because it had all the fun things we love to do but we can miss them and that's ok. I think planned things like this need to really fit into your schedule – not theirs – especially when kids are smaller and are more likely to be overwhelmed by a lot of running around.

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  • http://childwild.com Sierra

    yeah. When I lived out in the sticks, I had a Y membership and it was the love of my life. Workouts and classes were free for me, babysitting was free for the kids (who also adored it!), gymnastics and swimming classes cost next to nothing.

    Here in the city, the local Y offers less service for more money, and trying to assemble something similar from a variety of local options has never quite worked. I'm sure we'll find the perfect thing eventually.

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  • http://twitter.com/becoming_mother Becoming a Mother

    I hear you on that, though as our son's just 13 months, we haven't gone far down that path. But we DID sign him up for parent-child swim, because I want him to be comfortable in the water.

    Yeah, no more. My husband liked them because the instructor knew some ways to help babies acclimate to the water more, but some of what they were doing upset him instead of helping, and most importantly the lessons were -right- on his naptime. So we only got 1/3 to 1/4 the sessions because he was either asleep or having an epic fit the rest of the time. It was untenable.

    Now we just drop in to the pool once a week and use the techniques that seemed to work, and play in the water. He has a blast and so do we.

    Sometimes we go to the park, or the children's museum, or to show him a waterfall (I think his Dad just wanted to go see the waterfalls personally, lol), or to visit his aunt/uncle. I'd hate to give too much of that up for organized lessons as he gets older. And I really think I might have if you and others hadn't helped me to think about it ahead of time. If there's something he really wants to try, of course we'll see if we can make it happen, but….

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  • Rich Wilson

    We recently quit gym, leaving only soccer. In addition to the early start, I find myself pulling him away from just kicking the ball around so he can participate in the way he's 'supposed' to (kicking the ball to some color flag or to some cone or something). Sometimes I have my senses and just let him have fun. Other times I get caught up in trying to 'get him to focus', which is a recipe for a fight.

    Church- When purple candles could not be found for Imbolc, I commented that I didn't think Diana would mind if we used white. I was chastised by a pagan friend. That was the last time I considered myself a pagan. Church only works if it works for you. Which I assume it does, but don't hesitate to remember that church should meet your needs, not the other way around.

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  • http://childwild.com Sierra

    Oh, all those mommy-and-me classes. I used to think they were *so important*, like my toddler was actually going to learn to swim or play music or whatever, and if I didn't do it – and do it right – I would be a Bad Mom.

    Whatever.

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  • http://childwild.com Sierra

    Oh, we quit church too. I am a Pagan, and while I love the UU religious education program, and liked our particular church, I personally find sitting in a church service of any sort mind-numbingly dull. I was only doing it for the kids, and when it become clear they found getting there on time more stressful than fun, we bailed.

    As for your friend's dogmatic commitment to having purple candles for Diana at Imbolc, I just…the modern Pagan movement is a big, diverse Thing. If you want to burn a particular color of candle to honor a Roman goddess on the feast day of an Irish saint, you are more than welcome to do so. But you should know that you are engaging in the time honored Pagan tradition of Making Shit Up, and not go around chastising people who want to do it differently.

    le sigh. I could rant all day about silly Pagan dogma, but let's just leave it at: You were right. Diana will not be offended by anyone's choice of candles at an Imbolc ritual.

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  • http://organizingforeveryone.blogspot.com/ Elise

    I loved the Mommy and me classes when we first moved to a different state — so I could make friends! lol

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  • http://childwild.com Sierra

    They'd be great for that, yeah.

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  • Rich Wilson

    I don't think Pagans have a monopoly on the time honored tradition of Making Shit Up :-)

    I think a lot of dogmatic pagans are ex Roman Catholics who miss that aspect of it.

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  • http://alwaysbecooking.wordpress.com/ pekmez

    We are always on the lookout for things that have some of the cool activities that classes do, but without the regular impact on the schedule. If you ever feel like eating dinner early and going for a swim, for $3 per adult and $1 kid we can go from 6-7:30 any weekday, at the same pool we once did swimming classes at, and decide to do it at the last minute. I'm keeping an eye out for one-off music activities… ice skating in winter is free now that we have secondhand skates for both of us, and we can go once or weekly depending on our mood.

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  • amadea

    looooooooove this pooooooooost. I think I am going to have to start asking myself about a lot of activities: “is this happening during my naptime? If so, what can I do about that?” It's a little more complicated for me since I almost never sleep during my naptimes – regenerative activities are more likely to be things like: writing my dissertation, not writing my dissertation, doing laundry, not doing the laundry, reading, not reading, talking to people, not talking to people, et cetera. But I think it's still a valid question for me.

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  • http://childwild.com Sierra

    “is this happening during my naptime?” just became my new motto in life. love that.

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  • http://www.slowfamilyliving.com/ Bernadette Noll

    Beautiful! Sounds like you’ve found a plan that works for your family AND for you. Way to go. I’m going to link this from our Slow Family site on our blog. Thanks so much. It’s nice to know that what we’re putting out there is helping families find their slow.

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  • mramsey95

    I've got two kids that are busy two or three days a week with one activity or another, not to mention what my wife and I do, so I can sure relate. I don't know if we could quit absolutely everything, but you sure make a good case for it :-)

    Every once in a while, though, I think back to when I was a kid and would come home from school, drop my bags off and head out the door to play until it was dinner time. Pretty much every day of the week too. I think we project what we want for ourselves onto our kids too often, and they wind up missing out on just being kids.

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  • http://childwild.com Sierra

    Thanks, Bernadette! I love what you guys do. You're an inspiration to take a deep breath.

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  • http://childwild.com Sierra

    Yes! This afternoon, my five-year-old noodled around the house for an hour and then bolted next door to play with her best friend while I took a nap with her sister. We were all *much happier* than we have ever been at swimming class.

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  • http://thefrugalgirl.com/ Kristen@TheFrugalGirl

    I think this is totally, fabulously awesome, Sierra. I firmly believe that children need way, way more free time than we give them these days. I had a childhood full of empty afternoons spent playing in the woods at my parents' house and I think that was far more enriching than all the lessons and activities in the world.

    So yes…keep up the unscheduling. Your kids will thank you for it one day.

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  • http://www.allpartspoolandspa.com/ swimming pool parts

    Don't quit, I joined Y for my kids for the swimming lesson because my kids didn't now how to swim.

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  • BMS

    Wow, I'm not the only one.

    My kids have a couple of things they love (they are 9 and 8). They both love cub scouts. They enjoy an after school computer animation class once a week. But sports? An exercise in boredom for them, frustration for me. Swimming lessons? Ok for the first 2 weeks. Then they start the whining. Anything that involves more than 15 minutes drive to get to? We all start stressing out. This year, we stopped all sports. No swimming, no baseball, no street hockey, nada. They come home from school and have time to ride their bikes with their friends, build go-karts, draw, climb trees, eat dinner at a reasonable hour without rushing, and get homework done before 7:45 most nights. We are much, much, happier.

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  • janaweekendvintage

    We did this when our boys were young. There's so much adult peer pressure living in Orange County, Ca but I just didn't want to run my kids ragged.I loved unscheduled family time and early bedtimes so everyone was happier. I have no regrets. They are now in high school and it's fun to run around because we haven't been doing this for 11 years.

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  • http://sabbyinsuburbia.blogspot.com/ Sabrina

    Visiting from The Frugal Girl…great post. I agree, in today's world, we all seem driven to pile more and more into our daily lives. It's almost like a competition…one that my husband and I are staying out of. Our oldest is in karate once a week, during the fall and winter. He loves it and it after dinner time so it works. In the summer, he's in baseball and that's only once a week practice after dinner and games on Sat. During that time of the year, we quit karate. My youngest is almost 3 and we have down a few once a week classes, but ONLY if they work with our schedule. He likes them because he feels like he is in “class” like his big brother. Other than that, we are truly homebodies and love being together. We have memberships to the zoo and arboretum and LOVE doing those things together too. Glad to hear someone else enjoying the simple things.

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  • http://childwild.com Sierra

    Thanks for sharing your story – I love hearing about more and more families taking it easy. My kids just spent the whole morning washing the kitchen floor in their bathing suits while listening to silly music. They seemed a lot more enriched than they ever did in Music Together classes.

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  • myard77

    My baby is now 16, but when my three were younger, I did much the same thing, cut back and gave them the gift of free time. It backfired in the summer, when all their friends were at tutoring, day camp, robot camp, sports camp and a million other day camps all summer. There was nobody for them to play with. So, I added a couple of two-week day camps the next summer, and that was an excellent balance.

    My favorite summer? The year my younger two were 5 and 7 and I realized about mid-July that they went from their pajamas to their swim suits (we have a pool) and back to their pajamas just about every day. That seemed like childhood bliss to me.

    Maybe I was ahead of my time, but I see more families making your choice. I think we'll have a crop of happier, more relaxed kids as a result. Amen.

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  • http://www.retrorenting.blogspot.com/ anna katzman

    Great entry! In giving up everything it sounds as if you gained everything! Relaxation, quality time, an opportunity to share things with your kids instead of just chauffering them around. I am a big fan of not overscheduling and getting back into simple or slow parenting. I have 10 steps to follow that allows people to do so and to become happier parents and have happier kids in doing so! My steps are called “Retro-'Renting”. please check out my blog at http://www.retrorenting.blogspot.com….

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  • http://fastforwardacademy.com/index-page-irs-enrolled-agent-exam-course.htm Ricca

    This is a great article, and when I read your whole post I immediately shared it to my sister who has 2 kids. I think having free time to spend with your kids is the best way to bond with them and do things together.

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  • http://fastforwardacademy.com/ enrolled agent exams

    This is a great article, and when I read your whole post I immediately shared it to my sister who has 2 kids. I think having free time to spend with your kids is the best way to bond with them and do things together.

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  • Mgi727c

    GOOD FOR YOU.

    I never did any of that stuff intil 7th grade. I had too much stuff at my farm to do. Yes, there were chores, but I was lucky enough to have a horse, a pond and a dirt bike.

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  • Chloe

    Read this last year but needed to re-read it now. Thank you Sierra!

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    Sierra Reply:

    *I* needed to re-read it this week. Was thinking of signing my daughter up for aikido because a friend is doing it and loving it. And then maybe I’ll take aikido classes too. And yoga. And the kids can go to singing lessons. And…time to re-read this post and not do any of that. Instead we made apple crisp and played guitar at home. The End.

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