Becoming Unbusy & Decluttering Your Children’s Activity Schedule

When my daughters were younger, we lived on a ranch and the days were filled with little activity. I did my best to keep life simple and let them enjoy playing outside, simply being kids. They had the time to explore, use their imagination, and negotiate the rules in a world that was entirely theirs. From the outside, they may have looked like a couple of kids playing in the mud. But I knew that their games were more than that. They were enriching their lives in their present, and creating lasting memories to carry forward into their futures.

I have to admit my motives weren’t entirely selfless either. I wanted to spend as much time with them as I could before they went off to school and I wanted that time to be high quality. We cooked together, ate together, worked on projects together or separately, side by side.

Moving back to the city was a culture shock. It felt like so many families had chosen to give into busyness, like it’s a badge of honor. It’s not. Needless busyness is an affliction. With parents and children alike on the go 24/7, carrying calendars and to-do lists, it’s no wonder that everyone is completely stressed out. We want to do good by our kids, making sure they broaden their horizons and their skills but our mental and physical health can end up suffering for it.

Don’t get me wrong. There’s value in extracurricular activities, especially when those activities are relevant to a child’s passions and interests. Through a variety of extracurricular classes, kids are able to learn important skills like teamwork, discipline, and structure while making new friends and pursuing a passion.

But there’s also a cost.

Missed Opportunities

When it comes to our family activities, it’s important to remember we’re not just putting together a calendar of events, we’re creating a lifestyle and all that comes with it. We’re all dealing with limited hours in a day and scheduling activities is a lesson in negotiation and compromise. Each item we add to the schedule means another that has to be compromised so we have to identify and negotiate our priorities and truly keep an eye on the bigger picture of the lifestyle we want to lead.

Some of the common costs of an overscheduled calendar include:

  • Compromised family dinners. Home cooked family dinners will likely be stricken from your lifestyle in favor of quick meals in the car.
  • Compromised family time. Time spent together in the car, driving to a variety of activities, will likely replace time spent together at home. While catching up is still possible, it does mean limited activities (no cooking together, working on a project, etc) and limited eye contact.
  • A reduction in free play. Structured activities will be prioritized over learning through play and self-directed learning.
  • Less time for solitude. Class activities will take over your child’s personal time and space for inner-reflection, growth, imagination and thought, and creativity.
  • Financial costs. The obvious financial costs associated with extracurricular activities will affect other lifestyle choices from travel and outings to projects in and around the home, etc.

The High Cost of Stress

The biggest cost associated with an extracurricular overload is simply stress. Stress not only takes will take a mental, emotional, and financial toll on both you and your kids, it can also strain your relationship and negatively impact other responsibilities your children have.

While you deal with the stress of driving the kids from activity to activity, they take on the burden trying to make up for that lost time to do their homework, take a shower, and so on. In a recent study, 41% of children, age 9-13, said they feel stressed either most of the time or always because they have too much to do. And more than three-quarters of kids surveyed said they wished they had more free time.

With little time for family activities, for solitude and self-care, or for free play, your lifestyle and family dynamic will likely take a big hit. Both you and your kids may become tired and cranky, simply not in the right mind-frame to reach out and connect or to reflect and create.

Stressed out parents create stressed out kids. Stressed out kids stress out their parents. It’s a vicious cycle and it’s our responsibility to break it by becoming unbusy and decluttering our schedules. But how do we slow down when there is so much to do and so little time to get it done?

Taking the Steps to Declutter Schedules

If we’re finding that our families are suffering from overscheduling, it’s our job to rewrite the script by slowing down and cutting back on some of the activities in our family’s life. Here are some simple steps you can take to cut down on the activity overload and declutter your lifestyle:

Evaluate your motivations and put your family first: Take a step back and honestly consider the activities your children are currently enrolled in. Have you scheduled them for these classes because of a burning desire on their part or are they activities you think they should pursue to get into the right college, meet the right people, etc? We all get caught up in the pressures of parenting and its competiveness and comparisons. But ultimately, your child doesn’t need to be hyper busy to compete. We need to evaluate if our decisions are on based on any factor (keeping up with other families, making up for our own childhoods, concerns about our children’s social standing) other than our child’s enrichment and happiness. When it comes to scheduling activities for your children, let their needs and desires lead, not yours. They can best sense what really drives them and what’s too much to handle.

Find the right balance. It’s extremely difficult to determine the ideal number of activities. But you can start by first visualizing the lifestyle you want to lead. That will help in giving you a sense of the level of busyness vs. serenity that works for your family. Consider the number of hours your child sits in a classroom setting, then ask yourself how many hours of structured, organized activity you think is appropriate for your child on top of school. Keep in mind the hours needed for daily responsibilities both for your child (time needed for homework, chores, personal hygiene) as well as for yourself (cooking, cleaning, after hours work responsibilities). Don’t overlook the time you’d like to allot for quiet activities like reading, drawing, playing board games and so on. If you find that your current schedule is holding you back from the life you want to live, have a discussion with your child to determine which items to remove. It's natural to want to do it all, but saying yes to everything will deplete the both of you. As you go through this, keep visualizing your ideal lifestyle and let that ground you when you feel inclined to fill up your calendar.

Focus On Your Child’s Enrichment and Passion. If you’re finding yourself arguing with your child to get them to their next activity, it’s likely a waste of your time and money. Honestly consider whether your current schedule brings joy and energy into your child's life or if it creates stress and anxiety. Don't assume that the most popular activities among your child’s friends will naturally be the right fit for your kids. Sometimes less really is more and you need to step back and let your child lead.

Remember That Personal Development Doesn’t Always Need a Class. Not all interests require structured classes. Kids need hobbies, just like adults, and those hobbies can be private, personal activities that are self-directed rather than structured. A cooking class is very different from learning to cook at home. Both have their merits but they do emphasize different skills. Same with an art class vs. drawing at home – either can be the right fit but it depends on your child’s interests, work habits, level of discipline, and desire for instruction over self-directed exploration. When it comes to sports, you child may love swimming, playing basketball, or dancing on their own but competition may not be their thing. For many kids, structured classes can actually have a negative effect and kill their interest in a particular activity or hobby. You can feed your children’s passion at home by showing an interest, making sure they have the necessary materials, and encouraging them, without adding more structure to their schedules.

Don’t Forget That Values and Life Lessons Come From Family Time. We’re driven to schedule those extracurricular activities into our calendars because we hope to give our children more opportunities to grow and develop. But we sometimes overdo it at the expense of family time. The time you spend together as a family is enriching in a way that extracurricular activities are not. The classes we sign our kids up for teach them specific skills, discipline, and possibly teamwork. But life lessons, values, and affection – those come from family time. Make sure your schedules allow for plenty of quality time together and keep things in perspective. Plenty of children take piano lessons and never touch keys in their adult lives. But everyone needs the tools to know how to navigate relationships, resolve conflict, express emotions, and get along with others. Eating together not only provides the opportunity for kids to digest a healthy, homemade meal, but also the events of their day. Your family is the fabric that keeps your children grounded. Elevate the importance of the time you spend together and guard it. Don’t underestimate the value of your influence in their lives. Don’t take family time for granted and assume that you’ll come together as you go your separate ways.

Make Room for Blank Spaces. If your calendar if completely full with color-coded activities, you really need to pull back. Every schedule needs blank, white spaces where nothing is planned. If you’re going straight from one activity to the next, you’re not giving your child the time to absorb the activity they’ve just completed. Decluttering the schedule creates the spaces needed for enjoyment and reflection that an overly crammed schedule cannot accommodate. The blank spaces also leave room for spontaneity. There’s no room for playdates, social gatherings, or impromptu activities in a too-full calendar. Children need to have breathing room to be able to spend time on their own, with friends, or trying out a new, unplanned activity. The level of commitment required for extracurricular classes doesn’t allow for that.

Allow For Downtime Both During the Week and on Weekends. We all need to recover and recuperate from our daily activities. Just as in our dreams we make our memories, in our downtime we passively make sense of all the information that has come at us throughout the day. We also give our bodies the time to rest, relax, and reenergize. In our hurried culture, when we believe busyness is a badge of honor, we start to think that rest means doing nothing. But as we slow down our bodies and our active reactions to information and stimuli, we allow our minds to process, organize, and travel. Be sure that your child has adequate downtime throughout the school week where information flow is at its heaviest. On the weekends, you can use your downtime for simple family activities like board games, walks in nature, and easy projects that bring everyone together.

Stay Vigilant and Watch For Signals Of Overscheduling. The signs of overscheduling are obvious. Contentment is your barometer. If you or your children are feeling irritable, chances are you have too much going on. If you’re finding that you’re arguing daily to get your kids out the door, you’ve either scheduled too many activities or they’re not the right fit. If you find yourself in a constant state of hurry, ask yourself if you’re leading your ideal lifestyle. Take charge of your calendars and keep them decluttered.

You can overcomplicate your schedules and find a million excuses why you can’t possibly cut any activities from your children’s lives. Or you can take charge of your life so the next time a friend calls and you answer breathlessly, it’s not because you are stressed out speeding to your kid’s swim class— it’s because you’re at home having a dance party with them.

What are some of the changes you’ve made to live a slower, stress-free life?

Tags : simplicity parenting   mindful parenting   extracurricular activities   

Bridgit Sussman
Just curious to many days a week do you all have afterschool activities planned?