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Minimalist Me: Christmas Lists and Toy Control

Oh it’s really snuck up on me this year but Christmas is truly just around the corner! I’ve been far more organised than previous years – nesting, pregnancy hormones and Christmas planning are apparently a winning combination when it comes to organisation! We are planning on spending our first Christmas as just us three (but hopefully four!) in Paris. This will be the first time that we haven’t spent it with one of our families but we are excited to make some of our own traditions with our own children!

As always when you have young kids, the question of presents comes up early – how many to give, what type of toy, are we doing Father Christmas presents, are we doing multiple presents from everyone? This will be Arthur’s third Christmas and quite honestly, he wants for nothing. I decided, for the purpose of this blog post to take a look at what he already has and loves in the hope of inspiring you, if you’re reading and struggling to buy for your toddler. At the end is a little list of things we’ve bought for this year that you might want to consider. I’ve split it into a couple of categories for ease: Toys, activities, and games.

Toys

  • Wooden animals: these gorgeous, solid animals are always a winner. They’re a brand called Holztiger and I’ve seen them around in a fair few independent toy shops in Paris. They have a few ranges (farm animals, etc.) and they’re just lovely for promoting imaginative play. At this age, any kind of toy animal fascinates Arthur, and he can spend a good hour playing with them.
  • Wooden Cars: we have a set of Janod wooden cars that Arthur is completely obsessed with (seriously – he sleeps with them!) I love them because they’ve proved themselves really really durable, he received them for Christmas 2015 and has played with them practically every day since. Janod is stocked all over France and can be found in most toy stores. 
  • Grimms Rainbow: this classic, beautiful toy from Grimms (pictured below) is one of our more pricy toys, but honestly worth every penny. It has provided hours of imaginative play at our house and gets used as a tunnel, roads, boats, bridges, cradles for baby dolls and everything inbetween. 
  • Brio: self explanatory, if you have a child into trains, I can’t recommend Brio train tracks highly enough. It’s an absolute classic and, happily connects with IKEA train tracks too so you can combine collections. 

Activities

  • Cleaning: most little kids love copying mummy and daddy and last year Arthur received a beautiful wooden broom and dustpan & brush set from Nature et Decouvertes. (pictured at top of page) It gets used every day. Sometimes we pour out things like coloured feathers or conkers for him to sweep up, sometimes he just helps sweep the kitchen but, either way, he loves it. 
  • Sorting and ordering: from six months and up, lots of babies like to sort and order different objects. We have a set of stacking pots from Grimms that Arthur liked to put objects into, and take them out. Now he uses them for counting objects like pegs, conkers, little balls and people. They’re pictured above and you can find them here.
  • Crafts: Generally having a well stocked craft cupboard has held us in good stead, particularly through the winter months when outdoor time is limited. This really doesn’t have to be anything fancy. We keep things like lolly sticks, yarn, coloured paper, glue, paints, chalks and beeswax crayons, play doh, salt doh ingredients and beeswax for modelling. 
  • Dressing up: This is a new thing that Arthur is into and oh, it’s making my heart swell! I loved dressing up as a child and my mum made amazing costumes for us (she also loves dressing up!) if you wanted to read about some great benefits of dress up play you can do so here. At the moment we have a relatively small dressing up selection; bird, wolf, tiger, mechanic – but are looking forward to growing it over the years. The bird costume pictured above is from Okaidi

Games

  • Story cards: I’ve written about these fantastic cards before when discussing our toddler’s morning and evening routine but they’re always worth a mention. There are far more cards in the pack than pictured above and they can be used to make up stories. Arthur particularly loves the one about the tree growing. You can find them at Nature et Decouvertes in their Montessori department. 
  • Lotto: Arthur plays this at his Mamie’s house alot and we’ve got a beautiful set here too. He loves looking at the little pictures and matching them up to the cards. I love that it’s the first game we’ve been able to play together as a family too. Worth a look & you can find our set here.

Christmas

I’ve spoken before about how we try to limit the amount of toys that Arthur is given. We live in a very small space and just don’t have the room. I also believe that it’s not healthy in terms of development for children to be overwhelmed by toys. At Christmas and birthdays therefore, we tend to send a list to grandparents and others of things that we know he will love and play with and ask them to choose one gift each to give. It generally works very well (with the exception of my mum this year who just returned to England yesterday having dropped off SLIGHTLY more than one gift for Arthur…) and we try to work on the four gift principle of: something you WANT, something you NEED, something to WEAR and something to READ. With that in mind, here’s our Christmas list this year.

  • WANT: some wooden beads for threading onto shoe laces
  • NEED: a child size yoga mat so that he stops stealing mine!
  • WEAR: a musketeer dressing up costume
  • READ: the Koala who could (We have the Lion inside and LOVE it)

I hope this has given you some ideas and inspiration if you’re feeling stuck. We’re trying to make Christmas more about starting our own traditions this year than gift giving but it is undoubtedly part of making your child’s (and your!) Christmas magical! 

What’s Father Christmas bringing down your chimney this year?

xxx

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The Eighth Month

As I write this I am 35 weeks pregnant. We’re in the home stretch – just waiting for baby to make his appearance now. I’ve been thinking a lot about how this pregnancy has been different from my first and wrote some thoughts on the eighth month:

Anxiety

I was an anxious mess during my first pregnancy. It’s totally normal I think; our bodies are doing something they’ve never done before and even if we’ve read every book, we don’t really know what to expect. When I was pregnant with Arthur I read ALL of the books, googled incessantly, ate very cautiously, went to A&E twice thinking that he’d stopped moving and generally drove my husband up the wall. Honestly I’m surprised that Arthur isn’t a stressed child from all the second hand stress he received from me in utero!

This time around I’ve been MUCH more relaxed. I think just knowing what to expect helped me massively, I don’t like feeling out of control and this time around I knew what was happening to my body and how my baby was growing. I do not google, I have a few select pregnancy books that I love, have eaten with a little less caution and more understanding of the reasons of why to avoid certain things and am generally much calmer and happier. 

Nesting

I get a very strong urge to nest around month six. This has been a little frustrating for me this time as we’ve had literally NO baby gear to buy – we’re reusing everything from Arthur. We never really had a lot of stuff for him either, but we’ve whittled down on what we did have (the baby bath is gone, along with some other things we bought on recommendation but never used.) This time around has been focussed on cleaning! I cleaned last time around too – Stan came home to find me one day having taken all of the blinds down, cleaning every single slat – but this time has been more intense and more long-lived. I’m talking mopping the floors every day, cleaning out cupboards and decluttering like a maniac. 

Labour

Is anyone ever really prepared for labour?! I wasn’t last time, I don’t think I really am this time. I know that everything can change in an instant and even the best laid plans aren’t always what’s best in the moment. I trust my hospital and the midwives there. I am however reading some hypnobirthing books and listing to the MP3s that go with them. Mostly I’m just trying to take it easy, strengthen my body with yoga and enjoy these last weeks of being three. 

Becoming four

This is the part that’s giving me the most trouble at the moment. We’ve had two years of being the three of us – adding in Arthur’s new personality to our family was easy, everything was new! Adding in a fourth personality to our mix will, I think be a unique challenge. We can do all the baby stuff, we’ve done it before but I wonder about this little human’s place in our unit. I know he’ll slot right in and really it will be like he was always there… 

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Our Tiny Home: Laundry

While there are many many benefits to living in a small space, which one day I promise to list for you all, there are times when it can be a challenge. Lately, I’ve been dreaming of a laundry room. You know – like those beautifully designed, lit, and matching ones every mother on Pinterest seems to have. Neatly lined up products, matching coloured washing machines and tumble driers, cute baskets, a ceramic sink for hand-washing clothes, ample drying space (yes, my dreams are pretty boring…but ever so pretty!)

We’ve tried a few solutions over the years. A baby brings a lot of laundry with them – more if you use cloth nappies (we don’t and this is why!), toddlers are generally quite messy and two adults who both work in the food industry makes for a fair amount of loads a week. Keeping on top of it all is the first problem and the second problem is lack of space. I know people living in the same or less amount of space as us who use laundrettes – avoiding the question totally of where on earth to put a washing machine!

Keeping on top of it

  • One load a day, every day. Ugh – I know.
  • A specific day a week for sheets, towels, bathmats etc. I do all of that in one day and then clothes for the rest of the week. Usually when I hang sheets they take about an afternoon and a night to dry. This free’s up drying space for the rest of the week. 
  • Putting it away straight away when it’s dry. When I have a full basket of clean and dry clothes not yet put away next to the wardrobes, it backs everything else up. 

Lack of space

  • We have a washer/dryer combo. It’s honestly not great – the washing machine is fine but the dryer takes a LONG time to dry anything and it’s pretty noisy. Nonetheless I would definitely recommend getting one if you don’t have space for a dryer. It’s great for towels and emergency situations (of which there are many when kids are involved!) 
  • Get yourself some woollen dryer balls (as above – six for €12 on amazon) they speed up drying time, make your towels fluffy and you can pop some drops of your favourite essential oil on them for scent. They eliminate the need for dryer sheets or fabric softener really and I love them. 
  • Our current drying solutions are two wooden drying racks from Habitat (€29 each). In the summer they fit out on our tiny balconies to get some sun on them and in winter we stick them next to our radiators. They’re durable, sustainable material and honestly – I like the way they look. Which is important because they are up practically ALL the time! 

I know that this isn’t very interesting, but I do also know that when you’re living in a tiny space you’re always looking for solutions. Laundry has to get done! As always, when kept simple and attractive, things start looking brighter and more manageable!

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The Power of Good Conversation

With the ever increasing popularity of smart phones, WhatsApp, Instagram, Facebook Messenger and whatever other social media we’re using to communicate with each other now, It’s easy to feel like we’re constantly conversing with each other. My phone beeps all day long with messages from my three WhatsApp groups – nearly all of the women on them are other mums, most of them work outside the home, some are in Paris, some in the U.K. I read along, getting news about their days in real-time, sending pictures of my day, Arthur, whatever I’m cooking or doing in that moment. It’s fast, it’s efficient and it’s easy.

I looked up yesterday and realised that I hadn’t had an actual, in person conversation with any of my friends in over a week. So absorbed with my day-to-day of raising a toddler, housework, keeping on top of our admin and just generally keeping afloat, I realised that I’d barely had a conversation with my husband, let alone any of my friends. I had had LOTS of toddler conversations, but since these are mostly about poo or cars, I am not counting them!

So, in a fit of horror (my poor husband bore the brunt of this!) I set about remedying this lamentable state of affairs.

  • I told my husband that we’re going on a technology detox (he was thrilled!) When we have an evening together, which is about twice or three times a week – no phones!
  • I accepted an invitation to breakfast on the other side of the city with a friend
  • I organised FaceTime conversations with my beloved U.K based friends
  • I invited a new friend over for coffee

Face-to-face conversations are so important to our mental health. I know this because the instant my husband put his phone down and started listening to how I was feeling at that moment I felt listened to, I felt respected and that my needs were important. I came away from breakfast with my friend feeling lighter, appreciated and loved. I turned off FaceTime, knowing deeply that I had roots, connections in the U.K that aren’t going anywhere – my friend lifting up her baby to the camera to show me his teeth was INFINITELY better than glimpsing a photo on WhatsApp during a hectic day of back and forth sharing of news. 

Will I be keeping my WhatsApp groups? Of COURSE. But I will also be scheduling in ALOT more face-to-face time with my friends, I will be putting my phone in a drawer more often, I will not be answering messages straight away, I will be playing more card games with my husband, I will be watching Arthur more through my eyes and less through my camera lens. 

I will be more present. That’s my promise to myself.