What you want vs what you need - Nicole Avery, Planning With Kids

Two years ago my partner and I started making preparations to sell our house. We have five kids (four boys and one girl). Our home has three bedrooms plus a large home office. We felt we wanted another bedroom so the kids could have more space and there'd be less kids per bedroom.

We had our house valued and started looking in areas that would allow us to have a bigger place. But as we started to look we started to have second thoughts. There was a big push pull factor of a bigger house, having to move further out and questioning whether we really needed to do this.

This questioning really made me think about what we actually did need in our home compared to what did I want. I wanted more bedrooms, a modern kitchen and potentially a pool.

Conversations with my ever so practical husband showed me that we really didn’t need these things. At the surface level this was just the easiest change to make. There were other choices.

When we really looked at it, I realised our house is great and we needed to make adjustments so we could accommodate the changing dynamics of our family. It wasn’t just the kids who were impacted by these adjustments and continuing to have to share rooms. I had to let go of my home office.

I did it gradually, with the eldest moving into the room of my home office (it is a big room) and I would work there during the day while he was at school. This transition made me realise that my need for the home office was no longer there. The home office had been invaluable when I had little ones. I needed a place that I could have as a work space and where I could leave works in progress and not have the area disturbed or be distracted while working. But that was the situation when I started working from home over five years ago.

Fast forward to now and all the kids are at school. I have the house to myself during the day and the majority of the time I no longer work at night or on weekends – when I most needed to have space away from the family so I could concentrate.

The gradual transition away from the home office on my own, meant after a couple of months I happily let go of it completely. In some ways it was reinvigorating! You know how the more space you have, the more you fill it? Well my home office had fabulous built in desks, drawers, cupboards and shelves and somehow I managed to accumulate stuff to fill it all.

When I moved out of the office, I kept very little of this stuff. I scanned papers I wanted to keep, but most of the stuff I could simply put into the recycling bin. And this minimalist approach is how I operate in my new work position at a desk in the room, that would be a second living area but is now a communal study area. It has two desks, one for the kids and one which is now where I work. I have not for one second missed my old home office. The home office is now a bedroom and with the exception of the eldest child who inhabits the new bedroom upstairs, the kids continue to share.

With the boy/girl ratio in our house it would certainly be easier in some ways to renovate and add an additional bedroom, but we do not want the stress of the additional amount this would add to our home loan at this point in our family life. So we continue to take it year by year and mix up the room sharing combinations to create the best fit we can for the current stage in family dynamics.

I am still grateful that my husband was wise enough to help us work out the difference between what we wanted and what we really needed. I learnt much through this process and downsizing my office helped me learn to let go of space and possessions, guiding me in a different direction.

When you have to examine your wants vs your needs, it really makes you take a bigger picture look at your life. It was at this point that I realised, I needed to slow things down. Last year was my first year of focusing on that, having a single purpose goal of being a planned, patient and present mother to my beautiful kids. While far from perfect, 2015 was a much better year in terms of feeling like I was in the right place at the right time, with the right attitude.

Encouraged by the positive impact slowing down had on my life in 2015, my goal for 2016 is create space for calm and creativity. This goal becomes the filter through which I need to make my decisions and most importantly it is helping me more easily identify what it is I want and what it is I need.

As part of achieving my goal, I simplified my wardrobe to 37 items per season. I was so nervous about doing this and how I would let go of all these clothes I had hanging around in my wardrobe. One month in however, I can honestly say it is one of the best things I have done to simplify and improve my day to day life. The exercise showed me clearly that many of the clothes I bought were all out of want and not out of need.

When I look at it, my needs are very simple and generally revolve around time with family and time for myself. And if my results from the PWK annual survey are anything to go on, I am far from alone with having these simple needs.

In the 2015 reader survey, 62% of readers agreed with the statement “My life is too busy” and I asked readers if they agreed with the statement, to list why they felt this way:

I find it’s just my own perspective … there is no judgement on my life usually except myself, so I need to leave the ironing or cleaning and just take the kids to the skate park. Kids don’t remember how neat clothes are folded.

Bigger house to maintain than previous generation, too many “scheduled” activities for kids.

Too much to do and most of it I acknowledge I created for myself – trying to run a family, look after a home and go to work. I end up consumed by the day to day stuff and find it hard to find the time, to take the time, to consider the bigger picture – classic woods for the trees.

Trying to squeeze quality time with children, work, maintaining the house, and exercise into a week! Because we have an action-packed week, with little time off, and it would be much more preferable if I could be a full time SAHM to run our household and provide the taxi service!

If you feel that life is too busy and drawing the line between wants and needs is a challenge, I can highly recommend watching the excellent documentary All I Need from UBank. It is hosted by Andrew Daddo and features a typical Australian family with three kids and a couple of fun, single women who would eventually like to buy places of their own. 

The doco is entertaining, thought provoking and most importantly has ideas on what you can do if you feel that you have become estranged from knowing what you need compared to what you want. It isn’t judging the people in the doco or the choices they have made, but it looks to show them, there is another way if that is what they want and it sets them challenges to have a taste of what it could be like.

While I enjoyed watching the girls come to a realisation about how their current way of life wasn’t bringing them what they wanted, it was the Winn family that made me think most about my own situation. Like most of us they are trying to juggle work, home, sporting activities and all the other extra activities that come along with kids.

As part of one challenge, the mum and dad of the Winn family are challenged to list their top five life priorities. Robyn listed making memories as her number three priority but then shares honestly that:

We’re not making special memories at the moment because we are just running from pillar to post.

It is a doco with a good heart and it is worth making the time to watch it. If you have a partner, have them watch it with you. Watching it will most likely bring up emotional reactions, best shared instantly to help gauge if there are some small life course corrections you can make, so you can live a life in line with your priorities.