Eight Lessons being a Minimalist has Taught Me

1. If you don’t know where every penny of your money goes, you are wasting it. Probably  a lot of it.  We’re still imperfect budgeters at best, but becoming minimalists has taught us to look at every dollar and determine if where it goes is really where we want to spend our money.  This behavior has led to cutting cable, stopping magazine subscriptions and eliminating nearly all fast food splurges ( we still hit sonic at happy hour on occasion. Mmmmmm cherry limeade.).  We’ve found money that we want to divert to other places and become able to be generous in ways that bring a return of joy which is beyond money value.

2. The American Dream has become a slave driver.  I do believe that at one time, what people were looking for out of life was an ideal worth striving for.  But lately, the American Dream has become a never ending chant of BIGGER BIGGER BIGGER and MORE MORE MORE.  This really hit home with me a few years ago when someone asked my thirteen year old what colleges she was looking at.  Thirteen. When I expressed my shock I was assured that the only way she was going to get anywhere was to be ahead of the pack in her college options.  Seriously? We’re told we need bigger homes, newer cars and to never stop climbing the corporate ladder.  Please don’t buy the hype. Life is so much more than these pathetic talismans.

3. People will take offense at your life choices, no matter what you choose.  I certainly don’t think that this is limited to people who choose a minimalist lifestyle.  There are always people who are threatened by those who have chosen  an alternate lifestyle as though choosing a different path than theirs threatens the superiority of their choice.  I do think minimalism is a better life choice than what culture is selling, but no one has to choose it if they don’t desire.  I’m not going to argue or justify my choices. They are my choices. We each get to make our own.

4. Life will always have troubles and take unexpected turns. Minimalism isn’t a magic bubble of perfection.  Bad days and difficulties come to everyone.  Minimalism does make it easier for me to focus attention where it most needs to be rather than being distracted by many less important details.

5. Routines matter.  Routines are what keep things flowing, especially when you are working through the minimizing process. I used to tell myself that I didn’t have to make progress every day but I could not go backwards on any day. Routines are what keep my mind from wondering what hasn’t been done and allow me to make order quickly when life disrupts the routine. The balance is in allowing routines to be your tools, but not strait jackets from which you cannot escape.

6. A minimalist lifestyle means you have more time for many new things, but you still cannot do all the things.  One of the most important components of the minimalist lifestyle is not only making space, but keeping space. We’ve done no real good if we clear out our possessions but cram our life full of obligations instead. Slowing down, pacing your activities, even doing nothing for periods of time are all part of the minimalist lifestyle.  Don’t let your freedom get rebogged down in new ways.  Keep some space in your life.

7.  You will never agree with every single thing that another minimalist says about his/ her lifestyle. We all choose for ourselves how our lives will be lived. Fortunately, I haven’t yet met an adamant minimalist. However, across the board we are all very passionate. Don’t mistake passion for judgement and don’t let someone “guilt” you into change you aren’t comfortable with. Not even me.

8.  Boundaries matter. Sometimes boundaries are upsetting. This can happen when we limit the number of Christmas gifts we allow for our children, or when we turn down bringing home Great Aunt Ruth’s bottle cap collection.  Remember to be gentle when people don’t understand, but also be firm in your decisions.  We cannot please all of the people all of the time, nor should they expect to be pleased always.

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Life Beyond Housework

So you’ve been through the closets and the bookshelves. You’ve donated and sold and thrown away.  You can find your batteries, your keys and the mates to all your socks.  Are you asking yourself what’s next?

I have to tell you that this is both the good part, and the hard part.

Once you’ve finished the tasks at hand, room by room, you’ll probably start reassessing and getting rid of more stuff. It’s inevitable that you will look at everything with new eyes once the process is complete.  You will find yourself working in areas you know you already covered and thinking, “Didn’t I just do this?” I’ve said it one hundred times this month, so here it is again: minimalism is a process. It is a process that will change you, and when it does, you will be a little bit addicted to the idea of less being more. Eventually though you have to stop giving away all the things lest your family put you on the curb too.  Then what?

Do you realize that most people don’t know what to do with time when it’s not crammed to the gills?  We’ve become too accustomed to always having five things clamoring for our immediate attention. It’s hard to believe that you will have time to do things that aren’t home maintenance related.  This is the part that’s messy and a little scary.  Maybe you start by reading a book for no reason, you know the one that sat on your bedside table for two years unopened and you still couldn’t bear to pass it on.  Maybe you’ll take that photography class you’ve had your eye on for so long.  Or you’ll become involved supporting a cause or organization which has tugged your heart for a long time.  You’ll try things you don’t like, and you’ll surprise yourself by trying something you never thought you would do and loving it.  You may try two or three things all at once and decide you don’t like any of them.  This is normal. We’ve been so busy, we’ve forgotten how to be truly us.  Living a life with time and space to grow and explore is a foreign concept. Sometimes, you might just sit and do nothing, though I wouldn’t admit it to many people.  They might say you are lazy, or worse yet, crazy. No one sits around just doing nothing, or if they do they ought to find better use of their time and stop wasting their lives, little knowing stillness and doing nothing are two things that make up some of the richest moments of our lives.

These are the fun moments of rediscovering who we are and what we love.  We’re finding the things we want to do and the person we want to become now that there is time for options.

Frustrating days will happen as well. Days like I had today where you run all over town, and your house feels like a cluttery mess (or as I like to call it, the pit of despair).  You’ll still sometimes have baskets of laundry waiting and dishes in the sink. You’ll snap at someone because “you just don’t have time to do that right now.”  Even when life has been refocused and relaxed, it’s still life.  It can grab you by the heels before you even know it.  There may even be seasons of time that you can’t seem to your breath or makes the pieces fit.  You’ll wonder if you are doing something wrong.  That’s normal too.  Despite all the changes we’ve made so far, we still only have a very limited sphere of control in our lives. There are times when we have to grin and control the only thing we truly can, our response.   The good news is once we’ve prioritized and minimized, life can usually regain its normal friendly flow with little effort on our part, once we’re through the rough patch.

Life after the work of minimalism is done isn’t all beach vacations and lazy afternoons, as much as I would like to tell you it is.  It may look very similar to how you lived before, but with more space and less debt.  Or, as you discover who you really are without all of the cultural expectations and wrappings placed upon your life, you may change everything entirely, moving homes and changing jobs, trying something completely different that fits you better than what you were doing before. Both of these experiences are completely normal as well.  There isn’t a right or wrong path to take once you’ve gotten through the initial hard work. That’s part of the joy of the lifestyle, the freedom to choose whatever it is that suits you and your family the best.

 

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Divided

I do not have a multi-tasking personality.  In fact,  I don’t actually believe that multi-tasking is an effective way to accomplish anything since we aren’t being fully mindful of any one thing at a time while we do multiple things.  However, there are people who can juggle multiple tasks and ideas well, whether or not this is a healthy way of handling life. I am not one of those people. I do best with one task at a time, one person speaking at a time – which means I often feel verbally overwhelmed in a house with three teenage girls – one area of focus at a time.  This is one reason that participating in the 31 Days project makes writing easier for me. It allows me to focus on one thing to write on at a time for a set period of time. I’m not distracted by a million shiny ideas in my own head and on other people’s blogs.

On the other hand, writing for thirty one days straight has taxed me far beyond what I anticipated.  Stretching is good; I am enjoying it. I hope to continue to write with as much enthusiasm and momentum once this project is complete.  What I didn’t anticipate was the amount of time writing and organizing my blog would take once I began.  Some days I have spent hours on the work, which again isn’t a bad thing.  But, before this project began I wrote a post about something that is weighing heavily on me still: Creating Space.  Three weeks into October I must confess that I have failed miserably at reducing my unproductive online time. Perhaps even abysmally.   Instead of creating space for creativity by limiting online time, I have allowed my online time to increase proportionally to my creativity at the expense of things I am not willing to trade. I have justified it, obviously, by directing my attention to how well this project is progressing and how much I am enjoying it.

Fortunately my friend, Angela reminded me that I can (not) do all (the) things.  I don’t know why we need permission to turn off all the voices demanding our attention, but sometimes we do.  I’ve been caught up in a whirlwind of excitement about this project and let many other things, important things, fall off the wagon making it unbalanced, and making me ill-prepared to handle my days.  In short, I’ve been multi-tasking and doing none of the many things as well as I would like, as well as I know I can when I give the proper focus.

I’m confessing this here for two reasons. First of all, I read back over these posts, and it seems like they are written by someone who has it all together.  I don’t.  But I do have a vision of where and who I want to be and how I plan to get there.  It looks good on paper, but I am far from perfect in the execution.  It’s a learning and experiencing process. You may need to know that. Secondly, confession lends accountability.  There’s a finality to words on paper (or the internet, I suppose).  People ask me about what I write. They want to see if the things I spend so much time writing about really are producing the life changes I believe in.  Another friend reminded me that I said, “I only have one today in my whole life.”   Lately I’ve done very well with talking about living a focused life, and not so well with actually living it. I want to change that now, today.

I’m not stopping the 31 Days project.  In fact, I’m hoping that re-narrowing my focus will allow me to continue to produce articles about change, intentional living and hope far more consistently just as I have for the first three weeks of the month.  I just wanted you to know that I haven’t forgotten my intentions, I just got divided in my focus for awhile. Now, back to the business of enjoying life.31 days button

Living Spaces: 5 ways to regain control

Several rooms qualify as living space, rather than get into semantics I’ll define my meaning here: living space is space that is not kitchen or dining room and  not used for sleeping or showering. So whether you call it the living room, the office, the den, or the great room, it qualifies as living space. These are the rooms where we spend the most time during our day, generally. Personally, I am a fan of simple, uncrowded, multi-use space. Our home now has several rooms that are “living spaces” The good news is that we also have what I call disposable furniture so when we downsize, we won’t be crowded. Let’s get to it.

1. A flat surface does not mean you have to put something on it.  Walls, tops of furniture, tables, these were not made to be filled with stuff. In fact, the less we have on them the cleaner our home looks all the time. Do not fall into the greenery, knick-knacky, quaintly cluttery trap. A clear surface is a thing of beauty.

2. If you love a coffee table, you may need to take a deep breath. I’m about to get all up your space business.  I feel about coffee tables like I feel about closets. They are crap collectors and space wasters. Most of our rooms are not big enough to accommodate them comfortably. We use them as, “we’ll take care of this later” storage spots, allowing the piles grow and spawn.  The most use they get is to hold food while we sit at them to eat and watch television. I challenge you to say good bye to the coffee table. Just put in the garage for a few weeks and see how it goes.

3. Books are a touchy subject. No one is really middle of the line when it comes to them. Either this whole paragraph doesn’t affect you at all or your jaw is set and you are already kicking and screaming, ready to throw your protests out to the world.  Take some deep breaths and go read this post about books (click here). I’m won’t repeat what has already been well written. We are down to one and a half bookcases from six full bookcases and stacks of books everywhere.  Both pieces of furniture with books are ones Hunky and I have agreed are not disposable; one of them houses school books which are, of course, not optional.  I am a lover of books. I love everything about them, the entire book experience. They were one of the last things I was able to begin letting go. But since we continue to live a gypsy lifestyle, my desire to be unburdened won out over my love for books.  Honestly, I was never going to read or reread them all anyway. I have no one to impress with my collection.

4. Anything with doors and drawers needs to be severely assessed. I’m not opposed to cupboards and drawers. I am opposed to the fact that we employ ‘out of sight, out of mind’ mentality regarding them. Just because you shut the drawer, doesn’t mean the stuff goes away.  If your furniture has drawers, doors or shelves, I suggest having a specific purpose for each one (for instance we have a cabinet with the school pens, pencils, calculators and protractors in one drawer and bound playing cards in the other. Nothing else goes in the drawer but those items that belong there).  DO NOT HAVE A JUNK DRAWER. I’m planning to talk about this when we hit the kitchen, but just don’t. It never ends well.  When you go through your drawers and cabinets get rid of duplicates, pens that don’t work, any pen if you have over twenty – don’t be that guy, trash, scraps of anything, anything  that you can’t immediately identify, old keys,  stray coins, marbles, bouncy balls…just toss it. No one misses these things. I’m not going to tell you to run out and buy organizers for your drawers because if you are diligent, you won’t even need them.

5. All the other odds and ends really fast:

  • Paper Clutter. Unclutterer has two great posts: HERE and HERE
  • Old magazines. If it’s been sitting untouched for six months, you don’t need it. Recycle or donate. Most magazines now offer digital service with superior search engines, and it’s friendlier to the environment. At least consider it.
  • There should be nothing under any furniture. Period. (Those of you with littles get a small pass because those toys are tricky. We’ll be talking about that tomorrow)
  • If  you have too much furniture for an area, stop stubbornly hanging on to it. Why not give it to someone who needs it and can use it.
  • Exercise equipment.  This is not a clean clothes shelf or a mail box. Clear it off and use it. Putting stuff on it is just another excuse.
  • Anything that doesn’t have a home needs to be removed from the room. Remember when I talked about having some boxes to keep things in while you transition? Determine quickly if it’s keep, donate or trash and put it in the right box. Random stuff sitting around is discouraging. Put it where you have a plan to deal with it. DO NOT JUST STICK IT IN A CLOSET OR DRAWER. That would be counter productive, now wouldn’t it?

Do you have any questions about your living space? I’d love to help out or point you in the direction of someone who can. Speak up in the comments!

Begin with the End in Mind

I think these words often. We live in an instant society where it’s easy to get discouraged by things that take time. I say I have been a minimalist for two years, which is mostly accurate, except when I trace threads of thought back over more years than that, some even a decade. I have said time and again that being a minimalist is a process. Just because we claim the title doesn’t mean we are finished with the work, or that we have it all perfected.  But we have begun, and having begun we should develop an idea where we are headed. What is it that I want out of minimalism? What is my purpose, ultimately, on this journey?  Each day work towards it a little bit, as much as you can. Don’t be discouraged that it seems slow progress.  It takes time to prioritize a life, or if we are part of a family, a whole group of lives.

This week, I’ll be sharing some of the things I have changed, purged and minimized in my home, going room by room. Because we’re beginning with the end in mind, I’m starting in the bathroom. Also, bathrooms are smaller rooms that actually can be processed in a day if we set our minds to it. They are good places to begin.

*Linens  Oh my dear people, I could go on for days about the linens we keep. I realize that there are extenuating circumstances when we have babies and littles who are potty training, but the average American person does not need three sets of sheets per bed in the household. Yet we have them.  We have sheets that are twenty years old, and crib sheets, and toddler sheets and grandma’s sheets and guest sheets and flannel sheets…Do you see the madness? And the towels. My lands! We are not a hotel. Most of us do not have regular houses full of guests.  Stop. Just stop the madness.
*If it’s threadbare, stained or unraveling, it is trash. No one wants that. Throw it away. Don’t keep it for rags if you have rags already.
*Towels.  We have a bath towel per person and about three spares. That way if we suddenly have three people in the tub at once and all our towels fall in with us, we can still get dry. We wash them about twice a week. I’m not even discussing using and washing a towel for your hair and a towel for  your body every single day. Linens aren’t your biggest problem if you do this.
*Wash cloths. In the adult bathroom there are four. In the teens bathroom there is a stack of ten for three girls. They get washed about every other day. With five people we generate enough laundry that we’ve never gone searching. Laundry gets cycled beginning to end (most days) so it’s put away before dinner.
*Sheets – we do have regular and flannels per bed. So there is always one set of sheets per person in the closet (we do not currently have a ‘linen closet’ but the linens share an area in a larger closet pictured yesterday).  We also have three ‘spare’ sets (twin size). I keep these for camp and guests. There are times when all three are actually in use.
*blankets – these can take up quite a bit of space if you are a blanket loving family, which we are. It’s fall now so our blankets are out on the backs of furniture. They don’t all match but they are all right where we want them. In the summer we put about half of them away, usually in the bedroom closets.

Medicine Chest – this is also a breeding ground for evil. If it’s outdated toss it. If you have fifteen half empty bottles of tylenol, combine or toss. We really only need one type of medicine per ailment (children’s and adult versions if you have littles) Ours currently houses tylenol, cough syrup, one box of sinus meds, naproxen, one tube of neosporin, one box of multi-size bandaids, one ace bandage, saline solution, glasses/ contact lens cases, my current cosmetic needs (all under 6 months old), Hunky’s shaving things.  Everything is in date and used at least once a week, most of it daily. Stop shoving things in your medicine chest and thinking they disappear. They don’t.

Cosmetics – I am not a fashionista or a make-up guru, but my friend Cheri has taught me well: find out what looks good on you and stick with it.  I keep my make-ups very basic anyway, but this gave me “permission” to wear what I like consistently and not be all over the map experimenting. I don’t keep old stuff. Use it up; move on to the next. All my cosmetics fit into one clutch size bag which they live in in the drawer. I can literally grab and go for travel. Keep it simple.

Under the cabinets – Look, if it’s half full and it’s been under there for more than three months, it’s trash. Please don’t hang onto a half bottle of shampoo and the fourteen scented lotions and shower gels from Bath and Body works you’ve been getting for Christmas for the last five years. Most of us don’t need to keep spares since we’re less than ten minutes from a store.  We actually use very little of our under cabinet space.  Two cleaners (please don’t keep eight half empties of this either. No one is that dirty.) The toilet brush.  It’s pretty uneventful, and very uncluttered.

That’s about it for us, no extra stuff in the bathroom. It isn’t exciting, but it is useful and clean. The hardest thing is often to convince ourselves that we don’t need to keep things for “someday.”  If something hasn’t been used in six months, it likely isn’t going to be. Let it go. Unless you are running a dorm or camp, you don’t need linens for twenty.  Bathrooms are easy places to start. GO!

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Creating Space

My family keeps unconventional time.  We always have. First it was because my husband as the head athletic trainer at a very large high school worked insane hours. Then, he entered ministry. Now he doesn’t work as many hours, though still quite a few– I don’t know a dedicated pastor who doesn’t put in well over the conventional forty hours– but what he doesn’t work is conventional days. Our weekend starts Thursday evening. We hold Friday as a sacred day, a sabbath, and Saturday usually involves some form of work or ministry, at least for the morning.  Then, of course, we are back in the work week which always begins on Sunday for us.  Our strange hours and days have also led us to unconventional school years, learning in July and August, vacationing the week after Labor day when everyone else is really getting back into the work groove. We have learned that time is ours to shape how we can to suit us.  Thankfully we’ve been given the freedom to make these choices since we home school, and I stay home to do that.

I say all of this because what I’m about to talk about is a bit unconventional itself. I read this post, A Year Living Without over at Zen Habits in July.  I’ve been thinking about it since. When I decided to participate in the 31 Day Challenge, I knew I was facing some priority changes to make everything fit.  I am not a fast writer, though the more I consistently practice writing the easier it comes. My days are filled with  educating my three teens.  I could say right along with everyone else in the world, I’m so busy. I am. But some percentage of busyness comes from how I choose to spend my time, not that there is not enough of it.

Enter the concept of living without.  It isn’t merely stuff that needs minimalizing in my life, wasted time needs to be investigated too.  I haven’t determined all of the things I will live without for the next year, but I do know what I am trimming for the next month in order to make the 31-Day Challenge attainable. To begin with I need to resculpt my mornings. I am most productive in the morning hours and three days a week early morning is when I run. Running is a non-negotiable. It makes me a better person entirely. Lately, since attaining a smart phone, I waste time before getting out of bed checking email, looking at the weather, twiddling about on facebook. That ended this morning.  No more online time before 9am for me.

I’m  prone to wasting time at night after the dishes are done and there is nothing pressing on my that needs to be finished. I will fritter away time online again, even playing a few silly games.  That also will be ending today. I am resculpting my evenings to be more productive. My definition of productive for these hours will include reading, writing and any other relaxing activities that do include my family and don’t include internet.

My boundaries include a few exceptions:
1) My responsibilities at Middle Places will alter my time boundaries on Mondays only.
2) Night time hours will not completely exclude all use of internet. Home school, personal development or meal planning may happen during these hours but will limited to small segments of time. No social media

Now for the more important element of living without, filling the space.  It’s no good to simply free up time, I need a direction for my time. Mornings will include a morning routine of eating, prayer  time, making a priority list for the day, running and writing. Once the kids are awake at 8am, life moves ahead like a freight train right through the afternoon and into dinner. I am not trying to create more time space after 8am as that time is for school. School unfolding each day successfully is my priority, not a list of projects with school stuffed in the spaces between those things. Evening will also include developing a routine that will include a final sweep of the house, finishing any chores left unfinished.  I haven’t been reading as much as I would like so a lot of evening time will be devoted to that, as well as family time, and working on some personal projects I have going on. I don’t like writing at night as well, but I can use this time to finish up any writing that didn’t get done that morning as well.

I am finding that life, like my home, can be filled until every corner is crammed, every second is labeled, if I choose.  But I can also choose to intentionally create spaces that are beautiful just in being there, not because they serve a particular purpose at all.

Minimal Me

In six days, I will have been a minimalist for two years.
Two Years.

Before I became a minimalist I didn’t think of myself as someone extravagant or someone who stockpiled against future possibilities. I didn’t even intend to become a minimalist in the first place. I intended to write for thirty-one days on the idea of simplifying my belongings.  We had moved three times in three years, with a great deal of purging in each move, and we knew our housing situation at the time was temporary.

I was just dang tired of packing and unpacking boxes.

I knew that the idea of less was appealing. What I didn’t know was how much less, how many people would find it odd, and how wonderfully revealing it was to free levels of myself through simply letting things go.  The more time I spent researching and thinking and writing and assessing during those thirty-one days, the more I realized that organization wasn’t the answer, nor was closet size, storage space or square feet. In the last four years we’ve lived in the three biggest houses of my lifetime and we have less and want less than ever.  What I had been searching for fell under the loose definition of “minimalist.” I jumped in and I haven’t looked back.

In the four years since we’ve moved to Georgia, we’ve discarded literally hundreds of pounds of books, clothes, furniture, toys, electronics, home goods. You name it we’ve purged it. Most we simply drop off at local thrift stores. A few things we have given to friends who we know want them and will use and love them.  We’re also pretty good at calling trash trash, and we aren’t afraid to throw it away if it’s simply no longer beautiful or useful to anyone.  We’ve disposed of five bookcases worth of books, two dressers and at least one closet full of clothes, chairs, tables and sets of dishes. We even call our sofas disposable furniture since they work beautifully for our family, and we won’t feel like we have to take them with us if we get called away on a grand adventure.

We don’t miss the stuff.

I cannot think of one time I thought to myself, ‘I wish I hadn’t given that away’.
Not even once have a looked at an uncluttered surface or clean wall and thought, “I should get something to go there”

I feel free even though I am constantly explaining that I am not opposed to owning things, merely to the concept of owning things because everyone else has it or wants it. I am not opposed to spending money on something. I am opposed to debt, overspending and waste.  I am not an ascetic. I like beautiful things, frittering time away in the hammock, and ice cream, or a glass of wine. I like travel and leaving big tips at restaurants and surprising my kids with small treats. In fact, we have a more fun more often then we ever had with more things.

It’s been a great beginning.
Now after two years it’s time to revisit my lifestyle in writing again. Which is why I will be joining the 31 Day Project.

31 Day Project

31 Day Project

I’ll be calling my own project: Minimalism HNL (once again that’s ‘hole notha level for those of you just joining us)
Being a minimalist isn’t just about getting rid of things anymore, it’s about what to do with the time, space and money that I have now that those things are gone. It’s also about really examining all the things we still own and care for in order to determine whether or not those things align with our family priorities. It’s time to fine tune and polish. Thirty one days ought to just about do the trick!