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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Before I Die

I have thinkerly days sometimes. Usually when the wind blows wild and I feel restless.
Today is the perfect culmination of thinkerly conditions.  Fall is like that.
I spent some time thinking about what I want the last week of the 31 days project to hold, now that we’ve looked in my closets and discussed what’s in the pantry.  Where to we go from here?

I think we’ll spend the next week going outside the box of house keeping and talking about what to do with life once we’ve eliminated the things that weigh us down and steal from us.  Clearing our homes is just the first step, there is a life to be lived after that, and maybe its time we examined more closely what sort of life we want that to be.

A few months ago I watched this inspiring talk. It entered my mind again today in all my thinking. It’s the perfect prelude to what’s coming next. I hope you’ll take a few moments to watch it. It’s worth your six minutes.

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

Four steps to a Bedroom Beautiful

Let’s face it. Life is messy.  I  believe our bedrooms shouldn’t be. Too often we use the room where we sleep as a catch-all for anything we aren’t certain where to put in the rest of the house. We stack our clothes and pile our papers, completely covering every flat surface with odds and ends.  Shouldn’t the room where we sleep be peaceful and inviting rather than cluttered and confusing?  The moment we open our eyes -BAM- we’re hit with mess from every side, defeating us before our feet even touch the floor.  We can solve this by focusing on four separate things.

1. Clothes.  I discussed clothing briefly when I revealed my closets. Our clothes should always fit neatly into closets and dressers. Old, stained, stretched, worn, unflattering clothes do not belong in our wardrobes. Becoming Minimalist has a great guide to owning fewer clothes which I recommend. If you are feeling particularly adventurous, Courtney Carver has a project you can join (free!) to help you beat the clothes horse: Project 333.  Once you’ve handled your closets and dressers, all clothes should be put away each night. It’s either dirty or it’s clean; put it in the hamper or put it away. No other family member should have clothes stacked or stored in your room.  If you have so many clothes you can’t put them away easily, you won’t put them away at all. Reassess what your clothing needs truly are; what you already own, and how you are using your space. I do not recommend running out to buy more under-the-bed storage containers. These are seldom convenient for clothes and are usually an organizational tool more than a minimalizing tool. Whatever combination of actions you need to take for your needs, clothes and space to align in a way that allows an end of clothing clutter, do it immediately. Most of us have conquered half the bedroom problems when we have minimized our clothing.

2. Make your bed. At the risk of sounding like your mom, I’m going to say it again: make your bed.  Three minutes a day is all it takes to make your room less cluttered and more inviting.  This one action will make a huge change. From a health perspective, investing in a good mattress and pillows for your bed will work wonders on how you feel physically, which of course improves life before even lifting a finger.  Personally, I love to sit in my bed and read a book, so comfort and pillows are a must. We also enjoy the luxury of a king size bed which we first bought to accommodate mom, dad and three small children. The teenagers don’t visit our bed in the night anymore, but we still enjoy our spacious bed. It’s an area we could minimize, but we don’t want to.

3. Bedside space/ Nightstands. These can be terrible spaces making lazy piles, after all, we’re in bed and not dealing with minimizing anymore!  The only items that need to be on your nightstand, are things you use while in the bed. On my own I have a lamp, my books, lotion – I often climb into bed and decide my hands are dry, so I keep lotion by my bed-, lip balm, a reading light, a flashlight. There is a place for my kindle and my phone to sit while charging. Anything else that finds it’s way to this surface, is removed each morning right after I make the bed. Once this becomes a routine, you won’t even think about cleaning it,  There are things we need near us at night, but they are few and they shouldn’t present you with an “I really need to clean that” moment as soon as you open your eyes.

4. Try to find a place for everything else somewhere else.  Bedrooms should be about relaxing and recharging.  Keeping every hobby and project just complicates how your bedroom looks and feels.  It also makes it more difficult for your brain to stop focusing on the next thing demanding your attention. An uncluttered room gives us room to breathe and dream.  I have slept in bedrooms the size of a living room, and ones so small we could barely walk around the king size bed. I have seen both types become cluttered and overwhelmed by stuff. Whether your bedroom is large or small, you can control what goes into it, and how restful an environment it provides. Make your bedroom a welcoming place to come home to and the rest of your home won’t seem as daunting to minimize.

4 1/2. What about the TV?  There are many arguments against having televisions in bedrooms, however, my Hunky and I do have one which we very much enjoy. We do not watch it every night, and we do not have it on for “noise in the background,” especially since we don’t have cable. But we do enjoy snuggling up in bed at the end of some long days and watching a movie or a show together.  Personally, I believe TV is as useful or as detrimental as we allow any other items we own to be and it’s up to each of us to determine how much technology is too much in the bedroom…and every other room in our home as well.

 

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Ten Kitchen tips for the Minimalist

I don’t know about you, but the kitchen is always my most challenging room. To begin with, we have five people in our family who make the majority of our meals right in the kitchen.  There are always dishes to be washed and crumbs on the counters. Please don’t think after all this minimalist talk that we keep an immaculate household here. We live  in our home. Living is a messy business. Minimalism makes it easier to bring order to the mess, but it doesn’t sweep the floors or empty the dishwasher. We still have plenty to do around here which is why keeping the kitchen an easy-to-clean environment is so important. Today we’re going to talk about ten things that can make our kitchen easier and more enjoyable to navigate.

1.) If you haven’t used it in the last 3-4 months, it is time to let it go. I realize that I keep repeating this statement, but there is literally not one other single thing that will clear our lives more quickly or efficiently than disposing of things we don’t use.  Kitchens are full of shelves, cabinets and drawers that simply beg for more things to be shoved in that we can “deal with later.”  Maybe it’s time for later to be today.

2.) Make sure your storageware has mates.  I honestly no longer have a problem with losing sock mates, but I swear my lids get eaten in the night by gremlins. Any stray lids or stray containers need to move on out. Most plastic containers are recyclable. Once you have matched your goods, carefully consider how much you use or need before replacing it. I have found that less storageware forces us to use up leftovers more quickly resulting in less food and money waste. Win-win.

3.) Clear your fridge, pantry and spices of old, stale and expired items.  It’s just clutter we don’t need.

4.) Cut back to one set of dishes and glasses.  We’ve been operating on two sets right up until this summer, when I reconsidered why one family of five needs sixteen plates and bowls with different patterns. The answer is we don’t, and unless you are have a larger family, you don’t either.  We’ve been using one set of everything since July, and we have yet to miss the extra dish washing.

5.) Stop stacking piles of pots and pans on top of each other. If our stoves only have four burners, why so we need so much cookware? We’ve pared down to one set of pots (three sizes) and a steamer, a set of five cast iron round skillets, a cast iron square skillet and a cast iron dutch oven.  I love cast iron. We store lids on pans and don’t stack anywhere. They are easy to get out and easy to put away.

6.) Clear your counter tops. Counter tops aren’t storage spaces; they are work surfaces. Mail, appliances, knife blocks, knick knacks and keys make using the kitchen difficult and visually overwhelming. Clearing cabinets of excess pots, storage containers and dishes should make room for the blender, the crock of cooking utensils and and any other item that belongs in the kitchen. Mail and magazines don’t belong in the kitchen, and nasty keys should never sit on a counter. Ew.  Clear surfaces make a room look neater before we ever lift a finger.

7.) Steer clear of unitasker tools. If it can only do one thing, it’s a space stealer.  Stick with items that can be and are used in multiple ways.

8.) Get rid of your junk drawer. No really. No one needs to keep junk. Stop calling it that and you will stop filling it. We do have a utility drawer for batteries, light bulbs and a few often needed tools. No papers enter the drawer, nor do I gather up things that I don’t know what else to do with and throw it in there.  If you don’t know what to do with it, it’s trash.

9.) Stop buying every new and improved cleaning product under the sun. I find it terribly ironic that one of the messiest places in the house is the cabinet with the cleaners. Most of us only need an all purpose cleaner, a glass cleaner and perhaps an abrasive, dish soap and dishwasher cleaner.  I keep a few Mr. Clean sponges as well.

10.) Create an empty space.  I wish I could remember where I first read this jewel that suggested having an empty drawer, just to be able to say that you have it. I don’t know why it works into helping the mind stay in uncluttered mode, but I have done it for several years and somehow knowing it’s there always helps me stay on track. I actually stepped it up a notch and stopped putting things on the top shelves in every cabinet. I’m quite short, so the only things I kept up there anyway were things I never used because I couldn’t reach to get them down.

There you have it. Ten ways you can start minimizing your kitchen today. These are simple and can be done bit by bit, or you can take a weekend and overhaul the whole thing. I promise once you get started you will enjoy your kitchen more and find it much easier to keep user friendly, the way kitchens should be.

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Kid Stuff

**This is the third in a series of articles discussing general guidelines for minimizing in your home. You can read about bathrooms HERE and general living spaces HERE**

Kid stuff gets an article all its own.  For about fifteen years it sprawls itself throughout our homes, and then for the last three to five years it withdraws and festers under the beds in the child’s room.  Where ever it’s found it’s trying to tell us something:

OUR KIDS HAVE TOO MUCH STUFF

Are you hearing me in this? Unfortunately for them we start the problem by believing we need to have every modern convenience ever invented for babies if our child is going to grow into a productive citizen with brilliant social skills and a Harvard law degree: the right toys, the right seats, the right beds, the right entertainment, the right bottles, the right toys. It never ends. It fills our rooms, our cupboards and our life.

I believed it, and you can imagine that with three children under three in a 960 sq ft home, we more than filled every nook and cranny.   We bought it; we cared for it; we cleaned it; we put it away. They didn’t appreciate our efforts even once. You know why?  Because they were babies and what babies want are present parents who aren’t so busy taking care of stuff that stuff is the only thing left to care for the baby.

This continues as they grow. They see it; they want it. They get it; they break it or they get it and they want fifty more just like it but with different colors, skills, arms, faces, attachments, smells or outfits.  Even now there are probably more than one hundred webkinz upstairs in my girls’ closet.  They wanted them; we indulged them and now they simply can’t stand to let them go.

We let this happen because it’s just part of being a kid
All their other friends have it
We don’t want to be those parents
My kids deserve the best

…I’ve made all the excuses too.

When it comes to babies, they need more of only a few things: clothes, blankets/sheets/ burp clothes and diapers. Everything else they need far less of than what we are offering.  Babies don’t get tired of the same toys and stories. They aren’t bored with their environment, and they sure can’t get enough of being cuddled.  I know we spend a great deal of time worrying they will be spoiled by attention so we “unspoil” them by buying them things to occupy their time. Maybe we should turn that equation around and spend more time with  them and less time buying and caring for things they don’t actually want. Stop worrying. No child goes to high school still hiding behind mom’s leg.

Have you ever noticed how toddlers and even grade school kids will play intensely for hours with their favorite things? Blocks, cars, trains, dolls, even webkinz can be a child’s entire created world for weeks on end. When they get bored is because there are so many things, they don’t know where to focus.  If a child loves legos, let them play legos. Let them play lots of legos.  Don’t worry that they lead an imbalanced life and compensate for legos with fifty other toy options they don’t want or need.  If the problem is that your child keeps seeing new things they want, stop letting them watch commercials.  They won’t know what they don’t have, and they won’t miss it.

When our children are little, the blame for excess in their lives is us.   We allow their stuff to get out of control, and they are overwhelmed. Once their rooms and closets have exploded, it’s more than we can handle.  Yet we send them in their rooms to “clean up the mess they made” and wonder why everyone ends up frustrated and crying.  We reached a turning point in my children’s lives when they demolished their room one morning and spent the next seven hours shut inside doing everything but picking up.  My solution was to go in and remove everything.  Every toy, most clothes, extra bedding. Everything.  Over the next two weeks they were allowed to ask for two things per child (or group of things like bag of blocks or set of whatever) each day. After seven days, they couldn’t remember what was still missing. After ten days they stopped caring and asking. The rest of the toys made their way to Goodwill and life has been more simple since.   My suggestion is to do this in a way that isn’t punitive, sooner rather than later. It will change your life and your children’s lives for the better.

When I really began pursuing minimalism, my girls were 11, 12 and 13.  It’s not as easy to “take their things” nor do I think you should.  When I began the process, I had plenty to tackle without ever entering their space. Several months passed of me taking care of other rooms in the house, where they were asked to help decide what items we use and love, and what items needed new homes.  They were involved in the process without it being their things directly. When we did get around to their rooms, they were always involved. I have not gone into their space and disposed of anything without their permission.  It’s also been easier to work in “layers.” Every few months we reconsider what they have, they have use and what they have kept, but really no longer enjoy.  My oldest, has taken on minimalism for herself.  She’s enjoying always having a neat space, clean clothes that fit and are easy to find, and lots of time to do things that aren’t cleaning her room.  The younger two go along with varying degrees of enthusiasm.  We’ve worked hard to strike a balance where their desires and feelings are heard and respected, and our expectations are established and obeyed.  Just like anything else in a family, it’s a constant reassessment of where we are and who we are becoming.

I’ve hesitated to give specific guidelines here because every family is so very unique, as are their needs and the space they inhabit.  What you need to know is your children will not suffer with less, in fact they will thrive.  Your older children are unique individual with a voice, opinions and preferences that should be taken into account as you work together to live more simply.  Some parts of changing a lifestyle will always be a little uncomfortable and maybe even a bit unpleasant. That also will not harm your children in the long run.  I believe, and have seen unfold in my own family, that they will be more intentional, considerate people for having lived a simple life.

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