Minimalism, meet reality

November 8, 2017

I moved the furniture in my youngest’s room this morning; moved the posters on her walls around.  Got everything rearranged, cleaned out just a bit, and it’s beautiful.  So empty and peaceful.

I worked in the basement for five minutes, going through a bin of stuffed animals (the old “out of sight, out of mind” trick).  I pulled five to keep–I’m still a sucker for sentimental stuff–and filled a 13-gallon trash bag with loveys to pass on.

I weeded kids’ books yesterday and kept only the much-loved favorites.  This was met almost immediately with a request to read A Pocket for Corduroy.  Funny how favorite books can be found when you get rid of the junky stuff.

I got in the laundry room closet today…..and it was still a laundry room closet.

But here’s the thing:  the only items in that closet right now that don’t really belong are some picture frames that I want t buy mats for.  Everything else, regardless of how un-minimalist it looks, is something we use.  Not every single day, but easily every month, and absolutely every few months.

I’ve finally come to the realization that every home is going to have a bin of extra light bulbs.

Truly….I think this is something the glossy magazines don’t ever spotlight, and it’s stuff that no one likes to think about.  But I daresay that even the most minimalist home is going to have a stash of bulbs somewhere.  If they don’t, they’re going to be hanging out in the dark at some point, because bulbs don’t burn out when it’s convenient–much like smoke alarm batteries only running out at 3:00 AM.

So that closet full of “stuff” isn’t going anywhere.  It is a testament to the reality of living this life.  We use detergent, and have an iron and ironing pad.  We need a place to keep things like string and screwdrivers and my secret stash of chocolate.  I’ll do my best to keep it organized, and keep it cleaned out, but some “stuff” you just need to keep.

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A little bit different

October 27, 2017

I think, if you sat our family down on the front steps of our home and took a photo, we would look like the perfect microcosm of average suburban America.  Three kids, two dogs, 2,300-square-foot home….it all screams “average.”

I forget in how many ways we are different, and are living life in a simpler way. We haven’t gotten too off-course from my goal of “enough” (in spite of birthday season), and we really aren’t quite “average.”  The past few days reinforced that idea for me.

In a way, it started Monday night; the last night of a four-week Bible study I was attending.  We usually have very quiet evenings, and me being gone four Mondays in a row was a serious shock to the family system.  (Obviously, they all did fine.)  Bedtime hugs and kisses were doled out at 6:40pm since I wouldn’t see kids until morning…..

…and the next morning we hit the ground running a bit harder than usual.  I dropped my youngest off at her preschool, then stopped by the library on my way to a chiropractor appointment.  I had a bit of time at home (long enough to flip laundry) and then collected my older daughter to tag along as we picked up the youngest from preschool and headed straight to Target for a quick lunch (um…ick) and a shopping trip involving birthday gifts for their brother.  We were having all sorts of fun, wandering and smelling candles, when I literally gasped so loud it scared the girls.

“I’m supposed to get your brother to his appointment at 2:00!” I hastily explained, and once I checked my phone I realized we were fine. There was no more moseying through the aisles, however, and we headed straight for the checkout line.  As I pushed the cart towards the door, my youngest reminded me, “Don’t forget his treat!”

Oh, yeah.  We stopped back by the deli and grabbed an Icee.

Headed for home, unloaded stuff, loaded boy, sat in a waiting room for an hour, and tried to breathe.

Back home I collected the girls and RETURNED to Target WITH the Redcard to get our 5% off all that stuff we just bought earlier.  (Sigh.)  One last gift for brother.  A few clothing items for my older girl, who is rapidly (again) running out of clothes to wear, regardless of how often she does laundry.  Got home and started dinner and ate together--on days like today, I consider the fact that we still managed to eat together a HUGE win.

While my husband and older daughter cleaned up dinner, my son and I jumped back in the car so I could drop him off at a homeschool group event.  I hung out to talk a bit, then headed home to put my youngest to bed while my husband ran to the grocery store.  Once both girls were down, I headed back out to make sure I was there to pick my son up at 9:00; only to check my messages in the parking lot and realize the group was running late and maybe push pick-up back to 9:30?

Well…..guess I’ll gas the car now.

Returned for pick-up and more talking.  Home by ten.  Completely sacked out by 10:45.

I knew going into the week that Tuesday would be the worst, Wednesday would be a bit better, and by Thursday, the end was in sight.  At some point mid-Tuesday, I stopped and looked around and had a sudden, deep awareness that some people live like this all the time.

Mine were a crazy few days, but for many, that is everyday.

That is how countless people are going through their lives:  a bit like pinballs, bouncing from one thing to another in an endless–and sometimes mindless–run.  That is what an average day looks like, for an average person.  And thankfully, SO thankfully, that is one way we’re different.

Today we are home.  Home for an entire day.  The bigs are at the kitchen table with me, coloring while I write.  The four-year-old is camped out in the living room with her My Little Ponies  My laundry for the day is done and my daughter has started hers.  The kitchen is clean and the coffee is fresh.  We have discussed a library run, and put it on the back burner.  All the kids are still in pajamas.  It is the best kind of day–especially after the week we’ve had.  I’m so, so grateful that this is our normal; that we are, actually, a little bit different.

Times change

March 24, 2017

Recently I found this draft I wrote three years ago:

I was snuggled with my littlest, before bedtime, when I noticed something odd.  Her bedroom is–by far–the smallest bedroom in the house.  It’s also the most awkward to furnish, because in addition to being small (it’s something like 9’x10′), one wall holds three doors:  the door into the room and a double-door on the closet.  But as I sat and rocked the baby, I realized that her room felt spacious.  Maybe not as roomy as her sister’s (whose room is ridiculously large), but it felt open and clear.

That’s because, of course, she isn’t even a year old yet and doesn’t have any “stuff.”

Don’t get me wrong, that closet is quite full of clothes waiting to be grown into; almost the entire top shelf is devoted to 12-18 month clothing that she’s creeping towards daily.  She has “stuff.”  But wow…all her room has in it is a crib, a changing table (with baskets for the clothes she’s currently wearing), a rocking chair and a small side table.  That’s it.  It’s absolutely refreshing.

I wish my other kids–especially my son–would “get it.”  That even a room that tiny can feel large if it’s not crammed with stuff.  My oldest often complains about how small his room is, when in reality it’s not bad; it’s just full.  He’s also the poster-boy for posters; when we moved here we devoted one wall to all his artwork, arranged carefully all together.  Now he’s old enough to get the thumbtacks for himself and his room is becoming a fire hazard.  I keep trying to explain to him that his room isn’t small, it’s crowded.  I think it might have started sinking in when family began to ask him what he wanted for his birthday and he said he didn’t want any more Legos because he didn’t know where he would put them.  That’s a pretty big step for my little Lego fiend.

The problem is that everything is held in comparison to middle girl’s room, which is HUGE.  It’s the one at the veeeery end of the hall, over the garage, and it’s almost as big as the garage.  (The square footage of her bedroom is actually bigger than the master bedroom; it’s 12’x18′.)  Her space veers back and forth between completely trashed and amazingly clean; the older she gets the more into decorating she is and the more “fixy” she is about her space.  To her credit, her large room usually feels large because she’s kept it fairly picked up.

I’m sure that someday, as the baby gets older, she’ll probably want a room as big as her sister’s, too.  I’ll take the smaller space any day.  Especially one as clean and simple as the nursery is now.  In a few years, little one will start accumulating stuff and putting her own mark on everything, the way her siblings have.  I hope she learns to appreciate the beauty of less.

So here we are, three years later.  The room is actually much the same, though we moved in a chest-of-drawers to replace the outgrown changing table.  We also moved the side table out, and a small “crib” in, to hold her stuffed animals.  (I would say it was a doll bed, but it was actually built by my great-grandfather for my mother when she was born.)  The closet has even been cleared out, and all her “to grow into” clothing (now size 6 to 10, the best of the best from older sister) is hanging up instead of piled on the upper shelf.

The only part of her room that gets regularly out-of-hand is her bed, since she wants ALL her stuffed animals in bed with her.  Oh, and her library books.  And sometimes a box of Kleenex.  (You get the idea.)  Sometimes when I tuck her in at night I tease her about where she’s going to fit, and she will cheerfully inform me, “It’s okay, Mama!  There’s a spot right here!”  And sure enough, there’s just enough space for her little head to lay on her pillow.

My son has come a long way, too.  Apparently around age ten or eleven there’s a seismic shift in attitude about stuff, and things that once were overwhelmingly sentimental now just seem babyish.  (I’m seeing it happen with my eleven-year-old daughter now.)  His room looks consistently better, with the occasional “wow, I have too many books” issue.

Interesting what three years can do.

Bedtime

February 10, 2017

It started very innocently….a few comments here and there.  Eleven-year-old daughter wasn’t really a fan of her loft bed.

The immediate backpedaling always went: “But I love the desk space!”  She really did love the huge expanse of tabletop underneath.  It’s the bump-your-head-on-the-ceiling bed she didn’t care for.

We’d changed from her regular bed to the loft bed when she was sharing a room with her foster sister.  (There was a while, back in 2014, when I truly felt like there was no problem IKEA couldn’t solve.)  Her double bed–part of the furniture set that I inherited from my grandmother when I was a little girl–was much too large to fit in a room with yet another twin bed besides.  She has an exceptionally large bedroom, but not that large.  Eventually our fosters moved out and moved on, but the loft bed stayed.  Great storage. Great desk.  And, yeah, there was a bed up there, too.

A few weeks ago my daughter was sick.  She was up in the middle of the night vomiting, and once she hobbled back to her room I asked if she’d like me to just make her up a bed on the floor….because who wants to climb a ladder when you want to puke?  She’s always been the Queen of the Blankets, so we had enough to make her up a comfy “mattress,” with some left over to tuck her up.  She slept there the entire next day (poor kid) and then the next few nights.

And then the next few weeks.

And then today the fateful words:  “Mama, could we move my mattress to the floor?”

Deep breath.  “Would you consider selling your loft bed?”

“YES!”

I’m conflicted.  There’s a piece of me wanting to beat myself up for wasting money on the thing; because it feels like wasted money.  Why did we buy it if we’re just going to turn around and sell it, 2 1/2 years later?  But that bed was used–I would almost say necessary–for the time we had it.  When we had two girls in that room, it even gave them each their own desk….and a heck of a lot more floor space.  We couldn’t predict the future; we didn’t know that she wouldn’t be sharing a room indefinitely.  And now, it is no longer serving its purpose here:  it’s more of a problem than a solution.  It’s time to let go.

Wow, does she have her work cut out for her.  We won’t sell it until she’s figured out what to do with all her Stuff:  Books, stuffed animals, and Legos all made their home in that thing.  She’s upstairs right now, though, with a big box (which she requested, “for all the stuff I’m going to get rid of….”) and with her mattress moved to the floor (“Look!  Now I kind of have a window seat!”).  I wish her luck.  Now I have to go shop for mattresses.

(Quick update:  “You know, when I really go through my stuffed animals, I only have ten left!”  Now THAT’S progress.)

 

Words of Inspiration

February 3, 2017

Months ago–maybe even over a year–I put The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up on hold at the library.  I was something like 312th in line; at some point, we butted up against our hold limit, and I removed it from the list to put a hold on something else more pressing.  So when I found it at the library recently (on the shelf!), I snagged it.  On the way out I did a quick pass through the new book display and discovered her latest, Spark Joy.  I walked out that morning looking forward to a new round of reading and maybe a new way of thinking.

I enjoyed both books.  Some things I admittedly thought were a little quirky…the idea of folding every item of clothing we own I found a little ridiculous.  Our closets seem to be serving us just fine, thank  you–and maybe that’s why I thought it was a strange idea.  If we were struggling for storage or having trouble with making our space work, the folding concept might have really appealed to me.

Other things I felt strangely vindicated by:  keeping things that “spark joy” has apparently been a guiding force in my decluttering for years; I just hadn’t put words to it.  It was nice not only to have a phrase for what was leading me but also to have a reason for keeping the odd things I couldn’t quite bear to get rid of.  I’ve always theorized that if you get rid of enough stuff that doesn’t matter, you’re allowed to keep those things that do, even if it’s a little “weird,” to use my son’s favorite term.

The most important discovery for me, though, came from her book Spark Joy.  “No matter how much stuff you may own, the amount is always finite.”  The amount is always finite.  I almost have to use the word “epiphany” here….the realization that there was An End.  There would be a point where every room in the house has been gone through, has been evaluated, and has been decluttered.  That idea lit a spark under me (sorry, that was completely unintentional) and I dove into the basement storage area with renewed energy.  Because after all, it’s a finite amount of stuff!!

Basement storage, for our needs, is really very specific.  We need a place for seasonal decorations, a place for tools, and a place for those icky “you can’t  get rid of these tax records for at least seven to ten years.”  That’s it.  The unfortunate truth was that the room was turning into storage for “we might use this someday” (Exhibit A:  an inflatable wading pool I used when the bigs were about 6 and 4, around seven years ago) and “I’m too lazy to carry this trash upstairs” (Exhibit B:  that bag there…and there….and there….).  I went in inspired, and succeeded in creating a storage room that was actually a functional storage room.  The east wall consists of bins for seasonal storage, the northeast corner a workbench with tools, and the north wall ends in a small bookcase that holds two file boxes.  Yes, there is still a bit to weed on the tool bench, but the room is so clear that the bigs set up a table against the west wall and brought down some Legos.  (My son refers to this as “baby-free space.”  Even though the “baby” is three now.)

I weeded through our seasonal stuff and managed to narrow things down to one bin per season, except for winter.  Christmas means that pretty much all the other bins down there are “winter,” and I succeeded in scaling back enough to ditch one entire bin from Christmas storage.  In all, I’m down five bins of “stuff…” Amazing how things fit pleasantly when you’re not overcrowding your space.  😉

I now need to grab hold of that “the amount is always finite” idea and apply it to our laundry room closet.  Again.  But I will celebrate any victory I can!

An Evening Out

January 27, 2017

I had a completely kid-free evening tonight, and how did I spend it?  Shopping, of course.  Knowing me, that sounds both completely ridiculous and completely practical at the same time–it is really nice to roam the stores at a leisurely pace, looking for the exact.right.thing, and feeling free to go back when you’ve missed something.  No three-year-old in the cart getting progressively crankier is a huge blessing that I don’t get often. Even with the older kids, I feel obliged to keep moving because I know they don’t want to be there.  So yes, kid-free shopping is immensely practical.

But it’s also not like me. If given a kid-free night of my own choosing, I’d be home reading or working on a project.  Unfortunately, the kids were at home.  So that ruled out that possibility (at least until after bedtime).  Coming out of Target, though (of course I was at Target), I was struck by the unbelievable sunset that was minutes away. You could almost stand and watch it happen in front of you, the sun gradually slipping under a cloud until the gray was illuminated in peaches and pinks.  And I did watch, for a bit.  Then I started to feel silly, sitting in my car in the parking lot, in a “this is a kid-free night!  Are you going to just sit there?” way, and I got up and went in the next store.  That was a fairly brief trip, and when I came out, sure enough; there was the sunset, easing away from the glorious I had just missed.  I walked very slowly to the next stop, trying to soak it in, and realized I’d been surrounded by people all night completely oblivious to the show.  As I wandered through my last stop, I was struck by how much stuff exists right now–it was one of those floor to ceiling display places–and how it seems that everyone around, this Friday night, was set on owning a piece of it.  Forget the beauty that came completely free right outside the door.  Our job is to buy:  to go and to buy.  And not to think.  Heaven forbid we stop and think.

As I left that final store I was struck by the last thing I saw:  a large, framed photo of a sunset.  I suppose, that way, you can “own” it, and look at it whenever you want…before you walk out the door to go buy more stuff.

Never Perfection

April 22, 2016

I’m noticing more and more lately that I’m much harder on myself than I am on anyone else.  I’ve been wrapped up in how not-enough life has been lately:  not-enough as in Too Much, much Too Much everywhere.  Which leads, then, to feeling like a hypocritical wretch when it comes to blogging about enough.  I’ve made a poor choice in my reading material lately, also, which only leads to more frustration as I see all these people who clearly have got it all together and figured out how to minimize…um…everything and who are setting a fine, upstanding example of what a truly minimalist house looks like.

Well, first of all, maybe I’m not really a minimalist?  Not by the true, popular definition, anyway.  I like a clear counter as much as anyone (okay, probably more), but I like some stuff, too.  Stuff that makes a house look cozy and not sterile.  Stuff that makes a place look like home, look lived in, and not cold.  So to number whatever-it-was in Simplify Your Life, I’m sorry, but I’m not getting rid of my houseplants.

As I struggled with all these feelings, I stumbled upon this post by Melissa Camara Wilkins on the No Sidebar website.  Fact:  sometimes this website is one of those “poor choices in reading material” mentioned earlier.  Obviously they don’t mean to be; overall they’re a wonderful encouragement.  But reading so many articles posted by people doing this “right” makes me a little nutty sometimes.  Wilkins article was a huge blessing to me.  There are people out there like me.  (My favorite line:  “My kids have Legos.”)  It is possible to be a minimalist and still Have Stuff.  It’s just a matter of focusing on what place that stuff has in your life, whether it serves you or whether you are in fact serving it.  (I will admit that lately, I’ve occasionally felt like the Stuff was in control.  We’re working on it.)

I still remember the winter our foster kids were here and I was straightening up in the laundry room/coat room and realized we had seven pairs of gloves.  We didn’t have seven pairs because someone was “into” gloves and had started a collection.  We had seven pairs because we had seven people living in this house.  We needed seven pairs of gloves.  Sometimes stuff really is necessary (though that doesn’t make it any easier–or less overwhelming–to take care of it all).  How funny to look at seven pairs of gloves and still be able to say, “I am a minimalist:  we have only what we need here.”

I also struggle frequently with writing this blog for another reason:  there are a million people doing this better than I am.  What on earth is the point of continuing writing?  But the point, I think, is for me and my sanity, my brain.  It’s a way to think through everything going on around me (which currently involves large tarps being taped up all over my living room to fix a hole in the ceiling due to a plumbing issue….have I mentioned how not-enough life has been?) and to process and reach a conclusion for myself, even if not for anyone else.  Although if it helps someone else, so much the better.

I’m quite sure the No Sidebar article will help someone as much as it’s helped me.

 

New Year Excess

February 3, 2016

I was standing in the kitchen one Friday in January, trying to figure out how I could possibly spend all my time picking. up. stuff. and still never, ever really get anywhere.  I was reminding myself that there were five people in this house, that three of them were children, and that it was going to be an uphill battle.  Let’s be real:  five people can generate a lot of stuff.  One brief outing to our home improvement store helped my understanding.

We went to pick up coat hooks that I would be hanging on a wall in our laundry room.  (I, like a raving lunatic, had decided we needed to make some improvements to the laundry room. IN DECEMBER.  While it is definitely true that that room wasn’t working well, Christmas was, without a doubt, the worst time to try to fix it.)

So off we go to pick up the hooks I ordered online.  One small box of things about to walk into my house.

On the way there I realized that the one other thing I should get were picture hangers–the really good, up-to-50-pounds kind, so we could move a mirror back to where it was before we rearranged the entire house to bring in our foster kids.  Okay:  two items about to walk into my house.

As I’m standing at customer service, picking up my order, the lady smiles at my two-year-old in the cart and asks if she’d like an apron.  She proceeds to hold up one of the orange aprons they give out to kids at their Saturday build-it programs.  The baby is suddenly ridiculously shy, but ten-year-old sister pipes up, “I want one!  Those are cute!”  To which I respond, “NO!  We don’t need aprons.  You don’t need an apron.  It wouldn’t fit you anyway.”  The saleslady is ridiculously accommodating and instead of aprons, gives me two “build your own toolkit” sets for both the girls.

Ahem.  Thank you.  (Said through gritted teeth….)

We can’t make it out the door without older daughter picking up at least four paint sample brochures, because, after all, it really is kind of her “thing.”  And as we walk by a display of batteries I realize we need a pack of AA’s for one of the Christmas presents sitting in a box at home.

That makes nine items, for those playing along at home.

At the self-checkout stand, we’re approached by another saleslady, who is offering my girls–what else?–free aprons to take home.  Ohmystars.  We politely decline the aprons.  AGAIN.  (Actually, I might have went off a little–good naturedly–about them pushing aprons.  I promise I was laughing.)

The punch line of our “went in for one item, came out with nine” story is that the next morning, I came downstairs and discovered that my son had won a prize at his youth event, which is where HE was while we were out and about.  Sitting on the kitchen table–along with two tool kits, four paint brochures, a box of batteries, a box of hooks, and a box of picture hangers–was a brand new water bottle.

That’s ten items in one night.  No wonder I’m not getting anywhere.

Back to “Enough”

December 1, 2015

A year and a month ago life got so crazy, so chaotic, that the idea of keeping up with blogging never even entered the picture.  Six months ago we went through another extreme shift and suddenly, writing seemed possible again.  So I’m jumping in today, babystepping pathetically back, figuring out how to use the “brand new WordPress site” (which most likely isn’t actually brand new at all), resetting my long-forgotten password, stealing a few minutes to reacquaint myself with this.

We’ve gone from two kids, to our beautiful surprise baby girl, to two foster children for nine months.  (Hmmm…nine months.  How appropriate for a rebirth.)  Now we’ve shifted back to our original three and have had a few months to get used to the idea of “just us” again.  “Enough” has been a moving target over the past three years.  Each time I get used to the idea of where we’re at, it changes.  Again.  Frequently.

I haven’t stopped thinking about it, though:  what is enough?  Getting ready for a new baby…moving in two kids and all their things…moving baby out of her room to use it for our foster son….moving older daughter’s things to make space in her room for our foster daughter…completely emptying a room downstairs to use as a bedroom for the baby…

What is enough?  I definitely wish we’d had less “stuff” to move around last year, and I’d been purging for ages.  (My husband did point out,  Aren’t you glad you did all that simplifying before this started?)  Now, after the kiddos have moved out and we’ve gotten a little back to normal, I’m starting to feel breathing room again, both physically and mentally.  We’ll see where things go from here.

Last night we drove around neighborhoods to look at Christmas lights, something the kids ask to do every year. Over our five years in this house we’ve discovered a few good streets, a few great streets, and what my children refer to as “the inflatable house.” (Every time they say it, I have visions of a puffy home floating in the sky above their neighbors.) This is the place that has dozens upon dozens of inflatables in their yard, on their roof, in their driveway, and–the crowning glory–a perpetual DVD loop of the movie Happy Feet projected on the front of their house. You can actually get out and walk through their yard, though the weather has been so bad when we’ve gone we’ve never braved it.

In our last house, we lived next door to a couple who really decorated for Christmas. While they weren’t quite the place that people drove for miles to see each year, they did have a yard full of goodies. When my oldest was a toddler, he would plant himself at the dining room window, peering out across our dark lawn to all the lights next door; at that point, their light-up train (with “moving” wheels!) was a special draw. Once, when my older daughter was around two, I stood in the driveway with both my kiddos and watched them set up for awhile.

As I stood looking at their display I counted no fewer than twenty-one light-up objects in their yard, ranging from elves, polar bears, reindeer, and a toy soldier, to the aforementioned train. Also in this total count were inflatables, including a snow globe with actual blowing “snow.” Not included in this count were the dozens of strings of lights; some of which, as we watched, they were hanging in a tree.

The wife was standing on the ground, watching her husband perched atop a ladder; lights in one hand, pole in another. He was focused, working with great intensity on creating glowing perfection. She would occasionally call up helpful comments and observations. My absolute favorite (note: for full effect, this must be said with a slight southern drawl):

“Now, Rick, make sure none of the bulbs are burnt out…that’s just tacky.”

Years later, it still makes me laugh.