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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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.

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!

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.

 

The Opposite of “Enough”

February 17, 2016

I needed a new alarm clock.  I know “need” can be a relative term, but I had been using the same alarm clock since at least my freshman year of college over twenty years ago, and while it did a great job of telling time, it no longer “alarmed.”  So I started the search for a new one.

Then I decided (ahem) that what I really wanted (yeah….did you see that shift in wording?) was something that didn’t have an ALARM-alarm, but something that would wake me quietly.  This was when we still had our foster kids living with us, and my main goal was not to wake the five children in the house.  It doesn’t take much to wake me up, and I didn’t want to wake up the rest of our world in the process.

So I bought an alarm clock off Amazon that promised chirping birds or bubbling streams.  As I unwrapped it in my room, our six-year-old foster daughter walked past the door and saw me pull it out of the box.  In a shining example of her constant unbridled enthusiasm, she hollered, “WOW!  That’s a lotta buttons!!”  I burst out laughing and said, “Yeah, pretty funny that someone who wants to simplify ended up with an alarm clock with, like, twenty buttons.”

“There’s twenty buttons?”  Her brown eyes were wide.

“Well….I don’t actually know.  Let me count…”

Twenty-one.  There were twenty-one buttons on this alarm clock.

Absolute ridiculousness.

The real kicker is, I never got it to work correctly.  (Perhaps twenty-one buttons had something to do with that?)  In addition to the fact that the screen on it was so bright I couldn’t even keep it next to our bed.  It has now been retired as a night-light in the two-year-old’s room.  (Yes, it was that bright.)

One basic alarm clock, please…. 

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.

It is Christmas. We have an almost-eight-month-old. It’s a bad combination.20131215-154413.jpg

As we started decorating for Christmas this year, I forced myself to scale back. Partly because of the knowledge that the baby could start crawling at any moment, and how much time do I really want to spend chasing a baby?

Also, though, because of the hassle.

Isn’t that awful? To look at these things as a hassle? But when I pulled out the lights we usually hang with our garland on our porch, and half were burned out, I didn’t even bother. I just piled everything back in the box and thought maybe next year.

The tree is up. The Nativity scene is up. The Advent calendar is up. The wreath on the door is up. I checked in with my oldest as I was reigning it in, and asked if there was anything else he Really Wanted to put up; if there was anything he would Truly Miss if it wasn’t out. Verdict: the light-up houses. So we set up our seven little Dickens’ Village houses on top of the piano and I put them on a timer so I didn’t even have to turn them on in the morning. Then I put my red glass hurricane candleholder on the kitchen island and called it good.

That doesn’t really sound all that simple, I know. It’s scaled down for us.  I’m looking at this year as a test: will I miss it? If I don’t get it out, if I don’t put it up, will I even care that it’s gone? If I don’t miss it, am I prepared to send it out the door before next Christmas rolls around? Will I really miss all the “stuff?”

Well…yes.

I made it a full week before I decided I really wanted the garland hanging on our stair banister. Maybe it’s just that I’ve gotten used to it; it’s been with us through the last two houses. That’s almost ten years worth of greenery hung with red tartan plaid ribbons.

Now we’re driving through neighborhoods looking at Christmas lights, and I’m feeling like a Scrooge. We usually have candles in all our front windows, and I hang a little greenery with white lights on our small front porch. The practical side of me is screaming, she’s going to start crawling! You don’t want to have to watch all those cords! You don’t want to have to deal with burnt out bulbs! But guess what? I really, really miss our lights. A wreath on the door just doesn’t cut it.

And honestly, if you’re going to have anything on display at Christmas, shouldn’t it be lights?

The people walking in darkness have seen a great light…–Isaiah 9:2

In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. –John 1:4-5

The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world…to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God… –John 1:9,12

When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world.  Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.–John 8:12

I have come into the world as a light so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness –John 12:46

For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord.  Live as children of light… –Ephesians 5:8

But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another…–I John 1:7

The Lord is my light and salvation–whom shall I fear? –Psalm 27:1

Yes….even if you’re going to have a scaled-down Christmas, you should probably keep the lights.

 

 

Tiny Houses

November 14, 2013

I am on a tiny house kick.  It started innocently enough, reading simplifying books again.  That cross-bred with my older daughter’s love of “house books” (decorating books checked out from the library), and I suddenly found myself introducing my older two to the joys of Sarah Susanka’s “Not So Big” series of books.  One of my new favorite memories is watching my daughter go through Creating the Not-So-Big House with my mom, explaining to her (in a way only an eight-year-old can) that “there’s lots of details….See?  That’s a detail…..”

Towards the back of that specific book, we found the Pears and Cherries and Hilltop cottages, located in a little cottage community in Whidbey Island, Washington.  My daughter and I both fell in love with those cottages:  so simple, so tiny, and so perfect.  So completely impractical for a family of five.  (A side note:  I’m not really one for jealousy, but “Thou shalt not covet the Pears and Cherries kitchen” needs to be engraved under the photo in that book.)

That led to a few more books; the latest was today when I found Tiny Homes by Lloyd Kahn at the library and pulled it off the shelf.  I really thought the kids might have moved on, but it fell open to “The Hobbit House” and both kids “awwwwww”‘d in unison.  We brought it home.

I’d read Tammy Strobel’s book (You Can Buy Happiness (and it’s Cheap) ) earlier this year; she lives in an amazingly tiny house after a journey of downsizing, baby step by baby step.

I look at all these houses (and they are tiny houses; Strobel’s house is built on a 8’x16′ trailer) and I am completely fascinated.  How do you live in a space that small?  Is part of it living in a climate where you can be outside often?  Is it simply having a smaller family?  I understand the “less stuff” part.  I’m not 100% sure, however, where we would put all our people.  🙂

I’m not sure why I’m so drawn to all these little places.  Maybe it’s just the idea of being quiet and alone, without all the kids and the dog and the chaos.  Maybe it’s the idea of having dramatically less to clean.  Maybe it’s the freedom of having to deal with so much less stuff.  I don’t really know.  It’s been fun reading, though; especially with my older two.  I love that the minute the baby is napping, they’ll ask if we can snuggle and look at a book.  And in spite of how incredibly enticing these tiny homes are, I love that I can put the baby to bed in her own room, upstairs, and then come down to cuddle on our sofa in a completely separate space, and read.

Let the sunshine in

November 3, 2013

A few months ago I wandered downstairs first thing in the morning and went straight to the back door to let the dog out.  I opened the door and was startled to realize that the “leaning” tree, a giant mulberry smack-dab in the middle of our backyard, had shifted.  Noticeably.  The branches that had overhung our deck and shaded the baby’s room were now suddenly rubbing against the back door.  When I looked at the hackberry tree which it leaned into, I noticed that it had shifted there, too…..a much more precarious situation since our neighbor’s house was in a direct line of the leaning trunk.

The tree was not only there when we moved here, it was there when the house was built 25+ years ago; we are one of a handful of houses in this neighborhood where trees were left standing when the homes were built (even now, you can pick us out).  The number one reason I wanted to buy this house was “the south-facing backyard with mature trees.”  Taking a tree out goes against everything in me; I’m the one planting them, not removing them.  But this was pretty clearly not negotiable.

We got the removal scheduled and I white-knuckled it through two high-winded thunderstorms before they arrived (I think I envisioned every possible scenario where the tree landed on the neighbor, her house, or her dog).  Finally, the crew came out and gave our family quite the show:  you don’t realize what some people mean when they leave in the morning to “go to work.”  Ropes and pulleys and walking limbs and hanging on trunks, and all of us at the windows watching their every move.  Each branch that came down hurt to watch; while it let in more and more sunshine, I was dreading going to the baby’s room and discovering how miserably hot it would be.

And then….when they were done, when the massive wall of tree was removed from the middle of our yard and I walked out onto our deck for the first time, it was the strangest sensation.  It was physical:  this moment of I can breathe.  I could see the sky instead of leaves, clear blue instead of deep green, air instead of solid; and I could feel it, within me.

I suppose it’s like any other serious decluttering job.  That feeling of space, of lightness, that results from getting rid of excess.  I never really thought about “decluttering” trees from our yard–I definitely don’t plan on making it a habit.  I am enjoying this feeling, though; and my daughter is eagerly planning “her” butterfly garden for the spring with all the newfound sunshine.