Minimalism vs. the six-year-old

I have learned to let go a lot of needing things especially tidy.  Homeschooling three kids while owning two dogs and having a husband working from home means we live in this house; really live in it, day in and day out.  My focus on “less stuff” means things are definitely easier to keep clean and picked up.

And then there’s my youngest.   

My good friend was her pre-K/Kindy teacher, at a home-based Reggio-style program two mornings a week.  I was complaining to her about how different this one was from my other two.  “When the bigs played, they’d play with the Thomas the train set, or they’d play with Legos, or they’d play with the blocks…. when she plays, she plays with Thomas with the Legos with the blocks.”  My friend just chuckled a little and said, “Yeah, that’s very Reggio….sorry about that.”

I love to see her amazing creativity (truly; I love it).  But it is SO. HARD. for me to not swoop in every few days and put everything back where it belongs.  My current tolerance level is about two weeks, which honestly I feel is not unreasonable, especially since by then she’s usually wandered on to something else.  Right now we have Legos all over the dining room table (which I’ve had over a decade of practice with–that part’s fine by me). We have Thomas’s entire Island of Sodor in the middle of the living room floor, also including a handful of Legos, most of her fairy friends, and a friendly baby dragon.  The dollhouse is also in the living room and occasionally gets pulled into the story, too.  Her tiny bedroom stays clean for less than 24 hours at a time, because once it’s dealt with, it’s all open and lovely and she gets excited and immediately fills it up.  Last week she learned she could move her bed by herself; it’ll never be the same again…..

That room, mind you, is the same one I was in love with just a few years ago; so empty and inviting.  It’s amazing how things change once kids start developing their own opinions.  😉

In theory, we could move things out of her room.  I do, with some frequency.  But this is a child who, when deprived of paper, will simply use Kleenex, boxed for her convenience and sitting on her bookcase.

I’m having trouble balancing my Simplicity Parenting background with keeping her creativity fed and nourished.  I especially hate for her room to be so trashed, when I feel like it needs to be reasonably clean for her to sleep peacefully (nightmares two nights in a row has got me really focused on this right now).  I am someone constantly focused on simplifying and getting rid of stuff, and she is someone who seems happiest surrounded by stuff.  Trying to figure out how to coexist will be an adventure over the years!

Words of Inspiration

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!

A Time to Work

A friend asked me recently how my laundry room project was going.  I had to laugh.  “It’s functional,” I answered, “so I’ve stopped.”  That means that much has been painted, all the hooks are hung, and the washer and dryer are back in their proper places and in working order.  But wow, it’s not done.  It’s in desperate need of a final coat of paint on quite a bit of the trim, I need to paint two doors, and paint all the walls above the trim work I just installed.  It looks awful.

But….it’s functional.  So I stopped.

We discussed the hassle of removing all the coats/hats/scarves and stashing them in the dining room while I finished the last of the paint work.  It’d almost be easier to wait until summer, she noted.  Then all that stuff would be put away.

Hmmm….

I really had to think about that.  I’m still thinking about that.  Instead of feeling like I’m procrastinating, putting off this ridiculous job that must be done now, maybe this is something to plan this way.  Maybe this is something to put off intentionally.  In summer, the “coatroom” part of the laundry room will disappear, and the area will be free to do whatever needs to be done.  I could even open the window for air while I paint.  Wouldn’t it make more sense to put it off–on purpose?

It reminded me of a Saturday at my parents’ home.  My dad was outside in gray, windy, 40ish-degree weather, washing the windows.  I’d seen the weather forecast, and I teased him about what he was putting himself through:  “If you’d wait two days, it’s supposed to be almost seventy!”  His response was simply,  “Work before play,” and he headed back outside to his ladder.

I get that….I’m completely on board with the idea of “work before play.”  It’s an idea I’m trying to instill in my children.  But that morning  I started wondering about the difference between “work before play” and “when would it be wise to do this job?”  That question is the same one I’m thinking of now, as I look at my still unfinished laundry room.  Spring has sprung, and the room that once felt stuffed full of winter coats has thinned out to just a jacket here and there… Maybe it’s time to think about diving in?

Never Perfection

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

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”

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.

Right on schedule

“A sociologist friend has the theory that people spend the first 40 years of their life enthusiastically accumulating and the next 40 years trying to get rid of the excess.”   (Scaling Down, by Judi Culbertson and Marj Decker)

So….I’m right on schedule.

I laughed out loud when I read this quote, because I really do fall into the timing they mentioned.  I’m not sure the word “enthusiastically” would have applied to my accumulation of stuff; maybe “mindlessly?”  “Carelessly?”  Sometimes it flat-out sneaks up on you; you turn around and are shocked:  when did that happen?  How did all this stuff get here?

I started thinking recently about when we really started accumulating stuff.  We did well for years; we had what we needed without a huge amount more.  Five moves in seven years helped a lot.  Our housing also dictated simplifying:  no basements in our first two apartments and first two houses meant no basement storage.  (Technically, that last house had a cellar–an open from the outside, Wizard-of-Oz type of cellar.  But I never even went down there in the year-and-a-half we lived in that house; I definitely didn’t want to use it for storage.  Eesh.)

It was the next stop when it all started.  Everything conspired against us:  bigger house, full basement, five years to accumulate things, and (the biggest reason):  we had kids.  I say that not to blame the kids, but the reality is that “stuff” began entering the house at an exponential rate.  When it’s just you and your spouse, it’s pretty easy to stay on top of things.  When you throw two kids into the mix….  Think about it.  It’s now extra everything:  from plates and cups to towels and toothbrushes to beds and blankets.  And that’s stuff you use; it doesn’t include things like junk mail and party favors and broken crayons and dead markers and no-more-sticky stickers…..you get the idea.

I would definitely prefer not taking the next forty years to get rid of all this excess, although I’m recognizing more and more that it’s a continual process;  it’s not like one day you suddenly stop bringing things into your house.  It will be a constant….”battle” seems too strong a word; maybe “routine” is more optimistic?  Just consistently, routinely staying on top of it.  I do think I need to dig out a little more before I can get to the “staying on top of it” part, though.

On a side note:  Scaling Down is one of the most thoughtful books I’ve read on getting rid of “stuff.”  It’s written mainly for those who are entering their retirement years and are preparing to truly downsize, but they recognize in their introduction that their book can be helpful for anyone, and it absolutely has been incredibly helpful for me.