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.

First-world problems

March 15, 2017

Our pantry is not my favorite thing about this house. I hold to the theory that pantries should not be deeper than they are wide.  Ours is definitely deeper than wide, which results in things disappearing back into the dark abyss fairly frequently.  I hit on the solution (and it is still, honestly, a good one) of using baskets as “drawers” for most items, and two nice wooden trays (inherited from my grandfather) as “pull-out shelves.”

This plan has worked really well….until we overloaded one of the trays with canned goods and broke the tiny plastic bracket holding up the shelf.  It really wasn’t a problem; I’d just use a tiny wooden dowel rod to replace the bracket and we’d be set.

Except the piece of plastic was still lodged in the hole. 

No problem….I’ll just move the shelf up a notch.

Except there was a piece of plastic broken off in that hole, as well.  

I’m not proud of how this story ends.  (At one point, my sweet husband asked if he could do anything to help, and I might have said, through clenched teeth,  “Yeah!  You can buy me a new house!”)  One thirty-minute real-life Tetris game later, the pantry was entirely rearranged and usable again.

Because we had so much food.

I still think about that.  We had so much food we broke the pantry.  How blessed are we?

Now we’ve just finished a washing machine meltdown.  I noticed back in January that it seemed to have the hiccups:  it would hit a point in the wash cycle where it would circle back and start all over again.  Once I caught it, I’d just turn the whole thing off and start it over on the drain/spin cycle and call it good.  Eventually I called a repairman, who came out and informed me it was working fine for him.  (Apparently the “let’s do a quick run through of the cycles” doesn’t trigger the problem.)  We bought a warranty to ensure that when it acted up again, everything would be covered.  The load I put in after the repairman left didn’t work.  Sigh.

Two days later (now that the warranty is actually activated….) I scheduled another repair, four days out.  When that repairman showed up, he had to order the part.  The actual repair is then scheduled for eight days later.  (Are you doing the math here?)

In the meantime, the washer went from quirky to dying.  The hiccups settled into an “I don’t do drain/spin” no matter how many times I put it through the cycle (though for awhile, the third time was the charm….).  The tub would empty, but I was hand-wringing clothes before I put them in the dryer, and I hung the exceptionally soggy items outside over the deck rails.  (One factoid they don’t mention about minimalism:  when you have fewer clothes, they HAVE TO BE WASHED, or you will RUN OUT OF CLOTHES.)

The grand finale to the washer story is best told in numbers:  one month, seven appointments, (six where someone actually showed up), two new computer boards, three “recalibrations,” and one–ONE!!–blessed replaced “shifter,” and all is well.  (Might that have been the problem the entire time?  We’ll never know.)

Yet again, how blessed are we?  I have a washing machine that I’ve been able to depend on painlessly since 2012.  I finally, finally have a working washer again and no longer have to think about laundry.

First-world problems.  I’ll deal.

 

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!

2016….

December 29, 2016

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how glad I’ll be to say goodbye to this year.  It’s funny how you start each year optimistic and full of enthusiasm over what it might bring….this year started innocently enough with my youngest being sick.  We’ve said repeatedly that she’s the easiest child we’ve ever had, but she is, by FAR, the absolute worst when it comes to being sick.  So we endured a few weeks of two-year-old induced misery, followed by me going to the doctor for “this weird spot on my back….also, I think I might have pulled a muscle.”  It turned out both those things were related and I actually had shingles.

That didn’t even get us through February.

This year was marked–strongly–by one of my children dealing with severe depression. The weight of that anchor pulled the entire house down most days.

There were petty nuisances:  the “two-week” bathroom redo that took a full month.  There were truly awful shocks:  the horrific accidental death of a friend’s child.  And we are sending the year out with three cases of bronchitis and one sinus infection….and my poor husband with something that has yet to be officially diagnosed.

Good riddance.

But that can’t be what I focus on this year.  It overwhelms me when I look at it that way.  There have been beautiful things about this year, too.

  • The twenty-year wedding anniversary trip to Colorado.  (Brief, but kid-free.)
  • The adoption of our former foster kiddos into a wonderful home.
  • My older daughter discovering musical theater (and a strong talent for it).
  • The arrival (finally!) of antidepressants for my child, who is returning from the edge.
  • My sister being in town from overseas twice!–one visit for Christmas.
  • Month-long chaos or not, we have a lovely “new” bathroom.  (I’m sure I’ll be posting quite a bit about that particular adventure.)
  • We’ve celebrated scary birthdays this year (we have a teenager!) and are now parenting a 13, 11, and 3-year-old.  Typing that looks weird, but I’ve pretty much gotten used to our goofy arrangement of kids.
  • Homeschooling keeps getting better and better.
  • I cleaned out the unfinished part of the basement so well that my son asked if he and his sister could turn it into a Lego room.  (!!!)
  • Laughter is returning to our home….though it never really left completely.

And how can you despise a year where a game called “Rancor Pillow Beat” was created by my 3-year-old?  (It involves lots of running, screaming, and pounding Daddy with pillows.  Oh, and laughing.  Also lots of laughing.)

Taking a deep breath in preparation for 2017….

A Time to Work

April 26, 2016

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

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.

 

Rainy Mondays

April 19, 2016

These are my favorite mornings to be a homeschooling family.

No one wants to move very quickly anyway:  first off, it’s Monday, and secondly, it’s gray and dreary and drizzly……

And guess what?  It doesn’t matter.  We don’t have to Go.  We don’t have to Rush and Get Out the Door.  I can sit in the chair in our bedroom and snuggle the almost-not-two-year-old-anymore and spend a good long time reading.  (Mr. Putter.  Again.)  The older kids can stumble out of bed terribly close to the start of our school day and eat their breakfast, groggy, in their pajamas, while we begin our morning together.  Slowly.

 

Isn’t that part of pursuing “enough?”  Knowing when to be slow?

 

 

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….