Category Archives: Minimalism

Christmas bloat

‘Tis the season for running up credit card debt, acting less than human while shopping, and purchasing things that are not needed or wanted, and will be end up clogging landfills in less than a decade. While we are far from living as minimalists, we have come a long way in reducing our clutter – at least with regard to the toy situation. After reading Simplicity Parenting, and considering how having too many toys can cause frustration for both the child and the parent, we packed up most of our daughter’s toys and put them in my closet. Very few were missed. I’ve actually been sorting through them recently while deciding whether to rotate some of them back into her room. One thing we have realized is that often we would buy her toys because we wanted her to have a full set of something, or we would use it as a reward or present for something. She doesn’t watch tv with commercials so she is not being inundated with advertisements for toys and games, and the only exposure she has to the toy craze is when we go down the toy aisle at the store (which we keep to a minimum). So we accept full blame for bringing in so many toys up to this point. But we have been making a concerted effort to reduce the toy mess and drastically reduce the influx. Last Christmas we bought Kyri clothes, a book/CD set, her own cd player, and some Leapfrog Tag books and games. I love the Calico Critters and have encouraged her to play with these animal toys over dolls. She does have a few Barbies, mostly received as gifts but I have no plan on getting her more – how many do you really need?! Even so, there is a lot of room for improvement, and this year we are really changing our gift mindset.

This year, as we have discussed our Christmas gift buying, a couple of decisions have been made. We are not going to buy a toy for Kyri “just because.” I really think this is where people get into trouble around the holidays. They get sucked into the gift buying frenzy, and feel the need to just buy presents, presents, and more presents, with little regard to whether the recipient wants or needs these items. I have been guilty of this – its like I have a number in my head of how many gifts I “should” get Kyri and I feel bad if I haven’t gotten enough to reach this number. I stress that there isn’t going to be “enough” under the tree. This year we are not getting stuck in that mindset. We have already decided that gifts will be mindful. Clothes – things she needs anyway, will be under the tree. Craft supplies, which she LOVES and that require imagination, will also be under the tree. We just put a bookshelf in her bedroom and we are building her personal library, so a book or two to add to her personal collection will make a great gift. Educational gifts – again, this can be dangerous ground. I can easily justify gifts because they are “educational” so I have to really think about this. But one item that I think we will consider is a globe. We have a wall full of maps for our homeschool and I really think she would enjoy her own globe. She seemed facinated with them at the bookstore and she really enjoys finding countries on the map, so a globe will make this a lot more exciting for her.

For Ender, at six months he needs very little. Kyri wants to get him his first teddy so I think a trip to Build a Bear Workshop is in order for this. Some basic cloths perhaps and maybe a couple of age appropriate toys. We purged most of the baby toys for Kyri we had years ago. Again, though, we don’t want to go overboard. A couple of simple, imaginative toys (and NOT plastic!) will go a long way I think.

Honestly, we don’t want to bring any more toys into the house without careful consideration, and gifts from family and friends are an easy way for them to slip in. Mounds of plastic toys that leave little to the imagination – these are the toys that we want to avoid and are also the toys that tend to be given as gifts at birthday parties and at Christmas. While I miss seeing family around the holidays, I will say that this is the upside to living out of state – we opt out of the gift giving part of the holidays and it works for us. It can be awkward telling family members your rules or guidelines for gift giving. Its easier to just avoid the gift exchange all together. We keep it simple around here and are happier for it.

(In)voluntary Simplicity

Our family is going through major upheaval, with a relocation halfway across the country. Complicating this is move is the fact that it is occurring in two stages. My husband has moved already and has taken all our our possessions with him, while I am here with our four-year-old and animals in an unfurnished apartment. I was only able to keep what would fit into a Corolla for our move a month later. Being forced to downsize so drastically and to live such a spartan life (even though it is very temporary) has been several things: painful (try sleeping on an air mattress with a dog, two cats, and a preschooler while six months pregnant!), boring (we had to pick and choose what stayed with us for entertainment, and I’m still afraid its going to be a squeeze to get it all in my car…), frustrating (you’d think with very little stuff, the mess wouldn’t accumulate as quickly, but somehow stuff is STILL all over the floor…), and enlightening (its incredible that we can survive with so little stuff!).

For all my aches and pains, and numerous complains about my (essentially) extended indoor camping adventure (apparently camp chairs are only comfortable in the woods…), I’ve learned a lot about what a person really needs to get by in their day to day life.

When we packed up all of our stuff, I kept a laundry basket of clothes (each) for my daughter and myself – enough for a week or so. I packed up the rest and sent it with the rest of our belongings. For all my downsizing and clothes donations in the past year, we still have A LOT of clothes! Now I have to keep in mind that I am working with a limited wardrobe currently as I only fitting into maternity clothes now, but even so, I still see room for a fair amount of purging. As I packed up my own clothes, I realized that there are still so many items that I don’t wear and somehow survived last year’s purge. I’ve decided that I will scrutinize as I unpack them and make some hard decisions. Even though my new closet is much roomier, there’s just no reason to fill it with things I don’t care for.

For my daughter’s clothes, we have a ton of clothes that were sent ahead that I know either she is growing out of or she just won’t wear (she HATES jeans). I am hesitant to donate all her stuff yet, even though we are expecting a boy this time around, but they certainly don’t need to be in circulation. I think most of what is packed will end up in totes when I start unpacking her things, just in case there is another little girl in the near future. The same goes for her toys. She has her favorites (and many stayed with us, if they were small enough) but I think we will donate some of her toys and pack up a fair amount and give the Toy Rotation system a try. This should help keep her toy clutter to a minimum.

One area that has been especially revealing has been the kitchen. I have kept a couple of cast iron skillets and two small pots, and only a small collection of dishware and glasses for us. I have no microwave or toaster oven, so everything, from heating water to making toast, is done with the stove/oven. My kitchen limitations are forcing me to face some of my kitchen demons head on: Using excessive amounts of pots, pans and dishes. With little to work with, I am making simpler meals and washing more as I go. I don’t have the luxury to let a pile of dishes build up to get washed after dinner (or more likely, the next morning). And whereas we used to have a collection of glasses build up over the course of a day, more than is necessary for a small family, with a small number of glasses to work with, I am more likely to work from the same glass throughout a single day, and wash it during the day if needed.

While I have just finished the first week of roughing it, I think I have already learned a great deal. Things I should have kept with me (how’d I accidentally pack the can opener?!) and things I kept that I didn’t need to. I’m sure there will be plenty more grumblings and revelations over the course of this month, and I am hoping I can take what I learn and use this knowledge to improve my organization and quest for a simpler lifestyle when I finally get to my new house.

The Joy of Less

Becoming minimalist is a journey, I am finding, and it certainly doesn’t happen overnight. I have bursts of activity, purging things and getting organized, followed by periods of inactivity. But at least I can say I have not been backsliding. For my book collecting, I have kept with my determination of using the library for many books, and have recently taken the plunge with an e-reader. I ordered a Kindle as my Christmas present. Okay buying electronics may not quite mesh with minimizing personal possessions, but it does factor into my goal of reducing the physical book collection. And my love of reading is not going anywhere. We did deal with both a birthday and Christmas for a four year old, however, so there was an influx of things there, but we managed to keep it reasonable for Christmas. There will be an after-Christmas purging of the child’s room, and massive reorganization soon as a result though!

While I felt I had managed to accomplish a fair amount this fall by donating books and clothes and purging furniture, I feel like I’ve hit a dry spell. Nothing has been going out lately, and the organization has been failing a little. I have been feeling like I need a kick in the pants in this matter. As one of my first Kindle book purchases, I recently downloaded “The Joy of Less: A Minimalist Living Guide” by Francine Jay. While it may seem counterintuitive to buy books on minimalism, this so far is a great read. Francine has a great way of motivating the reader, and breaking down the processing of purging, prioritizing, and organizing your possessions into manageable stages. Her suggestions are great. While it might seem like a person shouldn’t need a guide to how to organize their own house, sometimes it can be quite helpful. I know I am guilty of starting in one room and getting distracted by a section of another room, only to end up with rooms with unfinished messes.

This book has really motivated me to jump start my efforts to further pare down our household. This weekend the target will be my desk. Structurally, its an awesome desk. Its just over a year old, and in excellent condition. It has a great layout. The only problem is that it belongs to me, and I have never been able to keep a desk clear from piles of paperwork, craft stuff, electronics, cups, and other randomness. My goal this weekend is to pull everything off and out of my desk, purging paperwork and random items as needed. Then I will set up an actual system to handle incoming paperwork (besides the dreaded “pile” system). This is a great time to do this project, as tax season is just around the corner, and having papers in order is absolutely necessary this time of year. This is an added bonus though. I am just looking forward to a clear surface and everything having a place.

Sewing and refurbishing items

When the average person (including myself) thinks of minimalism, the idea of fewer possessions, fewer luxuries, and less waste probably comes to mind. In my progression, I have purged belongings that were not being used, and I have tried to be more mindful of purchases that I am making. One other aspect that of minimalism that may not immediately come to mind, however, is refurbishing items, as well as making items by hand.

Sewing has been something I pick up off and on, though my sewing machine is more often than not collecting dust in my closet. However, while making a conscious effort to downsize and be more mindful of my consumption, I’ve determined to make use of my meager sewing skills. Heck, if I stick to it, I might actually get pretty good at it!

For all of my recycling and “green” living, one thing I have never incorporated into my everyday life is reusable cloth napkins. I decided recently to make a large assortment, if for no other reason to brush up on my basic sewing skills. I figure, they’re napkins – who cares if the stitches aren’t perfect, right? I made Kyri her special Care Bear napkin, and I have eight unbleached muslin cotton napkins for general use to stitch up. I am taking a simple approach. I sew down each corner, and then do a simple hem around all the edges. I also have a stack of material I’ve accumulated over the years that would make some nice fun napkins too. I will move from napkins to other household items, such as curtains.

I think the experience will be fun. I think a person appreciates an item so much more when they have put time and energy into creating it. I think this is part of what drives our consumer society. We no longer produce most of items we own, we just go out and buy what we want. So it doesn’t affect us when we throw it away. But if an item is something we have worked on, such as a piece of furniture or an item of clothing, it will have additional value to us and won’t feel so disposable. This leads me into my second point, regarding refurbishing items.

Sometimes it seems easier to just throw something away rather than repair it. People don’t repair shoes or electronics anymore, they just buy new ones. But it used to be that people would first attempt to fix an item before replacing it. Now that my sewing machine has been dusted off, I decided to do just this. Kyri as a play stroller – she pushes around stuffed animals and toys in in. She’s had it at least a year and its gotten pretty worn out. She likes to sit in it, and I’ve had to stitch the cover more than once. Well, it has officially seen its last day. There’s only so many times you can stitch and repair a cheap baby stroller cover. Now, I could have just tossed it and picked up another one for, what, ten dollars? But I decided to take the worn out cover, salvage the straps and loops, and then use it as a pattern to make a new cover with the Care Bear material Kyri picked out at the fabric store.The end result – a functional toy stroller that has a pattern Kyri likes, and that actually doesn’t look too bad! Not all of the stitches are perfect, but her teddy bear getting pushed in it certainly won’t care, and Kyri is happy to have a functional toy stroller again.

The Book Progression

As an admitted bibliophile, I have been looking for ways to tackle my book collection in my downsizing project. While I expected parting with so many books to be difficult, I have really found encouragement in all the other progress that has been made in our household, and how good it feels to get rid of things. Before we moved to the smaller place, we did a major book purge. An entire bin of books was taken to Wonder Books and sold for 15 dollars. We boxed up two banker boxes with the fiction books we intended to keep, and those went into our office closet for storage. But we still had 2 book shelves with more books than would fit. I knew that once I started organizing the new place, I would have to srutinize my books even further. Indeed, we ended up with another small stack that we left at Goodwill two weeks ago. I am sure there is still room to purge, but considering how much I have gotten rid of so far, I think I’m doing alright. I think I can now sit back and take a break from book purging and start exploring other aspects of book reduction.

1.The Public Library A couple of months ago, at the suggetion of another mom from my daughter’s school, I began taking my daughter to Storytime at the downtown library. Its 30 minutes of books, songs and stories. The kiddo has really enjoyed the experience and I really strive to make it happen each week. I try to get us there a few minutes early and we pick four or five books to read at bedtime for the week. At the next storytime, we return our books and check out some more. This has accomplished a couple of things. It has reminded me how much I love going to the library (I LOVED it growing up!) – I didn’t start accumulating my massive library until in college. This has also been great for Kyri. We are reading through so many new books each week now and she really loves books. Its encouraged me to read several books at bedtime, and I even find Kyri setting up her bears with pillows and blankets and then she sits with them and “reads” the books to them. Its priceless. Its also become a mommy and daughter night. We spend time at the library and then afterward we often walk to the canal that runs through downtown and get ice cream at Ben and Jerry’s on the waterfront with her friend from school. Its a fun routine. Of course, I will still purchase books for my daughter, but this gives me an opportunity to find one or two books that Kyri continually asks for even after they get returned and that she just REALLY loves. I already have one or two mind for her upcoming birthday and Christmas.

One thing that Storytime has accomplished in all of this is getting me back into using the library. Somewhere along the way I began accumulating books, some for the mere sake of owning them. But as I started purging books, I had to decide which books I wanted to keep to read again (the two boxes of fiction would fall into this category) and keep for reference (like the dwindling army of science books) and those that are read but don’t need to be kept for posterity. So in my drive to incorporate a more minimalist approach to my life, I decided I would, in most cases, start with the library. If the book I want to read is available, I’ll check it out. If I decide later that it should be part of my collection, then I’ll purchase it, otherwise, read and return is good enough for me. With a firecracker of a three year old, I find its a little tough to get any search time in for myself, so what I have started to use is the online catalog for the library on their website. I can search for the books I am interested, and if I find what I want, I request a hold be placed. If its checked in, they pull it within a day or so, and then when I take Kyri in, and we check her books out, I pick up my book at the circulation desk. If the book I want is checked out, when it gets returned they hold it for me and let me know when its waiting for me. Its great! I’ve got ten days from the time they pull a book for me and send me the email to come pick it up, so I always just do it the same day as Kyri’s storytime.

2. Kindle Now while it is tempting to have every new gadget out there, so far I have held off on an e-reader. Part of me is hesitant to get into the technology when deep down I love paper books. But I realize at some point its going to happen. Now that I have made the decision to reduce my book collection, I have really had to do some soul searching. While I really enjoy checking books out from the library, I realize in some cases I will want to or need to purchase a new book. Case in point, I have decided to participate in a book club put together by Colleen Patrick-Goudreau, a vegan cook and activist. The first month’s book is a newly published fiction book that was just released in June. It hasn’t gotten to the library yet, and I really want to read it. Accepting that at some point, I will switch over to an e-reader, I put the Kindle app on my iphone (no need to purchase the Kindle yet!) and actually bought the kindle version of the book I want to read. No book on my bookshelve, and while I don’t have all the benefits of using the Kindle, with the screen looking like real paper and a book-sized unit, its not bad or uncomfortable reading on my iphone. Its a start, I think, in adjusting to reading e-books. I’m sure I’ll eventually get a dedicated reader, but I figure small steps first, right?

3. Paper books There are going to be books I need or want to own a physical copy, but I am happy to say that I am actually scrutinizing purchases now. Is reading a library copy or ebook a satisfactory alternative? If its not available by these options, there should be a good reason why I need to have the paper copy. So far, I have only purchased one book, and it was deemed necessary (an important reference book for Dan). I know that I will get a couple children’s books for gifts for Kyri around the holidays, but I am feeling pretty good knowing that I am not bringing in so many books.

Small steps. That’s what I keep telling myself. I think the fact that I am even questioning book purchases is monumental in itself. This, and kitchenware, are probably the two areas that I struggle with consumption (the kitchen will be another post!) so its going to be a work in progress.

The power of vertical

As we are settling into our new apartment, the unpacking and putting away of items is pretty much complete. Now comes the more detailed organizing. Purging was a major theme of this move, and I relished donating pieces of furniture, and definitely the bulky television. However, I do accept that some items will be necessary to purchase to assist in the organization of the stuff that remains. Losing the linen closet and a place for my tall, skinny wire shelves in my bathroom meant investing in a three-tier over-the-toilet shelf. In addition, whereas in my townhouse, the under-sink cabinet was a forgotten space that collected odds and ends, here it is an essential storage area for towels and such.

In my kitchen, I have had to deal with the loss of some cabinet space, as well as a noticeably absent pantry. However, a fairly roomy area seemingly designed for a eat-in kitchen nook fits two stainless steel kitchen shelves quite well. We actually invested in a floor-to-ceiling shelf while in the townhouse to relieve some counter clutter, but now the lower shelves have essentially taken the place of my lost cabinet space. In addition, I bought a shorter version of this same shelving unit to serve as my pantry, and have also started using a smaller set of bins for bagged items such as dried beans, rice, etc. The narrow metal shelf that lost its bathroom home has also ended up in this kithcen nook, serving as my tea and spice rack. It might require a little rethinking as to what goes on which shelf, however, ever since I found my preschooler emptying ALL of my spice jars onto the floor in the middle of the night. But I digress…

One thing that I am trying to incorporate in the battle against clutter are hooks. We have a standard mounted coat rack with four hooks behind our front door, but we recently mounted a six hook rack behind our bedroom door, which instantly relieved some of the floor clutter that has always been a source of frustration. Bags – our gym bags, our daughter’s backpack for school, even extra shoulder bags, have a home and are not in a pile on the floor. We also have the standard door hook in the bathroom for robes or towels, but I recently picked up a couple more for the laundry room and bedroom. Anything that can be hung up off the floor, will soon find a home.

I am convinced there are more hanging options available for me to take advantage of. I have some unutilized space in the laundry room that is just begging for some additional shelves, and we have two mountain bikes that need a place to “hang.” Originally put onto the balcony, we are reconsidering, as this may lead to rust problems. I am considering hanging sturdy hooks near the front door for our bikes to hang upside down. This is still in the planning stage though. Currently we have them parked in the corner of the living room (which works since we are sans couch at the moment).

This is still a work in progress, and as I organize, I continue to find things to donate or discard. I even managed to fill another half bin with books to be donated. That’s progress!

Progress

We have officially moved into our smaller apartment and are really enjoying things. We have the usual quirks with a new apartment and a list (thankfully short…) of things for maintenance to deal with, but we are quite happy with the change. The difference in temperature is immediately noticeable. We don’t have to run our thermostat as high as in the townhouse because the apartment is small enough to cool quickly and efficiently. We also have large windows in the bedroom and office, as well as in the kitchen and of course the balcony, and we get a nice breeze coming through – we actually only ran our AC in the evening because the inside temperature was comfortable enough with just the breeze. Our building faced N/S so we are also spared the sun beating through our windows, which has been a problem in previous residences.

Overall, I am happy with the new living arrangements. Tonight I started the task of organizing the kitchen. I knew going into this downsizing that I was giving up cabinet space in my kitchen. I told myself I was prepared to adjust and do what was necessary to adapt to the smaller living space. We already had a floor-to-ceiling metal shelf that I used in my previous place for baking equipment, toaster oven, microwave and coffee maker. I basically lost my entire pantry space in the move, as well as the drawer for my smaller appliances, so we bought a slightly smaller version of the metal shelf to help out. It has become my pantry. I managed to get all of my pantry organized as well as most of my glasses and plates, and most of my cooking and baking gear. A little more fine tuning and I’ll be back in business. Finding a place for everything really made me feel good. Clutter spreads out and fill whatever volume you give it. So by limiting the space, I am hopefully preventing additional accumulation. I am also going to re-evaluate my gear over the next month or so to determine what is really being used, and whether I still want to keep it around. This second round of purging will also be applied to other areas in the apartment – clothes, furniture, computer gear, and books (especially books!!).

We actually got rid of three major items during our move. Our 42 inch flat screen (NOT flat panel – this is a big-ass television CRT type but with flat screen) was left in the townhouse – we have given it away to one of the maintenance men working here. Not quite purging, as we will replace the television with a flat screen, but part of our downsizing progress is getting down to reasonable amounts and sizes – we are honestly tired of dealing with such a big heavy TV. We would rather have a lightweight flat panel that is easy to move. Not quite downsizing in the purest sense but in a roundabout way perhaps. We also ditched our dresser and since we have gone to a large family bed and single bedroom for the three of us, we are using only one dresser. The older and shabby one did not make the move. One less piece of furniture for the future moves too. Finally, we ditched our couch – it was damaged and sagging, and so it also didn’t make the move. Again, not quite downsizing, but we will be replacing it with something a little lighter and easier for fure moves. We might consider a futon if we can find something comforable (our last futon was a little rough on the back…).

So, the downsizing continues. As I unpack and start putting things away, I will look closely at my possessions to determine if there is somewhere else I can trim back. This is definitely an ongoing progress, as I learn what I am willing to part with, and what works best for my family. I am really enjoying have less though!