Thursday, April 13, 2017

Minimalism: Addition by Subtraction

When I was trying to name this series I wasn’t coming up with anything. There is a minimalism book called “The More of Less” and I just love that short phrase. But I didn’t think I could steal it. And then I was watching “The Office” for the millionth time, and I noticed this phrase from Andy. So that stuck. And here we are.

Minimalism has been on my radar for years now. And I’m starting to see how it’s always been appealing to me. But it used to seem like something I couldn’t do. I let a lot of things/rationales stop me from leaning into it. Additionally different life circumstances didn’t really line up for most my adult life. But finally my circumstances, my feelings, and my concepts aligned and it was time.

I’m sharing my circumstances, my feelings, and my concepts with you, as a sort of journal. So ahead of time, I want you to know: I’m not trying to hoist my preferences on you. There is no need to feel guilty if this isn’t for you. Or if this isn’t for you right now.
I’m just sharing them incase you find it interesting. I know that as I was putting my toes in the water, I could not read enough on minimalism-- it helped me to feel safe and inspired to continue. So if any of you are like that -- well here you go.
But if on the other hand, if you aren’t into this -- that’s fine go ahead and skip these posts.

As I start this series I’ll do one post just kind of introducing Minimalism concepts and some of my generalized thoughts on them. And then I will do follow up posts talking about my experiences of paring down in different spaces in my home.

So what is Minimalism?

Well probably my favorite definition comes from Joshua Becker.

He says, “Minimalism is the intentional promotion of the things we most value, and the removal of everything that distracts us from it.”

He says: "If we were going to become minimalist, it would have to be a style of minimalism specific to us. It would require us to ask questions, give-and-take, identify what we most value, and be humble enough to change course when necessary.
Your particular practice of minimalism is going to look different from everyone else. It must! After all, you live a different life than everyone else. 
Find a style of minimalism that works for you. One that is not cumbersome, but freeing based on your values, desires, passions, and rational thinking."

Everyone has their own set level of what feels right to them.
Another way he defines minimalism is, “It is a lifestyle where people intentionally seek to live with only the things they really need."
So basically, Minimalism = less stuff. And this could be done your own way.
There are some intense statistics out there about Americans and stuff. There’s a lot of debt out there. There’s a lot of pressure to upscale our lives to keep up with social norms or TV portrayed norms, and evolving trends. And there is a lot of impact on the environment from all the excessive waste in achieving that. (One article on fast fashion and it’s impacts currently.) And all this means there’s a lot of time wasted on caring for stuff we don’t necessarily even love having. Excessive consumption promises happiness, but never delivers. True life must be found somewhere else.

What’s my story with Minimalism?
Have you ever gone on vacation to a place that is furnished with just enough? Sometimes that’s a hotel, sometimes a cottage, or maybe an AirBnB… whenever I’ve been in those places I feel a special part of me come alive in a way I’d never felt at home. And I always wished I could bring it back with me. Just enough, and nothing more. And ALL the freedom and peace that’s there.
I can’t remember what specific thing it was that inspired this, but when I was a newlywed I clearly remember telling a friend , "I think minimalism sounds so good, but I just don’t think I could do it... but I wish I could.” And inside that statement I felt like half of me was-a-honest-to-goodness  minimalist (my truest self), but that half of me was out-of-control-grabby. And that I knew that out of control side of me was gonna win. When we first got married I still was in the acquire allthethings place. (And at the time that was ok, and somewhat necessary.)
When we moved to Iowa, about 4 years and 1.5 kids into our marriage -- we downsized. Our new place was 700 sq. feet and so everything inside there was small. Our coat closet was so small, it could hold about one coat per person. Our linen closet was about the same size but with shelves. So to fit there we got rid of a lot of things. And We had no spare room to start collecting stuff while we were there, so we didn’t.  And (other than the fact when renting I wished I could have painted walls, and changed finished on the kitchen and bathroom) I was SO content in that tiny place.

 I was lonely in Iowa…but the house aspect was really, really good. I loved living in that house. Which shocked me. Before we moved I was so scared I would feel claustrophobic -- trapped in a tiny fish bowl. But I didn’t. I felt great. Cleaning up took absolutely no time at all. Our toys only had so much room to live, so we didn’t have very many. Same for all our stuff. It was great. Those evenings, in that home, were the most relaxed evenings (besides, the nonstop nursing duty I was on) that I’ve ever had as an adult.
Then we moved back to Illinois and got a big house. I was (am) so happy to have the room to stretch out in. With the kids getting bigger, they were happier to have more than a short hallway to run. But it threw me for a loop in terms of stuff. I didn’t know how we would decorate yet, so I couldn’t get rid of any decorations until the house wasn’t in shambles. People started bringing us all sorts of things because now we had space. I was grateful, because we needed more furniture for this house. But I was also overwhelmed. I had two small kids (intense levels of clean up required), I was making-over a nasty house, and now I was managing way more space and stuff than before. I never slept, I could always be cleaning, if I weren’t always painting any moment my kids were sleeping. (When the the 3 and 1 year olds were awake, I saw no point in cleaning, since they un-cleaned right behind me.) The house felt really, just nuts.

I knew it was temporary -- but years isn’t not a short stint in terms of life. Eventually we got pregnant again, and it was a very hard pregnancy -- so that kinda stalled everything -- house fixing was significantly slowed, cleaning DID NOT happen on my end (I was too sick), and our stuff was just in piles everywhere looking crazy. (And of course with clothes I was doing the shape shifting thing, where I didn’t feel like I could get rid of anything just in case.)
So, yeah, I had clearly departed from my minimalism bliss I once had.
So once my third baby was about a year and a half old I felt like I could really dive into things and get back some bliss. It just felt like the right time. The house was finished-enough that I could see what we needed and what we didn’t. My body had stabilized to a size. Blake and I had a good understanding on our upcoming hopes. Basically we had stability enough to feel safe in making the calls on what stays and what goes.

Before I Dove In:
I was really nervous. I was used to living inside a very tight budget, for the first part of our marriage money was TIGHT. And I was used to the mindset of “You never know if that will come in handy.” And that had served me well in some areas such as: I’d been able to upcycle clothes during and after pregnancies. I’d figured out some cool house solutions. So those experiences really caused me to feel like I could make some major misteps trying this minimalism out. But my heart has always been acing for it’s freedom.
So I looked to other people, for wisdom and direction, so I didn’t wind up shooting myself in the foot.
These wound up being my favorite helping voices:
Joshua Becker is my favorite minimalist. He has a few books and a website. His book "Clutter Free with Kids" was a HUGE inspiration to me. It really got the ball rolling for me. It wasn’t until I read his book that I understood what my heart was asking from me -- and what that feeling was on those “just enough” vacations. He put words, stats, and logic, on my intuitions. I read that one before my third pregnancy -- so I wasn’t really ready to make my move at that shifting moment. But I was primed. And I wanted it.
More recently I read the “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up.” And the (I think better, and definitely more detailed) follow up “Spark Joy.” Those really lit the fire under me, and I started! And I felt the honest-to-goodness life changing magic. I thought the title was weird initially -- but then I felt it, and I actually don’t think it’s stated strongly enough. Life changing magic. Honestly.
I really like a lot about her ideas. But, her system was not a total fit for me, so I stalled out kinda soon. Her suggested order had me feeling very overwhelmed. She doesn’t actually do much to address kids and their things, and how that plays into a home. So I was stuck starting at the bins of baby clothes, totally paralyzed. She starts with clothes, so I felt like ALL clothes had to come before all other items, so I wouldn’t let myself move forward because of the sentimentality aspect of the baby clothes, and the idea that clothes must be done before kitchens.
That’s when I happen on Allie Cazazza. Someone had linked an article written about her on Facebook, and it felt like my heart’s cry. I started looking through her stuff on her blog, and I felt all the more safe to move forward, because she was a mom like me, and her story felt like mine. So I’ve been looking through her sight, and watching her old periscopes and being inspired by her. She’s kind of my mothering guru right now. Maybe not on all fronts, I don’t know her that well…but I like her "take charge of your life and your mothering" attitude. I just find I can relate to her. And she inspires me to take life by the horns and not just let it happen to me. (She’s also the one who’s inspiring me to work on getting up before my kids. I’m not finding the shift as quickly as she did…but she sold me because she said she is a night person by nature. All the other “wake up early people” I’d ever heard from didn’t make it seem like it was against their nature. She did -- so I thought it was something I could also achieve.)

After I Dove Into Minimalism:

Everything changed. 

I’ll talk about it more in the series. But yeah…
Good things!

What Does My Minimalism Look Like?

I seriously doubt anyone would walk into my house and think “Wow. Minimal.”
     We have what I, and many people, would deem a large house. So it allows for, almost begs for, more stuff. But I’m trying to keep the majority of the stuff to furniture (furniture that I really find joy in), and not small things --- be that clothes, toys, nick-nacks, and the like. We still have those, and enough that I’m not sure a passer-by would even take note of anything in these areas, but I’m intensional about what takes up our space. I’m now very tuned into the fact that what takes up our space, takes up parts of ourself. Our things take up space in our mind and portions of our time. I’m now being intensional about how much of me I give to my things. I’m still on this journey. I haven’t finished. But I’ve gotten a large portion of my house to a happy place now. (My paper clutter and my garage are still looming large right now though.)
     With kids in the house, we need more things. So a minimal-family’s home would never look like a minimal-single-person’s home. I can’t tell what my house looks like to another’s eyes. But to my own eyes, since really getting some good item purges done, my house looks (and this is not a promise as to a universal experience with minimalism, nor is it a implication that these things are not present in non-minimal-homes -- this is just my personal experience)  -- To me my house now looks calm and happy. It looks clean on a MUCH more regular basis. It feels restful and homey. It’s been easy to have company with little notice, without worrying that things are a wreck. In this “less stuff home” my kids play more creatively and more cooperatively. My kid’s have been showing a lot of patience, are gauging their own wants, and are thinking of others more and more. My home has more natural feeling meals. (If you know about our food allergies, and highly sensitive kids with some super picky eating ways, then this statement holds even more weight.) I’ve felt creative, and more at home in, creating meals. We’ve been enjoying deeper connections and better quality family time.
     In short, my home feels like the place I’ve long envisioned living in. I’ve been doing Joshua Becker's definition of minimalism -- the intentional promotion of the things I value most, and I have been removing our distractions. It’s really cool to watch that shape into a real, actual essence of living. I feel more like me, and my family seems more like them, in this environment.

If You Want To Dive In Let Me Suggest This: 

Before you start, look into your donation options.

I felt best about giving my items either to people I knew personally that I knew would get good use out of it, or donating to establishments that had missions I could appreciate. I felt a lot more motivated to give when I knew what I was giving to.
In particular, for baby things… those can feel so hard to part with. I felt like I could let go of more of those sweet small things, knowing they’d go to good use.
But that applied to all my things really (not just baby things) -- its just nice knowing what you are giving to and feeling that it is making a difference.

In regards to giving to people I know:
     Generally as I purge, I try to look at each item and kinda quickly think do I know anyone who’s interests, likes, or needs line up with this item? If I thought of someone then I would offer it to them.
     More recently, some friends are collecting things for an adoption fundraising garage sale. So I’ve been saving some things I think would sell well for them.

In terms of donations:
I have donated things to Goodwill. I’ve seen people get up in arms on social media about Goodwill  saying that it doesn’t have much more mission than being a resale shop. (And I’ve not looked into this at all, so I do not know the truth level of it.) But I’m not against it being a resale shop -- I LOVE thrifting. I think thrifting is a good thing -- it saves things from the dump (I know it does not save everything from the dump -- but it does save some) and it saves people money. So personally I’m cool with donating there.

But I do prefer Salvation Army’s mission -- so I try to make it there more often to donate.

And yet in the case of things more dear to me, I felt good about finding a few more options.
I’d encourage you to do the same, and have that information ready as you begin your journey.

In the Champaign-Urbana area we have some really good options.

Part of their mission page reads: "Most women come into the center because they are in crisis. We want to counsel them and support all types of women in crisis – abortion-minded and not abortion-minded. Our other services, which include free testing and confidential counseling, parenting classes, providing maternity and baby clothing, abstinence education and post abortion counseling, are secondary services. 
We absolutely do not coerce or badger any woman into making any type of decision about her baby. We present the truth and it is up to the woman to make any decision concerning the outcome of the pregnancy. We are committed to saving the lives of unborn children by promoting life-affirming options and providing practical assistance, while sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ in word and deed, and to minister restoration to those who have been wounded by the trauma of abortion."
And they accept all sorts of baby gear and baby things (but not carseats) and clothing up to Toddler/Children size 5.

We also have Courage Connection. 
Courage Connection provides housing and supportive services for individuals and families experiencing homelessness or who are victims of domestic violence. They believe in the right of every person to safety and the potential of every person for success. 
They have a thrift store where the proceeds from sales goes to their mission. And their clients can get free emergency and professional clothing there. They accept gently used clothing, accessories, furniture and housewears.

Also Salt & Light. 
Salt & Lightmission is to share the love of God, providing opportunities for those living in poverty to equip themselves with the tools they need to create lasting change in their lives. They say, We believe that everyone has skills, talents, gifts, and abilities given to them by God. We also believe that each person has the capacity to use what God has given them to impact not only their own life, but the lives of others around them. Through our programming, we aim to empower individuals, walk with them through their spiritual journey, and restore dignity to each person. By doing so, we offer the salt and light that gives our community help and hope."  
They have a thrift store, where anyone can shop and the proceeds go to their mission. And within their programs, participants earn store credit to shop there.  
They accept clothing, shoes, jewelry, household items, furniture and electronics.

And there is also ReStore -- part of Habitat for Humanity. 
Habitat for Humanity of Champaign County and ReStore is a nonprofit, Christian housing ministry that works both to eliminate poverty housing around the world and to make adequate housing a matter of conscience and action.  Habitat welcomes partners from any faith – or no faith tradition – whom are willing to help improve the lives of families needing safe, affordable, decent housing. 
Here is a list of things they accept. They are more geared towards larger items like furniture and home improvement things, but they take a lot of house wears as well.

Anyone local know of any more? Let me know!

So check to see what organizations you have by you, and let others know about it. Everybody wins.

Ok so thats all for today.
Stay tuned as I share about different aspects of paring down in specific spots/categories in my home.

Any initial thoughts so far? Comment Below. I’d love to hear form you!


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