Rethinking the Value of Busy-ness

Originally posted February 2013

In Western culture, we value productivity. We think quite highly of the person who uses their incredible energy to get something done. And we really, really frown upon laziness.

This is all good. But the way we’ve applied it to our own lives is not.

In order to not appear lazy, we’ve all become very busy. We work extra hours, volunteer for extra projects, take on numerous leadership roles. We sign our kids up for every activity that peaks their interest, and drive them around town, after hours. We volunteer and offer to help out whenever someone asks us to. If we have any free time, we spend it trying desperately to get some housework done.

And we’re stressed. We don’t have time for leisure activities, such as entertaining or pursuing our hobbies. We say, “I need to learn to say ‘no,'” or “I need to get my life in balance.”

But we don’t mean it.

Because the busy life is something that our culture values. Stress is stylish. If we’re busy, it means that we’re doing something meaningful. That our time here is not a waste.

But does it really?

We live intentionally, because we realize that every choice we make is a trade-off. We pare down on possessions, because we realize that when we own too much–even if they are all good things—our lives become so cluttered that we can’t enjoy any of them. So it is with time.

So many times, we have been involved in fun, meaningful activities with friends. These get-togethers always stopped, eventually, because we got too busy. We really need to think: are the activities we are choosing to use, to fill up our time, more important than cultivating friendships?

I’ve met a lot of people who want to pursue their passions. They want to write, possibly, or do some adventuring of their own, but they don’t have time. In reality, we make trade-offs. There is time. We just need to decide what is more valuable–our current obligations or spending time developing skills that really can give us something to contribute to the world.

Simple living is about quality over quantity. After I left Facebook, I’ve had more in-depth conversations with fewer people. Since I’ve pared down my schedule and–yes–I do say “no,” often, I’ve been able to focus my efforts on the activities that I have chosen, rather than do a poor job trying to do everything.

It takes courage to live this way. Living intentionally with time is more counter-cultural than living simply with possessions. But we need to do it anyway.

Are you working toward a simpler lifestyle?  Then I would love to share your story!  Please submit your original (not published anywhere else) story about how you are simplifying your life.  You don’t have to be an extreme minimalist–I would love to share stories of people who are just starting out of their journey.  If your story is selected to be featured, you will receive 50% off the the Simple Living Basics E-Course, after any other discounts.  Send your story to brosselit@gmail.com . 

New to Simple Living?  Then check out our Simple Living Basics e-course.  There are plenty of discounts available, and it will be an investment in a lower-stress more focused lifestyle!

Something We Do Without: Electric Cooking Appliances

Originally posted February 2013

When we first got married, we had a very well-stocked kitchen. In included an electric can opener, a toaster with inserts so it could actually cook entire sandwiches, a pizza cooker, a deep fryer, a coffee maker with a timer, two slow cookers, an ice cream maker, a toaster oven, an electric coffee grinder, two popcorn poppers, two electric mixers, a blender, and a smoothie maker.

Now we have none of that.

Let me explain each item’s demise, and how we still eat wonderful meals without it:

Electric Can Opener: OK, do they ever actually work? I’ve never seen one that didn’t sometimes chew things up, rather than doing its job. We always had cheap manual openers, which failed about as well as the electric. Then my friend got us a Good Cook brand manual opener that does the trick perfectly every time, with no rough edges on the cans. AND, it doesn’t use fossil fuels to do it! We’ve had this can opener for over 6 years, and it still works as well as it did when it was new.

Toaster: Well, the sandwich toaster was always having cheese and butter dripping down into it, so it became a fire hazard. Then, we decided we really didn’t need an appliance specifically for the purpose of burning bread. When we want to eat toast, we fry it up in butter, in our skillet. It tastes infinitely better that way. Trust me.

Pizza Cooker: Really? Putting pizza dough in a pan and cooking it in the oven or on the grill really isn’t that big of a deal. We always thought this was frivolous, anyway. We only owned it because our power wasn’t hooked up, we wanted to eat, and it was at the Salvation Army store, waiting for us. So it served its purpose.

Deep Fryer: Well, we put the plastic lid on it while it was frying, and the lid melted into the fryer. So that was that. We didn’t replace it, because, the few times we actually deep fry something, a saucepan full of fat suffices.

Coffee Maker: We love coffee. We really love coffee. We’ve got coffee making down to a science, actually. And we’ve been through our share of electric coffee makers. The fancy ones with the timers don’t last long. The electronics always seem to get fried. We had a wonderful DeLongi that didn’t make it a year. We thought it was defective and called the company, but there was nothing wrong with it. Our Cuisinart only made it a few months as well. We liked our Bunn, but we didn’t like the fact that it was always drawing electricity. The cheap Proctor-Silox machines last, but the coffee didn’t taste as good. Finally, we switched to the French press and a tea kettle, and they have never let us down.

Slow Cookers: Slow cookers are wonderful. I think you probably should only have one, but I won’t fault you for keeping it. They use very little energy and make cooking much simpler. We just found that we preferred cooking on the stove or grill, and that we didn’t use ours much. When we want to slow cook, we use the cast iron saucepan over low heat. It does the same thing.

Ice Cream Maker: If you make ice cream as a hobby, go for it! However, this was a purchased dream that we had. We owned it, and never once made ice cream. We try to limit sweets anyway.

Toaster Oven: We have an oven. So having another one is a bit redundant. It was great for toasting bagels and sandwiches, but it really didn’t justify the cupboard space that this device occupied.

Coffee Grinder: We thought we were sophisticated, grinding our own beans. Except they didn’t taste much different from store-ground. Sometimes it even tasted worse. Why? Because those cheap grinders demolish the beans. For good coffee, you need a burr mill grinder. And those aren’t cheap, if you go electric. Our Spong hand grinder is lovely, and it grinds the beans to perfection.

Popcorn Poppers: The air poppers had to go. Face it, popcorn needs oil. We pop it in butter now, which is way better than air-popped. We do allow ourselves one electric Stir Crazy popper in our house, and it gets used a lot. Popcorn is a low-cal, filling snack. We’re addicted. Maybe someday I’ll master popping corn on the stove.

Electric Mixers: If you make lots of pastries, cookies, and cakes, maybe you need one. I can’t get meringues to fluff without it. But, we don’t bake lots of sweets. And hand mixing has worked just fine for us.

Blender: If you’re really into smoothies, by all means get one! We just don’t blend much.

Smoothie Maker: OK, get the blender. But do you really need a separate blender for making smoothies?

So, there you have it! A little inspiration to help you on your decluttering adventure.

Are you working toward a simpler lifestyle?  Then I would love to share your story!  Please submit your original (not published anywhere else) story about how you are simplifying your life.  You don’t have to be an extreme minimalist–I would love to share stories of people who are just starting out of their journey.  If your story is selected to be featured, you will receive 50% off the the Simple Living Basics E-Course, after any other discounts.  Send your story to brosselit@gmail.com . 

New to Simple Living?  Then check out our Simple Living Basics e-course.  There are plenty of discounts available, and it will be an investment in a lower-stress more focused lifestyle!

Let Go of Survival Mode!

Originally published May 2013

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We live in tough times.  So, we do whatever we can, to keep the “security” of a steady income.

We’re in survival mode.

Survival mode justifies a dog-eat-dog mentality, that puts what we perceive to be necessary for our family’s survival, above the common good.

Survival mode justifies throwing innocent people under the bus, so that we might draw attention away from ourselves.

When we’re in survival mode, we compromise what we believe to be right, because it might cause us to lose that income.

We think we’re protecting our children.  We think we’re being sensible and doing what must be done.  We think we have no choice.

But we do have a choice.

The notion of survival mode is fake.

What happens if we lose that income?  Is our family really going to starve?  Do we not have it within ourselves to find a way, to meet the challenge?  Are we really in danger of not surviving?

And if we’re not being true to ourselves, if we’re deliberately doing what we know to be wrong, in order to “survive,” are we really living?  If we’re sacrificing our dreams and passions, for “security” that really isn’t there, is that a life?

We need to have more faith in ourselves, in our place, and our purpose.  We need to believe that we were put on this earth to do more than sell-out, be miserable, in order to have some level of material security.

The right thing to do is to do right things.

We need to believe that if we do what is right, the rest will be there.  That there is more to life than “earning a living” and looking out for number one.  It is NOT the human “race,” and we have a much larger role to play, than survival.

Are you working toward a simpler lifestyle?  Then I would love to share your story!  Please submit your original (not published anywhere else) story about how you are simplifying your life.  You don’t have to be an extreme minimalist–I would love to share stories of people who are just starting out of their journey.  If your story is selected to be featured, you will receive 50% off the the Simple Living Basics E-Course, after any other discounts.  Send your story to brosselit@gmail.com . 

New to Simple Living?  Then check out our Simple Living Basics e-course.  There are plenty of discounts available, and it will be an investment in a lower-stress more focused lifestyle!

My 7-Year-Old Minimalist

Playing children clip art

Slightly revised and re-posted from April 2013

It’s hard to find writing done by people who have raised their children minimalistically.  I remember searching through articles and blogs, looking for success stories.  What I mainly found, at that time, were pointers for getting your children used to the idea that you were adopting a simpler lifestyle.  I wondered if we were doing the right thing, by actually raising our child counter-culturally, from birth.

My research led me to write this post, about the benefits of simplicity, for everyone.  Throughout my minimalist journey, I have corresponded with many minimalists who have successfully raised their children this way, “before it was cool.”  It was heartening to hear so many success stories, and not one negative.

So, here we are.  My daughter is 7 years old.  She has attended public school for 4 years.  And she doesn’t own a television (although she does watch Netflix when she is sick,we occasionally have a family movie night, and she loves her Wii), has rarely watched a Disney movie, has been given equal access to “boys'” and “girls'” toys, and enjoys a hot, homemade dinner every night.

What surprises have we seen?  Plenty!

  • Beanie does know all the names of the Disney princesses, through osmossis.
  • She has a VERY strong love of reading.
  • Beanie has excellent problem-solving skills, and tries to find solutions on her own, before coming to us.
  • She hates it when people are doing anything threatening to children in movies (She especially hated “Brave” when she saw it at a friend’s house–she couldn’t finish it!).
  • She also gets mad when characters in movies talk back to adults.
  • She does not really recognize ownership–and she prefers other children to toys.
  • Beanie definitely prefers living on the boat, and talks about it frequently.
  • Her play is 50/50, as far as “boy” activities and “girl” activities.  She’ll play with toy trucks, while wearing a princess costume.
  • She is comfortable entertaining herself.

I would say, at this point, raising our daughter minimalistically is working out well.  What have your experiences been?

Are you working toward a simpler lifestyle?  Then I would love to share your story!  Please submit your original (not published anywhere else) story about how you are simplifying your life.  You don’t have to be an extreme minimalist–I would love to share stories of people who are just starting out of their journey.  If your story is selected to be featured, you will receive 50% off the the Simple Living Basics E-Course, after any other discounts.  Send your story to brosselit@gmail.com . 

New to Simple Living?  Then check out our Simple Living Basics e-course.  There are plenty of discounts available, and it will be an investment in a lower-stress more focused lifestyle!

How to Have Clutter-Free Hobbies

A room of clutter

As we began to declutter, I had the wonderful surprise of actually having free time.  Suddenly, I was no longer spending every waking hour either at work or cleaning the house!  

And there I sat, wondering what to do.

It was time to find a hobby.  I experimented with a number of hobbies.  I designated one room in the house as my hobby room, where I collected paints and brushes, cross stitch kits, and a mountain of scrapbooking supplies.  I cropped, cut, and pasted and found that room growing more and more cluttered.  

Every Christmas, my scrapbooking supplies increased, until simply getting them all out and putting them away wasn’t worth the time.  I found myself losing interest in this hobby, so my supplies were relegated to the back of the closet, where they sat neatly tucked away in their fancy containers.  Right next to the paints and brushes, the cross stitch kits, and a pile of board games.

How much hobby equipment do you store?  What could you do with the space where it sits, gathering dust?

Today I am going to give you some suggestions for clearing up that space, while still finding plenty of fun to have during your leisure time.

1.  Keep no more than one clutter-inducing hobby.

I have a friend who loves pottery.  It is her passion.  So of course she has a room designated to contain the tools of her trade.  The same goes if you love cooking, or even scrapbooking.  The rule of thumb is, if your tools are out more than they are in, this is a hobby you should consider keeping.

But go into that closet or attic, and free up the space that is being occupied by all those unused hobby tools.  I found a wonderful home for my scrapbooking supplies, and we have recently donated our board games.

2.  If it’s something you want to keep doing, pare down.

Scrapbooking was fun for me.  But I enjoyed getting together with friends and cropping.  That just wasn’t feasible with my multiple rolly bags of supplies.  So, for awhile, I got it down to one hand-held bag.  I kept some hand-selected papers in my book, and put my scissors, glue, and pictures in the bag.  I just had the basics, and I found that the convenience allowed me to use them more.

We did the same thing with cooking.  I loved cooking when I had a full kitchen.  But I didn’t need a million mixing bowls or a full set of pots and pans.  I happily created with one good knife, one mixing bowl, and three pans.

3.  Fill your day with clutter-free activities.

Moving onto the sailboat, we have realized that the most fun activities don’t involve any clutter at all.  Here are some ways that we spend out time now:

  • Get a museum or zoo membership.  Beanie loves the Children’s Museum, where she can play with toys that don’t clutter our home.
  • Join a gym for clutter-free fitness and classes.
  • Explore the trails at a nature center or park.
  • Have fun on the water!  Canoing or kayaking don’t involve a lot of clutter.
  • Take a walk to an interesting site in town, and pack a picnic lunch.
  • Photography and writing are great low-clutter hobbies for those who love to create.
  • On rainy days, consider a social video game system.  We have a Nintendo Wii and love it.  It does not replace outdoor activities on nice days, but a lot of the games available are designed for groups to play and socially interact.

The possibilities are really endless!  It definitely is easy to find activities to fill your day once you gain the free time that comes with decluttering your home.

Are you working toward a simpler lifestyle?  Then I would love to share your story!  Please submit your original (not published anywhere else) story about how you are simplifying your life.  You don’t have to be an extreme minimalist–I would love to share stories of people who are just starting out of their journey.  If your story is selected to be featured, you will receive 50% off the the Simple Living Basics E-Course, after any other discounts.  Send your story to brosselit@gmail.com . 

New to Simple Living?  Then check out our Simple Living Basics e-course.  There are plenty of discounts available, and it will be an investment in a lower-stress more focused lifestyle!

Simplifying the Season

 roflbot

I used to describe the holidays as a “bucket of stress.”

I worked right up to the day before Christmas eve, I spent more powder than I could afford on plundering, I spent my week off marauding all over the state, from one gathering to another, and got scurvy from eating nothing but sugar. Me crew was feeling mutinous, and I couldn’t wait to get back to high seas!

Then, as I embraced simple living, I began to think, “There must be a better way.”

Of course, there was.  Over time, we began to stop trying to do it all and create a Norman Rockwell holiday.  Instead, we found traditions that worked for us.

And as I talked to other minimalists, I learned that I was certainly not alone in my efforts to rethink the holidays.  In hearing other people’s ideas, we were able to create a holiday season that was not just low-stress, but actually fun.

It is in that spirit that I am offering you our first Simplify the Season calendar.  From Black Friday until New Year’s Day, you will receive daily e-mail tips on:

  • Routines and Organization
  • Holiday Preparations
  • Family Fun
  • Minimalism/Decluttering
  • Mental Decluttering
  • Gratitude
  • Giving Back

A group of us have been working together to offer you a variety of ideas.  You will be receiving posts from me, but you will also be hearing from these bloggers:

Interested?  For only $1.50, you will receive the daily e-mail tips as well as a PDF version of the calendar with your last post.  The profits will all be donated to a charity, which will be unveiled later this week.

Let’s make this a simple, stress-free, and FUN season this year!

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A Tale of Two Kitchens

Three months ago, this was my kitchen:

The kitchen has a window into the living room.

 

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Notice the double sink with hot water, the dishwasher, the oven, and all the floor and cupboard space?  While the apartment kitchen was certainly small, it was an adjustment to move from that to this:

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You can imagine what an adjustment this was!

And around the same time that I moved, Lois from The Eco-Grandma moved from a 300 square foot apartment into a house.  This, too, was an adjustment.

As we settled into our new homes, I began to notice the changes that I was making in my kitchen, and I began to wonder what changes Lois was making.  What lessons had she learned from simplicity?  What luxuries was she choosing to indulge in, now that she can?

As a result of the changes we have made, Lois and I decided to co-ordinate our posts and invite you into our kitchens today.  I will show you how things work in my kitchen, and then you can head over to The Eco-Grandma to visit Lois’s kitchen.  (And we will both be sharing a recipe with you!)

Living in less than 200 square feet has been interesting, and our biggest adjustment has been the galley.  First off, the companionway, aka our DOOR, is right above the counter.  In fact, the countertop is a step that must be used in order to enter the cabin without falling down.  Below the counter is a small ladder, which we refer to as “the steps.”  Both Beanie and the cat like to perch on the steps, especially when I am cooking.

So where do I stand when I cook?  In a teeny, tiny corner, next to the steps!  Our kitchen is equipped with a single-basin RV sink.  While we have a knob for both hot and cold water, only the cold water knob will turn on the faucet.  The water temperature is quite cold in the winter, but hot in the summer.  This is due to the fact that we use shore water, which sits in an RV hose for great periods of time.

Our range is a luxury for a sailboat–it’s dual-powered.  We run it on electricity in our slip, but we can run it on alcohol when we’re anchored out.  We have a bottle Everclear for this purpose!  The range has a stainless cover that turns it into additional counter space when we’re not using it.

We also have a gas grill mounted on the stern rail–it doubles as our oven.  When we feel like picnicking, we have access to communal gas and charcoal grills.  We have a medium-sized dorm fridge and a small amount of cupboard space.

Having such a small kitchen has led me to learn to do without some amenities.  This hasn’t been a huge adjustment, since we were already living rather minimalistically.  We already had service for 3, 3 pans, no toaster, and limited appliances.  But what have we gotten rid of since we moved here?

  • Our blender.  Yes, I used to love making smoothies.  But it isn’t worth the effort to unstow the blender, and then to clean up afterwards.
  • Our plates.  This isn’t permanent, but they broke in the move.  After a month of using bowls, we missed them and bought some Thanksgiving-themed paper plates.  We will soon return to Goodwill and find some plates for our family!
  • Our pressure cooker.  It was too big to store, so it’s gone.  We’re on the lookout, eventually, for a higher-end unit that is small.  But for now, we do without.  We’re down to 2 pans.
  • Our popcorn popper.  All right, so we still have it!  And we’re going to use it next week, when we stay in a rental cottage.  But it takes up so much space that we have is stowed and never gets taken out.  And Rob is learning to pop corn in our saucepan.

And what unexpected luxuries have we kept?

  • Stemware.  Mason jars don’t cut it for us.  We keep this bit of elegance.  Of course, we’re constantly breaking glasses, so they never match.
  •  The slow cooker.  I love it.  It’s wonderful to set it, head to work, and have a lovely roast waiting when I get home!
  • A coffee maker.  We did the French press thing for awhile, but we drink too much coffee!  I love to set the coffee pot, then have it wake me up in the morning.
  • A tea kettle.  It boils water.  Fast.  And it doesn’t make it taste like anything else.

So what do we cook in my kitchen?  Normally, we eat very simple meals.  I’ll buy pre-cooked meat, which we’ll eat with a salad.  When it’s nice out, we have burgers and a salad.  When it’s cold, I cook.  When it’s not, we eat salad.  I make sure to eat a lot of protein, with a few carbs and lots of veggies.

But sometimes, we like to do something special.  Here is a fancy dinner we prepared in my kitchen:

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First up is this low-carb lasagna recipe I found.   I browned the beef on the stove, then assembled everything in the slow cooker.  Notice the door above me.

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While the slow cooker did its magic, I simmered the mulled wine on the stove.  In place of brandy, we used our homemade orange liquor.

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There was some zucchini left over, and Beanie decided this was her new favorite snack.  She is standing on the steps.

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It was a crazy, fun night for mother and daughter alike!

 

 

A Tribute to the Path

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When we were without Internet access, a friend of mine tagged me in a Facebook post, sharing this article. When I was finally able to take a look at it, I wasn’t sure how to respond.

First off, I thought, this is silly.  I have no need to defend the choices I’ve made.  Would I be happier if I just said “forget it,” moved into a house, and bought all the things we do without (you know, like an oven or private shower)?  Of course not!  Not at this point.

So that’s my choice.  And there is no need to defend it at all.  But my friend shared the article with me because she was curious about my choices, not because she wanted to start a debate.  In that spirit, I had so many thoughts about the article (and no, I did not disagree with all of the points they made!), that I thought I would write a blog post in response.  I thought I might address every point they brought up, and give my thoughts on it.

But first, I thought I would pick some of my friends’ brains and find out their thoughts on the article.  What followed was a great discussion, neither a debate nor an echo chamber.  And this ever-so-slightly snarky response from a long-time blogging friend of mine.

I thought of the discussion on and off throughout my day and realized how fortunate I am to have friends who challenge me, yet in such a gentle way.  My friend who shared the article reminded me to think for myself rather than blindly following a doctrine.  My friend who wrote the blog post reminded me to balance my time and notice the life happening around me.

Which led me to think about minimalism–as well as the other choices I have made.  And thinking of that led me to change my approach in this response.

Minimalism does not need any further debate, defense or explanation.  There is no need for me to re-hash what has already been written.  Everyone makes great points, but they are all missing one concept.

And that it the concept of the path.

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Life, and all that it entails–be it minimalism, materialism, sustainable living, spirituality/religious beliefs, thoughts and assumptions–is a journey.  Whatever paths we choose are just that, paths.  We need to be willing to follow the curves and bends in the path, and to choose when it forks.

For me, minimalism was a path that I traversed.  Yes, there was a time when I was a little too obsessed with physical decluttering.  There was a time when I purged possessions obsessively, to the point where my *stuff* got all the attention.  There was a time when I looked down on those who chose to have more possessions.  There was a time when I took things to a crazy level, so that I could say I belonged to this group.

Notice that I didn’t say that I’m ashamed to admit any of that.

Because, for me, it was all necessary.  It was all a part of the process–it was my path.  I began my journey into minimalism, because I wanted less stress.  I wanted to stop worrying and living in fear.  I wanted to feel like I was living correctly, like I was doing the right thing.  And, so desperately, I wanted to belong to something.

Minimalism gave me none of those things, directly.  But it was the path that led me to all of that and more.

Through my writing about minimalism, I became connected to a community who challenged me to question the way we were “supposed” to live, and led me to realize that my potential was more than I could have imagined.  Through questioning the possessions we are “supposed” to have, I began questioning the entire script for life we were supposed to follow.

As I began to question the script, I began to question all the assumptions I had been holding, about life.  I saw that the world open to me, and that I could create any life that I could imagine.  But I also saw that peace and the end to fear, worry, and stress could come from nowhere except within myself.  I could see that there is no “wrong” way to do life, and that it isn’t a test.  Kindness doesn’t come from a philosophy on possessions; it comes from increasing understanding–of ourselves, and our place in the world and in life.

As far as belonging, I came to see that we are the only ones holding ourselves back from belonging to all humanity.

I no longer count my possessions.  I live in a small space and do without a lot.  I am still happier living with less.

But the real reward of minimalism has been the path that it has led me along.  Rather than being the quick answer, it has led me to a life of looking deeper and working toward finding the real answers.

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Texas Women Bloggers

Minimalism: A Beginner’s Guide (Revised Version)

Note: This is a revision of a post I wrote in August 2012.  

Photographs by Joy Sussman, © JoyfullyGreen.com. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

Photographs by Joy Sussman, © JoyfullyGreen.com. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

I once had an interesting discussion on an online forum. One of my friends asked, “How do you get started living minimalistically?”  I was able to quickly throw out some tips on decluttering, but the answer to the question is much more complicated. If it were just about stuff, we would all run to Goodwill a few times and be done with it.

So, I examined my journey toward minimalism, and I’ve  researched the paths of other minimalists. What I’ve realized is that, in order to live a more minimalistic life, you need to consider four things: the reason you have so much stuff, the way you want your life to look, starting (and finishing!) a decluttering process, and preventing the clutter from returning. Let’s take a look at each of these.

First, Let’s Define “Minimalism”

I was introduced to the concept of “minimalism” when I met a couple who were living on a 30 foot boat.  They owned two outfits, one pair of shoes, and he used a rubber band in place of a wallet.  We were intrigued by this lifestyle and are living quite similarly, but this is not the only face of minimalism.

Let’s take a look at how some of the more popular minimalist blogs define minimalism.  Leo Babauta, one of the earliest and most influential writers on minimalism at Zen Habits and Mnmlist defines it this way:

It’s simply getting rid of things you do not use or need, leaving an uncluttered, simple environment and an uncluttered, simple life. It’s living without an obsession with material things or an obsession with doing everything and doing too much. It’s using simple tools, having a simple wardrobe, carrying little and living lightly.

According to The Minimalists, “Minimalism is a tool used to rid yourself of life’s excess in favor of focusing on what’s important so you can find happiness, fulfillment, and freedom.”  On his blog, Becoming Minimalist, Josh Becker defines minimalism as removing clutter, decorating in a minimalist style, using money for things that are more valuable than physical possessions, and living a counter-cultural life that is attractive to others.

My favorite “definition,” however, is the concept of lagom.  According to Francine Jay, on her blog Miss Minimalistlagom is a Swedish word that roughly means “just enough.”  She states, “The lovely thing about lagom is that it’s a desirable state of appropriateness, or enoughness—and has nothing to do with scarcity or deprivation. It’s both the opposite of having too much and too little, and instead a celebration of moderation.”

That is the kind of mindset and lifestyle that we’re talking about, when we say that we want to live minimalistically.

What Does Minimalism Look Like?

Minimalism has many faces.  For us, it means owning only enough possessions to live comfortably on an uncluttered 35 foot sailboat.  For Lois, who blogs at Living Simply Free, it means living in a 300 square foot apartment.  However, this apartment is anything but empty.  According to Lois, ” I restore furniture and do many crafts so I have supplies here, but I keep the bare minimum needed to do what I need.”

For John, from the blog Practical Civilization, it means living simply, owning less, and having his own guitar-teaching business.  Kathy Gottberg, from SMART Living 365 and her husband are also self-employed and enjoy having lots of time to spend together in their California home.  She refers to minimalism as “right-sizing” her life.

For Nancy, at Just a Backpack and a Rollie, it means working toward becoming a “roving retiree” with her husband, traveling and living out of two small bags.  For Eliza and Joel, who blog at The Fearse Family, it means consuming mindfully, buying used whenever possible, and being conscious of their impact on the environment.  Eliza states, “We take things a little slower and take a moment to consider the things that happen to us and the choices we make. It doesn’t always make our life happier, but it does always make us feel better about the things we choose in our life. We don’t let life zip by.”

Cathryn, from Concrete Moomin, lives in an apartment in central London, where it is not necessary for her to own a car.  She states that minimalism involves, “trying to stay aware and be mindful of what I own or what I’m thinking of buying and sometimes using a ‘one in one out’ policy on things like clothes or books.”  For Patrick, who blogs at Bumfuzzle, it means living nomadically with his family–first on a sailboat and now in a vintage motor home.  Patrick explains, “We are accidental perpetual travelers. We live simply, travel far, eschew normalcy, all while trying to maintain our boat or bus as a comfortable home for our family.”

Joy, from Joyfully Green, states that, “I wouldn’t consider myself a traditional minimalist. I live in a house that’s bigger than we need, and it’s not sparsely decorated. I think I’m more of a non-consumerist. ”  Her family shops at second-hand stores for clothing and books.   And they live about an hour outside of New York City, so they certainly have plenty to choose from.  Her family shops (mostly) at consignment stores for kids’ clothing, and for books, they head to Strand Books in New York–“the best store for used books on the whole planet!”

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How Did I Get So Much Stuff?

All clutter comes from somewhere. For me, it was a combination of family heirlooms, “must have’s” that I thought I needed in order to be a successful adult, collections, and great deals that I couldn’t pass up.

Lois’s clutter began when she first moved out on her own and strove to make her house look “like something out of a magazine” to show that she was “successful.”  John never collected very many items, but he found that, like me,  he ended up buying clothes he didn’t wear.  He also inherited a number of knick-knacks.

Like Lois, Kathy felt the urge to overspend as her income was growing.  She explains, “We got a bigger, nicer house, nicer cars, nicer stuff…but we weren’t really any happier than when we were just trying to figure it out with little or no money.”  Nancy, too, grew up with the belief that stuff meant success.  She states, ” It was a visual mark that you had made it so we all kept upgrading. Often without eliminating.”

Eliza and Joel kept a number of collections and had a hard time turning down good deals.  She states, “He was a childhood collector (a trait he still holds in adulthood) and has kept all of his trading cards and figurines and old toys. Now he collects media – lots of vinyl, DVDs, VHS, CDs etc. I love the vintage aesthetic – particularly the 1960 and the 1970s. Because a lot of the time I found stuff either cheaply or that was rare I just kept filling the house with more and more.”

Cathryn’s home became cluttered when she and her husband moved in together.  She states, “Both me and my husband had lived alone for a while before we met so when we got our first place together we had at least 2 of most things, including furniture.”  Joy’s weakness was books.  She explains, “My husband and I–and both of our children now–are big readers, so books are our collective weakness! An old bookshop has a lure like a siren’s call!”

So what about you?  Take a long, hard look at the source of your clutter.   This is really the first step toward decluttering.

How Would Your Dream Life Look?

Decluttering, or even minimalism for that matter, is not an end in itself. If you are aiming to make minimalism your only passion and decluttering your only hobby, you probably won’t be happy. That is why it’s important to consider your intentions, as you move toward this type of lifestyle.

For us, our passion has always been sailing. We wanted to have the time and the money to pursue this passion, and that required some restructuring of our finances and our priorities. We wanted to live aboard full time, and that led us to seriously reduce our material possessions.

Lois’s drive is to live in a way that sustains the environment.  In order to limit her consumption of the earth’s resources, she has made upcycling and second hand shopping a staple of her life.  She states: “Rather than purchasing what I need new I first look to find it used, and am not ashamed to dumpster dive for what I need. I have very little in the way of clothes, shoes, or even kitchen utensils.”  Living in a small apartment has helped Lois to achieve these goals.  She explains, “My little apartment has allowed me to experiment with how little I can get by with without feeling deprived.  As a result I have no microwave, no fridge (I do have a small freezer to store food I grow), and no stove.”

John states that, ” I suppose my main goal in decluttering was to reject what the mainstream was telling me: ‘Buy this widget to be cooler, look better, be in the know.’ I called BS on this and enjoyed the money and peace of mind I saved in the process.”  And he adds, “The overarching goal is to surround myself with awesome people and memories. I want to collect experiences with people, not things.”

Kathy’s goal is to keep her life “right-sized,” to stay completely debt-free, and to continue to invest in real estate so that she and her husband can work, or not work, at will as they get older.  With a goal of traveling when desired and following her passions and interests, Kathy plans to live purposefully no matter where in the world that might lead.  She states, “We chose adventure and experience over stuff and we have been working on paring down to the basics so we can sell our rent our house and hit the road sometime soon, staying where we like for as long as it suits us.”

Eliza and Joel’s goal is to create a calm, stress-free home.  She explains, “We want to be able to focus our energy on people we love and exciting experiences, but we also love being at home and want home to be a place that reflects us and is soothing to be in.”  Cathryn’s goal is to simplify her home, so that less time will be spent looking for things.  She states, “My goal in decluttering was to reach a point where we only own things that we need, that are beautiful or are very sentimental in some way.”

Patrick’s family began with the goal of spending a year sailing the Caribbean.  They later decided to sail for four years, and then ended up traveling in a motor home.  As for their future plans?  According to Patrick, “Tomorrow we’re driving to Deception Pass State Park. Beyond that, who knows? One thing we’re sure of for our future is that we’ll never own a big home filled with lots of stuff. We like our simple life and being able to pick up and go at the drop of a hat.

For Joy, it’s all about living a more environmentally friendly lifestyle.  She avoids new products that were “probably made in China under bad working conditions.”  She states, “Manufacturing, packaging, and shipping new products collectively take an awful toll on the environment, and I really want to minimize how much we contribute to that whole mess.”

Minimalism will not look the same for everyone. Your dream might be radically different from someone else’s.   Without a vision, you will just purge for the sake of purging, and run the risk of living a life of doing-without.  Both of these activities are surefire ways to experience burn-out.

All Right, So How do We Get Started?

For Lois, it began when she removed knick-knacks that well-meaning friends had given her.  And then she got rid of her television.  According to Lois, “Once that was gone I was on a roll and couldn’t stop decluttering.  That space was going to reflect who I was and no one else..”

John got started decluttering during a move.  As he was packing, he saw how wasteful he had been living.  He states, ” I had a weird obsession with only hanging onto stuff I knew I would use on a weekly basis. It gave me peace of mind knowing that I wasn’t hoarding anything or taking my fair share of raw materials from society.”

Kathy began decluttering when she sold her house.  She explains, “Because we were still in sales (real estate) and saw that the market was going to  (and then did) crash we decided to be very conservative and scale back on everything.  We sold our big fancy house before things got too bad and came out okay (we were never over-leveraged) and bought a smaller, energy efficient house completely free and clear.”

Nancy and her husband began by selling her husband’s collections on e-bay.  From there, they progressed to emptying out closets and selling the items on Craig’s List or donating them.

Eliza and Joel decided to buy nothing new for a year.  She was surprised at how much this transformed their lives.  She explains, “Decluttering was just a bi-product of the whole transformation from consumers to “non” consumers – if there is such a thing!”

Cathryn has moved a number of times, and this helped her and her husband to make progress decluttering.  She states, “With each house move we gradually filtered through everything and for a while we didn’t even own any furniture and just rented furnished places to make moving house a bit simpler.”

Patrick’s family decided to live nomadically 11 years ago, so they sold most of their belongings in preparation.  Patrick says, “From that point on we were hung-ho to sell everything we owned.  We didn’t make it, however. We still ended up with a bedroom full of stuff in my in-laws basement—mostly big ticket furniture items that we couldn’t figure out how to sell (this was before Craigslist was really a thing).”  These items were purged after they returned from sailing.

It was a sad situation that led Joy to embrace minimalism.  After her parents passed away, she and her sister had to go through their possessions.  She was surprised at how many possessions they had accumulated, after living in their house for so long.  Joy explains, “I didn’t have children at the time, but I already knew that I didn’t want my future children to have to go through all of my stuff for weeks, weeding out and throwing out.”  She began decluttering after that, making sure that the stuff is “moving out, not in!”

There are lots of “how-to” articles for the task itself, so I don’t feel the need to re-invent the wheel. All I can add is that, if you’ve got a passion you’re working toward, you will have success with any method.

Some Links on Decluttering

How to Win the War on Clutter

Twenty Questions to Clear Your Clutter

Declutter Your Fantasy Self

Zen Mind: How to Declutter

10 Decluttering Principles to Help Anyone Clear the Clutter

59 Ways to Simplify Your Life

Do You Dare Count Your Clothes?

Mama Fearse’s Top Tips for Toy Culling

Breaking up With the UPS Man (My Ode to Non-consumerism)

Life’s Too Short for Flat Soda and Stale Doughnuts

Lessons From a Yard Sale

How Do I Keep the Clutter FromComing Back?

This is the challenge.

We would declutter, then it all would mysteriously come back. Here are some tips for keeping your house clutter-free:

–Make sure friends and family understand, in the gentlest terms possible, what you are trying to do. Christmas used to be a great clutter-fest, until I started writing about minimalism.

–Look back at your reasons for gaining clutter. Address those specifically. For example, if you take in a lot of retail therapy, find some other way to release stress.

–Lois recommends having a place for children and grandchildren to display their artwork.  If it is full, something must come down before something else can go up.

–John uses a “one item in, one item out” policy.  If he buys something new, something else must be thrown out.

–Kathy imagines whether an object will fit into her right-sized home and 99% of the time it won’t.  Decision made.

–Nancy reminds herself of her goals, when she wants to make a purchase.  She explains, “I see something that I think is cute or fun for the house (sometimes even useful) but then I think, ‘Ya, but you will be hauling this to the Goodwill in less than a year.'”

–Eliza and Joel set goals, such as removing 1000 items from their house within a year, or getting rid of 2 items for every item they buy.

–Cathryn avoids shopping at stores where she knows she’ll be tempted to make a purchase.

–Patrick avoids recreational shopping, and only shops when something wears out.

–Joy puts catalogs into the recycling bin as soon as they arrive.  Instead of having a basket of magazines to read, she keeps a basket of books.

Now all that’s left is for you to get started!

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Note:  The photographs in this post were taken by Joy.  If you would like to learn to take pictures like that, you still have time to enroll in her photography course!  Here are the details.

 

 

Texas Women Bloggers

Life is too Short for Holiday Stress

Two years ago, one of my friends was talking about all the stress involved in the holiday season.  It was the usual family drama, the over-booking, and the anger over having to do too much, to give too much.

The pics are from our very un-stressful Thanksgiving celebration with Rob's brother and his wife, on Sunday.

The pics are from our very un-stressful Thanksgiving celebration with Rob’s brother and his wife, on Sunday.

I rolled my eyes and said, “Christmas is a bucket of stress.”

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And I was right.  It WAS a bucket of stress.  First, I had to shop and buy presents that we could not afford.  We went so far overboard, because we wanted to make sure that our presents “matched” everyone else’s, that they gave to us.

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Then, I bought “evening up” gifts, so that one person’s gift wasn’t “bigger” than the next.  I kept some extra gifts on hand, in case someone gave us something unexpectedly.

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It was stressful, and it took all of the joy out of giving.

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Then, there was the food.  I gave everyone “food gifts” as well, because I thought they were sweet and fun.  But I went overboard, making orange cordial, breadsticks, biscotti, carmel corn, and spiced nuts for everyone on my list.  Not only did it get expensive, but it also kept me so busy that I didn’t have time to do the activities I wanted to do around our house.

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And now let’s talk about the parties.

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I worked up until December 23, at my old job, so we had one day to get ready.  We would do our Christmas, with the mountain of presents, filled stockings, and a large home-made gift for the Bean.  That same day, we would head to one of our parents’ homes to celebrate with them, before Beanie got a chance to play with her toys.  Then, within the week, we would see my parents, both of my grandmas, both of Rob’s sets of aunts, uncles, and cousins (one set living 3 hours south of us), and celebrate with Rob’s family at their home on Thunder Bay (3 hours north of us).

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We wanted to be easy to work with, so we told people any date would do.  So, once year, that had us celebrating with my grandma an hour away from us, driving 3 hours north to celebrate with Rob’s family up there, then driving back 3 hours the next day to celebrate with his aunt and uncle who lived near us.

Notice the traditional cranberry goo....

Notice the traditional cranberry goo….

And keep in mind that we had a child with GERD and autism in tow.

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While I tried to have “safe” food for Beanie with me (and “safe” food for me–too much sugar makes me feel really bad!), she inevitably got into the goodies.  Which led to misbehaving, tantrums, and screaming at night.

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We didn’t enjoy the holidays.  In fact, we were so relieved when Christmas break was over.

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Why didn’t we say anything?  Why didn’t we speak up, even a little bit?  Well…

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  • We love these people.  We honestly enjoyed spending time with every single one of them.
  • We didn’t want to cause drama.  We thought that everybody would be angry at us, if we said, “I’m sorry, we can’t do that.”

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We actually thought our solution was to buy a motor home, so that we could have a “home base” during the holidays, where we could have some consistency for the Bean, cook our meals, etc.  And that would have helped, but it became unnecessary.

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Why?  Because some difficult events in our family, led us to change our celebrations.  And everyone became more comfortable speaking up, as to what worked for them and what didn’t.

Mulled wine in the samovar.

Mulled wine in the samovar.

Now, all of our celebrations are in the same town.  (Well, except for the ones in Texas!)  Sometimes we have pizza, instead of a fancy meal.  And some relatives, we visit at other times during the year, such as our “Christmas in July.”

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The result: I’m actually looking forward to Christmas!  We’re going to have some time to ourselves during our visit back to Michigan, and I’m enjoying the preparations.

We are enjoying the season this year.  Yesterday, Beanie and I made some dough ornaments!

We are enjoying the season this year. Yesterday, Beanie and I made some dough ornaments!

Are the holidays stressful for you?  Here are some tips that might help tame down your activities:

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  • See gifts for what they are.  Gifts are not an economic exchange.  They are an expression of love and caring.  It’s perfectly all right for gifts not to match, or for someone to give you a gift, without you having anything to reciprocate.  Just be grateful.
  • Start small.  If you want to give food gifts, then choose one thing to make for everyone.  Then, if time and money allow, make something else, to add to it.

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  • Remember that they are your family, and they love you.  They just want to spend time with you.  Keeping this in mind will help when you need to set limits or make changes.
  • Say, “I’m sorry, that won’t work for us,” if it won’t.  If it causes drama, remember that the drama isn’t about you.  There is nothing wrong with refusing to run yourself ragged.  What you’re seeing is everyone else’s insecurities.  Figure out why they feel insecure, or better yet, help them to figure it out.

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  • Say, “Can we get together at another time?”  Start a new tradition, such as Christmas in July.  Really, everyone just wants to see you, and they will probably appreciate the less-hectic venue.
  • Suggest ways to pare down.  Maybe you want to draw names for the gift exchange, or do a white elephant auction.  Maybe you’d prefer pizza to a fancy dinner, or perhaps you would like to just do appetizers.

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The purpose behind all the get-togethers is for friends and family to enjoy each other.  So let that be your purpose!   Life is far too short for this time of the year to bring stress.

 Take some baby-steps now, and you will be grateful later.

Note: There is still time to buy my Advent Calendar.  In anticipation of the upcoming holiday season, I am reducing the price to $0.99.  Come and join us for a less stressful, more joyful holiday season!