Thursday, August 30, 2012

That Dirty Word -- Procrastination

So today I finally cleared something huge off my plate.  We home school with a public charter school and the maddening year that I had gave us a bit of a backlog getting assignments for my two girls uploaded.  Well... after 3 days of battles with my scanner to the detriment of all else (including my house), the scans are complete and my girls will start the new year FRESH! 

I honestly feel like a weight has been lifted.  Despite everything going on these past months that have prevented me from really buckling down and getting that done... the biggest obstacle was myself!  Too bad I carried this weight around for so long!

I kept telling myself that I didn't have the time that day to fight with the scanner or get to those uploads.  Sure, I really did have a ton going on....but I could have done ONE page even.  Had I done even one page a day I could have gotten over half of my work completed just one page at a time. 

Instead I let it pile up.  Mostly due to a MIND game.

Isn't that the truth though?  We kid ourselves about how long something really takes.  I don't know about you, but I had nearly perfected the art of procrastination.  I let dishes pile up because "I don't have time to unload the dishwasher".  Let's be honest though... it takes like 3 or 4 minutes!  So unload the darn thing so you can put the dirties straight in and save yourself the step.  I let the junk mail pile up because I didn't have time to purge it.... well now I just open the mail over the trash can.  I let the laundry baskets pile up in my room because I don't have time to put them away.  Well now I sort them into baskets as I go according to who they belong to  (I buy those cheap small round ones from sterilite for like $3 a piece that stack really well when not in use) and pawn them off on their owners.  If their owners are too small, then I do them one at a time in 5 minute bursts. 

Little changes can save you time, and a lot of the rest of it can be fixed by just being honest with yourself about how long something really does take.... or in recognizing that little 5 minute chunks taken out of a bigger job really DO add up! 

Flylady tells us "I can do anything for 15 minutes!"  That little motto there has been a BIG help in breaking my around the house habits that have interfered with cultivating a more organized home.   She tells us to take a job that we don't care for or are having a hard time getting started on and set a timer for 15 minutes.  It really helps to know that you only have to work for that 15 minutes and to challenge yourself to get as much done as possible.

So get that timer out!  Take something from your list of things that are bothering you the most that we created and make a dent in it somehow, if only for 15 minutes.  Let me know how you do!

Monday, August 13, 2012

Well, here you go!  My raw answers to last week's little writing exercise.  I just did my writing right on here with the computer clock, so what you see is what you get!  What did you all come up with?  To catch up anyone that missed last week's post, the exercise was to write for 2 minutes, uncensored and without regard to grammar or form using the bolded statements below as writing prompts.

In my life right now it is most important to . . .be a good wife, mother, and teacher.  to be true to myself, my God, and my family.  To achieve balance in all of those things.  To keep my focus sure and intent on those things which are most important.  To stop being distracted by material things that really have no intrinsic use or meaning.  To stop being wasteful.  To get organized in order to facilitate efficiency.  To be self-disciplined.  To be convicted. 

One day I hope to:

Climb a mountain
Go to Italy
Wake up well-rested
Go to sleep feeling like I truly did the BEST I could have.
To be the kind of mom I want to be.
To stop wishing I was a different kind of mom than I am!
To get a new dishwasher.
To build our own home.
To go on a vacation with my husband.
To not feel the need to own anything
Learn to kayak
plant an herb garden
to have plenty of guilt-free time to play with the kids.

I am frustrated most by:

The house.  In general.  Just wishing I could stop spending any time at all cleaning it!  To know EXACTLY how many clothes we need and have only that.  The laundry.  Always the laundry.  The leaky sink.  The dishwasher.  UGH.  the dishwasher.  The fact that the baby keeps waking up 10 times a night.... probably because he needs his own space away from me.  Can we FIT another baby in that back bedroom... maybe a trundle bed...  Under the bathroom sink.  A shelf?  Should i just get RID of the hand me down clothes?  How much do we REALLY wear them?  The SCHEDULE.  Being disciplined enough to stay on one.  Coffee.  There is not enough of it.  And I drink too much of it.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

"If you are having trouble telling someone something, write a letter."

This was my father's advice to me many times as a kid, when I was struggling with something! I've taken his advice many times-- it works!! First, it lets you get your thoughts into black and white where you can acknowledge and organize them. It also can be the first steps in communicating with others when you are struggling and lend direction when you need it.

You may have noticed my absence! I have been grappling with something the past few months. It has many faces. For sake of simplicity, let's call it 'Balance'. So, after riding the pendulum swing that often accompanies the overwhelm of a lack of balance in one's life, I have arrived back here.

This is my letter, of sorts.  A common thread in the lives of minimalists I think is the fact that we do not live in a vacuum! Every day, multiple times a day, we must own the choices, big and small, that make up our life's path. In this busy materialistic society we live in there will always be something tempting us to complicate what we've taken great pains to keep simple. Whatever this is to us, be it our schedules, our jobs, our homes, our closets, our bills, etc. You name it. Minimalism is a choice you have to feel deeply and personally. It will most certainly look different to everyone! Maintaining these choices will also look different and will change overtime for each person.  Sometimes you  take a step in the opposite direction, and this isn't necessarily a bad thing.  But, it DOES call for re-evaluation.

For our family, we've made a big lifestyle change over the past few months that has thrown me off. The everyday challenges continue as the little two bedroom townhouse is NOT getting any bigger while the 4 kids and their accoutrements do indeed. Add this general stress to the fact that I am now trying to juggle our choice for me to take on some part-time work with my primary roles as a wife, mother, teacher, and homemaker and I at times feel like I have lost my sure footing.   The family and I have been greatly enriched by my new work and want to continue with it, but not everything has changed for the better.  To put it simply: I consciously took quite a few steps away from the kind of minimalism I had been cultivating for quite a while.  I am happy with the choice.  I am NOT, however, as satisfied with all the results.

So, how to keep it all sorted out and stay on task when your path continually feels like it is being tempted askew of dearly held ideals (or, for some, goals)? Well, I for one, plan to listen to my father's advice and write some things down. Will you join me? Wherever you are on your walk with minimalism, this will be a great exercise!

Today, just jot a 2 minute answer to the following questions.  Whatever comes to mind regarding these following statements, in whatever form they come to mind (narrative, list, short phrases, etc).  Do NOT censor. Do NOT edit. We will use an old exercise from writing class that is designed to get people with even the most reluctant pens writing.

In my life right now, it is most important to . . .

One day, I really hope I can:

I am frustrated most by:

Remember -- set a timer for 2 minutes on each question, no more.  Break it up and do 2 minutes over the course of your day, or a few days if you need to.  Uncensored - no worries for grammar or punctuation.  I promise you'll get a raw list from me.   See you in a bit!

It would be great to see some of your responses to this exercise in the comments!

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Living Room Updates

Well, a yucky stomach bug has been running through the family members one by one with about a two day lag time in between, which means this has been going on over a week now with at least one person sick every day.  So far, despite being on the front lines, I have yet to come down with anything more serious than a tummy ache.  Please, pray for me that it stays that way, and that it leaves the house entirely now!

Forgive me, but I'm really too preoccupied taking care of the family to write my extra post this week.  I promised updated pictures of the living room, so I have those for you.  Writing about the living room is quite easy because I believe you really don't need much in it!  It's an entertaining space for most, also a family space for us, and if you keep it to just furniture and perhaps a few necessities, you're all set.  As you can see, we chose new furniture when our old sofa rather literally died.  We had a small funeral for it on the curb.

The long bench over there by the lamp is actually an ottoman.  I have it set up as a chaise lounge, but it can pull out to hold a tray if you might need it to double as a table, and it can also hold your feet or a couple kiddos.   My kids routinely pull it over against the couch and pretend we are on a big boat in an as yet uncharted sea!  Multi-purpose furniture items are a minimalist's best friends.  These furniture choices make the most of a small space by maximizing seating and set-up options AND floorspace.  There's some pictures at the end of the ways I commonly arrange the space as need dictates.
With this kind of versatility on board, I also felt confident  losing my two end tables.  We don't eat in here, minus an occasional cup of coffee, so the tables just became a welcome spot for various and sundry items that belonged elsewhere in the house.  The only practical purpose they served was to hold a diaper changing station for me and an extra blanket for cuddling up on chilly mornings.  I took a rather easy opportunity to chuck them when one of them conveniently came unglued a few weeks after the new furniture arrived.  We love the extra space they freed.  As you can see, I just re-purposed two of the shelves in the entertainment center for the diapers and blanket.  The square collapsible bins hold the blanket and the diaper changing items nicely and neatly, much better than the tumbledown stack that was under the side tables!

This really is the second easiest room in the house to take care of.  As long as I am sure the kids don't carry armloads of stuff into it that they don't take back  (and they have little arms, so I usually catch them before they make too much of a dent), and clean up any of the cabinet toys they get out, than there isn't much to worry about but a quick vacuum and dust every now and again.  Even at its WORST when all the toys are out that could be, it still won't take me more than 5 minutes to put them all back.  I planned it this way on purpose.  I wanted this room to be company ready quickly and free of clutter to make it easily accessible to walk through.  We've been sick for over a week, and I could still snap these pics for you in about 5 minutes after a quick pick up and vacuum.  I will admit that our one trouble is the bamboo shoe rack, I love that it gave our shoe pile a place to live neatly, but  it will occasionally collect extra shoes that don't belong there.  Honestly, this is mostly MY fault.  I'm the only one in the house with more than 2 pairs of wearable shoes!  And, I'm also the one mostly unlikely to be able to run straight upstairs to put them away when she walks in the door!  A likely excuse, I know!  Well off to administer some medicine and switch over the laundry (AGAIN!)  See you next week!

Quick Tips for Living Rooms:
-Minimize horizontal surfaces - they become clutter catchers.
-Keep the furniture versatile and suitable to the space, maximize your floorspace for an 'open' feel to the room.
- Keep toys and other items to a few well-chosen pieces that encourage quiet cooperative play (the rowdier, messier toys are in the play area downstairs!)
- Be very diligent about what 'lives' here and what does NOT.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

My Bedroom

Hooray for an early spring!  But, I've been up to my neck in hand me down clothes and pre-pregnancy bins switching out everyone's clothes.  Call me selfish, but I didn't want misplaced 40 gallon plastic totes in my pictures!  Did you miss me last week?   I will make up for the lost post though, with an extra post this week.  I told you that we had gotten new living room furniture a few months go and downsized in there even more since the pictures I posted earlier, so I owe you current pictures!  I'll update that in a few days.

In the meantime,  to reward your patience in waiting, here are the promised pictures of my bedroom.   The space is fairly small, just 10x12.  I'm actually IN the closet sitting on the dresser to take the pictures of the bed ( ha ha!)

Perhaps the rest of you feel this way, but my bedroom was always the LAST room in the house to get clean.  It was too easy just to have it be the landing place for whatever project I was working on or unsorted mess bundled up in a hurry for company - it was the best place in the house to stash all the mess I didn't want anyone to see!  I could just shut the door on it.  But, it was so disheartening to me and my husband.   Regardless of whatever the rest of  the house looked like, I was going to sleep and waking up surrounded in mess.  Talk about a mood killer.

So, if any of you out there are looking for a place to get started, start in your bedroom!  This is not just because it will lift your spirits to create this little space of peace and order for yourself  (as important as that is), but also because if you have young children, this will likely be the easiest place to keep them from interfering with the order you have created there when you move on to other areas of the house.  Shut the door, ban all children from entering the room without permission as a new family rule, and threaten all manner of severe punishments if the rule is broken.   Start this ban now, even if your room is a " work in progress" in terms of order.  When they test you (and they will) enforce it.  If this has never been a rule in your house before, just expect it and be ready with an immediate consequence.  They'll figure it out quicker than you think.

Okay, so here's how I got the room like this.  Too bad I have no before pics to show you.  When I first made the change, we slowly cleared everything from the room but what was in the closet.  In my case, hubby purchased me a new bed we desperately needed.  So, even the old bed went while the new bed was assembled.  Then, I put back the following: the bed and a pair of nightstands (with nothing but essentials in the drawers), and a small three-shelf bookcase with special personal books, topped by a pretty plant we love. I added a couple choice pictures to the wall.  I had previously cleared the closet of everything and put the old dresser INTO the closet as a way to organize it while freeing floorspace in the main room.  These are my clothes, and I have the smaller of the two hanging racks.  He has the larger and he has two pull out shelves in the drawer under the bed.  The baby has the two pull out drawers on my side for his clothes and a tiny two drawer Rubbermaid chest for blankets and shoes.  The bed is an awesome IKEA model!  I love those drawers, and the headboard also hides two small shelves for books or other personal things on either side.

We have made some changes since our initial design, mostly related to my new son!  These were taken just yesterday, so as you can see, I did add a swing when the baby was born.  He naps here and we move him here sometimes at night.   I expect we may replace this with a mini-crib against the wall. ( I may try to fit him in with the other kids in their room though.  I haven't decided yet.)  We added a tiny skinny collapsible hamper for dirty clothes too next to my husband's nightstand.  This was my way of compensating for the fact that he invariably tossed his work clothes on the floor ( Love you, babe!)   In the closet, we are storing my  Moses Basket above my side.    I added the fabric bins just about two weeks ago, as that shelf used to be sitting empty but for some bags and the Moses Basket.  The other things that I placed in the bins were creating organizing issues for me in other ways (i.e. scarves falling off of hangers in my closet, an unsightly pile of bags on my shelf, my crochet yarn getting all tangled,  etc.)  The bins really helped me and I love that they match my duvet, which I also adore.  My husband actually picked that out for me...these were our wedding colors!  It is so important to have a room you love, then you will really want to keep it neat!  IKEA sells duvet sets for as little as $9.99, most for $14.99.  If you want a quick, cheap spruce up to your room, treat yourself!  Okay, back to the bins.  In order, they hold: baby wraps, my current crochet project, a few personal necessary items, head scarves and accessories, extra bags/shopping totes/purses/diaper bag.  Yes, I know these are mostly my things, but hubby has a very large desk downstairs he stores personal items in.   The two baskets on the dresser  (his and hers) are for laying out clothes for the next day.  We usually hang any necessary items on the hanger above the basket.
So that's the story.  But, I haven't told you the best part yet.   In the morning, I collect dirty clothes, toss the covers over and smooth the bed, remove last night's water glass and shut the door. The kids are not allowed in here, so VOILA!! One whole room that is always clean.  It takes me 60 seconds in the morning to make it perfect, aside from emptying the hamper a couple times a week, replacing washed clothes in the closet and vacuuming once a week.  It always makes me feel good to go in there. I sometimes sneak upstairs to sit a minute if I am feeling overwhelmed by other parts of the house.  It has made such a difference to my husband and myself.

Now, use this for inspiration, and don't get discouraged!  I did not do this overnight.  I slowly, pile by pile, corner by corner, cleared this room over a span of many days and several weeks.  I started with the main living area, specifically with MY bedside area, then moved  onto the general floor space. It took a while because, as I said, a lot of the stuff in my room belonged everywhere in my house BUT my bedroom!  I would venture to say this was the worst room in the house before our change, rivaled only by our laundry corner downstairs.    I cleared the closet in the same way.   By the time I got the dresser into the closet, I had been living in relative order for several weeks and had disciplined myself to not pile unwanted stuff in this room.  This is another post, but a big part of achieving this was not tackling projects in other areas of the house that were too big for me to complete in a reasonable span of time.  And an even bigger part of it was just being determined that I deserved at least one room in the house that was mine and was not to be messed with!  Once my "stash and dash" habit was broken, the bedroom space was a breeze to maintain because we spend the bulk of our time in other areas of the house.   Once I got down to the furniture items, and all the other clutter had been cleared and consistently kept at bay, we went shopping at IKEA.  Hubby took the day to build the bed and I spent the evening setting the rest of the room up.  As you can see, it didn't take long at all because there really wasn't that much stuff to move!

Well, what are you waiting for?  Go!  Run upstairs, clear the top of your nightstand and a little bedside floorspace and post a "No Trespassing"  sign on your door for the kids!  Don't burn out!  Remember small, consistent change is the goal.  Focus on clearing a little more space every day, and above all, NOT re-cluttering the space with items for any reason!  Visit your cleared areas daily and "patrol" for things starting to pile up.

I need to address one more thing.  After seeing pictures of my spaces or other minimalist pictures online, you may crave having your own spaces in this kind of order, and as quickly as possible!  Some people advocate a crash clean method of getting a space in order.  If you are one of them, how's that working for you over the long term?  I did that for years...throw down all my energy and resources cleaning, exhausting myself.  It got the space cleared quick, sure.  There was certainly quick gratification.  But, it never lasted.  How many of you find that this is the case in your homes?   Same story? Here's why:

The  bulk of this battle is fought mentally, not physically.

Until I learned to clean and organize this way and adopt other essential principles of minimalism, I  never made the mind connections that allowed me to maintain my positive changes.  I had to break the habits I discussed in the passages above.   I had to break my consumer habits.  Under the crash clean method, without these real mental changes, as soon as I let down my guard days or a week or two later, things would revert to their former state.  It's about the process, not the place.   I cannot stress this enough.  If you gradually manifest this change,  and congratulate yourself for all the little successes along the way, you will be on a path to transformation, and it will be a lasting one!

Shout out those little victories!  Let's cheer each other on!

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

First Steps and Master Plans

Okay, so I have great plans!  Of course minimalism can be applied to all aspects of life, not just that which is material.  But, over the next few weeks, I will be examining the material side of it.  I find that for myself in particular, my version of minimalism translates best when I have my physical space in order.  My inner life naturally becomes more peaceful --  atleast, as peaceful as it can get as a homeschooling wife and mother of four can be!

Here's what I'll be talking about the next few weeks, so you can be excited with me....and so you can comment below and let me know if there is anything in particular you want me to discuss regarding these areas:

  • Master Bedroom- I'm going to take pics of my bedroom and give a rundown of tips for decluttering that space
  • Minimalist Wardrobe - I'll talk about what a 'capsule wardrobe' is and take you through the process alongside me as I downsize my closet and organize my spring wardrobe
  • Kids' Rooms - I'll show you what minimalism looks like in our house with four kids, how we make it work in a small house, and the ins and outs of clothes and toy storage.
  • Favorite Resources - I'll happily give a rundown of some of my favorite websites, books,  products, media and other sources for great information and inspiration.   

In the meantime, for all you excited upstarts and any veteran's looking for a few tips from someone else on the path, here's a collection of my best tips to get started toward getting organized and minimalized in your home.


1. Get Inspired.  

You're here!  That's a great start.  Continue to seek out like-minded people.  I have found so many great resources out there that have supported me in my journey.  There's just too many to simply mention here, especially when I have great things I want to say about them!  They deserve their own post.  I don't want to tease you though, so in no particular order, here's my top 4 favorites:

- Leo Babauta's cache of good stuff: his ebooks (available at amazon), his Zen Habits blog, and his mnmlist blog.

- Flylady: I've mentioned her several times already.  Take the hint!  She has a fantastic positive attitude she cultivates through every aspect of life and a plan that works for getting you organized and keeping you that way.

- The Simple Living Guide by Janet Luhrs - this book is a broad overview of ways to simplify your life.  Most other books that have a broad scope on simple living tend to give you one or two tips you can use mixed in with a whole lot of stuff you knew already or have to look elsewhere for true details.  This one actually has specific relevant information regarding each topic rather than just skimming over the subject.  I found it useful as an introductory guide, and as a manual to reevaluate after I'd already made some great changes.

--Dave Bruno's book The 100 Thing Challenge - You can learn more about him at his blog.  Dave's challenge appears extreme at first glance, though it leaves room for personalizing.  I also like that its very cut-n-dry for those that are looking for a more defined road map to achieve what I call "material minimalism" or minimalizing your physical posessions..  It is not for everyone, but regardless of your thoughts on the challenge itself, his book is great reading because it really examine's the consumer lifestyle we are driven by in American culture and gets down to the nitty gritty about why he made the choices that he did in keeping something or letting it go.

2. Get focused.  Get started. 

As I mentioned before, its important to identify the one area of the house that bothers you most. Don't spend time thinking about this; usually the first thing that comes to mind is the answer. Flylady will start you with the kitchen sink.  This is great; however, once I started following her plan, I quickly realized the most important area for me to have clean was the floor and nightstand area by my bedside.  It just disheartened me horribly to go to bed and wake up in a disaster there.  Spend 15 minutes, a half hour, whatever you are called to and have time to do in full focus on this area ( No more than an hour though, don't burn yourself out!). Set some order.  Clear it of clutter and debris completely.  Put the stuff you remove in a box or boxes if you have to and put it somewhere else in the house.  Above all, make the commitment to keep this small space orderly.  Wherever this space is, visit it every night before bed and give it a quick once over.  Visit it through the day if you have to and keep an eye on it to be sure things aren't piling up.  If the rest of the house is a shambles, commit that atleast THIS space will not be.  You can DO this!

3. If you take it out, then put it back.

Remember this old art class rule from grade school?  It still applies.  It should apply to every member of your household ideally ( notice I say ideally).  But, we are taking small steps here, so start with yourself.  This is easier said than done, I know.  It is amazing how one or two things unintentionally left out in a rush can seemingly multiply before your eyes into a disaster zone.  I was really bad about leaving rabbit trails, especially if I was in a hurry with the kids! I am still not perfect, but mindfulness is the key here.  Mentally reminding myself to clean up as I go reduces this substantially! A good way to do this is to try to follow the One Touch Rule: "I will only touch something once."   For example, if you are making coffee in the morning: get the coffee container, fill up the coffee filter, then do not let your hand leave that canister until its back in the cabinet! 

Teach the kids this rule.  I'll discuss this more in my post on organizing kiddo things, but the most cut n' dry solution to this with younger kids is to have a mommy day where you literally go with them from one activity to the next, patiently reminding them to return things to their places and not allowing a new activity until the last is picked up.  I know this is a royal disruption to your day and it would never work if you had to do this as a matter of course.  The point to this is to help them break habits they have formed so that you will not have to remind them.  Kids are quicker to pick things up than adults though, especially when encouragement and incentives are provided.  Once the pattern is broken, you can reinforce it and monitor from a distance without having to constantly supervise.  For example, in my house, I am able to tell the kids to clean up before lunch and dinner.  No food hits their mouths until the work is done.  I do random inspections to ensure the rule is followed.  Now, they generally clean up as told and also pick up as they go more often than not.  They know where things go and what my consequences are when things aren't returned properly to their places.

4. Give it a home. 

Make that place practical according to when and how you use your item. Teach everyone in the house where it lives. This goes double for kids' rooms. Little ones will leave thngs laying out or shove it all in one bin unless they know and are taught otherwise. If you haven't found a home for it, question how often that item is used or if it is needed.....perhaps it needs to go out of your house!  As you implement the One Touch Rule, this one will come of its own accord.  You may find that following that rule practically may require some rearranging of certain things, but if you are being mindful, you will find these changes will come naturally, one leading to the next.  For example, I used to keep coffee and breakfast cereals on the oppossite side of the kitchen.  I started my One Touch Rule and realized I was spending all this unnecessary time walking back and forth to get and replace these items.  It was a BIG reason I tended to leave these items out to clear away later, creating work for myself.  Once I put the coffee in the cabinet right above the coffee pot, suddenly I always put it back and saved myself a lot of mess and time later! If you go through your day and think about the practicality of how your home is arranged you will find places you can make small changes to help you be more efficient.  

5. I love this/ I use this.  

Everything that's in your home should fit one or both of those labels.  I believe we should rid our homes of knicknacks, or do-nothing dustcatchers. What's the point? They clutter the space, distract the eye, and their only purpose is to give you more to clean.  They become nothing more than a hazard for the kids to knock over and break.   Now, I am NOT telling you to donate grandma's heirloom Hummels that you cherish --that would fall into the category of "Love".  What  I am telling you is that IF you love something, then treat it that way! Give it a place of honor in your home, not thrown in a drawer, stashed in a dusty box or laying broken on a bookcase shelf.  If you don't love it enough to care for it and put it in a place of honor, then give it to someone who will value it that much. We are caretakers to everything we choose to bring into our lives. We should only have as much as we are willing and able to care for.  (My kids can recite these two sentences, I say them sooo often.)

6. One in / One Out

To prevent your life from being overrun especially after you have begun to clear out, seriously question anything you bring in the house. To bring something in means you have to get rid of one or more like items first.  Want a new book, clear 1 or 2 titles from your shelf first to free up the space. New tennis shoes? Get rid of the old ones! Mail? Open it over the shredder, ditch the junk, then immediately file the bills and move the old statements to your past bill storage...etc.  I've mentioned this next one before too: Stop Shopping.   You will never be free from the things you own if they keep owning you by cluttering up your home.  A thing can only come into your house if you bring it in or let someone else bring it in.  Sometimes, things come in stealthier ways: in your mailbox, in the hands of a friend who "thought you could use this," or that extra bottle of hotel soap you threw absently in your bag as you repacked toiletries.  But, most things, we make not one but several conscious decisions about prior to actually bringing them in our home.  For example, one evening we decide to go out to the mall, then to go into a favorite store and browse the racks.  We pick up a blouse we like, but don't really need. We decide to buy it anyway.  We decide to add it to the rack in our cupboard without pulling another less liked one down.  You see where this is going.  So, for the moment just call a ban on shopping.  Evaluate what you already own.  Make a commitment to buy only what you need and nothing more.  It helps to write lists of possible purchases.  I keep a list of the things I want or need to buy.  This not only helps budget and plan, but it saves me from impulse purchases or purchasing something that with a little creative thought or discernment, I find I don't truly need as much as I need and want the space that thing will come to occupy in my home.

7. Make friends with your donation center

I typically use the
Veterans of America for everyday donations, though I will ocassionally donate specific items to other organizations. They pick up any size donation. Schedule a pick up in advance.  Put it on your calendar so you can work toward it.  I have them come once a month and they take the work out of it for me. It's much easier to donate and declutter when all I have to do is bag it up and throw it outside my front door.   I  keep a bag in my storage cubby and just declutter items as I see I no longer need them.  Sometimes it can be hard to donate.  Perhaps you look at and remember the money you spent on it, or perhaps you really don't use something but find yourself unwilling to part with it.  When I first started to go through this process, I felt I had to recoup some of our expenses.  I attempted to sell things.  It wasn't that the items were not worth the money I was asking for them, they just were not worth the time I was having to take to get that money!  I wanted my time BACK and my family life enriched.  I was replacing time spent cleaning and caring for things with time spent trying to sell them.   My first big purge, I made the decision to donate to a beloved Catholic charity that had once given both my husband and myself college scholarships.  They were so grateful for the large donation, and it made me feel good that I was 'giving back'.  Now, I rarely bother with selling for this reason, and also because now if I buy something I rarely have need to get rid of it unless I have already gotten my use and money from it.

8. Small consistent change is better.

Remember the story of The Tortise and the Hare?  Not to be cliche, but honestly, it fits here.  It is time consuming and often physically intense to do large amounts of decluttering and organizing! When I first started this, I threw myself into the process so enthusiastically that I had blinders on to a certain extent.  I did nothing else for several days, but I exhausted myself so fully that I would sometimes follow this up with an equal amount of days on the couch aching and exhausted....while my house got messy around me and quickly spoiled a good bit of my work!  It wasn't until I realized that to do more work consistently over time was what garnered lasting change.  This was what I was searching for, and what enriched rather than disrupted my family life.  This was my goal, after all.  It is important to respect and acknowledge your overall goals while working the process instead of ignoring them as a sacrificial means to an end.  I guarantee you, the latter will not get you the results you desire as tempting as it appears.  I am stubborn by nature, and have attempted to cram in too much change and physical work too many times, never with a good result!   It is better to make one small change that you are consistent about following through, than 10 changes that last a week and then revert back to the original state, or worse!  Which of these options leaves you further along the path to your goals?

I hope some of these tips and first steps help you begin walking on the path YOU desire for yourself and your family.  Please comment and let me know how you are doing on your own path to change and if there is any way I can help cheer you on!

Monday, March 5, 2012

What Matters Most

I'm sorry there was no new post last week.  My grandfather unexpectedly passed away.  It was bittersweet.  He had been talking about my grandmother the past few months incessantly.  She passed in 1991, so he's been without her a very long time.  We miss him terribly, but believe he is in heaven, finally reunited with Grandma.

Also, something wonderful happened.  For several years, but especially the last year, my grandfather has been trying to get the whole family together again.  When my grandma was alive, we used to get together quite often.  We had these HUGE Christmas gatherings at their house.  They had 7 kids and 17 you can imagine what a packed house THAT was!!  But my grandmother died and we fell apart a bit....we all still saw Pap, but not so much each other.  He would talk about this cousin or that when I saw him, but getting the whole family together never happened.  But, this amazing happened during the three days of his funeral service -- we were all together again, all of us.  All the aunts and uncles, cousins, and now all of us with Pappy's 29 great grand-kids  (and 1 great great grandson!). We reminisced and remembered all the fun we had; we talked and hugged, cried and laughed.  It was wonderful.  And now, we all found each other on Facebook, to continue to stay in touch and plan future events.  We all realized by Saturday, the day we buried him next to my grandmother, that this was Pap's gift to all of us --he brought us all together again through his death the way he always wanted.

So, you probably can deduce for yourself the point behind this week's post:  Life is short.  Make room in your life for the people you love.

We can get so caught up in the "act" of decluttering.  Even I can find myself sidelining my kiddos and putting off their calls for me to play dolls or a game with them because I'm busy decluttering and reorganizing a closet.  I have this craving to get it all done, and done NOW!  But, that's not the best way, it exhausts us and defeats the purpose.  So, to use an old cliche, remember that Rome wasn't built in a day.  Your home did not get filled like this overnight and it will not get cleared overnight.   I thought of my pap 10 times more than I actually saw him... and now he's gone.  I sure wish I had even one more visit with my pap right now than a clean closet.

So, slow and steady. You can begin in the easiest way possible and the way that will instantly bring you more time: stop shopping!  if you make a commitment to stop acquiring more things, you will reclaim first the time spent shopping for these things, then the time spent caring for them, and of course the time spent decluttering them when you realize you really didn't need it as much as you once thought you did!  

As for what's already in the house: spend half an hour in full focus on one area: one drawer, one shelf, one corner.  I suggest starting with the spaces that bother you the most.  For me, it was my bedside area.  I was so disheartened going to sleep amd waking up staring at mess!  But, find the space that matters most to YOU and start there.  Reclaim that small space in a few minutes, no more than an hour ( or else continue it tomorrow) and then go play a game with your kiddos, make time to go to the park with a friend, or go visit your grandparents or parents.  Don't lose sight of the reason behind simplifying.  Remember, material things are both expendable and replaceable, but people and time are not!

My son Elijah, and my grandfather:  Albert Summers, Jr.

Photobucket Pictures, Images and Photos

Thursday, February 23, 2012

My friend stopped by unexpectedly today

I have this great friend that pops in every now and again, unexpectedly. I am REALLY glad she does this, and I tell her so. She has 2 school/ preschool aged kids, but I have younger kiddos and the older ones we homeschool. Its a bit of a production to plan a day out of the house to visit a friend. Its the kind of thing I tend to put off. Especially in winter. I readily admit I become a bit of a hermit in the winter and kind of hibernate with the kids. So, here she is at my door today, as she has done periodically for a long time.

Now, prior to today, for the past months since I have had my son, (except for at the very beginning when things were still well maintained from my "denesting" when I was pregnant), she inevitably pops by and my house is a WRECK. There are dishes piled in the sink (even though I'm suppossedly "flying" and according to the Flylady system my kitchen sink is suppossed to be a virtual shrine of cleanliness), there are cheerios ground into the carpet (even though we don't eat outside the kitchen), there are toys strewn EVERYWHERE, and the contents of whatever big purge and organize project I am working on are all strewn about whatever room it is (sometimes multiple rooms). Now, I am the kind of person that when a friend shows up at the door, then you invite them in. The relationship and the person is more important and not doing a good job keeping up with the housework is NOT a good enough reason to me to turn someone away whom I very much want to see. The embarassment that comes with it is simply fuel to my fire to make a change. So, in she comes, I laugh off the mess, kick the toys out of her way, clear a spot on the table with all the breakfast dishes and spilled oatmeal still on it, spray and wipe it all off and welcome her to have a seat. I usually sweep around her feet just to get the grody stuff off the floor in the kitchen, but aside from that we sit and have our chat.

Yet, here's the thing: 9 times out of 10, when I talk on the phone to my friends, at the beginning of the call when you both are like "Hi, how are you?" and then you say "What are you doing?"...that part? Well, 9 times out of 10, my answer is (or has been) the past months "I'm cleaning...or "I'm organizing this...." etc. etc. In fact, my cousin has pretty much stopped asking me what I'm doing, though she will ask if I have time to talk. I don't pick up the phone at all if I'm doing school with the girls, so I think she figures if I answer the phone and 'm doing something OTHER than cleaning or organizing, then I will just tell her so! The difficult part of going through this process of downsizing is that when you are in charge of many kiddos and especially if you have other time-consuming responsibilities (like homeschooling), in order to devote time to the project, (cleaning this corner of the room; reclaiming this desk space; clearing out this closet, etc) it just takes time away from your normal everyday household tasks. I mean, where else do you find the time you need? And, in a home with lots of kiddos in it, sometimes this translates to another part of the house getting utterly TRASHED while your attention is diverted and the little ones take full advantage of it. Do you all feel this way? Its like you can't take a step forward in one area of the house without falling two steps back in another way!

Its funny how big projects/ life changes like this work. Its like you feel like you are making NO progress, but you keep plodding away anyways. One day its like you woke up and POOF -- you're there. Atleast, that's how it has been for me. Because, I have felt for so long that this friend either must think I'm lying to her about the amount of work I actually do or lying to MYSELF about all that I'm accomplishing.... or just a chronic failure when it comes to housekeeping in general. So, today she popped by again for the first time in several weeks. Things weren't HORRENDOUS last time she stopped by about five or six weeks ago, but still weren't great. But, today I was so happy. Because, there were NOT cheerios ground into the carpet, or my latest organizing project all over the floor, or toys strewn about. There WERE a few dishes in the sink. There were two large bags of items waiting in my kitchen to be moved tomorrow to the porch for the Veterans of America pick up on their truck. (For free!!! Of any amount! Call them!) For the first time since my son was born I was able to have an unexpected visitor over without one shred of embarrasment.

So, you ask. Why do I bring all this up? Well, to tell you THIS:

You are not alone.

I don't want to give you the wrong impression. You can't ever really have a true and accurate measure of someone until you walk around in their shoes for a while. And, that doesn't happen. People, especially woman, have this tendancy to go "WOW. Now SHE has it all together! I wish I could have it together like her. So, what's wrong with me?" But, the fact of the matter is that what you don't know might surprise you... We often hear about people's accomplishments without hearing the tale that goes with it. There's always a story. More often than not, it will surprise you to hear it told.

So go easy on yourself. A picture doesn't say a thousand words. Or rather, sometimes it leaves a few thousand out. Even the best of us have bad days, or weeks, or months. Mine happened just like anyone else's, and they'll happen again. I HAVE learned some things in the process, though. My reasons for all those embarrasing visits by my friend are probably going to take their own post! But, the point is, they happened and I still lived to tell the tale. You will too!!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Our Tiny Townhouse: A Love Story (mostly)

Bear with me, its worth it... and I'll share pics at the end (no cheating!) I'm a firm believer in pictures! I think a minimalist that's excited enough to write about how their life has been impacted and confident enough to feel that he or she has something worthwhile to share with others wanting to learn should be open enough to share pictures of their own spaces. Besides, I just generally love looking at pictures of other people's houses!

8 years ago, My husband Matt and I were looking forward to our wedding and went house hunting with the kind of budget 20 somethings have while paying for a wedding at the same time -- which means of course next-to-nothing. We still laugh about the houses we went to see. All of them had at least one fatal flaw. For example, our favorite was a cute brick house with the great italian kitchen in the basement and retro overload from its orange counters to its gold shag carpets, but had a lovely view of twin smokestacks from the factory across the street. Then, there was the grey rowhouse with the reclaimed attic space with its nifty nooks and cranies painted canary yellow, complete with chair lifts on all the staircases. Last but not least, there was the sweet little white house that had three bedrooms, a fenced in yard waiting for kids to fill it up, and everything we needed...except the asbestos siding and lead paint walls. Needless to say, renting a well-kept townhouse on a quiet cul-de-sac seemed like a better bet at the time. We love the neighborhood full of young families and lined with towering pin oak trees but the one problem was that our family was growing and the house felt like it was shrinking! We had one stint while I was pregnant with my third child when we geared up for a move; we painted the walls, replaced the doors and installed a new laminate floor in the kitchen only to have the bottom fall out of the market. We called it quits so I wouldn't have a baby in a pile of boxes and resigned ourselves to a too-small space! Little did we know that it set us on a path that would slowly but with absolute certainty change the way we viewed our world!

With the birth of our third child in 2009, we enjoyed all the new space we had cleared when we put the house on the market. We had a house picked out that we wanted to make an offer on, so we completed all our rennovations and cleaning in just 2 short weeks. The quick process turned out to be an amazing blessing: I had no time to think! I picked something up and asked myself if I needed it enough to find a place for it or to be worth packing and repacking to a new home. I was in such a hurry, the answer was often "No." Suddenly, I felt like I was packing for a vacation, with just the essentials. I cleared my walls of pictures and my furniture of knicknacks, and after we decided to stay I went through some of the items that I had chosen to keep and decided I had enjoyed the clear crisp lines of the furniture and the uninterrupted space on the walls. I couldn't see putting a do-nothing knicknack back in the space. I also enjoyed all the extra counter space I'd created in the kitchen. Things just looked cleaner and they were easier to clean, too.

In 2011 I became pregnant with our fourth child while busy homeschooling our then-6 year old as well as chasing after a very active 1 1/2 year old. I was busier than ever and I had no time to spend on constantly cleaning and moving things from one place to another. Putting the house up was simply out of the question until after the baby was born. The surge of second trimester hormones was all I needed to get to work. I often say that I "de-nested" with baby number 4 -- rather than go on a buying binge for baby, I made ROOM for baby! I went room by room, tackling every aspect of our home. I read books on simple living and minimalism (which I will share with you shortly!) and discovered Flylady who helped encourage and educate me (much more about her later too!) Decluttering became less a chore than a hobby as I enjoyed the new spaces I was creating for the family. I started in the kitchen, purging all of the gadgets and gizmos that I had taken off my counters previously and stashed in cramped cupboards. Then, I purged dishes and mugs and various other items down to just what I used weekly. The living room was the easiest - I simply refused to put anything in there but a few toys for the kids and the living room furniture. The biggest change was in the bedrooms. The kids had seen the change in the rest of the house and had learned over the past months that donating was the "thing to do" in our house! They went through their toys with me and cleared space for their most loved toys and sorted everything. I purged their clothes down to about 10 days of outfits each. By far, the most dramatic change was our master bedroom. Hubby saw the work I had done to the rest of the house and treated me to a new bed which we desperately needed. I chose an IKEA model with drawers underneath and two miniature nightstands, and that became all that the room held except for a small personal bookshelf. Previously, I had several large furniture items as well as a perpetual mountain of clothes to sort or items waiting to be placed back into other areas of the house. I wanted this room to be a sanctuary even if the rest of the house was a shambles and to do that I needed to be able to clean it in a flash. The new arrangement made it easy for me to wake up, make the bed, and clear the water glass off the night table and shut the door from the kids. Aside from vacumming and emptying the hamper and trash once a week, this was a space I didn't have to worry about at all and best of all, if we're having a bad day and the rest of the house feels like its a shambles, I always have some place to run to to regain my sanity!

So now we've got 4 kids, 2 adults, and 1 grey tabby cat in:
  • 2 bedrooms
  • 1 bathroom
  • 1 living room
  • 1 eat-in-kitchen
  • 1 gameroom/playroom/office/laundry combo (luckily, its a fairly big room!)

I have said many many times that if it wasn't for my big basement room, I'd lose my mind! It gives us: a second living area, a place for my husband to have a desk and work if not in peace or quiet, atleast relative seclusion when necessary, a place for me to send the kids to do their school work and/or to play, also works great if some kids need to play and others need to do school work as we can make use of two seperate living spaces upstairs and down. The space is about 875 sq ft. and it isn't what I would call ideal -- I love to entertain, and my closest extended family feels like quite a crowd, we do need to seperate our boys and girls soon, and we are already at the point that we really need a second toilet (You will ocassionally run across a kiddo doing a dance in the hallway waiting for another to finish), and I choose to co-sleep with the baby to avoid having to purchase a minicrib for our room or the back bedroom. But, we are manageing fine with all of these things. And more than that, we are HAPPY! When I tell people about our home in casual conversation, I'm often met with "oh you poor dear!" type of an attitude. But, I'm quick to discourage that. We are here by choice. We could have moved, but quite honestly making it work here was more important to me than jumping ship. Living here taught me the value of space. It taught me the true difference between a "need" and a "want." It also forced me into creative organization in a way I would NEVER have been able to learn otherwise. Most of all, it taught me that people are to be valued more than things and helped our home reflect that. These are lessons that will walk with me the rest of our lives, in whatever space we call home.

As promised, here you are! These three pics were taken right before my son was born. Since then, we've replaced our living room furniture and in the process lost even more of the furniture in there, but I'll share more current pics later on. For now, here are those two rooms as they were at that time:

Monday, February 20, 2012

So, 'why minimal?'

Minimalism is a kind of back-to-basics movement. It means different things to different people. For some it is the antithesis of consumerism -- the opposite of the American style comsumption, or OVER consumption. For others, its about a simple schedule with less 'agenda.' It means different things to different people; that's part of the beauty of it. 

Minimalism, my way, is making a conscious decision to live without excess... to identify those things that mean the most and then consciously shaping my life and home in a way that helps us work toward those goals. Minimalism is about freedom and focus - freedom from the constraints of "excess" = too much stuff, too much work, too many bills, and from society's "gimme more" consumer philosphy. Instead, I move into ever greater focus on those things that are MOST important to my family. The things that LIFE is all about.

Aesthetically, this often translates in a home that has more open spaces and less clutter that detracts from the main purposes of the space and, above all, requires us to give more of our time to care for and clean!! Minimalism is sooo much about time! Having less means not only do you have less to care for and concern your self with in the physical sense in your home, but it means you devote less time to the pursuit of "more stuff" which will then just become more more thing you have to be a caretaker of! To be a minimalist means to stop being a caretaker to meaningless items and start being a caretaker to ourselves and our families! I teach my children this phrase: "You should only own as much as you are able or willing to care for!" (this works so well with toys left strewn about... if it's left out if must mean they do not want or are unable to care for it, which means it has no place in our home!)

So, minimalism will be different to each person. You have to decide what is important to you and identify  the ways that you can structure your life to better reach that goal. Also, it isn't only about "less stuff"; its often about a clearer schedule and less commitments (if too many of them keep you feeling overwhelmed!) It's about less stress and trying to handle interpersonal relationships in a more upfront way and with less "drama" for lack of a better word... all of this! We structure our homes and our lives around what's MOST important and minimalize those things that, in the grand scheme of things, really aren't! So, at the end of your life, you can look back and feel like you lived it the way that was truely important to you.

What does minmalism mean to you?
“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived....I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartanlike as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms, and, if it proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world; or if it were sublime, to know it by experience, and be able to give a true account of it in my next excursion. For most men, it appears to me, are in a strange uncertainty about it.” (Thoreau from Walden)

We meet at last!

Welcome! I'm glad you're here! Actually, I'm glad I'm here too. It means I've gotten out of the endless elevator known as "procrastination" and simply accepted the fact that I will always be needed elsewhere and I am going to do this anyway! I have finally made a space for all the blog posts I've been writing in my head (and rattling off between diaper changes and my 34th cry of "Mommy!!!" of the day) at various web forums. Everything else can wait, atleast for now (as I write this, my three year old just dumped a jar of pickle juice on the floor. Throw a towel at it, keep typing) but more about ALL of this later!

So, that's me! Not the most flattering pic of me, but I love it because of the memory - I shot that on the fly in my bathroom mirror because my 7 month old son was just having too much fun riding around on my back for the first time (we had done only front carries till then!). Well, here's the very barest basics: I'm a 31 year old wife and mom to 4 kids: 7 and 4 year old girls, and 3 year old and 7 month old boys. While I'm at it, here's a pic of the rest of the crew:

Don't mind the pumpkin... yes it IS several months old, but the snow in the window is pretty and they are all lined up smiling at me over their oatmeal (haha!! What? Oh, well yes, OF COURSE this happens every morning....just like this (ahem!!!!)

Well, here we are! There will be plenty of time for more about all of us later on. For now, let's talk titles! A blog title is this ominous thing... atleast for me. Namely becuase I firmly believe that your blog title should pretty much be your URL to save headaches for all involved later on. And of course, since we are planning on being SOOO widely read (**snicker**), it helps to be google-able. So, due to my long ride with our old friend procrastination I have had PLENTY of time to think about this. So why "home made minimal"? Maybe you have noticed that you can read that lots of ways. When you think of the words "home-made" what comes to mind? Hot apple pie? Grandma's thick crochet afghan? A crayoned masterpiece by your six year old? Yup. All of this. Homemade is cozy. Homemade is quality you can rely on; it means there's just as much love stitched up or drawn on or crafted in as any of its other materials. That's the kind of cozy, familiar everyday world that I like to be in. In fact, my world is my home - 90% of it anyways. I'm a wife ("Hey babe!"), a mom ("Just a minute!!"), a teacher (we homeschool), a writer (ta da!) I do all of these things from the sweet confines of home. Home is certainly where we make it all happen! Home for us is a 875ish sq. ft 2 bed 1 bath suburban townhouse. Tiny? It USED to feel a lot tinier than it does now! Small? Definately! But we make it work! The biggest part of what makes life manageable is weeding out the unnecessary (both material and immaterial) that clutter up life and detract us from our goals. I'd certainly define myself as a minimalist, and you'll be hearing a lot more about what I think that means -- (and I sure hope you will share your thoughts with me too! But for now, suffice it to say my own personal brand of minimalism means making your life and your home reflect what's most important to you.

We are definately on a journey. This philosophy of living the basics and cutting life down to what's most important really began several years ago now, so I hope to share some of our greatest successes with you and maybe you can help me muddle through some of our "work in progress" things! I hope this blog will be a place I can share great fun with you! I don't intend to compartmentalize and blog about just one area of our life... I'm hoping we'll chat about all sorts of things. So stick around! It'll only get better....but my casserole won't. If I don't get it out of the oven now, it's going to burn.