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.

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