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!


  1. I am going to borrow the Simple Living guide from the library (just put it in my cart). It looks great. I am a minimalist at heart! Love your blog!

  2. This is the 5th times that I've started to comment on your post. Seriously. Ugh. Hopefully I can finish this time ;)

    Ok. Step One: I AM inspired. I (we) need a change in our household. badly. I JUST visited FlyLady. Step Two: I'll start the 31 Flylady steps. Today. March 12, 2012. Today. Not 2013, or 14, or 15, but 3.12.12

    And that's all. for today. I am overwhelmed with the amount of information in your post, so I'll probably visit it a few more times as I begin this process, but I'm beginning this process. My family deserves more than just my good intentions.

    Thanks, Kim!

  3. I want to see pics of your bedroom!! It's the one room I'm having a terrible time with finishing. Also, what did you do to convert your husband?? I have a hoarder on my hands lol

  4. Can you show how you store paper items? I am s-l-o-w-l-y getting my life decluttered....