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.