Leaving Minimalism

The title Minimalist Mom isn’t that accurate for me. If you’ve read a few posts here you’ll know that I aim for less and what we can live comfortably with rather than a rigid goal of a handful of possessions.

I chose the name while in a burst of zeal for the idea of what Minimalism could give me. I was excited, hopeful and had grand dreams of sparsely furnished rooms and a wardrobe that could fit in a small carry-on suitcase. After many rounds of decluttering I’ve found that the things my family want in our home, the things we use, is often in flux. I’ve found that I’m not interested in counting our possessions or living a nomadic lifestyle. I am interested in the space, time and money having less can give me and my family.

I’m not really a minimalist. We have a television, my son has a push bike he has yet to master and I recently bought a blender and a crock pot.

While I’m not a true minimalist I’m still fascinated by the idea of fewer possessions and the many returns from living with less. That’s why I keep writing here. That’s why I deliberate a lot longer on purchases than I used to. That’s why I have just two pairs of jeans, why we don’t have a car and why I keep a pretty sparse pantry. I like what having less gives me.

Friends Saying Goodbye to Minimalism.

Recently two of my blogging friends have discussed why minimalism is no longer right for them.

Rayna, a contributing writer to Frugal Mama, wrote about shutting down her blog The Suburban Minimalist almost a year ago. Embracing the movement had been positive at first and then lead her to a place she wasn’t comfortable or happy with.

 I’d learned the hard way that although there’s much to be said for living with (much) less than the average American, there are also quite a few things to be said for creature comforts and man-made beauty. Fluffy towels and familiar mugs sweeten our daily rituals. A closet with enough flattering choices makes me feel feminine and confident on the days I’m just not. – Rayna St. Pierre

Her new blog, Bright Copper Kettles, explores simplicity, design and the small things that make her life wonderful. It’s a nice read and I recommend popping in particularly for her links round up. Rayna has a great eye for articles and design that will inspire you to find more beauty in your life without making you feel bad about your living room that is covered in children’s toys or that you have yet to replace the glass on a picture frame that broke three months ago (guilty).

Faith started writing at MinimalistMoms around the same time I started this blog. Later she moved to MinimalistatHome and has written several e-books on minimalism and families. Recently she decided to move her writing away from minimalism.

… it became harder and harder to write a “minimalist” blog after two years. I’ve grown tired of wondering if what I have to say is minimalist enough or even if I am minimalist enough.. – Faith Janes

Faith’s new home online for living with less is a digital magazine called Simplify that launches October 1st. You can sign up to receive the first edition here.

Still Sticking With The M Word

I’ll still be here writing about my own brand of minimalism, the challenges of living counter-culturally and if I really needed that crock pot or blender.

While the term minimalism sounds extreme I think there is a lot to glean from the movement for even non-radical folk like myself. I like the discussion here about how to live with less, the benefits of it and how to go about it happily in a world that doesn’t support slow and simple living.

Real Simple magazine always told me that it was ‘life made easier, every day’ but I found that when I read it, I hated my home and felt the pressure to buy a lot of baskets and label makers and organize instead of truly simplify. I used to flip through those glossy pages and tell myself that I’d have a show worthy home if I just tried harder and made bread from scratch and a jar of lemon curd for an Amalfi Coast inspired luncheon replete with Limoncello ordered direct from Sorrento, Italy.

Life wasn’t made easier. Life was harder and the expectations bigger in ways that just made me tired. I had zero of the 20 must-have classic wardrobe staples for a woman in her 30’s. My vintage mason jar collection was nonexistent.

I wasn’t inspired by the supposed ease of this everyday beautiful simplicity. I was overwhelmed.

There is room in my life for beauty and minimalism. I keep fresh flowers on our kitchen window sill, not the dining room table, because that is where I enjoy them most. When I’m washing dishes I see my vase, sometimes it’s just a water glass, filled with the cheap and cheerful white carnations I buy myself or roses, a gift from a friend, and it’s enough for me.

Because I have less I appreciate what I do have more.

I’ll still be here writing about minimalism and how we’re making it work for us. With our roses on the window sill, our blender and even my expensive ballet flats that fell apart.

Choosing Organic Over An iPhone

My husband I finished our Whole30 a few weeks ago. We both felt really good by the end and were sleeping well and had more energy.

We’ve continued to eat primarily whole unprocessed foods and did a few test runs with dairy and gluten to see how we feel. Gluten: my ankles swelled up for three days, I got a raging headache and felt really tired. Dairy: not bad but my ‘only ever have while pregnant’ heartburn returned.

It will be a challenge to continue to eat this way but I feel we have a good chance now that both of us are on board. And my husband has started to cook more (yeah!).

The other challenge: the price.

Our grocery bill went up almost 40%. We’re eating a mountain of fresh fruit and vegetables and the best quality eggs, meat and fish that I can find.

Is it worth the money? We think so. But it’s still hard to fathom that a tiny box of organic blueberries, a little treat we all split with our breakfast, costs us $4 USD. We could be eating homemade pancakes or boxed cereal for pennies instead.

Why is it so hard to spend money for the best quality food?

Kristen asked that question the other week and it sparked some great comments on The Frugal Girl. Well worth the read.

I’ve been reading about the ancestral health movement for a few years. After my husband read It Starts With Food we had a discussion about if we could afford to buy the best quality food available to us.

We’re lucky: we can.

Sure, we have to watch other areas of spending. We eat out even less now. That part is kind of easy: no Whole Foods salad bar on the Isle of Man. If we want to come close to eating what we eat at home we have to go to a restaurant and drop $25-$40 per person. Yikes.

But without changing our lifestyle in a dramatic way we can spend more on our food.

Spending according to your values.

Food and clothing have become cheaper and cheaper thanks to manufacturing processes and overseas labour.

See this article and infograph on NPR. I’ve highlighted a few of the differences above.

Some of this is a good thing. Lower income families can afford milk and clothes.

Some of this is a bad thing. More money available for non-essentials has changed our consuming habits. We buy more. More things that don’t last and end up in landfills.

The inexpensive boxed and processed foods that some people eat by choice, and others because it’s all they can afford, are hurting their health.

What’s your health worth?

We’ve put health near the top of our priority list. iPhones which would run as at least $200 a month? Not on the list. A bigger home that would run us another $400-$700 a month? Also not on the list. If we wanted those things we would have to reconsider this increase in spending on food.

The jump in spending on housing between 1949 and 2011 is also striking. It’s worth noting that people are buying (and renting) much bigger homes today. In 1950, the average new house was less than 1,000 square feet; in 2000, the average new house was over 2,000 square feet. – NPR What Americans Buy

Many of the commenters on Kristen’s post said that high quality food was a priority for their family and they did without a lot of other things to afford food that was local, humanely raised and organic.

Three years ago I would have said we couldn’t afford organic. Actually, I did say it to friends when the discussion came up.

Organic is a fortune.

I can’t justify the cost. We can’t afford it.

Of course, we had an expensive cable package and a whole list of other expensive non-essentials and things we couldn’t afford on our credit card bill. We were in a lot of consumer debt. Buying better quality food wasn’t a priority of mine at the time.

I didn’t see it that way of course. I thought a lot of things we spent money on were things we had to have.

This is a question of both luxury and value. It’s luxurious to have the means to buy organic. It’s also something that’s value for increasing health is debatable. I’m not inferring that if you have the means to buy organic but don’t you aren’t prioritizing your health. There are many ways to prioritize health and eating high quality food is just one debatable spoke in a big wheel of things you can do or spend on for your health.

What fascinates me is that I, and I am sure many others, often confuse not being able to afford something with not making it a priority.

I’m actually trying to use the phrase ‘we can’t afford that’ less and saying ‘it’s not a priority for us’ more.

The fact is we could afford a bigger home, a car, private school or a whole host of other things (not all of them though) if they were a priority for us. But they’re not.

If you have the luxury, how do you talk to your kids and friends about why you prioritize spending on the things you do? Do you tell people ‘we can’t afford that’ for things that your family has no interest in spending money on?

Fewer Decisions Creates More Focus

What’s for lunch?

Should we go swimming this morning or play at home?

Red or green? Or blue or purple?

Decisions, big and small, can steal focus from your tasks and work.

I’ve noticed that the more routine we have, even in our loose schedule, the more we get done. When I know that I always have to leave the house at 9:30am to get to our Friday class, I get a few more tasks done in the morning. The laundry is put away, the drying racks folded down and put out of sight for the weekend and the breakfast dishes dealt with before we leave.

Penelope Trunk talked about the power of making fewer decisions in this post 4 Secrets of focused people. This quote she used from President Obama illustrates how having fewer decisions helps him focus.

“I’m trying to pare down decisions. I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make. You need to focus your decision-making energy. You need to routinize yourself. You can’t be going through the day distracted by trivia.” – President Obama in this Vanity Fair article

 

Okay, I’m not president of the United States of America but the logic makes sense for my life too.

Having fewer decisions each day helps me get bigger things done. Meal planning gives me more focus for a dreaded task like making calls to our Canadian bank (I hate making phone calls!). Having a smaller wardrobe makes dressing for the day easy and gives me more focus and energy for things like helping my son create a bridge for his train table or getting a quick 1000 words out on my book in the early morning.

If you have a lot of opportunity for decisions in your life, try and eliminate some.

I caught a few of Design Mom’s back to school series on fall wardrobes for her kids. I’ll say her kids are far more fashionable than my son (err.. probably me too) but I loved seeing that they have fairly small wardrobes.

As a mother to six children I would guess that Gabriel benefits in many ways from the kids having smaller wardrobes. Fewer little people asking for help in the morning and it probably reduces the amount of laundry on the floor in bedrooms. Easier to get everyone clothed and out the door in the morning. More time for Gabriel’s writing and business.

Really like the idea of having photos of outfits for kids and adults. Helps you know what’s being used in your wardrobe and is a quick reference for getting dressed in the morning.

Eliminating small decisions gives you focus for the big ones.

I still haven’t bought anything for this new baby.

In all honesty I have gone by a shop window or two, or seen something online, and thought about buying something cute and oh so small. But I haven’t pulled the trigger. I have lots of time for those little things.

What I don’t have a lot of time for is making decisions about the birth, getting our son prepared and preparing myself. I went to my first prenatal yoga class on the weekend and loved it. It was nice to do something for just me and the new baby.

This second pregnancy has flown by and I often forget I’m pregnant, forget that we’ll have a new baby here in a few months and forget that I’ll be, hopefully, laboring again and nursing again. Those are some big tasks.

Instead of thinking about onesies and if we need a double stroller I’m focusing on the bigger pieces like birth, my health and preparing our family.

Have you eliminated some small or routine decisions in your life for more focus?

Being “That Family”

Some days I’m not sure where or when we crossed the line into being “that family”.

Was it choosing home birth? Cloth diapering? Getting rid of so much stuff? Selling our car?

At some point we decided that the more conventional path might not be the right one for us.

Growing up all I wanted was to be normal.

There wasn’t really a chance to blend in. Ever. I was taller than my teacher by sixth grade. I was the kid with no winter jacket. I lived in a house with a broken washing machine in the driveway.

Normal is boring, my mother would say. Who wants to be normal?

I do, was my response. All I wanted was to be just like everyone else. Guess jeans and a Club Monaco sweatshirt and somehow shrinking six inches would be a great start to being normal.

Eventually I accepted that normal wasn’t going to happen. Eventually I even liked that at least we had a story. While it wasn’t your run of the mill childhood there was enough good and enough love to balance out the terrible.

We’re having an almost normal third birthday part for our son.

In the past we’ve quietly celebrated the day of his birth. A cake and a song. No gift.

This year we want to mark the day with his little friends. I debated it for a while but after going to a few lovely third birthdays I knew I wanted to send out invitations and celebrate.

We’re simplifying a few things: activities instead of crafts, a homemade treat instead of a loot bag and I’ve already outsourced cupcakes after having a vision of myself piping frosting at three am (piping with what? We have no cake making supplies.). I’ll be almost seven months pregnant at the time of the party. I have no qualms about taking some shortcuts.

Almost normal except we have asked guests not to bring a gift.

We’re inviting quite a few people and if they all brought a gift it would double Henry’s toy collection. Possibly triple. Opening that many gifts would also be overwhelming and he wouldn’t have the time and focus to appreciate each one.

So I made a little note on the invitations: Your presence if our present. No gifts please.

Sure, some people will think it’s odd. Or that we’re denying our son some fun. But I’ve had to stop caring about what other people think. That doesn’t mean I don’t respect their opinions or try to understand them. It means that I’m not hurt when other people have negative opinions on our choices.

We’re not total kill-joys.

We are getting our son a gift this year.

I’m really excited about it. I know from seeing him play with a friend’s toys that he will be thrilled by it and use it a lot.

My normal parent confession: I’ve been thinking about him receiving this gift for a few weeks already. The excitement and joy on his face. What he’ll do with the gift once he has it in his hands. This really is a wonderful age for gift giving.

It’s taken 30+ years but I’m finally okay with being different.

I hope our friends come to the party and have a great time. I hope their impression was that it was fun, the kids had a great time and the food was tasty. I hope they don’t focus on the no gifts, no traditional loot bags and the lack of helium balloons.

If not, if the focus is on what isn’t there instead of what is, I’m okay with being “that family”.

I’ve been “that family” all my life.

 Anyone else falling into the “that family” category? Does it bother you?

Using Habits To Simplify Your Life

Source: amzn.to via Rachel on Pinterest

 

My email Inbox used to be full of newsletters from online stores and companies. I got daily deal emails from three sources: one for kid’s stuff and two from big daily deal sites.

Invariably, I bought things I didn’t need. I’d never heard of a Brazilian Blow Out but when it came to me in a deal email I started thinking that I needed one. At one point I had over 20 pairs of babylegs… and no baby yet to wear them.

When we decided to get out of consumer and student loan debt I unsubscribed from all of the daily deal emails. If I didn’t know I needed it before I had ever heard of it, it probably wasn’t integral to my happiness.

I also changed my route home from the community centre. Instead of my usual walk through the streets with nice retail stores and beautiful window displays, I took the more direct path past a bank, a hair salon and more condominiums. As a result I bought fewer things. I was also more content with what we already had. No more pining for the outfit on a mannequin at a boutique or impulsively buying a set of handmade thank you cards when we already had some at home.

Changing my habits helped me get out of debt and made me more content with what I already had.

Here are two great reads on habits I’ve enjoyed recently. One to inspire you and you to give you a bit of a kick-in-the-pants.

 The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg. Props to my sister for this read. Ever wondered why you hit the snooze button most mornings instead of getting up for that run? Or why you can’t resist the sweets table in the coffee room every afternoon? Or stop yourself from going into a store with a big sale sign even though you have nothing to buy?

This book explores how we create habits and how we change them. The stories and evidence in the book are practical and applicable to everyday life. If you want to start a daily yoga practice or only check your email twice a day, this book can help you.

The other side to the book, the one my minimalist-wannabe self couldn’t get enough of, was the case studies on marketing tactics that use the power of habits to make you buy and consume. Want to know how Febreeze became a marketing success or why you’re likely to buy baby gear at Target even if you know you can get a better price elsewhere? This books shows how the Cue–>Routine–>Reward cycle is used to get you to Buy–>Buy–>Buy.

5 Habits We Left Behind (and Never Need to Pick Up Again) from Heather at Globetrotting Mama. This lawyer turned travel writer recently returned from a one year global adventure with her husband and two sons. Inspiring post about what they realized they could live without after a year on the road.

I used to spend a $100 in a trip to Shoppers Drug Mart because I was bored. I’m not proud of it but it’s true. When I left the salary behind I continued to buy things to beat boredom: Mall visits just because, those Costco trips to fill the freezer, 3 instead of one because something was “a deal.”

 Anyone else have a good book or article on habits? Anyone changed a habit to help them simplify?

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