Minimalism, for me, is less about the dogmatic Dwell magazine interpretation – i.e. fashion – than it is about the sustainability and mental clarity. So to that end, I didn’t hear about minimalism as much as I just did it, then discovered other people referred to me as a minimalist. Life with five kids means that if I was focused on making my house fashionable, I’d be worried about my kids breaking things. Which to me is the opposite of the goals of minimalism, which are to free you up from worry and maintenance so you can focus on life, family, and relationships. I don’t want to be admonishing the kids for getting my fancy modular sofa dirty, for instance, so instead I have a Craigslist couch.
3.) What do you find most challenging in trying to live with less stuff?
Probably constantly re-organizing. When you have more space and more stuff, you can just bury it in the garage or the attic or big closets and forever put off having to organize it. But we have so little storage space that even our in-suite storage unit – or only storage in the world – has been converted to an art room. As a result, we have to think really critically about everything we bring into our house, which I love. Too often we’re tempted to buy useless quick-fix items in our consumption-oriented society, and being a minimalist simply forcing me to think twice before mindlessly buying something.
4.) What do you find most rewarding in trying to live with less stuff?
How much time do you spend maintaining your car, your yard, your house, myriad possessions that break or need replacement and so forth? It’s almost incalculable. I don’t have most of those things, and as a result the time I spend maintaining, cleaning, worrying, fixing, replacing and so forth is drastically less than the average person. The result is a far higher quality of life and a level of simplicity that rivals that of a kid-less 20-something, versus a single dad of five. Life doesn’t have to get more complex the older you get, we just choose to burden ourselves with extraneous things, believing we “need” them.
5.) Do you see any challenges (older, bigger kids, retirement, etc) to continuing on with this lifestyle in the future?
Tell us about your home and the family that lives there.
My husband and I live in Portland, Oregon with our three daughters, Libby (5), Julianna (3), and Éowyn (15 months). We have an 880 square foot home with three bedrooms, and one bath on a 5,000 square foot lot. We are also graced by the presence of two cats, a dog, eight chickens, and two goats. Our oldest daughter loves to dance and bounce on her yoga ball and draw. Julianna loves the animals and playing with her friends, and Éowyn loves playing with her sisters, especially if they are playing ball. I try to keep our home spacious to accommodate their interests and physical needs, yet also make sure it’s vibrant and full of life and learning. One of the ways I do this is downsizing my own personal possessions and choosing only to keep the most important things.
When we purchased our home it needed a lot of work and little by little we’ve been able to fix it up and plant the yard with edible landscaping and gardens. It’s not a large home and it’s not fancy but everytime I see the things we’ve fixed or planted it makes me smile because it’s our handmade home where we’ve been learning to fix things ourselves.
You’re home is small but you are developing an urban homestead and rearing animals for self sufficiency. How does urban homesteading make your life simpler and how does it make it more challenging?
We are attempting to build a self sufficient (or at least as close as possible) urban homestead on our property. We have chickens and goats and are working to increase our garden production using intensive methods, and are planning to add rabbits this year. Some of the great things about this is we have a lot of our needs taken care of right on our own property. Sometimes it’s like grocery shopping in the backyard. We’ve been able to reduce our financial needs and our dependence on the car, which frees up more time to enjoy together.
The downside is it can be a lot of work and sometimes it takes some balancing on my part to make sure the animals and the kids all get their needs filled. Sometimes it feels like everyone wants to eat at the same time. Other days I feel like all I do is clean up poop. I do really love it though, so for me getting out to the animals and the garden is worth adding extra things to feed and clean.
Three children at home full-time and your husband and yourself both work from home. Your house has so many functions and needs – how do you manage all of them without accumulating lots of things? Do you have a process for deciding what comes into your home?
I am ruthless about getting rid of things. About once a month I go through the entire house and evaluate if we’ve used things enough to make storing them worth it, check for broken things or things we have duplicates of. I try to only keep things that are beautiful or useful, but I prefer to make my useful things beautiful and cut down the only beautiful clutter. I always have a box or bag in our shoe closet for give away stuff so it’s easy to drop things into it throughout the day. Even the furniture and appliances get a critical eye if we don’t use them frequently!
If I have to replace something I try to make it as multipurpose as possible. I also try not to go shopping in stores if at all possible. When we go to the grocery store and thrift store we stick to the list, but I try to buy as much as I can online. It’s harder for me to impulse buy when I jump online quickly to order something specific than if I am wandering through a physical store.
Right now my middle daughter is not okay with giving up any toys, but I feel very strongly that too many toys is upsetting for them and it takes my time away from them so we’ve compromised. Four times a year I box up any toys they haven’t used over the past few months and put them in the garage attic. The kids like to go shopping for “new” toys in the boxes that I pull down and it keeps the picking up and the putting away manageable. I hope eventually she will be okay with my giving away some of the unused toys but until then I think a trusting relationship is more important than my personal ideals.
Name three things that make you happy.
My family, (including the furry and feathered members)
Reading fantasy books
Tell us about your home and the people that live there.
I read that you decided to renovate and expand your home when you got pregnant with your second child. Now that you’ve pared down your possessions do you look at that decision differently?
As part of the Families in Small Home Series I asked Jules from Pancakes & French Fries to tell us about her reasons for simplifying and her William Morris Project. While Jules and her family don’t technically live in a small home, she’s done a lot of simplifying and pairing down. Lots to learn from her journey. Enjoy and thanks again Jules.
My goal is for everything in our home to have a memory, and if not a memory, at least a purpose.
Tell us a bit about the William Morris Project. I know you started it after helping a friend go through her parents possessions.
I did. My friend’s father was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Her mom heard the news and took to her bed. She stopped eating and drinking, and about 10 days later she passed away. Two weeks after that, my friend’s father died. June of 2011 was a nightmare. Going through her parents’ belongings was unbelievably disturbing. I remember standing in front of her mother’s vanity table and looking at the makeup, perfume, daily vitamin. It was all so normal! I felt like that character in a movie that stumbles into a city where everyone has suddenly left. I looked at her makeup and thought that if someone were to go through my makeup drawer, they would wonder why a girl who never wears makeup has two different green eyeshadows and 12 lip glosses in various shades of plum.
Has this ongoing project to ‘have nothing in your house that is not beautiful or useful’ changed how you shop/consume/buy things?
Absolutely. Limitations can be freeing, and so is knowing where everything goes in your home. I can see a pretty candle on a store shelf and want to buy it, but I know the cabinet where I store candles can only hold two, at most. Back goes the candle on the shelf.
You are a fan of Simplicity Parenting (me too!) and purge toys without input from your sons. Have you had any regrets over toys you donated? Do you see this style of decluttering for your children changing as they get older?
I have zero regrets. If I regret anything, it’s that I didn’t purge more and that I didn’t donate the toys immediately. I saved them for a mythical garage sale we were “going to have.” I finally admitted to myself a couple of weeks ago that we will never have a garage sale.
They’ll also have fewer, but more expensive toys as they get older. iPods, iPads, Kindles–those are all items that contain data, and I’m not so crazy that’d I’d toss out an entire book and music library for the sake of more shelf space.
Finally, I would love to know more about your choice to leave your law career. What was the biggest factor for changing jobs? Yes, I consider home manager/blogger/everything else you do a job choice
I wrote about that at length here, but the short of it is that I was a research attorney for a family and criminal law practice. I was in the office on a Saturday preparing an argument for a man to have more visitation with his children–he only wanted it to reduce his support payments–when it hit me that I was taking time away from my son to win more time for a man who treated his children like pawns in a game of chess. I guess that means the biggest factor for changing jobs was cognitive dissonance. Or, to put it in internet speak, “What is seen…cannot be unseen.”
A good book.
Chocolate ice cream with Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups mixed in.