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.

When You Have Less You Appreciate More

I’ve learned to keep my expectations low since we moved here.

We have a farmer’s market once a month and the first time I went to it I was brimming with excitement and even had a grocery list. I imagined I’d be able to stock up on loads of local produce and goodies. I had my big city brain turned on.

When I arrived and there were just a few tables set-up: one for a local vegetable producer, another for jams and honey, one for dog biscuits and a butcher. I bought kale, carrots and onions, a pork roast, local honey and local organic free range eggs. Not the bounty I was hoping for but enough for a few meals.

It took a few months but I adjusted my expectations about the services and goods I could expect on the island. Our first few run-ins with outages at the grocery store, no chicken or no bananas, made me put my adaptable chef hat on. The other day there was no sour cream at the Marks & Spencer’s. A while back I was craving chicken wings but had to hunt around for a butcher that sold them. I found them but they weren’t the same cut you would get in North America: it was a full wing with tip attached.

Even the indoor play centre is run differently that it would be at home. Maybe it’s the relaxed West Coast attitude in Vancouver but most of our play centres run on a drop-in basis. Over here it’s in one hour sessions and when they blow the whistle your kid has to get out of the ball pit pronto.

There are lots of festivals and events on the island that we enjoy going to but my big city friends, and my big city brain, wouldn’t be impressed by them. They’re usually quite small and have local talent. There’s a vibrant music scene here but I’ve never heard of any of the bands or artists before. Most of the fairs or events have the same two fun rides at them: the carousel swing and a bouncy castle.

Having fewer options, and less available, has made me appreciate what we do have more.

The other weekend we went to the Southern Agricultural Fair near Castletown. Friends had told us it would be good fun, or good “crack” as they say, for the kids.

We took the train down and then walked over to the field it was set-up in. I hoped there was at least an hour’s worth of things for us to see or we’d be taking Henry back to a park to play as we waited for the next train home.

The fair was beyond what I hoped for. There were loads of farm animals out for children to feed and pet, a fun fair section full of rides I had never seen before, a large arena for shows, vintage tractors and sheep races. We spent a long afternoon wandering around and got sunburns. Henry fed goats and watched chickens and petted donkeys. He ran around with some of his little friends and saw a bee hive. It was a fabulous day and we didn’t even see all of the fair.

City me wouldn’t have been that impressed with the fair. I would have appreciated it and been happy to see Henry interacting with the animals, but it would have been just another event. There is so much for families in Vancouver: music festivals, the Aquarium, the Planetarium, Stanley Park, huge community outdoor pools and the list goes on.

Here on the island we have less choice. There’s almost always something on every weekend but it’s usually just one thing.

I’m thankful for this move overseas and this chance to live in a smaller town. It’s teaching me to appreciate what we have instead of focusing on what we don’t have. Hopefully I can hold onto to that mindset when we move back to a bigger city some day.

Heading over to London for the Olympics and will be away for the rest of the week. Won’t be able to respond to or approve comments. Back Monday. Go Canada and go Team GB!!

It’s Okay To Experiment With Downsizing

a window in my kitchen for the first time in a few years










I mentioned yesterday that we moved.

I would love to tell you it was to a micro-house. Six hundred square feet efficiently equipped for a family of three to work, live and play.

But it wasn’t. Not sure there is any such thing here on the Isle of Man.

What did we move into?

A renovated three bedroom flat in a very old building. I would guess it is somewhere between 1100 and 1200 sq ft. The building is 100+ years old. We’re on the top floor.

Why did we move?

We knew our first flat here wasn’t our forever Isle of Man home when we moved in. It was a case of choosing something fast out of limited stock. The plan was to move at the end of this summer but after keeping tabs on the rental market we knew it would challenging to find what we wanted for a specific date. This flat became available and we snapped it up.

Our last flat had some challenges for a family of three. The biggest was that the kitchen was enclosed and windowless. Not only was it a dreary place to cook but I was constantly battling safety issues. I either had to lock Henry out of the kitchen (only possible when husband was home) or let him in to play while I cooked. A small enclosed kitchen is not a safe place for a two year old to play.

Also, living without a freezer was no longer a fun challenge. Every other week we had at least one item of food waste (even with meal planning) that could have been avoided if we had a freezer.

The other challenge with our previous flat is that there wasn’t a desk, or space for a desk. My husband’s desktop computer took up half of our dining table. We considered buying him a small desk but there wasn’t an easy place to put one. The furniture in the small flat was house sized leaving very little floor space.

It’s okay to experiment with downsizing.

I don’t see this move to a bigger home as a failure of downsizing.

Rather, this was a chance to learn about what we’re comfortable living with and without.

We also know more about the housing and rental market after living here for almost a year. We know what area we want to live in and the types of housing available in that area. If there had been a suitable flat that was 800-900 sq ft we would have taken it but there wasn’t.

Our new home is a great fit for us: furnished, great location and those sea views that we love so much. We are also confident the owner won’t be selling the flat anytime soon. That was a constant threat in our last home.

Downsizing experiments = cash in hand.

Living in a small home for 11 months and negotiating a rent reduction saved us money. Our rent was below what we budgeted for and so were our utilities. We saved more money in the last year than we ever have before. A big part of that is being out of debt but another part of it was living smaller.

I think as a family we’re now open to the idea of radically downsizing for a short period of time to meet a goal. When we someday leave the Isle of Man I could see us living in something very small while we start new jobs or careers.

Has anyone tested the waters with downsizing only to turn back? The other things we have tried, and are still doing well with, are no car and no smart phones.

How To Have An (Almost) Stress Free Move

Our new dining area. I'll never be tired of the view.










We moved homes the other week.

Change of residence ranks high on the Life Events Stress List. It’s between “Troubles with boss” and “Changing to a new school”.

For an additional challenge the move was planned for the week we returned from a long trip to Canada with a week in the Dominican Republic at the end of it. We were jet-lagged and weary even with our sun tans.

The week before we left for this long trip we were shooting a television show for three days. It was fun but tiring and I didn’t do much in the way of prep work for the move before we headed off island.

Yes, we set ourselves up for a stressful and tense move with our jet-lag, no preparation and a very short window for getting out of our old home, leaving it in good condition with all the linens washed and the walls free from toddler marks, and getting into our new place.

Despite the odds, it was the easiest move I’ve made so far. Note: I said easy. Not enjoyable.

Have less stuff. Really.

I packed up most of our stuff in an afternoon and then my husband and I finished packing and moved it all in one evening. Okay, the only furniture we own is a train table. That is a big one.

But, as someone with a lot of moves under my belt, I’ve found it’s rarely the furniture that does you in. It’s all the stuff in the closets and cabinets and kitchen drawers. It’s boxing all of it and moving all of it and then unpacking it.

In my athlete days I moved crossed country twice a year. My teammates and I lived out of a few duffel bags and some boxes of dollar store kitchen ware, drying racks for our spandex wardrobes and CDs (dating myself here). It was never the big stuff, the suitcases of lycra that did us in with the packing. It was the small things. It was the one off cheap bundt cake pan we bought and made one bundt cake with. It was the scores of CDs that we hadn’t listened to or the flimsy closet organizer we bought to get our clothes in order but never used.

It’s those little trinkets, not the bookshelf and the things you use everyday, that will have you wanting to curb your stuff during a move.

So get rid of it.

Get help.

With our laundry situation there was no way I could get all the linens – sheets, duvet covers, towels – washed and dried in 48 hours.

So I outsourced them. The laundry service did a bang up job and it took an item off my plate.

We also hired a sitter for the evening so Chris and I could make quick work of moving. The other cost, and this was a splurge in my jet-lagged stated, was a cleaner for our old place. They got the place spic and span in two hours and for a reasonable price. One of the benefits to living in an 800 sq ft apartment.

If you don’t have the funds to outsource a few things during your move ask family and friends to lend a hand. Find someone to watch the kids for an afternoon or friends over for a packing party and have some nice food and beverage on hand.

Less stuff = not needing professional movers = saving $.

Even with our outsourcing this move didn’t cost us anything close to the price of hiring professional movers or even what hiring a moving van + feeding friends beer and pizza would have cost. Our expenses for the move were: babysitter, linens, cleaner and fuel for the car our friends loaned us. In fact, the fuel was by far the most expensive piece of our move at £50 ($75) for half a tank of gas (for a sedan – I know, crazy prices over here).

In 2009 we made a very costly move when we sold our 598 sq ft condo and purchased an 1100 sq ft one. I was 8 months pregnant and my husband was away for stage one of the move. I packed up most of our apartment myself and we hired movers to come in and take everything to storage. Our new home was being renovated so for three weeks we rented a furnished condo. When our new home was ready the movers took everything out of storage, put it in a moving van, and brought it to our new place.

That move cost us thousands of dollars and was one of the most stressful times of my life. Every other day I went to the pharmacy to check my blood pressure fearing that I was developing pre-eclampsia. I was so on edge with the move, the logistics of it, the endless packing and the cash we seemed to be hemorrhaging from it, that I was worried my blood pressure was sky high.

Moving is never easy.

Even with less stuff and some help, I still found myself tired and grumpy by the last hour of the move. At 10pm I felt like leaving the last few things at our old place and getting them in the morning. All I wanted was my bed and sleep. Chris helped me shake it off and we took our last load of stuff, Chris’s guitar and the clothes hanging in our wardrobe, to our new home. It was well worth it to push on and wake up the next morning in our new place with the move done.

And unpacking? Pretty painless. One morning of work had most of our stuff in closets and we were ready to resume living a normal life (read: no takeout). This weekend I finally put away the last couple of boxes and our new place feels like home.

Anyone else have lessons from moving house?

Your Clutter Coach


Sometimes you need more help than a book or a blog can give you.

Sometimes you need a friend to remind you to donate those bags of unworn clothing that are sitting in your basement.

Sometimes you need someone to make a plan for you, motivate you and keep you accountable.

Sometimes you need a Clutter Coach.

I get a lot of emails asking for help. I always respond (even it takes me a while) with advice, suggestion and encouragement.

And I always wonder, did they carve out a weekend to clean out that attic? Are they in the throes of home purging and feeling beaten by the process? Did they pull out some boxes from under their bed, lose a few hours looking through old junk, and then decide it was all too much work?

For some time I’ve wanted to help beyond the posts on this blog. Something very personal for paring down and living smaller.

A book wasn’t the answer. There are already some great books out there like Family-Sized Minimalism and Clutter Bootcamp for inspiration and how-to. A book can’t hold your hand, give you a kick in the butt or suggest another method for dealing with all that mail.

I want to do those things.

I want to see closets go from jam packed to roomy.

I want to help people get more sleep.

I want to find solutions for the mud room clutter that can be so hard to reign in.

So I’ve started something new.

Your Clutter Coach

This is for people that:

  • can’t make the time to declutter even after reading a lot of books and blogs on the subject
  • get sidetracked by old photos and trinkets every time they attempt to clean out the guest room
  • have pared down their stuff but it crept back quickly
  • need motivation and accountability to clear clutter for good

Your Clutter Coach is a personalized decluttering program. It’s tailored to your lifestyle, your needs and your schedule. It’s me kicking your butt and you kicking ass.

You can read more about the services here.

If you’re interested in the program I am currently giving away one free Four Week Clutter Coaching Program at Parenting with Crappy Pictures (if you haven’t visited this site before it is hilarious). The giveaway is open until Tuesday May 8th at 8pm PST. Head on over to read the details and enter.

PS. This will be the only time I mention Your Clutter Coach in a big post like this.

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