lessons for the little ones

For Christmas (yes, this post has been that long in the making) my son received a book from his grandparents titled “The Biggest House in the World” by Leo Lionni. It is a lovely story of snail folklore passed down to kin about a small snail who taught himself how to grow his house. He grew it and grew it until it was large and thorny and colorful and looked to the frogs more like a birthday cake than a snail house. But alas, when the cabbage that he was on was all eaten up and the other snails moved on, this snail withered away and so did his home, too large to move. The moral of the story was not lost on the snail in the book, who decided to keep his home small and mobile in order to enjoy all the wonders of the world around him.

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I love the simple lesson in this story, and it started me thinking of other children’s books with a minimalist theme. Of course there is the classic Dr. Seuss book “The Lorax,” which we enjoy at our house, and his lesser known story of “The Sneetches,” who learn a similar lesson about the dangers and futility (as well as divisiveness) of greed and consumerism.

Another that we have checked out of the library numerous times since first reading it is John J. Muth’s Zen Shorts full of simple lessons taught to three siblings by a friendly, zen Panda.

One with a valuable lesson for parents came from my mother-in-law, who gave it to us as a shower gift because it was my husband’s absolute favorite book to read over and over as a child (which if you read it you might think that quite strange). “Not Now Bernard” by David McKee is about a little boy who’s distracted parents don’t seem to notice when he is eaten by a monster. In an ironic twist at the end, the monster (perhaps not surprisingly) becomes the child.

As I was putting together my list, I stumbled upon a list which is being compiled by the folks at the minimalist mom blog. Here are their suggestions which I have since requested from my library. I can’t wait to read them as they slowly trickle in. Check them out (hehe):

The quiltmaker’s gift by Jeff Brumbeau

10 little rubber ducks by Eric Carle

Extra yarn by Mac Barnett

The gift of nothing by Patrick McDonnell

Joseph had a little overcoat by Simms Taback

Just enough and not too much by Kaethe Zemach

The King of Capri by Jeanette Winterson

Little bird by Germano Zullo

More by I. C. Springman

Something from nothing by Phoebe Gilman

The table where rich people sit by Byrd Baylor 

The trouble with dragons by Debi Gliori

Yoko’s paper cranes by Rosemary Wells

The giving tree by Shel Silverstein

I love you, Blue Kangaroo! by Emma Chichester Clark

The Perfectly Orderly House by Ellen Kindt Mackenzie

Do you have any others to add?

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maintaining minimalism

As I continue to look through minimalist blogs, I find it interesting how many people are posting pictures of belongings which they are throwing out or giving away, just as I did when I started blogging. What is it about sharing our success with letting go that makes it feel more liberating? Whatever it is, I know the feeling well. Documenting through photos and seeing the change can be an especially powerful visual representation for how it feels “before” and “after.”

Far fewer bloggers are writing about the joys and struggles of maintaining minimalism. Perhaps as our mindsets change, we also have less to write about it, or less of a desire or commitment to do so. Is only the transition period interesting?  Or is it that we are filling our lives with more than just minimalism, so we graduate to more exciting endeavors offline?

I have found that the less I have to write about minimalism, the more I have to write about living fully. For example, my husband and I have been taking sailing lessons. I had never even stepped into a sailboat before last week, and now we are envisioning future sailing trips with our children. Our lives are not so much changing course as they are headed in the direction we desire them to go. Last night I steered us through some powerful gusts, and I learned that when the wind comes up, sometimes you need to pull the tiller harder than you think to stay on point and many minor adjustments are needed all along the way. Yes, a cliche metaphor, but an apt one for me this week as I reflect on a new-found hobby which requires the focus and flexibility I have learned from simplifying my life up to now.

So maintaining minimalism doesn’t feel quite as exciting as the initial idea and lifestyle shift, but I think that’s the point, it allows other interests to excite us instead.

sailing

sharing is better

Anna North of the New York Times Op-Talk blogs recently linked to my post on minimalism and class privilege in her article When It’s Cool to Have Nothing. While it came as a surprise given the low-key nature of my blog, it is an interesting twist. I was encouraged to begin this endeavor in part because I heard a radio program on how sharing our ideas with a wider audience in the digital age has led to increased collaboration and innovation. Of course I can’t track it down now because there has been so much offered on this topic as well as whether the internet actually fosters connection to any real extent- a question I asked myself as I penned my first post. It seems intuitive, though, that sharing an idea, which can spark other people’s thinking, is more generative than keeping it to oneself. And this is a great example.

I am thankful to have contributed to a larger conversation. It has indeed become a conversation and the comments on North’s article have given more depth to my own thinking. I am also delighted by the traffic to my blog, not because of the notoriety but for the realization that many people are looking at the original source. I am glad that some took the opportunity to see my writing in its original context, as it was intended, amid all my other reflections and my nuanced approach to simplifying. Hopefully they could see the topic of class privilege that I presented as an issue I grapple with myself, rather than merely a critique of minimalism.

The recent attention offered with it a challenge. Last night, instead of incessantly checking site stats or likes on Facebook, I took a walk through the park with my family. I gave my son a bottle before bed and rocked and sang to him like I do every night without interruption. This blog will continue to be a reflection of, but also take a back seat to, living my life.

Beyond the theoretical, there is another upside: This attention has generated increased interest in the Minneapolis Toy Library as I anxiously await news about a grant we wrote in June. Excitement is building! You can stay updated on our progress through the Minneapolis Toy Library’s own site here.

play, in nature and otherwise

Whew! Our “fully” filled summer calendar has been off to a great start with travel and camping and music on the weekends when I am not in school. Though at times I have lost my equilibrium in trying to juggle work and life and school again on top of it all, my husband has been quick to intervene and bring it all back into perspective and therefore balance. I am forever grateful to him for playing this role so gracefully in my life- especially in the face of a stressed-out, cranky wife and sometimes equally cranky child.

Our son’s first camping trip was everything we had hoped for his first birthday. Two nights in a Minnesota State park. Cool and damp. Our son was filthy and loved (nearly) every minute of it. Never before had we heard such happy coos out of him as when we were hiking through the wilderness. So we’ve come to the conclusion that he will fit in just fine. Plus, birthday cake out of the dutch oven and shared with friends who were backpacking for the weekend was a special treat for all of us.

In addition to starting school, another new mom and I have been working on the minimalist project of starting a toy library for our community. I will share with you what I have been sharing with everyone else:

The Minneapolis Toy Library is a mobile toy lending program which seeks to reduce waste, foster child development, and build community in the Minneapolis area.

The Minneapolis Toy Library is an idea which grew out of an eco-minded parent’s [my] struggle with wanting to stimulate her child’s development in the first year but also with wanting to be conscious not to buy toys that would eventually lead to more plastics being discarded into the environment. Always looking for ways to keep things simple and build community, this mom stumbled upon a brilliant idea: toy libraries. Toy libraries are starting up all around the world and have various focuses.  You can read more about international toy libraries here. After sharing the idea with some friends, community organizing to create a Minneapolis Toy Library picked up momentum.

Many parents feel the need to buy new toys to capture their child’s attention and stimulate their development but want to balance this desire with frugality whether out of environmentalism, minimalism, or necessity. Furthermore, young children’s interest wanes quickly with toys, so a lending service is a great way to ensure that toys are getting more use than they would if they stayed with just one family (and parents can forgo the headache of storing unused toys). In addition, toy library volunteers can help parents select toys that are appropriate for their child’s developmental age in order to offer the most engagement and learning.

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We just applied for a grant and will be notified August 1st about whether we will receive funding. It has been a bit of a time investment, but I think it’s well worth it for our family and the larger community. We hope to start out as a cooperative, donation-based mobile toy lending program by the end of the year!

 

reflections on beauty and minimalism

Lately I have been struggling with two things as I simplify my life.

1) I am finding minimalism aesthetically boring. Not the true design concept of it (which can be beautiful and interesting) but the way that I can afford to live it out right now.

My surroundings are very important to me. They shape my mood and productivity and sense of contentment. I want to break out of convention and make our living spaces beautiful and magical. I have an urge lately to embrace my creativity- which is a big part of living “fully.” I know that I could do this on a budget, and I could get creative about recycling as to limit consumption, but I’m not sure quite how to do this in our current apartment without collecting stuff.

This has all led me to reflect on what I find beautiful and magical. For the most part it is nature and any way that nature can be intertwined in our lives and spaces. I love treehouses. I love tiny little cob cottages. I love greenhouse home additions. Anything tucked away in nature, preferably near water, is a dream to me. And those kinds of elements carried out through a house warm my soul.

I simultaneously rediscovered the tiny house movement on several blogs and have been fascinated by what people are creating. Which leads me to my next struggle… 2) while it seems to provide an answer, tiny house living is somewhat impractical for a family with young children- particularly in Minnesota, in large part because of the bitter cold winters here and therefore the need for little ones to be indoors a large chunk of the year. Also impractical for us is the fact that land, building materials and time for a project like this (even when it means no mortgage) is far from our reach. Plus it would take some effort and persuasion to convince my husband of all its merits. And much to my chagrin, I have found little evidence online of very young families doing this successfully.

With both of us in school and parenting a soon-to-be toddler, I’m not sure why I am so anxious for another monumental shift in our lives. Perhaps I have become too accustomed to change. So I am trying to settle for contentment right now. We like our apartment in the middle of the city. It serves us well for the time. Maybe the answer is patience. If I don’t collect more things now, we can have that kind of beauty enveloping us and flourishing in our lives later.

I have started to “plant seeds” with my husband, hoping that tiny house living may be in our future some day. I especially love the idea of building our own unique and magical home out of reclaimed treasures that we can collect together over the years. Something that we can put our own sweat and imagination into.

With this hope for the future, I will live expectantly in the present. For the time being, if anyone has ideas (other than painting, because I’m not sure we can do that in our rental) for making an apartment magical without accumulating a bunch of decor, please comment!

 

 

hanging up the smart phone

My Samsung Galaxy SII has now totally failed me. I was making due with its delays and quirks, but now it has a mind of its own- powering down and back on without any prompting. When I went in to see if it could be fixed, my provider immediately tried to upsell me, which didn’t sit well. Our service has been terrible anyway, and we have been looking into new carriers. My husband’s phone dying a similar death this last week was the last straw. While most people would be frustrated, I enjoyed the relatively phone-less weekend and have looked at this as an opportunity for simplifying.

I have (for the time being) bowed out of the never-ending technology rat race. I am now smart-phone-less for the first time in two years, and I don’t think I will miss it much. I typically have a couple other devices (albeit older) on me that connect to wifi anyway, so my life won’t change too drastically. Fortunately it will be less tempting to jump on Facebook at any spare moment, which will only stand to benefit my son and other close relationships.

I also feel strangely like I won. My provider tried to convince me that I needed the latest technology- the $600 phone that would be outdated in a year and probably not work after two. Instead, I reconnected a basic phone that I received for free with a contract four years ago, which is still up and running (and that we had to rely on for an alarm clock when both of our very expensive, “nice” phones were on the fritz).

Still, my husband cannot be convinced. He went with the Galaxy S5- $99 with a two-year contract. Our total monthly bill comes to $120- $30 of which is my phone/plan (and not contracted). I will be saving us over $300 a year by checking Facebook, etc. from my other devices. The one big downside for me is that I will no longer have a very nice camera on me at all times. But I do have a great actual camera that I will likely now turn to more often.

What made this whole leap possible (and it does feel like a leap) is knowing that if I am desperate to have a smart phone again, I can sign into a contract at any point and still get the deal. But I can’t see that happening.

Better service, cheaper bill, simpler life. Thank you for powering down smart phone; you have shown me the way.

 

 

 

what we aren’t saying: minimalism and class privilege

I have been following minimalist blogs for a couple months now, and I so appreciate this online community. I would not be where I am in changing my thinking about consumption without the support of many down-to-earth simplify-ers and aspiring minimalists.

Still, I feel somewhat out of place here. Many of the most popular blogs that I read are written from the perspective of people who left high-powered, well-paid and benefited corporate careers for a simpler life and now have plenty of savings to show for it. I can see how that would feel great. It is in fact a very privileged position to be in.

I know privilege well because I, too, have a good education, despite loads of debt. I realize this was a choice. For me it was a choice to improve my life and others’. My income is modest because I work in social services with primarily poor people, and though my husband and I are practicing many of the same methods of frugality as others, we are basically getting by month to month, not saving a large percent of our income, which has worked out fine for us.

Still, because of my work, I am very aware that many people do without and receive stigma rather than praise. To them it is not called “minimalism.” They live on very little, but it is not called anything because it is mostly unacknowledged, and when it does come up they are looked down upon as “lazy” or “irresponsible” (a feeling conveyed in even many minimalists’ posts). So I want to say what most minimalists are not saying: the benefits of minimalism depend in large part on where you start. It is not a financial solve-all, especially for the incredible number of people who are working full-time and still living in debt and poverty because they can’t afford necessities. It is ignorant to assume that all of these people are spending frivolously. It is hard to save when rent and heat and healthcare and food costs go up and your income does not.

Minimalism does, of course, help, and that’s where I find it hopeful. We can take back some control. But as I reflect on this nagging class consciousness, I want to challenge us, myself included, to do more than declutter- to also demystify our privilege when and where it exists and acknowledge the reality that, minimalist or not, class shapes our lives in major ways. Even if we all do what we can individually to live simply and save, it is going to take much more change than that before we and our neighbors can all live debt-free.

walking the walk

So here’s an update. (Yes, I have done more to simplify lately than chopping off my hair.)

The drawers of my dresser now close! Here is the heap of clothes and shoes and accessories that I am letting go of in one way or another (consignment or donations; trash already went out):

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That’s three big bins of clothes and one of shoes. I also have a bin of maternity clothes for consignment and a couple ziplock bags of jewelry that I am giving to a friend (neither are pictured).

I am still sifting through some of the clothes that I may want to keep, narrowing it down to *about* the list that I came up with earlier. I may have to keep a couple additional items because, as anyone with an infant knows, I have to change a lot. I hadn’t really factored that into my calculation.

I already know I will go over my estimated amounts by the following things which I have deemed essential. (Pragmatism, people.):
2 sets of long underwear (mid-, and light-weight)
Fleece pants
Rain pants
Steger mukluks and moccasins
Sorel boots
Hiking boots
2 swimming suits and a cover-up
Winter layers: fleece jacket, fleece vest, outer shell (in addition to my regular winter coat)
Tweed suit coat
Very formal black dress

Still, this is a significant downsize. And still, I am very proud of letting this much stuff out of my life. I feel lighter with every empty bin.

unravelling the overloaded wardrobe

2014 is the time to declutter my wardrobe. No more, “But I might wear that again.” I have boxes full of but-I-might-wear-that-agains, and they need to go. This may be the singular biggest area where I get my wants and needs mixed up. I do need some clothes for work and for working out and for special occasions, etc. But how much is enough? When does “needing it for work” turn into a justification to buy whatever new article of clothing I want. And sure I want a new winter coat. We spend most of our lives in them up here in Minnesota. But I have a coat, so need is not really a word that applies here.

More to that point is that we already require clothes for several seasons. What’s worse, as a new mom I went through about four wardrobe changes in the last year. It’s not just the maternity and nursing clothes but also the major weight gains and losses. And I still don’t know where I’ll end up, so I’ve been hanging on to everything!

This has all led me to wonder… Not thinking about any of the clothes that I actually own or want to keep, how many clothes do I really require? Here’s what Livingonadime.com had to say:

7-9 work/dressy outfits
5-7 casual outfits
2-3 outfits for relaxing at home
3-4 pairs work shoes (depends on your work. Only 2 if you wear tennis shoes or similar shoes to work)
3 pairs casual shoes

Editing to fit my lifestyle it would be about:

9 shirts
7 sweaters
2 sweatshirts
9 tanks/tees
5 pairs of shoes
2 pairs of sandals
2 pairs of boots
7 pairs of pants
2 skirts
2 dresses

I wonder if I could get it down to that?! It seems reasonable. I’ve been feeling frustrated lately with my clothes anyway. I have so much in my closet and still I don’t know what to wear. This may be the perfect solution. I think I will start by picking out the outfits that I feel great in and go from there- focusing my attention on how much I like the pieces that I am going to keep rather than agonizing over the ones I am giving up. Then over to the consignment shop for an added bonus. Ah, the rewards of living simply.

cutting back is adding

Why does someone attempting to live simply need a blog you might ask. I did. Why add to my screen time as I try to cut back on it? Well, as a new mother (of a now five-month-old), I need a place to both keep track of my efforts to make our family’s life simpler and richer and to hold myself accountable to them. To inspire myself and others by showing that cutting back is adding greatly.

I am not a perfectionist in this regard. I am not a minimalist out of some Utopian vision but rather out of necessity. In fact, I probably don’t qualify as a minimalist at all. But I am trying nonetheless to increase my time and happiness by decreasing my possessions. As my husband and I work and continue our educations and raise a small child in a smallish apartment, it is essential that we not accumulate any more than we need- in all respects. Need is relative I am finding, but in our tiny space, it is easy to feel that we have plenty more than enough.

Our lives are chaotic. But they don’t have to be. We just need to re-prioritize.

I found minimalism when I was pregnant and imaging all of the things that come with having a baby. Literally, things. And I read The Minimalist Mom’s Guide to Baby’s First Year. While not following all the advice, we have done well so far in our little one-bedroom.

So we’re pragmatic. I’m just seeing where this goes. Focusing more time, resources, and effort on health, loved ones, learning and growing and living with joy- simply and fully.