everything else is a ‘no’

Nothing seemed simple about last year. Full, but not simple.

With some like-minded community members, I started a Toy Library which you can read about here. Then amid my husband’s law school graduation and Bar preparation, we moved to a new town (where he now works) and awaited the arrival of our sweet second child, now five months old. In the Fall I started the last year of my graduate program in the midst of a 12-week maternity leave from my full-time job.

With the new year comes a renewed commitment to live simply and fully, and thus my mantra has become: “Say yes to what matters most, everything else is a ‘no’.”

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Blogging has become a ‘yes’ again. It was essential as I dipped my toes into the practice of minimalism that I had the support and accountability of a like-minded community. But after awhile I felt I was writing what had already been said (not very minimalist indeed), so I let it go.

A year later, here I am with a bigger family, in a bigger house, in a smaller town (though, ironically, we’re saving more money having moved out of the city). I am recommitting myself to living simply and fully. In truth, nothing narrows one’s focus to that which matters most like the cry of an infant needing to be nursed. It acts as a great check on my regularly hurried state, forcing me to sit down and settle in for a moment, to breathe, relax and enjoy my family.

While I have stuck with my minimalist mindset, some old habits have been slipping back into my routines. It shows in my expanded wardrobe, which I blame on pregnancy and nursing (but still!), and in my spacious new home which we’re trying desperately to not fill with things.

Fortunately, my buying-averse mindset stuck around through my blogging hiatus. Whew, a year of blogging about living simply did a number on my consumption habits and I am thankful for that! I dread bringing anything new into our home, and I still think extensively before buying.

So, here we go again. I am grateful to be back among friends! Looking forward to continuing our journey together!

 

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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?

on mental clarity

I have held off in writing this post for some time given all that is already written about it. So rather than explain the significance of mindfulness and meditation to simplifying one’s life (which while important, will be redundant to some of you), I will just share my experience with it.

Since September I have been taking a course on integrative psychotherapy for my social work program. The course is experiential and requires us to build and maintain a daily mindfulness/meditation practice of 30 minutes per day. I have been meditating regularly and keeping a daily gratitude journal for two months. The online resource I have used most frequently for guided meditations and lectures is the well-respected Insight Meditation Center. The course also follows a book called Awakening Joy. One chapter titled Step 6: The Joy of Letting Go has been particularly helpful in connecting mindfulness practice with decluttering. Additionally, we read simple, daily inspiration from the Pocket Pema Chodron reader. While tedious at times, the different aspects complement one another well.

I have grounded this practice in settling into the moment rather than in the goal-oriented striving that is so common in my life. Therefore, I am hesitant to talk about the “outcomes” other than to say that this practice continues to help me step back and see my emotions from moment to moment without getting caught up in them in ways that I used to; it helps me to recognize and understand my reactions to situations as important contributors to my happiness; and it helps me to acknowledge and more fully appreciate both the sorrow and the joy in living.

Meditation is certainly supportive of efforts to live simply and fully, but it’s not magic. I have not reached a new consciousness. I have not ceased striving, or desiring, or comparing or any of those things which come in the way of happiness. In fact, some of these things have reared their heads more frequently, and I don’t doubt they will continue, but such is the nature of the mind. It is the practice, not the outcome, which is helpful in dulling the impact of these patterns of thinking that block happiness. It is about seeing them and unhooking ourselves from their pull, a process which will continue for me as I settle… settle… settle into the present some more.

If you are interested in beginning a mindfulness or meditation practice, I would encourage you to start in any way that fits with your current lifestyle. There is no right way. Trust me- what works for classmates who are living on their own often does not work for me, as I take care of my young one solo in the evenings. But other things do work- like getting up early while the house is quite or taking 10 minutes in the car between stops during my day, or totally devoting my attention to my senses and feelings in the present moments as I play and laugh and care for Jonah at night. Most importantly, though, if you have a minute to check email or Facebook or blogs, then you have a minute for mindfulness- not to catch up on anything, not to spend time with a favorite hobby, not even for doing those activities we often call “self-care.” Unbusy yourself for a moment. Breathe. Notice. Enjoy.

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.

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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.

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.

 

 

 

lamps galore

We are settled in to our new place- for the most part. And we did it without the typically huge, expensive supermarket trip to get/replace a bunch of things that the new place “needs.” We did buy two things: cleaning supplies (the toxic kind which we HATE but will use only if desperate to do a once over of something in really rough shape- like our new tub) and a drain stopper so that we could give our son a bath (after we thoroughly, and I mean thoroughly, rinse the tub).

The only other thing that we need are some lamps since the switches on the ones we had won’t be reachable behind our couches in the new set up. Seems a simple fix. Just buy some lamps. But in the last few weeks of scouring the internet and multiple stores for the perfect price point, size, shape, color, etc, I can tell you it is not.

And in the midst of my search, I stumbled upon this TED talk which some of you have probably already seen as it is from 2005. (I guess I was out of the loop back then.) The message is no less relevant today. Contrary to popular belief, more choices can make us more miserable. A powerful message for keeping things simple.

The living room lamps which by now I have wasted countless hours agonizing over and still have nothing to show for it, are a great example.

It’s time to settle this once and for all, so that I can get back to living my life. Today, lamps will be bought.

simply… fully?

It occurred to me that this blog has focused far more on the simply than the fully of its title.

It leads me to wonder: As a result of simplifying, have we (my husband and I) made more space in our life for the people and the passions most important to us? I’m not sure I can answer this yet. I think in many ways we have made our packed-too-full life manageable. The fully right now is doing work that we love, furthering our educations, and starting a family. This has come at a great cost to our social lives and our engagement in the community (outside of paid work). I think we are now net debtors of family and friendship favors, too. One day it will again be our turn to give, and I look forward to that. In the nearer term, we are excited to be able to entertain again once we move! And we have a long list of friends in mind with whom to catch up.

While our lives are complicated, they are also distilled. We know who we are and share a common vision for our future. We let our core values guide us and let go of the things that are not important in our hearts. Superficial does not exist here… nor does “should.” We do what makes sense for our lives which, though not always easy, is simple.