The Quest for Minimalism

For a long time now, I have pondered the term “minimalism.” After reading blogs, and viewing shared photos of minimalist homes, I knew I didn’t want to do that. After all, in my opinion, not having a single picture or decoration on a single wall in my home would just not feel… “homey.” However, the idea of “less is more” as far as materialistic things…you know, those toys that accumulate on the floor. Or maybe toys aren’t your issue, maybe it’s that never ending pile of loose paper (mail, your kids art work, magazines, etc) that you intend to sort, but instead seem to continually relocate. That’s not you? Well, that’s me. I just read a comment online pertaining to minimalism, the person referred to themselves as a “surface abuser” and I think that’s a great description! I fall into that category, if there is empty counter space, things accumulate. The scissors I got out, the tape measure I was using, items that I set down, instead of walking a few extra feet to put them back in their designated “place.” Next thing I know, I’m cringing when I see it, telling myself, “I need to organize those things” but quickly following that thought with, “I will later, tomorrow, next week…”

I don’t know about you, but I am TIRED of that. Who doesn’t LOVE the feel of a tidy home? We’re not talking about filth, we’re talking about clutter. The minimalist approach isn’t about just organizing, it’s about purging what you don’t need, what you don’t use, what you will NEVER use, what you can have a photo of rather than holding onto the actual item. What does sentimental really mean anyway? And it’s not about holding onto things “just in case!”

Why is it so hard to let go? I don’t know. I grew up holding onto everything, that’s what we did. Well, not literally EVERYTHING, but nearly everything. We moved in 2008, 2009, 2010, and 2011. Whew, that’s a lot, I know. While we really didn’t own much, and we still don’t own much, I was lugging things along with me that meant nothing to me.

We live in a 1200 sqft, 2 bedroom, 2 bathroom apartment, with no additional storage, other than closets. No outdoor storage of any sort. While the place isn’t THAT small, sometimes it feels cramped with a family of 5. After I became familiar with minimalism, I felt an “urge to purge” our home, I thought I was motivated enough. I purged items, and realized that it didn’t make but a little dent. I’m so tired of my children getting out little toys, only to strew them here, there and the other place. They don’t play with them, they just plop them on the floor, they are bypassed when my children are going through a toy bin, looking for a different toy. Or lets face it, the truth is, random toys are fun to toss around (though not condoned here in our home!)

In the last 2 weeks, I have taken off with working my way towards a more minimalistic lifestyle. I have now donated 1 large box, a large wicker basket, a mirror, shoes, clothing, and 3 trash bags full of other items, I have another small bag started now. I also have 1 plastic bin full of a few toy items, and my kids clothing to consign. It has been so freeing! Has it been easy? No. Who doesn’t want to keep some cute little toys, regardless of whether or not your children don’t care about them? Who doesn’t want to keep a pretty planter that they could use for a future plant? Who doesn’t want to keep all the fabric under the sun, after all, you might sew something beautiful the future! What about those outdated software books, old college books that you can’t resell and are of no use to you? What about those old sheets in your linen closet that you will never use again (and likely not re-purpose either). Also, how many coffee mugs does one need anyway? Do you really need the drawing you made when you were 3 yrs old, much less a pile of all your childhood arts and crafts?

These are just some examples. I’ve been in super purge mode. I have officially disassembled our “homeschool table” from our living room and stored it under our bed. A true minimalist would probably tell me that I should part with it, rather than keep it for future use. However, I know for a FACT I will use it in the future, when we live in an actual house. The 2 chairs that we used with the table are going to be donated, they aren’t in good condition anymore, and have served their purpose. They are nice to use when guests come over, but I don’t have anywhere to store them, so guests can sit on the floor! Kidding! We do have a couch!

Lets count the many benefits of removing the table:

The table wasn’t an eye sore, but it was cramped in our living room. It has opened up the room a lot and created space!

I now have motivation to keep our dining table free of clutter (shame on me, I should always keep it clean!)

The homeschool table can no longer fall victim of my children being “surface abusers.”

I’m sure there are other great benefits, but you get the picture! Decreasing the amount of “stuff” gives opportunity for one to keep a tidier home, and does equal less stress. I have already felt a huge difference.

I have purged some kitchen items. Mugs. They are still an issue. We drink a lot of coffee. We have a couple of Christmas mugs, a couple of team mugs, a couple of pretty mugs. Some that I’m not ready to part with, but with the few I’ve already purged, I have created space in my cupboard. Same goes for various plastic cups, or bowls, a non-stick frying pan that we never use, and so on. My cupboards can now be easily accessible to the things that I do use, all the time!

My husband tends to want to keep more than I do, however, he has been a huge advocate for my purging spree, and as he has seen the results, he’s impressed! Today he asked me what I was going to do when my urge to purge is done, what I’ll do after I’ve purged everything I feel necessary. While I’ll probably always have a few things to purge, the opportunities are endless. Having less mess, having only those things that will be used, having things easily accessible, etc, I will now be able to do the things I enjoy doing. I will have more time to put towards homeschooling, sewing, crocheting, reading my photography books and putting the lessons into practice.

How can stuff = time? Can I do these things that I enjoy without purging? Sure. But as crazy as it sounds, they really do go hand in hand. You want to make that cake, you know, the mix that is buried in the back of your pantry, but your kids are tugging at your shirt, your counter is covered with either dishes, or that pile of mail you didn’t sort, and your mixing bowl is somewhere in your cupboard buried underneath all those other bowls you never use. In the end, the stress of making the cake seems to be too much. You may follow through with making it anyway, but the process of moving things around, digging for the mixing bowl, or your mixer, all the while your kids are begging for your attention, your cake making experience ends up giving you anxiety. Or maybe this is true for me, maybe I am odd?! Maybe a silly example, but I’m sure there are a few that can relate!

All I know is that my quest for minimalism doesn’t end here. I envision having a homeschool room someday. That is, if we ever rent/buy a nice house. I envision having our Ikea Expedit shelving unit, and the homeschool table, maybe a pretty area rug if we have hardwood floors. I’ll probably hang a large world map on one wall, and paint a Bible verse on another wall, maybe even stencil design of some sort to give the room character. Very simple, very easy to maintain, clutter free, but not bare. Comfortable. There are ways to incorporate welcoming style without clutter! Style doesn’t equal 10 accent pillows on your couch made of every Amy Butler print known to man (saw something like this online today!) Pretty? Sure, but practical? Maybe not.

I envision our living room having a couch and chair, maybe a love seat, whatever we may find that we’d like, an area rug, TV & stand, and a large canvas print of our family, or of our children above the couch. Oh, and a side table, considering I’ll need a spot for my coffee when I curl up on the couch to watch TV, crochet or read!

I enjoy crocheting, and have accumulated a decent amount of yarn, I have found the yarn I love, the rest is just sitting in a bag, unused, and likely will never be used. So out it goes. No more, “just in case” yarn in this home!

My minimalist approach has just begun, but my hope is, to be able to purge overflow. Make sure everything we have, that we use, has it’s place. Minimalism isn’t organization, as I can organize all day long, I can find a place to put everything I own(ed), and appear to be tidy, but that only lasts just so long before finding myself overwhelmed again. We ALL own materialistic things that we do not need, that we don’t care about, we all have keepsakes that mean nothing, we all have things that our great uncle Jim Bob Smith made that we refuse to get rid of, just for the sake of knowing who made it, yet tired of moving it here, there and the other place.

Lets face it, your old jeans may never fit again. And if they do, you should give yourself a pat on the back and reward yourself with a new pair! However, if they are your favorite pair and you’re actively trying to fit in them again, I say keep them. I did part with various clothing items of my own because they don’t fit quite right, and I’m no longer fond of the style. I’m still unsure why I had held onto them for so long!

If you’re really uncertain about getting rid of particular items, remove them, put them in a box, put the box away for a week or two. Did you miss them? Did you forget you owned them? Did you feel any different without said items crowding your living space? Were you more efficient with the flow of housework? Did you recognize how excited you were when you found your fridge underneath every last picture of family, friends, missionaries, endless amounts of your children’s art work, those ABC letters, the endless amounts of magnets, schedules, calendars, etc?!

You may not have the same urge to purge like I have had in the last few weeks. It is a struggle for some, you may have so much you don’t know where to begin. That’s ok. I’m sure everyone can think of a few things right off the bat that they know they want to get rid of, start there, and as you start seeing the benefits, you will have more motivation to move forward. It’s like they say about post-pregnancy weight. Takes nine months to put it on, it’ll take at least nine months for it to come off. So, don’t fret. Stuff doesn’t have to dominate you. It took a while to accumulate, and it will take a little while to part with it (I know from experience). Like I said, I’m not a true “minimalist” nor do I intend to be one in the purest sense. I just intend to keep my home free of things my family doesn’t like, or don’t use, so that I may have more opportunity to capitalize on what is important to us!

Foreign Language: Mandarin Chinese

FOREIGN LANGUAGE. I had the opportunity to travel to China twice as a teen, and I loved it, the country is beautiful, the people are beautiful, and I hope to go back again some day. My family also took in a Taiwanese exchange student for 1 year. I love her dearly and am honored to be able to call her my sister! I didn’t take learning Mandarin seriously though, other than some private tutoring, unfortunately I never truly kept up with it.

My son has taken a huge interest in Mandarin. It started after watching “Ni Hao Kai Lan” on the Disney channel. He loves saying, “Ni Hao” (hello) and “Xie Xie” (thank you). We’ve asked him multiple times what language he would like to learn. He has shown some interest in German, and of course he knows about Spanish, but he always comes back to Chinese. I spent a lot of time searching for a good Chinese program, the options are very limited. Rosetta Stone is popular, but far too expensive and just wasn’t what we were looking for. Then there is Muzzy, but again, not ideal. There was one other program, for a very cheap price, and while it did seem appealing, I found that it seemed too elementary, or maybe too Americanized if you want to call it that? I finally came across Better Chinese, and it seems like a fantastic program. They also have extremely fast shipping!

I’m starting with Better Chinese, My First Chinese Words as it is geared towards younger children, and I’d like to start slow, from the bottom and build up from there, considering learning Mandarin is not easy! Included are 36 short books, with audio CD and two workbooks. I had been directed towards their option for online subscription, but I have found, sometimes the audio on the computer isn’t ideal. After looking at foreign language websites, and doing the free trial of their program, I feel that it would be best to use the audio CD, rather than the online subscription. Chinese is a tonal language, and not having clarity may hinder learning. If things go well with this program, I will purchase the extra books, I Love Chinese 12 Story Books to add on, before continuing on to, My First Chinese Reader program. I’d love to have someone tutor him, and I’m thrilled that my sister in Taiwan said she’s willing to help teach him via Skype!

Educational Play

EDUCATIONAL PLAY. I still haven’t mastered how to entertain the little ones, but we have different things that can hold their attention, at least for a few minutes!

Duplo Blocks. Trio Blocks. Kid K’nex. Puzzles. Wooden Dress up Dolls. Train sets. Play kitchen. and so on…

Lauri Toys Shape/Color Sorter

Tangrams

Counting Bears

Pattern Blocks. You can find printable patterns online like I have pictured below, or you can purchase some pattern sets on Amazon!

BIBLE: ESV Seek & Find Bible

BIBLE. I don’t currently have a Bible curriculum. My son’s Seek & Find ESV Bible, for ages 5-9 yrs or so, has been great for us. The Bible includes the stories, which are accurate according to God’s word and put in simple terms for children to understand. At the end of each story, it says where to find the story, some days we’ll read the story within the Bible, others, we’ll just read the Bible story. It has a “Key Bible Verse” a few questions about the story, and “Related Bible Reading” which are verses found in other parts of the Bible that pertain to that particular story! I typically read the Bible story and have them answer questions at breakfast time, I’ve found that they are more willing to listen that way!