Minimalism Part 2 – Toys and Clothes

In one of my previous posts, Journey to Minimalism, I began sharing how we are downsizing and purging our clutter and stuff as we learn to be minimalistic. 

The two realms of my household I most wished to bring back into balance after discovering the glories of pursuing minimalism are namely – toys and clothes.

Now, you must understand, we live in a small house, so even though we have considerably fewer toys than in the average American home, it still sometimes feels like a lot in our three-bedroom, two common room house. Toys can so quickly get out of hand, even if it’s just books and army guys and some matchbox cars lying around. 

When it comes to toys, my philosophy is that I would like for our children to grow up with a few choice toys that will stand the test of time, toys that are made of real materials or are durable and versatile enough to be many different things – whatever they want to imagine. A few examples: 

  • Lincoln logs or building blocks sets
  • matchbox cars
  • a collection of dice
  • duplos/Legos
  • puzzles
  • Anything that stretches their imagination and encourages make believe

However, where books are concerned, I’m fine with keeping most of them for now, since we go through our personal library on a regular basis and give away the ones we haven’t read in a while that can stand to be purged. 

Back to toys, I am trying to get into a toy rotation where the kids can trade out different ones (or collections) for something of equal value/quantity. This way, the amount of toys in circulation remains the same, but it’s like Christmas since the traded toys are “new” to them again. This system makes so much sense, and I have to keep trying to be more consistent with the rotation end of it. 

And this doesn’t just apply to kids’ toys – adults have hobbies and interests that can blow out of proportion just as easily, if not more. For me, it’s mainly yarn, sewing supplies, thank you card collections, notebooks, memorabilia, sheet music… You get the idea. Currently, the yarn and fabric are under control, sharing one large basket, and that is saying something. As for the paper contents of my desk, that’s the next project for downsizing. 

Now. Clothes. 

This was a bit trickier. I don’t know about you, but we’re in a constant rotation of borrowing, trading and storing kids’ clothes, and as I’m not finished fluctuacting sizes myself, (weight loss, pregnancy, post-partum, etc.) the amount of clothes stored is indeed the challenge. Come to think of it, Caleb is the only individual in our household out of six who doesn’t change size. Except for this year because he has recently lost some weight. (Go, my love!) 

Any way you slice it, our clothes situation is one that is constantly evolving and won’t stop for quite some time to come. So, likewise, my plan of action to manage it must be flexible, but systematic, so we can maintain our ideal of simple living. (And we still have a long way to go.) 

The kids’ clothes are mainly the way I like it, and I’m at the point where I think I can go through my own for another sweep through and get rid of a few more things I’m realistically not wearing or won’t end up wearing as much. 

And here’s the sweetener. The idea is to carve away excess clothing to reveal a minimalist wardrobe where I would choose any one piece first out of my closet. I have to stop settling for clothes that are just ok, because they won’t get worn. Not when they’re put next to items I actually love to wear. And those clothes I don’t wear end up robbing space. So, I’m going to start gradually fill my closet with choice pieces that I love to wear and that are good quality, so they last for years to come. 

A concept that takes the minimalist wardrobe even further, but one I haven’t yet attempted, is the capsule wardrobe. I really like this blog post featuring a gal named Caroline Rector, about how to create your own capsule wardrobe – which, in her definition, “is a wardrobe that represents more time and energy for what really matters (less time spent deciding what to wear/less time spent shopping/less time doing laundry or caring for clothes) more money for our dreams and helping others (less money spent on clothes that never get worn) and more contentment and happiness.” Uh, yep. Sign me up!

It is essentially a wardrobe comprised of clothing pieces that go with any other select combination of pieces. From samples of capsule wardrobes I’ve seen, they contain lots of neutral staples, punctuated with some flair, personality-remniscent ones. 

We’re constantly bemoaning the fact that “we have no time,” no? That we “don’t have anything to wear” but yet there’s a closet full of clothes staring us blankly in the face, right? And then we try on way too many of the wrong outfits only to wear the one we began with and end up rushed and ultimately (well, in my case!) late to my destination. No bueno. 

Building a capsule wardrobe looks like a good answer for this all-too familiar time wasting crisis to me. If my wardrobe is already full of clothes that I love to wear, clothes that fit me, clothes that go with any other piece in said wardrobe, dressing would be a piece of cake! And I can consequently spend much more time on things that actually matter to me, which is the ultimate goal. Unless of course, you happen to be a fashion designer and loving clothes is your job. Ha. 

But for me, a country gal with no place to go other than the grocery store and church and a couple appointments here and there, a snazzy city wardrobe isn’t for me. I want to be able to choose what I wear within 20 seconds or fewer. My time is much more valuable spent outside my closet. And I suspect the same is for you. 

So, back to minimalism, again, it is ALL a process. And one I’m heartily enjoying, because the time I spend downsizing is going to yield long- lasting benefits, both for me and my family. Less stuff, more space, less stress, more time, more depth in relationships, and ultimately, more communion with the ones I love, as I learn to serve them and all around me. 

God bless you always, and especially today. 

Thanks so much for reading.

Cheers. 

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    Saving Your Valuable Time

    I was beginning to think I have mild ADD. There once was a time when I possessed comparably insurmountable concentration to a single task at hand, normally drawing or practicing piano or reading, or even studying for that matter. How quickly things can change…

    Understandably, having attained a husband, a household, and four children, I now can be found to embody a mere fraction of the devotedly focused individual I was even just six years ago. My first thought upon realizing this stark and, at first, alarming difference in myself was that I have become less focused and my attention is now split a thousand ways. I am incredibly distractable. And I seemingly cannot do anything for more than fifteen minutes put together (unless it’s reading or writing or talking. HA.) Maybe I need to work on my multitasking skills. 

    And yet, the more I try to improve said multitasking skills, the less I actually improve at accomplishing things. From what I’ve been reading and hearing (namely, this article by Larry Kim at Inc.com, great stuff), multitasking is actually not the way to go, as I have previously been led to believe. From what he is saying, the practice of multitasking is doing the very opposite we believe that it is. Efficiency, getting things done faster, getting more things accomplished… 

    Lies. 

    Here are some excellent nuggets excavated from this article. 

    In fact, what we call multitasking is really switching from task to task at ludicrous speed. Doing so harms our brains by perpetuating “bad brain habits.” We switch from minor task to minor task at such a great pace (example: checking email to texting to looking up to answer a question back to texting, all while watching TV,) to which our brains respond by “hitting us with a dollop of dopamine, our reward hormone.” We love that comfy feeling instant gratification brings, which comes from – you got it – dopamine. And as a result from this behavior, we train our brains to think we are accomplishing much, when truly we aren’t. 

    Mr. Kim cites a recent study suggesting “subjects who multitasked while performing cognitive tasks experienced significant IQ drops. In fact, the IQ drops were similar to what you see in individuals who skip a night of sleep or who smoke marijuana.” 
    This statistic is nothing short of horrifying in my mind…

    And as if that weren’t enough, multitasking has also been shown “to increase production of cortisol – the stress hormone.” Of course. On top of that, the real kicker:

    “A study from the University of Sussex (UK) ran MRI scans on the brains of individuals who spent time on multiple devices at once (texting while watching TV, for example). The MRI scans showed that subjects who multitasked more often had less brain density in the anterior cingulate cortex. That’s the area responsible for empathy and emotional control.”

    And I am scarily finding this very result in myself the more I pursue the habit of multitasking. Shortness with people, quickness of temper, all around touchiness, impatience for anyone who doesn’t understand me right away… 

    So, new plan. I’m done trying to become an adept multitasker! 

    Now that I’m aware of how I’ve been mistakenly trying to accomplish Life, I’m attempting to really do one thing at a time. Eat lunch without doing something else too. Plan more time to get certain tasks done for the sake of doing them individually, and well. Be. Think. Train even my thoughts to sink into one concept at a time. So much better to do a single task as well as I possibly can, to think a thought as deeply and completely as time allows, to contemplate as fruitfully as possible, than to do ten or even fifteen tasks all at the same time but accomplished to a fraction of their value. 

    This is going to take a lifetime of practice. Isn’t it just the hardest thing to sit still? Stay? Be? Interact? It takes enormous strength for me to not retreat into my personal self-ish world as soon as I have the opportunity. To be present, to force myself to engage? That is where the true courage lies. 

    But we love to feel busy. It makes us feel like we’re getting a lot done. The fact must be faced that when we fill up the day with too many things, the result is that we come to the end with too many tasks to accomplish in the leftover time allotted to us, we feel pressed for time, and the reaction is to do everything faster by multitasking to get all those things checked off the list. And most of the time getting things done faster means merely that. Not better, just faster. Busyness certainly does not mean progress. 

    The conclusion I come to is that I must retrain myself in what I perceive true accomplishment means and looks like. 

    I want to utilize my time as efficiently as possible though, not as quickly as possible, which means I must retrain this habit I’ve ended up unintentionally cultivating within myself. 

    Because I know I won’t get to the end of my life wishing I had gotten more things done. I’ll wish I had  spent my time better – deepening relationships, giving, serving, loving, learning. 

    In that way, I will have saved my own valuable time. Not by what I accomplish but by how I enrich my own soul and the precious ones around me. 

    May God bless you always, and especially today.

    Cheers. 

    Journey to Minimalism 

                                    • • • 

    Since having my fourth wee babe this past April, I feel I’ve received a thick dose of reality in what I can and cannot handle. There is a limit, after all… 

    Mr. Ollie is 6 months old now, and in the time between his birth and the present, I’ve delved into some steep self-discovery. 

    • Realization #1 • I learned that taking care of two Great White Pyranees pups plus four children under the age of five, including a newborn, was not amongst the list of circumstances I can handle well, no matter how badly I wanted to. There’s apparently nothing so alluring to me as appearing to have it all under control when I truly don’t. 

    The pups are in two wonderful and beautifully capable new homes as of this May, and I have my wits back, along with my patience. My conclusion from this humbling lesson is that we are not supposed to have any dogs for a while. (Duh.

    Furthermore, I currently have not the desire nor the energy to train dogs the way I wish to, and I will not subject myself to training a new pup until the boys are able to do most of the care. Also, I have enough encounters with southern  bodily substances on a daily basis to be relieved from the task of caring for two enormous puppies, thankyouverymuch. 

    • Realization #2 • It is remarkable how much adding a single person (and a miniature one at that) to a family can increase Mt. Laundry. Absolutely astonishing. I’ve never been so overwhelmed with laundry. And I have a small house. But we had a lot of laundry… So, Caleb’s natural response was: get rid of all the things! I was hesitant about this approach at first, but after revisiting my opinion on the subject, my eyes were opened to truly see the amount of Stuff we have accrued in our short six years of marriage, and found that it was indeed the answer. 

    • Realization #3 • I need to write. It is not a hobby, it is a fundamental need. For now, I picked journaling back up, after years and years of inconsistent  documentation of my mental world. It’s still a challenge, as is anything for me concerning the pursuit of consistency, but I am now in more of a routine regarding physically writing in a journal. And getting back into practicing my handwriting is a refreshing biproduct of it. I love the act of writing nearly as much as the writing itself… Something about forming words as beautifully as possible. My future writing goals include more work on my novel(s), and learning to write them, but that is for another post…

    • Realization #4 • I must take care of myself. This means getting to bed earlier than this night owl has ever managed on a daily basis, rising early, exercising in some capacity, and eating healthily. Of course. 

    So, I’ve run a half marathon, and that was stop one on my post-partum weight loss journey. Down nearly thirty pounds and planning some strength training for the month of November as I get back to my no-sugar diet, which has been instrumental to this weight loss! (Again, I’ll keep you informed in future posts…)

    • Realization #5 • I’m a much more disorganized person than I’d like to admit. Becoming a mother of four as of April effectively pushed me out of my many comfort zones, from a state of controlling (or attempting to control) All Things to a new reality of accepting, relinquishing, and redirecting when it came to my home and my children. 

    Realizing that I need to begin with changing myself was the first step – I do have the control to change the way I do things – it is part of my role as the homemaker that greatly shapes how our home is run, how it feels, how it functions. 

    An inspiring book, Design Mom, lent to me by my sister-in-law (thanks a million, Emily Wilson!), motivated me to reassess the way I do (or rather, don’t do) things in our home, and moved me along the direction of newly aspiring minimalism. 
    I relish home design books with good pictures, and this one is chock full of ’em. And the underlying theme of the author’s decorating style is functional simplicity. She regularly considers the positioning of the components of her home, and assesses their current functionality, their value, their purpose. If anything changes, so does the room, and she adjusts to improve it and try something new that can work better. Or, if she decides she simply doesn’t like something anymore, she changes it. Now, obviously not all of us have the luxury of changing things at the drop of a hat, but it does help to remind oneself that decoration doesn’t have to be permanent, nor should it be. I forget that all too often. 

    And yet, spending as much mental energy as I’m sure she does on the movement of the home absolutely needs to be put into balance as well. There are so many more important things to be getting on with, I feel. But it’s for a time, really – rearranging one’s home does not have to be a constant, but rather, a means. How exhausting that would be, otherwise! 

    Back to Design Mom – I just loved her fresh take on running a home, establishing and maintaining systems that work, and making a house into a sanctuary for everyone in it, all the way down to the youngest child in the family. 

    So, as I looked around my own home, I took mental note of a few things – my initial observations were:

    1 – We have a lot of clothes. Waaaay too many items of clothing, towels, fabric in general, etc. 

    2 – There are too many toys. (And we have significantly less compared to the average American household where toys are concerned.) 

    3 – We’re running out of space. 

     4 – We don’t use a lot of the stuff we are currently storing/keeping around. 

    It all started with the night Caleb and I went through the eight plastic bins of kids’ clothing size newborn to 4T, and downsized to three bins total – 2 boy, 1 girl. The snowball effect was activated. We became hooked on minimalizing.

    I paid more attention to the things I liked about friends’ houses and how simplicity and functionality and beauty can combine in a lovely, inviting home. I read up on minimalizing tips, found some new blogs, and started going through possessions and piling up the Goodwill box, I mean carload. 
    I’m learning that minimalism is a process. Not something accomplished overnight, by any means. It is far too hurculean a task. No, not a task, a lifestyle alteration. 

    Presently, after a couple of months at this, we are down to a happy amount of clothing for the boys, as well as the kids’ toys. We are still going through our own clothes, books, DVDs, CDs, craft supplies, etc. And we keep going through the same things and discovering that we can live on less stuff. It is the most freeing thing… And it’s addicting. I find that I’m now too eager to just give away things, and sometimes have to check myself and ask if we still use it enough to keep it, which is sometimes true. 

    But sometimes one has to go from one extreme to the other in order to come to balance. I don’t think we’ll get too extreme, but I’m certainly finding that we now have not only more space for storage, but plenty of it. We’ll easily be able to live in our three bedroom/two bath little ranch style house for several more years before even thinking about adding on or doing major home improvement. And that gives me peace of mind. 

    I keep thinking about the holy fathers and monks and how unattached they were/are to their very few possessions. And I think it can be a very Orthodox way of living to rid oneself of all the possessions the world tells you that you must have. 

    I’m finding that not only do I forget what I’ve confiscated after I do, but more – I don’t miss them. I don’t miss the things! And life goes on without them taking up space in my home.

    Now the challenge will be to not replace all that I’ve gotten rid of with better things. Ha. 

    More on minimalizing later. I’ll tell you about my wardrobe next! Also a process, but one I’m heartily enjoying. You’ll see why. 

    Until then, God bless you always and especially today.

    Cheers!