The First Steps to Minimalizing Your Home

Often times beginning something new, taking that first step, is hard. We want to do it but many things can hold us back. This is very true when it comes to minimalizing the stuff and clutter in your home. In recent months many people have asked about our family’s journey into being minimalists and I’m happy to share our first steps and a few tips for you if you are wanting to start.

Our journey began when I finally gave in to my husbands countless requests that we get rid of our clutter. Intellectually I had always agreed with him, but I didn’t know how or where to start. So, I got serious, read some of the Becoming Minimalist blog and Francine Jay’s book, The Joy of Less.  These both gave words to my feelings of being overwhelmed and desperate for change.  They also gave me the know-how to begin.  It was also inspirational to see how their lives had changed and I wanted that for mine.

I jumped in and began drawer by drawer, space by space and room by room.  I made piles to keep, piles to pass on.  I threw away bags of broken and no good stuff.  I let go of papers that we “might someday need.”  I trimmed down toys and clothes and kitchen utensils.  It was so incredibly freeing.  Each day our home and our lives felt lighter.  Each day everything got a little easier to manage.

This is not to say there were not some road blocks.  Having two small kids definitely proves to add to the task (ahem, Nolan that box is NOTmeant to be dumped out!) I found myself unknowingly attached to some of the clutter areas. I also would get frustrated when areas I had minimalized suddenly became cluttered or when “stuff” would so easily enter our homes.

But the peace and ease of cleanup  are just two of the benefits that have made this journey worth it.  I have earlier posts about what a wonderful ride this is that you can read if you need more motivation.  Before I share some tips I learned along the way, I will say that these will probably echo what other minimalist bloggers say, especially Joshua Becker and Francine Jay.

1) Knowing that this is not a quick and painless process is important.  You can easily get frustrated if you start in a fury and want to accomplish it all in one weekend. Which leads to…

2) Start small.  I know you want to toss 2/3 of the kids’ toys, but DO NOT START THERE.  Start with your desk drawer or one cabinet in the kitchen. Do one thing at a time and let that feeling of accomplishment feed to the good feelings!  It gets addicting after a few small areas are minimalized!

3) Whatever area or space you are working on, clear it out completely and ONLY put back the things that are going to “live” there.  For something like a room, know that you will need a few hours to do it.

4) As you’re clearing out, quickly throw out all trash and then have three piles. One is keepers, two is for things you will pass on whether its a yard sale or to Goodwill. But plan to pass it on soon or it will creep back into your living space! Three is for the “maybes.” But a word of caution with maybes.  You have to think very hard if this is really something that is worth the space it will take up in your home.  If you truly are not sure if you can part with it.  Put all the maybes in a box and see in 6 months time if you’ve pulled it back out.  If not, send it on!

Do a little bit everyday.  In my case, I couldn’t commit a whole day or weekend, or even a few hours to purging, but I was determined.  So little by little I did various areas and rooms.  You can even make a game out of it.  Commit to getting rid of 10 things everyday for a week and see if you can feel the difference.

I hope these few tips help those of you who are beginning. I’m actually beginning the “Pre-Christmas Purge” in our home.  If you have questions, I’d love to help and answer any of those for you.

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It Doesn’t Have to Be Perfect

A couple of weeks ago, I sat in the living room floor of my in-laws apartment. The kids and I were working on some of homeschool work during our month long stay overseas. One of our most important pieces of school work were the travel journals where they recorded some of our big events of the trip.

Nadya, 2nd grade, who loves art, would mostly draw out her days. I did have her write about it a little just for the practice. Nolan, Kindergarten, is a bundle of energy, so you can imagine most of his schooling is done quickly and often with some movement involved. He does not like to draw or color. So I had brought a long some stickers I thought might be relevant and would ask him each day about what he had done or experienced. However, this one day he really wanted to draw about our time at the festival to celebrate the city’s birthday. We had watched knights do exercises and eventually a sword fight. He began to draw a sword. He was actually doing better and being more careful than usual. It quickly took a turn for the worse when he glanced at his sister’s work. Although drawing something different, hers had lot of detail. As you can imagine this led to tears, frustration, and even declaring that his was better and then ripping out the page. Trying to console him and encourage him one of the things I said was, “It doesn’t have to be perfect.”

Later that day, I found myself thinking of how I could have done things better during the trip and just beingcritical. And then it hit me, “It doesn’t have to be perfect.” How many times have I told my children that? Many. Especially to my oldest as she is hard on herself. The trip had really been fantastic. The trip of a lifetime and yet I could find moments that I had misspoken or failed to react in the best way or opportunities I wish I had jumped on. That’s part of being human. We are not perfect so why do we make these demands of ourselves. My personal opinion is that we long for perfection because we were made for it.

Apparently I needed to meditate on this more because several days later I saw a link on Facebook to the blog of my pastor, Robert Cunningham titled “The Enslavement of All or Nothing.” He said, “Perfectionism, at its core, is the lie of all or nothing thinking. If it’s not perfect it’s worthless. The problem of course is that perfection, this side of glory, is unattainable, which then leaves us with perpetual worthlessness.” I see this in Nolan ripping out his picture, that honestly was one of his best ever. I see this in so many of my girlfriends who don’t like the image they see in the mirror. I see it in men who are driven to be workaholics. I see it in myself in so many ways and so many levels – be it motherhood, being a wife, having a small business, being a follower of Christ. I see it in my friends as they wrestle with issues in relation to their faith.

Robert goes on to say, “If you take the all or nothing paradigm of perfectionism and evaluate your faith, then you will never experience the joy and freedom that is yours in Christ….Life as fallen creatures in a fallen world will never be all or nothing. It is profoundly beautiful and profoundly broken and we need to be okay with that tension. We bless God for what He has done in our lives, we are quick to repent and receive His grace for the remaining hypocrisy, and we eagerly await the day of our perfection that is promised to us.”

My heart cries out that yes this is true.  All realms of life are messy.  It doesn’t have to be perfect.  Let’s live life to the full, follow hard after Jesus, take risks, ask the hard questions, love deeply, fight for justice and peace.

Two Minimalisms

In the year and a half that I have been pursuing minimalism, I’ve learned that it is a growing trend in America.  However, minimalism or simplicity has been a discipline for many throughout the centuries and in all different countries and cultures. After spending a month in Eastern Europe I noticed that there seems to be two kinds of minimalism.  One that is necessary due to circumstances and one that is chosen.

Anyone who has visited Europe, or probably anywhere other than the USA has noticed that for the average person there is a smaller scale to life.  Houses, cars, meals, rooms, beds, wardrobes, etc, almost everything is smaller.  For the country I’ve been in this is paritally due to a less than stellar economy.

I know not everyone in Europe has chosen this “smaller” lifestyle and a simple life will look different for everyone whether they choose it or not.  I am not getting into economics or policies here.  What I’ve noticed in my time in another culture is that along with the minimalism so frequently found in cultures other than America, there seems to also be some of the benefits of minimalism being lived out as well.  Less clutter, less junk, less excess.  I would venture to say overall less stress.  In the culture I’ve been immersed in there is a huge value placed on family, relationships and time spent together.  If someone asks you to coffee, you better count on spending at least three hours with them.  These are values they hold highly and with good reason.

I’ve also seen this in my earlier days growing up in eastern Kentucky. But these values seem to be in decline.  The pace of just about everyone’s life seems maddening and unsustainable.  We run and we rush and we don’t even know why.

I would argue and often remind myself that the quality of life most of us long for is not found in the constant addition of stuff and commitments, but in a paring down, a simplification of our lives to enjoy the things that matter most.  To pursue the people, ideals, and creative outlets that mean the most.  And this is by no means easy.  My month away was one without a phone.  I did have access to the internet, but didn’t check in as frequently as I do here.  Upon arrival in the states and turning it on, there were immediately demands for my attention, time and money.  Some of them are good things, some of them are things I want to do.  But I cannot do everything.  I am saying no and it is hard.  Because I know what really matters most to me.  And even though there are exciting things going on and people I want to see and things I want to do.  I have figured out what I want to do most and the people I want to love on the most and I am choosing them.

Homeschool on the Go

Spending a month overseas, as romantic as it sounds, doesn’t come without a bit of planning, prepping, stressing, doubting, etc, especially when it comes to homeschooling.  I’ve had questions about the what and hows during our trip, so I thought I would share that.  I give some credit to author, blogger, adventurer, Tsh Oxenreider and her post on “world schooling” and mininmalism.  It was one of the moments that I felt like someone wrote it just for me.  Check out her blog as her family of 5 just left for a year long trip around the world!

First of all, we began school in July because I knew that this month in Minsk would be “different” than our normal homeschooling days.  I wanted to get a jump on a few things like math because as much as I would love to claim to be spontaneous, I do love routine and structure and completing my plans.

Secondly, with the kids being older now (7 & 5) the trip is extremely educational and such a valuable experience for anyone at any age.  We are being immersed in a country, culture, and language.  No matter your age, you are going to learn and grow in ways that only this can do.  My in-laws and I also planned some “educational” events and sightseeing.  So those days have been rich in history and geography.  Each child has a journal and is journaling in their own way about the days we are sightseeing.  We are also having conversations aabout the differences they are noticing.

Despite how my Instagram feed looks, we are having some pretty low key, ordinary days.   We’ve taken those days to get some of our usual language arts and math lessons completed.  We are on our second chapter book, which we are reading at night.

Lastly, there have been some products that we are using and have used in regards to the trip.  Prior to leaving we used Rosetta Stone to brush up on the language.  It is excellent!  I also checked out the free one offered by our local library and it is good as well.  We brought our Handwriting Without Tears workbooks, Math workbooks, several chapter books, Learning Wrap-Ups (which makes kids want to work on their math facts!)  There are also several apps, like Vocabulary Spelling City, iAzbuka (Russian alphabet), Letter Quiz that the kids enjoy and get a little practice in.

 

 

 

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The city of Minsk celebrated 947 years during our visit. We watched knights and archers.

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We visited Stalin’s line and learned a bit of military history.

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Enjoyed and learned about some of the natural beauty around Belarus.

A Sweet Friendship

My very first trip to Minsk involved speaking at an English club. I was put into a classroom with six Belarusian students, four of whom were named Tanya. It was my frirst trip out of the US and even my first trip on a plane. So young and eager and naive. I didn’t know what to do but call them Tanya 1,2,3, & 4. Now, twelve years later, I met two ladies who were both named Valya or Valentina. Valya 1, I noticed as soon as I walked into the small basement room of a church. Her bright blue eyes were shining with kindness and as my friend introduced me, she beemed a welcoming smile at me and bid me hello. I watched her as my friend shared some words of encouragement for those gathered. There were twenty of Minsk’s less fortunate who had come to eat lunch. I saw her eyes well up with tears as a passage of scripture was shared and Sasha talked of God loving and caring for us as a father does his child. I saw her wipe her friends tears and nose. Then I watched as she got up and helped serve all others bread, tea, a hot cereal with some sausage. She then helped Valya 2, eat and drink their meal. As the meal came to a close I met several of those there to eat and those helping. Then I caught her eye. She came up to me and I gave her a hug. She burst into tears and we held hands and chatted for a few minutes as I learned how Valya 2 is unable to lift her hands, which if you give it a try makes life incredibly difficult. So her friend helps with even the most basic everyday events. I don’t know about you, but that is the kind of friend that I hope to be and have. What a beautiful testimony of love. I am hoping to see these sweet friends again soon and learn more of their stories. In your prayers, won’t you remember these two precious ladies as they struggle through some of life’s hardships.

The Trenches of Parenthood

Lately there’s been some rough days in our household in the area of parenting.  Add to that the long and sometimes lonely days of homeschooling and you have a tired mom who feels like she has logged weeks in one day. If you are there, here’s a few things that have helped me through:

1) Friends.  I have one homeschooling friend, that I don’t know what I would do without her.  It is a comfort to know that she is there, she understands my rough days, and that I can text her anytime and she will offer up a word of encouragement or understanding or a prayer.

2)Prayer.  Often I don’t know what to pray because I”m angry or exhausted or so frustrated, but knowing that the source of all wisdom is available to me is such a comfort.

3) Joy.  Believe it or not, my precious children who bring me so much joy can also be the very ones that can bring it crashing down.  So, I”m choosing joy, even in the trenches of parenthood, I will not let these precious ones in their most heated tantrums steal it away.  That my friends, is probably the hardest ones, because I so often want Jesus plus well behaved, school-loving children.  But life is hard and we are all sinful.  We have a savior who is greater than all this and He gives us joy even in the trenches of whatever battle we are fighting.

#mywritingprocess Blog Tour

One of my closest friends, Lauren of www.birthisfun.com, invited me to join a recent blog tour.  I’ve “toured” part of the world with Lauren, so I jumped at the chance for a virtual one.  I first met Lauren in college and we ran off to eastern Europe to work with college kids and orphans and we both fell in love with the culture and some local boys – hence the crazy last names!  Lauren now is a wife, mom, natural birth advocate, labor nurse, blogger of all things birthing and my minimalist friend!

Being that I homeschool and have a home based business with Noonday Collection, I don’t blog as often as I want.  An idea will hit (usually in the shower!) and then life happens and I don’t get to write about it immediately, but I’m trying to make time for that!  Many friends have contacted me about my journey into minimalism so that has been much of my work lately.

With the focus on minimalism and simplicity, I address how you can apply that to a life with kids and how to simplify in this day and age of the glorification of busy.  I’m also studying the Christian focus on simplicity so that makes its way into my writings as well.  My life has changed so much in the past year and a half in this area–which conveniently spills into all other areas, that I cannot help but want to share that with others!  I want you to join me into simplicity!

I NEVER thought I would “write” in any shape or form, so the fact that I am now supposed to answer about my writing process is a bit embarrassing.  So I’ll just be honest, I am inspired when I’m outdoors.  I’ve always loved being outside.  I am desperately trying to carve more time in my day for that.  As I see how good it is for me. I’m also inspired by people.  I love seeing people live life to the full – even with the hard and messy things.  Just living!  To hear of someone doing something brave and bold or to have a conversation with someone about their hopes and dreams will get me dreaming and the creative juices flowing.  I jot down ideas as they come and then later, just write and edit.  Simple!  

Unfortunately, at the moment I have no one to pass the torch onto for the #mywritingprocess tour.  If I know you personally and you blog, I’d be happy to edit and link up to you if you’d like to join the tour!

Blessings!

Robin

The Ultimate Minimalist

So minimalism. Early on I was a little hesitant about it all as I mentioned in my “Reluctant Minimalist” post. I remember just a couple weeks into it, the purge, that I began to say ok, there is something more here than getting rid of my stuff and keeping clutter at bay. I also remember thinking that I didn’t want to get into some thing that was weird. I felt though, that this went deeper. There was something spiritual here. I also felt that if this was not from God,  I didn’t want any part of it. And wouldn’t you know, Jesus is the ultimate minimalist. His life on earth was characterized by its simplicity.

I mentioned in my last post that I’m in a small group with some close friends and we are reading Richard Foster’s The Freedom of Simplicity. I read it last year. During ” The Great Purge” and it really brought it all full circle and showed me that yes, this very much is a spiritual journey.
 
One thing that the world, and even the church needs is more people who are willing  to live a life of simplicity. I’m finding that is some thing that truly is craved and many times we don’t even know the name of it. Jesus calls us to live simply. There is SO much to be found in it. Peace, freedom, Joy, contentment. I am only just beginning and have so far to go and I see it and feel it everyday when, by the grace of God, I’m able to choose life and love and people over stuff, anxiety and busyness. Whether it’s hoarding things away or wishing and scraping up the money and time to acquire them or filling me life so full that I’m running full speed and still can’t manage it all.
 
Would you join me? Would you just take a small step in releasing the hold you have on things and watch the grip that they have so tightly on your life begin to loosen.
 
What if all this stress and running and striving for could be greatly reduced?

Protecting Summer

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Summertime is my favorite time of the year. The sunshine and heat. How everything is out and blooming and living and gorgeous. I just want to stay outside sun up to sun down and soak it all in. Here we are on July 15 already and I have those first thoughts of, “No, not yet!” I know the heat and summer will continue for another month or even two, but it just seems to go so fast. I want to pause the days of my kids sweaty and rosie cheeked from chasing each other. I want to sit under the shade of our sycamore tree and read for HOURS with the summer breeze blowing through my hair.

Part of the reason I cling so tightly to July is because August is busy. Yearly there are birthdays, anniversaries, oh and not to mention school. Hopefully for the kids and I, this year holds a BIG trip, but I’m not officially announcing that until tickets and more are in my hands.

The intensity of August seems to linger the rest of the year, but June and July seem to be the Sabbath of my year and I don’t want to let it go. There is a rhythm in life as in most things and I like that. But it doesn’t mean its easy. For the past two years I have purposefully planned to do very little in those months. It really was glorious last year. I would say at times it seemed to go fast, but we truly did rest and relax and have fun. And we didn’t even go anywhere for vacation. We just stayed home and enjoyed one another and simple things. This year I feel a little panicky and I don’t know why. Although, my plan again was to take it easy and have few if any commitments for kids or parents (except work of course), I don’t feel like I’ve been as careful with that. I’m learning that “taking it easy” is not as easy as it sounds. Sure its nothing to spend an hour on facebook before you realize it, or squander away time on other trivial tasks. But I mean to really take it easy. To rest. To relax. To plan to have fun. That is the kind of rest that is rejuvenating. Life giving. I need that.

This summer I persuaded a few of my friends into reading “The Freedom of Simplicity” by Richard Foster with me and meeting weekly to talk about it. I read this book last summer and this time I wanted someone to discuss it with. As you may have read in a previous post, last summer was “The Great Purge” of stuff from our home. I think this summer is going to the “The Great Purge” of stuff from my heart. Foster says, “We dash here and there, desperately trying to fulfill the many obligations that press in upon us. We jerk back and forth between business commitments and family responsibilities. While we are busy responding to the needs of child or spouse, we feel guilty about neglecting the demands of work. When we respond to the pressures of work, we fear we are failing our family. In those rare times when we are able to juggle the two successfully, the wider issues of nation and world whisper pestering calls to service. If anyone needs a simplification of life, we do.” I won’t even quote what he says about our “many selves.” I will be the first to say that I’m a people pleaser. And I genuinely do enjoy doing MANY things, but I am realizing that I am NOT superwoman. I’m not. I cannot say yes to everything. Because by saying yes to everything, somewhere something or someone is being neglected. This is so hard for me. I know this post is ending incomplete, but I still need to process more and where to even begin.

Speaking of Christ, Foster says, “But when we experience life at the Center, all is changed. Our many selves come under the unifying control of the divine Arbitrator. No longer are we forced to live by an inner majority rule which always leaves a disgruntled minority…we enter a refreshing balance and equilibrium of life.” Easier said than done for sure and the rest of the chapter and book is diving deeper into that.

Has your summer “flown by”? Do your times of planned rest and retreat get unnecessary interruptions or fill up somehow? Do you have ways of protecting those times? Would love to hear thoughts from you.

There’s No Place Like Home

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There’s just something about those mountains. Every time I go they get to me. The woods are deep and dark and lovely. They speak to something deep in my soul – something of who I truly am. I treasure my childhood. It was simple in the way that a childhood should be. My sister and I could explore the hills as long as we could hear when our mom yelled for us to come home. My daddy plowed our gardens with a horse and plow. They tended the land. We ate from it. Though I’m pretty sure I was lazy and not helpful, watching them has given me an appreciation and love of the earth that has come back to me now. One of my favorite smells in the world is a tomato vine.

The hollow (“holler”) where we lived was small – just a one lane dirt road up the mountain. Behind our house was another smaller hollow. This was what I loved the most. The mountainside was covered in ferns. The creek running through made its way slowly over a solid rock with moss lining each side. The forest was a mix of poplars, hemlock, sassafras and others. There were two moss covered logs that had fallen who knows when. It was there that I would retreat to when I was happy or sad. It’s where I envisioned traveling to faraway lands and falling in love. It’s also where I knew without a doubt that there is a God even before I had met Jesus. The sound of the creek trickling and the smell of the woods was so perfect and unspoiled and I knew what I had there was special. It was and still is “my happy place” though I haven’t been there in years. I miss it so much. Especially on hot summer days when wading in the cool water and even cupping my hands for a drink would be so refreshing.

I’ve been out west and see the splendor of the Rockies. I’ve seen two oceans – each so magnificent, but there is no place that gets to me like home. I’m sure I’ve romanticized it a bit since I’ve lived elsewhere for so long, but maybe not. I know living there is not easy. There’s statistics and articles to prove it. Here is one. But I cannot deny the place in my heart for the place I grew up.

Its such a part of me that I sometimes feel like my kids are missing out. Yes I have a case of FOMO. How can I give my kids the same love and appreciation of the Earth? Will they have such a connection to the place we now live? Being in a neighborhood in a city? I love Lexington and we try to explore the city and really be Lexingtonians. Maybe some of you life long city dwellers can enlighten me. Or others who loved their childhood home and have moved away. How do you create that same thing for your children? Or if you left the place your grew up but it never left you, I’d love to hear about it.