Living an Authentic Life

I am sitting in my favorite armchair, a purchase recently made after the recliner in our home (finally) started to show its age. (I thought that thing would never die.)

I love my Pottery Barn chair, the cool leather against my skin, the little brass tacks placed in even arrangement around the arms. I love the way it looks in my home – simple, rustic, with just a touch of class.

I know, materialistic. Consumeristic. Completely un-simple-hippie-like. But honestly, I don’t care. Because if there is one thing I’ve learned about minimalism, it is this – it isn’t about what I don’t own, it’s about what I do. It’s about what makes me happy.

And this chair, it makes me so very happy. As does my lamp, my side tables, and my candle holder. My chipped white candle holder. Just thinking about that stubby little holder makes me smile.

These items are a symbol of who I am. Simple and rustic. A bit of a lost era, a time I wish I’d known. The life I long for, everything I strive to be.

But it wasn’t always that way. My life hasn’t always been this authentic.

I once bought into a lie, the lie many of us are fed, the lie that says that to be an adult one must fill their home with adult furniture, expensive pieces from expensive stores.

When my husband and I had our first grown-up jobs and moved into our first grown-up apartment, we did what the lie told us. We bought furniture, furniture that shouldn’t be used, especially with two little boys. A gray sofa with a matching loveseat, a table, a lamp, and a few pictures. Beautiful pictures. Pricey pictures. Too pricey for me. Too ornate. Too sophisticated. Pictures that shouldn’t have been on our walls.

Not long after those purchases, we bought a house. A simple house. We filled it with sturdy furniture meant for children, but kept the sophisticated pieces as well.

But corners remained empty, and well-meaning people brought us pieces, like clocks, curios, chairs with slender legs. More pictures.

My home became a scattered array of furniture, from French to country, contemporary to traditional, with a few Southwestern pieces mixed in. A mish-mash. A mess.

I was living a lie. A façade. A life someone else had made-up for me.

Thirteen years later, our home was sold, nearly all our furniture (except for a few pieces my husband couldn’t part with) was gone.

Many miles away, in a brand-new place, we began again. Bought furniture. Decorated. But this time, we bought only what we needed, and only what we loved. Casual. Relaxed. Simple.

I am finally in a home that I am comfortable in. A place I love to be. A place that represents me. That represents my family.

When you enter our home, you will hear a whisper, walls that tell the story of a family with somewhat rustic ways. A quiet family. Simple. Serene.

It took me years to figure out who I was, but I have no regrets. The destination was well worth the journey. It brought me to the place I was always meant to be.

Many of the pieces first bought when we moved to the Pacific Northwest are gone, worn by time, graced with age. Time takes away our favorites. But what remains is their memory, and how they helped me, find me.

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Letting go of Collections, to Make Room for What Matters

Don’t hate me, but I can’t stand collections. Multiple pieces of the same item lined on a shelf, like dusty soldiers waiting to attack, give me the heebie-jeebies. I hate clutter, in both my house, and in my mind.

I blame this hatred of collections on all the collectors I’ve known in my life.

My mom was a collector, albeit not an extreme one. Still, she owned thimbles, vases, cups and saucers, and tiny spoons from each state she visited. I wrote a story about her here.

My dad was a collector, too. In fact, his collections multiplied like evil bunnies. If there was anything to collect, my dad found it. He collected keys (here is a story about my dad), half-used paper, little nibs of crayons, and even old Pringles containers.

My dad’s brother was a collector, and so was his wife. Together, their home was piled with toys, books, stuffed animals, those weird little ceramics found at card stores and tucked in the back of thrift stores, brass elephants, and old papers and magazines they piled high in their living room, hoping to one day read. Their house, quite literally, was a hoarder’s house.

My husband was a collector, for a while. Though if you asked me what he collected, I couldn’t tell you. It seems anything, and everything, made its way into our garage, shop, and outdoor shed. Maybe he wasn’t a collector, as much as he was a non-tosser. (Thankfully, he’s changed.)

I once knew a woman who collected Beanie Babies. (Remember those?) She was obsessed, as many collectors are. She’d call every store in town until she found the Beanie Baby she thought she needed. During work one day, she spent an hour on the phone, then took off in the early morning for another hour to pick up said Beanie Baby. If the boss would have known, she would have lost her job. I wonder if it would have been worth it.

I look around my own home, which some might consider bare, and am thankful for all the collectors in my life. My home is simple and neat, and quite easy to clean. Just the way I like it.

But it makes me wonder, why do people collect? What is that makes them fill empty spaces in their homes with needless items?

For some, collecting fills a void, like mindless shopping. An emptiness that won’t go away. A hole… Click To Tweet

For others, it is boredom. Without knowing how to spend their time, they spend it shopping, collecting that which isn’t needed.

For many, it is a demonstration, to the world, and to themselves, that they are rich.

Most of us collect something, knick-knacks, dishes, shoes, clothing. I’ve even known people who have collected cars.

I have had my own set of collections in the past, like old Christmas ornaments, cookbooks, and I still own plenty of novels. Craft items once filled an entire room, paints, clay, beads, and leather goods. Hobbies once provided hours of joy, and perhaps then, they were collections that were worth my time and money. But one day, it was taken away, and I could no longer do that which I loved. That part of my life is over, and all my collections are gone, something I never regret.

Because it seems, when I let go of my collections, when I stopped buying and spending time on needless activities, I found something greater. I found Moments.

Moments walking, meditating, practicing yoga, and reading. Moments with my husband, and my family. Moments I will never forget. Moments that matter.

I can’t say collections are always bad. They can preserve memories, or provide a way for us to escape after a long day of work. Collections, for some, are dreams in the making. And if collections truly make us happy, perhaps we should keep them.

But often, collections gather dust and dirt, sit tirelessly on an old shelf in the corner, and take away time and space from what really matters.

I wonder if it’s time to let go of too many collections, to reduce our lives to the important stuff. I wonder if it’s time to stop collecting needless things, and start collecting Moments.

Do you collect? What? And why?

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An Experiment in Hand-Washing Dishes

Once upon a time, no one owned a dishwasher. Hard to believe, isn’t it?

Dishwashers arrived around 1850, a big hand-cranked machine. (If you ask me, I’d rather wash dishes by hand than turn a heavy lever on a machine.)

In 1887, a newer model arrived.

In 1929, the first electric dishwasher was invented in Europe, by someone we are forever grateful to.

Fast-forward, and by the1950s, more dishwashers were being sold, but only to those who could afford one.

In the 1970s, dishwashers were commonplace.

I was one of the unfortunate (or fortunate, depending on how you look at it) girls who grew up in a home that didn’t own a dishwasher until she moved out. (I had been the dishwasher up until that time.)

Lately, I’ve had this urge to try hand-washing again, just like I did when I was younger. Only now, it would be a choice, not a chore.

I’ve been reading blogs about others who have given up their dishwashers. Part of the simple life movement. I figured if others did it, so could I. I was the simple hippie, after all.

Plus, when I picture washing dishes, I envision the elegant 1950’s woman, apron tied loose around her flowing skirt, hair swept back, humming as she does the family’s dishes. I know, I’m a romanticizer, and not always realistic. (I think I watched too many episodes of “Father Knows Best.”) I know that about myself, and yet, I had to try this experiment anyway.

For one month, I would only hand-wash dishes, no dishwasher allowed.

Here’s what happened:

Day one: I pulled the dishes out of my nearly full dishwasher, filled my sink with hot, bubbly water, and, without a pair of rubber gloves to save my nails and skin, began.

Immediately, I noticed three things:

Washing cookie racks and sieves are no fun.

My back got tired very fast.

I hate prune-y hands.

But there were good points as well:

My drinking glasses were sparkly.

My silverware was brighter.

The tea stains came out of my cups.

And the best part, I felt I emotionally relaxed. There’s something therapeutic about standing over a sink of dishes.

Twenty-eight minutes later, I was done. Everything washed, dried, put away, and sink and counter cleaned. (Apparently, I’m a messy dishwasher.)

Here are the after-effects:

I felt like I’d completed a job.

I felt satisfied, like I’d just meditated.

My hands were dry. If I were to keep doing this, I’d either need a set of gloves, or a really good hand cream. But I didn’t need to worry about either, because as soon as my husband got wind of what I was doing, he put the kibosh on my experiment.

“You did this once,” he said. “A couple years ago, at Thanksgiving. Our dishwasher was broken. You’d already been washing dishes for about two weeks when the holidays came. It took days for us to get caught up. And in our house, you can never stay caught up.”

“But I had to do the dishes then. This time I want to. It’s an experiment.”

“No. You’ve done this before. Remember how much time you spent washing dishes? You have better things to do with your time.”

I remembered. And I knew he was right. (Dang! I hate admitting that.)

I knew he was right because as soon as he walked away, I dirtied more dishes. The problem in our house is this, we are always cooking, making everything from nut butters and milk, to cookies and bread. Our kitchen is a constant stream of activity, with an endless abundance of dishes to wash.

I sighed. My experiment lasted exactly one hour. Well, an hour and one month, if you count the time I unintentionally experimented when the dishwasher broke.

In any case, I learned a few things during my very short experiment:

I use too many dishes. I tend to take a glass out of the cabinet each time I want a drink, instead of reusing the same glass.

I use too many pans. Instead of reusing the same pan, I tend to stir-fry different foods in different pans.

This experiment made me aware of how many dishes I use, and how many I need.

I love my dishwasher. I really do. It’s great to hand-wash if you have the time, or don’t have umpteen dishes in your sink all day. But for some people (like me), a dishwasher makes sense. It makes life simple.

I may still hand-wash dishes on occasion, and pretend I’m an elegant 1950’s woman. But for the most part, a dishwasher will always be in my life.

What about you? Do you hand-wash your dishes? Would you?

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Secrets to a Clutter-Free Home

You’ve scrutinized every drawer, sifted through every piece of clothing, and yet, that clutter you worked so hard to get rid of keeps coming back. Is there a way to stop it once and for all? Yes, and no.

Clutter will always enter our lives. Through mail and little one’s artwork, through gifts given, through life itself. Clutter is part of life. But don’t you wonder if there isn’t a way to maintain a clutter-free home? I’m here to tell you, there is.

 

The World Before This One

I lived a different life before I moved to the Pacific Northwest. In Minnesota, with my husband and two boys, our home was a constant source of activity. I don’t think there was a single sport one of our kids didn’t try, all the way through their high school years. When they were young, I’d drive home after work, pop food in the oven, and run to whatever activity was going on that night.

A few years later, I quit my desk job to start a daycare in our home. Six children, Monday through Friday, ten in the summer. It was hectic, to say the least.

Four years after that, I began homeschooling while working two or three part-time jobs, and managing a house. (No need to say it, yes, I know I was crazy.)

My oldest son attended private school during his high school years, and our youngest remained homeschooled. They had many friends, and when the weekend arrived, you could usually find six of their friends hanging out in our 1500 square foot home (yup, eight teenage boys all weekend long. Some of the best memories of my life.)

In all those years, with all those activities, constant commotion, tons of sport equipment, job projects (did I mention I worked at home?), daycare necessities, and the requirements of life, you would think our house would have been a disaster. But it wasn’t. In fact, parents often told me how neat and tidy our home was.

“What’s your secret?” they’d ask.

“I’ll never tell,” I’d say with a smile.

It really wasn’t much of a secret. I’d always been a bit on the minimalist side (completely opposite my guy), quite a neat-freak (again, opposite of a few people – I won’t say who this time, Honey), and loved cleaning (yes, I know, weirdo).

Still, with all that stuff going on in one home, it was a lot to keep the clutter from taking over our lives. Somehow, with a few little tricks up my sleeve, I managed. Below are my secrets to a clutter-free home.

 

Steps to Controlling Clutter Before It Controls You
Number One:
Keep ‘Stuff” In Designated Spots.

Daycare requires a lot of ‘stuff.’ Papers, crayons, markers, paints. Beads and strings, glues and tiny scissors. In boxes, marked, kept in one spot. The trick here isn’t just keeping it tidy, it’s about controlling buying habits. I love craft stores, and could have bought more than I ever did, but I had to learn self-discipline, and buy only what I knew we would use.

Even when buying toys for the munchkins in my daycare, I needed discipline. I bought basics – blocks, building toys, rattles for the babies, books and music. No more than necessary. You know what? They never got bored. The most important part of having toys is putting them away after playtime. I told them it was a game – they loved it, which made my job easier.

Homeschooling also requires a lot– books, paper, games, crafts, and science projects. Seriously, I could have purchased a truckload. But I didn’t. After all, one can only use so much. Again, everything was kept in one place.

Our home had a designated place for shoes and coats. Whether just our sons coming through the door, or their friends following them, everyone was expected to use that spot.

Number Two:
Keep a Designated Place for Items to be Given Away.

Keep a bag or box handy for thrift store donations. (It seems there is always something to get rid of.) Place it by the back door, or in an accessible and visible spot in the garage – somewhere you can quickly grab it and bring it to your local charity. Mine is in my coat closet. I see it every time I grab my shoes or jacket. It’s a great reminder to let go.

Have a handy place for items you are giving to friends and family. I use a closet shelf for this. Whether you have outgrown children’s clothes you are saving for a friend, or books and movies for the library, put it a spot you can’t miss.

Number Three:
Be a Tosser.

Get rid of garbage. Ever open a cabinet and see outdated medications, or sit down in your office to a pile of papers? When you know something is trash, toss it immediately.

That goes for mail as well. And packages. As soon as they arrive, take care of them. Open the mail, recycle the junk, put away the important stuff.

Toss extras from take-out, like those ten ketchup packages and napkins. (Will you ever really use them?) Toss old drawings from your children. (You can’t keep everything, plus, trust me, they will never know.) You can even toss those old little Happy-meal type items that sit in the corner of a closet.

Number Four:
Purchase Only What You Need.

Raise your hand if you’ve ever bought extra because it was on sale. Guilty! Two summers ago, I was shopping the outlet mall for a new pair of shorts. I hardly ever wear shorts, so I only needed one pair. Yet, when I walked into one of my favorite stores, there was a deal going on I couldn’t resist. Yup, a two-for-one sale. I bought a second pair, even though I didn’t really like them. And there they sat in my drawer till I gave them away. Buy only what you need, even if the deal is amazing.

This goes for everything, from toiletries to food. It’s so easy to purchase more than we need, because it looks like an amazing deal. But guess what, there will always be a deal, somewhere. I guarantee it. (It’s a trick retailers use to get us to buy, always making us think there will never be another special on that item. Don’t fall for it!)

Number Five:
Put it away!

Grab shoes and laundry that are sitting on that bottom step, and bring it upstairs with you. Hang up jackets when you get home (and teach children to do the same – install hooks at a lower level if you need to). Drop your purse, wallet, etc., in their designated places.

That goes for everything. Fold clothes and put them away immediately. Put groceries in cabinets as soon as you get through the door. Make children put their things in their rooms.

Number Six:
Stop the Unnecessary Gifts.

This is tough. People love to show affection by giving. I know I do. Giving is great, only it’s easy to end up with too much stuff. Ask anyone with children.

I wrestle with this myself. I want to give, but I don’t want our children and their families to be overwhelmed with too much ‘stuff.’ I also want to be a good receiver, but how do you tell someone to not buy anything for you?

Lucky for my husband and me, our family has figured out how much we’ve minimalized, and how little we want or need. In the last few years, they’ve given us some amazing gifts – wine, food, hot sauce making kit, slippers, and a gift certificate to a restaurant.

Be honest when someone asks what you want for your birthday, or any occasion. Let them buy something that you truly desire. And do the same for them.

Number Seven:
Use Your Time Wisely.

The biggest secret of staying clutter-free is efficiency. We all have a few extra minutes in our day, whether we think so or not. (Granted, if you ask me, extra minutes should be used for prayer and just breathing, reading a good book, or strolling through a park. But sometimes that’s not possible, and sometimes it really is only a minute or two that we can spare.) While you’re waiting for a tea kettle to boil, or for a child or spouse to come out to the car, something can get cleaned out. Go through a drawer, your purse or wallet, toss old condiments from the fridge, throw those old insurance papers sitting in the glove compartment.

If anything needs extra minutes, it’s the kitchen, the most used room in the house. This is the one room you never want to get out-of-control, and the room that always does. It’s the catch-all for everything from our own work to our children’s, sports equipment, jackets, boots, and mail.

Keep designated spots for all items, baskets and hooks for each family member. Keep paperwork in a different room. No matter what you do, the kitchen will get messy. It’s where we eat, laugh, and create. And truth is, as tidy as I am, I can make a mess as well as anyone else. But I’ve learned a few things to keep my kitchen clean: Wipe-up as you go. Rinse utensils and bowls, and place them in the dishwasher immediately. Wash counters as soon as you spill. Clean pans right away.

There you go, my secrets to a clutter-free house. It’s a lot of information, I know. But it doesn’t all need to be done at once. Life is a journey. One step at a time. Besides, no matter what we do, how hard we try, life will always be messy and a little clutter-y. I know mine is. I kind of like it that way.

Enjoy life!

I would love to hear your secrets for keeping a clutter-free home.

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Should a Minimalist Have Hobbies?

Are you a hobby hoarder? I was. I owned so many craft items, I had a room dedicated just to my hobbies. Kind of crazy, huh?

My craft room was filled from end to end with three desks, easels, canvases, paints of every color, brushes and accessories; a sewing machine with baskets of material, threads and needles, all placed neatly on a shelf; creamy-colored beads, bright, shiny baubles, ribbons and wire and string, bins full of jewelry-making supplies.

But that wasn’t all. Oh, no, because once I started crafting, it became an addiction, and I couldn’t get enough. I bought a leather-punching kit, a hammer, glue gun, thick wire to bend. I tried embroidery, stamping, and bought everything possible to make greeting cards. And of course, the many journals with ideas piled high on my desk.

But you know what? I rarely used my crafts. After work, I’d run by the room, longing to go inside, but usually didn’t. My crafts were time-consuming, and with so many choices, I never knew where to begin.

My crafts became a stress, something I felt guilty about. It seemed like there was too much to do, and never enough time to do them. I had once longed for a craft room, and when I had it, I was overwhelmed. It didn’t get better.

After my brain injury, the stress magnified. The craft room blurred into a wild kaleidoscope of colors that made me nauseous when I walked by. I couldn’t focus on anything, and would slam the door in frustration. Too many pieces, too many things. The room sat untouched until we moved.

Four years ago, my husband and I arrived in our new home. We brought every piece of my hobby room with us, but still, I didn’t use them. It wasn’t until my journey into minimalism that I saw hobbies in a whole new way.

I released many items from our home – old shoes, knick-knacks, books, a flag, kitchen utensils, and even furniture – when one day, I opened a closet door. Inside were my craft items, neatly displayed.

Just thinking about it now stresses me out. All those things I never used, so much time, energy, money, lost. I think how my stomach ached each time I saw them, how anxious I became when they entered my thoughts. I think of how I thought I was supposed to have all those crafts, though I never knew why.

I knew it was time to let go. I released it all, every last jar of paint, every spool of thread, every bead and bauble, every glue and hole punch. Even the sewing machine was given away. And for the first time in a long, long time, I could breathe. Stress was gone from my closet, no longer in my home. Guilt didn’t sit in an unopened box.

Hobbies are a necessity, I truly believe that. They bring out our creative side, give us a way to release. But when hobbies themselves become the stress, it’s time to let them go.

I still have hobbies, but they are few, requiring little space, time, equipment- exactly what my brain needs. A couple sketch pads sit nearby, a little leather pouch with my pencils. I read, do yoga, and walk.

Should a minimalist have hobbies? Absolutely. But only if they truly bring joy.

What are your hobbies?

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