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Minimalism can feel a scary concept to many. It has connotations of bare or lacking or doing without. It can be seen as an exercise in discomfort, in a rejection of feeling. Cold. Lifeless.
When I shared our home, some even described it in those terms which felt confusing. All I see and feel when I look around our spaces is “us”. And that is the heart of minimalism; uncovering you and what contributes best to your reality.
It is not about feeling punished. It is about trimming the excess, the unnecessary and perhaps most of all, the lies we believe about ourselves and what we “need” because of them. It is in essence about honesty and intentionality. We became minimalists when our spaces no longer reflected who we wished we were or perhaps even more so, what society wished for us to be and embraced who we actually are. It was an exercise in freeing our true selves.
Exploring minimalism began with a lot of honest answers.
Who am I? Who do I want to be? What am I capable of? What does that look like?
And one thing to remember; you are not obligated to prove who you are by way of your possessions. You do not need a giant library to be an avid reader. Or international nick-nacks to be well-travelled. You do not need band tees to be a legitimate fan. Or every cooking gadget to be a foodie. You might find these things still make sense to you but you are not required to keep them to maintain your identity. And you don’t need to have any particular identity to be worthwhile. Not everybody loves travel or music or reading or food or whatever. Your priorities are meaningful because they are your priorities, whatever that looks like.
The mental process of exploration is perhaps the most complicated of all yet so essential in processing the other areas. It involves dismantling all our fears and barriers, the shame and obligation, the societal expectations and finding clarity of self. It is about letting go of the concepts that no longer serve us.
Initially, inspired by KonMari, we assessed our home and contents under the banner of joy. While a worthwhile process, we didn’t feel it transformed our surroundings to quite where we needed or wanted them to be. While many things brought us joy, there is only so much space and time to fill. Spreading yourself thin over millions of different things doesn’t always make sense, even if you enjoy them individually. It didn’t to us. So we began with a new pursuit; what is manageable? Whilst our children might be able to find enjoyment in many of their things, it wasn’t manageable to find the things they wanted to find amongst the chaos or to tidy them all at the end of the day. I want to specifically state now; we worked alongside our children in this process, they were not required to let go of any of their possessions (nor is tidying an enforced part of their existence but is something they do choose to be involved in).
Obviously the same applied to the adults and our own pursuits. Even if you love something, you don’t need it to be a part of your life at every point. There became a distinction between passive love (I appreciate this as a thing) and active love (I currently want to invest in that love). Knowing that our hearts could expand to fit an infinite amount of love but our time could not, we were inspired to get really honest. Does this make sense in my life right now? You can always return to something at a later time. The reality is that while you think you’ll split your available free time evenly between all that you desire to pursue, you actually usually spend the time each calling demands and it overflows into the other priorities of your life.
One of the biggest changes we made was to embrace multi use items. We now only have one table, a coffee table we use for everything from art to board games to meals. This not only saves space but forces us to keep on top of resetting it so it can be used again.
We have 2 bowls each, 2 plates each, 1 set of cutlery each, 1 water bottle each and a handful of mugs (mostly for guests, we all drink almost exclusively water). At first I thought wouldn’t this just make for more washing? But actually it inspires us to use our things more efficiently. And to wash when it is at a manageable level rather than things piling up. Whether you wash 8 dishes daily or 16 dishes every two days, you are investing the same amount although if you wait between washing then you’re giving up the mental space to keep the task on your to do and your spaces cluttered. We also invested in high quality, beautiful items so we are further inspired to take care of them.
We reduced to one high quality chopping knife. When we owned many knifes, we still always gravitated to one. And any time we had to use another one felt like a consolation prize. The small amount of time needed to wash the knife between uses is worth the satisfaction of using the most desirable option.
We own two bath towels per person (two spare for illness and one beach towel each) and each person has their own colour. This helps people to be responsible for their towel because it becomes very obvious who used the towel left in the bedroom!
As with our permanent possessions, we simplified our consumable purchases. Instead of buying every possible kind of fruit and vegetable and nut and grain we enjoy every week and then trying to make them all fit (and often failing and ended up with things that we could no longer use), we bought smaller quantities, more often focusing on a couple of each category per cycle. It was overwhelming to have so much variety; you know the whole stuffed closet and nothing to wear? Yeah, the same thing was happening in our kitchen… full of food and nothing to eat.
We simplified our cleaning; you don’t need a different product for every single different thing! In fact, vinegar and bicarb can handle 90% of the household tasks.
We started to let other places store things we used on occasion. We kept the art supplies that were in high rotation but let go of things that were used infrequently, opting instead to find alternatives in what was available or to buy things as they specifically became needed. You don’t need to have every possible option in your home, once a person is aware it exists then they can make arrangements to fulfil that need as it comes up instead.
And we also started storing our own things better! Instead of having counter tops cluttered with appliances between use, we returned them to the cupboard. A small amount of time made for a lot of peace. We did similar with our printer, finding it a cupboard to rest in and only bringing it out when we needed to actually use it.
The biggest thing we did was move. We downsized from a four bedroom, two bathroom, two living, double garage house with way too much stuff that we could never keep on top of to a two bedroom, one bathroom, single living, single garage apartment. Before the move to our previous house, we talked at length about the things that we wanted… it was a long list. And when we found somewhere that delivered it all we ended up miserable. Again, it was too much to manage. We were always stressed trying to keep it clean and keeping the yard from becoming overrun. And we had so much space, we began to fill it.
You know how when you get a pay rise? And you think oh I will be able to save so much money now but at the end of the pay cycle there’s nothing actually left? Humans spread to fill their means; space, finances, whatever. So while we envisioned so much left over space, instead it became the opposite! The shed was packed. The garage was packed. Every room? Packed.
When we moved to where we are now, we brought in that manageable question. It made for the best decision. We embraced communal spaces that we could use but not need to actively care for like nearby parks and the library. We slimmed our possessions in line with the smaller space and suddenly had far less to care for. Now we can tidy our place in 20 minutes. A deep clean doesn’t even take more than a couple of hours. We clean our fridge and air our mattresses much more frequently because of accessibility and time available. Our vacuum can almost reach the entire place from one power point and you would be surprised how much these little things impact ones quality of life.
When we wanted a yard, we were looking from the position of us needing a lot of time where our children were happily occupied to manage the day to day things when they weren’t as keen to be involved. But now? We do not have a need for this and we can be with the kids and enjoying the outdoors too. We can take care of our home together quickly and then pack up for an adventure wherever we feel.
Once we had begun simplifying our possessions, it began to follow that our time was simplified too. As unschoolers, we have a lot of time and opportunity! There was the potential to have all these exciting adventures every day. But that would be so exhausting that we couldn’t actually enjoy them properly. We love a good adventure but we also enjoy the quiet rituals of the day-to-day.
I used to feel a need for a lot of “downtime”. Life was busy and there was so much to do. It would feel horrific to even consider falling asleep when the kids did. Doing dishes after dinner?? But that’s my time to recover! We would stay up so late, just one more episode after episode, avoiding our responsibilities for as long as we could. And always wanting for more.
But something that happened when I did start leaning into taking care of our home as we de-owned to a more and more manageable point… suddenly I didn’t need a break from my life… the daily rituals not only made more peace but brought more peace… it grew exponentially! Instead of needing a break from our chaotic life, we cultivated a life that felt a reprieve from a chaotic world.
I now often fall asleep alongside my children with no regrets. The dishes are done after dinner. I unpack our bag when we walk in the door instead of leaving it for the indefinite “later”. And I don’t feel hard done by in the slightest, I feel such contentment. I feel comforted by my home and life, not imposed upon by it. We didn’t need to pause the demands of life, we needed to remove those that didn’t make sense!
We also wanting to make things simpler to complete. We bed share (for other reasons too obviously) so there is only one set of bedding to wash. We closet share so putting away clothes is done in one space. We have one bookcase, one couch, one office space. This means to put back books? One location. Office supplies? One location. We only have one bathroom so again, everything in one location. And it is incredible how much easier things became.
We also created a landing spot. It is a set of three drawers; bottom is shoes, middle is bags, top is hats/sunnies/accessories. On top of these is a basket for keys and one for coins. Having very clear systems really helps everyone know what they can contribute. If a parent has an elaborate complicated way of organising the home then the other parent and children are going to be too intimidated to even try. This system the kids know exactly where to put things so they do. Same for toys, clear spots where they live helps people to put them back. Our clothes are again super simple. The girls have one drawer of underwear and socks, one of jumpers, one of tops/dresses and one of shorts/pants. We also keep our plates and bowls low enough for the kids to access and put away. This is like my theme but seriously; make it manageable.
Two main things that help us to keep the calm and simplicity; don’t walk past tasks and don’t half complete tasks. So if I do the washing? That means washing, drying, folding and putting away. And it also means not walking past the full laundry basket and saying to myself I need to do that “soon”. Oh but then aren’t you constantly in motion because something always needs to be done? No, not quite. There is far less to do so that helps but also, I really enjoy the concept of “wherever you are be all there” and that is very difficult to do with an ignored to do list. When we do the little bit that is required of each morning and evening, we are set. Things never become overwhelming. If you do dishes right after dinner, then the food doesn’t have a chance to set making it far more difficult. If you sweep each day it is a very small task compared to a weeks worth of dust building up and congealing to the floor. It leaves way more quality, undistracted (by my mind or being) time with my family and with myself. Because I’m not avoiding things, I’m actively in that moment with them.
In the end what I realised was that what I wanted most was to not be overwhelmed. More than a big house and yard, more than an extensive wardrobe, more than a billion different commitments and adventures. I wanted to feel enough. And perhaps that is the most important thing; recognising that who we are, whoever that is, is worthwhile.