I’ve been on my journey to minimalism for the past five years. There’s so much I have learned, through trial and error. There’s also so much I have learned through the amazing people who have shared their insights with me. (I’m talking to you Marie Kondo and Allie Casazza.) We each have our own version of what minimalism means. We are motivated by different things, but I think the end result is the same. We want a simpler life. We want to have peace and unity in our homes and lives. We want to live with more intentionality, less fluff.
I need to preface by saying I am not claiming to be an expert at decluttering, de-owning, purging, minimalism, simplifying and living intentionally. My life has its stressful moments and I still get overwhelmed. With that being said, my life is far less stressful and overwhelming because I’ve let go of a lot of things, physically and emotionally. I’ve learned to simplify. I’m even learning to say no. I’m learning to break my habit of being a people pleaser. I’m learning to focus more of my time and energy on my family and our home. I used to give so much of myself to so many different people and so many things, but now I’m becoming more un-busy. I’m getting healthier physically, emotionally and spiritually. This minimalism thing seeps into ALL areas. It’s quite fascinating. Above all, I’ve been filled with hope. I now know I don’t have to be stuck in survival mode. I can thrive in life! I can live an abundant life. And if I can make these changes, believe me when I say that you can, too!
Now to the real me in the past. I feel I must shed some light on my deep-rooted need for “stuff”. As you read, I hope you can see why I NEEDED minimalism in my life.
My mom was raised by two parents who lived through wartime in Germany. As a result, my mom came from a generation who saved everything and wasted nothing. Everyone had to have that mindset to survive. Times changed, but people didn’t seem to change with it, in that regard. I remember my grandma washing out plastic bread bags and hanging them on her clothesline to dry. Closets were filled with clothing, even in the spare rooms. You didn’t get rid of things that didn’t fit. You kept them because they might fit some day. And you definitely didn’t throw things away if you could fix them. (This is something our generation doesn’t know much about. If there’s a hole in a sock, you throw it out. You don’t darn it. To us, darn is a substitute swear.) Second hand shopping and buying things for a rainy day were normal. You didn’t need it now, but you might need it at some point. If it was cheap, extra points for you. There were closets upon closets filled with linens. And pantries filled with non perishables. Fridges and freezers, because there were multiples, were filled with food. My mom was definitely influenced by those tendencies. I’m not saying these tendencies are bad or wrong. I’m just saying it’s a lot of stuff.
Growing up in our home, we had a lot of stuff. We had an excess of many things and it even transferred into décor. It was obvious that my mom loved to be prepared for a rainy day. And it was obvious that she loved to craft and decorate. Our walls and side tables were covered with her handiwork. I grew up with decor, pillows and blankets in every nook and cranny. To me, all that stuff translated into love and coziness. Stuff was comfort. Stuff was normal. I do want to mention that our house wasn’t unclean or gross. I loved being home. Our home was my safe place. It just had a lot of stuff. And I loved it.
My parents divorced when I was younger. Because of that hardship in our lives, my mom wanted to ease our burdens as much as possible. As a result, I wasn’t raised doing a ton of chores. I knew how to do the basic chores, but I had very little cooking and cleaning know-how. My room was always a mess but I would claim that I knew where everything was. I would always counter that my mess was kept to my domain and didn’t bother me so it shouldn’t bother anyone else. Closing the door solved that issue.
I was very sentimental and attached to things. I kept all my old school agendas. I kept tickets and trinkets and everything in between. I only recently pitched most of my notes from high school friends and boyfriends. They were very entertaining to read. And I loved how the notes were folded so cleverly. That was how we passed notes in the “olden days”. I kept photos even if they cropped out people’s heads or were blurry. I even kept a heart shaped rock a boy gave me in grade three. I kept everything!
I am embarrassed to share this example, but it’ll help drive the point home, I think. I grew up in a cul-de-sac where we were always playing with the neighbours. If we weren’t playing outside, we were inside playing at each other’s houses. And we all had pets. They became the neighbourhood pets. A cul-de-sac memory came to me as my boys were getting a haircut last month. The hair that was getting swept up triggered a memory to when I was probably 10 years old. Our neighbour’s dog, Shadow, was shedding his winter coat, so I brushed his fur. There was SO much fur that came off of him. I thought it was wasteful to just throw it away. So guess what I did? I scooped up the fur. I sewed a pillow case. (I wanted to be crafty like my mom.) Then I proceeded to stuff the pillow case with Shadow’s fur. Yep. And I kept it for a long time in my room. Ew. Does this help illustrate what I was coming up against as an adult?
To further illustrate my deep-rooted need for stuff, I need to mention shopping. My mom was the queen of retail therapy. I later learned that shopping was an addiction for her. I can relate. My addiction was more specific to sale shopping. I was a sale-a-holic, not a shop-a-holic. I loved getting a good deal. I’d almost panic when there was sale. How do I choose what to buy? I usually couldn’t narrow it down. What would end up happening is I’d spend money on multiple items, even if I only needed one. One shirt for $9.99? I’ll take one of each colour. It was just too good of a deal to pass up. Or so I justified. (Now I’d rather spend full price on one shirt that I love instead of buying four shirts that I just liked, because they were on sale. And after I washed the cheap shirts they’d turn all boxy and unflattering. Just call me SpongeBob Square Shirt.)
Now let me take you to Medicine Hat, to my husband’s growing up years. Keegan was a minimalist by nature who wasn’t attached to his belongings. He was not sentimental at all. Stuff was noise to him and he’d purge his room regularly. Also, he and his siblings were taught early on how to deep clean, garden, can, cook, and do laundry. Keegan’s got skills!
Fast forward to marriage. Can you see where I’m going with this? We came from two very different backgrounds. He was innately a minimalist. I was NOT. I never saw a problem with my tendencies. It’s not like I was a slob. Our house looked nice-ish and clean-ish. Having clutter spots around the house was normal to me. But Keegan did see a problem with my tendencies. It caused a lot of issues between us and it did not help that I was a sale-a-holic. (Have I ever mentioned that I got married and started my first year of teaching in August 2006? Yeah, I don’t recommend two huge life changes at once.)
When I accepted my first teaching position, I basically had zero resources. And I stepped into an empty classroom. Empty except for desks and whiteboards. It was an odd feeling. I worked to fill the shelves. I ended up photocopying other teachers’ binders (copyright infringements…forgive me), and buying new resources, manipulatives, baskets and bins to organize students’ work. I also bought so many books for my class library. Why didn’t I use the school’s library or public library? Because I wanted to own ALL the books. I would also buy odds and ends for classroom management. All of these things quickly filled up the empty classroom. Heaven forbid I leave a bulletin board alone. I filled those up, too. Over the years, colleagues gave me their hand-me-downs, bless their generous souls. I started to buy things at garage sales, too. I was prepared to teach any elementary grade level. One year, the teacher who taught before me left me everything. Absolutely everything. It was blessing and a curse. I had so much stuff. I brought school stuff home with me, too. The problem was that I didn’t get rid of anything to make room for it.
My actions were causing stress to my husband. He thought we had too much. He didn’t like the way our house felt. It wasn’t a haven for him. Or a place of refuge. I thought he just needed a chill pill. I felt easily stressed and overwhelmed, but I didn’t see my patterns. Keegan did. He could see the direct link between our stuff and my stress. (He should be an analyst or a profiler. He is so good at noticing patterns.)
One Christmas, I had asked for the gift of a professional organizer. My wish was granted. It was great and I loved how things looked. Problem was, organized clutter is still clutter. It didn’t help long term because I didn’t work on my mindset. Keegan even built an enclosed storage room onto our carport. It was awesome! We had so much space and so many empty shelves! Guess what happened? Yep, I filled those shelves up. I had bins filled with seasonal decor, teaching resources, clothes for my kids, clothes I wanted to fit in. Bins for rainy days. I rarely went through the bins. And I rarely used the stuff in storage.
Evie and Bennett would be given darling hand-me-downs from my sisters. The only thing was, I also had clothes that were given as gifts or that I purchased. That all just added to the amount of little people clothing I already had. Laundry got out of control. I always felt behind. Always. The funny thing was, they didn’t wear a fraction of the clothing. But yet, their drawers and closets were full. And there was such easy access to pull items out and make a mess. It didn’t even register that I could give some of the clothes away. I was of the mindset that you kept what people gave you. (I’ll discuss this in part two.)
One day, just like Ace of Base, I saw the sign. I kept seeing people share Marie Kondo’s book on social media, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing. Longest title ever. I bought the book and wanted to embrace the simple principles. I ended up purging SO much stuff. It felt amazing! I even made some cash from having online garage sales. Our house felt so refreshed and it became a haven inside. (I still hadn’t really downsized our storage room. The amount of Rubbermaid bins I had was insane. I don’t want to even think about how much money I’ve invested in the bins over the years.) Our house sold within fifteen minutes of it being unofficially listed. I’m sure the clutter-free environment had a huge role to play in that.
We wanted to build a house, so when we sold our house, we moved into a rental. During our move, a friend who helped unload our belongings said he needed to go home and apologize to his wife. He had told her at one time that she had too much storage. Then he came and saw our stuff. I made his wife look like a minimalist. Haha!
We moved and time passed. Bad news. I wasn’t cured. Slowly but surely I brought more stuff into our home. My deeply rooted tendencies came out to play. For example, I remember one of my friend’s moms had an estate sale. She had kept all her kids’ toys and they were in mintage (mint + vintage…did I make a new word?) condition. Cabbage Patch dolls with homemade clothes, bassinet and blankets. Check. Fisher price mini stovetop. Check. Crib toys. Check. Pull toys. Check. Strawberry Shortcake dolls. Check. I’m sure there was more, but I can’t remember. I was so excited to buy so many things for my kids. By kids, I mean myself. Looking back, I realize I bought all of those sentimental things for myself. My kids barely played with any of it. They had too many toys, in general. Most of the toys weren’t regularly played with.
One day, Keegan expressed in a different way how my lifestyle was affecting him. I decided to listen and not take offence, like I usually did. I said a prayer that I could see it through his eyes. And I did. I saw with clarity that my hard working husband would come home from a long day. He’d come home so excited to see me and our three kids. And then the second he walked through our door, he felt bombarded. He didn’t feel like he could relax. Our house was not a haven for him.
That was the kick in the pants I needed. And to begin with, I did my big purge for him. Eventually, I took ownership and felt the motivation and desire to do it for me too. Because I learned that I wanted the same things as Keegan. It’s just that I didn’t have the awareness or the vocabulary to put into words what I was actually struggling with.
To sum it all up, stuff was taking over my life. I had too much stuff. It contributed to my stress and overwhelm. It contributed to the lack of unity and peace in my home. It caused issues in my marriage. It took me a very long time to recognize it as such. I’ll share that story in part two.
I’m trying hard to be open about this all. I just wanted to paint the picture of what I was up against. Writing this all down has been eye opening to me. My hope is that is can open some more eyes. We are drowning in stuff. Like Madonna said, “You know that we are living in a material world”and I want out of this rat race. I want calm. I want simple. I want peace.