Minimalism and the Virtue of Detachment

Minimalism and the Virtue of Detachment

I was already getting into the minimalist movement via Marie Kondo* when my husband quit his job to start freelancing from home, I got pregnant with our second, and I lost my (part-time) job.

This pregnancy, I ended up getting rid of 10-15% of our stuff. Once the what felt like near-death symptoms of my HG wore off and I became more “normal sick” and mentally functioning, just mostly couch-bound, I hadn’t much in my control, many ways to feel productive, so I decluttered, and organized, and re-organized our house. A few weeks ago, I casually asked my husband if he ever used the holy water font by the front door, to which he responded while looking at me both imploringly and firmly, “Please don’t give away any more of our stuff before this baby is born.” Poor guy. It was a bag of donations for Goodwill every few days at one point. Plus a couch here and bookshelf there. But that’s just part of it.

I was, at first, living a privileged minimalism. I could get rid of something that didn’t “spark joy” in me and replace it with something cute with gold accents from Target or IKEA that did. Things have changed. Due to our current financial situation, with my husband being self-employed and a lack of regular paychecks in regular amounts, budgeting has been an adventure. We were already on the Dave Ramsey* bandwagon and at the beginning of this freelancing journey discovered You Need A Budget (it’s not free, but it is worth it). It has helped tremendously, says my husband. (I’m normally more involved with our finances but constant nausea isn’t super conducive to that.) YNAB is great because you tell each dollar where to go – it’s not designed to simply record where that dollar ended up going, and because it works with the actual money you have, not a theoretical amount that doesn’t align with your bank account. This has left us with the age old wisdom: if you don’t have money for it, don’t buy it. How has that been going for us?

My mom was great at buying in bulk, finding sales (maybe a little too great – “It’s on sale! If we don’t buy it, we will be practically losing money!”), and keeping every odd and end that passed through our hands for “someday”, “just in case”. I’ve definitely got her frugality, but her holding onto everything started to rub me the wrong way once I was in college and discerning religious life. I went away for a weekend with some nuns to learn about their life, and only brought with me a backpack with a change of clothes, pajamas, minimal toiletries, and a Bible. It blew my mind that you could live this way. We are talking about the girl who filled at 12 passenger van to move across the country for university, bringing even multiple sets of free weights which I lifted only when moving residences. Since getting married, I’ve been learning what I can and can’t buy from Costco. 50 lb bag of flour? Yes! We bake our own bread and go through it fairly quickly. Bag of nuts that I only use for a couple recipes? Pass. They have been sitting in my fridge for years. I still try to shop only from what’s on sale, but the hoarding thing is another story. If not minimalism, then simplicity has gotten under my skin. And while the end product of that is delivering bags of donations to Goodwill and a more open, more streamlined house, it starts, I’m learning the hard way, with my Amazon account.

I’ve always loved reading tips on our how to save money. It feels like entertainment that is also productive! And although the repetition gets old, I’m ever-hopeful that the next list will include an idea I haven’t heard before. The #1 suggestion listed is, almost without fail, cutting out Starbucks and either making your mocha-caramel-frappa-whoozie at home, or dropping it altogether. First off, I don’t like coffee. Secondly, due to probably both nature and nurture, I’ve never spent money on things I was taught to be extravagances. Like drinks. Bring a water bottle with you and fill it up. Not too hard. As a family, we already rarely go to the movies or out to eat. We stick to our grocery list when shopping and make ourselves leave the store or sleep on it to think it over before making a purchase. But then it hit me. Amazon is my Starbucks. Because we have a couple different accounts and I’m lazy, I didn’t tally up how much we have spent the last few years on Amazon, but I know I would be shocked by the number. No big purchases, mind you, and I don’t even buy clothes or shoes online because I’m annoyingly picky, but it’s sooo easy as a housewife to read a blog or hear a suggestion from an older, wiser friend and think, “That product would be so helpful! And it’s only $10! I’ll just pull it from my ‘household’ budget for the month. I’m doing my job.” Let me tell you: since my husband has been freelancing, our “household” budget has disappeared. Toothpaste, deodorant, soap, and toilet paper are the only non-food items we buy. Seriously. My recent Amazon order history is blank (except for some maternity underpants, but if your underpants literally made you throw up, you would think new ones were a necessity, too). When I first got into Montessori, I got major Instagram jealousy and thought I couldn’t educate my children well if I didn’t have every – or even one or two – wooden, naturally-dyed, organic things made by 7th generation German craftsmen with an affiliate link on a blog I liked. At first, I tried to keep up. Ahhh, my first experience of keeping up with the Joneses. A humbling one. Now, I don’t even DIY these activities. When my toddler is ready to sort by color, she doesn’t need anything I bought for the purpose. She doesn’t need a game I DIYed out of recyclables (that I went out and used and then saved for that purpose). She will sort her socks. And her balls. And her beads. Heck, with me stuck on the couch, she doesn’t even need me to model it for her most of the time. She will survive. And she will learn.

Another tip I read about to be thrifty is to have a “no-spend” weekend, or week, or even month. “Challenge yourself!”, the authors croon, “It will force you to be creative and work together!” Before this current stage of life, I could totally get down with that. Now? I laugh. How elitist I was! And how proud, I’m sure, my future self will see my current self as! It’s a constant temptation to see the good that others have, but to focus on the negative in our own lives. To wallow in our busyness and lack of time, and then we have kids! To mope over our financial situation, and then we lose our job! My life feels like a no-spend zone, I complained then, and I complained now. I thought not being able to buy red meat regularly was a deprivation, and now vegetarianism isn’t just a trendy lifestyle choice. But you know what? We aren’t starving – and some people in the world are. Not that my sufferings don’t matter because someone else has it worse, or even just different. It’s not a comparison game. It’s a humility game, if you will: seeing reality, including ourselves, for what it is, for what we are. Praise God. We have a home. And family and friends. We can feed ourselves and our children. We can put gas in our car to go to the park or to church. And if I really need new underpants, we will find a way to get me new underpants. I’ve heard it said, What if we woke up every morning, with only the things we thanked God for the night before? I am so grateful. I guess that’s what I’m learning from this whole experience.

I’m​ a list-maker, so I used to have a note on my phone with our immediate family’s special dates (anniversaries, birthdays, Baptism days, etc.) and next to each of those I had a gift idea. Whenever I came across or thought of another idea, I would extend the calendar , or even include less special days to make room for the purchases I wanted to make. It was hard letting that go. It’s difficult when something breaks to not be able to replace it. When people ask how you celebrated an event and you say, we went to the park or we had a nice homemade meal (like we do every week, but we did it with extra joy), it’s humbling. But this is our life. We are living this way by circumstance and by choice – but mostly by grace. This lifestyle is – I’m sure – closer to the reality of the “good ol’ days” than the idealized version expounding community and homegrown everything that exists in my head. I can see God’s hand at work, teaching me detachment, to stop creating needs for myself, to surrender my concerns over our financial situation to my omnipotent, omniscient, and most loving Father, to be grateful for every crumb on my plate and every sock I get to/have to darn, to, yes, enjoy the creative challenge of going without, to humbly let a generous friend buy us groceries​, and to just be – loving my people and using my things, rather than using my people and loving my things.

Plus, cleaning the house is a lot easier when you have less stuff to put away.

 

*Note: Any books, and almost any products really, that I recommend, I would borrow from a library or a friend if possible, and buy second-hand and locally if need be, to both save money and reduce waste.

Advertisements
Baby-proof vs baby-friendly: Making your entire home a “yes” space

Baby-proof vs baby-friendly: Making your entire home a “yes” space

There’s something about the term “baby-proof” that rubs me the wrong way. Maybe it’s the pro-lifer in me, saying that babies aren’t dangers that we need to defend ourselves against. Maybe it’s just that I wouldn’t want something to be Hannah-proofed, because that would imply I couldn’t develop a healthy relationship with that object and treat it respectfully and appropriately, that the standard was set so low because not much was expected of me. I know that this is not what people intend when they use the term and that people love their children and simply want to keep them safe, but I believe these inferences are still fair.

This is why something clicked in me when I first discovered RIE, a philosophy of respectfully interacting with infants and toddlers that treats them as capable persons, rather than dolls that need everything done for them (no finger-pointing here; I use such an extreme comparison merely to emphasize what RIE values). RIE teaches that in our homes we ought to have a “yes” space, where our youngest ones are free to examine and touch, to explore, learn, and grow, without being told, “No!”. “No” can take many forms:

  • Get down!
  • Don’t touch that!
  • Be careful!
  • That’s not for you.
  • That’s not for babies.
  • That’s sharp!
  • Be careful not to break it!

You get the idea. 

Babies put things in their mouths. It’s a fact of life. But I think we too often buy into our modern consumerist and “expert”-led culture that implies only products created and purchased for teething can go in their mouth, and they have to by sanitized anytime they touch anything ever. Every family parents differently, so please don’t take anything I say as a criticism of your lifestyle. Some people value germ-free environments more than others. Some people have health problems where they need a more sanitary environment. I don’t fall into either of those categories, and I grew up with 8 siblings, so in our house, we ask two questions when the baby wants to mouth an object:

  1. Will it harm the baby? 
  2. Will it harm the object?

And we have to answer honestly. Will junior really suffer physical or psychological harm from chewing on that ball/pan/hat? No? Then, will it damage the object itself? Because we do want our children to treat their belongings well, to be good stewards of what God has given us. That means no eating books, or sister’s artwork. But that also gives freedom to play with objects in an unexpected manner. Blocks don’t have to be stacked one on top of the other; they can be stacked on top of Daddy while he is reading. Crayons don’t have to be used for coloring; they can be separated into different jars for fun! And things can go in baby’s mouths, whether that’s what they were designed for or not.

RIE, from what I have read, usually creates one (or more) rooms/fenced off areas in the house where the child can explore freely. Our house is fairly small and adding fences wouldn’t help that situation. So while our house isn’t entirely a yes space, our toddler is allowed everywhere in it, and often unsupervised. For us, this means that no dangerous chemicals or sharp objects are within reasonable reach ever. Parents of toddlers know what I mean by reasonable. My almost two-year-old daughter can slide a chair from the dining area to the kitchen counter, climb it, open the overhead cupboard door, and reach the knife block contained therein. She can physically do that. But we talk to her about safety in an open, respectful, and consistent way, and we know her pretty well, so we trust her not to do that. We do have areas that are more easily accessible to her that we still do not want her making a mess of. Under our bathroom sinks, we store toilet paper, and if she wanted, she could unspool all the Costco-quantity TP until our apartment was ready for Halloween in February. But we have asked her not to, we have shown her other areas that are more appropriate for her, and we have not shamed her for getting into messy things so that she sees them like some forbidden fruit that she can only play with when mom and dad aren’t looking.

When friends come over, they see all the spots that our daughter now generally ignores, and messes happen. But I want to give my daughter as much freedom as possible and appropriate, and I want her to know that we trust her. Even and especially from this young age.

We cover outlets, hide cords, and secure furniture to walls. Her bedroom, where she sleeps on a floor bed and has unsupervised access to everything therein every night, contains nothing sharp, poisonous, or otherwise dangerous. I love plants and they are within her reach scattered throughout the house, but not in her bedroom, because if they aren’t poisonous, their fertilized soil might be.

Yes, sometimes she gets into somewhere I wouldn’t necessarily want her to be, but she is not in danger. Things break, but so do people. I want her to know that broken things can be fixed or replaced, and that I trust her, and that she is capable of doing things well. Not to sound all hippie-dippie (although I could argue this concept as very Christian), but I would much rather things break, than break her spirit. And, honestly? We’ve used glass cups and plates with her since she began to wean and she has maybe broken four things in our whole house in two years. So while our entire apartment isn’t exactly a yes space, it is our daughter’s home as much as it is ours, and she is learning responsibility, self-awareness, and self-confidence day by day.

Minimalist WardrobeWHAAAAAT

Minimalist WardrobeWHAAAAAT

We are three days into February now, which means that, for those of us in sunny San Diego, winter is over. Although the nights still chill, this is the time of year that I can’t stand to wear my dark, wintry colors anymore. During the colder months, I get into a funk – the good kind – where color makes me gag and I instinctively reach for blacks, greys (grays, greys –  I can never decide which I like better), and olive greens. The thought of a coral or teal slipping into my outfit makes me mentally anxious and physically uncomfortable. Maybe it’s just a sign of a weak will, a poor ability to overcome my initial reaction, but don’t you sometimes face a situation that makes you literally cringe and turn away? An awkward scene in a tv show where you blush and hide under the blanket in embarrassed for the character, a food that you normally like but for some reason looks disgusting to you in that instant and you know if you eat it you will vomit, or a Sam moment a la Garden State where you just have to move your body because you were starting to feel a little too blah? Maybe the last one is just an undiagnosed case of Restless Leg Syndrome, but our bodies and our minds are freakily connected, and once my body senses the release of Jack Frost’s grip, I don’t even want to look at my winter wardrobe other than to put it away.

An unfortunate turn of events has taken place in my life, however; the combination of the season’s change, our imminent move to a new apartment (T minus 4 days!), and the recent flooding of my laptop screen with minimalist wardrobe ideas, plus a body that will shortly go from housing two persons to one-and-a-feeder is pulling my heart strings in all sorts of directions. How I want to de-clutter! How I want to simplify! Un-fancy, you are torturing me! I’d love to have one box for each season. OK, that’s 4. Buuuuuuuut, I’m pregnant. Meaning two boxes for each season. 4+4=8. And then there’s nursing. 4+4+4=12. I know you can and should overlap each “wardrobe capsule”, so each season/state of maternity won’t take up a whole box, but – and maybe it’s my pregnancy brain – this is overwhelming. And messes with my selective OCD (Who wants different sized boxes?! No one! That’s who!). What’s more, all my maternity clothes are dark colors! What am I supposed to wear right now?!? I’M GOING CRAZY!!

So last night found me on my floor with piles of clothes, hangers, and boxes threatening to consume me and with only some tape and a Sharpie to defend myself. I put all of my clothes except for two outfits (Why wear a new outfit every day when you don’t leave the house? Thank you, Spain; from you, I have learned much) into boxes. I then proceeded to ineffectively, though well-intentionedly, labeled said boxes with names like “winter/early maternity/maybe nursing.” Hopefully, my state of mind will be a little more clear on Sunday while unpacking.

goodbye winter clothes, goodbye apartment, goodbye boxes
Goodbye, winter clothes. Goodbye, apartment. Goodbye, boxes. Wow, I need to learn some photography skillz or this blog is gonna be boooooring.

Or I could just remind myself that our new closet has a lot of hanger space and no room for boxes, so I’m just gonna need to hang it all up anyway.

That would save me a headache.