Simplifying Life

9/2/14

So, its not perfect, we still get clutter, but it’s better than it was! Here is our new apartment all unpacked and decorated. It was a bit of a squeeze even though we have about the same number of square feet of living space we lost our attic. We purged a satisfying amount of stuff, and things look neat and orderly when Eowyn hasn’t run through wreaking it, just don’t look in our closet. It’s been lovely having an actual closet that you can hang clothes in and reach them all, but unfortunately that spacious closet has become our “attic” in lieu of a real one. Joe is really amazing at packing and fitting things in a small space, must be all that Tetris practice.

Anyways, packing up one’s life and moving to another state, though being a daunting task, can also be a great opportunity to de-clutter and to simplify. It is amazing how many things crept into the nooks and crannies of our house to set up camp and became permanent fixtures, their presence taken for granted. I have found myself asking, “do I really need these?” “Why am I hanging on to this?” “Will I ever use this?” “Why do I do things the way I do?” Another question I asked myself was “Is this item worth dragging all the way down to Virginia?”As I packed I would say, “I should be able to fit all of my holiday decorations in this box, and all of my clothes in this box, or Eowyn only needs x number of this type of toy.” It really helped to have physical limitations. And as I piled up stuff for the garbage/salvo, it was very satisfying.

As I am sure many others do, I tend to feel overwhelmed a lot of the time with so many things vying for my attention: projects, housework, artwork, mothering, spiritual life, physical health, balancing relationships, and my own desires to relax now and then. And it certainly doesn’t help having a very demanding one year old who drags out anything not nailed down and flinging it into another room. When the floor is covered with toys, pillows, blankets, kitchen utensils, office supplies, clothes, and just general refuse, I sometimes feel like I am drowning in stuff! It makes it harder to concentrate, when I already have a hard time focusing. I always find myself *attempting* to multitask, and end up feeding Eowyn, getting an activity for her, starting a project, putting Eowyn down for a nap, going on facebook, scrambling to pick up, going to the store, starting laundry, putting away groceries that have been waiting in the bag too long…until at the end of an exhausting day I have 15 things started and nothing finished. I have tried lots of times to organize belongings, schedule my day, and organize priorities, and it usually works for a while, but there is always more more more. Over the past year or so, I have had a lot of conversations and ideas bouncing around in my head having to do with simplifying, prioritizing, and minimizing distractions from life. So here is a list of all of my inspirations for simplifying:

Living in the Past

Joe and I have had a lot of thought provoking conversations about how our current culture goes about living. We’ve talked about use of technology, how we use our time, and how we interact with people. One thing we have come to decide that we would like to have times to disconnect from technology now and then, and especially when we are with people. We would like to value developing real relationships through quality time and conversation, as well as pursuing more classical pass times that are more focused on creating something instead of consuming something. This conversation in addition to many other conversations have been sparked by articles from one of Joe’s favorite blogs: Art of Manliness. It sounds like a super corny title, but I have particularly enjoyed the way they write about life and society in the distant past vs. modern society. It is strange how the culture of the not so distant past seems so foreign with a slower paced life and more wholesome values, and their use of time seems to be in contrast to the lives we have known today. Minimalism also takes some cues from the past on Living Well and Spending Less, where she talks about more modest closet size in older homes, and what we can learn from it.

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Minimalists

As briefly mentioned above, I have also been made aware of a trend call minimalism. I had heard about it before, but I found a lot of encouragement in reading posts from a friend of mine on Imperfectly Simple. If you haven’t heard of it, the basic idea is that living with less physical stuff can be very freeing. Using and buying only what you need leaves less cleaning, maintenance, clutter, and more money. I also feel a little rebellious now and then towards the idea that we are cogs in the corporate american economical machine whose primary function is to spend money. I tend to balk at the idea that spending money will make you happier, and that we are brainwashed by advertisements to believe this to be true, but in my many weaker moments I easily cave to spending on impulses or buying stupid things. I always try to buy the least expensive option, which is sometimes good, but that doesn’t always work out well because it either breaks or I don’t love it, and end up not using it. I do this a lot with clothes especially. With minimalism the idea is that when you do buy things, you think about it and make sure to only acquire things that you really love or things that you really need. So minimalists do buy things, but they tend spend more to get something really nice instead of buying a lot of little cheap things. Or recycling/re-purposing things you already have is always a good thing to try. The “less is more principal” can be applied to other areas of life, and the ways we use our time. I don’t think I will ever be an extreme minimalist as I think there can be some potential problems with it, at least for our family, but the basic principals have been very helpful for moving, and cleaning out clutter.

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Montessori and Catechesis of the Good Shepherd

Most people have heard of Montessori Schools, but I first became interested in it via Maria Montessori’s religious counter part Sophia Cavalleti. She developed a religious program for children called the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, that borrows a lot from Maria’s educational philosophies. In both there is a high emphasis on simple yet beautiful aesthetics and purpose for every item in the classroom. Every item has a place that it belongs and a reason to be there. There is an emphasis on order, natural materials, cycles, seasons, and routines. (always good things to use to simplify life with kids) Children are trained to be productive members of the household, and to find enjoyment in the accomplishment of a task that they have completed independently. We are only just starting on this, and I am sure that there will be bumps in the road and it could be a bit more difficult than doing it myself for a time, but overall, I think it will pay off eventually, and help to simplify. The only thing that I have had somewhat of a problem with is the idea that children learn by manipulating objects with their hands, which I do think is very helpful to children. And while you are only to place a small sampling of items out at a time, there is still the trouble of storing multiple specialized learning materials. So though Eowyn’s room looks decent on the surface, just don’t ask to see the closet!

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Japanese Influences

The aesthetics, and culture of the Japanese have been intriguing me since middle school. I love the emphasis on nature; growing up in a rural area has made me to very much enjoy the peace and beauty of what God has made in creation. The Japanese designs bring the outside in through large windows, and art printed right on the walls/screens, flower arrangements, and natural materials. The spareness of the Japanese zen aesthetic is calming to me. There is no clutter, everything that is not being used is packed away out of sight behind the neat sliding doors of built in cabinets. Though some extreme examples of this aesthetic can seem cold to me. The attention to negative space and  intention and purpose again behind the placement of every object, is very appealing to my aesthetic senses. The space is freeing, and I also like the idea of versatility of rooms and furniture. For example, in a Japanese house, a futon or floor bed can be rolled up and put away and screens can be moved to section off different areas of a house. Economy of space is important for our family as we have never had a ton of space and even though our new apartment has the same square footage, we lost our attic, which to some degree had turned into a junk depository anyways. Finally, I don’t know if we would ever be able to get away with it in our culture, but the idea of lounging on cushions on the floor all the time sounds comfy!

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Packing up everything and living with only the things left out was an interesting experiment that I would not have otherwise have been able to try. Having only 4 cups, plates, and bowls made for…less dishes! I was more likely to wash something and reuse it instead of letting a mountain of dishes pile up in the sink. I re-wore my clothes that I had left out a few more times than usual. As furniture left and items were hidden away in boxes, it felt like we were going back in time to the beginning of our marriage. We celebrated our first New Year’s in that house right before our wedding (1/10), we had very little furniture so we sat on pillows and blankets on the floor along with a few guests, and played video games and set our cell phones to go off at midnight because we had no cable or internet. The amount of stuff that we had accumulated in the course of the first five years of our marriage is staggering. As the house emptied it seemed to grow quite large. Our final night we ate on the floor of our empty spacious living room using a cooler for a table and we slept in the same room on the futon mattress to our couch. We entertained a few last minute guests on the mattress and lounged on the floor. It was surreal but kind of nice to see how little we need. It makes me wish for a sustainable and practical way to re-create it, but I suppose that gives me something to work towards.

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