Ladies and Gentlemen…. the hubby is IN!!!

My husband has been on board with this minimalism thing since day one. Every time I bring minimalism to another area of our life, he is my biggest supporter and cheerleader. But until recently, he has never initiated a project himself. But the other day, something new happened!

There I was, sitting in my living room, giving the kids some snuggles while we watched a movie. My husband was making a snack in the kitchen. He open the knife drawer, rummaged around for what he was looking for. Then he stopped. And stared. And then he said,

“Babe… do we really need all these knives?”

Guys. I got a liiiittle too excited.

I practically jumped off the couch and said, “NO! NO WE DO NOT!” And danced into the kitchen for my first husband-initiated decluttering project.

In case you need to get at your own knife drawer, here is a little inspiration:

1. First, we took everything out of the drawer. Yes, that is all from ONE DRAWER.
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2. Then we pulled out the keepers.
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After I took this photo, we reevaluated. Do we little need those useless little corn thingies? NOPE. Do we really need three bottle openers? Actually, yes. One will be installed outside on the patio. The silver one is the one we actually use. And then, you will notice the USMA opener. It’s musical, people. Remember my post on keeping only what you need, use, or love? Yeah, well to say my husband loves hearing “On Brave Old Army Team” and watching the kids march around while sing the Army theme song every time he opens a beer is an understatement. It stays. Remember, we are creating a minimalism that works for us. 🙂

3. Next, we wiped out the drawer and put the keepers back. Check out what is still left on the counter!
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4. We put the rest into a box for our next trip to Goodwill!

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It’s so great to have a partner in this journey. I am one lucky lady!
Have a great night everybody!

Kids’ Art Corner… Decluttered!

If you ask my five-year-old what she wants to be when she grows up, she will usually tell you she wants to be an “Astronaut Artist.” If she can’t be outside playing with her buddies, you can almost find her inside at her beloved art table.

I used to go to great lengths to organize this well-used part of our home. I put two bookshelves there to hold toys and puzzles, and bought a large plastic bin for paper, art supplies, and coloring books. I collected all the stickers, markers, crafts, etc and found homes for them tucked somewhere in the art corner. Despite all my organizing efforts, this little corner was basically in shambles every night. This has especially been true every since my 3-year-old discovered the joys of “making confetti,” with his tiny scissors. I just repeat to myself… “HesdevelopinghisfinemotorskillsHesdevelopinghisfinemotorskills….”

The other day I found myself in the rare circumstance of being home alone for a couple of hours, so I decided it was time to bring minimalism to this little corner of our world.

First, I took everything off the shelves and out of the drawers to get my head around what I was dealing with here. As I emptied the drawers I found all the art supplies my kids had lost over the past few months, along with a bunch of random junk. Noted. As usual, there was just TOO MUCH STUFF and it was keeping my family from enjoying this area as much as they could.

Then I used the same strategy with the art corner that I used with my jewelry drawer.

1. Pick out the keepers. I started by picking out the really good stuff that my kids love AND use frequently. There were a handful of puzzles, white and construction paper, markers (each checked to make sure they are not dried up), crayons, scissors, gluesticks, and a small set of blocks.

What was left on the table was this:
kids art junk2
What. Is. This. Stuff.

2. Toss the rest. Whenever I am confronted with a pile of stuff like this, I freeze. It’s daunting to imagine putting each of these random pieces away. But then I remembered, I’m not an organizer anymore, I’m a minimalist. So I checked over this pile one more time for keepers, got an empty box, and I took my arm and swept the entire pile into the trash. It was glorious!

3. Create a functional space. Next I put away our seriously reduced art supplies. I made sure that the kids can access everything easily and put it away themselves easily. I got rid of so much rarely used stuff that after putting away the good stuff, this the storage that we no longer need:
leftover2

4. Admire! When the Littles got home, I immediately took them over to their art corner. My daughter gasped when she saw it and said, “I love it! I can SEE ALL MY STUFF!” She knows I threw the rest away and she couldn’t care less. Even my 5 year old immediately saw that her beloved art corner was so much better with all the clutter out of the way.
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Isn’t that amazing! Woohoo!
shelf art2
Turns out my kids don’t need a million half-completed dollar store crafts. They need the basics. They LOVE the basics. And my husband and I love NOT picking up the art corner every night. Except, of course, the occasional confetti 😉
art supplies

Too many TOYS?

I know, I know.
It’s one thing for me to write about decluttering jewelry and clothes, but toys?

My organizing instinct has never gone into overdrive like it did after having kids. I felt like one of my main missions in life was to find a way to organize our toys in such a way that we were not living in a constant state of what we lovingly referred to as Toy-splosion. Over the years the toys built up, and I continue to spend time and money organizing these toys so they didn’t take over the house. By the time I adopted my minimalism, my kids were (and still are for a few more weeks!) 5 and 3, and my neat little nooks and crannies were busting at the seams. We had 17,000 stuffed animals (approximately), dozens of puzzles, and my least favorite, BOARD GAMES. Not classic games that are fun and actually make sense, but several cheap little games that come with endless tiny little pieces and rules that even the grownups in the room can’t figure out. Even the pantry was being taken over with my daughter’s first love… ART SUPPLIES. I set up an entire shelving system to try and contain the many, many art projects and supplies we had collected.

The Toy-splosion was slowly taking over.

Since embracing minimalism, so much has become clear to me. One of the most impactful things I have realized has to do with these toys, and it has changed our home and our lives with our children. So here it is….

Having very few toys is GOOD for my children.

Some of you already knew this. Some of you think I am crazy.
Hear me out. I know this sounds like one of those things that is good in theory but not in practice, but I’ve been really watching my kids. You know when they are at their happiest and most creative? When they are learning the most?

When they are playing with other kids. Bonus points if they are playing outside.

It was a major palm-to-forehead moment when I realized that the toys are absolutely peripheral to my children. Given the choice between playing with other kids or playing with toys, they will choose their friends every single time. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not tossing every single toy out of the house. But they don’t need the many trayfuls of Montessori projects I used to create and shelf after shelf (after shelf) of toys. They just want to go out and play with their friends. And I am absolutely convinced this is significantly better for them.
JULY 2013 296
My beautiful neighbor helped me learn this lesson. Her door is always open, she is always warm and welcoming to the neighborhood kids, and her own daughters are often playing out front. My kids adore her for obvious reasons. Every time my kids see her or her kids outside they BEG to go play. I cringe now when I think of how I used to often keep them so I could catch up with the all the cooking/cleaning/organizing. Now if at all possible, I put down what I am doing and I take them outside. I chat with my neighbor, I watch my kids learn social skills, get exercise, and make entire worlds out of sticks and leaves and sidewalk chalk, and we are all better off afterwards. And I make it a point to reach out to their other friends too, and I try to set up a playdate at least once a week.

My daughter when I say YES to playing with the neighbor kids.
My daughter when I say YES to playing with the neighbor kids.

As if to drive this point home, a few weeks ago, my husband and I decided to tackle the two huge toy chests in our family room. Both were absolutely overflowing with costumes, toys, balls, stuffed animals, etc. We brought our kiddos into the family room and told them that Mommy and Daddy don’t have as much time as we want to play with them because we are always picking up all these toys. We said they each get to pick three toys out of the toy chest and two costumes out of the costume chest, and the rest were getting donated. I was gearing up for a major battle over this number, and to be honest I was totally prepared to cave to a higher number. You know what my kids did? They quickly dug through the box, handed me their three toys and two costumes, and then ran off to go play with the neighbor kids without even glancing back. My husband and I just looked at each other, stunned. And thrilled.

Hubs took the kids outside to play while I quickly boxed up everything that was left into boxes. I put them in the garage for a couple days just in case. Turns out, my kids have never mentioned a single one of these donated toys. Not once. We got rid of one of the chests entirely, and the remaining one that doubles as our coffee table is not even close to full.

Perhaps the most beautiful thing about this process is that we are teaching are kids that our time is precious. We only have so much time in this world, and we won’t allow a mountain of toys to claim that time, because we want to spend that time with the people we love. And it really seems like they get it. We still have a few areas for toys, and anything that doesn’t fit in these areas is gone. If a new toy comes into the house, something else goes.

I can only hope that by starting this lesson early, my kids will carry it with them throughout their lives. They will realize that stuff doesn’t matter much, but people sure do. And their lives will reflect this priority much sooner than mine did. That is my hope.

So, I encourage you to give this a try!
1. Explain to your kiddos that you all spend too much time dealing with the toys, and that you will get to PLAY with each other more and DO more stuff if you there are less toys in the house. Tell them they get to keep their favorites!
2. Gather all the toys in the area you are dealing with.
3. Create a small and manageable toy area. Commit to only allowing toys in this room (or on the main level) that have a home in this area.
4. Allow the kids to pick out a set number of toys. We let them each pick three. (True confession… my husband and I picked out a couple toys we really like too 😉 ) There will likely be a ton of stuff left behind. Don’t panic!
5. Take the toys your kids picked out and give them a home in the designated toy area. As long as your kids are over 2 years old, make sure the kids can easily put the toys away themselves.
6. Quickly box up everything else that was left behind, while keeping your kids (and yourself) focused on their favorite toys in this new, nice toy area. Point out to them that they can actually SEE and get to all their toys now!
7. Follow through! Use that time you used to spend endlessly picking up toys to play with your kids more, take them outside to play with neighbor kids, head out to do something fun, and remind them that you have the time to do this because you don’t have so much STUFF to take care of!

There is a GREAT book by on of my favorite bloggers Joshua Becker about decluttering kids stuff, and it even has a wonderful chapter on the topic of friends vs toys.
Clutterfree with Kids
I highly recommend it!

Hope you enjoyed this post… I’d love to hear from you!

**Next post…. ART SUPPLIES. This was even a bigger issue than toys for us. Can’t wait to show you the kids’ decluttered art area!

Let’s Talk Shop(ping)

AKA, My Rules for Minimalist Shopping

I was a little surprised, after embarking on my minimalism journey, to realize that I really enjoy shopping. I was not at all surprised to figure out that my shopping was a huge part of the problem of clutter in our home. In fact, when my husband and I started reading Simplify, by Joshua Becker, the thing my husband was most excited and adamant about was stopping the influx of crap into the house. And to be honest, that was all on me.

I was shopping more for the experience than I was for the stuff, that much I already knew. To make a change, I had to stop and ponder what I actually get out of shopping.

This is what I came up with…
1. I love the social aspect of shopping with friends, my beautiful sister-in-law, or my mama.
2. The feeling of “me time” when shopping by myself.
3. I get bored easily. I can’t just sit and watch TV with my hubby. I automatically just pick up my tablet and check out the Anthro fresh cuts. I enjoyed the thrill of the hunt of scoring some amazing online deal!
4. The feeling of “treating myself” with a new purchase.

And then, I had to look a little deeper.

Looking over my list, I saw that I had a beautiful opportunity to find these things in more meaningful way.

For example…
1. Social Aspect – Sitting face-to-face with a girlfriend over a cup of coffee or a glass of wine is much more conducive to real conversation. I’d honestly rather have that connection then the distracted afternoon of shopping. I have made it a point to reach out to my girlfriends more for a happy hour playdate or cup of coffee.
2. Me time – Where do I start? There are so many things I say I don’t have time to do, and shopping is not often one of them. Hot Yoga, reading, writing, working out, just going on a walk with some great music.
3. Boredom – I needed more of a creative outlet. Something that wasn’t about work or the kids. Something I could sit and work on while my hubby and I are watching TV. And guess what? I found and new and wonderful passion in THIS BLOG!:) It’s been a blast!
4. Treating myself – Ok, this one is FUN.

Because in my version of minimalism, shopping still exists! I’ve just changed the rules for myself.

After my closet purge, and then what followed a few weeks later (PURGE, part 2) I really got a vision of what I actually love on my body. And due to my drastically reduced wardrobe, I was able to see a few items that I could really, actually use. Not trendy, passing fashions that I would regret buying a few months, but a few items that would truly add to my wardrobe in terms of comfort and functionality. For example, would you believe that at 37 years old I did not own a Little Black Dress that I love? Part of my minimalism is that my wardrobe should make my life simpler. Owning a perfect LBD that can throw on for almost any occasion certainly fits that bill.

Here is how I did it.

For several weeks, actually months after purging my closet, I bought nothing. But I paid close attention to things I never wore (these things got donated during Purge #2), and things that I frequently thought, “Man, if I only had__________”. There were a very few items like this, that I wished I had over and over. In fact, there were only four things. A perfect little black dress, a nice, flowy black tunic that I could throw on over leggings or skinny jeans for a casual workday, a pair of black shorts, and a simple pendant necklace that I can wear with anything to pull together a simple outfit.

So, I started a list. THE list. I put it on my phone so it is always accessible.

And then, and this is key, I excused myself from sales.

If I find my perfect item, I buy it, whether it’s on sale or not. If this bothers you, just know that you will likely save a ton of money by buying only a few, good quality items. I know I have!

So that’s it. My new rules: It has to be on my list, and it has to be perfect… fit, color, fabric… everything.

Friends, you have GOT to try this. Let me tell you why…

What is happening is, instead of a closetful of trendy, cheap, or ill-fitting items that I would have previously picked up at Target or some clearance rack over the past few months, I have purchased only a couple things that are great quality and that I LOVE. I found a LBD that I feel beautiful in anywhere, and a cool, flowy black top that I happily wear to work at least one a week. Last week I finally found some perfect black shorts while I was shopping for the kids. Someday I will run into that necklace and I will snatch it up! And I don’t second guess these purchases, because I know how much use I will get out of them.

So, after you purge your closet, make your list. Keep it with you, and if you find yourself shopping, just ask yourself, is it on your list? Is it PERFECT? If not, let it go.

For more inspiration from a fantastic blog, check out project333!

Simplify your…um…drawers.

Have you ever found yourself rummaging through your top drawer looking for your “good” undies among a sea of tiny (but beautiful) lacy torture devices?

But it's so PRETTY!
But it’s so PRETTY!

I found myself in this situation the other day, and just to drive the point home, I remembered that I had left some of the good stuff (Thank you GapBody) in a laundry basket because when I was putting clean clothes away several days before, it wouldn’t all fit.

It sounds ridiculous because IT IS, but I realize that I have done this my whole life. I’ve allowed stuff that I don’t even care about to take up time and space in my life. The trade-off is less time and space for the people and things I do care about.

This morning I tackled my jewelry drawer. As I made my way through the mess, I found a two of pairs of earrings that I love but had completely forgotten about because they were buried under jewelry I haven’t touched in years. One pair was even my Nana’s earrings that I thought were long lost.
drawer before

And now, it looks like…
drawer after
Clutter takes from us. It takes our time and our piece of mind. It keeps us from enjoying the things that we actually do love. For me, once this clicked, it has become so clear that having all this extra stuff around is keeping me from enjoying my life to the fullest.
What did keeping all that jewelry around cost me? The worry when I thought I had lost my Nana’s earrings. The time spent rummaging through looking for what I wanted. The guilt that I never used all this stuff that I had paid for or that was given to me. And it even cost me the use of the earrings I actually loved when they got buried and lost.

So here is my challenge for us this weekend. Let’s start simple…

Find a drawer in your house that is driving you nuts with clutter. It might be your kitchen utensil drawer, your sock drawer, your junk drawer, the drawer that holds your actual drawers… doesn’t matter.

Declutter the hell outta that drawer! If you need a step-by-step, here is what works for me.
1. Pick out the things that you actually NEED, USE, or LOVE.(Remember, you have to love it for you. There was lots of jewelry in my drawer that I loved but never wore because I obviously didn’t love it on me. That gets donated!) Put them aside in a “keep pile”.

2. Look at what is left. There is a reason these things are not in your Keep pile! Go through it, just to make sure nothing important is buried (like Nana’s earrings), and toss the rest into the trash or a donate box. Be ruthless. Only add additional things to your keep pile if they REALLY fit the bill.

3. Give the drawer a quick wipe down, and then put away whatever belongs in the drawer from your keep pile.

4. If there is anything left in your keep pile, put it away in a logical place.

5. Stand back and admire your work! Notice how you can see what you need, how you won’t have to rummage anymore! Great Job!:)

If you accepted this challenge I would love to hear about it! What drawer did you declutter and how did it go?

Dear house, it’s not you… (It’s the STUFF)

Before discovering the concept of minimalism, I was an Organizer.

I had this theory that if there was ever a spot in the house that accumulated too much crap, then I needed to rethink how it was organized. This often meant buying baskets, containers, drawers, shelves, hooks, even furniture… whatever made sense to house the clutter and get it organized. When the pantry got out of control, I bought new storage. When I couldn’t fit all my clothes and shoes in the closet, I bought a clothing rack and (yet another) shoe organizer. When I neatly packed another box of stuff-we-aren’t-using-right-now-but-might-use-someday, I labeled it and down to the basement it went. And it kind of worked, I guess. But it was exhausting and incredibly time consuming and I found I could never, EVER keep up.

I complained to my husband that I was overwhelmed by our house. “This house is too big,” I said. “I just can’t keep up with the picking up! It’s all I ever do!” Then my eyes were opened by my closet purge, and one day, after carefully reorganizing the kids’ toys AGAIN, I turned to my husband and said,

“Oh my god. Husband. It’s not the house, it’s the STUFF.”*

Yes, it was the stuff. It was the never ending battle of picking up, organizing, and cleaning all this stuff that made me feel like was running in circles.

I teach High School Economics, and I was immediately reminded of a lesson I teach my kids on Opportunity Cost. Bottom Line: Every good is SCARCE… your time, your energy, your money… and every time you choose to spend these scarce resources of yours in one way, means you choose to NOT spend it in another way. All of this stuff cost me not just the actual price of the items, but it was costing me my TIME. I was choosing the stuff over the people and things that I love.

And so… if I spend less time and energy dealing with the STUFF, I would have more time and energy to play with my kids, laugh with my husband, read a book, or call a friend. It is that simple.

And that, my friends, is my minimalism. I’m choosing to get rid of the stuff that is not important to make time for the stuff that is.

Starting with my next post, I’ll be getting specific on the methods we have adopted in our house to simplify, and how this process is looking for us. We have a long way to go, and I’m hoping some of you will tackle some projects with me!

*I have since figured out that it is ALSO the house, but more on that in a later post!

How it all started… THE PURGE


Last year, after a 5 year break from teaching to stay home with my Littles, it was time to go back to work. I reluctantly admitted to myself that yoga pants and tank tops are not work-appropriate, (except on Halloween? Can I be a yoga instructor?) and set about bringing my boxes of old work clothes up from storage. At about the same time, my mom retired and sent me home from a visit to her place with about 2 decades of her old work clothes. And then, of course, I had to make some purchases… teachers get new school clothes too, right?

To accommodate this influx of clothes, I booted my husband’s stuff out of our spare bedroom closet and claimed it as my own. I excitedly pinned beautiful photos in a board I dubbed CLOSET ROOM and set about creating my peaceful, zen-like dressing room. I bought a funky jewelry holder, moved my most prized piece of furniture into the room, found the perfect paint color, and made it exactly what I had imagined. No more off-season clothes storage for me! It was all here… won’t that make life so much EASIER?

Nope.

You probably already see where this was headed, but my space, although beautiful, was anything but zen-like. It was a newly-painted room stuffed to the brim with clothes from every season of my life (and my mom’s career) dating back to my swinging single days, sparkly tube tops and all. But I didn’t see it….yet.

The school year started, life sped up, and before I knew it, my Pinterest-perfect room was a disaster. There were so many items to organize, fold, clean, consider, put away, and even just to look at. Each item claimed a bit of my attention, time, and energy. One night in Spring I was online, just browsing around when I came upon this article by xoJane. She was describing her quest for a minimalist wardrobe, and was attempting to whittle her closet down to 10 items. That’s not really what caught my attention. What caught my attention was her method. Specifically her first two steps:

Step one: “Confront your closet…start the cleanout by reaching in to grab every piece of clothing that you love.”

Step two: “Examine [these items] to see if a theme emerges.

She continues on, all the way to step 10 to keep up the process, but I was already hooked.

First, I realized that I had very few items that I LOVE. This massive closet room was full, and it was full of things that didn’t quite fit right, or were just not very comfortable, or didn’t really go with anything else… you get the idea. And second, when I pulled out what I actually did love, then that would show me what I was truly comfortable in. It would show me What my style actually IS, not what I want it to be or think it should be. I could take my all-over-the-map wardrobe and hone in my actual style. On ME. On simple.

Here is the kicker. Deep breath. It’s confession time.

That night, I pulled over 130 items of clothing out of my closet and threw them on the floor. I looked over the pile (yes, including the sparkly tube top) and realized there was not a single thing I would miss.

I stepped back to admire my handiwork, and…

I hadn’t even made a dent. 

My eyes had been opened. There was no going back. I have waaaaay too much stuff.

Since that day, I have launched this family on a journey to simplify. It started in the closet, but it is spreading into all corners of our life and we are loving it. As my husband says, “This minimalism thing isn’t just about the stuff, it’s about everything!”  It’s a movement to remove anything from our lives that distracts us from what is most important to us. I’m reading books, reading articles, talking to wise people, writing as I go, and going through a ton of trial and error, and just trying to define this new path of whatever form of minimalism works best for my family. I am so excited to write about this crooked path and our insights and challenges along the way, and I hope that it becomes a place where you can do the same. I know this message of more simplicity is one that resonates with so many people, and I would love to invite you on this journey with us!