Craving less

I need less. Less busyness, less stress, less chaos, less overwhelm. I need less juggling, less coordinating, less fitting things in and running late. Less rushing. Less”not really listening” and less “not being present”. I need less work I don’t enjoy, to pay for stuff I don’t really need. I need less clutter in my house, less shitty food in my gut, less turmoil in my mind. I need freedom. I need less.

Lighten your load

If you are feeling overwhelmed and over-burdened, only you can lighten the load. Decide now to let some things go. Put down your heavy bag. Clear your space. Reduce your obligations. Find what really matters to you and devote yourself to it. The rest will fall in to place.

Selling the dream house part two: emotional turmoil

I wrote about our decision to sell our “dream house” a little while back (read about this here). Well, we finally put the house on the market this week. It took us three months to prepare. In between work, school and other commitments, we de-cluttered, cleaned and polished, gardened, re-painted and styled. We eventually got the house to what we considered a presentable standard. I realise that both of us have perfectionist tendencies, and were probably a little extreme in our quest to make our home look like a brand new display home, or something out of a magazine. However, it was very satisfying to see, that after 9 months of de-cluttering, I really do have a minimalist house. I could walk into any room in the house and not see clutter anywhere. The over achiever in me was grinning like the Cheshire Cat. But there were other conflicting feelings too.

After nine months of solidly decluttering our beautiful home I can actually look around and say “I am done” – and now I’m going to throw the whole house away? When I no longer have to dodge the lego, and move twenty things off the coffee table to sit and enjoy a cup of tea in the warm sunny living area I can finally enjoy the beautiful space we created. Truthfully, I love our home. It is everything I thought I ever wanted. It is spacious and light; the warm sun pouring through large windows into every room. Our large open plan living/ dining / kitchen area is wonderful for hosting friends for dinner, parties, or just a quiet coffee. We’ve worked so hard on creating beautiful native gardens that are now attracting birds. When I look around at what we created, at what we worked so hard for, it’s difficult to not get overwhelmed with emotion. I love this house. I love our neighbourhood. I love our neighbours, who are now our close friends. Can we really give all this up? Are we making the right decision?

Making such a big change is scary as hell. Several close family members keep telling us we’re crazy, that we’re making a huge mistake. In our weak moments we start to believe them, and it’s hard to hold onto the bigger picture. What if we are throwing away the best possible life we could have? What if we never find something like this again? It’s not like we’re just selling a house in one neighbourhood to buy something similar in another town or suburb. We are making a complete lifestyle change. We don’t plan to have the double, high salary income that would enable us to have such a big brand new home again. We are simplifying and minimising to the extreme and there is no going back. Shit.

My husband and I went for a long walk in the bush beside our house yesterday. We talked through our concerns and our fears. Ultimately we know that we cannot keep this house and live the kind of life that we desire. So, we put it on the market this week despite our trepidation. It’s time to have a little faith in ourselves and in our hopes and dreams for the future. Sometimes you’ve got to make a leap, even when you don’t quite know where you will land.

Throwing out the kids’ toys – why that’s a good thing

Introducing my children to a more minimalist lifestyle has been an overwhelmingly positive experience. They are learning to appreciate, and make do with what they have. They are developing an understanding that we don’t need every new gimmick that comes onto the market. Most importantly, we are all learning the value of spending more quality time together.

My kids have never had quite the volume of toys other children do. The exposure they have to advertising and shopping centres is quite minimal, so they don’t tend to ask for many things. However, they still had a LOT of stuff just sitting around contributing to clutter. Involving the kids in the minimising process has actually been quite fun and rewarding for them. It has taught them to evaluate their belongings and to think about what’s important to them. They are learning the value of contribution, by donating their outgrown and unwanted things to people in need.

My boys spend a lot of time outside. Although they’d happily sit on the gaming console all day if I let them, once out in the sunshine their imaginations and a couple of friends is all they need to have fun. We still have some outdoor play equipment; footballs, a cricket set, bikes, scooters and surf boards. And for cold weather or quiet indoor play there are a handful of board games, dress ups, lego and other construction toys. But there are is nowhere near the number of toys we once had. My one year old daughter has only a handful of toys of her own, and almost none of the vast array of “educational” baby toys new mothers are told are essential for their young ones.

Having less toys has several benefits. Firstly, the kids’ bedrooms and playroom generally always look a bit neater. With less stuff, there is less mess to make. Secondly, it’s easier for the boys to find a particular game or toy as it is no longer buried under clutter. Thirdly, and most importantly, having less prescriptive toys and games encourages more creative play and innovation.

There are several strategies that we are putting into place to keep the kids’ stuff at a more manageable level.

  1. We no longer buy cheap collectable toys. There was a video game the boys used to love that required us to buy numerous figurines to maximise game play. We ended up with more than 50! Never again. On the rare occasion we find ourselves buying a quick take away dinner from a well-known fast food joint, the kids now order from the adult menu. No more pre-packaged kid’s meal with a cheap plastic toy. These were often abandoned by the end of the day anyway.
  2. We are drastically reducing the number of items we give as gifts. We’ve started talking to the kids about how our new minimalist lifestyle will affect birthdays and Christmases. I explained that we would now spend money on experiences, rather than presents, to celebrate these occasions. I expected the boys to be unhappy about this, but they were actually excited. Several years ago I took my eldest son on a train trip to the aquarium for his birthday. He recounted what an enjoyable and memorable day that had been for him. Both boys are looking forward to more fun activities, rather than gifts, to celebrate their special day.
  3. We will ask friends and family to do the same. We haven’t yet been very forward in putting a label on our changing lifestyle, or broadcasting these changes to family and friends. As birthdays and Christmas approach, I will have to have discussions with our beloved family regarding our decision to drastically limit our possessions. I’m not sure how they will feel when I ask them not to buy us presents. Hopefully they will understand it is the time we spend together that is so much more valuable than any trinket they could give.
  4. Regular donations to charity. Each month we commence a decluttering game I picked up from my favourite minimalists; Joshua Fields Milburn and Ryan Nicodemus at theminimalists.com. The mins game requires you to remove a certain number of items from your home on each day of the month; one item of the first, two items on the second and so on. Although we forget to contribute to the box every day, it is a great reminder each month of our new mission. When the box is full, I take it down to the local Salvation Army store.

As parents we have a deep desire to provide for our children and ensure they have enough. However, in today’s society of excess, “enough” has become far too much. Our children are bombarded with advertising, and peer pressure, to have the latest gadgets. Many toys are marketed as being educational, and in some cases essential for development. Desperate not to let our children miss out on any opportunity, we buy the things society tells us we should. I can tell you from experience that minimising my children’s possessions has not harmed or upset them in anyway. In fact it has liberated them. They don’t have to spend as much time cleaning their room. Though most importantly, owning less stuff has unleashed their creativity and sense of adventure.

Discovering minimalism has given me more time

As I discover more about minimalism I’ve found that all the minimalist blogs and books I’ve read seemed to be telling me one key thing: that if I minimised my life I would have more free time. Well of course I thought that sounded lovely, though perhaps a bit fanciful. Sure, I seemed to spend a large part of my free time on house work. However, I put this down to the amount of washing and cooking required for five people. I didn’t really think that having a few less trinkets around the house to dust or tidy was going to free up my time significantly. What I didn’t expect was the change in mindset that comes with discovering a minimalist lifestyle. When you discard or donate your superfluous possessions and keep only the things that bring you joy, you begin to make conscious decisions about what is important to you. This teaches your brain to evaluate every aspect of your life; be it possessions, career, friends, and how you spend your time. I have found that I have more time, simply because I value it more highly and chose to waste less of it.

It is easy to become caught up in being busy. The number of things we would like to do, or feel we should do in a day is always greater than the hours we have available. However, many of the things we are so busy doing are actually quite unnecessary. I don’t mean to offend. It is the societal norm to be busy, and we seem to place value on it. However, if we spend so much time buzzing around in our own self-important little world, we are going to miss out on a lot of what life has to offer.

I often find myself thinking how time seems to fly by. It is only when I deliberately step off the hamster wheel that I feel it slowing down. An hour spent wandering along a bush track passes more slowly than an hour juggling baking, vacuuming, washing and cleaning the second bathroom. I realise that housework has to be done. There are always errands to run, phone calls to make, people to see. Let alone cramming a full time job in there somewhere too. Despite this, we can ultimately choose how we spend our time.

If you occupy most of your waking hours at work, in order to pay your enormous mortgage and other bills, then I encourage you to take steps towards getting your debt under control. It is possible to downsize your life and reduce your expenses, this will give you the freedom to change your career, or to work less. (I wrote about this in Selling the Dream House).

If your days are spent running here, there and everywhere; whether on errands, shopping or socialising, then I encourage you to reduce your commitments. Spend one day at home per week, or each fortnight, just doing nothing. Relax and enjoy the home you work so hard to maintain, read a book, play with your kids, or go for a walk outside.

If your children have so many after-school activities that you spend every afternoon driving from one thing to the next, then I encourage you to prioritise one or two activities and discontinue the rest. We all want our kids to have the perfect childhood and not miss out on any opportunity. However, when we are rushing around, eating take away in the car, and getting home late more days than not our kids miss out on quality down time. We also teach them that being busy is normal, and the cycle continues.

Slow down and enjoy the life you have been given. Take deliberate steps to reduce the busyness and learn to just be present in the moment. You can slow time, but first you have to slow yourself.

Consumerism brings out the worst in human nature

Recently my son and I were watching a compilation of footage from the Black Friday Sales. The videos showed hordes of people waiting for the doors of the shops to open. “Horde” is the only way I can describe what I saw, as the behaviour of these human beings shocked me to my core.

Here in Australia we don’t have Black Friday, though most large shopping centres and retail stores will open the day after Christmas for the Boxing Day Sales. I’ve personally only involved myself in this event once, and I came away with a great pair of shoes that I still love and wear to this day. However, my purchase of these shoes was based on careful consideration of my needs, and my budget. When I wandered into the department store quite late in the day the crowds were all but gone. This is quite a significant contrast to the footage I saw from Black Friday. I watched in horror as people trampled and attacked each other to get their hands on price reduced electrical goods. It looked as though they were just trying to grab whatever was in reach, before someone else did. Not buying what they needed, but grabbing anything, for fear of missing out.

This behaviour reminded me of a scene from an apocalypse film. You know, the ones where zombies, aliens, or, god forbid, environmental destruction is bringing about the end of the human race? Where people are fighting desperately for survival. Where knocking over and trampling the person in front of you means they’ll get eaten, or swallowed up in the crevice, but you won’t. Survival behaviour is instinctive. It’s primal. Our innate need to fight to stay alive is one of the most basic, animalistic traits we have. However, in today’s day and age, if you live in a first world country, chances are you are never going to need your survival instinct. Yet it is still there. When we behave in ways that mimic this kind of desperation the instinct kicks in. Consumerism encourages us to believe material objects are almost as valuable as life itself. Our brains become wired to believe that we do in fact need the latest fashions and technologies to “survive” in today’s world. Insert this attitude into what is essentially a mob like situation, such as the Black Friday Sales, and you end up with a group of human beings that forget all of the little things that make us human. We forget about empathy, compassion and generosity, and we turn into animals. Driven by panic, and our own selfish need to obtain what we believe is essential for our own survival. Our primal, emotional brain takes over and logic falls by the wayside.

It saddens me to look at scenes like this. I think about what these people must be missing out on, if consumerism is such a priority in their lives. It scares me to witness a person’s brain so completely hijacked by the need to purchase to survive, that they do not even notice as they trample a fellow human being in their quest to do so. I’m not saying I am better than the people I saw in those videos. I too am driven by my emotional brain more often than I would like. I’m not saying we shouldn’t necessarily make decisions based on emotion. I am referring to those stressful situations where powerful feelings such as anger and panic, take over our mind. This causes us to make irrational decisions, to do and say things that we would not normally do. The scenes from Black Friday are a poignant reminder of the importance of mindfulness. One key thing that separates us from animals is our awareness. We have the ability to observe our emotions and reflect on our own behaviour. Not only that, we can chose to behave differently. Being mindful of our feelings and subsequent actions helps to remind us of the importance of those distinctively human qualities. When we remember to show kindness, compassion and generosity to those around us the selfish and desperate need to consume can be tamed.

Am I a Minimalist Yet?

I’ve been on this path of discovering a minimalist lifestyle for about seven months now. After coming across Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, I quickly realised the benefits of owning less stuff. Throughout the year I’ve been sorting, purging and donating large volumes of my possessions. However, just looking around, I don’t think anyone would notice. We’ve only been living in our house for four years. It is fairly sparsely decorated. I’m not sure if this is because we have been too lazy to decorate, not got around to it yet, or if that’s our inner minimalist nature. My one year old daughter certainly seems to have a lot less toys than many of our friends’ toddlers, but is it enough of a difference for us to be considered minimalist? Does paring down my wardrobe to only the small number of clothes I wore anyway count as minimalism? Is getting rid of old books, study notes and paperwork minimalism? Or is that really just having a good clean out?

So what makes someone a minimalist? Do I have to wear a black t shirt and jeans every day? (Well, I guess I kind of do a lot of the time). Do I have to live in a tiny house and be self-sufficient? Should I own less than 100 belongings, and be able to pack them into a single back at a moment’s notice? Am I supposed to remove everything from the kitchen, save one bowl, cup, knife, fork and spoon per person?

Joshua Becker of Becoming Minimalist describes minimalism as “the intentional promotion of the things we most value and the removal of everything that distracts us from it”. The Minimalists Joshua Fields Milburn and Ryan Nicodemus suggest that minimalism be used as “a tool to rid yourself of life’s excess in favour of focusing on what’s important.”

These statements are similar, and quite broad. Perhaps not that helpful to a person seeking to be a minimalist. However, we first need to think about what it is that inspired us to want to identify with minimalism in the first place. We must understand that minimalism is a very personal thing. I have read many books and blogs on the topic to gain a better understanding of how others have achieved their version of minimalism. However, what I have also discovered is that minimalism is not a destination, but a way of living. I don’t need to wait until I’ve disposed of every last unnecessary item in my house to call myself a minimalist. The point is that I am learning to make choices every day which reduce the amount of clutter I’m bringing in to the home. I am thinking carefully about each and every purchase I make. For us, one of the biggest barriers to being able to focus on what’s important is the debt looming over us. Both my husband and I work long hours, meaning our time spent together as a family is limited. The primary emphasis of our minimalist lifestyle is to become debt free, hence cutting the biggest anchor, which weighs us down from living the life we desire.

Each and every day I feel happier, knowing that my focus is on the things I most value. I have noticed that having fewer belongings has reduced the time I spend cleaning, tidying and washing. My children are completely unbothered by the fact that we have halved the number of toys and books in their room. I am actually finding it easier to choose something to wear each day, now that my wardrobe contains only the small number of items I like. Minimalism is more about values and less about numbers. Whether I have seven tea cups or two, if I am focused on reducing the noise and clutter to find what truly matters in my life, then that makes me a minimalist.

Selling The Dream House

How did I get to this point? We thought we had it all. We had “arrived”. We are “living the dream”. We are the proud owners of a stunning, spacious 3,700 square ft home in a beautiful, newly developed suburb by the beach. And we want to sell up. Why?

Well it is a bit of a long story but on the whole it’s pretty simple.

I have been steadily decluttering and reading about minimalism for about 4 months now. I am thoroughly enjoying throwing out or donating all the things we don’t love or use. However, I want to share with you a personal story from a few weeks ago.

Once again it was the weekend and once again we had run out of money a few days before pay day. “I’ve had enough” my husband cried. “How is it that we both work so hard and we are always so bloody poor?” On the whole we aren’t big spenders. Neither of us likes to shop. We don’t particularly care about the latest fashions. I have read about others who have converted to minimalism, and have been shocked by how much other people could spend on clothing, accessories and gadgets. That isn’t us. Yet we still had no money. We seem to just scrape by from pay check to pay check and the reason is, we are drowning in debt. We have a mortgage of over $600,000 plus close to $100,000 owing from other loans and credit cards. It is killing us.

We had bought what the bank said we could afford and it was more than we needed.

In our early twenties we did what every young couple does. We bought a small, old house and renovated it. We converted this poor little weather board home into something pretty special. The best of everything. We even put a chandelier in the bathroom! Initially we planned to live in the house. However, once we had two children it suddenly felt too small. On a whim, one Sunday, we called into a newly developed suburb. Although initially just curious to have a look, before we knew what we were doing we had put a holding deposit on a block of land.

We sold our first little home and set about building the biggest, most beautiful house we could afford with the maximum amount of money we could borrow. We thought we deserved it. We thought it would make us happy. Everything new. Everything big. Everything beautiful.

$620,000 in debt, to be re-payed over thirty years.

That’s just what you do though, right? Houses are expensive. A mortgage is a lifelong commitment. It’s how it is.

The day I realised it did NOT have to be this way felt like both a beautiful awakening and a kick in the guts. We had it all wrong. We love our house. It is beautiful. It is our home. But our mortgage is suffocating us.

Telling my husband that I wanted to sell the house, was initially not such a big deal. We’ve talked about selling up and moving to the country a few times over the past two years. However, we have never had a solid plan. It’s never been quite real, always something we might do “one day”. This time, though, I was serious. This time I wanted an action plan, to make it happen as soon as possible. And my husband was scared.

When I first started minimising, the thought of selling our home did not even enter my head. I had heard of other minimalists down-sizing their living arrangements. Though that wasn’t going to be me. I was following the Konmarie method and our house did “spark joy”. It did make me happy. So down-sizing was originally not in the plan. Nevertheless as I continued to immerse myself in minimalism I realised that the debt associated with living in this “dream house” was not making us happy and it was not allowing us to live the life we wanted.

My husband and I have had a few discussions about this now. Although we are still a little anxious regarding our decision, it has been made. We are excited for the future and the freedom we have ahead of us. If we want to travel and work abroad, we can. If we choose to move interstate, we can. If either of us decide to make a career change, we can do that. In the short term, we plan to rent a much smaller house, for less than half what we are currently spending on our mortgage. We will have greater financial freedom, and this will allow us to pay down other debt.

The Minimalists Joshua Fields Milburn and Ryan Nicodemus encourage us to identify the anchors in our life that hold us back from realising our dreams. This house is our biggest anchor, and it’s time to cut it loose.

Simplifying My Day

For the last two afternoons I have taken my kids to the park. Why is this such big news? Because it just never happens. Let me explain why.

My husband and I don’t believe in filling our kid’s lives with endless after school activities, so most days of the week they come straight home. I work nights, so I am here to greet them. I always make a point of preparing afternoon tea to enjoy together and chat about the day’s events. My intentions are good here, and I know I am so lucky that my work schedule allows for this. However, it all sounds a little better on paper than it actually is. In truth, I am not usually sitting at the table with them. I am at the sink washing up, or preparing dinner. I am folding washing, packing away toys, or tending to the baby. My afternoons always feel so hectic. Suddenly all of the day’s house work that I haven’t done feels like it’s piling on top of me. I am starting to feel tired and crabby, and often I am getting ready to go to work. I try to focus on my boys, and listen to them. But I know I’m not really.

So yesterday, and today, I took them to the park. We ran around and played football, dug holes in the sand, climbed on the play equipment and just generally enjoyed being outdoors. I made a point of mentally “being present”. It’s scary how hard difficult this can be. Our minds are always busily thinking of something else – planning, organising, or dwelling on the past. We are hardly ever just here. The boys were thrilled. Even though they found friends at the park, they made sure I was always involved in the game. Afterwards they both commented on what a fun afternoon it was, and asked if we could go to the park together more often.

It really hit me, just how important these two afternoons of dedicated time and attention to my children actually meant to them. I am ashamed to admit that most days I just send them out to play with their friends while I busy myself with house work. Since when did house work become more important than spending time with my beautiful children? I know that there are chores each day that are unavoidable. Still, it seems I spend a huge part of my day just tending to the house, without actually being that productive.

When I spend the day at home I often feel as though I am going around in circles. My head always filled with the clutter of jobs I need to do and things I must remember. I go from one thing to the next, without completing what I started. I am easily distracted from one task to another as I try to get everything done at once. My mind is in chaos. It makes me feel like I’m drowning. This is what stops me from being present with my children. Feeling overwhelmed by what I perceive to be urgent chores.

I realise that meditation and mindfulness practice will play a large role in helping me to change this. I am also trying to adopt the “3 item to do list”. This will allow me to focus purely on three tasks that I have selected for that day and lets me off the hook with regards to any other jobs that might be hanging over my head. As parents we can put a lot of pressure on ourselves to do everything to perfection. Have a spotless house, serve up highly nutritious meals every day, work a full time job etc. I need to understand that I just can’t achieve all of this all of the time. What truly matters is spending quality time with my beautiful children. So when they walk in the door I will be there and I will be present.