I had thought that I had my home fairly well under control, until I was expecting my third child.
That was back in the day when “tidy” meant something completely different to me. It meant that I had spend a good hour running around stuffing things “away”, so that my house would look at least livable when my husband arrived home from work. Then I would plug the kids into the TV or try and distract them so that they didn’t completely undo my work.
After dinner we would try and relax and have some family time, and by bedtime the house was a wreck again, not to mention the days worth of dishes and cooking messes in the kitchen, and half folded piles of laundry I had barely had time to deal with that day.
When the kids went to bed, there was sometimes an attempt to tidy up, but truthfully, I was on my third difficult pregnancy and I was just to physically spent to make it happen.
My dear husband has always been a good helper with housework, but I wanted to actually see him and spend time with him rather than sending him off to all the chores.
I thought I was already living simply…
Now let me tell you, at this point in my life I would have told you that I was “living simply”, with not very much excess stuff. That is truly how I felt. I had a perpetual pile of stuff to donate. I felt like I was doing pretty well. My home, and my level of stress, told a very different story.
And then we moved to the country…
When I was half way through my third pregnancy, our family moved and I was really quite surprised to see an enormous moving truck, plus several friends’ pickup trucks, all stuffed with…what exactly were they stuffed with?
Toys, clothes that were in storage, baby equipment, art supplies from college, random pieces of furniture, sewing projects, and box after box of miscellaneous. Lamps, throw pillows, linens, pots and pans, serving dishes, lawn tools, books, bathroom toiletries, and I’m sorry to say it but a considerable number of broken things that had been broken for months or even years and had never been fixed.
Even with my efforts to trim down, it was a whole heck of a lot of stuff. We had lived in a rather spacious two bedroom apartment, with basement storage, and somehow we had manage to pretty well fill it right up with stuff. But where did it all come from?
After settling in our new home, my pregnancy began to get really difficult and, with my physical limitations, controlling our stuff was getting extremely frustrating. Our new home was cute as a button but very tiny, and I was losing it.
The dawn of a new era…
This is when I started to read about the concept of minimalism. My only practical idea of minimalism up to this point would have been some of my old bachelor friends in college who only had a futon and a microwave and a fork and a change of socks and not much else. Ew!
But what I started to understand was that minimalism can be quite flexible in it’s definition. Indeed, the definition can be flexible enough to fit the expectations of nearly anyone who is tired of living in clutter and excess. That was me!
I started to see that minimalism wasn’t simply about having the fewest number of belongings possible to maintain life. Rather, it was about consciously considering each our belongings, and if deciding if truly deserves a place in our life.
I started to face my fears…
It also meant releasing many notions that I had been holding onto as well. I had been holding fast to the idea that if I could possibly use something in the future, than it was worth keeping.
I felt that if I were to give away something that represented a goal (like getting back into painting someday), it meant that I had given up on that goal.
But there was one idea that had truly kept my life filled with filled with unnecessary possessions…That something was worth buying if it was a really good deal.
To be frank, that was my main issue.
Rewind back to when the problems started…
Rewind a few years to when we had just two little babes, and lived in an apartment in the city. Our family lived very modestly, on one income, and though we had all our needs met, many people would have considered us quite poor by American social standard. Yet still I managed to spend money every single week on things we “needed”. Most of this was at thrift and second hand stores.
You see, there are just such good deals. I had the mentality that, since we didn’t have much money, it was necessary for me to shop at thrift stores.
After all, we needed things to live and if I could get these things for a fraction of the price of new things, then it would be irresponsible of me not to do so.
Those of you who don’t shop thrift may not understand this particular mindset, but I hope you can understand the underlying mental justifications I constructed for myself.
To me, thrift stores are the easiest place in the world to spend money. They are like a dragon’s hoard of treasures, and all for such irresistibly good prices.
But there’s always a catch…
But here’s the catch. Since one never knows what one will find at a thrift sore on a particular day, and since there are always many new items cycling in, it’s feels necessary to shop frequently.
There even began to sneak into my subconscious the idea that if I didn’t get to the thrift store, things I wanted would be snapped up by other people and I would miss the opportunity to snag something for a really good price.
I would also shop without knowing exactly what I was looking for, except I was on the look out for “things we need”. And I could always find some of that!
When hobby turns to habit…
At the peak of this period of my life, I was heading to thrift store at least a couple of times per week, sometimes three or four, also often stopping at yard sales, estate sales, or kids consignment shops.
I knew every second-hand place in town, all the best neighborhoods for yard sales, and I tried to keep a few dollars in cash I’m my wallet in case we drove by an estate sale. Oh, estate sales were the best! And I felt so very frugal.
During this time, I was in complete denial about my problem, or even that it was a problem. I truly wanted to be a good and frugal homemaker, to give my husband a children a comfortable life in a cozy and loving home.
I was also a human, dealing with human emotions, being mostly alone with my babies, and being out thrifting gave me the sense that I was being a useful housewife and mother.
Also, it was fun! I just really enjoyed shopping, and it gave me time out of the messy house, and some kind of goal to achieve. The goal was to find something awesome!
I won’t talk in detail here about all the reasons I was able to continue on in this pattern, (I will expound elsewhere) but I will say that none of them were exceptional, that are the everyday excuse that are all to easy to make.
My home and my heart were heavy with my habit…
Meanwhile, although the problem was become more visible apparent in my home, I still wasn’t really ready to face the facts.
The dining room table, indeed a good section of the dining room itself was taken up by sewing and art projects, and this and that useful thing that didn’t have a place to go. We were eating meals on the coffee table.
I really thought I was pretty good about not collecting kid stuff, and have always dislike noisy, plastic toys. But it turned out that I have a pretty good eye for spotting adorable things and they were affordable and so darling, they came home with me more often than not.
Swimming in a sea of laundry
Despite our modest budget, my little girl had a reputation for being the best dressed baby on the block, but the truth was she only really wore a fraction of all the cute things, the ones that were comfortable and fit well.
The rest were either the wrong size or more fashionable than functional, and only got worn to church a few times.
My room had several areas where clean clothes were stored because had run out of hangers, and even if we did have more hangers, the old fashioned closet would not have fit both my husband’s and my wardrobe.
There were lot clothes for either when I lost the baby weight, or if I gained it back with another pregnancy, plus lots of maternity things because I was planning on more pregnancies.
I had very few things that actually fit me and I ended up wearing the same stretchy pants I didn’t even like for days in a row. With my constant pregnancy/post pregnancy weight fluctuations, I had a really hard time buying anything that fit when I knew I had things that would fit soon, or at least sometime in the future. A full closet and nothing to wear. Tell me you know what I’m talking about!
My vanity and bathroom cupboards were filled with half used hair and make up products, soaps and lotions I didn’t like the smell of, and curling irons or other small appliances that I rarely used. I had spent money on them and since I couldn’t give them away, throwing perfectly good products in the garbage seemed so wasteful and the opposite of what a frugal wife should do.
I didn’t even think of saying no…
I was also holding on to the belief that declining gifts of more stuff was impolite, and that it was also a bad idea because there could be some things in there that I could use, and that would save me money, wouldn’t it?
Well-meaning friends and people from church knew didn’t have a lot of money, and in an effort to help out they would often bring bags of their own give away over for me to look through. I accepted these gifts and almost always found things I thought I would use.
I wasn’t a hoarder, with mile high piles of collectables. I often had a bag or two of things to donate myself. And I would never have called my self a shop-a-holic.
“I’m not a shop-a-holic…”
A “Shop-a-holic” I imagined to be glamorous and ultra-fashionable, strutting around in ridiculous shoes, carrying shopping bags of designer clothing and driving luxy cars, drenched in over-priced perfume and making spectacles of themselves in glitzy, overdone makeovers. THAT is what a shop-a-holic looks like, right? NOT ME!
But here I was, with a very slim budget, and time after time I arriving home with a bag or two of acquired items. I had made thrift shopping a routine, a pattern, and I was addicted. I didn’t see why I should stop.
Fast forward to our move to the country…
After we moved, I couldn’t avoid the facts anymore. I knew if I was going to do this, I needed some encouragement, and I found books and blogs and other families online who had gone through the same things as I had.
Enter minimalism, and the start of a journey that would lead me to where I am today. I was so excited to finally be in the country, growing our own food and raising our babes in the fresh wild. I was ready to make a change.
Desperate and Determined
I was the perfect balance of desperate and determined. I didn’t know exactly what my future would look like, but I knew I wanted that sense of calm, a life that didn’t require constant scrambling.
I would stumble, backslide, and certainly have dark times when I didn’t feel like I could make it through my physical and mental hurdles.
But I persevered, and it paid off! Now with five children, full time homeschool, our own businesses and a growing farm, I have more time, more peace, more clarity and more joy than ever before.
Friends, once I was able to let go of my denial and moved past the mental blocks that had been with me for so long, I got. to. work.
Much of this work was the exodus of the clutter that I didn’t realize had been controlling my life, but the real work was in my mind and my heart. I started to see that I was letting my excuses control my life.
I began to see myself as the curator of my home. It wasn’t just “dump the junk” fling, only to have it gradual fill back up again. It was about putting myself and my family in the right mental, emotional, and physical space in which we would live our life, for good.
When I stopped believing all the lies about why it was right for me to shop, and when I began to feel the burned of materialism lift from our family, my desires to return to my old ways began to slowly fade, then disappear.
It took a year or more of this work. Sometimes is was grueling and sometimes my resolve momentarily ebbed. It was a year before I really had the momentum I’m sailing with today.
Room for more of the good stuff…
I’m left with less as far as material things go, but an ever growing gratitude for the things I do have.
All the things I wanted for my family, an inviting and comforting home, I have. We have enough. We even have things we don’t need, but own just for the pleasure they bring us.
And my family has me. A wife and mother who is far less stress, less preoccupied, with more mental and emotional energy to give.
I’m still struggling with living in a body that causes me pain, but my mind is brighter than it’s ever been. It was impossible for me to imagine just how much that burden of physical things had been effecting my mind until they were gone for good.
It was like daybreak over the rolling hills of freedom to someone who has been living in a cave for years.
My heart has turned toward my home…
I’m cultivating myself and my family at home, rather than driving off to fill up my emotional voids and fritter away our resources in thrift shops.
I’m doing what I always wanted: Growing and cooking my own food (and oh, enjoying it!).
I’m showing my children the goodness of living in a simple and tidy home, and it’s true delight to see how content they are with far less than average.
I’m filling my heart, not my home.
I’m still learning, and becoming better all the time. And my wish is to share this joy with you! It’s a process, and it’s hard. It’s hard to see down to the heart our actions. It’s easy to just carry on, to forge ahead, to bear our burdens and never really feel just how heavy they are.
It was hard for me to admit to myself, that I lived in a self-inflicted bondage of the mind. Sound dramatic? Let me tell you, what is truly dramatic is the difference between Jane six years ago, and Jane now.
It’s a world of difference.
I know that there is a very practical side to decluttering. I like that part too! But the real change, the change that sticks and turns your life around, starts inside. My encouragement is for anyone who know they are ready to face the music, and determined to emerge victorious!
Be fearless, be free.