I originally entitled this post “How Minimalism Is Preparing Me for the Journey,” but Mike still has qualms with the “m” word because he thinks it makes us sound like we joined a cult. I prefer to say we have joined a movement. Our journey into this movement began in earnest in August of this year. However, the foundation preparing us to rebuild our thinking about our “stuff” has been being poured out over many years.
Living on a single income has dictated for most of our marriage that we choose small living spaces and set tight boundaries on how we spend our money. I also highly value order and organization in my environment to the point that I may be borderline OCD (I sigh with understanding whenever I see an episode of Monk…it is a blessing and a curse). In my quest to achieve this order in our home, I have read many “clutter busting” articles about how to roll towels to make the most of your small closet and how to use divided trays to corral the wayward articles of your junk drawer. I have instituted 15 minute nightly routines and 10 minute morning routines to address the daily clutter, going from room to room with my laundry basket, returning items to their home. The best advice from one such article was to be a better gatekeeper. Before you allow an object to enter your home, ask yourself, “Do I need this? Will I use it? Do I have a home for it?” I have dutifully followed this advice over the years and have successfully stemmed the tide of stuff that constantly barrages our home well enough that we have lived comfortably in our 1118 sq ft. Guests consistently comment how cozy and inviting the space feels, despite having a growing family of three children. Nevertheless, over and over again, I found myself feeling as though I was drowning in stuff and in the work that it takes to keep it all clean and orderly. I have never envied anyone their bigger home because I know if I had a bigger home, I would go crazy trying to keep it clean. I did not realize that although I was asking myself those important gate keeping questions, my ability to answer them appropriately was hindered by unhealthy emotional processes concerning stuff.
One such process revolves around the fact that I am a collector. My collections over the years have included various types of toys (anyone remember Little Pretties?), photo albums filled with every photo (what was their name again?) that I have ever taken, tea sets and tea cups that my mother and I began purchasing when I was 12 (36 cups at one point), movie stubs from every movie that my college roommates and I saw together, rocks from special places that Mike and I went when we were dating, books (one copy of Robinson Caruso sat on my shelf for 6 years before I finally read it. I took it from my Grandmother’s house; she bought it at Goodwill and displayed it on her bookshelf, but I’m pretty sure she never read it either), and every cute outfit that my children wore from birth to five years old. Wow, seeing that typed out, I understand now why I had to work so hard to keep our home decluttered! Each of these items represented a period of my life full of people I have loved and the good memories we have made. To part with them meant to me to part with the stories that those items told.
Another process revolves around the fact that I am a planner, a future thinker. At least, when viewed as a strength, I call it that. When I lapse into seeing all the potential pitfalls of the future that we should plan against, I call myself a worrier. I especially worry that we will not have enough. As I said, living on one income means that we have to be very intentional about our purchases. Sometimes that new pair of shoes that one of the kids needs really does throw off our budget. The problem with this worry is that I feel as though it would be irresponsible to 1) get rid of anything we might need again at some point in the future (no matter how distant) and 2) say no to “Free!” or really, really on sale. Someone is giving away girls’ clothes? Sure, I’ll take them! My kid won’t wear them for another 2-3 years? No problem! That’s what the garage is for, right? After all, it will save us from having to buy those clothes in 2-3 years. Then after my daughter uses those clothes, I dutifully pack them away into a tub and store them in the garage for another 2, 3, 5, ? years, until we have another daughter to wear them. Now, don’t get me wrong. I am very appreciative of all the gifts that we have received over the years, and I do see the wisdom in saving your kids’ clothes and toys, especially if you’re having a lot of children in rapid succession. The freebies have enabled us to live comfortably on my husband’s single income, and the clothes and toys we have set aside for future kids have come in handy. The problem lies in the belief that the most responsible action is to take every freebie available and to keep any and every item that I might need at some point in an undetermined future. Keep this in mind. We’ll come back to it.
So, back to August of this year. When the possibility of working in Thailand with the Charis project arose, I began reading their blog more diligently and came across an article that they recommended by an author named Joshua Becker. After reading the one page article as well as the description of his book, Clutterfree with Kids, I became a believer. The message was simple. Stuff serves us and not the other way around. We use stuff to achieve our dreams. I make a responsible choice when I rid myself of any stuff that keeps me from those dreams. After reading Clutterfree with Kids as well as much of his blog and those of other minimalist writers, I began to see some of the problems in my thinking about stuff. The first realization was that the stuff that I had collected, the sentimental items, represented memories. They were not the memories themselves. The memories are in me, in the stories that I tell about those people that I love and the good times that we have had. This realization broke in me not just my emotional ties to my stuff, but it began to break in me ties to emotional baggage that I had been carrying around for years.
Another realization that I gleaned from my reading was that my stuff was not useful sitting in boxes in my garage. Those cute outfits that my kids had worn could experience a lot of life in the years between one kid and the next. Of course, a couple hand painted onsies that we made especially for them would be kept in the family. As I went through the boxes of clothes, instead of thinking, “Will I need this blanket sleeper again for the next baby who may or may not be born sometime in the next few years?” I began to think, “Is there a baby now, this moment, who could be kept warm by this outfit?” This became a no-brainer. I would much rather a baby spend a warm night in those jammies than have them sit in a box in my garage to guarantee that my potential future child can wear them in five years.
This realization came in conjunction with the reminder that we will be provided for.
I remembered a passage in the Bible that has spoken to me on several occasions, Matthew 6:25-34. The most recent illustration of this verse happened this spring before the birth of our third child. We did not find out the gender, so I wanted several gender neutral outfits for the first month or two. My midwife recommended the elastic bottom gowns because she said with your third child you don’t want to be messing with snaps and whatnot. I did not have any in the baby clothes box in my garage, and I discovered they are somewhat difficult to find in the store (because, of course, preparing for baby justified a trip to Ross…Marshalls…TJ Maxx, etc., etc.). About a month before our baby’s arrival, our church hosted a clothing swap. I told my good friend what I was looking for, and when I arrived to swap, she handed me a pile of no less than a dozen gender-neutral, elastic-bottomed sleep sacks. I had to laugh at myself. I felt as though God was saying to me, “Don’t you trust that I know what you need, and that I can provide it when you need it?” I remembered that He cares about me and will continue to provide for our needs, whether they are as big as a roof over our head or as small as the gowns that my newborn baby wears.
I emerged from my season of reading, soul-searching, and perspective shifting, and began lightening our load. Suddenly, any of our wildest dreams seemed possible. Leave Mike’s stable, well paying job; pack up our three kids; and move to a southeast Asian country in order to help children who are vulnerable to exploitation? Before minimalism, it seemed impossible. We have too much stuff to cart around, and we could never make enough money for us to live. But now that the emotional ties to all those boxes in the garage are broken and the lie that we will not be provided for is dispelled once again, this dream and others like it are not so far fetched. Now, I am ready to go after those dreams, that good life, no matter the cost, no matter the stuff that gets shed along the way.