Dear First House…

We sold our little bungalow in Portland and moved to a little town in Washington, right along the Columbia river.

I am both excited about this new adventure, and absolutely heartbroken to be leaving Portland. I have lived here for ten years, and it was the first place that I have come to truly feel is “home.”

We have lived in many different places in this city: dorms, tiny one-bedroom apartments, a townhouse, a house on the east side, and a couple of other houses in North Portland. But this house is the first one we owned and I really felt like I put roots down here. It was the first place where I could paint everything whatever color I wanted, and every purchase seemed like a long-term investment.

And so, an ode of farewell to our first house.

Dear Little First House,

So many memories here. First steps, first DIY projects, first books read.

Your living room is legitimately one of my favorite places on earth. Somehow always cozy, relaxing and inviting. The host of game nights and book clubs and coffee dates. You’ve provided beds for many guests, held countless movie and pizza nights and been the site of staying up way past bedtime far too often. Even as I write this, you are empty, except for me, and yet I can hear the echoes of all the good things that have happened here. Laughter, games, so much music. There’s no where else I’d rather be discussing life and what it means with the people I love.

Your dining room looks so pretty, with the table all set for Sunday brunch. High tea is just as fun here as anywhere. I hope the smell of blueberry scones lingers for a long time. It was here that I looked up and realized that our cherished antique table was surrounded by four happy, giggly children. I looked at Steve and we knew – our dream of a table surrounded by laughing children had come true. Also, you had the best lighting for my cakes and dessert creations, and for that, I thank you.

You didn’t have much storage, and I’m okay with that. You helped me realize it was okay to let go of things to make more room for people. You also had a double oven, and that made up for basically every other flaw.

You started out an old house and let us infuse you with new life and personality. And I think we did a pretty good job. I will always remember this place to fondly, as if you were always bright and sunshiny. And you had so much great lighting. On and this was the best place to wait out a winter storm. I loved the sound of the rain pounding on the rooftop and the wind howling outside, while I was tucked inside a warm blanket.

You were the perfect canvas for gallery walls of children’s art and vintage travel posters. You looked beautiful all dolled up for Christmas, with the snowflake wall and the mantle of glittery trees and nativities.

This was the place our children were happy. Where they were happy to be themselves. Where we played so many records, and even danced so hard to Adele that now she is all kinds of scratched up. Here we have crowned queens of Arendelle and made baby cribs into ships on the high sea. Here we have heard so many ukulele concerts and performed so many musicals.

We have eaten too many Heavenly Donuts and Little Big Burger and not enough Louis’ Pizza or Tienda Santa Cruz.

Leaving the house and seeing the view from the Bluff everyday – it never got old. I loved it especially in the spring, when the sky was still grey, but everything was alight with pink cherry blossoms and overflowing greenery. And you were just so close to Sauvie Island and the magic of summer days spent picking berries and picnicking in peach groves.

And let’s not forget the hydrangeas in summer. I wasn’t very good at keeping them alive in the heat, but they sure were beautiful.

I’m so glad I was here for this winter, when we were buried in snow. You sure looked darling in Christmas lights and snowflakes. And that beautiful mint door of yours really popped in all that white.

Goodbye little house. May you be as good to your new family as you were to us. <3

Kids’ Capsule Wardrobes

I’ve talked a little bit about capsule wardrobes in my posts about renewing and simplifying our home. There are all kinds of formulas out there for how to create the perfect capsule, but I think these are kind of silly, unless you specifically love the exact style of the person creating those formulas. There are many different versions and methods for the capsule wardrobe, but essentially they all come down to these ideas that have been big game changers for our whole family:

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  1. You wear your favorite clothes all the time! Yay! If you think about it, you probably already do this a lot. Or you only wear your sub-par clothes out of guilt. It’s so great to have a closet full of clothes you love, instead of a bunch of clothes you only kind of like or want to wear. I could give tips on cleaning out your closet, but there are lots of those around. Try here and here. Mostly, it’s important to give yourself permission to let go of clothes you really don’t like. And then you won’t feel compelled to wear them.
  2. You keep your clothes very minimal, around 35-40 pieces, not including things like underwear, socks, and jewelry, although these should be minimal, too.
  3. You dress for your body type and personality, and not based on the latest trends. I read this article on Audrey Hepburn, my personal style goddess. She had iconic style because she dressed for her taste and her body type and not for the constantly changing trends.
    You probably already know what looks best on you – it’s the clothes you reach for time and again. And, if you’re like me, you’ve felt compelled to try trends that just don’t quite work. Let them go and be content with what you do know makes you look and feel your best.
  4. You curate a wardrobe where everything works together, all pieces essentially interact with each other and if you do buy something new it is based on a hole in your wardrobe – something that would really fill it out and is not an impulse buy.
  5. You choose your weapon: meaning that, of course, we all want to have fun. I definitely don’t want to be stuck wearing all neutrals for the rest of my life. Nobody does. Except maybe French people. But even they throw some color in there every once in a while. Anyway, the idea is to go bold with just a few things. Have just a few statement pieces that are really impressive and then keep the rest more-or-less basic – at least in it’s ability to be versatile with the other things in your wardrobe.

I have really loved having a capsule wardrobe for about a year.I think my favorite thing about a capsule wardrobe has been really finding what makes me feel confident. I have discarded the clothes that don’t fit me, so when I do pick an outfit, I feel more like it’s me, and less like it’s something I’m wearing just because it’s currently trendy. It feels good to look at my closet with excitement instead of guilt every morning. And I love wearing my favorite pieces again and again.

I’m not super strict about it, but I follow the basic guidelines listed above. I’ve made some mistakes, but I’m learning. And having a capsule means that every day I am wearing something comfortable, that I feel great in and was easy to assemble because there aren’t infinite choices (although there are still plenty!). For my husband, he had a wardrobe full of clothes that didn’t really fit but that he felt obligated to wear. We donated probably half of his closet and now for work he has three pairs of pants and 7 shirts, all of which fit very nicely. It never seems like he isn’t well dressed because he is simply wearing things that fit him well. So I doubt anyone notices that its not hugely varied. In fact, he has received more compliments on how he is dressed lately. Choosing our clothes has become a lot more about fit, durability and long-term usage, as opposed to sales or trends. Realizing you have enough with a limited amount of clothes makes it easier to wait for the perfect shirt to come along, instead of buying several throughout time that don’t quite work.

Because I love the capsule wardrobe so much, I have made sure my kids have one, too. And it works really well for us. For one thing, packing for trips is insanely easy, because I just pack whatever is clean. And it all works together, so I don’t have to be worried about this shirt goes with this bottom and these shoes only go with this outfit. Ugh. No. I don’t have time in my life for that. Packing lightly is easy, too, because of the versatility. You don’t have to pack so many separates to create all these different outfits. In fact, on our four-day trip to Canada a few weekends ago, the kids each carried their own clothes in a backpack. We rode a ferry to Victoria and then had a several-hour block on each end of the trip where we would need to carry around all our things because we didn’t have access to the condo we rented through AirBnB. A capsule allowed us all to pack lightly, so that carrying a backpack of everything we needed for 4 days, was totally doable – even for the two-year-old.

Laundry is also way less daunting. I do it about as often as I did before, usually once a week, or with 3-4 loads spread over a few days. The number of loads is the same because I wash by fabrics: whites, lightweight fabrics, and heavy fabrics (jeans/the boys’ clothes mostly) and towels and linens for the house. The amount of laundry is, however, significantly less. Getting it folded and put away is a no brainer. And I wash the clothes when we are out of clean ones, not because all that remains is plaid shorts and striped tees or a closet full of odds and ends that don’t work together.

Feb-4229I’ve thought about how to share this information, and thought of photographing and formulating their wardrobes, but the thing is, our capsule wardrobe doesn’t matter. You don’t have to copy it at all. It’s just the idea that has been really freeing for us. But our capsules won’t look the same as yours, and they shouldn’t!

For our girls, their dresses are their statement pieces that offer the most variety. Dresses are great because I feel like we get a lot of use out of them – the girls wear them with undershorts in the summer, or with leggings and sweaters in the winter. (Dresses also last longer through sizes. As the girls get taller, their dresses get shorter, but with leggings we can still get 1.5-2 years of wearing them before they get passed down.) They have lots of fun prints and colors in their dresses. And then all the leggings, sweaters and undershorts stay in basic, neutral colors so that they mix and match with everything. Essentially, it means there is no wrong way to make an outfit, which is nice for our mornings. I don’t think anyone in our family is really a “morning person”, so removing one more stress-inducing decision from the lineup has helped us streamline without feeling rushed.

Henry’s capsule wardrobe follows a similar idea, but obviously involves jeans and tops. For simplicity’s sake, the pants or shorts are all without pattern – although I do pick fun colors for his summer shorts. They are just colors that coordinate with all the tops he has. And his jackets and vests are also in simple colors that coordinate with all his tees and shirts. I used to feel like dressing a boy was harder than dressing a girl because they seem to end up with more odds and ends somehow, but having chosen to stay away from patterned bottoms has made it a lot easier. So far, the way we’ve paired down is to have 4-5 weather appropriate bottoms (shorts for summer, pants for winter) and 7-10 weather appropriate shirts, plus a few pullover sweaters and jackets in the winter. Because let’s face it, he doesn’t care about variety. He’d wear his Captain America shirt every single day if it wasn’t in the wash.

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If you want to build a capsule wardrobe for kids, here are my tips:

  1. Keep it simple. It’s okay to have patterns and colors, but do so in a thoughtful way. For instance, patterned leggings, while super cute, may not be practical. Opt for bottoms that are in solid, basic colors and stick to patterns and prints in your tops (or be creative and do it the other way around with patterned bottoms and solid tops- but picking just one makes it easy).
  2. Shop only on occasion, and with intent and purpose.
    One of the things I have loved so much about the capsule wardrobe, for myself and my kids, is that it requires less shopping. I spend some time picking out everything they’ll need when they need a new size or maybe around the beginning of the school year. If it’s carefully thought out, it’s essentially complete and I don’t have to worry about it until they need another size. Of course they might get something new for a special occasion, and leggings might need to be replaced, but for the most part, what they have works for the entire year. And having a complete wardrobe makes it easier to pass up all the impulse buys waiting for me in the Target kids’ section. I also have a more concrete idea of what I’m looking for when I do shop sales or consignment, which eliminates buyer’s remorse when I get home and realize I don’t really like what I just spent money on.
  3. Keep shoes to a minimum, too. With all the shoes I’ve tripped over in the last few years, this one speaks right to me. Think about what your child really needs. And then get only one of each kind of shoe: athletic, dress, waterproof, sandal. (Although I will say we usually break this rule with waterproof because we live in Portland and even I can’t subject my children to only wearing the same boots every single day for 9 months out of the year – they usually have two-three pairs of boots, one neutral, one statement and one in-between.) In the summer they have one pair of play shoes. These are the shoes that can get dirty and trashed to the maximum and I don’t care. These aren’t the same as their church shoes. With only one pair of shoes to trash, we end up with fewer ruined shoes – and therefore more pairs that can be passed down to the next sibling or consigned, or, at very least, I don’t feel bad having to toss multiple pairs of gross shoes.
  4. Rotate seasonally. I like to make sure the winter coats are put away and the sweaters and rain boots get a little breather in summer. This might not be important to everyone, but I do enjoy looking into a closet full of just the things that are appropriate to wear right then. Plus, when fall comes again, it’s exciting to pull those things out and feel all excited about something “new” without having to actually buy anything.
  5. Just say “no!” Say no to buying clothes mid-season just because they’re cute. If you receive a gift of handed down items from a friend, keep only what you want and need. Hand the rest down to someone else or donate. Don’t buy clothes on sale that you wouldn’t consider paying full price for. Unsubscribe from sales alert emails. It’s just temptation you don’t need in your life!
  6. Finally, take back the internet. This goes for kid and adult wardrobes. What I mean is, use your Pinterest boards and search engines to your advantage. If you’ve ever had a “Style” or “Fashion” or any other kind of board on Pinterest, for you or your kids, look through it again. Delete everything that no longer appeals to you. In all likelihood, you’ll be left with a certain overarching style. Think of the words that come to mind as you’re scrolling through. “Classic.” “Simple.” “Statement.” “Athletic.” “Colorful.” Whatever words jump out at you are indicators of a good place to start when creating a capsule wardrobe. These are the kinds of things you are consistently drawn to. So keep that in mind as you plan and maintain a capsule wardrobe. You’ll end up with far fewer, “This isn’t really me” purchases. (P.S. If you’ve unsubscribed from all your deal emails, and are ready to make a thoughtful purchase, you can always Google “_______ coupon” as in “Gymboree coupon” or “Target coupon”. There are several sights that keep coupon codes up to date, so you can still get a deal on your purchase, without being bombarded with hundreds of sales alerts. Win/Win.)

The important thing is to be thoughtful about what you bring in to your home. You don’t have to dress your kids any certain way, but simply the way you and they feel most comfortable. When we choose to be thoughtful in our consumption, and to help our children be thoughtful, too, it is teaching them to be conscientious about the world around them and the space they are maintaining. My hope is that by teaching them these things now, this practice of thoughtful consumption will carry on into their teenage years when they will certainly have a lot more to say about what they wear. (Oh the horror that awaits.)

On What I’ve Learned From Simplifying Part 2: Practical Ideas

I’ve read a few books, blogs and articles that have helped me practically apply the ideas of simplifying. I’ve really enjoyed the feelings of gratitude and of being satisfied that have accompanied this journey. (Click here for my first thoughts on this process and how much I have benefitted from simplifying our home.)

The article that started it all was Matilda Kahl’s article about wearing the same thing to work every day. I was really fascinated by this idea that was so counter-cultural. After reading more, including articles like this one, it dawned on me how much of my time, and therefore, my life, was being wasted by the constant pressure to consume. I didn’t really like that realization and knew I wanted to do something about it. Eventually, I found the idea of a capsule wardrobe to be much more practical for my lifestyle. (Basically, capsule wardrobes are the greatest things of all time. Everyone in my family has one and it makes our lives great. More on this in a bit.) After discarding* so many unused or unloved clothes, and sensing the mental freedom that came with it, I have to admit I got a little addicted to the idea of minimizing everything we own.

Now obviously, if you’ve ever been to my house, you know that I’m not a true minimalist. I like pretty things. I like creating things and trying new ideas. However, I also love the idea of only keeping things are that are currently being used and bringing joy to our family. I don’t intend to own things that have no purpose in our home – I would rather they be out in the world, available to people who do want or need them.

(*By discarding, I don’t mean that I just throw things in the garbage, because that also seems pretty wasteful. Whenever possible I donate or consign things we aren’t using. I have found a local consignment shop I love. We also have connections with a local homeless shelter for families where we have sent many extra items like hotel toiletries, etcetera.)

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So… a round up of some practical ideas if you’re ready to get started simplifying. Collected from a few places like Un-Fancy, Zero Waste Home and The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up and this article that nicely sums up that book.

  1. Go through every room (or every category) of your home. Touch every single item and ask yourself, “Does this spark joy?” This is the main idea behind Marie Kondo’s book (The Life-Changing Magic one). And it really is the easiest standard of measurement I can think of. The intention of going through every category one by one is that you put everything in that category next to each other, and so you can see if you have two of something you really only need one of. Also, putting all the toys together in one spot just might be scary enough to make you want to get rid of everything. I’ve found that I could even clean out my kitchen by asking this question. Because there are a lot of kitchen gadgets that aren’t really that useful, or perhaps take up more space than they are worth. If I looked at something and thought, “This is in my way more often than it is useful, and I could definitely do without it,” it got donated. Keeping a really good knife allowed me to get rid of a bunch of other knick-knacks in the kitchen. And I don’t need a food processor and a blender… just one will be fine, thank you.
    The key to this is to take everything out of your room, closet or kitchen at one time, go through it, and then only put back the things that are truly used and loved. And in the kitchen you just might be surprised at how long you’ve had that jar of BBQ sauce hidden in the back of the cupboard, considering the expiration date was five years ago (yikes).
  2. Don’t keep things out of guilt. Gift guilt was a huge mental block for me – I’ve had lots of things tucked away that were lovely gifts but I just didn’t need or use. Now, I can appreciate that they served their purpose in the moment by creating a happy little gift exchange. And they can fulfill a further purpose if available to someone who really needs them.
    The same goes with sentimental items. I had kept several things in storage that were hard to part with simply because they once belonged to someone who is now deceased. A freeing realization was that those people, our memories together, and even my love for them, is not contained in an object. If that object brings joy, than I will certainly keep it and use it. If it does not, it’s okay to let it go. It doesn’t mean that I am letting my love for them go.
    If you are afraid someone will ask where X is that they gave you, be willing to speak up. “We weren’t using it anymore, so I gave it away. Thank you so much for your consideration in giving it to us.” I have very rarely been asked about anything (not many people can remember what they gave you and seek it out in your house), but on the occasions that I am, I am perfectly willing to defend my position. I would rather that it be available to someone who needs it than have it collecting dust in my basement because I feel too guilty giving it away. The brief moment of admitting that you parted with their gift is much less life-stealing than the mind clutter it has been taking up all this time. And if you need help, just sing on the top of your lungs, “Let it go! LET IT GOOOOOOOOO!!!” It really helps.
  3. I started off slowly. If you are wondering, “Can I really part with this?”, try an experiment. As with some kitchen gadgets, clothes that I was unsure about, or sentimental items that I couldn’t quite discern my attachment to, I put them in a box marked “Donate” and put it in the basement. I also set a reminder on my phone for one month from that date. If in one month I didn’t think about or miss any of those items by name, the whole box got donated, without even opening it. (It’s important not to open the box! You haven’t missed it, so nothing in there is worth being in your home.) And I’ll be honest, I don’t even know what most of the things in there were.
  4. Don’t organize until you’ve discarded everything you don’t really need or enjoy. There’s really no point in organizing things you aren’t actually going to use. For me, the bathroom was the hardest place to do this. I had so many “just in case” items in there… but when I checked the expiration dates on them I realized how that “just in case” moment has never come along. I’d been hoarding old makeup or expired ibuprofen for  years. And if I haven’t used it since 2010, what makes me think I’m going to need it tomorrow? Also, in the drastic scenario in which I do need that item immediately… let’s be honest… there’s a grocery store 5 minutes from my house. I won’t die if I let them go. And going through all of it has made me more conscientious about my purchases. I say no to all the freebies and samples people are giving away, knowing full well they’re going to end up in the trash before too long, anyway.
    And when it is time to organize, everything has it’s own place. If everything has it’s own spot, it’s easier to put away. I’ll admit, the perfectionist side of me can get a little carried away with this. It gets downright addictive to make a little spot for everything. It’s kind of fun, like real-life Tetris! And putting things right back where they came from is like completing the puzzle. Oh the little joys!
  5. Help kids manage their clutter by also giving them a limited space to keep personal belongings. My oldest daughter, Ellie, loves paper things so much. I can’t blame her. I like paper, too. But if I kept every piece of paper she brought home from school, we would have already drowned in a sea of garbage. So, each of our children has a memory box that they are in charge of. If they bring home something from school or a note from a friend that they want to keep, it goes in the memory box. And if the box is too full, they have to take something out. Every once in a while we’ve even gone through the box together to look for things they are ready to part with. After a while, they’ve forgotten why a piece of paper with a red smudge on it was important, and they’re ready to part with it to make room for something that is currently meaningful. And the same principle applies to getting new toys. All the toys need to fit in a designated area, so if they’re hoping for a new Lego set for their birthday, they’re going to have to part with something else to make room for it. I am also sure to model the benefits of this for them. I keep a memory box, too, and when I get a special note from them or a card from a friend, I put it in there. The same rules apply to me, so they can see that what I’m asking of them is not ridiculous.
  6. Maintain a capsule wardrobe. They are amazing. Have you ever tried them? Basically, the idea of a capsule wardrobe is that you only wear your favorite clothes all the time. How great does that sound? Oh, and you just don’t keep anything that isn’t your favorite. There is lots of information about capsule wardrobes for adults, but I’m also preparing a little post on kids’ capsule wardrobes because I think you will like them every bit as much as I do. Seriously. Amazing. The feeling of freedom that came from a capsule wardrobe is so addictive that it was what spurred the rest of my decluttering. It feels that awesome.
  7. With all these principles in mind, storage is almost non-existent. Our storage is now limited to clothes that will be used by another sibling soon, off-season clothes like coats or swimsuits, the dishes I need to host parties, canning jars waiting to be refilled in the summer, and a limited amount of off-season decor items (like Christmas tree ornaments and stockings). If I do want to store some sentimental items for my children (like their christening gowns or a special baby blanket), it has to fit in a limited space, like one small tote. Storage space is not a catch-all for things I don’t want to deal with. It is only very purposeful and useful storage. And in the event we are hit by that massive earthquake after all, I can actually access my emergency kit and food storage instead of wondering where it went behind all the boxes of nonesense blocking it’s way.
  8. Realize that more needs more. More stuff means you need a bigger house, with a bigger mortgage to pay for it. A bigger house means you need more cleaning products and gadgets and organizing systems to maintain it. Clutter and consumption are distractions. They distract us and keep us permanently unsatisfied, permanently seeking that next best thing. Or, we can say: enough is enough. I have enough. I am enough. I will no longer waste my life feeling lacking. It’s a very clarifying moment, realizing you have everything you need. For me, it was like a big exhale of relief, when I didn’t even know I had been holding my breath. And with that relief came the realization that I could “make do and mend” much more often than I had given myself credit for. Prime shipping from Amazon is no longer my main solution to problems. I can take the time to repair or figure out a way to make what I already have work.
  9. Unsubscribe. Personally, I feel like this is one of the most important pieces of the decluttering-home-and-life project. It was on my to-do list for ages, and I finally took the time to unsubscribe. First from email offers. I don’t need to follow sales, I already have everything I need. If I am on the hunt for a specific thing, and I can wait for a deal to become available, I’ll temporarily subscribe to emails about it. And since it’s usually only one thing at a time, I can actually take advantage of the sale when it happens! I also have unsubscribed from all the catalogs and junk mail that comes to my house. I haven’t completely conquered it, but I have been able to keep a lot of it from being mailed to me. Which means I don’t get tempted with every new catalog or flyer or coupon. I also unsubscribed from following accounts on social media that were toxic… that made me feel like I needed to buy more things in order to be as cool as them. Just, no. (P.S. If you ever do find yourself in need of a coupon, a quick Google search of “X coupon” will usually find you the code you need, so subscribing to emails for the sake of coupons in completely unnecessary. Trust me.)
  10. Take back the Internet. Pinterest, Instagram, Facebook, what have you. They are tricky little things. They can be the source of that permanent feeling of “lacking” or “unsatisfied.” But you don’t have to disavow them forever. Use them to your advantage. If you’ve ever pinned to a “home inspiration” or a “fashion” board on Pinterest, go look at those pins again, but this time gloss over them. You’ll likely see a pattern of things that have always appealed to you. Use this pattern to help you formulate your capsule wardrobe or choose the color you want to paint your wall. Use a recipe board to eliminate your need to keep cookbooks you don’t use. If you have something you want to buy, pin it for later. If after a couple of months, that is still attractive to you, buy it or send it as wish-list item to someone who would like to buy you a gift. Eliminate the need for impulse shopping and know that in the meantime, you’ll be just as happy as you are right now, without that thing. If you have something that needs repaired, search for a DIY tutorial or ideas for upcycling. Let the resources out there be your friend, instead of your enemy.
  11. And finally, envision the life you want. And then make a plan to get there. In your ideal life, what would you be doing right now? Where would you be? What does your space look like? Who would you be spending time with? Embellish that fantasy. How would you spend your day?What would you feel as you were doing each task? Decluttering your home and mind is the first step towards getting to that ideal life. Get rid of all the things that aren’t a part of that dream, and you’ll have the space in your home and heart to make it happen. It sounds cliche , but trust me when I say, it works. You have to let go of the past, of the things that are weighing you down, in order to embrace your present. You’ll even discover you were holding onto things you didn’t even know where holding you back. But with practice with tangible items, you’ll have the ability to let go of those intangible forces as well.

This past year or so of taking the time to really cultivate my life has made me feel so much freedom. It has helped me clarify the people, circumstances and things that I do want in my life, and take better care of them. It has helped me see how buying those little, unnecessary items one by one was really stealing from myself – it was keeping me from saving towards things I wanted a lot more – like a meaningful trip to see friends. I found it hard to save money because I felt compelled to satisfy temporary urges to accumulate just because I could. It has shown me how distracted I had become, how preoccupied with appearances and frivolity. That didn’t feel like the me I really wanted to be. The person I do want to be is considerate, thoughtful, caring, ambitious, grateful and grounded. The person I want to be is more than just a pretty face or house, but something substantial, meaningful and uncluttered behind all that.

On What I’ve Learned from Simplifying

Simply put: I’ve learned a lot of gratitude. For things, certainly. For people and the circumstances in my life, absolutely. Taking the time to consciously comb through the possessions in my house has also enabled me to do the same with my life and I have come to realize what a great life it is. Is it perfect? No. Are there bumps and disappointments and anxieties? Of course. But there is so much to be truly grateful for. And a feeling of contentment, with myself, my home, my relationships, everything, has spread everywhere.

I have discovered a beauty in simplicity. In making what I have work. I feel more creative, more free and more accomplished. I feel less lust for things and more lust for life. I spend less time cleaning up and more time checking items off my to-do list. I feel more confident and put together. Less like I’m faking it. And more like I’ve found what I truly care about.

simplicity is the way back to love

These past six months or so I’ve been seeking to really and truly simplify our home and our lives. I’ve cleaned out everything. Closets, storage, the kitchen, the toys, everything. It’s kind of a trendy thing right now, simplifying and downsizing, but it’s probably the best trend I could get on board with.

Because when you go through every inch of your house with the perspective of, “Do I really need this? Is this helping us?” it completely changes the way you look at new things about to come into your house. I mean, I love Target just as much as the next person. But now when I go in there, (which I surprisingly feel the need to do much less often) I see things as what they really are: just things.

I think there can be a tendency in our culture to really be defined by our stuff. And don’t get me wrong. I appreciate pretty clothes and good taste just as much as the next person. But pretty clothes don’t define a person. They don’t define me. The things in my closet or home don’t make me who I am. My mind, my heart, my compassion, my skills, the gifts I have to give… those are the things that define me. In fact, I would hate to be so caught up in appearances and accumulation that only that defines me. What kind of a life is that? What kind of a contribution is that?

After this experiment I started wearing less makeup and I cut down my wardrobe to a capsule wardrobe. I’m okay with the fact that skinny jeans aren’t made for me and I’m going to have to bide my time until boot cut jeans are available again. I’ve learned that I don’t need to impress anyone by the things that I own. I would rather inspire them by the way that I live.

Disclaimer: My life is not completely simplified. But it has come a long way. Here are some of the benefits I have experienced:

  1. I’ve stopped holding onto things out of guilt. Guilt is such a tricky little thing. It’s that nagging little voice that can keep us rooted firmly in the past, instead of embracing everything that the present is offering. For instance, I had clothes that I didn’t really like but this nagging thought of “I paid for this… so I have to keep it” kept these unworn things in my closet, as if keeping them would somehow make up for my financial mistake of purchasing them. It was easier to let go when I thought, as I told my kids, “this could be bringing someone else joy. So why am I hoarding it?”

    There’s also the guilt of sentiment… “someone I love gave me this so now I have to keep it forever.” The purpose of their gift was to show love and it has fulfilled that purpose, so I can give it away. Or, even harder to tackle, “this belonged to someone I love who is now deceased, so if I let go of this thing I’ll be letting go of them.” I don’t feel that need anymore. I’ve let go of that guilt, and even that assumption that they are defined by my possession of an object. I don’t have to keep the actual item interminably – I know their love. I carry it with me in my heart, in my memories of them. And I appreciate their love and friendship more than a tangible object can represent.

  2. It’s so much easier to say “no.” After intentionally paring down, giving away extras or things that we just don’t really need, it’s so much easier to say, “I’m okay without that.” It’s easier to admire all the pretty seasonal decorations, and then walk away, knowing full well that if I spent money on them, I would probably be ready to discard them before too long. In fact, going into stores in general has become a bit overwhelming, when I see everything through the eyes of a box of future Goodwill donations.
  3. And because it’s easier to say no, it becomes easier to say yes to the things that will actually improve my life! I had been wanting to get a food processor for years, but always put it off thinking that they were too expensive. Well, when I stopped spending that money on smaller, useless things, I could buy the food processor and it is amazing. I use it constantly and I feel so much better about that purchase than about one that would be wasted before too long. Simplifying shouldn’t just be about decluttering in this moment… but in saying no to letting junk invade your life and home in general.
  4. And with that comes an appreciation for what I do already have. In The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, Marie Kondo talks to her things out loud, thanking them for a job well done. While I haven’t gone as far as talking to my things, I do take the conscious effort to look at something and be thankful for it. I’m thankful for my handbag that helps me carry everything I need for the day. I’m thankful for my water bottle that keeps me hydrated. Paying attention to these little things makes them feel like luxuries (and in fact… they really are luxuries if you think about it!). And that gratitude makes it easier for me to stop being on the lookout for a better this or a better that. Mine is working just fine. I don’t need anything else.
  5. It has made me re-think almost everything I do to ask myself, is this the best use of my time? My family’s time? Our resources? We have practiced saying no to cluttering up our house, and we can say no to cluttering up our lives. Which, in turn, means we can say yes to the things we do want to do. Basically, it has taught me to be very conscientious about how we make decisions. (And not letting guilt factor in was a pretty huge lesson here, too.) After decluttering our schedule, we’ve been able to find that lost time for things that were important to us, but were being put off. Like having friends over for dinner or starting a book club. That nagging to-do list of projects is actually getting accomplished because I don’t feel so drained by the mere task of keeping up with the daily chores. (Although I’ll just throw it out there that if we didn’t have to make dinner every. single. night, that would be nice. Ha!)
  6. Practicing letting go of tangible objects has made it easier to let go of intangible things – maybe ideas about how things are supposed to be, or guilt over past misdeeds, even the idea that the things I have are what defines me. I have noticed less anxiety in my relationships. I quit following people on social media who made me feel lacking or like I needed to buy more things to be special and cool and authentic. I unsubscribed from all those deals emails that were cluttering up my mind with thinking I needed more, more, more. It has freed me to be more content with myself, while also truly enjoying the people and things that I do choose to make a priority. I feel more confident in my decision-making abilities, because I’ve practiced making little decisions that had a big payout.
  7. I don’t keep things for a special occasion or “just in case.” Thomas Morton once said, “Don’t keep things for a special occasion. Everyday of your life is a special occasion.” I’ve cleaned out so much storage with that very thing in mind. What good is my grandmother’s crystal if it’s sitting in a box in the basement? Either I’m going to use it and enjoy it and yes, risk it getting broken, or I’m going to let it bring joy to someone else. Because it’s doing nobody any good in storage. If you love it, use it. Enjoy it! If you don’t love it, lose it. Let it fulfill it’s purpose elsewhere.
  8. Tidying is easier and cleaning is less of a chore. Let’s be honest. If you walked in my door right now, you would see pillows and blankets strewn about. A counter and sink full of dirty dishes, so many school papers that Ellie just brought home on the dining room table, toys and socks littering the hallway. But if you gave me a 15 minute warning, I would feel pretty confident in my ability to tidy almost everything up. It gets way less chaotic than it used to around here. And since everything has it’s place, putting it back in it’s place is easier, even if it doesn’t happen immediately. (Because who honestly does that? I alway read these tips about tidying your house and how you should wash every dish the moment you are done using it and that just doesn’t seem practical with kids, especially ones too small to wash their own dishes… Those must be tips for homes with only adults in them…?)
    So it’s not perfectly tidy all the time. We live here, and it’s messy a lot. But it is easier to maintain with less meaningless stuff invading every corner. I find that keeping things clean is much simpler and less time-consuming than it used to be.
  9. Basically, it all comes down to this: choosing what we own is choosing how we want to live our lives. Ellie and I were talking today about how all of our actions have reactions, everything we do has a consequence, whether good or bad. Because I feel powerful in my ability to say no to unnecessary accumulation, I feel like I am actually making a choice about how I live my life. I am less a victim of marketing and sales and peer pressure and more in control of my time, my mental space, and my desire to bring something good to the world around me.

Simplifying has changed so many things for me. It has sharpened my senses and increased my gratitude and contentedness in a world thirsting for more. It has sharpened my decision-making skills, helped me clarify what I think is important and develop a system for actually accomplishing those things. I guess there’s a reason that Marie Kondo calls it, “The Life-Changing Magic.”

P.S. Attempting a capsule wardrobe is really what got me started on this journey. And I love it so much that I will sing it’s praises to anyone. It’s so practical and easy to maintain that I’ve made sure my kids and husband have one, too. There’s lots of info out there about capsule wardrobes for adults (try here and here if you’re interested), but not much on how to do one for kids. But I’ll be back with some thoughts on the subject.

P.P.S. If you want to start simplifying but feel overwhelmed by the prospect, I’d recommend “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” by Marie Kondo. It’s a best-seller for a reason. Although there are parts that might seem (really) weird, the basic premise and guidelines are super helpful. Especially helpful, I think, are the specific categories to tackle and the order in which to tackle them. I think it was no coincidence that this started for me by a thorough decluttering of my wardrobe. // More practical ideas to come in another post.

A Little House Love (part 2)

I had the opportunity last week to be a part of Design Mom’s Living With Kids home tour series. It was such a cool experience, and I feel so privileged to be a part of a blog series I have followed and admired for so long. Plus, Gabrielle is just the nicest. Emailing with her will totally make your day.

You can read the original tour as it appeared on her site (with all the nice things she had to say about it) here. Or you can read below for just my part of it all. But that’s not as much fun.

What is fun is keeping a record of your home and the things that were happening in it, don’t you think? I imagine in the future I will love looking back on these photos and thoughts, and I hope my kids will, too.

Hello from Portland! I’m Michelle and I like to think of myself as a bit of a dabbler; there are so many things that interest me that it is hard to pick just one! My husband is Steve, and he’s the more dedicated one in our duo. He’s a thinker and a doer. He sees possibility everywhere and I love him for it.

We met in college our freshmen year at the University of Portland. We fell in love with each other and this city and have never left. We got married while still in college and had our first daughter at the beginning of our senior year – which wasn’t the way we planned for things to go, but we figured that since we’re in this kid thing, we might as well run with it! So now we have three: Ellie is five, Olivia is four, and Henry is two.

Ellie is definitely the big sister. She likes keeping the younger ones in order, sneaking chocolate chip cookies, practicing her math, and singing karaoke at the top of her lungs. Just 17 months younger is our whirlwind, Olivia. Her feet hardly ever touch the ground because she is so light-hearted and carefree. She’s the perfect middle child as she is interested in dolls and dress-ups as much as mud and cars. Henry is our boy and he adds a good balance with all his trucks and airplanes and dragons and monsters. His big sisters are always telling him what character he is playing in their games, but he doesn’t seem to mind. He’s a little love bug who is talking up a storm recently, and even though I love hearing all the thoughts in his head, I am sad that his babyhood is slipping away.

Just like all families with young kids, there are times when everyone is crying, but in the end we all really enjoy each other.

When my husband and I were ready to buy a house, we knew we wanted to be in North Portland because we love the feel of the community. It is almost like a small town: very laid back and safe, with lots of parks and easy access to good schools, grocery stores, and kid-friendly restaurants. Unfortunately, it seems like a lot of other people must be wanting these perks, because the neighborhood was getting more and more expensive. So as we were looking, we couldn’t find anything in our price range that was a good fit.

Eventually we realized we would need to get a project house in order to live in this neighborhood, and we decided that was worth it. The house we have now was actually listed for several months, but we never even considered it because it only had two bedrooms. When we took a look at it, we saw there was plenty of potential to add bedrooms and make adjustments to make the house work, so we bought it.

I’m so glad that we chose this house based on location. I think if we had chosen another house somewhere we didn’t feel as comfortable, it never would have felt like home. This house is a 40s ranch style on a corner lot, right next to a park, on a quiet street with blue hydrangea and pink dogwood trees everywhere. And there are plenty of projects to be done to make it ours.

As we settle in and make our changes, I can’t help but love it here more and more. We have everything we need, and there’s still room for us to grow or to make changes or to fix things up just the way we want them to be.

We live in a beautiful part of Portland that overlooks downtown from across the Willamette River. On early morning bike rides I can watch the sun rise over the city and I feel so lucky to live where we do. Portland itself is wonderful because it has such a relaxed and casual feel. It’s easy to take our kids anywhere here, and people are very friendly. Our particular neighborhood is the best of the best, in my opinion, because we have that easy feeling of a small town, but with all the perks of a big city right outside our door – delicious food, good music, and fun community events like movies in the park or neighborhood-wide bike riding days.

We are extra fortunate to live equidistant between downtown Portland and neighboring Sauvie Island, which is beautiful farmland where we spend a good chunk of our summers and falls picking berries, peaches and apples. Since I feel like I oscillate dramatically between being a city girl and a country girl, this place is just right for me. I could choose either on any given day!

Besides the relaxed community feeling, the weather might be my favorite part of this city. I just adore the seasons here. The winter is perfect for wearing socks and snuggling up with hot chocolate and a movie. And then the spring comes and the pink trees look gorgeous paired with grey skies and everything feels so alive and fresh. And then I’m ready to go out exploring the city and the nearby Columbia River Gorge when it dries out in the summer, which is perfectly warm and rarely gets too hot. (Although I’m kind of a wimp now who thinks the rare days that it reaches 97 degrees are pretty close to unbearable. Ha!) And just when I can’t stand the heat any longer, the leaves change and lovely cool weather seeps in and it’s time for hot tea and boots and apple picking once again.

Another thing I love about this city is that we’re big on the sharing economy here. Just a few months ago I discovered that each neighborhood has a free tool library. So we can borrow tools for our house and yard projects instead of having to fork over the cash to purchase or rent them. I’m telling you, this is a great feature. It makes house projects just that much more affordable – and therefore, doable.

We have done quite a bit of renovating! There’s a long list still to do, but when I think back at all that has happened, I realize we’ve accomplished a lot. Our house started out as a two-bedroom, single-level home with an unfinished basement. We have added two more bedrooms by digging out egress windows and finishing half of the basement.

And by we, I mean my husband and his father and brother, who cut the concrete of our foundation and then poured the concrete retaining walls around the egress windows – which are big enough to make the bedrooms legal and let in a lot of light.  Cutting the windows out of the concrete was no joke; it left a thick layer of dust over the entire house and yard. So if anyone ever asks me if I’ve ever cleaned my house from top to bottom, I can attest that at one point I actually did clean every square inch of this place. But it was worth it to have so much light down there and to create so much extra living space right where we are.

The concrete wall you see there is in the girls’ room and is one half of the basement renovation. The second room is not pictured as it is still a work in progress. I figured that exposed brick is a thing nowadays, so now I’m trying to make exposed concrete a thing, too.

It sounds like it would feel cold, but basement living is actually extremely practical! The rooms stay warm in the winter and cool in the summer because they are below ground. To cozy up the room a bit, we painted the cement floor white and laid down rugs.  We also hung long, sheer curtains from Ikea on one of the walls to add some softness and warmth without diminishing the precious light from the window. It’s definitely a little quirky, but I love that we could eventually almost double the living space of our home just by making the basement usable. I have big plans for the other half of the basement as time and finances allow.

Another kind of funny renovation we did was to finish our attached garage to make it a playroom and family room. We laid laminate flooring over the cement, covered up an outside entrance, and sheet-rocked the walls to make it a cozier space.

Perhaps one of my favorite features of this house is that the original door to the playroom from the kitchen is an external door, so it makes the room essentially sound proof from the rest of the house. I can have coffee with a friend in the living room while our kids blast karaoke in the playroom and everyone is having a nice time! As the kids grow, I envision the room growing with them and someday holding a ping-pong table and a movie projector screen for sleep-overs.

This renovation project in particular has a bittersweet connotation to it. When my sister passed away at only 21 two and a half years ago, we were in the middle of the garage redo. I was sanding down mud and tape on the sheet rock when I got the call that I needed to come home right away. A few weeks later, when we returned to the project amidst grief and blinding pain, it was good to have something to do to keep moving forward. A hands-on project that didn’t require much thought, but symbolized that life could move on, that it could get better, that her death wasn’t the end of the story.

I’ve done several mudding and taping projects since then, and oddly, they make me feel close to her. It’s like her touch in this house, even though she actually never came here; we had just moved in when she passed away. It’s a way she has left a permanent mark that is always there, even if it isn’t always visible. And now those sanding lines have been covered over by texture and paint and furnishings. The kids play in there with all their friends. We do art projects there. But time and change will never fully erase that mark that her life made, Even though it lies below the surface, it is a permanent fixture of my life, just as the sanding lines are a permanent fixture of this house. This physical project, this labor of love for my children, helped me put my own grief and confusion into a perspective that allows me to move on and still experience life fully, even with a scarred heart.

I think my decorating philosophy comes from three main ideas: First of all, I want everyone – both children and adults – who come into our home to feel comfortable. For me to be comfortable, it means I sometimes choose the practical over the beautiful and fragile for my own peace of mind. I want my kids and their friends to be just as happy here as I am, and I don’t want them to feel like they can’t be kids here because I have to keep everything just so.

We used earthquake safety kits to strap the shelves in the living room to the walls, so I don’t have to worry about anyone pulling them over. We chose couches that maybe aren’t my favorite aesthetically, but for this stage in our life, they’re perfect; they are comfortable and easy to clean and I don’t mind having my whole family of ten over to stay the night!

But I also want to be able to show our personality. I have several friends who have decorated their homes so well that when you walk in it is like entering a three-dimensional expression of their heart. And I love that. I feel so comfortable in their homes; it is so inviting when someone puts their heart into their home. I hope people feel the same way when they come to mine.

We also make do with what we have. When I was growing up, we didn’t have a lot of money for extra things like decorating, but my mother always kept a beautiful home. Even though she might not have had her dream furnishings, she put her personal touch into everything and she was resourceful with her space. So I keep extra prints in the back of each of the frames so that when I’m craving something new or seasonal, I can simply rotate back to another print and everything feels exciting again.

Most of the gallery walls around here are made up of postcards from our travels – seriously the least expensive and most compact souvenirs ever! – and I decorate a lot with art made and gifted to us by talented friends. My brother is especially artistic and sometimes if I ask really nicely, he will make me custom art for my home. I think it’s extra special to have something made by someone you love.

I also think it’s fun to mix unexpected details, like sparkling chandeliers in a garage-turned-playroom, or tea towels as curtains in the kitchen. I take each piece on it’s own merit and wind up with a bit of an eclectic mix of ideas and colors and themes. And maps. Always maps.

For a long time I thought that this was our starter home. That someday we’d move on to something bigger and better. Isn’t that the American Dream? But recently I’ve let go of that. Maybe we will move someday, maybe we won’t. The point is that what is here now is good and there’s no reason to be pining away for something better.

One of the main things I’ve learned throughout this house renovation is that it doesn’t have be be perfect to be beautiful. There are lots of unusual things about this house, and it’s nothing extraordinary – in fact, it’s rather plain – and I could have let that keep me from making it feel like home. I could have been so frustrated with the to-dos that I never really let myself just enjoy the space for what it is, imperfections and all. But I’ve realized that if you have a cool piece of artwork or an unusual paint color or you tape Instagram pictures to your wall, nobody notices the imperfections. Nobody is looking at your DIY, somewhat imperfect flooring if you have a beautiful painting to look at instead.

I started blogging when my first daughter was a newborn as a way to stay creative and keep doing things. It has morphed in different ways over the years. I love that I have catalogued my kids’ childhoods there and that all our favorite recipes get posted. I have even tracked down family recipes and I add them there so we’ll always have them. Someday I envision having it bound in some form for my children as a graduation or wedding gift: the ultimate scrapbook that includes a family cookbook! And I like to practice photography and talk about my favorite things to do in Portland with kids. I think this is great city to explore with kids, and I love to show our favorite places. I hope it encourages other Portlanders to explore our beautiful city.

And I hope to tell a real story about living with kids. I want to tell the happy stories because those are the ones I want to remember. But I also want to be honest about what it’s like to be a mother. It can be hard to do that, to be vulnerable, but I love the connections I have made through that vulnerability.

There are so many blogs that inspire me to be a better mother, a better friend, a better person, to think differently about the world. I can’t even count the number of times a blog by a complete stranger has changed my perspective on something, or has lifted my spirits on a hard day, or has made me really grateful for an experience I was taking for granted.

As someone who has always been a big fan of the sisterhood of womankind, I love that the world of blogging can be a place where we all share our stories. We all learn a little, we all teach a little. We give a piece of our hearts and we get a piece of someone else’s. I think that is just splendid. I love blogging. Although it sometimes slips low on my priority list, I always come back.

I hope they remember playing with each other and staying up until way-too-late talking and laughing. I hope they remember that we were only pretend mad at them for not going to sleep, and secretly we loved it that they couldn’t get enough of each other, even after bedtime. I hope the girls remember pushing their beds together in what they call their “two bed stick” because being even a few feet apart was much too far.

I hope they remember staging Frozen re-enactments complete with all the songs and almost all the lines and how Henry liked to say, “I’m Olaf. I’m melting.” I hope they remember dance parties and inflatable pool parties and eating cherry tomatoes out of the garden. I hope they remember always getting to lick the beaters and hiding in the closet to tell ghost stories.

And I also hope they remember that I taught them to be givers and teachers by my example. Maya Angelou said, “If you get, give. If you learn, teach.” I hope that this is our time of both learning and teaching, getting and giving.

I hope that my kids remember that I lost my temper sometimes, but I said I was sorry. That I taught them to make the world a better place in whatever way they can. I can teach them to be content with fewer toys and gadgets by being content myself. I can be conscientious about my consumption and make do with the things I already have instead of getting new ones. I can reuse and repurpose as much as possible. I can make good food for people and talk about important things and how we can make the world better with our actions, however small they may seem. I can make my children feel safe and loved here, so they always know that this place is a refuge from whatever storms may come.

I’ve always thought of our home as a trampoline – it’s where you always land. And if it’s a good trampoline, it propels you into wherever you want to go.

I hope my kids remember that this was a good place to be. We loved each other. We made mistakes and we forgave each other. We laughed a lot. We were very grateful just to have one another.

It might sound weird, but my other favorite part of this house right now is the noise. The playing and singing and laughing and dancing and pretending. I already know I couldn’t bear to live here when my little ones are all grown up and off to college; it would feel too lonely and too quiet. Not that I don’t relish a little alone time here every once in a while, but after a few hours I want everyone to come back home so we can be together.

I love the feeling of home here. It’s nice to be a grownup and get to decide things about your house, don’t you think? I didn’t know it would be something I would enjoy so much. And I love how cozy and intimate it is here. I have always loved to travel and to escape, and it’s only now that I love coming back just as much. I love bringing home reminders of our adventures, but I am also just as content to make memories in our home. Some of my most magical memories and most treasured traditions have taken place right here.

I wish someone had told me earlier to fill in the gaps with good. My husband says this to me, and it’s such a good reminder to give myself, my children, my friends, even perfect strangers the benefit of the doubt. I wish I had learned earlier to give myself grace…to think that if the house is a mess it’s not because I’m a failure at housekeeping, it is because we’re having too much fun cooking together or playing games. I wish I had learned earlier that every parent has doubts about what they’re doing and if it’s working and that if they say something that hurts me, they probably didn’t mean to; we all love our children and we are all trying our best.

It’s so easy to be critical, or to feel criticized. It’s so easy to feel lacking. But it’s so much better to be grateful. I am realizing that I have the choice of what kind of person I am going to be. Because encouraging or discouraging, I am changing the world around me. My outlook, whether positive or negative, and the actions that stem from it, affect my home, my children, and my community. It changes everything when I choose to find the beauty and the joy in the mundane, to find the good in the imperfect.

Project Renew: The Beginning

Have you ever gutted every nook and cranny in your home, just to see if you could live with less?

Ever since Matilda Kahl’s article about wearing the same thing to work every day, I’ve been a little bit obsessed with minimalism. Not as a design aesthetic, but as a life principle. What really struck me about Kahl’s article was the feeling that her time (and mine) is too valuable to be spent on deciding what to wear. She is an art director at a New York ad agency and she doesn’t waste her creativity in the morning just getting dressed.

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Work in progress: even simplified, this closet could be seen as excessive, especially with all those heels I have few opportunities to wear.

Here’s the thing, I love clothes. I figure that I have to wear them, so they might as well look good. And here’s the other thing, I’m an adult now. I know what I like. I know I my style. No matter what I tell myself, I can usually decide in an instant if an article is something I will love and use forever, or will later regret. And too often I don’t listen to that instantaneous voice. I choose other voices. Voices like, “It’s only on sale today!” or “This is trendy.”

But here’s the voice that I am letting rule my mind and closet today, “Wouldn’t it be better to only wear a few things that I love than a bunch of stuff I only kind of like?” (Turns out I’m not the only person to ever have thought of this. Wardrobe capsules are apparently becoming a little trend all of their own.)

I haven’t become a super minimalist (yet), but every morning that I put something on and don’t like the way it fits or feels, it goes into the pile (that will either be consigned or donated). I remind myself that it is better someone else use and enjoy it now than that I save it in a dark part of my closet. So I’m not saving anything I even hesitate about.

I’ve been super inspired by the Zero Waste Home blog. Bea and her family are extreme. And amazing. They’re house is so minimalist that when they go on vacation they pack their entire wardrobes (all of which can fit in a carry-on suitcase) and rent their home while they’re away to help subsidize their trip. Wouldn’t that be amazing?! We aren’t there yet, but her story has opened my eyes to a lot of ways that we are wasteful. How much makeup do I buy that I never use? How many “free” or “on sale” things do we accept that we don’t need? How many toys that my children don’t play with have come into our house to accumulate dust? Conversations with my children about waste and expectations for things have opened my eyes to how much I take just because I can, and definitely not because I should.

I’ve also loved the writings of Nancy Sleeth, especially her article on Simplifying. She has a book, Almost Amish, that I am checking out of the library to read. Not as extreme “zero waste” as Bea, but the Sleeth family has greatly reduced their waste and consumption in order to enjoy the people in their lives more, while also caring for the world around them.

Because truth be told, I’m sick of being told I need to buy more stuff. That someone else has cuter, better stuff than me and I should have it, too. I’m tired of feeling like I don’t have time to make dinner, when really it’s mostly because I’ve chosen to spend my time wishing I had something else. I don’t want something else. I want the someones in my life to have me around, actually paying attention to them.

In Little Women, Mrs. March says to her daughter, Amy, when she wants to buy some frivolous thing just because all her friends have one, “Don’t you think, dear,  that as these girls are used to such things, the best we can do will be nothing new, that some simpler plan would be pleasanter to them, as a change if nothing more, and much better for us than buying or borrowing what we don’t need, and attempting a style not in keeping with our circumstances?” That really struck me. Accumulating more things, even cute things, mostly end up worthless in the end, not having fulfilled any real purpose in our lives. This seems even more true as I donate or consign things that I once, for a moment, thought I couldn’t live without.

Part of Project Renew is not just getting rid of stuff, but being vigilant about not getting more stuff. I’ve canceled my magazine subscriptions to reduce waste (I’ve got Pinterest after all), and whenever I get junk mail I try to call and ask to be removed from the mailing list. I don’t click on links or shop sales knowing I can return something I don’t like. (It makes me cringe to think about the amount of time I’ve wasted shopping online only to return everything I purchased. It’s bad for my wallet, it’s bad for my life.)

Have you every tried minimalism? Have you ever gone a month without buying something new (except food, obviously)?

P.S. There are a few things that I am having a hard time parting with, I’ll admit. A hand mixer (we have a Kitchen Aid, too). An extra pair of heels that I really love the color of, but don’t truly need. That kind of thing. For all those things, I’ve put them in a box in the basement and an alarm on my phone. If in a month I haven’t missed or used these things, they will be donated. It’s no use keeping something that could be better used by someone else.