Staying home for so long has been the most challenging part of the pandemic for me. Well, that and grocery shopping and missing Mass. I know how lucky I am to stay home, and blessed that we have all stayed healthy and have not suffered from unemployment or other difficulties during the pandemic.
Even though I am thankful for this, being home is still driving me crazy. I feel like I can see every imperfection in the house, and seeing the same walls every day is making me a little nuts.
You’d think we’d be used to staying home as homeschoolers, but we usually spend a lot of time outside the house. Going to the library, co-op, the museum, our hybrid school, meetups with friends, etc. are the norm. Having everyone home daily, especially trying to keep the kids quiet while Mike is working, has been exhausting. Seriously, why do kids wait to let out banshee-like screams until they know someone is on the phone?
It’s starting to get better now. The weather is beautiful, so we’re spending a lot of time outside, and things in the outside world are starting to return to a new “normal.” As I was outside yesterday in the glorious sunshine reading while the kids were playing, I started thinking about how grateful I am that we discovered minimalism a few years ago. It has made this whole fiasco so much more manageable for me. The house is under control, which has made being home at least slightly more bearable and I have minimalism to thank for that.
I’m not exactly sure when I first heard the term minimalism, but I think it was sometime after Chaosman was born. Googling “cleaning schedule,” “cleaning checklist,” or some similar topic is how I imagine I stumbled upon it as I was feeling utterly overwhelmed with cleaning. As our family was growing, so was the mess. I felt like all I ever did was clean, and it felt like a hopeless battle.
Minimalism was so intriguing to me because even though it is such a simple concept, I had never realized that having less stuff would equal less cleaning. It was just not how my mind worked. I never thought about evaluating if I needed the things I owned in my life. I just mindlessly kept them. Continued to store them, move them, clean them, over and over and over. Why?
Inspired by hearing about minimalism, that summer on vacation at Scott’s, I read Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up and Joshua Becker’s Clutterfree with Kids. There was a third book on minimalism I read that week, and I cannot for the life of me remember what it was, so I’m going to assume I don’t recommend that one.
Although I know many families swear by Marie Kondo’s method, I felt that it would have benefited me as a single 20-something, but not in my current stage of life. Thinking about putting every item from one category into a heap gave me a panic attack. I just imagined the kids dragging these things all over the house, and everything becoming a disaster as I tried to figure out if our can opener was “sparking joy.”
Between the two of them, Clutterfree with Kids spoke to me much more, and it made me feel like this whole minimalism thing was attainable (and beneficial) for families with kids. I recommend anyone with kids read it. That book was what really pushed me into action and helped me explain to Mike why I thought we should start getting rid of stuff. (Although he didn’t really need any convincing, he was onboard right away.)
Anyway, even after reading Clutterfree with Kids, I still felt unsure. Not unsure of wanting to be clutter-free, that I knew I wanted. I was uncertain of how to go about doing it. Wouldn’t it be nice if there was a magic declutter button that you could press? For me, I was ready mentally for minimalism but wasn’t sure how to get there physically.
It still felt overwhelming, and there were a few excuses that kept ringing in my mind of why I couldn’t ever become a minimalist:
I am too messy.
I am messy by nature. From the earliest time I can remember, I was disorganized. I was the kid shoving stuff under the bed and nervous about opening my closet for fear that an avalanche of clothing might consume me.
I was the adult who lost keys and shoes and whose dinner time preparation looked like the aftermath of a tornado. At first, I thought a messy person like me couldn’t become a minimalist. Now I know that minimalism was precisely what I needed.
Ok, so I am not naturally a neat, organized person. But that doesn’t mean I can’t be. It just means I have to be intentional about the things I do.
Minimalism helped me remove the excess from our kitchen and keep our counters clear all the time, so now even my biggest kitchen mess is manageable. Having less clutter overall and thinking about how items work best for us has also helped me realize I can change my routines to become less messy.
Now when baking, I try to use one item and then immediately put it back. Before, I would leave everything out to put away at the end, which, of course, is way more overwhelming because then you have a huge mess. Now I aim to put everything away immediately. Again, it is so simple and probably obvious to many, but just not how my mind worked before.
I love shopping.
Not any shopping, though, I specifically love finding a bargain. Coupons, clearance, thrift stores are all music to my ears. It’s a thrill being able to find a great deal. Being frugal is not only a necessity but something I weirdly enjoy. But finding deals on things you don’t need, well, that’s not worth it.
Before, when I would shop, I would buy something in anticipation of needing it. Sometimes that would work well, but often I would forget where I had put the item by the time we needed it. ($3.99 clearance snow pants aren’t a great deal if I can only find where I stored them in July).
Now I wait until we need it, and then still try to find the best deal. Does this mean I miss out on the very best bargain? It might, but I think it’s worth it. There is a cost to every item we own beyond the monetary value, and sometimes the “discount” isn’t worth the overall cost. It costs you your space, your time, and your sanity. Sometimes the better deal is skipping the deal. Not to mention rebuying things I couldn’t find. (Like the snow pants.)
I don’t like to waste things.
I hate wasting things. I always want to use the last drop, and always feel like I should repurpose items or keep things “just in case.” I am totally that person who will keep toilet paper tubes, a ribbon off a package, or the cloth packaging that new sheets come in because we might be able to reuse them for a craft project. At first glance, to me, decluttering looked like wasting a ton of stuff. In reality, getting rid of the things you don’t use and passing them onto a new home where they are needed is much less wasteful.
And minimalism isn’t just about getting rid of things. It’s about being intentional about what you keep and bring into your life, making more room for the things that matter to you. In reality, with a minimalist mindset, you end up wasting much less than some. You aren’t stuck buying into a consumerist culture that is incredibly wasteful, always needing to replace perfectly useful items with the latest-and-greatest.
As for those toilet paper tubes and ribbon, I still keep them, but I have one small tub for the kids’ craft supplies like that, and once it’s full, it’s full.
I don’t have the time.
I remember this being my first excuse. Really what I meant was I don’t have time to declutter our entire house in a weekend. And that was true; I didn’t. What I realized was that I didn’t have to do it all at once. It’s ok to take months, years even. Every little bit helps. That took me a while to realize because I wanted to see immediate results. I was recently reading Joshua Becker’s blog, and something he wrote stuck with me. He said, “But always remember, as long as you’re moving in the right direction, you’re moving in the right direction.” I love this. It’s so true for a minimalist journey and life in general.
Switching to a minimalist mindset has, in the long run, given me so much more time. The time saved managing and cleaning “stuff” means we can do more of what is important to us.
Working at it over time, I’ve been able to get past those excuses. I’m not sure I’d call myself a minimalist, maybe minimalish, but we’ve come very far. We were even able to have my parents live with us for a year. There’s no way we could have done that without minimalism.
I’m so thankful that I discovered minimalism before the pandemic and that our house was less cluttered while we’ve been spending all our time here. I imagine if this had happened before we removed our excess items, I would have been feeling even more overwhelmed.
Does it mean our house is never messy? No, but it means we have less stuff to pick up, which saves us time and energy. It’s a manageable mess that we can reset to a clean slate every night.
Does it mean we have an empty house? No, and if you saw our board game or book collection, you’d wonder why I thought I could write a blog post about minimalism. But those things are important to us, as learning tools and for spending family time together, so they stay.
That’s what minimalism is to me. Keeping the things (physical and otherwise) that are most important to you, the elements that enhance your life, and discarding all the rest.
What things have you been thankful for during the pandemic?