I said in my last post that I was going to start talking about resources that got me moving, but I think I need to write first about some of the reasons it took me so long to get on board with minimalism. If you go back to the first post, you’ll notice that I had my epiphanies about FIVE YEARS AGO. I think that’s important to note if you are new to the idea of minimizing/downsizing. This isn't going to happen over night. This process was emotional and spiritual before it ever became physical for me, and anything that comes from that deep place is going to take time.
As I dipped my toe into these waters, I found myself surrounded by like-minded people. It helped that we were living in hippy dippy Olympia at the time where reduce, reuse, recycle might as well be tattooed on the foreheads of every resident. I grew up in the middle of the country in a community that did not embrace minimalism. To be frank, I was surrounded by wealth and plenty, and while those things are not inherently bad, they certainly did not breed the same atmosphere I experienced in Olympia.
For the first time, I had more friends than not who lived in smaller houses, drove older cars, and thought “Walmart” was a dirty word. It was culture shock in the truest sense. The more I talked with these friends I learned that many of their lifestyles were motivated from different places—respect for the environment, a desire to live free from the tether of things, and their faith.
Even in the middle of a culture that nurtured my minimalist interest, I struggled to “get started.” In building a community (in real life and online) of like-minded people, I’ve learned that many of us face the same challenges in turning ideas into action.
CHALLENGE #1: Competing Priorities
When I started down this road, I was homeschooling, and that took a front and center place in our life. Our days were filled with books and craft supplies and science projects. We were always in the middle of something fun and exciting…and messy. We had a designated room for school, but our learning often spilled into the kitchen and dining room, and I always felt like bringing some semblance of order was a pipe dream.
Here’s the deal—we all have priorities, and in the beginning, my kids’ education was more important than having a clean and tidy house. I wanted both, but homeschool came first. For others, a full-time job means the only chunks of time they have is at night or on weekends, and they want to fill that time with cooking healthy meals or family activities outside the home. My advice would be to give yourself permission to only handle what is most important and know that seasons change, and there will be a time minimalism can move up the priority ladder.
CHALLENGE #2: Feeling Alone
I am part of an online support group (for lack of a better term), and I can’t tell you how many comments are posted that start with “I’m doing great, but my husband keeps sabotaging me…” or “Things were looking better, but then Grandma came for a visit…” It’s really easy to feel defeated when you are the only one in the house on board with living with less. HOWEVER, it is really, really, really, REALLY, reallyreallyreallyreally important that you don’t use other people’s choices as an excuse to not move forward.
When I started going through things, I started with me. I didn’t start with my kids’ toys or my husband’s closet. I started with my things, and that kept me busy for a good long time. I didn’t hound my husband or kids to get to work. You can read any number of leadership and parenting books, and they will all tell you that the best way to get the results you want is to lead by example, and I applied that to our house. It didn’t take long for everyone else to see what was happening.
One note about gifts from other people: you are not under any obligation to keep things you don’t want. Really. If you have gift givers in your life, accept the gifts with love. Keep them if they are of use or value, and let them go if they aren’t. If you have someone who incessantly fills your house with unnecessary clutter, invite them to be a part of your minimalism journey. Talk openly with them about changes you’re making without judgement, and set boundaries. I realize this is easier said than done, and I could write an entire book about this, but honestly, if this is your biggest challenge, it’s not about minimalism.
CHALLENGE #3: Feeling Overwhelmed
I remember early on that I would walk into the kids’ playroom and feel my heart race—I actually had a physical response to the mess—and then I’d walk right back out. Another area that made me crazy was our bedroom. For whatever reason, that was the place in our house where things multiplied at night like gremlins—stacks of books from the library, piles of laundry, half-unpacked bags and suitcases from trips. Until last week (remember I’m five years into this thing), my dresser was COVERED in crap that needed to be taken somewhere else in the house.
Creighton Abrams was a United States Army general who was first credited as saying, “When eating an elephant take one bite at a time.” If the war on stuff feels like it will end in defeat, rethink your strategy.
One thing that has really kept me on track in this process was an idea I got from Joshua Becker. At the beginning of the course I’m currently taking through his Becoming Minimalist website, he challenged us to define our WHY, and this was a major turning point for me.
Answer this question: WHY do you want to get rid of stuff? That’s where you might want to start. I literally wrote it out on a post-it and stuck it above my computer as a reminder. I go back to that post-it every time I stall.
We have one more reason that I want to write about at length, so I’ll save that for the next post. I’m working on compiling a list of the resources I’ve used in creating a successful strategy, so that will be in the next post, too. I hope providing a background for some of my challenges helps you feel like you’re not the only one struggling.