Keeping Up With the Minimalist Joneses

Fellow minimalists over at London Minimalists wrote a post about running into a friend who is currently jetsetting around the world for work…living out of a rucksack and a suitcase. Of course, feelings of envy ensued. I knew exactly how that felt. Recently, a college buddy of mine got married and he and his wife sold everything and went off to South Korea to teach English. I wanted that fresh start, that adventure. But I’m married to a non minimalist and I have three children, so selling it all for a fresh start isn’t in the cards for me. It’s easy to fall into the trap of comparison.

Maybe every minimalist goes through a period where they have to adjust their view of minimalism’s gold standard to their current situation. I stopped keeping up with the consumer Joneses and then I tried to keep up with the minimalist Joneses. My minimalist Jones is Joshua Millburn over at The Minimalists. Have you seen the pictures of his flat before he moved to Missoula? And he teaches writing and writes for a living? Could I be any more jealous? But he is a single guy with money and freedom to do what he likes. My situation is different and it’s useless to compare. There comes a point where you have to ask yourself if you’re doing this minimalism thing for you or if you’re trying to attain an impossible standard…for you.

My tendency is to fall prey to the “if only I could do this or that, then I’d be happy”. Sitting around comparing and not taking any action in your own life is a recipe for trouble. I read minimalist blogs for three years and I took some action…I decluttered stuff and secretly wished for a smaller house, a more minimalist husband, that my kids were older, etc. But eventually it became clear that I needed to shape minimalism to fit my life instead of wishing for someone else’s.

It finally hit me that I could be envious of my minimalist Jones or I could be inspired by them. I could never be a single male writer but I could incorporate some of his habits. Joshua Millburn gets up at three thirty to write. I now get up at four forty five (four thirty is the goal…almost there!). My friends moved to South Korea to experience new cultures and new people. My state is home to at least 400,000 immigrants–including the ninth largest African immigrant community in the country. New cultures and new people are literally right outside my front door. I’ve spent enough time comparing. It’s time to get my hands dirty and start living.

How have you stopped keeping up with the minimalist Joneses?

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When You’re Married to a Non-Minimalist

I told my husband the other day that I’d started a blog about minimalism and living a simple life. He snorted. “Why would you do that? You’re not minimalistic at all!”

Nothing like a spouse to take the wind out of your sails. I was highly offended. I’d spent three years of my life changing my mindset and apparently, somewhere along the way, I’d forgotten to talk to my husband about it. I wondered if I’d really changed at all…but then I thought about my close friend who introduced me to minimalism. When I’d mentioned to her I was thinking about starting a minimalist blog, she thought I should do it because “obviously, it has impacted your life.” Why did she notice and my husband didn’t?

Upon further discussion, my husband revealed what he thought minimalism was–an empty house with people who didn’t own a TV or a car. I realized that he, like so many others, had fallen prey to the stereotype of minimalism. While I do think that selling everything except the bare necessities is the minimalist gold standard, it’s not for everyone. I tried explaining that. But he didn’t get it.

“You’re not a Christian then,” I told him (we are Eastern Orthodox).

“What do you mean?”

“You’re not a monk, so you must not be a Christian. If a true minimalist is only a person who lives in an empty house, then the only true Christians are monks and nuns. Nobody is going to do anything perfectly. Sure, there are people who are more extreme than others, but minimalism is going to look different for everyone.”

This he understood. And it sparked further conversation about how we obviously needed to downsize other priorities and start communicating with each other about our passions because clearly…we’d gotten lost somewhere in the thick of child rearing and forgot about tending our relationship as a married couple.

While I personally would love to sell everything and go back to living out of two duffle bags in an urban house or apartment, it’s not my reality as a suburban mother of three and a wife to a self-admitted non minimalist. My husband believes in two principles: work hard and take care of your family. To him, the things we own are a symbol of how hard he works and how he takes care of us.

When I first started getting rid of stuff, he got upset because like any zealous convert, I thought only of myself and the truth I had finally discovered. I didn’t consult him on anything I purged and ended up getting rid of stuff that meant something to him. Now I am more respectful (most of the time. I’m an imperfect person). I am learning not to put value in objects, but sometimes this means letting things be because your partner is somewhere else on his/her journey. Fundamentally, I think we are on the same page–we both think overconsumption is bad and that we don’t need a lot of stuff. We just have different ideas about what “not much stuff” looks like. We have to find our compromise.

Are you in a relationship with a non-minimalist? How do you make it work?

Why I Still Have a Gym Membership

A lot of minimalist blogs advocate for the cutting of the gym membership. So do a lot of frugal experts. But we still have ours at the local YMCA. How does a minimalist justify keeping a gym membership?

We used to go to a much fancier gym. I was spoiled. Fantastic yoga classes, brand new equipment, clean locker rooms with fresh towels, great childcare, and a fantastic pool. But as I began to simplify my exercise routine so that I didn’t have to spend so much time at the gym, I began to notice a few things:

  • There was definitely a disparity in incomes. My husband and I are blue collar people and most of the folks I met at this gym were doctors, lawyers, or had some sort of high-powered executive job. The class difference was palpable.
  •  Diversity was low. Members were predominately white, young, mentally sound (at least outwardly), in excellent shape, and beautiful by social standards. It was like going to the Abercrombie and Fitch gym. The emphasis was definitely on appearance, not health or community.
  • There were computers in the childcare center. I would drop the kids off and my son would head straight for the games. That’s where he would be sitting when I came back. This is not what I wanted my kids doing while I was working out.
  • The membership dues were outrageous. Granted, I was getting exactly what I was paying for in terms of the facility, but I started to have reservations about dumping my money into a place for beautiful, rich, young, white people that also used computers to babysit my kids. Especially when I was moving towards spending less time in the gym anyway.

Giving up that gym membership was probably the hardest thing I’ve let go of so far. I was paying for status and I knew it. Going into the membership office to tell them I had to cancel because I could no longer afford it was humiliating. But afterwards, I felt lighter and free. I was no longer pretending to have money I didn’t have.

Several months later, my husband got me a YMCA membership for my birthday. Not only were they affordable to begin with, we were able to get financial assistance–further lowering the cost. They are a non-profit organization that does a ton of community outreach programs. Our Y branch has plenty of diversity–race, age, income brackets, body types. As my husband put it, the YMCA caters to “real people”…not just the beautiful ones.

The equipment wasn’t as nice, but since I switched to bodyweight exercises anyway…this issue became non-existent. The childcare has a wonderful staff and best of all…NO COMPUTERS. There is a TV but I have never seen it on. There is a room for older kids that does have video games but the staff there ensures the kids spend at least thirty minutes outside or in the gym. Best of all, the atmosphere focuses on health, family, and community over appearances. My two older kids can take swim lessons for a reasonable price.

Most importantly, we get two hours of daily childcare for under $100/mo. I challenge you to find a better deal anywhere. The gym membership helps me keep my sanity during this stage of life with toddlers and preschoolers. Since minimalism is about paring down to what makes us happy–this is how I justify the monthly dues. Our money goes to a good cause and my family gets to stay healthy and active…particularly during the winter months here in the frozen tundra where we live.

Have you cut your gym membership? What are some non-traditionalist minimalist things that you have held onto because they make you happy?

Minimalism and Wealth

Sometimes I think minimalism is a luxury of the rich. Meg Wolfe points out on her blog The Minimalist Woman that being able to purge indicates wealth…because money at one time was had to purchase these things either by you or someone connected to you. Furthermore, “stuff was available to buy”. Of course, it also can indicate debt incurred by trying to keep up with the American Dream. That a movement like minimalism is needed when the majority of the world lives in poverty is a glaring light into the narcissistic consumerism of our culture.

In Thoreau’s Walden, he talks about how society has created their “silent poor” by upping the standard of our basic needs. Whereas we all might have once lived in happily in tents or one-room cabins, now the standard is a big house that we cannot afford. Even then, people who owned their houses were so rare they could be easily identified by most of their neighbors. Our desire to constantly improve and consume has created impoverished neighborhoods of people who can’t meet the standard. Our greed has created our poor.

“Most men…are actually though needlessly poor all their lives because they think that they must have such a [house] as their neighbors have.”

Most people assume that debt is a part of life. It is the American way–you get married, you buy a house, you have kids, get another car payment, and spend the rest of your life working to pay these things off. “You’re always going to have debt,” a family member says frequently. “You might as well enjoy your life.”

This is a sad way to live. My husband knows someone who sold his house and moved into a trailer and had the trailer paid off within a few years. Most people (myself included…baby steps, people) couldn’t get past the social stigma that is associated with living in a trailer. The tiny house movement is essentially the same thing, but it’s more socially acceptable. But what if we all lived in trailers or tiny houses? What if the basic standard was something more attainable and financially savvy?

In Jen Hatmaker’s Seven, she talked about a program that teaches the homeless how to grow their own food. What if that program also taught them how to change their mindset and go after attainable things like tiny houses or trailers? What if there was a program that taught us how to change our standard? Even in America, our poor could be considered wealthy by world standards. Minimum wage for large businesses in the state where I live is $9.00/hr. Consider that almost half the world lives on $2.50 per day. The Food Stamp Challenge asks people to eat like low-income Americans who have $4 per person per day. It really makes you think, doesn’t it? Wealth is all about perspective.

So minimalism isn’t necessarily a luxury of a wealthy nation–it’s an adjustment on what wealth is and what we should be striving for. According to Thoreau, we could all use a little clarity. I plan on doing more research on programs that teach the homeless and the poor to be self sufficient and to go after more realistic standards. I’m fascinated by this concept of teaching others to be more self sufficient (and maybe further adjusting my own perspective on what’s essential). When I know more, I’ll report back to you.

What are your thoughts? Do you agree or disagree? What sort of poverty outreach programs are available where you live?

Why I Don’t Wear (Much) Make Up

The first time I ever wore makeup I was fourteen. My parents made me hold out as long as possible since they didn’t feel that makeup was necessary or appropriate for a young girl. When my mom taught me how to wear makeup, she told me that it should enhance the beauty that is already there. I’ve had a lot of difficulty with this. Even my husband has commented that when I do wear it, I have a tendency to “cake it on”. We both prefer me without makeup. In the military, I would occasionally wear it to work because sometimes a girl just wants to feel like a girl. I would always get teased by my male co-workers–“Who are you dressing up for?” I am fully aware that other women wear it because it makes them feel beautiful, but I usually feel like I am putting on a face for other people.

But since I have two daughters, I know that makeup will become part of our conversation someday. It has already–my four year old loves to play dress up and she LOVES to put on makeup. That’s the kind of girl she is…she is a sparkly princess who likes lipstick and eye shadow and that’s okay–she should be who she is. Wearing makeup is a rite of passage for girls–it’s a first step towards adulthood (we’ll save how sad that makes me for another post). But I felt like I should probably learn a little bit more about makeup, so I bought the Urban Decay Naked palette. Because if you’re going to do something, you might as well go all out.

Now it sits in the bathroom largely unused. The tutorials seemed complicated and time consuming, especially for someone trying to simplify her style. I was a little disappointed because there are a few things I like about makeup–smokey eyes (which seemed way complicated) and red lipstick (lip liner too? Jeez). I concluded that makeup was for women who didn’t mind spending a lot of time putting their face together.

Not quite ready to give up, I did a few makeup searches on Pinterest and found this article about French women’s beauty routines. Here was a minimalist routine I could get behind. Take care of your skin. Create a smokey eye look using a solitary kohl pencil. Treat red lips like a fashion accessory and don’t wear any other makeup with it. Oh, and French women don’t wear lip liner. YES. YES. YES. This was simple enough for lazy people like me.

So that’s it. I take care of my skin (I don’t go super spendy like they do in the article, a simple Cetaphil soap bar works for me with some moisturizer of the same brand), sometimes I wear red lipstick, and eventually I’ll give that kohl pencil thing a shot. I should probably give my Naked palette to someone other than my four year old who will actually use it.

Have you simplified your beauty routine? Do you wear makeup?

Minimalist Wardrobe

Did you know Steve Jobs wore the same thing to work every day? He’s not alone. Many successful men wear the same thing to work every day because they don’t want to waste energy on an outfit. Some women have also followed suit, though it’s worth noting that it’s less socially acceptable for them to do so. As I learn more about minimalism, the more I want to eliminate unnecessary clutter from my life so I can focus on my family and creativity. This clutter included my wardrobe.

While I haven’t yet arrived at wearing the same thing every day (though I’m pretty darn close), I’ve downsized a huge portion of my wardrobe. When I was in the army, shopping was a form of therapy for me. I spent thousands of dollars on clothes. Every weekend, we were going out to a club or a bar, and I would buy a new outfit. When I got out, I was forced to cut back a bit since I didn’t have a reliable paycheck. After I got married, minimalism and a healthy re-evaluation of our financial priorities got me to stop.

You can’t read about minimalism without eventually coming across the idea of the capsule wardrobe. Though initially hesitant, I did start getting rid of clothing that I didn’t wear or didn’t really love. After our third baby was born, I took my first steps towards a truly minimalist wardrobe…mostly because we couldn’t afford to replace everything while I lost the baby weight. I had four tank tops, two sweaters, and two pairs of leggings that I alternated between when I had to go out. I spent most of my time in workout clothes because I was usually at the gym trying to lose weight. Eventually, the weight came off, and I got a part-time job at the library. Both of these events required a bit of an update.

I now own eight tank tops, seven t-shirts, six sweaters, two pairs of jeans, two pairs of leggings, one white button down shirt, two skirts, and one black dress. That’s 29 articles of clothing–excluding workout stuff, underwear, and pajamas. While I don’t wear the exact same thing every day, many of my multiples are different colors of the same style. If you like something, it’s okay to buy more than one in a different color. Or the same color…an idea that I’m embracing more and more.

When I first started doing this, I remember feeling afraid that people at work would notice and judge me for wearing the same thing every day. Maybe they would think that I was poor or gross. If anyone did notice, they didn’t say anything, but my guess is that my co-workers spend more time thinking about things more important than what I’m wearing. And I’m much happier because it’s one less decision I have to make every day. I may not have a high-powered creative job, but as a busy mom of three, I like being able to roll out of bed and throw on an outfit that makes me feel good and look presentable without putting a whole lot of energy into it. I’ll save that for my kids.

What are some ways you have simplified your wardrobe? Do you wear the same thing every day?

Minimalist Food

“What is THIS?” The tone my seven-year-old son uses implies that I’m engaged in some secret plot to poison him.

“It’s *insert meat and vegetable of choice here*,” I say.

“I’m not eating it,” he proclaims.

“There are children starving in Africa,” I say.

“It’s a LIVING THING, Mom,” he says sternly. “Do you want me to eat LIVING THINGS?”

(Exceptions will be made for hamburgers, hot dogs, and salami.)

I used to love cooking and baking. I loved feeling like I was preparing healthy food for my family. Yet conversations like this happened every night at the dinner table…and not just with my kids. Sometimes with my husband, too…who was tolerant of my attempts but flat out refused to eat anything with lentils in it (texture issues). My husband (who grew up poor) also got really upset anytime food was wasted…which happened often because inevitably, I’d plan a complicated meal, buy the ingredients for it, and then end up too tired or lazy to make something no one wanted to eat anyway.  After the arrival of the third child, my desire to cook was almost non-existent. This was not improved by aspiring vegetarian children and sensitive husbands.

Speaking of starving children in Africa, it had been on my mind that it was only in America where we had the luxury of eating different elaborate meals every night. 795 million people go to bed hungry every night and I was stressing over giving my family variety…options. If I’ve learned anything about minimalism, it’s that we live in a country with far too many options and this tends to be more overwhelming than satisfying. I decided we all needed a little dose of fewer choices.

I created a simple menu based on protein, vegetables, and a grain or root vegetable. I streamlined breakfast by preparing homemade instant oatmeal packets for my kids and prepping breakfast sandwiches for my husband. I made a giant batch of rice and beans for lunches the hubs and I could grab on our way to work. This has saved time and reduce waste. The only thing I don’t make ahead of time is lunches for my children, but I’m working on that too. This gives me time for other things like writing, reading, and shuttling children to Cub Scouts or swim lessons. My son gets home from school, has a snack, and I cook dinner in thirty minutes or less. We’re getting healthy, simple meals that save us money and me the stress of trying to create an elaborate menu of meals no one will eat.

Of course, the dinnertime conversation remains about the same. But I think my kids like being able to easily identify everything on their plate. Protein, veggies, starch. No hidden foods or textures like in casseroles or soups. Regardless of the arguments, the food always gets eaten. (I also told my son that he can be vegetarian when he’s old enough to cook his own meals.)

What are some ways you have simplified your mealtime choices?