minimalism and such

So about the minimalist lifestyle.  It's a big thing these days, so it's easy to find a proponent, or seven, who shares their experiences, advice and hacks on the interwebs and in the bookstores.  What they'll all tell you is that minimalism is not just one prescribed list of actions or capped inventory of possessions.

"...finding simplicity and mindfulness in the daily chaos of our lives. It’s about clearing the clutter so we can focus on what’s important, create something amazing, find happiness." - Leo Babauta, Zen Habits

" designed to inspire others to pursue their greatest passions by owning fewer possessions." - Joshua Becker, Becoming Minimalist

"Minimalism is a tool to rid yourself of life’s excess in favor of focusing on what’s important—so you can find happiness, fulfillment, and freedom." - Joshua Fields Millburn & Ryan Nicodemus, The Minimalists

"Being a minimalist doesn’t mean owning nothing, it means owning exactly the right things. It’s not about being anti-consumption, it’s about being anti-compulsory consumption." - Colin Wright, Exile Lifestyle

" small and simply isn’t about the size of my house or whether I can tow it down the highway. It’s about making mindful choices that give me freedom, flexibility, and the opportunity to spend time with loved ones." - Tammy Strobel, Rowdy Kittens

I don't know if I could ever, in good faith, label myself a minimalist now or in the future.  My attitudes about my stuff still ebb and flow, especially since we haven't finished the process of purging and moving.  But there are some solid principals that have guided me, Ben and the kids towards an existence that is uncluttered and focussed on the important few.

I highly recommend you watch the documentary (via Netflix or iTunes) if you haven't already.  It presents a broad spectrum of approaches to the idea.

A repeating theme, even scattered among the quotes above, is mindfulness.  Well there's another buzz word these days.  My understanding of the idea needs only to focus on the word's root.  

Mind.  Hmm.

What if we just, duh, thought about every thing we bring home?  Everything we purchase?  Everything we commit ourselves and our families to?  I have heard on several occasions the suggestion that we should think about any purchase over $100 for 30 days before buying it.  In hindsight, wow, my house and my life would have looked very, very different if I did that.  The candy and tabloid kiosks leading up to the cash registers?  They are placed there for the exact reason that we don't do that.  "Impulse buys", we call them.

My takeaway from the minimalist movement ties into that quote from Tsh Oxenreider about everything in my life aligning with my purpose.  Reduce my physical environment to its purest form - just my needs and the wants that I love - without frills, without clutter, to allow space for genuine mindfulness and intention about my life, my actions and my pursuits.

I read a book that was recommended several times in my podcast listenings over the last couple of years: Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, by Greg McKeown.  Being a visual learner, his diagrams are what really helped me digest the value of doing and having less.  Look at this:

This illustrates exactly how my life has felt...the one on the left.  Spending my energy on a lot of things, in a lot of different directions, and getting nowhere.  Maybe you could even warp the circle because everything is tugging away at everything else.  The right side demonstrates essentialism, where the focus is on fewer things resulting in greater progress.

I look at this diagram and it makes me hungry for order in my life.  I see the little stumpy arrows on the left as shallow breaths, almost panicked.  Um, ya, I think they're panicked.  A lot of reactionary decisions over the last 20 years have sent my finances in one direction, my methods of home-keeping another, my parenting style yet another, my faith practice, my work ethic, my social life, etc.  They're not bad, but I can confidently say that many of these facets of my life were not carefully and intentionally established with the whole in mind.

Look at that right drawing. It's wonderfully simple. One, long, unlaboured, life-giving breath.


finding minimalism

I think it was the weekend before Christmas and Ben and I were driving home from a shopping trip.  Without warning I heard, "I think 5% of me would be okay if we sold our house now instead of in ten years."

Out of my own mouth.

The reality of our finances caused a dull, inescapable hum, as it tends to do around the holidays.  The recently-woven dream of downsizing and paying off our debt with the proceeds in ten years did not bring me the comfort I thought it would.  Even though it was plausible, with the kids easily being in their twenties and likely living their own lives by then.

In quick succession I heard the statement again.

Out of his mouth.

And by the time our six-minute drive home was done, 5% became 99% and we had the outline of a plan.

The conversation continued up in our bedroom - it's a strange feeling, having a hard conversation and being excited about it - as we brainstormed what this plan would entail.

Later that night, I flipped through Netflix's new releases on the 43" smart TV Ben had just won at his Christmas party and discreetly set up in our bedroom.

"Minimalism: A Documentary About The Important Things"

Hmm.  What's that?

Melissa had been tossing the term minimalism around the house over the past year and I wasn't sure if it referred to the style of art or the tendency of some to furnish an all-white room with a single white chair.

So I watched it while folding laundry and possibly with my mouth gaped open for the full 78 minutes.

You know that scene in The Matrix when Trinity sucks the bug out of Neo's belly button?  He freaks out when the bloody parasite comes into his view, just before she tosses it out the car window and it dies its little electronical death.

It felt like that, an ugly truth about self and the world held at eye-level in all its nauseating, convicting glory, but with hints of actionable hope.   Like a great sermon.

And so began the slide down the rabbit hole.  I think I watched it again the next day.  I looked up The Minimalists and every contributor shown in the film.  I asked people if they'd seen it and if not, recommended it.  I extracted key points and swallowed them whole as I went about my day, looking at my clothes, my kitchen, my stress, my life.  

I had finally discovered one of the tools I had been longing for to address the disorder that was suffocating seemingly every area of my life.


Next: minimalism and such

about debt

I haven't been debt-free since I was 18.

I got my first credit card in university so that I could get a cell phone.  It was the mid-nineties so it wasn't quite Zack Morris but it was bigger than the cordless land line phones I have in 2017.  You couldn't open an account without one, apparently.  So I got one, with still-fresh memories of the credit card companies wooing us all at frosh week.  I guessed it was something you just do as a newly-minted adult.  I got the phone, but it didn't take long for me to fall in love with the dazzling (read: false) freedom this little blue plastic card (not to be confused with my Blockbuster Video membership) afforded me.

Fast forward 22 years and here I am with a mortage, which I'd been taught was "good debt" and multiple consumer lending products, let's call them.

A few years ago, the finances we had been managing in a two-steps-forward-three-steps-back fashion begged my attention, as my relationship with Jesus deepened.  I began hungering to make a greater contribution to our new church community, but knew there was little wiggle room in our budget without Ben having to actually show me the numbers.  After months of discussion and crunching, we decided to go down from two cars to one.  My commute, now via public transit, ballooned to two hours each way, and coordinating activities, errands and our social life was a challenge we were unfamiliar with.  But we figured it out and we breathed easier because of it.

And like a shallow, temporary fix would, I assumed that sacrificing our SUV (okay how silly does that sound) appeased the God who had nudged me to address my debt, and went on my merry way, never actually wanting to eliminate the whole thing.

Too much.

Too hard.

Until last Christmas.

Next: finding minimalism

we're moving

Did you see my Instagram post?

We just did what I said I'd never do.  We sold our house and I will no longer die in ripe old age under its roof as originally planned.  In two weeks we plan to be fully moved into our new home and will turn the keys to the house over to its new owners a month later.  A slow, daily move and lots of time to finish cleaning up = sanity.

Here's the deal in a beautifully-bulleted nutshell: 

  • Sell house
  • Pay off mortgage and all consumer debt
  • Move family of 5 into a 900ish sq ft, rental home (hence the tag #fivetonine)
  • Eliminate 80-90% of our material possessions

The plan is a messy labour of love.  Our priorities have demanded re-sorting.  We have had to confront a lot of unglamourous habits and past decisions.  We have made reluctant acquaintance with impracticality and unpredictability.

And God has proven Himself faithful and gracious.

I have tapped into the wisdom of various movements: minimalism, tiny homes, essentialism, simple living, KonMari, etc.  For example, this has been a strong guide for me:

Simple living means living holistically with your life’s purpose. - Tsh Oxenreider, The Art of Simple

This stuff is all very en vogue these days.  Below all the adopted philosophy, though, are roots secured to Scripture.  Like this passage:

Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbour has fulfilled the law. (Romans 13:8 NASB)

This is about six months in the making, but the road leading up to this is definitely years-long.  I have no idea how the posts to follow will flow, but hopefully, at the very least, something I share will ignite or affirm something in you that works toward living a life that, from every angle, faces its purpose.  Because that's what I'm trying to do too.

Next: about debt

how my family is having fun for free this summer

This summer we are intentionally doing things to fill our leisure time in the most financially responsible ways.  Free is king, y’all! Hope this sparks ideas or suggestions!

Running – I am getting reacquainted with running around the neighbourhood more regularly, as is my husband.  For me, my 10k goal is my motivation.  I’m not registering for a race; I just want to be able to run continuously for 10k.  Strap on shoes, stretch, run, stretch, shower. That’s all.  I’ll save the organized race idea for my year-40 bucket list, perhaps.

12-sport challenge – the five of us have challenged ourselves to play at least 12 sports this summer. For fun.  No more paid organized leagues for us.  We are playing sports with the gear we’ve already got. Among those already checked off our list: basketball, baseball, soccer, badminton, (not-so-Ultimate-yet) Frisbee.  It sounds like we’re heading to the track down the street at some point for a relay race.  The trash-talking is well under way.

Festival-mania – there are a lot of events going on in the city this summer and we are planning to take advantage of all the awesome freebies that go along with them.  The Pan Am Games have sparked daily music events and fireworks shows (here too) and there’s a jazz festival going on at The Beaches right now, so those are at the top of my list for us to do in the coming days.  Parking downtown and treats should be the bulk of our expense.

Camping – last summer we spent two glorious weeks in Seattle and Vancouver.  We’re travelling light this year, with two camping trips.  The first year you go camping is tough because you have to buy all your equipment but we’re all geared up now, so aside from our grub and replenishing a few things, we are good to go.

Library - drop this one under the next-to-nothing column.  I paid $2 in fines this week.  But in contrast, my son has read at least five books, the girls are getting a head start on their 2015-16 English reading list, and I've eaten up (or in the process of devouring) about half a dozen books so far.  Oh, and I savoured another view of Man of Steel on Blu-Ray.  I can't tell you just how the world stops turning when we get the automated "the book you had on hold is now available" calls.  Simple pleasures.


What awesomely frugal activities does your family have lined up this summer?