The things that STUFF promises you. Minimalist Miniseries, Pt. 3

Sometimes, we don't even realize that we keep things around because of the promises they hold for us. The items in question are not useful for us now, but we hold onto them because we are somewhat sure that they are going to give us awesome experiences in the nebulous future. A great example of this is clothing that is too small. "I plan on losing the weight someday!" says everyone; however, the vast majority of us stay our current size and let the small and increasingly out-of-fashion clothes govern our closet space for years. But, you see, hanging onto those clothes is our promise that we will lose the extra pounds one day.

A real-life example is the decrepit, old, craigslist bicycle trailer that Adam absolutely refuses to get rid of. Never mind the fact that it is now missing pieces and covered with mold, or that Adam hasn't ridden his bike in nearly a year, or that our current living situation would make a bike trailer ride a logistical nightmare. But, you see, as long as he has that broken trailer in his possession, he still has the chance in his mind to go take his children out for awesome, warm-fuzzy father-and-son biking adventures.

Wait... where's little Jimmy? Shoot, I KNEW I forgot something at the park.
photo source

When you're deciding whether to keep or toss a particular item, sometimes you have to take off the Alternate Reality goggles and be very, painfully realistic about what will most likely happen to the item in question. Sure, it may have potential for you, but will you take advantage of it tomorrow? Next week? Next month, or anytime this year? If you don't have a definite date when you will use that item, or there is a long string of events that have to happen first, it's time for reevaluation.

Maybe the item actually was useful to you at some point, but now it's damaged or superfluous to your needs. Embrace that seasons change, that you are only a human with 24 hours in a day, and that your priorities don't leave room for this object anymore. It is hard sometimes, because it may feel like you're abandoning a dream... but if it is really meant to be, you will get the necessary equipment when you are truly ready to undertake it. Meanwhile, why not free up your space and mind for the real future that unfolding in front of you now?


Mental Clutter. Minimalist Miniseries, Pt. 2

A huge part of what got me on the path to drastically reducing my possessions was the sanity factor. For our entire married life, we have been living in small spaces, so we don't have room for excess. I didn't realize this when we were living in Oklahoma, and really jammed our 725-square foot apartment with stuff, stuff, stuff. I remember lying in bed and looking at our bedroom/library/craft room/junk heap corner and feeling positively claustrophobic; but I couldn't quite put my finger on the problem, so silly little me packed up all that crap and hauled it all the way to Virginia. The turning point happened when I first set foot inside our bare, fresh, and empty VA apartment, and thought, I want to keep it like this forever. For what felt like the first time in ages, I could think clearly. My mind wasn't assaulted by half-finished projects, mail, and tons of items in need of dusting or organization; on the other hand, everywhere I looked in my Oklahoma apartment, my eyes rested on something that screamed, PAY ATTENTION TO MEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!! I resolved to make Virginia different.

Photo source

Excess possessions not only clutter up our physical living space, but they create mental clutter, as well. Every time you see something that needs to be put away, or repaired, or completed, it either gets put on your mental to-do list or creates negative feelings if you can't actually take care of it anytime soon (worse if it's something you realistically can never do-- think of a broken plastic part you may be holding on to that just isn't going to work right, even if you do actually get around to trying to glue it).

My advice? If you can do it immediately, DO IT. Don't let that mental clutter accumulate. Take the extra minute to put away this thing or that. Time yourself. You'll be surprised how quickly you can take care of the little detritus.

If you can't take care of it immediately, but it's still important to do at some point, put it out of sight. If you can't afford to forget about it for a while, then- back to the beginning- do it as immediately as possible. You don't want this stuff staring you in the face, stressing you out.

If you come to the conclusion that you will realistically never get it done, or that it's not important enough to spend your time on, get rid of it. Don't feel bad. You weren't going to get it done one way or another, so you may as well not get it done while enjoying the extra space and peace of mind.

Which, of course, brings us back to the amount of stuff we own to begin with. The more things we have, the more we are going to see and think about, even if it's just for a fraction of a second. Even the knick-knacks, which generally require little to no upkeep, are attention-grabbers, which is why I like to keep them to a minimum. The fewer things you have lying around, the more you will free up your mind to focus on real living.


My style of minimalism. Minimalist Miniseries, Pt. 1

If you were to look at my house, you would probably not even think to label me as "minimalist". There are toys everywhere, and knick-knacks in some places. My house hardly looks like the typical stark white interiors bared of everything except maybe a desk and chair, which many automatically associate with minimalism.

I have two toddlers. Enough said.
Photo source

If there is one thing I have learned from all the reading I've done on minimalism, it's that everyone's definition of minimalism looks different. While most people would agree that it involves reducing things to the barest yet most effective state, everyone lives it differently-- in design, or actual number of possessions, or anticonsumerism, or search for inner peace. So for me, here are the things that are important on my journey:

~Keeping only objects that are either useful or special

~Reducing the mental clutter that excess objects bring

~Creating specific places for the objects I choose to keep (A place for everything, and everything in its place!)

~Reducing the amount of stuff I bring into the house

~Understanding why I keep the things I do-- and it had better be a darn good reason!

I'll try to expound on the above during this miniseries, as I have the time.


Changing Seasons, Changing Clothes

It seems that this season of my life is dominated by STUFF. From packing my entire household into a boxes, to sorting the entire contents of my husband's recently deceased grandmother's house (where we are also currently living), to helping my sisters-in-laws sort through their stuff, I have been spending a lot of time dealing with material possessions. As a result, I am constantly thinking about my philosophy on possessions and organization. And what better way to organize these thoughts than a miniseries?

Other than, you know, actually keeping the house clean?
Photo source:  blalank
I thought it would be easy to start off with a repost. This is the time of year when people are starting to change out their summer wardrobe for cold-weather clothes, so here is a post I wrote last year on how to clean out your wardrobe:

Closet Cleaning Tips

Good luck with that wardrobe!


What to Get When You're Expecting-- Part 2

In Part 1, I tackled some of the big-ticket items that we did or didn't need for our babies' first year. This post will be about some of the smaller stuff. As before, some things on my list won't work for every family, so take what you want and leave the rest!

YES-- a good rocking chair/office chair. If you breastfeed, you will be spending a lot of time sitting down. Get a comfortable chair. Don't be like me and use chairs that make me feel like my butt has been formed into a perfect cube shape after a nursing session.

NO-- Baby bath tub, baby soap/shampoo. For the short amount of time that a baby bathtub will be used, it is a big waste of space. I always either sponge bathed my baby or took him right in the shower with me. I am also a firm believer in preserving the skin's hilariously-named horny layer, so I don't wash myself or my kids with soap in the bath unless we have visible dirt/sweat/poop on us. It is almost always enough just to scrub and rinse off under the shower. For the occasional real dirty skin or hair, I have a small bottle of Bronner's baby castile soap, which runs about $3.29 per bottle and lasts forever.

YES-- The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding. The official handbook of La Leche League, this is your one-stop book for breastfeeding help. I have done it all as far as breastfeeding is concerned, and I still reference this book all the time-- I was just looking something up in it last week, as a matter of fact! Buy it and read through it BEFORE the baby is born, if possible. Reading up on breastfeeding beforehand is probably what saved my bacon when things went awry at Oscar's birth.

The cover of the newest edition

NO-- Baby food makers or baby food. Now, I'm not recommending that you starve your kid, lol. However, the true low-budget, no-fuss-no-muss approach to feeding solids is Baby-led Weaning. Basically, the focus is on introducing baby to whole, unprocessed, nutritious foods, and exploring is more important than ingesting. For Oscar, I'd cut up soft foods like avocado or cooked sweet potato into chunks (or peel a banana) and set it in front of him to feed himself or push around the tray as he pleased. I was lazy with Allen and pretty much just let him nibble on whatever I was eating at the moment-- his first food was lentil and ham soup. Since they were eating family foods, I never bothered with purees, rice cereal (which is the nutritional equivalent of feeding an adult white bread), or jarred baby food. Neither of my kids ever had choking problems, although they did occasionally gag, a perfectly normal baby reflex which actually prevents choking. If you're looking for an easy area to save time and money, this is an excellent one.

Black beans-- one of baby Oscar's first foods.

YES-- Swing, high chair booster seat, Dr. Sears' Baby Book, jogging stroller. All of these have been really helpful, although the stroller was pretty much just a diaper bag holder until Oscar got too heavy to wear in the Boba comfortably. :-)

Remember, there are a lot of companies that stand to get rich by convincing parents that their products are a necessity. Truly, the only thing a baby needs is milk, diapers, and a caregiver to snuggle with. Take a good hard look at any item that doesn't further these objectives and decide whether that item will truly make your life easier or just be more stuff to throw your hard-earned money at.

Veteran moms, what would you add to the list?


What to Get When You're Expecting-- Part 1

Whew, it's been a while since I posted here. What's new? Adam lost his job. We moved to New York. Allen turned one last week. It's been an interesting 2013 so far. Anyways, a cursory glance at my facebook feed tells me that EVERYONE I know is pregnant, most of them first-time parents! So I thought I'd pass on my top list of baby do/do not buy (good news! You don't have to spend as much money as Babies R' Us would have you believe!). I know everyone's list is different, so feel free to disagree with me, but this is my slightly minimalist list of parenting purchases for baby's first year.

YES-- a baby carrier. Every mom needs a baby carrier-- it's a hands-free way to do what you need to do while simultaneously filling your baby's need to be close to you. Allen is what I jokingly refer to as my velcro baby-- he has a more intense need than most babies to be near me, and screams bloody murder nearly every time I put him down. My back-carrying Boba has been an absolute lifesaver-- if I had to throw out EVERY baby item- diapers, clothes, toys- and save only one thing, this would be it. Sometimes, I even chuck Oscar in there when he's being rowdy in a public place. A ring sling is great for the newborn stage, and a soft-structured carrier (SSC) is great for 3 months and onward. Just make sure to get an SSC with a good, wide bottom that supports the entire bottom and thigh (like Ergo, Beco, or Boba) instead of dangling baby by the crotch (Baby Bjorn, Infantino).

Old picture of Adam and the boys going for a walk! Oscar's face is great.

NO-- a crib. This isn't for everyone, but my family has personally done great without ever owning a crib. We just slept with the baby in our own bed. I recommend co-sleeping if you're planning on breastfeeding-- I had a couple months of getting up in the middle of the night to feed Oscar when we were on the learning curve, but since then, I have never gotten up in the middle of the night to feed. Having figured it all out with Oscar, I actually found Allen's newborn stage to be extremely restful-- I got up once a night to change his diaper, and that was it. The rest of the time, I woke up for the ten seconds it took to latch the hungry Allen on, and fell back asleep. I especially recommend co-sleeping if you'll be breastfeeding and working-- sometimes, when mom works, baby does something called reverse cycling where they sleep a lot during the day when mom is gone and wake up a ton during the night to feed and reconnect. Bring baby to bed, and voila!-- mom gets to sleep, baby gets the closeness s/he craves, everyone wins. This means I recommend taking the money you'd otherwise spend on a crib and YES--Queen- or king-sized bed.

If you decide to take this route, be absolutely certain to research safe co-sleeping practices!

For naps, we had a crib mattress on the floor, for reasons which tie into the next item:

NO-- a playpen or exersaucer. I am a strong believer in babyproofing the house so my babies can move freely to explore. I want them to be a part of my world and learn- while I'm there to watch and guide them- appropriate behavior around table edges, breakable objects, and stairs. It gives me peace of mind; it helps them develop motor skills and investigate things that interest them, instead of viewing it all from behind a mesh curtain or a chair that limits their movements. If I really can't spare the attention to make sure Allen is safe, I put him in the baby carrier.

YES-- Sensorial toys. One little joy of mine is being on the lookout for toys that will give my babies the biggest sensorial bang for the buck. By that, I mean toys that give them exposure to all sorts of different sounds, textures, smells, tastes, patterns, and timbres. For this reason, I avoid purchasing plastic toys-- they all pretty much feel, taste, and fall on the floor the same. Instead, I look for things around the house or in nature for the kiddos to explore. Out of all the stuff in the house, Allen's favorite toy right now is... get ready for it... a PINECONE!! You REALLY, truly don't have to go big-budget for toys.

Allen enjoying his little sensory basket. Right now, it has a wooden dinosaur, a pinecone, a wool yarn ball, a sea shell, a metal ring with old metal keys, a felt embroidered letter, a fabric/wood bead teething ring, and a lavender sachet.

YES-- a good kid's TV show. Science has proven that TV makes children aggressive, stupid, cancerous, and insert bad adjective here. But sometimes, I like to take a shower unaccompanied by the pounding of four little hands pounding on the door. Sometimes, I'm working on something hazardous and need both of them out of the way. Sometimes, I like to enjoy a little "grownup time" with my husband, interruption-free, secure in the fact that my kids will stay glued to one spot. If the price for a little parental sanity is that the kids have to watch half an hour of Thomas the Tank Engine, then I think it's a good tradeoff.

Read Part 2 for bath time, feeding accessories, and more!


The one-track mind of a toddler

Today, Oscar and I had this conversation:

Oscar: Oscar wants some blue applesauce! (He's referring to some blueberry applesauce we recently had)
Me: You want some applesauce?
Oscar: BLUE applesauce!
Me: Well, I'll see what I can find...
Oscar: Find blue applesauce.

What a silly.

Sharing his precious blue applesauce with Allen

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