Today let’s talk about minimalism. I really like it when everything is clean and organized, whether on the inside of me or in our home. I tried to put my own definition of this concept on paper numerous times but kept coming back to the awesome wording of two guys I really admire: The Minimalists. Here’s their take on it:
“Minimalism is a lifestyle that helps people question what things add value to their lives. By clearing the clutter from life’s path, we can all make room for the most important aspects of life: health, relationships, passion, growth, and contribution.”Joshua Fields Millburn & Ryan Nicodemus
I simply could not describe it any better. Thank, Joshua and Ryan. For me, minimalism is much more than “declutter” or “Marie Kondo”. That may be a part of it, but in my view it is not the basic idea.
Put on your glasses
For me the thought of Peter Rosegger is very significant:
“Poor aren’t those who have little, but those who need much.”Peter Rosegger
Among other quotes I use this one as my “glasses” or “filter” through which I look at my whole life. Whether it’s a new pair of shoes, a big house or a packed schedule.
I am an absolute opponent of “faster, higher, stronger”. I’m pretty sure everyone knows that it comes at the expense of our global resources (environment, time, money, health, etc.) But I am also aware of the fact that it goes against the mainstream. Honestly? I couldn’t care less. I have no problem walking on the narrow path here. The Bible calls us to be satisfied and above all to be grateful with what we have.
“But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.”1 Timothy 6, 6-8
Outer order = inner peace
Oftentimes when people come to our apartment for the first time (or the tenth time), I get feedback like this: “I love your place, it’s so clear and structured yet comfy and cozy.” “Everything has its place here but it doesn’t feel sterile.” “The atmosphere here is so calming. It’s not such a cluttered place.”
I love to get feedback like that – it describes perfectly well why we live the way we do. At some point after my breakdown in 2010 I had finally learned that I need outer order to achieve inner peace and calm. My children have come to like this principle, too. They love when we’ve finished cleaning the play area in our living room before dinner. Most days they’ll help, some days they don’t. That’s ok. What I want them to get a hold of is this “aaah” moment of “all is clean and it makes me calm down”. Furthermore, it’s a great way to start fresh the next morning.
It’s the same effect a decluttered room has on my daughter. Sometimes I’ll surprise her and clean up while she’s at school. When she steps into her room I can literally hear her sigh and smile. “Mom, thank you so much! Now I’m able to breathe again in here.”
My husband and I make sure our dining room table is cleared and clean every night before we go to bed. Just like we follow God’s advice to not let the sun go down on our anger (Ephesians 4, 26), we also don’t let the dining room table go down in chaos each night.
Sometimes the kids and I have a talk regarding “I want”. The may want to buy new toys, new clothes, you name it. We make time to discuss and the kids can explain why they think they actually need this or that. They both know they won’t always get what they want – but guess what? Yep, they can try sometimes and get what they need.
Anyway, our kids know that with one income only our budget is more limited than if I was out in the workplace, too.
Let me illustrate: Last year just after we’d returned from a marvelous two weeks in Tuscany our kids wanted another two weeks vacation. Tuscany, of course! Both were rather upset and disappointed when we said “no”. After they’d calmed down I took some time to sit and talk. In an age-appropriate way I explained to each one of them (4 and 7):
Traveling and vacation time cost money. If we went on another two week trip to say Tuscany it would need more income. This in turn would mean both kids having to stay at day care in the afternoon instead of relaxing at home. I explained that for the time being, mommy and daddy decided that daddy would be the bread winner and mommy would be the home maker. And that is why the daughter can come home at noon right after school. And that is why the son can come home from the forest preschool at noon, too.
I can tell you that: It got them thinking. It got really quiet in the room for a while. Then they both spoke up and each one explained that they value coming home to the “calm and cozy” of our place at noon each day much more than going on another vacation. Needless to say, I was an emotional mess on the inside. Like a good mess.
It’s give and take, baby!
Here’s another example: Clothes. There’s a rule in our family. When a new pair of shoes makes its way to the shelf, another one goes. Same with pants, shirts, etc. There are plenty of platforms to trade in or give away second hand. Craigslist, LetGo, ebay and so on.
On a regular basis (every three to four months) I sort through every closet and shelf. And that’s where something like Marie Kondo‘s books and advice come in handy. We donate a lot of the things we sort out. It goes to families we know, humanitarian aid and homeless shelters. Whenever we pack a stack of clothes I explain to the kids why we do what we do.
Just today my daughter decided it was time to declutter her closet. By herself. An hour passed, then she came to me with a stack of clothes she’d outgrown. She knows we will give her clothes to a family where the little girl will be happy to receive a cute jumpsuit and summer dresses that are in great shape. It is more blessed to give than to receive (Acts 20, 35).
My husband and I have a running gag we’ve been using to tease each other for many years. For example, if my husband finds something he sees no use for, he asks the question: “Is this art or can we toss it?” With that method the rest of the family gets one last chance to explain the usefulness of the item. Or not. And then it goes. Besides donating we also sell lots of stuff on second hand platforms. I make sure that anything that’s broken either gets fixed or thrown away. We don’t hoard garbage around here.
One of the most important matters where going against the mainstream and following the concept that the bible teaches is the one I’d like to word “values/mindset/moral code”. I find it hard to put this in just one word since it’s so complex. It’s about being yourself and not trying to please others. You can read more about this here.
Either I chose the narrow path or I walk along the broad and comfortable way. One cannot serve two masters. You can’t have your cake and eat it, too.
What does that mean for my everyday life? Here’s an example: I can’t overload my schedule and be a part of every event that’s currently fancy if I still want to have space to rest, write or read. “Simple living” means saying “no” sometimes. No to appointments, no to obligations, no to well-meant invitations. Every YES in your life requires a NO elsewhere (I shared about this topic in this blog text). It boils down to this: Just as I keep my closet uncluttered I keep my schedule “well-ventilated”.
Now let’s get real. Last week was the first week since the corona lockdown here in Germany that both (!) kids were in preschool and school all morning. That meant five mornings (9.30am to 12pm) to myself. What? That sounded like Christmas and Birthday and whatnot all in one week! Wanna know what I ended up doing? I fell right into the good old performance trap. Every. Single. Morning. I literally took no time to unwind, rest, or read, let alone write. Don’t get me wrong – all my activities and appointments were splendid and amazing ones. But I know I am an introvert and highly sensitive person (HSP), ergo spending time by myself in the quiet is a must if I want to stay energized.
When Saturday came around, I was a mess. Completely depleted and “peopled out”. I share this because I want you to know that just because we know something or write about it doesn’t mean we know how to live it. My solution was simple. I was gracious with myself and will try again in the week to come.
Give it a try!
In closing I’d like to share a few of the things I’ve integrated into my life. The list isn’t in alphabetical or chronological order. No order, really. These are merely ways of living simple and with awareness as a family of four. Can’t wait to hear from you!
Ten easy ways to start:
- Chose one room in your home to start with. The goal is to declutter. Grab a big empty box, put it in the middle of the room and then just fill it with all the stuff that has no use or is broken.
- Go to your inbox. How many newsletters do you receive that you subscribed to once upon a time but haven’t even opened in the last weeks or months? Unsubscribe.
- Go to your shoe rack. Look at all the shoes and be radical: Any pair that hasn’t been worn in the last 12 months can go.
- Is your birthday coming up? Instead of receiving stuff you have no use for, let your guests know that you’ll do it differently this year. “Donation party” is what it’s called. You choose a charity and your friends can contribute a monetary donation or material good.
- Books, CDs, DVDs, Games – before they collect dust on the shelf, sell them. Or make someone else happy by putting the books in one of the open book boxes near you. Find out more here.
- Spice rack: the classic. It’s called shelf life for a reason. Check the date and say good bye.
- Trash and clutter in the car: Whoever exits the car, grabs his or her belongings. Yep, that includes everything.
- Write a list before going grocery shopping. And stick to the list. Ignore the “on sale” signs.
- Cell phone, keys and wallet: Do you have to search the house for these things often? It wastes precious time and nerves. Discipline yourself to put them in the same spot when you come home.
- Medicine cabinet: Same story as with the spices. Sort through it all. Expired medicine has to go.
- Your schedule: This week, sit down and have a close look at your calendar. Is every appointment, every invitation really necessary? Really? If not – decline/cancel. And block at least one hour that is a non-negotiable. That appointment is called “me time”. Use that hour to do something nice. That would include anything labeled “self care”.
Once again, very relatable and insightful, Constanze. Right to the point but written in a thoughtful way. Easy to read and very meaningful. One question: what does HSP mean? Thank you as always for provoking introspection.
Thanks Martin for the encouraging words! So blessed to have you in my life. HSP means highly sensitive person. It goes back to Dr. Elaine Aaron’s definition.