Minimize THIS: Part 4 – Playroom, Interrupted

If you’ve been following along, by this time you know that clutter makes me very anxious. In fact, the various shapes of plastic that are kids toys kind of make me want to scream, so when we were shopping for the house we currently live in, one of the selling factors was a finished lower level with what would make the PERFECT playroom. Thanks to this playroom, the mess would be confined to this one room and I wouldn’t have to look at piles of toys and junk and pieces and sticker books and dolls and trucks and train tracks in the other areas of my house.

Aaaaaaaand cue the LOL heard ‘round the world.

That is not what happens. Much like a colorful fungus, the toys and costumes and pretend kitchen items and craft stuff (#glitter; #cringe) have spread to all areas of the house. Creativity and play abounds!

And yet, much like the saying goes, they have really enjoyed just “playing with the box.”box toy We apparently purchased something that came in a massive box, and now the pretend shopping mart that it has been shaped into is my kids’ prized play thing. Looking at it makes my stomach turn, but I’m trying to see it through their eyes. They envisioned it and created it, and made it into their own and actually play with it. So who am I to judge? (Ugh. It’s just so displeasing to my eyes and hurts my soul.)

 

 

I think that playrooms fall subject to unrealistic expectations and what parents envision versus what actually facilitates healthy and stimulating play for children.

Furniture stores, such as Pottery Barn (oh how I looooooove me some PB!) and Ikea would have you believe that kids’ playrooms are always neat and organized with little pods of tidy learning and play. Those of us who are parenting from the trenches of this War on Excess, however, know that these images are clearly the calm before the storm and that clearly no child has come in contact with these “play rooms.” Like, ever.

 

I have not actually tackled the playroom. In fact, past attempts at minimizing it have only slightly delayed the total bursting of the seams, which is about where we are now. The other night, I was working on the garage (a whale I am eating one bite at a time) and Little Princess came out to “help,” only to find baggies of toys that I had sorted and earmarked for donation. She claimed to have been “looking for those forever” and immediately reclaimed them. They were scattered over her bedroom floor within minutes.

The girl . . . she emotionally attaches to things. I get it; I have a tendency to overthink my connection to “things” as well. I think that shows she is empathetic; she feels as though her things can feel, and opens her heart. The boy . . . he does not really care. He is still pretty concrete and out of sight = out of mind for him. But the fact remains that the playroom and other nooks and crannies in our house are filled with broken and fragmented items, things that have been long outgrown, and duplicates. These are what I am going to address first with the playroom and toy situation, as the kids are still young and I don’t want to scar them. (I can envision them telling a therapist that things were going well in life until their mom threw out all their stuff in a fit of minimalistic rage.)

I want this to be a positive experience for my kids.

I want them to understand the value of things and what we can do with things we don’t use or are too grown-up for. This has led to some deep-ish conversations with the kids (ages 6 & 3) about how fortunate we are and how others do not have as much as we do, and if they no longer play with a toy, how wonderful would it be for them to show love to another child by giving it to them to play with.

Easy, right?

I’m kidding. That was a hard sell and immediately aroused suspicion in the ranks. It’s like the scene in Toy Story when the all band together to make sure none of them get tossed. And in a way, the Toy Story saga shows a great evolution of the problem we are dealing with here:  How do we hold onto what we love? And once we have no use for it anymore (such as a toy we played with as a young child), what is the point of holding onto it? SPOILER ALERT COMING – IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN TOY STORY 3, AVERT YOUR EYES…  Just as Andy does, he realizes that he loves his toys and wants them to continue to be loved and therefore hands them down to his little neighbor.

I love that concept:  Sharing and passing on the love of special items. It’s hard to get rid of things sometimes because a memory is attached to it. But just because the item is no longer with you, that doesn’t mean the memory disappears.

I read a trick once where if someone had a hard time parting with something “special” but knew it just served no purpose any longer, she would snap a picture of it so she always had that visual reminder of the memory and could do away with the tangible item.

So back to the Kids’ Playroom…. I’m going to tackle it little by little. It will be more organizing and sorting than removing, I am sure, but I know I will focus on eliminating (as much as possible) these things:

  • Toys & items that are no longer age appropriate
  • Things that have been broken or are mismatched/missing pieces
  • Duplicate toys

Exceptions to this will be:

  • Removing of anything that causes the kids emotional angst*

*That exception might not seem very “minimalistic” or make me sound like a softy, but as my mom always says, one day they will be completely grown-up and moved out, and that will give you a really sad reason to get rid of all of it.  I will not miss stepping on a Lego, but I will miss the happy colors and sounds and joyous faces of play.

The playroom is a big project that must be tackled, but it is not a huge priority at this point. I just want it done before Christmas, giving Woody and Buzz time to strategize on what to do when the new toys arrive.

toystory

There will be more to come on the status of the playroom.  I know so many people with kids who are overwhelmed by all the play “stuff,” and when kids are involved, it isn’t as easy as just bagging it up and tossing it. It’s a journey for them, too, and should be a gentle and positive one.

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Minimize THIS, Part 3: The Master Bathroom

*Note:  The featured/cover image for this post is NOT my bathroom. If it was, you would have to sedate me heavily and/or burn it down. I simply used it for dramatic effect.

*Sub-note:  If this DOES look like your bathroom, no judgement. To each her own. 

Ah, the bathroom.

This one was both easy and hard for me. On one hand, I just LOVE getting little samples of products and trying new things when it comes to my face, skin, and hair. On the other hand, there’s just so damn much of it.

All my life, I have been in search of that perfect shampoo, conditioner, and styling product that will give me movie star hair, as well as any stuff I can slather on my face that will give me the tan, dewy look of J.Lo.

Well, guess what, such things don’t exist. I rotate shampoo and conditioner now because Shampoo Fatigue is a real thing, and I am of Scott-Irish/German descent – ain’t nothin’ going to make me look tan (or like J.Lo). I turn red. Best for me to focus on sunscreen.

I have been the grateful recipient of those little sample goody boxes many times in the past. Oh, how I love them. They’re wrapped so pretty and cute! And there’s just something so fun and gratifying about trying stuff for cheap or free in conjunction with the miniature size.

Give me allllllll the perfume samples ya got. Trial size = My size. Hand it over. Hotel toiletries = squeeeeeeeeeal with delight! Especially when I get my hands on some that you won’t find in your everyday Hampton Inn; those gems go into my permanent collection. #FRIENDSreference (only die hard fans will get that reference)

friends

All of it. It has to go.

So, I put on my elbow-length gloves and oxygen mask and dove into the abyss that is the underbelly of my sink.  (Ok I’m exaggerating. I went in with a couple old grocery sacks. Trying to paint a picture here.) With much strength and delight, I managed to fill three Target grocery bags. Two of them were complete and utter garbage; the other bag was filled with unused toiletries that I promptly dropped off at my local Ronald McDonald House. (Many places will happily take these unused mini-sized hygiene products off your hands! Check with schools and shelters around you, and always consider Ronald McDonald House as well.) Get real with yourself:  So long as you are buying regular sized shampoo, conditioner, soap, etc., you are never going to use these bite-size versions.

I found nail polishes that had completely separated and solidified (out they went!). I found enough bobby pins and hair ties to last my daughter and I a lifetime. I got rid of attachments to styling tools that I don’t even own anymore and never worked right anyways, and threw out the duds and the crud.

Once finished, I managed to liberate SIX small storage bins and TWO cosmetic bags from their useless contents, and now my bathroom vanity looks uncluttered and refreshed, and opening the drawers and doors no longer feels like a fossil excavation.

No shame; no pride. It’s just all gone and I feel happy. I kept exactly what I need or use daily; nothing more, nothing less. I even tossed some nearly full bottles of some not-so-cheap products because, let’s be honest, IF WE HAVEN’T USED IT YET, WE AREN’T GOING TO USE IT.

It hurt to feel like I was being so wasteful, but instead of admonishing myself for waste, I embraced that icky feeling that came with throwing out money and realized that I didn’t want to feel it anymore. Lesson learned! I only have to touch the hot furnace once to know it’s hot. I’ll use what I use and use what I have, and if it runs out I will replace it.

In this journey to prioritize, minimize, and organize, I have found it both overwhelming and cleansing. I have done so much already… kitchen drink ware, junk drawer(s), linen closet, my bathroom, my dresser, and even my husband has done his part of the dresser AND closet (my closet = my Everest). We are making so much progress!

But to think that I still have to tackle my closet AND the kids’ playroom makes my stomach turn. Then there’s the garage and other random places we have shoved stuff over the years just knowing that we would use it (sarcasm).

So, if anyone is thinking of following me down this road to less stuff, I would recommend making a list of different segmented projects to tackle. To help boost your confidence and motivate you, pick a smaller and more manageable project first. Remember that a journey of a thousand miles begins with one step! And any other cliche’ sayings you can come up with about taking on a project.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Minimize THIS, Part 2: Red Dots of Shame

I am the “NO RED DOTS” kinda gal. I hate to see those pesky little things. When I look down at my phone and see a Red Dot of Shame, I instantly feel compelled to address it. I’m sure that says a lot about my personality, but for the purpose of minimizing, it was something that I knew I simply had to address as they represent clutter to me. A task undone or something that needs put behind me so I can relax.

So, I spent an hour or so cleaning up my phone. I deleted apps that I rarely or never use. I left unecessary group messages and Facebook groups. I even removed some people from my social media accounts (gasp!). It felt good to clear the virtual clutter. Probably the biggest source of the red dots that drives me nuts are the emails. I have three email accounts linked to my phone, and I truly do use all three of them. One gets maybe 2-3 emails a week (totally manageable). The other is for work, so those emails are necessary. The other account is my main “personal” account, and it is OUT OF CONTROL. Of course, it is the one I used to sign up for accounts to buy things or sign up for stuff or get on a mailing list. Basically, it is where marketing and promos come to die. It’s a black hole, and I’m constantly hitting delete, delete, delete.

I wonder how many of these emails are things I actually need? Which of them adds value to my day or life? Certainly not the multitudes of notifications about sales and discounts. The goal here is de-cluttering, right? Not buying more crap. Bottom line:  This inbox is a challenge.

Well, CHALLENGE ACCEPTED. I decided to go one week without deleting the red dots in this particular inbox to see how many I received versus how many actually contained valuable info.

Challenge-Accepted

I made it one day. I just hate those dots so bad!

So in this first day of what was supposed to be a week of ignoring the Red Dots of Shame on my email, I had over 100 emails come in. Of those 100+ emails, ONE of them was worth my time in opening (it was from The Skimm, in case you’re curious).

The rest were notifications of notifications from Twitter and Facebook (who needs an email when you have the red dots staring you in the face on the app itself), sales from Zulily, Dick’s, Nordstrom, J.Crew, Gymboree, Pottery Barn, Oriental Trading, eBates, eBay, Shutterfly, Old Navy, Draper Jones (Dear Lord, I’m as basic as they come, aren’t I?)… and a couple other stupid things I have signed up for along the way in the hunt for retail therapy. I also get some political emails and such from “causes” or organizations wanting donations or support of some kind. I thought long and hard about getting rid of  those because I don’t just want to cease being involved, but these emails are not what makes me “give” to things that are important to me or wanting to be involved. I get these emails because I did make a donation or gave support in some shape or form at some point in time, and if I want to give or support them more in the future, I know where to find them. Therefore, they’re gone from the inbox.

Well… NO MORE! I saved these emails for another reason:  At the bottom of alllllll these emails is the option to Unsubscribe, which is what I will spend some time doing until my inbox is back under my control. I did the same for ads and groups on social media, getting rid of what isn’t contributing positively or adding distraction.

It is also worth noting that, sure, I could maybe try to change my thinking on the red dots. Maybe the emails/group messages/app notifications can wait and I don’t need to be so uptight about them. But that’s not my goal here. I am prioritizing, organizing, and minimizing. If it isn’t adding value to my life, then it is going away. I’m not going to change who I am or how I feel (can’t teach an old dog new tricks, amiright?), instead I am going to change the circumstances and conquer The Great Red Dot Reduction of 2018 with joy. I also know that you can disable notifications within apps, but that doesn’t help the amount of crap flowing into the app and therefore jumping into your face when you open said app or inbox. This is a reduction act, not a disabling act.

In my research and self-reflection for this piece, I came across an article about young folks/millennials who are using flip phones instead of smart phones. It’s a little bit about cost and durability, but it is also about their realization that life exists outside of their device. From a more “minimalistic” standpoint, that completely makes sense! (Remember…. I bought something with my FACE! Which means that the phone is quite often pointed at my face.) Much of this journey toward less means getting more out of life, and I don’t know that we can do that with a phone scanning our face all day long.

To be clear, and to avoid any accusations of hypocrisy or being preachy, I am not going to give up my phone, nor do I think that anyone should give up their phone. Like I have said before, I don’t think that I will ever be a true Minimalist in every sense of the word. This is more about the journey to realize what brings value to our lives, hence the removal of the DRD’s (Damn Red Dots), unnecessary apps, and people on social media who I wouldn’t say “hi” to if they passed me on the street.

That was my litmus test, by the way. As I went through Facebook for example, I asked myself,

“if this person were to pass you on the street, would you say hi?”

If the answer to that question was no, off they went. It’s a friends list, after all. Wouldn’t you say hi to a friend you passed? And would you want people who you don’t really feel comfortable saying “hi” to seeing pictures of you, your family, and things going on in your life? I’m a very social person; I always say hi (thanks for that life skill, Mom), so this was a pretty good test as I am not a shy person. More reserved folks might not find this a good way to weed out unnecessary floating heads on your page, but it sure worked like a charm for me!

Minimalism. It’s not just about tamping down the “stuff” in our houses or literal junk surrounding us. It’s about slowing down a little bit and realizing what is necessary and valuable to us in our lives. I, like many, feel as though I look at my phone too much. Part of that was because of those damn red dots. What an epiphany it was to realize that I have major control over these little phone pimples that draw me in and away from the real world.

Minimize THIS, Part 1: Important Papers & The Kitchen

We have plans to remodel many parts of our home. Yes, I realize this may sound counter-intuitive to my journey in minimizing, but hear me out.  Our home is where we spend much of our time. We bought this specific house because of its layout that we felt made it a place where our family could really maximize our time spent together. We also love to entertain (a more mature and professional way of saying we like to party I suppose) friends and family. It adds value to our lives. So, there are certain specific changes to our home that I do want to make because this is our “Forever Home” and we don’t have any plans to leave it. Therefore, we want it to be ours and exactly what we want and purchased it knowing there were changes we would be making.

It is actually the thought of remodeling that made me want to start sorting, organizing, and purging. Let’s take the kitchen, for example. If we want to renovate it, that is going to involve removing all the junk from within. SCARY! Wouldn’t it be nice if, come time to remodel, we only had the necessities in there that would require temporary relocation and then subsequent replacement back into the new space? Aha! See… It’s not about buying more stuff; this is about making our kitchen and family living space more functional and organizing it in such a way that makes the remodel process more efficient. Prioritize, minimize, organize! Plus, we all know what happens when you box up junk you don’t need or use:  It ends up staying in said box in the garage/attic/storage unit until Kingdom Come. I want to avoid that.

I digress.

Back to the “Important Papers.” Being an adult requires some semblance of having your s*** together, so a while back, we had purchased a fire-proof safe for our important documents such as birth and marriage certificates, deeds, passports when not in use, etc. It has been sitting in our family room for weeks and weeks. I think since Christmas to be exact, but who’s counting? (I am.)

file-cabinet1

I became overwhelmed as I sat in our family room (didn’t help that I surrounded by piles of laundry and watching that darn Joanna Gaines build a dream home) thinking about how in the heck I was even going to start getting this place into order. You know that saying, “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.”? The important papers were Bite #1. I went through the old file we used and sorted out old stuff that is now pointless, such as the papers on a car that I haven’t owned in five years, and filtered out the important documents, realizing that I am actually missing one of our social security cards! Yikes! I managed to get about eight “folders” of crap into two folders in the new box. It felt great, and I was instantly proud of what a responsible adult I am.

Then the kitchen knocked my ego down a peg or two.

I started with the infamous Junk Drawer. We all have one, right? Tell me you have one. I know you have one. It’s a drawer in your home (ours has always been in the kitchen) that you have to yank a few times before it actually opens because of all the eclectic items contained within that are blocking it from opening. Sometimes, you might actually be afraid to put your hand into it because nothing is off-limits in The Junk Drawer, and who knows what tetanus-inflicting sharp you might blindly encounter.  Full disclosure:  I found razor blades, lighters, crayons, glue, a Q-tip, $1.50 in change, five different kinds of tape, and allergy medicine in mine, just to name a few. In fact, go ahead and Google images of “junk drawer” and I guarantee you will see some images and think they sneaked into your house and took a picture of yours. All junk drawers were created equal, apparently.

junk drawer

Then that one drawer turned into the two next to it, then the cabinets above, and then a mini-meltdown later, my very sweet, supportive, patient, and tolerant husband was in on “the fun.” Off to the Dollar Store he went to (eeeeeek! Not buy more stuff, right?!? Well, yeah… read on) get some organizational supplies such as drawer organizers, gallon Zip-Lock bags, and large totes (which will be emptied by the end of all this minimizing and eventually ditched as well. After all, less stuff = no more totes).

Next thing you know, I realize that I own over 30 wine glasses, and that we have way more drinking vessels than a family of four should have. Hell, we have more drinking vessels than the Von Trapp family would need. Out they go! Tote #1 is filled, along with three very full trash bags of pure, undeniable JUNK.

So tell me, what’s in your junk drawer?

Now, go empty it.

Minimize THIS: Stuff = Stress

I bought something with my face. Yes, you read that right. I wanted to purchase something on my iPhone X, and all I had to do was look at the screen and POOF! Purchase confirmed. I have also purchased things with my thumbprint or a quick little password (which my devices all so very conveniently save for my own ease and comfort – how thoughtful!). It’s that easy.

It’s too easy. And now there is stuff everywhere and I’m drowning in it.

I’m the opposite of a procrastinator, more of a ruminator really – anything hanging over my head MUST get done before even a modicum of relaxation can flutter in. I dwell on things more than I should. I have also never been one who can relax in a mess or surrounded by clutter, so the combination of all our “stuff” (that’s putting it nicely) and the need I feel to sort and purge is becoming overwhelming to me lately. It’s not so much a need for “spring cleaning” as it is to feel like have regained control over my home and the things in it. I crave organization, and we are nearing max capacity.  We love to have fun and enjoy life, and often time that fun means acquiring the appropriate “stuff” with which to have specific said fun.  But in this life, especially with kids, we have accumulated SO MUCH STUFF that I almost cannot even stand it. It’s making this perpetual worrier even more uptight, and one weekend it came to a head…

jerry mcguire

Enter “Minimalism.” I have been reading a little bit about this concept lately and researching it just out of curiosity (and maybe a tad of desperation). I recently heard a story about a person who has one plate, one fork, one cup, etc, for each person in her family and that is it in the way of dishes. When you use your plate/cup/fork/whatever, you immediately wash it and put it away. I don’t know that I will ever achieve that level of minimal possessions, but I am very interested in the idea of filling our lives with things other than knick-knacks, plastic goodies, things we don’t really need, and plain old junk. I’m skeptical that I will ever pare down our belongings to the point that I can actually declare myself a true Minimalist, but I am sure as heck going to learn about this concept and take away things from it that I feel will benefit my family and the way we want to live on our little piece of this third rock from the sun. I want to feel like I can truly organize what we need versus just trying to find an unoccupied space for something. I want to evolve, explore, and experiment with maybe not buying that thing I want from Amazon just because I can buy it and think I need at that very second, only to have it soon forgotten and left to contribute to the mass of stuff. (Instant gratification, anyone?) I want to get real about the shame I sometimes feel about the massive collection of toys (for both adult and kids) that sometimes seem to have taken over our home. I am going to have the uncomfortable conversations with myself and my family about what it really means to feel fulfilled, and where that fulfillment comes from, and how we can start peeling back the layers to truly reveal our love-filled home. It’ll be a journey, for sure, and not something that will happen quickly at all. As I have heard from some friends of mine, “Experiences; not things.”

I’m thinking of this as “exfoliating” our house (and life), one section at a time. And I cannot wait to see the gunk that comes off her face!

So, I invite you to join me on this exploratory adventure to unburden ourselves from much of the truly unnecessary and excessive as we try to enrich our lives with the more meaningful. If anything, for entertainment value because I assure you, it will probably get ugly at times. At the same time, I’m also looking forward to the side effects of this and the things we learn as a family. I mean, there are obvious financial benefits to procuring “less,” and I am envisioning the yard sale to end all yard sales. It’s about a quality of life and living a lifestyle that is truly our “style,” not the one that we think we are supposed to have. It will truly be an adventure. There’s got to be a happy medium on the spectrum between drawers too full to close and tiny house dwellers. Please do not picture us living in our yard in tents with only a backpack to survive; that is not what this is about. I’ve never been one to rough it, but it’s gone too far.

TBH

PS – You should prepare yourself for Troop Beverly Hills references if you come along on this journey with me.

I had a small, but poignant, epiphany recently from our family vacation to Canada:  I cannot remember ever feeling so relaxed and my heart so full as I did during this entire vacation (not an easy task when trapped in a car for several hours with two young kids), and yet we did not come home with ONE. SINGLE. SOUVENIR. The thought of purchasing anything besides food, tickets to attractions, and cold drinks never really crossed my mind. We came home with two Christmas ornaments that our friends so graciously gifted to us to always remind us of this amazing trip and experience, but aside from that, nada. No stuffed animals (that would soon be forgotten), no shirts (that would fall to the back of the drawer causing a clothing clog), no tangible mementos of any kind. When I realized this had happen, I panicked at first. “Shouldn’t we have bought something for our parents?! What about something cute for the kids so they remember this trip? Oh my gosh we literally brought back nothing except dirty laundry!”

Ummmmm . . . we also brought back about gazillion lifetime memories with our kids and great friends, Holly. Geesh. Get a grip.

This is going to be one heck of a journey.

keep throw away