Why I became a minimalist

I follow a primal way of living as much as possible – eating as closely to the way our Paleo ancestors did, focusing on my sleep, exercise, and stress management to improve my well-being. I adamantly believe that living in a minimalistic way is another aspect of this lifestyle, one which some people in the paleo-sphere might overlook.

Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines minimalism as “a style … that is characterized by extreme spareness and simplicity.” This viewpoint turn off most people. Two of the more iconic leaders of the minimalism movement (The Minimalists) define it this way:

Minimalism is a tool that can assist you in finding freedom. Freedom from fear. Freedom from worry. Freedom from overwhelm. Freedom from guilt. Freedom from depression. Freedom from the trappings of the consumer culture we’ve built our lives around. Real freedom.

https://www.theminimalists.com/minimalism/

This is what I have experienced in my own life. I wanted to use my blog post this month to write about my journey in this realm.

I come from a family of pack rats. My paternal grandfather is an immigrant from Italy. His family had to hide in the mountains when the Nazis came through his small village. He would sneak back into his own home at night to grab food and other necessities and return to the cave where he, his mother, and his two siblings would hide out. When my grandfather moved to the United States, he would save everything – empty plastic containers, boxes, anything that might serve another purpose in the future. Even now, at 89 years of age, my grandfather still saves tons of empty plastic containers, and other things, “just in case”.

These traits, and some from other family members, were passed onto me.

As a teen, I couldn’t get rid of anything. I had postcards from friends on vacation and pictures from summer camp underneath the glass on my desk. All kinds of tchotchkes from my own travels decorated my bookshelves, in between my beloved books. I started becoming interested in pop culture and would buy all of the teen magazines with the latest movie/television stars’ posters. I would carefully rip each one out and stick them to my bi-fold closet doors. The doors were literally wallpapered with these posters, to the extent that if I wanted to get into my closet, I would have to carefully take down the posters covering the hinges to open them. My closet was stuffed to the gills with clothes, as were my two large dressers.

When I was a young adult in college, the mentality of clothes hoarding took over my psyche. I would live for buying a new outfit to go out in and, after wearing it 2-3 times, it was no longer deemed “new”. The thrill was gone. It would hang in my closet or get shoved in my dresser, almost to be never worn again.

When I was a special education teacher in my early 30s, I would save all kinds of empty containers, even enlisting my friends to save their containers on my behalf. As a teacher of students with unique learning abilities, I had to make a lot of materials for my students and handcraft the curriculum. Pinterest served as a source of a plethora of homemade ideas.

Guess how many of those ideas I followed through on? Maybe two.

By the time I was in my late twenties, I was tens of thousands of dollars in credit card debt, thanks to a move across the country and joining a social group made up of singletons. We were very active – always going out to eat, the movies, something. Soon I would have trouble sleeping at night because I was worried about whether or not I would ever get my credit debt paid off because I was just barely able to make the minimum payments on a maxed out account. I would feel physically sick when I would think about my debt.

I was so overwhelmed and tired of doing laundry. I probably could have gone three months without doing any laundry at the peak of my clothes hoarding. I realized I wasn’t wearing most of the items. Once I counted how many pink items of clothing I had. Fifty-five items. Just pink. No other color. I didn’t fit into a lot of the clothing any more. Or it didn’t hang right. Or it was from the previous millenium. I began to get rid of things. It was freeing. After I had gotten rid of the bulk of my clothing, I realized that doing laundry was much more manageable. Since paring back, I have learned about Pareto’s principle – that a person only uses about 20% of what he/she owns 80% of the time – whether it’s clothes, books or something else. Completely true.

Then I met the man I would marry. He a very few belongings. A few pieces of furniture, some books, and his computer work station. I couldn’t believe that someone could live simply like that. When we got married and combined households, I had to condense my belongings, especially my clothes even more. We ripped out the large closet that was in the master bedroom and installed a wardrobe from Ikea, each having about two feet of closet space. We also bought new dressers. I had a total of four drawers. It forced me to pare down even more. I still had a considerable amount of clothing in the spare room closet, mainly offseason items. I finally started to part with those items as well. I could not even tell your how many scores of jammed-packed trash bags full of clothing I donated to Goodwill. So. Many. Dozens of carloads full. It’s so much easier to do laundry now. And guess what – Pareto’s principle is still true. I still only wear about 20% of what I have 80% of the time. Which means now it’s like the same 5-6 shirts.

I was a special education teacher for 9 years. That job was very stressful. There was little that I could control. Nothing, actually, outside of my own behavior. And that’s hard. I could not control the home lives of my students, if they ate breakfast before school or if they even ate dinner the night before. I couldn’t control if they went to to bed or got up on time. So every day was a challenge, depending on the mood of each tiny being as they arrived in my classroom each morning, ready or not to face the academic demands I would place on them that day. I would arrive home completely drained. I didn’t realize it for a long time, but especially after I got married, I felt like my house was always a mess. I didn’t feel that way when I was single and lived alone. It didn’t bother me then. But that changed when I got married. I felt more pressure to kept the house as clean as possible for my husband. Especially since I knew he didn’t like a lot of junk around. But there were so many nights where I was just too drained to deal with any of it. And there were a lot of nights where I was so anxious about the state of the house that I would work myself up over it.

I slowly started getting rid of things. I realized if I had less junk, there was less to get upset about. And then several moths on this journey, as I was looking for a philosophy to describe this, my sister told me about this documentary she had just watched on Netflix called “Minimalism”. I watched it and immediately I knew; this was what I had been searching for. I had a name for my ideals. I had people I could turn to for guidance down this new path.

I found out that the Minimalists had a podcast and started listening to all of the episodes. Most of my conversations with my husband started off, “I was listening to the Minimalists today and they said…” I am sure he got so sick of hearing those those words every day for at least a month.

I started parting with many more household and personal items. I was on a mission to clear out as much junk as possible. I found that getting rid of material things that I don’t really care about helped ease my anxiety. It was less visual clutter, less that I had to clean up and deal with, more over which I could gain control. I loved it.

As I listened more to the podcast, I learned that minimalism is not about a certain number of items that you own. It is not about deprivation. It is about you using the items that you do possess with intentionality and not letting your things possess you. I started making more conscientious decisions at the store – Will I get value out of this? Do I already own something that serves a similar purpose? What do I need to give up in order to obtain this item?

I have followed Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace program and have gotten myself out of debt, actually paying off my old credit card a couple of years ago. I do not use a credit card any longer and I do not miss it.

Minimalism does not just pertain to controlling physical clutter, but can also be extrapolated to other areas of life.

It’s all about simplifying life and getting back to basics. Cutting out all the crap that is not important or even damaging to our psyches and our bodies. I have learned so much from the Minimalists over the course of following them. Not just about managing my possessions but about living a more meaningful life in all aspects.

I found a part time job this year where I can help people liberate themselves from their abundance of possessions, become more organized, and regain order in their homes. I always leave each session with a client feeling like I have truly made a difference. (Blantant plug for Major Organizers!! https://www.majororganizers.com/location/san-antonio-tx/  If you are feeling overwhelmed by the state of your house, we can do a free estimate and discuss how we can help you gain order in your own household – that does not necessarily mean getting rid of ALL of your possesions, but our team can help you with letting go of items that no longer add value while organizing the items that do.)

For a lot of my possessions, I realized that I was holding on to an ideal of who I wanted to be. I don’t even know who that person was supposed to be. Mainly what the media or society made me feel like I had to attain. Once I cut out the constant barrage of media influence (dropping cable and subscribing to satellite radio mainly), I can decide what is important to me independently and make my own decisions.

In the past two years of my life, I feel like I am truly becoming the person I am supposed to be. Trying to get better everyday and trying to help others along the way. I know I am by no means perfect. NowI can focus on living a more meaningful, simpler, and hopefully happier, life now that I have eliminated so much of the non-essential in my life.

 

Gift ideas that focus on togetherness

So it’s that time of year where we feel the need to get gifts for everyone. But, as in the Grinch’s epiphany, “maybe Christmas, he thought…doesn’t come from a store. Maybe Christmas, perhaps…means a little bit more!” This post piggybacks off of last week’s, that it’s about presence and not presents, providing some ideas for gifts that aren’t just going to sit and collect dust. Christmas is about love and here are some great ideas to help spread that love while making memories with our loved ones.

Spa/salon/massage certificate or gift card

This is great for the person in your life who needs a little pampering. Getting a manicure with some girlfriends or sisters is a great way to spend an afternoon. And guys, it’s okay for you too! You don’t need to get polish to have someone soak and take care of your hands.

Dinner at a restaurant

A gift card to a favorite restaurant is great for a loved one who lives a distance away. For one who is closer, give them a certificate to take them out to dinner.

Dance/yoga/kickboxing classes

This would be a great time to try something different, like dance classes with a significant other or a belly dancing class with a couple of girlfriends.

Coupon for a service

Do you have a friend who just had a baby or an older person in your life who doesn’t get around as well as when he/she was younger? A voucher for babysitting or a day of help around the house or yard is sure to be greatly appreciated.

Movie/concert tickets

For someone who loves the movies or a particular band, tickets to the event would be a fun evening for you to do together. The event can even be a couple of months down the road. Sometimes the anticipation is part of the fun!

Donation

Maybe you have a loved one who holds a cause near to his/her heart, like cancer research, homelessness, or need of resources in a developing country. A donation in someone’s name is a caring gesture of that person’s values. There are foundations for every cause out there and local aid organizations. A couple of amazing international aid organizations are World Vision, Samaritan’s Purse, and Charity Water. Charity Navigator can also direct you to choosing the right one for your donation.

Tourist attractions

If you live in a big city, you sometimes take attractions for granted. Spend an afternoon playing tourist and do those activities that you haven’t done since an old school field trip, like visit a museum or local historical site.

Homemade consumables

A homemade sugar or salt scrub is very easy to make in large batches, as is dry cookie dough mix in a jar. For coffee and hot chocolate lovers, chocolate dipped spoons with a bag of their favorite drink is also a great idea. Get the kiddos to help bake and package family favorite holiday treats to hand out to friends. Pinterest is full of ideas!

 

Whatever you buy does not need to be expensive. What matters is that you spend time with the person. Look on Groupon for deals for different services and activities. If you have siblings or a group of friends, you can even agree instead of buying gifts, that you will all get a package to a certain class or spa service. And these gift ideas are good for other traditional giving occasions, such as Hanukkah, Valentine’s Day, and birthdays.

Things I wish I could tell my 21-year old self

Hindsight is 20-20. How I wish I had a time-turner (or a time machine, for you muggles) so that I could travel back to my 21-year-old self and sit down over a drink and lay some truths down. But then again, at 21 years old, one generally feels like he/she already knows everything.

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This past year, 2017, has been a really good one in my life. I feel like all of the puzzles pieces have fallen into place to create a more meaningful, simple life. Note: simple does NOT mean easy. I imagine the thought of my arrogance in thinking that I have life figured out probably makes God laugh, because this is truly not my life, but His. I wonder what my 60-year old self will think of this blog post.

Regardless, I have learned some really good lessons in the past decade and a half since entering the “real world”.

 

Never Say Never

Several times in my life I have been arrogant enough (hmmm…) to dare to tell God that I will never do something. Not long after that, every time, God has called me to do that very thing.

I said I would never move away from Cleveland, where I grew up and my family and friends pretty much all lived. When I was 28, I felt that God was calling me to move down to Texas. For four years when my best friend, who did live in San Antonio, would ask me every month when I was moving, “I’m not” was my standard reply. Then one morning I woke up and was like, “I think I’ll move to Texas!” Six months later, I was making the drive with my car jam packed with my belongings.

In college, I said I could never be a teacher. Then God called me to be a special ed teacher in San Antonio and I taught for nine years. I did love the work.

A few years ago, in my women’s Bible study, I vividly remember stating that God did not care what we ate, that there was no Biblical place for that idea.  Fast forward to January 2017 when I started following the Primal diet because I believe so deeply that God does care and that it does make a huge difference what we eat.

There are a few of other instances. It’s just funny how God changes our minds. And in every single instance, following through on what I said I would never do, has so greatly improved my life.

 

Your parents were right!

I remember in the mid-90s, my mom talked about the evils of refined sugar, white flour, and carbs. I would roll my eyes and try to ignore her. Yeah. See above.

 

Frustrated Mom

 

My parents tried to get me to budget my money and my mom would recommend Dave Ramsey’s books to me. I thought that because I worked in a bank and talked to people all day long with tons of credit card debt that I would be impervious to that pitfall. Cue a move across country and a very active, single lifestyle (trips, shopping, eating out) and usher in lots of credit card debt. Thankfully, when my husband and I first started dating, he was listening to Dave Ramsey and I finally did as well. We ended up both getting out of credit card debt and now know how to manage our finances.

Again, there are more examples, but those two are the most important issues on which I would tell my younger self.

 

Exercise and Eat Right

This may sound obvious. I wish I would have been more active when I was younger but I am so glad that I found my group, Camp Gladiator, when I did a few years ago.

My viewpoint on nutrition has changed so completely that I left my teaching career to focus on coaching others to value their own nutrition. What we eat has such a huge impact on our bodies. Duh, I know, but when I was getting my Primal Health Certification, it just struck me as truly amazing how our bodily systems all work in conjunction together. I was CONVINCED at one point, pre-Primal, that I had diabetes and a bunch of other ailments (slight hypochondriatic tendencies). Since eliminating grains, added sugar, and dairy from my diet, I no longer think I am coming down with anything. I feel so much better when I eat REAL food; I should have started this a decade ago.

 

Don’t Buy All the Things

This is part of what got me into all the credit card debt in the first place. I thought that buying THINGS would fill some void inside of me. And it would for a short time until I needed another fix. My “drug” of choice was clothing. It was truly disgusting how many articles of clothing I had. 90% of it didn’t fit or was outdated because I never got rid of anything.

 

shop

 

Over the past few years, I started getting rid of things – the benefit of getting married and combining two households into one. I found The Minimalists this spring and their podcast and documentary has added sooooo much value to my life! (A link to their page is on my Resources page.) Getting rid of all the crap, the clutter, the tchotchkes, the things that I never use, has made my life so much simpler!

 

Add Value to the World

 

I graduated college with a dual major in International Business & Economics and Japanese. I wasn’t sure what I would do but I wanted to be a “businesswoman”. I liked to travel and loved learning other languages and, as there was no other strong job calling, it seemed to make sense.

I was fortunate enough to get hired with a major bank a few months prior to graduating. After 5 years of doing a job that I thought trained monkey could do, I left. I had a strong desire to do something that actually made an impact on the world. This was when I felt called to move to Texas and be a special ed teacher.

A couple of years ago, I took three different personality tests to try and find the “perfect job” for me. No joke, each one told me “elementary teacher/special ed teacher”. I really wish I had taken this tests earlier. I have the “provider guardian” personality.

 

“Providers are observant, cooperative, informative, and expressive. They are greatly concerned with the health and welfare of those under their care and they are the nurturers of established social institutions such as businesses, churches, social clubs, and schools.”
  • Wikipedia, “Provider (role variant)” article

 

While I wish I would have learned this at the start of my adult life, I think of all the valuable lessons and experiences I have had along the way. Those lessons and experiences have made me who I am today. And I am at a point where I truly love myself.

 

These are just a few things that I am trying to teach to my kids now, while they are still young, to instill good habits. Some of it is taking hold and some, well, they are just kids.

Oh, and God, I am NEVER going to Tahiti!!!!

Presence not Presents

It is that glorious time of the year where we pack lots of social events, family time, cooking, baking, eating, shopping, wrapping, running around… into 6 weeks.

This year, maybe you can do something different. Slow down. Don’t focus so much on presents as presence.

Start some new family traditions.

Clean out the toy box or the closets and have your children help you take the items to a charity for donation. Teach them that just because they are done loving their stuffed bear doesn’t mean that another child won’t love it just as much. The way I explained it to my kiddos when they both still believed in Santa was that by us donating their old toys, moms and dads who want to buy gifts for their kids but maybe cannot afford brand new things, can buy these things to make their little ones happy.

Take nature walks or discover geocaching, which is basically a modern day treasure hunt.

Watch science experiment videos online and then perform them together (with proper safety precautions, of course).

Watch the home videos your parents took when you were a child. Our children love seeing us at our awkward stages in living color.

Make hot chocolate or tea and sit and have a conversation with them, especially if they are at an age where they still like to talk to you and even more so if they are in those difficult teen years where they don’t talk to any adult.

When the littles ask you to play an imaginary game, do it, even if it’s five minutes. You will only have so many more chances. Turn things like making dinner into a game. I call it cooking school. We put on our aprons and the girls do what they can according to their ability, usually really easy meals.

As a stepmom, I get less time with my two girls than a full-time parent, so I really need to make my time count. Some mornings it’s hard to pry the electronics out of the kids’ hands (and let’s be honest, sometimes my own) but once I am successful, the girls always have fun when we spend time doing something together. And I really value the time with them.

In terms of presents: Sure, you may have bought your children forty gifts each last year and might feel the need to surpass that this year. But if you don’t, your kids will live. A few years ago I saw this on Pinterest and I love it.

 

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https://moneysavingsisters.com/4-gift-christmas-challenge-want-need-wear-read/

 

Our culture is driven by mindless consumerism and meaningless materialism. It took me getting out of a lot of credit card debt to have my eyes opened, but this topic is for another blog post. As one of my heroes Dave Ramsey says, “more is caught than is taught”. Your children learn by watching what you do, not what you say. You remember that anti-drug PSA from the ‘80s…

 

6TlDHE

 

Anyway, just some thoughts on that. We just had the girls at our house for the past week and it’s always a little sad the day or so after they go back home. I am just feeling a little sentimental.