I woke up this morning thinking about this, because we’ve been sorting through our storage bins that we left behind years ago, and getting rid of lots of old things we don’t need anymore, and keeping lots of things we do. But posting about it on Facebook *always* elicits responses. Of course, those responses generally come through private messages by people who are brave enough to question my life and my actions through a computer screen, but not brave enough to question them publicly. So the idea that us having “things” somehow defines us as greedy or insincere or wasteful has been on my mind, and I think I may have to disappoint my behind-the-scenes harasser. Because the private messages don’t hurt my feelings, and they certainly don’t prompt me into change. They just make me angry that people can’t be more in the forefront when they’re seeking to attack someone. So in response to the disdain expressed to me over the fact that I own “things”…..I’d like to give you MY viewpoint on minimalism. And why we don’t do it.
The constant question of minimalism keeps coming up…especially with us moving into the bus very soon. Because we bought a bus, people expect us to pare down our belongings to the bare ugly. Once you have kids, I think the concept of minimalism becomes a whole new beast. In my (short) 42 years, I’ve lived in such a variety of spaces, of different sizes and shapes, that I’d consider myself entirely flexible. However, kids change a lot of that. Not only do they require more “things” — like sports equipment and craft tools and learning books — but they also love to create…and then display…and reminisce….and keep their creations forever.
I remember reading an article when my daughter was just 2 years old, that really put a lot of things into perspective for me. At the time, I was working full-time and going to school full-time, mostly online or by independent study. I was doing everything I could to be as present with her outside of work as I could, and living on only about 3-4 hours of sleep a night. She was 2…creating…and living…and loving it. Noisy and rambunctious and moving quickly, always. And I was pulling my hair out with the messes and the added housework on top of everything else. Until I read this article. And it said: children emulate what they see. With my school books spread all over the house all the time, and me making meals in the kitchen, and laundry being sorted in the hallway, she saw my “creations” and so, she decided she must make her own. To a child, that is art. That is “work.” It wasn’t a mess, it was her contribution to our life. So I learned to ease up and go with the flow just a little bit more. I also learned not to throw away her creations. Her painting, her stories….she’d remember them even days later and go looking for them. Were they hung on the fridge, where they should be? Where she could mash her little body up against them, hug them adoringly and squish her fat little lips to her drawings? Or were they tucked under a pillow, or tacked to the wall, where she could trace her little baby fingers across them as she walked by? Discreetly disposing of a random sheet of white paper with one tiny handprint in the corner is hard to do when you have Toddler Eagle Eye on the case, and she’s taking inventory of her work on a daily basis.
The point is, kids require things. Even if you don’t buy your kids the “stuff,” they’ll find the stuff — any stuff — because they’re hands-on, they’re little doers, they’re builders, creaters, artists….whether you like it or not. So the whole idea of minimalism got shot in the foot when I had kids. Because whether it was a plastic art easel from the corner market, or a pocketful of rocks from the back yard, there was always going to be the “stuff” that children surround themselves with, so they can contribute. And they do. They paint, and draw, and build and MAKE things constantly. Especially at a younger age. Going through all of our storage bins that we left behind 4 years ago, I’ve discovered that in every one of them, there are handfuls of homemade cards, pictures, painted leaves and rocks, twig houses, baked clay ornaments…and it goes on and on and on. We still haven’t gotten to the bottom of all the “stuff we made for Mommy,” and unless you’re a heartless troll, I’ll bet you don’t throw those things away. I don’t. I have a pretty vast collection of memories of my chubby children sitting up to the table…or the coffee table…or sprawled out on the kitchen floor….hand-stamping giant-sized birthday cards or writing long, drawn-out love letters to Mom. Those things get to be catalogued into albums now, but there’s no way this side of heaven that I’m getting rid of any of them.
There is also this phrase I’ve heard quite a lot in regards to minimalism: “It’s not about the stuff, it’s about people.” Or something similar to that. I don’t know. I honestly don’t remember it verbatim. My eyes pass over the words almost as soon as they realize what it’s about. Why?? Because I find it condescending and rude. As if you can someone define “life” for everyone, and having fewer “things” makes you more of a complete person. Sometimes the “stuff” IS about the people..or the life..or whatever this argument is supposed to be saying. For example, I baked cakes for about a year. Beautiful cakes, I’ll admit. And then we went wandering, and all the cake tools went into storage. But when we came back, I got a handful of orders to do more cakes. And those cakes paid for some of the repairs on our handy little bus. See? It’s the “stuff” that makes the “life” happen. We have also been do-it-yourselfers for years. Most things I need…I build. Chicken coops, animal hutches, buses….so there are tools and tools and lots more tools. Our home products — shampoo, soap, candles, even herbal medicines — we make ourselves. So there are soap molds and candle molds and an abundance of glass jars and lots of herbs and spices and coloring agents, and yes….it takes up space. A lot of space, actually. But it’s a building block to our lives. And so those don’t go away, and they won’t just because there’s a current trendy movement saying they should. And precisely, once again, the same concept applies to my kids, who aren’t babies anymore…and who have interests that range from computer gaming to lacrosse to horse-back riding. 16 and 10, my babies are. And with them come bows, fishing poles, tennis rackets, lacrosse sticks, lots and lots of books (because we believe in old-fashioned hold-in-your-hand, smell-the-paper books!) and enought arts & crafts supplies that would make Joann’s weep. All of these things are tucked away nicely into their designated place in the bus (or in a bin on top of the bus, ready to make our long journey back home), and never once, in all of this cleaning process, did we consider throwing any of it anyway out of some misplaced sense of guilt for having “things.” Because the “things” are sometimes essential to making the Life. One rule I’ve tried to stick to in the past is, if it isn’t used in 6 months (sometimes we’ll stretch and call it a year), then it needs to come up for discussion…and then discarded. We’re deliberate people. We don’t have things in our pantry or on our shelves that are simply there for show. We DO a lot. We’re hands-on. Constantly. But every now and then, the occasional item will get moved around a little too much, and we’ll realize that it’s outlived its usefulness with us, and then it goes away. I’ve always felt like our home is a living machine…functioning, not just collecting dust…and if I may be so arrogant and uncool about it…I like our Stuff. 🙂
I’ve struggled with the minimalist movement, and a few personal comments I’ve gotten about the “stuff” we keep and of course, the always-helpful (cue sarcasm) suggestion to “just throw it out”….because it always come with a dose of condescension and superiority. I understand there are reasons behind people believing in minimalism, and they may be some very valid reasons. But I also know that a large number of the people pushing it are young. They haven’t had children yet. They haven’t built much of a life yet. They’re free to travel easily, lightweight and without a lot of attachments. I want to see those same people, who with such a voice of wisdom and authority, will tell others what they “need” to have and what they don’t, come full circle and try to balance that same belief with two children in school, a couple of dogs and twenty more years under their belt. There is also this idea that the more you have, the more shallow you are, and the less you love others, and the less you love the Earth, and blah blah blah. To that, I have very little response other than…what a hateful thing to say. Life is meant to be beautiful and fun and satisfying and fantastic. It’s very trendy these days to hate those who “have,” even if they’ve earned it. There doesn’t seem to be a whole of consideration to the fact that because a “thing” exists means that someone else out there had a job, that required that thing to be built and packaged and sold. Someone else took home a paycheck for doing that job, and that same someone else fed their family with that paycheck. And that’s *another* contribution to the economy, and society in general. Looks like a win-win to me all the way around! So why all the hate about consumerism and how much a person has? I guess I’m standing one foot on the “have” side and one foot on the “have not,” and I think I’m seeing both worlds pretty clearly. A year ago, I hit rock bottom to a point so low that we lost the vast majority of the physical belongings we had. We came back across the country in our Jeep, with just what we could fit in/on it. An event like that is traumatic, for me and especially for my kids. Going through our old storage shed and unearthing the “stuff” that we left behind has been like breathing new life into our family…and that includes all the “things.” I’m happy in our little bus…but I don’t lean toward minimalism, and I never will. My life…and my children’s lives…are our own. They shouldn’t mirror anyone else’s, and they shouldn’t be stripped down to nothing to satisfy a “movement.” We like the Stuff, and I don’t feel one ounce of guilt about it.
To us, minimalism is a life choice, like any other life choice. It’s just not one we’re choosing for ourselves.