It's pretty obvious from the title of this blog that I live in a small space. At 1,200 square feet, the house I share with my husband, toddler son and rescue dog is pretty tiny for American standards. For the five years we rented this house as a couple + a dog, the lack of square footage was never really an issue. But once we had our son, bought our home and started making some major changes to the space (including taking down a main wall to create an "open concept" main floor) the smallness started to feel really claustrophobic.
Which was surprising.
We have always aimed to keep things "simple" (we don't even own a TV!) and generally don't clutter up our space with lots of decor. But we had never really made a conscious effort to not consume; my husband and I hadn't sat down, looked each other in the eye and decided to be mindful about being minimalists. The biggest drivers for us to have that conversation were trifold: becoming a family of three + changing the shape of our space + needing to manage our money better. I'll walk you through the why + how of each.
1. Becoming a family of three: It is AMAZING how quickly a baby can take over your entire life, including your entire space. Sippy cups, bottle racks and snacks all over the kitchen, tiny clothes in constant rotation from hamper to washing machine and back to hamper (or strewn around the house). And the toys. Oh the toys. For us, it's trucks and books EVERYWHERE. And the thing is, I'm at peace with this. My son is a vital member of our family and his shit is just as important as mine. What I've realized is that this does not mean that his shit needs to be underfoot all the time.
One morning this winter, sitting on my couch, clutching my coffee at 5am on a Sunday, I was watching my son flitting around our living room - he'd read a book & throw it to the side, grab a truck & toss it under the couch, trip over a toy plane & grab another book, get distracted by a pile of blocks & fall over the blocks when he noticed his push cart, try to push the cart & get stuck in toy truck traffic, notice his little kitchen set & start playing there... And on.
He was playing, but it was sporadic and, I started to notice, really unsatisfying for him. Up until this point I hadn't questioned the chaos of having toys everywhere; everyone I knew with kids had a big playroom or living room area full of kids toys and that's just what naturally happened at our house. I thought it was inevitable.
But that morning, something became so obvious to me. I wasn't sitting there surrounded by every item I owned. My shit had places where it lived. And it was living in those places. If I had every book, lap top, magazine, candle, writing implement, journal, etc. that I owned piled all around me I would be SUPER distracted and SUPER overwhelmed.
That afternoon, while my son napped, I made a plan to give everything he owned a "home". The trucks and cars all went into their own big basket, the books were divided into two baskets, one that stayed in our living room for easy access and another that lived in his room, I divided his stuffed animals into two categories - little and big - and stuck the little ones into a basket and put it on his shelf and put the big ones in a basket next to his crib so he could have easy access for nighttime comforting. I went through all of his blocks, figurines, etc. and put all of the "baby" teethers and baby toys into a container and stored them under his crib, put all the blocks into a basket and put them in his closet and the figurines into a big container with a twist top so they are actually contained! I dug out two organizers that I've had over the years to hang in his closet (the ones that are supposed to be for shoes) and stored everything else in there - his musical instruments in one section, his toy barn in another, etc. I moved his kitchen into his room and put a basket next to it to be a "catch all" for toy food and other little toys. The only things of his that are kept in our living room are his easel with paper and crayons and his little basket of books.
Doing this was one of the best decisions I've made as a parent (big words, I know). But in an open space without constant distraction, our son READS, he draws on his easel, he pulls out his basket of trucks and plays with them for half and hour and then PUTS THEM AWAY. He can focus on what is in front of him. He loves to look out the window, dance to music, run up and down our hallway. Giving his shit a home and getting it out of our living space was as freeing for him, as it was for us. Our decision to embrace minimalism as a family is our way of making sure we continue on this path!
2. Changing the shape of our space: Opening up the first floor means everyday I walk directly into the kitchen and my eyes immediately look across the entire living space (across the dining room table/sofa area) to the front door and staircase. I quickly realized that in our new set up, there's no where to hide things anymore. Cluttered counter tops, papers all over the dining room table, toys EVERYWHERE - it's just BAM. Out in the open. I can't sit on the couch and read to my son without my eye catching the pile of unread mail on the table or the overflowing box of cookbooks and snacks practically falling off the top of the fridge.
This is something I'm still working on changing. My goal for the near future is to try to clear our counter tops and other horizontal spaces by 75% at least. This means I need to do a major clean out of ALL our kitchen cabinets and again, find homes for things and donate what we don't use. We also have plans for minor updates to the kitchen to add some shelving and a cabinet above the fridge. The reality is that we don't have the money for this now, and will likely try to combine these changes with a mini-kitchen renovation in a year or so. For now, we're aiming to minimize what we own and maximize our existing space.
The same goes for our living/dining room space. The only change coming soon is that my husband is planning to make us a big, farmhouse dining room table over the summer, which will be amazing. Otherwise, we're aiming to keep the toy situation under control and continue to do the finishing work on updates we started this winter, including painting trim, finishing the stair banister, etc. and keeping the place open and clutter-free.
We're changing out mantra from "we need more space" to "we need less stuff".
3. Needing to manage our money better: This one is the doozy and the biggest reason we started down the journey towards what I think of as mindful minimalism. We bought our house in October and saw our savings dwindle to nothing. Like literally no-dollars. We need to change that and looking over our budget, we realized that even though we didn't consider ourselves big consumers, we certainty weren't spendthrifts. And what did we really need? Truly, nothing! So we decided to do a "spending freeze" this month, meaning only spending money on what we need to (i.e. food for our family, gas to get to our jobs, and paying our bills). It's a way to reset our family finances and our mindsets.
In this vein, my husband and I did a massive clothing organization this weekend. We pulled every piece of clothing we owned out of each drawer and off each hanger and sorted through it all. We had four piles: keep, throw away, donate, sell. We tried to follow minimalist principles, including whittling down duplicates (no more hoarding 5 black tank tops or 6 plaid shirts), keeping what we love and feel good in, going for quality over latest style/quantity and happily letting go of what didn't fit into these categories.
Between the two of us, we cleaned out an entire closet and THREE drawers (as in a closet and three drawers are now EMPTY). It feels so good and finding "something to wear" is so much easier, knowing I LOVE and FEEL GOOD in everything I can find in my bureau. (For any new/new-ish mom out there, I'd highly recommend doing this! It's amazing how your body changes after having a baby and what you loved a few years ago, might not be what you love today.)
To make a little money, I've been selling some of the clothes I'm letting go of on Poshmark and we've committed to not purchasing new clothes for at least three months to give ourselves the chance to really live with what we have and start keeping lists of what we might "need". And our plan is to only make those purchases after truly reflecting on need/desire and doing our research (to get the best deal!) We're also going to try monthly meal planning to see if we can whittle down our grocery bills - I'll write about that separately in the future!
Bottom line: we want to be happier with less and open up our space and our lives to enjoy a simpler, more fulfilling way of being (and hopefully start to refill our bank account in the process!)
These are the three reasons why we've started a more mindful journey towards embracing minimalism in our lives, what are yours?
Hi! I'm Erin.
I'm a working mama, wife, writer and owner of a little red house. I'm trying to sort through the noise and live a life that is genuine, happy and grounded in simplicity.