Friday, July 15, 2016

On Minimalism

Most likely you have heard about Marie Kondo's book, "The Magic of Tidying Up". Perhaps you have heard about the Mimimalists and their movement of living with less stuff. A friend of mine (actually, a few friends) have done KonMari on their house and have shared their journey publicly. I have been intrigued enough to snatch tidbits of this lifestyle here and there. Ah, the promise of simplifying your life, living with fewer possessions, managing less stuff and having more time for what matters... who would not like that? Who would not want clean, sparse space as one is drowning in laundry and toys strewn all over the floor and books plopped open on the couch?

I looked into it. I have listened to a few podcasts. I have read a few articles. I was on fire internally.


It is easy to notice that most minimalists are single. There are married couples, and there are families who are minimalists for sure, but most ardent proponents of the lifestyle are single adults, somewhere in their twenties-thirties. I always said, I'll read Kondo's book that she writes once she has a few children. Life with children is messy and unpredictable. Outings with children depend not on packing the minimal amount, but on being prepared for the unexpected. I have five, and I have diaper bag packing on autopilot. I do not carry spurious stuff but what often saves the day (adds value to my life) is having that emergency pack of crackers in the bottom of my purse when we are out longer than expected. It is having an extra diaper for the baby and the 3 year old when he decides that he's too busy to go to the bathroom. It adds value to my life knowing that I have a ten pack of underwear at home for him, so I do not have to make the judgment call of whether to scrape poop off his underwear because he does not have enough pairs. Added value is having a pack of wipes both in the bag and in the car, so if we go out for ice cream (something that we do not do often, maybe a few times per year), I can wipe all those messy sticky faces. Brusters next to us does not have a bathroom, so washing off is not an option. I find myself happier having a large plastic bag in the trunk of the car that contains a complete change of clothes for each child. We can go wading, they can get messy, life can happen, and I do not have to think whether I want to allow them to participate in it.

We are going away for Shabbos. Since the older boys are at a sleep away camp, it is just three younger kids, my husband and I. I am not anxious about packing because I am not planning on packing elaborately. Yet I keep thinking about Minimalists soundtrack song:

Every little thing that you need,
Every little thing
That is powering your greed,
Oh I bet you'll be fine
Without it.

Yeah, beautiful. I do not need to bring my sheitel. I do not need to bring clothes on hangers and worry about garment bag. But I do know that having a spare outfit for Shabbos will save the day if one of my lovely children will get me dirty (or I do it to myself). I have gone away for Shabbos packing minimally, and then had one child spit up so much that by motzei shabbos I did not have a single piece of clothing that was not obviously stained and stinky. I knew the hosts well enough to borrow a spare skirt and do an emergency load of laundry. That is not the case this time.

Dear minimalists, have you ever gone away and forgot a child's favorite blankie or lovey? Have you ever had a child who could not fall asleep and tried singing to him the lullaby of how it's the greed and the child will be just fine? I have been actively discouraging my children to form attachments to bulky irreplaceable objects, to material possessions, yet, somehow, quite a few of them did. Have you ever had a child walk around like a zombie singing "I want my paci" song and thought, gee whiz, it would have been easier to pack it? I am packing few things for the baby, but I am planning on bringing a small floor heater. She sleeps better with the white noise from the fan. I did not want her to be attached to it, but in a small house with many active and loud children, it added value to my life to run this device and get a well-rested baby. We have gone away before and forgot to bring it, or chose not to bring it. It was not pretty. She was NOT FINE without it.

I have gone to my in-laws for a couple hours on Sunday. I forgot to bring diapers. Let me tell you, running to the closest grocery store when you discover that the baby pooped and there is not a single diaper anywhere in the diaper bag or the car makes you wonder how this is better than having a stack of diapers, "just in case".

We are hoping to move, so we are packing. I have gone and pared down clothes for 3 year old. He had boys' old clothes coupled with hand-me-downs coupled with grandma's gifts. I was able to sort it all by size and put away quite a bit. No child needs more than a week's worth of clothes. However, at his current age, when he can go through three pairs of pants per day, not having to do laundry daily adds value to my life. Not worrying whether he will run out of shorts is better than having just three pairs on rotation. Same goes for my baby's clothes. She dislikes bibs and she wants to self-feed. Frequently, I have to change her clothes after every meal. She likes to crawl around and scootch on her behind. It kills the pants that she wears. I much rather have plenty of outfits on hand and change her as necessary rather than be constantly doing laundry.

I have thought about minimalism and realized that it is a movement of being able to let go of material things because you firmly know that you will always be able to get them if need be. This can only be achieved if you have secutiry knowing that you have the finances, and that the items are easily obtainable. Growing up in Russia, where new purchases of clothing, furniture, etc, were few and far in between, and the opportunity to buy came up unexpectedly and did not even necessarly fit your needs left me with a residual worry. Our parents were minimalists, but not by choice. They were forced into the minimalist lifestyle by the system. As soon as they found themselves on American soil, their need to buy as they see fit went into overdrive. And I have it, too. Couple that with my entry into the States on a student visa and with only a suitcase worth of possessions (and no clear finances to buy more), and it becomes clear that I have hard time letting go of objects that come into my domain. Yet I am weighed with all the junk that comes with running a household full of kids of different ages. I want to declutter, I want to have those simple, clean lines, I want my house to be a Montessori classroom where every object has a purpose and a place, and gets used and put away. So I am seesawing between the need to have extra and having just bare minimum. Both of these bring me peace of mind.

I am hoping that in this new house I will have space to create my personal minimalistic space while leaving large swatches of household in kid-friendy zone of excess.

Have you encountered minimalist resouces that are family-friendly? I would love links to books, blogs and articles that address how to lead a meaningful life with less while having more people in your life.

P.S. The Minimalists mention decluttering people in your life who do not add value. Kids add very little value when they are little. In the language of "All Joy and No Fun," they are economically useless and emotionally priceless. I wonder whether minimalists shun marriages and childrearing for this exact reason.

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