5 Questions: Q&A with an “Expert” Minimalist

A high school speech kid reached out to me yesterday; she’s writing an informative speech on minimalism and wanted to speak with “an expert.” If only she knew how little I know!

But seriously, she asked some really thoughtful questions about my minimalist journey—questions I get all the time. I know she’s not alone in wanting to know more about this kind of life, so here’s a snapshot of what we discussed.

1. When were you interested in living this lifestyle?

Minimalism first piqued my interest in 2012. I was living in a small apartment in a big city, with lots of stuff and not much space. At the time I was teaching in Montessori environment; in the Montessori classroom there is a designated spot for each and every thing, and the space is beautifully free of clutter. (Montessori itself isn’t “minimalism” per se, but they have a lot in common.) Letting things breathe, making room for my head and heart, made a lot of sense that dreary, cramped winter—I’d seen that even toddlers could learn how to do it! Since then I’ve started to think about minimalism as more of a worldview (although it certainly still does play a major role in my physical space). But now it plays a part in what I eat, how I conduct business, what I say, and what I commit to, too.

2. By living a minimalist way, have you saved money?

Yes and no. Every time I don’t buy something I want and would have just gone ahead and gotten before I started thinking and living this way, I save money. But in some ways, minimalism costs more: you buy less, but better, which can be expensive up front. And if you purge things you don’t use, or want, or need—or things that don’t “bring you joy”—you sort of feel like you’re throwing money out the window. And if you end up replacing those things because you actually do need them, that’s exactly what you’re doing!

3. How did you start minimizing items, clothes, etc?

Reading blogs like Miss Minimalist and The Daily Connoisseur helped me design my first capsule closet, which is where I began. I started by asking, “What can I live without? What am I willing to get rid of?” As I gained confidence, I moved from my closet to the rest of the house. I read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, The Joy of Less, and L’art de la Simplicité, which are more about keeping only the things you can’t do without.

In terms of logistics, I just started dropping clothes off at consignment stores and recycling centers; household items went mostly to thrift stores or loved ones. I’ve sold some things, but that takes time and energy I don’t always have to give. A lot of minimalists recommend moving quickly so you’re not tempted to keep things you’ve decided to let go. You get less of your money back, but that money is already gone.

4. Do you think living this lifestyle has made you feel better about the clutter in your household?

Yes and no. My personal things have a place, and that gives me a sense of calm and balance. But minimalism is easy to do on your own. It’s harder to implement in a shared household, especially if you don’t discover the philosophy together. Navigating the “stuff” conversations and decluttering with your partner or children can be tricky. Sometimes I have to stop myself from throwing away stuff that’s not mine, and we as a group have more stuff than I’d like, but I’m not the only one who has to live comfortably in our home. We have to find our “right amount” together.

5. How was your family when you transitioned to living this lifestyle?

You’d have to ask my husband! 🙂 Our son was born into minimalism, so he doesn’t really know the difference. But he does love going to daycare and friends’ homes to play with what must feel like mountains of toys!

My extended family members and work wives, for the most part, think I’m ridiculous, but maybe they’ll come around some day. I like to remind them that there’s a “right amount” for everyone. For some it’s more, and others less. All that matters is that we honor the amount that’s right for us.

So that’s what the Minnesota speech community can look forward to learning this season. Let’s wish our student-friend luck as she shares our story all around the state!


What about you, friends? What questions do you still have? What would you like to see in a future post? Comment below to let me know!

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Christmas Wish, 2017

May you be blessed with the gift of time, with presence,

May you be wrapped up in a warm embrace,

And may the wonder of the season surround you each and every day.

From my family to yours,

Merry Christmas!

–j

PC: Peter Ray and Kari Adams

30 Minimalist Self Care Ideas for Busy Parents

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I am not the first—nor will I be the last—to suggest that a healthy self-care regimen is necessary for maintaining a healthy self and a healthy family. You’ve heard it before, and you’ll hear it again: you can’t take care of others if you don’t take care of yourself first. It’s one of those common-sense things we know but don’t always follow, like basic finance. But why?

Parenting in this country carries with it the enormous weight of unrealistic expectations and self-imposed guilt. Pamela Druckerman tells us in Bringing Up Bebe that American parenting, motherhood in particular, is plagued by the belief that the more one suffers, the better parent they’ll be. So we push ourselves, deny ourselves, doubt ourselves, and criticize ourselves.

On top of that, whether we go to work or manage the home, we’re also really damn busy. Most days it’s a miracle if we get everyone fed, dressed, clean, where they need to be, then home and into bed at a reasonable hour. When are we supposed to find time to hit the gym, make homemade whole-food meals, sleep 8–10 hours, and do it all again the next day?

 

We get into trouble and talk ourselves out of self-care when we try to do it all. We can’t commit to all, so instead we do nothing. But it doesn’t have to be that way; there are lots of small steps we can take each and every day. And a lot of them take only a few minutes, cost nothing, and can be done without any extra things. A minimalist dream!

I used to think a self-care regimen wouldn’t fit into my minimalist life. That I was too busy decluttering, planning and savoring authentic experiences. That even if I had the time, I couldn’t invest in it anyway. But minimalism reminds us of our priorities. It reminds us what matters. You get to be one of those things.

I’m here to tell you that you have the time. You have the right to take the time. You work hard, and you deserve to be taken care of. It’ll make you a better parent. It’ll make you a better human being.

You don’t have to go to a spa, or go shopping. You don’t have to indulge in anything over the top. You don’t have to do it all. Try one thing, or try 10. It doesn’t matter, as long as you try something.

Here’s a list of 30 minimalist self care ideas for busy parents, whether you have a few minutes or a few hours. Most cost little to nothing and don’t require anything special or extra. What could be better?

A few minutes

  • Sip a warm drink
  • Close your eyes and breathe
  • Take a walk around the block
  • Light a candle
  • Watch a TED talk
  • Drink a glass of water
  • Turn on your favorite song and dance
  • Walk into a room and close the door behind you
  • Stretch your neck, arms, and legs
  • Make yourself a snack (and don’t share it with anybody!)
  • Practice meditation
  • Make a gratitude list
  • Forgive somebody

An hour

  • Organize a space
  • Take a nap
  • Find a fitness class (minimalist bonus points if you can take it for free!)
  • Go for a drive or a bus/subway ride
  • Read a book
  • Delete unused phone apps
  • Purge your social media feeds
  • Watch your favorite show or movie
  • Enjoy a long shower or bath
  • Write in a journal
  • Ride a bike

A few hours

  • Turn off your phone
  • See a movie
  • Go window shopping
  • Find a museum
  • Visit the library
  • Take a hike

Starting a self-care routine can feel daunting when you think of it as all or nothing. But there are lots of little ways to do it every day. Ways that, for the most part, will only add to your health, wealth, and wellbeing.

Note: I have the privilege of living with a co-parent who can care for our child and free me up to take care of myself; I know this isn’t always the case. If you don’t have access to help, I suggest taking full advantage of naptime, even if all you do is catch your breath before you move on on the next thing.

Mother’s Day Wish, 2017

On this, our day, may we pledge:

  • To make room for what matters (and let go of the rest)
  • To slow down when and where we can
  • To honor ourselves and our values without fear or regret 
  • To treat all mothers (including ourselves) with grace and compassion
  • To accept whatever we feel at any given time
  • And to trust that we’re doing it right. 

Happy Mother’s Day to each and every one of you–may it be simple and slow and filled with what matters most!

Lagom and Hygge: Two Little Words That Temper Our Minimalism

We’ve been called extremists by those outside minimalist circles. Friends, family members, and colleagues have struggled to understand why we only have four coffee mugs, why we would extend our minimal tendencies to our calendars and diets, or why I would want to take up bike commuting. With every new discovery on our minimalist journey, they respond with an “Oh, Jenna…” If only they knew how moderate our family’s minimalism can be!

If we think of minimalism as a spectrum, my family would probably fall somewhere in the middle. We only have one child, but we drive two cars. We’re fairly close to Francine Jay’s 100 Essentials model (I could not recommend this book more highly!), but one of those “things” is our several hundred books. We have a pet, we have more than two arm chairs, and we have a lot of candles. And, as minimalists, we’re more than okay with that. Here’s why:

  1. Lagom: Francine Jay wrote a great post on lagom, or the Swedish concept of “just the right amount.” She describes lagom as “a desirable state of appropriateness, or enoughness—[which] has nothing to do with scarcity or deprivation.” A personal state of appropriateness, which is different for everyone and, sometimes, is different within one family. What is just right for me is not the same as what is just right for my son or my husband. I like a sparse space, with few furnishings and room to play. My husband likes a cozy space filled with hefty, rustic luxuries. Our son can’t tell us what he prefers yet, but I’d bet it’s somewhere in the middle. To avoid conflict, each of us gets our own lagom.
  2. Hygge: We’re recently obsessed with the Danish concept of hygge, which Meik Wiking describes in The Little Book of Hygge: Danish Secrets to Happy Living as “a sense of comfort, togetherness, and well-being.” We’ve spent the last month or so cultivating this intentional coziness in our home: lighting candles, turning off phones, putting on extra pairs of wool socks. It does require us to keep a few small comforts around (candles, books, blankets, etc.), but the payoff is well worth the price. We justify the extras by saying our minimalism makes room for our hygge. Our brand of minimalism is about intentionally practicing a genuine, comfortable, surrounded-by-loved-ones-with-hot-chocolate kind of life anyway.

No matter what we prioritize or define as enough, there’s room for all of us on the minimalism train, and we get to chart our own courses. It’s a journey, after all, toward a meaningful, authentic, and individual life—whatever that means to each of us (and no matter what we pack in our suitcase).

Minimalism, Now More than Ever

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Somewhere between the fall and spring I lost my center. Between the national election (and the divides it created in my organizations and families), the anniversary of our unexpected birth experience, and the allure of more (always more!) to be busy with, I lost sight of my goals and priorities. I lost myself. Fortunately, I won’t be that hard to find.

Why? Minimalism.

Minimalism is the answer when we feel this way. When we’re unsure of ourselves or our futures. When we find ourselves asking,

  • “Who am I?”
  • “What am I doing?”
  • Where am I going?”
  • “What do I want?”
  • “Why?”

Minimalism helps us answer these questions and silence the wondering. Here’s how:

  1. Minimalism helps us remember what’s important. Rather than an absence or an abstinence, minimalism is simply the thoughtful cultivation of a life worth living. It helps us identify our core values, priorities, and beliefs. When we do that, we see more clearly what gives our lives real meaning.
  2. Minimalism removes the unnecessary. When we commit to minimalism, we make room for the things that matter most, and we clear out the rest. By doing so, we start to realize how many of the things that tie us down or cause us anxiety have little to no bearing on our priorities. And if we don’t really need them, we can look at removing.
  3. Minimalism creates headspace and heartspace. We create space by eliminating the unnecessary. Once we eliminate noise and distractions and give ourselves room to think, we’re able to hear our own voices more clearly.
  4. Minimalism allows us to honor our values. If we remove the things that don’t honor our values, all that’s left are the things that do. If we’re diligent in this (in keeping our spaces free and clear), we can’t help but live authentically.
  5. Minimalism teaches us to let go of things. If we practice minimalism, we’re likely to purge things: physical items, calendar appointments, commitments, thoughts, and worries. Over time, we learn to let go. And each time we do it, the act of losing becomes a little less painful. We learn to hold tightly to what matters, but to loosen our grip on everything else. We see that all things serve a purpose in our lives and that it’s okay to say goodbye once that purpose is achieved. We learn to let go: either to enjoy it, or to let it hurt just a little bit less.

I don’t mean to make light of serious questions; finding and honoring ourselves takes work, and a lot of it. But we can make that work a little easier if we practice minimalism and choose the pursuit of a meaningful life.

Breathe: My Best Marriage and Life Advice

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My little brother got married this past weekend, and I spent a good long time trying to think of some good advice to give him. Having been married for five years myself, I knew he’d be looking to me as something of an expert, but to be honest, most days I feel like I still have a lot to learn. Add to that the fact that I’m a writer by trade and an actor at heart, and I was looking at a lot of pressure to get this advice and delivery bit right.
My now sister-in-law(!) asked me to write my brother a letter to be read the morning of the ceremony, a letter speaking to our life together and my wishes for the next phase of his. I spent weeks wracking my brain for good advice and putting it off. As I was driving to the hotel the morning before, I knew I finally had to come up with something. And quickly.
So I stopped overthinking. I looked out the window at the sublime beauty of central Minnesota— the gilded horizon, the bluest of blue skies dotted with billowy white clouds—and I took a deep breath. I looked down at my son sleeping in his car seat next to me—a tangible reminder of pure and unconditional love—and I took a deep breath. I looked up at my loving husband, the only person with whom I have ever imagined sharing this life—patience, understanding, and good humor personified—and I took a deep breath. And just like that, I knew what to say.

Here is my best advice for a beautiful life, married or otherwise: breathe.

Breathe to slow down the days you want to remember. Breathe in moments when you need to hold your tongue. Breathe to center yourself or to remind yourself of little blessings. Whenever you need it: breathe.
Sometimes life can be messy and complicated. Sometimes it requires careful planning, clever problem-solving, or something in between. Often it’s simple, and all it takes is a clear mind and a deep breath. So breathe.