About 15 years ago on New Year’s eve, I went over to my friend’s apartment for drinks. It’s a night I’ll never forget, but probably not for any reason you’d guess. It was my first encounter with minimalism. Although that word certainly wasn’t used at the time, at least to mean a chosen lifestyle.
When I arrived my friend bounded over to greet me with a hug, as she was endearingly known to do. Post-hug she excitedly showed me a gorgeous yak-hair blanket that her neighbour had brought over just a few minutes earlier. “Look what I got! Well, at least for now…” she said. “It’s beautiful! What do you mean ‘for now’?” I asked. “Well, my neighbour gives away everything she owns at the end of each year. Everything but what she’s wearing. Everything. Her bed frame, her mattress, her blankets, her dishes, her clothing, her furniture. Everything!” my friend explained. “Wow! Why?” I asked. “I guess it’s a few things. Spending a night or two with nothing but herself and her thoughts; going into the new year living with the absolute bare minimum. She finds peace in it.” My friend went on to explain that her neighbour would give everything away, very thoughtfully, starting in December. First, the things she was fairly certain she wouldn’t want back, like clothing, donated to women’s shelters, extra kitchen items donated to soup kitchens. Next, moving on to those things she thought she might need back again. These things she would give to friends and family in need, but with the caveat that she might ask for them back.
Well, the silly, sarcastic part of me blurted out “That’s a nice friend who’s willing to store her bed frame for three days before she realizes she wants it back! Or the friend she comes knocking on early new year’s morning for a bowl and spoon to eat her breakfast with.” Fortunately my friend’s neighbour had some very kind and accommodating friends who would take on her things each December so she could enter the new year with nothing but the clothes on her back (and the shelter of her apartment). I’m told that each year she took back less and less, and subsequently had less and less to part with come the end of the year. Eventually, my friend moved across the country and so we don’t know how the story ends.
We each have our own story of stuff. The story of what we collect and how we furnish our lives, how we relate to our things, how tied up with stuff our identity and our sense of self- worth is. I think it’s important that we think about our relationship to things. Is our relationship healthy, happy, productive, sustainable? The best demonstration of our values is what we choose to spend our time, energy, and (often) money, on. We don’t all share the same values, that’s why our lives look different, that’s why minimalism comes in different forms. But, minimalism always involves a deep evaluation of ourselves in relation to stuff. The conclusion is unique, but the starting point is similar.
Today, I’m sharing Alison Little’s story of finding minimalism. Alison is a mother of four, who shares simple tips and humble advice for pursuing minimalism with kids in the mix. I hope you enjoy and find inspiration in her story.
Alison, let’s start with you, who are you and what is your background?
I am a stay at home Mom of four young children, including a two year old set of twins. I graduated from Nursing school in the summer of 2007, and our oldest was born the following September. His birth shifted all of my priorities, and I no longer had a desire to work long hours outside the home. I took a part time job with flexible hours working for a friend who was a contractor. When our second son was born, I left that job to stay home with my boys.
I have always had a love for home design, but over the last few years it has become a passion. I find great joy in making my home a warm and inviting space for my family. We are also lovers of the outdoors. Before we had children, my husband and I spent a large part of our free time hiking, camping and backpacking. We hope to instill that love of nature in our children.
What part of the world do you live in?
We live in a (very) small town in the foothills of North Carolina.
How many children do you have and what are they like?
We have two boys, 8 and 6, and a 2.5 year old set of twin girls. Jackson, our oldest, is smart and incredibly tender hearted. He has a quirky little personality and has always kept us on our toes. He is loving and affectionate, and I keep waiting for him to think he’s too old to love on his Mama, but thankfully that hasn’t happened yet.
Grayson, our 6 year old, has always been his own little person. He is independent, and has a unique sense of style that I love so much. He gives absolutely no thought or worry to what others might think of him. It is my very favorite trait of his, and one I hope he carries with him always.
Juliet is dainty and girly, and independent like her brother. She loves dresses and shoes and twirling around while pretending to be a princess. I remember one day, not long after she had started putting sentences together, she walked up to my husband and said, “ooooooo, I like your shoes Daddy”. I love to watch her little personality develop. I’m not a girly girl, so that wasn’t something that was taught. It’s just her, and I adore it.
Charlotte is our baby, born 26 minutes after her sister. She is a Mama’s girl through and through. If it were up to her, she and I would sit on the sofa cuddled up under a quilt all day long. She is tender and sweet, and has great manners, which makes us laugh. Having twins has been the most amazing experience. I can’t imagine life without them.
What does minimalism mean to you?
For me, minimalism is about living more with what you need than with what you want. It’s quite simply, a life with less stuff.
What is your story and how did you start on this path?
Since getting married 11 years ago, my husband and I have lived in 5 homes. With each move, and each child, we accumulated more stuff, and just moved it with us from house to house. At our last home the garage was so full of boxes that we couldn’t park our cars in it. In the two years we lived there, we never unpacked those boxes. After the birth of our twins, and the addition of more clothes, toys, and baby gear, it all became too much. Even though our home was tidy and organized, there was just too much of everything everywhere and it made me feel anxious. I knew we needed to make a change in the amount of stuff we owned. Over the last two years we have cleaned and purged and gotten rid of so much. It was difficult for me at first. I used to hold onto everything. Every card, picture, movie ticket…anything that felt remotely sentimental. I had to come to a point where I realized that our memories didn’t lie in our things, and once I was able to truly believe that, it was so much easier to let go. In fact, it became almost like an obsession. What can we get rid of today?! It is an ongoing process for me, and with four children, I think it always will be.
What are some books and resources you could recommend?
Last year I read The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo. I like her approach and utilized her method in my own home. The only thing I felt was lacking is that she doesn’t address life with children.
Tsh Oxenreider’s blog, The Art of Simple (http://theartofsimple.net/manifesto/) is a great resource. Through that link you can also find her podcast, The Simple Show, and her book, Organized Simplicity.
A couple of my favorite minimalist Instagrammers are @our_simplestory (formerly @minimalist_mindset) and @600sqftandababy, and @mytinytribe has created a hashtag called #my_minimal_mondays that has some helpful ideas.
[ editorial note: each of the Instagrammers named above has been interviewed for this series, click their usernames to find their interviews ]
In what ways / areas to struggle with keeping things minimal?
Our kitchen is the area that I find the most difficult to keep minimal. I enjoy cooking and love to bake, so I have accumulated a lot of kitchen items. Just last week, in fact, I went through all the cabinets and drawers in my kitchen (for about the 7th time) and got rid of old hand towels, dishes and pots that I never use, and all those pesky Tupperware pieces that no longer have a match.
Have there been struggles with the people you live with?
My husband is an organized person by nature, and he has always been on board with a more minimalistic lifestyle. Every now and then, I will find my boys peeking into a box they know is going to Goodwill and they will say, “are you getting rid of this?!!!!” I’m learning to be a bit more sneaky about getting things out without them noticing.
What have been some unexpected experiences (positive or negative)?
I find that the less stuff we have, the happier I am in our home. I feel more relaxed and less anxious, which in turn makes me a better wife and mother. Not perfect, mind you, but better 😉
What advice can you offer to people interested in minimalism?
Minimalism will look different for everyone. What works for a family of 4 won’t work for a family of 8. My idea of less might be totally different than your idea of less, so don’t get too caught up in the number of items, or what it looks like for another family. I know it can feel overwhelming in the beginning, but grab some boxes and trash bags and just get started! And let me say, there is not one thing I have gotten rid of that I wish I hadn’t. Not one.
Do you have any goals you want to share?
We rent the home we currently live in, but have long dreamed of an old white farmhouse in the country. A few months ago, my husband and I sat down and worked out a plan that should allow us to purchase our dream home this year. We hope to find one that needs just enough work that we can make it our own.
Readers: you can find Alison on Instagram @our.littlehouse. All captioned photos in this post were taken by Revival Photos, find them on Instagram @revivalphotos, the rest of the photos were taken by Alison. Thank you, Alison, for sharing your story and minimalism tips.
Find all the other interviews in this series here.
You might also like my post:
Let’s be friends! Please come find me in other places:
- Bloglovin: to subscribe to my blog feed
- Instagram: @hippieindisguise
- Pinterest: Hippie in Disguise
- Twitter: @hippieindisguis
- VSCO: HIPPIEINDISGUISE “Wanderlust and Minimalist Fun”
- Facebook: Hippie in Disguise
- *New* Private Facebook Discussion Group: Slow, Eco, Minimal Living just ask to join, we love to welcome new people