Social Media Minimalism: How To Balance Instagram and Family Life

“Life is what happens while you are staring at your smartphone.” – anonymous

Nico Nico Clothing Hippie in disguise Ro and Sen

A few people have asked me variations on the same question. How do I live slowly when I clearly do so much? How do I stay connected with my children, family and friends, when I’m also very connected to social media, in particular Instagram? I can’t answer all at once, but I thought I would start by sharing how I use Instagram and remain connected and present for my family. I will explain below, but first…

Last night I arrived home a little early from work and from picking up the kids, so rather than jump straight into dinner preparations I sat on the couch to read for a few minutes. Sen was already on the floor building with his blocks and Ro was on the couch knitting. I pulled a magazine from the shelf and opened it to a random page. Leaving things to the universe, I like to think that the page I land on will have information or inspiration that I need in that moment. I landed on an article about Japanese Tea Ceremony relating it to the concepts of presence, mindfulness and ichi-go ichi-e. I usually have a strict policy of not putting forward my own understanding of another culture’s practices, of simplifying something very rich by laying it over my life. But I was struck in the moment that this concept applied so well to me and how it’s easy for me to prioritize my family and children over social media. According to the article, ichi-go ichi-e is a concept suggesting that each encounter is unique and will never be recreated. With this view we can bring greater presence, intention and gratitude to each encounter we have. Not having much of something is often an easy way to appreciate it. Not having much time with my children, I appreciate the time I have. Knowing that this moment with Sen quietly humming and building with blocks, Ro knitting and humming her own tune, me reading and Matt playing with a new musical instrument my sister gave us – this perfect moment will never happen again. I’m breathing it in, not breaking the hum by starting a conversation, and just appreciating these few minutes before dinner begins. This is life.

Before I tell you how I keep my social media use in check, a little more about me might help you understand…

My academic background is in the social history and art historical understanding of photography. In this sense I came to parenthood with a very keen and deep sense of the role of photography in history and in human self-development (sense of identity). Matt and I have always taken a cautious and reserved approach to documenting our lives and the children. We didn’t photograph many major events in our life because of this. Sometimes, admittedly, with regret.

As a parent I have been inspired and deeply influenced by the book Simplicity Parenting by Kim John Payne. Among other things, Payne advocates limited exposure of children to media and screens. I took this approach to heart and have tried my best to maintain a home and dynamic with my children that minimizes time with screens. That being said, my children do watch shows on an iPad, they see me use my iPhone (which is my phone, camera and computer all in one), because screens are a reality of life, like the newspaper at the front door once was. I try my best to limit it, without at the same time raising my children in a bubble that will inevitably burst.

So…my use of Instagram and social media is heavily influence by my academic studies of photography and particularly its impact on human personality and development and by my alignment with simplicity parenting and the importance of minimizing screens and electronic media for children’s healthy development.

Preamble over –> on to Instagram now.

Instagram is the predominant social network in my life. I also have a Twitter account, which is almost exclusively auto-fed information from my Instagram account and my blog. I have yet to learn how to use Twitter effectively. Probably never will. Don’t really care to. I also have a Facebook account, which I’ve used more in the last year to connect with people I know in real life, since my Instagram account grew too large beyond my circle of friends and family to keep up with.

So, a few details about my life and my Instagram account are important to share and set the stage for how I use social media:

+ I work full time outside of the home

+ My Instagram following is too large to keep track of notifications and new content (a blessing in disguise)

What do these two things mean?

First, working full time outside of the home, a minimum of 40 hours a week, plus my commuting time (by bicycle) to get to and from work, means that I have a lot of time away from my children. My time with the children during the work week is very limited, about an hour in the morning, and about 2 hours at night, during which time I have to do all the parenting duties that come with having children, feed, clothe, bath, homework, which leaves usually about 15-20 minutes of unstructured free time. This means my time with them is precious and I have no interest in wasting it away on Instagram or other social media. But working outside the home means I have plenty of time during the work week on my break time to engage in social media.

Second, my Instagram account has grown to such a size that I cannot keep up with the notifications that come in. I could be slightly off on the exact number, but basically Instagram will only provide you with the last 100 notifications related to you (notifications are the likes and comments others have left on your photos or in response to comments you left on other photos). I used to be able to open Instagram once or twice a day and not miss any news in my notifications, I could easily see when someone replied to a comment I left them and then go back to continue the conversation. This was because when I signed in I would have 20-40 notifications. Now that my account is much larger I easily have 100 notifications every hour. If I’ve just posted something new I will have 100 notifications in 5 or 6 minutes. In order to stay on top of the notifications I would have to open Instagram many times an hour not to miss anything. (Perhaps there’s an app out there that tracks expired notifications but I haven’t bothered to look and wouldn’t want it anyway).

My Instagram account grew fairly steadily (except for the two times that Instagram added my name to the Suggested User List). I was able to manage the notifications at first; I would check in three times a day, then four times a day as my following size grew. But after a certain point it was impossible to keep on top of the notifications. For example, when I woke up in the morning there would always be 100 new notifications in my feed, which meant I necessarily missed some news. At first I was little stressed, thinking I could have missed an important message from a friend or that possibly I was rude for not answering someone. But when I stepped back for a moment, I realized there was no reasonable way to control any of this and that my real friends wouldn’t drop out of my life if I missed an Instagram comment. I certainly wasn’t about to wake up during the night to make sure I didn’t miss anything! So, I conceded that I couldn’t stay on top of the news. And then realized that this was actually a freedom.

Freedom.

Freedom to check in on Instagram only when I felt like it. Freedom from the tyranny of notifications (overstatement, I know) and from keeping up with all the new content.

Since this time, I’ve had a much less engaged relationship with Instagram. There are trade-offs for not being on Instagram and constantly liking and commenting on others photos, or replying to comments: I don’t get as many likes on my photos, I lose followers and I don’t get new ones as quickly. But this doesn’t bother me, because the gains are far greater: lack of stress related to keeping up and greater presence during family time. And, my enjoyment, experience, engagement and connection to the Instagram community has not been adversely affected.

So, here is how I use Instagram:

Because I work full time outside the home, I have many hours away from the children each day. I use my break times at work to post to Instagram, to check in on others accounts or to reply to questions. This way I’m not using Instagram when my children are around. When I’m with them I’m either doing parent and household tasks or playing with them. I save Instagramming for breaks at work. I post on the weekends when they are asleep or playing with friends. It’s that simple.

A few other things:

  1. I do not have the notifications turned on. Never have.
  2. I do not worry about missing a post from a friend.
  3. I do not worry about seeing, liking and commenting on all of my friends and others photos coming through my Instagram feed.
  4. I do not scroll through the Instagram feed each day, usually only once a week. Sometimes less often, really.
  5. When I sign into Instagram, I will choose a few friends or accounts to visit and I will catch up on their photos that way.
  6. I do not use my time to reply to and thank people for every comment made on my photos. I try my best to answer questions and particularly thoughtful comments, but I know that I definitely miss some. C’est la vie! That’s life!

Taking Photos.

Photography is a big part of Instagramming, so I thought I’d share how I incorporate photography into my children’s life. First, I use an iPhone for photography, which is great for it being small and much less conspicuous than a conventional DSLR camera – you can take photos in a way children often don’t take notice of.

Clearly, however, even with an iPhone camera, my children are aware of the device and its presence in their lives. I do not photograph my children as much as it may seem. In the late fall and winter I very rarely take photos. If I look at my camera roll now, until very recently I had only taken photos of them 3 times since December. I do a lot of recycling. I pull old photos that I never shared or repost favourites with new captions. During the more temperate seasons in late spring, summer, and early fall I do photograph the children more often, but only when they are unaware or okay with it. My style of photography and the photos I like are un-posed, organic and capture something authentic, in this sense my photography excels when the children aren’t aware that I’m taking pictures. I also make a clear decision not to photograph them every day or to capture all their moments in digital form. I can write more on this in a subsequent post if there is interest.

There you have it: a little social media minimalism for you. You really don’t need to be on social media all the time to stay connected and engaged in a community, you won’t lose real friends or real community. Maybe some fickle people will leave you behind. You don’t need them! As I have experienced, I can still find lots of inspiration by way of images, captions and conversation on Instagram without having to digest it all. I haven’t lost any real friends for it or my sense of being supported by a virtual tribe of like-minded people. You can design your relationship with social media to be what you need and what adds to your life, rather than letting it suck away the time in your life.

What can you do if you are a stay at home parent?

If you are a parent who is home with children many hours a day and would like to scale back the amount of time you spend on social media, try adapting my approach to your situation. Pretend you can only use Instagram during your break time (when the children nap?). Resist the urge to photograph every milestone and day of their life. Just be in the moment and use your grey matter to remember things. Old school style! Or, try to be okay with letting the memory fade. If I’m an example of sorts, you can definitely capture enough photos of your child’s life by taking photos once or twice a week (or less), you don’t need to take photos every single day just because you can.

On the topic of living slowly while also having a busy life, I talked about this in a guest post for Ruth & Ragnar. In the post I talk about slow living and how I incorporate a slow focus into my busy, hustled days, in particular where and when I choose to be busy or choose to be slow and present. Read it here.

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Interview with a Minimalist: Nora of Inconnu Lab

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Minimalism needs a discussion of class. So that we can talk about it and then divorce the two.

The reality is that for many people living in an affluent circumstance minimalism is an easy, comfortable and (cringe) trendy lifestyle choice. “I could choose to have a lot or a little. But it’s my choice!” I cringe at the thought that people think I’m a minimalist because I can afford to selectively live with little or to give things away willy nilly because if I need something I can just buy it without much thought. At the same time, I cringe at the thought that people assume my minimalism is simply a rationalization, a way to enjoy living with very little because I have no choice in the matter, because I have very little and can afford very little. Whether I have little by choice or by force of circumstance minimalism becomes a class issue when talked about this way. Minimalism becomes a discussion of stuff and money, when minimalism could be about sustainability, mindfulness, mental health, and so on.

I recently met a woman named Nora who is the owner and designer at  Inconnu Lab. After interviewing many people over the last year it was fun to have someone tell me that their work, their passion and their hobby are the same thing. I think that when our work, passion and hobby are aligned we are most fortunate because we are using our time in a way that we love. Nora isn’t sure if she’s a minimalist, but she definitely has lots of ideas (and designs) inspired by minimalism. I won’t give it all away but take note of the class, sustainability and other dimensions of minimalism that Nora alludes to. I do have to say that I absolutely love that Nora’s designs aim to minimize waste by using geometric shapes. Brilliant!

Hi Nora! Let’s start with a little bit about you. Who are you? What’s your background?

My background is not as creative as you would imagine as I graduated in Economics in Hungary. After some years of working in international work environment, I dropped everything at once to move to Trieste (Italy). It was not easy, as I love Budapest, but it has been a good decision. I like the unknown and I like  getting out of my comfort zone. I believe that you can grow only if you are willing to try something new. That’s why I chose the name Inconnu (which in French means ‘unknown’) for my brand. Inconnu is not only a brand name, but my key inspiration as well.

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You are a designer at InconnuLAB, an Italian slow fashion brand, can you tell me a little about it?

In my Trieste based home-studio, I create versatile and customizable bags with a focus on environmentally-friendly practices.  Minimizing the impact on the environment is at the heart of the ethically made InconnuLAB products. I create geometrical forms which allow to throw away the least possible materials. I have total control of the manufacturing process which makes it possible to use even the smallest production leftovers. The bags are characterized by functional minimalism as I avoid the use of unnecessary things like clasps and buckles but still make them easy to use. I use only high-quality Italian materials like waterproof heavy canvas and durable, yet soft, leather.

Interview with a Minimalist: Nora of Inconnu Lab

So, what is your story, how did you start on a path toward a minimalist lifestyle?

I had to start it really early, I learned everything from my mom. We never had anything at home which was not useful. Un-useful things were thrown away immediately! Anyway I don’t know exactly what kind of lifestyle I have and I don’t like when my style is classified by genre. I don’t think that I am a minimalist, I just simply don’t like un-useful things/words/gestures.

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I believe there are many ways to be a minimalist and many forms of minimalism. What does minimalism mean to you? And, in what ways are you a minimalist?

My bags represent my thoughts about minimalism: at the first glance they are designed simply but if you take a closer look you realise that they are made with supreme attention to details; the edges are aligned and finished carefully.

Sometimes people confuse minimalism with frugality and that’s a big mistake. Minimalism means for me: avoiding the superfluousness preserving and enhancing the quality.

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Are there any websites or other resources that have inspired your minimalism? Favourite books?

Some of my favorite inspiring magazines: Volume Project, Elephant Mag, and Frame Web

Some of very inspiring websites: Design Boom, Its Nice That, Design-Milk, and Dezeen.

In what ways do you struggle with keeping things minimal? What is your weakness?

My biggest challenge is definitely to prioritize tasks.

Have there been any struggles with the other people you live with about living in a minimal way?

Luckily, no! We can always reach a compromise.

What have been some unexpected experiences (positive or negative) you’ve had with minimalism?

It’s simply amazing how much stuff you can have, in a relatively small space, keeping them in order. You would be astonished if I told you on how many square meters I live and work!

How small is your work and living space?

It is the same space. It’s 36 metres squared, which is around 385 square feet.

What advice can you offer to people interested in living a minimalist lifestyle?

Well, as you’ve previously said there are many ways to be a minimalist. People have different interpretations for minimalism therefore it’s pretty difficult to offer advice. However in my opinion it’s always important to distinguish frugality and minimalism. Never compromise the quality when it comes to minimalism!

Do you have any goals for this year or the next few that you want to share?

I am 100% focused on my business; in the next months I am going to design new models and there is another surprise which I will share with you in the near future on my blog. So keep up-to-date! 😉

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Thank you, Nora. Readers you can find Nora on Instagram @inconnulab or over at her webshop and blog Inconnu Lab (great stuff on her blog!). Nora is also on Facebook and Twitter.

You can find all the other interviews in the minimalist series here.

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You might also like my post:

How to Get Started with Minimalism

13 Ways to Simplify Your Wardrobe

Ecominimalism: Talking about Sustainability with Robin Kay

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World Wildlife Day: What You Can Do to Help Conserve and Protect Wild Plants and Animals

Pink Lake Gatineau Park Canada Nico Nico Clothing Hippie in Disguise

“The future of wildlife is in our hands”

Today is the United Nation’s World Wildlife Day. World Wildlife Day is a day to celebrate wild plants and animals, but also, like every day, it is a day to work to conserve and protect them.

Here are a few simple things you can do to cultivate a love and respect for wildlife in yourself and the people, especially children, in your life. It seems natural and logical that love and respect will translate into conservation and protection efforts.

1)      Spend time in nature, in the wild, and learn about the abundant life, cycles and systems around you. By spending time in nature you are likely to enjoy yourself, create memories and ultimately develop a sense of respect and understanding of your embeddedness in (and precarity of) the system of life on Earth. We are nature. It is not around us; it is us. Our actions have a direct impact on plants and animals, as they have direct impact on us. While I don’t think we should be self-motivated to protect wildlife, if that’s a reason that motivates you, seize on it and let it push you to conserve and protect, and to lighten your impact on other forms of life. We all share this one planet, but it is critical to understand that it is not just about sharing. From a selfish perspective, animals and plants play important roles in sustaining life on this planet, without them, their is no us.

Hippie in Disguise Hunter Boots Ottawa Canada Canal Marsh

2)      Learn about and interact with plants and animals. Book learning and documentaries can be great, but there’s nothing like real life experience. Augment book learning with experience. Observe and interact with the plants and animals around you. You don’t need to go to a botanical garden or a zoo. Grass is plant life and when you look closely there is much to observe. Think of animals in the broad sense, you don’t need to track deer to observe the wild, insects are everywhere and we can learn much from them. All animals are important and each has something to teach us about our humanity. Ultimately : be creative and open minded in finding the wild around you. The wild could be a field of wildflowers on an abandoned city lot — tread lightly by the edge, observe and learn. The wild could be lifting up rocks at the public park to say hello to beetles and worms. The more children (and we adults) have real life experiences with living plants and animals the more we can empathize with them, the more we feel a part of their world, and us a part of theirs. Our interconnectedness becomes embodied.

Nature Story Board Collected Feathers Snails Acorns Flora Hippie in Disguise

3)      Support the efforts of wild life conservation and protection agencies such as World Wild Life Fund and the Jane Goodall Institute. You can share their messages and follow them on social media. If you have spare dollars and pennies you can support them in a financial way. For the last three years Ro’s birthday present from us and her friends has been funding the protection animals through the Jane Goodall Institute and WWF (we do this through the EchoAge platform). This, by the way, is a great minimalist gift — an immaterial gift that doesn’t clutter your home but has a profound effect on others.

2017 Update:

Since posting this last year, I joined my friend Rebecca Lane in launching the Global Guardian Project. The Global Guardian Project is a monthly digital publication for homeschoolers, educators and families who wish to learn more about the earth’s animals, plants and ecosystems, and how we can take simple actions to be positive changemakers in our communities, and as adults how we can raise a generation of global guardians. We are mindful to present information in a child-friendly and sensitive way, that does not incite fear and worry, but rather leaves children feeling empowered to play a part in stewardship.

Each month we release a new digital “learning capsule” featuring a country and its plants, animals, local activists, and culture. We also include art projects, maps and downloads, recipes, inspiring videos of kids doing awesome things to help animals and ecosystems, interviews with eco families and worldschoolers, and a podcast with an original (and fun!) meditation for children and families. For educators and homeschoolers (and super keen parents) we also include curriculum prompts based on STEAM – Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Mathematics, as well as vocabulary lessons.

If you are interested in learning more about this resource and the project, please leave a comment or send me an email. You can also visit the Global Guardian Project website. If you decide to sign up  for a subscription, please use my discount code HIPPIEINDISGUISE to get 10% off, which makes the cost only $13.49 per month. You can cancel at any time, no questions asked. You can also purchase single issues if a subscription doesn’t interest you.

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I’d love to hear what you do to help protect and conserve wild life and how to cultivate this same interest in others. Please share in the comments below.

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You might also like my post:

Ecominimalism: Sustainability and Minimalism, Interview with Robin

Inhaling the Season, Inhaling the Moment: A Story of Cycling Through a Snow Storm

The Mathematics of Love: A Heartfelt Story of Growing a Family

Magnolias by Robin Kay Twentyventi

Ecominimalism & an Interview with a Minimalist: Robin

Minimalism is about many things, much more than just aesthetics and trendiness. Often, to my dismay, minimalism is distilled into one or both of these things. And while, yes, minimalism is a style of interior design and is currently a trendy lifestyle, it really is so much more. The benefits of minimalism are not having a beautifully styled home or being on target with trendy fashions and interiors. No, the benefits are what having less affords us, the space it creates in our days, in our homes, in our activities, in our lives. Among other things, having less gives us more time. Time is the most precious resource. I am always chasing time. But I digress.

Magnolias by Robin Kay Twentyventi

Another aspect of minimalism that I’ve wanted to write about for a while now is sustainability. Acquiring few things (by shopping less), having less to clean, repair and replace is just simply better for the earth, kinder and gentler on our planet. In the comments from my post about how to get started with minimalism (here) the sustainability aspect came up. I mentioned that I’ve wanted to start my own term ‘ecominimalism’ to talk about my brand of minimalism. I know, the word brand is a bit icky, especially in this context, but what I mean is my version of minimalism is ecominimalism. My minimalism is about having less, but most importantly acquiring less (It’s not about having little but constantly acquiring new things and pitching old things out the door, so that you keep few things). Too often I read on minimalism message boards requests for advice on how to replace 5 things with 1, or how to start a personal wardrobe from scratch in order to have a capsule collection. Yes, this is minimalism, but not sustainably-minded minimalism. And I know that minimalism isn’t necessarily about lessening one’s impact on the earth, but I really wish it was.

So, I was really happy when I read Robin Kay’s interview answers (see below) because she talks about the sustainability aspect of minimalism. Not only do we (hopefully) lessen our acquisition through minimalism, but we are also inclined and more able to choose products that have minimal impact on the earth. With a little more money in our wallets (from not mindlessly consuming and impulse buying) we can hopefully afford to purchase products that are ethically and sustainably made, like organic and fair trade clothing and food. And if we can’t afford these then at least we are not further indebting ourselves for the sake of fashion.

When we sit back and reflect on living with less, living simply, living minimally (all variations on the same thing) I think we can see that the true benefits have nothing to do with trendiness and everything to do with having more time for the people and activities we love, and feeling better about the things that we do acquire, whether they are organic or not, because our acquisition is much more mindful, considered and intentional. Of course, it’s easy to live minimally when we have very little money in the bank, when living minimally isn’t a choice. When we are fortunate to have money to spend on frills and fashions, on vacations and commuting, that is when our true test of minimalism and environmental consciousness comes up. Buying eco products when we *actually* need something is the best choice, but if we don’t really need it, maybe the best choice is to go for a hike…?

Below, you’ll hear from Robin Kay, a fellow Canadian and minimalist. I hope you’re inspired not only by Robin’s beautiful images and home, but more importantly by the substance of what she shares in her answers. Thank you Robin for sharing your story!

Robin Kay Twentyventi Interview with a Minimalist with Daughter Ramona Jean

Let’s start with a little bit about you. Who are you? What’s your background?

I am a twenty-seven year old wife, mother and teacher, currently on a year of maternity leave. I grew up in the suburbs of Toronto, where I was homeschooled from age nine (except for one semester of high school). As an introvert, being able to learn on my own terms was very important, and I definitely thrived outside of the traditional classroom. Having a non-traditional education also sparked my interest in how others learn.

I was drawn to Early Childhood Education, and after I graduated my program I worked as an assistant teacher at a co-op, a nanny, and finally a teacher at a non-profit preschool/early years centre. I love the career path that I chose because I believe that it better prepared me, personally, for motherhood.

Robin Kay Twentyventi Interview with a Minimalist with Daughter Ramona Jean

It’s sometimes hard to remember what I did with my free time before I became a mother, because my days are now fully devoted to my daughter. We play, read, and sometimes nap together. I try to make time to brush up on my photography skills, and occasionally write while she naps. As a family we love to go on walks, visit new places and vegan bakeries, and just stay in together.

Robin Kay Twentyventi Interview with a Minimalist with Daughter Ramona Jean

How many children do you have and what are they like?

I have one daughter, Ramona Jean, who is 9 months old. From the beginning, I feel like she was brimming with so much personality – she was so alert and vocal even as a newborn (and I thought it would be such a boring phase!). We jokingly call her “nosy” because she’s so hyper aware and curious about everything, constantly straining her neck to see what’s around the corner.

Robin Kay Twentyventi Interview with a Minimalist with Daughter Ramona Jean

I find that she’s such a mixture of quiet and loud, calm and wild, spirited and sweet. It’s such a balance of strengths on either end of the spectrum. She’s quick to smile and laugh, but on the other hand deeply sensitive. She’s full of sass and determination, but has such a calm, thoughtful nature. She’s opinionated, yet easygoing. We’ve just been over the moon in love these past nine months, and cherish every second we spend with her.

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Robin Kay Twentyventi Interview with a Minimalist with Daughter Ramona Jean

Do you have a favourite quote or words that inspire you?

“No man has the right to dictate what other men should perceive, create or produce, but all should be encouraged to reveal themselves, their perceptions and emotions, and to build confidence in the creative spirit.” – Ansel Adams

I believe there are many ways to be a minimalist and many forms of minimalism. What does minimalism mean to you? And, in what ways are you a minimalist?

Minimalism means, in the most basic terms, living simply. And I really think that applies to all things.

To me, there is a huge sustainability aspect to minimalism – buying less, consuming less, and choosing products that have a minimal harmful impact on the earth. I came across a quote by Vivienne Westwood the other day: “Buy less, choose well, and make it last” which just felt so appropriate for this time in our lives. My husband and I choose to buy mostly used goods from an environmental standpoint (they don’t use up new resources, often don’t have packaging, etc), and when we buy new we try our best to support brands that use sustainable materials or practices, and that are high quality that will last over time.

Robin Kay Twentyventi Interview with a Minimalist with Daughter Ramona Jean

With this mindset we strive to live with less, and to be more mindful about what enters our home, separating want from need. We try to apply this simple, more thoughtful way of life to all aspects of our lives, even the food we eat. We buy as much organic and locally grown produce as our budget will allow, and prepare all of our meals with whole ingredients. Ultimately this simplified way of life allows us to focus on what’s really important, which is spending time together as a family, and tending to our passions.

Robin Kay Twentyventi Interview with a Minimalist with Daughter Ramona Jean

I’ve heard from others in this series that they wouldn’t call themselves a ‘minimalist’ and yet the notions of ‘less is more’ and ‘live simply’ permeates their life perspective. So, what is your story, how did you arrive at a point where simple, less, minimal feel right to you?

When my husband and I were married five a half years ago, for the first little while I carried on living the way I was raised, filling our home with things we didn’t really need, often that we thought we needed. Growing up, it had been very normal for me to be surrounded by “stuff.” Good deals, roadside finds, intentions for projects, things we might need later, multiples of almost everything. There were more things than there was space or time for. And there was also this attachment, this innate need to hold on to everything.

As newlyweds, it felt like we were always organizing or trying to find places for things. There seemed to be an ongoing conversation about buying MORE furniture or moving into a bigger place just to hold our stuff, which is just ridiculous to me now, thinking back on it. There was just so much waste – waste of time, resources, money – and this general dissatisfaction with what we had, even though we had so much.

So two things happened all at once, and that was realizing how wasteful we were being, and deciding that we didn’t need more to be content.

And from there it was a process of undoing everything that I was taught, both in my upbringing and by our consumer society. Each year our resolve grows stronger – we declutter more and are more realistic about what we really need (or don’t need, which is more often the case). When we moved last April I realized how much stuff we had accumulated that was out of sight and unused – we de-owned almost half of our furniture and possessions in the move, and have since shed even more.

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Early on in the simplifying process a friend told me that everything he owned could fit in his car and that he could uproot and move anywhere at a moment’s notice – it was such a beautiful, inspiring thought, but also gave me a little anxiety thinking about the size of car I would need to fit all the things I currently owned. Ideally, everything that we own needs to have a “home.” I often strive towards the popular William Morris quote:

“Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.”

(And even better if it’s both!)

The more that we commit to this way of life, the easier it gets, and the more at peace we become with ourselves and our lifestyle. It’s almost addictive how freeing it is – I find myself wondering how little I can possibly live with. Is there even more I can get rid of? I don’t think I could strip down to standard-car-size level (at least yet), but I’m working my way down bit by bit.

Since Ramona was born I find I am a lot less attached to things, maybe because it’s readjusted my focus on what’s really important. I know that I want her to grow up in a calm, uncluttered space, with more time to spend together instead of our possessions.

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Are there any books, websites or other resources that have inspired your minimalism?

I have heard great things about the book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo, which I have yet to read myself. This website (Hippie In Disguise) has been a great resource, and always gets me thinking and revisiting my ideas on sustainable minimalism. [ editorial note: Thank you Robin! ]

Other than that my method is fairly unstudied. I’ve always felt inspired by the clean, minimal look of Scandinavian homes, which is very apparent from my Pinterest boards (minimalism, of course, doesn’t mean all white and lots of negative space, but that’s what inspires me personally). I’m also quite inspired by Waldorf education, which to me has always felt very minimal in its simplicity and focus on nature.

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In what ways do you struggle with keeping things minimal? What is your weakness?

Books, without a doubt. When we moved 10 months ago, most of or boxes were filled with books. I generally only ever buy secondhand, and it’s the one thing I never feel guilty about having too much of. But I do feel guilty for not having read all the books we own.

My other weakness is holding on to certain things for too long, wondering if I ever might need it again.

Have there been any struggles with the other people you live with about living in a minimal way?

My husband is right on board with me, and also sees the benefit in having less. Sometimes we differ in our opinions of what is essential, but we respect what is important to other. As an artist, he needs to have a lot of supplies and mediums, as well as paintings or set pieces he is working on – and while I sometimes am frustrated at having to find places to store giant canvases (there’s a stack beside our dresser at the moment, and two 5×5 foot canvases in our dining room), it also beautifies our space, and encourages creativity.

In what ways has minimalism improved your life?

There’s this Swedish proverb that says “He who buys what he does not need, steals from himself.” It frustrates me to think of all the time I’ve spent rearranging, reorganizing and moving clutter from one place to another, when I could have been writing or taking photographs or any number of more useful things.

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Less really IS more. It’s more time, more energy, more focus on what’s important to us. And that has improved my life by making more present, more appreciative and content with what I do have, rather than always seeking more of something.

What advice can you offer to people interested in living a minimalist lifestyle?

I think the term “minimalist” always frightened me because I thought I would be judged or misusing it if I didn’t have tons of bare space, or if I didn’t live off the grid, surviving off the land, growing my own vegetables and knitting my own clothes.

There are no rules – minimalism looks different to everyone. You have to start somewhere, and it begins with just trying to get rid of the excess in your life (the old blender you never parted with even though you bought a new one, three of the five frying pans you own, etc.), and then in a few months, revisiting what your idea of excess is. At first it might seem difficult and a slow process, but after actively working towards your own vision of minimalism, it eventually becomes second nature.

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Do you have any goals for this year or next few that you want to share?

I want to read more – not online articles, not emails, and especially not Instagram captions, but actual physical books. I was an avid reader growing up, and it pains me that so much of my time these days is spend “plugged in.” My goal is one book a month, at least. I also want to learn a new skill, whether that’s knitting or bookbinding or woodworking or doing a cartwheel.

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Minimalism Twentyventi

As a family, one of our goals is to try to exclusively purchase from ethical brands. It often means saving up and buying less, but it is in harmony with our lifestyle.

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Thank you Robin! Readers you can find Robin on Instagram @twentyventi or over at her blog Twenty Venti.

Find all the other interviews in this series here. Please share this post if you liked it!

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You might also like my post:

How to Get Started with Minimalism

13 Ways to Simplify Your Wardrobe

The Slow Living Project

Let’s be friends! Please come find me in other places:

Alison LIttle Interview with a Minimalist Our LIttle House

Interview with a Minimalist: Alison Little

Alison LIttle Interview with a Minimalist Our LIttle House

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 LIttle Interview with a Minimalist Our LIttle House

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.

Alison LIttle Interview with a Minimalist Our LIttle House

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.

Alison LIttle Interview with a Minimalist Our LIttle House

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.

Alison LIttle Interview with a Minimalist Our LIttle House

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 these Instagrammers have 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.
Our Little House

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.

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You might also like my post:

How to Get Started with Minimalism

13 Ways to Simplify Your Wardrobe

The Slow Living Projecthttp://www.hippieindisguise.com/slow-living-project/

Let’s be friends! Please come find me in other places:

Have you subscribed to the Global Guardian Project yet? These are monthly learning capsules for children and families to learn about global stewardship. Each month features a different country’s wild life, landscape and challenges, and includes art projects, activities, meditation, recipes and more! Use my discount code: HIPPIEINDISGUISE for 10% off, you can read more about it here

How to Get Started with Minimalism: Assess Your Personality

I am no expert, nor am I a perfect or pure minimalist. Truthfully, there is no pure or perfect; there is process. Process is about experience, learning, trial and error. In this post I’ll share with you some of the things that worked for getting me and our family going with minimalism, especially with regard to decluttering and living with less. Minimalism is more than just stuff, but that is a big part of it, at least when you begin.

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We are not a family living in luxury; there are many basic things we go without, not entirely by choice, but by matter of circumstance (mainly lack of money). However, we live in Canada and not in poverty so I know we’re living very well. That said, we don’t have a lot of things that families consider necessary and basic. We don’t have a car, we don’t have a dining table (read here), we don’t have a desktop computer, TV, air conditioning and so on. But, still, we do have lots of things. Many of these things are the things that easily accumulate like toys, books, and clothing.

If you’ve read books about de-cluttering, like Marie Kondo’s opus, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, you’ll know that she recommends doing your tidying and discarding all in one go. Wait, what?! That’s just slightly impossible to imagine if you work full time, have young children and/or are single parenting. It’s just not realistic. That said, I do recommend people read her book, not necessarily for the process she recommends, but for her excellent discussion of all the positive benefits of de-cluttering and setting your home in order, along with the many social and health benefits you wouldn’t imagine result from decluttering. I also really love her discussion of the deep respect we should show to things and inanimate objects. This is quite an uncommon perspective, but one I share, and I’m so happy she has brought it to a mass audience. My one reservation, which I’ve mentioned before, is that her book does not offer strategies for discarding things in an ecological way. She uses the word garbage bag way too many times for my liking. ‘Garbage bag’ is a dirty word, am I right?

Then there are others who advocate a longer de-cluttering process, taken in steps over a period of time that works for you. Maybe doing one room each day or each week, until you are done, is the best approach for you? What I think is important is for you to first assess your own personality, your own sources of motivation, and figure out what approach will keep you going to the end. Aristotle’s words on education are as relevant to that process as that of minimalism:

The roots of education are bitter, but the fruit is sweet.

Some people need to see instant progress or have to finish a job quickly once they’ve started or else they know they’ll never finish it. These people are probably going to find success with the all-on-one go method. Are you someone who doesn’t a finish project unless you do it in a short period? If so, you should dedicate a full weekend to purging and de-cluttering and then the job is done. All you have to do is be a good gate keeper and not allow much new stuff to come into your home and you’ll maintain it easily. If you do a proper and thorough job you will love your new space and it will be easy to maintain because you’ll be careful about not disturbing the calm you achieved. Problems arise when you only half de-clutter…more on that later.

The reality is most of us don’t have the time, energy or resources to do it all in one go. That was the case for me. So here are the strategies and techniques I applied, choose one or both:

1)      The Smoking Jacket Approach

Start by making one room, your favourite room or the room you spend the most time in, fully decluttered. Make an oasis of calm, decluttered space in your home. Be thorough, don’t leave any corner of the room messy or cluttered, even if it’s out of sight. (Cluttered closets and drawers should not be left as is, in your mind you know they are there and the busy clutter will affect you subconsciously). Once you have one room that is just how you like it, you will likely be motivated to do the same in other rooms. If you don’t have the time right away, you at least have a space to retreat to that feels just right. Additionally, other people will likely be drawn to this space and enjoy the calm it offers and they may, in turn, be motivated to arrange their own spaces in the house similarly, and at the very least will be less resistant to you decluttering other rooms once they feel the benefits, physically and emotionally, of being in a peaceful, calm space. This was certainly true in the case of my family. Once I decluttered my bedroom thoroughly Ro was much more open to me doing the same to her room, while before this she had been very hesitant. She thought she felt a comfort in things, but learned through experience that she actually preferred a decluttered space.

Once you have one room just right what is likely to happen is what I call the smoking jacket phenomenon (it is also known as the Diderot effect). I didn’t invent this phrase. The smoking jacket phenomenon is a reference to a story of a man who lived in what he thought was a decently furnished apartment. He was then given a beautiful, luxury smoking jacket. It was so lovely that it made everything around seem shabby in comparison. He became sad and was then motivated, even driven, to one thing at a time replace everything he owned with something that measured up to that smoking jacket. By the time he replaced everything he owned the smoking jacket then didn’t seem beautiful enough to be among all his new things. The story is (as originally told) intended to convey the traps of consumerism, stuff, and class status – that you’ll never reach that point when your stuff is enough.

When it comes to decluttering you can apply a smoking jacket analogy, and interestingly it does the reverse of the original story. So, once you make one space in your home just exactly as you like it, calm, clear of clutter, the other rooms will look and feel poor in comparison, you’ll be motivated to declutter each one, until you have done it to all the rooms and the whole home matches the beauty and peace of the first room you started with. Turning the original problem of the smoking jacket on its head, you can use this approach to make less your more, to make less enough.

2)      The Baby Steps Approach

The other approach I recommend for those who think a whole room is just too much to accomplish right away, is identifying small contained units that you can declutter one at a time. A unit could be your bathroom cabinet, your utensil drawer, the bottom drawer in your dresser, your linen closet, etc. Make it whatever size, small or tiny, that you think is manageable. The important thing to ensure is that whatever you choose to declutter you finish the decluttering in one go. If you only half declutter you may not go back and finish or you might say “it’s good enough”. But let me tell you: when you haven’t fully decluttered it is very easy for it slip back into clutter. Furthermore other people may not notice the change and may re-clutter it. Whereas, if it is done fully and well, you will be motivated to maintain it and others will likely help keep it that way. Think of a counter with no dirty dishes, people are more likely to wash up their dish than start a pile, or will put the dish in the dishwasher. But once there is one dirty dish there on the counter everyone just piles things on. It’s like permission to make a mess! So, what I recommend is to make a small area clutter free and then build on that success.

The baby steps approach, by the way, is also my maintenance technique. I know that if I lived alone the clutter would not return. But I live with people that have other interests than tidying and less sensitivity to space. So things accumulate, not too much, but they do. So I usually spend a few minutes a day just going through a small zone and making sure to discard any clutter. When Sen is in the bath, I’m checking the bathroom vanity. When water is waiting to boil, I’m looking in the utensil drawer for stray elastics or twist ties, etc. Everytime laundry is returned from the dryer I take out anything that the kids don’t love to wear or don’t really need, and I ask Ro not to hang anything from her laundry that she doesn’t love, but instead to put it in our donation bag. Every week she’s assessing what she wants to keep. Doing this on an ongoing basis has made it very easy for her to part with things. Whereas just a few years ago Matt and I had a very serious conversation about how me might work with Ro on non-attachment since she seemed so obsessively attached to her things (like crying when we recycled a paper napkin she had used at a restaurant to doodle on). She has since outgrown this phase, mostly likely natural maturing, but she’s also gotten quite good at parting with her less loved things on a regular basis through practice.

So there you have it, two ways to get started with minimalism based on your personality assessment: all in one go or step by step process. Within the step by step process you can use the smoking jacket approach or the baby steps approach.

I’ll write another post on how to decide what to keep, but for now try to think about your own personality, what motivates you to finish a project. Understanding yourself better will help you decide if you are an all-in-one go person or not, and then how to proceed.

As an aside, I find that Erin Boyle’s book Simple Matters is great for the step by step, over time approach to decluttering. She also has a child so understands the challenges of having gifts and new things constantly coming into your home. You can find her book here. Another great book for families is Joshua Becker’s Clutter Free with Kids, which you can find here.

Feel free to ask any questions in the comments; I’m happy to answer. If you think you’d like to start with decluttering closets and clothing, this post here will really help with that. Another post, here, has tips for involving children in minimalism and decluttering (called “In the News”).

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Let’s be friends! Please come find me in other places:

Julie Fathy the beauty in simple Hippie in Disguise Interview with a Minimalist Cloth Diapers

Interview with a Minimalist: Julie

Simply do without.

When I was setting up my first apartment my parents kindly sent me off with all the duplicates from their house: some extra utensils, cups, bath towels, bedroom linens, things that had accumulated but that they didn’t really need. It was very kind of them. Despite their generosity the majority of the things I needed like a frying pan, a bed and a table to eat at were still among the items missing from my apartment. My instinct was to buy an inexpensive frying pan at a discount store, something that would last a few months, hopefully a year, until I could afford a good one. I felt some guilt even at the thought of buying something I knew would soon become garbage, but what choice did I have? Matt, thank goodness for him, said there was clearly a choice: Choose to do without. Do without until you can buy something you’ll own forever. Aha! He was right. Soooo right. So, I lived those first few months without any appliances and just a few kitchen tools, until I could buy a premium frying pan with a lifetime warranty. It was expensive, but we still own it and use it today. We’ve never had to replace it, likely never will.

Since this time, we have always taken the approach that we will not buy a “for now” or “temporary” item. We only buy forever things — quality things that we expect to last our lifetime, that we never expect to replace. This has meant we’ve gone a long time without some things (13 years without a bed, yep!), but it has also meant we’ve lightened our impact on the planet and overall have saved ourselves money. We’ve also learned a lot about the difference between need and want. Most things we think we need, we really, truly, simply want.

To this day we still do not have a kitchen or dining table. We eat at a desk, a writing desk. There have been countless times I’ve wanted to make a trip to Ikea and buy some cheap dining table that could comfortably seat us and a few guests. But I’ve resisted. We’ve had holiday meals with 14 people squeezed like sardines around that desk. We’ve had many cozy dinners with friends around it – elbows knocking each other and no space for serving dishes, but enjoying food and conversation just the same. We’ve done just fine for nearly 20 years eating as a couple, eating as a family of 4, entertaining guests around a desk. We haven’t really done without.

Today, I’ve got a fantastic interview to share with you, with someone who really inspires others to think about what they can do without. Julie Fathy is a mother of three, living a simple life, inspired by minimalism and living in an ecologically thoughtful way. Her blog is a great resource for learning how to live with less, much less, how to do things yourself, how to live garbage free, and how to fill your life with fun and adventure. I hope you enjoy hearing from Julie and are inspired by what she shares.

Let’s start with a little bit about you. Who are you? What’s your background?

I’m a mother to teenagers and a toddler and married to the father of my youngest child. We live in Denver, Colorado. I work outside of the home at a company I started with another woman 12 years ago. When I’m not at the office, you’ll typically find me either at home or in the outdoors exploring. I get great enjoyment from time spent cooking, sewing, knitting, reading and making stuff. I also have a deep nature connection with a strong desire to protect the planet and explore the beauty it offers. My husband and I share a love for skiing, mountain biking, camping and mountaineering. We’re currently working on climbing all of our state’s 58 14,000+ foot mountains, of which I’ve summited 30.

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How many children do you have and what are they like?

I have three children ages 18, 16, and 2. My 18 year old daughter is a very driven and fiercely independent young woman. She shows a tremendous amount of generosity to others and works hard to keep a positive attitude in life. She’ll be a freshman at the University of Mississippi next year. My 16 year old son is a creative soul and a talented photographer. He has a great deal of compassion and a wonderful sense of humor. My two year old is a love bug. He has a very social and happy temperament and gives hugs and kisses freely. He loves to follow his big brother and sister around.

Do you have a favourite quote or words that inspire you?

I’m not even sure where it came from, but a favorite quote is “You can have what you want, or the excuses for not.” The quote serves as a reminder that the only thing stopping me from my goals and dreams are excuses. When I catch myself making an excuse I look hard at why. Sometimes an excuse serves as a means of filtering out things that aren’t important, but sometimes they are the stopping block for reaching a goal or dream.

I believe there are many ways to be a minimalist and many forms of minimalism. What does minimalism mean to you? And, in what ways are you a minimalist?

I’m drawn to simplicity in all aspects of my life and have found minimalism to be one of the best tools to achieve simplicity. By ridding my life of clutter, both mental and physical, I’m leaving space for what I value. There’s not an area in my life that I don’t give consideration on how it could be simplified.

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What is your story, how did you start on a path toward a minimalist lifestyle?

I would say I started on a minimalist path when I became a single mom. I envisioned a different life for myself and children that was edited of extra stuff so that time, money and energy could be freed up for a more intentional and meaningful life.

For 2016 you took a pledge to buy nothing new for the whole year. What inspired this? And how is it going?

I took the pledge for a couple reasons, and I can’t really say which is more important to me. On one hand, I’m on a journey to live lighter on the planet and use fewer of the earth’s resources. With a little creativity and resourcefulness, it’s easy to use what we have on hand, buy secondhand, repurpose materials, or simply do without.

I also took the pledge to curtail my spending so that I can pay off a home debt more rapidly and ultimately achieve financial freedom. When I do pay off what remains of the debt, I don’t expect my spending habits to change much. My hopes and dreams aren’t to own more, but to do more. The hardest part of the challenge is that my teenagers have expectations of me to provide some of their material goods. Sometimes it’s tough to say “no” but I did build in a quarterly clothing allowance that allows me to stay within my parameters, but gives them the freedom to make their own choices.

I’m a month into buying nothing new (with the exception of food and household consumables) and it’s going well. I’ve noticed when I decrease my spending, there’s a decrease in my desire for stuff as well. I suppose that’s because I notice my happiness level doesn’t change, and if anything, it goes up when I stop buying stuff.

You are working towards a zero waste lifestyle, can you talk more about this?

Moving towards a zero waste lifestyle is a way for me to reduce my ecological footprint. What may be surprising to some is that the lifestyle is also beneficial to those living it. It forces you to buy package-free products, which tend to be unprocessed, whole foods, goods made from natural and renewable materials, and products and ingredients that are void of chemicals, synthetic colors and fragrances. I’ve also found a zero waste lifestyle to be one of the best ways to achieve a minimalist aesthetic. Just look into the homes of some of the zero waste bloggers (here, here, and here). For those interested in learning about a zero waste life, I am sharing ideas on how to get started on my blog this month (February).

Are there any books, websites or other resources that have inspired your minimalism?

One of my favorite resources is the Center for a New American Dream. Their message is “one that emphasizes community, ecological sustainability, and a celebration of non-material values.” A couple blogs that come to mind is Becoming Minimalist and Assortment. For parents, especially with young children, I can recommend the book Simplicity Parenting. The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up is a wonderful book to help with the decluttering process.

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In what ways/areas do you struggle with keeping things minimal? What is your weakness?  

When we think of minimalism, we generally think of our physical space being clutter-free, but for me a far greater struggle is clearing clutter from my digital space, both in terms of time spent there and the amassed information stored there. It takes a tremendous amount of diligence and discipline to limit our online exposure, even for the most conscientious. For the most part I don’t want my entertainment coming from digital media. I’d much rather spend that time pursuing my hobbies and interests and building relationships with my family and friends. The filter I apply to help me find balance in my digital life is the exposure must be informational (as it applies to my life), inspirational, or provide a meaningful connection. Anything that doesn’t fall into those categories I make a point to clear from my space.

Have there been any struggles with the other people you live with about living in a minimal way?

One of my biggest struggles I have isn’t per say with family, but it’s being gracious and accepting of all gifts received from family and friends. While most gifts are loved and appreciated, sometimes a gift can feel like a burden. For someone who’s not a minimalist, this may be hard to understand. Obviously honoring a person’s generosity, thoughtfulness, and well intentions are far more important than giving attention to my own apprehensions. The best way I’ve learned to deal with this struggle is to suggest to family and friends to exchange experiential or consumable gifts, or skip the gift giving altogether.

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In what ways has minimalism improved your life?

The biggest thing minimalism affords me is freedom. It can mean freedom from debt and freedom from the burden that comes with owning too much stuff. Minimalism leaves space to pursue my dreams.

What have been some unexpected experiences (positive or negative) you’ve had with minimalism?

Although it doesn’t happen very often, there have been situations where I’ve given away or sold something that I later regret. In my ambition to reach financial freedom, I once sold a set of beautiful silver dessert forks that were family heirlooms to help pay down my debt. They would likely still be in a box unused, but I’m sorry I sold them.

I have so many positive experiences related to minimalism, but one I love to share is the mobility my minimalist camping set-up has afforded me. Although it doesn’t happen as often anymore, my husband used to call me on a Friday afternoon at 4pm and suggest we depart that evening for a weekend of camping. I never hesitated because I’ve streamlined our camping gear to fit inside of a toolbox (tent, sleeping gear and food excluded). It was so easy to grab those few things and go.

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What advice can you offer to people interested in living a minimalist lifestyle?

I think the best approach to minimalism is to look at ways to simplify your life. Simplifying forces the things you don’t value to start falling away. Once you get started, you probably won’t look back.

Do you have any goals for this year or the next few that you want to share?

My husband and I are making plans to take a sabbatical after my teenagers leave for college (my daughter starts this fall and my son next). We’d like to travel with our toddler to British Columbia, Alaska and parts of the west coast. My husband has been slowly equipping our truck for overland travel, which will eventually include a rooftop tent for our sleeping quarters. After our travels, we plan to settle in Bozeman, Montana.

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Thank you Julie! Readers you can read more from Julie on her blog the beauty in simple, where she documents her family’s path to a simpler life from an ecologically thoughtful perspective. You can also find her on Instagram @thebeautyinsimple. You can find all the interviews in this series “interview with a minimalist” here.

If you liked this post please consider sharing it or subscribing to my blog (see side bar links or below) or both (!), your support helps me continue to write and share.

You might also like my post:

The Slow Living Project

Inhaling the Season, Inhaling the Moment

13 Ways to Simplify your Wardrobe

How to Make Delicious Cashew Milk: Garbage Free

Let’s be friends! Please come find me in other places:

Interview with a Minimalist: Andrea

Minimalism draws us in different ways. The reasons range from environmental concerns, to stress and anxiety reduction, financial freedom, aesthetics, and simplicity. And surely there are others. But it seems that over time these start to converge, at least they did for me. Week after week people generously share their stories on this blog, today I’ll tell you a little about mine before we get to Andrea’s.

I’ve always loved a tidy, sparse space, and been concerned about my impact on the environment. As as child I would secretly take things out of the garbage and recycling bin, if I thought my family could still make use of them, and stash them away in my room. Later in life, as a busy parent of two I started to feel excessive stress and anxiety related to our home space, the constant mess, even though I was always tidying and really we don’t own that much it was still: Constant. Mess. I craved simplicity and aesthetic comfort in our home space. Tidying daily wasn’t working, so I changed gears. I started by drastically reducing the amount of stuff we had, goodbye duplicates, goodbye infrequently used items, and so on. And just like that things started to lighten. I felt calmer. I gave things away to people who would actually use them instead of keeping them “in case” (in case we didn’t have the money to buy it later on, that was usually my fear), our home life gradually became simpler and our space was aesthetically more pleasing. We spent less money and had more time — the greatest resource of all — to do the things we loved doing. With all the ways minimalism has benefitted us, it’s no wonder I think of it as a way of life.

Today, Andrea is sharing her story of finding minimalism and how it works for her family of four and what opportunities it has given them. Andrea is a mother of two, secular homeschooler, and creatively self-employed. I hope you feel inspired by her story. And if you would like to share yours please email me.

Andrea, let’s start with a little bit about you. Who are you? What’s your background?

I am a 30 year old homeschooling stay-at-home mom of two bright children. Before meeting my husband and having children, I was a very career oriented hard working woman in the healthcare industry trying to buy my first home on my own. After moving to the Maritimes, I met my relaxed husband and adapted to the slower, laid-back lifestyle. I started to really explore New Brunswick and the neighbouring provinces, focused on having joyful and meaningful experiences, I learned a lot from him. It is the experiences we have that create our story and not the things we accumulate.

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What part of the world do you live in?

We live in the beautiful Maritime province of New Brunswick, Canada.

How many children do you have and what are they like?

We have two children ages 5 and 3. Our eldest son is an extremely chatty, no non-sense, inventive child with a passion to create anything out of a piece of string, some painters tape and binder clips. Our younger child is fun-loving, empathetic, loves to be silly and is determined he is a Fire Rescue Man. They are complete opposites of each other in appearances, attitudes, and preferences, but are inseparable

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What are you passionate about?

I am very passionate about the family I have created and what we want to accomplish together. We are currently homeschooling our children and are working to build an off grid, self sufficient small minimalist home and homestead. We want to go ‘back to basics’ in a sense, to show our children how to appreciate what we have, to have the ability to be happy and fulfilled with little possessions, and to show them to have gratitude for what we do have.

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I believe there are many ways to be a minimalist and many forms of minimalism. What does minimalism mean to you? And, in what ways are you a minimalist?

To me, minimalism means living with only what you need, in all areas of our life, not just the amount of possessions a person has. Our family takes a minimal approach to everything, the amount of toys our children have, how we shop for our groceries to reduce waste, the size of our small rental apartment, the lack of a television, even the amount of debt we are willing to create for ourselves when purchasing a vehicle.

So, what is your story, how did you start on a path toward a minimalist lifestyle?

It’s funny actually, because a few years ago, I would never have considered myself a minimalist, certainly not a hoarder but definitely lost in the middle of all that meaningless stuff! Once we became pregnant with our first child the maternal instinct to collect and nest kicked in and next thing I knew, I had a three story 1500 square foot home full of ‘stuff’. It was three years later when we moved across the province that I realized how ludicrous it was to fill a 26′ long truck full of things we rarely used. It was all laid out in front of me and I knew I needed to change our lifestyle not only for myself, but to be the kind person I hoped my children would turn out to be.

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Are there any websites or other resources that have inspired your minimalism? Favourite books?

I have always flown by the seat of my pants when making minimal choices for our family, but I strongly relate and agree with a quote from William Morris, “If you want a golden rule that will fit everything, this is it: Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.” The simplicity of our home and everything in it really reflects the guidance the quote has offered to us.

In what ways/areas do you struggle with keeping things minimal? What is your weakness?

Homeschooling my children while living a minimalist lifestyle is an oxymoron! It’s really hard, I won’t sugar coat it! Homeschooling requires a variety of tools, books and other resources to home educate the children in all subjects just like children who attend a physical school. However, children that are sent to school have an entire building dedicated to their learning environment, with endless resources, books and sometimes separate rooms for various subjects. My biggest challenge is to find multi-use resources, games, or toys to effectively homeschool without accumulating a lot of possessions and making it all fit in our small apartment.

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Have there been any struggles with the other people you live with about living in a minimal way?

In our home we have no issues with people and our minimal choices because we are all on board with this lifestyle. However, there are a few extended family members or colleagues of my husband, who wonder why we haven’t ‘settled down’ and purchased a large expensive home, that our apartment is too small for our family, or that we need to sell our car and purchase a newer pricey vehicle. These remarks are all well meaning because society rewards us for purchasing these big exciting and expensive things, but it doesn’t affect our choice to live our minimal lifestyle with less debt.

What have been some unexpected experiences (positive or negative) you’ve had with minimalism?

The most exciting and unexpected side effect of living in this minimal lifestyle is how well our 5 year old understands it. It is amazing when a birthday rolls around and he is showered with gifts, he will consult with us on which toys he would like to part with and give to another boy who may not been as fortunate. I cannot think of another child who would be so willing to part with toys. Occasionally he will ask for a new toy and to bargain with us, he will name off all the toys he would gladly live without to get a beloved new toy.

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What advice can you offer to people interested in living a minimalist lifestyle?

Start small. Take a look around one room in your home and remove everything that you think is not useful to you enough to keep it or beautiful. There are so many people in this world that may need many of those items. We found once we began to remove more items the easier and easier it got! I remember when the microwave left the house, my husband didn’t notice for 2 weeks!

You are planning to move off the grid, can you tell me more about your plans and how far you’ve come?

We are going to purchase a piece of raw land in New Brunswick within one year and build a small 16’x20′ home that is power and water self-sufficient. We plan to continue homeschooling our children while growing most of our own food and eventually be able to supplement our income enough that we won’t have to work outside the home. So far, we have downsized our possessions to approximately a fourth of what we originally had, and downsized from our previous 1300 square foot home to a 700 square foot apartment. We still have a long way to go before we are able to live on our land in our small home but it will be worth the wait and hard work.

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You are also focused on waste reduction, can you share what you are doing to eliminate garbage from your life?

We’ve been trying to reduce the garbage we create when we shop because really that is the only waste we create, everything else is recycled or donated to families in need. When we grocery shop we use reusable shopping bags and try to buy everything in a reusable or recyclable container. Many things needed for our pantry can be purchased at The Bulk Barn which uses recyclable bags and containers and after shopping we put everything in large glass storage containers. Often the only thing that needs to be thrown away is our receipt. We try to shop for used items like clothing before we purchase new and very rarely do we bring anything into the home that isn’t groceries or crafting supplies from the dollar store.

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Do you have any goals for this year or the next few that you want to share?

My goal this year is to continue living this lifestyle because it brings much more meaning to our life and family.

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Thank you, Andrea! Readers you can find Andrea (her pseudonym) and follow her family’s adventures on her blog or her Facebook page.

If you liked this post please consider sharing it or subscribing to my blog (visit the sidebar or link to Bloglovin below), your support helps me continue to write and share.

 You might also like:

Garbage Free: How to Make your own Delicious Raw Cashew Milk

Interview with a Minimalist: The Devine Family

Top post: Any Occasion, Sustainable Gift Guide for Children

Want to find me in other places?

13 Ways to Simplify Your Wardrobe

One of the easiest places to start downsizing your stuff is with non-sentimental, everyday items like clothing. We are usually quite familiar with our favourite items and know which ones we haven’t worn in ages. Having less clothing has so many advantages, such as simplifying decisions when getting dressed, cutting down on laundry and saving money. But how do you choose what to keep?

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If you’re familiar with the KonMari method, Marie Kondo suggests you keep only the things that “spark joy.” While I think this is a useful lens through which to edit your home, it really doesn’t work well for me as the only lens for making decisions. If I used this method to decide what clothing to keep I’d be left with 5 items: 2 dresses from Ace & Jig, a dress from Nico Nico, and a skirt and dress from Thief & Bandit (these are organic, small scale, north american made clothing lines). I don’t really like anything else that I own, in fact I feel guilt since the rest of it comes from big box stores, because that’s where I can afford to shop. I haven’t bothered counting the number of items in my wardrobe, there aren’t many. I know that I have one pair of jeans and one pair of shoes for each season. The rest isn’t much, but it’s definitely enough.

Putting the “sparks joy” method aside I have a few other techniques that can help you minimize your wardrobe and keep it that way:

1) Empty your closet and dresser completely: When you do this you will likely be overwhelmed by the volume and will be highly motivated to reduce your stock of clothing. This is a good technique if you have a lot of clothing, making a big mess of it you’ll surely want to part with a lot of it when you see the massive pile.

2) Follow the “plus 1” rule: You only need enough of a daily item, like socks, to go one week plus an extra day. Otherwise you will keep going through your 42 pairs of underwear and 37 pairs of socks until there are none left and then do the laundry (and spend way too much time trying to match up pairs of socks). You need 8 pairs at most. Sure, you might have special underwear and seasonal socks, but for those that are for daily use, limit yourself to 8.

3) Hang as much of your clothing as possible: Having clothes stare you in the face is a good way to remember what you have, and realize what you don’t wear, because it isn’t at the bottom of a pile feeling under appreciated. I don’t own a dresser or clothing rack. All my clothing is hung in my single closet, my socks and underwear hang from a basket in the closet too. Limiting yourself to just closet space forces you to minimize your clothing and frees up floor space in your room (bonus!). I have done the same with the children’s clothing, no dressers, just closets.

4) At the start of each season reverse your hangers: (Reverse: meaning to hang the hanger with the opening of the hook facing out of the closet, as opposed to the conventional manner of hanging of the hook opening toward the back of the closet). At the end of the season all the hangers that are still hanging backwards have items on them that you do not need. If it can be worn in the current season and you didn’t wear it, then donate it to someone who will.

5) Eliminate back-ups: Just because you have 6 white t-shirts and 8 blacks ones doesn’t mean you should. ‘Basic’ is not a blanket exception for keeping a stash of clothing. Unless a t-shirt and jeans is your daily uniform, get rid of those extra shirts. At most you need two of each. Adopt a similar approach for other notorious back up items in your wardrobe, like extra cardigans and jeans. By the time you NEED to wear them, you will have a new back up. Get rid of them now! (But don’t throw them in the garbage, donate them, someone out there does need them.)

6) Keep only items that you love to wear or wear every week: You don’t need occasional items, they are just making it easier for moths to move into your cozy over-stuffed closet. You might not love all your clothing, like office wear, but if it’s in regular rotation and making it into the laundry most weeks then you should keep it. If not, donate it!

7) Keep things that suit your lifestyle: If you don’t wear a suit to work, you probably don’t need it. Think about how much time you spend doing things and what clothing you need. Do you need 12 pairs of yoga pants, when the last time you went to yoga was 3 months ago? Even if it was last week, you probably need 2 or 3 pairs. The more pairs you have the bigger your pile of laundry gets…

8) Keep clothing that is versatile: The more places you can wear something, the smaller your wardrobe can be. That means less time picking your outfit, cleaning, folding, ironing, and hanging clothing. More time to enjoy life!

9) Don’t focus on how much something cost: If you aren’t wearing it, it’s not adding any value to your life. Let someone else enjoy it. Donate it or find a consignment shop to sell it through.

10) Keep things that fit: Don’t save something because it will fit you when you lose or gain weight. When you reach your goal weight you will probably be excited and buy yourself something new.

11) Keep things that are your current style: We all have things in our closets that are cool, stylish, or insert another adjective: trendy, artsy, dressy, but that aren’t really our own personal style, they may be an aspirational style, but they aren’t our style. Admit to this, and then donate those items.

12) Let go of nostalgia: Take a photo of items you are saving for memory’s sake, you don’t need the actual item to re-live the memory. (Think high school sports jerseys, bridesmaid dresses, etc).

13) One in, one out: When you get something new, get rid of something old. This will keep things in check, and will make you hesitate with spontaneous purchases, because you know you will have to give something up when you get home.

There are many easy ways to get rid of your unwanted clothing without the need to put it in the garbage. I find the easiest way is posting to Kijiji, a free online classifieds service. I post ads offering “free bag of women’s size small clothing” “free bag of infant linens” “free miscellaneous kitchen items”. You can also drop bags off at local charity bins, shelters, churches and municipal offices (usually). If your clothing is still in good shape and you’d like to earn some money you can search online for local consignment shops.

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If you liked this post please consider sharing it, your support helps me continue to write and share.

You might also like:

Garbage Free: How to Make your own Delicious Cashew Milk

Confessions of a Minimalist

Top post: Any Occasion, Sustainable Gift Guide for Women 

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Interview with a Minimalist: Anna

A few months ago I came across a lovely new Instagram account @our_simplestory sharing the life of a minimalist family (formerly @minimalist_mindset). I was especially excited because the word ‘minimalist’ was used. Most families and people I come across who take an approach of ‘less is more’ to their life resist using the word. I suppose it may be resistance to trendy words, feelings that one isn’t minimalist enough, or just a general malaise with labels. That’s all fine. But part of my goal with these interviews is to explore all the different ways one can live through a minimal lens, just like there’s more than one way to be a woman, a mother, a teacher, a writer, there are many ways to be minimalist. In so many ways less is more.

Anna is a minimalist, design enthusiast, and homeschooling mother of three, and the woman behind @our_simplestory. I’m excited to share her perspective on and story of finding her passion for minimalism. I hope you enjoy the read, let me know what inspired you.

Anna, let’s start with a little bit about you. Who are you? What’s your background?

I’m 32 and married to my college sweetheart. After finishing my degree in journalism and working in the field four years, our first daughter was born. That’s when my days at home raising our kids began. Today we have three young daughters. Our typical day consists of homeschooling, reading good books, going on nature walks, and creating. As a family we enjoy simple adventures. Camping at the lake and strolling the farmers market are among our favorites. 
img_3019What part of the world do you live in?

The Midwest [USA].

How many children do you have and what are they like?

I have three amazing little girls. I can’t even begin to explain how different they are from one another, which makes it all the more fun. My oldest is an affectionate extrovert, my middle is an artsy introvert, and my youngest has a bit of everything going on. Being with them every day has been a blessing, and one I take for granted far too often.

img_3024I believe there are many ways to be a minimalist and many forms of minimalism. What does minimalism mean to you?

For me, minimalism is about having less. As a family of five in a small home with a tight budget, we have to be mindful with all of our purchases and what we bring into our home. We have discovered how much happier we are with less things. So, what is your story, how did you start on a path toward a minimalist lifestyle?

I have a very strong interest in design, particularly interior design and architecture. Clean lines and clutter free spaces have always drawn me in. We bought our first home five years ago, and have been designing and renovating since the day we moved in. Because our home is small, we chose to keep it open, airy, minimal, and bright. We have a lot of negative space to keep it from looking overly crowded. For example, our tiny eat-in kitchen (which also serves as our classroom) doesn’t have any upper cabinets or storage. We only have a small pantry, six drawers and a couple of base cabinets. People are surprised when they see our lack of storage, but it suits our needs so well. Living in a small space doesn’t mean you have to create more storage. It really forces you to think about what you bring in and what you hold on to.

img_3021 So, after integrating minimalist design into our home, I began to analyze each and every little thing we had, and if it was necessary or not. That is the when I realized my passion for a minimalist lifestyle.

Are there any books, websites or other resources that have inspired your minimalism?

On the design side of things, Remodelista, Kinfolk, and Dwell are my go to sources. When it comes to minimizing possessions and wardrobe, The Minimalists and Un-Fancy have great ideas. 
img_3027In what ways/areas do you struggle with keeping things minimal? What is your weakness?

Clothing and shoes have always been my weakness. However, I’ve recently downsized by creating a capsule wardrobe for each season. I currently have less than 40 items in my closet. I highly recommend this to everyone. You are faced with fewer decisions every time you get dressed, you only wear pieces that you love, and you put your money into high quality clothing that will last. Have there been any struggles with the other people you live with about living in a minimal way?

Not really. My husband is a furniture and fixtures designer, so he’s all about minimalist design. I think that helps him understand the value of minimalist living. My kids have been great with it too. We are constantly purging their things. I try to keep their selection simple and thoughtful, keeping only what draws out their imaginations, talents, and interests. For the most part, they are involved in decisions on what stays and what goes. They understand that they don’t need a lot to be happy or to keep busy. img_3023What have been some unexpected experiences (positive or negative) you’ve had with minimalism?

When you’re a minimalist, you don’t leisure shop as much. Instead of spending time and money shopping for new things, you have more time to spend with your family, and of course it’s easier on the budget. I’d say that’s a definite positive!

What advice can you offer to people interested in living a minimalist lifestyle?

You have to start small. Don’t feel pressured to give away everything you have. Just keep what you absolutely need. Start in one area of your home. The kitchen is always a good place to begin. Stuff can accumulate like crazy in all those drawers and cabinets!

Do you have any goals for this year or the next few that you want to share?

My husband and I have been dreaming about buying land somewhere in the country and building our forever, small space home. Lord willing, that day will come. In the meantime, we’ll keep looking for inspiration.

Thank you Anna! Readers you can find Anna on Instagram @our_simplestory

If you liked this post please consider sharing it or subscribing to my blog or both (!), your support helps me continue to write and share.

You might also like:

Confessions of a Minimalist

The Mathematics of Love

Interview with a Minimalist: Katrien

Top post: Any Occasion, Sustainable Gift Guide for Children 

Want to find me in other places?