Interview with a Minimalist: Marlies Hanse

“The most responsible thing we can do, if we care about the health of the planet, is to live in as small a home as possible.”

I recently heard this from an authority in the environmental movement. I’m not sure it’s true – that it is “the most” — after all, we hear all sorts of statements about the single most influential thing we can do to live more lightly upon the Earth: stop eating cows, stop eating animals, stop driving a car, stop living large, stop using plastic, curb our dependence on fossil fuels. But, no one can argue that any or all of these will not have a significant impact if adopted by the masses. Whether it is number 1 or number 4 on the list doesn’t really matter in the scheme of things. We know intellectually, and in our hearts, that these are important things we need to do, whether all at once or move toward over time.

 

Today, I am honoured and very excited to share with you the story of a family of four living in Berlin, Germany in a home measuring only 450 square feet. The family first moved into this tiny space by force of circumstance, but rather than dream of living bigger, they decided to see how they could enjoy and even thrive in a small space. In short time, they learned that living small was not only doable but enjoyable, it brought them closer together as a family and made financial decisions much easier.

Please read on to learn all about this family, shared through my interview with Marlies, and how living small is living large for them.

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

I’m a 28 year old mom and journalist. I grew up in The Netherlands, in a town not too far away from Amsterdam. Together with my younger sister and two brothers I had a happy and safe childhood. We loved creating our own world and every free moment we went to the nearby playground/park with our own cart full of snacks, costumes and blankets. This is such a lovely memory of my childhood. Our parents trusted us enough to just cross the road and play for hours together with our siblings and friends. After high school I went to college to study office management and worked for a few years as a personal assistant. In the mean time I married my high school sweetheart Jesse, who was a modern dance student at that time. Only nine months after we got married, he was offered a contract with a theatre in Germany. We were still in our early twenties and up for some adventure so we jumped at this opportunity. In six weeks we prepared our move to Onsabrück, a small town in rural north Germany. Jesse started his dancing career and I decided to start my own freelance writing business. After two years we moved to Heidelberg as the dance company Jesse was dancing with in the theatre in Osnabruck was moving there. For 3 years, we lived just outside Heidelberg in a small village where we could afford to rent a two-bed apartment with a small garden.

What part of the world do you live in?

Last summer we moved to Berlin. After 5 years of full-time dancing (including crazy work hours) we wanted something else for our family. We once visited Berlin for three days and we thought that would be a nice city for us to live. It’s very family friendly with lots of playgrounds, parks and child cafes. We live in the middle of the city and have easy access to all the wonderful things Berlin has to offer. At the same time we are not too far away from our families in Holland, which is about a 6-hour drive by car.

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

I have two kids: Jaïr (almost 4) and Evy (1,5). Jaïr is a very active and social boy with lots of blond curls. He is very creative and loves making things – whether with legos or paint – and at the moment he is fascinated with Africa. He goes to a small Waldorf-style Kindergarten and I love hearing him speak German. It’s unbelievable how easily kids are able to learn other languages.

Evy goes to the same Kindergarten as her brother. She is a very independent little girl and has taken on the same love for legos as her brother. We bought her a small doll for her first birthday, but she isn’t interested in it at all. She loves to do whatever Jaïr does.

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 for me is about living a simple life. We have a very small, simple apartment and therefore we also minimize clothing, toys and general stuff. We have no place for a large garbage bin in our kitchen, so we committed to a lifestyle with a minimal amount of waste. In an average week we empty our small trash bin twice. Minimalism has also a lot to do with freedom. We do not have a mortgage, the clothing of all four of us fits in one suitcase. We love the things we own, but we could quite easily give them up if needed. We focus on us as a family, connecting with friends and family and experiences instead of buying new stuff. Ultimate freedom and happiness.  

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

Our journey towards minimalism started 1.5 years ago when I stumbled on the tiny house movement. One of the first blogs I read was Assortment Blog. I loved how this mom of three teen boys designed her own little cottage and made it work for her family. In the same period I read the book Stuffocation. At that time we lived in an 800 square foot apartment and although I never considered myself as someone particularly attached to material goods, it shocked me how much stuff we had accumulated over the last years. Luckily my husband was on board as well, so we started to slowly get rid of stuff we never used. A few months later we decided to move to Berlin. We had a hard time finding an apartment of the same size we had in Heidelberg for an affordable price. A friend of ours moved out of her apartment and asked if we would like to take over as renters. Small detail: it was a one bedroom apartment with only 450 square feet without a storage basement, garden or even a balcony. We first declined, but after a few weeks decided to accept her offer. After the initial doubts, we got really excited. Now it was time to put all we read into practice. Could we live in a tiny apartment with a minimum of stuff? We started selling and giving away most of our furniture, clothes, toys, books, tableware, etc. In a small bus we drove to Berlin and we moved into our new, tiny home. The first weeks were hard. Jesse designed and made a foldout bed which we installed in our living room, but we had lots of troubles with it functioning well. The kids were not used to sleep in the same room, so they were constantly waking each other up. We missed our small garden. So yes, it took us a while to get used to our small place. To be honest, I sometimes dream of a house with three bedrooms, a kitchen where we can eat and a garden. But, still I’m really happy with our move to this tiny place.

Are there any websites or books that inspire your minimalism?

As mentioned above, there is Assortment Blog and the book Stuffocation. I also love Simplicity Parenting.

Some other websites I read:

What has been the greatest benefit of minimalism?

The greatest benefit of living small and practicing minimalism is the connection between us as a family. Our focus is on being together and strengthening our bond. In a very practical way for instance, we chose not to buy a new chair but rather, to get plane tickets to visit our family in Holland. Our budget is limited and we agreed on spending money on experiences rather than stuff. Living small also means going outside much more. We take the kids on long walks and since we don’t have a garden or balcony we go on picnics far more often. On a personal level, minimalism gave me more peace of mind. It helped me to get a clearer picture of what I want in life and what I certainly don’t want or need.

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Is your parenting influenced by minimalism?

An interesting read about this topic is Simplicity Parenting. Kim John Payne explains in this book how important it is to strip the life of our kids of all things unnecessary and allow them to be kids without too much distractions from our adult world. We do not own a TV and we are mindful about the toys we bring into our home. The kids both love to read and do arts and crafts, which I try to stimulate with offering lovely books and nice art materials. In these two areas I do not really feel the need to minimize, as I want to encourage them to read and be crafty. I love to see that their play is always full of fantasy and stories, despite the fact that they do not own many toys.

Minimalism also made us more critical about the things society considers good for our kids. Do they really need an enormous amount of toys? Is having your birthday about getting gifts? Lately we also have started to think about education and we are exploring the option to keep the kids out of school and let them follow their own interests by unschooling them.

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

Books for sure. The kids love to read and we have a lot of books for them. This is one of the few things we didn’t minimize over the last year. I think it’s important and fun for them to have access to a lot of books and I’m happy they are both fond of them. For me and Jesse it’s a bit different. We did give away lots of books, but still kept some that are dear to us. When we read a book, we generally give it away unless we really, really love it. Still our own bookshelves are growing since we arrived here.

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

I’m very happy Jesse and I are both in the same boat. We never have any struggles together about this topic. The funny thing is, Jaïr is always mentioning to everyone he has thousand cars and lots and lots of other toys. I always have to smile when he says it, because he doesn’t own very many toys. Isn’t it wonderful he thinks he does?

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

Start small. Just get rid of some stuff you are not going to miss for sure. Most likely it will give you a great feeling and you want to get rid of some more stuff. It took us almost two years to get to the point where we are now. There is no need to do everything at once.

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

We would love to travel the world with our kids and be able to work remotely. This makes us even more aware of the things we do or do not buy. For example, I’m a bit done with the pillows on our sofa, but if we are going to travel in two years, we’d better save this money instead of buying new ones we would have to give up anyway.  

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Thank you Marlies! Readers you can find Marlies on Instagram @marlieshanse.

 

Check out these other great interviews in this series:

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How to Get Started with Minimalism

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Social Media Minimalism: How to Balance Life and Instagram

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Danielle Chassin Hippie in Disguise in flower garden

In the News: Natural and Intuitive Parenting on Bondi

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About a month ago I received a lovely email from Tom in Israel. Tom had been following our family for a while and asked if I wouldn’t mind sharing my favourite educational activity with him — in one sentence.  Well,  being me, I wrote back with a long winded email about how I think that book learning and traditional academics are over-rated (not to say they aren’t important) and also that I’m not a fan of screen time (sorry, Tom!). I explained that I focus on two things when it comes to teaching my children: social skills and nature play. My long email wasn’t exactly one sentence (again, sorry Tom!). To my surprise Tom wrote back and said he loved my email and wanted to feature us on his app — Bondi Bedtime. Cool! Thanks, Tom!

So, Tom just launched a really cool (and free!) educational app for parents and children to use together, to promote bonding through learning and to provide better content for screen time. When I checked it out, I breathed a sigh of relief — the content was great! I have to admit that my children do not live without screens and it’s quite nice to find quality screen content, and not something that simply transfers book learning into an app or game format. Bondi Bedtime offers learning that is unique to the app format and encourages curiosity. I also really like that the lessons are only about 5-10 minutes long so children aren’t sucked into long periods of time with a screen in their face.

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If you are interested in the app it is free and available for download from the AppStore or GooglePlay. You can also find his website Bondi | Bedtime here.

I would love to know what you think about my ‘Activity and Parenting Tips’ and ‘Educational Activities’ that Tom included on the app.

  • What do you think of nature and intuition based learning?
  • Am I crazy to think social skills are so important to success in life?
  • Do you think that nature play cultivates a respect for the planet and an understanding of the importance of nurturing that which sustains life?

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Want to find me in other places?

2015 Moment of the Year

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Last year, when my blog was still brand new, I shared some of my favourite photos from 2014 from people I follow on Instagram. I love photography for what it can capture that our eye misses, the way in which it aids and embellishes our memories, and for its beauty. But photography, for me, is never about honing technical skill or developing expertise with an apparatus. This approach to photography makes the skill and the photo objects in themselves, often demanding more value than the content of the photo or the memory it captures. I’m always much more drawn to photography that tells a story, that captures a moment rather than constructing one. In this sense I don’t concern myself with improving my photography skills, I want my photos to be organic and to capture something real. This means that I don’t capture much of our life indoors, because the lighting is too low in our home and I would need to improve my skills to capture moments in the way I experience them. In contrast, when photographing my children outdoors I feel as though the photo captures the moment as I experienced it. All this to say, as way of an introduction, that my favourite photo from 2015 is my favourite because it organically captured a number of ideas that are important to me; they are themes in my photography and the ideas I strive to convey in the photography and writing I share here and on Instagram. These themes are: sibling love, nature connection, and minimalist fun.

In the last week of 2015, I began looking through my roll of photos from the past year, rediscovering moments shared with the children and Matt, remembering fun times at home, in our city and while travelling. I collaged some favourites of each child, which I like to do as a way of tracking their change over the year and honing in on their dominant personality characteristics. Ro inspires me with her innate connection to the natural world; we all have that connection, but she feels it deeply and honestly. She inspires me with her creativity, her kindness, her compassion for all life of earth and for her organic way of being. She knows who she is and she lives it every minute of the day.

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Sen grew up a lot in the last year, he’s still my baby, but he’s very much a child most days. I’m still grateful everyday for our surprise pregnancy that brought him into our life. His birth brought everything that was important to us into very sharp focus; that’s what struggles do, and I’m so thankful for him and that struggle. Over the last year, Sen has shown his sweet character each day. He’s full of wonder, innocence, adventure, belly laughs and pure brilliance.

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Capturing siblings moments of interaction, shared space, love and laughs is something I strive for. I want Ro and Sen to have a record of their adventures together and how they got along. I have a hard time with the notion that sibling rivalry is a normal aspect of sibling relationships, and so I strive to ensure that I capture them happily co-existing. I also try my hardest to ensure they are in a space that keeps both of them happy, which is almost always an unstructured natural space. Has anyone else noticed how arguments and conflict evaporate when you take your children into the great outdoors? Somewhere without play structures and curated fun, somewhere where their curiosity and imagination are ignited, and perhaps, even, an inherent biological disposition to get along in the wild kicks in?

And so, my favourite moment of 2015, is captured in an image, it was a fleeting perfect moment. In that photo sibling love shines strong, Ro and Sen are connecting with each other and the moment, enjoying each other’s company, experiencing more joy than any toy or thing will ever bring them, doing so with their bodies hugged up against the ground, the earth, connected physically to the planet that sustains them. When I see my children enjoying life to the fullest out in nature without toys or gear or gadgets, but simply relating to each other or reflecting inwardly, I feel as though I’ve accomplished something great. Allowing them to experience first hand that all they need in life are good relationships, the rest is decoration. True happiness never comes from things, it comes from within and from our relationships. When they experience this happiness in the natural world, more often, more easily, they feel drawn to it, collect fond memories of time in natural spaces, and feel that nature is part of them. It is only natural then that they should seek to protect and nourish that which sustains them and their happiness.

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In a sense, there were many moments of the year in 2015, when exactly these things were happening. But by luck I captured an image of it. One that set me on a path of reflection, asking myself what is it that I understand in an embodied, unconscious way, but can’t articulate? How do I describe what I know to be the value, the story, of this image? Capturing what the eye often misses, my camera caught one of the many moments of the year and helped me articulate embodied knowledge.

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Slow Living Project: Raise

I’m pretty sure I’ll be saying this every month, and that I won’t tire of saying it either: what a beautiful and inspiring month it’s been for the Slow Living project. Melanie and I continue to draw inspiration for our own living from your images and words. For anyone new to this blog, Melanie and I started a  year-long slow living project back in August, where each month we invite others to share their slow living moments, each month with a different focus. For November, we focused on the word ‘raise’: how we raise our children and the next generation, but also raise in the broader sense of the term.

I was particularly inspired by those of you who shared images that gave a double meaning to the word: raising little bakers while raising bread dough, raising explorers and nature lovers, while raising a lean-to. Then there were the photos about raising nurturers, artists, homesteaders, readers, and gardeners. I loved seeing how you raise your children by passing on favourite traditions and sharing between generations. There were some honest moments of the challenges of raising children, how it can be so hard to ‘yes’, but so rewarding to. I loved the aspirational and metaphorical ideas related to raise, raising our compassion, raising our hopes, raising community, raising imaginations. Then the literal, but very classic and nostalgic images of raising: the hopes we place in an unborn child, an infant, and seeing our children grow into and out of things.

Thank you everyone for the inspiration…it was very hard to narrow my selections down to these ones below. You can view all the contributions here #slowliving_raise.

Nurturers and homesteaders

Photo by @littlespringandautumnjourney

Photo by @littlespringandautumnjourney

Photo by @megchittenden

Photo by @megchittenden

Photo by @growingwildthings

Photo by @growingwildthings

 

Saying ‘yes’

Photo by @magdalenadom

Photo by @magdalenadom

Photo by @petalplum

Photo by @petalplum

 

Passing on knowledge and traditions

Photo by @mama_2thelittleones

Photo by @mama_2thelittleones

Photo by @lillalinaea

Photo by @lillalinaea

Photo by @mrsnomi

Photo by @mrsnomi

 

Compassion, imagination, hope, community

Photo by @thedevinetribe

Photo by @thedevinetribe

Photo by @amandajanedalby

Photo by @amandajanedalby

Photo by @danceypantsdisco

Photo by @danceypantsdisco

Photo by @thebrookeway

Photo by @thebrookeway

 

Bakers, explorers, artists

Photo by @seedsandstitches

Photo by @seedsandstitches

Photo by @faithevanssills

Photo by @faithevanssills

Photo by @amerryadventure

Photo by @amerryadventure

 

Growth and nostalgia

Photo by @findingjoyforus

Photo by @findingjoyforus

Photo by @theloopfactory

Photo by @theloopfactory

 

Melanie’s selections can be found over on her blog www.geoffreyandgrace.com.

Thank you to everyone who participated this month and shared their slow living moments, please join us in December as we explore the theme ‘gather’ in the context of slow living. In many places around the world December is a time to gather. But, gather can be played with and interpreted broadly. I find gather to be a particulary ‘slow’ word, it implies thoughtful selection. But ‘gather’ can also mean to increase, to collect, to harvest, to summon, to understand. Whatever it connotes for you, we’re excited to see how you are inspired to focus on gathering this month. Please share your images with the hashtag #slowliving_gather so others can be inspired.

You can find previous month’s selection by searching my blog: “explore” “nurture” “love” “renew” “raise” “bloom and harvest” “create” “gather

Our Pinterest board ‘Slow Living Moments’ includes all photo selections from the project visit it here.

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Wit and Wisdom from Inspiring Mother Nelly

Today’s inspiring mother is equal parts wit and wisdom. I’ll be honest I started following Nelly because her captions were just too good. She has a great sense of humour and real talent for conveying the hilarious situations and conversations parents and children get themselves into. I would follow her even if she posted photos of white walls with captions. She’s that good. That’s not to discount her photography, because the woman can take beautiful photos.

I’m really glad I got the chance to ask Nelly a few questions about her parenting, her kids and her passions, because (well, besides getting lots of funny words out of her –- my hidden agenda) she shared some wise words too; words that could only come from a parent who is really connected and engaged with their children and is deeply self-reflective. Nelly’s perspective really shows an appreciation for what we can learn from living with and really observing children, in particular with regard to kindness and forgiveness.

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What part of the world do you live in?

I live in a small riverside village on the east coast of England, about an hour from London, along with most of my deeply dysfunctional, big, hilarious, buffet loving family. My village has strong roots in music and art, as well as some keen ping-pongers. It’s basically full of hippies and unintentional hipsters (who could no sooner define the word than they could give up their allotment). I can safely say it’s one of the weirdest places on earth. Also, you’re not worth shit if you don’t have a boat. And I don’t have a boat.

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How many children do you have and how would you describe them?

I have two daughters, Cecily (5) and Lorelei (2). I see threads of similarity between them; an innocent awkwardness that they share, but by and large they are very different creatures.

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Cecily is an introvert, a little shy and anxious at times, but very quirky and completely full of love. She has the most beautiful soul; I can’t imagine a kinder person. Every morning she calmly sits up at the table (whilst I desperately try to get us all ready) and quietly makes a gift for someone she was worried about the day before. She chooses art and craft above all activities, quietly gathering things and making small but independent little choices. She can be very misunderstood (quiet people often are) but to me she is a tiger: stoic, brave, both playful and solitary, and hugely protective of people in the face of injustice or adversity.

Lorelei is a whirlwind. An all singing, dancing, laughing, idiosyncratic, strange little whirlwind. She relishes human interaction, eye contact, and is very tactile. She wears her feelings very externally; she’s as bold, open, and free as an ocean; but is weakened greatly at the hands of unkindness, and feels rejection deeply. She brought light and laughter into our lives after some very dark years. She is my little elixir.

I also have two cats, three chickens, and two tortoises. But I like them a lot less than I like my kids.

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What are your core family values?

Kindness and joy are two fundamentals. I want my children to laugh every single day of their lives. We sing and dance and talk silly all day long, even when I’m in pain or unhappy. Having fun is so important, but never at the expense of kindness. We talk always about ways to be kind and caring to family, friends, strangers, the environment, animals…. even to people who are unkind to us. I’m learning a great deal from them too (children are without judgement, and are incredibly forgiving). I applaud their kindness above all else.

Respecting and enjoying who they are, and being patient and understanding with them; are things that both also mean a lot to me, and things that I need to constantly work on; as a parent.

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How do you spend most of your days?

Acting like a bunch of dorks. Often half naked. We read, draw, make dens, dance, cook. We talk about poo a lot. Like, a LOT. Standard. In the summer we do all of the above, just outdoors (I want to say apart from the half naked bit, but that wouldn’t be strictly true). We also see friends most days; we have some real good ones.

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What is your favourite thing to do as a family?

We love snacking, and we love nature, so snacking in nature really floats our boats. Picnics in woods, by the river, at the beach, that’s how we roll. We also love camping (which sits well within the aforementioned favourites). My hope is for us to one day travel a lot as a family too.

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What are you passionate about?

I’m a very political person, so to save you all the tedium of hearing about my various opinions on education, healthcare, equality, the environment, foreign affairs etc, I’ll simply say ‘politics’. I also read like a motherflipper.

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What inspires you?

Cliché alert: my children. Unequivocally and without apology, they are the best people I have ever met.

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Thank you, Nelly, for indulging me with your witty answers and sharing your reflections on parenting.

Readers: Nelly’s blog, poetically entitled Mother, Lover, Wanker, is a must read. She doesn’t publish often, but when she does you don’t want to miss it. You can also follow Nelly on Instagram @nellyrandall.

Inspiring Mother Josie: @josie.hendrick

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I have had this post ready to go for about three weeks now, but each time I thought of posting it, I hesitated. Something told me I hadn’t captured Josie just right. It is hard to describe Josie and do her justice. There are the obvious things, like the elegance of her gallery — full of sandy beaches and blue skies, the smiles of her sweet daughter, and everyday scenes captured beautifully. Less obvious is the gentle mama and friend wisdom she passes on in her understated captions. Josie comes across as that no drama friend, who always seems to know just what to say, without being preachy or a know-it-all, and probably without knowing just how wise she is. The kind of person we all need in our life. Josie’s effect is cumulative. If you don’t instantly love her, you certainly will over time. She’s a keeper.

Side note: Josie should be a tourism ambassador for the UK, I mean who knew there were gorgeous beaches like this?!

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What part of the world do you live in?

We live in Bournemouth, Dorset which is on the south west coast of England and apparently is one of the sunniest spots in the country, something I definitely appreciate whether it’s actually true or not! It’s the most beautiful spot to raise a family, with miles of sandy beaches and forests and open countryside within easy reach. For someone who loves being outside it’s a perfect place to live, I’m very glad we moved from London.

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How many children do you have and how would you describe them?

We have one daughter, Amelie, she’s nearly three and if I had to describe her in three words I would probably say: affectionate, passionate and chatty! She talks constantly to herself, to us, to random passers by. It’s definitely one of the reasons why this age is my favourite so far, she’s such a joy to be around and her natural curiosity and wonder at the world is rather awe inspiring to watch, and helps when I try to be patient with the thousandth ‘why?’ of the hour 😉

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What are your core family values?

Be kind and compassionate. For me that’s the root of everything. That doesn’t mean you float around never getting irritated and being happy all the time, just that you approach everything you do and everyone you meet with an open heart. I know that sounds a bit cheesy, it just seems that in this modern life there’s a tendency for people to be anxious, defensive and closed off. Even if we all want to connect to others and be happy, the frantic pace of things seems to get in the way and create a tension that we don’t always know how to ease. I, like all parents, want my child to be happy and while I think you never can know what life will throw at you, if you can be compassionate to yourself and other people you will generally be more contented and find life’s ups and downs easier to handle.

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How do you spend most of your days?

We potter at home a lot, Amelie likes playing by herself and I’m working on doing up this big, old somewhat dilapidated house of ours on a budget, so we’re quite busy working alongside each other on our own little creative projects. We also spend as much time as we can at the beach or the park and in the garden. Compared to London where we just had a tiny concrete garden, there’s so much accessible open space and sand in Bournemouth we take advantage of it a lot!

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What is your favourite thing to do as a family?

We like little trips to pretty local spots but we also just spend a lot of time at the beach together. The good thing about this age is that she’s not easily bored and is happy with a bucket and spade and some sand.  We’re also big fans of finding a nice pub after breathing in some fresh sea air, and relaxing with a good glass of wine.

What are you passionate about?

A lot! I’m quite a passionate, emotional person so it doesn’t take much to have me talking animatedly.  It’s funny how since becoming a mother I’ve had both so little time to think about myself and yet so much. I’ve never thought more about what matters to me, and what’s irrelevant to the bigger picture than in the past 3 years or so. In essence I’d say I’m passionate about trying to live as authentic a life as possible. Living according to my values and bringing up my daughter to be a good, kind person who follows her heart and trusts her own instincts. And enjoying all that life has to offer in all its glory. There is always fun to be had and I like enjoying life. Although, I think it can be so hard sometimes to live a good life. It’s like we’re all a bit worried it might pass us by and we want to make sure we’re living it well, or at least seeming to so that we keep up with the Joneses. I feel like being authentic is the real ticket to living well and it’s through that we can see what we want to change in our own lives and the lives of others.

What inspires you?

In essence I’d say, photography, the sea, my daughter, and noticing the little things, the silver linings that are so easy to miss but make life all the more vivid and beautiful.

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Thank you Josie for sharing your wise words and beautiful photos. Readers please visit Josie on Instagram @josie.hendrick.

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Sa Ta Na Ma Meditation

When I was asked to be one of the hosts for a mindful parenting challenge organized by Bendi Baby, I knew exactly what I wanted to teach — children’s meditation, specifically the Sa Ta Na Ma meditation. I learned this meditation from Shakta Kaur Khalsa with whom I completed my children’s yoga teacher training over ten years ago. Yes, before I had children! At the time I had been practicing yoga for about five years, taking classes in all styles and traditions available around town. I had experienced profound benefits physically, recovering from dance injuries that I had thought would be with me for life, but even more so, I experienced benefits mentally. I knew I wanted to bring my children into a family that would include yoga at its foundation.

Ro practicing the Sa Ta Na Ma meditation. Raglan "All You Need is Love" tee by Pop Kids USA.

Ro practicing the Sa Ta Na Ma meditation. Raglan “All You Need is Love” tee by Pop Kids USA.

Inexperienced in teaching yoga to children, I expected my children to take greater enjoyment from the physical postures (asana) than from meditations. In my experience, most adults find asana more interesting than meditation. I naively expected the same of children, particularly since children often bear the stereotype of having a hard time sitting still. In practicing with my own children, my experience has been the opposite of my expectation; they most enjoy the meditation part of the practice.

Ro in the Na hand position. "Cuter on a Scooter" tank by Pop Kids USA.

Ro in the Na hand position. “Cuter on a Scooter” tank by Pop Kids USA.

I began practicing yoga with Ro soon after her birth, but I didn’t introduce her to meditation until she was almost three. I began with a simple gong meditation, where she would focus on the sound and observe how long she could hear it. She really enjoyed this, and so I decided to take a leap and teach her Sa Ta Na Ma, which is significantly more complicated for a child of that age. After a few minutes working with her she understood the mudra pattern (hand positions) and was happily continuing on all by herself. At first I felt a little regretful that I hadn’t taught it to her sooner, since she was clearly ready. But then I decided to award myself some “mother’s intuition points” instead, telling myself that I had chosen today, because today was the right day. Until around 4 years of age I would have to remind Ro of this meditation in order for her to practice. Then, without my noticing, there came the day when she started doing it on her own, when she felt a need or desire herself, and I haven’t reminded her since.

I will never forget our first parent-teacher interview, when Ro joined public school in Grade 2. Her teacher couldn’t wait to tell us about how she had observed Ro, more than once, meditating during the chaos of recess. She was rather amused by it. I, on the other hand, felt pride, because she had developed a practice she could go to in times of imbalance and overstimulation.

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Ro in the Ta hand position. Organic Zebra shirt by Filemon Kid.

So how does the meditation work? (Please see photos below for visual aid):

Find a comfortable seated position, crossed legs, lotus, or otherwise. The meditation involves 4 hand positions (mudras) that are synchronised with 4 sounds (mantra). Show your child the hand positions first: thumb to pointer finger, thumb to middle finger, thumb to ring finger, thumb to pinky finger. Do a few repetitions through the finger positions. Next add the sounds. Sa (thumb to pointer finger), Ta (thumb to middle finger), Na (thumb to ring finger), Ma (thumb to pinky finger). Complete a few repetitions of the mudras and sounds working together. Once the child is comfortable with this you can ask them to close their eyes and continue. With children who may have a hard time keeping their eyes closed you can place a focus object in front of them, something gentle and soothing like a flower or a soft toy. Start by repeating the sequence for 2 minutes, then gradually lenghten the time; you will probably be pleasantly surprised by how long children can carry on with this meditation.

Sa Ta Na Ma meditation: hand positions and sounds

Sa Ta Na Ma meditation: hand positions and sounds

One variation of the meditation includes starting off quietly then raising the voice slowly with each repetition, and then declining in volume once the chanting has become loud. Another variation is to begin by voicing the sound, slowly becoming quieter until you are simply saying the sound in your mind. There are a number of You Tube videos that demonstrate the meditation and are useful for hearing the tones for each sound, just search “sa ta na ma meditation.”

There is much written about this meditation, from the Kundalini tradition, that suggests the meditation has a balancing effect. I can’t speak authoritatively about the benefits neurologically and psychologically, but I can tell you that this meditation has been very satisfying for Ro and is a practice she comes back to time and again. I can only hope and imagine how this practice will support her through the teenage years and into adulthood when stress and challenges to our inner balance are a daily encounter.

Thank you very much, Bendi Baby, for asking me to participate in this challenge. Please visit Bendi Baby’s Instagram account to find the other challenge hosts and lessons that were shared or check out the hashtag #MindfulMamaBendiBaby.

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

Inspiring Mother Danielle: @missverse

There is a certain amount of artifice put into some Instagram accounts. I freely admit that I put thought into choosing what I will share and how I present my family. I want to be authentic, but I want my authentic to be beautiful. Like any story, there are parts told and others untold.  I tell you about the hidden paths we walked on the weekend, the street art we found, the drawings Ro did or the flowers Sen arranged. I leave untold, for your imagination to elaborate, what my sink full of dishes looks like or what my daily struggles are.

When thinking about how I would introduce Danielle, I’ll be honest I had a hard time pinpointing what I love about her. Well, obviously, there’s her name.  But more than having a lovely first name, Danielle takes beautiful photos and writes beautiful words. And, still, there is more… Following Danielle, known as @missverse on Instagram, you learn of her passion for mothering, her gift with words, her artful eye for composition, but you also come to know that she has really lived life. Not in the “party through your twenties” way or the travel-around-the-world way, but in ways where she struggled and was vulnerable. And rather than sharing only the ups in life, Danielle also shares the downs, the tough days, something that is certainly not easy to do. She doesn’t shy away from showing her vulnerability. As I have come to learn about myself, and I think Danielle knows it too, our struggles bring us closer to our core, to knowing what is most important in life, and ultimately to what is most beautiful.

I hope you will enjoy reading more about Danielle in my interview with her.

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What part of the world do you live in?

I live in Northern New Jersey.  Specifically, West Milford.  It’s an area full of natural beauty, with many different hikes, lakes and rocks.  There is so much scope for the imagination, as a favorite heroine of mine would say.  We love it!

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How many children do you have and how would you describe them?  

I have two boys, Elliot and Asher.  They are only fifteen months apart, so it’s easy for me to see the similarities and differences.  Both are incredibly active!  Elliot loves to tap dance, color and find treasures outside.  He greets the sun every morning with an exuberant “sun up!” and is quick to let me know it’s time to sleep when the “sun down!”  Elliot shows such huge joy over the simplest things and he has taught me so much.  My love of natures has quadrupled because of him.  When every “do you want to go for a walk?” is met with a loud “OH, YES! YAY!” there is no way you cannot be affected.  Asher cuddles and cuddles but seems to balance it with an enormous amount of independence.  Ever since he could talk, he’s been pointing out the sun, moon and stars to me.  How appropriate, because these boys are all three of those things to me!

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What are your core family values?

I’d say that Mary Oliver’s quote “pay attention, be astonished, tell about it” sums up our core values.  Some may say that we live with too little of the practical, but I have experienced too much to ever quench awe.  The joy we can feel over the simplest treasures IS our greatest treasure.  BUT, to be a little more practical:  our core values consist of getting outside every day, encouraging imagination and to always be kind.  These values are not mainly for our kids, but important to my husband and I as well.  The things we teach and encourage in our children are the things we encourage in ourselves.

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How do you spend most of your days?  

We spend a lot of time as a family.  My husband and I are equally involved in our boys lives.  We go on a lot of adventures or walks.  (same thing!)  My husband and I are both photographers, which means we tend to take a lot of photos.  However, we do try to keep a balance to the photo-taking.  It’s good to simply enjoy the moment as well! 😉

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What is your favourite thing to do as a family?  

I feel like I’m repeating myself, but we truly do take a lot of walks! Money has been tight and the great and wonderful outdoors has been our friend through it all.  It doesn’t cost any money, especially since we don’t need to get in the car at all!  We walk out our front door and into the woods.

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What are you passionate about?  

I’m passionate about reading and writing: capturing the beautiful moments through images.  I’m passionate about trees, lakes and leaves.  I’m passionate about showing these things to my boys.  We love to be create.

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What inspires you?

I’m inspired by so many things, but I’ll just tell about one here. 😉  Poetry has inspired me the most.  Whenever I have writer’s block or feel a little “bleh”  a good poem will bring me out of the mood.  Word have always done that for me and I truly hope I can teach my boys to appreciate all the words they can read.

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When I crafted my questions for the inspiring mothers series I wanted to hear from women who inspired me about their interests, their passions, their inspirations and how they spend their days. The questions were no accident. I knew my intution about Danielle was right, when she said that she felt like she was repeating herself in answering the questions. Danielle has found a way to make her passions her everyday.

Please visit Danielle on Instagram and check out her website Young Love Media.

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Discount code available and Spots left in my Yoga & Surf Retreat in Costa Rica, May 2-7, 2016 — Join me!

What if you fly? an Interview with Erin Hanson

Last week, a long time Instagram friend, Stephanie Matthew, asked me if I could help her promote a project. She told me about how she had recently read an article about self-esteem in girls, stating that self-esteem peaks at nine years of age and only goes down from there. Stephanie’s thoughts went immediately to her seven year old daughter, who only two hours earlier had been dancing in the driveway with no self-consciousness whatsoever and earlier that same day had worn her plastic princess shoes to the store without a moment’s hesitation. Whether or not the article’s conclusion was perfectly accurate or applicable to all children, Stephanie knew she wanted to do something for her daughters, but also more broadly to help other children and to raise awareness around this issue.

Thinking back on a recent occasions when a few perfect words – “We can do hard things” — had been the motivation her daughters needed to stick with something challenging, like learning to tie shoes, the popular phrase “What if I fall? Oh but my darling, what if you fly?” came to mind. She pictured the words as a dialogue between parent and child. But she also knew these words would suit a nursery as much as a boardroom wall – they felt universally relevant. Stephanie decided to design a print to hang up for her girls, but she wanted every child to have these motivational words hanging in their home, so she talked to her friend Rebecca who runs Children Inspire Design.

fly poster

If you haven’t heard of Children Inspire Design you should check them out. They are an online art shop that produces modern, eco-friendly and culturally diverse wall art, inspired by children. Rebecca believes in the importance of global responsibility and in cultivating a love for art and the world’s many cultures, which is why her shop always pairs art with giving. Throughout history art has been a strong and important force for social change, so while the prints Rebecca sells help teach children about important issues, such as caring for the earth, the sales help support women and children around the world by sharing the proceeds with a variety of charities.

While working on the design for the print, Stephanie’s research led her to finding out who had written those 12 profound words. Erin Hanson, is a 19 year old Australian poet, who wrote those now famous words, as part of a longer poem, when she was just 18. Impressed and intrigued by the fact that the words had been written by such a young mind, I sought out contact with Erin and asked her a few questions.

What do the words mean to you?

They mean a lot, as I’m the kind of person who can quite often back away from the things that I want purely because I’m scared of trying really hard for something and then not reaching it. They’re as much of a personal reminder for me as they are for the other people who read them.

When did you start writing poetry?

I started writing silly little poems when I was around 11, but I didn’t take it seriously until I started my blog in 2011.

What are you inspired by?

Everything! If I had to pick something in particular it would be nature, or more specifically how if you watch it for long enough you realise that its patterns can be related almost directly to the patterns and emotions etc. that exist within a human being.

What motivates you to share your art?

Everyone who’s ever told me that it’s helped them in some way. I know how much words can help people, so if mine have the opportunity to then I’m happy.

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Stephanie and Rebecca have partnered to offer a print of Erin’s motivational words. The print is only available for purchase until February 25th. All of the proceeds will go to Free2Luv, an anti-bullying organization dedicated to empowering youth, celebrating individuality and spreading kindness. The limited edition 11×14 print is available for purchase here, and as a thank you Children Inspire Design will include a free 5×7 print with your purchase. The prints are made with eco materials and inks, and the packaging is biodegradable. Check marks all around!

With this project Stephanie hopes to remind her girls and the rest of us that life is magical and that we should always think big – what if  you fly? I think most of us have witnessed the social media community come together around crises and social issues, and I hope Stephanie’s project will be another beautiful instance of community engagement and support.

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Inspiring Mother Carina: @carinamarienilsson

When I started posting more about minimalism last summer, sharing my interest in paring down my possessions and responsibilities, Carina was one of the first people to speak up and encourage me. Living in Vancouver, a very densely built Canadian city, with what most would consider to be astronomical housing prices, can be the instigation one needs to adopt a minimalist lifestyle. If you love your city, you love where you live, then you arrange your lifestyle to make it work, and if that means four people live in a one bedroom apartment, so that you live steps from the ocean and in a vibrant community, then you don’t think twice about the two-car garage in suburbia with a front and back yard that you could have for the same price, or probably less. And if, on the other hand, suburbia is the vibrant community that makes you feel alive and inspired then that’s the right place for you. I’m not sure if the reasons I’ve read into Carina’s choice to live in Vancouver are accurate, but my intuition tells me I’m not far off.

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I can’t remember when I first came to know Carina. I know it wasn’t that long ago, but at the same time I feel like I’ve known her forever. She’s one of those people who has the rare gift of making you feel like an old friend, finding a genuine way of connecting with people, even through the ether of cyberspace. Carina and I first connected through our interest in minimalism, and then we found out we shared a background in dance, a love for the arts, a strange fondness for colourful walls, and an addiction to the outdoors. In terms of her parenting, what I particularly love about Carina is her total commitment to letting her children be themselves, in fact, she celebrates their individuality and differences. What a gift she is to her children.
I hope you will enjoy hearing from Carina, herself, in my interview with her.
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What part of the world do you live in?
I am very lucky to live in Vancouver, Canada – right around False Creek, which is a small inlet right in the heart of the city. Our neighbourhood is appropriately called Mount Pleasant, and it’s where we work, go to school, and meet friends. What I love most about Vancouver is the ability to get out into the wilderness in a moment. Whether you want to camp in the bush, fish a river, ride a horse, or go mountain climbing, all of that and more is at your fingertips in Vancouver.
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How many children do you have and how would you describe them?
I have two children. Finn is my 8 year old daughter. You can often find her eye deep in books, or being told by her teachers that she’s a Chatty Cathy. Her favourite colour is black. Augustus is my 5 year old son. You can find him singing to himself while crouched over a book drawing, or as a blur as he tears around the apartment playing a grand adventure game he’s made up. He prefers bright floral patterns and animal prints. He is currently trying to grow his hair out long like his sister’s because he “thinks her hair looks beautiful when she runs”.
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What are your core family values?
I guess our family values are best described by what my husband Cyrus and I teach Finn and Gus. Being mindful of others: so making sure that you are open, kind, and considerate. Make memories rather than desiring things. Keeping life simple: this covers everything from the toys in their room, to the daily activities we commit our time to. Most important: let the people that matter to you, know that they matter to you.

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How do you spend most of your days?

Most of my days are spent getting the kids to school, myself to work, then the kids to dance/soccer/etc. In the wee hours of the morning or the dark hours of the night you can probably find me working on my illustrations (website coming soon!) or on the website I co-founded with my dear friend, Bree, Peaks & Harbours – both creative pursuits that I adore. I have regular “dates” with my girlfriends – which I wholeheartedly believe is a crucial part of maintaining that work/kids/life balance. Our weekends are usually reserved for family outdoor adventures. We love to camp, explore forests, or head to Vancouver Island – where my wonderful parents live – for fishing or surfing. Really just any adventure that we can get our hands on is what energizes our little family.
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What are you passionate about?
I am super passionate about being connected to a supportive community. With the website that I run with my dear friend Bree, we focus on featuring local artists, makers, entrepreneurs, and so on – particularly we highlight women who happen to be mothers, that have taken the plunge towards making their own passions into a career that will also support their families. In my 9-5 job I work in the non-profit arts sector, so I would say that I am also passionate about the arts and exposing myself and my kids to as much of it as possible.
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What inspires you?
I would have to say that my children inspire me, and have changed my life for the better in so many ways. They have made me stop and think “is this what I really need?”, and so I attribute my enthusiasm for living minimally to them, because I don’t want them to be driven by a need to acquire “things”. When I’m feeling burnt out, they motivate me to get up and go outside to recharge. They have encouraged me to think deeply about what is important to me, so that I can pass those values and traditions on to them. That being said, they don’t have to love art, or play an instrument, or embrace Swedish/Italian culture, but I do want them to know that if there’s something that you adore and are passionate about, then you should embrace it – even if it doesn’t work out, you can always change your path, and things might work out even better than you expected.
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Thank you Carina for sharing your wisdom and photography with us. Readers:  You can find Carina on Instagram @carinamarienilsson and on her superb blog Peaks and Harbours. Please visit her and say hello, you won’t regret it.
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