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:

You might also like my post:

How to Get Started with Minimalism

13 Ways to Simplify you Wardrobe

Social Media Minimalism: How to Balance Life and Instagram

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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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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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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.

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

minimalist tea hippie in disguise

Interview with a Minimalist: Katrien

Continuing on in my Buy Nothing Day programming, I have a second interview with a minimalist, Katrien.

Check out my first post of the day to read a bit more about Buy Nothing Day — a day of protest against consumerism.

Minimalism isn’t just or only about having and buying less stuff, as I’ve tried to explore through this series of interviews. It is more about applying the notion of ‘less is more’ to one’s life, or aspects of it.

Katrien Growing Wild Things Interview with a Minimalist

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Katrien is a Waldorf-inspired homeschooling mother to twin toddlers, she’s passionate for all things natural and handmade. She’s Belgian by birth, a traveler by nature, and living in Italy for the sake of love. I only recently started following Katrien on Instagram, probably at some point last summer or spring. I was drawn to her images of her gorgeous mountain top life and the beautiful simplicity of it. When she mentioned her interest in minimalism to me one day, I jumped at the chance to interview her for the blog. And I am so glad I did. Katrien shares insightful and inspiring stories and ideas that will interest parents raising young children, but also professionals looking for more meaning in their life and adults pining for a simpler existence.

Katrien, let’s start with you. Who are you? What’s your background?

Before I met my husband I was working my dream job as a freelance writer and researcher for a Belgium Museum. I was a workaholic (with secret dreams of finding a house on a quiet hill somewhere). I loved the high of being at the very end (or very beginning) of a project. That rush of work. The late hours, and sleepless nights, the apotheoses of a grand opening… And in between these exhausting projects I usually threw some stuff into my backpack and traveled the world to find a place where I could rest and heal the damage I had previously done to my health and my spirit… But then I met this boy from Italy. He was a traveler just like me, and when we met he was taking a break from being on the road, and working on his parents organic farm. They had sheep and horses, and made their own beer, and suddenly that secret dreams of a house on a hill came flooding into my daily life. One year later I started working part-time, and two years later I resigned from my job to move to Italy. It was about then that I realized that it is possible to have a meaningful life without the roller coaster of highs and lows. And so I chose to live with less. Less work, a lower income, but more time for life itself.

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

We have two three year old identical twin boys. They were born two minutes apart, and although they are very similar in some respects, they are complete opposites in others, complementing each other perfectly. E. (who is the older twin) is a real ‘Big Brother’. Strong, independent, extrovert. He loves to help and get his hands dirty… His ‘younger brother’ A. is more sensitive, more of a thinker, a dreamer. (I often feel like his feet never really touch the ground.) He takes his time to get to know people before opening up to them, but makes really deep connections when he does. But no matter how many differences there might be between them, they have the strongest, most amazing bond I’ve ever seen between two persons. Being an actual, physical, part of each other, much of what goes on between the two of them can remain unsaid. They simply understand. Sure, they also know exactly how to get to each other as well, and we do get quite a bit of fighting at times, but in the end they always seek out each other’s company.

Katrien Growing Wild Things Interview with a Minimalist Nieva knitwear

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

Our children come to us with a deep destiny that needs to be honored…A little grace is needed…for them to develop into the people they’re meant to be, especially in a world that is constantly bombarding them (and us) with the distractions of so many things, so much information, speed and urgency. These stresses distract from the focus or ‘task’ of childhood: an emerging, developing sense of self.” (Simplicity Parenting, Kim John Payne)

We live in a society that wants us to ‘need’, to desire, to crave. Marketing strategies speak to us of more, and more and more. But reading this book we realized that our children were craving the exact opposite. They needed less. And as we started making some changes in our parenting style, we discovered the same was true for us.

Katrien Growing Wild Things Interview with a Minimalist Twins

You say you’ve only just begun to pursue minimalism, what is your story?

Five years after moving to Italy, my dream of living in a house on a hill came true. A friend told us about this amazing house that was going on sale, and even before I had seen it, I just knew this was the one. A traditional stone house, perched on a hill, and surrounded by nothing but miles and miles of forest. The price was exactly what we could afford, and it looked like she didn’t need much work, and so we made the jump and started packing to move to a different region, and a whole new life.

But as I started filling box after box, I felt I wanted to go with nothing. Leave it all behind, and start afresh with only the things that could fit into the car. Me, Francesco, the boys, and some of our most precious things. But of course we didn’t. Instead we packed up as much as we could fit into a rental van and stored everything in a room we were told was ”nice and dry”.

Katrien Growing Wild Things Interview with a Minimalist

As soon as the worst of winter was over, Francesco started working on the house. We started off with the renovation of an old, partly ruined barn that was to become our kitchen and living area, and then the rest was going to need a mere ‘freshening up’. Much to our horror though, we soon discovered there was a lot more to do than we had anticipated. We ended up having to change most of the roofs of the house we had just bought. This came as a huge shock. Especially since that meant that the budget we had calculated to rebuild the house, and to live off for a year, was now insufficient. And so we needed to adapt. In the end we could only prepare a small portion of the house for us to live in, and even there, much work remains to be done. But we didn’t give up, and were happy when we were finally (sort of) ready to move in. It was then that we noticed that most of the things we had stored, had been damaged by water leakage. Books, furniture, clothes… Gone. Ruined. And no money to replace them. But to my surprise I wasn’t sad or angry about losing so many of the things I previously thought indispensable or precious. Instead I was relieved. A weight had been lifted. We owned less. And it felt great. And so the desire grew to get rid of more Things. Things that hàd survived the winter, but that somehow didn’t feel like they had a place in our lives anymore.

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?

Being fuelled by the fact that we live of a very tight budget, minimalism first of all means spending less money. We only buy the strictly necessary, and try to make, produce or grow as much as we can ourselves. We grow our own organic vegetables and potatoes in the garden, as well as most of the herbs and spices we use in the kitchen and for herbal remedies, and soap. Furthermore I spend every quiet moment I can get knitting or sewing clothes for me and the boys. That way being minimalists saves us money. But that’s not all. To us minimalism also means making ethically sound choices about the things we do need to buy. Spending less is one part, but we also feel very passionately about the environment, and about not harming others through the choices we make, and so whenever we do need to buy something, we prefer to buy organically produced, ethically made or second-hand. And lastly minimalism has brought us to be (very) selective about how we spend our time. We put family time before anything. Even if that means turning down social or professional engagements. We all need to work, and we can really use the money, but we do not want to take jobs that somehow compromise the way we have chosen to live our life as a family, or go out on social occasions for the sake of going out.

Katrien Growing Wild Things Interview with a Minimalist potatoes

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

I haven’t read any books, or visited many websites about minimalism, but the book Simplicity Parenting has had a big impact on our parenting style, and on our lives in general. Kim John Payne advocates a (Waldorf inspired) form of minimalism when it comes to the toys, activities and information we expose our children to. He suggests we strip their lives of the ‘unnecessary’ to allow them to come to themselves to realize their full potential, their destiny, their spirit.

We haven’t got a TV in the house, and live a very quiet and simple life, so cutting down on activities and information wasn’t much of an issue. (Except for that part about not talking about adult stuff in front of your children…) But where toys were concerned, we both felt there was room for improvement. Our boys never had much toys, but since we took out some of the toys we felt did not stimulate them to engage in meaningful and creative play, we’ve seen a change in ways we didn’t expect. Long stretches of uninterrupted independent play have now become quite common, and we noticed that they tend to pull out much less toys (only to dump them two minutes later) than they used to do. Toys that are being taken out are now actually played with. And so things started to shift… we started talking about what a similar change could do for us; as parents, as a couple, and as individuals. And suddenly this idea that it actually feels really nice to live with less had a name. It was called minimalism, and we firmly believed there were very good reasons for pursuing it, and to take it a step further than we had so far.

Katrien Growing Wild Things Interview with a Minimalist twin boys

In what ways/areas do you struggle with maintaining your minimalist goals? What is your weakness?

Yarn. I know this might seem silly, but I love beautiful yarn, and if my budget would allow for it, I would probably buy insane amounts of it. Natural, hand spun, plant dyed… No chocolate or clothes, bags or shoes could measure up to that. But unfortunately there’s only so many hours in a day, and so I struggle to use up all the yarn I buy. Hence I tend to ‘stock’ it for later projects, but then of course, meanwhile, more beautiful yarn comes my way… Time to start emptying my knitting chest before buying any more I’d say.

Katrien Growing Wild Things Interview with a Minimalist

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

Not really. We expected it was going to be hard to eliminate some of the toys we had traveling around the house, but in the end it wasn’t. We started out by talking to the boys about ‘getting rid’ of all the things that were broken. After that, we took away some of the plastic toys we didn’t really like to begin with, and as a last step we reduced the amount of books they had in their room by putting together a seasonally inspired bookcase, and storing all the remaining books for later. In the end we were really surprised to find that our boys initially didn’t even notice some things had disappeared, and when they did, they were ok with the fact that we gave them away to charity, because we had enough anyway…

In what ways has minimalism improved your life?

This last year and a half things haven’t always been very easy. Going from having enough money to do whatever you want, whenever you want, to having none at all can be terribly daunting. And yet the most difficult times weren’t the ones when we struggled to buy the things we needed. The most difficult ones were the moments where I wànted something. Just for the sake of having it. A dress. A pair of girly shoes. A pizza night out. Something to give to the boys as a present… To not be able to hàve those things made me feel ‘poor’, and frustrated. But now I find those moments just don’t happen so very often anymore. I guess I’m just happy with what I do have now… even if paradoxically, that is much less than at those times when I felt I needed more. Sure, sometimes I do see a nice dress, or that Perfect Bag that would match every single thing in my closet, but then I remind myself I don’t really need it. (Especially when it comes to ‘fast fashion’ items.) And for some reason that feels great. To be able to say no. To have only what I need. To not spend ages in front of my wardrobe, trying to decide what might possibly look nice on me. (And to know that I won’t be bringing that dress or that Perfect Bag to the charity bin next time I feel like the contents of my closet are coming at me like an avalanche of resentment and guilt.)

Katrien Growing Wild Things Interview with a Minimalist twin boys

What have been some unexpected experiences you’ve had with minimalism?

When I started getting rid of things I felt were just ‘too much’, it was all about making space in rooms and cupboards. I strived to create a visually pleasant and calming living environment. I wanted to have a minimal home. But as we’ve come further in this journey, I have been amazed to see that minimalism has brought us so much more than that. I guess somewhere down the line the meaning of this transformation we are currently undergoing shifted from ‘having’ to ‘being’… it wasn’t so much about things anymore. It was about us. About who we could be. And how we could live.

Katrien Growing Wild Things Interview with a Minimalist

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

Start small. And start with things that you feel you aren’t going to miss. You don’t have to start by throwing away your baby’s first pair of shoes. (In fact, maybe that is one of the few things you might want to keep.) But as you start reflecting about all the things you surround yourself with, I’m sure you’ll find that a lot of things aren’t quite that important to you. Or better even. That you might be better off without some of them. Every object you own has a life, a story, a message. And not all of them are nice messages, so why not get rid of those things first? They are an easy place to start. Think of that ugly thing you got as a gift (but can barely stand to look at), those clothes you bought because someone told you you looked fabulous in them, but that always get taken off just before you leave the house. And then think of keepsakes that somehow remind you of painful experiences. (Yes… those letters from your ex-boyfriend for example (my case), or souvenirs from a holiday that was actually the Worst. Ever.) And then take a break. Just see how it feels.You’ll know what to do next.

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

Oh yes! Next year, we’re clearing out the basement and the store room. The basement is still full of things that belonged to the previous owner. Things like old windows and half rotten furniture, so that can go. Furthermore we have decided that everything that hasn’t been taken out of the boxes in the store room since we have moved into the house can either go to charity, or will be thrown away. If we haven’t ‘needed’ it the last 18 months, I guess we won’t really need it in the future either.

Katrien Growing Wild Things Interview with a Minimalist

Thank you, Katrien, for such a lucid interview, so much to think about! Readers you can find Katrien on Instagram @growingwildthings

Check out these other great interviews in this series:

Interview with a Minimalist: Kellie (artist, children’s book lover and mother of 4 boys living in a small space)

Interview with a Minimalist: The Devine Family (off the grid family with 4 children living in a tree house down under, completely garbage free)

Interview with a Minimalist: Amanda (mother of 2 girls with a third on the way, minimalism in the home to unleash her children’s creativity)

Interview with a Minimalist: Carina (artist living in the small space capital of Canada with her 2 children and partner, maximizing life through the great outdoors)

Interview with a Minimalist: Alison (mother of one, the small space living queen of Canada)

Interview with a Minimalist: Brian of Less Means More (travelling around the US with his partner and unschooling their boy)

Interview with a Minimalist: Kylah (organic farmer and vegan chef raising 2 girls off the grid with her partner)

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

Have you subscribed to the Global Guardian Project yet? They 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

A Thoughtful Guide to Women’s Gifts

Suitable for any occasion, any season, these are some excellent gift ideas for women and mothers.

Following up on my Thoughtful Guide to Gifts for Children, I’m sharing a guide to gifts for parents, well, mostly for the women and mothers in your life. I chose these items because they are sustainably made, high quality, and because I know I would use them every day / week and that they would add enjoyment to my life.

I should say that my favourite thing to get as a gift, for any occasion, is always a drawing or piece of artwork from my children. I don’t hope or wish for anything else. A handmade gift, a child’s pure, organic creativity is the absolute best. However, not everyone shares my view, and then there are the basics and some frills that are also nice to have around. So, in the interest of thoughtful acquisition, I’ve pulled together a list of gift ideas that cover all price points and are sure to be well appreciated by the recipient. Women's Gift Guide

  1. Prints of Your Children’s Artwork  –  Ok, not a big surprise that I recommend this! But seriously, I would hang every piece of art work my children’s made if I had the wall space and if I knew the work would sustain the wear, oftentimes the paper is too delicate or I don’t want to put tape on the artwork. I found a company, Tuta & Coco making excellent art prints on sustainably sourced paper, find them here (they also make cards and calendars)
  2. Knit Snood – I absolutely love my snood – a knit neck warmer – from Wooln, it’s hand knit by grandmothers from NYC from ethical wool sources, available in a range of colours, you can find it here, I promise you will love it!
  3. Mala necklace – I have a peaceful mala necklace and I can’t explain how much this has been a blessing in my life, the mala is great for meditation, but also when worn, even on a busy day is a great reminder to slow down, to find a calm moment and be present, the necklace is gorgeous and made from the best materials, you can find my favourite malas here
  4. Storm Overcoat – an extravagant item in my world, but a girl can dream, right?! This gorgeous jacket is made by my favourite women’s line, Ace & Jig, and is available here
  5. Photo prints – shameless plug…photo prints are a nice way to support photographers and artists, and are usually a lower price point in terms of art and wall decor, I have a shop on Big Cartel with photos listed for sale. The floral wreath photo shown has the option to include text, such as a child’s name. I can also list any photos from my blog or Instagram feed if you don’t see what you want, just ask, please visit my shop here
  6. Notebook – a staple in our house, I always have a notebook with me for ideas and another for drawing, I love Mohawk paper products, the quality and environmental standards are first class. Widely available, you can find the notebooks here
  7. ‘Blomster Mandala’ colouring book – by Maria Trolle, gorgeous flower mandalas to colour, good for relaxation and inspiration, you can find it here
  8. Reversible Ace & Jig Meadow blouse – taking capsule wardrobe to a whole new level, this fully-reversible blouse would be a dream addition to my closet, made from ethically manufactured textiles, you can find it here
  9. Wool sweater – this Jumper no 15 from Babaa is gorgeous and I would live in it from fall to spring if I had one, good knits are expensive but so worth the investment, Babaa’s wool is sourced ethically from sheep who are treated well, find the jumper here
  10. Essential oils – I never go a day without using essential oils whether for emotional support, health support or household cleaning. My two favourite blends, and my children agree too, are Balance (think spruce, camomile, vanilla, very calming and restorative) and Citrus Bliss (think citrus vanilla heaven, energizing aroma and delicious in water and smoothies)
  11. Indigo-dyed kitchen linens – daily use items should be well made but also beautiful, adding a little joy to the mundane, I love my indigo-dyed linens from Tafari Designs, you can find them here
  12. Reversible Ace & Jig Ra Ra Midi skirt – again helping to make your capsule wardrobe even more capsule, this reversible skirt is made of gorgeous ethically manufactured fabrics and looks good every season, you can find it here
  13. Lounge/pyjama pants – beautiful and super comfortable, but not so casual you can’t answer the door in them, I love my Punjammies pants, and especially love that sales are used to support women and children who have escaped sexual slavery – awesome! – find the pants here
  14. Playful – a little bit of crafty inspiration is always a good idea, I’ve had my eye on this book by Merrilee Liddiard for a while, her projects are modern, beautiful, made from everyday items and are easily adaptable to your own resources, find it here 
  15. Beeswax food wraps – another every day item that is so beautiful and wholesome that you feel joy every time you use it, these wraps replace disposable plastic wrap (which never biodegrades!) and can be used for an endless variety of things, and I dare say they are more effective than plastic, we love them, find them here, worth every penny!
  16. Wooden spoons and spatulas – everyday kitchen tools should be well made, work well, and beautiful, my favourites are handmade by Park Wood Shop and are available here
  17. Edible treats – I love consumable gifts like edible treats, yoga classes and massages, they are deeply enjoyable and don’t leave you with stuff accumulating in your home. I once had the delight of enjoying a jar of Fare Isle‘s beach plum jam and I can tell you it is so delicious I still think about it one year later, mmm. Find the jam and lots of other edible treats here
  18. Simplicity Parenting – written by Kim John Payne, it is one of my favourite parenting books, taking the perspective of less is more, living connected to the moment and disconnected from technology, being present with your children — the approach advocated applies to all aspects of life, not just our relationship to the children in our life, you can find it here

If you missed it make sure to check out my guide for children’s gifts

xo, Danielle

*FULL DISCLOSURE: I’M NOT COMPENSATED FOR PURCHASES OR CLICKS TO SITES. I’M RECOMMENDING THESE GIFTS BECAUSE I THINK THEY ARE EXCELLENT, ETHICAL CHOICES, THEY ARE SUSTAINABLY MADE AND ARE LIKELY TO BE USEFUL FOR MANY, MANY YEARS. UPDATE: I have recently changed a few links, for books only, to Amazon Affiliate links in an effort to earn commissions and support my work here. Thank you for your support.