One of my frequently asked questions that isn’t adoption or grief related is if we are minimalists.
Yes and no. The answer just isn’t so easy. It’s just not black and white for me. Do I really fit into the “minimalist” category? Let me back up.
Before we lost Thao I spent a lot of time chasing stuff. Not in the way you are probably picturing. I didn’t dream of huge houses or the next or the newest or more, more, more. I chased the things I already owned. I found good deals and spent a lot of time doing crafty type things to make my house cute and cozy. With two kids under 3 and babysitting, I struggled to keep up with the clutter. We had toys and gifts and just stuff. Everyone came to the kids’ birthday parties and everyone bought them gifts. And I kept every one of them. People would give them trinkets for holidays and we’d get hand-me-down clothes and toys. I’m not a huge shopper but I love a good deal. And I love giving gifts. I didn’t feel like it was fair to let everyone else buy things for my kids and not allow myself to as well. So I did. I made them things and bought them things. We did art projects and we baked and of course, these hobbies needed supplies.
And the clothes. Well, with two (and then three) little ones on a single income, you just take all the hand-me-down clothes you can get. So I did. And I chased the bottom of the laundry pile. And I chased the organized shelves. And I chased the neatly folded drawers and ironed clothes. And I chased and I strived and I was irritable and exhausted. And I yelled sometimes. I relaxed at the end of the day only from being completely worn out. I played hard with my kids. I loved deeply my family. I baked and cooked and cleaned and spent quality time with my husband. I was genuinely joyful. I loved my life. But, inside I was constantly thinking and planning and questionlng. What was I doing wrong?
Why is it so hard for me to keep up?
Our house was 1548 square feet with a full basement and a two car garage. It was full. But I didn’t understand that. I just thought it needed organized. So I tried hard to organize. Thao was soon five and Ava was three and I had a new little one to care for. My heart was overflowing. And so were our toy bins and closets.
I used to think the house needed to be perfect before we went outside to play.
I used to think we just needed to organize more to make things better.
I used to think I needed more things to organize more things.
I used to think it was okay to take everything given to you (and keep it forever.)
I used to think I had to keep all gifts given to me or my family.
I used to think it would be the end of the world if we ran out of clothes in our drawers. (Um, hello, modern day washer and dryer!)
I used to think I was just bad at prioritizing my house, this was just a phase and it would fall into place as the kids grew.
And then, Thao got sick. We lived away from our home, split between an apartment and the hospital room for five and a half weeks. We only had what we acquired while we were over there. Which means we only had toys that Ava and Liam would play with. We only had clothes that actually fit and a few outfits that we cycled through. We had books that we would read. And the dishes always got done right after we ate. (That wasn’t me, but our sweet friends who came to take care of us.) The toys had a basket, the books had a shelf. I had the capacity to only worry about caring for my kids. Of course, things were serious at the hospital with Thao and my brain space was just taken up with him. Emotionally I spent all my energy on my kids so even if I would have had stuff, I wouldn’t have dealt with it. But it would have added to my stress levels.
Adjusting to a new normal.
Of course, life after losing Thao wasn’t easy. We didn’t just step back into our home and pick up where we left off. We were deep into grief. It was raw and painful. I picture myself wandering a lot. Doing this or that, unable to focus and always tears pooling in my eyes. One thing I did after such a great loss was analyze how I spent my time. I had five years with my son. I had 1,965 days, 47,160 hours with him. How many of those hours did I chase stuff? The answer is painful and quite honestly, just more than I should have or really realized. I did, however, have wonderful memories and plenty of time I didn’t chase anything but a toddler and his giggles.
But when I realized how complicated I had made my own life, I also realized I could make it uncomplicated. I had the choice to simplify it. And I no longer felt confined by what other people’s expectations were. I no longer felt obligated to anything. Social norms? Out the window. I knew I had one life. I knew I had already buried one child whose life was too short. I wasn’t planning on spending the rest of my life chasing things that at the end of the day, were not fulfilling. I wrote this blog. It’s still one of my most popular pieces. It includes some boundaries I set for myself. How do I decide what to keep and what to part with? How much do we really need?
I set out to clean out and organize once again, but this time with a different fiter. I am still very thankful for the generous hearts who give my children gifts and clothes and bless our family. But I no longer feel obligated to keep said things for all of eternity. It doesn’t mean I’m not grateful, it just means the season has passed. I wouldn’t keep a coffee mug if the handle were broken or if I didn’t drink coffee. I’m not keeping the clothes that my kids won’t wear or don’t match anything. I’m not keeping the toy once its past its prime, either. I keep artwork that is original (never the color-in-the-lines art) and things that have their handwriting on them. I keep books thathave good morals and lessons and will likely be reread over and over. Popular character books and toys are often kept for their novelty, so I keep them a while and then they move on to give joy to another child somewhere out there.
I absolutely love it when someone gives me something they found that reminds them of Thao. They thought of me and my family, they generously sacrificed to buy something and they took the time to gift it to me. How wonderful is it to be remembered and loved this way? I used to think then I had to keep said gift forever to show my appreciation. But these things have seasons. Some seasons last longer than others, some seasons end when you can bless someone else with it. This is what I often do. If I’m given a lovely decoration for my home, I enjoy it for a while and then when I see that someone else would be blessed by it, I pass it along. It brings joy to them for a while. I thought of them. I am still grateful to be thought of, but I no longer feel obligated to keep things in totes in my basement when my shelves and walls are too full. Sometimes I feel led to give something to someone before I’m really ready. In the times I’ve listend to this, I have been so blessed by this sacrifice. Watching someone’s eyes light up or enjoy something I enjoy its bonding and a blessing. It’s gift.
So, are we minimalists? Yes and no. We are working on minimizing our stuff so we can maximize our quality of life. We are constantly being reminded to hold loosely the things of this world and store up our treasures in heaven. It’s just so easy for our earthly treasures to get in our way. When I think of the legacy I want to leave my children, it’s one of open hands. Of generosity. Of joy and of quality time with them. I want to say yes when they want to go exploring in the woods. I want to say yes to having friends over. I want to say yes to the games and books and the adventures on a moments notice. I can only do this if I am not chasing stuff. I can only do this if I have the mental and emotional energy.
If we cannot tidy up our house in ten minutes, we have too much stuff.
If our stuff stops serving us or it feels as if we are serving our stuff, it’s time to re-evaluate.
If I am mentally consumed with my house and stuff, I need to re-prioritize.
If it is broken or no longer functioning or we’ve outgrown it, it goes.
I save clothes for the kids for two sizes, one tote each size.
Are we minimalists? Maybe.
Minimalism looks different for a family of seven than it does for a family of two or four. It will change for us over the course of the years, different ages brings different hobbies and interests. For instance, we have a lot of suitcases, but we travel with five kids. We have a lot of books, but we homeschool. Your minimalism is going to look different for you. A minimalist (used lightly) lifestyle should be freeing and joyful and serve us. So right now while we are in the midst of the crazy, raising kids and living life in between trips, we need things to entertain the baby and keep the bigs busy in the car. Some day we won’t. Right now the toddler goes through three outfits a day when he plays outside. Some day he won’t.
Ask yourself what serves you. What makes sense for your life? What stresses you out? What fills you up? What brings you joy? What do you want to spend your time on? What fills your days? What change can you make to fill your day with quality over quantity?
What one thing have you always wanted to do but put off until everything else is done or the time is right? Why wait? Make space now. Breathe, now. Fill your soul, now.
Hold loosely the things of this world. And you’ll begin to see how generous your heart is.