Greetings friends! If you’re just tuning in, you may want to check back at the previous posts in this modern-family-does-minimalism series, here. Today I’m sharing the final step in the process for us, which, inherently, is the hardest one. One of my favorite parts in Mindy Kaling’s Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? is when she mentions how much she loves starting new diets. Because after a while on one, it loses its novelty and isn’t fun anymore. So it goes with minimalism. It is soooooo fun to purge closets and wear basic pieces and look around at very little furniture and very few toys. And then after a few weeks you go to a consignment sale, or see some cool upcyclable furniture on the side of the road, or get a Bed Bath and Beyond coupon in the mail, or find a new Etsy store you love, or… what? That’s just me? Okay. Well bear with me for what’s to follow, because I can promise you nobody faces the temptation to get back on the horse of American consumerism more than I do, even if it is in crunchy-hippie-mama style.
First things first…If you’ve already done the purge to get rid of all the unnecessary stuff in your home, take a look around. If you’re like me, there’s a beautiful feeling of simplicity that comes from knowing that you don’t have a ton of laundry to do, nor toys to pick up, nor knick knacks to dust or rearrange. Savor it. And then, write it down. Put your thoughts on this somewhere you will be able to find them. For me, that’s a few quotes from Thoreau about leaving room for adventure, and I have them in my phone and on a post-it in my minivan. Because I usually get the urge to buy stuff when a coupon comes through my text messages or when I drive by something that I think would be cool to have.
Then, repeat after me: if I don’t need it or desperately love it, it cannot come in- EVEN IF IT’S FREE. Y’all, in the numerous stuff-purges I’ve done in the last two years, I cannot begin to tell you how much free/complimentary/promotional stuff I’ve thrown away. I do not need another reusable grocery bag. I do not need another t-shirt that shows my support for a local carwash that benefits a bake sale that benefits a school band. And I sure as hell do not need one more toy from a kids meal that has to be assembled before it can fall apart and clog my vacuum cleaner. (And yes, I have to constantly remind myself of all these things as my head says “no” and my mouth says “why yes, I’ll take that…<whatever>.”)
If you simply cannot pass up the opportunity to take something that is free, think of who might actually need it. Last year I stopped using feminine hygiene products in favor of a Lunette cup and Thinx, and, thanks to a super-couponing and stockpiling, I had a ton of tampons and pads lying around. So I took my reusable shopping bag surplus and my period-planning stockpile and made bags for the women at our local shelter. Other things we’ve put in our reusable bags: books for kids at the shelter (like, all the Strawberry Shortcake picture books and My Little Pony early readers we’re way too grown-up for), stuffed animals (like the ones we get for every holiday or win in fall festival games) for kids taken into DFCS care, or ball caps and reusable cups and mugs for men at the shelter (seriously, we get more free branded merchandise than logic should allow).
And since I mentioned couponing…it’s not a deal if you don’t need it. I love couponing so much. And the Publix BOGO? My BFF. There is just no better feeling than looking at the bottom of your receipt and realizing you saved just as much money (or more) than you spent. And then I get home and look at the fact that I bought 6 bottles of Kefir that will go bad long before I can drink them, I have cleared out the store’s stash on lightbulbs with nowhere to store them that will be safe from little hands, and I have endless yardage of remarkably-priced fabric and no actual projects planned for the foreseeable future. **Sigh.** This is my life, all the time. But friends, I’ve beaten it. And you can too. I started with a separate email address that I keep specifically for coupons and deals. And it’s set to fetch on my phone instead of push. So I literally only access it when I need to go shopping and want to look for coupons. In serious spending crunches or attempts at self-restraint, I delete the email from my phone altogether and only access it from my computer. And I make my shopping list first, and look for coupons second. For me, seeing the potential for savings is just too much temptation for me to look at it every day, and I will literally buy things just because they’re on sale if I don’t make a conscious decision to buy what only what I need. Intentional consumption is hard, and it’s hard for a reason. It’s not a coincidence that every retailer asks for your email address when you check out, and it’s not a coincidence that they have pop-up sales and insider-deals and just-today-and-for-four-hours-only coupons that are just for the items you love. They’re all out for a piece of us, but the beauty is that we are the boss of our own resources.
We can choose to ignore their ploys and instead use our resources for things that let us grow as people instead of grow as consumers.
So what’s the point in all of this? Is it to have a sterile house and sit on a bunch of money you can’t spend? I wonder sometimes about the Scandinavian-Minimalist Decor fad and if that’s what they’re going for. But that’s not it for us. It’s about having room. Room for playing together instead of cleaning or picking up. Room for talking instead of watching TV or rushing to activities. Room for giving to others instead of acquiring for ourselves. And room to know ourselves, others, and the world around us. We often know so much about the things we own, and so little about the place we live or the people we see every day. I heard a great story in a podcast (that’s created by my precious friend Amelia), Shaping Sapiens, about a woman whose job every day as a drawbridge operator allowed her to see and form relationships with people she never truly met.
The woman in the story saw people so often she felt like she knew them, and one day discovered she didn’t know their real story at all. Do we do this, even in our own families? When we had multiple TVs and electronic devices and toys for every kid, we hardly knew one another- everyone could just entertain themselves separately without distraction. Letting go of all those things (or at least most of those things) has freed us to find one another. Cora loves walks with her dad in the neighborhood, Celia loves writing stories and acting them out for us after dinner, and the boys love wrestling with daddy and the girls before bed. We can do all that because there’s literally nothing else to do. No distractions, just life. And friends, there’s not a thing in the world that can match that.