Greetings! I’ve been busy around here, and thought running some quick updates might be helpful for some blog context. I continue to hope to get back to more regular writing, but providing life context in the meantime at least sets the stage for any more-specific posts. Let’s grab some coffee and dig in!
William Morris Mondays. Before I had kids, I had a pretty good time organizing and managed to actually declutter a fair amount of clothing (thanks, spider bite – don’t click if you don’t want to see icky pictures) (but click here if you want more information about The Great Declutter of 2012) and other belongings (thanks, moving, and the tiny house movement).
Then we moved in mid-2015 and I had twins the next day! And then we had a third 22 months later! And while we managed to get a fair amount done and had a lot more space — most of the home has been repainted and we’ve got our furniture fairly well set up at this point — as we outgrew the function or value of items, they frequently ended up piled in towers in the basement, with little rhyme or reason other than my Mom Brain (and we all know how reliable those can be, thanks to emotional labor and lack of quality rest/sleep).
And this was in spite of best efforts – I did at least Minimalism Game each year after the twins were born, and gave as much baby stuff to expectant friends as I could pass along. So in January 2020, I resolved to get this under control. I made some good strides, but then the pandemic hit and we were all home all the time, which halted progress. I managed a bit more decluttering, but didn’t get as far as I’d hoped, so when a favorite YouTuber (vlog/blog) mentioned an online home-management course with two other great women who excel in decluttering/home systems (blog with links to vlog/books/podcast) and organization (vlog/blog with links).
So in January, I started the Take Your House Back course and I cannot recommend it highly enough. It’s closed right now, but worth getting on the wait list.
I have peeled another layer from the visible areas of my home, yes, but I’ve also tackled each of the hot spots for my home — my deep-storage basement, my dining-room coat closet, and my secondary bedroom closet. They aren’t perfect, but they are SO MUCH more usable. I’ve also gotten rid of at least half of my clothing and my shoe collection is working toward the 25 pairs that feel like PLENTY (compared to 36 before compared to 60 compared to over 100…). I’ve idenitified a functional 100-item wardrobe (which has been adjusted since then… I’ve added in three new basic t-shirts from for days, and cycled back in a few sweaters and a pair of pants, but I’ve also decluttered most of my purgatory drawer, a few pairs of shoes, and even a few of the 100-items (like my paisley skirt, which always makes me look pregnant…I’m not, and my Amazon zip-up jumper, which isn’t linen and always feels cheap when I wear it). I’m inclined to take another inventory soon and see if I can pare down farther still.
I’m not a Minimalist by any stretch, but I respond strongly and positively to the idea of “Enoughism”. I want variety. I want what I need and then some. But I want breathing room, a healthy relationship to the planet and my wallet, and I don’t want things to feel hard. To that end, my all-time favorite resource, which I was introduced to by my husband in 2008 when I was struggling mightily with consumer debt, is this book (I’ve read the original and am listening to the revised audiobook) and website.
What I’ve taken from over a decade of questioning my stuff, how I spend, and now several months of really fine-tuning those questions, is that I love stuff, and that’s OK. But not for STUFF’s sake – for the beauty and usefulness it adds to my daily life. And if nothing else, a year of surviving and even thriving during a pandemic has implored us to master the quotidienne. These have been my tools, and the result is a space that I haven’t had much opportunity to leave and now that I can? I don’t want to.
Tuesday Titles. Another byproduct of pandemic living is that I finally got back to reading. I set a goal of 12 books in 2020, but managed 20 instead. So far in 2021, I’ve read or listened to ten books, and I have another several that I’m currently reading or listening to. (Currently all nonfiction, which I’m trying to remedy, but I started Kristen Hannah’s The Great Alone and even a few pages in, and having just finished Tara Westover’s Educated, I knew this was maybe not the right book for now, so I closed it and put it back on my shelf for the time being. Any recommendations?)
What I’ve Read:
Atomic Habits, by James Clear – I liked it, but would probably have enjoyed it more as a physical book than audiobook. The repeated content and summarization were sometimes confusing (did my book skip backwards?) in audio format, and I think I’d have liked to underline some things as I was reading.
How To Manage Your Home Without Losing Your Mind, by Dana K. White – loved it. I use it still. In essence, it talks about 4-5 daily habits that, once incorporated (she does one a week over four weeks or so) make basic home maintenance a lot easier. I do most of these every day as a result and am thrilled at how much easier maintaining my home feels since starting these things!
Cozy Minimalist Home, by Myquillyn Smith. As an “enoughist” and someone who definitely prefers cozy-but-not-cluttered, to stark-but-not-warm, I really appreciated this fresh take on how to figure out how much stuff to put in a room to make it feel like home, and some potentially nonnegotiable features (like curtains, which I have in many rooms in my home, but not all of them).
A Series of Unfortunate Events, books 2, 3, 4 by Lemony Snicket. I read these aloud to my children and we were on a tear for a bit, watching the episodes on Netflix afterward. We’ve since slowed our roll and are nibbling our way through Book 5 now.
Mr. Popper’s Penguins by Richard & Florence Atwater. I mostly read this to my 5-year-old son, who is obsessed with penguins, though my daughters frequently listened in. We watched the movie, which could very nearly have been an entirely different story. I’m a little sad for the deviation, but the kids liked both the movie and the book (and found the movie laugh-out-loud funny).
Educated by Tara Westover. I struggled mightily with this book, as I found the circumstances of Ms. Westover’s home life unbearable at so many points. I can’t say I enjoyed it, but it was definitely easier to read once she was out on her own. I hope she finds her spot – it feels like she’s still looking.
Goodbye, Things by Fumio Sasaki. This was a nice audiobook to read while focusing on decluttering so far this year. In particular, Sasaki’s “Silent To-Do List” idea has exploded in my minimalism/decluttering circles, and I think of it and refer to it frequently. His decluttering path went much farther than I expect mine to do, but I really appreciated some of his frank points. This might also be better as a physical book you can underline.
Essentialism, by Greg McKeown. This was a great book, too, and I liked McKeown as narrator (I prefer when the author narrates their work). I appreciated his straightforward, but not judgmental, explanation that how we (de-)prioritize things has everything to do with what we get done, and to whose benefit. I think back to this one often, too.
What I’m Reading:
There Are No Grown-Ups by Pamela Druckerman. I have liked everything else I’ve read by Druckerman (Bringing Up Bebe and Bebe Day by Day), but I’m feeling a little confused by this one so far (I’m about 20% in). It feels peppered with what I expected (a broad aging abroad), but there’s a lot more of her personal backstory and framework that I’m not sure I need or want, necessarily. I’ll come back when I’m finished, but I would more strongly recommend Nora Ephron’s I Feel Bad About My Neck, which I read a couple of years ago and really enjoyed.
The Fifth Unfortunate Events. We’re just in the beginning of this one, but it’s consistent with the rest of the series in its humor, discomfort, and entertainment. I like this series, and I adore the Netflix version (my husband and I watched the Carrey movie before kids and didn’t enjoy it much).
Simple Abundance: A DayBook of Comfort and Joy by Sarah Ban Breathnach. I’m mostly enjoying this, but it feels tremendously 1995 (the year it was published) at times. I have definitely extracted some delightful bits from it. I started it for Lent this year, and my goal was to read through April 4 by Easter, which I did. I’m now trying to stay ahead of present day (each entry is a month and day of the year; so on today, May 8th, I’m currently through May 12th).
The Borrowers, by Mary Norton (she also wrote Bedknobs and Broomsticks). I read this and enjoyed it as a child, so I’m currently reading it to my five-year-old daughter. The illustrations provide a really helpful and nice sense of scale of everyday items in relation to our Lilliputian protagonists.
Caste, by Isabel Wilkerson. I’m about 3/4 of the way through this audiobook. I have to digest it in chunks because it’s jam-packed with information and sometimes very upsetting to listen to. I also started A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn last year, and this is very much in the same vein, but through the very specific lens of comparing being Black in America to being Dalit caste in India. I think it should be required for every American (especially every white American).
Your Money or Your Life/Revised Edition by Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin, narrated by Vicki Robin. I adore this book – it fundamentally changed my relationship to work and money. I read the original back in 2008, reread it several years ago, and wanted to check out the revised book, which I’m doing via Audible. It’s really great to hear it in Robin’s voice.
An Edited Life, by Anna Newton. I started this last year and have nibbled at it, but there are other nonfiction books I’m reading more consistently right now. I like Newton’s vlog and blog and expect to come back to it shortly.
Parenting Nonfiction: Finally, I’m reading through a couple of things which were recommended to me for some parenting challenges I’ve faced. I may share these later, but will refrain from doing so at the moment for the privacy of my children. I will happily share that my favorite general parenting book so far is Alyson Schafer’s Honey I Wrecked the Kids, which is an Adlerian approach to parenting I found very relatable and fairly natural to implement. It helped me easily identify my parenting shortcomings (however well-intentioned) and reset my responses to better encourage the behavior I was seeking in my kids. Most of the time, this framework is sufficient.
The Great Alone by Kristen Hannah. I’ve technically started this, but as mentioned above, I might discontinue it semi-permanently. I just don’t feel up to fictionalized trauma of the sort in Educated right now.
Wardrobe Wednesdays. As mentioned above, I have donated a significant portion of my wardrobe in the past many months and have been working toward identifying my top-100 items. I did my write- up of the original items in a recent post and plan to revisit it again soon, and may even be at a place where I list everything, even if it’s above 100 items, just so I can effectively wardrobe track. I think an interesting tell, however, is that somewhere in my brain (the same part that says 100 item is probably around my wardrobe threshold) still feels like there’s too much to track, and I want to pay attention to that. I will say my favorite part of the exercise, however, was identifying a “top 10” — if I could only have ten items, which would be the most versatile and my very favorites? I realized I had a core that would suit me in all but the hottest or coldest days and in almost any level of formality or lounge. And that’s exciting. In so doing, I both value all the more the rest of the wardrobe (yay, variety!) and realize that the rest pretty much doesn’t matter because I’m pretty well covered by just a handful of essentials.
For four seasons, it basically worked out to mini-capsules of:
Thursday Thoughts. So much of what rattles around in my brain is covered by the bits and pieces elsewhere in this entry, but I do want to mention that parenthood is hard, that pandemics are hard, that parenting in a pandemic is hard, and that it’s OK to ask for help. We need to normalize admitting what is hard for us and pulling together to try to make things easier for one another. Shifting self-care away from self-indulgence and toward better sleep, better food, and my physical and mental health, has been essential.
Family Fridays. All is well here. The twins will be turning six in a couple of months (what.) and my baby girl turned four a couple of weeks ago. As the baby days fade into the rearview mirror, I am sure our family is just the right size, and as vaccines roll out and the possibility of vaccinating our children becomes more and more real, we are imagining what comes next: the activities we really want to prioritize, the places we want to go, the things we want to continue to say no to… it has been a challenge and a gift to have this year (and some) with my babies. The big kids will start kindergarten, in some form, this fall, and they will belong to the world, too, then. To have this extra time with them has been so precious, and I think it has better equipped me to know and advocate for them as they grow and go in the world. And yes, it’s been hard. Parenting non-stop for over 400 days has been exhausting and eye-opening. I have joked to some friends that the first semester of normal school attendance may be necessary just so I can reset my soul and face what’s next for me with some clarity.
And so that’s where we are on this early May Day. I hope all is well with you, and things are brightening in your corner of the world. Take care of you.