When Rob's dad died suddenly two years ago, he spent a couple of days in Ohio, helping John's second wife and her family sort through the things his dad had left behind. It was a mess. His dad was the type of person who never seemed to throw away any piece of paper, "just in case". If there was a surface anywhere in the house, he would cover it in record time. The bed in the spare room was completely covered, in addition to all the table-tops in the house.
Rob came back from that visit pretty distressed at all the stuff his dad had kept, and pretty distressed at his own tendency to collect stuff with that same "just in case" attitude. We always joke that Rob inherited his dad's tendencies, even though Rob was adopted :-) Nurture definitely trumped nature, in this case.
That event was the beginning of Rob's foray into minimalism. It started slowly, when he came across Joshua Becker's blog and Facebook page: becoming minimalist. Both of us began to make a concerted effort to get things we weren't using into the box we keep to collect items for Goodwill. Many trips to Goodwill later, Rob decided to join Joshua Becker's online course, where he guides you through a general decluttering over the course of eight weeks.
But this post is not about decluttering. While decluttering is certainly part of minimalism, it is only a small part. Minimalism is much more about living an intentional, mindful, life. Recently Rob introduced me to a pair of guys who host a minimalism podcast, Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus. Rob has been listening to their podcasts for quite a while now, and when the documentary they created came to Madison, WI, he purchased tickets for all three of us to see it.
Soon after we saw the film, Rob ordered a book written by Joshua and Ryan. It's a collection of essays organized into general areas (Stuff, Finances, Minimalism, etc.) called Essential: Essays by the Minimalists. His plan was to read them himself. Rob is dyslexic, so he's generally not much of a book reader; this is why he chose this book (they've written two others) --short essays seemed more accessable.
When I saw it though, I wanted to read it as well. I proposed that I would read the essays out loud (I love to read out loud).
So almost every morning for the last couple of weeks, I have read one or three of the essays out loud while we have coffee, and then we spend time talking about what we've read. This has been a great way to stay mindful of living our lives intentionally, which includes not just getting rid of stuff we don't need or use, but also thinking carefully about any new purchase. During the day, I tend to think more carefully about what I'm doing with my free time --is it really what I want to be doing with my time?
The really wonderful thing about this activity, though, has less to do with the various essay topics, and more to do with how Rob and I have spent this time thinking about where we want our life to go. Emma will be a sophomore in high school next year. We plan on staying here, in this house, at least through her first two years of college, and perhaps through all four. But it is helpful to spend some time thinking about what we want the next phase of our life to look like.
When we first moved out to this house, we absolutely loved working on the five acres of property we have. We were already 35 years old when we married; there were about two years before Emma came along, and we would work outside together almost every day of the summer, clearing weeds, creating gardens, landscaping. Over the last 15 years, as we've gotten older, the things we want to do have changed somewhat. While we still enjoy some of the outdoor work (I still garden, Rob still loves to build things, whether it's a deck or a bluebird house), we now pay someone else to do the lawn mowing and trimming, and there are areas of the woods that we no longer even try to tame. While originally we thought we'd never want to move from this gorgeous property, more recently we've come to realize that we'd like to downsize for the next phase of life. We want to be more flexible and mobile so that we can do more traveling and spend less time taking care of stuff --whether that's outside stuff or inside stuff. Downsizing will allow us more financial freedom as well. This has been a great place to raise our daughter, but that part of our life is phasing out. We want to be prepared to enjoy the next phase.
As Emma has moved into her teen years, she needs us less and spends more of her time with friends. Over the last year, Rob and I have made an effort to refresh our own relationship --to shake out the dust of that time of life that involves young children, with too much to do and not enough time to do it. Whether it's spending time on the bluebird trail at Nygren Wetland, or even just running an errand together, this has reminded us of what it was like to be the two of us, before it was the three of us. The experience of sharing the essays in this book, and discussing what
kind of future we want, has been a good extension of that reconnection. It's good to know that we have similar dreams for the future, but also to be aware of what the other is thinking, feeling, and planning.
If any of you have had similar experiences in taking a mindful look at your life and future, I'd love to hear about them.