Saturday, June 11, 2016

It's Not The Decluttering

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.
The film was inspiring, especially because it highlighted several different minimalists, in all sorts of different situations --single people, a couple, a couple with two kids, a couple with six kids-- so that you could see what living a minimalist life might look like for different people, in different situations.

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.


15 comments:

  1. This post really me smile. We've been talking about all this, but I didn't know you had posted about it. It feels good to have so many things pointed in the right direction.

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  2. Thanks for the recommendations on reading/podcasts. I love how this mindfulness has united you in your partnership. Very cool, and a really good time of life to begin considering the short and long-term goals and priorities.
    I like how you present minimalism as an issue that isn't only about stuff. Great post, Cassi!

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    1. I think that's been one of the most important things for me --a lot of people think that following a minimalist life style is about living with nothing, but that's not actually it at all. How much stuff you own is going to depend on your own passions and time of life. But you can live intentionally with a little or a lot of stuff.

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  3. Judy HATES to throw things away. We definitely live a cluttered life, though improved some since the kids got into their teen years, then moved away. I think we want to stay in this house as long as we physically are able, we have moved too many times over the years. I'll be interested in hearing about your plans as they evolve.

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    1. Rob has always been that way too, so it's been really nice to have him embrace this on his own.

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  4. Oh, gosh. So much goodness in one post. I'm a little overwhelmed; I know I'll have to come back and read it again.

    We've moved enough that I get sick, SICK of our stuff. Anymore I have to really love something before I'm willing to purchase it. I usually ask myself a few questions if I'm holding something in a store: Do I really love this? Do I have a specific place in my house for this? Is this something I would be willing to move if/when we move again? Nine times out of ten I put it back on the shelf.
    I've felt more of a pull- a slight tug, really- to be more mindful with my time. I think I need to start being more intentional about this and asking myself your question, "Is this really what I want to do with my time?"
    I just loved reading about how you and Rob are spending this time together on purpose, and shifting and re-tooling and enter your own synonym in regards to how you're going to spend your life together going forward. Is it odd that it made me tear up? Because it definitely did. It was strangely romantic. Like... sensibly romantic, I guess, which is my favorite kind.

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    1. It has been such a pleasure to reconnect --raising even one kid seems to leave very little time to be a couple!

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  5. This post exudes such calm. I love how you read the book out loud and then discussed it.

    The furthest my husband and I have gotten in discussing our future is I say, "In a few years, maybe we can move into the city where there are lots of fun things to do" and then he says, "I think we should move to a farm" to which I say, "Are you nuts?" and then it's time to do the dishes.

    I am dreadfully afraid of becoming like my aunt and just filling up our house with junk. We have been able to get rid of a few things in the house recently. It helped that my son and my daughter both moved to their own apartments and needed some furniture from here. It also helped that our entire sewage system had to be replaced which meant moving around lots of junk in the basement to get that work done. We decided just to get rid of a lot of it, rather than keep moving it around.

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    1. While my parents aren't "keepers" in the same way Rob's dad was, their house has also filled with sentimental things as they've aged. It's so easy for that to happen without us even noticing.

      It sounds like you and your husband will have to purchase two residences and split your time!

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  6. I'm a fan of Joshua Becker and the Minimalists too. I've been slowly working through our house and assessing our possessions. I think this will be a years-long process, but I am willing to take as much time as is needed. P and I are planning to downsize radically in 10-15 years, so reducing our stuff will be a necessity.

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    1. Having kids grow up and move on seems like a natural transition time, and I know you're a bit ahead of us on that path. But you also live in a very cool city --if we lived in a college town where we could walk so many places, I'm not sure we'd be as focused on moving :-)

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  7. The first part of this could be describing my life--for the past several months my sister-in-law and I have spent at least one day a week going through my mother's things, and we'll probably keep it up for another year! My mother couldn't throw anything away either, and she lived in the same house for 60 years, so it's been a pretty daunting task. And we haven't even touched my Dad's stuff, because he doesn't want us to. Every time I come home I look around here and start sorting or making a note of things I need to go through when I have a little more time. I don't want my kids to have to go through what I've been doing. Unfortunately, my husband is more of a pack rat than I--maybe I should buy him one of these books!

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  8. I've moved 17 times and only keep what I really love or need. I love getting rid of stuff. My house is too large for just my husband and I but I refuse to move. I like knowing I have space to fit everyone at the holidays and that when my kids are home they have their rooms to go back to. Plus, there's no way I'm leaving my garden. My parents were pack rats and I just can't stand all the clutter. Getting rid of all their stuff after they died in their 50's required holding a huge estate sale. Less is more.

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  9. Only just reading this, Cassi, but it is a post with so much in it that I'll be re-reading it several times (and clicking on the links).
    Like Rob, I tend to gather too much stuff around me and I learned it from two of the best practitioners (my own parents) -- and like Rob, the experience of dealing with that stuff after a parent's death has been eye-opening. It's also overwhelming and often I look at the piles facing me and just walk away instead of tackling the project at hand. However, this family is aging and our youngest just finished his sophomore year of high school. It's looking like he'll be living at home and attending community college prior to going to a university, but it won't be long before my husband and I want to do some traveling (National Parks). Living with less stuff is becoming a higher priority. It will also help with childproofing the house for our grandson's visits.
    Thank you for such a thought-provoking post!

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