How Simple Living Makes the World a Better Place

There are large scale reasons decluttering helps society. We could talk about mass consumerism and the resulting waste and air pollution (think: Annie Leonard's "The Story of Stuff" video). While the subject of materialism and environmental degradation has immense merit, I wonder if you will take a short walk with me in a different, more personal direction?

Have you noticed the way your mind attempts to take inventory of the items that surround you? Can you picture a cluttered space? Maybe you are sitting in one right now. The excess might have any number of effects on you. Clutter might create in you feelings of: distraction, overwhelm, a desire to escape, or an urge to shut down. One feeling that might not come: peacefulness.

A beloved monk and 90 year old author says this about peace: "If we are peaceful, if we are happy, we can blossom like a flower, and everyone in our family, our entire society, will benefit from our peace".  - Thich Nhat Hanh

Wherever you are at this moment, reading these words, I suspect you want peace in yourself, peace in your nation, and peace in the world. Decluttering certainly cannot fix the deep divides in the US. No, America's problems will be fixed by community organizers spreading messages of love and acceptance, and law makers heeding those messages. Taking steps, however, to remove things from your life that no longer serve you can help you find at least some degree of internal peace. As Thich Nhat Hanh gently reminds us: when we have peace, we can spread peace out into the world.

Go forth, my peacemaking friends!

Love,

Brooke

A Picnic Everyday

*Please note: a week after writing this blog we realized floor sitting was not working for our 3 year old. I guess bloggers are people too, and have bad ideas sometimes! :)

Do you remember that time you moved into your first apartment and ate take out on the ground, because you had no furniture? Over the months and years you looked back at that evening fondly. You attributed the positive memory to the excitement you'd felt about moving. Have you ever considered though, that perhaps part of why you felt good was because you just enjoyed having a picnic inside, on the ground?

Sukhasana is the term for sitting cross legged. Sukhasana is how my family eats our meals these days. In other words: we sold our (only) table and chairs, and we eat on little rugs with our food in front of us, in bowls, on the floor.

There is nothing wrong with a well made table. If you are a carpenter, keep up the good work, my friend. When I decluttered I never planned on getting rid of a house staple like a table and chairs. But now that I have, it feels nice. There is something mindful about sitting on the floor to eat food. For me, it is calming, grounding, and it feels easy. Here's why:

1. When the ground is both your chair and your table, you always have a place to sit and eat. This means that even if your 12 closest friends come for dinner, you are never short a spot. You make as big a circle as the room can hold, and you all sit and enjoy the hot food and warm company.

2. It's easier to touch your loved ones when you share meals together on the ground. Your husbands knee is a mere inches away. His gaze feels even closer because there is (literally) nothing between you. And children have a way of settling their plump bums down on your lap between the cross of your legs-  it feels comfortable and fluid, and they seem happy.

3. It's good for your body. Sitting in Sukhasana is a calming position, so when taking in food in this position your body easily focuses on digesting. It's also good for your joints to use them, and you use them a lot to get up and down off the floor multiple times per day.

4. Clean up is simple. When we ate at a table, the clean up after meals often involved wiping down the table, wiping the chairs (two small children like to regularly put peanut butter fingers all over chair backs!), and sweeping the floor, sometimes mopping. These days clean up means wiping up any food bits with a wet rag and vinegar spray bottle, then stacking our small rugs in the corner. I'll get back to you on how often we end up washing the rugs, but I'm not losing sleep over it.

5. Going without a big table means that our space is opened up and can be used in a multi purpose way. This is perhaps my favorite thing of all :)

Have you ever done something similar? I'd love to hear from you.

Brooke

The Simple Nature of Children's Books

Take a moment to think about your favorite children's book. Most likely it is a sweet, simple story.  A few of my favorites:

'Where the Wild Things Are' takes its readers on a journey into the rich imagination of a young child. We are whisked away to an island full of monsters and wild dancing. By the end of the book the main character misses his mama and sails his boat "in and out of weeks and through a day" back to his home, where his supper is waiting for him in his spartan room of only a bed, and nightstand.

'Goodnight Moon' shows us how to see the world, at bedtime, through a child's eyes. "Goodnight clocks, and goodnight socks. Goodnight stars, goodnight air. Goodnight noises everywhere."

'The Giving Tree' by Shel Silverstein tells everyone how a tree loves a boy from childhood through to the end of the boys (and the trees) life.

By their simple nature, these popular stories gently remind us of the beauty of the slow life. Andthe fact that we read them over and over again, and love them, its as if we inherently know that that's exactly what children need: a slow and simple life that is rich with opportunities to discover, full of loving people, and minimal in belongings and clutter.

After all, would we still revere 'Goodnight Moon' if it went on for 60 pages, saying goodnight to 150 different blinking, beeping toys? (150 is the average number of toys the typical American child owns). Would 'Where the Wild Things Are' captivate our souls if, instead of using his imagination, the main character spent the evening playing in his room with a big plastic contraption made of 15 buttons, all providing various forms of noise and entertainment as he pressed each one? Would the Giving Tree melt our hearts if the tree were not a tree, but a television set trying its best to meet a child's needs?

Let us all slow our lives and simplify our possessions. We, the adults will benefit greatly. Our children will benefit tenfold.

Starting, Midway, or Finished?

Happy New Year everyone. If you want to simplify your life in 2016, I'll offer a few personally hard earned tips. If you are already part way through your journey to de clutter, I have some thoughts for you too! If you have finished the process to get organized, have you considered going all the way to a Zero Waste Home? (or as I like to think of ourselves, a Low Waste Home).

1. Just Getting Started:

Congrats if you are jumping in for the first time. I salute you. Start with clothes, as Marie Kondo suggests. Though to be honest I started by going room to room in our home and doing a few trips to the thrift store with stuff I wanted to part with. It was a few days later that I learned about and read her book, The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up. Clothes are usually emotionally easiest and by piling them all up on your bed, you will see a stack much larger than you would have thought. Most of us own way more than we think we do. Among many benefits, paring down our possessions forces us to consider if we really need to continue buying things in the future. When we opt out of the consumer life, we save money, free our time for making memories with loved ones, and help the environment.

2. Midway Through

It's very liberating to pare down clothes but it doesn't always give us the momentum we need to work through ALL of the other things we own. It's hard work to put your hands on everything you own and then make decisions about what to do with those items. Pick another category and work at it. I promise you will stumble and fall, but if you keep getting back up your life will forever be changed. There are few things more freeing than releasing out of your home all of the things that you don't truly love or use. I remember saying to my husband years ago that "I know I have creativity in me somewhere, I just don't know how to access it". Freeing the clutter from my life set free my mind and spirit. I have never been happier. Put in the hard work my friend, you will be deeply rewarded.


3. Nearly done?

If you have finished getting yourself organized, consider living a Zero or Low Waste Life. A low waste Life does not require many purchases (glass parfait jars and a few other small things, but only if you want). A low waste life DOES, however, ask you to question and change your purchasing decisions. See the salmon and cheese in the jars pictured above? Those are from the counter at Whole Foods a few weeks ago. It was my first time filling jars at this particular store. Yes, it was nerve wracking asking the man behind the counter to fill my jar with salmon filets when I could have grabbed the fish already packaged in plastic and styrofoam. It's easier though, at home to NOT have to deal with trash. Its also incredibly beneficial for our health and the health of our earth. It takes resources after all, to make plastic and styrofoam, and after a brief shelf life those things spend many, many years in a landfill. Beyond changes in the kitchen, a zero or low waste life asks you to buy second hand, or to find satisfaction in the things you already own. Try the low waste lifestyle and let me know what you think-  you have so much to gain. In fact, we all have much to gain by just one person transitioning to a low waste life.

Warmly,

Brooke

simplifywithbrooke.com

7 signs you have more things than you're meant to have

The following are seven signs that you have too much. No judgement here folks. Where do you think I got this list, anyway? (answer: my own past)

1.  Your sink of dirty dishes is filled with maggots. Yes, this happened to me. We lived in an apartment with no dishwasher and I let dishes pile up. I think I was 8 weeks pregnant and feeling sick a lot of the time, but that's still pretty gross! haha. We now live in a home with a dishwasher but we actually stopped using it recently (except to use it as a drying rack, thanks for the idea Colleen). We have stored the majority of our dishes on the top shelf in the kitchen where we can't easily reach. Those are to be pulled down when we have friends or family over for big dinners. For the rest (and majority) of the time: my husband has a large plate, small plate, large bowl, small bowl, a fork, spoon, and knife. I have the same, and so does our older son. This paring down of dishes forces us to wash our plates after each meal which means that dirty dishes don't have a chance to pile up. I know this idea sounds way too radical for most people, but I love it so much, it now seems strange that we ever did things any other way.

2. You are having friends over on Saturday evening which means you need to spend most of Saturday afternoon 'tidying up' OR you skipped a fun outing with friends because your house was too messy and you needed to spend  hours putting things back where they belong.  Preparing for friends should not have to demand more of us than wiping the bathroom sink, doing a quick sweep or vacuum, cooking some food or appetizers and buying some beer, etc. Here is a tip I read once: Before you buy anything, ask yourself three questions: is it worth the money I'm about to spend, is it worth the space in my home that it will take up, and is it worth the time that I'll spend cleaning, caring for, or repairing it? I bet that will seriously alter your purchasing habits!

3. You have not mopped your wood floor in 6 months because there is too much stuff on it. ie: doing a deep clean of your house requires a primary cleaning of all of your stuff.  Or put another way for some folks: you need to 'clean' before the cleaning lady comes. Main point here is that we all have a certain amount of things that we can handle taking care of. Yes, even the walls, floor, and furniture are 'things', because walls sometimes need a fresh coat of paint, floors need mopped, and furniture needs dusted. You'll start to realize that you have the right amount of stuff when you are able to take care of what you have. This will look differently for everyone. (I personally don't love cleaning, so I prefer not to have a lot of stuff).

4. You look in your closet and think 'i have nothing to wear'. This is a classic sign that you have too many clothes. When you look in your drawers and see all the shirts you DON'T love, it gives you a frustrated feeling that you have NO good cloths. Tip: clear out clothes that you don't absolutely love. When you think you have finished, go in and clear some more out. Drive those clothes to a donation drop off, stop buying more clothes for a few months, sit back and see how you feel!

5. You have food that's gone moldy in the fridge, or stale in the cupboard. Nothing bugs me more in the kitchen than throwing out food that we spent good money on. Open the fridge and the big beautiful bag of asparagus from costco is slimy because you only ate 1/3rd of it last week and then started working on your broccolli crown. Look in pantry and realize that of the 3 boxes of cereal, your least favorite has gone stale. These things are destined to happen in most people's kitchens. I will do a whole post on storing food the Zero Waste Home style, but for now I have a challenge for you: don't buy any more food until you've eaten a good chunk of the food you already have. It will take you a surprisingly long time to do this. (you may have to supplement the fresh food, but that's fine). You will save money, help the environment, and then you'll be able to start over on making the purchases you really want, now that you've eaten up all your second or third favorite food types before they go bad. This challenge will make it hard to make recipes that call for lots of ingredients, but try it anyway, I promise you will feel utterly liberated. 

6. It takes you more than 5 minutes to help your toddler clean up their toys. Most parents will quickly tell you that their children have way too many toys. The average American child has 150 of them! For lots of reasons (that I will expand on in another post), homes are inundated with toys. They don't have the capacity to understand the nuances of this, but too many toys is overwhelming for children. Its also incredibly frustrating for parents. Take a stand people, pare down the toy collection and say 'No' more. Your kids will thank you one day, and so will lots of landfills.

7. You think a good storage solution is the answer to your lack of organization.  Now, I'm not talking about seasonal decorations or art or sewing supplies. I am referring to the stuff that you don't use in your daily life, but you're too chicken to release. There is a lot that can be said here, but possibly the best point I can make is this: I released 75% of the things from our home and I cant even remember what I let go of. That's how important it was.

Write me and tell me how you feel about your own minimalist journey!

Warmly,

Brooke

info@simplifywithbrooke.com 

simplifywithbrooke.com

Christmas

I have very fond memories from the Christmas times of my childhood. Some of the moments were about gifts, but I would love to share with you a slightly different story. I am 35 years old and I can't remember most of the tangible gifts I was given. I do, however, have deeply seared in my heart, the following memories:

I had a little brown cassette player I carried around and I jammed to Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton's 'Kentucky Homemade Christmas'. It was about a poor family who loved their children so,  but could not afford even a single toy. It melted my heart every time. I would read the special Christmas book that came out of the attic at this time every year: The Polar Express. Writing those words  still gives me chills, that's how good the story is. Please stop reading this blog right now and go read it for heavens sake!

On Christmas Eve My dad would gently show me how to set up the wood in the fireplace. Our golden retriever would park her fuzzy blonde body  right next to the blazing blue and orange flames, and my younger brother and I lovingly laid next to her. Worlds Best Dog. My mom cooked up a feast of prosciutto wrapped asparagus, stuffed mushrooms, refreshingly cold veggies with dill dip, pulled pork, homemade mac n cheese, the list goes on. It was out of this world! The best part was that she did this all ahead of time so that she had time to sit and enjoy our company all evening. Our closest friends the Folks family came over after we all went to mass and brought the most delicious creamy crab dip you've ever had. We'd partake in the feast then indulge in my mom's homemade snickerdoodles, homemade Johnstown chocolate, and the most delicious chocolate chip cookies made with ground oats as the flour. The evening glowed with candles around the room and a magnificent tree. All senses were effected as we even had live entertainment when Annie felt like singing a special Christmas carol for us. Little girls dressed in red velvet dresses. Homemade sangria flowed sweetly for the adults. The children played together (or sometimes argued) and vied for the attention of our merrily chatting parents. 

Fast forward 25 years. This year my husband and I have asked our family and friends to give our children gifts of experience instead of tangible gifts. Please don't misunderstand, we DO give the boys toys. This past August Ronin started talking a lot about trains. Throughout September he would create pretend train tracks out of blocks and other little things around the house. In October we decided, why wait! We loved his creativity and wanted him to take it even further in building tracks with tunnels, bridges, etc. We bought him a wooden track set with 4 little trains. and he's played with it every day since then. Baby Everett has a few baby toys but he mostly likes to play godzilla and destroy Ronin's tracks. Its truly fun for the whole family :) They don't have many toys and we like to keep it that way for our sanity as parents who have lives of our own outside of picking up toys, and for the sake of raising them to be creative in designing their own fun. We get out of the house daily and explore the natural world with them, so when we are home they often spend time reading, or "helping" with cooking or cleaning (especially sweeping, lol). We also spend an enormous amount of time wrestling.

This is what works for us. We are far from perfect but we are a happy little family. Though our Christmas times will also never be the same after losing my older brother Justin in November 2014. We do still gather on Christmas eve at my parents and give one another lots of laughter.

These are my Christmas time memories and I hope to give our children the same sweet memories. Some years they may receive a few gifts, but it will be minimal. They will come to expect the minimal and I truly believe it wont matter to them, because they will be focused on all of the other magical Christmas things: playing with their 2 favorite cousins and Uncle Brett and Aubrey, and getting smothered with love and good food from everyone, and learning about Jesus. Also, taking the ornaments off the tree ;)

If something about this resonates with you, I invite you to take even a small step toward minimizing and see how it feels. I'd love to hear from you.

Merry Christmas,

Brooke