Wednesday, May 22, 2013

the art of simplification

I am by no means an expert on keeping things simple. In fact, being quite the overachiever and perfectionist, simplifying has, at times, been quite a challenge for me. It's something that I have to refocus on frequently and be really deliberate about. 

I think that the need to simplify a bit first crept its way into my mind shortly after I began homeschooling my oldest. I realized how time-consuming homeschooling was and realized that the current way I was living was not very conducive to the homeschooling lifestyle I was picturing. All of a sudden, I realized that my desire to keep my house immaculately clean was completely unrealistic because my kids were home 24/7. I realized that there really weren't going to be many moments in which everything was put away and in its place. And I was stressing myself out, either constantly picking things up myself or nagging my kids to do so. I was a tyrant. And, quite honestly, my tyrant personality still comes back to haunt me quite frequently, and I find myself needing to squelch it quite often. And here's why I don't want to be a tyrant ~ I really don't want my kids' biggest memory of their mama to be a yelling, nagging woman who was more concerned with the state of her house rather than her family.

So, now I try to maintain a happy balance. I wrote a post about my thoughts on cleaning here. You can go read it if you like, but basically, to sum it up,  I clean when it needs done. I do not dust and mop every week anymore. I dust when it needs done. I sweep the kitchen floor a couple of times a day with the broom. I vacuum the carpeted areas once a week, sometimes more if needed. And I always clean the bathroom once a week. But I never take one day to do a great big cleaning of the entire house like I used to. I tried it. It stressed me out and made me grumpy. I have found that by not focusing on cleaning so much, I have more time to spend with my family, and I'm much more likely to allow the kids to do various experiments and art projects and make more messes knowing that those messes can and will be cleaned up. Perfection is not realistic. Nor can it be maintained in a happy home.

Another thing I try to do is keep clutter to a minimum. We're all bound to have clutter. I sure have it, but I try to keep the clutter confined to only a few areas of the house, and then I try to tackle those areas on a relatively consistent basis so the clutter doesn't become overwhelming. 

One thing that has really enabled me to maintain this cleaning style is keeping my possessions to a minimum. A couple of years ago, I totally cleaned out my house. I got rid of everything that I didn't absolutely love. I went from ten bins of Christmas decorations to three bins. I got rid of all of my other seasonal decor. I cleaned out the kitchen cabinets and kept only the things I really loved or really used quite often. And since that was about three or four years ago, I'm about due for another cleansing spree. It really does feel good to feel lighter. 

Having said that, I am not an extreme minimalist when it comes to decorating. I do like to decorate. I like antiques and old things. I have a small milkglass collection displayed in my hutch. I have old wooden bowls and crates on the tops of my kitchen cabinets. I have a collection of vintage hankies and linens. And I have thought of getting rid of some of those things to make my life even easier (less things to dust around), but I do want to allow myself to enjoy some things that make me smile. I guess it's all about balance, as most of life is about. I wrote a post last year entitled "The Problem With Stuff" where you can read more on my feelings about this topic.

I have also learned another lesson about simplification: A simplified lifestyle does not necessarily equal an easy, kicked-back lifestyle. 

For instance, we garden BIG TIME here. Multiple gardens. Fruit trees. Blueberries, strawberries, and raspberries, and wild blackberries. And gardening is hard work full of planning and then action. And it take maintenance work such as watering and weeding. But it is simpler in the fact that I don't have to mentally stress out about not being able to afford to buy the organic produce all the time, because when you grow most of your veggies and a lot of your fruit, you know exactly what you're putting into the mouths of your family members. It's also simpler because growing your own food makes you less dependent on others (a.k.a. the monopolized food industry.)

The harvest months are grueling. I go to bed almost every night completely exhausted (but a good exhaustion that comes with hard work and fresh air) and aching feet, but also with a sense of feeling independent (from the food industry) and satisfaction knowing that our can cellar is going to be lined with rows upon rows of canned food and the freezers are going to be jammed full of frozen produce that will last until the next year's harvest. It's a good feeling. And it may be hard work, but it's simpler. It's healthier. And it's most certainly more economical. 

Now, on to shopping. Hmmm. I'm not a big fan. Oh, I used to be. Looking back, I can't believe how much time I wasted walking through malls and spending money on things I didn't really need. And I guess I still do buy things I don't necessarily need, but most of that spending is done at thrift stores. And I really do weigh the purchases I make even there because I know that every new item brought into our home takes up space. 

When I shop now (besides grocery shopping), it's only every now and then. Most of the time I'm shopping on a mission rather than for pleasure. Not that pleasure shopping with your girlfriends is a bad thing. In fact, I'm planning on one of those such shopping trips in a couple of weeks. But, for me, it's very important that I keep those such trips to a minimum. I also prefer to purchase handmade items rather than mass-produced department store items because in that way I'm getting a more special product, and I'm supporting an actual person rather than a huge business.

And when it comes to grocery shopping, I've written several past blog posts on that subject that you can read herehere and here. I feel most at ease and the least stressed out when I meal-plan. Then I know what to buy each week and what I'm making each day. Unfortunately, I've been kind of sporadic with meal-planning for the last year or so. I also used to do one huge shopping trip once a month. Anymore, planning a month's worth of meals and shopping for all of those meals on one day overwhelms me. So for my life right now, I feel that planning and shopping for a week's worth of meals fits better and is more manageable.

So I suppose that I could go on and on about my thoughts on simplification. And, honestly, I think it will look different from home to home.  I guess the important thing to remember is that you need to keep certain areas of your life simplified so you can expend more time and energy on the areas that are most important to you. In our life, that happens to be home life, homeschooling, and growing/raising our own food.  (I wrote a post about the reasons to grow your own food here.)

So where do I suggest you start in your simplification journey? Well, I guess the first thing you would want to do is evaluate your priorities. What is most important to your family? What would you like to spend more time doing? Start there, and then figure out which areas you can cut back so that you have more time freed up to spend pursuing activities or a complete lifestyle that is important to you. 

This was the second in a five-part series I'm participating in called "How We Homestead." Please be sure to visit these other wonderful bloggers who are sharing their thoughts on simplifying today as well...

Staci at Life at Cobble Hill Farm
Meg at Little Homestead
Daisy at Maple Hill 101
Tammy at Our Neck of the Woods


Heather said...

Great post Amber! This was definitely something I needed to read. I related very much to you saying how you felt like a tyrant, wanting a clean house--but you're right, that's impossible when kids are around constantly. I've snapped at my poor girls many times when I felt like I cleaned all day only to have them make messes in each freshly cleaned area.

It's frustrating. I needed to read this :) Inspiring, as always.

Our Neck of the Woods said...

I totally agree with the part about a simple lifestyle doesn't equal an easy, kicked-back lifestyle. It is hard work! Taking care of the animals and gardens can be back-breaking work, but it gives me such a sense of fulfillment and accomplishment.

Love the photo of your chickens :) I really enjoyed this post, Amber!

Staci@LifeAtCobbleHillFarm said...

I was there too....a perfectionist. Just isn't possible. :)

Teri said...

Hi Amber...such a wonderful post! Simplifying isn't "simple" it is hard work ... but the satisfaction that we gain from it leaves us with such a good feel at the end of our day ... a bit tired as well. Blessings ♥ Teri

Laura said...

Hey Amber! I really loved this post! Homeschooling and just wanting to live simplier so that I could focus on giving more generously have really motivated me to get rid of a lot of clutter. And, I am much more happy with less. I love your simplify sign! Have you ever read the book Organized Simplicity?

Unknown said...

Your Pictures always make me so intrigued with your life. They are so inspiring and beautiful.

Leslie Kimel said...

Wow, these pictures are just super!

I really enjoyed hearing your thoughts on shopping, decorating, and "stuff." I love beautiful things, but I don't want to be greedy or too materialistic . . . so shopping is something I always sort of struggle with. I try to think really hard about everything I buy.

Tracy said...

Lovely post Amber. This is my first visit here and I came via the link on Tammy's blog.
I think everyone who lives or tries to live the 'simple lifestyle', understands that it takes effort and energy. It is just those who don't that have a romanticised idea of it.

Anonymous said...

You sure are a hard-worker Amber! I can imagine your outside work takes up alot of time, yet must be so rewarding.

I only homeschooled one was hard to do housework and get over having to have everything perfectly neat.

I do need to work on shopping for food less and planning better, like I used to do out of necessity when my kids were young.

Mrs. H. said...

Thank you so much for leaving a comment on my blog. I love finding kindred spirits in blog land and will definitely be stopping by here often to read more of your homesteading adventures. :-) Have a nice day!

Sandra said...

Great post Amber and as always beautiful photos :)