Last time I was blogging regularly I had a lot of flux happening in my life. I had built a tiny house with my partner and we were trying to make a go of cohabiting the same patch of land as my mother-in-law.
In the long run we decided it was not going to work out and we transitioned back up to Arkansas.
Being minimal, the physical transition was very easy. We downsized some stuff we wouldn’t be bringing with us, we shipped six big boxes up to a friends and packed up the dog, the cat, and the rest of our worldly possessions into our teeny, tiny Hyundai accent.
We decided to bring in the New Year in Arkansas so we boogied our way down the road and landed just in time for a phenomenal new year’s eve spent with friends. Then we got jobs at the local health food co-op we’d worked at before (thanks co-op, for hiring us again), rented a one bedroom apartment in town and settled in to juicy living.
It’s been six months since we settled back down in our own place. We chose a low-rent spot of town with some serious perks. We got one of the biggest floor plans in town for a low-rent one bedroom and we’re located on a dead end road which faces a field with four gorgeous horses. Our large patio faces out on the horse field, making for some incredibly beautiful sunset scenes. Our complex also connects to the citywide trail which is a resource we use practically daily. Looooove the trail.Love it. Love it. Love it.
Our work commute is only 1.5 miles long and it can be walked in a pinch (recently put to the test when our one shared car broke down for a few days).
But I am not a picture perfect minimalist. I never have been. I’m not wired that way. I shop when I get emotional. I struggle with getting rid of things. I can create a clutter bomb in my space without even realizing it, just from not putting my stuff away for a few days.
Having said that, I keep myself in check. When we moved in to this apartment it was the first time in several years that I was really settling into a space, like I imagined myself living in the same place for more than a year, maybe even a few years.
There’s nothing like a tumbling stone to keep possessions to a minimum. You don’t collect good stuff if you know you’re going to be moving again. Moving so much really helped me to maintain my minimalism, but now that I was settling in somewhere, I was going to be put to a real test. Could I sustain my simple lifestyle or would I succumb to the temptation to fill up alllll that delectable space?
The first thing we did when we moved to town was rent an apartment. We got the apartment two days after arriving in Fayetteville. It was the first place we looked at, after a lot of driveby looking. At first I wouldn’t even consider them because the units were incredibly dated and there wasn’t an inviting feel of “hominess” from many of the balconies/patios.
But Patrick wanted us to take a second look. They were the largest square footage we’d seen at one of the lowest price ranges. They were on a dead end road which meant they’d be blessedly quiet compared to most other apartment units…. and they actually faced a horse field. Plus the patios were huuuuuge and they even had a washer/dryer in each unit. Out door living space has always meant a lot to us. I mean come on, we’ve lived on five acres of forest before. We like our outdoor time.
When we went to look at the units I fell in love with one out of the three we saw. It faced out on the field and the view from both my living room windows would be like some fantasy farmland vignette with four happy horses in a beautiful field of grass. Living in town is always tough for me, and I got to have a little green around me. We both place green space near the top of our list of requirements. It’s a priority and the beautiful field connecting to the city trail was spot on.
We had brought up some sheer white curtains with us, so we put those on the windows right away. Then we bought a bed and a couch and two plastic lawn chairs. We hung our tv on the wall (it had made the trip up with us in the hatchback) and put my vintage footstool underneath it and called it home. Then we spent a few months sitting in an almost empty apartment.
With time we added. We felt the space was too cold, especially the living room. We had white walls, white sheers, and an orange couch. It was too stark and the orange was overpowering all by itself in the space.
We added an end table that a neighbor was getting rid of, then we finally decided on a vintage dining table. We imported a trunk (bad move, Patrick new best), upgraded to two dining chairs, pulled in two patio chairs and threw up a new set of curtains. Decorations were a couple rocks, a couple plants, and a few throw pillows.
All good, but in the meantime, our tiny apartment was starting to feel a little full. I even, ahem, lost the scissors for a few days.
Time to stop.
And that’s the ultimate lesson I’ve learned with my journey through minimalism. I now have a safety trigger that goes off when my space starts feeling too full. I’ve worked hard and developed the “habit” of having a nicer space. It really is like Leo Babauta’s always talking about. It’s through the creation of habits that we can create change in our lives. We simply must choose to do it, and make a plan for doing it. Whatever the action is. In my case the action is choosing to maintain my home.
Three techniques I’ve been using to maintain my home are:
1) Doing frequent ten minute challenges: Some people appear to be wired for neatness. Others, like me, need to work at it. I call it Clutter Maintenance Mode and it’s a place we all want to arrive at someday. It’s the blessed land of “just keeping it up”. If you do a little bit every day, like ten minutes, or twenty minutes, it’s enough. The importance is frequency, not length of time. The more times a day you stop and pick up, the better off you are. They will be short little sessions that you hardly notice. I love doing ten minute pickup challenges and ten minute decluttering challenges. They really help me.
2) Contemplating any decision that brings a permanent thing into my space: I still don’t go out shopping recreationally, but I frequently let myself buy something small and disposable when I get a craving. Requiring thoughtful contemplation of the “things” I bring in has greatly reduced the influx of stuff into my life. Less shopping= less decluttering.
3) Doing a regular evaluation of my space: This last one is essential. I don’t have a scheduled habit, I’ve turned it into part of my lifestyle, but I regularly assess how my home is making me feel. Recently I’ve found some packrat clutter culprits rearing their ugly heads. I call them warning signs. Here are four warning signs that I’ve recently noticed:
* I came to Arkansas with a tube of face scrub and I still have that same tube of face scrub six months later.
* My kitchen feels disorganized and I can’t quite get the organization system right.
* I’ve been having a hard time letting go of some clothing donation bags I put together over a month ago.
* My shoe count has gone up and I still crave new shoes.
All of these items are early warning signals for me. They say I need to be careful. Because of my regular evaluation of my space, I’m able to notice that the closets feel too full for comfort. I’ve noticed before I’ve run out of space while the problem is still manageable.
As a result, my ten minute challenges have been combined with a concerted effort to use up supplies that have been lingering around. I am using all my personal care products like lotions, scrubs, masks, and salts more than usual, to clear down to a baseline again. Patrick and I are both making an conscious effort to use up some food items that have been sitting in the pantry for a few months. I’m also working with him to get a small load of items decluttered and taken to Goodwill.
These techniques are working for me. My level of stuff is fluctuating, as all of ours does, but I’ve found a fluctuation range and that’s the magic. It’s a habit. You create the habit of maintaining your space better, and it gets easier with time. Your stuff might fluctuate a little, but you have your high range and your low range. When you hit your high range, it’s a trigger that says, “Time to purge.”
In the meantime, Adios from Arkansas. Minimalist Packrat is signing off. Cheers!
…. and, as always, feel free to have a conversation down in the comments below. You know I like that a lot. It inspires me to write again. ;)