Minimalism has a lot of different meanings to a lot of different people. You see photos of individuals and families with barely furnished homes or living as a family of four in a small apartment. While this is the perfect living arrangement for some, it may not be the right fit for all. This is definitely one kind of minimalism but not the only kind. While I value the fundamentals of minimalism, I’m here to tell you that you can be minimalist and still own things. This is what realistic minimalism means to me and my family. A family that went from holding onto everything to letting go of a lot but not everything.
I was first introduced to minimalism by Allie Casazza who refers to herself as the life minimalist. I love that concept because minimalism is not just for your home or your clothes. Minimalism spans to where you spend your time; what you value and prioritize in your life.
Minimalism also made it apparent to me how life-giving a mindfulness practice would be. When we started to clear out the physical stuff in our home, it made me realize that I also had mental clutter. Allie Casazza shares on her site the emotional freedom she discovered when she started to remove things from her home.
Starting my minimalist practice is one of the most life-changing and influential moments of my life to date. If you were to ask me about minimalism, mindfulness, or capsule wardrobes, I’m pretty sure I could talk about it for days. You would see my face light up. Minimalism made me realize that true joy comes from life and not from the things you can buy in a store.
What brought me to minimalism
The short answer: kids. Having children was a monumental moment in my life as it likely is for most adults who have children. Children come into the world and turn it upside down. They come in like a bulldozer, running over all of the normalcy you knew prior to their presence. At the same time, the bulldozer is meant to smooth over the surface so that you can rebuild. You quickly realize there is more to life and your priorities and goals change.
Before having my daughter (my first child), you would find me working late hours at work. My husband called asking when I would be home and if there were any pre-planned meals for dinner. Pre-kids Amanda was going to be the partner of a large public accounting firm. Post-kids Amanda is realizing, maybe there is more to life than making money and being what society considers successful. It made me ponder what do I (Amanda) consider success?
It didn’t help that the demands of my job continued as I returned from my maternity leave, the home seemed to become exponentially messier, and I started to experience that drowning in laundry feeling every experienced mom talks about. I was fitting all of the “hot mess mom” memes you see on Facebook and Instagram. That is when I said enough is enough. It took me a while to reach this moment though. It took two kids and an extremely late night working to say, “Why Am I Still Doing This?”
How Realistic Minimalism Changed My Life
We started decluttering. Previously, My husband and I were very much focused on filling our home with things. We bought the perfect vase, the fancy plates, and the linen napkins for every season; all of the things. I was very proud of my home decor collection for all of the seasons. We had a plate for serving at parties for most holidays. I had the linen napkins and trinkets to go with Fall, Spring, Summer, and of course, Christmas. You name it, we had it. If we didn’t have it, we wanted it.
Our attic was stuffed (and still is sometimes) with home decor and things we were not using but thought there would be that one day we would need it. That mindset of “one day” is the biggest perception that you have to let go of. Learn to let go of what does not serve you; in your home, in your mind, in your life. While it may sound like you are losing out, it’s actually the most freeing thing you can do.
As I mentioned in my previous post on creating a sustainable bathroom, I am not perfect. Nor am I the definition of minimalism. However, I pride myself on not fitting into boxes pre-defined by other people any longer. I adapt and build my life based on what works for me. No one else. I strongly encourage you to do the same. It will be hard and feel isolating at times, but following your North Star is what can lead you to the most full-filling joyful life.
How is Realistic Minimalism different from Minimalism
Realistic in front of the word minimalism means that not all of the stereotypical images of minimalism will work for all of us. A tiny home or an 800 square foot apartment may not be feasible for every family or individual. I can practice minimalism without changing where I live. I love my home of 2,900+ square feet. Our four bedroom and three bath home is more than enough for us. I would said otherwise before discovering minimalism. Before minimalism, I dreamed of the American Dream: a huge mansion. Then I realized, you have to fill that mansion with things. And after you fill the manion, you have to clean said mansion. No thanks!
I do not want my home to dictate how I live my life in any way. Not monetarily or with the amount of upkeep time. That is a new revelation for me. I’m perfectly content with the home I’m in. Minimalism allowed me to discover the beauty of what I have.
Realistic minimalism means letting minimalism work for you; not you working for the theory of minimalism. Do not get caught up in the theoretical rules of how many clothing articles to own, books to keep in your home, or plates in your kitchen cabinet. Realistic minimalism is about focusing on what you need and not much more. Also realizing that what you need may change as you grow older. Who we are today is not who we will be in 5 years (or less).
An Example of realistic minimalism
Some minimalists would say, keep only enough plates for 1 meal for each person in your home. By doing so, you hand clean the dishes after every meal and they are ready for you when you eat again. That sounds great. Reducing the dishes in my sink for sure! However, I have small kids and a full-time job outside the home. This does not work for me. The added time for me or my husband to wash every dish, every time would be exhausting. Also, I have a dishwasher! Why would I not use it? However, we do have fewer dishes as a result. We have enough to fill up our dishwasher and be pretty bare. That works for us. It’s just enough without being too much. Find the balance.
Things that I am not minimalist about
Allie Casazza said something profound on her Instagram the other day. She said, the things on the floor are not your issue, it’s the things sitting in your cabinets and drawers that are not being used. These are the items to declutter. The things being used are what’s important. It’s the things taking up space and collecting dust that are not. By getting rid of the excess, you make more room to store the important things. You make the important things easier to access; fewer objects to maneuver around in the cabinet. You have less overflow and more naturally free space resulting in an organized space.
With all that being said, there are things that I value that I am not minimalist about:
- Kitchen Appliances – I am mindful of buying new appliances but we still own more kitchen appliances than the average person. 80% of those appliances are used on a weekly or monthly basis. 20% of those are used semi-annually. If we haven’t used it in a year and do not expect to use it in the near future, it’s gone. I love to cook and the convenience and ease that appliances bring me.
- Photo Books – I create a new photo album each year through Shutterfly. I treasure these books greatly. I never print photos so this is the one time I can physically hold and look at photos of our family and our years. These are important to me so they stay and I will continue making them.
- Physical Books – I was initially stereotypical minimalist on books but within the past year, books have developed more meaning for me. If I have a book that impacts me greatly, I keep it. If it was great but not something I want to read again, I give it to a friend.
- Paper Journals / Planners – I have struggled with this one. I want to avoid the use of paper for the benefit of the environment. However, planners and journals hold a special place for me and they serve a purpose that a computer cannot. Therefore, they are staying.
- Dinner plates, bowls, and cups – As mentioned before, I have a dishwasher that does a great job. Therefore I feel I can afford to have more than one place setting per person.
- Kids Toys – We are still working on this one and I am treading a thin line. I try to keep our children’s toys to a minimum but I still allow them more toys than stereotypical minimalism. I weed out broken or unused toys frequently but want to also recognize toys are important to children as well.
What do I do differently now?
The biggest thing that I do differently is I pay a lot more attention to WHAT I bring into the home. If we bring something new into the home that is not perishable or serves a specific need, we ask ourselves the following questions:
- Do we have something that can already fit this purpose?
- Is this item multi-purpose?
- How long do I anticipate needing this product or solving a certain problem.
- Can this wait? Is it a priority now?
- What could this item replace and improve in a substantial way?
- How much space will this item take up and is it flexible?
I also generally practice a one item in then one item out rule. Doesn’t always work, but we do our best.
Another thing we do differently now is we are focused on making spaces in our home multi-functional. You will see two examples in the below section. We have a lot of space but it is also limited. We pride ourselves on actively using every room in our home. No longer do I have a dining room that sits vacant 11 months of the year. We also do not have a living room where you put your nice furniture and no one is allowed to touch anything. Every room in our home is accessible to our kids and we use every space on a weekly or daily basis. As a result of minimalism, we are less focused on what type of rooms we should have in our home and more focused on making each room in our home work for our family today.
An Example of realistic minimalism
Most recently we bought the Norden table from Ikea. The level of thought that went into this table was tremendous. Due to the pandemic, we have both of our kids doing school at home. Our five-year-old daughter is in her first year of preschool and is attending school in the bedroom on the main floor of our home. The room was an exercise /guest bedroom for the family. It’s now an exercise/guest bedroom/schoolroom. Another example of multi-functional spaces!
My three-old son is no longer attending the preschool he loves so much. We wanted him to have learning activities too. Finally, I wanted a space to do crafts with the kids. With the kids getting older, I wanted them to experience life by using their hands. There is so much confidence building and learning capabilities with crafts.
My need was a table for Luke to do his preschool activities and also a crafting space. An added bonus would be a place to store craft supplies. Lastly, we needed a table that didn’t take up a lot of space. The kids have riding toys in the house and the dining room (now school room/playroom) needed to accommodate the home racetrack.
Putting thEse questions into Action
This table instantly met our needs. And yet still we debated the decision for a while. My husband and I are big data seekers when making purchases. After much deliberation, discussion, and watching videos reviewing the table, we bought the table. We love it.
- It stores the majority of our craft supplies making them easy to find.
- The table folds down to make room for the home racetrack and fewer accidents!
- It was not overly expensive. We knew this table would take a beating.
- It also serves as an extra dining space when my family is in town. We currently only have our island which seats just 4 people.
- Eric added wheels so it is moveable. We can move it to other parts of the home when needed.
So as you can see when asking these questions, you can narrow down your real reasons for buying something. Is it just to buy something? Or do you have a true need? Also, when you can find multi-purpose for an object, it makes the decision to purchase easier.
Realistic minimalism is focused on serving you. Use this as a starting point and find the questions that fit for you and your family.
Where to start?
One of the first rules you can put in place to start on your realistic minimalism journey is the “one in, one out.” For every new item you buy, you have to remove an item from your home. This is a simple, no brainer way to start reducing excess in your home. Making space for what’s important to you and your family.
Also, as I’ve mentioned, when you do purchase items, ask yourself those set questions. Give yourself space (24 hours) before hitting the buy button to see if you really want that item or if it’s a spontaneous purchase. Question yourself on what is the real reason you are buying this item. Sometimes it’s not about the item at all and it’s a reflection of some anxiety or emotion we are avoiding.
This is just the beginning. I plan on sharing more on realistic minimalism in the future. There is so much to cover.
Resources on Minimalism
- Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things (on Netflix too)
- Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less
- The Minimalist Home by Joshua Becker
- The Little Book of Hygge: Danish Secrets to Happy Living by William Morrow
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