I was dragged kicking and screaming into minimalism by my husband, and neither of us knew it was happening.
It started about 3 days into our marriage. My husband owned a condo in a cute, historic district, but it was the ultimate bachelor pad. We were starting fresh in a townhome that we had been building together. I had always teased him for having his place extremely neat, but I thought it was an act to impress me while we were dating. I was certain that once we were married and we were creating a home together that I would see his true man-side come out, and I would become the typical wife who has to nag her husband to clean up his crap.
Little did I know that this would never happen. We were going through the typical motions of packing and sorting our things when we came across two different duvet covers that I had in their original bags. They were both all white, and I had been storing them under the bed (also covered in white bedding) “just in case”. I pulled them out and placed them among the pile of things we wanted to keep, because duh. They were perfectly good duvet covers, and no, we weren’t going to have a guest room in our new home, but you never know when you may want to swap out your bedding…with identical bedding. I didn’t even think about the possibility of living a life without these extra duvet covers. I hadn’t touched them since I bought them, but it was not in my mindset to shed myself of things just because they weren’t useful to me.
My new husband eyed the bedding and said, as kindly as possible, “Why do you want to keep those?” I can’t remember exactly how things escalated from there, but I strongly remember crying as I walked them to the car to be donated. This exact situation repeated itself with appliances the next day. (Chris: Do we really need a blender and a food processor and a nutribullet? Me: YES WE DO OMG WHY DO YOU HATE MY STUFF?!)
It was a tumultuous way to start our marriage, and I remember feeling really hurt that my husband didn’t value my things…did this mean he didn’t value me? That he thought I had poor taste? I didn’t know it at the time, but I was using all of these things as a security blanket. There was something comforting to me about having a linen closet full of sheets and towels that were never touched, and kitchen cabinets overflowing with unnecessary appliances. It felt to me like we had really made it as adults or something. Buying a home didn’t feel right without having a ton of stuff to put in it! But he was my new husband, and I didn’t enjoy arguing with him. So, he won most of the battles, and we moved into our new home with a much lighter load than I would have preferred.
Fast forward several months: we were all settled in and now we were about to have a baby. I had begrudgingly gone along with my husband’s insistence that we not own way more than we needed, and I wouldn’t admit this, but I hadn’t found myself missing the things we left behind. He also had this weird way of making sure everything had “a place”, which really annoyed me for about 6 months. If I got out my laptop to do some work and left it out when I was done, I would find it neatly put back on the shelf that he had designated “the laptop’s spot”. We had all kinds of dumb fights about this at the beginning. My lackadaisical way of leaving things out until it was “time” to clean up suddenly felt lazy in comparison to my husband’s nature of putting things away as he was done with them. Now, I realize that waiting for the right “time” to clean up is actually far less productive and more time-consuming than just cleaning as you go throughout the day.
I couldn’t understand how my lifestyle had shifted until after we had Isaiah. We brought him home and we had a steady stream of gifts, meals, and company for about 6 weeks (because we are severely blessed with caring friends and family). That was when I started having to answer questions about the state of my home. Questions like:
-You just had a baby. Are you cleaning while he’s sleeping or something?
-Why does your home always look like a model home?
-When on earth do you have time to pick up and make your house look this good?
-This is not how new parents are supposed to live! Is your husband cleaning for you?
I would awkwardly try to explain that I wasn’t doing any extra work, and neither was Chris…this was just how we lived. One time when Chris was around to hear the questions, I deferred to him. His answer was simple: We don’t have too much stuff, and we give everything it’s own place. It’s easier and we’re happy because we don’t spend tons of time ‘cleaning up’.
That right there was when I realized that I had adopted a totally different lifestyle from other people I knew: when I saw the baffled looks on people’s faces when we would explain that we don’t spend any extra time working to live this way. Chris had always held the mindset, but he couldn’t articulate it to me. So, I had been forced into the lifestyle without understanding the values behind it. And now I could reflect on how our home would look if we had kept all of those extra things that didn’t fit with our life, and I could see that I actually was happier not having to keep up with it all.
I am now passionate about showing moms everywhere that we have bought into the idea that we need to have stuff to be fulfilled, but it’s not true. Before our babies are born we are bombarded with sample baby registries from major stores, and they have hundreds of things on them!
Moms, we have to remember that this is their agenda: they want to make money, not make your life as a mother simpler.
We have tricked ourselves into thinking that collecting all of these things will make sure our child is never without something he could potentially need. At the end of the day, your baby needs to be fed, clothed, and loved by you.
I should say that this is an ongoing journey. I still have to intentionally look at things when I put them down and ask myself, “Ok. Where is this supposed to go? Can I just put it away right now?” If my hands are full of baby and his stuff, I may have to walk away from something for a while, but I try to create small moments throughout the day where I scan our living spaces for things that are out of place. I would estimate that it takes about 15-30 seconds, three to five times a day to keep things neat.
Chris and I have reflected on how we will adjust as our babies are older and they are getting their own things out. We have ideas about how to manage that, but it will all be trial-and-error, and I will be learning as I go. What I do know is that I can explicitly teach my children about the value of their belongings by not giving them more than they need. If Isaiah and Josephine have access to dozens of toys between them, why should they care if one gets broken?
There are little life-lessons all over the place in adopting a more “minimal” lifestyle. Our home is not cold, sterile, or empty. Instead, it is warm, loving, and full of happy memories and pieces that mean something to us. I wouldn’t trade our tidy little space for anything.