Over the last year I've read some interesting articles and books regarding minimalism. I hate to admit it out loud, but for most of my life I have been surrounded by clutter. I'm just not a very good housekeeper and although I don't really have an impulse buy problem, I do have issues with letting things go. Whether because I think they're bringing some value to my life (even though they've been in a box in the basement for 10 years), or because I think I may find use for them at some point in the future, I always seem to have a ready excuse to hang on to it. Last year was something of a breaking point, though, since an entire bedroom (lovingly labelled "The Dump Room"), my basement, and my garage had become completely unusable because they looked like they belonged on an episode of hoarders. Bags, boxes, papers, and all manner of loose 'stuff' was piled floor to ceiling. And there was always more coming. All I did was open the door, toss it in, and close it again.
The rooms were only part of it. Drawers were filled with junk. Shelves were piled high and covered in dust. Corners became homes to wayward items. My bathtub became an extremely large clothes hamper. Stuff even lived on the stairs.
All of this mess was seriously stressing me out. I was working nights, not sleeping well, exhausted and dealing with a chronic illness. It was a vicious circle and I did not see any way out. I was ashamed. Even though few people knew how we lived (as is often the case), I was always petrified one of the kids would say something and my secret would get out. There was no way in hell that anyone could ever just drop by for a visit. Most times, even when we had lots of advance notice, I would find an excuse to reschedule or cancel because I didn't have the time or the energy to clean up. It was often a sore spot with Hubby, as he is a social creature, and very close to his family. He would ask if someone could come and visit, and it would inevitably start an argument. Even when I relented and we invited people over, it would be a week or two, and I would clean like a mad woman, right up until the time they rang the doorbell. All that work just to get the first floor decent enough. I would still spend most of the visit apologizing because the house was messy and I didn't have time to clean it. With a straight face, no less.
Visitors were banned from going upstairs, which meant the kids couldn't play with their cousins or friends in their bedrooms (where all their toys and video games are), and if the powder room was occupied, well, you had to wait. Which probably seemed odd to some family members, since they are fully aware that I have two full bathrooms upstairs. I'd often tell them that the toilet wasn't working, the seat was broken, or make something else up, just so they wouldn't go upstairs.
Since my house was so full of clutter, I started to let almost everything else slide, too. I tell myself it was the long hours, the exhaustion, the pain, but if I'm being honest (which I will try to be during this series), I think I gave up. I felt despondent looking at all the junk. I didn't know where to start, and so I didn't. I even let the dishes pile up, storing dirty dishes in the oven to make a little counter space the few times a week that I attempted to cook dinner. I rarely even cleaned the bathrooms. We had lived in clutter for years, and now we were beginning to live in filth. I used to always excuse my mess by saying I was messy, not dirty, except that now I was.
By now, some of you may be wondering why my husband or kids never did anything about the mess, or if they got after me about it. The short answer is no, no one helps me clean the house, and no one complains about it, either. The long answer is that my situation is of my own making, and so I am the only one who can change it. This may sound alien to you, but the way both my husband and I grew up was that the man worked and the wife kept house. Those were the roles, and we started our relationship with the understanding that we would continue those roles in our home. I tried, at first, but my mother only worked a few hours a week, leaving plenty of time for the home. I worked full time until about five years ago, and the first five years that we lived in this home I had a ninety minute commute one way. In my husband's eyes, I wasn't keeping up my end of the bargain, and we did fight about it, but that's all we did. We didn't make any changes. I also never taught my kids to pick up after themselves. It's hard to teach skills you don't have.
As with all things, eventually, something has to give. My will to live in squalor finally broke. After a few heated exchanges, some tears, and a lot of pleading, Hubby started helping a little around the house when he could, like doing laundry (sort of), and loading the dishwasher. My kids started helping too, emptying the dishwasher and picking their clothes up off the floor. Not a whole lot of progress, but I was willing to take any help I was offered.
I still felt absolutely paralyzed by my junk. I was doing my best to not be dirty, but we were still messy. I still refused to look into the dumping areas, still pretended they didn't exist. When the neighbor rang the doorbell, I always pretended I couldn't hear it, so that I wouldn't have to open my door and expose my shame.
One day I was scrolling through Netflix, looking for something to watch. I am a sucker for documentaries, and when I came across Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things, I hit 'play' without a second thought. This movie was about to change my life. I sat forward, enraptured by the cleanliness of everything. Everything seemed to have strong, clean lines. The sun was shining on all the gloriously smooth, gleaming, clutter-free surfaces. The only dust was by the side of the road, and even that seemed to have a certain order to it.
Don't get me wrong - I may be giving you the sense that everything was sterile. Far from it. The homes looked almost organic. Everyone was living a regular life - only without a crap-ton of stuff. The people making the documentary and being interviewed for it all just seemed content, a calm happiness radiated from them, while the skeptics around them all looked hurried, harried, and well, unhappy. That's what I want for myself, my family and my home, that easy kind of happiness.
The second thing I don't want you to misunderstand is this: I have no intention of going full minimalist like the people in this film. I understand why they did it, I applaud them for it, but within my own life, I need to be realistic. I think a lot of people fail at a lot of their big dreams because they aren't being realistic. I would not be happy in a one room home where there is zero privacy, and I am fully confident that I can say the same about my family. I will definitely do something about the sheer number of t-shirts in my closet, but only 10 or so items of clothing? Maybe not. Will I get rid of my books once I finish reading them? Hard no. I love my books, and there are a great many that have been read over and over. The next time I start Stephen King's The Dark Tower series will be read through #8. I have a kindle full of books (including The Dark Tower!), but when it comes down to it, I need to hold a book in my hand while I read it and will accept no compromise. I also enjoy having some decorative items in my home. They bring me some joy just by looking at them, and I believe that in bringing me this feeling that they have earned their place.
Having said that, I have waaaaaay too much stuff and I am prepared to do something about it. That's where the book, Lose the Clutter, Lose the Weight by Peter Walsh comes in. I had intended this to just be a quick minimalism intro post and spend the bulk of my time with you today talking about Peter's book and it's impact on me, but that obviously didn't go as planned, and so we will leave the book for my next post.
Thanks for stopping by, as always, feel free to leave a comment if you have anything to add or ask.
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