As many of you know, I’m writing a book about minimalism. I’m so excited to share my story with a wider audience, and my goal is to have a solid draft done by the end of July. That said, I’ll be replacing many of my weekly blog posts with chapters of the book, as I write them. That’s where I need your help!
As a former writing teacher, I know the value of collaboration. Would you be willing to email or message me some feedback? Tell me what works and what doesn’t. Show me the holes I can’t see. Let me know if my voice comes through. I want to write a stellar book and I can’t do that without good feedback. All of these posts are drafts. They will be revised. So if you can take a moment to shoot me some comments, you will have my eternal thanks!
Today’s post is The Preface, the first few pages of the book, which explain my story. My goal is to let readers know who I am on a personal level and why minimalism matters to me. Enjoy! (And please, email me some comments! My email address is in the bio at the bottom of the post.)
Five years ago I lived the very busy life of a full-time working mother with 3-year-old triplets. If that sentence alone doesn’t make you feel exhausted, here’s a more detailed look at my daily schedule.
6:00am: Up. Get ready for work.
7:00am: Arrive at school. For the next seven hours, do my darndest to instill the values of Language Arts to 150 7th graders.
3:30pm: Clock in at job #2: Mom to 3-year-old triplets. For the next five hours, do my darndest not to lose my patience and/or pass out from exhaustion. Activities include: a trip to the park (only one tantrum about the choice of sand toys – progress!), dinner of macaroni and cheese (cheese is dairy and macaroni is grain, so we’ve got two food groups covered, right?), bathtime (aka “How wet can the bathroom floor get? Let’s see!”), stories (It’s amazing how my mouth can read these words while my tired brain processes nothing…), and finally, goodnight kisses (I love you so, so much, but please, for the love of God, go to sleep).
8:30pm: Sigh. It’s finally quiet.
8:35pm: Begin my evening routine: whirl around my house, picking up toys, sippy cups, shoes, books, and other miscellany. Stuff into already-overflowing bins. Re-arrange paper piles on my kitchen counter into what I perceive as neater-looking paper piles. Survey laundry situation in distress. Put laundry into washer and pray I remember to move it to the drier. (Pray harder that a troop of magical elves appears to fold and put it away.)
9:30pm: Legs will no longer move willingly. Get ready for bed.
10:00pm: In bed. Try to keep eyes open long enough to read. (I love to read! Why, oh why, can’t I ever just read?) Suddenly remember–darn it!–I didn’t move the laundry to the drier. Briefly weigh pros and cons of getting out of bed to do this. Opt to stay in, telling myself that I’ll surely remember in the morning…
10:15pm: Pass out.
To say I was busy is a bit of an understatement. But for me, the hardest part was not teaching or taking care of three toddlers. I found both those jobs, while exhausting, ultimately rewarding. The part that never felt right was how I spent the precious time between my kids’ bedtime and my own.
You see, while I’m quite friendly, I’m a natural introvert who needs alone time to recharge. Without it, I’m no good to anyone. I can tell when I haven’t had enough personal time. I get irritated and actively avoid other people. I’ll duck down a different aisle in the grocery store to avoid running into an acquaintance or purposely not answer my phone when a friend calls. I’m not proud to admit that I do these things, but I know they are a direct result of not having enough time to myself.
And as you can see from my daily schedule, “me time” was in short supply.
A quick analysis of my day-in-the-life reveals the culprit: not my children or my students. The real problem was my stuff.
When I had time that I could have spent relaxing and recharging, I dealt with my things—frantically stuffing them away, trying to control the chaos that threatened to overtake my home.
This, ultimately, was what made me so exhausted at the end of the day. I spent my only unstructured time just trying to put my house back in order. I longed to sit on my couch, relaxing with a beverage, reading a novel. But that never happened.
Around this time, I had a fateful lunch date with a good friend of mine, Robin. I realize that sounds a bit dramatic, but when I look back, I realize that this lunch changed everything.
It was a week after Christmas. We had just returned from visiting relatives, our van loaded with presents.
“I don’t even have room in my house for the toys my kids already have,” I moaned between spoonfuls of soup. “How can I fit this stuff in there? Maybe I need a bigger house.”
In fact, Josh and I had started looking at bigger homes. We lived in our 1,500 square foot “starter” home with not just our kids, but also an au pair. We all felt the squeeze.
Robin listened calmly, as she always does, and then asked a question that changed my life:
“Have you ever thought about minimalism?”
This word—“minimalism”—was not familiar to me. I thought about Tibetan monks meditating in caves and white-walled art galleries with canvases that are painted all black. I could not see how any of that related to me.
“Uh,” I stammered, trying to be polite. “Isn’t that for, like, monks or something?”
Robin laughed and explained that anyone—even a suburban American like myself—could adopt a minimalist lifestyle by simply choosing to own less. As we talked, I started to see how having less could make my life simpler and less stressful. At the end of our lunch, Robin pointed me to some books and blogs on the subject.
I went home and started reading. And I was hooked.
Eight Months Later
“Whoa! What did you do in here? Are you guys moving?” my friend Dan’s daughter, Becca, said as she walked in the door, taking in my newly decluttered and minimized living room.
“No,” I said. “I just got rid of all the stuff we don’t need. This is how it looks now.”
Becca took a moment to survey the new, uncluttered surroundings.
“It looks good,” she concluded.
I couldn’t agree more.
Becca was right. My house did look good, much better in fact, than it had ever looked, even before I had kids. (And in case you’re wondering, Josh and I had abandoned our search for the “bigger, better house” when we realized the simple difference minimalism made in our existing home.)
But for me, the best part of my “new” house wasn’t how it looked. The best part was the re-emergence of my personal time.
Because now, at the end of those long days—which were still exhausting, filled with teaching and parenting—I had time to relax. I no longer spent that brief, precious window between bedtimes picking up toys and shoes.
Because as I decluttered my house, a slow truth dawned upon me: When you have less stuff, you have more time.
Less toys are more quickly put in their containers, less shoes are more easily paired and set by the door, less clothing is more quickly laundered and put away.
So where was I at the end of my days now?
On my couch, book in hand, enjoying a mug of tea.
I was free.
How a Blog Became a Business
Throughout the eight-month decluttering process, I kept a blog, chronicling my journey. I enjoyed the writing, but more importantly, it kept me accountable and focused on my goal. Decluttering an entire house—even one that is only 1,500 square feet—is no small task, and the positive comments from my readers kept me going.
After awhile, some of those reader comments became requests for help in their own homes. My pulse beat excitedly at the thought of digging into someone else’s cluttered closets (yes, I know this is strange!), but I was bound by my teaching career and young family, and couldn’t see how my blogging hobby could become an actual career.
Yet this, in and of itself, is another benefit of minimalism. As the excess stuff slowly left my house and I had more time to listen to myself, I realized that teaching full-time was not the right path for me. My kids were now about four years old and better able to express themselves. Phrases like, “I want tomorrow to be a mama day,” squeezed my heart. Particularly painful was my kids’ preschool holiday program, when I introduced myself to one of the teachers and she said, “Oh, you’re the mom.”
Don’t get me wrong. I believe in power of working women. And I don’t believe in changing careers because of guilt or any other negative emotion. But I do believe in listening to your gut—it will never steer you wrong.
Because I had let go of many of my possessions, my life was simpler. I had time to focus and think. And with my newfound reflective time, one particular thought kept cropping up in my mind: My kids are too young for me to not be more present in their lives.
I knew that if I could rework my professional life to be more available to my family, that would be a good thing.
So, I took a leap. I left teaching and started a professional organizing business. And I named it Less. Because I believe, very personally, that owning less is at the heart of a very meaningful life change.
Why I Wrote this Book
I wrote this book to tell how minimalism has impacted my life, and to encourage you to consider giving it a try. If you feel overwhelmed by clutter in your home or workspace, or if you just feel distracted and like something is “not quite right” in your life, I encourage you to read on.
Minimalism is a simple philosophy. But, as I have found in my own life, it can have far-reaching effects.
I hope you choose to join me. Let’s begin.
Rose Lounsbury is one of Dayton, Ohio’s top professional organizers and a sought-after public speaker. After blogging about her own journey toward a minimalist lifestyle, Rose was inspired to start Less LLC, a minimalist-minded professional organizing company. Rose is a member of the National Association of Professional Organizers and has been featured on Good Day Columbus. If you’d like Rose’s help with an organizing project at your home or office, you can contact her at [email protected] or visit her online at OrganizeWithLess.com.