I started getting more and more into the “minimalism/simple living” movement *just* before it hit mainstream, a year or two before the Internet exploded with posts about how to live slowly and the t.v. started showing couples searching for tiny homes and Marie Kondo showed us all that we should only keep things that spark joy in us.
When I first came across the idea of minimalism, I had been frustrated that I always seemed to feel overwhelmed by all the stuff in my life–all the clutter, all the time commitments, all the constant need to rush, rush, rush. I’d had enough of it all, so I devoted the entirety of 2013 to paring down. My overall goal was to get rid of at least 500 things and literally touch everything I owned so that I could make the decision, for sure, if I still wanted it in my life or not.
The year was transformative for me, in so many ways. It made me see that I really didn’t need nearly as much as I thought I did, that it didn’t hurt nearly as much as I thought it would to get rid of sentimental clutter that was only making me feel guilty, and that I really didn’t need to say yes to every single favor/opportunity/whatever that someone asked of me.
I owe a lot to my 50 Weeks to Organized project. I really do.
However, something that a lot of simple living and minimalism blogs DON’T tell you is that once you’ve cleared away all the excess, said no to everything until your schedule is as blank as a lake under a cloudless sky, your life may, indeed, be a lot quieter and simpler, but…
It doesn’t necessarily mean your life has a greater purpose than before.
It took me awhile to really understand that the point of simple living and minimalism and cutting out all the excess or whatever you want to call it isn’t just to get rid of stuff—having a decluttered home and schedule is not, in fact, the end result.
It’s only a means to the end result.
Decluttering and purging and clearing out space to breathe will allow you to finally have the quiet and solitude you need to discover what you REALLY want your life to be about, to check to see if what you’re doing is actually in line with your priorities.
For me, I focused so long on just getting rid of stuff and on whether I had any more clutter left to chuck, that I ignored the fact that now that my schedule was freer than it had been in years, I was using all that spare time to…not do as much as I wanted to be doing. Rather than using my spare time to build up my passions, it became all too easy to just fall into the trap of doing whatever felt the easiest: social media, reading blogs, watching more t.v.
For me, the hardest thing about having more free time and energy is that I simultaneously struggle to let myself totally enjoy full relaxation and that I’m not using enough of my time productively. As I once heard a wise leader say, it’s like I got stuck “in the thick of thin things”—not letting myself enjoy my relaxation because I wasn’t using enough of my time productively (in other words, the relaxation wasn’t enjoyable because I hadn’t “earned” it).
Lately, I’ve realized that to harness and savor the life I really want to be living right now, I actually need to start saying YES a lot more—
YES to helping other people out when they ask for it,
YES to experiences that might disrupt our quiet and routine,
YES to new people and new hobbies and new things outside of my comfort zone.
To get here, it was vital that I said NO a lot prior to this—it was vital that I cut back our schedule to the bare minimum and that I had days upon days of nothing more pressing to do than a load of laundry or reading a book that was due back at the library soon.
I needed to cut back to realize what was important. I needed to cut back so that I would know, with more wisdom now, what was worth adding back in.
So that’s where I’m at right now: adding back in.
I started by adding back in more reading time several months ago. Reading is something that truly brings me so much joy and pleasure, but you wouldn’t have always known it because I didn’t always prioritize it, in the real sense of the word. Now, I read every single day before bed, and often for an hour or two at another point in the day, as well.
One of the next things I added in was more play dates. Back when we lived in our old neighborhood, there were two play groups a week that our church kind of put together. For a long time, I resisted going, but when I felt like the loneliness of the stay-at-home life might break me, I started making sure Raven and I went regularly. And not only was it so good for Raven to be around kids her own age and to be outside playing in the fresh air and making friends, it was so good for ME to get out of the house and meet new people and build new friendships I wouldn’t have otherwise.
Moving away last month from those twice-weekly play groups was hard (a lot harder than I thought it’d be, actually), but I’m trying to make myself continue to plan play dates, or at least to always take up the offer when other people call me. (Coincidentally, that’s what these pictures are from: yesterday, I met up with two of my best friends growing up–who I don’t see nearly often enough–and their kids, and we went out to lunch and to The Treehouse Museum in Ogden).
The fact is, I realized early on that play groups were not always “easy”–they often conflicted with nap times and mealtimes, and they usually involved that I put up with a higher number of meltdowns and tears and frustration (either that came about from incidents that happened at the play date itself, or that happened as a result of us leaving such a fun environment). On the surface, it seemed like play dates were often the antithesis of simple, peaceful living.
But as a 30-year-old woman with decades of friendship behind me, I know for myself that relationships are messy, that friendships are messy, that it is impossible to expect that spending time with other people will always result in all fun, all the time. And the only way that Raven is going to learn the same is to experience it firsthand.
I’ve also started saying YES to more scheduled time with friends our own age, rather than on our main social activities being centered around Raven.
It took me a long time to realize how much I need time with my own friends, even as a wife and a mom. I thought that starting my own family would mean that I could basically just subsist with minimal outside social interactions because my whole world seemed to live under my own roof, but that has not been the case.
The fact is, even as adults, we need friends.
Sometimes I forget that.
And finally, I’m realizing I need to say YES to more work (for me).
A couple weeks ago, I thought that the urge to work more should manifest itself in me applying for a part-time teaching position (which actually would have been at the high school that many of my former students now attend). I got in contact with the principal, I talked to the district office a few times, I’d sent in an application and had been offered an official interview (and even felt fairly confident that, barring me totally screwing up the interview, they were ready to offer me the job already)—
But I said no. The reasons were many, and they were both logistical (cost of gas eating up a good chunk of my future paycheck every month) and not.
Even though I said no, however, I’ve realized that I need to be working, in some way, more than I am now. I don’t fully know what that looks like yet–if that means that I pursue my photography business much more aggressively or we buy up another storage shed at auction or I do something else entirely.
But whatever it is, I now know that for me and my wellbeing, I need to say YES to meaningful work (outside of my responsibilities of being a SAHM) of some kind, at least at this point in my life.
So here’s to this next season of saying YES more, and of finally using the wisdom I’ve gained from saying NO to serve a higher purpose.