Simplifying the holidays 

As I’ve been doing the work of minimizing and we are inching closer to the holiday season, I’ve been thinking about what we could do differently to simplify the holiday season.

Truth be told: I tend to go overboard on Christmas with little gifts here and there. I start shopping months in advance but instead of crossing things off my gift list, it tends to just add to the volume of gifts I give. I’m a huge fan of Christmas, but I wonder if there’s a way to keep my joy (or possibly increase it!?) and still decrease my consumeristic tendencies?

Striving to become a minimalist has already changed the way I shop. I still sometimes go to stores and browse, but my mindset has changed – I don’t get as much pleasure from it as I did before. Because I don’t see the point in buying new things to clutter up my newly decluttered spaces, it is so freeing. I haven’t instituted a shopping ban, really, but I am far more conscious of what I really need. And therefore, I don’t need to buy as much.

Halloween

Halloween isn’t really a holiday I celebrate because the Germans aren’t really big on it. So that’s already pretty simplified. I don’t have to make or buy any special costumes for the kids and we won’t be going trick-or-treating.

Living in Germany has changed the holiday for me, too. I don’t like that they seem to take the whole trick-or-treat thing seriously, and that if you don’t give them a treat, they will play tricks. Many a November 1st have I seen shaving cream or ketchup on door handles. I hate seeing that eggs were thrown at cars and houses. That’s not the Halloween I grew up with, and it has kind of ruined the fun of it for me.

Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is next – we skipped it last year because it was too much with stress and a new baby and we just decided to forgo the holiday. I still made a pumpkin pie, but that is it.

This year, though, I would like to do Thanksgiving. But to simplify things, I am going to delegate foods and make it more of a potluck.

This is really hard for me to relinquish control over my traditional holiday foods. I did everything for years all on my own because I wanted to make sure it was the exact same foods as I had growing up.

But it will make life much simpler and easier if I am not in charge of absolutely everything this year, so I’m going to give it a try. There will still be around 12 adults and a handful of kids, but that’s part of what’s special about gathering with our closest friends for the holiday, since our families are nowhere nearby. So I’m okay with not whittling down our guest list. Besides — the more people coming, the more help I have with preparing the food.

Christmas

This could probably be a whole post all on its own! I’m still brainstorming ideas, but this may prove the hardest season to simplify.

On my side of the family, we gave presents to the kids as usual, but did Secret Santa with the adults. I’ve set up another gift exchange this year, since it worked so well last time. I wonder if I could pitch the idea to my husband’s side of the family, since we’ll be staying in Germany this year and visiting them after the holidays.

Decorations: We have 6 big boxes full of Christmas decorations up in the attic. I want to see if we can narrow it down to 3. My husband and I are going to pick a date in late November to go through the decorations together and see what we want to keep and what we want to get rid of.

Advent calendars: I want to keep this simple, too. Lord knows my kids don’t need chocolate every day, nor do they need presents every day. We are going to put some treats and sweets in it, but fill the rest up with fun Christmassy experiences we can do together as a family. Like reading Christmas stories with hot cocoa on the couch. Or having a Christmas dance party. Or watching Charlie Brown’s Christmas or The Grinch or Mr. Bean’s Christmas. Or making a Christmas ornament for the tree.

Presents: I’m going to finish up my project that I meant to make my 1-year-old for his birthday and never got around to finishing: an A-frame tent – and gift it to both boys. My parents will probably send a box of gifts, so we’ll open that on Christmas Day. On Christmas Eve, the main event here in Germany, we will give them our gift. I am not sure yet if we will do one gift from us for each boy, or three – like the three wise men.

Also, I am not allowed to buy any more wrapping paper, since I have so much already. This is going to be really hard to resist! Most of the wrapping paper I have doesn’t look Christmassy at all, so I am only going to use the brown kraft paper I already have and make it more festive by adding some ribbon I also already have.

 

 

Making time for projects

I am sure I’m not alone when I say that I have about a thousand unfinished projects lying around my house.

I’ve recently heard the phrase that goes like this: “I’ve come to the conclusion that buying craft supplies and actually doing the crafts are two different hobbies!” and I found myself slowly nodding my head in agreement.

I’m not the most creative or original person who ever lived, but I would call myself crafty enough. I loved doing crafts when I was a kid, and I still enjoy spending free time making things. But still, there are a few materials for projects that I wanted to do that have been lying around for weeks…months…in some cases, over a year! (insert scream emoji!)

As part of decluttering, I have come to some conclusions.

Be honest. Do you really need it? Will it help you live your best life? Or is it going to sit around because it only matches up with your fantasy life?  If you do decide you need it…do you really need to make it? Sometimes it ends up costing more effort, time, and money to make it yourself. Unless you get extreme pleasure from doing it yourself, maybe it’s worth outsourcing it or even forgoing it altogether!

Do things right away! To some extent, it’s not always possible. But try to let the excitement about the project spur you on to complete it before the supplies just sit around for months on end.

One project at a time. Put it on a projects list before buying the materials for the next project. After you’re done with one project, see what you’d like to tackle next, and then buy the supplies. When you let time pass between the desire to have something and the actual purchase of it, you are able to calm down the impulsive part of you and activate your rational brain. Maybe you don’t even want to do it anyway.

It doesn’t have to be perfect. Don’t let perfectionism get in the way of actually trying things that you want to do. Part of being creative is trial and error. Even if it doesn’t end up perfect, who cares?

Well begun is half done. When something feels overwhelming, my new motto, to borrow from Nike: just do it. Sometimes the project isn’t even as hard as you imagine it will be. Sometimes just starting is the hardest part.

It’s okay to let things go. Maybe you’ve bought supplies for something that you realize you will never actually use.

None of these ideas are new, but to me, they’re revolutionary.  Giving myself the grace to let things go, the patience to wait on ideas, and the permission to be imperfect is what has helped me make decisions about my craft supplies. When I was decluttering my bedroom, I finally opened up the box of white contact paper that I wanted to cover the doors of the shoe cubby in the hallway. I did one door and had a hard time with it. I then realized I needed more contact paper than I had, so I ordered some more. And then I never actually finished the project…until now! It’s nice to feel things coming together, to see a project through, and to finally get those boxes of contact paper out of my bedroom!

It’s a hard area to photograph, but you get the idea!

Now that I see the photo, I still need to work on keeping decorations on top of that area to a minimum…. Baby steps!

Results!

I have already started to see the results of minimizing. In fact, it was especially clear when my minimalist friends (whose apartment truly surprised me at how tidy and clean it was!) came over last weekend for a visit. I spent about 5 minutes before they came putting some random toys and other items back in their spots, but I didn’t have to do any other cleaning or tidying AND I felt proud of my home for the first time! I always felt embarrassed whenever they came over because of my piles and piles of stuff everywhere. 

I still have a ways to go to make it as good as I desire, but I can already see the results of my hard work decluttering. It’s amazing. It’s such a great feeling having a clean, presentable apartment. And not just before guests come over, but most of the time!

I will take some updated pictures soon so I can show you what I mean. 

I still have major work to do in the kitchen and in the kids’ room. Then there’s the hall closet and the attic to do. The more progress I see, though, the more motivated I feel. Because it’s working, you guys! And it’s so worth it!

Clearing the common spaces

This week’s task in class was to clear out the car and the common spaces in the house. For us, every space is a common space! Ironically, the living room, which used to be the main room we spent time in outside of the kitchen, is currently the least used room ever since it turned into my son’s room. So that takes the living room off the hook for a little while, so it’s good I started in there last week with my initial run-through and easy wins.

  1. Car: I don’t own a car, so instead I decluttered my keys. (Got rid of 5 keychains and quite a bit of weight!)
  2. Common spaces:  For this, I focused on the hallway. It’s certainly not finished, but it feels good to be making progress.

I haven’t taken an after picture yet of the other side of the hallway since I focused mainly on the one end near my bedroom. However, I did take down some coats and put some shoes away so that there was more space down by the entryway.

Projects completed

I don’t know about you, but I tend to have tons of projects going on at once. I’ll start it and not finish it and the project will sit there taking up space for weeks…months…years! Like the sideboard in our hallway that has one white section – instead of painting it, I decided to use white contact paper to cover it. I managed to do one drawer…several months ago. I had to order more contact paper and it’s just sat for months. (We also only hung up that sideboard three weeks ago after having it sit for months in our bedroom, taking up space!) That’s next on the project list.

I also had a pile of clothes that had holes in them and needed to be repaired. I spent an hour last night and watched Friends while I worked, sewing up the holes in favorite shirts, sweaters, pants, and coats. It felt good to be able to get rid of that pile and put away those clothes!

While I had the sewing supplies out, I noticed the triangle bib I’d started in my sewing class just over one year ago that I never ended up finishing. So I got out my sewing machine as well, finished that bib, and also hemmed a blanket I’d cut some tassels off of. That blanket is now on the couch in the living room, and that bib is now my favorite bib to put on my son!

There are a bunch more projects I’ll need to tackle as well, but it feels marvelous to have gotten some things done! Baby steps!

Minimalist inspiration

Thanks to the course Facebook group, I’ve come across some great people with great sites about minimalism. Here are my two favorites this week:

  1. Cait Flanders – Her shopping ban experiments are really interesting! I’ve signed up for her newsletter and have been enjoying those as well.
  2. Nourishing Minimalism – This site is also really inspirational! I’ve been keeping a tally of items I’ve donated/gotten rid of on a post-it note but knew there had to be a better way of keeping track! Then I came across this post about what to do about “just in case” items when decluttering. That’s where I learned the 20/20 rule of minimalism and found out that this site runs a challenge to get rid of 2017 things in 2017. And that they have a free print-out they’ll send you if you subscribe to their newsletter. I’ve printed it out and am now using this checklist instead. 2017 items feels like a lofty goal when starting in September, but I don’t feel pressured. I can always add 1 item and finish in 2018. (wink!)

Why simplify?

Hello there. I’m Sarah.

I just started back at work again after a year and a half of parental leave. I have two young kids, aged 3 and 1, to feed, clothe, and play with. I have a husband who is possibly on the cusp of a big life change with his career.

Everything just got a whole lot busier. It’s no wonder I feel the need to simplify during this time of life.

We live in a modest, 82-square-meter (that’s 883 square feet) apartment in Hamburg, Germany. We have a large kitchen, three rooms, a little closet, and a small attic space, and it’s full of STUFF. And you know what? I’m tired of it. I want to break free from living with piles of clutter. I want to get rid of things. To simplify.

For a while now, we have been (halfheartedly, because we love where we live right now) looking for a new, bigger place to live. But I wonder, what if we don’t actually need more space, but fewer possessions in our space?

So we have put our house search on hold and, in the last two weeks, we’ve taken several large bags of stuff to a donation box. That has given us the momentum to keep going and get rid of even more things!

Making room for the things that matter

There were a few things that inspired me to try to switch over to a lifestyle of minimalism.

One is that I stumbled upon Joshua Becker’s blog, becomingminimalist.com. I was encouraged and motivated by what I read, and then signed up for his uncluttered e-course and devoured two of his ebooks, Clutterfree with Kids and The More of Less. It all just resonated with me.

Another motivation was having recently visited a new friend’s apartment. They also live in a very small place, but it is absolutely gorgeous. Everything seems to have a purpose, and while of course it is possible that they cleaned up before we visited, it also seems that they simply have less stuff to manage. As a result, they have a cleaner and more beautiful living space. It made me feel quite jealous, actually! “There’s no way I could ever live in a place that nice,” I thought.

But because of the books I’ve read and the encouragement I’ve received by being part of the e-course, I am realizing that it is an attainable goal. It requires a complete overhaul – not only getting rid of stuff, but changing my own habits to prevent myself from accumulating more stuff- and I am now excited to begin clearing things out and gaining more space to breathe. A place where I have peace of mind and my children can grow up without thinking that having piles of stuff lying around is normal.

My biggest motivation is the life I desire to model for my children. I grew up in a home where both my parents kept almost everything ‘just in case’. But as a result, everything was always cluttered. I don’t want to blame my own habits on them, but I also know that I want to teach my kids a different way. A way where less is more, and there is more free space grow and learn.

Because life is so full right now, it feels kind of crazy starting another project – a blog! my own domain! – and adding yet one more thing to my busy schedule seems a little optimistic. But my hope is that this place will be an outlet for me, a place to boldly state my plans and to keep myself accountable, and a place for me to document my journey towards a more simplified, minimalist life.

It will not be easy. But it will be so worth it. I’m so glad you’re here. Come follow along!

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