Put Your Impulses in Your Childhood, Your Best Life is a Focused One

“It’s good to want things.”

This is what my coworker, another teacher, would tell her children when they were little. We’ve all been there, either driving the cart or riding in it when we encounter the magnetic pull of a newly found object we didn’t know existed two seconds ago but now that we have seen it, we MUST have it.

My coworker, a mother of triplets, in those five little words would acknowledge to her children that wanting is OK.

Then the item would remain on the shelf, unpurchased.

It’s good for adults to want things too…and not to purchase. A personal finance article in CNBC reported that people impulse buy an average of $5,400 a year. That’s $450 a month.

There’s a lot to be said for intentionality. I think once you purge so much, you get an appreciation for empty space that can keep you from filling it up. This doesn’t stop advertisers, however. Container companies are capitalizing on Marie Kondo’s tidying up method and I doubt the altruistic nature of their message. There is even a whole section in Etsy devoted to items that will “spark joy.” I agree with The Guardian writer Alexandra Spring who wrote “Marie Kondo, you know what would spark joy? Buying less crap.” The title was catchy enough but the message was really about the author’s journey into minimalism and then their guilt at passing their crap onto what will likely be the dump.

In my current circumstance, I am bound to a very tight budget. As for lesser, more reasonable wants, I rarely go out for coffee unless I’m meeting a friend and I bring my own container to fill, I don’t buy clothing unless an item I have is breaking down, and I could make improvements to our house but I’ve put that off until we make our big windows purchase in two years.

That being said, I still desire things.

My Wants Since Becoming A Minimalist

My wants now revolve around being a better me and minimizing that list has been no easy task.

The person I envision is edgy, witty, and well read. She is beautiful, strong, and wealthy. She is self sufficient but also a great partner and a doting mother of semi-free-range children. She speaks different languages, she gardens, paints, plays the ukulele, runs ultramarathons, climbs mountains, cooks wholesome meals, takes excellent photos, writes, is a great public speaker, and is generally and at all times in the running for teacher of the year.

She sounds absolutely neurotic. I probably wouldn’t even be her friend.

No one has the bandwidth to cover all this.

My Wants Versus Reality

As I am now, I have a stack and then some of papers to grade, I hate gardening and heights, I believe peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and Kraft macaroni and cheese are perfectly acceptable staples for my children, and I am vegan but sometimes I think brownies don’t count.

I ran my first two full marathon since having kids (full marathons seven and eight respectively) but I only finished the last one because my husband, my ride, didn’t show up until mile 23 so I figured that I might as well finish…there’d be free beer at the end. Clearly, being an ultramarathon runner has been kicked off my list.

Year 38 was about not buying anything new for our new home, getting out of credit card debt, and becoming a vegan. I succeeded in all three and so I figure three is the magic number.

So, here I am nearing mile 39 in my life and along with working on my first blog, I have two other goals: fluency in Spanish and making better vegan meals. I’m hoping three remains my magic number.

On the subject of goals, there is one writer whom I admire. Ty Norwood wrote an article for Medium titled “Are We Setting Too Many Goals? A Look at Anti-Goal Lifestyle.” He writes:

With the proliferation of goal setting in our society as a whole and in our day to day lives individually, it’s quite easy to accept goal setting as the status quo framework for living life and to apply that framework to everything we do. Goal setting is effective at managing large groups of people, organizing large, complex institutions, and helping organize society in effective ways. Is it, however, the best and only way to organize our personal lives? Maybe not.

His writing about marathon running in particular, struck a chord. Norwood sought out to run the marathon to get into better shape. Just to clarify, the ultimate goal was not to run a marathon but to get into better shape. He did run the marathon but actually gained weight during the course of his training which was counter to his primary goal. Had he kept a singular goal (to lose weight) instead of combining it with another goal (running a marathon) he might have had success.

It should be noted that Norwood doesn’t regret running the marathon. The problem is that we are too focused on a perceived outcome and thus will force ourselves into a program that isn’t right for us. My previous failing with dieting is a testament to that. I was ready to pick up every single remedy people were throwing at me until I got so sick from the food choices that were supposed to be helping me.

Not to mention the waste.

I had been wanting to try being a vegan for a few years. I had taken up the lifestyle in college but six months in, I hit a wall when I couldn’t have chocolate around finals. The change I would make this time is that I would be eating vegan not to lose weight but rather to stop feeling so sick. I gave up meat right away and I took two months to eliminate dairy. Once all animal products were eliminated from my diet, I felt a lot less sick (read gassy) and anxious (read neurotic).

Once I felt like my “goal” was attained. I started focusing on my new goal of losing weight. I stopped drinking alcohol and soda at the start of January and I began keeping a food log. I’ve been going steady at half a pound per week.

Un-embellished: Why This Married Woman Isn’t Putting a Ring on it

A List of Famous Ring Advertisements

Diamonds are a girl’s best friend

Every kiss begins with Kay

Getting rid of headaches since 1888

He went to Jared’s!

One ring to rule them all 😏

I imagine Don Draper and Poindexter ad-exec types sitting around a mahogany table, exchanging stories about their little ladies and their uncontrollable appetite for all things bauble-y and shiny.

“Now see here, Charlie,” says a man as played by James Cagney. “If you want to please a woman, you spend no less than three months of your salary on that ring! She’ll practically offer to carry you across the threshold!”

“Hey Charlie,” rings in another man as played by Edward G. Robinson. “Jimmy over there is right. Why, if my Phyllis is giving me the cold shoulder, I just hop along over to Tiffany’s and it don’t even matter what I get so longs as I bring back one of them little blue boxes.”

Ah, the little blue box and its magnetism. We’ve been tricked into thinking that diamonds are forever, a girl’s best friend, and that they have a long history of value. Uri Friedman, a writer for The Atlantic, deftly dispells the reader of any notion that diamond engagement rings are part of tradition. In his article, “How an Ad Campaign Invented the Diamond Engagement Ring,” Friedman highlights the marketing prowess of diamond group De Beers. In a culmination of his findings, he gives us the following graphic which shows the rise in number of first time brides who receive diamond engagement rings.

First time brides who receive diamond engagement rings

DeBeers

When I was in my 20s, engagements seemed to be taking place all around me on my college campus. What a nice thing to be loved and to love someone in return, I thought. However, when someone got engaged, the first thing people ask about isn’t how excited they are for the wedding or how wonderful their spouse-to-be is.

“Let’s see it!” We demand.

It’s a package deal right? If you like it then you should put a ring on it! Apparently, we are just going to gloss over how unempowering that statement is for the lack of agency given to the woman.

Stake your claim on your woman and dazzle her with diamonds!

My favorite commentator to date on the issue of feminism and engagement rings would have to be Karen Fratti who wrote this gem for Hello Giggles titled “The feminist problem with engagement rings and why we should stop obsessing about them” which is pretty straight forward but I appreciate Fratti’s thought bubble of conflicted feelings I’ve shared about the issue of The Ring:

The conventional story goes like this: Once a man marries a woman, she then “gets” to have sex with him without being labeled a whore, and live in a traditional family structure in which she’ll conventionally do a lot of free labor like child rearing, cooking, and housekeeping. Women who did not get married were, and often still are, considered defective somehow and get labeled “spinsters.” Just think of all the historical dramas and Jane Austen novels in which the heroine frets that she will never get married and that that fact will have a huge, negative impact on her life. To this day, our culture tends to look at unmarried women as an (flawed) oddity instead of a perfectly normal thing.

My engagement story

When it seemed like engagement was imminent, I test drove a few different styles but my fingers tingled in an uncomfortable way. My mother even offered a $10,000 diamond she had but the flash of it seemed glaring and garish. It was a perfectly gorgeous diamond but I was not the right wearer.

I confessed that I didn’t want an engagement ring and so when Justin asked, it was over a dessert I had been eyeing at the grocery store–a heavily iced cake in the shape of a hamburger.

I appreciated our unadorned existence together. I find jewelry as confining and as ridiculous as the word “fiancé.” I can’t tell you why, but I hear it with an exaggerated Cajun accent. fee-YAWN-seh!

My betrothed (heard with a British accent) and I did agree to the exchanging of something at the ceremony. We tossed around a few ideas: spit and a handshake, balloons, dance moves.

Our families are pretty traditional and so we bowed to that expectation. Not that they’d care but the tertiary relatives might and we thought we’d save the primaries from the hassle of explaining the behavior of their heathen spawn.

So we bought some rings.

Justin found his ring at the first shop. It was titanium and $240. When I asked how much one would be in my size, the saleswoman sniffed and said, “About $150.”

“Sold!” I said.

“You would want something different,” She explained. “If you start a family, you might want a ring that can be altered for size.”

“Or you could wear the ring on a necklace,” the other salesperson added helpfully.

“But what if my husband gets fat? Won’t he need a new ring too?”

Reproachful silence from all parties.

“So, $150 you said?”

We wore them the first month we were married. Then, we didn’t. There was an echo of my own words in my head, “sold, sold, sold..”

I think what really bothers me about jewelry is that it has a long history as a default gift for moms, wives, daughters, and girlfriends. Sure, it’s special…but it’s unoriginal and limiting. “You are a girl, you must like this shiny or floral thing!” “You’re a boy, here’s your shooting mechanism, watch, wallet, or tie because you have to protect, keep time, pay for, and provide for the women in your life.”

This all seems alien to my husband who gifts me with video games and coffee.

It’s all just a waste of s p a c e

Americans spend more on shoes, jewelry, and watches ($100 billion) than on higher education (Psychology Today). As cited in BecomingMinimalist, this one is particularly baffling. You can easily follow the money to find what people value. I don’t value jewelry, I won’t give it the time of day, and that goes for any jewelry.

If you must have jewelry, feel free to use the KonMari method of organizing it and paring it down. Also, if you have been the victim of MLM jewelry selling, you may like the following video on organizing your shinies.

KonMari Jewelry Method.

Your Biggest Hater on Social Media is You

Wow! Generic college friend looks like she’s lost some weight. She looks really good…that Beachbody is really working for her. Maybe I should look into it. 

Generic work friend is in Europe for two weeks, here come the photos…

Mom hasn’t been posting in a while…maybe she’s lonely. I should call her.

Is this really my best profile pic? Maybe I should put up a throwback pic.

In a 2017 Harvard Business Review article on health, professor Holly B. Shakya of UC San Diego and Nicholas A. Christakis, director of the Human Nature Lab at Yale, stated that we spend an hour a day, oftentimes first thing in the morning, scanning our feeds (feed me feed me feed me) and friends for anything that’s changed in the last 24 hours. This important step into our first day isn’t a positive one according to their research. 

The article does have much to say about diminishingly meaningful social interactions and how they relate to loneliness but what I was really interested in was the cited data Gallup Poll collected from 5,208 people in a three-pronged approach to interaction and interpretation of the participants.

This was the big find:

“Overall, our results showed that, while real-world social networks were positively associated with overall well-being, the use of Facebook was negatively associated with overall well-being. These results were particularly strong for mental health; most measures of Facebook use in one year predicted a decrease in mental health in a later year. We found consistently that both liking others’ content and clicking links significantly predicted a subsequent reduction in self-reported physical health, mental health, and life satisfaction.”

I haven’t partaken in social media since September of 2018 and this study just confirms my motivations for doing so. My mornings are bad enough already and I was definitely one to check the feeds.

 

Reason number one for quitting social media: your self esteem

My personal social media obsession did nothing for my self esteem. I have the most horrid habit of remembering uncomfortable things in the early morning when I’m in the shower and inarguably at my most vulnerable. I wonder if there is such as thing as “shower” or “long drive” Tourettes where I am left to my own thought bubble and sweeping allegations against myself are levied. 

What did I have to feel bad about myself for? After all, I was an aging thirty-seven-year-old mother of two who hadn’t been to a gym in six months…or contributed enough to her Roth IRA…or finally gone vegan.

Recently, after that deluge of not-so-helpful thoughts about myself, I remembered a late-90s television show from MTV. I always looked forward to their spring break episodes and specials where they would pan crowds of bikini clad women and beefed up men to show that every day during spring break was a party with people who were physically blessed enough to be camera-pan worthy. The show that I was recalling at that particular moment, peering down at my not-so-bikini-ready body was the show “Hot or Not” where contestants would walk a catwalk, show their moves, and get voted on their purely aesthetic qualities. 

This did nothing to help my teenage self-esteem then and remembering it wasn’t helping me now. It’s like people who watch the news on police and gang violence and then think that their backyard is a war zone. I was completely convinced that everyone in my high school was viewing me with their “Hot or Not” lenses and that I was being scrutinized and deemed unworthy by my peers. I had an inkling of that feeling again as I stepped out of the shower.

“Not enough” has become a mantra whether we realize it or not and we usually make the subject of the sentence all about us. How egotistical.

With that in mind, let me talk about me. For my teenage years, I can forgive myself for being polarizing enough to either suck people closer and push them away. I think that’s a trait of youth before you find a better balance. However, if I fast forward to year thirty-eight, I still have that same attitude of “not enough.” Sure, I’m not bawling in my bedroom under the more audible blanket of U2 and The Sundays but I do mentally check off my inadequacies as I make my bed or do the dishes. These were especially vivid thoughts while I perused social media and I wasn’t innocent of fronting a controlled image.

Reason number two for quitting social media: social infidelity is wrong

Remember back when you would romantically link yourself with multiple people and then have to make the difficult choice of which one(s) to let gently back into the dating pool? Me neither…cough cough. 

We squirm at the thought of turning away from someone or something that could be that answer to all that we are looking for. This has been the foundation of progress, after all. We can’t know where we stack up unless we we measure ourselves, our interests, and our loved ones against the ideal. 

According to Amy Morin, a psychotherapist and a contributing writer to Forbes, and a 2012 study published in Computers in Human Behavior, people with a lot of Facebook friends tend to have low self-esteem and try to compensate by friending more people. 

But what if you didn’t keep up with people through social media? Who would you still talk to? What different things would you be saying to yourself? What if you stopped giving EVERYONE your attention and instead starting paying attention to the people at arms length or that person, inadequate at they may be, looking back at you in the mirror?

I have a friend (don’t we all) who shows her best self on Facebook. Her children seem to be geniuses, he husband is super successful and she’s the picture perfect SAHM (stay-at-home-mom). She is enviable by all angles on social media.

She’s better in person. She show immense strength, intellect, and resourcefulness in how she approaches life with a child with special needs, homeschooling, and finding what little time she has to pursue her own interests. I know she has challenges because we talk through them in person whereas she is barely visible as an individual on Facebook. It’s not because she doesn’t have many friends but it’s because, like me, there are few pictures of her on her own timeline compared to the ones posted on her children. 

So, in closing, take a month off Facebook. See what it’s like to meet people in person again. Who will you take the time to talk to? Will you take more time to talk positively to yourself?

Minimalism and literature (Part 1: thoughts from 2017)

A Startling Statistic

According to an LA Times article on American consumerism, the average household has 300,000 things (MacVean). As I ritually clean up my children’s toys, my books and magazines, and our dishes and clothes, I understand the dilemma. I spend hours cleaning, sorting, and organizing these items each week. I’ve just been doing it so long that I’ve normalized it.

It happens quickly, you get your own place with a ragtag collection of furniture and kitchen utensils and appliances and then you meet and combine households with someone who has their own collected set of stuff. This isn’t even counting all the forgotten materials denoting hobbies that never came to be. I found five tubs of protein powder on the same day I found a plastic tub of clothes from before I ever had kids. The clothes fit, so the protein powder got chucked.

I’ve got a bookshelf of ways to fill up my free time. I don’t remember what free time looks like but there the tomes sit, collecting dust. Hand lettering, weight training, graphic design, coloring, Spanish, essays on working with English language learners…I’ll get to it when I have more free time.

Among the collections, there is a line of bobblehead Star Wars characters, another shelf of Game of Thrones characters. My bookcase is bloated with the traditional literary canon as well as various other authors leaning towards science fiction and fantasy or adventure stories that I have read to escape but haven’t picked up since. There are things I haven’t meant to collect like ponytails in various colors and levels of elasticity and not one but three different reading lights as I could never find these items when I needed them.

I was pretty surprised at how much stuff I had accumulated over the years. I am not keen on shopping and I don’t own an ounce of jewelry. Still, the items I had collected were taking up space and, more importantly, time. And what did I do with it all? I packed it in nooks and crannies and even went as far as to get large plastic bins which were forgotten in a mass of archived Christmas decor and camping equipment. I wasn’t minimizing, I was organizing my load to make room and for what purpose?

In our day and age, Americans own more now than they ever have. Students in my class who read To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee are emotionally distanced from the characters who don’t have access to proper clothing or food. “We don’t live in that time anymore,” they say. “People were so poor then. We aren’t poor now,” another would add. Though The Great Depression was more devastating than any other economic crisis including The Great Recession, people are much further in debt than ever. According to Matthew Frankel of The Motley Fool, the average household holds $90,336 worth of debt (Frankel). This makes sense as I look around at the sheer volume of items and gadgets in our house. The money I spent on that Fitbit could have gone towards an extra car payment. That money I spent on that new video game could have gone towards my retirement account.

In my research on minimalism, people who take on the task of achieving a life with less (less debt, less waste, fewer items) really want a life with more (more time, more strength in their relationships, more travel, more financial freedom and security). Minimalists take a hard look at anything that touches their lives and wonder, Does this add value? If the answer is no, then why consume?

Here are more statistics as provided by Joshua Becker’s article “21 Surprising Facts That Reveal How Much Stuff We Actually Own”:

  • The average American woman owns 30 outfits—one for every day of the month. In 1930, that figure was nine (Forbes).
  • The average American family spends $1,700 on clothes annually (Forbes).
  • While the average American throws away 65 pounds of clothing per year (Huffington Post).
  • Nearly half of American households don’t save any money (Business Insider).
  • Our homes have more television sets than people. And those television sets are turned on for more than a third of the day—eight hours, 14 minutes (USA Today).
  • Some reports indicate we consume twice as many material goods today as we did 50 years ago (The Story of Stuff).

Burn It, Burn It All

Well, maybe not burn it. I can’t say that anything that I have boxed up has any added value to my current circumstances. What am I doing with my gargantuan wedding dress? My daughters aren’t going to want it as it will probably be out of fashion by the time either of them makes a decision to get married. My books, I’m donating them to the school and to friends. Everything else, the twenty eight thirty-two boxes in my garage that I’ve gathered over two months and the toys my children are playing with now but will forget about in three months along with the clothes they will have grown out of will all be sold at a garage sale. Those items not sold will be donated.

Text Connections

There is a similarity to the protagonists of our texts. I imagine what is was like for Chris McCandless to leave it all behind.  McCandless, in breaking his financial ties to his parents, separated himself from fulfilling the future they imagined for him.  In eliminating debt, we are no longer indentured to company contracts. Just so, in owning less stuff, I am not a slave to my mess. McCandless went off into the great Alaskan wilderness and met his fate. He was sick of the expectations put on him by society and by his family. Ultimately he met his doom so I wouldn’t recommend venturing into the wilderness alone without significant survival skills. Nor would I want to be that far from community.

 

Of those in our time who have eschewed consumerism but not community, one example I admire is minimalist Colin Wright who only owns 52 things and writes about his international travels and vagabond lifestyle. He entrenches himself in the societies of each country. It seems amazing to me that someone could just leave all that is familiar behind like that. We are social creatures after all and saying no to possessions is not the same as saying no to society. One does not have to become Henry David Thoreau living on Walden Pond to see the value of individualism or transcendentalism.

Still, it’s funny that those practices meant to help us socialize create hermits out of many of us at least IRL (in real life).  Wade Watts of Ready Player One lived a vagabond lifestyle out of necessity to ensure his survival and to escape the clutches of IOI which has too many citizens under their thumb as indentured servants. This indentured servitude is not so far from reality as I’ve met many career persons internationally who have a minimum of years they must work for a company after having their education subsidized.

Socially, Wade Watts is (I hope) an extreme futuristic example of being too plugged in. Up until the end of the novel, he had yet to meet his best friend in person. When he does meet his friend Aech, he finds someone who has been physically misrepresented through their avatar. This is exactly what an online presence has the power to do. It shows others only what we wish to show them, thereby eliminating many our our very human imperfections. I think we can be guilty of that in our consumerism. Buy this brand, eat here, own this type of television. Wear expensive high heels if you are a woman, drive nice cars if you are a man.

What Now?

Just like Thoreau and Emerson and the transcendentalists of old, minimalists are all about self-reliance and being more aware of that which you surround yourself with. Minimalism isn’t really about physical objects but is more about deliberately selecting how you spend your time, money, and energy.  I can’t say that my reasons are as salubrious or even as prudent. Mostly I just want to stop having panic attacks when I think about preparing to sell our home. With that said, I still have stuff but it’s maybe down to two-thirds of what it was. I am not likely to go super modern in my furniture selections and you certainly won’t see me in a tiny house as small spaces give me the heebie jeebies.

Many of the suggestions of minimalist life do appeal to me, however. I enjoy having more money in savings now and I don’t have to spend more than five minutes figuring out what to wear in the morning. My next step will be to examine my waste production, that is, to examine how I can make changes to reduce the amount of waste I make using paper towels, buying packaged foods (recycling is still waste), and personal care products. I’ve been making my own laundry detergent for years now at what probably amounts to 25 cents a gallon. I don’t miss paying $7-$12 on store bought big brands.

It seems in our best interest to spend less time and money on the things we surround ourselves with and more on the people we surround ourselves with. This last weekend, instead of organizing and dusting the mounds of toys and trinkets, my children and I played with what was available. My oldest daughter didn’t have to jump from one toy to the next in a futile effort to keep herself interested. She found one toy, played with it for a while, checked in with me, checked in with her sister, and went back to playing with said toy. She was happy and she didn’t once cry out “Where is my __________!” It was a relief for all of us and I consequently have received more attention and hugs. The two of them even helped me put away clothes and sweep. We could spend time doing that because there wasn’t Oh-so-much-to-do. In any case, whatever I do or don’t adopt, I can at least get on board with the exit line to every podcast the duo The Minimalists share: “Love people, use things. Because the opposite never works,” (Fields-Millburn and Nicodemus).

Works Cited

Cline, Ernest. Ready Player One. New York: Crown Publishers, 2011. Print.

Fields-Millburn, Joshua, and Ryan Nicodemus. “The Minimalists.” The Minimalists. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 Feb. 2017.

Frankel, Matthew. “The Average American Household Owes $90,336 — How Do You Compare?” The Motley Fool. The Motley Fool, 08 May 2016. Web. 01 Feb. 2017.

Krakauer, Jon. Into the wild. New York: Anchor , 1997. Print.

MacVean, Mary. “For many people, gathering possessions is just the stuff of life.” Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles Times, 21 Mar. 2014. Web. 01 Feb. 2017.

“Meet Colin Wright… World Traveler, Minimalist and Entrepreneur!” K International. Alison Kroulek Web., 15 Oct. 2013. Web. Image. 06 Feb. 2017.

Minimalism and Your Reluctant Spouse

“You haven’t looked at the bin of books since college!” I complain, sounding more incensed than I cared to admit to myself.

“The girls might read them.” My husband says, not quite patiently.

His problem: The bin we are discussing is one full of hardcover science fiction and fantasy novels my husband purchased through a mail-order subscription service. He hasn’t touched them or any book in the time that I have known him which at this point has passed a decade. He says he’s read them all.

My problem: I like science fiction and fantasy but I’m not even sure who these authors are. This is besides the point of the larger issue in that I feel I need to control the situation. I’ve gotten rid of my things and we have pared down our items and our kids’ items. As soon as my mission towards minimalism passed through Me-town and We-town, I failed to hit the brakes and flew right through my husband’s border security.

Getting on the Same Page with Minimalism

Step One: Know Thyself

Why do you want to be a minimalist? What value would the practice add to your life?

I can only speak for myself. Six months after the birth of our second child, my anxiety was at an all time high. My husband was working nights (he still is) because we couldn’t find or afford daycare. I was taking graduate courses in teaching ELL for additional licensure to add to my language arts degrees. My days were busy teaching at a correctional center where there was a day program for middle school and high school kids. It wasn’t the first time I had a full plate but it was the first time I had a full plate with two kids.

I had a vague sense of what minimalism was but my focus, sitting in our basement and stressed out of my mind, wasn’t on adhering to any sort of dogma. I simply wanted to clear my plate of responsibilities.

By the time my husband looked around after getting home the next morning, the house looked different and the garage was piled high with boxes to take to Goodwill.

In beginning of your journey towards minimalism, you will want to define what it can do for you. Are you trying to save money? Are you overwhelmed by all the stuff? Are you misplacing or losing items all the time? Are your weekends spent cleaning or shopping and it feels like one endless cycle? (Let me know in the comments!)

Also, I don’t think it’s a philosophy you can be half in half out about. Once you begin, you’ll see how minimalism inhabits other areas of your life. That’s the part I didn’t anticipate. I just thought I was decluttering my house.

Step Two: Know Your Subject

There is a sort of training involved in getting one person to adapt to a new environment and for it to seem like a welcoming place to reside. Any changes to one’s environment can be stressful. You have to get to know your subject (your spouse) and how they might react to any changes you are making.

In the famous words of Harper Lee as said by her character Atticus Finch, “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view…until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”

Before my husband was afforded the time to consider what it was I was throwing out, I assured him that all the items we were getting rid of were clothes our youngest was too big for, clothes I no longer needed, and books I no longer wished to read. I would be leaving his things alone because I had enough of my own stuff to deal with.

I had correctly assumed that my husband would feel a threat to his belongings and those of our children. I think he assumed that because I had gone through various phases and interests in the time that he has known me that this was one more phase but that this one might actually affect him in some way. I did not declare that I was now a minimalist. I had to make the change seem nebulous and gradual even if for me the change was more dramatic and solid.

In her novel, What Shamu Taught Me About Life, Love, and Marriage: Lessons for People from Animals and Their Trainers, Amy Sutherland takes an effective yet seemingly dehumanizing approach to understanding the way her husband thinks and acts. Her approach is both amusing and disturbing as she begins by defining her husband’s specific breed of human.

The exotic animal known as Scott is a loner, but an alpha male. So hierarchy matters, but being in a group doesn’t so much. He has the balance of a gymnast, but moves slowly, especially when getting dressed. Skiing comes naturally, but being on time does not. He’s an omnivore, and what a trainer would call food-driven.

Sutherland accomplishes incremental changes in her husband’s behavior but doesn’t expect miracles. She ignored his negative habits and supported his positive ones. In doing this, she “trained” her husband to stop asking her where his missing items were, to stop hovering over her when she was cooking, to stop leaving dirty clothes all over the place.

Sutherland says that after two years of exotic animal training, her marriage is far smoother but it’s because they’ve both adapted. Once she explained what she had been doing to her husband, he wasn’t annoyed but rather amused. He even turned the tables on her a time or two.

So how does this work with getting your spouse to accept and practice minimalism?

Step Three: Make it seem like you are doing all the heavy lifting and watch your tone

Start by saying, “Hey, I’m taking some of my clothes to Goodwill, can you take a few minutes at this time to look through yours and I can take care of donating it?” Notice the tone. It’s supportive. You are going to Goodwill, you are running the errand for him/her. It would get a whole different reaction is you were to command, “I’m getting rid of stuff, you need to look through your things.” This is a blatantly disrespectful tone that would make your spouse feel as if you see them as a child.

Similarly, you wouldn’t say, “I’m thinking of taking some things to Goodwill, do you have anything that you want to donate?” This is far too passive and it reduces the question into a yes/no option. If I were tired and my spouse said this to me I would probably say, “Nah…maybe next time.”

Step Four: Reward

Breathing Room

For the first portion of your collective journey, concentrate on having fewer items to take care of. I recommend going category by category kind of like Marie Kondo does in her method. Make it comfortable. Put on some music. Make a plan to go to a movie or have a date night at home after. Ask more questions of your spouse and make fewer assertions. “How many whisks do you think we need?” instead of “Three whisks is too many, let’s get rid of two.”

If you can’t agree, come up with a compromise where you will put the items you are disagreeing on in a box (not immediately going out for Goodwill) and if you find you need the items, they will be within reach. Give this box a sell-by date. If neither of you uses the items left in the box after a month, it might be time to give the items away or sell them. If you find yourself taking an item out to use it, then find a place in your home where it will be easily reachable but out of sight.

Money Money Money…Mon-nay!

One of the best rewards of minimalism after the fact that you have less stuff to clean up after is the monetary gain. When you are in the habit of buying fewer items and just keeping to the basics, you have more money for your dreams. What would you do if you had $100, $200, $500 more per month? Because this is the kind of money I am talking about getting back into your bank account.

I recommend, if you haven’t already, joining your bank accounts and writing out a budget together. Once you know what is coming in every month, take a look at the regular monthly necessary expenses (basic items such as heat, electricity, grocery staples, gas, and rent or mortgage) and subtract those. Then look at the more negotiable items you can minimize.

After becoming minimalists and establishing a budget, my husband and I have been able to pay off more than $15,000 in credit card debt in 18 months. Now we are on track to pay off our house we bought last year in nine years. Can you imagine what you would do if you didn’t have a mortgage payment?

The Minimalism Game is More Fun in Co-op Mode

Once you have all the items boxed away, try not to compare their stack with yours. You are in cooperation, not competition. If they have one box to your twenty, they are still attempting to work with you. Reward their efforts with a smile and a hug.