Tag Archives: minimalism

It’s 1996, Let’s Buy Cheez Whiz

file0002020216998De-cluttering and becoming minimalist has had some fun moments. My husband is starting to get on board and agreed to go through old paperwork with me that was stored neatly, although obsessively, in our many (Eight! Seriously!) file cabinets. I found an entire set of folders of old grocery receipts, dated in the 1990s. I learned some interesting things about my husband from them.

“I never bought Cheez Whiz,” he says.

“Hoo Hoo, it says Cheez Whiz, right here. April, 1996. You bought Cheez Whiz.”

“Maybe I was making Macaroni and Cheese?”

“Cheez Whiz is the stuff that you spray out of a can, right?”

“I don’t eat that stuff.”

Pause for “the look,” which after 12 years of marriage is close to being perfect.

“It must have been for a party or something.”

“Uh huh.”

Days later, I proceeded to shred the evidence, along with stuff that had financial information and social security numbers, perhaps more damaging in the wrong hands than even the Cheez Whiz receipt. The somewhat ancient shredder died on me, so I bagged it up along with the paper shreds. I actually made it so far as to toss the whole thing in the trash can (cut me some slack, our recycling bin was full, and I just wanted the stuff out of the house).

Later, my husband rescued the whole thing.

The shredder was just temperamental, he said (sure enough, scared for its life in a land fill, it started right back up). The shreds were not cross-cut, so they needed to be burned in the backyard. (Yes, yes, green police, I know, strike two.)

So, what was the purpose of spending time with the old shredder if it still required burning paper in the backyard?

Booyah! score one for Minimalist Wife and the shredder is no longer taking up space in our basement. (Minimalist Wife is blessed to have a husband who can concede defeat when presented with logic.)

The shredder never did make it out to the donation pile in the car, so I have my suspicion it might have been quietly buried in the backyard where it will one day be unearthed and declared an ancient device used in religious rituals.

Progress is progress.



Filed under Minimalism

Seeing the Beauty

Seeing the Beauty

Taking care of our stuff often leaves little opportunity for spotting our beautiful moments.

Leave a comment

February 28, 2013 · 1:12 pm

Banish the Aspirations

file0001885192404Aspirational Objects are things that don’t serve an immediate purpose, but usually remind us what we aspire to do and to be. Sometimes these objects can be inspirational, such as a beautiful photograph that reminds us to seek out simplicity and calm. Most of the time, though, these aspirational objects serve only to make us feel guilty or inadequate, such as the three pairs of size 4 pair of pants we will never wear again, the tiny but expensive jar of truffle oil for a gourmet meal we haven’t gotten around to cooking, or the stacks of woodworking magazines for the home improvement projects that never happened.

These are the “someday” things. “Someday I’ll (fill in the blank).” If the someday ever does come to pass, won’t it be more of a delight to go out and find objects that fit your new reality instead of making do with something that might not fit?

While there is nothing wrong with aspiring to something better, something different, why not invest our focus on the lives we are living now, and own with objects that speak to us, serve a purpose or add value in our lives? Being surrounded by reminders of what we have failed to accomplish or decided didn’t work for us gives us negativity, not freedom.

My challenge for us all today (and I hope that you will join me), is to banish at least one aspirational object from your home and your life. If you take the challenge, please comment on your accomplishment!


Leave a comment

Filed under Minimalism

Let Your Library Reduce Your Clutter

IMG_2013We love our local library. Not only does it help us save money, but it also reduces our clutter. How? By providing us with education, entertainment, things for the home, and so much more, thus reducing the pile we have in our house.

Here are some of the areas in our home where clutter has been reduced, thanks to our local library. You may be surprised by how many different areas of our home we are able to keep clutter free just by having a library card.

I strongly suggest that if you check out your local library, especially if you haven’t been there in a while. Chances are there are plenty of opportunities you will enjoy.

Kids Craft Supplies

Our local library provides our children with many different opportunities for creative crafts. Often we can just drop in during a particular time period and do the craft together with supplies that are already laid out. Other times, the craft is directed by an instructor. Either way, the kids have some creative fun, and I don’t have to purchase and keep mounds of craft supplies in my home.


For a while, magazines were one of the major sources of clutter in our home. We use them for entertainment, research and knowledge. Plus, we like trying some of the new recipes that we find. It was always hard to recycle magazines, since I worried that I might miss something.

Our library now offers popular magazines in a digital format, free to download. There is no limit to the number of current issue magazines that we can view–the library makes all of the most popular ones available, as well as some trade magazines, so we always have access.

Plus, if we really want to read paper versions, we can spend a few moments at the physical library reading current issues or borrow older issues and take them home.

Entertainment or Media Center

Video Games

We used to save money by purchasing used video games, but we still wound up with quite a collection that cluttered up our living room. The library has helped us eliminate that clutter by offering video games for our home system. The kids can check out a new video game for an entire week at a time. The games also come with any extra controllers or special devices that are needed to play them, so we don’t have to worry about having to buy and store a special board to do some virtual skiing, for example.


Thanks to the library, we can check out new movies any time we want. There is a good selection of DVDs available that can be borrowed from one to three weeks, depending on the popularity of a particular title. This eliminated our previous practice of purchasing whatever new family movie became available. Now, we only purchase a movie if we’ve checked it out more than five times. We get to watch new movies all of the time, without having to commit to the space to keep them all organized.

While most libraries offer DVDs for free, some do charge a nominal fee for this service.


Need a new CD for the car or just to listen to at home? While the library may have been the last place you would think of for new music, the truth is that it is a wealth of a resource, especially for children’s music, world music and popular tunes.


This month alone, I saved at least three feet of bookshelf space in my home simply by avoiding book impulse buys and checking the books out at the library instead. Thanks to our library’s online access, I can “order” new books and have them waiting for me to pick up for free. When I am done reading, there are more wonderful books to be had. Since my family consists of avid readers who tend to bump into walls because we have our noses in our books all of the time, the clutter reduction is significant. Thanks to the library, boxes and boxes of books have left our home and given us a lot more space.

What about rare books or less popular ones that may not be available at your library branch? Request them through intra-library loan.

Reference Library

We often kept certain books around for reference, such as cookbooks and home repair books. While we still have a few of these, most of the time, we can simply check out the library when we need to learn or be reminded of something. Physical reference books can be viewed or check out of course, but our library also has a number of online references that we are allowed to access. The library offers solid and reliable reference material. Reference books tend to be large, so it is nice to not have to find permanent space in our home for them.

Toys and Games

Our local library offers a number of board games that can be played with while in the library, including both the classics and some new favorites. It also sponsors different toy and game events from Lego building for kids to card games for seniors. Not only can this reduce the need for tons of toys and games in the home, but it can also offer social benefits, as well.

Some libraries also allow toys and games to be check out of the library for a number of weeks, so you can take them home to enjoy.


Filed under Home

Becoming Minimalist

I had the good fortune of interviewing Joshua Becker of the website Becoming Minimalist for the Minimal Mom column with Western New York Family Magazine

Minimal Mom: Interview with the Becoming Minimalist Dad

by Mary Ann Carrado Romans

Joshua Becker describes himself as being the dad in a typical middle class family. Becker, his wife and their two young children are a self-described typical middle class who have adopted a minimalist lifestyle. The author of two books and a popular blog, www.becomingminimalist.com, he hopes to share the lessons his family has learned and inspire others to intentionally live with less. Recently, I got the opportunity to speak with Becker about the joys and the challenges of being both a minimalist and a family man.

Why should families consider minimalism?

Because our “stuff” is not adding as much value to our lives as we think. In fact, it is distracting us from truly living and burdening us with all sorts of different cares and obligations. Consider for just a moment how much of your time and energy is spent in the pursuit or management of your possessions. We research and purchase our possessions, we bring them into our home, we have to organize and clean and repair and remove and replace… and that doesn’t even begin to count all the hours we worked in the first place just to earn the money that we used to buy things that we have to organize and clean… It’s becoming too much. All the while, the most important elements of our lives, the truly life-giving ones (our families, our relationships, our passions) are being pushed aside.

What has living with less brought into your life? 

Practically speaking, owning fewer possessions means that we have less debt, less stress, and less cleaning. We have more time and energy and mental capacity to pursue the things that are most important to us. In short, it has brought into the life the opportunity to pursue our greatest passions.

What have been some of the challenges? 

First off, one of the greatest challenges is that not everyone in the family is convinced to the same degree on the importance of minimalism. My wife and I have both bought in – but to varying degrees. However, my two small children aren’t so convinced. Secondly, even if every member of the family did buy into the lifestyle completely, each unique individual is going to define their most important passion and pursuit differently. As a result, the things they need are going to look different. I’ve learned there is no simple formula for minimalism and it always requires patience, grace, and flexibility.

What would your children say about your lifestyle?

My son, nine, gets it. He understands it to the extent that he can. My daughter, six, is not so sure. For her, the number of dolls in her room or clothes in her closet is never enough. But I don’t blame her for that. At this point, that’s what is most important to her. In response, we try to model a life of contentment and communicate life lessons when appropriate “You know, you wouldn’t have to spend so much time picking up your toys if there weren’t so many of them.” But I can relate to her beliefs and pursuits… after all, they perfectly resemble mine for the first 30+ years of my life.

What mistakes did you make in the beginning of your journey that could serve as lessons for others? 

I threw away the Jell-o molds my wife had bought for my son’s upcoming birthday party. Of course, she didn’t realize that until she went to cut the Jell-o just a few short hours before the party was set to begin. So basically, I forgot to communicate with my wife. I jumped in with both feet and proceeded to start removing the things I saw in the house that I saw no reason to keep. I quickly realized it is far easier to recognize someone else’s clutter than it is to recognize our own. Expecting someone else to progress as quickly down the road to minimalism as you is unfair to them.

Is minimalism just about getting rid of things in your life?

Minimalism is about increasing intentionality in our lives. It is about removing the distractions so we are better able to pursue what is the most important, valuable, and lasting. Physical possessions are often the most obvious, because we can see them with our eyes. There is just as much benefit in removing the distracting time commitments, relationships, or unhealthy habits from our lives, too. Typically, I find that removing the unnecessary physical possessions from our homes opens up our heart and mind to identifying and removing some of the other barriers.

Are there any downsides to minimalism?

Most of the downsides are removed by remembering that minimalism is not rigid and inflexible. I have recently begun playing the game of tennis after taking 17 years off after high school. I love the sport, the exercise, the competition, and the relationships. I found it was adding value into my life. So I bought a new tennis racket. Minimalism serves me, I don’t serve it. In that way, minimalism works. I don’t feel confined by it in any way.

So many parents are already overwhelmed. Do you have any advice on how they can get started on living with less?

Just start small and with your own stuff. Experience the emotions that accompany the process, so you are better equipped to help the others in your family down the road. You’ll find great freedom and life in the process. Your family members will notice the benefits and desire it as well.

Leave a comment

Filed under Minimalism

Why You’ll Never See a Sparrow on Hoarders

file0001829268490Snowed in. The bright white of the world brings new promise to the day, the week, the year. The sky, a soft, happy blue, is the perfect foil against snow-covered branches that reach up, swaying in the wind, every movement bringing forth a new flutter of polka dots of snow. The cat wonders if he can catch any of it.

The baseboard heat ticks and clings and rumbles softly, trying to keep us warm and providing a little bit of a concert each time the furnace kicks in.

I sigh and turn back to the bags and boxes that litter our bedroom, when all I really want to do is get back in bed with my very interesting book and another cup of coffee. The piles of stuff slated for donation is slightly depressing, not energizing, as I thought it would be.  This morning, I’m afraid to let go.  So, I log a few things in my notebook, for tax purposes and then stare out the window. The clutter is sucking me down.

There are two birds playing in the holly trees. Despite the wind, they hop up and down the branches. Their joy is obvious and immediate. One knocks a bit of snow on the other, who unafraid ruffles its feathers a bit and hops some more. They feast on the berries.

Then I have one of those moments. Something pops into my mind, a bit of a verse. Something about being taken care of, about being in His loving arms. I look it up.

“Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?” Matthew 6:26 (NIV)

In other words, I need to get over myself. Stop worrying. Stop holding on to so much.

Gently, He tells me; have faith, and I do. This is good for me, for my family. Removing the clutter. Removing the distractions.  Freeing us for what is important. Like hugging a child and finding treasures in the snow.

Letting all of this go today (items since the last update are in bold):

  • One box of old photos
  • Sweaters
  • Towels
  • Sweatshirts
  • Underwear drawer
  • Make up and toiletries
  • Laundry room shelves
  • Recipe magazines
  • Baskets
  • Rags (Ugh, why was I keeping so many–was I worried about a shortage?)
  • One kitchen cabinet
  • Cookie sheets, muffin pans and platters
  • Pens and Pencils (Until I went around the house and actually gathered them all up, I had no idea how many we had! A bunch went in the trash and a bag full of nice ones were donated to my son’s kindergarten teacher, who will have enough writing instruments to last until said son is in college.)
  • One kitchen drawer (Goodbye chip clips. I sent them to a new friend I met online who was in dire need of some.)
  • More books! (The recent purging and a prompt from organizing guru, Peter Walsh, has made me brave enough to get rid of another large box of books.)
  • The Junk Drawer!!!
  • Master Bedroom Bedding (I even sewed a button on to our comforter cover–a bit of mental clutter solved)
  • Kids Puzzles and Workbooks (I somehow missed this when I did the toys earlier in the week)
  • Socks (All five of us plus the bag of single socks)
  • Utensils
  • Belts
  • Some photos (This will be a long project)
  • Children’s closets (3)
  • Flat surface two (Bedroom dresser)
  • Pots and pans
  • Small appliances
  • Flat surface 3 (Left kitchen pantry)
  • Under the kitchen sink
  • The Car (Hint for those in freezing weather: Grab a laundry basket. Make a mad dash to the car. Fill the laundry basket. Dash back in the house. Sort in the warmth of the living room. Oh, and don’t forget to wear shoes. Brr.)
  • One large food pantry
  • Magazines
  • Flat surface one (Produce bin)
  • Toys (one large contractor bag–whoo hoo)
  • Children’s books
  • Children’s videos
  • Adult Books
  • Cookbooks
  • Adult medicine cabinet
  • Children’s medicine cabinet


Filed under Minimalism

Overwhelmed with Goodie Bags

goodie bag

This article originally appeared in the Minimal Mom column in Western New York Family Magazine.

After a sometimes frustrating but ultimately positive week of de-cluttering several areas of our home, including the play room, one of my three kids came home with yet another goodie bag. That makes seven goodie bags in the past week so far. School, church and other activities are all wrapping up for the summer, and apparently each seasonal good-bye requires not only a party, but a goodie bag as well.

These goodie bags are filled with a number of small toys and things that will either break within a week, get lost under the couch or wind up crushed underfoot in the car. We have enough rubber bracelets, bouncy balls, plastic rings, sticky creatures, fancy erasers, pencils, trading cards, noisemakers and stickers to fill a typically large grocery store vending machine or a piñata made in the image of Paul Bunyan.

The little gifts are appreciated by my kids for maybe an hour or two before turning into clutter. In spite of this, once a goodie bag item is given to a child it is owned by that child, who swears heartbreak, if I even suggest that the plastic spinning top with the sharp edge gets tossed.

How on earth did we parents get into this madness? Why is it that every event requires a bag full of colorful junk that costs a small fortune?

Someone I know well, who AHEM shall remain nameless, considered moving out of the neighborhood after she dared to throw a birthday party for her daughter that did not include goodie bags. After several guests asked where the goodie bags were, she caved and sent her husband out to the store to scour the aisles for something appropriate. He came back with some plastic clothes pins and leftover Fourth of July decorations. clutter

Sigh. Poor guy was raised during a time when there was no bling at birthday parties. Cake and ice cream maybe, but no bling.

I worry that these goodie bags are reinforcing the message to our children, from a young age, that they cannot be happy unless their personal spaces contain a large quantity of stuff.

So how do we get out from under all of this goodie bag clutter and teach our children to go against the cultural message of more is best? It is really up to us, the parents, to stop this clutter and commercialism from overwhelming our homes and our kids. Here are some options:

  • Instead of handing out goodie bags, choose gift cards that can be redeemed for experiences, such as an ice cream cone at the local shop, or a game of laser tag or mini golf. As a bonus, you’ll probably wind up spending less money overall. A single game of mini golf costs approximately $2. A goodie bag averages $8-15.
  • Get the goodie bag stuff out of your home. Donate the better quality items. Consider Samaritan’s Purse or another organization that collects shoeboxes filled with toys and clothing to distribute to poor children around the world. I’ve found that my kids are much more likely to part with something if they picture another child loving it. It is an important lesson for them to learn. Those who have too much should bless those who have too few.
  • Petition your home and school association, church and other organizations to skip or replace the goodie bags with something more meaningful, such as a mini yearbook of photos or a personal letter from a teacher. When you child is a teenager or young adult, which items will be the most valuable? Which should be?
  • You serve as a model to your children. Consider thinking twice before loading up on samples and freebies whenever you can, just because they are free? Do you have a purse full of lipsticks or a desk full of the latest gadgets? These are your own versions of goodie bags. Ask yourself if they really add significant value to your life.

Leave a comment

Filed under Parenting

Are We Teaching Our Kids to Be Hoarders?

This originally appeared in the Minimal Mom column in Western New York Family Magazine. 

file0001831653106I often joke that our playroom looks like it could be in an episode of Hoarders, but one day, an epiphany occurred. The connection seemed more real than ever. Looking at the collection of so many toys scattered on the floor, it really hit home.

In my hands, I held a cheap plastic toy that had broken into two pieces, beyond repair. It wasn’t a favorite toy, it had no sentimental value, and we only acquired it mere days before.  It was one toy out of many, many toys. Despite all of this, my kids begged me not to throw it away. My youngest cried. My oldest wanted to turn the pieces into something else. My middle child tried to negotiate with extra chores in exchange for keeping what was essentially trash. Why were these broken bits of cheap colored plastic so important? Why couldn’t my children throw them away? Were we, in fact, teaching our kids to be hoarders?

“‘Children learn what they live’ is an old saying,” says Darcy Baroudi, a professional organizer in the Buffalo, NY area. “If you don’t love it, need it, use it, or have space for it, you probably should get rid of it or not purchase it to begin with.”

We all know this logically. Or at least as parents we should. Stuff is just stuff. People are what matter. We try to instill good values on our kids in other areas of life to prepare them for the world. “Always say ‘please’ and ‘thank you,’ brush your teeth at least twice a day, eat your vegetables, play nice.” Unfortunately, we don’t seem to be teaching anything about the role that possessions have in our lives.

According to Kim Leiker, LMHC, who counsels children, teens and families in the Williamsville, NY area, we are getting it all wrong. “We need to teach our children that material possessions are just bought, oftentimes replaceable items and that their true significance comes from the person who gave them the item. Our children need to be taught that material possessions can be replaced, whether broken or lost, but people can’t be!” she says. “I feel many families/children have drifted away from the “sense of family” and the importance of values. It seems more and more those values, that sense of family, is being replaced by material possessions.”

Kids are hit with thousands of marketing messages a day. It isn’t just television ads or Internet ads either. Some school buses in our country actually play radio ads for children, and Disney launched a campaign a couple of years ago that offered pediatricians’ offices with paper liners for exam tables. The problem? The liners were printed with advertising for Disney products.

The message that our kids are getting from out there in the world is that there is always something they need, and the material stuff we have is ever enough.

“Years ago, the average child had 100 toys in their lifetime,” says Diane Albright, a national certified professional organizer who is also the creator of Work Piles Made Easy and Ten Minutes a Day to Organizing Success. “Nowadays, a child has over 100 toys by the time they turn one.”

My own home is typical. With three kids, I can’t even imagine being able to count up all of the toys, games, books and other possessions that are a significant part of our life. It is time for a change, though, for the sake of their health and the adults that they will be some day.

Leave a comment

Filed under Parenting