Monday, February 21, 2011

A Conversation about Contentment

 I wanted to share an instant message conversation that I had with a good friend this week, because it provided me with a very "Ah-ha!" moment, as Lady Oprah says.
me: I'm looking through our house before and "after" pictures and MAN our condo was a craphole when we bought it
friend: yeah
does that make it harder to believe you are in the situation you are?
me: No, because we always had the vision of what it could be. And it had more than a lot of the other similarly priced places had (the den & and the 2 car garage)
And sadly it was not the worst/most expensive place we looked at
friend: Too bad you weren’t in GA
you could get a lot more House in GA... ;)
me: yeah, but then I'd live in GA! :)
I'm content with the situation right now.
friend: yeah yeah
me: I know you can't fathom that, but I am
friend: no, I can
And as long as you aren't miserable, I'm cool with it, since you need my blessing and all... ;)
 me: it is a very "accept things I cannot change" stance 
I'm actually in a pretty good place about it.
friend: Like a year or so ago, you were not so Zen about it
 me: I was in a very different place a year ago.
 I was miserable at work, my favorite aunt was dying, my dad was sick, we'd put off having another baby, Diesel  was part time, our house was tiny with a giant mortgage, etc.
But this summer I just made a conscious decision to get okay with it.
I realized my frustration with it was toxic and was infecting other parts of my life. I was spinning my wheels about it and it was using a lot of energy.
I figured I could sit there and wallow in the mud or I could figure out a way to turn it into something positive.
friend: right
and you have come a LONG way
and your life has really turned around
 me: And really, really, really,
I am happy.
I am content.
Sure, I still sometimes wish it were different, but 95% of the time I'm happy with what we have.
We have MORE than enough. 
 This conversation made me realize that I have made a tremendous amount of progress in the last 12 months (even if it doesn't always feel that way!). It also made me realize that contentment and happiness really are a choice. The circumstances that impact your life are not always in your control, but the way you react to them is in your control.

A year ago I was terrifyingly miserable. I was feeling completely powerless and let me tell you, that is a dark place in which to dwell. I look back on that period of time and remember being filled with this overwhelming feeling of sadness and, worse, utter hopelessness. I felt as though I no longer in charge of my own life and that because of decisions I had made and because of events beyond my control.  I bemoaned and belabored this point to anyone who would listen.

Then on August 9, 2010, I happened upon an article, titled “But Will it Make You Happy?,” which featured Tammy Strobel’s attempt to simplify and minimize in her own life. It was as though this article had been written for me. I had not really heard of the terms “downshifting” or “work-spend treadmill,” but the content of the article resonated with me. I realized there were ways that I could regain control of my life.

Because of that one article, I decided to make a change. I voraciously consumed all the blogs and articles and books that I could find on the topics of minimalism, downshifting, simplicity and frugality. I started this blog to follow my progress. I started actively looking at our family budget and trying to figure out how to become debt free. I purged the stuff I didn’t want or need.

In that moment I took control of my life and I cannot begin to tell you the happiness that has come in the last few months. I no longer feel that my life controls me, but that I am in control of my life. I am looking ahead to the next year and seeing a path clearing in the direction of where I want to be. It has taken a lot of hard work and a lot of thought, but I’m finally on my way to where I want to be. I have a plan and I will not be deterred!

And it feels AMAZING.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Project Simplify

I'm BEYOND excited today!

As I mentioned in yesterday's post, I've just started reading Organized Simplicity by Tsh Oxenreider. I'm loving it and HIGHLY recommend you pick up a copy for yourself if you're interested in this concept. Anyways, as I was scrolling through my blogroll this morning, I saw that there was a new post up at Simple Mom.  This post was about Project Simplify, a five-week project in which participants will tackle cleaning, decluttering and organizing the mess that lives in the common household "hotspots."

I'm raring to go! I've even added a new button to my blog (look to your top right). YAY! I love thes kinds of projects and this will help me keep motivated!

I'd love it if you joined me!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Of Square Footage and Happiness

Toronto's Tiny House.
At 300 sq. ft. it is dwarfed by our condo!

I have recently started reading Organized Simplicity by Tsh Oxenreider.  Although I’m not that far into the book, I’ve already found blog topics galore!
Today’s blog is inspired by this information from Organized Simplicity:
National Public Radio reports that from 1950 to 2004, the American home has doubled in size—what was once 983 square feet is now 2,349 square feet. That’s a 1,366-square foot addition—and entire second house.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the average family in 1950 consisted of 3.67 members. In 2002, the average family size was 2.62 members. Today, smaller families “need” bigger homes […]
Do we really think we need 900 square feet per person in our homes today? That’s what the numbers indicate if we do simple math. Today we live in homes that provide almost the same amount of room per person that an average 1950s-size house would have provided for an entire family (when the family size was larger than it is today).  (20)
This got me thinking about our little condo. I’ve jokingly referred to it as the world’s largest walk-in closet and when giving people the "tour of my palacial manor" I often refer to the diminuitive spaces as things like the grand foyer, the east wing, the west wing and the like.  At just over 730 square feet, our condo is petite to say the least.
After reading this passage last night, I did a little math and realized that 730 square feet divided by 4 people (Diesel, Little Man, Maverick and me) came out to roughly 182.5 square feet per person. If our home was perfectly square, that would mean each of us would have approximately a 13.5 x 13.5 space.  All-in-all, that isn’t too shabby!  Factor in that we also have the ultimate condo-living luxury—a two car garage—and we’ve actually got a lot of living space! (Although the garage is essentially Diesel’s personal space, because that is home base for his woodworking business, so really and truly it is a non-space for the rest of the family, but at least we have it!)
Living in the land of McMansions, it is sometimes hard not to feel down-trodden about my small space. As I visit the houses of my friends, family and acquaintances, I see homes where kids have their own suites, complete with private bathroom and living space. Homes where women actually have entire rooms dedicated to their hobbies.  Homes with guest quarters that are larger than my own home.  It is tough to shake off my sense of house-size inadequacy. 
And truly, my small house DOES have some very real drawbacks.
1)      It is tough to have social functions at our house. Our tiny house is not conducive to gatherings of more than 2-3 people at a time. We just don’t have enough places for people to sit comfortably.
2)      We do NOT have a yard. It is very strange, but true, that I feel that if we had a larger patio or a small backyard, our space wouldn’t feel so small. Again, I realize we’re lucky to have the outside space that we do have, but I would like a little more.
3)      The small space came with a HUGE price tag because we bought at the peak of the real estate “bubble.” As that bubble has burst, we’re now living in a home that is worth less than half of what we OWE on it (not what we borrowed, but what we owe).  Sad, but true. I’ve come to terms with the fact that rather than being our “starter” home, this is going to be our home for quite a long time. By our estimation, the boys will likely be in Junior High before we’d be in a position to sell without losing everything we’ve put into the condo.
But this post isn’t about what is wrong with my little house. It is about what is right about it.
When people visit our home, the adjective most often used to describe it is “cozy.” And not in the sense that it is small, but in that it is warm and welcoming and comfortable.  I want a home where people feel at ease and feel taken care of, so this, to me, is the ultimate compliment.
With space being at a premium, we are forced to think about what we really need/want in our home.  We’re not always great at this, but we’re definitely getting better.  I realized this about 3 years ago when we went to do Little Man’s baby registry at Babies R Us.  Much of what “they” say you need for a baby to survive in the 21st century was either too large or unnecessary in our space. If it didn’t fold or didn’t come in a compact size, we didn’t get it!
I only have one bathroom to clean. In a house full of males, this is AWESOME!!
 If I really get “big picture” about it, everyone in my little family has a warm, safe, dry place to lay their heads at night. We have more than enough food. We have electricity and running water. We have countless “luxuries” that are not even on the radar for the majority of the world who live in abject poverty—it is doubtful that they’re wishing for spa bathtubs and memory foam mattresses when their basic needs aren’t met.
In the end, we don’t need 900 square feet per person. We may sometimes wish for it, but we don’t need it. For me, one of the biggest lessons I’ve had to learn is to be at peace with my little space and to learn how to make it work to the benefit of our family. In the end, is not just a little condo, it is our HOME.  No amount of square footage can replace the love and happiness that I have found within our little home.  With that, I am more than content.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

A Return to Organization

So in my return to reorganizing and simplifying, I decided to tackle a task I have been putting off for ages: MY BATHROOM VANITY DRAWERS. The large bottom drawer needed minimal clean up-- just needed to toss some pregnancy/ovulation tests (won't need those again, thank you very much) and a curling iron that I haven't used in almost 15 years; however, the two mid-sized drawers were out of control.

All kinds of junk I have not/do not/will not use.  So I dumped everything into one big bucket and went to town!

At the end of all my purging, I had boiled it down to this:

A drawerful of stuff and a big bag of trash. Some stuff was relocated to its rightful home, but most of it was junk.

Now I have a nice clean drawer for hair & makeup:

And a drawer of lotions and potions:

Sadly, I admit that my beauty products are not NEARLY as green/eco-friendly as I would like. but I'm working on it. I'm having  trouble finding really good organic products for curly/frizzy hair. I'm taking suggestions, though!

I'm feeling rather accomplished now!

Other Kids are Tucked into Nooks and Crannies! Hooray!

Okay. My digital hiatus was a little longer than I had planned, but I'm here, I'm not nauseated and I'm ready to go. I'm getting myself pumped up by diving back into reading my minimalist/small space blogs and will be tackling a purging/reorganizing/simplifying task of some kind TONIGHT! (I'll be back with an update. I have to marinate on what the task will be!).

Today's post was inspired by this link which was shared with me by a friend. I could not be MORE excited about the fact that somewhere in America-- nay in CALIFORNIA-- other children are living in small spaces too!  Of course, I know this on a rational level, but my irrational "keeping up with the Jonses" side sees more children with their own spacious bedrooms than children sharing a tiny space.

You see, as of right now, Little Man lives alone in his 6x6-ish room. A room that is not a bedroom, but rather it is classed as a den (there is no closet, ergo it is not a bedroom). He shares his space with the back door and our washer and dryer. Within the next year, Little Man will also share his space with his baby brother, Maverick.

Below is a photo of Little Man's bedroom back in the day (I really need to get new photos of it, as it looks nothing like this now). BUT, the crib & changing table will come to live in these exact spots once Maverick arrives. Presently, Little Man is in a custom made toddler bed that is located over the windowseat/toybox which you can see on the left-hand side of this photo.

Below is a photo of  his toddler bed. We designed it so that when a sibling eventually arrived, there would be room to put the crib back into the room.

The changing table is situated at the foot of his bed and is being used as toy storage. In short order, the crib and changing table will be re-located to their positions in the first photo (so the crib will be at the foot of Little Man's bed).

As you can see, the boys will be sharing rather tight quarters.We're currently working on how to make it everything fit, but I feel rejuvenated after seeing Jordan Ferney's post. I shall also keep in mind the quote that she shares in this post : "Harry Potter also lived in a closet, and he grew up to be a fine young man." Spacious living quarters do not a good person make!