Cleaning house: Chicago mom adopts a more minimalist mentality

We have one full bathroom for six people. It’s a tiny bathroom from 1926 made smaller by a modern remodel that added more storage. It is always, always messy. Seriously, don’t stop by unannounced because I won’t let you use it.

Being our only full bathroom and being on the main floor, everyone ends up leaving their clothes in there when they bathe. The floor, the counter, everywhere. We have double sinks and we can never use the second one because it is always filled with clothes, brushes … just stuff. So much stuff!

In September, a friend posted about a challenge, the Minimalist game, that she was going to participate in. She asked if anyone wanted to join in.

I like the idea of being a minimalist. I look through pinterest boards and catalogs and I like the look of minimalists but I’m not sure there is such a thing as a large minimalist family (I’m sure there is somewhere on the internet. You don’t need to send me the links). I mean, I have four kids in two different schools. On a weekly basis, they bring home the equivalent of a small forest worth of paper and projects.

Still, this idea of minimalism and the fun of making it a game intrigued me. The plan is that every day of the month you remove, get rid of or take out of your house the number of items of that date. So if we were playing today you would remove 13 items. At the end of the month you would have hundreds of items less in your house. I started the month with exuberant energy. As the baby barrels towards two with no regard for sentimentality, there is unused baby stuff all over the house. With every packed up bag of baby items I felt lighter, the house airy and bigger.

Early on in the challenge I went through the bathroom. Picked it up and went through all the cabinets. I threw out everything that was expired, broken and no longer functional. I packed up all the toothbrushes from the dentist, the extra travel and sample size bath products and the products that I got at conferences and thought I would try. I took it all to our local PADS. I combed through all the girls hair bows and got rid of the little ones, the cheap ones that didn’t stay in their hair and the ones they refuse to wear. At the end, the counter was clear and you could use both sinks!

It didn’t last though. It’s currently covered with stuff I need to put back in the cabinet (they apparently only open for me). But at the bottom of that pile of stuff is a clean counter and a lesson. I don’t have to keep things just because I was given them. I’m frugal and my husband is borderline cheap, combine that with four kids and a crafty gene and throwing out or giving away things that could be useful later is so hard. What if we need it later? The truth is we don’t need most of that stuff and we never will.

I didn’t finish the month but it has fundamentally changed me. I have been slowly going through the house. A drawer here, a closet there. I’ve been thinking and over thinking about everything we own. I don’t just ask myself, “Do we need it?” But also, “Do we love, it, do we use it, will we miss it?”

I took out boxes of toys from my kids’ playroom. The little ones now actually play in it, the big ones can’t even name what’s missing. Maybe the goal of minimalist isn’t to have nothing but to have space. When there is space, a clean counter or an empty floor, we have more. More room to move, more room to play with the toys we have, more room to breathe.

I have six people in a 100-year-old house, it will probably always feel like we don’t have enough space. But when it’s filled with only the things we use and love, it feels like there is more room.

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