Thursday, February 3, 2011

Montessori and minimalism: Our "before" pictures

I've been up to my eyeballs in excise taxes (the Washington DOR website ate my homework halfway through — grr) and am just now recovering and trying to get back into the swing of things. But so as not to leave you hanging, here is a pathetic post showing our pathetic efforts to fix the pathetic trash heap we call a home.

We're in the midst of a major purge (again) in our efforts (again) to have Less Stuff and less chaos and More Space and more comfort (both physical and emotional) and an efficient living area. Our two-bedroom condo is sufficient for a family of four plus home business (I keep telling myself), but every room is on the smallish side, and I've been feeling very squished and irritable about the situation.

The reason for posting this is that I've been inspired by the Green Moms Carnival, which I totally missed, but which this post will tie into neatly since this month's theme was green de-cluttering.

On the Montessori side, I've also been inspired by Montessori blogs, such as Living Montessori Now, and posts on other natural parenting blogs that have talked about their Montessori set-ups in terms of "preparing the environment." I seriously can't find the posts I'm thinking about, but for instance, if you scroll down on this post (about a similar topic) at My World Edenwild, you'll see that the bottom shelf of her bookcase is spare with a few simple toys.

On the minimalist side, I've been inspired by my new online connection with The Minimalist Mom after she guest posted on my blog, and by Momma Jorje talking about her journey of downsizing so her family can eventually fit into an RV.

Plus, there might be more than a touch of nesting fever under way, both in me (the actual pregnant person) and in Sam (sympathy nesting), because we have realized: Holy crap, we have only a few months left! And all is in disarray! And how can we have a home birth here! And where can I put away any baby clothes! And how will four people fit in this house! (I do tend to think in exclamations when pregnant, dontcha know.)

To that end, I will share the humble beginnings of our progress toward a Better Place. (I'm into caps today, too. Very eighteenth century.) If all goes well, I might even share some After pics at some point…

We took apart our living room and are determined to sort through the pieces before putting it back together.

First of all, we had an idea that our dining table never gets any use, because it's in the dining nook (how silly) and tends to get blocked off by the big boxes of DVDs that come in every day and get plopped down in the way of it. I'm not even sure how to solve the big-boxes-coming-in-every-day dilemma. It's the way of things in a home business that sells DVDs. We originally planned that these boxes would go straight upstairs into our spare bedroom but (a) this never, ever, ever happened and (b) it is a spare room no longer but is destined, in fact, to be the kids' room.

Anyway, the semi-solution we've come up with is to transition the dining nook (seems overpraising it to dub it a dining room) into a joint play area / conservatory (my keyboard, guitar, & other instruments, including several specifically bought for Mikko) / business-boxes depository. The table will move into our living room instead, where we'll keep it partially folded (it's an Ikea number) so that just the three (to four) of us can sit around it usually, and the folded side is against one wall.

I resisted this change, because it seems … weird. Why have a dining table in the living room? But I've come around due to the fact that we otherwise will never use it, and I really would like to. When guests come, we can pull it further into the living room and open it up to full size. We currently can't have guests over, because all is full of crap, so this will be a treat if we can really get everything down to manageable levels.

Books are an area of question for us right now. We have several boxes in our storage area, after having purged boxes and boxes more in our last few moves. We're down to the ones we really like — and yet it's still too many for us to display at once. Now that we've "settled" into a place we've bought and don't intend to move again anytime soon, we're wondering if we should really have any books that spend all their time in boxes. Seems kind of silly, doesn't it? And we can truly get pretty much every book we need at the library, so how necessary are most of them? There's something of identity wrapped up in books, though, isn't there? A sort of display of "This is who I am" through "This is what I read."

That glider in the picture is sans cushion because someone decided to decorate it with a black ballpoint pen. I lurve that glider for nursing, so I was trying to decide (the ballpoint didn't come out, copious applications of rubbing alcohol notwithstanding) whether to reupholster the cushions myself, pay someone to, buy replacement cushions, or leave it looking mucky until we no longer have hooligans underfoot. Any opinions?

Here I went through the effort of paring down the astonishing amount of art supplies Mikko has amassed. What we've discovered is that having more of something (more markers, more stickers) doesn't mean that more of them necessarily get used — it just means they get harder to store. It's like how I have about 40 lip glosses and use my favorite three. (Speaking of which, decluttering toiletries is on my list….)

Besides art supplies, we've been purging toys, which we have been storing in the white bins in the first picture. It's been a little challenging, but here are some of our criteria:
  • Has Mikko used it and enjoyed it in the past several months? This was the best guideline. We didn't involve Mikko in the sorting this time around, so we'll have to adapt these techniques as he gets older and cares more about his belongings. To be fair to him this time around, we put some things we were uncertain about away for awhile to see if he'd ask for them. (He didn't.)
  • If Mikko's outgrown a toy, is the new baby likely to play with it? These very few toys go into storage. We found that babies play with keys and cell phones and only occasionally with legitimate toys, so we don't really need much.
  • Do we hate it? Such as, things that are very loud or take up far too much room for their worth. A good test for decluttering anything is to ask the question, "Does this make me smile?" If it doesn't, why am I hanging on to it?
  • If we're on the fence about something, an additional mercenary question is to ask ourselves, can we get money for it?

Here are the green ways we're disposing of our kills:
  • On that last note, of making money, we take high-quality items to our local children's consignment shop. We get 40% of earnings if we take it in cash, or 50% if we use it as store credit (easy to do!). We've set aside certain larger things and non-children's things to post on craigslist. We also have some highly targeted profit items slated for eBay. I've personally found that holding yard sales (even joint ones) are rarely worth the bother, but you might be in a better neighborhood for them. It might also be a thought for kids to get involved with selling their own unwanted items. We've actually thought Mikko might enjoy having his own consignment account, so he can use his earnings to buy replacement toys as he wishes.
  • For lower cost items (probably 60-70% of the toys, for instance), we just go with a thrift store (The Salvation Army, in our case, for the very good reason that it's closest). For very specific but low-cost items, I'm going with Freecycle. For example, I decided to give away my supply of disposable menstrual items now I've switched to cloth (well, I'm pregnant at the moment, but you know), but I can't see bundling up an open (but still good) box of pads and tampons for the thrift shop, so I figure someone on Freecycle will take the collection off my hands. It's wasteful to use disposables, but it would be even more wasteful for me to dispose of the disposables I'm no longer using!
  • Items that are broken or otherwise ruined go into the trash or recycle bin. That should be obvious, but it's astonishing how much we save in the hopes that items will spontaneously regenerate or find their missing pieces.

The problem we have with all these methods is making the time for them! It would be much easier to just dump it all in the trash, but obviously that would be Very Bad. But I would actually pay money to have someone pick up all this stuff at once and do all the organizing / posting / picture taking / transporting / receipt making necessary. When it's up to us to do it, it sits around … and around.

The one tip I can give you today if you're making thrift shop donations and itemize your deductions is to input your donations ahead of time into ItsDeductible Online (I have no relationship with them) and then pick up the generic receipt at drop-off to pair with your online accounting. It's still an annoying chore, but it's free, and you can transfer your amounts to when you do your taxes.

Here's my looking-to-the-future picture, my inspiration and hope of what things will be once we finish all the hard work. This is my Montessori-based bookshelf o' toys. It's not pure Montessori or anything. For one thing, I need to do more research. For another thing, our toys maybe aren't as pretty and high-class as would be truly photogenic. (Oh, well, they're Mikko's faves, and I'm honoring that at least.)

But my idea is that we'll have a limited amount of toys overall and then, we'll rotate out just a selection of toys at a time, easily accessed and well displayed. That will hopefully entice Mikko (and the new little one) into exploring what's out and playing more thoroughly with what's available, rather than being bewildered by all the options and therefore doing nothing or dumping out all the bins onto the ground to search for something good. This will presumably be much easier to keep clean, as well, so that we can manage regular picking-up times. (Our bins were so overflowing after Christmas that I literally could not put all the toys away at night, and I found this very discouraging.)

This has already worked well as a start. Mikko had been looking for that Melissa & Doug stacking train puzzle (on the second shelf toward the camera), so he was happy to see it, all the pieces intact for once! He's gotten it out every day since.

We have to figure out what goes in the other cubbies. We expect children's books (again, we'll likely rotate so that only a select few are out at a time), some of my sheet music for the keyboard, and maybe a few other things. Ideally, though, we'd like to downsize the shelf itself (yes, it's the Ikea one that every single person in the world owns, by my last count), so we don't want to rely on having that much space but instead keep it sparse.

We also would like to find a low table for playing on, since Mikko despises sitting on the floor (and, to be honest, so do Sam and I!), but he loves two little child-sized chairs we picked up for cheap (a straight one and a rocking chair that makes him look like a tiny grandpa). So we'd like a small table that will let him pull up his chairs and play and do crafts and set up blocks and so forth. It might be a train table or play table, or it might be just a coffee table. I think we'll head to thrift shops and see what we can find that's decent (better for the environment to reuse rather than buy new). We've looked on Craigslist as well, but haven't found what we're looking for in terms of size yet (too big for our wee space).

All right, that's some of my Before, the start of our newest nesting adventure. And I haven't shown you upstairs yet!


kelly said...

I haven noticed when it comes to decluttering is it is often cyclical and only makes more room for more material acqisitions. My observances is many people who do it live with "less" for a while... than the trickle-up continues until soon their houses are just like before, but with new things. Disposing of things "green" is better than landfilling them, but precycling (not using / buying in the first place) may be a solution more in line with ethical and ecological-minded consumption.

If you or anyone reading here is serious about decluttering as a way of life, and not just a cyclical event, you might consider a buy-nothing experiment of six months - or however long. The idea as I've seen it used, is to not buy anything non-consumable (so, toilet paper, food, etc, is all good). I've heard it's quite a challenge and really makes one try harder to repair things, to make use, recycle, and to live a simpler life.

For myself, it is a constant balance in our lives to really, really think about what we buy. There are many rewards - it's easy to clean a non-cluttered house for instance. Also, it is easy for me to be OBSESSIVE and extremely detail-oriented when I move things along (as you allude to) when I have less. You should see how obsessive I am with my sewing scraps! I could write a whole blog post about how I use them in (in my opinion) ethical and non-wasteful ways.

Thanks for a great topic!

Anonymous said...

Excellent start! It can be overwhelming but sounds like you have a plan.

I agree with Kelly on getting a handle on spending and things coming into your home. For us that was what we focused on first. Almost a year ago we said we wanted to stop spending on things we don't really need. We've done a good job on material things - trying to do a better job on experience things like eating out. We didn't start purging until months later. And... we're still working on that. Feels like the more I get rid of the less I feel like I need.

Your info on selling, donating, etc is excellent.

Cassie said...

Love this. I know this must be partly a nesting thing because I'm doing the exact same thing as you... And we just moved so we're trying to go through things carefully before we bring them in. But it's a big clutter mess now.
Kelly- I love the idea of not buyin anything for 6 months!! Good idea. Maybe we'll try that, it's good for budgeting anyway :)

Momma Jorje said...

Thanks for the linkage! :-)

As for the glider, I loved mine, too. I got it on Craigslist and it came with a bottle of cleaner that had apparently never been used. For some reason the cushion made my back itch so I just threw a towel over it. Re-covering it is just one of those expenses I can't justify for myself. So I'm of the mind that with little ones around, why over-nice things that will likely just get roughed up again?

We actually sold the chair through Craigslist! I've decided I'll live without it even with a new baby, should we have another baby.

You're doing MUCH better than I am on the mercenary front! I'm only using Craigslist and sometimes I'd rather an item just be GONE than deal with meeting someone with it. So most everything I have that is salvageable and worth anything (not the notes I wrote from middle school) has gone to Goodwill.

It can be so overwhelming, I just suggest doing a small section at a time. Oh, also that consignment... I'd be hesitant to take them up on the in-trade bonus. The idea is to minimize, right? Or take on the rule that for each thing you bring in, get rid of 2. It sounds like you're off to a great start!

melissa v. said...

did you try toothpaste on the ballpoint pen? i've had good luck with toothpaste!

good luck w/ the purge! ugh, i sympathize...

Anonymous said...

Also, I just got pen out of our sofa cushions with hair spray! Nothing else worked. Just a suggestion.

Inder-ific said...

Some of my favorite Montessori porn (okay, that sounds bad!) is over at the Sew Liberated blog. Check out this kitchen - - couldn't you just move right in?

I am just not quite minimalist enough to do this for Joe, but this did inspire me to buy him a child's broom, and he loves it. We also have a reading nook, with a small chair next to "his" shelf.

I hear you on the books. I recently trimmed my collection a LOT, and I still have too many! But I love, love, love my old books. Very hard to part with them.

Lookin' good! Keep it up! I love decluttering. (Not that I do it very often.)

Lisa C said...

Awesome, Lauren! I want those white cubby shelves, too.

So here's the post I did when I first "Montessori-ized" Michael's room. I've since worked on it more, and will be adding in more stuff, so another post will have to be in order.

There are some more Montessori environment links in that post, including this room that inspired me: and this other room by the same mama that Cassie recently shared with me:

Anyway, I am definitely still working on our home environment. It's challenging when you have to buy a bunch of kid-size stuff, but I think it's worth it. Ikea is great for this. I think we got his little wooden table for about $20 there. And I must say, rotating toys is challenging for me. I either have to do it when he's asleep or away (during my me-time), or else he wants to play with everything in the box and it gets all over.

Anyway, good luck decluttering your home!

Shannon said...

I have 4 tampons that I found in a purse long after I got rid of the rest of them when I switched to reusable products. I have since converted the person I gave the original batch to, so I can't give them to her, and now I've just been holding onto them because I can't stand to throw them out.
I really want to rotate the toys around here, but I can't seem to get organized enough to do it. Good luck with the organization.

Laura said...

I love all these decluttering plans! I need to do the same, especially in our bedroom because all the crap leftovers got put in here when we rearranged the house for the 14 year old to move in. And now with a new baby on the way, I HAVE to have room for a birth pool and a bassinet! I stare at it, and I want to get started, but first trimester general uckiness is kicking my tail. Hopefully when this passes, I can get to work on all the boxes and clutter. I can't wait to see the "after" pictures!

Emily said...

I'm in a constant state of decluttering/child proofing (Husband moved the router up while I was out of town) and ALL of it with Montessori Home Living in mind.

And I agree with the previous commentator - Meg at Sew Liberated is SUCH an inspiration!

melissa said...

Ah, thanks for sharing your de-cluttering journey! It's funny what a hold stuff can take on us, and at the same time how cathartic it can be to get rid of some of it! As a Montessori trained person who knows how I *want* things to be, I still find the simplifying and meaningful organization of our living space a challenge.

heathermhs said...

The one part of our home that is simple and organized is the toys! What I'm struggling with is how much space to allocate for DD's books and toys. And how to spread that space around the house. Right now I have a 2x2 expedit shelf (the square one from ikea) with small pictures at her level in a corner of the family room. Another tall 1x5 expedit for landing space for diaper bag and socks and shoes. I'm really torn about adding another shelf between family room and kitchen.

Rachael @ The Variegated Life said...

We've been de-cluttering for years, and sometimes it seems there's no end in sight. But really, it's just the shelves in the living room and our bedroom that are the disasters. Though having a bedroom for a disaster really is bad feng shui (which I probably just misspelled, ah well).

I must say, though, that this sentence cracked me up: "Why have a dining table in the living room?" This is NOT a question that New Yorkers ask. One has a dining table in the living room, because there's nowhere else to put it!

I look forward to seeing the "after" pictures!

Unknown said...

This is a rather long story so I will do most in bullet point (working towards being minimalist )
- over the years I have come to see how God teaches us, just how little we really need
- in 2008 my husband of 28 years passed away, thus began my downsizing. My late husband had all the toys, boat, bikes, sleds, etc.
-2009 after a year of clearing out junk, giving to family and friends and selling the big items, and the rest to charity, I was able to park my car in the garage for the first time, since it had been built in 2005.
- 2010 my oldest daughter and grand daughter moved to their own place, I still remember that first night without them, how their rooms echoed.
- over the next 2 years my youngest daughter and I ( both being artists) claimed those rooms as art studios. But I was realizing how little of the rest of the house we were using.
- 2012 my bedroom was in the basement and one Sunday morning I rolled out of bed to put my feet in an inch of sewage. Seems the storm from the night before had backed up and pushed past all the 40 year old county back flow valves to flood just over 300 homes in our community with sewage. I was one of the lucky ones. I only had a couple inches in my basement, some people had several feet.
- fall of 2012, I lived out of a couple suitcases while my base ment was gutted up to the 2' mark, cleaned and then was a perfect time to start purging when I realized other than the laundry room and my bedroom, the rest of the basement wasn't really used.
- the weekend before Christmas I moved back into my basement bedroom.
- 2013, 3rd week of February, I was met with a trickle of water running down my basement hall. Warm water. Seems someone had not gotten the memo about " not nailing " on the trim. They had punctured my hot water heating pipes.
- 1st week of March, back to the small spare bedroom. ( a little more organized this time and strangely enough less stressed)
- May that same year, my youngest daughter decides she wants to move in to the city to be near her work and fiancé.
- Soooo.... What do I need a 5 bedroom house for? The gentleman I was dating said " marry me sell your house."
- back to purging with a twist..... My husband to be is offered a job 1400 km away.
- ok now I am purging the house, dividing up my belongings, what goes to my daughters, to the cottage, and to his home we are keeping in NS and what goes to the condo in ON where we will be working. ( oh and plan a wedding, since he received notice he needed to be in ON in a month)
- needless to say, with a great deal of chaos and back breaking work it all worked out ( my house sold in 2 days!!) and I stuffed what was left of a 5 bedroom home into a Small 2 bedroom condo.
- 2016- my husband and I have been enjoying our ON honeymoon but now he has a job offer back in NS. So now the 5 bedroom house/2bedroom condo must be blended with my husbands 4 bedroom home..... Did I mention his daughter and her twin boys live there already.
- Back to purging!!!

Lauren Wayne said...

@Betty Calder: Wow! It is definitely a journey, isn't it? Best wishes on your journey, and I'm hoping for less flooding!

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