Embracing Simplicity: The Environment

Naomi Hawkins-Rowe

If you read my previous post, you know that I am sloshing through the muddy fields of learning to live a slow, more simplified life.  I define the event as muddy because it hasn’t always been easy; it’s a whole lifestyle change and like anyone, I’m a creature of habit. But none the less, a creature with an endgame: a finished and polished novel and the dream of an agent to submit it to.

For me that means dismissing the things from my life that clutter and steal time. Teaching in a Montessori school, I know the value of a prepared, uncluttered environment. The mind is clear to think and focus.

A clear space is a clean slate, the ultimate gift to be creative.

Adapting from Kim John Payne’s book on parenting, the process has been four-fold: simplifying my environment, my daily rhythm, my overall schedule, and curating what of the outside world I let in. I’ll begin with what is tangible: the environment. In my experience, when I have concrete proof of change, I feel encouraged by my efforts. It’s easier to keep going. This could fall in the way of an empty kitchen sink or a pile-free desk ready and waiting for me to get to work.

I confess that simplifying my environment, though it is the most  and easy to see change, is taking the longest. At first I felt discouraged and overwhelmed. But Payne writes: “Simplification is a process, a lifestyle change that has several layers and takes time. It requires, as it builds, commitment.”

Over the past few weeks, I’ve observed the things in my environment that take up precious time and space. The biggest time killers? Laundry, dishes, & food prep–all necessary evils. When I add to that list clutter that is growing like a poisonous fungus, it has become a recipe for one unhinged mama.

I find myself daydreaming of the quiet week  I spent at Rivendell Writer’s Colony a month ago. For seven glorious days I got to write uninterrupted in a clutter-free, minimal space. I got a taste of what my life could be like if I were to pare down and declutter my environment. If I can have nothing else,  a clean, uncluttered space will do. That, I can accomplish! My four-year old getting up before he’s supposed to? Not so much.

I know enough to begin small, to begin with the areas I already recognize as problematic. I’m beginning with the time killers. Let’s begin:

Creating a uniform and paring down my closet. Currently, I am wading through my closet and drawers to curate a collection of clothes neutral  in color and chameleon in style, so they can be worn interchangeably without much thought. My goal is to be able to get dressed in five minutes or less, while still feeling comfortable and confident in what I’m wearing. In the end I anticipate stealing back the remaining 15 minutes it would ordinarily take me to “find something to wear” and write a little longer in the morning.

Double Bonus: fewer clothes to wash, fold, iron, and put away. (Ok, I’m kidding. I can’t remember the last time I ironed anything.)

Pairing down kitchen objects. Dirty dishes seem to appear out of thin air at our house. I am always amazed at how quickly the sink fills up after the dishwasher has been loaded. Over the past weekend I started cleaning out the cupboards and was surprised by the amount of unused and unnecessary stuff we have in our kitchen. We have several sets of plates and bowls. No one needs several sets! Unless they want to spend their life doing dishes. which I feel like I am, so there’s that.

What we need is a place setting for the five members of our family plus 3 or so extra for our friends who like to show up unannounced. All that can fit in to one load in the dishwasher. Less dishes to wash, means more time to write.

Using the weekends to prep larger quantities of food we eat all week: This is something I am still working on. While I’ve got making lunch at night down–with the help of my kids–after school is still a frenzy of balancing  dinner prep and making sure my kids are doing homework and practicing their instruments, and that we are actually spending a little quality time together.

There are many things I could make over the weekend: a massive pot of soup we could eat periodically over the week & copious amounts of granola (you get the idea!). I like to cook from scratch as much as possible, but I recognize it would be most helpful to do these things over the weekend when I have more time and not at 6pm when the kids are banging their forks on the table. Also my kids actually enjoy helping in the kitchen, so I should be utilizing that when I have kids free from the confines of homework!

Double Bonus: food is fuel.

CLUTTER!: This is simply an issue of just having more stuff than we need or could use, and frankly it is just getting in the way. Honestly I have no idea how it happened. We aren’t constant consumers, but multiply by five people and stuff adds up fast. Honestly, I couldn’t tell you where half the stuff came from.  Of the things I’ve listed, clutter just makes me feel anxious and distracted. If I have to spend 20 minutes clearing my desk, the energy I’ve reserved for writing is shot–that’s 20 minutes wasted.

These are the questions I ask myself when I consider what to keep and what to part with:
Does it function for multiple tasks? My dutch oven is a world of wonder. I can make a bot of beans, a vegetarian moussaka, a pot of soup. If I really wanted to, I could wash my delicates in it (but I don’t and won’t).
What is its sentimental value (is it an heirloom)? If it something that was in my family for generations and I want to pass down to my kids, it is obviously a keeper. Ages ago my mother-in-law gave me a beautiful lace tablecloth that had been in her family and my grandmother, a painting. These things remain in my house. The tablecloth from Target is going to Goodwill (there, one less thing to wash).
Do you love it? I don’t mean to do you kiss it and tell its beautiful, but is it something you reach for because you enjoy using it frequently? If so, I’d say it’s money well spent and not something collecting dust.

Remember: Clear space; clear mind.

If your house is like mine, perhaps you might consider doing this too. You don’t have to go to any extremes, but observe your environment and evaluate the things that take up time and room, things that prohibit you from having an extra 30 minutes to write instead of dusting, washing or just not having anywhere to set your stuff down. Donate or recycle. Then sit back and enjoy the time you now have to work on your book. Or if nothing else, relax in the knowledge that your stuff doesn’t own you.

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