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Remembering the Ultimate Minimalist Life

  December 11

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DSCN1261Just a few days ago I called my old landlord in Grenada just to say hi. For those who are new readers (top o’ the morning to ya), I lived in Grenada, West Indies for 3 years before I became a full time blogger and a mom and a New Jersey-er.

As soon as my landlord picked up the phone, I was overcome with a sense of familiarity. He was so happy to hear from me, and he asked me how “his grandchildren” were doing. My landlords treated hubs and me like their kids. They made me big pots of soup when I was sick, and my landlord dutifully dropped off fresh mangos every morning when I was pregnant because I told him the babies were asking for them. 😉

I was struck with a pang of missing the island, when I hadn’t missed it one bit before. In fact, I was sort of glad to get off of it. Then, that pang of missing the island really intensified when I read a friend’s blog post this morning about all the changes her family went through in Grenada. My friend Kristi was a working mom who quit her job to start her own business. She was wildly successful and then had to give it up to move to Grenada when her husband started medical school. Then she became a stay at home mom. Then she decided to home school her children, all things she never thought she’d be doing. I’m happy for her family that they are coming home to the States but when I read her post I became sad at how quickly we lost that sense of calm and minimalism that we had on the island.

What is the Goal?

I’ve written about raising minimalist children before and my quest to have very few toys and all of that. All of that mindset is inspired by my time in Grenada. I think I have held on to my tendency to not buy so many things. I’ve held on to the idea that Christmas does not have to be over the top. I’ve held on to the importance of family, of eating fresh food and not fast food, and of spending time with friends.

But as I stood there at the kitchen sink last night furiously washing bottles while I rocked my son in his bouncer with my foot, I thought about how I’d been working all day long. I’d written several blog posts. I’d gotten through nearly 75 e-mails while my kids napped. I’d started a roast in the crock pot. I even took a shower somewhere in there and put on a fresh new set of yoga pants, haha. I’d addressed Christmas cards and washed the dishes and took the dog out and fed the kids and read to them and it all led me to that moment of washing the bottles at midnight and hubs boiling and shredding chicken so I’d have it to make dinner easier tonight.

Grenada As I stood there I thought about Grenada. I wish I had asked Grenadian moms more about how they went about their day. I did not spend a lot of time with Grenadian moms while I was there because I had the unique opportunity to teach at the university while I lived there whereas many other med school spouses were more involved in the community. I wondered if the Grenadian moms’ days were spent as hectic as mine. I wondered if they were more relaxed about raising their children. I wondered what they would think about New Jersey and the snow and the never ending traffic going to the malls.

I’m not quite there yet with the minimalism. I still can’t decide what to let go. I still have closets that need to be organized. I still have too many cups. I still have too many clothes despite donating four boxes. I feel like a wierdo for not obsessing about my kids Christmas presents and wondering if it really matters anyway. I look at my budget and see things that can be trimmed and yet I see things that I want and can’t quite fit in there yet. I feel thankful for all that we have but also a little bit of a pang for the 270 sq foot apartment where we spent so much of our time together. We’ll never have that again, that quiet and that peace that comes when you live several thousand miles away from all the bustle of the United States.

Today I am a little sad about that, but a little determined to find a way to have a little piece of the island life right here again.

30 responses to “Remembering the Ultimate Minimalist Life

  1. Oh Cat, I can relate. Greg and I lived in a 500 s.f. apartment in a funeral home for the first year of our marriage. We lived there for free, so no bills, and we had almost nothing. It was such an easy life. I could clean that place in 15 minutes.

  2. Welcome to New Jersey! Yeah, the wife and I used to live in a small apartment (actually her parent’s basement converted) and we paid peanuts for it. Sometimes I think buy our home might have been the biggest mistake. Could have lived very minimal there, but, we had a kid on the way and it just wasn’t going to be enough space (among other issues with living with in-laws, hah). Life is about phases.

  3. As usual, you exhaust me 😉 But then I think, hey if I wrote out the details of my day (reading blogs while rocking the baby at 1 am. Again. Reading blogs and responding to emails on the hour long commute, twice a day. Pumping and blogging. Pumping and blogging. Pumping and blogging), I bet I’d exhaust some people to. So there’s a note in there somewhere about cautiousness when comparing.

    I keep wanting to do more to simplify my life, but then I wonder “maybe this is how it is”. Even if I am home, will I feel as exhausted and as thinly stretched as I do now? Maybe I would feel worse? Who knows!

    1. Funny you say that because I just wrote a personal essay today about comparisons after a particularly tough moment. I’ll probably be on the interwebs someday. 🙂

  4. Ha me and the wife were just reminiscing yesterday about our first few years of marriage in our apartment. I think the common denominator is….kids! They’re a lot of fun no doubt but the pressure and expectations to buy so much stuff for them can be a little daunting. Not buying too much stuff for our son is not too hard, since he gets bored of stuff in about 10 minutes and can entertain himself with an empty water bottle for a long time.

  5. I feel like a weirdo for not stressing about my 17 month old’s Christmas present too! Everyone keeps asking me what I’m getting. I don’t know and honestly, it’s not that big of a deal. My wife found a gently used mini soccer goal in next to the trash compactor room and brought it home. He loves kicking the ball into it. Often times he’s content playing with boxes, plastic containers or keys. There will be plenty of time for him to WANT specific toys when he grows up (hopefully it won’t be that bad)…at this age, I’m gonna enjoy that he’s happy playing with whatever he has whether it’s a toy or not.

  6. Your life has certainly had some pretty significant changes this past year, Cat. And it’s no surprise that you feel a little bit nostalgic for simpler times! I was much older than you when I had Lauren so we were in different phases of life when each of us became Moms for the first time, but it was still a real shock to the system. Everyone tries to prepare you for the changes, but until you’re living it, you really can’t fully comprehend it. Honestly, I marvel at how well you are handling all of this. I don’t necessarily consider myself a minimalist but I am a big believer in intentional, mindful living, which it sounds like you’re doing too. The firsts (Christmas, Birthday, etc) are always huge milestones but the babies don’t actually remember. So don’t worry about finding the perfect gifts, but just do something that will be a great memory for you and the hubs to share with the kids when they get a bigger. A picture, an special ornament, etc.

  7. Wow! I want to be in that water now. Babies like boxes so get them a lot of boxes wrapped in paper (and two cute stuffed animals) they will be happy. You’ve had such an incredible year it’s unbelievable. Life changes in a blink of an eye. Just do what works best for you.

  8. I always try to remember “living simply” when I see that even though my rent is pretty high, I have way less utility and other related home expensive living in my “simple” apartment. I do think that we make life in the states a bit complicated, and I always live vicariously though those people in house hunters international who pack up everything and move to a tiny european village. 🙂

  9. Your description of a single day makes me feel so lazy. You’re really impressive, Cat. I imagine I’ll look back on the current time of my life with nostalgia if I ever get married and have kids. I love living with barely any furniture and feeling I could pack all my possessions and move in a few hours. Peach often asks, “Can we have…stuff…when we live together?” I sigh and say, “I do have stuff! You don’t need more than one couch!” 😛

  10. I can definitely relate to the expansion of stuff… Mr. FW was reminiscing the other day that he moved to Boston with all of his possessions in his small car. And now, well, that would never happen! I love the idea of living a simpler, more pared down, less hectic life–that’s certainly what I’m hoping we’ll have on our eventual homestead.
    P.S. Your day sounds amazingly productive! Wow!

  11. Sometimes there’s only so much to fit into life or that you want to fit into life. I chose not to get a Christmas tree this year – which was a shock to Mr PoP since I LOVE getting our tree every year. But I just wanted to put energy toward other things this year and didn’t want it to feel like a chore. I’d rather do the tree experience the years that it’s energizing to do so, and save the energy the years when I don’t have quite enough to go around.

  12. As someone who was born and raised in the Caribbean, I can relate. I moved to the states with one suitcase and one carry-on. Now, I have an apartment full of stuff and at times I want to go back to when all this materialistic things were not so important. Maybe one day you’ll be able to take your children to Grenada and introduce them to their “grandparents”.

  13. I have found that living in a non-stressful locale has been the best route to minimalism and sticking to a budget for me. I think I’d be shopping to soothe myself if I lived in an urban area without an abundance of nature around me. I love water and have always lived in beach communities because it feeds my health and spirit. People always seem to have a smile, whether they live here or are just vacationing at the beach. And families with kids of all ages manage to live comfortably with fewer bells and whistles. We don’t have basketball hoops in every drive — kids go to the free parks for recreation, even before school! I think people just need less “stuff” here. Bicycles are transportation as well as recreation. Yes, it is an expensive housing market, but the cost is more than balanced out by being full of free things to do, such as biking instead of driving to the store, swimming, walking in the surf, or just watching a sunset. Free exercise happenings pop up on my beach almost daily, with volleyball nets up year round. We have narrow streets, so vehicles have had to learn to accommodate cyclists, walkers and joggers. People ride their boards to the beach in side carriers (probably illegal in the US?) on their beach-cruisers. A serene neighborhood keeps me out of the malls and department stores. I tend to cook more often because I feel creative at home. I find that it keeps me away from the megastores, so I shop those places less often and have less temptation. Surroundings have always been a priority for me, so much so that I won’t trade away a locale that supports my mental and physical health for convenience. Living at the beach makes me feel great, so I wonder, maybe you miss not only the island pace but miss spending more time outdoors, feeling the effects of the ions created near the ocean, the abundance vitamin D from sunlight, or just taking in the soothing sea views?

  14. You’re not only dealing with the Grenada to NJ transition but also the single to mom transition. Even here I find I can be minimalistic because I only have to worry about myself. There’s just SO much more to worry about and consider when you have to think beyond yourself. I think you’re doing pretty rockstar though 🙂

  15. I agree, I think life is about phases. I relate to reminiscing back to simplier times. I used to reminice back to the times I was in college and worked at Starbucks and life was “easy”. But really, I was broke and had midterms to study for so it’s all relative. Now i’m just broke with no midterms, but I’m grateful to also have a job I love, two dogs, and a wonderful husband. Each part of life gets more complex as we grow into it, but I think that remembering the important things about minimalist living (cause that’s all about rememberiung the important stuff and cutting out the unimportant crap) are just that: family, friends, and the quiet moments amid the rush, whether that’s the rush to drive through heavy traffic to the mall or rush to get a prime spot on the beach. For me, the rushing is just a part of me, not just my surroundings.

  16. Cat,
    Don’t worry about raising your children to be minimalists. There is nothing more that children want or need than parental love and attention.

    When I was first embracing minimalism (why does this word have so many syllables?), I asked my kids what they got at Christmas last year. They couldn’t remember a thing. So instead of presents they wouldn’t appreciate, that Christmas we took them on a cruise. That was 8 years ago. They still call it the best gift ever.

    Experiences over stuff wins every time.

  17. I never had the minimalist life, yet it is something that I long for as well. We have scaled back and cleaned out a lot of stuff, but stuff seems to find it’s way back in. The good news, though, is that it has become easier and easier for us to minimize our lifestyle as Will has gotten older. I think that kids (especially when they are young) make it difficult to minimize between bottles, diapers and a few toys, but over time, it does get easier to scale back.

  18. Awww man, I’m torn here. I live in a tiny apartment now, rent is cheap and utilities are included. I’m sure I’ll look back on this time fondly, but you know what? I really want a blender. I’ve lived all my life without one, but now I want one, to make soups and smoothies. But there would be literally no place to store it except maybe the kitchen floor. Haha minimalism is forced upon me, and I have a love / hate relationship with it.

  19. I often long for a more minimalist lifestyle. I find myself opening a drawer or closet and wishing I could drop everything to clean it out. Inevitably though, something – or more likely someone, since we have two Mini Maroons – will demand my attention and I get pulled away. I will get there someday.

    And don’t forget to add a little sleep into your wildly productive days. Nobody can be happy if mommy doesn’t take a little time for herself!

  20. Hi! I just came across your blog on pintrest. My husband wants to go to medical school in Grenada and I’m so afraid! I’ve never been out of the country, I’m afraid to fly, and to top it off, we have a 4 month old. I know nothing of the culture of the island and am so worried about uprooting our family and moving to what seems to be the middle of nowhere. I’d love to hear more about your time there! Hope this message finds you well.

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