Midwest Minimalist Military Momma

Friday, October 4, 2013

Halloween and the Beginning of the Season of Acquisition: 7 Tips to Enjoy the Holiday Will Keeping Control of Clutter

Halloween is a big deal in our house.

It's always been my favorite holiday. I love the weather, the foods, the movies, the costumes, the leaves, the celebration of everything a little bit spooky. I love pumpkin patches and haunted houses, hot apple cider and the bright blue October skies. I love it so much, the mister and I got married on Halloween.

Halloween decor, candy and costumes are a big business. Americans are estimated to spend 6.9 billion dollars on the fun stuff this year. Halloween in also the gateway into the holiday shopping season. In other words, Halloween is the beginning of the season of acquisition.

I used to think I couldn't get enough Halloween decor, Fall housewares and Christmas trimmings until I ended up with seven large plastic storage bins full of stuff. Stuff I kept all year long--each item being used for a month or two. I made the choice to keep just one box of Halloween and Fall and one box of Christmas. Yet, when I took out my box of  Halloween decorations and started the business of livening up for the holiday, I was amazed at how much festivity I fit into one box.

Halloween aprons and decorations.


1. Focus on doing instead of acquiring.
Spend your Fall budget on going to events like pumpkin patches, parties, football games, movies and haunted houses instead of staying home most of the month with your new decorations. Take advantage of the beautiful weather and walk or hike and take in the changing leaves.

2. Don't buy complete costume kits.
Everyone knows the best, most memorable costumes are't the ones that come prepackaged. Get creative and come up with your own. Raid your closets or local thrift stores for simple costumes. For kids, if you do end up buying some costume pieces, save them for dramatic play time aka dress up. Pinterest is an excellent place to see what others have done.

3. Let nature do some decorating for you.
Some of the best decorations for Halloween and Fall come from outside. Pumpkins, gourds, corn and leaves can all be used as decorations for fall and either eaten or tossed. These are either cheap or free and bring inside the best of what's going on outside.

4. Set a limit on your stock of decorations.
I set my limit at one standard sized storage tub. Remember that these are things you keep all year round and move each time you relocate. Less is better.

5. Don't impulse shop.
I've been there: a boutique you pop into to browse. They have some unique things you think would look great on the dining table. Or in Target just for a few things and you go and check out the seasonal section just to get an idea of what's new this year. Believe me, I've been there. If you have a weakness for this, try not to put yourself in that position--don't go into the boutique, don't go to the section at Target you don't need to visit. If you can't do that, be thoughtful while browsing and even more so when you go to put something in your basket. Consider your space limit and if this item is really worth it.

6. Decline or donate junk offered to you or your children.
There are lots of opportunities to pick up little toys and trinkets in the lead up to Halloween and on the night itself. You don't have any obligation to take this stuff or to keep it if you do. Chances are your children have enough and won't miss it anyway.

7. Review your stuff before you put it away for next year.
When you take down and put away all of your Halloween decorations, take a look at each item and decide if it's something worth taking up space in your home for another year while you wait for the leaves to change.

One box of decorations can go far. 
Happy haunting, friends.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Going "Hands Free"

This week I discovered author Rachel Macy Stafford's blog, “Hands Free Mama.” The timing was serendipitous.

Lately, I’ve been looking at my phone as a source of distraction. I have just about everything on that one device: Facebook, Twitter, texts, emails, Amazon, Netflix, weather, Words With Friends—dozens of opportunities to miss what’s going on right in from of me. I’ve felt compelled to check it for updates on a very regular basis. Sometimes, even during the night.

Connecting with family and friends through social media and technology are amazing innovations that can improve our lives. But, they can also invade our lives and impede the relationships.

A friend posted this to Facebook. It was perhaps the description more than quote itself that moved me. From there, I found her Facebook page and her blog. The Hands Free Revolution Stafford is advocating for is simple. It’s about embracing a lifestyle of less: fewer devices, fewer obligations. It’s about more: more family, more love, more connection. Essentially, it’s about minimalism.

The day before I first saw Stafford’s post and then learned of her body of work on unplugging, my not quite 2-year-old daughter came over to me in my chair and gently pushed down the phone in my face.  I don’t know that she wanted anything in particular. She had been quietly playing and she came over just as quietly and made this gesture. I put the phone down. I don't want to pick it back up. I want to put my smartphone down for good. 

Until this point, I’ve felt like the usefulness of my smartphone mitigated its possible downsides. I felt that I could monitor my use of it and control my time in front of it. I don't think I could do it. 

To be honest, it makes me very uncomfortable to give it up. I use it all the time. Many empty moments, I reach for it. I’ve decided that’s exactly why I have to let it go. I need empty moments. I need to sit in a waiting room and read a magazine. I need to talk to my daughter while waiting at the checkout line. I need to be wherever I am and not inside that little device. I need to be a hands free mama, too.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

A Military Spouses' Guide to Enjoying Your Time at a Less Than Desirable Post

Oh Kansas, my Kansas.

There are some fabulous places the military can send your family. There are also a great number of places the military can send your family that you would never, ever have considered going at any time, for any reason. I’m living in one of those places right now. In the interest of full disclosure: I hate Kansas. However, while I’m busy complaining about the bugs, the weather and the general lack of cool things to do, I’m wasting time I could be spending doing things I enjoy. No matter where you are, it’s vital to your mental health and the happiness of your family to make the most of it. Don't underestimate the power negativity to bring everyone down. 

(Of course, you don’t have to be military to end up in a yucky place, and this guide is here to help anyone stuck in a fun wasteland.)

1.     Take Your Temperature
In other words, check your attitude. Don’t be determined to hate a place because then you most certainly will.

I took the position of “wait and see” when I moved to Kansas. I wanted to like it, but the only things I knew about Kansas I learned from the WIZARD OF OZ. And none of those things seems particularly awesome. Then, I found the Oz Museum and, more importantly, the Oz Winery. Maintain a positive outlook on your new place even—especially—if you’ve had a bad impression, a bad start or a bad experience.
Visiting the Oz Museum
2.     Find Your People
After your own perspective and perception, the people in your daily life will make the greatest impact on your experience any place you call home. Join Facebook pages and MeetUp pages for people in similar circumstances such as other military spouses, moms, crafters, horror movies fans and the like. Attend classes (whatever works for you and your family) and, yes, even FRG meetings. You never know who you’ll meet.

I want to meet other moms about my age with kids about my age with whom I have something in common. Making friends with a group of childless 20 somethings would prove less than practical when they want to go to bars and shop during nap time.

3.     Do Your Research
Has this ever happened to you? You live some place years and suddenly discover a fabulous shop/park/restaurant/class/winery/museum you never even heard of?  Those fabulous places are in the place you hate! Really. Take a look at “things to do pages” online like Trip Advisor. Ask friends, co-workers, the check-out clerk at the commissary where there favorite spots are. “What do you do for fun around here? Then, make a list of places you want to go.

Before we arrived in Kansas, I did some reading online and one of the places I read about was a Caribbean Restaurant with great reviews. Eight months later, I finally tried it. Immediately, my faith that I could enjoy my time in Kansas was restored. This little place has excellent Jamaican food and felt more like a place in Berkeley or Portland than Junction City. Just a few doors down is the Opera House. On the way to the car we stopped inside and picked up a program for the season. Just when I thought this place was a cultural desert, I found ethnic food and theater.

Hottest Night Spot in JC?

4.     Get Out
Cool people with awesome plans are probably not going to knock on your door first. It can be tempting to hide in our yoga pants in front of the Netflix (and there IS a place for that. See #5), but instead, stretch your comfort zone a little and go where the people and the things are. If all you see of your new digs are your house, the commissary on payday and Target, you’re not likely to have a great experience.

Also make the time to take day or weekend trips to other nearby towns for exploring. It will expand your world.

Kansas City Public Library

5.     Do What Makes You Smile
When you aren’t making an effort to find fun, do other low-key stuff that you enjoy. Play with your kids, pets, write, read, take a bubble bath, watch the sunset. Keep the dopamine flowing.
Kansas Sunset

6.     Embrace What’s Different
Every location has its own flavor. Don’t dismiss it. Get into it. That’s the culture of the place, if you try to understand it and experience it, chances are you’ll have a better time. So, go to the luau, the rodeo, the reservation, the local museums, the bluegrass or mariachi festival. These are probably the events you’ll remember most.
Embrace the local culture. Unless you're a vegetarian. 

Our last duty station was Hawaii. I had a great time. I didn’t always love it, but I knew what I had. I was jaw-droppingly surprised at the number of spouses and military personnel who hated it there. Some of those people had a terrible experience while others still managed to enjoy it. I learned from watching those acquaintances and neighbors what I’m now applying to my own experience in Kansas. If you have a good attitude and do the work, you can have a good time even in a place you kinda hate.
Kansas roll cloud

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Zombies Hate Stuff: On Zombies and Living With Less

Everyone’s talking about the zombie apocalypse, go-bags and survival plans.

From Max Brooks’ “Zombie Survival Guide” to THE WALKING DEAD to the CDC’s blog poston surviving the zombie scourge, popular culture is alight with talk of the undead and Armageddon. Zombies are a stand in for what we’re really afraid of in our everyday lives: people and problems. I think there’s something else we can learn from movement to prepare for flesh eating hordes.

So, zombies are a metaphorbut the response to dealing with life after they arrive is useful to us all not matter what the situation. 

From communism to consumerism, anarchy to fascism, genetic modification to epidemic, radiation to space microbes -- our deep-seated fears and social anxieties have repeatedly risen from the grave and tried to eat our brains."  --From the course description for "Zombies as Metaphor" at Brown University.

Travel Light
When it all hits the fan, your stuff becomes meaningless and disposable. You need very little to get by: food and water, shelter and protection, clothing, other people. A Kuerig is nice but a percolator works. A $500 purse might get jealous appraisals from other women but it’s not really helping you out. Zombies don’t know Prada from Merona. Owning less means less to care for, less to move, more space for living. In general, having less means a simpler life--zombies or not.

People Over Things
Worrying about the color of new drapes, which shoes to get your kid for soccer or the local wife drama are all examples of time and energy wasting luxuries not afforded to anyone after the dead have risen, and I would argue, things you shouldn’t waste your time on now.

I think we sometimes get lost trying to show people we care about them by buying them things we think they’ll enjoy or things that could be used to further the connection between you, but nothing can compare to just being together and saying what you feel. When the End is Nigh, there ain’t no time for that nonsense. Nix the fancy watch and watch a sunrise instead.

Get a Plan
Whether it’s zombies, tornadoes or paying down debt, you need a plan of action. It doesn’t have to be intensely detailed. It doesn’t have to involve stocking a bunker. It should be thoughtful, realistic and do-able. Your plan should be something you keep in the back of your mind or on paper to guide you when you need it. I don’t advocate for a step-by-step guide of living your life but rather a reminder of what your goals are and how to get there. Columbus’ list of survival tips in ZOMBIELAND is a pretty good example: 1. Cardio; 2. Double Tap; 3. Beware of Bathrooms.

But Live in the Moment (Most of the Time)
No one should live waiting for the big bad thing to happen. It might happen and it might not. If you’re waiting for something you’re not living. So, plan but enjoy your life. As they say, life IS what happens while we’re busy making other plans. Everyone who ever survived a zombie movie was not hunkered down waiting for it to happen: they were living a normal life and survived—or put in a valiant effort—in response to the event. That’s the best of both worlds.

Zombies in popular culture are instructive and expository. They are metaphors that tell us what we are afraid of collectively and how to deal with those fears. Some of the best take aways from these stories are to live simply and focus on what is important in our lives.

Want more zombies? There’s the Romero films, the 2004 DAWN OF THE DEAD and RESIDENT EVIL, but here’s a short list of some lesser known favorites:

Greg Stones art book detailing the things zombies hate and other things they really mind so much.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

When the Going Gets Tough: Using Minimalism to Cope With Big Issues

It’s been a rough month at our house. We had a move fraught with problems; Baby has dental issues; momma had bigger issues with the dental office; and Papa was gone the entire month. Things came to a head when I found myself with a crying baby trying to climb out of a full shopping cart while practically yelling on the phone to the dental office. I ended up crying and abandoning my cart. It was one of the hardest days in recent memory. When I came home, I began to think about the best ways to hunker down and let the storm pass.

Do Self-Care

This is the one I always skip until…well, until I’m crying in front of the 2% milk and everyone in the store is starring at me.  But trust me, you need to take some time for yourself, calm, regroup and refocus. If you have the time and money for a day spa, do it. Personally, I don’t, but I embrace sharing bath time with Baby and lavender scented bubbles. When Baby finally goes to sleep, I have a glass of wine or some ice cream while reading or watching a show. At some point, you need time to be you and your purest. If you don’t, you start to wear down to nothing. If your spouse is deployed and you don’t have access to family for relief childcare, find a trusted friend or possibly post childcare (usually 16 monthly free hours during deployment) and de-com-press. Exercise, have a dance party, watch cat videos, pet an actual cat.

Get Back to Basics

Last month I was invited to take a position on a board. I accepted, but I later declined. I have a lot on my plate already and though I had some good reasons for accepting, I had better reasons to decline.

There are things in your life right now you see as absolute obligations that aren’t. When things get tough, give some up. I know many people, especially women, feel like they can’t say no, can’t cancel plans, can’t NOT do everything for everyone at all times. Let me give you permission. You don’t have to do very much and lean times, stressful times and times of real crisis should serve to put that into perspective for you. Give up the obligations that are weighing you down.

Live Simply

Once you’ve eliminated the clutter from your social or even professional life, focus on the few most important things. No more than five. For me, the most important things are my daughter, my family, my health and my professional persona. Those things don’t just come first, but in difficult times, they might be the only things I can handle. If things are difficult, I try to tune out the rest of the world and focus on what is good and what is most important. We often get caught up in the minutia of things that don’t actually matter.

Stop, (Stop, Stop) Trying to be Super Mom

Do what’s important. Don’t compete. Don’t worry about your image to your friends, family or anyone else. We all know those moms who are fit, well groomed, employed outside the house and throwing Pinterest grade parties all the time. Good for them. They don’t set your goals, and they aren’t setting the bar. Don’t convince yourself that they don’t have problems because they do.

You do not have to be everything to everyone at all times. Be a good person and a good parent. Everything else will flow from that.

Slow Down

When things are going bad, I find myself in a hurry to do something, anything, when really, the best course is to slow down, take a deep breath and look at the problem from a clearer perspective. This isn’t a race. You want a good life—not a fast one. The best way to combat a problem is calmly, and you can’t do that if you’re frantic.

We all experience times in our life when everything seems to go bad. We may face crisis or tragedy. There are lots of things we can do get through them, these will make the rest possible. Good luck. 

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

We’ve Moved! And I Learned a Few Things About Life and About Minimalism

First, I need to vent and share my moving story, like when you have a baby and you want to share your labor story.

Moving sucks. Nobody likes it. Nobody wants to help you do it. As a military family, we do it a lot. Well, at least more than the average family. As I noted in a previous port we generally prefer to live on post because it’s convenient and time saving. However, the Midwest Minimalist Military Momma and family recently made an across town off—off post and into new territory.

We lived on post at Fort Riley in Kansas for just 6 months but due to a gnarly infestation of Brown Recluse Spiders despite numerous efforts to eradicate them, we decided to take our chances elsewhere. Since we became a military family in 2008, we have only lived in on post housing.

Nothing in our move went smoothly: Papa was away doing some training, I overestimated my strength, we spent a lot on move-in costs, the keys to our new place were lost and our new place was dirty, like, really dirty! But now that we are all squared away, I’m pretty happy. Our new place is pretty, open and modern.

Life Lessons Taught to Me By Moving

#1 You have WAY more stuff than you think you do, and, no, you don’t need it.
I work (and work) to keep our family possessions down to a minimum. And I was shocked to see how much stuff we owned when it was all laid out in front me. I had a great kid help me move our stuff and by the time we unloaded the truck and got everything up to our second floor apartment, we were exhausted and my arms were shaking. I’m my pre-moving fantasy, I saw a simple chore reduced from the normal intensity of moving because “I don’t have that much stuff.” As it turns out, I have a lot of stuff I don’t really think about that much because I either don’t use it very often or, I’ve organized closets, cupboards and wall hangings so well, I’ve tricked myself into thinking I have less. Though we do have far less than most, I feel a bit overwhelmed by what we do have.

#2 Best Laid Plans of Mice and Men Oft Go Astray
I’m a planner. I research; I ask questions. I make sure I know what to expect and what’s expected of me. However, each step along my way to getting moved at a hang up. I dropped Baby off at day care and had to put in some extra time because she wasn’t ready for mommy to go. The truck rental place didn’t have a dolly available though I’d rented one. The apartment management had no idea where the keys to our house were and we had to unload the truck on the front porch. I had to ask my young moving helper to stay and watch my stuff while I went to pick up Baby from day care. And when we finally, got everything inside, it simply hadn’t been cleaned. We ended up in a hotel room that night. I know I sound like a Negative Nancy here, but try this.

#3 When You’re Patient and Understanding, People Respond in Kind
Since my husband was away while all these troubles occurred, he was pretty distressed by what I was facing alone. His advice was to raise some hell. While, I’m not above getting angry when I feel I’ve been wronged, it’s not my go-to response. I didn’t yell at anyone at any point during the long process (and three, yes, three! cleaning crews). I was friendly, patient but still made sure I made my needs and wants clearly known. I ended up talking to most of the office staff and both the property and maintenance managers. As a result, I was able to get my night’s stay in a hotel paid for and a little extra compensation for all the trouble.

And, my cable installer arrived just before I did with the baby as I sent off my moving help while all our stuff was still on the front porch. He brought in our stuff for me and almost insisted I not even help. I wrote him a glowing review on the company’s emailed satisfaction survey.

I feel that because I was friendly and understanding with the staff, they were more inclined to help me and make sure I was happy and that my needs were met.

#4 The Importance of Stability and Routine
The rhythms of our daily lives soothe us. This is especially true for children but not exclusively so. Moving is stressful for everyone, but it’s not just because of the multitasking that occurs in order to make it happen but also because everything changes. After being in our new place for over a week, Baby is still have trouble sleeping and I recognize how out of sorts I’ve been while getting from there to here. I’ve tried to keep out bed time routine the same to help my daughter adjust, but I recognize that our normal “stuff” isn’t just for her, I need it too.

#5 Moving is the Best Time to Let Go
Do you really want to pack and carry, unpack or store all that stuff? Makes me tired just thinking about it. Sell it, donate it, dump it. You’ll be happier with less.

Even though we did a major purge before our last move, I was still able to reduce our belongings again. And because I was surprised by the amount of stuff we still had, I’ll be doing it again.

Our move was a good choice, but it wasn’t easy. It would have been easier if we had less. Next time, we will.