Saturday, September 22, 2012

Project Minimalism

It started out simply enough. I threw out the bath toys - all but a couple of small cups and a couple of squirty fish. I got so tired of cleaning off the mold! I would procrastinate cleaning the bath tub because I knew I would have to soak the bath toys in the kitchen sink filled with bleach and scrub all of the plastic squirters. So, one day, I finally cleaned the bath tub. I had the toys next the kitchen sink, and instead of submerging them in the bleach water, I chucked them in the recycling. (Can plastic bath toys be recycled? I don't know, but that's what I did!) And it felt so good!

A few days later, one of my closet racks broke, leaving cardigans, pants, and skirts on the floor. I've moved them temporarily to another hanging location.

Later that day, I heard something that I was finally ready to hear.

Now, I commute an hour and a half twice a week to my teaching job out on Long Island, and since my commute involves walking, a train, changing to another train, waiting for a shuttle, and walking to my building, not much of that hour and a half is involves me sitting in one spot. So, I listen to podcasts, mostly about Catholic families and marriage. (Currently: The Catholics Next Door, Catholic in a Small Town, and The Stupendous Marriage Show, sometimes This American Life.)

One of the podcasts featured the idea of minimizing the amount of stuff you own. As I said, I was finally ready to hear. Joshua Becker was talking about his new book (Living with Less: An Unexpected Key to Happiness) and his own experience minimizing his stuff. He's a family man, with two kids and a house in the suburbs. I thought, if he can do it, surely I can. Yes, we have two kids, but we live in New York, and, let's face it, I have way too much stuff for this little apartment.

He made several points that stuck with me (I'm paraphrasing):
-We know things can't give us happiness, so why do we invest so much time buying them, cleaning them, and organizing them?
-Maybe, just maybe, Jesus was actually serious when he said to sell your possessions and follow him. (You certainly don't need to be a Christian to be a minimalist, but this hit home for me.)
-We should use our money for more valuable causes than things, like charity. (Maybe law school loans first...)
-We should free ourselves from addictive consumerism and the never-ending comparisons.
-Plus, a host of side benefits: easier to clean, you know where stuff is, less time spent organizing.

There was one more thing that I'm not sure if Becker actually said but became clear to me after reading the book: I keep so many things for the just-in-case, maybe-someday future. Do I think I can preserve myself or my family from suffering by keeping stuff? That's probably a false sense of security that I foster with the keeping of all the stuff.

So, we are beginning Project Minimalism, with the goal of reducing the amount of stuff we own by at least 30%. My husband is on board, although I think it's implied that most of the actual cleaning out will be my task. I'm okay with that. I've started with the kitchen, since I can clean while cooking breakfast, lunch, and dinner. It means the kitchen has been a bit of a mess for a few days, but I've just about finished!

In addition to all of the stuff that I knew I would give away because I truly don't want it anymore, there were also some things I wrestled with but ended up giving away: waffle iron, fondue pot, vaccuum sealer and accessories, cast iron pan, some vases and candlesticks. I want to challenge myself to part with things that I kind of still want but realistically don't actually need. Things I ended up keeping but thought about giving away: my spare large pot, some decorative plates from my grandmother, some decorative copperware that I don't actually use, the Nespresso machine.

I probably won't give you the play-by-play on Project Minimalism, but if there are any interesting points or personal breakthroughs, I'll let you know.

What do you think? Can I challenge you to part with at least 30% of your possessions? Have you started minimizing in your own home and found it helpful?

For more info:
The Stupendous Marriage Show Podcast
Joshua Becker's website

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Brooklyn Bridge Park, Pier 6

While being a mom in NYC is not for the weak, there are certainly some up sides. NYC has some fantastic parks that are free for everyone. (There are also free public pools, but we went once. It was horribly, awfully, sickeningly crowded, like taking a bath with 200 strangers. Never again.)

In an effort to focus on the positive aspects of raising a family here, let's talk about one of awesome parks that we visited over the summer!

First, Pier 6, part of Brooklyn Bridge Park. 30 minutes away, but it's beautiful and has a fantastic view of the city skyline.

Someone spent a good deal of effort in landscaping. You walk through along a path lined with bushes, and on either side, you see little bush-lined pockets of open space that have swings in them. Each pocket has only a few swings, so you can find a covert little area of your own to enjoy the swings. Most of them are the typical infant swings or big kid swings, but in a larger bush-lined pocket, they have these rope swings.

In another area is the "Water Lab," which is a sprinkler miniature water park, great for toddler and pre-school-aged kiddos.

Sadly, we did not have Cora's swimsuit with us, and she was fairly tuckered out from all the swinging anyway. Next summer, though, we will certainly make time for the Water Lab. Heck, even I want to play at the Water Lab.

(Note: The Water Lab closed for the season after Labor Day.)

Saturday, September 8, 2012

School for two-year-olds?

I remember one of my first conversations with a NYC mom. We were living in New Jersey at the time and church-hopping. (Well, we are still church hopping, but that's another post.) Hoboken had zero thriving churches, so we started going to Trinity Wall Street Church in downtown Manhattan. Some of the first people we met there was a mom and her three-year-old daughter, and one of the first questions the mom asked was, "Have you thought about preschools? Trinity has a great preschool! You should go ahead and put your daughter (Cora then only one year old) on the waiting list, just in case." I tried to discreetly get the message across that I was a stay-at-home mom with no job prospects and that $20,000 just wasn't in the budget for a two-or-three-year-old's preschool tuition. Apparently I wasn't straightforward enough with that message because every single time after that, this mom would always ask us if we had put our daughter on the waiting list yet.

Truly, this was very sweet of her because Trinity does have an amazing preschool, and it's incredibly tough to get in. And, as with all networking, if your kid went to the prestigious Trinity preschool, they have a leg up on their kindergarten applications to other elite private schools.

But this hyper-pressure to put kids into school as early as possible seems to be pervasive here. Some parents want, like the above scenario, their kids to get their foot in the door of a top-notch private school. Some want to socialize their children into spending more time with friends, away from home, in a structured learning environment. Some parents want their kids to be in a foreign language preschool, so they begin learning a second language. Some parents just want a daycare option that is more "learning-oriented" (although I doubt preschool and daycare are really that different).

We did decide to put Cora into a Spanish immersion preschool. She is two-and-a-half. This still blows my mind a bit. The simple Texas girl from the 1980s in me says this is ridiculous. Back in my day, kids started kindergarten at age five. Now we're starting kids in pre-pre-k at two?! But, you know, my kid loves it, and from 9am to 12pm, I only have to deal with the baby and getting a little class prep done. I do justify the expense because toddlers are capable of picking up a foreign language. Also, we don't really have many friends here yet, so maybe we'll make friends.

But is this a NYC thing, or is it happening in other parts of the country? Are there other cities and states where two-and-three-year-old "preschools" are becoming more and more normal? Is it because of working moms or wealthier families? If I have any readers out there who can provide me some insight, I'd appreciate a comment. For the moment, I'd better go order my two-year-old's school supplies from (because that's how we roll in Brooklyn, order everything online).