Alabama Living: The Minimalist Warrior

I’ve been in Birmingham, Alabama, now for almost two weeks and I’m scheduled to be here for one more. I’ve officially embedded myself into my friend Amy’s family. (For the backstory on the history of our friendship, please refer to a previous post called The Move-In Day Miracle here.

Amy is renovating her kitchen and flooring so I’m here to be project manager, warm body in the house while workers are here, personal organizer, purging cheerleader, errand runner, design consultant, and backup responsible adult (in case of emergency only). And by purging cheerleader, I don’t mean I wear a short skirt, bounce around, shake my pom-poms and have an eating disorder. I mean that I’m cheering Amy on as she makes a zillion choices every day to get rid of stuff.

She’s the master of letting things go—she just needs me to harass her late into the night (I don’t have her attention until about 9:00 p.m.) with questions like:

“Hey, how attached are you to this?”

“Where did this come from?”

“What does this do?”

And all followed by some variation of:

“Can we (and by we I mean you) get rid of it?”

I ransack closets and pantries and drawers and make a horrible mess constantly—all in the name of eventually making it all pretty and (hopefully) easier to maintain.

As a single mom with a tremendously adult job who commutes through fiery rings of traffic hell, Amy has come to appreciate the importance of not wasting her time attending to her stuff. Her time with the kids is limited enough after 10-hour days, so her first priority is to maximize every moment she can with them. Too much stuff equals scattered attention, frustration, and overwhelm.

Amy is a warrior of minimalism fighting to rid her house of evil clutter. And damn is she brutal! With me to do the grunt work, she’s able to make the tough choices and then move on—I take it from there by counting, packing, and hauling the items to the garage.

Her goal for this year (2018) is to get rid of 2,018 items.

That sounds like a lot but I don’t think she’ll have any trouble hitting the mark. When I start “exploring” a new area and arranging like with like, it becomes obvious really fast which types of items are out of control. For example, the kitchen pantry had over a dozen lunch bags/boxes in it because her daughter LOVES lunch bags. She loves the kind that zip, the kind that have her art on them, the kind that have stripes, the kind that have handles, the kind that don’t have handles, the kind that are padded, and the kind that have a special pouch for an ice pack. The girl loves her bags! Fortunately she’s also chill about letting them go, which is fortunate for all involved.

The lunch bags have now been reduced to this:

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Lunch bags are in the purple tote. Plastic storage containers were also out of control!

Undoubtedly the stickiest items are the ones inherited from beloved (and now deceased) grandparents. Amy’s hesitancy to let something go is typically code for “that came from my grandparents’ house” or “that was my grandmother’s/grandfather’s.” In this case, I remind Amy that she has dozens of gorgeous items from her grandparents on display all over the house. And if they’re on display, they’re obviously meaningful. Now that I know where to look, her grandfather (who was an amazing human being) is all over the house—represented in items like this gorgeous creation he carved by hand:

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St. Francis of Assisi, yes?

Anything he created has his energy and love in it through and through. That’s the stuff of magic to keep and cherish. The stuff he just happened to own? In most cases it’s clutter (if not useful or brings great joy).

The purged items count is currently at 600. It’ll be fun to see how high we can get it before I leave.

For this weekend, however, we take a break from the house projects and head to the beach.

(More Alabama stories to come…)

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