Stuff Shapes your Living Space, Sanity, and Life: Part Two

Part one can be found here.

In May of 2014 I was no longer married and moving out, on my own. This was an exciting and terrifying time. Ben and I had lived together for a long time, the sorting through the stuff required a lot of emotional energy, and deciding what my future home would look like took a lot of creative energy.

I hadn’t lived by myself for a long time, so getting back in the living alone mindset was rough for me. I was leaving a familiar space with familiar people (Ben), animals (two pups), and nice stuff. I was moving into a tiny studio apartment and had to accept the reality that I was a divorced 32 year old.

But I was also excited. I got to pick things for my apartment that only I liked! Often times in relationships you have to negotiate the purchasing of stuff – making sure that a big purchase such as a couch or rug fits both people’s style.  But now I only had to think about myself and what I wanted in my new (tiny) apartment.

I also had a lot of time to find my new stuff and I was very deliberate in what I decided to surround myself with. I took time and care finding a new sofa, a beautiful vintage (made in the 1970’s) gold velvet piece that I paid too much for, but I love it so much. A mid-century modern coffee table that has beautiful lines. A restored  vintage dresser. New bedding and a new rug that suits me just right. I also splurged and bought a Tempurpedic bed – those things are life changing. Some furniture stayed the same and I took with me, a simple well-made desk my parents bought me in undergrad, some stools, a little green table that used to be our entry way table that I re-purposed as a TV stand, and some nesting tables that I used as night stands.

I was fortunate to be able to create such a beautiful space for myself. I was also lucky that Ben was staying in the house we had bought the summer before – it allowed me to leave a lot of stuff behind, stuff I deemed unnecessary – such as that stack of old CDs I never got around to donating, all the kitchen stuff I didn’t want, and those DVDs (I mean, who still watches DVDs?!).

I didn’t know it at the time, but looking back on it I realize that is when I first began thinking about a more minimal life. Granted a lot of it had to do with space, I simply didn’t have the space. I only had a tiny studio apartment and I needed to think about what went in to it.

I had to be purposeful about what I surrounded myself with.

I lived in that apartment for a year. I grew a lot that year. I grew as a researcher and scholar – working away on my dissertation. I grew more confident in myself – coming to understand that being a divorced 32 year old was just one part of who I was and it did not define me. I grew to be  even more in love with a wonderful new partner – who keeps me laughing, is super supportive, and oh so loving.

After that year Bryan and I moved in together to a pretty large house. We negotiated the combining of stuff, the arranging of rooms, the compromising. I try hard to not acquire too much stuff – even beginning to create capsule wardrobes and thus eliminating a lot of clothes.

Now I am thinking ahead to June, when I move to Pittsburgh for a post-doctoral research fellowship. I will once again be moving into a studio apartment, even smaller than the last one. It will also be the first time that I will move across the country and that is expensive, so I am trying to take as little as possible.

Once again my lack of space is shaping my life. I only want to surround myself with beautiful things, things that spark joy, and things that I find useful.


Stuff Shapes your Living Space, Sanity, and Life: Part One

In 2009 I got married.

When you get married you register for stuff – mainly kitchen stuff, but still lots of stuff. Ben and I had been living together before that, so we had already done the combining of the stuff. 2006 was when we initially joined our stuff together and honestly I didn’t have that much. I had just graduated and I had minimal kitchen gadgets, furniture, and worldly possessions. I did however, have tons of books and clothes.

Our first house was tiny so filling it with stuff, even combining our two respective stuffs wasn’t too horrible. We didn’t have that much. Ben came from England, so he had the furniture he had bought once moving to Texas and clothes. Plus, the tiny-ness of that first house kept the stuff at bay. I loved filling that tiny pink house with our stuff. Right before we got married, in 2009, we moved to a much bigger house, two streets north.

It is funny how having more space you feel an obligation to fill it up. And fill it up we did.

This house was beautiful. It was (and still is) the nicest house I have ever lived in. It had two bedrooms, two bathrooms, two offices, a huge living room, a giant kitchen, and a beautiful back yard with a detached garage and a shed. I also loved filling that giant green house with stuff. We got a lot of lovely wedding gifts and we also keep adding stuff to the house – art, kitchen gadgets, clothes, etc.

In 2010 we moved to Austin, Texas. I had been accepted into a PhD program at the University of Texas at Austin in Educational Psychology. So not only was I quitting my full time teaching job (good bye money), but I was also becoming a full time student. In addition, we moved into a tiny house – like 932 square feet tiny. We had to find a place to put all that stuff, so we rented a room at a storage facility and keep a lot of our overflow stuff there .

We managed to live in that small space for 3 plus years. We didn’t manage it well. The house was oddly designed – it was old, built in the 40’s –  with strange storage, tiny bedrooms, smaller bathrooms, and the floor had an odd slope to it. We didn’t maximize storage and we forced our too large furniture to fit in the tiny house. With us and two large dogs I often felt like our house was crowded. Nothing really had a place to belong. Things piled up, clothes, dog toys, dust. I remember at one point I was stacking the copious amount of pages of paper – all the journal readings for class –  in a laundry basket.

It was not a pleasant place to be. The clutter of stuff made me feel anxious and unsettled.

In the spring of 2013 we bought our first house, adding an additional 1,000 square feet to our living space. Owning a home was never really a dream for me, but it was very important to Ben. The house was lovely (for a starter home) with an open floor plan, remodeled by someone else, lots of natural light, and in a “neighborhood in transition” – according to our realtor. I love that phrase, but it is kind of funny in Austin – all of the neighborhoods are in transition. Housing prices are soaring, gentrification is rampant, and it is a sellers market. Our little neighborhood was close to the light rail, near some nice restaurants, but also had a scrap metal yard at the west end of the street and was dangerously close to I-35 and shady motels on the east end. We unpacked our storage room and filled the home with the stuff that had been put away for 3 plus year.

Also in 2013 our marriage officially fell apart.

I vividly remember telling my therapist in the fall of 2013, “But we have so much stuff, how do you even begin to untangle the stuff? Who gets what?”

She replied, “You just do.”

And she was right.

The slow unraveling of the marriage was a painful process. But the actual separation and logistics surround the divorce were, for the most part, handled with kindness and grace.

While we separated the day after Thanksgiving in 2013 we continued to live together, in our newly bought house, until June 2014. It was big enough that we had more than enough space. I got the master bedroom, he got the the other two. We shared the common spaces. The divorce was finalized in May of 2014.

Stuff Shapes your Living Space, Sanity, and Life: Part Two – coming soon

Inspiration (and new jeans)

Instagram is a wonderful, wonderful place.

Through this online community I have been able to peer into the world of many a minimal dresser and yesterday I stumbled upon MODEste. I have been obsessively stalking their blog and Instagram ever since.

I began by reading their post on a clean wardrobe – ethically sourced pieces of clothing. I was simply scanning the post whilst doing a million other things – preping for a dinner guest, watching TV, updating research participants, and wandering around cleaning the house. But I pinned it to go back to later.

This morning (while I should have been working on my dissertation) I went back to that pin. The list was extensive and the research done was fabulous, leading me to find some ethical clothing companies from that blog post and pinned a lot of things!

As I explored the websites of these clothing companies I found a lo of things I loved.

I even bought some black high waisted skinny jeans from DSTLD. I’m already planning my spring capsule (more on that in a later blog post) and I knew that black skinny jeans were on my list – plus, the price and the size were perfect. While I was technically supposed to wait until March to start purchasing things for my spring capsule, I couldn’t resist.

Simple Joy

I am a fairly sensitive person – as in, I have a lot of feels all the time.

I have always been sensitive, but lately I have become more mindful about how I go about protecting my feelings and my time. This year I have been making a much more concentrated effort to surround myself with more things that bring me joy. Whether that is people who I enjoy, things that are beautiful, or spaces that are calming.

Perhaps it is because I am going through such a stressful life change (hello, dissertation writing, finally finishing graduate school PhD edition, and moving across the country!), but I am being very deliberate in how I spend my time. I have the next 103 days mapped out pretty extensively – yes, I have a count down of my remaining time in Texas –  and I am trying to get as much simple joy out of the people, places, and things that I love here.

That is why I am loving this capsule wardrobe: academic edition so much.

It frees up my time, my space, my decision making processes, and my energy. To focus on other things, to find the simple joy in having 37 wardrobe pieces to mix and match for a season instead of worrying about what to wear from my extensive clothes collection. Capsule wardrobe-ing has allowed me to have a much calmer process in the morning. Which is nice because I normally begin my day with 2 plus hours of dissertation work.