Can you recall a moment that you fell in love with something? You know, the light bulb moment when something turns on in your brain and you get flushed by the rush of emotion. It is like silent fireworks display….an epiphany has occurred. Perhaps it was your first date with your spouse, the birth of a child, maybe even something not so momentous; such as the first time someone introduced you to a new food that is now your family favorite.
The moment I knew the Charlotte Mason philosophy was the exact fit for our family was one such an occasion for me. Let me first explain some core values my family had instilled prior to meeting Charlotte and set the scene for my realization.
I finished the the twentieth lap around the track and I headed home from the gym to find my mom feeding my two boys lunch. I had begged my mom to change her flight to come a week sooner because I just KNEW baby three was going to be earlier than anticipated. My husbands job was not flexible in allowing for time off and we knew we needed assistance with the younger boys. Well, day four had come and no change. To say the anticipation was growing is an understatement. Thankfully, the walking helped and as I sat down to eat lunch my water broke. A day later we welcomed baby boy number three...and now our Christmas cards could display three boys under the age of six.
After arriving home, the adrenaline of birthing wore off and fear set in. My anxiety as I wondered how I would handle three young boys alone (most of the time) was overwhelming. In an effort to streamline things, my mother and I began decluttering my house before she left town. We filled four giant trash bags full of clothes from my closet alone one afternoon. It was this moment that my life as a practicing minimalist began. To combat my doubt of managing my home with my newborn and young boys, my answer was to purge and it helped….tremendously. Allison Fallon, contributor to nosidebar.com, boasts ten benefits of minimalism, some of which are: clarity of mind, better health, less stress, and more time. All of which were proven true in our home quite quickly by removing things we didn’t use or need.
Almost two years later, after many trips to the donation center, massive amounts of garbage bags filled and almost all unnecessary items sold; my view of minimalism had changed.
I refer to myself as practicing minimalist because through this process I realized that as a “minimalist” you are always evolving and situations are always changing. The ebb and flow of allowing things in our homes and taking things out changes with the seasons. I began to see that the process of discarding items is not truely what minimalism is about . This act of reviewing of things and decluttering is a first step but not true minimalism.
To me and my family minimalism is intentionalism, simplism, curationism. The phrase “minimalism” has been overtaken by hipster, single, soul searching 20 year olds that display stark white walls with an Hermes chair in the corner. To us, the Johnson family of five, we now have intention with our purchases, we continue to simplify our schedule and most importantly curate a home that will grow life-long learning.
And this brings us to the fireworks when I fell in love with the practice of the Charlotte Mason philosophy. It was during my reading in volume one that I discovered that Mason too was a “minimalist” or rather intentional in her living and passionate about sparking that within parents. On page 154 in volume one, Home Education, she says “Let the parent ask ‘Why?’ and the child produce the answer, if he can. After he has turned the matter over and over in his mind, there is no harm in telling him- and he will remember it- the reason why.”. This quote struck me as soon as I read it. Mason was requiring the students to cultivate mindfulness; she was intentionally telling the mothers to not interrupt to allow their children to be aware of what was happening in the moment. Her direction was not to cloud their minds with extra information, but just to allow time for their mind to take hold of the idea and allow he or she to then remember it.
Mason goes on in volume one to explain that there are five habits that inspire children to learn based on their atmosphere alone. On page 137 in Home Education, Mason writes “But this is not all: habits of gentleness, courtesy, kindness, candour, respect for other people, or––habits quite other than these, are inspired by the child as the very atmosphere of his home, the air he lives in and must grow by.” I could now fuse two loves of my life; minimalism and the Charlotte Mason philosophy.
How could I cultivate an atmosphere that was life giving if that atmosphere was constantly cluttered? How could I inspire learning and respect if I kept a home that had an overabundance of items crammed anywhere there was a little extra room ? How could I express kindness and gentleness if I was constantly nagging my children to clean up? If you walked into my home, I doubt that the word minimalist would be the first to pop into your mind. We have photographs and art hung on the walls, we have books stacked in multiple places and we have bins full of toys. You won’t see many of those things if you google minimalist home! But what we have is a home that inspires the mind of our three young boys daily because of the hand chosen items that remain within the walls.
Mason refers to a curated home in volume one on page 288, “ The natural function of the mind, in the early years of life, is to gather the material of knowledge with a view to that very labour of generalisation which is proper to the adult mind; a labour which we should all carry on to some extent for ourselves. As it is, our minds are so poorly furnished that we accept the conclusions presented to us without demur; but we can, at any rate, avoid giving children cut-and-dried opinions upon the course of history while they are yet young. What they want is graphic details concerning events and persons upon which imagination goes to work; and opinions tend to form themselves by slow degrees as knowledge grows.”
Constant entertainment with streams of toys and clutter does not allow our children to vacillate with ideas or spark imagination. Could we allow our children to be presented with fewer options and be bored? More and more data is now being published about the effects of the accumulation of stuff in our homes. Mason was ahead of the times, as she always is, when describing in detail the importance of atmosphere for children to learn in. The Atlantic proves Mason’s theory in their June 2017 issue, “But boredom isn’t all bad. By encouraging contemplation and daydreaming, it can spur creativity. An early, much-cited study gave participants abundant time to complete problem-solving and word-association exercises. Once all the obvious answers were exhausted, participants gave more and more inventive answers to fend off boredom. A British study took these findings one step further, asking subjects to complete a creative challenge (coming up with a list of alternative uses for a household item). One group of subjects did a boring activity first, while the others went straight to the creative task. Those whose boredom pumps had been primed were more prolific.”
Minimalism isn’t a science. No one can tell you the exact number of living books to keep or the amount of items you should have on your wall. It is a process that is best completed within each family as a family. How we organize and adorn our home is not just for outside appearances, but truly to fertilize the seed of beauty within oneself. A November 2009 study in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, concludes, “The way people describe their homes may reflect whether their time at home feels restorative or stressful.” The study used a linguistic data collection from various women to determine the overall mood. One woman in the study states, “ Here’s the little sitting area especially in the winter where I sit and light a fire and read. It’s really peaceful and nice when the kids are asleep . . . and this is the family room which we all love and relax and play in.” I want to be there in her home, I want to sit by her fire and read. Do your children want to learn in their atmosphere?
Here is the thing: I don’t have this all figured out either. There are days my things overwhelm me still, even after purging half of what we own. So, I pray and hope that this blog can be our journey together. To learn how to let go of stuff and make room for the stuff that really matters like more hugs and giggles and less organizing and decluttering. Come along with me and lets create a living atmosphere together.