Often on the first Friday of the month, I trek out to an open art studio event in the East Bay (which is pig Latin for "beast", a fellow San Franciscan always like to point out). My friend and I jokingly call the event Suburban Mom Craft Night. One night we ended up having a discussion with some of the other ladies about my minimalish lifestyle, during which I'm pretty sure everyone concluded that I'm insane. To be fair, even in SF, where many folks live in small spaces, and where you can come out as a swinging pansexual vegan aerialist burner without anyone batting an eye, minimalism is treated a bit like a disease. Anyway, Suburban Mom Craft Night is a bit of a misnomer, because it's technically coed-last time there was one dude there-and maybe there are even some other kidless folks present. There certainly aren't any other urbanites, though, and thus I am a bit of an odd one out.
The two women who own and run the studio are lovely, and it's a chance for a date with a dear friend of mine from high school, who is the only one from my hometown who has moved out here to the Bay Area to stay. She's often the only woman of color at the studio, unfortunately, so she is actually the odd one out in a much more visible way. But it's a great opportunity for creativity (we've done stuff we haven't for decades or ever- watercolors, screen printing, embroidery, glass etching) that would cost a gazillion dollars in the city and allows us to make messes in someone else's place- a bonus for two neat freaks. So even though it can involve a two-hour drive for me (a route that would be 40 minutes if it weren't a Friday evening), and the cost of a toddler-sitter for her, it's worth it. On the way, I usually catch up on a podcast or some 90's hip hop on 102.1, and feel very American in my Ford Escape cruising over the Bay Bridge with the Friday commuters. As a daily bike commuter who lives and works in SF, this monthly ritual holds a novelty for me that I hope never wears off. I mean, a novelty that lasts forever is probably an oxymoron, but hush. Don't jinx it.
That particular Friday I arrived and left my car on the street, which is 100% vacant. She has a driveway (so luxurious!), but I never know if her husband has pulled in yet from work, plus I gotta show off my parallel parking skills to these suburbanites. I generally run past her to the bathroom when she opens the door, then sit down to whatever amazing Indian dish she's made me that month. Or if it's not ready yet, her toddler and I have band practice (me on the ukulele, her on the xylophone) or a dance party.
Though it's true that a large home and suburban life are not things I'd choose for myself, I'd be lying if I said that I don't enjoy the contrast when I visit my friends and family members who are pursuing the American Dream in a more traditional way than I am. Sure, it often reminds me of what I don't want (more rooms) and why (more isolation, more costs, more cleaning), but also gives me a chance to stretch out and indulge in things like using more kitchen gadgets and watching TV in one room while someone is playing video games in another and attending cookouts with a long list of guests who provide a huge variety of tasty treats.
A few months ago, I hosted the coworkers who are in my weekly ladies ukulele lunch circle (I swear I also hang with non-ladies sometimes too). They came over for an evening jam sesh. Though I am really happy with how our home looks since we recently redecorated, I always feel a little embarrassed about how small it is (a 490-square-foot studio). Also, one of my many stereotypically feminine habits is that I apologize profusely for shit that I need not. So I kept thanking folks for coming and cramming in, saying sorry if it wasn't comfortable. But my guests kept oozing compliments, a few of them saying that they would love to have a smaller space, less stuff, etc. How relaxing it is. So much so that I decided to believe them. I mean, another stereotypical woman thing is that we love to affirm each other no matter what, but they seemed pretty genuine. And I ate it up. Because the truth is, I could sing the praises of tiny home living, minimalism, and capsule wardrobes till your ears fall off.
Simplifying my life is something, like many folks, I've always said I wanted to do, but it wasn't until it was sort of forced upon me that I committed to it. It is simply way out of reach financially for anyone other than the very rich to own a single-family-multi-bed-and-bath house in San Francisco. And for now (and maybe forever), my feeling is that I did not move across the country to live two hours outside the city. I moved to live in SF. So ten years ago when my partner and I were incredibly fortunate to able to get a couple of grants (one for teachers, and one for having relatively low income) and purchase a condo, we should have known that it would not be a "starter home" for a just few years. Because in San Francisco right now, there is no moving up to something bigger. Only moving out.
So what do you do if you want more space and you can't move out? You move your stuff out. I really wanted to say "you throw shit out", because it sounds rebellious and punchy, but it doesn't accurately illustrate the situation. And it perpetuates a misconception about minimalism: that you only get rid of garbage. (Clothes that you've grown out of or grown to realize are hideous. Happy Meal toys you never wanted in the first place. Bike tires with holes in them that you thought you were going to use to make belts, like that eco-designer you know). The truth is, you also have to get rid of perfectly nice, useful, and sometimes very expensive stuff. We all accept that there is perfectly nice, useful, expensive stuff out in the world that is just NOT FOR US. What seems to be harder to admit, is that there is perfectly nice, useful, expensive stuff in our own homes that is also NOT FOR US. And thats ok. Maybe it used to be for us. Maybe it never was. But it's time to let it go. One of the helpful lines I've heard in the minimalism social media world is "Don't cling to a mistake just because you spent a lot of money making it" (a saying I've also heard with "time" instead of "money"- both work). I've also found it useful, when I'm struggling to get rid of something, to think of a happy new owner of a particular object or article of clothing I have- a person for whom the item IS right for. Sadly, the real truth is that many clothes we donate do not find a new owner (it's best to talk to friends and try to find that new owner on our own, and then buy less in the future), but that doesn't mean it does us any good to keep things we don't need or truly love.
I'll write more periodically on this topic of minimalism, which can really be adapted to any lifestyle- suburban family life included!- and which has truly helped keep my space and mind clearer, and has been one of the pillars of keeping my mental and emotional health stable (clutter, and even overpacked Tetris-like organization, is a big trigger for stress and anxiety for me). Equally important is that I now get that "wearing my favorite clothes feeling" every single day, because I only keep my favorites. (Incidentally, "only keep your favorites" is good rule when minimalizing friendships as well, but that's a topic for another day.) In the meantime, if you are interested in getting those "wearing my favorite clothes" and "on vacation with one bag simplicity" feelings every day, there are tons of great books and resources online that can help you. I recommend you start with what I consider to be the two holy books of minimalism, Marie Kondō's The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up and Courtney Carver's Soulful Simplicity: How Living with Less Can Lead to So Much More.
is a health-seeker and health educator living in the US in San Francisco, California. She is also a former (and maybe future) high school English teacher, and she loves words. Maybe health seeker looks better with a hyphen, or maybe it doesn't. You should just get over it. Even if she cannot.