We all start somewhere, and Jenn, today’s Modern Parent, knows that a minimalist lifestyle doesn’t always look that way. Often times, it’s something that grows over time and becomes important to us as we grow. Read on to find out more about Jenn’s journey to slow living, including her self-imposed month-long ban on social media.
Today I have another edition of the Modern Parent Series, a collection of interviews with everyday parents who practice intentional living in a variety of ways. I love hearing from other parents who are taking life a bit more slowly, really digging into their priorities, and focusing on what matters most to them.
Coincidentally, Jenn lives practically around the corner for me (not exactly, but darn close in the grand scheme of a global online world). She’s balancing a host of responsibilities and is going to tell you about her journey to a more minimalist lifestyle.
Tell us a little bit about yourself, your family, where you live, etc… What is the Jenn 101?
I live with my fiancee Chris and my son Beans in suburban Philadelphia. We just moved from a 700 square foot apartment to a much larger house, and we’re gracefully making the transition (with a lot of empty or empty-ish rooms!).
I’m a self-taught web developer with a background in commercial interior design (long story), and I’ve had various side businesses for years. I spend my days at my job in center city Philadelphia, and retreat to the quiet ‘burbs at night. It’s the perfect balance of excitement and relaxation!
You’ve mentioned that your life used to be very different (not minimalist at all). Can you tell us more about this transition?
In college, I did my best to fit in with the sorority I joined during freshman year. I asked for Tiffany and Co jewelry. My entire wardrobe was from Hollister or American Eagle. I lusted after the ever-popular North Face fleece (not because of the functionality, but because of the “outfit completeness” it signified).
After college, I met a man whom I married, and we moved to Los Angeles soon after that. Because of the sudden isolation from family and friends, I (thankfully) started doing “things” on the side, and got into beauty blogging. This broad-scope niche fuels the need for stuff: skincare, haircare, nail polish, and all of the new makeup palettes that launched every season. My collection got out of control. While I had fun being creative with makeup tutorials and beauty-related videos—and I felt even more fulfilled designing and developing my blog—I felt a yearning inside of me to give it all away and live like I was going on vacation all the time: with a backpack full of the necessities, and nothing else.
Back then, it felt to me like I was practically wishing for my own death and a rebirth with a clean slate. What I didn’t know was this is actually the beginning of a desire to live a minimal lifestyle.
Soon after a brand new house purchase and a few major bumps in my relationship, I left California and filed for divorce. It was then when I left most of my belongings behind and only took the essentials. I was free.
Can you share with us two or three of your favorite ways that you practice this lifestyle?
I take the pressure off of friends and family and always say no gifts please when it comes to events like my birthday (or Beans’ birthday), our housewarming, etc.
On a deeper level, I am constantly re-evaluating my life and what I’m doing. I hold the things that bring me joy very close, and I’m quick to drop things that cause me pain or stress. This includes people, jobs, etc. I don’t sweat the small stuff anymore, and I try to spend each moment of my day doing something important.
How does your family feel about this change? Do they participate or leave it up to you to manage it?
I’m very fortunate to be engaged to a man who practices minimalism as well. And Beans doesn’t have the ability to talk back to me about it yet, so that works!
My parents don’t quite understand it. They say my decorating style is very sparse and they make fun of me for not having “necessities” like plastic wrap or aluminum foil. But after a while, they’ve learned to be careful about buying things for us when they go on trips.
Are there any particular products or resources that make living a minimalist lifestyle easier or more accessible for you?
Really, talking about it helps a ton, whether it’s on my blog, in a Facebook group, or with real life friends or family. Because it’s in the forefront of my attention, I’m constantly thinking about ways to improve my life and make it as intentional as can be.
You recently experimented with a social media ban. Can you share one or two of your biggest lessons learned? Would you recommend others try it?
One of the most important things I learned was that my issue wasn’t with social media, per se; it was more about finding a distraction so I didn’t have to hunker down on difficult projects or hard work.
From time to time after the social media ban, I try to increase the difficulty for me to peruse social media and other distractors, whether it’s deleting apps or using a timer to help me focus.
In the end, whenever you notice a habit that pulls you away from what matters to you, it’s good to re-evaluate it. Drinking too much? Maybe try to go cold-turkey for a month to see how you feel. Shopping too much? Put your credit card on ice. By cutting your “problem” out of your life temporarily, you are forcing yourself to give your issues a hard look in the mirror, and perhaps (and hopefully) get to the root of why you use X as an emotional crutch.
What are one or two of the more challenging ways you’ve tried to pursue minimalist living?
I had a few purging episodes where I flippantly got rid of things that I thought I wouldn’t need anymore. In what was not my best moments, I’ve thrown out perfectly good Fitbits, sold a printer for way cheaper than it was worth, and sold a brand new sewing machine for $20.
It can be tempting to keep “clutter” to a minimum at any cost. But it turns out I needed all three of these things maybe a year later.
I’m working to find a happy medium and learn to store the things I will need in the future without feeling like I’m “hoarding”.