Dear Sweet Pea,
First things first. During this visit the most important decision we’ve made is that Sugar Pie, Sweet Pea, and Snuggle Bug are acceptable nicknames to call you. Apparently Booger Bug is not a desired nickname.
Let’s talk about minimalism.
Where do I even begin with this one? I don’t even know. So I’m just going to ramble. Minimalism will be a topic I come back to fairly frequently I think.
It wasn’t until after college that I realized I didn’t need much stuff. In fact, in college, I had more stuff in my dorm than all my friends. And it was a total pain in the butt moving out every summer, especially in my two door sports car. I hated it. But only now do I realize that I had created my own “mover’s prison” so to speak.
Fast forward a few years and I was living on my own and I stopped wanting “stuff” to fill my living space. I got rid of a 50” TV and after that I never bought another TV again (disclaimer: I will probably buy one this year though).
Over time I just stopped wanting 16 glasses and 8 place settings and 4 sets of sheets and more clothes than I could ever wear. I literally had clothes in my closet for years at a time that I never wore. It was just too much stuff!
Looking back, I realize now that my trigger for minimalism is a latent amount of anxiety that I always thought was just stress. Turns out it’s not stress. It’s anxiety. Not enough for anyone else to really notice, but for me it was enough to make me uncomfortable in the places I should feel most relaxed.
Anyway, it was during the after college years that I learned to purge. I heard a saying that if you hadn’t used an item in 6 months you should get rid of it and I like that idea to keep myself from collecting useless junk around my desk and in my kitchen.
Eventually it morphed into a quasi minimalist living where I had the things I needed, but I didn’t buy much except big ticket items. I rented suite in a house from a friend after your mom and I separated, and I purged almost everything I owned because it was furnished. That turned out to be a great arrangement for me and her and that’s when I really learned that I didn’t need much of my own.
But even then there was no purpose or plan to my “minimalism.” Minimalism wasn’t even a thing on my radar. I was just at peace not managing a million things.
Eventually I moved back to Atlanta for a few years, and for the majority of that time I was living with Lauren and Eva in Lauren’s apartment. Lauren and I discussed purging and attempted it, but Lauren had a 4,000 square foot house inside a 2 bedroom apartment from her previous marriage, so it wasn’t as simple as just donating a few items.
To be fair, she did purge a lot of things, but we were never quite on the same page about the value of “things,” and looking back I now know that the sheer volume of stuff in our small apartment was a large factor in my stress and depression toward the end of our relationship. I just couldn’t place it.
And so it wasn’t until I suddenly and unexpectedly found myself moving to Dallas, TX in September that the urge to become an intentional minimalist took over and it became something I truly wanted to focus on, and it wasn’t until I got to Dallas that I could compare how I truly wanted to live with how we were living. I’m not entirely happy with my current arrangements, but the drop in my anxiety has been enormous.
It has cemented the idea that I should be living a minimalist lifestyle for my own well-being. This doesn’t mean that we don’t or won’t ever have our basic needs met, but it does mean that I don’t feel the need to fill our living space with unnecessary items.
One of the biggest benefits to this is that I’ve found groups of people that I didn’t even know existed that all share my same feelings about “things” and how much we don’t need most of what we have. Sometimes, when you do things against what everyone else seems to do, it can make you feel a little crazy. The alpha male side of me wants to be the big shot, do what I want, buy what I want, when I want, but the reality is I don’t actually like living that way most of the time. And that also creates a maddening inner dialogue if you let it go on too long.
For example, the idea of trying to find a girlfriend that is also willing to be as minimalist as I want to be, is pretty daunting. Our society assumes that most women want guys that can buy them stuff. I’ve never quite fallen into that trap, but despite the fact that my income is not an issue, the way I choose to live can make it seem like it is. This drastically reduces the dating pool based on nothing more than first impressions, but it’s important enough to me that I am unwilling to settle on something else.
For the record, I’m not in a hurry to get involved with anyone at the moment, but that is a good example of why I’ve been amazed at the group of people that I’ve come across.
So, that brings up the Christmas tree photo at the top of this blog. This picture was both a precious moment for the two of us together, and it has also ignited a tribe of people to comment to me about our relationship with things.
Let me explain:
For this December, I only expect to be able to spend time with you the weekend of Thanksgiving, and then the week after Christmas because you mom and I have not modified our parenting agreement.
That meant that the only time we could decorate for Christmas is Thanksgiving weekend and then Santa should come before the next time I see you. So you would only have 2 days at my house to with Christmas decorations and the rest of the time I’d be here alone.
Now, I don’t really want to put up and take down a bunch of Christmas decorations just for myself, so I wanted to have a minimalist Christmas, but I also grew up with amazing experiences with Christmas that I want to be able to give you as well and part of that experience was the display of the tree and the gifts after Santa arrived.
So, I gave you the option of picking a tiny tree that was your sized or helping me make a “wall tree” out of garland. You said you wanted a tree that you could reach the top of. We spent about an hour “designing” our tree using items we could pick up at Target and we placed the order. A few hours later, it was ready to pick up (which gave us more time to play Uno while we waited).
Then we went to dinner at Texas Roadhouse and you just could not wait to get home to decorate your new tree.
It had to have been a record setting time to put up a Christmas tree and decorate. The longest step was putting hooks on the ornaments, but the best part was just how proud you were of your little tree and stockings. It was adorable.
It was so obvious to me that the size of the tree or the grandness of the decorations had nothing to do with the true joy’s of Christmas for a child. You were so happy. When you were done decorating, I took the picture of you proudly reaching the top of the tree, just like you wanted.
I shared the picture with a few friends and then posted it to a few Facebook groups about minimalism, and didn’t think much about it.
Then, you said something that was both heartbreaking, bittersweet, and wonderful all at the same time (I’ll come back to this in a minute).
Timeout: You see, even though I enjoy being a minimalist and it relieves my latent stress very effectively, it can be hard to do the things that go against the grain from the rest of society. Or at least like what seems like the rest of society.
I felt completely ridiculous walking in to Target and buying a miniature Christmas tree knowing that it was going to be my main Christmas Tree. I’ve never had such a small tree and no matter how hard I tried to fight it, I felt like I was creating a Christmas that might not be as good as it could be for you.
But after you made your tree, after I posted the picture to the groups, and after I had gotten over my own feelings, your little six year old heart let out the sweetest phrase.
You stood back away from the tree, and I heard you whisper to yourself:
“Our tree is PERFECT!”
I didn’t say anything to you and I don’t think you knew I heard you. But I did. And my heart swelled as big as it could possibly swell. It was one of the sweetest moment’s of my life by far and I sat there stunned for a minute.
I added this update to my Facebook posts, and then it happened. I don’t believe that “Likes” are our value, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have power or a purpose. In this case, within an hour or two, over 500 people had liked your photo and many commented about how our tree was perfect and how adorable you were. They commented about how proud you were.
One lady, Dawn, shared the following quote:
“One of my favorite memories was being about her age and setting up a tree much like this with my single daddy. I’m 41 and he’s 61 now. It’s like it was yesterday in my mind. Have a very merry Christmas!”
Overnight, those 500 people had become over 1,000 and as I type this letter, it’s still going on and I realize that there are plenty of people just like me that think your tiny Christmas tree really is perfect, too.
Even though I could already see how happy you were putting up your tiny tree, the social pressure of Christmas was still powerful and a little doubt still lingered. And then you whispered those words and all those people spoke up about how happy and proud you looked and it was just the affirmation I needed as I start my new life in Dallas to know that I’m on the right path with my lifestyle and as a parent.
I know this letter is a little rambly. I’m still kind of emotional about last night. So if parts of it don’t make sense or flow very well or have typos, eh. who cares. It doesn’t matter.
As I type this, the only thing that matters is you are dancing in our living room in front of a perfect Christmas tree right now. And it’s wonderful.
P.S. What is Ellie giving her dad for Christmas this year? Apparently, a list of everything she wants!
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