Meet The Minimalist: Amanda

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Here is another is my Meet The Minimalist series…

Meet Amanda of instagram.com/arborandwood, an inspiration woman and mother who I have had the great pleasure of getting to know. Amanda’s love for her family and their way of life is such a gift, that I know you are going to love her as much as me. I’m also sure she has the most stylish instagram feed I’ve ever seen! I am so honoured that she shared her heart with me and I hope that you get as much out of her story as I did.

Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your family. Where you live, how old your children are and how you spend your time?

I’m a stay at home mother of four girls ranging in age from 19 to 11 months. I have been married to my partner in crime and best friend for 13 years. We currently live in a small, rural college town in Western Wisconsin. I have been homeschooling our two middle daughters for the last three years, so as you might expect, that consumes much of my time... as does chasing around our baby girl. In my spare time I enjoy cooking, spending time in nature, photography, and all things that come with being a full time homemaker.

Your Instagram account is such a celebration of family life. I love how you talk with such authenticity about motherhood and encourage others to do the same. Is this important to you?

I had a very challenging and emotionally traumatic childhood. My mother passed away several years ago after struggling with addiction issues and mental illness. I spent many years bouncing between family members without a stable, loving place to call home. For those reasons, I have made motherhood, home and family the centre of life. Motherhood is very much a calling for me. I feel so fortunate to be able to provide my children with the kind of childhood that I longed for. In many ways, building a life with them has allowed me to heal from my own childhood trauma.

Motherhood is a job for which there is no monetary reward, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t rewarding in it’s own way. I want to encourage other mothers to celebrate their every day and to see the beauty in the ordinary.

What brought you to simplifying and how did you get started on this journey, toward a simpler life?

I think it began out of necessity. My husband was a small business owner, and when the economic crisis hit, we basically lost everything. There was a long period of time where finances were a struggle. We went down to one vehicle and had to be very careful about spending. At the time it was a difficult adjustment, but looking back, I view it as a blessing in disguise. I not only learned how to live with less, but I began to thrive in that environment. I remember hand making all of my children’s Christmas presents that year, and while I felt a sense of guilt that it was not the lavish holiday they were used to, there was something so quaint and meaningful about it as well.

What methods did/do you use to declutter and have you got to the stage where you are happy with the amount you own?

I’ve always enjoyed the process of cleaning, organizing and decluttering; but we had definitely gotten to a point where we were just consuming far too much. Because I was spending so much time at home, I began to really focus on our environment and how I could make our home as beautiful and functional as possible. I remember finding a podcast series about organization during that time of transition, and I spent the winter working through the episodes and purging every room in the house.

Maintaining a minimalist lifestyle has definitely become more challenging the more children we have added to our family. We do a big household deep clean and purge twice a year ( right after Christmas and in the spring). This helps to keep clutter from accumulating over time. Personally, I could live with a lot less, but I recognize that I need to allow my children to be comfortable in their environment and it is inevitable that kids come with “stuff”.

Are your family on board with living with less and how have others reacted to your need for a simpler life?

In the beginning it was a difficult adjustment for our kids. I think we have been good about gradually scaling back over time and focusing on teaching them the philosophy behind this lifestyle. We want them to value experiences and connection over things and to understand that the pressure to consume, in our view, is an unhealthy way of living. Real wealth and accomplishment is measured in what you give rather than what you have. Real happiness is derived from cultivating relationships and time well spent, rather than the accumulation of tangible items or monetary rewards.

Holidays are still a bit of a challenge. It’s difficult for our extended family members to understand our lifestyle and expectations. We often end up donating or giving away excess gifts. The children have come to love this practice as it provides them the opportunity to give to those in need.

How do you deal with things coming in, especially with a young family?

We live by the one in, one out rule particularly around the holidays. Our older children have come to really enjoy living with less and they prefer a minimal environment, so often they will self edit.

I think the more children we have had, the more we have come to realise that you really only need a quarter of what you think you do. With our last daughter, we committed to buying the bare minimum in terms of baby gear. In addition, our two youngest daughters, (who still allow us to dress them) each have seasonal capsule wardrobes to work from. This keeps clothing clutter ( and laundry) to a minimum.

Has your parenting been influenced by simplifying?

I think what has really changed our parenting style has been the experience of homeschooling our children. We focus heavily on nature based and experiential learning; both of which have changed our lifestyle in the best possible ways. Spending time in natural environments has really helped us to understand the beauty inherent in simplicity. All of the time we spend exploring and learning together has strengthened our family bond more than I ever thought possible.

What is your weakness with minimalism if you have one?

I never say no to books. It’s so important to me that my kids grow up in an environment where books are plentiful and accessible. I also find books to be incredibly comforting and aesthetically pleasing. My kids also love to collect bits of nature they find during hikes and nature walks. There are little displays of natural items all around our home. Each  pebble or dried leave holds a memory... they remember where they were when the collected it and the story of that day. The sentimental side of me has trouble parting with these collections.

You have such a calm looking home, have you always been good at styling a space and where do you get your inspiration?

I’ve been in love with interior design as long as I can remember and when we had children, I knew that I wanted to focus on providing them with a comfortable, beautiful home environment. My style has evolved over the years. When I first came to minimalism I was inspired by publications like Kinfolk and Cereal magazine as well as utilitarian design. These days I am feeling a warmer, more natural vibe. I find inspiration in my favourite blogs ( Rip & Tan by Jenni Kayne, Remodelista), small shops ( General Store and June Home Supply) and of course... on Instagram!

Have you always been intentional with your life, or is it something you’ve had to work on?

It wasn’t until after the loss of my mother that I really came to understand that I wanted to live my life differently and shift my priorities. I remember walking into her home after her death and looking around at all of the things she accumulated over a lifetime, and suddenly realizing that things truly mean nothing. They hold no real value. At the end of the day, the only things that really matter in life are our health and our relationships... particularly our relationships with our children.

How has minimalism changed you?

I used to believe that my worth was bound up in physical things. I filled the emptiness inside by consuming. I compared my life, and house, and car to other people’s and never felt as though I measured up. Embracing minimalism has allowed me to find joy in simplicity and has become a catalyst for me to explore how I can apply minimalist philosophy to other aspects of my life. Through minimalism I have embraced montessori teachings and nature study as the guiding principles of educating my children.

I have come to know myself as a spiritual being. I have strengthened my bond with my kids through gentle parenting. I have embraced my community by shopping local and supporting small family farms. I nourish my family with whole, fresh foods and organic produce whenever possible. For me, minimalism is a holistic practice I apply to all areas of living.

What does minimalism mean to you?

Minimalism for me, is about much more than my environment and living with less. It means reducing “clutter” in all areas of life, whether that means digital clutter or unhealthy relationships. It means living mindfully, nourishing my families bodies and hearts, and living a clean lifestyle.

It means streamlining my children’s education and spending more time outdoors than in chairs. It means consuming less, but also being a responsible consumer. I prefer to support businesses that are ethical, socially conscious, and whenever possible, women owned.

What advice would you give to anyone in the beginning stages of decluttering and wanting to live a simpler life?

Start small. Start with your environment. Take on an easy challenge; find one item per day that you are willing to part with. It can be as small as a thumb tack. Eventually you will discover that the more you give up, the lighter you feel. Allow that feeling to propel you forward. Think of minimalism as a skill that you must strengthen over time.

 And get outside. Not just in your neighbourhood or local park ... but really immerse yourself in nature. It’s life changing.

And finally what are your hopes and dreams, I’d love to know?

My hopes and dreams really are wrapped up in the four beautiful women I am privileged to raise each day. I hope that they live happy, meaningful lives and that I am able to walk alongside them and guide them along the way. I would like to add to our family, perhaps through adoption.

One day I would love to live on a large piece of land where I can keep a vegetable garden and a flock of chickens. I dream of owning a little shop one day. I dream of being a grandmother, and being content surrounded by the loving family I have worked so hard to cultivate.