Josée in Ottawa

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Living the American (Girl) Dream

For the past few months, B.G. has never wavered when asked what she wanted Santa to bring her for Christmas: “An American Girl® doll”, she answered every time. When we wrote our letter to Santa she dictated, “Dear Santa, I would like an American Girl® doll for Christmas. That’s all.” We explained to her that these dolls are very expensive and that if Santa did decide to bring her one, he probably wouldn’t be able to bring any other toys. She said that was fine.

Luckily Santa got the message loud and clear, and our typically reserved seven-year-old actually squealed with delight when she unwrapped her American Girl® doll.  She carried her around all morning and gazed adoringly into her eyes. I put what we call “twists” in her hair and did B.G.’s hair to match. The doll has pierced ears, just like B.G., and she changed her earrings to match the dolls’. Names were hotly debated and she finally settled on a variation of her own name, (B.G.-ia :)) since the doll “is supposed to be a mini me.” (It’s a fine line between creepy and adorable.) Hubby and I had discussed the pros and cons of paying so much for a doll when many other dolls were similar and might have brought B.G. just as much joy, but on Christmas morning I was very glad that Santa had gone for the real thing.

Just as we had predicted, Santa did not bring any accoutrements for the doll. She came only with a skirt, boots, underwear (!) and the shirt on her back. Oh, and I should mention that she came with a catalogue. After lunch B.G. decided to put the doll down for a nap, and I got the impression that she didn’t really know what to do with her. B.G. sat at the dining room table wistfully looking through the American Girl® catalogue. I started looking through the catalogue with her, and never has flirting with minimalism caused me so much internal strife.

On the one hand, the stuff that you can buy for these dolls is unbelievable – as are the prices. For $95 (US) you can buy a Dreamy Daybed for your American Girl®. Custom bedding will put you out another $34.  For $85 you can buy the Gymnastics Set which includes a practice bar (with grips to help her hold on), a floor beam covered in vinyl, a starry gym mat and a pink foam block. For $64 you can get the Purple Peacock PJ’s for Dolls & Girls so that your child and her doll can match at bedtime. To ensure that your child’s doll is never lonely when your  child isn’t around, you can purchase a pet for $22. For $100 you can buy the doll a Trail Bike; for another $48 you can also buy pet carrier that rides behind the Trail Bike. And for the bargain-basement price of $48 you can buy the doll her own horse.

I actually felt physically ill as I looked through the catalogue. For the past while I’ve been working so hard to get rid of clutter, to stop buying unnecessary things, and to really figure out what “stuff” will make me and the kids happy and what provides only a temporary high. B.G. loves dresses and I have had great luck buying fancy dresses for her at Value Village, for $5.99 each. We bought B.G.’s first real bike at The Bike Dump on Catherine and paid $5 for it. She rode that bike for three summers. Prices have gone up a bit but this summer we bought a bike for Bonhomme at the same place for $15. I’ve had moments of excess but overall our frivolous spending is way, way down and so is the amount of “stuff” in this house. Looking through that catalogue I started questioning my sanity in ever buying the doll in the first place.

On the other hand…B.G. is seven. She’s innocent and sweet and smart and funny and I want all her Christmases to be amazing. To be astounding. We are so lucky that we can give her that doll. I am so thankful that we were able to give her that doll. A part of me wants to buy her every damned thing in the catalogue and build a room to house it in too.



Decluttering the Toy Bin – Part 1: Toy Toss

Battlefield by Ernst Vikne (Flickr Creative Commons)

Battlefield by Ernst Vikne (Flickr Creative Commons)

The first thing that has to get tossed when you’re thinking about decluttering toys is the GUILT! I know it’s hard to get rid of toys that…

  • cost an arm and a leg (hello giant wooden doll house that Santa brought last year, but that has been played with approximately twice)
  • are handmade (we had a wooden doll cradle, which has been played with even less than the aforementioned giant doll house)
  • are educational (“But if they ever do play with it, it will make them smarter – it’s guaranteed!!”)
  • are gifts (“Grandma payed good money for that fisher price garage, she’d be upset if we got rid of it…”)


…but they are taking up space and cluttering up your house, and if the kids don’t play with them- they can go!

After much research and a month of stealth decluttering (my kids still haven’t noticed – there will be hell to pay when they learn to read and find this blog), here are my tips for getting rid of the toys:

  • My kids are 3-1/2 and 6. At first I tried asking them which toys they wanted to donate to children who aren’t as lucky as they are. They each happily donated toys that belonged to their brother or sister and then both had meltdowns. I don’t recommend this approach, at least if your kids are like mine. 🙂 So make plans to cull the toys when they’re out of the house or safely asleep.
  • For simplicity, I’m using the word toss to mean donate or trash. The first thing you want to do is set up an area where you will hide the toys that will be donated. Put aside a few opaque bins or bags in a little-used area of the basement where you can store them until you can donate them. Better yet, make plans to drop them off at Goodwill, the Salvation Army, or at Value Village the same day you go through them, if possible. That gives you less time to change your mind. 🙂 Make sure you have a good supply of large garbage bags for the toys that will be trashed.


Start off easy:

  • I recommend that you blitz through the toys on your first try. If you’re undecided about tossing a particular toy, put it back for now.
  • Some toys are easy to toss; if you start with those you can generate some good momentum. For example, B.G. had approximately fifteen small plastic brushes (the kind that come with My Little Ponies and Barbies.) Fourteen got tossed, one got saved. If you have duplicates, be ruthless and keep only one.
  • Toss any toys and books that are no longer age appropriate; toys that are damaged or broken; colouring books that have almost no blank pages left; markers without caps, crayon stubs, and any books that smell funny.


Then it gets harder. But don’t give up!

  • Go through the toys again. You may be surprised to find that you’re now ready to toss some of the toys you were unsure about on the first go-round. Go for it!
  • If you’re waffling about a toy, pack it up in a box and write the date on it. Then hide it. (I have a deep shelf in my bedroom closet where I hide these toys.) This way, if your kids realize it’s missing and ask about it, you still have it. If after a set period of time (a month or two, at the most) they still haven’t realized it’s missing, donate the box without opening it. This method alleviates some of the worry that you’ll find yourself in hot water with your child after tossing a particular toy. I repeat: DO NOT OPEN THE BOX.
  • Most of us adjust the size of our toy storage to the amount of toys the kids have. In my opinion this method is kind of crazy, because the pile of toys will just keep growing and our storage needs will never end. Instead, decide how much storage is reasonable and appropriate for your kids. Then decide that whatever won’t fit has to go. I decided that one Ikea storage bin and one armoire were plenty for the toyroom, plus they get three small bins for toys in our living room. Once you have set a reasonable space limitation, it becomes much easier to justify tossing more toys.


For those toys that you just can’t bring yourself to toss:

  • Get buy-in – literally! B.G. had an Easy Bake Oven that she would sporadically ask to play with. However it’s so child-proof that it’s really no fun (it make dime-sized cupcakes) but not so completely child-proof that I’ll let her use it unsupervised. So I explained to her that if she wanted to sell it, she could keep the money. So far the Easy Bake Oven and the wooden cradle mentioned above have been sold, and the gigantic doll house is next on the list. I figured that if I could sell these items it was only fair that she should keep the profits. However, keeping her from buying even more stuff is a bit of a struggle…


The final step of this whole process is repeat, repeat, repeat!

Part 2 coming soon – How to keep the toy clutter at bay, even with Christmas just around the corner.

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Kids Are Natural-Born Minimalists

“What?!”, I hear you say. “Have you seen the state of our toyroom??”

It might not seem like it, but it’s true. Kids really are natural-born minimalists. Since I last posted about having thrown out three garbage bags full of toys, my stealth decluttering of the toy boxes has continued. (In an upcoming blog post I’ll set out some tips on how to cull the toys.) I estimate that I’ve probably gotten rid of half of the toys, and nope – my kids still haven’t noticed. I thought for sure they would start asking questions when I approached the one-third mark, but it hasn’t happened.

“How could this be?”, I’ve been wondering. Then…

Bonhomme is great at inventing intricate games using whatever materials are at hand. This morning he invited me to play “soldiers” with a few lollipops from his Hallowe’en treat bag! He’d already spent at least thirty minutes sorting and stacking his candy, and the lollipop soldier game kept him occupied for another fifteen. Who needs expensive, battery-operated toys when you have a few lollipops? Kids will use their imaginations and will find ways to play with whatever is at hand.

Thinking about this brought to mind another instance of kids making do. A few years ago B.G. excitedly called me into the living room to play store. She had set out some toys to “buy” on the ottoman, and had angled it so that you had to walk along it like you do at the grocery store checkout. She made a point of telling me that the colouring book placed at the end of the line was not for sale. I obligingly picked out a few purchases, and was surprised to find her “scanning” the items across the colouring book before putting them into a grocery bag. That day I happily put our rather large second-hand plastic toy checkout counter (complete with cash register, scanning wand and safe) in the donate pile. She didn’t notice then, either.

If you limit the toys, kids won’t suffer – they’ll simply (and happily) make do with what they do have.

What so you see?

Lollipops or soldiers – what do you see?

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The Mouthwash Myth

My newfound knowledge of minimalism has changed my perspective in some subtle and some not-so-subtle ways. Instead of looking at my stuff and asking “What can I get rid of?”, I’m asking myself “What do I have to keep?” It might seem like two ways of asking the same question but it’s not – the answers are worlds apart. This has been proven to me a few times in the past few weeks. Some random “minimalist moments”:


Iron - door stop by Vivevans (Flickr Creative Commons)

Iron – door stop by Vivevans (Flickr Creative Commons)

We’re pretty casual dressers around here, and I only ever iron a couple of my shirts and a skirt or two. My iron has been acting up lately. I called around to see if anyone would repair it – nope.  “Buy a new one” is the only advice I got. So then I hit Google to see if I could fix it myself, thinking maybe it was just a loose connection somewhere. I took it apart and it appears that the wires encased in insulation are broken; fixing them is beyond my pay grade. So the iron is toast (no pun intended), and a potential electrocution hazard, as a friend pointed out. The same friend asked me, “Do you really need an iron?” Hmmm… good question. But doesn’t every (properly run :)) household have an iron? What to do with my wrinkled tops and skirts? The same friend who worried that I would electrocute myself mentioned that she doesn’t iron, ever. She puts wrinkle-prone items in the dryer for a minute or two to get wrinkles out; she hangs items carefully to dry to avoid wrinkles altogether; and she avoids buying fabrics she knows will wrinkle in the first place. Good tips! A few weeks ago I would have ditched the malfunctioning iron and bought a new one without even thinking about it. Now I’ve tossed it AND the ironing board to boot.


Mirror for sale - item may not be exactly as shown

Mirror for sale – item may not be exactly as shown 🙂

One of the benefits of minimalism is that having less stuff means having less to clean, and I am all over that.  This weekend I pulled out a mirror that has been in the basement since our move and leaned it on Hubby’s tall dresser, purely for looks: it’s hung too high to be of any use, and we have mirrored closet doors in our bedroom anyhow. Later on when I was dusting I realized that if I left it there, it would be serving no purpose except to collect dust.  One more item to clean. So I put it up for sale on Kijiji. Sure, the wall above the dresser might look a little bare. But who’s going to notice? I haven’t had anything there in the five months since we moved, and it hasn’t bothered me. I only considered putting the mirror there because I had to put it somewhere, right? Not anymore…


Mouthwash by Inha Leex Hale (Flickr Creative Commons)

Mouthwash by Inha Leex Hale (Flickr Creative Commons)

About  a week ago I ran out of mouthwash. Hubby likes strong mouthwash and I prefer a gentler version, so we’ve always had two large bottles in our medicine cabinet. Normally when I run out, I put it on the list of things to buy and mindlessly pick up another bottle when I’m at the drugstore. Not this time. Now my mininalist brain asked, “Do I really need mouthwash?” Not to worry, I am concerned about dental hygiene and I wouldn’t stop brushing my teeth or flossing. But mouthwash… is it just another marketing gimmick? Does it actually do anything besides make me feel like I have better breath? I decided to research the topic. Now mind you I’m not a dentist, but I found that some dentists think mouthwash might improve your breath for a few hours; most seem to think that any mouthwash that has alcohol has a drying effect which might actually lead to worse breath. (I checked – both brands that Hubby and I use contain alcohol.)  So even if mouthwash does improve breath in the short term, the effect only lasts a few hours. I’m sure the apple I eat after my morning coffee does more for my breath than the moutwash I gargled with at 6 am. Although mouthwash might improve breath in the short term, it’s certainly not a must for me. I haven’t replaced my bottle, and so far Hubby hasn’t commented on my breath. 🙂


Am I Turning Into a Minimalist?

I don’t think anyone who knows me would call me a packrat. I’m not very sentimental about stuff, and I like to keep the house really well organized, which means tossing all kinds of things. Recently though, I’ve been reading a lot about minimalism, and I have to say, I have a LOT of stuff.

There’s quite the range of people calling themselves minimalists out there. From single guys who own less than 100 items to minimalist moms who just try to keep a handle on the toy situation, and lots in between. Reading about minimalism has caused me to go on a purging kick, and I’ve thrown out at least 10 black garbage bags full of stuff! Why have I been holding on to all this stuff, and why didn’t I do this before we paid movers to move us into our new house??? The 10 bags were in addition to the boxes we’ve brought to Goodwill, and the stuff I’m trying to sell on Kijiji. And I still feel like there is so much more to be purged.

One of the things I read that really made an impact on me was the idea that organizing and decluttering are not the same thing; organized clutter is still clutter. And organized clutter is not minimalism. I’ve been thinking about that as the storage containers that I’ve emptied pile up in a corner of the basement. I put 7 rubbermaid bins aside; not to mention the pile of baskets and smaller storage containers that I had stashed all around the house. All the stuff they used to hold is gone; I can’t even remember what it was! And don’t tell the kids, but I’ve tossed 3 garbage bags full of toys – and they haven’t even noticed!!

When we moved here, we decided that one side of the basement would be for a playroom, and the other for storage. For a number of reasons we’ve since decided to switch the playroom and the storage, and I am on a mission to get rid of as much stuff as I can so that the switch is easier to pull off. Reading about minimalism has certainly helped me take the plunge.

If you’re interested in learning more, the following blogs are pretty interesting:

I love clutter by Sindesign (Flickr Creative Commons)

Image: I love Clutter by Sindesign (Flickr Creative Commons)