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Screw minimalism

We're deep, deep in the midst of a cross-country move to Bellingham, Washington, from Austin, Texas. You don't realize what a big place the United States is until you want to take everything you have, put it in a truck and drive it to a different coast on a different side of a continent.

We're at the point where we have to work backward: Mark has to be at his new job on a Monday. So we have to get to Washington by Sunday night at the latest. So we figure out how far we have to travel every day to get there.

2,342 miles. Across Texas, Oklahoma, Colorado, Wyoming, Montana and Idaho, and finally to Washington, where we'll greet a new life, new friends, and new weather. If we can manage 600 miles a day, it's a four-day trip.

And to do this, we have to take our stuff with us. We're on box number 193, and still counting. Most of it is books, but there are at least 25 boxes from the playroom, lots from the craft room, some with Sawyer's things, some with Scout's, and way too much for Sander.

Everyone keeps saying, "Make sure you give a lot of stuff away! It's just clutter -- make sure you get rid of it!"

And with much of it, they're right. A Hanna Andersen catalog, Christmas 2007. More pieces of plastic crap toys than I ever wanted in my house. Remote controls to TVs we no longer have, pictures that I don't like any more, craft projects I'm never going to finish, games we don't play anymore, bowls I never use. 

Sure, I tossed a lot of it.

But you know what? I'm not going to feel guilty about having too much stuff anymore. Because I like our stuff, and we use it, and it makes us happy. Sander loves his collection of snakeskins and antlers and bones, shells, fur and rocks he's collected, and he has a name for every stuffed animal, and a backstory to go with it.

Sawyer likes the pictures he has in his room, and his books. He's proud of the Scouting awards on his walls, he loves the lamp that my aunt made for him when he was three, and he wouldn't give up the stuffed animals he loved when he was a toddler. 

The rest of it? It's all me. We have too many quilts, because I like them. Too many books, too many art supplies, too many craft things, too many board games.

I like having 30 board games in a closet, and a few science kits, and a paper mache kit, and stamps and ink, markers and glue, paper and scissors -- glitter and puzzles and costumes.

We have three kids in the house, and they go to school here. They learn here. We have a timeline on butcher paper on one wall in the playroom, and maps of the US and of the world, and it looks like a schoolroom, a bit, because it is. My nephew said today that we do "open-source" learning, and he's right.

So we have 3,000 books, organized in categories, and we have to move them. Everyone kept saying, "What are you getting rid of? Which books are you selling?"

You know what? Not any of them. We're taking them all. There will be a time, not too far from now, when Mark and I will live alone (well, Scout's only two, so we'll have her for a while... but the boys will be gone the next time I blink!)

And then, perhaps, I'll downsize.

As I was packing, I felt guilty because my children have so much, when other children have so little. But then I realized that this is not a zero-sum game: The fact that my children have  books does not deprive others of books. A rich learning environment is not a finite resource, like oil or oceans. In fact, it works in sort of the opposite way: The more we have, the more we can give back.

We have homeschooling co-ops here twice a week (or we did until the chaos of the move showed up!) and we're able to have 19 people here on Tuesdays, and offer them books, crayons, tables, a place to visit, a place to make friends, and a place to learn. On Thursdays, we put up a projector, show off Powerpoint presentations on the differences between Istanbul and Constantinople and have great discussions about what we've learned.

Could we do this with less stuff? Sure. I'm sure Plato didn't have markers or construction paper and he was apparently a great teacher. But I'm fairly certain he didn't have a toddler asking him to draw a sheep while he lectured.

So, my goal for the move is to embrace it. This is who we are: A traveling schoolhouse. It's a big production. We're not nimble, we're not light, we're not quick on our feet. We're a big, lumbering, slow, chaotic mess at the moment.

But it will, eventually, find us in our new home, surrounded by our stuff, with our family in the middle of it, living our lives in the way we've arranged them. In a happy jumble of books and games, quilts and pillows, pictures and hand-made art.

Why would I want to give any of that away?


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