This post is not necessarily medieval, but it does relate to life as a reenactor (because I am a reenactor) and themes that our medieval counterparts would have grappled with. In the clothing alone, we see a conflict between excess and frugality, much as we do today, highlighting that many of the struggles we continue to face are timeless. While I approach them using a modern lense, I find it gratifying to realize that we still have much to learn from history and that there is much with which we can empathize.
My lady grandmother, whom I miss every day, used to say to me, “We used to love people and use things, now we love things and use people.”
Perhaps it was having that thought drilled into my psyche from age nine to age nineteen, or perhaps it was spending years living close to and even living with hoarders that has made minimalism so attractive to me. More likely, the latter affirmed the truth of the former.
That isn’t to say that the hoarders in my life use people, but they don’t own their things, their things own them. I’ve seen homes taken over by books, tchotchkes, and even unneeded furniture to the point where they are unlivable for the occupants who can barely move, much less find a place to sit or even sleep. (I’m fairly certain one of my friends hasn’t been able to sleep in her bed since 2004.)
Seeing what that sort of life, being overwhelmed by items, becomes certainly motivated me to address my own pack-rat tendencies. For example, before my family moved into our current home, I could have held onto books and DVDs to the grave, but the frustration of moving had put the value of those things into perspective. However, even after letting go of several banker boxes of unneeded/unread/unwatched literature and media, to the tune of $110 from Half Price Books, I still had my demons to battle.
My shelves, now clutter-free.
My shelves, now clutter-free. The last shelf on the second book case is reserved as a temporary home for the library books that we replace every week. (Library day is my son’s favorite!)
For the most part, I had found a home on my shelf and storage in my cupboards, closets, or basement for the majority of my things, but the reality was, that even “tucked away” they were cumbersome. The keepsakes stored under my bed were magnets for dust. When I became pregnant, I had no idea what I had in the way of baby clothes and accessories because they were all just stuffed into totes in Himself’s closet. When my own lady mother came to visit, I would make her wait for me to bring the car around to the front rather than have her walk through my cluttered basement and filthy garage.
Keeping a clean home is important to me. After all, our medieval counterparts would happily remind us that cleanliness is next to godliness and my own lady mother is holier than most in that regard. I definitely inherited her mindset, yet, despite all the effort I put into keeping my home clean, the task felt like battling a hydra. The kind of physical activity required to maintain a clean and tidy home (especially singlehandedly since Himself is a toddler and my beloved Lord Husband does not share my love for neatness), can often be too much for someone with an autoimmune disease. After all, on top of housework, I have a toddler to chase after and educate, and I’m currently growing a whole human which is no small fete.
The nesting instincts of the final months of pregnancy have certainly motivated me to find ways to keep my house cleaner for the newborn whose immune system will not be as robust as my toddler’s. These methods would have to be self-fulfilling because the last time I gave birth, it took me six to eight weeks to regain my strength and, even after I’ve recovered, I’ll have two children to tend to instead of one. This lead to a merciless purge of belongings, including furniture, keepsakes, and tchotchkes, which were unused and unnecessary… I felt amazing.
I always thought I would miss some things, or feel guilty for giving them up, but the reality has been the opposite. We sold the giant leather chair for $220 (which paid for much needed nursing bras and nursing clothing), and gave old tables that my parents had given us to charity. My hutch is almost completely cleaned out and my “keepsakes” have been reduced to a J Crew bootbox full of memorabilia, photos, and cards. My house is cleaner, less cluttered, and the space is more open and enjoyable.
Vacuuming was an annoying task because the vacuum was stored in the basement and lugging it upstairs during an autoimmune flare up, or late pregnancy when walking unburdened up the stairs can make one short of breath, can prove to be a cumbersome task. Since I reduced my fabric stash to a single tote that’s stored in the basement, I now have room to keep my vacuum in the hall closet where I used to keep half my fabric.
Two bags of garb and one tote of fabric for gold key. (It’s a loaner/start up service that local SCA groups offer to newcomers.)
This is the part that’s hard for medieval reenactors to consider: reducing items that are associated with their past time. Academic people in general have a tendency towards hoarding books and papers (another thing I had to purge), but when you’re a reenactor, it becomes easy to accumulate a lot of materials that “fuel” the hobby. Before my last move, I had totes of medieval books and ultimately reduced my collection to a banker box of books I actually need. (As opposed to books on medieval architecture that I’m never going to use because I’m a clothier.) The reality is that I was never going to use the fabric I gave away, it was just getting in the away of other projects: living rent-free in my house, if you will. Also, since I donated the fabric to gold key, someone who needs it can use it whereas keeping it for myself in the idea that I might need it was simply selfish. As for the books, well, some of the reference books in print, especially the older ones, can contain information that is out of date, so it’s often better to rely on resources like inter library loans, jstor etc, rather than spending quite large sums of money for books that can misinform you if you’re not careful. Furthermore, if you’ve never carved wood in the entire half decade or more that you’ve been a reenactor, perhaps it would be better to donate the books accumulated on the subject so that someone who would benefit from them can either acquire them for free or purchase them at a discounted rate.
Once I freed myself from the “but I might need that,” mentality and started being honest with myself, (ie “I haven’t used it in five years, why would I start now,”) it became much easier to say goodbye to things that were just languishing away in storage or things that were only creating clutter for dust to accumulate around and hide behind.
I thought that decluttering would make my cleaning life simpler by reducing the things I cleaned or had to move in order to clean the surface they were resting on, but the reality is that my house is less dirty as a result. I’ve put dusting on my to-do list twice in as many weeks and have found myself shrugging and finding something else to do because my shelves are less dusty with less clutter. The same goes for my floors. I thought I would need to clean them more with less rugs, but they’ve bothered me much less, even to the point that I’ve been able to run the vacuum without compulsively mopping afterward. (Something which I had never been able to do before.)
My son’s “downstairsl” toys. He does have more upstairs.
Open, cozy living space. (The rug goes tomorrow. I’ll replace it later, but it’s gotten really gross and I don’t want my baby on it.)
My downstairs nursing station!
The ability to feel that my house is in order even when I haven’t “deep cleaned” it is essential for someone like me who is chronically ill and needs tranquility to rest. (I’m the sort of person who can’t rest when my house is dirty. The dirtier my house gets, the more stressed and depressed I get.) It takes the away the guilt that comes with finishing a day having only done half the things on my to-do list, or laying down to sleep with Himself cuddled up next to me even though I had planned to clean the bathroom.
Since posting this article, I eliminated my rather gross rug and I love how open it makes the small space. Plus, vacuuming and mopping was so much easier today!
Never fear, however! I’m very much a Hygge-Minimalist. I like a cozy space and pretty colors, so I haven’t thrown a beige cover over my tartan sofa or redecorated my room in grays. (Not me at all!) I still have extra pillows in my living room for lumbar support and a throw-blanket for nap time and cuddling with Himself. I’ve simply let go of things that I realized aren’t really me after all, which is what minimalism is really about: reducing the excess in order to live authentically.
The truth is, I love having a clean house, but I would much rather sit with a book (or my own writing project) and a cup of tea than clean. (Always have, always will.) Minimizing my possessions allows me to do that, which is where the Hygge-stuff comes in. I can’t sew in a dirty house. My floors have to be clean before I will iron fabric that will inevitably come in contact with it. Part of the reason I haven’t pulled out my sewing machine since Lilies (aside from having a bad bout of anemia and being more concerned about my baby coming than the SCA) is that I haven’t felt my staging area was set up. Now it will be much easier.
My sewing basket because, Hygge!
I love my knitting basket. I keep it near my comfortable chair because, again, Hygge.
Minimalism is also good for my family. Himself had dozens of toys he never played with and dozens more he rarely played with. I went through them and (irrespective of who bought them) I bagged up the unplayed-with or forgotten toys, and took them to the Goodwill. As a result, he plays with the toys he has more, probably because he no longer feels overwhelmed by the immense quantity.
It’s also helped me as a Lady Mother because I no longer find myself being frustrated with toys being all over the floor and, for the most part, he can easily clean up after himself. This has really built his confidence and independence. He loves for things to be tidy and he likes to do it on his own if he can, although he’ll ask me for help if the job feels too big (or too complicated) for him. The fact that I have confidence in him to fulfill a task has built his sense that I trust him which has made our bond even stronger and reciprocally increased his trust in me.
Big brother, bonding with baby.
Hygge is also important for a family because it requires a conscious effort to resist outside obligations or excessive distractions from time together. Our activities and busy social lives can clutter up our lives too.
Moreover, hygge has been extremely beneficial in that it has given me permission to sit down and have a cup of tea or even take a nap when I would normally feel like I need to keep working despite what my body is telling me. When I’m insufficiently rested and recharged, I tend to be more irritable with my family, including my beloved son. When I take the time to take care of myself in addition to Himself, we both have a better day. He laughs with me more than ever these days and I have much more patience with his toddler-ness because my nerves aren’t frayed due to lack of sleep.
Make no mistake, I’m still his Lady Mother and he’s still my son: I take care of him, not the other way around, but he’s learning to be caring and considerate (which I pray for every night) and when I need rest, he generally finds his own entertainment in the living room where I’m laying down or he cuddles with me on the sofa. Many of my naps are interjected with sweet kisses on my cheeks and hugs and I wake up often with a start, anxiously calling for him only to receive his patient reply from beside me.
Finally, I wish to point out that I’m not trying to tout minimalism and Hygge as solutions to one’s problems. I understand that many people have looked to both as a means of filling internal voids or bringing about inner peace. I think that minimalism and Hygge are beneficial when they come as the result of eliminating the things that distract us from inner peace, but they’re not capable of being the source of inner peace. True peace only comes from God. (I don’t mince it, you know that about me.)
The acquirement and maintenance of material goods requires constant worry. (Worry for what? Keeping up with the Joneses?) The Bible says that God has not given us a spirit of fear (which is the extreme of worry), but of peace and sound mind. Jesus also said not to store up treasures on earth, but to store up treasures in heaven. It’s difficult to do the latter, when our focus is on the former.
My children are my heavenly treasures: if I can’t give them what they need to store them up because material and outside things are distracting me, then those things need to go.