One of my most frequently asked questions in a podcast interview or Q&A session is always some measured form of this:
OK, yes. I get it. I see the importance here. But how do I get my spouse/roommate/community to support and adapt to my decision to live more simply? How do I live as a minimalist if my husband’s a maximalist? How can I get my roommate on board with buying less so we’re not drowning in stuff?
And my answer is always just as measured:
You do you.
You’re probably not going to change your spouse/roommate/community in a handy persuasive speech. Modifying our habits, behaviors and beliefs can take years of trial and error, so resist the temptation to make the people you love into a project to be managed.
The fact is, a lot of us live smack dab in a community that doesn’t align perfectly with our own ideals. And while some of us might pull off a single respectful and mutually-beneficial conversation that results in a family-wide change, most of us are going to have to forge the path alone first. Here’s a bit of advice along the way:
Fill them in.
Sit down with those who will be most affected by your habit shifts and talk about the why. Why is this important to you? Why is it essential to you? What has led you to this shift, and what do you hope to accomplish? Be clear and honest about your own perspective — where you’ve been, and where you’d like to walk toward. Stating your expectations and experiences will both affirm your own choices and inform others of your choices. No one’s a mind reader here.
Set a boundary.
Resist the temptation to assume anyone else will fall in step with your new habits. This is your path, and as it is with any life change, you’ll need to anticipate your fair share of swimming against the current. (Bright side: stronger muscles.) Take a look at your non-negotiables and set a few gracious, plenty-of-room-for-others-to-roam boundaries. Do you wish your family respected your desires for a tidier home? Think of the area that causes you the most stress when cluttered (mine is the kitchen counter; yours might be the entryway table, office desk or spouse’s nightstand), and ask for support in keeping that area free and clear.
Sometimes this means more work for you, sure – filing the paperwork your husband didn’t get to, or creating a better organizational system for incoming homework. Avoid the pull to throw up your hands and give up, or to send yourself full force into martyrdom. This is your change; take ownership. Communicate your small wish – clean countertops – but be prepared to do some of the initial heavy lifting yourself until it’s an established habit for everyone (and even then: patience, patience, patience.).
Think big picture.
Keep your habits in check here. Is your perceived need for a tidy home causing you to resent your husband’s dusty vinyl collection? Are you unable to appreciate the generosity of a kind gift because it’s not in line with your values? Think of the larger purpose: living with less so we have more to give. If we forget the end goal (which includes grace, freedom, flexibility, etc) and focus on the means, we’re forsaking the very thing we want to accomplish.
Our family’s saying? People are more important than things.
This is true both for how we spend our money/time and how we react to the ways other people spend their money/time. This is true both for what we bring into our home and what we allow others to bring into our home. If we can keep the big picture focused on people over things, the details matter far, far less.
Habit shifts are a long haul, so consider bringing along someone like-minded for the ride. Reach out to a mentor, put a few library books on hold. Fill your mind with encouragement and support so you don’t have to go it alone. Your family, as wildly lovely as they are, may not be able to encourage you in this area (yet!). Stay the course and be generous with the insights you’re learning. If you’ve made healthy progress, chances are, your family has noticed and are ready/willing to celebrate alongside of you.
Smile at the irony.
If we’re paying attention for long enough, we’ll notice that no matter how incredible and life-changing our choices are, there’s a fair bit of humor and contradiction in each. I can’t tell you how many times Ken has ventured to his (cluttered! messy! filled to the brim!) woodshop to unearth the very uncanny, saved-for-someday item he needs to solve a problem. The truth is, we need our differences.
I need Ken to remind me to be resourceful and not wasteful, to reframe clutter as abundance and be generous/thoughtful with the overflow. He needs me to remind him that he probably doesn’t need the ketchup packet from 1992.
(But alas, you never do know).
p.s. These are a series of small steps that will (hopefully) provide one giant leap to greater things. Not for mankind, but for me, and perhaps for you, which will always be good enough in my book. More here.