Minimalist Montessori Toddler Bed

From the day we brought Plumblossom home from the hospital, she slept in her crib. We hadn’t researched other options, and she made it clear from the start that she had no interest in a family bed (the girl has always liked her own space). No matter, we weren’t offended: she was sleeping, we were sleeping, all was good.

However, around her second birthday, she started plotting an escape. She had height to her advantage, and began hoisting a leg over the side and teetering on the brink. She didn’t have quite enough leverage to get over, but she was close; we knew it was only a matter of time. So she was still sleeping, but we weren’t—every bump in the night had one of us jumping to check on her.

It was one of those milestones both anticipated and dreaded: time for a big girl bed. We could have bought a conversion kit for her crib; however, in the time since her birth, we had discovered and begun to implement Montessori practices in our home. And no Montessori home would be complete without a floor bed.

We would have loved to have put a mattress on the floor and called it a day—easy peasy lemon squeezy. Unfortunately, in our house, that would have been an invitation for mold; we needed a floor bed with air circulation underneath.

We decided to go straight to a twin-sized bed (rather than a toddler-sized one), as our little beanpole would certainly outgrow the latter by year’s end. But, as we learned after exhaustive Google searches, super-low twin bed frames are a rare commodity indeed. So our DIY minimalist Montessori bed project was born.

Time was not on our side. The nights were nerve-wracking, and we were determined to both build the bed and transition Plumblossom into it over the Christmas holiday (in case her newfound nighttime freedom meant no sleep for us). By no means would this be a designer-quality example of fine woodworking—we needed to throw something together fast.

Our solution: take the Ikea Sultan Laxeby slatted bed base, paint it white, and elevate it on three 4×1 wooden rails.

We also made a padded headboard and sideboard with plywood, batting, and fabric to add some cushioning and warmth against the wall (Plumblossom likes to sleep flush against the wall, with her head up in the corner). These padded panels are attached to the wall, and rest on the frame for additional support.

Here’s a photo of the finished product:

Minimalist Montessori Toddler Bed

We kept telling ourselves it was a temporary solution until we found something better—but, to be honest, we like the way it turned out and have no plans to change it. Most importantly, Plumblossom seems to love it—she made the transition without a hitch. And, as a bonus, she can do all the jumping and acrobatics she wants on it without her mom having a heart attack. :)

[Note: Montessorians recommend skipping the crib and using a floor bed from the start—not a bad idea if you can sufficiently baby-proof the room.]

So have you read through this entire post, even though you have no little ones underfoot? Bless your heart, and thank you for sticking with me. Because guess what? The concept makes a lovely, minimalist adult bed as well—my husband and I are sleeping on the queen-sized version, and we love it, too.

I’d love to hear your thoughts, be they about toddler beds, Montessori beds, or just minimalist beds in general!

{If you’d like to learn more about minimalist living, please consider reading my book, The Joy of Less, A Minimalist Living Guide, or subscribing to my RSS feed.}

Decluttering Update: Hello eBay, My Old Friend

Hello eBay, my old friend
I’ve come to list with you again…

Sometimes you reach a point in life when you have things all figured out—you’ve accomplished that elusive goal, you’ve designed that perfect lifestyle, you’ve tweaked and fine-tuned your way into the ideal routine.

And then what happens? Well, things change, of course. One of the tenets of Zen Buddhism is that life is never static—and that the desire for it to be so is cause for great suffering. Better to accept that change is the rule, and embrace the twists and turns that occur along the way.

I had once decluttered my way to minimalist nirvana. I’d whittled down my belongings to the essential. I had fewer than one hundred possessions. I had no permanent address and I lived out of a suitcase. My eBay account, once a hotbed of activity, stood dormant for years.

And then I had a baby.

Now, don’t get me wrong; having a child has been the most amazing experience of my life. However, it’s thrown me into the midst of a whole new level of stuff-management.

When I was pregnant, I didn’t shop or nest like many moms-to-be. In fact, I hardly bought anything, confidant that my little one could get by with a handful of outfits and toys. I didn’t even acquire a crib or car seat until I was nearly full term. I haven’t become much of a shopper since her arrival, either, and generally scramble to fill needs as they arise (oh, there’s six inches of snow–my daughter needs boots and mittens!).

But, this being the first grandchild on both sides of the family, my relatives have more than made up for my lack. So the last two years have found me back in decluttering mode, as Plumblossom rapidly outgrows her clothes and baby paraphernalia.

While the bulk of her castoffs go to charity, I’ve listed some of her nicer dress clothes on eBay. It’s actually been less time-consuming than expected, primarily because of eBay’s shipping label service. After the auction, all I have to do is put the article of clothing in a small padded envelope, weigh it on our kitchen scale, print off the label (paid via Paypal), and drop it into the drive-through mailbox at the post office. It’s a far cry from my eBay heyday a decade ago, when I’d wait for checks in the mail, take them to the bank, make my own labels, and wait in line at the post office (!).

So I’m back in the trenches with y’all, and have integrated a new decluttering routine into my minimalist life. I have three bags in the guest room closet: one for clothes donations, one for books and toys donations, and one for eBay sales (unfortunately, none of our friends or family have had baby girls recently, leaving a lack of hand-me-down recipients). I like to keep Plumblossom’s closet and play area as clutter-free as possible, so anything that’s outgrown or no longer useful goes straight into the bags. Then every few months, I make my donations and list on eBay. And Plumblossom grows, and the cycle goes on…

(For those wondering why I’m not saving stuff for a future sibling, see my Huffington Post article.)

The point of this post? That when it comes to decluttering, sometimes there isn’t an end point—and that’s okay. Sometimes, no matter how perfectly you’ve pared down your possessions, life circumstances might throw some extra stuff your way. But as long as you keep your minimalist mindset, and deal with clutter as soon as it becomes clutter, you’ll continue on your merry minimalist path.

In fact, it’s good to hone those decluttering muscles once in a while. When it comes to my own stuff, having a child has made me even more minimalist (perhaps to compensate, both mentally and physically, for her things?). I’ve acquired practically nothing for myself since her birth, and finally let go of the box of “nice” office clothes I’d stored while overseas (and lamented in Storage is Not a Solution). I have a renewed enthusiasm for becoming as paperless as possible–more on that in a future post. Perhaps (to paraphrase Nietzsche) the clutter that doesn’t kill us makes us stronger. ;-)

So has life ever thrown you a clutter curveball? I’d love to hear about your experiences in the Comments!

[Note: Am I blogging again? Sort of. I'll try to post about once a month for now, and slowly ease my way back...]

{If you’d like to learn more about minimalist living, please consider reading my book, The Joy of Less, A Minimalist Living Guide, or subscribing to my RSS feed.}

Montessori and Minimalism

Although Plumblossom is several years away from preschool, I’ve been doing some preliminary research on various educational methods. I’m particularly intrigued by the Montessori philosophy (thanks to reader Carrie-Anne!), as it seems quite complementary to a minimalist lifestyle.

I was thrilled to discover that several of its central tenets aren’t just applicable to children; in fact, we’d do quite well to practice them as adults:

Simplicity. A Montessori classroom contains all the essentials needed for the child’s development, but nothing superfluous. Each item is carefully chosen, and serves a specific purpose.

Adult version: You can edit your home in the same way—retaining only those items that you use on a regular basis, and that make a positive contribution to your household.

Order. The Montessori environment emphasizes “a place for everything, and everything in its place.” Materials are kept in small baskets on low, child-accessible shelves. The children learn that each item has a designated spot, and are encouraged to put away materials for one activity before beginning another.

Adult version: Organize your possessions in modules, so you always know where to find them. Be diligent about returning items to their place as soon as you’re finished using them, and you’ll avoid a clutter pile-up on your desk, dining table, and other surfaces.

Natural Materials. Montessori items are typically made of natural materials like wood, glass, and fabric, rather than plastic. This facilitates the child’s sensory development, and builds a deep connection with nature.

Adult version: Favor natural materials in your home for furniture, décor, and practical items: for example, glass jars, wood furniture, and wool rugs.

Beauty. Montessori materials are aesthetically-pleasing and kept in excellent condition, teaching children to respect and appreciate the objects in their environment.

Adult version: Limit your possessions to those that are beautiful and well-made, instead of filling your house with cheap, throwaway items.

Cleanliness. Children learn to care for their environment by sweeping, washing, dusting, and polishing. These activities are not presented as chores, but rather purposeful activity to build their coordination, concentration, and self-esteem.

Adult version: Regular cleaning is a wonderful antidote to clutter—dusting or vacuuming around items is such a hassle, you’re more likely to put them (or throw them) away! Focus on your flat surfaces (countertops, tables, floor), and clear off any clutter or debris on a daily basis.

Also central to the Montessori method is the concept of a floor bed, which I’d love to try with Plumblossom when she’s a little older:

A Montessori environment provides children with a beautiful, orderly space conducive to learning and discovery. It fosters their sense of calm and inner peace, by providing freedom to explore within a structured framework.

Likewise, if we incorporate similar principles into our adult lives—for example, limiting the contents of our homes to those that are useful and beautiful—we too may find the space, freedom, time, and peace to rediscover our world.

Does anyone have any experiences with, or opinions about, the Montessori philosophy?

{If you’d like to learn more about minimalist living, please consider reading my book, The Joy of Less, A Minimalist Living Guide, or subscribing to my RSS feed.}

Possessions as Promises

When Plumblossom was just a few months old, I bought an infant swing. I never thought I’d own such an item—but desperate to get my daughter to nap, I went online and discovered this “solution” to my problem. It promised to calm my little one with its gentle rocking, and send her off to sleep in no time flat; the Amazon reviews confirmed its efficacy (“My baby naps 3 hours in this!”). I couldn’t part with my money fast enough.

My enthusiasm to acquire this new thing made me think: what are our possessions, really, but a bunch of promises? That dress promises to make us look stylish; that smartphone promises to keep us tech-savvy and connected; that cookbook promises to make us a culinary whiz; that moisturizer promises to take years off our face; that heirloom china promises to help us remember our grandmother.

These promises to make our lives easier, better, chicer, or more productive are enticing. The problem: the products don’t always deliver. In our disappointment, we shove them to the back of the closet, up in the attic, or out in the garage—or we may just let them sit around in our living room, kitchen, or bedroom, unwilling to admit that they didn’t really live up to our expectations.

All too often, we end up with a pile of broken promises—or, in other words, clutter.

So what can you do about it?

For the stuff you currently own:

* Ask what “promise” each possession holds. It’s a great way to evaluate exactly why you own a particular item.

* Ask if it’s delivering on its promise. If not, pass it on to someone else; perhaps its true potential may be found in another home.

For stuff you’re considering acquiring:

* Identify any insecurities that may be behind the purchase. Are those stilettos calling your name because you’ve been feeling a bit frumpy?

* Consider non-stuff solutions to your problem. Could an aerobics class make you feel fitter and sexier than a new pair of shoes?

So back to my own story: when the swing arrived, my husband and I had it out of the box and set up in minutes. At her next naptime, I lowered Plumblossom into it with bated breath, waiting for her to close her eyes and drift off to dreamland. Instead, she looked up at me as if to say “you must be kidding,” and in about three minutes broke into a wail. Undeterred, I tried it again and again, almost always with the same result. She’d sometimes lounge in it for ten minutes while my husband and I ate dinner, but napping? Not a chance.

The swing clearly spoke to my insecurities as a new mom. In the process, I learned that for my daughter, a mechanical device is no substitute for the warmth and motion of my own arms, and that a softly-sung lullaby is much more soothing than an electronic one. A thing was not going to instantly make her a better napper. (Needless to say, it’s since been donated.)

I’ve used this example not because I’m becoming a mommy blogger, but to illustrate how these things can sneak up on us when we experience new situations in life. As a long-time, card-carrying minimalist, I thought I was long past falling for such promises. I’d become a minsumer extraordinaire, immune to the siren calls of miracle creams, designer handbags, and the latest-and-greatest gadgets. But in the past year, I’ve found that you don’t “perfect” minimalism and call it a day—you have to keep working on it as life throws new challenges your way. :)

Do you have any broken promises cluttering your home? Tell us about them in the Comments!

{If you’d like to learn more about minimalist living, please consider reading my book, The Joy of Less, A Minimalist Living Guide, or subscribing to my RSS feed.}

The Minimalist Toybox

(Photo via Uncle Goose)

My daughter Plumblossom has a tiny toybox—a little fabric bin that holds her small selection of rattles, balls, books, blocks, and other infant playthings. The majority of its contents are gifts from friends and family; lucky for her, as her minimalist mother is not particularly adept at choosing or acquiring such items. :)

In fact, while browsing Amazon and other retail sites, I’ve found many more toys I don’t want to buy than those I actually do. Here’s what I plan to avoid:

Battery-operated toys. I think toys that have flashing lights, electronic sounds, or too many bells and whistles are overwhelming for a baby. Furthermore, I want play to be about imagination, not pushing buttons.

Branded toys. No items with Disney or other mass-marketed characters will enter our home until my daughter specifically requests them (and even then, I’d like to limit them).

“Little grown-up” toys. Plumblossom will have to live without a play cellphone, laptop, or cash register for the time being. I know many people think it’s cute, but I’m not too keen on these little plastic versions of adult items. I want my daughter to enjoy being a child, before the pressures of consumption and connection encroach on her life.

Trendy toys. This won’t be hard, as without a TV, neither Plumblossom nor I have any idea “what’s hot” in children’s toys; fortunately, I don’t think I’ll have to worry about this for quite a few years.

Plastic toys. Oh, how I’d love to avoid plastic toys or anything made in China! She currently has a few, but as she gets older, I intend to replace them with European or American-made wooden toys (most of which are geared towards older babies).

So far, Plumblossom has a take-it-or-leave-it attitude towards her toys. She likes to turn the pages of her books, and now that she can sit on her own, play with her blocks and stacking rings. But to be honest, she finds household objects (bags, boxes, mixing bowls, measuring cups) and natural objects (flowers, leaves, sticks, stones) infinitely more interesting than what’s manufactured for her age group.

I also think she’s a minimalist-in-the-making: she’d much rather go for a walk, crawl around the house, or splash in the tub than sit with her playthings. And like her mom, she loves a clear surface; if I put a few toys on a table, she’ll sweep them off (and onto the floor) in record time.

Furthermore, I’ve noticed that if multiple toys are within her reach, she becomes easily distracted and distraught. She’ll pick up one for a few seconds, then go to another, then go to another—none seem to satisfy her for very long. If I give her only one toy at a time, she’s more focused, and plays more quietly and contentedly. It’s fascinating to see this reaction to “too much stuff” at such an early age, and makes me ever more determined to keep her play environment simple and uncluttered.

So what’s your opinion: am I short-changing my daughter by limiting her toy collection? What are the few must-haves for a minimalist under 1 (any favorites from your own childhood)?

{If you’d like to learn more about minimalist living, please consider reading my book, The Joy of Less, A Minimalist Living Guide, or subscribing to my RSS feed.}

Minimalist Family: Is One Child Enough?

If you’ve been following my blog lately, you know that I recently gave birth to my first child—a beautiful baby girl I call Plumblossom.

My husband and I waited a long time before deciding to settle down and procreate—so long, in fact, that my medical chart bore the lovely, geriatric-sounding “Advanced Maternal Age” label.

Which brings me to the subject of this week’s post… With my biological clock ticking (fast), DH and I need to make a decision soon as to whether we’re “one and done” or ready to try for another. It’s a tough call to make in the midst of first-time parenting sleep deprivation; however, we don’t have the luxury of waiting until Plumblossom is out of diapers to ponder a possible sibling.

Whenever I’ve imagined myself as a mother, it’s generally been to one child. In part, it’s because I’d like to resume our unstructured, nomadic lifestyle once our daughter is a little older; and it seems that planning around the needs, whims, and moods of one child would be much easier than two. We’d be able to devote our full attention and resources to her, and someday bestow on her a travel fund instead of struggling to put multiple children through college.

And yes, it seems more minimalist—with one child, we could get by with less stuff, smaller spaces, and fewer time commitments (be they doctor’s appointments, school activities, etc.).

On the other hand, I’ve seen the wonderful sibling interaction among my friends’ kids, and worry that Plumblossom may spend too many lonely hours wishing for a little brother or sister.

Both my husband and I have siblings, and therefore no experience with what it’s like to be an only child. So this week, instead of posting any words of wisdom or advice, I’m asking you for yours.

I know some of you will advise me to leave it to fate—a charming idea, to be sure, but one I’m not entirely comfortable with when it comes to major, life-altering decisions.

What I’d really like to hear are your experiences: did you decide to have just one child (or more) and why? What are the pros and cons to having (or being) an only child? Do you find minimalism becomes more challenging with each addition, or do shared possessions make for a greater “economy of stuff”?

Thanks in advance to all who respond–I can’t wait to hear your thoughts!

{If you’d like to learn more about minimalist living, please consider reading my book, The Joy of Less, A Minimalist Living Guide, or subscribing to my RSS feed.}