Sunday, October 30, 2016

Minimalism for Homeschooling Book Lovers

Is there such a thing?

I have been reading about minimalism for a while now, but I have never found a good article or book on minimalism that directly addresses the kind of book lovers that we are in my family.

We love books. They are not merely entertainment for us. We homeschool, not using textbooks, but real, living books. We already have many books, but with our oldest child only in grade three we still have many future years of homeschooling to collect books for. It is quite possible we will never be quite done. When the kids leave home, we'll have more time for reading ourselves, right?

However. All these books must have a home.

Our home is not large. We have eleven bookcases, each with four shelves: four in the boys' room (categories: children's fiction, children's nonfiction, adult fiction, biographies, poetry), four in our bedroom (categories: theology, other nonfiction), and three downstairs (categories: school books up to grade 5, current school books, Canadian books, music and art books). That doesn't include the picture books in plastic bins for the little children's easy reach. We already have too many books for our shelves, and are keeping some in boxes.

I am attracted to minimalism, and working towards it in the areas of my home that I have control over. At the same time, I know that our book collection will continue to grow. Books are what spark joy around here. They are also the tools of my trade (homeschooling), and will be for some time to come.

Here are some ideas if you are like me.

1. Only keep books that spark joy.
This concept is borrowed from Marie Kondo. I know, I know, the section of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up dealing with books probably horrified you to your core, and no wonder.
And yet... it has been very helpful for me to ask of every book on my shelves, "Does this particular book spark joy?" Since I am quite selective about books anyway, most of the books on my shelves did indeed spark joy. Still, by removing the few that didn't, I really concentrated the joy. My bookshelves really, really make me happy now.

If, like me, you are into Charlotte Mason's philosophy and methods, you could also ask, "Is this a living book?" If it is not, it generally can go. There is no need to keep mediocre books when there are so many excellent ones out there!

This also means getting rid of the "What if I will need it some day?" books. For example, I had some books on great artists. They were not living books. They were not even beautiful (a lot of black and white prints of paintings). I thought I wanted to keep them as references for when we did picture study in our homeschool. And yet, when we studied one of the artists in those books, I did not pull it out. I got a variety of books from the library instead. I realized that this was likely to be a pattern, and I truly did not need these books. It took me a long time, but eventually I did let them go. I have other art books that I am keeping because they are beautiful and bring me joy. If you are saying to yourself, "It's not a living book, but what if I need it some day?" Let it go and make space in your life for more living books.

2. Get rid of duplicates.
We have a lot of classic children's literature. That kind of literature is the very kind that people like us "don't mind having more than one of." However, that kind of literature is often easily replaceable (even used, cheap) if you ever do need another copy. In the meantime, where space is finite, getting rid of duplicates frees up space for more titles. Of course, there will be exceptions, such as different translations to compare, or favourite vintage titles that are hard to get and must be passed down to several children.

3. Organize your books.
Until your books are organized, you will not realize how many duplicates you have, and you will not be able to find what you need when you need it. My books are organized by category, and by author within each category. If I accidentally buy a duplicate, I notice immediately when I am putting it away. I am working on putting our books into libib, a lovely cataloguing website and app, but I'm not sure I will ever be done... this takes time!

4. Accept that some books have their seasons.
There will be a time when I will no longer need my early reading books. I will probably keep a few of my favourites (Frog and Toad!), but at some point most of them will be passed on to someone who needs them. Some day I will be finished homeschooling, and while it is probable that by then many of our school books will be such favourites that I will never part with them, others will be able to be culled.

5. Keep only the books that reflect the kind of "book person" you actually are, not the one you want to see yourself as.
This is one I'm struggling with. I have several vintage books. I have had them for ten years now, have never read them, and never will. I might like to think of myself as a collector of vintage books, but really, I'm not. I buy and will continue to buy vintage books that we will actually read. I personally do not keep books just to look pretty on my shelf. That's not the kind of "book person" I am. Realizing this might help me to let these books go. We'll see... they're not gone yet!

Be careful, though. If I had been following this principle two years ago, I could have gotten rid of a lot of my adult literature (hypothetically speaking, in case my husband is reading this...). I could have thought to myself that my husband and I don't really read anymore. It was true, there were several years when we didn't read much. But now I'm back into reading again. It was just a really busy time of babies and diapers and beginning homeschooling. If this is you, ask yourself, "Am I really not a book person, or am I just in a stage of life that makes it difficult to read?"

6. Always have enough shelves for your books, and keep no more books than fit on your shelves.
This is a rule I aspire to, but do not follow right now. I have three large boxes of books that do not fit on my shelves. But it's what I'm working towards. In this case, the solution will have to be to build more shelves.

7. Accept the process.
To quote Sarah MacKenzie, I have made the decision to "build [my] family culture around books." In doing so, I am accepting the work it takes to curate and maintain a collection that reflects what we love and who we are as a family. I am accepting the tension created by limited space, and that books we like will have to make their way out to make room for books we love. This is hard work, but it's work that I must accept if I want to have and keep the books we love. If ever I am not willing to accept responsibility for taking care of these books, it will be time to let them go.

What about you? Do you see minimalism and book collecting as competing goals? What ideas have helped you as your book collection grows?

Edited to add some pictures of my "children's fiction" section, because I know you like looking at other peoples' bookshelves. :) You're welcome.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Living & Learning Update # 2: Moss Nature Walk, Learning Styles

The week started out with Stephen and all the boys sick. Wednesday I thought they were all well enough to start working on our lessons again. Now they are all full of energy!

My sister saw my links about decluttering last week and asked if I'd like to join her for a decluttering challenge. She is going to get rid of one thing a day, and I am trying to get rid of a box or bag a day. In real life, it is going a little slower than that for me...I just have a box on top of my fridge and I pop three or four things into it every day. It feels so good to get these things out of the house!

I am also working on reorganizing my books...a constant challenge for me, mostly because I keep acquiring more. (Yes, I do know I have competing goals here as I declutter stuff with one hand, and take in more books with the other! I am still working on reconciling those goals in my mind and my home. When I do, I'll write a post about it for you.) I now officially have too many books for my shelf space, so I have boxed up all my biographies and my poetry to await the day when my husband will make some more shelves.

After a week of sickness, it was good to get out for a nature walk on Thursday. We went to Reardon's Pond, which is only a three-minute drive from our house. As we walked along the trail to the pond, we noticed a clearing in the woods that almost seemed to glow. We broke through the brush and found ourselves in an almost magical place. The ground inside that circle between the trees was thickly carpeted with light green moss. It felt springy under our feet, and I put my finger in it to measure how deep it was --about 4 inches! There were a few decomposing fallen trees in the circle, but all of them were under the same carpet of moss. There were several varieties of mosses and lichens, and I want to go back to put them in my nature journal. My nature journal is sadly neglected right now because the AJ(1) will never let go of me in any unfamiliar place!

Today I started reading Wild at Heart by John Eldredge. I am afraid it's going to be a tough slog for me. A friend put several of Eldredge's books into our hands and highly recommended them, so I feel I must give this book a chance and read it deeply enough to interact intelligently about it. As of page 9 it is not promising...

My book club had our Till We Have Faces meeting this week. I thought our discussion was the best yet, even though I can't profess to have understood the book well (I will definitely read it again!). It had so many ideas to chew on, so many "this reminds me of that" moments. Next up: The Scent of Water by Elizabeth Goudge. I have read one book before by Goudge and did not love it (The Heart of the Family). However, I've since discovered on Goodreads that this book is not generally a favourite among Goudge lovers so I probably should not have started with it. It was just what my library had available at the time. Time to try this author again.

Learning Styles are Bunk (Podcast) by Brandy Vencel and Pam Barnhill
Before you turn away because you just know that you personally have a learning style and so do your children, let me assure you that they do not deny that you probably have a learning preference. The point is that you do your children a disservice when you cater exclusively to their learning preferences. This really rang true to me.

My learning preferences are ones that work well in school: reading and listening to lectures. My greatest weakness is visualizing, seeing things in my mind's eye. Of course, my education catered to my learning preferences. Before I started using Charlotte Mason's methods to teach my children, I had never been challenged to use other ways of learning. I didn't even realize until a few years ago that other people often have a better ability to visualize things than I do. Now that I've done some picture study with my children, I realize that this is because this way of learning has never been developed in me. If I had done picture study as a child, my ability to visualize would be better now. I know this because it is improving now. When we study a picture, I can actually recall it visually --not perfectly, but still as a picture. Maybe you'd have to be me to know how miraculous this seems to me. It is never too late, but it does tend to seem easier to learn these things when you are young.

What did you think of this podcast?

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Living & Learning Update #1: A New Weekly Newsletter

I've been very quiet on the blog lately. I need to ease back into it, and what better way than with a weekly newsletter?

Monday was Thanksgiving Day, and it was an interesting one! We were going to go to my in-laws for dinner, but they lost power (Thankfully the turkey was done cooking!). We hadn't left home yet, and I invited them all over here. This would normally have been no problem, except that Stephen was working on putting in a door in the living/dining room, and it was cold, wet, and windy in there. (The picture is from a couple of days before, when the weather was still warm.) So I laid out all the food in the kitchen, and then we all traipsed upstairs and ate in the bedrooms where it was warm. Our power went out too, but not until the evening.

Wednesday morning MM(4) fell down the stairs and pulled a muscle in his neck. He ended up lying on the couch for two and a half days straight. Since he wasn't sick, that meant crankiness!

Wednesday evening SA(8) came down with a nasty bug. Since then the other boys have also gotten sick, though they just seem to have a bad cold.

Needless to say, with all that sickness, our lessons went down the drain this week. SA(8) and I did get to go to our French class on Tuesday afternoon. I am so pleased with this class! The main benefit to us is that the children are learning from a teacher whose native language is French. There are seven homeschooled children in the class, mostly around 8-10 years old. The class runs from 3-5 PM. I must admit that I worried a little about taking my son who is used to Charlotte Mason style short lessons to a two-hour class. My fears were groundless. The teacher switches activities often enough that no one loses attention. There is also a break in the middle. This week they learned numbers from 1-20, played hangman to reinforce the alphabet in French, and learned the conjugation of "avoir," using it in sentences.

We are still reading through Robin Hood at bedtime (When AO Year 2 ended, I decided to finish the book as a bedtime read-aloud). We also read Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle in the last two weeks. It was good, silly fun. While all the boys are there at our bedtime story time, I often read a chapter from one storybook for the little ones first, and then another for the older ones.

My own reading has sadly dropped off a little since our school year started...I think too much mental energy was being expended. However, I have managed to keep up with the Iliad for my study group, and Till We Have Faces for my book club. I love both groups...both are for homeschooling moms who are interested in self-education. I don't make friends easily, and these groups who share common interests are a pure joy to me.

While I was out and about for groceries this week, I stopped at our local library for their used book sale. I found a hardcover copy of The Lord of the Rings series at $1 per volume! I also found a beautiful edition of Arabian Nights (this one), also for $1.

Some things I've been thinking about lately...

How Getting Rid of 'Stuff' Saved My Motherhood by Allie Cassazza
I handed this to my husband after I read it. I hadn't realized that this being stressed because of too much stuff is a real "thing" for women. I've gotten rid of ten boxes of stuff since I read this a month ago. Not that anyone can tell yet. I just keep on keeping on...

The Joy of Less: 4 Decluttering Epiphanies that have Changed my Life by Michele Connolly
I really liked number 3.

Anchoring: An Organizational Tool by Renee Tougas
This post changed my life several years ago, and I still live by it.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

My Daily Planning Routine

I've mentioned my "average day" schedule before. Now that I'm in the swing of things this school year, I'd like to share what I do every day to keep things going smoothly.

I have a clipboard full of plain lined paper.
Every evening I look at my schedule, I look at my Ambleside Online charts, and I think about what else I have planned for the next day.
Then, I quickly write down a checklist of what lessons we will do together as a family, and little checklists of what lessons I will do with each child individually.

And that's all there is to it! Ten minutes, tops.

I find that if I'm ever too tired in the evening and skip this step, the next day is practically guaranteed not to go smoothly. I think it's not the list that makes the difference so much as the process of making the list. Making the list helps me mentally walk through my day before I find myself in the middle of it.