If you’ve been with me for a while, you’ll recall that I have a fondness for the concept of minimalism. I’ve never gone on a rampage and thrown out all of my stuff or anything, but, section by section, I’ve gone through the house and pared down.
The truth is, it’s not that easy to keep it up. I’ll visit Walgreens during my lunch break to pick up more allergy medicine and by the time I leave the store I’ve got a new bottle of lotion, or a new nail polish, and of course a snack to take back to work with me. It’s possible I’ve even forgotten to get the allergy medicine because I was so enamored with all the shiny trinkets in the store.
When I go grocery shopping, I make a list of what we need based on the recipes we plan to make for the week. Yet every time, I end up walking out with at least 5 additional things I hadn’t planned for. Sometimes it’s legitimately a need, and I had just forgotten to put it on my list. But more often than not, we could have made it through the week without an additional can of diced tomatoes, or another bag of frozen veggies, when we’ve already got a freezer full of them.
The worst is when I’m about to embark on a new life adventure and I get the urge to buy something to prepare myself for it. For example:
I’m going to take up running for exercise; I need to buy new running shoes before I can start.
I want to eat healthier this year; We should get a Ninja blender with food processor attachment and smoothie cups.
I need to write more; Let’s buy 5 notebooks and a 12 pack of pens, just in case the hundreds of pens I have around the house all stop working simultaneously.
The seasons are changing; I need new clothes.
I know I’m not the only one who does this, and in re-reading this list, nothing is really too crazy or expensive (besides the Ninja), but it just goes to show how quickly and easily we can fall out of the routine of being a considerate consumer.
What’s something you have a hard time resisting? Have you figured out a way to avoid the temptation? For me, I limit my trips to Walgreens as much as I can. I try to buy everything I’ll need for the week during my weekly shopping trip, because I find that it’s usually those quick little Walgreens trips where I end up with a spontaneous purchase that I didn’t really need.
Oh, and Amazon. I have to make a conscious effort not to buy every little thing I think of on Amazon. It’s just so easy to impulsively search for something and purchase it before your rational mind can catch up and stop you.
What’s your secret compulsive purchase? As you can see by the header image of this post, mine is nail polish. And I don’t even have 10 fingernails to use it on!
This past week, I’ve been having a debate with myself over whether to buy a new Christmas tree or not.
For the past decade, Dave and I have had this stupid little 3 foot tree that we got for free from our old company when it was closing. It was a cheap thing, and as the years went by, it just kept getting crappier and crappier.
Exhibit A- the half-assed lighting situation
Exhibit B – the crooked, too-big star, the overloaded branches…
Last year, I had enough. Once the holidays were over, I threw it in the trash. It was very satisfying. I figured I’d worry about getting another tree next Christmas.
Well, next Christmas is here, and we’ve looked at trees at Target, Home Depot, Ocean State Job Lots, Walmart, even Amazon… and I can’t seem to bring myself to pay $25 for another dumb-looking 3 foot fake tree. I’m definitely not paying more for an even larger tree, no matter how nice it looks.
We live in a tiny house – less than 800 square feet. Despite my attempts at minimizing, we still have too much stuff. When Christmastime rolls around, of course it’s nice to put up some decorations to get the place in a holiday mood, but it’s basically adding more clutter.
Not to mention, there are 11 months of the year where the tree and all it’s decor have to sit in a box somewhere, taking up precious space.
Maybe this year we’ll just stick with the old ceramic tree I inherited… It takes about 30 seconds to set up. It’s a gentle reminder of Christmases past, and it adds a festive look to the room, all without the stress of crooked stars and strands of lights that decide to go dark after you put them on the tree.
We do have plenty of other holiday decor – yards of fake greenery, plenty of lights, families of fake snowmen and a platoon of nutcracker soldiers – we can still be festive without a tree.
Well, I guess that settles it. We’re going treeless this Christmas!
This past weekend, Dave and I went up to Boston! I love going there. It’s an easy drive (as long as you don’t hit traffic…), and the city itself is just so… people-sized.
Months ago, I saw that The Minimalists were going to do a show at The Wilbur. In a moment of spontaneity, I bought us tickets. So that’s how we ended up on this trip.
I accidentally booked our Airbnb for the wrong night… luckily it was just the night before the show instead of the night of. So we just went up a day early.
We got to our Airbnb a little after 3, got settled, and then hit the streets. We walked up to Boston Public Gardens and strolled around and people-watched. Boston Common was already set up with all kinds of tents and stuff in preparation for the Marathon.
We walked along Newbury Street and made our way to the Prudential Center. My mom had mentioned that there was an observatory there that you could get great views of the city. As I am a fan of looking at life from above, we made this a priority to check out.
The view from the Pru was nice, and it was a gorgeous sunny day. We watched planes coming in and out of Logan, saw lots of sailboats on the Charles, found the finish line for the Boston Marathon, and finally, watched the sun set over Fenway Park. Pretty cool! We did sit and watch some of the documentaries they had about immigrants to Boston and how the culture has changed over time. It was well done, and very relevant to our current political climate.
There was a lady playing her violin during the sunset. She played Can’t Help Falling In Love, which is one of the many UB40 songs that Dave seduced me with back in the day. (I know it was originally done by Elvis – whatevs…) Here’s part of it…. I didn’t think to start recording until midway through, and then I move the camera too fast… ugh. I am not a videographer.
After that, we were super hungry, so once at ground level, we found a place called 5 Napkin Burger. There was a veggie burger on the menu, so I was game. It wasn’t as amazing as I had hoped, but it was good. I was more enamored with the mint and lemon iced tea, of which I drank two.
We walked back to our Airbnb, which was in the Theater District. By the time we went to bed, around midnight, we had already been hearing lots of ruckus from the comedy club next door, and the people leaving the various theaters around us. Not a big deal – that’s life in the city, right?
After snuggling into the comfortable bed, we fell asleep quickly and peacefully. Several hours later, I began dreaming that a band of jolly Irish men was bustling down the street, singing heartily. But no, it was no dream. As consciousness returned to me, I realized there were actual men singing heartily down in the streets below. I don’t know if they were Irish, but they were loud. Then there was lots of yelling and honking and general mayhem. I regretted not bringing my earplugs along… fail!
Fortunately the commotion only lasted about a half an hour and then we slept soundly for the rest of the night.
The next day we met up with Nick and Matt for lunch at Temezcal, and the weather was so nice that we sat outside. It was a leisurely lunch and a great time of catching up with each other and discussing life. Actually, I had just seen them both the week before in Northampton, but that’s a story for another time. (Not really, but it made you think my life was interesting for a second there, right?)
After parting ways with Nick and Matt, Dave and I cruised up to the North End. I mean why not hit all the sections of Boston while we were there? We hung out on the pier by the aquarium for a while and then got a delicious pineapple smoothie in Quincy Market, before wandering around for the rest of the afternoon.
Eventually the time came for us to get over to The Wilbur theater to see the Minimalists. I wasn’t sure what to expect. I’ve been reading their blog and listening to their podcasts for a while now – if you’ve been paying attention to my blog, I have mentioned them before and my own quest to live a more minimalist lifestyle.
We were a bit early – we arrived at 6:45 or so, which seemed like a reasonable time for a 7pm show. There was no line, and most of the seats were still empty. The stage was plain, and they just had some mellow background music playing.
The place filled up, a little after 7pm. They came out and the crowd went wild. They started out by telling their story, which if you search for their TED talk, you can hear for yourself. The second part of the show was a Q&A.
The majority of the questions were what you would expect – people asking for advice about a particular aspect of minimalism, or how to make certain lifestyle changes.
Some of the questioners were – dare I say it – devotees of minimalism. One women proclaimed that she had a “one in, one out” policy, so before she would buy something new, or, presumably, receive a gift, she had to get rid of something she already had. She asked them how they dealt with the emotional struggle of deciding whether to keep something or get rid of it.
After some prodding, she revealed that the item in question was her mothers vintage Levi’s jacket that she actually still wears. For some reason she felt it was frivolous and she should get rid of it, even though she obviously didn’t want to. At that point a bunch of people in the audience shouted out that she should just keep it. Seriously.
Another woman was kind of a sad case. She spoke of how she had successfully followed all the steps to becoming a minimalist and now she didn’t know what to do next. She seemed to be hoping that they would just tell her what to do with her life. At this point, they had reached the “lightening round”, where they were only supposed to give tweetable-sized answers, so they gave her some statements about how life without passion isn’t living, and that sort of thing. It was disturbing to me that she apparently didn’t have passion for anything. Or maybe she felt she needed some kind of permission to pursue it. Or maybe she was just trolling all of us…
The show was interesting and light – there were lots of funny comments and good points made. I can’t say that I went away having learned anything new, but Dave said he enjoyed it and that he thought it was interesting.
They had a meet and greet afterward, which we decided to skip since we hadn’t had dinner yet and also because I feel super awkward meeting “celebrities” and I wouldn’t have known what to say.
We grabbed dinner at Panera and then headed out. It was actually pretty nice driving home after the show – there was virtually no traffic and we made it home in just under two hours.
All in all, it was a great trip. If you’ve never been to Boston, make sure to check it out someday!
Lately I have been working on getting rid of stuff that I no longer love, use, or need. Sometimes, the process is exciting and fun. I love getting rid of clothes. I find it easy to pull uncomfortable or ill-fitting clothes off hangers and toss them in a pile for donation. I take pleasure in pushing old bills and bank statements through the shredder. My kitchen cabinets have been cleared of spare glasses, plates and serving platters that hardly ever saw the light of day.
When it comes to sentimental items, however, the drawstring on my proverbial trash bag cinches right up. I can’t get rid of the letters from my 5th grade best friend! What if I want to re-read them some day? If I get rid of something someone gave me, does it mean I didn’t appreciate it?
There’s a lyric I lived by for a long time; Keep your old love letters, throw away your old bank statements. I found it romantic to picture myself as an old woman, reading through my box of love letters and reminiscing on my youth. Yet I kept that box of friendship and love letters for nearly 20 years without reading a single one of them, or even thinking about them.
It’s true. I had a shoebox full of old letters, starting with my 5th grade pen pal and ending with my first and last long-distance boyfriend. Last week, I finally sat down to sort through the box and determine if any of these letters were worth keeping.
As it turns out, what my friends and I wrote about when I was in 5th grade, middle school, and even high school, was pretty lame to look back on. To be honest, I didn’t even read all the letters after the first few. I considered how my 5th grade pen pal and I lost touch after a few years, and how many of the people whose letters I’d kept are no longer part of my life, and I actually don’t miss them. That sounds kind of mean, but I don’t intend it to be. The truth is, people move on.
Of course I did not throw away ALL the letters. I did keep a handful – those from my very best friends, which, just by looking at the envelope, I can recall the excitement of getting a fresh letter in the mail and tearing it open to see what it said. I also kept the love letters, though it was a little weird to read them now, so many years after having parted ways with the writer.
So that’s one less box of “stuff” on the shelf. Now to get sorting through the boxes of get-well cards and birthday cards that I’ve kept since 1986. I plan to scan anything that had truly significant meaning to me and discard the rest.
At one point in life I thought it meant something to hold on to all these items, but the reality is, all this stuff just weighs you down! I just keep telling myself how much better I will feel once I’ve gotten rid of the detritus in my life!
When I was a kid, I had a hard time understanding why I got to have summers off from school but my dad had to keep on going to work every day. I couldn’t get it in my head that grown-ups didn’t get the summer off. It didn’t seem fair.
To this day, it upsets me that I can’t have the whole summer off. There’s so much I want to do! It doesn’t help that I work for a German company, and our German counterparts take off entire months at a time. I don’t know how much vacation time they actually get, but it seems to be way more generous than our US system. Unfair. Maybe I should move to Germany.
Anyway, that’s not what I came here to write about! I wanted to bang out a quick update, as I am soon to be off for one of my two weeks of vacation this summer. We are going to be camping in Maine and I intend to fully unplug. I’m bringing primitive writing tools – pens and paper – in the hopes that I will be inspired to write something deep and inspiring. Or perhaps churn out some interesting zentangle-inspired art. I haven’t drawn a thing in months!
Last weekend we celebrated the 4th of July at my youngest brother’s home in the Boston area. The weather was unbelievably perfect. We spent most of the time lounging by the pool, and of course eating tons of food. On Monday, we got to check out the school where my brother works (he had the right idea being a teacher – he gets summers off!). Then we went up to Newburyport, which was a cute little town on the coast. It was only a two-day visit, but it was like a mini-vacation for us.
Speaking of vacations, Dave and I are finally going to go on a big trip together! We’ve started planning a trip to Costa Rica. We’re reading guidebooks and maps and we’ve been scouring the internet. We don’t have a date set yet, but Dave wants to go before the end of the year. I realize that’s like 5 months away, but the way things go at my job, you just have to blink and the time goes by like nothing.
In other news, my minimalism journey kind of hit a wall in the last few months, because I’ve been spending less time inside the house. The piles of crap in the back room are still there. I did take one evening to go through more of my clothes and get rid of some of the things I never wear. I even attempted to fold my shirts in the Konmari way.
The Konmari method comes from this book called The life-changing magic of tidying up. You’ve probably heard of it, because everyone makes fun of it. It’s the one where you’re supposed to hold each one of your possessions and ask yourself if it brings you joy. I didn’t even finish reading the book, but since I had already been going through my stuff and clearing things out, I went ahead with the clothes. My parameters were pretty simple: do I actually like this shirt and actively wear it? Then I kept it. If not, out it went.
In conclusion, I am very much enjoying the summer so far and I hope you are too. I’m especially looking forward to being unplugged next week, and returning with renewed energy to work on this blog!
This is the text of the minimalism speech I gave at a Toastmasters meeting in April. I got a lot of good feedback, mostly of people who agreed that they wanted to part with a lot of their crap. A couple of guys insisted that as Connecticut Yankees, they could not part with their stuff because they were sure they’d need it at some future time.
You might notice this is a lot of text for a 5-7 minute speech. I always write more than what I actually say, because I tend to panic and forget half of what I wanted to say once I am in front of the crowd. This was the first speech I presented without using any notes.
Have you ever stopped to think about how much stuff you own? I recently saw a statistic that stated that the average American household contains over 300,000 items. Our culture places a lot of importance on stuff. There’s a perception that the more stuff you have, the better off you are. The more stuff you have, the wealthier you are. More stuff equals more happiness, right? Our society is constantly encouraged to be buying and acquiring more stuff. Americans have a lot of stuff, yet America ranks #1 in rate of depression the world over. Could it be that we’ve gotten our priorities a bit mixed up?
In my own life, I have fallen into the trap that more is better. As an artist, I was always eager to acquire more art supplies. When I was young, I had basic art supplies. I used them all the time, and I enjoyed them. As a young adult with a job, I enjoyed collecting art supplies, imagining the fun I would have using them. Through the years, I have tried many forms of artistic expression, from drawing to painting to sculpting to jewelry making. As a result, I have boxes and boxes of supplies for each of these activities. You would think this would make me happy, but it doesn’t!
Now I have so much stuff that I don’t know where to start or what project to work on. It’s overwhelming and discouraging. I spend more time trying to organize my stuff than actually enjoying it.
Does this sound familiar to you? Perhaps it’s not art supplies, but your children’s toys, or the endless piles of laundry you’re folding and sorting and putting away.
Before I even heard of minimalism, I knew there must be a better way. I wanted a simple life, but I needed a little help figuring out how to get there. There are endless websites and magazine articles out there that tell you how to organize and store all your stuff. But that doesn’t get to the root of the problem – that you just have too much stuff!
That’s where Minimalism comes in. What exactly is Minimalism, you ask? Does it involve running off to live in a cabin in the woods for a year, like Henry David Thoreau? Does it mean you have to get rid of all your stuff?
No! Minimalism isn’t about depriving yourself of anything. Minimalism is the intentional focus on the things you value most and the removal of anything that distracts you from that. It’s about taking control of your life and not letting your stuff take control of you. It’s clearing away the physical clutter, but also the mental clutter that comes with it. It’s about living mindfully, being conscious of what you’re choosing to buy and why.
The more stuff you have, the more your stuff controls you. When you have less stuff, you have less to worry about, less to insure, less to clean, less to organize. Imagine being able to find anything right when you need it, because you have just what you need and you know exactly where to find it because everything has a home.
Declutter your home and consequently your mind, and have more space to play, to create and to enjoy the important things in life, like family, friends, relationships. So where on earth do you start?
It can be daunting to look around your home, at the overstuffed bookcases, the attic or garage filled with boxes of old things, your wardrobe overflowing with clothes.
It is suggested that you start by minimizing stuff in a small space or relatively simple area, such as the bathroom. A simple rule of thumb is, if an item is not essential, remove it. If you are trying to decide whether to keep or purge certain items, put them in a box with the date clearly marked. If after a few months you haven’t needed them, it’s likely you can live without them. A handy tip for decluttering your closets is to put all the hangers backwards. After you’ve worn something once, put it back in the closet on a hanger that is facing the right way. At the end of the season whatever is still hanging on the backwards hangers is something you did not wear, meaning you don’t really need or want – so get rid of it.
What do to with all this stuff? You may pass items along to family or friends if it will be useful to them. You can also turn your old stuff into cash. In addition to garage sales, there is Ebay and Craigslist. You may prefer to just donate your old stuff by taking it to the Goodwill, but a local homeless shelter or women’s center would be thrilled to receive quality items. Of course if the items you’re getting rid of are too worn out to resell or give away, there is always recycling or trashing them completely.
Once you complete the challenge of paring down and decluttering, there’s the additional challenge of keeping it that way. It requires some mental effort, but this pays off. Remember, the more stuff you own, the more your stuff owns you. The fewer things in a home, the easier it is to clean. Personal belongings are not the key to happiness. Learn to enjoy things without owning them by making use of libraries, museums and parks.
When you pare down your possessions, you simplify your life. When life is simple, you are less stressed, and when you are less stressed, you can focus on important things like spending time with people you love instead of spending time organizing or cleaning all your stuff.
If having a clutter-free home doesn’t appeal to you, maybe this will: You can’t take it with you, and so someone else will be going through your stuff after you’re gone. Save them some grief by keeping it simple.
When you go home tonight, take a look around your house. Is it a calm and welcoming place? Or is every day a battle to contain the chaos? If you don’t feel relaxed and peaceful when you arrive home, perhaps it is time to try a minimalistic approach.
Toastmasters International Competentent Communicator book, Speech #9 – Persuade with Power
It’s been a while since I posted with my phone. I had about six typos just trying to get the title right, so we’ll see how this goes.
Lately I have been watching a lot of YouTube videos and noticing how people make them and how they set up their channels. I would like to make more videos myself and build up a channel of my own. I already have one but the video quality is hideous, let’s not lie. I think I might have two followers, and at least one of them is a devotee. I’m off to a great start!
Another thing I’ve been contemplating lately and considering blogging about regularly is minimalism. I was actually going to do a speech about it the other night at Toastmasters but it was cancelled because of snow. Seriously.
Minimalism is a mindset or a lifestyle choice where you intentionally focus on what’s most important and you discard everything that isn’t. In a physical sense this applies to all the crap you accumulate in your life, like clothes you never wear, junk mail that piles up, art supplies you never use (or is that just me?) Beyond the physical, though, it applies to mental and emotional clutter, of which I am a big proponent of clearing out.
I’ll get deeper into minimalism in future posts. It just really jives with a lot of the other principles I like to live by, although I admit that I struggle with clutter in certain areas of my house and life.
Before you conclude that I am a hoarder or pack rat, please understand that we live in a very small house and after minimizing the rest of the house, this room kind of became the dumping ground for all the stuff that didn’t have a home elsewhere. Of course it also happens to be all my art and writing stuff, which is the hardest for me to part with. I’m hoping that by publicly shaming myself by posting this here, I will be motivated to go through it all and clean it up. The truth is, it’s very hard to work or be creative with that massive pile o’crap looming beside me.
Consider that a “before” picture.
In other news, I got re-tested for my allergies yesterday after a year and a half of SLIT (sub-lingual immuno therapy). I had a hunch it wasn’t helping. The tests yesterday seemed to back up my claims but I have to wait to talk to the doctor to be sure. But let me tell you, sitting there for 17 minutes while 40 mosquito bite-like welts grow on both arms is no picnic. I still have some of them today!
Why am I so genetically challenged??
Lastly. I’m working on growing my hair out again. It feels long today but it could just be because I am wearing a coat with a collar that goes up to my ears.
I’m going to try real hard to resist the urge to dye it or do anything crazy with it while it grows. Let’s see how long that lasts.