Mark Twain

"Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do ...
Explore. Dream. Discover." Mark Twain

Friday, June 26, 2015

The Joy of Less by Francine Jay

In an earlier post I recommended a web site called Miss Minimalist.   As the title suggest, her focus is the minimalist life style.

She has written several books on this topic.   The Joy of Less, A minimalist Living Guide: How to Declutter, Organize, and Simplify Your Life, by Francine Jay is the book I just finished.

My overall impression - this is a good reference book on minimalism.  She writes very well.  She has a practical organized approach.  She doesn't swing to extremes in her advice.  Of course, if you are new to this idea, you might find some advice daunting - like emptying your closet of everything as a first step to minimizing your clothes.   But that advice is consistent with all other authors and it is an effective first step.  For folks new to the topic of simplicity and minimalism, this is a great book.  For everyone else, it is an informative and organized approach worth your time.

I wouldn't say there were any magic bullets in this presentationfor achieving your own level of minimalism.  Clean out your stuff, manage what comes in and "walk the talk" every day.  Just like dieting - no magic bullets - eat less, move more.

It is just too bad it isn't that easy.  That is where the book helps greatly to organize your efforts and increase success.

There are 4 basic sections:

  • Philosophy
  • Streamline (Trash, Treasure, Transfer)
  • Room by Room
  • Life Style.   
I feel the most important section is Philosophy.  Once you understand and adopt why minimalism makes life better, efforts to reach it are not so hard.  Rather than expounding the details - I have listed the chapter headings - as they describe the high level points better than anything I could write.

See your stuff for what it is
You are not what you own
Less stuff = Less stress
Less stuff = More freedom
Become detached from your stuff
Be a good gatekeeper
Embrace space
Enjoy without owning
The joy of enough
Live Simply, so that others may simply live - Mahatma Gandhi

While I totally recommend this book - it is just a guide.  It all comes down to "the doing."  After the Philosophy section - the rest of the book is about "the doing."  Good advice in a logical package.

The act of doing (rather than reading about doing) is where people get tripped up.  It is not the owning or the reading or the talking about the book that gets you to the goal.  It is the doing!  And doing takes time.  If you can't devote the time, nothing you read will make a difference.  And there really are no short cuts to devoting the time.  No magic bullet.  If you devote the time and change your life style, you can do or be anything you want.

A short personal story that illustrates this point.

When I was a young stay-at-home mother, I had a friend and neighbor who was a stay-at-home mother too. We were about the same age.  We each had two children about the same ages.  Our townhouses were exactly the same.  We visited each other's houses, regularly share lunch together, let the kids play, etc.   Her house was always immaculate, organized, comfortable and (most importantly) simple.  My house was pretty much the opposite.  One day I was sitting at her kitchen table while she prepared lunch, and I really watched what she did.  She continued to visit with me as she worked.  She was engaged with the kids.  But she was also not idle.  She put things away, she wiped counters, she kept puttering and she did this all automatically while we visited.  I never noticed how much she got done while she visited.  I doubt she was aware either. It was her default movement around in her own house.  When I left - everything in her house was picked up and clean.  When she visited me, I usually spent about an hour or more after she left doing what she did naturally as part of her routine.

A minimalism life style looks a little like that.  Just part of your life style.  It is part of your everyday decision making.  It is not a separate action (except for the initial purge.)

Hope you will take the time to check out Francine Jay's book.

Get educated.  It is a very good resource and an excellent step 1 if you are considering this journey.

"Cultivating an attitude of gratitude is far more conducive to a minimalist lifestyle. 
 If we recognize the abundance in our lives, 
and appreciate what we have, 
we will not want for more.  
We simply need to focus on what we have,
 rather than what we don't have."  
Francine Jay

Post script:
I did read another best seller called The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo.   While I feel Ms. Kondo's book was ok, it did seem to slip into what I consider excessive attention to minor details.  For example: the organization of a sock drawer.  I can get on board with keeping the quantity of socks to a reasonable limit - and I agree that all socks should be in one place (i.e. a sock drawer.)  But she goes to some lengths to recommend the proper folding and arrangement of socks in the sock drawer.  That level of detail was too much for me.  I suspect cultural influences are at play here.  My own bias also shows in my reaction I guess. My mother-in-law lived her life in excessive levels of detail.  If you opened her kitchen drawer you would find her spoons, knives and forks all lined up carefully placed on their sides - spooning.  If she was still alive, she would be very comfortable with Ms. Kondo's methods.

It has been awhile since I read this book.  But it didn't make the same impression on me that The Joy of Less did.   However, no one resource has all the answers.  And no one style of minimalism fits everyone.   Ms. Kondo's description of the management of a sock drawer must have resonated with a lot of people - it is a best seller.  Different strokes ...

Read it and decide for yourself.

Friday, June 19, 2015

A Visit With Mom

Here I am in June approaching Father's Day, and I am writing about the month of May and what I did on Mother's Day.  Guess I wasn't ready to share that experience until now.

A red rose for my mom.  A white rose for my dad.
On Mother's Day I visited mom - or at least mom's earthly remains.  She is buried at Gate of Heaven Cemetery next to my dad.  It was my first visit back to her grave since she was buried in January.

I know that visiting the grave site after a death of a loved one is an important part of the healing for some people.  I have known friends who held full one-sided conversations with the person who died while standing at the grave. They bring flowers, they clean off the memorial, they say prayers.  It is a very personal connection they feel.

I have never felt that way about where she is laid to rest.  The essence of who she was is no longer on this earth.  Her life and my memories of her are housed inside me.  I carry her with me every day.  Sometimes I look in the mirror and marvel that I look a lot like her.  I do think of her often - usually when I am alone during quiet times.  Sometimes I am in tears as I think of what we lived through together.  Sometimes the memories cause me to smile.  But mostly I am just sad - and miss seeing her face.

Mother's Day seemed like the perfect day for this visit.  I wanted to be sure her grave marker was correct and properly mounted, and that I could remember exactly where her grave was since it is a very large cemetery.  I was distracted at the grave site service in January.

All was well.  At first I was surprised that her grave was not totally grassed over, but then I realized that they probably didn't seed it until late April.  New grass wouldn't grow in January.  Silly me.

The cemetery was busy.  I guess many people choose Mother's Day or Father's Day to visit their parents.  I know I will return next Mother's Day - but I will be back again before then.

Meanwhile ... she is remembered ... and loved ... and missed ... still.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Your shopping DNA!

It is funny how touching every single thing you own in the world can change your behavior  ...  at least a bit.

While recovering from back spasms, I took the time to look at my local town newspaper.  I seldom do this anymore - I am just not a newspaper kind of person.  But the paper is free and shows up on  my door step every week, so I settled down to see what I had been missing.

Nothing!  I doubt I will be looking again any time soon.

But I did notice a few advertised sales and it did prompt a reflection or two.

The act of shopping logically results in something that comes into the house.  Recently I have been focused on things going out of the house.

As I was checking out these sales I realized that my perspective has changed.  In fact, I was so changed that I stopped looking and just discarded the paper.

I got to thinking ...
  • There is nothing that I want/need at present - but - looking at the sales I saw some interesting "this or that" at a great price.  Hmm ...
  • I generally hate shopping in brick and mortar stores.  It takes up too much time.  You have to get in the car, drive, park, walk into the store, look around, maybe stand on line, or maybe discover they don't have "this or that," then get back in the car, and repeat the process at another store.  
  • Trips to the store or reading sales literature often results in extraneous purchases not on my current need list -  totally impulse buys - and are potential clutter once brought into the house.
I used to LOVE to go shopping!  Not so much now.  I much prefer to order on line and let someone deliver the item to my door.  

Yikes, when did this disconnect happen?

For example:  A few years back I was very focused on reducing our grocery spending.  In my typical fashion I read up on ways to save on this expenditure.  I clipped and sorted coupons.  I periodically purged for expiration dates.  I had a big box for coupons!!  I looked for double and triple coupon days at our local stores and I visited many stores seeking the best price using sales and coupons.  I even kept a price book listing our staples by name, size, and best price.  The book helped me identify if a sale was really the best price based on history.  The whole process was so time consuming it became almost a part time job.   I was never able to buy $125 worth of groceries for $30 like you sometimes saw as examples to aspire to.  And here is how crazy it was ... I don't even like to cook and yet here I was deeply engrossed in a cooking related activity.  During that time our food expenditure mostly went up.  We purchased more food than we needed because it was a "great price" and we would use it in the future.  Ironically those rock-bottom priced items sometimes got tossed after a time because we had more than we could use and they would go passed their expiration date.  It was a total fiasco for me.  Looking back I can see it was a nutty use of energy.

Now we grocery shop at one store only each week, I seldom use coupons, I will shop sales, but I don't buy ahead and I seldom check the ads for sales.  Our bills have gone down.  But even with those changes, we still seem to have too much food in the house.  I am working to correct that.

Sadly that grocery example has played out in other purchases as well.   I am hoping this is all in the past.

Apparently decluttering has done more than just injuring my lower back.   My "want/need" level regarding items has been significantly lowered.   

It is like my shopping DNA has been chemically altered.  Nuts!  I wish this had happened many years ago.  Just think of how rich I would be now if I hadn't spent all that money shopping.

So how do you shop?
Is it for need or want?
Is it for amusement?
Are you an internet shopper
 or do you prefer "brick and mortar stores?" 

Personal Disclaimers (or the devil is in the details):  :-)
  • My hobby stuff is exempt from this whole discussion.  :-) My old shopping self is still very much alive in my hobbies.  Baby steps, baby steps  ...
  • I value the brick and mortar store as a necessary part of our economy - I do support several despite my aversion to shopping in them.
  • Clothing and food for me are best made in a brick and mortar store. 

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Paying the Price

The last two months have certainly been strenuous and busy with "house stuff."  Sorting, packing, lifting, discarding, and generally shedding the stuff of decades sapped a lot of energy.  Each day I  worked for a fixed amount of time, then focused on routine stuff like laundry and cooking, and then collapsed for a rest.  Before bed I enjoyed an hour or so of downtime - knitting, NetFlix, reading.  I thought it was a pretty balanced approach.

But the "personal stuff" that helped to maintain my physical wellbeing was lacking.

I promised myself that once the lion's share of house stuff was done I would get back to personal stuff like walking daily, strength/stretching, and watching my diet.

Frequent conversations with myself argued that 10 years ago I could have done both - house stuff and personal stuff - at the same time.  But I have accepted the fact that now splitting my focus results in nothing getting done very well.   Probably a subtle age related phenomenon.  *Sigh*.

So the lion's share of the house stuff is done ... but I am now paying the price for ignoring the personal stuff.

Sunday morning I woke up with a back spasm.  No brainer - too much lifting and carrying.   It was my back's way of stating the obvious ... "See, you are not in your 30s - not even close - and if you do stupid stuff, I will be sure you pay the price."  Thank you, Mr. Back.  I got the message!

But carry on is what I chose to do (apparently I got the message but didn't learn the lesson.)

  • Monday - I tried to go for a walk but within 25 feet of my front door I turned around and came back.  Advil, muscle relaxants and rest were pretty much the activities of that day.
  • Tuesday - Walked down the street very slowly for about 250 feet - had one back spasm that buckled my right knee.  I returned to the house even slower.  Repeat Monday activities.
  • Today - Better.  Walked slowly around the block.  No spasms but my back is sore and it reminded me to keep my pace slow.   I stopped frequently to shake out stiffness in my hips and thighs.  Hard to know if that was due to lack of regular exercise or if it was a guarding action of surrounding muscles to the lower back injury.  A little of both I guess.  During those stops I enjoyed the view - and took some pictures.

But I am encourage.  Progress.

It is, however, appalling just how quickly you can lose physical strength and stamina after the age of 60.

Tomorrow??  More of the same - need to get my daily step totals up to 10,000 a day like I did for so many months before.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

A breather

I think I am ready for a brief breather.

It has been interesting discovering, touching, re-purposing, deciding, repacking, moving, discarding, displaying, and/or gifting all our belongings.  Small untouched pockets of stuff still remain - a small storage closet in the basement, the linen closet, my kitchen cabinets.  But the lion's share is done for now.

A Good Will bag stands at the ready in the kitchen - already full again - but the stuff-movement has reduced to a trickle.

The painting is done - and the rooms are mostly back to normal.  The kitchen renovation is contracted  probably for August.

The yard guy arrived this week.  Our front and back yard should be brought under control soon.

However ...

After all is said and done ... and the house looks the best it has looked in many years - we decided to stay - and not sell - at least for this year.  Part of me is very relieved.  To sell this house I love ... and to face further upheaval - it is not a pleasant prospect after everything we have done.  And my husband, while he supported the idea and the need for a move, he seems relieved too.  But the reason for a change of residence is still a reality.  Each day I wonder how long we have until a fall by my husband makes our choice to stay a foolish one.  So the topic is not closed - just deferred.

On the joyful side of this discussion ... the main de-clutter goal has been achieved.  Minor improvements towards downsizing will continue.  It has finally become manageable.

Now the real work remains - maintaining!

But first ... a breather!

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Lesson Learned #5 - Attachments

  I've spent many precious life hours over the last 10 years moving stuff out of my house.  
In the last year, the highway of departing clutter has become an absolute speedway.  
Here is a lesson I have learned in the process.

Lesson Learned #5

Attachments to stuff - does it love you back?

I get attached to things.

I attach to people and animals as well, but I have a history of loving things ... attaching to them like they have feelings.  Once you start attaching to things, there is a slippery slope you must manage.

Here is my slippery slope.

Like most people,  I save bits and pieces of things that hold memories for me.  Children's art work, old school papers, a first communion veil, the small worry-stone my son gave me on entering the military, a beautiful greeting card from my daughter with cherished sentiments - just to name a few.  I am fairly successful at managing stuff in this category.  For example, I finally discarded my 56 year old girl scout sash with achievement badges last week.  I wasn't a scout for long, and it wasn't a special time. To this day, "camping" or roughing it for me is staying at a Days Inn.  :-)  The sash went out the door las week.  The stuff I own in this category is down to a reasonable quantity.

Managing attachments in other areas of my life result in limited success.

I give cars names.  My last car was a Maxima.  Her name was Maxie.  I was in tears when I traded her in.  Maxie and I were buds for 10 years.  We got through a lot of bad weather together, but her high-heeled attitude made her designed for speed.   She had a passion for it (notice I didn't say I had a passion for speed - just Maxie!)  At her 10th birthday when she started to burn oil, our trusted mechanic of 35 years could not find the problem.  A fix would have been hard and very expensive. My new car is a Subaru. It (not she, not he) handles the road great in all weather.  It is reliable.  It is transportation.  It does not have a name.  I learned my lesson with Maxie.  And more importantly, I believe the Subaru doesn't care one little bit.  :-)

I have a tough time I throwing away pictures.  I am sad when I see old family albums abandoned in thrift or antique shops.  I have many old family albums myself and boxes of pictures, many are duplicates. I also have old family documents - birth and death certificates, military papers, baptismal documents, certificates of achievement, an old driver's license from the 1930s. Not sure what I will do with all of that - right now they are all in one closet.  But these images are staring at me from the end of the long de-cluttering road.  They know I have a soft spot for family history.  They are keeping their collective fingers crossed that they will make the next de-clutter cut in a few weeks.  We shall see.

The attachment to my townhouse is strong.  Although I yearn for a smaller place - one with less steps, less extra costs, less upkeep, this home holds all my memories of the last 30 years.  I have lived here longer than anywhere else.  I raised children here.  My mother-in-law died of cancer in my living room.  I remember my son stepping out my front door to enter the military and coming in that same door when he returned.  My daughter recovered here from one of life's black clouds.  My husband stood in the kitchen and told me he would one day go blind.  The house has seen parties for birthdays, anniversaries, weddings.  My mother lived here for 5 years and I watched her decline here. I cried at my kitchen sink the day I knew she would need to move to assisted living.  There were joy filled Christmases - and a few sad ones too, like last Christmas when mom died.   This house is tattooed with my life.  I can't imagine letting another family put their marks on it.  And yet ...

How do you avoid attachments to an inanimate building when it feels like more than that?  I will continue to live in and nurture this house for now - and deal with the fall out that will inevitably come later.

The topic of minimalism is cluttered with the principles of letting go and living small.    But minimalism discussions sometimes miss the point that stuff can make your life "more."  Yes, less is more, but sometimes things are also more.

I think the trick is to pick and choose carefully!  And if you pick and choose everything, then that is when problems start.

Keep only what you love ... and what loves you back.

I believe my house loves me back!  

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Lesson Learned #4 - Stress and Stuff

  I've spent many precious life hours over the last 10 years moving stuff out of my house.  
In the last year, the highway of departing clutter has become an absolute speedway.  
Here is a lesson I have learned in the process.

Lesson Learned #4

Less stuff equals less stress ... at least for me.

For myself, I truly believe less stuff equals less stress.

But this may not be true for everyone.   I know folks who take comfort in being surrounded by all their many belongings.  In fact it is said that very creative people are usually surrounded by lots of disorganization, and they seem to function just fine.  I worked for a woman who hired me specifically because I was an organization greek.  She wanted me to organize her.  I discovered that although her office was crazy with clutter, she could easily put her hand on any item I could name.  Once she realized that her methods worked fine for her ... and my methods worked fine for me ... we got along famously!! Accepting each others differences made us a great team.

But an over abundance of stuff can have a very different outcome.

At the far end of the "stuff" spectrum is a popular show called The Hoarders.  It always made me a little sad to see these folks who allowed things to overtake their lives so completely.  Their stuff did not make them happy.  They were miserable.  I stopped watching when the show spilled into examples of animal hoarding layered on top of stuff hoarding.  Animals who had died in the house and the owners did not know because the stuff was so mountainous.  Cats who had litters of sick or dead kittens and the owners had no clue.  Sad was one thing.  Disturbing was something else.   I stopped watching.

I have never been near the level of clutter as the TV Hoarders.  But this week I was face-to-face with my own personally created clutter monster who was hiding in my yarn room.

For newer readers, a little bulleted background on me can demonstrate the problem.
  • I am a knitter.
  • I am a rigid heddle weaver.
  • I am a sometimes fiber spinner.
  • Crafters like me usually have stashes of craft related stuff.  
  • I have a massive large medium small-ish to medium (???)  hoard stash collection selection of knitting yarns, weaving yarns, fiber for making yarns, books, knitting needles, binders of individual patterns, kits (knitting and weaving), many looms, many spinning spindles, and a full size spinning wheel.  (OK, "massive hoard" fits - just don't tell my husband.)
  • My hobby once was housed in a small basement closet.  Then it was moved to a small room with closet (we call the den.)  Now it is contained in a moderate size bedroom (we now call "the yarn room") with 2 closets that once belonged to my mom.  I sort of maybe have my eye on largest room - our master bedroom.  I wonder if my husband would notice ... oh forget I said anything.
  • I consider my yarn room to be a luxury and a joy.
  • I LOVE LOVE LOVE my hobby.  
I think that sets the stage for you.

In preparation for painting the yarn room I had to MOVE . ALL . THE . LOVED . STUFF out of the closets and into the center of the floor so the closets could be painted. It took me a whole day.  It filled the center of the room and was stack about 4-5 feet high.  After I finished, I stood back and surveyed the stash.  It did not fill me with joy.  I was agitated.  I was discourage.  How could I allowed something I cherished to fall into the "too much stuff" category.

I have already started the process of thinning the stash.  There are no ugly items in the room.  But the stash does fall into two categories:  like and love.  The likes are finding their way to new homes where they will be loved.  And I am happy to make space for my loved items.

And what is true for my yarn room has been true for the rest of my house.  Space is good.  Less is good.

Less stuff is less stress - even if it is yarn.