Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Natalie: A not so simple statement (16 of 72)

Create a simplicity statement. What do you want your simple life to look like? Write it out.

I have read previous posts on the simplicity statement and I decided to pass on reading the attached article which sounded not so simple. I just got back from spending a few days away on the coast up in Maine. It was really relaxing. This may sound selfish but I was relieved to be miles and miles away from home while Hurricane Irene blew through the rest of the east coast. I have a lot of family and friends who suffered some serious Irene damage. It sucked to hear their news and hear what a difficult time they were having. I'm sorry to admit but our time away was really lovely. Hurricane Irene had slowed down dramatically by the time she rolled our way. We had some moments of rain and some fierce wind but we were also able to witness the sizable waves crashing against the rocks waiting for interesting debris to wash ashore. The sounds of the waves was soothing and scary all at the same time. The day after the Hurricane, was skies, sunny, breezy, warm.

Is Hurricane Irene a metaphor for this simplicity project? Those of us who are working our way through the tasks, we are whipping through our closets, drawers, electronic files finding what doesn't fit making piles, sorting through the mess, weeding out the non-essentials....not to say that people's home are non-essential but sometimes when things get damaged you have to get rid of things and in some ways start over. You have to evaluate what's really important. You need to re-prioritize. Granted no one wants to be forced by the wrath of a hurricane to create that kind of change in their lives. Okay maybe its a loose metaphor but simplicity should feel like a warm sunny day, shouldn't it? You know that sigh you have when the sky is clear except for those white puffy clouds like on the opening of the Simpsons. That's what I want simplicity to feel like.

When I returned home last night it was late about 10:30pm. We were tired from our long drive from Maine but relieved that our son was so exhausted that he transferred from the car to his bed still asleep. We still needed to unpack the car and put some stuff away. I was stunned when I walked in the door to realize my house was neat. It made me uneasy and confused because I could not believe that I had done so much de-cluttering before I left. I was so worried before I left that I wouldn't be able to keep this project up especially when I got back from a few days away. I imagined I'd be desperately trying to catch up on all kinds of stuff but I went to bed with a sigh of relief that there was order. Things had a place. Usually I feel like a hurricane (metaphorically speaking) had ripped through my house when I return from a few days away between the wake of a mess I left behind me and all the stuff I bring back but things looked simple like a warm sunny day.

Christa, Day 17: The Not Buying Habit

Here's a silly little thing about me: I like to track how many days in a row I can go without spending any money directly.

What do I mean by directly? In a way, I'm spending money all the time, just on credit or in advance. For example, right now there's a chocolate chip peanut butter cake in my oven. I spent money on the ingredients that went into it. I'm using electricity and gas to bake it. I drove today, so I technically cashed in on an advance purchase. And so on. In a consumer-oriented industrialized society, we're never really not spending money.

But bear with me, because I'm not complaining. There's nothing inherently wrong with spending money. Heck, if we were totally self sufficient, we'd never not be spending time. We'd always be spending something by using or acquiring other things. That's called being alive. Today's voluntary simplicity idea?
Limit your buying habits. If you are a slave to materialism and consumerism, there are ways to escape it. I was there, and although I haven’t escaped these things entirely, I feel much freer of it all. If you can escape materialism, you can get into the habit of buying less. And that will mean less stuff, less spending, less freneticism. Read more.
My main buying habit is not buying. Seriously. It's a habit that was really easy to slip into back in the days when I was living in Brooklyn and frequently had to choose between things like food and clean clothing. It's not like recreational shopping is a possibility when you're working for less than minimum wage - shhh, don't tell the labor department - and have $2,000 in credit card debt.

Can shopping be fun? Sure, as long as it's on someone else's dime. Just kidding. I know shopping must be a fun pastime for some people, based on how many cars I see in the mall parking lots on a Saturday around lunchtime and the fact that you can find just about anything in that mall online for cheaper. There has to be some reason all those people are at the mall, and my guess it's for the shopping.

Not buying is what let me pay off my credit card debt while making less than minimum wage. Not buying let me buy the occasional bottle of gin during those years and in the years beyond. Not buying let me get out from under debt a second time. Not buying let me stay home with my daughter for two glorious years because it gave me the freedom to work part time, from home. Not buying keeps me from being a slave to trends or clothes or junk that I'm just going to donate a few months later. Not buying keeps my house from being filled up with stuff.

So overall, escaping material is great... now. But I'll admit that for years, I hated it and didn't know how to handle it. Why could "everyone else" have new clothes? Why could "everyone else" have a designer purse? Why could "everyone else" have a nicer or newer X, Y, and Z? Except, duh, looking back I know that is some solid BS. Everyone else doesn't have anything in particular - some people have stuff, some don't. Some who have it can't afford it, and some who can just don't. It took me a long time to understand that. A surprisingly long time. Years.

Years during which I avoided advertising. Having no TV service, reading no magazines, using ad blockers on my browser, sticking to blogs that maintain that if you don't want to buy it you can probably make it, and actively rejected the ubiquitous advertising mantra that if you buy X, Y, and Z you'll be happier, taller, younger, smarter, prettier, more popular, and more successful. Because duh again, a product like that doesn't exist.

Honestly? I'm kind of cheap. I like free fun because there's plenty of simple free fun to be had. I like making things myself because it really knocks people out. I've noticed that for a lot of people, the urge to spend and spending itself is an automatic thing that goes unexamined because we're taught that spending is the key to happiness. People want, and never ask themselves why they want. People spend without analyzing their habits. Not ALL people, but plenty. And that, I think, is how financial strife begins.

Call me cheap or tightfisted or uncool, but I'd rather have plain old happiness and most of my money sitting in a high yield savings account than a designer purse or new clothes any day.

Rebecca, Day 17

Day 17 is about limiting your materialism and escaping consumerism. The description links to this page and offers several suggestions. Let's see how I do here:
  • Limit television: Check.
  • Eschew the news: Check.
  • Limit Internet reading. I need to work on this. (See you soon, Day 60.)
  • Give up magazines for books. No, thanks. The magazines I read, I love.
  • Don’t go to the mall or Walmart. Check. I never go to the mall without a specific purpose. And I have been boycotting Walmart for years now.
  • Monitor your urges. When you’re online, or watching TV, or at a store, keep track of the number of times you want to buy something. No, thanks... This sounds like boring busywork.
  • Use a 30-day list. If you still really want to buy something, put it on a list, and write down the date you added the item to the list. Now tell yourself you cannot buy that item for 30 days. Many times, our urges to buy something will pass during this waiting period. I kind of do this already. It's called my shopping cart's "save for later" section.
  • Declutter. Check (see Days 9-13).
  • Find other forms of entertainment. There are other things to do besides watch TV or movies or read magazines or newspapers or the Internet. Um, duh?
  • Buy used. When you get the urge to buy something, and you’re convinced that it’s needed, try finding it used instead of new. Look in thrift shops or garage sales or flea markets or similar places. I totally already do this! I love buying things used. Often, older used items--e.g., furniture--are much more affordable and of a much better quality than new items.
While I'm in good shape by that list's standards, further down the page there are suggestions for "A True Path to Happiness." In general, I like the suggestions there and will see if I can implement some of them. (Especially the suggestion to exercise more! I used to be much better about this and would like to make exercise a routine part of my life again. I'll have to work up a schedule.)

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Christa, Day 16: Simplicity In Action

As I sit down to write this - with a glass of wine, no less - it's barely 6:30 p.m., dinner has been eaten by all, there's hardly a dish in the sink, and other than this, there's nothing absolutely pressing on my to-do list. Tedd is out and about with the P., possibly at the playground by now but maybe just wandering up and down the streets parallel to ours. Crickets are chirping just outside the window. The house is basically tidy, barring the fact that the kitchen counters are all in a tizzy because I caulked today.

Now I can't exactly credit all of this to the steps I and my fellow contributors have taken in the past two-ish weeks, I can't entirely say that this is just a fluke. Why am I drinking wine and blogging right now? Because a few days after Day 4, I unofficially said goodbye to Manolo for the Brides and Manolo for the Home. Because after Day 5, I started doing a little meal planning and figured out a dish washing scheme that seems to be keeping our wee kitchen mostly dirty dish free. Because as per my Day 7 post I have been making an effort to limit online play time during work time, and that left me with more time to devote to a super secret professional project that saw action last night and this morning, too.

Bear with me... this is just my roundabout way to try to find inspiration for today's voluntary simplicity idea:
Create a simplicity statement. What do you want your simple life to look like? Write it out. More here.
Sounds easy enough, right? But drafting a personal philosophy can actually be rather difficult - especially when you're asked to create one on the spot. The link in today's item seemed more complicated than guidelines for creating a simplicity statement ought to be, with revisions and inner q&a sessions, and a surprising use of the words "turbo charged". Simplicity and more specifically, voluntary simplicity, might be difficult to master initially, but it should become a habit, a life. It shouldn't require something akin to a business plan.

So keeping in mind that I want my simplicity statement to be simple, here's mine:

My goal is a life that never gets 
so complex I can no longer enjoy it.

End of story. Done. It covers all the bases. It reminds me of what I'm working toward. And to enjoy the stuff of life instead of always trying to create something more than life to enjoy. It can be applied to consumerism and our budget, my work life and my home life. It's something to ponder as I make decisions about the future and consider the detritus of the past. Plus, it's a great reminder that so many of the things we have been conditioned to think will make us happy frequently add another layer of unwanted complexity to our lives.

Julia's Day 16: Making myself wildly unpopular

The whole simplicity statement paradigm really just doesn't jive my psychology, with the result that I feel like a jerk. Hopefully that doesn't ruin Christmas for everyone! Either way, you can read more about it here!

Monday, August 29, 2011

Julia's Day 15: Declaring email bankruptcy

I feel like I get out of today easy because I happen to have left my job recently. That said, my personal email inbox currently boasts over 3000 messages, and that's after several days' worth of active downsizing. Gross. Read all about it here!

Project Update: 10-13

If you see small household items on my front porch sporting name tags, don't worry. I haven't gone nuts and named frying pan "GEOFF" or the microwave cart "MEL B." I've just been--as Christa put it--freecycling like a boss.
  • Needlepoint kits I'll never get to? Gone.
  • Electronic charging station that seemed like a good idea at the time? Adios.
  • Board games we haven't played in 5 years? So long.
  • Carry-on suitcase with the missing zipper pulls? Bye!
Freecycle is not my only pal as I edit/purge/simplify. Craigslist sent a nice momma my way; she bought a bag of toddler boy clothes from me.

And at 3 a.m. today, I decided that tomorrow would be CLOTHING SWAP NIGHT. About a dozen friends woke up to learn they've been invited to stop by at 7 tomorrow with clothes and other small items they no longer want/need. It looks like four people are coming so far. If all goes well, everyone will unload a few items by leaving them with other folks who'll enjoy keeping them.

A lot of these items are from the closets that I worked on most of the yesterday. Office closet looks WAY better now. Living room closet now makes a LOT more sense. I've still got some figuring out to do in the coat closet, and probably spend more time in my son's closet, but things are looking pretty fine!

Days 14-15: My Name is Rebecca, and I am a Digital Packrat.

Simplify my computing life and declutter my digital packrattery?


As a GTD fan, I have previously tried applying the rules of Inbox Zero to my email files, but it never quite works. I think this is partly because I check my mail from multiple machines: my laptop, my phone, and when school is in session the instructor's station in my classroom(s). Maybe that's something I can change--but it would involve responding to messages less quickly, and I'm not sure how I feel about that. Hm.

Periodically, I try to clear out my inbox. I'll do the 30 minutes here, 1 hour there and succeed in getting rid of some email. I'll go through a month's worth at a time--but there is always more to do, because of the sheer volume of email I deal with.

I have 15,379 email addresses in my primary inbox at the moment. Note I said primary. I have high quantities in my two other accounts, as well.

As for photos and videos, I've got tons and tons of those, as well. But I'm not as digitally organized with my personal stuff as Christa is, apparently, so I can't give you a straight number.

I do have a serious external hard drive on order, however, which is specifically meant for the photos and videos and music, as they are eating up hard drive space.

Work files: I have a lot of those, but they're in good order. I could definitely take a look and see whether anything can be purged--but they don't worry me so much, as they're very well organized and I do use older files when I'm writing research-based material. (While writing my book this year, I regularly referred back to project files from 2005, and some as far back as 2003. Academia moves much more slowly than industry, and I suspect I have to keep more work-related files longer than the average person as a result.)

Anyhow, I don't have any quick ways of addressing these issues--this is NOT a day-long project for me--but beginning next week, I'll spend 30 minutes a day (per the tip in this article) tackling the email.

Wish me luck. Meanwhile, if anyone has good tips, I'm all ears!

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Natalie: Day 13 -15

I would like to preface this post by saying that I have been drinking wine for a few hours. I am not responsible for grammatical errors as well as blatant ridiculousness.

So I just want to let you all know that I am on the coast of Maine at a house that is on a bluff overlooking the ocean. The waves are crashing against the dock. The sound...the fury is majestic. I am in awe of nature. If nature fucks us up well we deserve it because nature trumps humanity.

The sound of the waves against the rocks below the house (we are about 30 ft above the rocks) is glorious. It makes me realize how simple we really are and that nothing really matters when it comes to the wrath of nature.

My mother went to stay with my aunt and uncle because she was too close to the wrath of Hurricane Irene and she actually contemplated staying at her apartment because she was afraid that looters would break into her apartment. Really? My response was "mom your life is more important than any single thing any person would want to steal from your apartment."

I am MILES north from my condo but I am so pleased that I get to witness the majesty of nature in this beautiful house on the coast of Maine. I love being able to detach from my everyday life. I know that I get too attached to my stuff, to my life and that being surrounded by the ocean, the sounds of the surf bashing (not an understatement) against the rocks beneath this house is soothing.

Okay enough waxing poetic...

Days 13-15:

Day 13 is about my closets. Again I actually started cleaning out my closets...all of them except the coat closet in the living room. My walk-in I have discussed. That will be a work in progress over the next couple of weeks. We are going to build an attic into the space within our roof and the pull down door is going to go in our closet so I HAVE to clean it out. I did start it and I'm pretty confident that I am going to get that done. My hesitancy comes from and this might sound silly - my weight. I have clothes that I love but I would have to lose like a LOT of weight to actually wear any of them BUT then again my body (post pregnancy) is not in any place or will be any place near to wear any of those clothes. Breast feeding a baby and wearing a halter top do not mix. I know I have to resolve the emotional connection I have to my clothes. Thank god I am in therapy so I can continue to work on that.

Day 14-15: is essentially about being a digital pack rat. I have said in previous posts that I am not very techie so this is not a significant issue for me. Aside from the 9,000+ e-mails I have in my yahoo account that date back to 2000. I am not much of a digital person. I don't download music, I don't read many blogs, I don't really spend that much time on online. Honestly posting on this blog is the most time I have EVER spent online.

Okay audience, I am on VACATION. I am going to pour myself another glass of wine because my kid is ASLEEP and I want to finish watching the VMA awards because lately I have been enjoying pop music more than EVER.

Christa, Day 14 and 15: In Which I Discover I Probably Have Too Many Photos

Update: I decided to edit this post to include Day 15 as well, since I feel like they both - for me - fall into one post. As noted below, I'm considering online storage and I even cleared out a little clutter from my machine last night, so I'm checking this one off.

I have to say, I've felt at least some measure of enthusiasm for the previous 13 simplification ideas. But today's?
Simplify your computing life. If you have trouble with too many files and too much disorganization, consider online computing. It can simplify things greatly. Read more.
It leaves me feeling blah. Not that it's not a perfectly valid idea, but I didn't freelance for five years without learning a trick or two for keeping my digital life organized and accessible.

Not that I don't fall into the trap of using Gmail as my filing system or a handy way to be able to work on little projects both at home and at work, but I don't have enough files that need to be accessible any a moment's notice to warrant paying to have all my files stored and usable remotely like someone who needs to work from multiple locations. And since having a child and feeling the strange urge to take 14,377 photos and videos of her - seriously, I checked and am horrified - I had to implement an organizational scheme just for my own sanity's sake.

Music and movies? Also not a problem. At some point, my last computer died - or was it the one before that - taken all my music to file heaven along with it. And while there was, for some time, a part of me that considered trying to rebuild my music collection, I am married to a dude with more songs than I have photos of my daughter, so if I really want to listen to some music, it's not like I'd have any trouble finding *something*. I just don't have any music or movies on my computer and I'm okay with that.

But in the interest of making good on today's voluntary simplification list item, I'm going to look into those on the cloud back up services. Or another hard drive. Mainly for all those pictures of my daughter. Even though I put my absolute favorites on Flickr as an assurance that I'll never lose all of them, I'd rather keep all of them so when she's 16 and being a total meanie to me I can look back and remind myself of exactly why I'm not shipping her off to work in a coal mine.

Julia's Day 14: Has it really been two weeks?

Only 8 weeks and 2 days left to go!

Today I talk about how I am pretty good about organizing my stuff...with the enormously problematic exception of images and video. HOORAY!

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Christa, Day 13: It's Hard to Imagine My Closet Getting Any More Edited

Who has two thumbs and had a banner Freecycling day? This guy. I passed along my little painted table - a truly grody piece of furniture I picked up during a housewarming party in Rhode Island when Tedd and I went for a walk around the neighborhood and then painted, a new cheese board set that was an oddly non-pertinent thank you gift from the contractor who renovated our bedroom, a spoon rest that was lovely but was doing not much other than taking up space on our counter until it started taking up space in my cabinet, and the nut grinder that was one of the presents we opened on our oh so sad Christmas morning of 2010.

But that's in the past. One day in the past, since we're talking about Day 12. Let's look at Day 13, shall we? 
Simplify your wardrobe. Is your closet bursting full? Are your drawers so stuffed they can’t close (I’m talking about dresser drawers here, not underwear). Simplify your wardrobe by getting rid of anything you don’t actually wear. Try creating a minimal wardrobe by focusing on simple styles and a few solid colors that all match each other. Read more.
Are my closets bursting? Ha, no. Finally, a day where I can roll out some expert cred. Not that I'm any kind of real expert, but I did study up on the capsule wardrobe concept in the early days of my employment - often because I had nothing else to do - and I've been making due with a limited work wardrobe since I started. In my non-professional life, I actually make even more dues (ha). Mostly because my uniform consists of black pieces, denim, and a handful of easy to wear jersey maxi dresses. For my pro wardrobe, I look at working with a limited selection a challenge. For my day-to-day wardrobe, it's about ease. And also looking fab in black.

Maybe I'm just deluding myself and everyone at work notices that I'm wearing the same 15 things over and over again, and my friends are all giggling about my limited black on black with black wardrobe, but my guess is no. When was the last time you noticed when someone had reworn an outfit? Possible never. I lay the blame on the media, which maintains that wearing an outfit more than once is a frugal choice and that every season must come with an updated, if not entirely new, closet full of clothing. My present-day style icon? Angelina Jolie. She keeps things classy, likes black as much as I do, doesn't go overboard with her hair or accessories, and frequently is photographed wearing outfit repeats, a favorite pair of shoes or shawl, or otherwise very simple clothing as compared to her Hollywood counterparts.

I consider her one of the few famous people who has accessible style. Maybe it's not everyone's style, but it's been a good primer for me - someone who up until a few years back was terrible with clothing.

So when I read something like the following pull from an article on The Punch, there's a part of me that says "Lucky!" and a part of me that says "Dodged that bullet!": Siegle reports that we buy nearly half our body weight in clothes a year, but more than 20 items hang in our wardrobes unworn. We also have four times as many clothes as we did in 1980.

What struck me about that pull was not all the shopping that must be going on around me, but rather the bit about 20 unworn items. I like to think of myself as pretty practical when it comes to clothing, but now I'm wondering if even I have 20 items that aren't getting worn (barring a few pieces of random formalwear that you can pry out of my cold, dead hands). Off the top of my head, there's a pair of pants that doesn't fit and probably never will because as much as I would like to be that thin, I like to be eating food more. And a t-shirt that is so soft but too silly for wearing outside of the home. Things like that.

Edit them, you say. Well, there's a problem. That weird t? I layer it in the winter. The tight pants will go in the donation box tomorrow, but for the most part the things I am not wearing now will see some play in the wintertime when I need to layer or lose my arms and legs to frostbite in his horrible climate. Mainly the things I am not wearing right now are not seeing any action because it's too warm, and being that my wardrobe is already so limited, I'm a bit afraid to do much editing other than getting rid of things that absolutely, positively do not and will not ever fit. Wouldn't want to have to restock when the cold sets in.

Julia's Day 13: Empty my nearly empty closet? Okay!

Today I discovered that I had missed a few things during the big Day 9 affiliated closet purge. And that's ok! I should really share a picture of the giant pile of stuff I am amassing for donation.

Rebecca, Days 11-13: Editing rooms, closets, drawers

In the past week:

From my closet, I removed many items that no longer fit and/or have lost their appeal to me. Like James, I prefer to sell unwanted items when possible; but my favorite place to consign clothing recently closed, and I don't really feel like going through the hassle of booking a consignment appointment elsewhere and waiting a month or two for my items to be seen.

So instead, I took them all to Buffalo Exchange. They give you cash immediately for any clothing/accessories they think they can sell. They didn't take that many pieces, but I got $40 for my efforts. Then I gave several pieces to a friend's daughter, and I am hoping to organize a clothing swap among friends for other especially good pieces. The rest, I will probably donate to charity or post to Freecycle.

From the family room/living room areas, like Natalie, I went to work on toys. My toddler has way too many to play with. Most of what he hasn't been playing with lately went into bins in the basement, and he hasn't missed a thing. I'm going to winnow things down further when I have a chance. I also edited our decorations, moving a few things around and eliminating a few others, and I like the way things look.

I would love to work on the basement, but that's tough because we have a lot of things down there that we do use seasonally--or that we are saving for a second child we hope to someday have.

From my son's bedroom, I pulled a ton of clothing from his drawers and closet. He has way more clothing than he can wear, so anything in his current size that I didn't like (especially sports-themed items), I put into a bag and posted on Craigslist for only $20. No takers yet, so if anyone would like a bag of 3T boys' clothes, let me know! I did the same with the 24M/2T stuff he has outgrown, saving only a few favorite and/or gender-neutral items for potential future use.

The other area that needs serious editing is my home office. I don't have a great office at work, but my department is supposed to be moving to a much better space next year, and I'm hoping I'll be able to move lots of my academic books and files there at that time. In the meantime, I'd like to make a plan of attack that includes:
  • Sending old papers/files to One Dollar Scan for digitization
  • Donating/giving away some other books
  • Trying to rehome the closet and dresser full of craft projects
Re: the last item, before my son was born, our guest room was essentially full of items for potential crafty projects. Yarn, fabric, embroidery and needlepoint supplies, etc etc. I gave a majority to a very grateful friend who actually works in the wardrobe union in Boston and has a dedicated sewing room in her home. I kept what I thought I could get to soon and/or really, really loved. But the reality is that I have way less time for crafting than I'd like, and I still have a closet and dresser half-full with craft-related items. I think I just need to part ways with anything I can't work on very soon. With the limited time I have, there is NO NEED for an entire stash. If I ever run out of crafty projects to do (ha!), I can just go buy a new one, right?

If anyone reading this is crafty and would like to take a look through my stash, please let me know. :)

Friday, August 26, 2011

10-13 sound good but I have a psychological need to sell rather than give

I skipped step 9 because I was busy getting home from Finland.

10 = get rid of big items

My biggest stuff would be some art I bought. Since it’s worth several thousand dollars, I prefer to sell it rather than get rid of it the simple way.

11 = edit your rooms

I have lots of stuff I want to eliminate. I’d love to get all my DVDs and CDs and books on USBs for example. That’s going to take some time though. I could get rid of some papers right now but I prefer to go through them first so that also takes time.

12 & 13 = closets

Last night I got home after traveling for a few weeks and smelled mold. So here I am pulling a moldy $500 Armani cardigan out of my closet and taking it to the cleaners thinking, “Why did I even buy a $500 Armani cardigan? I don’t need it and it’s making my life more complicated.” But I’m too cheap to just give it away, aren’t I?

Christa, Day 13: A Trip Down Memory Lane

Closets and drawers... closets... and drawers. My own little likenesses of the Dorian Gray that is my life. The good news is that not ALL of the closets and drawers in my wee house are filled to the brim with out of place or unnecessary stuff. I don't, for instance, have a junk drawer - as much as I really would like to have one since the one that my dad always had, and still does, has always been a source of bizarre family fun. Junk closets? I have at least one, and I'm about to go look at it so I can address today's simplification idea:
Edit closets and drawers. Once you’ve gone through the main parts of your rooms, tackle the closets and drawers, one drawer or shelf at a time. More here.
I chose one little corner of the "red room" closet and, wow, what a haul.

Tedd's uncle's infant silver set and Tedd's, too. Long old fashioned gloves that my mother-in-law wore when she was a young adult - which aren't practical and the lovely pink kid gloves from France are too small for my big fat hands *cries*. The shoebox of things from P.'s early life, like one of her tiny preemie diapers and a preemie onesie that seems too small for even dolls (plus her umbilical cord stump ewwwww!). What is probably too many pairs of tap shoes. Manuals for all the baby products that came with manuals. A few books, some evening bags, a pair of Crocs Mary Janes the P. will grow into, a batik skirt I thought I'd make into a dress for her, and more.

Now tell me, is that a lot for one little corner of a closet? There were also some files that got stashed in there when we were moving our bedroom upstairs and random papers, to, including a print out of a pirate ship with no contextual clues as to why it was there. I love treasure hunts! This was a fun one, even if I didn't quite get into the spirit since not much made it into the trash or the donation pile. The books are going down to the bookshelves, as are the CDs and the silver, while other stuff will be filed or brought upstairs for safer keeping. The gloves I'll keep until P. is old enough to appreciate them - hey, they don't take much space - and the tap shoes...

Those I'm on the fence about. I don't exactly have a need for multiple pairs of tap shoes sporting different heel heights. I know I don't.

Particularly not the one-offs I used in a single show, like the white Mary Janes. Adult tap around here is all about the jazz funk, so my custom crossovers will likely do me forever. But still, keeping my shoes around is like my guarantee to myself that I will tap again someday. It's just that the teacher I really like teaches classes that are too dang far away, boo.

Basically I took a few trips down memory lane, put whatever had a place back in its place, and now have a slightly less messy closet in a room that is sort of up in the air as to its purpose. 

As far as my overall voluntary simplicity progress up until this point goes, I DID make a meal plan to simplify home chores but trashed it tonight for Subway (which was simpler, so ha), I DID ultimately choose to let go of a fairly big obligation that will free up more time for family (woo!), and my first big item to go on Freecycle was this:

Bye bye, treadle table! And thanks, Freecycler for hauling it off!

Natalie: Lots of Editing (11/12 of 72)

Today and yesterday's tasks are all about editing your living space by de-cluttering and re-organizing a room and cleaning out shelves and drawers. While I did not actually do any of those things on Days 11 and 12, I actually did a lot of editing last weekend and this past Wednesday. So yay me!

I found it really cathartic to go through my crap and throw stuff out, make piles of stuff to be donated and post stuff on Freecycle. That was the first time I posted on Freecycle and I could not believe how quickly things were picked up and how appreciative people were of their new treasures.

The rooms I edited were my laundry room (also my storage room), my kitchen and my dining area. In my laundry room, I cleared out lots of cabinets filled with stuff I never use and placed things in those cabinets that I use on holidays and special occasions. I also still have room in some of the cabinets so that makes me feel good knowing that if I need space for something important I actually have the space for it. I pretty much gutted my kitchen. I was stunned at the amount of unused Tupperware I had. I was able to donate a lot of housewares items to thrift stores that support local shelters. As well as non-perishable items to a local food pantry.

I also started on my bedroom closet which is a room unto itself. It's actually a walk-in closet. It's not Carrie Bradshaw walk-in but its a walk-in nonetheless. A walk-in closet is a blessing and a curse. Next to the interior staircase, it was the second selling point for me on this condo but with that much space the impulse to fill it is too tempting so now its time to edit it down WAY DOWN. I started it the other day but that closet is a full day project quite possibly a weekend project. I did make an appointment for a consignment shop but plan to schedule at least two more for some of the clothes I think I can make a little cash on.

My next BIG edit needs to be my son's toys. I have been reading this excellent book called "Simplicity Parenting" by Kim John Payne and he discusses the significant impact a child's environment has on his or her behavior. He believes that a child who has too many toys can become over stimulated and have more disruptive behaviors. I am oversimplifying his philosophy but the other day I noticed that my son was searching for a particular train that he could not find. He has toys on all three floors: in his bedroom, in the living room, and down in the basement which could technically be his toy room. He just became more and more frustrated as he searched for it and could not find what he was looking for. I have been contemplating donating some of his toys for awhile but this example proved how critical it was to give him some structure and order to his space by limiting his playthings. We are out of town this weekend but next weekend's project will be my son's toys. I found a great local agency that collects all kinds of children's stuff and distributes them to local non-profits who work with children and their families. I plan to make a sizable donation of toys there (if they will take them all) or there is always Freecycle.

Today I was starting to experience some panic about going away tomorrow for a long weekend and, no, that panic had nothing to do with Hurricane Irene. I'm worried that I will lose my momentum that I will come back from the weekend and be so harried with trying to "catch up" on home chores and work that I will let my quest towards simplification slip. My husband is bringing his laptop this weekend so I'm planning to continue posting while I'm away. Maybe this getaway will be a good respite allowing me some distance from my clutter and time to reflect on the changes I want to make upon my return. Maybe I will even come up with outline for how to spend the next few weeks editing my home.

Julia's Day 12: Keeping it simple

Today we've just been doing exactly what was suggested in the blog, starting with a hall closet. HOORAY.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Mitch: Days 9 - 13 Part I

Days 9-13 (effectively). Purge your stuff. If you can devote a weekend to purging the stuff you don’t want, it feels seriously terrific. Get boxes and trash bags for the stuff you want to donate or toss.

I'll just come right out and say it. So far this has proven to be the most difficult thing for me to do. Which is somewhat shocking to me because I hate having stuff. I hate clutter. It's why I don't bother to put things in some orderly place. I simply don't care enough to do so. It's a major reason why I've been trying to digitize everything that I can. All of my CDs live on my computer, my computer's backup device, and my Zune. All of my TV shows and DVDs are ripped to my home media server and backed up. The books I love are gradually making their way onto my Kindle. And the digital counterparts of my physical media are far more organized because I use them on a daily basis. As for my physical media, I have not opened a CD case in over two years.

With that in mind, today I picked up a couple dozen boxes and I began the purge. CDs and DVDs went into boxes to take to our local used record store. Soon my books will start going into boxes, hard covers into one group for my mom to resell on Amazon, and paperbacks to be donated to various organizations based on their content (i.e. if your child has to visit the children's hospital you will not catch them reading about Tywin Lannister's exploits in A Game of Thrones; at least, not from my copy of it). My bookshelf for music, movies and television shows and my bookshelf for real, actual books will both be making their way to the local dumpster, as they're barely holding together as is. And at the end of that journey, three to four full carloads of boxes that have only gathered dust on shelves for years will be lifted from my shoulders and distributed out for others to enjoy.

And yet, as they sit boxed up on there on the floor while I write this, I'm still not sure I'm going to be able to do it.

As I shuffled piles of CDs neatly into a pit of cardboard, I would find myself pulling out albums that symbolized poignant moments in my life.
  • I pulled out my original copy of Nine Inch Nails' The Downward Spiral, the first CD that I truly, emotionally connected with, given to me by my friend Tedd when we were 16, the record that started my passion for music.

  • I came across my release edition of Jimmy Eat World's eponymous record, which, on my copy, is still titled Bleed American. The album only bore that title for the couple weeks after its release in early September, 2001. On the 11th of that month it was immediately recalled and renamed. Every time I see it brings back all the feelings from that day.

  • My well worn copy of Dashboard Confessional's Swiss Army Romance was in there. It was the record that introduced me to the genre of music that would dominate my early to mid-twenties and inspire me to learn how to play the guitar. This was largely in part thanks to an awesome and long-defunct internet community called Dashtabs. It was comprised of Dashboard-loving guitarists who pooled together to tab out everything Chris Carraba wrote and teach amateur guitarists (like myself) how to play his songs. Chris himself would even post there from time to time. In fact, The Sharp Hint of New Tears was the first song I ever played live in front of an audience, and I probably still know how to play more Dashboard songs on my acoustic than everything else I've learned combined.

  • I found my second copy of Portishead's Dummy (the first one was played so much that the buildup of little scuffs and scrathes finally made it unplayable), which always makes me think of driving home from a Tori Amos show in San Diego with my best friend Sarah, both of us belting out the lyrics to Glory Box - "Give me a reason to be a woman". She loves that story. More so for that and less so for the fact that my car broke down at 3am less than 30 minutes from home.

  • I also found my copy of Lateralus by Tool, whose first listen was akin to a religious experience for my friend Russ and I. We loaded it up into the home theater, cranked up the volume, turned the lighting to utter blackness so all there was was the music, and we sat there in silence and took in the entire sonic journey. It also reminds me of us nearly getting ourselves killed (a number of times) on an epic road trip to Denver. Russ had been able to rig a tiny sound system into his Mustang so we could rock Lateralus, but it gave out and we were reduced to splitting a pair of earbuds.
And those were just a few of dozens of incredibly important records to me, like Massive Attack's Protection, Strangeways, Here We Come by The Smiths, Black Celebration by Depeche Mode, Radiohead's Kid A, and, of course, Disintegration by The Cure, all which bring me back to very specific times and places in my life.

And while queuing up the music on my Zune often brings me to those places as well, it's not quite like the act of picking up the same case I picked up with hands a decade or more younger, opening it up, taking out a booklet tattered from using it to learn the words, or from immersing myself in the artwork, or picking up the CD and seeing the scuffmarks from its history of being listened to, putting it into a CD player and listening to the hum of it spin up while eagerly awaiting for the first track to begin.

I was talking about this with my friend Heather G. today, and she described her collection of music, movies, and books as being an anthology for her life. For that reason alone she would have a really hard time getting rid of those things. It would be like throwing away a photo album and all the history that goes along with it. She talked about what a great memory it was to pull out some of her mom's old vinyl records and take that journey to discover a piece of her parents that she would've never been privy to otherwise. It made me think back to my mom's Simon and Garfunkle 8-tracks that she had when I was a kid, and how mystical her music collection was to me even then. I still hold a reverence for those two because they symbolize a gateway to the person my mother was before I was born, a person I never had the chance to know. There's definitely something significant about being able to tap into that kind of history.

For example, people travel all over the world just to be able to be close to places of historical significance. Sometimes the events that took place in these areas happened hundreds or thousands of years ago, so the people visiting often have no true context of the events that took place other than what they learned from the tour guide. But, for just that brief moment, they're able to step back in time and stand in the same place where those before them stood so long ago. It's like like tapping into the heritage of all of humankind and finding a piece of ourselves there. I had this experience several years back while I was in New York City, visiting Ground Zero. Even though bulk of the devastation was long gone by then, it was a humbling experience to feel the raw emotional resonance of actually being there, compared to the remoteness of the shock and disbelief that I had while watching it from a tiny television 2,600 miles away.

I bring this up because my friend made a very similar point about saying farewell to our books and our music. There's something about being able to tap into the nostalgia of the pieces of ourselves, or of our parents, by picking up a musty old record, or taking in the scent of a half-century old book just as there is in standing at a site of historical significance. Logging onto a computer and scrolling through a digital album listing just doesn't carry the same kind of power as being in the true presence of history. This makes saying goodbye to these nostalgic keepsakes, despite their having long lost their utility, like saying goodbye to a part of myself that I'll never be able to get back, to a person my children will never have the opportunity to know. It's a threshold that, once crossed, is closed off to us forever.

And yet, this very moment, five new colossi begin to stretch into the night sky above a memorial for that day in September, proving that we can both let go and move forward without having to forget.

After all, as wonderful as that tattered memory of Simon and Garfunkle is, an old 8-track will never come close to touching the experience of having a mother who loves me. And as for my own media anthology, if divesting myself of some dusty old boxes can bring me even one step closer to being able to dedicate my energy to creating memorable moments with my future children, then I'd say the trade-off is probably well worth it.

Julia's Day 11: Editing the Vision

Instead of walking around cleaning stuff up like I should have, I sat down and wrote a big bunch of lists of things that I should have walked around cleaning up! Read all about it!

Christa, Day 11: Editing. And a Zucchini!

*raises hand* Compulsive straightener here! As mentioned in a previous post, I almost can't make it through a room without wiping something, shifting something, or grabbing something to put back in its rightful place. However, that hasn't stopped me from acquiring TOO. MUCH. STUFF. Sometimes I think it's a uniquely American dilemma even though I know it's not strictly true. But you have to admit, we here in the U.S. certainly go about our daily lives surrounded by a near constant barrage of advertising imploring us to buy, collect, refresh, update, whiten, upgrade, etc. And while we're not big shoppers, I am the sort who somehow ends of just... acquiring things. Which brings me to today's list item:
Edit your rooms. One room at a time, go around the room and eliminate the unnecessary. Act as a newspaper editor, trying to leave only the minimum, and deleting everything else. Article here.
Since I did nothing yesterday but *think* about getting rid of big stuff and on top of that, had nothing profound to say about it (unlike my fellow contributors who addressed stuff like debt and the larger clutter they don't have), I am going to stand up right this second and do some impromptu editing. Just as a way to get started, mind.

What did I edit in less than five minutes of walking around my house?
  • A red metal and glass gumball machine
  • A potpourri tin shaped like a treasure chest
  • A cut glass pitcher
  • A silver butter dish
  • A brass bowl
  • A big round vase
  • Two sarongs (that are being repurposed dress-up items)
  • The contents of a wee glass box (flattened coin, 9/11 pin, another pin, etc.)
  • A cat picture frame with a picture of our wedding cake topper 
  • A getting-on-vintage leather Coach purse from when Coach still manufactured in NY
Obviously, each of those things had either value to me or meaning to me or was otherwise valuable to me at some point in my life. But for the most part, I had no idea why I had these things. Or if they were gifts, they'd been taking up a fair amount of space without being at least somewhat useful. Honestly, donating some of these things will feel a little odd, but I'd rather have the usable space than the stuff itself.

Does anyone else feel like that? And then feel a little guilty about it? At some point, years ago, I apparently lost my emotional connection to stuff.

P.S. - Tonight I decluttered my fridge by beer battering a zucchini and frying it up. That counts, right?

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Christa, Day 10: I Guess We're Not Starting Small?

Did you know that I used to be a compulsive side of the road furniture grabber? In a handful of cases, that compulsion has resulted in useful furniture upcycled by yours truly, such as this and this. In many others, however, grabbing side-of-the-road furniture has resulted in less space in the unfinished side of the basement until we hauled it back outside. Oops.

Which is why, perhaps, I feel a special fondness for today's 72 Days simplification idea:
Get rid of the big items. There’s tons of little clutter in our lives, but if you start with the big items, you’ll simplify your life quickly and in a big way.
I'll admit, it is 9 p.m. and I have not actually divested myself of any big items.

The linked article that accompanied today's idea seemed like it was designed for a slightly higher income bracket than my own. Why yes, I am reconsidering my need for a vacation home! Upon reconsideration, I still can't afford one! And I finally got over my sports boat addiction, so that's another bullet dodged. Unfortunately, a car is what I'd call necessary around here since we're not living in NY's five boroughs or in Boston proper anymore. Storage unit? Nope. Unused appliances? What does that even mean? A second washer on top of the first one?

But seriously, the main big items we have around here are furniture, and most of that is furniture we use. Mostly. However, there are four items that I can say without a doubt are doing nothing but taking up valuable space. These are:
  • Paloma's old changing table
  • A little yellow side table
  • An old glass door book shelf
  • A treadle table for an antique sewing machine
Why these four? Paloma's changer is kind of useless at the moment and if I was having another baby I think I'd spring for a convertible dresser with a built in changing table top - or, you know, change the baby on the closest flat surface so I could keep mah money. The little yellow side table is currently just a spot collecting stuff that ought to be put away. I painted that table myself, but it no longer is "me," if you understand what I mean. The old glass door book shelf was given to us by an upstairs neighbor who was moving out and it was one of those weird situations where I didn't know the guy but felt strange saying no. Ditto on the antique treadle table - which has an antique sewing machine to match in a box somewhere.

None of these things has any real sentimental value to me, save the changing table. And what kind of sentimentality is that, anyway? I can't toss this! I took our daughter's rectal temperature on it! Sheesh. Each of these things is taking up space and doing a whole lot of nothing. Okay, the treadle table has a box fan on it, but a chair would do almost as well. It's a bit late to be dragging these items outside at the moment - hello, 9:19! - but I feel good that I've identified them as problem furniture, and in the next week or so I will list them on Craigslist and Freecycle and hopefully someone bites.

Problem almost solved!

P.S. - Check out the Day 10 post on 31 and Holding!

Julia's Day 10: I coulda been a contender!

It was going to be an easy day, and then I didn't get anything done. Poop!

At least I have clear plans for the next time that I am able to actually accomplish anything.

Natalie: The Big Ticket (10 of 72)

So when I think about getting rid of something big, I don't think about extra cars, boats, vacation homes, extra appliances or furniture. We do have two cars (one we own) and one we lease. The one we lease is a wagon sedan. I guess we could have gotten a hybrid but we needed a family car and got what we could afford.

My husband would LOVE to own a boat but that's not in the cards right now and sadly we own no vacation home. We have a modest 2 bedroom condo that has an interior stairway. This to me is HUGE as I never lived in a house. I grew up in a small railroad apartment and before home ownership just lived in similar rental apartments. I love having multiple floors. It makes me feel like I live in a real house.

I definitely have a few small pieces of furniture that are taking up space. I will probably have them on freecycle in the next couple of weeks. I would like a smaller dining room set. In our current home is actually our kitchen table. My husband and I have had it since we first lived together. It was our first joint purchase (aawwww) when we had an actual dining room in our first apartment. We have been lugging it around ever since.

My big ticket item though is debt. My husband and I have accumulated quite a bit of debt over the years between student loans and credit card bills. No one is immune to debt - I think. If you are debt free comment on my post I'd love to know your secret. We also have a mortgage and car payments and the usual utilities bills. I refuse to give up cable. I love HBO. My husband loves all his ESPN channels. Debt though keeps us anxious every month. We certainly chip away at it but it makes me think about what can we do long term to make it go away. It's hard to save anything when you are paying off debt. My husband handles the finances. I suck at it. He's more responsible at that stuff. We have our share of arguments over it - who doesn't it. Again if you are a couple who doesn't argue over finances would LOVE to hear from you. The future is an unknown to us. We'll we ever be able to retire? Send our son to college? Go on a 10 day vacation to Italy or Ireland? These are questions we just don't know the answers to right now.

Rebecca, Day 10

Day 10:
Seriously, that's a LOT of rubber bands.Get rid of the big items. There’s tons of little clutter in our lives, but if you start with the big items, you’ll simplify your life quickly and in a big way. Read more.
I feel kind of "eh" about this one. Suggestions from the "read more" link leave me cold. I don't have "big things" lying around to get rid of. Eg: "TACTIC: If you rent storage space because you can't fit all your stuff in your home, recognize this as God's way of telling you that you have too much stuff." Rent storage space? Heck, no! I would never waste money on storage space indefinitely. We have only rented space for a month or two at a time, during moves, on an as-needed basis.

"TACTIC: Get rid of unused major appliances, furniture, and vehicles as soon as possible." Unused major appliances or vehicles? Um, no, we have exactly what we need. Furniture? Sure, as we became parents and turned the guest room into a nursery, etc., we have had some furniture to get rid of--but we've kept mostly on top of it with summer yard sales (and the occasional Craigslist ad). I DO have some antique guest bedroom furniture in the basement that I need to sell, but it's taken me three years to resign myself to doing so. It's so pretty; I'd rather keep it. But the housing market being what it is, we're not moving anytime soon, which is the only way a guest bedroom might possibly be in the realm of possibility. So, yes, that is a good reminder. I need to orchestrate getting it out of the basement (it's heavy) to be photographed and posted for sale online.

TACTIC: Question the need to have a car." Actually, we experimented with this last summer. Our older car needed some costly repairs, so before doing them, we spent three months as a single-car family. We realized that we could reduce to one car if needed, but as our older car has been reliable and is completely paid off, our answer to that question is that the costs of routine maintenance, inexpensive insurance, and occasional repairs are worth the added convenience to our family.

"TACTIC: Reconsider the need for a vacation home or property." I would LOVE to have a vacation home, but alas, I do not. (I am clearly not a member of the author's target audience for these tactics.) If I did, though, I would be very careful to choose someplace that could generate rental income to cover expenses.

"TACTIC: Ask yourself if you really need sport boats, vehicles, and other large pieces of equipment." Hahahaha. No, I definitely don't. That's why I don't have any! Silly.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Mitch: Day 8 - A Digital Diet

8. Limit your media consumption. This tip won’t be for everyone, so if media consumption is important to you, please skip it (as with any of the other tips). However, I believe that the media in our lives — TV, radio, Internet, magazines, etc. — can come to dominate our lives. Don’t let it. Simplify your life and your information consumption by limiting it. Try a media fast.

When I originally looked down the list of topics for this project, I saw this one and immediately thought, "Yeah, this isn't going to happen". After all, #5 on my list of values relies entirely on media consumption. So I asked myself, if I did do this media fast, what would it look like? What are the things that I'd be cutting out? Movies. TV shows. Books. The internet. What on earth would I do with all of my free time on the days and nights when I don't have social commitments? What would I do to relax after a long day at work?

And then it hits me. It's about engagement.

Last night I was out with a friend of mine having a few drinks. We were chatting about life's challenges and the conversation, perhaps unsurprisingly, drifted to the topics of this blog. During our chat, she excused herself for a few minutes and I found myself reaching into my pocket, grabbing my phone, and checking e-mail, Facebook, texts, etc, until she returned. At that point we continued our conversation. Looking back on it I realize that this was a very significant event, and not necessarily in a good way.

Now, I put a lot of effort into the last two days minimizing interruptions and distractions and focusing on work. Holy cow, was it a massive difference from the norm! Even if I didn't leave work feeling like I got a ton accomplished, I left work knowing exactly what I got accomplished and where to pick it up tomorrow. This is a huge step forward for me. I made all of the distractions secondary throughout the day to the things of highest value, and only focused on things like Facebook and apps and e-mails when I wasn't focused on my priorities. This should be a huge win, right? And it is!

But it sheds some light on a key aspect of event management that we haven't talked about yet. That is, while we know how to make the most of the time in which we engage in our life's events, do we really need to be engaged every waking hour? What does it mean to disengage, and just as importantly, how do we do it?

As I started on this post last night, I've been thinking about this issue and attempting to be mindful of how often I take downtime and immediately try to make it productive time. The answer? A LOT. For example, based on some things I've been reading on Zen Habits, I've decided to try to switch from being a night owl to a morning person. So there I am, up at 6am, and finding that being awake meant I needed to be doing something immediately. After all, what was the purpose of being awake if I'm not actively working on something? If I'm just going to be standing around watching the sun rise, I could just as easily be sleeping, or reading, or getting ready for work.

And I noticed it was like this throughout the entire day. Walking to a meeting? Let's check my texts! Waiting for my food at lunch? Let's play some Words with Friends! Every time I wasn't actively engaged in work or a meeting, I was checking something or doing something. While it's probably TMI, but I couldn't even go to the restroom without using that time to check Facebook.

I've structured my life to minimize interruptions, but I haven't changed the fact that I feel this need to be doing something constantly. This probably shouldn't be surprising, but this may be a significant piece of why I feel so exhausted and stressed most of the time. It may also explain the habits that cause me to be a night owl in the first place.

For example, I always tell people that I feel like a little kid when it comes to going to bed. I watch the clock approaching the "eight hours until I have to get up" mark with dread, and when it finally arrives, I think to myself, "but I don't WANNA!" And, being an adult with no parents to make me go, I exercise my free will and stay up. In fact, I often stay up for several more hours until I can barely keep my eyes open. Then, the alarm goes off four or five hours later, I hit snooze until my alarm clock finally gives up on me. At that point I switch to periods of devout prayer in the hope that my internal clock will wake me up before I end up being more than an hour late for work. Luckily, on weekends, I don't have this problem. I can stay up even later and sleep until lunchtime to make up for it.

Not enough quality sleep and wildly varying sleeping patters; is it any wonder I'm exhausted?

But why am I doing it? I know that I should be getting more sleep. I hate the 30 minute rush to get ready in the morning and I hate losing half of my Saturdays and Sundays to sleeping in. I don't even do anything particularly useful when staying up late (except write these blog posts!).

Honestly, I think the answer is because I don't know how to stop. If I can get more into the day, I'm going to try to get more in. If there are five things I'm excited about doing, I want to do them all. And if I've only done two and it's time for bed, then I get resentful of everything else I did during the day. I know, I know, it sounds insane! But it seems just as insane to let the day go by without "making the most of it".

Now there are a lot of things that people engage themselves with, but to bring the focus back to media, few of those things are designed to be as addictive. How many television shows end on a cliffhanger that make feel like you can fit in just one more episode before bed? How many books egg you on to read just one more chapter to find out what happens next? How many video games push you to finish that one last mission or gain those last few experience points in order to level up?

The internet as a whole is terribly guilty of this, as everything about it is designed to make you click the next link, and the next one, and the next one, until two or three hours have gone by and you have maybe one memorable three minute YouTube video to show for it. And when you add the accessibility smartphones give us to have those hooks at your fingertips? Why wouldn't you want to be engaged in something with the potential to be interesting and exciting every chance you get? After all, what's the better alternative? Just sitting there staring?

Well, maybe it is.

Let's look at a few of examples of what non-stop engagement does to us on a daily basis:
  • We have trouble sleeping because our brains start racing, looking for something to focus on, tending to engage in thoughts of work or some kind of other significant problem in our life that we certainly can't solve while lying in bed. And if we do fall asleep and start dreaming, we dream of those same problems and wake up exhausted.

  • We have trouble focusing on things for long periods of time because as soon as there's a lull in the action we're looking for something new to hook our attention. Ever started daydreaming while listening to someone else talking, only to realize they're saying something really important and you've missed nearly all of it? It feels awful.

  • We end up running at such a high level of energy that we burn ourselves out almost immediately and end up spending nearly every second of our day waiting for a moment of downtime. But we never get it, because as soon as we have that opportunity to make that time, we fill it with instant engagement through our media of choice.
Does this mean media is a bad thing? Absolutely not! But it can be deceptively corrosive if we allow ourselves to believe that engaging with it is the same as relaxation.

So for those of us for whom a media fast isn't realistic, I propose the following challenge isntead:

For 15 minutes out of every two waking hours, and preferably again right before you go to bed, stop whatever it is that you're doing. Or if you find yourself with a few minutes of downtime while waiting for something, resist the urge to find something to engage in.

Just stop working, reading, watching TV, playing video games, socializing, checking your phone, or whatever other activity you're in the middle of. Instead, take a walk outside, go stand on your porch, or find some quiet place where you can get away from where you've been. And what will you do when you get there?

Just breathe.

It may sound strange or cheesy if you've never done any kind of meditation or breathing exercises before, but believe me, it can be incredibly powerful. The best part is that it's very simple to do. Just focus your attention on your breath. Your normal every day breathing. If you notice thoughts or emotions entering your mind, you don't need to fight them. Just acknowledge them, and gently turn your attention back to your breathing. Empty your mind, and quietly enjoy the sensations of wherever your break takes you.

If you have a difficult time with this, try making a game out of it. Pay attention to the way it feels when you breath, where you feel the inhale and exhale within your body. See if you can figure out how to breathe in and feel it in different areas of your body. For starters, breathe into your abdomen, then when you can feel that, breathe into your chest, and finally move up until you can feel it in your head. Once you've done that, breathe into other areas of your body. See if you can find places that activate when you breathe, like your lower back, or may your side. If it aches, breathe into the area that it aches.

It's not unheard of to do this for a while and suddenly feel like laughing, or crying for apparently no reason at all other than that you're unearthing the burdens of the day (or perhaps from days, weeks, months or even years ago!) and letting them out into air to be carried off. Before you know it, your worries may feel like they're millions of miles away, or at the very least they'll feel much more approachable!

And when you're done, simply dive back in to whatever you were doing! Ideally you'll feel more centered and focused, allowing you to get even greater satisfaction out of what you're engaged in than you were previously, which, if you've been following along, will hopefully be the things that matter most to you.

Thanks for reading!

- Mitch

Rebecca, Days 8 & 9

Day 8:
Limit your media consumption. This tip won’t be for everyone, so if media consumption is important to you, please skip it (as with any of the other tips). However, I believe that the media in our lives — TV, radio, Internet, magazines, etc. — can come to dominate our lives. Don’t let it. Simplify your life and your information consumption by limiting it. Try a media fast.
While this challenge was in many ways covered by my Day 7 post, I do have some additional relevant experiences I can share.

We got rid of our DirectTV package a year ago, and sold our television set at a yard sale earlier this summer. We haven't missed either at all. I would use DirectTV's DVR feature to record all kinds of programs that I'd never have time for, and when I turned it on, I'd bizarrely feel as though it was a to-do list I needed to get through. (Remember, I love lists!) So although I worried I might miss DirectTV, the system was prompting me to spend more time than I otherwise would have, and the result is that I feel much freer now.

Now, we do Hulu and Netflix through a computer--it's much cheaper, and easier to avoid the ambient television viewing that happens when a set gets left on all day long.

In all honesty, I think this wasn't a big challenge because I'm just not that inclined to watch much television. I'm too busy for it, and I don't LOVE a lot of what's out there, anyway. And if I don't love it, why spend time on it?

There are a few shows I truly enjoy watching, like 30 Rock, but I can get these on Hulu. (The only one I can't find online and really miss is What Not To Wear.) I watch between, say, two and five hours of television over the course of a week--way less than the national average of 28 hours a week. Some weeks, I watch no TV at all; actually, I can't remember what or when I last viewed. I think it was at least two weeks ago.

I believe that overall, my screen time has been displaced from television to the internet. I don't know how many hours I spend online, but I suspect I have more in common with teenagers than I'd think.

Day 9:

Purge your stuff. If you can devote a weekend to purging the stuff you don’t want, it feels seriously terrific. Get boxes and trash bags for the stuff you want to donate or toss.
This is something I try to do regularly. I strive to keep only things that are useful and/or beautiful in my home, and to make sure every item has its own place. I do not always keep up with this--I'm so busy!--but I find that when I can keep up with decluttering/purging unused items, it's easier to tidy up, as fewer things lying around means less time cleaning.

I do like trying to get cash for the things I no longer need when I possible; we have a yard sale every summer (ours was a couple of weeks ago) and plan to have another in October. Also, today I took a pile of clothes I can no longer use to Buffalo Exchange and got about $40 for my efforts, yay! Then I gave several items to my friend's daughter, who was delighted. Now I need to see if any friends can use the remaining items; I'm proposing a clothing swap for next week. :) Anything they can't use, I'll donate them to charity.

Anyway, I'm looking forward to Days 10-13. Does anybody have really special tips/tricks/suggestions for discarding or rehoming items? I may watch an episode of Hoarders for extra motivation. I kind of can't stand that show, but the results are great--it's the perfect motivator!

Natalie: A Necessary Purge (9 of 72)

Purge your stuff. If you can devote a weekend to purging the stuff you don’t want, it feels seriously terrific. Get boxes and trash bags for the stuff you want to donate or toss.

I am a packrat. I have a LOT of stuff. If people want to give me stuff, I do not have the heart to say no. I feel as if I'm being ungrateful to whatever they are offering. I have trouble parting with sentimental stuff (especially if someone gave it to me) because I feel like I am being thoughtless about their thoughtfulness even though I may not like it or need it. I have stuff that I think is cool or useful and I may "use someday" but that day has never come. This is my favorite I have things that "might be worth money someday" but again if it ends up being worth anything it may be only a few bucks more than was actually spent on it. I don't have any antique roadshow treasures in my home. Then there are clothes, the pre-pregnancy clothes, the pre-pre pregnancy clothes that "if I just lost x amount of weight" I'd fit into again. Never mind that they are out of style or they no longer fit my style (not like I have one but just saying). No I do have a style its Bohemian Mother Comfort...if I lose 20 lbs it will be Bohemian Mother Comfort Chic.

Then there is the stuff my mother buys me or gives me. If I am a packrat, my mom is a hoarder who adheres to some if not all of the above excuses about stuff which is clearly where I get my excuses from. What I mean by "gives me" is every time I go to visit my mom which is about every other month, she will unload stuff that she bought for herself on me that she doesn't really need in the first place. I, of course, accept all these items because when I do say no she'll say "why not" with her guiltiest puppy dog eyes and I just shrug and accept her offer with a resigned "okay." My husband dutifully packs the car full as if we were going on vacation for a month and we head home on our 4 hour drive north. We then unload bags and bags of stuff from the car to the house and I spend the next week (no joke) finding places for all this new stuff I have acquired.

I think its abundantly clear that I have stuff issues and a house that needs a major overhaul in the de-cluttering arena. I am happy to report that I have made some progress in this area! This past weekend I spent a lot of time going through some closets and cabinets and I felt really proud of what I accomplished. There is more to be done but I donated a few bags of housewares to a thrift shop that supports a local shelter and on Thursday I plan to make two more drops to a second thrift shop and food pantry. I posted a bunch of items on Freecycle that went to very happy new owners. I was able to clean (yes I said clean) and re-organize my kitchen to the point where it looks staged for an open house.

Here are my next steps towards purging my stuff:
1. My son's toys - another area where my mom goes nuts (he is her only grandchild) but I plan on making some donations in the next couple of weeks of toys he just has no interest in.
2. An attic - we need actual storage space in our house for Christmas decorations, baby stuff that I don't want to get rid of in case we decide to have a second, and other miscellaneous items that I will need if I move again (boxes for fragile items), a few sentimental things that I just might want to share with future generations (family history and all). We have not done any major home projects in about 4 years so it seems like a good time to invest in our living space. I might even add value to our home long-term (long, long term in this market).
3. Books - time to get rid of anything I haven't read in at least 2 years and know I don't need for future classes I might teach. There is a book swap in 2 weeks that I will be bringing lots of books to
4. Clothes - I am dreading going through my closet. I find it depressing that my closet chronicles my weight gain history but I'm over it. I have come to terms that there are some parts of my body that just are NOT going back to pre-pre-pregnancy weight. I still have hope for getting back to pre-pregnancy weight.
5. Cleaning Service - I am pleased to announce that I scheduled an appointment with a professional cleaner for next week. I haven't decide if this is a worthwhile long term investment (although everyone I spoke to agrees it will be) but I want to try it and see if it makes a difference.

Christa, Day 9: My Dirtiest Little Secret

Truth: I am compulsive straightener. I like that everything has a place, and I like when things are in their places. Stop by my house most days and you won't see too much of a mes because I'm the clean as you go type, and my husband is, too. BUT my dedication to neatness comes at a price. I like to call that price the Closets of Dorian Gray, the Basement of Dorian Gray, and the Bathroom Cabinets of Dorian Gray. Not to mention the Pretty Boxes of Dorian Gray.

What's today's simple living list item?
Purge your stuff. If you can devote a weekend to purging the stuff you don’t want, it feels seriously terrific. Get boxes and trash bags for the stuff you want to donate or toss. Here’s my guide on decluttering. Here’s a post on starting small. More on purging below.
So what's the problem? Considering how many donation pick-ups I do each year, I ought to be a pro at decluttering and simplifying by losing the stuff, right? Problem is, I have a couple of blockages that get in the way of my ever doing a purge that goes beyond two boxes of said stuff.

One of which is my attachment to sentimental clutter and gifts. I realized only recently that yes, I am in fact afraid to get rid of items that I associate with special people or places because I'm afraid I'll forget those places without the things.

Which isn't true, and is actually kind of silly.

Second on the list might be the little voice saying "But I might need this someday!" Which is sometimes true, but mostly not true. And when it is true, I usually don't remember I have the thing I need until after I've bought a new one OR I can't find the thing I know I have. Considering that this doesn't happen often, having to buy the occasional new thing shouldn't bug me.

And third, being that I am a habitual straightener, I sometimes need somewhere to stash the "indecision items". That's the stuff I'm on the fence about. Do I shred it or file it? Donate it or make a pledge to wear it come winter. Where should spray paint really be stored if I plan to use it soon? And so on. The consequence is that my closets and basement and certain other areas are often full of stuff that needs to either be put away or tossed - whenever I happen to figure out which.

So today I finally felt like I had a concrete something to work on. Step one was taking photos of the problem areas, which I was going to share here but really, cluttered closets just aren't that visually interesting. Step two was actually doing some decluttering. Since I couldn't get to everything today, I chose one problem area to tackle: the front coat closet. Here's a before and after:


No spectacular change here, but the closet floor is ready for shoes and I hung up what needed hanging. I also organized our cold weather gear in preparation for fall and winter, and pulled a lot of stuff to either be packed away for future babies or go to the Goodwill. Or to where it actually belongs. In the next couple of days, I plan to do the same for the other areas I photographed. Like my daughter's closet, the cabinet over the toilet, and the "kitchen dump" that's supposed to be a temporary placement area for keys and mail but has a lot more in it than that.

Honestly, I do feel a little anxious about showing my secret clutter to the world - especially after the Attorney At Large's neat-riffic Day 9 - but I think it's healthy in that it will help me STOP STASHING STUFF IN CORNERS JUST SO NO ONE WILL SEE IT. Yes, I have clutter! Yes, I have stuff that never seems to find its proper place. Come over some time and ask to see it and I will. How about that?

I like fasting (and feasting)

I like this 8th step. I've been traveling since August 2nd and I haven't watched TV since August 1. Sometimes my wife turns it on but whatever - I don't watch it. Even now she just turned on a soccer game, presumably the announcers are speaking Finnish, and then walked into the bathroom. Let's ask her why.

She doesn't know.

Anyway, I like not watching TV for long periods of time. As for other media, I have, of course, been updating my travel blog but I like writing down what I did on vacation anyway so I can remember it later. Once I've written it why not publish it?

And I've been contributing to and following this blog but hey - why not see if I can simplify things?

But when I get home I will watch a little TV. My wife and I like to get a full season of a good show or a few episodes of a few good shows and watch TV all night while cuddling with our dogs. I know I have several episodes of Trueblood and Breaking Bad to watch when I get back plus UFC 133.

Julia's Day 9: In Soviet Russia, Stuff Purges You

Check out my Day 9 post in which I reveal why purging your stuff now saves your family a mountain of trouble after you die.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Christa, Day 8: Media Fast? NOT Going to Happen

Media is, for better or for worse, a big part of my life. As I think I mentioned in yesterday's post, certain aspects of my jobs involve updating Facebook... browsing is another part. I cannot get away from online reading and blogs and social media because these three things are part of my arsenal of professional tools. A full-on media fast is an utter impossibility, even on the weekends because I'm working then, too.

With that out of the way, let's look at today's idea:
Limit your media consumption. This tip won’t be for everyone, so if media consumption is important to you, please skip it (as with any of the other tips). However, I believe that the media in our lives — TV, radio, Internet, magazines, etc. — can come to dominate our lives. Don’t let it. Simplify your life and your information consumption by limiting it. Try a media fast.
Honestly, as much as I putter around on Facebook and as I admitted yesterday, need to curb some of my constant update checks, my relationship with the constant barrage of media that's shoved at us from every corner is pretty good. Am I perfect? No. Media is definitely one of the things that keeps me from pursuing yet another enriching activity - I could spend the post-bedtime hours working, but if you know me at all you know that I work enough as it is. And I make art and get my craft on and my home is not slipping into disrepair. Typically, by the time I decide to steep my brain in nonsense, I have done a poo ton of work, enjoyed a significant amount of time with my child, done things around the house, and stopped to smell the freakin' roses.

So what COULD I improve if I felt so inclined?

Like a lot of people, I watch television, and I'm not ashamed to say we watch some every day. But since we don't have a cable service we tend to watch things we actually want to watch because there's no clicking around to see what's on. And TV time for me is also exercise and sewing time. Yesterday, for instance, I rode the stationery bike for a while and then mended Tedd's corduroy jacket while watching the tube. I guess I could be pursuing certain personal projects, but I do my worst work after 8 p.m. and that's when we watch television.

The Internet
I could definitely be reading fewer articles on Femail or looking up not as many pictures of Angelina Jolie or watching auto-tuned Charlie Sheen when I ought to be writing or editing, but I'm working on that. Usually, my rule is that I have to have actually crossed off a to-do item before I can take a media break, and unless I'm having a particularly undisciplined day, that works just fine. I've actually pretty much curbed my purposeless browsing habit - I have my go-to sites, I'll check out things Tedd is laughing at*, and I love design blogs, but I don't just sit and watch YouTube for hours.

Other Media
The other media in my life is either work-related and thus necessary or Tedd's music, which doesn't get in the way of anything I'm doing. I don't watch the nightly news or subject myself to the content behind alarmist headlines about all the things in my house that are killing me and the pedos lurking behind every corner. I block ads and don't watch commercials. I don't click through channels to see what's on. And so on.

Basically, my preference is to only spend my time on the media that informs me, entertains me, or otherwise enriches me - using numerous definitions of 'enrich'. And I feel like I'm meeting that goal. I'm going to call Day 8 DONE and then call it a day... with a little exercise and TV.

(*Note: Took a break here to watch this and some others smack in the middle of writing this. Come on, how could I not?)