Friday, September 30, 2011

Christa, Day 47: I Am Totally Doing Something Else Right Now

Since I'm busy reading blogs and my brain is desperately trying to get me to go downstairs to decoupage a label that reads CINNAMON SUGAR onto an old jam jar, I'll make this short. Today's simplification idea:
Single-task. Multi-tasking is more complicated, more stressful, and generally less productive. Instead, do one task at a time.
Admission: I so have to force myself to do this at work.

Luckily, up until just today when I agreed to take on a megadonic project without realizing the hugeocity of it, all my work could be done in small chunks. Do task A. Check email. Do task B. Get a coffee, read a blog post. Do task C. Complain about state of company with coworker. Do task D, if task D even exists. Which is a part of why I took on the aforementioned project. It's finite, though irritating. But in the long term, it should hopefully eliminate the roadblocks that are causing my downtime.

How does this project relate to the subject of multitasking? It involves a lot of running reports (borrrrrring) and so I end up poking around in between hitting COMPILE and actually saving the results.

Which is a fine illustration of me and my relationship to certain tasks. I can stay focused - or singletask, as Leo calls it - while doing certain things. Sewing. Washing the dishes. Walking to the park. I'm not the sort of person who checks the Internet on their phone every 15 seconds because I usually just leave my phone in my bag because I don't want anyone calling me anyway, much less sending me emails that come straight to my phone! BUT put me in front of a computer and my focus goes out the window.

Perfect example: As I typed the previous sentence my brain said CHECKFACEBOOKEMAILFACEBOOKEMAIL(1)SOMEONE

And then for real, I refreshed my blog to update my roll. Bad habits, I know. I occasionally use site blockers to keep me plugging away toward various goals because I do want to get my work done. Checking items off a to-do list sends me into near-orgasmic spasms of joy, no joke. So my homework for Day 47 will be to continue to force myself (if necessary, kicking and screaming) to be more disciplined while working on the computer. I'll, er, let you know how that goes.

Julia's Day 47: I am Jack's inability to multitask

True story: The scientific evidence for how hard multitasking is? My fault.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Christa, Day 46: Adonis DNA

Here's a list of some of my current goals: Convince my boss to let me work from home. Coordinate the conception and live birth of a second child. Find more freelance clients via my website. Uh, actually finish my website. Paint and number my first-to-second floor stairs. Toilet train my toddler. Various around the house projects. Make a tutu for the P. Make a t-shirt dress for the P. And so on.

None of which is in line with today's voluntary simplicity idea:
Simplify your goals. Instead of having half a dozen goals or more, simplify it to one goal. Not only will this make you less stressed, it will make you more successful. You’ll be able to focus on that One Goal, and give it all of your energy. That gives you much better chances for success.
One goal... one. This is a toughie. Does Leo mean choose only one? In that case, I'd say it would be a toss up between more clients and toilet training. Or does he mean use the AMAZING POWER OF SIMPLICITY to boil it all down into one fully compressed mega goal that is the amalgamation of all other goals? Because I can do that. As suggested in today's idea, here is my one goal:


And I get to define what that means. There you go. Easy, right?

Julia's Day 46: I can DO simple goals!

Basic summary: My goal is to try to do the things that result in me being happier.

What do you think about when you're alone?

Christa's recent post got me thinking, who am I? But the answer doesn't matter. How you ponder the question is what matters. You need time to be alone with your thoughts.

I haven't been doing that recently. I mean I'll have time but I won't spend it thinking about the meaning of life, my place in the universe, etc. I need to make time for that.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Christa, Day 45: I Can Still Feel a Little Cool

Poke around the blogging world, and you'll see the homemaking is IN. Hipsters are out there in whatever cities are now deemed super cool having fun creating their own definition of adult and immersing themselves in old school pursuits that twenty years ago would have been the purview of grannies. And thank goodness for that since yours truly hasn't written a short story or painted a proper picture for years now.

Back in the day when I was a young adult (as opposed to the old adult I am now) writing serious fiction and painting serious pictures were the hip things to do. Now it's cupcakes and knitting and sewing tutus and doing stuff with craft paper, which is a darn good thing because it means I still feel at least a little cool. You know, because that's all the creative energy I can muster up these days.

Bringing me neatly to today's voluntary simplicity idea:
Find a creative outlet for self-expression. Whether that’s writing, poetry, painting, drawing, creating movies, designing websites, dance, skateboarding, whatever. We have a need for self-expression, and finding a way to do that makes your life much more fulfilling. Allow this to replace much of the busy-work you’re eliminating from your life.
The verdict? Done-ish. I do indeed have some number of creative outlets for self-expression. Many of which are DIY crafts for moms. Like so:

DIY crafts for moms

And really, the fact that most of what I make involves pursuits that have traditionally fallen into the realm of woman's work is not a problem for me. There's no logical reason that painting a picture on a canvas should be any more valuable than painting a chair. Only one of which you can sit on, I'd like to add.

Yet it has struck me as sort of odd that I've just sort of slipped into creative pursuits that revolve around house, home, and family whereas once upon a time my creative pursuits most definitely were not associated directly with those realms. I'm sure some of the more militant feminists would have a field day with it all. The fact is, though, that DIY crafts for moms type projects are good for those with:
  • Limited time (like I tried to comment on Julia's Day 45 post, any creative pursuit I want to engage in has to fit into the hours between 9 and 11 p.m.)
  • Children who might want to enjoy the fruits of one's labors
  • A house or apartment that they'd rather look a certain way
  • A limited budget because, hey, craft paper and Mod Podge are pretty cheap
And there you have it... my creative outlet. It's not cool, except right now it's kind of cool. Making cupcakes, sewing stuff, and takin' names. That's me, not going postal.

Julia's Day 45: In which I reveal that having no creative outlet is killing my brains

Continuing the underlying theme of Julia is terrible at putting down her clingy toddler long enough to keep her house clean, in this episode, I discuss the fact that even my change in job status has not allowed me enough free time to, for example, shower daily.

I'm stinky, yo.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Christa, Day 44: No Can Do

Here's some information about my car: It gets P. and us to the doctor, though we have walked her to the ER once before. It gets us to New York to see my mom and my grandparents. It gets me to work in a town with very limited local public transportation. It allows me to pick up free toddler clothes and gear from Freecycle. It makes doing things like buying groceries and seeing other people possible in our terrible white winters.

All of which brings me to today's simplification idea:
Try living without a car. OK, this isn’t something I’ve done, but many others have. It’s something I would do if I didn’t have kids. Walk, bike, or take public transportation. It reduces expenses and gives you time to think. A car is also very complicating, needing not only car payments, but insurance, registration, safety inspections, maintenance, repairs, gas and more.
Well, Leo, it IS something I've done. I had no car in Brooklyn for some time and even no car in Queens for a little while. This was doable because I was a hip single gal living in Brooklyn and then Queens where there were plenty of Asian markets and, later, a supermarket down the block and great 24-hour public transportation and also everything I needed at all hours because I was in New York City. Carless in Boston might be possible, but everything closes at what feels like 9 p.m. - including the public transportation!

Carless in the north shore? Ahaha.

Could I do it? Yes. I'd have to find new doctors for all of us and while we do have a grocery and bank and post office within walking distance, it would be a cold horrible experience to get to them from December to March, so I'd probably just feed my family un-cashed checks and unsent mail all winter. I'd have to quit my job, or give my reluctant boss a telecommuting ultimatum. We could still visit our New York family, but getting there would be a day's worth of train rides (commuter rail, 1 hr w/ walking, to Amtrak, 4+ hrs, to LIRR, 2 hrs) and a lot more expensive. No more free stuff pick ups.

Yes, owning a car is more expensive than taking a bike everywhere or using public transportation. Provided there even is reliable public transportation. Look, we walk. A lot. And bike.

carless living

Weekend shopping is often a by foot affair that includes the whole family. I like to use my car as little as possible. But life without a car where we live? Would be downright complicated. Figuring out something simple like how to visit with a friend would be such a pain in the butt that I'd become a hermit. I would not make the effort or spend the money to see my family. And I'd be shopping every day for things since I'd be limited to however much I could carry home in a wheely basket. Which was perfectly fine in New York when the stores I frequented were a block away. Not so much here.

Call me whiny, if you will. But this is an idea for city dwellers, not us current suburbanites.

Julia's Day 44: Does barely using the car I have count?

Today I went to the zoo. It was the first time I had driven the car in over a week! I think she needs oil.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Christa, Day 42 and Day 43: Epic Fail!

Outer simplicity? Can do. Voluntarily simplifying my inner turmoil? Well, that's where you've got me. I'm calm. I'm freaking out. Or am I...

See I am one of those weirdos for whom freaking out is inextricably linked from working it out. Panic is my way of occupying the unpleasant energy coursing through my person so I can work out a solution to the problem at hand using my brain. Without a little therapeutic panic, my brain is too busy doing a frantic lambada dance with all of the physical sensations that come with bottled up stress. Letting it out gives my brain the room it needs to really think. My husband cannot stand this. But it works for me.

Here's yesterday's voluntary simplicity idea:
Find inner simplicity. I’m not much of a spiritual person, but I have found that spending a little time with my inner self creates a peaceful simplicity rather than a chaotic confusion. This could be time praying or communing with God, or time spent meditating or journaling or getting to know yourself, or time spent in nature. However you do it, working on your inner self is worth the time.
My inner world? NOT simple. Chaotic confusion is my resting state, 95% of the time. I stress about the little things. Remain calm through the big things. Actually, I giggle through the bad things. Do not try to have a serious conversation with me ever because I will invariably want to laugh and trying not to laugh will cause me to look like a gargoyle. Long story short: I know myself well enough to know that my inner self is anything but peaceful or simple. Note that I am not twirling my hair around my finger like a 15 year old and saying "I'm, like' really deep." Because, baby, I am as shallow as a puddle. What you see is what you get.

Maybe I should be working on that. I don't know. What I do know: I suck at meditating, but I've never given it a really good go and I hear there is a learning curve. I like to spend time out of doors, and nature is okay when it's not mosquito season or chainsaw psycho season. My daily prayers are usually of the panicked variety, and I'll leave you to figure out what that means. I sort of journal. But, heh, even as I write this, I'm spiraling into inner turmoil caused by my own tendency to feel envy, worry, fear, and so on. Like Julia, I am much too good at imagining the worst case outcome of ANYTHING.

That said, my homework is to find an effective way to not only get to know myself, but also to help myself change.

Which brings me to today's voluntary simplicity idea:
Learn to decompress from stress. Every life is filled with stress — no matter how much you simplify your life, you’ll still have stress (except in the case of the ultimate simplifier, death). So after you go through stress, find ways to decompress. Here are some ideas.
My stress relievers: deep breathing in stressful moments, reading in the calm before the storm, and exercising every day. I figured out way before it was trendy or medically indicated that getting a good sweat on was pretty much the best way to control my manic mind and my pessimistic heart. Am I a low-stress person? Far from it. But I think I at least have a handle on my stress levels and my reaction to stress. (Though I doubt my husband would agree!)

Julia's Day 43: inhale....exhale

In light of yesterday's revelation that I am terrible at remaining calm, I don't know whether it is surprising or not surprising at all that I actually do have a knack for letting go of most kinds of stress. Good thing, too, as today I woke up to discover that my phone is currently about 3,000 miles away from my present location!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Julia's Day 42: Creativity's got me down

In contrast with what Leo suggests, it seems to me like the key to inner simplicity, in my case, is to stay as far away from the inside of my own head as possible.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Christa, Day 41: This Goes Here, That Goes There

Have a place for everything. Age-old advice, but it’s the best advice on keeping things organized. After you declutter. Read more here.
Or don't since the link is borked. Maybe Leo originally linked to this article, which was then at a different URL? It seems as good as any for making clear the benefits of having a place for every little thing. Which is easy, I suppose, when you're a minimalist. But when you're not, trying to find a, as in one, place for everything could very well require a spreadsheet. In the article I linked, I could name the location of everything except for my 2009 tax docs. Most likely, they're in the filing cabinet. Most likely. But everything in the post falls into the category "essentials." There's the minimalism again. If you asked me to pinpoint the location of, say, the glue sticks for my hot glue gun, the spray paint for my daughter's outdoor chair project, my rollerblades, and my wedding guestbook, I don't know if I'd be so sure of my answers.

I think that as one pares down and gets closer to living in a household that is focused on mostly essentials followed by a few things of beauty followed by toys (for the parents among you), it becomes easier to find a place for everything and put everything in its place.

It's something I was thinking about today as I washed a few dinner dishes and wiped down my stove. Specifically, how clean my kitchen has been lately, and my living room, too. Tidying up before a gathering of friends was easy last week, and the laundry is getting put away faster than every before. There has simply been less to clean and organize since I began the 72 Ideas in 72 Days Project, and I'm loving the change. I think I feel lighter, maybe even happier. Less stuff has translated into less to worry about - less to find a permanent place for somewhere under my tiny roof.

We're not perfect, by any stretch. There's still plenty in the house that has no place and plenty that still needs to be purged. I'm rather jealous of all the people who can give away or consign their baby gear without a second thought - we'd like to have another baby someday and so have kept everything from gear to clothes and it takes up a lot of space. It will be sad when my baby-making days are over, but on the other hand it will be awesome to slowly give away all the wee onesies when we don't need them anymore.

I don't have any real actionable item to speak of today. Just more of the same: decluttering, organizing, purging, and reorganizing!

Julia's Day 41: Why I love my kitchen

Oh, my beautiful kitchen, which is so well-organized for the manner in which I spend my time while in that room. Too bad I haven't yet been able to manifest similar functional focus throughout my home. I suppose the fact that it works well in one space should serve as an indicator that it could work elsewhere, as well.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Julia's Day 40: I can't handle the mid-process clutter

I'll admit it, sometimes I do organize the clutter, but mainly because if I didn't, I would go COMPLETELY INSANE.

Christa, Day 40: My Decluttering Crutch

I can't believe that we've already reached Day 40 of the 72 Ideas in 72 Days Project! We're more than half over and I feel like there's still so much to do and so much to explore in the realm of voluntary simplicity. And, yes, still so much decluttering left to do! Which brings me to today's idea:
Declutter before organizing. Many people make the mistake of taking a cluttered desk or filing cabinet or closet or drawer, and trying to organize it. Unfortunately, that’s not only hard to do, it keeps things complicated. Simplify the process by getting rid of as much of the junk as possible, and then organizing. If you declutter enough, you won’t need to organize at all.
This brings me right back to the Basement of Dorian Gray - which I talked about on Day 9 - and our household's bad habit of putting clutter out of sight. Eventually, it's out of mind, too. Until it gets bad enough to drive me absolutely out of my head, that is. I suppose not letting it get to that point is what today's simplification idea is all about.Organized clutter is probably my decluttering clutch. Why should I get rid of X, Y, or Z? Look at how organized it all is!

I actually just this second was forced to look at some organized clutter. In a lidded khokhloma bowl on the piano I've mentioned once or twice, my daughter found all manner of things: tiny shells, a wee hook, old Star Trek Barbie accessories, beach glass, etc. She's two, so none of these things were really appropriate playthings and none serves any actual purpose. Why did I stow them in the bowl? The quick answer is that I really have no idea. Might need the hook some day? The toys had memories attached? Who can say.

The point is that as good as I am at getting rid of the big things, the small things are my crutch. It's so easy to keep papers or tiny bits of sea glass or anything else that can be stashed in a corner or stowed in a beautiful lidded bowl from old Mother Russia. I'm not sure what my action item from here on should be... suck it up and learn to throw stuff out better? Small scale decluttering? Create a system for dealing with one type of organized clutter, like paper? All of the above?  I've been working on my kitchen drawers, still, and have encountered a lot of organized clutter. But I'm working on it, so it's all good.

Natalie: Minimalism. (32&33 of 72)

I am not a minimalist. I am probably closer to a clutterist. I wish there was some kind of term for a lifestyle that was mid-way between the two. Maybe by the end of my post, I will have discovered the right label for someone who enjoys stuff but not too much stuff. Who likes things cozy and comfortable. I guess I associate the qualities stark, sterile and quiet with minimalism kind of like a room on a psychiatric ward or a Tibetan monk's cell. For me these environments are about healing, solitude, and rest so that you can manage the pace of the modern cluttered lifestyle.

I do understand that clutter both physical and mental causes a great deal of anxiety and confusion. I experience both of these sensations quite a bit actually especially lately as I have been trying to make my home more minimalist-like. One of the ideas from Zen Habits is to have clear floors and clear surfaces except for necessities (like a toaster oven or coffee pot in your kitchen) or a few choice decorative pieces. This is one aspect of minimalism that I really want to achieve.

I actually have achieved a 95% state of minimalism in my kitchen. I find it challenging to maintain but not impossible since I de-cluttered my kitchen several weeks ago. This process in the kitchen has been quite revealing. It's amazing that once you have an actual spot for something how easy it is to put away in that spot. Also that if you have less of something, for instance, plates they are easier to clean up. The 5% of clutter that remains in the kitchen are small things that don't seem to have a proper spot. I just haven't decided where I want them to go so for now they are on the counter.

I need to work on the other surfaces in my home such as my fireplace mantle. It's just a mish-mosh of frames and miscellaneous knick-knacks that looks very cluttered. Some knick knacks that I own have sentimental value and I have trouble getting rid of them but I don't like them either. I need to figure out what the emotional value is in me holding onto them. I know its more about an intangible quality or relationship that the object represents. It's hard for me to accept that the object is NOT what it represents.

For instance, I have these 4 porcelain bunnies that were given to me when I was a child by someone important. The relationship to that person is one that is - for lack of a better word "damaged." The bunnies are worth a little bit of money but I hold onto them more as if I am holding onto the relationship. It's as if I give up on the bunnies then I'm giving up on the relationship even though I'd like the relationship to end. It saddens me to have this relationship come to an end so I hold onto the bunnies instead.

I don't think I have ever lived anywhere where the floors didn't have clutter on them. Mine at the moment have lots of toys on the floor. I am working on that though. I have been going through my son's toys and only holding onto the ones that he truly enjoys playing with. I would love not to have stuff on my floors. I also need to start putting our shoes away in the front closet instead of how they are now - scattered outside the front door.

When I think about achieving minimalism in my home. The floors and surfaces take on different meaning to me. The floors seem to have clutter that are items that are used often so why put them away? Things like shoes and toys are used on a daily basis so if they are on the floor, they are convenient to find. Getting the floors de-cluttered is about me being less lazy and more pro-active. The stuff that seems to accumulate on surfaces, I seem to have some weird deep emotional attachment to that I will continue to work on.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Christa, Day 39: I (Mostly) Got This One

Today's voluntary simplicity idea needs no introduction:
Exercise. This goes along the same lines as eating healthy, as it simplifies your life in the long run, but it goes even further: exercise helps burn off stress and makes you feel better. It’s great. Here’s how to create the exercise habit.
Why? Because I've got this one nailed. Or just about nailed. Could I exercise more? Sure, I am blown away by some of my marathon running relatives and this chick makes me feel like a lump. She's still running, biking, and doing workout videos while pregnant. Me? I ride my stationary bike once a day for about 45 minutes to an hour, do some light lifting every few days, and do sit-ups when the mood strikes. Frankly, if I really applied myself to exercise, I could probably be quite slim.

But, meh. My blood profile is awesome, I have energy, I'm generally not suicidal, and I can shop in the upper range of the juniors section of most stores.

Really now, I'm a married woman and I'm 31 years old and I'm probably never going to be on TV, so how much time do I need to devote to fitness, anyway? (Though I still maintain that the only reason I would want to be a famous actress is because exercise would be a part of my job. I may do the bare minimum at the mo', but that's a time thing. When I had more free time, I exercised more. What's not to love about exercise!)

Julia's Day 39: Incidentally, I exercise

I used to be a gym rat. Now I am a walk-around-with-a-baby rat!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Christa, Day 38: Being a Vegetarian Is Hard!

I like to think we eat well. Not well as in delightfully fancy plates of the sort I would eat daily if I had a personal chef, but rather well as in fairly healthy and possibly above average where Americans are concerned. Sorry, America! We eat vegetables every day and steer clear of ready meals. Our main utterly gross vice is boxed macaroni and cheese, to which we add real cheese, and the only reason it has become a fixture is because once P. tasted the box stuff once in Florida, she didn't want to switch back to homemade. And we do buy veggie sausages and our sauce is jarred unless it's pesto in the summertime or we get red sauce as a present.

Is that healthy? I feel like the older I get, the less sure I am. Fresh fruits and veggies, definitely healthy. Bread and pasta, though... healthy? Or going to kill you? Sometimes I long for the days when we ate the flesh of other living beings and dinner could be vegetables and meat, all roasted up nicely. That seemed pretty healthy. And easy, too. Being a vegetarian is hard!

Today's voluntary simplicity idea is as follows:
Eat healthy. It might not be obvious how eating healthy relates to simplicity, but think about the opposite: if you eat fatty, greasy, salty, sugary, fried foods all the time, you are sure to have higher medical needs over the long term. We could be talking years from now, but imagine frequent doctor visits, hospitalization, going to the pharmacist, getting therapy, having surgery, taking insulin shots … you get the idea. Being unhealthy is complicated. Eating healthy simplifies all of that greatly, over the long term. Read about how to simplify your eating habits.
So since I'm so befuddled, let's take a look at what ol' Leo deems unhealthy and talk about that. I've commented on each item.
  1. Junk food. Most of the junk food we eat is still on the healthy or has-some-redeeming-value side. Our diet isn't perfect but we're not chowing down on chips and so on. It's also not raw macro-biotic vegan and all organic/local.
  2. Processed food. This is one I'm confused on... granola is processed, but the good stuff isn't terrible for you. Bread is processed, but it also serves as a peanut butter delivery system. Pasta sauce is processed... We eat raw, whole foods aplenty, but I guess we do eat plenty of processed foods.
  3. Fast food. Every now and then we'll lose our minds and grab veggie burgers and fries from Burger King, but fast food for us is usually veggie subs from Subway. Could be worse, right? Hello, vegetables.
  4. Red meat. We're vegetarians, so no red meat in our houses or in our bodies!
  5. Fried food. I love fried food. Can't help it. Fried is yummy. And we'll even fry at home because we're gross like that. But it's not like we're sucking down fries every night, and that's why I exercise daily. Cholesterol levels are a-ok. Bring on the fried!
Overall, though, like I said we're doing pretty okay on the eating healthy front, and I just had a checkup confirming that all my levels are within mid average range for a healthy adult. And we eat lots of olive oil, so there's that, too. Heh. I guess the whole process of expanding my cooking repertoire, as per yesterday's idea, will help with our little family eating even better. I'll let you know how it goes.

Julia's Day 38: Cooking everything makes it easy to eat healthy

I love these food-related assignments, it makes my life so much easier!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Rebecca, Day 37: Meal Planning

I have been wanting to simplify meal times for a while now. The reason? If we start making dinner at 6 p.m., anything particularly nice to eat (or, rather, more complex than a simple pasta dish, salad, or sandwich) won't be ready till close to 7 p.m.

If we start our preschooler on his bedtime routine around 7:30, that means that life after a full day of work can consist of:
  1. day care pick up
  2. food prep and cooking while struggling to occupy toddler (often resorting to playing videos for him)
  3. eating
  4. starting bed time routine
In other words, no quality after-work time with my child until the stories and snuggles that put him to sleep. Considering my priorities, the situation is really disagreeable to me.

Enter my new gadget: the slow cooker I requested for my birthday earlier this month. That plus recipes from A Year of Slow Cooking and a couple vegetarian slow cooker books have been making quite the difference.

Slow cooker recipes require advanced planning. I'm sure some people who use slow cookers a lot get to the point where they can just throw stuff in it and hope it comes out well; but I need to follow recipes. Therefore, I need to shop with specific recipes in mind, and think about what will make sense for that week.

We've been prepping the ingredients for our slow-cooked meals after our son is asleep, refrigerating them, and then beginning the slow cooking process in the morning. This means that at 6 p.m., we're not starting the process of cooking; we're sitting down to eat a nice, warm, high-quality meal.

And what a huge difference this makes! It may not save tons of time--prepping a good slow cooker recipe takes as much time as prepping any recipe, and I've always felt that food prep work is the long boring part--but it is reorganizing our time in a way that makes sense for our family.

And I'm really happy about that.

Note: I've also checked out a couple library books on pressure cooking. We got a pressure cooker for our wedding in 2000 that we've used, maybe, twice? If I can get comfortable using it, I think we could use this pressure cooker to similar advantage. We'd prep food in advance, but instead of having it cook all day, throw the ingredients when we get home and see it ready to eat in only a few minutes. So far, I'm more drawn to the idea of food ready to eat as soon as we get home, freeing up the evening for walks and playing and other fun stuff--but I think the pressure cooker may have its place, too.

Christa, Day 37: This Is the Post Where I Ask for Your Help!

I wrote briefly on Day 5 about my dislike of cooking. That hasn't changed, even though I made amazing crepes tonight. It's not that I can't cook and cook well, it's that I dislike the drudgery of cooking and the cleanup and how fast the fruits of one's labors are thanklessly consumed. It's like every meal is Thanksgiving where someone is pouring their soul into the food and it's sucked off the bone in five minutes flat, after which everyone wants to go watch football. No thanks!

Which brings me to today's voluntary simplicity idea:
Create a simple weekly dinner menu. If figuring out what’s for dinner is a nightly stressor for you or your family, consider creating a weekly menu. Decide on a week’s worth of simple dinners, set a specific dinner for each night of the week, go grocery shopping for the ingredients. Now you know what’s for dinner each night, and you have all the ingredients necessary. No need for difficult recipes — find ones that can be done in 10-15 minutes (or less).

I tried this. Really, I did. Somewhere in one of my old, entirely filled to the brim to do notebooks with all the old items crossed off there is a list of six meals corresponding to Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, with Sunday being a wildcard day. It seemed like a great idea at the time, but from a grocery shopping perspective... not so much. It just didn't seem to work as far as perishables went. And then summertime came and I wanted different foods every day. I guess this is silly and picky of me, but if I say that on Thursday I'm going to eat X, invariably I want Y. So I kept cheating and then threw my weekly meal plan out the window.

Only the fates could know that the idea would be presented to me again as part of this project!

It's hard to get jazzed about simplifying in the kitchen when the chore is one I don't like - and don't like a lot - but of course there have been other days and other posts in which my fellow contributors have encountered a chore or responsibility that vexes them. I assume they handled it with grace and fortitude and also sucked it up and dealt. Which is what I ought to be doing. The logical part of my brain says that simplifying a chore that one doesn't like can only make that chore easier. The emotional part of my brain says something like "COOKING CAN GO TO HELL RAWR RAWR FOOD PILLS BRING 'EM ON, NASA!" For indeed, I would be the first in line to purchase nutritionally balanced food in easy-to-swallow, utterly non-messy pill form.

Where was I? Oh, right, meal planning. I did a week-long meal plan around Day 16, and it worked well for one week, by which I mean I tolerated it. And I know I ought to do it again, but I think I need some help. Amy's Day 37 was inspiring, but I think I need some very specific ideas for foodstuffs that don't require much cooking or prep time since I get home at 4 p.m. and I want to spend as much time at that point in the day with my child, not doing a lot of chopping and mixing and so on. Does anyone know any easy foods besides crepes and omelets and lentil soup and roasted broccoli that I will start me down the road to a broader mealtime repertoire? Like I said, I can cook. I just don't want it to usurp the time I have so precious little of!

Julia's Day 37: Meal planning for people who love markets

I prefer to have the market drive my meal plan rather than vice versa, but that might be a function of the fact that I'm really more of a farmer's market person than a supermarket person.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Christa, Day 36: It's About Spending, But Made Me Think About Saving

I've mentioned in at least one previous post that I like to keep track of how many days I can go in a row without buying anything directly. Once upon a time, I could maybe go a couple of weeks because I was single and had access to laundry and didn't mind eating the weird food that somehow ends up in everyone's pantry even though no one in their right mind would buy it. Now, I have a child and a job and a house and a car and so must maintain some standard of comfort less the child rebel and the house fall down around my head and the car decide not to go anymore. As for the job, every now and then I do buy a piece of clothing or two - but I'm lucky enough to live close enough to come home for lunch.

Today's simplification idea:
Learn what “enough” is. Our materialistic society today is about getting more and more, with no end in sight. Sure, you can get the latest gadget, and more clothes and shoes. More stuff. But when will you have enough? Most people don’t know, and thus they keep buying more. It’s a neverending cycle. Get off the cycle by figuring out how much is enough. And then stop when you get there.
Not to toot my own horn or anything - toot toot! - but I feel like the mister and I are fairly good at living with enough. There have been times a plenty when we could have bought on credit or splurged on shiny or whatever else it is people are into these days, but we always stop, sometimes on the brink, and ask ourselves why and whether we need the thing we're lusting after and what the point of it all is. We're very introspective people, I guess.

What's the old saying? Make do or do without? As it turns out, there are plenty of things one can do without just fine. Two items conspicuously absent in our own kitchen come to mind: a dishwasher and a microwave. Thanks to the 72 Ideas Project, we've actually been staying on top of the dishes so there's no longer dish drying overflow on the counter adjoining the sink. And the only time I ever really miss a microwave is when I need to melt chocolate and I'm standing over a double boiler. Because I melt chocolate all the time, I tell you.

But what is enough, anyway? Let's look at and then critique my shopping list of what I bought today:
  • Heavy duty floor glue
  • Shoe Goo (a home use shoe repair glue)
  • Prescription migraine medication
  • Sunglasses for the P.
  • A diet root beer
  • Bobby pins
Three of the items were necessary. We have some flooring coming up. We each have a pair of shoes that needs fixing. And I can't function with a migraine. Or I do function, but I do it badly and bitchely. Three of the items were not. The P. could wear a hat with a brim (though I have uber sensitive eyes and can't live without sunglasses so I'm not going to make her live without them). I could drink water. And I could do my hair differently or cut it short.

I'm not sure how any of these items fits into the enough philosophy, really. I suppose my own cross to bear when it comes to understanding what enough is isn't spending but rather saving. No, we don't have oodles in the bank, but I would rather save than do just about anything. When is there enough money to feel safe and not worry about having to bag at the supermarket at 95 years old to keep from having to eat cat food? My guess is for me, never. My challenge to myself with regard to today's simplification idea is this: For the rest of the week, stop worrying about having enough money in the future and start being grateful that we have enough money right now.

Julia's Day 36: It's all downhill from here

I don't know what enough is, so in lieu of ending up with too much, I settle for not nearly enough.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Christa, Day 34 and Day 35: Downsizing the BIG Biggies is Doable?

Here's a bit of trivia for you that's never going to come up in a pub: My house measures up at something in the neighborhood of 1,100 square feet of space, and that includes an entirely unfinished room that's currently a repository for bags and bags of baby clothes and toys outgrown by my daughter. Here's a fact that might come up in pub trivia: The average home size in the U.S. in 2009 was 2,700 square feet. Which brings me to, er, yesterday's simplification idea:
Consider a smaller home. If you rid your home of stuff, you might find you don’t need so much space. I’m not saying you should live on a boat (although I know some people who happily do so), but if you can be comfortable in a smaller home, it will not only be less expensive, but easier to maintain, and greatly simplify your life. Read about downsizing your home here. 
Can I check this one off? Sure, it feels like we live small, but I think if we ever found ourselves in the position of needing to move, I wouldn't be totally against downsizing further. Consider a small home? Okay, I'm considering it. I can't say I'd follow in the Attorney at Large's footsteps and go for full on studio living, but I could do a two or three bedroom condo comfortable as long as the location was right. Right now, we're comfortable with our style of living small, which statistically sees us living smaller than most in the U.S., though plenty bigger than many people in the rest of the world.

The thing is, our tiny Cape Cod Revival may be small, but I've been careful to keep furniture scaled appropriately. And as small as it is, it's still a four bedroom house with a good sized finish basement. Tedd, the P., and I could all retire to separate rooms for days at a time, if we wanted to. Sure, we don't have a dining room and do it all in an eat-in kitchen, but we never did host dinner parties anyway and no one has ever complained about having to eat outdoors on the deck in the summer or in the living room in the winter. We have one full bath along with something akin to an airplane bathroom, but so far our schedules have allowed for that - and I don't mind doubling up in the shower, woo woo. 

I literally cannot count the number of times we were told we'd get sick of our small house quickly or feel cramped as soon as we had a child - mostly because it's not like I tried to keep track of a number - but that hasn't proven true. I know Tedd would like more private space, but we're working on that. The unfinished room I mentioned will become his office one of these days. P. and I, on the other hand? We like to keep things cozy. I like a small house... it's easy to clean and keep neat with minimal effort, it encourages family time, and it's relatively affordable to heat and cool. Would more house be nice? I guess. But it actually feels like we have a lot of space right now.

And now for Day 35's voluntary simplicity idea:
Consider a smaller car. This is a big move, but if you have a large car or SUV, you may not really need something that big. It’s more expensive, uses more gas, harder to maintain, harder to park. Simplify your life with less car. You don’t need to go tiny, especially if you have a family, but try to find as small a car as can fit you or your family comfortably. Maybe not something you’re going to do today, but something to think about over the long term.
We have a... crossover? It's a Kia Rondo, which I believe they stopped making in favor of the Soul. It's kind of like a tiny van or a slightly steroidal station wagon. Are smaller cars totally doable for families. Yes. Would they make life any simpler for MY family? No. Like many family vehicles, ours contains a car seat, and like many safety obsessed parents, we're keeping that car seat rear facing because that is safest. You can squeeze a rear-facing car seat and a toddler into a tiny car, but it's not comfortable for most involved.

What else? Our car provides stroller storage, which is a plus since our house is so tiny and our stroller is so gigantic. We travel to New York fairly often, too, and that means hauling our somewhat larger than average portable crib and then, on the way back, whatever stuff the fam decides to bequeath us on any particular visit. Our car has been useful when hauling mass amounts of garden supplies, bikes, weight benches, furniture, and Christmas presents. In Tedd's words, "We've stuffed that car."

In conclusion, having a slightly larger car has improved our lives, the gas mileage isn't bad, and I like being able to move stuff around. Give up my large-but-not-huge car? Nawwwww.

Julia's Day 35: Gettin' pretty lonely on this blog here...

Since Corolla and Camaro have the same number of syllables, I'll just sub the one in for the other in the song, and assume that my car situation is just fine.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Natalie: Perplexed by the idea of being frugal (31 of 72)

Learn to live frugally.
Living frugally means buying less, wanting less, and leaving less of a footprint on the earth. It’s directly related to simplicity. Here are 50 tips on how to live frugally.

If a 1 to 10 scale existed for living frugally with a 1 being religiously adhering to all 50 tips provided by Leo Babauta and 1o being that that you leave a plus size Sasquatch foot print on the earth then I think I'm a 6.75. I find that I am a bit baffled by the idea of living frugally. Before I seriously pondered the concept of frugality, I assumed that being frugal meant living within your means. As a consumer of the earth, you should make conscientious choices about your lifestyle and its impact upon everything around you. You know like when you're at a potluck, you take just a little sampling of all the dishes and makes sure you leave enough for all the other guests so as not to appear too greedy. I know I'm not the most frugal person I know but everyday I do try to be more mindful of the lifestyle choices I make. At this point in my life, I do buy less than I ever have. Some of that has to do with my family's general cash flow but other times I am asking myself "do I need that?"

This idea of being frugal brings up other issues for me. I have always felt emotional conflicted about money and how it impact a person's sense of self-worth. When I was a kid, my parents were divorced. My dad was pretty well off but me and my mom lived with my grandparents and my mom didn't make much but she was terrible with finances. She spent lots of money on me when I was a kid. I think she was trying to overcompensate for my dad not being around or some other deep emotional wound she was trying to deal with. We lived in a blue collar neighborhood right around the corner from the projects. No one had money where I grew up but my dad would show up for our weekly visits driving different sports cars and being all flashy and so I by association became labeled "the spoiled little rich girl."

This label has haunted me my whole life and has a significant impact on how I come to be an financially responsible person. It makes me want things and at the same time feel guilty for that desire. It makes me feel undeserving of quality stuff so I accumulate lots of crappy, low quality stuff. It makes me cheap and wasteful all at the same time. I know how this sounds. I'm contradicting myself and that's why I haven't posted in a while. The idea of frugality has got me being very contemplative as I struggle with so much guilt when it comes to making purchases.

Anyway, my brain is starting to hurt from thinking about this task. I know its time to move on. If anything, learning to life frugal is something I know I is a task I have not mastered but is at least I place I have made some changes and hope to make more in the future.

Julia's Day 34: Is it really downsizing if you're just getting rid of stuff you didn't use?

Actually, we are considering a smaller home. We've got more than enough space here, and the layout is rather less than baby friendly, so why not at least try for something better suited to our needs?

Friday, September 16, 2011

Julia's Day 33: Minimalist vs. cheapskate

Most of the things that I do that could read as minimalism are either based on my unwillingness to spend money, or on the fact that I have moderately weird/high standards about what I eat. Go figure!

Christa, Days 32 and 33: Make Mine Minimalist, Martha

I can say with some certainty that I will never be a true minimalist. Not like this, anyway. Maybe like this. I like having things because they are comforting and the natural inclination of most human beings is to collect. I am not my stuff, but my stuff is a way to show the world who I am. Not the only way, one way. Stuff is design and choices and a person's stuff says a lot about who they are. The person who owns this stuff is probably pretty different from the person who owns this stuff. I think that's okay. I also think minimalism can be taken too far unless that's what you're into - if the life of the Ascetic is not what you're into, you're going to be pretty unhappy living the true minimalist lifestyle.

Today's simplification idea, along with yesterday's:
Make your house minimalist. A minimalist house has what is necessary, and not much else. It’s also extremely peaceful (not to mention easy to clean). More here.
Find other ways to be minimalist. There are tons. You can find ways to be minimalist in every area of your life. Here are a few I do, to spur your own ideas.
Yesterday, I did something that is in direct opposition to the above ideas. I bought a piano. A piano that is, in the world of pianos, quite small, but that is, in my tiny Cape Cod Revival, quite large. I don't know that it gets any less minimalist than purchasing a huge, hard-to-move piece of less-than-useful furniture. None of us in our house really knows how to play, though we can read music and play other instruments. So I bought a piano just for fun.

Verdict: Not a minimalist.

Not that I don't like the look and the lifestyle, in theory. Sure, I'm not wearing a watch and I don't have an iPod. My phone is not running apps, and we don't have cable. But while we have storage and less furniture than some, my walls are covered with photos and masks and framed pictures, and I still have stuff I can't part with. Maybe I will someday, maybe not.

The fact is, I do like a scaled down look, more in line with European homes - less stuff, better stuff - than with minimalist homes. My house is where I live and plan to live for some time, not a fly-by-night stop on life's adventure. I like to travel light, but I'm also putting down roots. I am getting rid of stuff now at a faster pace than ever before, but I haven't figured out what I want my home to be yet.

And I bought a piano.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Natalie: E-mail (30 of 72)

Keep your email inbox empty. Is your email inbox overflowing with new and read messages? Do the messages just keep piling up? If so, you’re normal — but you could be more efficient and your email life could be simplified with a few simple steps.

I am not the type of person who gets a ridiculous amount of e-mail and I am pretty good about deleting the junk right away and making electronic files for e-mails that I need to refer to in the future particularly at work. I think the one problem I have is having multiple e-mail accounts. I have a yahoo, a g-mail, one for work, and one for the college and I guess you could call Facebook messages an inbox too. It's kind of annoying to check them all the time but not too overly time consuming. I like connecting/communicating with people via e-mail. I enjoy writing. I guess sometimes I can be too wordy but I just find it difficult to make phone calls nowadays. I guess it just seems difficult to find the time to have a faceless conversation with someone. I'd much rather have a face to face conversation and connect quickly via e-mail and social media on updates and making plans. I think it would be helpful to designate a time for myself to check my e-mails like twice a day at least when I'm at home. I have been trying to make an effort recently to just check during A's nap time and then in the evening.

Julia's Day 32: But I don't wanna!

Minimalist houses always feel like showpieces to me, and showpieces always feel like places where you can't touch anything, and home, to me, is sort of the opposite of a place where you can't touch anything. It's my house! I want to be able to touch EVERYTHING! With abandon! In fact, I want pretty much everyone who visits my home to feel like it is okay to touch the things, that way I am getting my money's worth from the things I have, the lion's share of which were acquired in hopes that they would be useful!

So no minimalist house for me.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Christa, Day 31: The Slow, Unending March from Wanting to Not

Here's a story: Once upon a time I really wanted a Lincoln Navigator. I don't know why. And I wanted a Louis Vuitton Damier Speedy 35. And didn't know why. I wanted numerous pairs of shoes, all bookmarked in my browser, though I didn't have a clear idea of how they'd fit into my wardrobe. I wanted a long black shearling coat with a princess silhouette. A canopy bed and a pool and a Tulip table* and a whirlpool tub and greyhound. And who could say why. Then one day, I realized that how I spent my money now would have a pretty big impact on whether or not I had to work at 80 as a bagger in the supermarket and I said screw all that stuff.

Today's voluntary simplicity idea:
Learn to live frugally. Living frugally means buying less, wanting less, and leaving less of a footprint on the earth. It’s directly related to simplicity. Here are 50 tips on how to live frugally.
After the story above, you are maybe thinking that I was converted completely. That I am an epic frugalista. Not true. If that were true, we'd be living in a condo in the city instead of a house. I would have shopped for secondhand work clothes instead of opting for new stuff from the clearance racks. I probably wouldn't be all jazzed for the delivery of my new-to-us but extremely old piano tomorrow morning. A piano for which I paid $175 including inside delivery, a princely sum around here when it comes to 'wants.' Did I mention that neither of us is much of a piano player? (Yet.)

The point is, we definitely buy less and I try to want less, and we generally succeed at both. The list linked in today's idea? We nail pretty much every item on it. I don't know about the whole footprint on the earth thing, but I will say I get absolutely livid when I see how much still-good stuff people throw out on trash day. My first thought is that they bought something new to replace something that didn't need replacing and are now trashing things that other people could desperately use.

Of course, maybe frugality for us is easy. We're not frugal to simplify our lives or to reduce our eco footprint or because we're concerned with the working conditions of the low wage factory workers that make all the plastic crap Americans seem to be obsessed with. Nope. We're frugal because we just plain don't have all that much dough, and if we're going to make it last, spending it higgledy-piggledy is not the smart way to go about things. Frugality is part of a strategy that may make it possible for us to retire one day or to send our children to university or to travel without being so concerned with the price of airline tickets. In the short term, frugality is what lets us live in this region of the country, which is ridiculously overpriced. So $800 handbag? Definitely not on the shopping list, now or possibly ever.

(In part because one can buy a perfectly luxurious all-leather handbag from a small established Parisian leatherworking company for a quarter of the price - and that drops to free when your gram gives it to you secondhand. That's MY kind of frugality.)

*I still want a Tulip table. One of these would do just as well, though. With four of these in orange. See, even for me not wanting is difficult!

Julia's Day 31: Contentment vs. complacency

It's not that I lack ambition or motivation. I'm just wildly lucky. So I don't really buy anything or want anything (at least any stuff).

And I can prove it!

Natalie: Healthy Habits and Simple Routines (29 of 72)

#29 - Establish Routines.

The key to keeping your life simple is to create simple routines.

I have been working hard on establishing routines for myself that focus on simplicity and healthy living. I often try to cram a lot of work, chores, and other tasks into a small window of time: my work days and nap time. While I do get some stuff done, I seem to neglect other areas of my life and then "feel bad" that I don't "do it all." There is a part of me that is an overachiever even though I hate to admit it. This past month, I have made changes to my week and added some routines that I am hoping these changes will have a long lasting positive effects on my life. Here are a few:

1. Changed my work/daycare schedule: My son used to go to daycare 2 days a week where I would work my part-time job and then teach in the evening at a local college. My lesson planning would be something I squeezed in during his nap times on MWF. This was not a successful routine. I changed my schedule around so that MWF are now work/daycare days. This enables me to work less hours a day at my part time job and have time on those days for lesson planning and any other things that might come up like doctor's appointments or errands I need to run. I still teach on Tuesday and Thursday but its early evening so that works out with my far so good. Well see it it works out long-term.

2. Exercise Routine: I really need to get in better shape. I am overweight and I am not getting any younger. I joined a fitness boot camp 2 mornings a week at 6am, and 1 morning a week at 5:45am. The 5:45am is also a weight loss competition/healthy lifestyle make-over group. Although I have a competitive streak I just want to create a healthy workout routine that I enjoy doing on a regularly basis. I have yoga class one night a week and I am hoping to also fit in 1 spinning class a week because I love spinning. My exercise routine allows me to workout as well as my husband as we alternate. I have never worked out this early in the morning but this is about creating a healthy routine. So far its been working and the way it alternates with my work schedule has been helping it not to feel like something extra I'm trying to squeeze in.

3. Household Chores: I hired a house cleaner. They will come once a month. This seems doable financially and I have been able to stay on top of keeping things tidy since she last came...for the most part. I need a bit better routine for laundry (even though I get it done) and some other light cleaning to keep things dust free. Dishes I'm cool with. I love my dishwasher but I also am working on not piling dishes up in the sink before work or bed in the evening as well as making the bed every morning. I hate coming home to an unmade bed. I am also trying to spend 30 minutes every morning tidying up. I have decided that I suck at cleaning floors and I have decided this chore would be done much better by my husband...if you're reading honey...we'll talk more later.

4. De-Cluttering: This is also a new routine and I truly enjoy it. I actually would hate staying home on the weekends. I would always want to go out and do some family activity all the time. Now I actually want to stay home and "get stuff done." This is very new for me since I started blogging about the 72 Ideas. I really think of this as the establishment of a new routine for me where I work on different de-cluttering projects on a regular basis. I get frustrated at times because I just want to do all of them NOW but I know I can't because I have other obligations. I feel depressed at times that I let things pile up the way I have. I know I have a mini-hoarder inside of me who is afraid to throw things out because its wasteful or I might need it someday. It takes a lot of mental energy to talk myself off that guilty edge.

5. Blogging: I have come to enjoy this routine of writing on a daily basis. In the past, I used to be a daily journal writer. For years I would fill book after book of thougths, feelings, and dreams (nighttime as well as wish fulfillment). I have never written in such a public way as this blog. I am actually stunned when someone I know says to me "I read your blog." I am completely aware how public access this (or any blog) is but I just never expected anyone to be interested in what I have to say. I am really appreciative and humbled by all the positive feedback Ihave received about this project. I may have to start my own blog at the end of the 72 days.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Julia's Day 30: The opposite of Christa

Yeah, so I have well over 1,000 emails, including some dating back to 2005.


Christa, Day 30: Well That Was Easy

I don't have much to say about today's voluntary simplicity idea:
Keep your email inbox empty. Is your email inbox overflowing with new and read messages? Do the messages just keep piling up? If so, you’re normal — but you could be more efficient and your email life could be simplified with a few simple steps. Read more.
Back in my college days I did have an email inbox that was out of control, but nowadays my email is inexorably linked to my work and so cannot explode into chaos because that would mean I was royally screwed. Email comes in, email goes out. Gmail is my friend. If it's professional and needs doing, it gets labeled TO DO and archived until I do it. If it's something that needs remembering, it gets a star. Everything else is filed or deleted. As labels become unnecessary - for example, labels associated with projects that are completed or clients from times past - I delete the label and all of the emails bearing said label. Easy peasy.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Christa, Day 29: Without Routine, I Drown

I want to be spontaneous. I really do. I found an old letter from my husband on while working ahead on Day 28 that implied that one of the things that he loved about me was my spontaneity. My what? I'm laughing, I really am. Yes, I have to be spontaneous to some extent to deal with the unpredictability of toddlers, but generally I'm okay with doing the same thing day in and day out, at least for a few months at a time before needing to switch things up. When I lived in Costa Rica, for instance, my day was filled with routine. Gorgeous, amazing, relaxing routine, but routine nonetheless!

So today's voluntary simplicity item is right up my alley. Or ought to be, anyway.
Establish routines. The key to keeping your life simple is to create simple routines. A great article on that here.
I think I'm floundering at the moment. Trying to establish a new routine after some major changes. What should weekends look like when I don't have to work on the weekends anymore? Since I can come home for lunch, how should my lunch hour look? How can I - we, really - make laundry tolerable? How can I deal with my husband's unpredictable evening arrival time?

The morning routine is easy. Things just go more smoothly when it's only me and my daughter. The order of events: I shower and dress, put waffle in toaster, wake her up, she starts eating, I dry hair and do makeup, I come and sit with her until she finishes, then I get her dressed. Any free time before we need to hustle into the car is spent in play.

My work routine is not exactly a routine - this holds true for my nearly full-time work and my contract work. Contract work comes in when it comes in, and I fit it in wherever it fits best. Lunchtime. Evenings. A tiny bit on the weekends, but nothing like it was before. And in the office, things come in and go out, but I'm a captive audience and it's nothing overwhelming. At least there I can honestly say there is nothing gunning for my attention outside of the things I let distract me, like Facebook and design blogs.

And the nighttime routine is well mapped as well. I program the coffee maker while my husband scoops the cat turds. That's after he's played around on his iPod while I exercise. All of which happens after my daughter's bedtime routine - though my husband's unpredictable work schedule can throw the whole thing out of whack.

Which is why I'm writing this at close to 10 p.m.

What's much less well defined is everything else. Dinner, for example, is my least favorite time of day because I have to feed healthy food to my offspring when I would be content with a heaping bowl of fiberiffic cereal and a little salad on the side. I guess having a toddler affects the evening routine, or lack thereof, in other ways, too. Some days she'd prefer to eat dinner at 4:30 p.m. making doing any afternoon activities impossible, while on other days she can deal with waiting until we can all eat together. Afternoons and evenings are up in the air most days, and sometimes the unpredictability actually makes me nervous.

So more routines? I think I'd be okay with that. One third of my household, however, would not. What to do... what to do?

Natalie: I swear Leo Babauta KNOWS me! (26-28 of 72)

I swear that I have NOT been reading ahead but the man who wrote the Simple Living Manifesto (Leo Babauta) is a freakin' psychic genius when it comes to knowing where messy people need to start when it comes to embarking on putting systems in place that will make their lives simpler. If you read my post from yesterday, you are aware that the systems I am in need of are: 1) mail & paperwork, 2) laundry, 3) cleaning my desk. I am expanding the third one to include the dining room table which has become a catchall for all things that enter the house.

Here are the descriptions of tasks 26, 27, and 28:
Create a simple mail & paperwork system. If you don’t have a system, this stuff will pile up. But a simple system will keep everything in order. Here’s how.

Create a simple system for house work. Another example of a simple system is clean-as-you-go with a burst. Read more.

Clear your desk. If you have a cluttered desk, it can be distracting and disorganized and stressful. A clear desk, however, is only a couple of simple habits away. Read more.

Right now it's more about having the time to work on these tasks and I do have the time over the next couple of days to dive into working on the paperwork and mail by tossing, shredding, and filing what I have as well as cleaning off my desk. Leo Babauta provides suggestions on how to go about creating efficient systems for each of these.

I am starting to feel more at ease about how I manage my time. The laundry well is still a bit scattered all over but I did utilize his 30 minute rule today where I managed to get my son's clothes put away before I left for work while my husband took him to daycare. I actually couldn't believe that in about 15-20 minutes I was able to put A's clothes away, wash some dishes, load the dishwasher (and remember to turn it on), make the bed, hang up some of my clothes, pick up & put dirty clothes in the hamper, feed the cat, make myself a coffee to go, get my lunch and snacks ready (even though they had an employee luncheon at work that I wasn't aware of), and fill my water bottle. All this AND I got to work earlier than I had hoped.

Julia's Day 29: Rhythm and Bass

A deep-seated need to maintain at least the illusion of spontaneity means that I prefer rhythms to routines, where rhythms set the tone for what kind of stuff you might be doing, without being prescriptive. Rhythms are the reason why today, after much chest-beating and piteous announcing of, "gora!" on the part of Miss K, I ended up in the Great Ape House trying to avoid eye contact with two orangutans as they got it on. Katherine had no such qualms and plastered her face against the glass. PARENTING WIN.

Back to the simple life with a whimper

Life is starting to get normal again. We did adopt a stray (our third dog) and we are dog sitting for another former stray so we have 4 dogs in the house and things are pretty exciting. I think cleaning my desk is an alright idea. I do have some junk on here that I keep thinking I'll do something with one day. A catalog of language teaching books that most likely suck and that I certainly won't pay for. I may request some review copies if I ever get around to it but then do I really want more books in my house? And I have a name tag doohickey from a conference. I forgot to give it back to the organizers for recycling so I took it upon myself to not throw it out and therefore not harm the environment with my forgetfulness. I could give up on that I guess. And a book I just reviewed that one day I want to use to create a few roleplays for my intercultural communication class - that's going to have to go on a shelf because I really want to do that one of these days.

Anyway, my desk will be a bit cleaner in a few minutes.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Julia's Day 28: Clearing my non-existent desk

Ok, I don't have a desk anymore. But I do have a nightstand! And that nightstand had a box full of random stuff. That box is now gone. POOF!

Rebecca, Catching up (Days 18-20, 25)

Free up time.
Do what you love.
Spend time with people you love.
Streamline your life.

Most of my time is spent doing what I love...except when I browse the web too long, a time-wasting procrastination-style habit I've been changing in the past few weeks. (Removing my facebook and google reader apps from my iPhone definitely helped.

But looking at these four items together, I want to make sure I've got enough time to spend with the people I love--and I think the key to the first item, freeing up time--with the goal of spending more time with husband and child--is streamlining whatever else I can.

My plan: On work days, I'm going to try to work more efficiently, with a clearer end point for my day in mind--for the express purpose of picking my son up early from day care. Even an extra half hour with my toddler is precious time that I don't want to lose.

To further increase our quality evening time together, I need to streamline our evening routines. Healthy meals are important to me, but it can be time-consuming to prep and cook good food on a work night.

So, I've been reading up on slow cookers and pressure cookers, with the goal of minimizing time spent cooking in the evenings. We already have a pressure cooker that we never use, and I asked for and received a nice slow cooker for my birthday.

If anyone has great, tried-and-true pressure cooker and/or slow cooker recipes that are vegetarian, please share--I'm all ears!

Christa, Days 27 and 28: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

You may have noticed (or not) that I skipped yesterday's item:
Create a simple system for house work. Another example of a simple system is clean-as-you-go with a burst. Read more.
The fact is, I have housecleaning systems already in place. They probably aren't the best systems, but they work for us. Clean as you go is something that our household tries to embrace. I say tries because cleaning as you go works well when it comes to surfaces but showers? Those get kind of ucky after a while, and those self-cleaning sprays never seem to really do the trick. I'm a burst cleaner, a quick picker-upper, and so on. I call this "Doing things right the first time." Hanging up clothes that don't need a wash yet, for instance, instead of balling them up at the side of the bed. Trying to further streamline or systemize my housecleaning habits would just complicate my life at this point, so I'm going to check Day 27 off my list and call it done.

Today's voluntary simplicity idea, however, is a different story.
Clear your desk. If you have a cluttered desk, it can be distracting and disorganized and stressful. A clear desk, however, is only a couple of simple habits away. Read more.
Once upon a time, I had a clean desk. My desk at work is spotless and professionally personalized without actually giving away anything about me personally. It looks rather like a desk set-up from a catalog, actually. Mostly because I have an obsession with keeping my work life and my private life entirely separate. I can't brag similarly about my desk at home. Long story short: I used to have a whole office to myself, then that became our temporary bedroom, and for a while it was slated to become a nursery until it became a guest room instead. For a long time, I had no office, and then we made a mini office for me in the upstairs landing with a wee desk and no room for paper whatsoever.

Sounds like the perfect minimalist office, right?It was, actually, until I started decluttering the downstairs. Then various paper records and other things that had no real home started piling up on my wee desk. And my chair. And in my French market basket.

Am I embarrassing myself by telling you this? Maybe, but I did promise honesty!

Yesterday, we ordered a piano. Thank goodness we've been decluttering, because that piano is going to go where the tall sideboard that holds our tea towels and rags is, and the writing table I'm writing at now will go in the guest room. That means I better be able to use my desk as my workspace by Thursday. And while I'm at it, I may as well get my personal and family papers in order, collect a new batch of items for donation, and once the piano is here, do a house tour type post on my blog.

Deadlines? Love 'em.Thrive on them, in fact!

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Natalie: Streamlining (25 of 72)

Streamline your life. Many times we live with unplanned, complex systems in our lives because we haven’t given them much thought. Instead, focus on one system at a time (your laundry system, your errands system, your paperwork system, your email system, etc.) and try to make it simplified, efficient, and written. Then stick to it.

I will be perfectly honest - this task scares the crap out of me! I am legitimately behind on posts because of the whole computer glitch a few days ago but there is something about "streamlining my life" and "putting systems" in place that just makes me groan like a resistant teenager.

I know that I'm not the most organized person. I have been wondering if I live too much in the present. I'm not necessarily impulsive but I do enjoy spontaneity. The idea of having certain systems on certain days just sounds too much like work but I also realize that some organized system would be helpful to me. As I write my post there are towels in the dryer that need to be folded as well as piles of clean, folded clothes on the couch behind me. By the way, the desk that I am sitting at looks like Staples and a toy store had a collision. There are papers, writing utensils, toys and various other odds and ends strewn everywhere. It's a miracle I have room to type at the keyboard!

So I see the benefits of systems yet I feel that I would be angry at myself for not following through with them. For instance, if it was laundry night and I decided to take my son to the playground because it was nice out or mad that I was missing out on a beautiful evening with my son at the playground because it was laundry night.

I read the articles on creating systems and I am going to give it a shot. Here is an excerpt from one of them:

I’ll lay out the steps of creating a system and then do a simple example. My goal is to share the problem-solving mindset that you can apply to creating needed systems in your specific situation.

  1. Identify the need
  2. Identify the essential components
  3. Find useful tools/technology
  4. Assemble/create accompanying documentation
  5. Determine the where new system lives
  6. Document the system so that someone else could easily follow it
  7. Use your system, and improve upon it
So here are a few areas of my life where I need better systems. The thought of implementing systems for everything is overwhelming to me so I am going to outline a few where a system would help me feel more at ease. Maybe that is part of my problem: I tend to think I need to streamline everything instead of starting with 1 thing.

  • Paperwork system: I need to go clean out my file cabinets and then go through the piles of bills and miscellaneous papers I seem to have all over the house and get those in order. This way when new bills come in they are easy to file away. It's a pretty big job but I know that it is time to streamline this area. My husband takes care of paying the bills online but we still receive some via snail mail. I also have a paper shredder (a decent one too) that I never really use maybe I should move it into the dining room where we sort the mail so I could easily dispose of junk instead of letting it accumulate.
  • My son's toys: He definitely has too many and it leaves us with multiple levels of clutter. I have been wanting to do this for awhile and I have made some progress in other de-cluttering projects that all eventually lead up to the toys. While I'm happy to throw out broken ones there are a couple of opportunities in the next few weeks to donate or consign toys and I have been holding off on this project to time it with drop-offs.
  • Laundry system: I do feel like I am always doing laundry or in some stage of doing laundry. I can never seem to put my son's clothes away because I usually fold and put things away while he naps and I cannot risk waking him up to put his clothes away and then when he's awake its either playtime, snack time, lunch time, tubby time, etc. that I forget to put his clothes away and his stuff just piles up.
As I write this post, I also feel good about certain systems such as daycare/work system which I recently changed from 2 days of daycare to 3 days so that I can work less hours in a day and have more time to work on my other systems like running errands or prepping for the class I teach, or just pick my son up earlier for more quality time especially now that the days are getting shorter and shorter. I have also implemented an exercise system. It's been a while since I have had a workout routine and now I signed up for 3 days of boot camp, 1 yoga class, and hopefully 1 spin class a week. I also feel good about my meals system because I enjoy cooking and my grocery shopping visits are getting shorter. I belong to a farm co-op so I pick up my share once a week and then I try to combine visits to farms with outings with my son. From a past post, you know this is not always successful but today it worked out great! Fun visit to the farm and I was able to get some more produce and milk and bread for the week. If I hit the grocery store at all in the next few days it will be to get the cat his food.

This week I am going to make an effort to work on paperwork, toys, and laundry. I know that these tie in with the next few tasks as well as my own deadlines for an upcoming community yard sale and children's consignment sale. So I will keep you posted on my progress.

Julia's Day 27: Everything would be easier if the dishes washed themselves

I think I just have a dislike for tasks that are undone almost as I do them. I don't do my laundry naked (the basement is chilly, yo!), there are usually leftovers, which means the dishes are never really done. I need edible plates! And pants! Read more here.

Natalie: Being Present (24 of 72)

Be present. These two words can make a huge difference in simplifying your life. Living here and now, in the moment, keeps you aware of life, of what is going on around you and within you. It does wonders for your sanity.

My computer was out of commission for the past few days and co-currently my anxiety level started to peak. I am not certain if the two are related but I have read enough psychological studies about writing to know that maintaining a steady schedule of writing (particularly personal writing) decreased your stress levels [if this is interesting to you, please read: James W. Pennebaker, PhD, "Opening Up: The Healing Power of Expressing Emotions (1990)]. I feel a sense of relief to be back to posting about this project.

The idea of "Being Present" is something I know a lot about. I would certainly not call myself an expert but educated on the subject. I have read lots of books and articles over the years, gone to workshops, watched documentaries, listened to CD's by Ram Dass, Jon Kabat Zinn and others who extol the benefits of mindfulness. Being educated on mindfulness and being a person who actively practices being present are two different things though. Mindfulness is a difficult task to master.

It's interesting that its #24 on the list. It makes sense too that as you begin to clear the physical clutter, you are able to clear away the mental clutter. If the list began with "Be Present" no one would undertake the rest of the 71 tasks. Our physical environment can seem so daunting that once you begin to simplify it, your mental landscape seems less like a trash dump and more like a beach at low tide a bit of debris but still plenty of room to spread out your blanket, chair and umbrella.

I am very conscious of being present. I work on letting go of the past-past and even the recent past. I certainly can ruminate on things but they don't have that vice grip hold on me anymore. When they surface its more like someone grabbing my wrist to get my attention. One thing I feel that I don't do anymore is live in the future. "If I just did this...If only I could...When I... "these sentences could be completed in many different ways. I do believe that when you start to fixate on life changes for the future particularly changes that would make your present state of being better you are definitely not "being present." Don't get my wrong I have thoughts about the future. I still don't know what I want to be when I grow up but I really like my present.

I feel content with my ability to stay present. I am aware when it gets unmanageable. I know my triggers particularly I can feel it in my body when I am not present. The vibration of anxiety starts to linger in my throat and chest. My hands get tingly and I am desperate not to be alone. I also talk a lot. Ironically I appear really distant because I know I am feeling desperate so I am terrified that you might find out. This is the true power of the cognitive distortion because we convince ourselves that our inner thoughts are visible when in reality they are not.

So I am going to end with a quote as I feel like my post is getting a bit rambly and unfocused:

"Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is a mystery. Today is a gift. That's why they call it the Present."