Never Say Never

All through this minimalist/simplifying process, the one thing I said I would not touch is my CD music collection. Typically, every person has that one thing that they will not touch, and for me, that was music. For some, books are hard to declutter, for others, their closet, and for others still, the boxes of artwork their children made.

This week, I actually got rid of a shoebox full of CDs.

A few weeks ago, I realized that I was only listening to some of my CDs. There are many CDs that I have not bothered to listen to quite literally in years. Similar to how we wear 20% of our wardrobes 80% of the time, I realized that I was doing the same thing with my CD collection.

I have also come to the point where my collection is so massive that it is overwhelming. I have two containers of CDs stored in a closet. I physically do not have enough space in my living room to display the entire collection of CDs. The idea behind storing some in the closet was that I would be inclined to listen to the CDs physically displayed in the living room more often. This has not happened.

I’ve decided to cull the CDs.

Decluttering my music collection is one of the most challenging categories to declutter in my home. Like many others, I thought books would be the hardest to downsize. Books were surprisingly easy. As with DVDs, I only keep books that I have read more than once. There is no point in keeping a book if I do not intend on reading it again.

Sidebar: my library has begun printing how much money you have saved each year by using the library. They use list prices to ascertain that if you had gone out and bought the book/DVD/CD new instead of borrowing from the library, you would have spent so much money. I have saved over $400 so far by using my library this year.

What makes CDs challenging is the fact that I have listened to them all multiple times. Yet the collection is so massive that it is overwhelming. The very first CD that left the house was one that I listened to in college back in the 1990s. I put it in the CD player and could not for the life of me figure out why I had the CD or why I had listened to it so much 20 years ago. That album is crap. I suppose that music tends to just fit depending on the points we were at in life. Yet this “crap” album had no memories associated with it, other than I remember listening to it back in the day.

The albums in the shoebox that left are all albums that either holds no meaning, or when I listen to the CD, I only really like one or two songs on the album. I do not think one song is worth it to hold onto an entire CD. If I want to hear that one song that badly, I’m sure I can find it someplace online when I need a “quick fix” of listening to one particular song.

Getting rid of one shoebox of CDs is huge for me. Music is the one category I said I would not touch in the process of simplifying my life. However, I am learning the economic theory of diminishing returns and that you can have too much of a good thing. When your music collection is so large that it is overwhelming and no longer enjoyable, then it is time to curate that collection.

In the grand scheme of things, one shoebox of CDs is very small. There is still 1 and ¾ of a container of CDs stored in the closet. I’m sure this is going to be a slow journey, as music is my most challenging category, but the ultimate goal is to get down to the amount of CDs that can be displayed in the living room without having any stored in the closet.

Before anyone says to just digitize everything, keep in mind that digital clutter is still clutter. I’m not about to make the conversion from physical clutter to digital clutter. Not to mention, I’m not a huge digital person anyways. Especially with music, I like to have the physical product for the experience. Remember things called concept albums? How album covers, art, and packaging all contributed and added to the music inside to create a story? I’m really into that experience.

As we move to simplify our lives to focus more on what’s important, we all have that one category that we won’t touch. That’s ok. If decluttering your home and purging items is painful, then you won’t stick with it because it feels like punishment. For me decluttering my home is not punishment, it is a sort of freedom in that the less items I have to clean and maintain, the more time I have to spend with the people who matter the most. The only reason why I am finally touching that one “never declutter” category is that it has become so overwhelming that it no longer brings joy.

What is your “never” category? Is it still sacred and untouched? Or, have you started to downsize that category? What strategies did you use to attack the most challenging category to simplify?

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Revisiting The Rule of 3

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I have previously written about how I incorporated the rule of three  into my decluttering goals. At the time, my goal had been to ensure that surfaces contained no more than three items that I found to be either meaningful or useful. To go all KonMari  again, I do not see the point in wasting space to contain items that do not bring me joy. I also do not see the point in wasting precious time in cleaning, dusting, or organizing items that are not either meaningful or useful.

I am proud to declare that I have been quite successful in minimizing all surfaces so that they only contain three items.

Having surfaces that contain only three items simplified my life in such a way that I decided to take the rule of three and run with it. I also applied the rule of three to my walls. I went through each wall in my house, and there are now only three decorative items per wall. I cannot tell you how much easier it is to clean my house now that there are only three items per wall and three items per surface.

When I applied the rule of three to my walls, I noticed that many items that were on my walls did not bring me joy. I decided to replace those items with things that do bring me joy. For example, I had some of my photography printed and framed, and now my artwork is gracing my walls, were previously was some commercial print that I neither liked no held any personal meaning to me.

Some walls in my house have less than three items on them. Some have only two items, and I am looking at a wall now that only has one thing on it. It is very relaxing to sit in my living room either before or after a long day and be able to enjoy sitting there. I also now have less things to dust, windex, and clean.

The rule of three inadvertently spilled over into other aspects of the declutter process as well. I culled my wardrobe again. While I am one of these people who will probably never have only 33 or 37 or 42 items of clothes, I do want to be sure that I only have clothes that fit my body well, that I love to wear, and that fit into my dresser and closet without overflowing my available space.

My dresser contains four drawers, and I have decided that one drawer is for pajamas and nightwear, and everything must fit into the drawer. If the drawer starts to overflow, then I need to get rid of items so that everything fits comfortably. I applied the same concept to all underclothes, such as socks.

One drawer contains my jeans and other pants that do not need to be hung in the closet. My work pants are hung in the closet so that they are not wrinkled. As most Americans. I realized I had an obscene number of jeans. I culled my jeans so that I only have three pairs. That is way more than I wear in a typical week. I kept my three most favorite pairs. Applying the rule of three to my jeans has also allowed me to upgrade. I was able to replace one of the $10 pair of Walmart jeans with a $40 pair of Levi’s, which I’m sure will last me much longer, and I am way happier with the fit and feel of them.

In applying the rule of three to the closet, I have three sweaters for when it is cold in the winter, three summer dresses, three hoodie sweatshirts, and three suit jackets. I currently have five pairs of work dress pants, but that will soon be decreasing to four. I have a hard time finding dress pants that fit, so I like to keep more than three pairs of those.

So while I may not have an overall goal number concerning the amount of clothing I aim to own, I have been trying to apply the rule of three to individual categories of clothing. Of course, for shirts, I have way more than three. Shirts do not seem to be as sturdy as pants. For work, I have nine v-neck shirts in various colors (that I will need to gradually replace, as they are becoming worn). I am hoping to get that number down to seven.

I do have a drawer of shirts that I wear when not working that include running shirts, baseball, hockey, and football shirts. I honestly do not know the number, but they all fit quite comfortably into their assigned drawer, so I am not concerned about their actual number. What I have been trying to do is to be sure that I am wearing everything, and if anything is in any way uncomfortable or does not fit well, then it goes into the donate pile.

I only want to be surrounded by the things that I love.

Have you incorporated the rule of three into your life? Have you applied it to surfaces, walls, or drawers? I am finding that it allows me more time to be with the ones I love and do the things I love because I spend less time cleaning and having to weed through mounds of clothing.

Even if the rule of three seems daunting, start with one surface. Choose just one stand or shelf and apply the rule of three. See if it helps to simplify your life.

Complacency

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I was talking to someone this week that was saying that they felt stagnant. Part of complacency is fear. We are afraid to let go; we want everything to stay the same. New places and experiences are frightening. Fear of the unknown has held many in place, and it is often a detriment.

This same person inspired me to reignite my passion(s). Since finishing school last fall, I have been kind of wallowing. I was a college student for 20 years – practically my entire adult life, and I honestly do not know what to do with myself or how to fill the void that is left now that I am not in school. I have been trying various activities, and it has been hard to find my groove.

I also realized that when we become complacent, we become reactive instead of proactive. I have pretty much simply been responding to whatever crisis or need happens to need my attention instead of being anticipatory and trying to do proactive things to make my life easier. When I was a full time student and working 70 hours a week across two jobs, there were some proactive survival skills I employed, such as preparing large batches of food ahead of time and freezing them in individual portions, so that I would always have allergy friendly food to eat with my hectic schedule.

Yet nothing has prepared me for life in the real world as an adult. I have a new set of challenges and circumstances for which to prepare. It has now been 6 months (6 months!) that I have been out of school and in the real world; it has been a rude awakening. While it may sound cliché, I have learned that even the best-laid plans can be shaken down to their very foundations and destroyed. Survival skills that I learned and used while going to school full time and working 70 hours a week now need to be adapted to address the unique challenges of trying to juggle work, health issues, and leisure time.

Ah, leisure time! Such a first world problem!

The number one thing I have learned these past few months is to be grateful every single day for everything I have and do, for those things are fleeting.

In the words of the great philosopher, and star of my most favorite movie of all time, Deadpool: “Life is an endless series of train wrecks with only brief commercial-like breaks of happiness.” The only way to achieve those breaks of happiness is to break out of complacency and push the envelope. The best moments lay just beyond your comfort zone.

To this end, not only have I completely re-evaluated my priorities in life, but also I have made a concerted effort to double my KonMari  efforts in evaluating my possessions and surroundings to be sure that I am living an authentic life and that I have and do things that are in complete alignment with my values and goals.

A small example of an area in which I have been complacent is my spare bedroom. Now, 5 or 6 years ago when I started my minimalist journey, I did so with the intention of preparing for a large out-of-state move. That move did not happen. I then nested. I took my spare room, which had been a cat playland/library and turned it into an actual spare bedroom. This was partially due to trying to live out one of my fantasy selves: that of the socialite who frequently holds house parties and entertains overnight guests from out of town who come to visit me from far away so that I am not always the one that has to do the traveling.

In the 5 or so years that the spare bedroom has been in existence, it has been used maybe twice. To me, that is not enough justification to keep the space as a spare bedroom. First, if I were to move, then I would no longer be able to afford a 2-bedroom. I would at most be in a 1-bedroom, probably a studio (most likely living in my car again) with the way housing prices have skyrocketed in my area. Second, while I do have an extra room as long as I am living here, I want to be able to use that room for my own purposes, and not simply have it there to be kept clean awaiting company I never have.

I have decided to sell the bed in the spare bedroom. The money is going to be put toward my passion of running (I will not have sponsorship for my fall race this year, and must cover my hotel room and expenses in entirety). Not only am I going to shake myself of the complacency of maintaining a spare bedroom that is not used or needed, but also I am going to use the money to fuel a passion, and once the spare bedroom is empty, I will use the room to fuel another (as yet undetermined) passion.

I’ve always said I wish I had my own treadmill so that I could run inside when the weather is icy without having to leave my house and without needing a gym membership. In fact, my “dream life” is to be in a house in the woods completely off the grid run by solar panels, and of course, a treadmill so I could run in inclement weather. Who knows – once the bed is gone in the spare bedroom, I may seriously look at using that room for a treadmill. Time will tell.

The point is, the more we move out of complacency, the more beautiful life can be because we can control some of what happens to us. We can be proactive instead of reactive, and put into motion things that we want to have happen instead of waiting for life to happen to us. If life is only punctuated by brief moments of happiness, then I want some control over what that happiness entails.

If we operate from a place of happiness and gratitude, then we are better equipped to face the challenges that life throws at us. If you have ways to get either through or around the train wreck, then the continual train wrecks of life are just a little bit more manageable.

Break out of complacency. Fuel your passion.

 

 

There Goes My To-Do List

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Oops. No more list. It’s all good. I can get everything done.

Back in the day when I was working 2-3 jobs 60-70 hours a week and going to school full-time pulling a 3.9 GPA, my to-do list was massive. I even had to schedule laundry, cooking, and cleaning. My life was so overscheduled that if I did not purposefully plan every single activity, it would not get done due to sheer lack of time. I was not living. I was surviving. I was working to pay the bills and trying to get through school to hopefully build a better life that I could enjoy at a much slower pace.

Last summer, as I was writing my thesis and finishing grad school, I had successfully minimized and downsized my life enough that my to-do list consisted of three items per day. I did this in order to prioritize my activities and to try to regain a sense of control over my time. It was quite effective. While the goal was three items per day, there were some days when my to-do list had five items, and others when it simply had one, but it was way better than what I had previously been facing.

My to-do list was so overscheduled that at one point I was a participant in a research study for Cornell on time management, and the researcher was so overwhelmed with my process that they even photographed my planner. Not only did I have a 5×7 size planner, but also it was color coded and notated with various tabs and small post-it notes with additional information that would simply not fit in the box. No one seemed to be able to understand how I was able to accomplish it all. Quite frankly, I have no idea either. Lately, my autoimmune disorder has been taking pretty much everything out of me, and I honestly cannot fathom how, just a few years ago, I was able to achieve everything in one day that I completed. Yet, somehow, I did.

I have been out of school for a few months now, and not only have I been able to better keep to my three items on the to-do list per day rule, but often, my to-do list has nothing on it. Nothing.

How does this happen?

Well, first of all, now that my life has significantly slowed from its breakneck pace, I no longer have to schedule, list, or plan for activities that need to be completed to sustain every day life. When the laundry basket fills, I wash clothes. When I run out of food, I cook more. I actually have time to do these necessities on a daily and as-needed basis without having to schedule every minute detail.

This means that my to-do list now only has occasional items on it such as doctor appointments, my book and writing clubs, and major home projects that need to be done as part of my KonMari plan. I have leisure time now that I never had before. Retired college student, indeed.

No longer having a to-do list is very freeing. It is freeing to the point where I actually feel lazy. I have been able to slow my life down to the point where not only am I able to effortlessly perform the duties required to maintain everyday life like laundry and cooking without having them scheduled, but I also have time to do pretty much whatever I want to do with my non-work hours. I have plenty of activities to fill my time, yet I do not feel overwhelmed in the slightest.

If you do not have the luxury as I do to throw your to-do list out the window, can you minimize it? Once we get past the point where we are scheduling survival activities on the to-do list, the list should only consist of those additional activities that are an addendum to everyday life, and not a necessity.

Another thing that has helped this process immensely is identifying my priorities. I have three priorities in life, and now that I have identified what they are, I am able to be sure that everything I do is aimed at achieving those goals. Everything in life that is not a priority, I have let go. Everything else is simply extraneous activity and background noise to what is truly important in life.

I still have a planner. My planner has gone from 5×7 size down to a more 3 ½ x 5 size. I no longer fill the boxes completely, and gone are the highlighting, tabbing, color coding, and additional post-it notes that I used to have. I use the square provided to me, and it is not full on any given day.

There is great freedom that comes when we have the privilege to be able to slow down our lives. When we have employment we enjoy that pays our bills and allows us time for recreation, we have time to do what we truly want to do without having to engage in the never-ending rat race that steals souls.

While my to-do list has gone out the window, I am in fact accomplishing more than I was completing before and I am so much happier doing it. Life is much more manageable when we slow down the pace to be able to focus on our priorities and goals to achieve that which is truly important.

If you do not have the luxury of sending your to-do list out the window, what can you prioritize to make it more manageable? How can you slow down today?

KonMari is the new Carpe Diem

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It all started with the wish for freedom and a desire to travel. While it seems like only yesterday, five years ago I finally completed my bachelor’s degree after a 15-year marathon quest to acquire an education. The best-laid plans are always those fate chooses to detour the unsuspecting into some unforeseen fulfillment. The original plan was that I would complete my master’s degree in New York, providing me with the employment leverage to be able to pull in an income that would allow me to finally move out of state in pursuit of the PhD.

Although I have finally achieved the master’s degree and it was completed in New York, I no longer have the desire either to move or to pursue the PhD. However, part of that original plot was the seed that also started my journey into minimalism. In anticipation of a large inter-state move, my purpose was to decrease all my possessions that were duplicates or frivolous. I did not want to take everything I owned on such a journey.

In 2011, I closed my storage unit. Everything that was in the unit I moved into my house so that I could begin the process of downsizing to be able to move. That means that literally everything I own is currently in my house. This includes all photos, mementos, and other paraphernalia from growing up; there is nothing in storage at any relatives’ house. While closing the storage unit and moving everything into my house provided me with much anxiety over the increase in the amount of clutter, the immediate gratification was that I was no longer wasting money to store items that were not in every day use.

Not only are storage units a huge waste of money, but also according to some studies, there is currently enough storage spaces and storage units in this country to be able to provide every homeless person with housing. If only we would close our storage units and find a way to keep all of our belongings within the walls of our housing abode.

I have always viewed my minimalist journey as a work-in-progress. While the goal was freedom and travel, I did not anticipate what life would be like at the end of the minimalist journey. I fully embraced minimalism as a lifestyle change, and have been surprised and delighted at some of the unintended consequences in my feelings and psyche that this journey has brought to my life.

I have voraciously read about minimalism, and picked and chose which tenets are helpful for me and those that are not, as I have forged my own individual journey. These past few months, I have, in fact, begun to wonder: “when does it end,” and “what happens when it does.”

The past five months I have been on the waiting list for Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, and it was finally my turn this week to read the novel. I was a little skeptical at first. Some of the bestsellers I have read recently, I found to be extremely disappointing and do not understand their widespread popularity. Also, I consider myself to be rather well read on the topic of minimalism and was skeptical if Kondo would be able to add anything to what I already know.

I was wrong. I completely understand why this book is so popular. Kondo offers a fresh perspective with a unique point-of-view when it comes to minimalism. So fresh, that the novel reminds me of why I started on this journey and has helped me to see the end and the end result.

I plan to go all KonMari on my own ass.

While I have to return the book back to the library in a few weeks, I will definitely be re-reading the book before I do so and may even purchase it to serve as my guide over the next several months. My goal is now to KonMari my life for 2016 and for my minimalist journey to reach a destination so that I am able to life the life I envision.

Over the past five years, I have grown stagnant in my minimalist journey. I have lost sight of my goals of freedom and travel. It is time to realign with my goals and to work to achieve them. Kondo reminded me of the purpose for my minimalist journey, and to that I say: KonMari is the new Carpe Diem.

The concept that struck me the most was that if one looks at minimalism as a journey, one will never arrive. Yet, broad, sweeping, widespread changes will enact a butterfly effect that touches every aspect of our lives. I am hoping to put her premises into effect in my life over the coming months so that I may experience joy on a daily basis and start living the life I envision.

Sometimes we become stuck in our ways of doing and our ways of being and it takes some sort of wake up call for us to see that we have become mired in gunk. Kondo’s book was just the type of shot in the arm that I needed to be able to redefine my life and kick-start my goals.

I have always had the goal of being able to travel to Europe and to backpack through the various countries. Now that school does not tie me down, I am able to move forward making life changes that will help me to realize my goal. Once we put our house in order, everything else comes into order as well.

How will you carpe diem?

Demon Snuggling

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In my efforts to downsize and minimize, some items are easier to evaluate and part with than others. The two criteria by which I usually decide an item’s placement in my life is if it is useful or if it brings me joy. Perhaps the items most difficult to go through, not only for myself, but also for anyone are sentimental items. While not useful, sentimental items tend to fall under the category of “joy.”

It is completely understandable. The coffee mug that reminds you of your Alma Mater, or the quilt your now-deceased grandmother made by hand are items to treasure because they make your heart sing. While these points seem obvious, what is perhaps more difficult to understand is the phenomenon I will dub “demon snuggling.”

I recently got down and dirty “demon snuggling,” and am happy to declare that I am demon snuggling no more.

These past few weeks, I decided to go through the “stuff from growing up” box. Most everyone has one. Parents usually save items that were significant from childhood including baby shoes, report cards, art projects, teddy bears, and other well-loved items that usually make their way into adulthood. If you have children, then this entourage grows, as most parents tend to keep a box of precious belongings for their children in turn.

While for most people, these are happy memories, for me they were not. I had a less than stellar childhood, and I prefer to leave it behind. I am proud of the fact that I overcame some challenging circumstances, but I do not need the reminder of that triumph locked in a box to peruse for the rest of my life.

So, I got in down and dirty for some demon snuggling and was able to reduce that box from an approximate 50-quart storage bin down to an approximate 10-quart storage bin. While earlier in the fall, I looked to the future in Playing Dress Up , this winter I dealt with the past by demon snuggling.

A 50-quart box of things from growing up is not something I would ever want to cart with me if I move. Yet, and I am sure most of you would agree, it’s not something I want to get rid of completely either. Some things like your first Winnie the Pooh always stay with you.

For better or for worse, sentimental items are perhaps the most difficult items to downsize. There is so much emotion attached. In demon snuggling, I had a lot of starts and stops to the process, as I had to process through pain in order to part with some items. The pain, however, was good, as I was able to kick some major negativity to the curb. However, it is almost always easier to snuggle with your demons than to face them.

Many of the items that were shed, I took photos of them and uploaded those photos to the cloud. I am perfectly fine with looking at a picture of the happy-gram I received in 1988 for “appropriate attire in physical education class” as I was in physically having the happy-gram. In fact, I am pretty sure that when I’m dead and people are going through my belongings that if said happy-gram was still among my possessions, that whomever was going through my stuff would put said happy-gram in the trash anyway. Replacing the physical happy-gram with a digital photo of it that exists in the cloud does not in any way diminish the lessons I learned by dressing appropriately for gym in 1988. I have 14 marathon medals, and many of those were earned in inclement weather. I am pretty sure I am well versed in being able to dress myself for participation in physical activity.

While something such as a happy-gram seems quite innocuous, I did try to keep in mind (forgive the morbidity, but we’re talking about demon snuggling here) that someday someone will be going through my stuff after I am dead and gone. What type of burden do you want to leave for that person? It is going to be hard enough for loved ones to deal with the fact that you have passed on, do not give them the added chore of needing to spend months or even years going through all of your stuff and trying to figure out what to do with it.

Keep in mind that what is left behind after you die is also a part of your legacy. Your most intimate possessions tell a part of your legacy. What do you want your legacy to say about you? Do you want your legacy to say you had a whole bunch of things hoarded from the 1980s (as people find your old band outfit and track ribbons)? Or do you want your legacy to say you had a full, active life full of adventure (as people go through your luggage and sporting equipment). What you have is not as important as what you do or how you make people feel. How you make people feel is your greatest legacy, and hopefully you have the chance to touch some hearts along the way.

Back to demon snuggling.

Many of the items in my “growing up” box were not there for the happy sentimental feelings they evoked. Rather, there were many things in that box that brought to mind painful memories, and made me sad, mad or hurt. For some reason, it is easier to snuggle with our demons than it is to kick them to the curb. It was actually more challenging to rid myself of the items that evoked negative emotion than to contemplate whether or not something brings me joy.

Life is too short to be unhappy.

I do not need reminders of times in my life in which I felt pain or was not happy. Yes, those are parts of my life that happened and I must own. Just because I accept and admit that they happened does not mean I need a constant reminder or slap in the face to remind me of what I have endured or overcome. Many times we demon snuggle because it is easier to live with the pain than it is to process that pain and come through the other side. Pretty much anyone who has faced their demons in life fails to come through unscathed. However, the triumph of facing demons far outweighs a few scars.

I am not sure why demon snuggling is so easy. It is counter-intuitive that it is harder to part with pain than it is to part with joy. I don’t have enough time or space to figure that one out.

I will say that downsizing sentimental items is challenging. Setting a limit on what number or type of container you want to hold onto is helpful. For me, I wanted to downsize from a 50-quart box to a 10-quart one. Maybe you have three boxes of stuff from growing up and want to downsize to one. Maybe you are struggling with all of your children’s treasures that you are saving for when they leave the nest someday.

Taking photos of items such as artwork and certificates is helpful because they can be stored digitally without taking up space. The less space taken up by paper products means more room for teddy bears and action figures.

How do you deal with sentimental items? Do you find some items evoke negative emotions? Have you figured out a system or a way to cap the treasures you keep? Just because you dragged that Care Bear everywhere does not mean that your children will do the same. They will have their own cherished object that goes everywhere with them.

Are you snuggling with your demons or have you kicked them to the curb? As I strive to only have things in my life that are either useful or that bring me joy, I am happy that I am able to recognize when I am demon snuggling so that I can kick them to the curb.

 

 

 

My Favorite Things

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This morning I am waiting for coffee to brew so that I can put it into one of my favorite coffee mugs, flavor with my favorite coconut milk creamer, and have a leisurely morning warming up for the day listening to some of my favorite CDs. Christmas made me realize that I am very fortunate in my journey towards minimalism in that I am now surrounded by my favorite things and use them on a daily basis.

What is in my life brings me joy.

I came to realize that this week as everyone around me was running around hurried over the Christmas season, and I was just kind of there – relaxed. My big success this season was being able to downsize Christmas from three boxes to one. This is not meant to be a la Scrooge or Grinch-like. I am now surrounded by only my most favorite and meaningful Christmas decorations. Some of the things that said goodbye from the 2 boxes now gone include items such as a string of lights on which only half the bulbs work, some large and heavy clay ornaments that only served to weigh the tree branches down to the point of being unsightly instead of decorative, and the Christmas tree skirt that shows every snag and cat hair.

This year, I enjoyed the holidays with working lights everywhere, ornaments on the tree that were beautiful and meaningful, and music that filled my heart and lifted my spirits. When I had a glass of wine this week, it was in one of my favorite wine glasses that had previously sat in the back of the cupboard – because it was a “favorite” glass it simply sat unused. Why shouldn’t my favorite glass be used as everyday-wear? For what special occasion was I saving it? Life is a special occasion. We are on this earth for a limited time, and the time to enjoy what makes us happy is now.

As I had extra time off from work for the holiday and was home, I also added a few items to the general donation box that was not associated with the Christmas purging. As I looked at the donation box and moved it from one part of the room to another, I thought: “If I were moving, would I want to deal with this box? Would I want to carry it and load it into a truck and unload and unpack it?” Looking at the items in the box, the answer was no. I am so glad to be getting rid of the items in the donation box so they do not weigh me down both literally and metaphorically.

I’ve been on this minimalist journey for about 4 years now, and while the outflow has slowed, it does still continue. I never know what I am going to find where, and be able to take the critical eye over items deciding on whether they are useful or bring me joy.

The upside to the stream out slowing to a trickle means that, for the most part, my favorite things surround me. My goal is to be surrounded only by what I find useful or by that which I love. Life is to short to waste not only on the accumulation of needless and useless crap, but also life is too short to waste on that stuff’s storage, maintenance, and upkeep. As a result of removing the unnecessary, my holidays have been filled with peace. Peace not bought in a store. In fact, this peace has been acquired by actively avoiding the store and removing things I never should have bought in the store in the first place.

As I sit here looking at the favorite mug that was always in the back of the cupboard because it was “the favorite,” I realize that the time is now. The time to use your favorite things is now. The time for happiness is now. The time to do and say all those things you wanted to do and say is now. Life is very short.

Do your favorite things surround you? Does it bring you joy? If not, what do you think about removing the unnecessary so that which you truly love has the opportunity to shine?

 

 

Enjoy without owning

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My library card gets a voracious workout. Now that I have officially retired from a 20-year career as a professional college student, my library card is starting to rival a heavyweight champion. I am very fortunate to live in an area with a well-stocked library that also has an impeccably organized inter-library loan system to be able to get virtually any item I may desire. From books to DVDs to music CDs, I can check out pretty much all forms of media and entertainment you could possibly imagine.

The joy in this is that I am able to continuously feed my mind without my wallet getting thinner. Libraries are free. If I were to purchase everything I have recently checked out of the library instead of borrowed it, I would need to buy stock in Amazon or Barnes & Noble, as the tally for my mental stimulation is staggering.

I have gotten so much enjoyment over certain books or movies that I have checked out of the library lately that I have put some of those items on my Amazon wish list. Then, I noticed the tally on my wish list and realized I need to slow down. Way down. Just because I enjoy something does not mean I need to own it.

If you enjoy something you have read once, how likely are you to read it again? I do have some novels on my bookshelf that I will re-read continuously because I enjoy them that much. Many of my novels I do not re-read, even though I enjoyed them immensely the first time through. This is why my barometer for purchasing an items is often “if I have checked it out of the library 2-3 times, then I need to own that item.” Lately, I have caught myself putting items on my wish list after only one go-around.

Realizing what I was doing, I went through my wish list and deleted items that I have only read or watched one time. Sure, I enjoyed it the first time I read or watched it, but did I enjoy it enough that I will probably want to revisit that item multiple times? Probably not. I simply got caught up in the holiday flurry of making a wish list for items that you want-but-don’t-need.

Over the past few years, I have been working on curating the movies and novels in my house so that my collection is housing well-loved items that I will visit time and again. There is no need to have to dust, store, and take care of items you are not using or that do not bring you joy more than once.

Using my library card instead of purchasing every item on my wish list ensures that my house only contains items I truly love. It also helps to be sure that my budget stays on track and that my money is being allocated to expenses that truly need to be met and is not spent frivolously on wants. Money saved on books and DVDs on my wish list is money that can be used to fund experiences – so that I have moments with friends in which I can make memories that last a lifetime.

How does enjoying without owning increase your happiness? Do you have more time for family because you spend less time cleaning? Do you save the money you would have spent on an Amazon wish list and use it to take a vacation instead? Enjoying without owning helps to reduce the clutter in our homes and frees our time for things most important in life – memories and experiences.

 

 

Portage

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They say portage comes from the Native American practice of carrying a canoe and all of your belongings over a body of water. Everything that you own travels from one side of the river to the other. While the most freeing moments in life have been those that I was able to carry everything I owned in a backpack or duffle bag, they were also the most challenging. There is something comforting and stable about the notion of home.

In the same manner, turtles carry their home on their backs. With the contraction of some muscles, they can put all their extremities inside their shell. If a turtle looses his shell is he naked or homeless? Turtles have freedom to go where they please, and home is always with them.

When I attempted to move back to Boston a few years ago, I started by taking everything out of my storage unit and putting it into my house. If I was going to complete an interstate move, then I needed to pack everything up and take it with me. In retrospect, I am glad that my plans fell through. Downsizing and minimizing has shown me that I would have been lugging a whole bunch of unnecessary items across state lines. This is a hardship that I do not need to endure. As I have gone through my belongings, I have not only learned what is important, but have come to realize that the timing of that “move” was completely wrong. I was not ready in any sense of the word. Sometimes, answers come in the form of not getting what you want.

In the past three years since my move fell through, I have taken the opportunity to pare down. I opened every box that was in storage. If you have things in storage that you are not using every day, do you really need them? Are you keeping things “just in case?” Has that “just in case” event happened in the last 3, 5, 10 years that you have paid to have that item in storage? As I went through everything I had in storage, I did pull out a few items that are now in use. Those items are the exception. I saw that many of the items in storage were unneeded or redundant. I am glad I have had this time to shed those items and did not lug them through a few states. Moving is expensive enough without hauling things you don’t need.

Going through the process of downsizing and minimizing has been very freeing these past few years. It has helped me to realize what is important and what is not. I have realized that the accumulation of stuff is sometimes a defense mechanism – a sense of false security – after having nothing for so long – to accumulate items in an effort to feel accomplished. These items are not comforting at all. I have been weighed down by baggage both physically and metaphorically.

While I doubt that I will ever return to the days of having everything I own fit into one backpack, it is freeing to have less. I am not one of those minimalists who count my belongings and strive for a certain number. Rather, my goal is to have enough; enough to be able to experience my life in a way that brings me joy and no more.

As I pare down my house, I try to keep in mind that the next time I plan an interstate move, I want it to actually happen, not fall through. I am trying to prepare myself to be able to pick up and go if the chance arises. If that opportunity never knocks, then I want to be able to enjoy my life where I am while living lightly.

Going through and getting rid of the items in storage was relatively easy. Now everything I own in this world is inside of my house. I am free of the monthly payment to store stuff I did not need – the ultimate definition of pissing your money away.

The hard part now comes of being able to establish the limit of what constitutes enough. The hard questions now need to be asked: Is this item useful? Does it bring joy to my life? How do you know how much you need?

I have tried to set limits on certain items to ensure that I am only surrounded by that which I love and get rid of the excess. All books must fit on the shelf. If I want to keep a novel, and the shelf is full, then one book must go to make room for the one I want to keep. I have been trying to engage in the practice of joy without ownership. My library card has been getting quite the workout, as I check out books, DVDs, and even CDs to enjoy media without the responsibility of possession or ownership of the item. My barometer has been if I check an item out of the library two or three times, then that is an item I probably need to look at owning. If I only check it out once and then forget about it after, it was an item that I did not need to have in my house long-term, and I was better off borrowing than owning.

It is a delicate balancing act trying to figure out one’s comfort zone. I still look around and think that I have too much stuff, especially when contemplating a(n imaginary) move. Yet now it is more challenging to be able to figure out what is necessary and what is not.

Some of it is fear. Where I am now is the longest I have lived in one place in my life. I feel stifled by complacency. There is the fear that how I am living now is too good to be true and that it will all fall apart someone how. There is the fear of returning to the world of my 20s in which my living situation was precarious, and a car is simply a house on 4 wheels.

Yet overriding the fear is hope. There is hope that I am not done yet in this journey called life. There is hope that the best is yet to come, and that I must be prepared to answer its calling. If I am asked to cross the torrents of the river, then I am readying my canoe to be portaged across that river. While most of my life has been a struggle to survive, I am now at a point where I am ready to live. I do not want to be weighed down by stuff that may stifle opportunity to experience some of the best moments of my life.

Like the turtle, I have finally come to realize that the notion of home is something that you always carry with you. It is in the journey, not the destination that life’s greatest moments occur.

Are you ready for portage? If someone offered you your dream job tomorrow in a city that was 5 states away, would you be able to pick up and go? Are you tied down by your stuff? Would you run around frantic trying to figure out how to pack and move the house? Many times, opportunity only knocks once. Letting go of what holds you down will enable you to live the life of your dreams. You do not need to have a certain number of possessions. What you need to have is enough to make you happy, without having too much that tips the canoe.

Playing Dress Up

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Children love to play dress up. Many times you will find kids clomping around the house in your shoes, trying to wear your shirts or hat. They love to pretend to be different things. Adults like to play too. Look at Halloween coming up later this month. Children and adults alike seem to enjoy the fantasy that goes into pretending to be something you are not at Halloween. This is your chance to be an astronaut, a ballerina, a superhero, anything you want to be. It’s fun.

We do the same thing in our everyday lives not only with our clothing but also with our possessions. Look around. Do you have a family of 4, but place settings for 12 because you have always dreamed of being the one to host the big family holidays, with a house full of loved ones? If you do, and you actually are able to use those 12 place settings to achieve that family gathering, then that is great. You are living the dream. Do you have 12 places settings with a family of 4 and never use the 12 for the large gathering, but simply only 4 or perhaps 6? Now we are getting somewhere.

If they are not in use, you are probably keeping them just in case. Those place settings are representative of your fantasy self. You may not be play dress up pre se, but you are imagining a life of hosting gatherings that you are not actually living. How do those extra, unused place settings make you feel? Sad? Overwhelmed that they are taking up space in your cupboards and you have to move a stack of plates to get to your favorite mixing bowl?

Get rid of them.

That’s right. Get rid of them.

Whether it is extra plates, those 4-inch heels you bought to go with the power suit you never wear, or the sports equipment for an activity in which you never engage, get rid of it.

It’s hard. Often, we buy things for the way we want to see ourselves and not for the way we actually are. We buy that shirt because we think wearing it will make us look just as glamorous and appealing as the model in the magazine. We buy that piece of outdoor equipment because we think it will make us look sporty, just like the commercial. Are you living a life of a TV commercial? Or are these items just reminders of things you want to do but do not have time to do?

In an effort to minimize, or rewind, we need to let go of false selves. Get rid of the baggage. Yes, you may have dreams of hosting house parties every weekend, but is that actually happening? If you want to host parties, host them. If it is not a reality, then get rid of the baggage that is weighing you down.

It is much easier to live with the things that are useful and enhance our everyday existence. Why hold onto ice skates if they only remind you of the one time you used them and have never been on the ice again?

Simplifying items associated with fantasy selves is one manner in which we can simply our houses so that they contain what is useful, what is beautiful, and what is loved. A house containing only these items is easier to clean, holds more positive energy, and allows more opportunity to engage in the experiences and activities you truly enjoy.

For me, I am currently looking at my spare bedroom. I have a genuine guest room that is set up to host company for a weekend or a few days quite comfortably. I have always wanted to be one of those people that are able to have people over to visit – family and friends from out of town have a place to stay if they decide to visit the area. Do I ever host company in the way I envision? No. I live in an area mostly surrounded by cornfields and cows. You can see those pretty much anywhere outside of a city limits. No one visits me here. My spare bedroom is a form of my fantasy self that wants to be a hostess for out of town guests. Would that room be more useful for some other purpose? Could I give the bed and the other accompaniments to someone who is more in need of them? Could I empty that room entirely and save money by moving into a smaller living space?

We all love to play dress up. If you’re dressing up for Halloween, that’s fun. What ways in your everyday life are you pretending to live a fantasy life? Is this an area of your life you can simplify? Remember that we cannot take it with us when we go. When your relatives are going through your belongings after you pass, are they going to find a pair of skis and wonder, “I never knew (s) he skied?” Only keep things in your life that are useful, beautiful, or enhance your experience on the planet.

What fantasy self do you need to say adios to today?