My De-Clutter Disaster

December 1, 2011 § 2 Comments

Um, yeah. So when you’re de-cluttering it is important to make sure you don’t throw out a project your kid worked on for several hours and is due after the holiday break.

You see, our kids have never, ever had homework assigned over a holiday weekend. That’s why, when I did my clean sweep of my 10 year-old’s backpack over Thanksgiving break (while his dad took him to the movies), I tossed out a map of the United States that was meticulously labeled with the state names and capitals. I assumed it was a project he’d done in class, so into the bin it went!

I forgot all about it until yesterday when George returned from dropping the kids off at school and told me that our youngest had lost the school project that was due, and, boy, had he really lit into him. We’ve been having some issues with the kids not being organized and losing their stuff, so when he lost something yet again, George just went sort of nuts – the way a parent goes nuts when they’ve already gone nuts over the same topic 497 times.

Turns out that George had him complete the project early while I was out of the home on one of my jaunts to the corporate office. I had no idea that any of that had happened, which is why I assumed that it was an in-class project he had just brought home for us to see.

So poor little guy gets lambasted for being disorganized and it’s really my fault.

Cue the guilt.

George went in to talk to the teacher about what had happened, and it turns out that she extended the deadline to Friday anyway. Whew.

Fortunately this kid is pretty easygoing and he took it in stride. He just re-did it and handed it in this morning. It looked great. I still feel awful.

I have apologized profusely to both dad and son, and I learned a valuable lesson: Don’t throw other people’s stuff out without checking with them first. (Mostly.)

Have you had any de-cluttering mishaps?


Why I’m Still De-Cluttering

November 16, 2011 § 4 Comments

My latest stack. Books, games and an impossibly big bottle of wine.

On this journey to find calm in the chaos I’ve made some big moves. I can now officially claim that I eat a vegan diet. I have slashed my spending by epic proportions, and have bought down the principle on my mortgage enough to be able to re-finance to lower my monthly payment by $1600 – even though I’m technically underwater. My family has successfully survived with one car and one cell phone for four people. I hate how my hair looks, but I’m pretty ok with the fact that I have not colored it in 13 months. I actually turned down a freelance job earlier this year because it didn’t sound like fun.

But far and away, the most important thing I’ve done is de-clutter the spaces in my home.
Here’s why:
Clutter free spaces are easier to clean. I clean a lot. I like things to be tidy and organized. But before I launched my de-clutter campaign I was constantly moving all of my junk around, finding new homes for it, dusting it, etc. My need to clean became pretty overwhelming. Now I’ve learned that if it’s not there, I don’t have to clean it up. I can do a clean sweep of my entire house in about 20 minutes, and my Sunday deep clean takes only about three hours, down from at least six before the de-clutter. I can use that time for things that I really love doing rather than picking up mountains of toys, laundry and other junk.
It’s easier to find things. When you de-clutter down to the bare minimun of the things you actually use every day (or every week) you don’t have to dig through piles of stuff you never use to find what you’re looking for. My kitchen is so streamlined I know exactly where everything is at all times. Plus, I’ve eliminated certain daily frustrations like trying to find my keys.
A de-cluttered wardrobe eliminates the “what-am-I-going-to-wear” stress. I was once a bit of a clotheshorse, but I must admit that I love my smaller wardrobe. It is beyond my ability to explain how nice it is to walk into my clean closet and find exactly what I need to wear at any given moment. For example, I have one outfit that I wear to skate in now (I used to have maybe 15 or so things that I could mix and match to wear at the rink). On skate days I just grab the outfit put it on and go, whereas before I would spend several minutes trying to find just the perfect thing for that day’s mood.  I also find that I am only doing about one load of laundry for myself per week. One. Load. (!)
Clean pantries, cabinets and closets reduce anxiety. I used to visit sites like just to “oooh” and “aaah” over the perfectly designed, beautifully organized spaces. Now I just have to open my own linen closet and I am immediately soothed by what I see there – perfectly stacked towels, folded blankets and crisp sheets all it tidy little bundles. Sounds crazy, but it calms me right down.
De-cluttering allows others make use of the things I no longer want. I take care of my things, so when I donate games, books, toys and clothes to Goodwill I feel good knowing that some other family will get a great deal on something they will now be able to enjoy together, a working mom can find a well-priced, well-made suit for a job interview, or a thrifty teenager can get some great accessories for a Halloween costume (we had a lot of costumes…).  My unused things do more good out in the world than they do stuffed in the back of my closet.
And the most important reason I continue with my de-clutter crusade…
De-cluttering reinforces my desire to spend my money mindfully on things my family actually needs and uses – not a bunch of useless items to fill space. Everything I give away or toss out cost me money. I earned that money through the work that I do, which is the time in my life I give to someone else in return for payment. These items that I no longer need represent life energy that can be better spent elsewhere. Every de-cluttered item that goes into the box or bin is a reminder that I am not my stuff, and that my life is not about working to earn money to have more stuff. When I shop now I think of the hours I have spent de-cluttering. This encourages me to consider where this item will end up in six months, one year, two years. Is this item something beautiful enough or useful enough that I will want it in my life for a long time? Is it built well enough to last as long as I need it? How and where was it made? Is it a good value for the money? Is there a way to dispose of it or recycle it properly? If it passes these tests, then maybe I’ll think about buying it in 30 days or so.
De-cluttering has become more than just an organizational tool. Every time I de-clutter a space, it becomes a mini meditation on the things in my life that really matter. The ripple effects have changed my habits, my outlook and my purpose. And my closets look amazing.
What does de-cluttering do for you?


August 18, 2011 § Leave a comment

I’ve been thinking a lot about wastefulness. In the government, something is defined as wasteful when it’s something your opponent wants. In the home, wastefulness can be defined as throwing perfectly good food away (or letting it rot rather than making a meal plan for it). It can also mean leaving the lights on when you’re not in the room, letting the water run while you’re brushing your teeth, or taking 30-minute showers. At school and work, wastefulness not only applies to money and resources, but also time. And in a consumer society, wastefulness could mean that you’re buying more stuff than you could possibly ever need or use.

When we shift our attention to creating a minimal lifestyle, it’s natural that we begin to take stock in our wasteful behaviors and patterns, and then begin to correct them.

The problem I’m having with this approach is that my Type A personality creates a tendency to punish myself when I don’t live up to my goals of eliminating wastefulness in every area of my life.

Recent example: Yesterday George volunteered to do the weekly shopping for me. I wrote the list and the meal plan for him, and one of the items we needed was a handful of Kalamata olives. When I do the shopping myself, I always take my own glass jar specifically for olives so that I don’t have to take the store’s plastic tub. I forgot to pack the jar for George, he came home with a plastic tub, and I nearly had an aneurysm. I felt like a failure. Seriously.

I realized that by creating a goal of “eliminating wastefulness” I have locked myself into a pattern of thinking that is deeply negative. “Eliminating” has a particularly menacing connotation. And “wastefulness” is just loaded with baggage, in my opinion.

I propose that we move away from this double whammy of negativity. Heretofore I will no longer “eliminate wastefulness.” From this moment forward, I “embrace wastelessness.”

“Wastelessness” is an idea that’s long overdue. Rather than chastising myself for a wasteful purchase after the fact (or beating myself up for wanting the wasteful item in the first place), I will instead ask myself if the item is wasteless before I purchase.  Or — even better — try to envision all of the creative uses for every aspect of the item, even the parts that are considered throw-aways.  I can make these decisions creatively, feeling empowered rather than punished. By discovering if a thing or activity is wasteless before we buy, use or participate, we immediately snap our thoughts to the often limitless creative uses for things (or time) and can make a more enlightened decision.

A wasteless way to view a bunch of carrots, for example, would be to see that you can make a delicious soup from the orange part, and a tasty pesto from the greens. Not a bit of the carrot is wasted (and it’s all in my belly.) A wasteless way to view a bulk-sized plastic bottle of vinegar is to use the vinegar to clean your home, then cut the bottle in half. Use the top part as a funnel. Use the bottom part as a scoop for the dog food. (These are both recent examples from my own home, although I must give credit to George for thinking up the funnel. I’ve used it, like, 100 times since he made it.)

Wasteless spending. Wasteless time management. Wasteless energy usage. Wasteless meal planning…. In what areas of your life can you embrace wastelessness?

Some Updates. Plus, Clutter Corner!

August 1, 2011 § 1 Comment

Going to do a little blog housekeeping today, and update you on some of the insourcing and other projects that have been part of my Type A minimalist takeover.
I recently blogged about some projects that fall under the banner of “insourcing.” The upshot is that there are probably several things we each pay someone else to do, make or provide that are well within our capabilities to provide for ourselves. To prove a point (and save a little money) I recently made my own laundry detergent and toothpaste.
The laundry detergent project is working out incredibly well. Our clothes are clean and fresh, they smell great, my HE washer seems to do fine with it, and I have enough from my first batch to probably get me through the next six months. Highly Recommended.
My toothpaste was made out of baking soda, hydrogen peroxide, peppermint oil and a hearty dose of stevia (recipe below). It was very easy to make, and the ingredients cost about $15 total. I made about a cup of it at first, and my guess is I have enough ingredients to make toothpaste for the next several decades.
In the plus column, my teeth have never been whiter. Seriously. Ditch those Crest Whitestrips and do this for a week – but stay away from blacklights. I’m not kidding when I say my teeth are WHITE. In the minus column, the taste is just ok. Not awful. Not great. I do find that I don’t look forward to brushing my teeth as much, and using the concoction is a little drippy and messy. But overall it’s been good, and my mouth feels squeaky clean. Recommended.
I’ve been insourcing my own dog treats for a while now, too. Here’s the batch I cooked up yesterdy for my dog Dobby. He’s crazy about these homemade treats.

Dog treats made with leftover oatmeal, wheat flour and peanut butter.

I also have talked about my love of solid shampoos and the search for a solid conditioner.
I found a product made by Lush Cosmetics called Jungle. I love the way it smells, but as my hair gets longer, the solid conditioner just isn’t really working for me. I think if I had a short haircut it would be fine (would  I need conditioner at all, though, if it was really short?).  So I’m giving up on that for now, and instead opting for refilling my conditioner bottle with liquid conditioner in the bulk section at Whole Foods. Solid shampoo: Highly recommended. Solid conditioner: Not Recommended. Whole Foods bulk personal care products: Highly recommended.
In addition to my hair care project, I am still growing out my hair to its natural color. It feels a little drab, to be perfectly honest, but I’m ok with it. The ends are still a little blond, and I’m looking forward to the day when it’s all just the real me.
And lastly, I mentioned a book I’m reading that I couldn’t wait to blog about. And then I didn’t blog about it. It’s called Early Retirement Extreme by Jacob Lund Fisker. I will get to this, but I’m still a little blown away by it, and trying to piece together the best parts to share. One of the reasons I started on this minimalist path was because I wanted to create more free space in my life by working less and needing less. This book has everything (including equations and charts!) the minimalist needs to find a way to quit working so much. So in the meantime, please check it out.
And for the grand finale… Here’s a shot of my latest Goodwill batch. I had way too many socks…

Isn't it funny how you don't realize just how ugly all your crap is until it's in a pile headead to Goodwill?

And now here’s this:
Toothpaste recipe:
½ c baking soda
¼ c 3% hydrogen peroxide
Peppermint oil to taste
Stevia extract to taste
Mix it all together and store it in a jar. Give it a good shake before using.
What have you been up to lately?

Add Some Mini Fixes to the Mix

June 23, 2011 § Leave a comment

When simplifying, de-cluttering and otherwise marching toward minimalism, I often focus on the big projects. Tackling that garbage-filled garage, emptying my over-filled fridge or clearing out the closets are all very important to keeping up my minimalist momentum.
But I’ve also discovered that taking care of a series of little things can also contribute to a more peaceful existence.
To wit: I’ve been lugging around lanyard with a bunch of heavy keys. Not only do I not know what several of these keys are for, but the three keys I do use on a regular basis aren’t marked and they look identical to my mystery keys (the other one is my mail key and it’s smaller). So basically when I need one of the three usable keys I have to flip through all of the other keys. Big nuisance several times a day.

Keys before...

I have finally taken action. I removed the unidentified keys and marked the good keys with labels from my awesome label maker. I’ve shaved several minutes of annoyance out of my day by taking five minutes to do something I should have done years ago.

Keys after!

Other little annoyances I’ve recently tackled include cleaning out my skate bag (which was inexplicably filled with wrappers, receipts and pens), putting a container of sunscreen in the glovebox (never know when you’re going to need it),  and placing dedicated hooks by the door for my newly de-cluttered keys and the dog’s leash. These are small things, but the time I save with these simple steps has brought even more serenity to my life.
I encourage you to keep focusing on the big things, but also take a look at what small aggravations you could eliminate. You’ll surprised how much easier all these little fixes can make your life.
What mini fix can you add to the mix?

It’s Clutter Corner Time!

June 15, 2011 § 2 Comments

Here’s a shot of my recent haul. I have a lot of books. Since I decided that I wanted to purge two of my bookshelves — one is a really cool library carousel thing that spins around, and the other is an unpainted piece that I bought nine years ago with the intention of staining it or painting it or somesuch nonsense (never happened) — it’s time to thin the herd.

The carousel thing is in the garage waiting for a craigslist posting, but the more I look at it the more I’m thinking I should find a use for it. I mean it spins for Pete’s sake. How much of your furniture spins? It’s thrilling in a way.

I’d like to give a quick shout out today to some blogs that are very inspirational for de-cluttering. If you’re having trouble kick-starting your cleanup, just pop on to some of these pages to see how some real pros are handling it. Quite simply the blog Bible for keeping it clean. I’ve really enjoyed reading this blog for the past couple of weeks. Colleen’s a cleaning machine. Plus, she offers fun little missions and inspirational words. If Bea Johnson’s blog doesn’t inspire you to clean out your closets then nothing will. Creator of the 100 Thing Challenge, Dave keeps a great-looking blog filled with thoughtful essays about living with less.

What can you de-clutter today?

A Glass of Whine

May 25, 2011 § 11 Comments

You’ve decided to simplify your life. You’re minimizing your reliance on material things, being more mindful of where the items you purchase are created and paying attention to the amount of packaging you allow in your home.  You’re spending more time on things that fill your spirit rather than things that empty your wallet.  It’s an exciting time because you can see the benefits of your newfound minimalism in your increased free time, your elevated energy level and your excitement about your day.

But what happens when you have a disagreement about your new lifestyle with your friends, family or businesses you patronize?

In the case of my friends, I’ve mostly gotten some bemused questions. Only one person was a little hostile and incredulous. But for the most part the folks I hang with are ok with idea that I’m dialing down.

Most of my family lives far away, and the topic hasn’t really come up. So I’m not sure how they’d respond.

But I recently had an experience with a wine club we joined that I’d like to share. The winery in question is a block away from our home, so it made financial sense to sign up for the 20% discount that came along with membership – useful on the rare occasions we need to run out for a bottle of wine. Plus, we like to support the businesses in our downtown area. Our little square, like many other districts in the country, has suffered during this economic nightmare, and we feel that it is our responsibility to support the local guys.

On Saturday they FedExed us a package. My initial reaction to this was that we live a block away, and have mentioned to them on more than one occasion that when our quarterly wine allocation is ready, we’ll just pop over to pick it up. I was sort of surprised, but no biggie.

It was only after I opened the outer box, pulled out the inner box, then the wine bottle, then removed a rolled-up piece of paper from inside the wine bottle, discovered an RSVP card AND envelope, plus about 50 styrofoam  peanuts that I realized that this wasn’t our wine shipment – it was an invite to a FREE event in September.

Are you kidding me?

There was not one single recyclable thing in this mailing, not to mention I felt sort of bad that they probably dropped $15 to send us something that we would have been happy to go get. (We LIKE going in there.)  And styrofoam peanuts? Speechless. Obviously, I had an issue.

I wrote them an email.  It said, in a nutshell, that we are so happy that they are here in our town, that we love their wines and that we are very pleased to support the wine club. But, hey, we live so close we’d be more than happy to pick our shipments up, and, since we’re sensitive to packaging issues, they could feel free to just shoot us an email for future events. At no time did I threaten to stop shopping there, quit the wine club, storm down there to kick over their trashcan or anything else. I just wanted to remedy this little hiccup politely.

What I got back was a short email that explained that everyone else loved the invitation and if I have a problem they understand completely if I drop out of the wine club. They touted their “individualized service” and explained that that an “email wouldn’t suffice” for future invitations.  But if the service is individualized, why can’t they personalize their communications to my preference? From a strictly business perspective, my way saves them money, right?

I’ve learned from watching Celebrity Apprentice that it only hurts you to take the low road, so I simply responded that we had no intention of quitting, and thank you for reading my message. I also said we look forward to seeing them again soon. These folks are my neighbors, you see, and the last thing I want is to cause a conflict with people whom I actually see while running errands.

So I’m a bit perplexed. I know that I can’t force people (or businesses) to see things my way, or change their practices to suit my worldview – and I wouldn’t want them to do the same thing to me. But, do I have a responsibility to drop out of a club that doesn’t seem to want me as a member? Or am I blowing this out of proportion? Should I have just kept my feelings to myself?

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