The Modern Minimalist

April 30, 2012 § 6 Comments

I’ve been without a cell phone for so long now that I hardly remember what it was like to have one. I’ve enjoyed the cost savings, and have found that our circumstances really only require one cell phone for our whole family – and it doesn’t have to be mine.

The problem I’ve been having lately, strictly from a minimalist perspective, is that when we hit the road, trail or beach, we cart along all of these things: A photo camera, my Flip camera for videos, one or two birding guides, George’s cell phone, an iPod for music and a GPS for geocaching. Sometimes we forget one of these items, causing much stress and anguish. Other times the batteries die, causing anger, frustration and swearing.

The upshot is that I’m thinking that my modern mode of minimalism might make me a candidate for a smartphone. A smartphone would allow me to have all of these things in one compact unit.

I bristle at the idea of sending any more of my hard-earned dollars to the House of Jobs, and I reeeallly hate the idea of a monthly fee for the dubious privilege of having a phone that seems just so consumery. But I love the idea of having just the one thing. It seems more minimal than what I’m currently doing. In fact, when I was playing with George’s sister’s iPhone at the birthday dinner, taking photos, videos and getting names for the constellations (coolest thing ever!) on one screen, I found myself really liking it for its simplicity.

I also really like the idea of Instagram. That sounds like fun, and it could be good for the blog. Right now, uploading photos is such a chore that you’ve probably noticed that I stopped doing it altogether.

So what’s a modern minimalist to do? Succumb to the consumer trappings found in iPhones, Droids, Noids or whatever phones are out there? Or be the last remaining non-smartphone user on the planet?

I would tell you to call me with your answers, but, well, I don’t have a phone.

 

 

 

…And We’re Back

April 25, 2012 § Leave a comment

I fully subscribe to the idea put forth in that Waylon Jennings lyric: “I’ve got the right to disappear.”

But I also have the right to come back. And here I am!

I took a little unannounced hiatus from blogging because, truly, I was just so very into living my life. My fortieth birthday has come and gone. Tax season left me a bit poorer but for the most part unscathed. Family visited. Some beloved people in my life have died, others have been born and one dear friend was diagnosed with cancer. I had some minor health issues that are very close to being resolved. There’s been a a boom in my freelance business.

But through it all, I have to report that it has been such a blessing to live in a clean and uncluttered space, to be able to eat the plant-based diet that keeps me healthy (although the birthday weekend did find me chowing on four lamb momos at the local Himalayan joint – savory!) and to have the free time to run, walk, hike, bird and cook.

When I first started exploring minimalism it felt a bit gimmicky. Let’s de-clutter the closet, let’s take our own packages to the grocery, let’s eliminate plastic bags, spend less, make our own food, grow our own food, cook our own food, eat our own food, etc. and so on…

But now that I have been on dedicated path for all this time, none of it feels affected or forced. I don’t think twice about sending unused items to Goodwill. But I do think five or six times about buying things! It’s become effortless — second nature even — to research products to make sure they are safe, non-toxic and as cruelty free (to animals and humans) as possible. Exercising, sharing a meal, reading a good book, feeding my backyard birds – all have become the most rewarding ways for me to spend my time that don’t tax my anxieties, my wallet or the planet.

Life happens whether or not we’re organized, centered and serene. And I am here to provide my testimony that when a simple, deliberate life becomes your top priority, all of the difficulties, changes and challenges become much easier to manage. Wanting less, spending less, owning less has given me more than I ever imagined possible.

Namaste, minimalists!

Delightful Discoveries

March 8, 2012 § 2 Comments

I’ve stumbled upon a few things over the past few weeks that have just thrilled me to no end, and I’d like to offer them up to you…

Sandwich Solution: The kids make their lunches every morning and this usually consists of some kind of sandwich or wrap. Since we don’t use Ziploc bags at all, I’ve been stressing over the best way to contain these things for clean transport within their lunch boxes. They’ve been using wax paper (fairly acceptable, but I’m not sure if it’s recyclable), aluminum foil (totally wasteful, expensive and ridiculous and it drives me absolutely bonkers when I catch them doing it), re-usable sandwich bags (never, ever big enough and then the kids lose them anyway – another thing that sends me over the edge), and plastic wrap (I hate this option. Every time I look at plastic wrap I can only envision some poor, furry sea animal being choked to death).

So you can see why this was an issue. Apparently I have some sort of sandwich wrap mania.

It occurred to me while just sitting around one day that the kids can wrap their lunches in one of our cloth napkins, use the napkin instead of the paper ones at school and then bring the napkin home to be washed. Problem solved.

I can’t believe it took me this long to think of it.

Cereal Solution: If it wasn’t for the kids I would never, ever buy boxed cereal. It’s expensive, marginally nutritious (even the “healthy” ones are suspect) and the packaging is ever so wasteful. In fact, I don’t usually buy the cereal, their dad does, and I bite my tongue every time he walks into the house with nine boxes of pandapoop puffs or whatever it is that was on sale.

I decided to combat this cereal menace head on, and I found these two marvelous recipes:

Vegan Skinny Bitch Granola: A bit time consuming to make, but it is SO delicious. I have been quadrupling the recipe (takes the same amount of time, really) and there’s usually enough to last for about a week and a half. They eat less because it is so much more dense and filled with goodies than their cereal and I don’t have to toss out five cardboard boxes a week – which makes me happy.

Vegan Overnight Oats: This takes three minutes to whip up and the kids nearly lost their minds over how good this dish is. Big score. Just make a batch before you go to bed, stick it in the fridge and voila! Breakfast.

So we still have some cereal in the house, but we’ve cut waaaay back, and I am feeling all the more relieved for it.

Bread Machine: I had a United mileage plus credit card with a bunch of miles on it. It cost me $60 a year for the privilege of earning miles that are in no way useful for air travel, so I decided to shut it down.  But before I did, I spent the balance of my miles on a Cuisinart Bread Machine and it’s the best thing ever.

The kids, with their crazy sandwich needs, were going through at least two bags of bread per week. We never had enough bread, were always on the verge of running out of bread, buying bread, thinking about bread, needing bread… Enough! Now that I have the bread machine I spend about 5 minutes every other day baking a fresh loaf of whole grain bread and we always have bread! I haven’t really crunched the numbers to determine the total cost savings we’ve enjoyed, but we sure love not having to run out to buy bread all the time. Plus, it’s just a few less plastic baggies out there murdering otters, or whatever other mayhem plastic baggies seem to cause.

My Yoga Online: I love me some yoga. I love yoga classes, yoga clothes, pretty pictures of yoga, yoga, yoga, yoga! But since we’ve been on lockdown to pay off the mortgage, I haven’t wanted to spend the $15 per yoga session at my favorite local studio.

In January, I signed up for myyogaonline.com at a special “New Year” rate. Now I have access to hundreds of yoga classes, yoga tips, wellness articles and more for about $5.80 per month. Admittedly it’s not quite the same as being in a room full of people with an instructor, but I can do as much or as little yoga as I want on my schedule. It’s been a wonderful experience to be able to come home from a hike and pop in a 20 minute cool down, or to spend a free hour brushing up on my raven – whenever I feel like it.

That’s the news that’s fit to print from Type A Minimalist! I’d love to hear about the delighful things you’ve recently discovered.

New Year’s Realizations

January 10, 2012 § 7 Comments

I hope that you had a delightful holiday season and that you and yours are settling in to 2012 with peace and happiness.

Like everyone else, my holiday was a frenzy of travel, guests, activities and gifts. My routine went completely out the window, of course, and I was only able to exercise sporadically. My vegan diet was a joke, not so much because I was tempted — I wasn’t  — but more because Christmas foods apparently consist of meat wrapped in cheese dipped in an egg-and-milk batter, fried and then dusted with sprinkles. I was a guest in people’s homes and away from my own kitchen, so whaddaryagonnado? (I didn’t eat any meat, though…)

I’m a big fan of New Year’s resolutions. I never would have started figure skating three years ago unless I had resolved to do so after several glasses of wine on New Year’s Eve. It is still one of the great joys of my life and I skate every single week. But I don’t really have one this year. What I have instead is a realization.

I’ve realized that it’s okay to be nobody.

As a classic Type-A automatron, I have spent the vast majority of my life doing things that will be seen, appreciated and applauded. I was a theater geek, a public speaker, a performer – all things that would draw attention to me, me, me. And I loved to bask in accolades. In my career, same thing. I always put myself front and center to get the praise. My ego was on fire and praise was its fuel.

But over the past few years I’ve found myself pursuing more internal pursuits. My journey has led me away from the shiny spotlights and directed my focus inward. I can’t pinpoint when the shift actually occurred. It’s been a slow evolution, a gradual sloughing off of the things that no longer seem to serve me.

The things that interest me now are learning to prepare meals that nourish my body and my family, not starting a restaurant, catering business or online food source. Just cooking for cooking’s sake. I love to skate, but only two people I know, other than my coach and the people who are already at the rink, have ever seen me do it. In fact a full 95% of my friends and relatives don’t even know that I own skates, much less that I know how to use them. I’ve recently taken up running, and far from winning any races, I’m just enjoying the time with myself to get some exercise and check in with how I’m really feeling about what’s going on with me.

I’m also much less interested in making an impact on the people around me with my wit, charm and cleverness, and more interested in making less of an impact on the earth by creatively managing the waste in my home, eliminating superfluous spending habits and re-using the things I have. I don’t care so much how my body looks, as opposed to how it feels and what I can teach it to do. I don’t want to win any more awards, but I do want to make sure my neighborhood is trash-free.

As J.D. Salinger famously noted, it takes courage to be an absolute nobody. So it is with great courage that in 2012 I am embracing my own status as a nobody. And so far, it feels like one of the most freeing things I’ve ever done.

A Word About Birds

November 8, 2011 § 2 Comments

 It doesn’t take much to get me rhapsodizing about birds. In fact, on my last birthday one of George’s gifts to me was one hour over dinner where I could talk about birds uninterrupted. That I’ve held off blogging about birds until this point is an uncharacteristic show of restraint on my part.
Anna’s Hummingbird

At the beginning this avian love affair was all about me. I had a Type A need to locate, identify and categorize every bird I saw. I read books about birds. I went to all the birding hot spots I could find. I watched DVDs and nature shows to learn everything I could about my fine feathered friends. (I still do.)

 I also loved birding because it was something I could do any time, anywhere. I loved how I could spot a bird, pause, and experience a moment in time where I wasn’t running around like – to use a bird-inspired expression – a chicken with its head cut off. Birding continually brought me into the moment. I cherished those brief glimpses of nature throughout my hectic day. (I still do.)
 
Birding has served me well. But the relationship has changed. Over time my birding has made me aware of how connected I am to nature, and how it’s my turn to give back to the birds that bring me so much joy.
 
This weekend I read a wonderful Grist.org interview with author Jonathan Franzen (Freedom, The Corrections, et. al.). Franzen is heavily involved with bird conservation, and through this work he has discovered that a love of birds requires a deeper environmental commitment. As the interviewer paraphrased, once you love something “whether it’s a warbler or a woman”  it is on you to protect the world in which it thrives.
 
Franzen replies, “The thing about birds is, they’re everywhere, so if you care about them as a group, that pretty much ties into the oceans, the atmosphere, climate change, energy, all of that stuff.”
 
I don’t think I had made this connection before, although I do know that my commitment to environmental protection has increased tenfold in the years I have been tromping through the woods and waters in search of birds for my life list. His comment rings true for me. Once I connected the dots —  that the birds I love swim in the waters where we dump our trash and sewage, fly through the air that my car pollutes and build their nests in the trees that were cut down to build the housing tract where I live — I had the heartbreaking epiphany that I am not only responsible for minimizing impact on the environment, but I am also responsible for actively working to conserve the environment. For the birds.
 

My favorite bird, the American White Pelican.

It’s not enough for me to pull the car or bike over and stare in wonder as a flock of American white pelicans soars overhead. It’s not enough for me to nod at the Anna’s hummingbird that buzzes my ear. It’s not enough to set millet out for the enormously fat California towhees that make a mess of my patio every morning. I must do something real for them. I can’t wait for someone else to keep the world safe for our most delicate inhabitants. If it is true love – and it is – it is my duty to protect them.
 
So that’s why I pick up trash on the trails. It’s why I bike or walk when I can. It’s why I refuse, reuse and recycle. It’s why I use environmentally safe cleaning products in my home. It’s why I purchase organic, local produce. It’s why I patronize businesses that share my environmental values. It’s why I give money to the local and national organizations that are working to save the wetlands, scrub up birds who have been slathered in oil, and rescue baby birds who have been orphaned and raptors that have been hit by trucks.

The unassuming, adorable, greagarious California Tohwee. Definitely in my Top Ten.

 
As I feather my own nest every day, I let my thoughts fly to the birds. They truly are my inspiration for this little life of less. And it is with a grateful heart that I thank them for encouraging me to find even more ways to serve them.
 
What inspires you?
 
 

Occupied

October 26, 2011 § 8 Comments

I wholeheartedly support the Occupy Wall Street protesters, and I share their outrage.
 
It was, in fact, the recent crashes and bailouts that fanned the flames of my anger to the point where I decided to take serious action to reduce my involvement in corruption, greed, warmongering, abuse and arrogance of every kind.
 
Further compounding my desire to find my way out of this system is how the company I work for has reacted to the recession. In a knee-jerk move after the last crash, my employer cut our employee discounts, doubled employee contributions to health care and stopped matching our 401(k) contributions. And at that point no one at our company had received a raise in two years. We all just shrugged it off and felt grateful to still be working.
 
Flash forward to now, and the company is having a boom. We are, quite literally, enjoying profits never before seen in our company’s 53-year history.
 
The CEO now drives one of these:
 
 

This is a $95,000 car.

 
I have not received a raise, nor have any of my counterparts. They have not re-instated matching funds for 401(k) benefits. Our health care costs are still higher. Our workload has tripled (gotta make those numbers!) as our headcount has decreased.
 
And yet, at the end of the day, I find myself breathing a sigh of relief that I am still employed.
 
I can’t quit my job yet. But I’m diligently working my way out of the system so that I can stop contributing to these ills, and so I am no longer a victim of them.
 
I’m occupying my life. And here’s how you can, too:
 
Know where your food comes from. Stop contributing to the oil-churning machine that is our national food system. Big companies are making huge profits off of inhumane, unhealthy practices at the expense of your well-being and your wallet. Much of what your grocery store is selling you is from China, Australia, South America and Mexico. Read labels before you buy. Do you really want your kid drinking apple juice from China? I don’t.
 
Eliminate your debt. Do whatever it takes. Sell whatever you can. Don’t let the banks have any power over you.
 
Stop shopping.  Buying the latest thing is not going to give you the life you want. Stay away from the mall and spend some time thinking about what your soul wants for this life. Whatever it is, it’s probably not right next to the Cinnabon.
 
When you do shop, buy quality-made products from companies that promote ethical treatment toward the environment, their employees and their customers. Research companies at goodguide.com or do your own research.
 
Support local, family-owned businesses. Keep dollars flowing through your own community where it will do the most good. Say no to Wal-Mart!
 
Do not buy fast food. It’s not cheaper in the long run when you consider the cost to your health and the environment. Plus, the business practices of fast food companies are notoriously unethical.
 
Drive less. Gas isn’t getting any cheaper, and Big Oil is subsidized by the government. My guess is that you aren’t. Walk more, take public transportation – just do whatever you can to get out of your car. Besides, walking is a very pleasant form of transport.
 
Move your banking to a credit union or local bank. Credit Unions are non-profit. Local banks employ your neighbors and, frankly, have better customer service. I just re-financed through my local bank and the experience was pleasant and I got a great rate.
 
Take care of the things you do own so that you replace them less frequently – or never. Mend those holes, fill those scratches. Extend the lives of the items you own so you spend less.
 
Refuse to bring things into your home that you don’t know how to responsibly dispose of. This is tough, but if you think about the entire life cycle of an item, you may think twice about bringing it home. If you know it’s just going to end up in a landfill, perhaps you could reconsider…
 
Proactively take care of your health in order to stay out of the health care system as much as possible. I have nightmares about insurance companies. I can’t promise that I will be free of disease or injury all my life, but I have eliminated some bad habits and embraced more healthy habits in the hopes that I can maintain my health and vigor without pills or costly procedures.
 
Invest only in companies that share your values. Why would you want your dollars supporting practices that you wouldn’t be involved in? Learn about the companies you give your money to, and decide if their ethics align with the things that are important to you.
 
Live simply.
 
Want less.
 
Give more.
 
All of these things will help you to build a life of self-reliance — a life where you’re not subjected to the vagaries of the market or others’ greed. These actions have helped me save enough money to have a healthy emergency fund, plus pay down my mortgage enough so that I can refinance to save $1500 a month in payments. These actions have slashed my food costs and helped me find creative ways to ensure wellness for my family and myself. These actions have helped me help my own community.
 
As I buy my way out of mortgage debt, as I create mindfulness about what types of behaviors my money supports, as I learn to do for myself what I used to pay others to do, I’m getting closer to occupying a life of freedom.
 
I am proud of the members of the 99% who are occupying Wall Street and Main Street. I would love to join them but, if I am to be perfectly frank, if my employer found out about it I would lose the job I need to keep paying the big banks for my house. And that’s how we live today.
 
How can you occupy your life?

Ten Things I Would Have Done Differently

October 11, 2011 § 4 Comments

Twenty years ago you could not have convinced me that a life of simplicity had anything going for it. I wanted stuff and lots of it. I wanted an important job, a big house and gobs of money. These were the trappings of a life well lived, I believed.

Funny how we use the word “trappings” in that connotation… It implies “accessories,” when in reality  “trappings” are just that – a trap.

It’s overwhelming to me how much my perspective has changed. I now understand that, far from the freedoms my career promised me, I am actually a wage slave. I now realize that by signing up for a mortgage I am an indentured servant to the bank. And I also know that outsourcing my life to chefs, maids, repairmen and other so-called “experts” leaves me feeling inept and insecure rather than competent and independent.

If I had to go back and do it all again, here’s what I would do differently:

1)    I would know that I didn’t have to spend every penny I earned. I would have lived simply and saved 2/3 of my salary from the very beginning  – no matter how much I made – so that I could have enough savings to support myself.  This way I wouldn’t have so much anxiety around work, layoffs, promotions, etc. I would have made my work work for me, rather than be a slave to my jobs.

2)    I never would have signed up for a mortgage. I would have used my copious saving skills to stuff money in the mattress until I had enough to buy a house for cash. This would have required patience, but seeing how disciplined I am when I save money this would have been totally attainable for a 30 year-old me if I had done things differently.

3)    I would never have fallen into the trap of believing that I had to have the fanciest-most-expensive-everything in order for people to like me. In fact, I would have understood from the get-go that people mostly thought I was a shallow, frivolous person because of this belief.

4)    I would have spent less time shopping and more time hiking.

5)    I would have understood that it is best to buy once and forever, rather than throw out and replace poorly made items repeatedly.

6)    I would have been mindful of where and how the items I purchase are made.

7)    I would have spent more time learning about people rather than trying to impress them.

8)    I would have gone to a less expensive college and taken more time to finish. I attended an expensive private school and, although I had lots of help from my parents, I didn’t feel I could afford more than three years. I took extra classes and attended summer school so I could graduate early. I did work, but I spent all of my extra money on clothes and going out. I wish I had gone to a state school, worked full time and saved my money — and taken at least five years to finish. I started working “on my career” at age 21 and have not stopped. I’ll be 40 next year, and I feel like I missed out on some experiences because I’ve been building a totally unfulfilling career my entire adult life.

9)    I would have really edited my stuff before moving it all over the place. I’ve moved at least 12 times I can remember in the last 20 years and paid movers to schlep mountains of boxes with me. During my recent de-clutter I threw several unopened boxes in the trash and haven’t thought about what was in them once.

10)  I would have taken more yoga classes and tossed back fewer cocktails.

I’m proud of my progress (not perfection), and I’m on a path to the life I envision for myself. Every day, with the help of my family, I get closer to to freedom from my wage slavery, I embrace the little things that make my life richer, and I see even more ways to contribute positively to the people in my life and the planet. Now that I acknowledge what I could have done differently in the past, I can let it go and embrace better decisions in the future.

What have you learned by accepting your past?

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