So Much Rubbish

December 14, 2011 § 11 Comments

There’s not much clutter left in my house, and I am definitely feeling the benefits of more free time, an organized space and the ability to find pretty much anything in the first place I look. These simple gifts are not to be trivialized. Not only is my load lighter, but my mood is lighter. There is an indescribable peace that comes from getting your shit together.

But something interesting has happened – and it was totally unconscious (until I put two and two together yesterday morning in a green tea-induced a-ha moment.) I’m going to share it with you now in the hopes that your comments can offer some insight into what may very well be an active case of obsessive-compulsive disorder.

I’ve taken up running. (This is not the issue. Be patient.) I’ve always been a passionate walker and hiker, but I gave up drinking any alcohol in November (this is also not the issue) and I have found that without my nightly wine I have an excess of energy. Not manic energy or anxious energy, just alert, vibrant energy – and it’s wonderful.

I started running because I also started getting up at 6 a.m. (not the issue) after the last time change and after I quit the wine. It’s chilly at 6 a.m. so instead of walking I just sort of bounced around my route in order to stay warm and that turned into running. I am now running up to three miles, three to four days a week. And it’s wonderful.

I noticed on my run that there is a lot of litter in my town,  (wait for it…) so every morning when I head out for my jog, I take a plastic bag and pick up all the litter on my route. I’ve been filling the equivalent of one regular-sized trash bag per week with Starbuck’s cups, Taco Bell bags, McDonald’s wrappers, liquor bottles, cigarette packs, clothing and grocery bags. (There is a LOT of trash in my town!) I then retire to my home – which is on the second floor of a downtown building with a view of a parking lot, a hair salon, a train depot and an Irish pub — and look out with great satisfaction over my trash-free vista.

I imagine being able to run even farther so that I can broaden my trash pickup to all of the neighborhoods in my town. I want to inspire others to do the same by creating a “Litter Gitter” (working title) patrol with the help of my Town Council. I envision myself on the front page of our paper with a title that reads “Local Woman Says It’s Cool to Be ‘Trashy'” with pithy quotes from me encouraging other runners to grab garbage on their cool down walks…

I’ve Type A’d all over this thing.

So my issue is that I think I just transferred my need to constantly clean and organize my home to a need to clean and organize the entire world.

Is this a problem? Discuss.

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?

Something to Gnaw On

November 29, 2011 § 3 Comments

As if there weren’t enough alarming reasons to stop eating processed foods, the latest revelation is that food companies are using wood products as fillers in some of your favorite treats.

On labels  it’s called “cellulose”. Cellulose is virgin wood pulp that has been heavily processed, and it’s used in everything from mustard to syrup, muffins, sundaes, wraps, cocoa mixes and a variety of other “foods”. It’s also a component in asphalt, paint, roof coatings and pet litter. Yum!

It’s often found (hilariously, in my opinion) in foods that are sold as “high fiber”.

I’ll let that one sink in for a moment.

It’s also used in low fat products to achieve the same consistency as their higher-fat counterparts while still maintaining the flavor.

The problem is that the human body cannot digest cellulose. We lack the enzymes for it. We are genetically incapable of receiving any benefit from eating it.

For a thorough article on cellulose in processed foods, visit http://foodfreedom.wordpress.com/2011/07/08/15-food-companies-that-serve-you-wood/. It’s a real eye-opener!

I love the part where the guy who works for the company that processes cellulose says that cellulose-laden foods are good for people who don’t have enough fiber in their diets.

That makes sense. Let’s chop down a tree, mash it up, send it to a plant, process it, then send it to another plant where it is mixed into a vat with hundreds of other chemicals. Then it comes out as an Eggo Waffle, wrapped in plastic, frozen, put in a box, shipped hundreds of miles, purchased, driven home, unwrapped (all of the packaging goes to a landfill), heated up, slathered with syrup (more cellulose!) and eaten by someone who thinks they’re getting fiber.

You could do that. Or how about we all just eat an apple?

I cannot stress enough the importance of understanding what is in your food and where it comes from. There is nothing, I mean nothing, we do all day that is more important than feeding ourselves.

Our diets can continue to vex us with fatty, processed meals that increase our waistlines, damage our organs and affect our moods. We can stuff ourselves full of nutrient deficient snacks that satisfy our cravings but leave our bodies yearning for more. We can shop for low-fat alternatives to the junk we love in an effort to trick ourselves into believing that we’re doing something good for ourselves.

Or we can have a come-to-Jesus moment and stop avoiding the truth we all know: The best way to nourish our bodies is with healthy, fresh food that comes out of the ground. And, for meat eaters, that includes buying only ethically farmed, hormone free meats, and then preparing them simply.

Having a healthy diet is as easy as you let it be.

I can personally testify to the difference in my wellness (mental and physical), my energy level and my weight since I started reading labels and refusing to buy items that did not support my body’s health and wellness. Plus — and this is big for me — eliminating processed foods saves TONS of money. Veggies are cheap. Even the organic ones.

Here are my Type A Food Rules:

Nothing from China. It’s impossible to regulate what comes from China, and they have a deplorable track record of putting hazardous chemicals in food.

Nothing with corn syrup.

Buy organic whenever possible. I am aware that “organic” can be controversial on labels because US regulations are vague, but this mostly applies to processed and packaged foods. I buy very few of these items, and even though I can’t be totally sure I’m not being lied to I feel that it’s best to vote for more organic foods with my dollar in the hopes that more companies provide organic alternatives in the future.

No more dairy.  Although I do enjoy a little goat cheese, sprinkled like a spice, on homemade pizza

No meat.

Nothing that needs to be microwaved.

Produce from as close to my house as possible. That means no fruit from New Zealand or avocadoes from Chile. My one splurge: bananas a couple of times a month for vegan banana-pecan pancakes.

Only real maple syrup.

Buy in bulk whenever possible. No packaged beans, rice, grains or spices.

Eat greens and cruciferous vegetables every single day.

Buy only fair trade chocolate, cocoa, tea and coffee.

And finally…

Nothing with cellulose.

I hate being tricked. That’s why when I discovered that the FDA and USDA don’t have my back when creating their food rules I took matters into my own hands.

What are you waiting for? Take control of your own diet, and don’t let someone else convince you that sawdust is a healthy choice.

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 Californiaclosets.com 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?
 

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?

Turn Off Your Lights

October 20, 2011 § 2 Comments

One of the simplest ways I’ve found to save money is to turn off the lights when I’m leaving a room.

Just by employing this very simple practice (a little fanatically, I have to admit), I have lowered my monthly PG&E bill from an average of $150 per month to an average of $100 per month.

The sacrifices with this simplifying tactic are virtually nil. I do not have to read by candlelight. I have not stubbed my toes because I stubbornly refuse to flip the switch into the upward position. I have not been attacked by closet monsters. I just turn off the lights when I leave a room, and I turn off lights in uninhabited rooms when I discover them.

I’ve also gotten the kids in on the fun, having explained to them that every time they leave a light on a baby polar bear dies.

They know I’m joking (they’re 10 and 12 and pretty snarky – I wouldn’t recommend this tactic on a tenderhearted 4 year-old). However, I did get their attention and they are much better about extinguishing the illumination when they leave.

Plus, there’s the added benefit of saving energy. Why have lights burning when no one is using them? Seems silly when you think about it.

I’m also more mindful and appreciative of the fact that I can just brighten a room at my whim. Electric light on demand is a luxury the vast majority of the now 7 billion of us will never enjoy.

Just because something seems commonplace to us doesn’t mean that we should take it for granted. It’s a privilege to live this way, and I’m happy that this simple pleasure is something for which I can express gratitude.

Turning off my lights turned me on to a whole new way of seeing my little world.

Now go turn off some lights!

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