My First Foray Into Minimalism

I have never been one to relish the major clean outs, stripping my shelves and cupboards down to their bare essentials and then pretending like this is my new normal. I mean, I like things to be clean and tidy, and I love knowing the exact location of my things, but I don’t have a compulsion for empty space. Empty space kind of gives me the heebie jeebies. I want my home to be full of art and books and warmth, I want delicious cooking smells and plants in various stages of lushness (and, honestly, a few in the “trying to resurrect” stage, because, let’s get real). I want layers and texture and color, I would be a really bad minimalist.

That all being said, I know there are a lot of ways I can reduce my Stuff and eliminate some of the triggers for acquiring more. Prior to moving to Arizona I spent ten glorious years living in an enormous penthouse apartment, in addition to two bedrooms and a full sized dining room AND a large living room AND a good sized kitchen, the attic space of the building I lived in had been converted into a loft of sorts with huge skylights and hardwood floors. It was glorious up there, and the access was from my apartment only. It was mine, all mine, to do with as I pleased. It was my library and my creative space and our guest bedroom and our storage space and an extra TV space…and none of those areas had to overlap. The loft was ENORMOUS and it took 10 years to fill it up with furniture and bookcases and throw pillows and storage boxes of decorations and camping equipment. So, that means, that for 10 years whenever I upgraded something in our downstairs living space, the upstairs got a new object, I never tossed anything that wasn’t broken. When we moved I cleaned out everything, pick up truck after pick up truck of forgotten Stuff, unnecessary furniture, and a tremendous excess of side chairs made the final exodus from my house to the thrift store, friend’s homes, and a few sales to strangers.

Here in Arizona our home is full but not stuffed, there is plenty of open space and the right amount of furniture. There are a few pieces I’d like to replace, eventually, but for the most part the house is delightfully furnished, and there are only a few things in the garage that need to be eliminated (sell, toss, donate). I attempted a month with no extra spending, and will probably do that again in the near future.

Which brings me to a new project. I do not need any more Things, no more Stuff. However, I also know that drastically reducing my bookshelves or my closet (again) will not actually bring me an increased measure of joy. I use what I have enough to justify storing it, and bookshelves full of books, walls full of art, and lots of extra pillows and blankets bring me joy. Having a comfortable home brings me joy. So, I’m trying to reduce in other ways, and it’s been a little tricky to figure that out (and, of course, I read a whole stack of books about it). In the last few months these are the steps I’ve taken towards a more minimalist life:

I have eaten 98% of the food that I buy instead of letting it sit until it goes bad and throwing it out. Food waste in the United States is overwhelming, something like 40% of purchased food is thrown out. I do not want to contribute to that statistic. So, I make a meal plan every Sunday and go grocery shopping on Monday, and then stick to that plan for the rest of the week. I plan in leftovers for my lunches and regular date nights with Blue Eyes. I’ve love cooking delicious things, and I’m pretty good about making just enough for our needs. I am going to try to keep this up the rest of the year (my life?). It seems a point of incredible pride that in the last 2 months I’ve only had to toss 2 sweet potatoes that were bad, a handful of strawberries that I left in the fridge too long, and two or three containers of leftovers. Winning!

I have not purchased any new books. This is HUGE for me, huge. Now, I have bought a few books, but all of them were used and less than $5, including shipping (where applicable). I also actually got a library card and have been using it at our SUPER pathetic library branch, it’s really one of the saddest book places I’ve ever been. I still have books in my house I haven’t read, but I’m a firm believer that there is a time and a season for the books we read, and sometimes, the time isn’t right now. Don’t mess with me on my books, it’s a  battle you cannot win. You also cannot with the e-reader battle, so don’t bother. Just pat my head and tell me “good job” for library patronage and eschewing brand new books.

I have unsubscribed from every junky email I’ve received. Did it suck? Yes. Was it worth it? So, so much. It took me a few hours initially to go through all the junk emails from the last few months, unsubscribing as I went. And then once every week or two I will spend 5 or 10 minutes doing it again. But the sheer volume has dwindled to almost manageable, instead of 40 or 50 a day, it’s like 10 a week. Getting rid of all that crap in my inbox has made me immeasurably less anxious about opening my email.

Ok, so when you list it out and there are only three things in a grandly titled post, such as “My First Foray Into Minimalism!” it seems super anti-climactic. Who uses the word “foray” in the first place, I mean, really. Snobs and hipsters, that’s who. Well, maybe I’m a snob, maybe I am altogether too proud of myself for some paltry little achievement on the pristine, sparkling minimalist scale. But, it’s a big deal for me. And it’s a deliberate step towards a different kind of life, and for me, that always happens in baby steps, not grand gestures or cold-turkey behavior changes.

What about you? Are you on the KonMari bandwagon? Another minimalist bandwagon? Or do you shun the bandwagon and march to your own drum? (Why so much music metaphor, Harriet!? Sheesh!)

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Confessions of a Bookaholic: Habits, Efficiency, and baby steps towards Minimalism

My life is very different as far as time management goes than it was 3 months ago, I’m working remotely from home and am figuring out that piece, and I also figuring out how to merge my life with Blue Eyes after years apart, and figure out my role as stepmom, and, and, and…it’s a lot of change. I’ve been making lists like crazy and trying different ways to refine my habits and use my time wisely. Shockingly, because reading and nerdery is totally my jam, I picked up a handful books that I hoped would help me navigate this new space. Now, overall, I don’t feel like any individual book was all that helpful. Most had really great ideas and components, but I feel like none were a home-run for me. But, collectively, I felt like I have some new insight in creating and maintaining better habits, becoming more efficient, and structuring my life to “default” to a better, healthier decision, instead of default to Netflix and Kraft Mac-n-Cheese.

168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think, by Laura Vanderkam. This is a reread (originally rated 3 stars), but I only read the parts about efficiency at work and not at home because I think her research and writing is crap for efficiency & time management at home. My biggest take-aways this time through are that you have more time than you think and YOU are in control of it, you prioritize how you spend your time, and no one else. True, you cannot control the random chaos in the universe, but you can use your time to “stack the odds in your favor.” So, I’ve adding some of Vanderkam’s strategies about efficiencies at work to my daily life and am hoping that in a month or two I will have solidified some new habits that help me figure out how I fit in this new life and head-space.

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, by Marie Kondo (3 stars). I will say this straight up: I do not drink the Konmari Kool-Aid. I think she makes a lot of really great points, and I also think that I have a lot of room for improvement in pack-rat prevention. However, I am not to the extreme point of minimalism that Kondo suggests, nor do I want to be. I grew up with very few things of my own, and even fewer that were purchased specifically for me and not acquired second or third hand and used simply because there was no other option and no money for another option. Things matter to me in ways they do not matter to Kondo, and that is okay! Now, I do try and select quality over quantity, and I have thinned out my clothes, my books, and other cluttery areas again post-Kondo. But I will never dry my dishes on the patio and I won’t talk to my socks and I won’t get rid of my bookcases because they are an eyesore. I love having a home full of books and art; that brings me joy, Marie Kondo be damned.

Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives, by Gretchen Rubin (3 stars). I think there are a lot of really great components of this book, I like the easy-to-identify-with style Rubin employs, but I also grew wary of how much Gretchen was embedded in the pages. Her “conversational” style seems to veer towards lecturing and bossiness, which I have a difficult time relating to (I am a Questioning Rebel, so this perspective does not surprise me at all). None of this was particularly new information, but I have read other non-fiction books about creating and forming habits that I found more insightful and helpful, and weren’t quite so, well, Gretchen. 

Happier at Home, by Gretchen Rubin (2 stars). I did not love this book, I feel like it was an addendum to the Happiness Project and not actually a new spin, quantifying and specifying at-home projects. I feel like Rubin contradicts herself over and over, and the things that she values the most are the exact opposite of what I value. (She’s a workaholic homebody who hates trying new foods, trying new hobbies, changing up the fundamentals of her routine, or buying anything, even if it might enhance or simply her life. She likes to “work harder” but I don’t feel like she has any interest in working smarter, her lack of efficiency is appalling, frankly. She doesn’t like interacting with new people on THEIR level, but she does like interviewing/lecturing them on whatever she’s researching at the moment. I am, for the most part, the exact opposite of all of those components. This book was hard for me, and will probably be my last Rubin book. Meh.

The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, by Charles Duhigg (3 stars).  This is a mix between a neuro-psychology book about how the brain is wired/re-wired, and a book about consumer choices, specifically, buying patterns and economics. So, it’s probably not at all surprising that I really enjoyed it! Many of the studies that were used about brain pathways I’ve read about in other books; examples of how to create good habits I’ve heard about in other books, there wasn’t a ton of groundbreaking new information, but I did appreciate the delivery.

Others recommended reads: Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain, by David Eagleman; Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness, by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein; The Checklist Manifesto, by Atul Gawande.

Instead of grouping book reviews by month or quarter, I’ve decided to group them by topic instead because that seems to be how I read them anyway. What are you reading lately?

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Every family has some kind of holiday tradition, I think. Whether that is Christmas or Hanukkah or Festivus or Football, I think most of us grew up with traditions and then added to or edited as we started to celebrate on our own. Before I got married my favorite and best Christmas tradition was me waking up in a quiet apartment on Christmas morning, listening to Christmas songs while I drank hot chocolate, curled up on the couch, reading Christmas stories and/or Luke 2. Extra bonus points if it was snowing. I would always go visit family for lunch and spend the day with them, but Christmas morning was mine.

Of course, when you marry into a family with a couple of half-grown kids you really cannot justify such a tradition on Christmas morning. So, presents and breakfast and noise and giggles and laughter are the order of the day. And when you move to a new state a few weeks before Christmas and are not actually spending the holidays in that state anyway…well, Christmas everything is reduced to a minimum.

I hung a wreath because I found it while I was moving.

We have a large poinsettia on the dining room table.

For the first time I am sent Christmas cards, more than 100 of them!

I have loved the ones we’ve already received at our new house and hung them all up (with a very fancy string+command strip hooks situation, best idea ever).

I’ve been listening to Christmas music all day, loudly, because there are no coworkers nearby to irritate

I have finished my Christmas shopping, and most of the gifts are wrapped…but they are all in Utah still because I didn’t see any point in hauling them 700 miles south only to turn around and haul them back again for unwrapping.

But, no Christmas tree this year, no lights outside, no growing pile of presents. And honestly, it’s not terrible. I mean, I would love a really tall fragrant fir in the living room and twinkly lights in all the windows and piles of Christmas cookies and everything. But ultimately, that’s not what Christmas is actually about. It’s about love, Christ, spending time with family, and showing kindness and charity to others.

So, I’m reading the Bible and Christmas stories, researching charities and places to donate to help others, and enjoying a much simpler Christmas overall. I’m sure next year I’ll overcompensate with the biggest tree Arizona can offer, but for now, my poinsettia and Christmas tunes will do.

What are your Christmas/Hanukkah/Festivus traditions? Are you having a traditional holiday this year? Or are you doing something else?

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