Last Goal for 2011

Introducing the 2012 strategy for my decluttering mission.... I am going to set a goal per week and journal the experience and results.

Since there is only a couple days left for this year.... I have to make it simple.

Goal #1
Find a home for my new pressure cooker that has easy access for frequent use.

Background- I got a pressure cooker for a pre-Christmas present. A 5 quart pot of manageable size and easy operation for fast, tasty vegetables (the 5 times I have used it so far I have been delighted with the results)! BUT at present there is NO SPACE in my cupboards to house it.... it has been living on my stovetop, and though that is convenient, it's not practical.

Challenge- Decide which cupboard location would be best (thinking of the goal) clearing space out until it fits.... that may mean re-prioritizing what lives in the cupboard and/or finding new homes for those things. (The trickle down effect is that ALL my cupboards are quite full, so no matter what, 5 quarts of volume must be evicted from SOMEWHERE to make room).


Verdict- SUCCESS!
 This challenge took 20 minutes from planning to completion. HOORAY!

Process- After deciding which cupboards would be acceptable for storing the pot, I narrowed it down to the most flexible cupboard close to the stove, and already housing the much loved slow cooker and griddle. Then I had to assess what could be moved from that space.  The tetra packs for lunches could go elsewhere..... I decided the best place to edit was my cookbooks place. There are a few well-referenced publications, but 90% of the time these days I go to my favourite cooking websites before searching my collection of cookbooks. In short, they have served their purpose and are no longer needed -- thank you very much -- a big stack are off to a new home, and the tetra packs take their place.

Phew, the results are good. Everything is away and outdated materials that I have been ignoring are removed. A true de-cluttering success.


Needs vs Wants & Gifts

When someone asks "What do you want for Christmas?" it is such a challenge for the budding minimalist!

"I have everything I need, really I do. I would be happy for your company". Is my response.

"But I asked you what you WANT not what you NEED?" 


There are LOTS of things a fledgling minimalist may WANT, but in the back of our minds is the assurance that that want will actually be a burden later as most of the "stuff" inevitably becomes. So we have to disappoint and frustrate our family and friends with requests for empty stockings and boxes.


Giving thoughtfully with minimalist experience gifts is relatively easy compared to asking for the same consideration from those that don't share the same ideals about "stuff".... it's lost in translation somehow. At least that is my experience.


Meanwhile there are things leaving my home by the box full and every pound less makes me feel lighter...


Naughty and Nice

If you are like me, the worst is over for the season. As of yesterday, I'd made my list, checked it twice and shopped, created and really carefully decided what would be nice for gifts this season. ALL OF THEM ARE ACCOUNTED FOR! Did I manage to avoid toxic portable power sources (batteries).... YES!

And I managed to sell a few items that still had lots of fun left in them that my boys had outgrown (they share the proceeds).

I hope you are close to finishing your list too.... and that you have stayed true to your budget, goals and heart for each gift....


Bad, Bad, Bad

I'm drywalling my laundry room right now.

Nothing makes you realize how much crap you have quite like clearing EVERYTHING out of a room. Just one room's worth of stuff spread around, and it has made the rest of the home almost unbearable!

It's a prime opportunity to cull the excess, and yet, it is so much easier to swear and kick at it while tripping over it.... or better yet ignore it completely until it can be shoved back into the nook it came from.


My office looks like an episode of some reality hoarding show and the family room looks no better.

What have I done?

Now ON TOP of the holiday chores and mayhem, I have added mudding, taping, sanding and "deal with it" to the list.


The tools are at hand: Bags for trash, boxes for donate.

(I have taken photo evidence of what's going on, but they won't be posted until the "after" shots are ready.)


Gifts of Experience

Gifts of  Experience can be a personal gift of time from yourself, or a gift card for an activity the recipient enjoys.

Presently I am creating some vouchers for my extended family for activities that I know they enjoy...
Possible vouchers include:
  • yoga time with friends,
  • home cooked family meals,
  • cooking lessons,
  • spa days but the "spa" is your home (or their's)
  • movie night of their choice
  • gardening afternoons
  • trips to the park/museum/mall/bike rides together... whatever activity they would like to do with you more often
  • story-time / lego-time / game-time / craft-time / wiggle-time with youngsters

Other experience gifts may be:
  • Resturant/Coffee certificate
  • Movie/theatre Tickets
  • Museum membership
  • Swimming lessons/passes
  • Sports memberships
  • Art Classes
  • Continuing education course in a class they are interested in
  • Salon Gift Certificates
  • Spa Gift Certificates
  • Wine Appreciation Class
  • Kayaking Lesson.... etc

The trick is finding the balance between how well the activity matches them, and how much time they will need to commit to it. It doesn't have to be expensive to be fun and meaningful!


Think About the Power Source

The season has begun... I have been sneaking packages into the house and hiding them... sure the "big day" will be fun, but what about afterwards? Where will these things "live" in my house?

Those are questions I am much more mindful of this year.

And one other BIG question that I encourage everyone to PLEASE think about... How many evil toxins are going to be created by the batteries needed this year? Last year I went through boxes of AA, AAA and 9V to keep our goodies humming and blinking.

Batteries are a big pet peeve for me, and they put the friggin' things in EVERYTHING these days from action figures to razors to toothbrushes. I've gotten to the point of wanting to scream in the stores "JUST BECAUSE YOU CAN PUT BATTERIES IN IT DOESN'T MEAN YOU SHOULD!" Do you think everyone takes these tiny button cells out of the free happy-toy and disposes of them in a responsible manner? ya. right.

Batteries are convenient, portable and powerful.... but they are toxic, environmentally very destructive to manufacture and difficult to dispose of... so why are we putting them in every gizmo they will fit into? Why are they cramming them into things that aren't even enhanced by them?

I am calling for a "No Batteries Christmas" this year.

Is it even possible? So far so good. I haven't bought or asked for anything that needs them (but it's been very difficult in some cases). My usual stocking stuffers are mini flashlights and blinking bouncy balls. NOT THIS YEAR.

Are you with me?


Why I need to stop watching "HOARDERS"

First I need to assume you know which shows I am talking about.... there is "HOARDERS" on A&E and "HOARDING: Buried Alive" on TLC. They are similar in that they about extreme cases of Hoarding (not just too much collecting or a laundry problem) they cover desperate situations each episode and some of the homes are tragic disasters, with animal problems and structural hazards.

I have to stop watching these shows.

Not only do I feel so sorry for the emotional trauma these people are dealing with, I feel fear for them and I come close to a physical illness as the TV people pan through the most intimate and disgusting corners of these people's dwellings. It's BAD and it's a kind of ugly voyeurism into a damaged person's mind.

I am not being too harsh here.

Every single one of the show's participant's had some unresolved traumatic experienced that spiralled out of control on them. And the ones that are actually helped are the ones that respond to the counselling and fix the problems in their heads, not the forced clean-up/gut-out on their homes.

But I'm not going to stop watching just because I think the show is too intrusive or sensationalist -- after all, I think if there are people being helped by this exposure then it should keep going by all means! I have to stop watching because it is influencing my own view of my own stuff, and I don't think in a way that is productive.

Call it a personality flaw, but I am happy with "better" as one of my rules for life.

If whatever I am working on works better or looks better than when I started, then it is a success for me. Also if someone can do something significantly better than me, I'd rather they do it and I'll encourage them to do it too (not too competitive am I?).  My task/goal/project doesn't have to be "perfect" or even "the best", it just has to be better than it was to make me feel very happy indeed. And I get a lot out of the small, incremental victories.

Can you see where I'm going with this?

..... my idea of a terrific space is vastly different from these hoarder's spaces. But right now my home looks way "better" than theirs, so it is kind of deflating my forward decluttering momentum because it's not nearly as bad as all that!!!! I need to get better than where I am now, not just feel that I am doing better than them.... otherwise I will fall backwards for sure.

I have to remind myself that I am decluttering for space, peace and balance in my life, not just to have a less clutter or avoid hoarding.



Unclutterer.com had a post that really got me thinking!

The connection between surroundings and perspective

I agree that surroundings influence a person’s sense of comfort and well being on a really visceral level and it's not the same for everyone, in fact it isn't even always the same for ONE person!

What astonishes me most is how the relationship with surroundings can change (sometimes dramatically) in a relatively short amount of time. I used to feel extreme anxiety in a sparse room... I couldn’t relax, I felt exposed and vulnerable. I felt sorry for people that didn't surround themselves with books and knicknacks and other pretty personal items. Really.... sorry for minimalists! It's laughable. This interaction with my surroundings lasted into my 30s.

Pretty much from the moment I left home for college I was forging ahead on my own, from scratch with nothing to define me except the boxes that I moved into my first apartment and my class list (in a strange town) life was thrust upon me.  And it got more full, slowly at first... acquisition of furniture... pursuing a career... then it really got busy!... marriage... home ownership... 2 babies... 

I needed my stuff, my stuff needed me - a cozy relationship.

Now at this present point in my life (approaching 40 with lightening speed) the opposite is true, clutter feels heavy like it will squash me and sucks out my freedom with every dust-catching surface, it's emotionally draining and "loud" all the time. 

What changed? I have a theory that the more full and stable my life becomes, the less tangible affirmations (aka stuff) I need to define myself to feel confident in my own skin.

Perhaps that is part of what hoarding is about. I am amazed how many of the hoarders (on the TV show) started off as tidy people... only to suffer some tragedy that changes their needs. These people need to feel secure and search for the security with things, it's tragic how messed up (literally) the stuff made everything!

I was a packrat. One personal tragedy away from much worse habits... it's a reality that I'm okay with really. Through love, trust and self-realizations I have come out the other side with a greater respect for my things. Not so much of it means what it used to, and I honestly think that is a very very good thing!

Bravo minimalists for not needing the stuff to be happy. But please don't underestimate the genuine comfort a bit of clutter can provide for anyone that's feeling a bit lost.


Freedom of Choice -- too much of a good thing?

Yes freedom of choice is AWESOME.

But everything in moderation, right?

There is a wall of yogurt at my grocery store. A whole aisle of cereal and the cheese choices are so plentiful that my store has a wall near the yogurt and 2 more big display areas in the deli. (Did anyone else laugh at the "what's dis?" part of Borat with the cheese? Just me? okay.)

We are so spoiled here it's quite ludicrous.

Other than groceries I'm not a fan of shopping. I know LOTS of folks really love it... I'm just not one of those folks.  Its all the choices that do me in.

When I enter a BIG MALL I start off with a tingle of excitement at all the shiny pretty things, then I quickly fade to anxiety over too much choice and too many things that are desirable/novel/expensive, and then a deep funk comes to me that is either tied to buyers remorse, or not being able to find what I entered the mall to buy (despite millions of items being there). The whole process takes about 20 minutes, and if I am determined to get that thing I came for, the funk just gets more and more tedious until I can't stand it anymore and I have to leave. I wish it wasn't like that. I really do.

I have found ways around the anguish of new-stuff-browsing-frustration-overload.

My favourite trick is going to the local thrift shops. Variety is amazing when you get a great thrift shop. Every style, every vintage (and every quality level) is hanging out there. Let's say your in the market for a red, 100% cotton, cable-knit sweater... it takes about 35 seconds to go to the sweater section, look for red, check the size and then the materials label. Nothing there? Great, now you know and your day can continue practically uninterrupted. In the mall it may take 2 hours just to go through those steps (department, colour, size, materials)... and then either come up empty handed or find the only one in the right size that is pleasing is over $100.  At the thrift store I know where I stand in my hunt very quickly, I won't be out more than $7 if I do find one, and I already know how it will look after a wash (bonus!). Some people may say that takes the fun out of shopping, but lets be honest here, if the thrift store doesn't have it, it was probably a "want" more than a "need" anyways, so live without it for another day.

(My favourite "score" at a thrift shop... I was in the market for ankle boots, I found PRADA bootlets with a cool chrome heel for $8 -- so comfy, almost too pretty and they have lasted for years).

A trick for staying sane shopping for NEW stuff:

Lets say a toy is needed for a birthday party or some similar scenario (like buying grooming products for example), head straight to the back of the store and check out the clearance section. Don't even look at anything else because you are on a mission. You may find a product you didn't know existed that could be your new favourite. Nine times out of ten something really cool is back there at a deeply discounted price that completely fulfills the buying criteria. If nothing suitable is there, then wander to the proper department and look only at the SALE tags... still no luck? Now you can face the flood of abundance of choice by looking at the full-price items.

Choice is great, I appreciate choices every day. And I choose to look at alternatives to the mall. I choose to re-use and make-do before buying new. My favourite choice is my choice to skip the mall entirely if I can.... my time is more precious, and my money too hard to earn to spend it on glamour and regret.

What are your freedom of choice overload point? Is it eating out? Exercise? Hobbies? Travel Destinations? Gadgets?


Making Time - Making Priorities

When my youngest son broke his right femur 5 years ago, I learned a valuable lesson.

Priorities can change in a heartbeat.

I went from planning my day around emails from clients & meal planning for the family to 24 hours-a-day taking care of Cami in the kid's wing of the hospital... literally in a heartbeat.

That was just a broken leg ("just" being a relative term versus let's say a brain injury or amputation or blindness or something). That snap of the bone changed my world for more than 8 weeks. Suddenly clients were forgotten, personal concerns evaporated, clutter-smutter! Time was irrelevant compared to the tasks and trials that needed attention.

My husband and I took shifts at the hospital around his work and Steve's last few days of school for the year (after all my older boy was still just 9 at the time). Sleeping on a cot was fine, no personal space (because nurses were coming in and checking every hour) was fine too. Living out of a cold, concrete room and walking down the hall to get refreshments was completely reasonable.... because my little boy -- my BABY -- was in traction, in a hospital bed, in a prone position! Going home when each shift was done was a strain on me. The priority for home was: make sure Steve was coping with the weird schedule, shower, eat something healthy, feed the cat, sleep. Clients were completely neglected, housework was left, I ate what was home because the idea of grocery shopping was crazy. In other words my life was turned upside down. In fact, our neighbours, who didn't know what was going on thought maybe my husband and I separated because of the disjointed attendance.

Then 6 weeks in a Spica cast (which included the trunk of his body and full leg) so my little boy was like a mannequin  -- frozen in a semi-sitting position -- I had to carry him to the toilet and hold his stiff body there, he slept propped up on pillows, he lost muscle mass, and a whole summer of freedom. Rehab was quick, but painful when the cast came off just before school started.

We did what needed to be done. We adjusted, we all found a new "normal" and we carried on.

The lasting effect of this experience for me was the knowledge that sh!t happens then life goes on. All priorities can be tossed aside, and time can be found for anything if it's important/urgent enough.

Current priorities (alphabetically):

- Family - Finances - Friendships - Health - Home - Personal Growth -

the question is what order are these in? I know which ones SHOULD come first, but "urgent" matters (not necessarily important matter) intervene often enough to bump them all over the list.

It's nice to take a conscious minute to slow down and think about my priorities, really think about them, instead of just constantly reacting to what life throws my way.


Inventory Time - food edition

Inventory time on the pantry/freezer situation!

Food is a passion of mine. Cooking - Eating - Shopping. And one way I "indulge" is by stocking up... it can be a little on the crazy side (depending on how vulnerable I feel) at times. The good news is that I now recognize that I don't have to save up for a catastrophe -- at least not an apocalyptic one -- and just because it's on sale doesn't mean I need to buy 24 of it either. There are positives that I can't deny, for example, one things is certain... I can ALWAYS come up with a decent meal with savoury seasonings and full, satisfying portions for the whole family from my pantry at any time.

Today was the day I dug everything from my freezer and took inventory. This exercise is very revealing... for instance I found out that I really like buying frozen fish fillets. I do, in fact, like eating fish, but rarely chose to make it. VOILA an excess of Basa and Sole in the freezer (about 7 pounds). And blueberries.... LOTS of blueberries.... 6 bags (I now know without a shadow of a doubt what kind of smoothies we will be having for breakfast for a LONG time). And I'm not sure how I managed to forget to use the cranberries and then buy more -- 5 times!

Other insights... 8 family servings of Edamame... 6 deep dish pie crusts... 3 big ziplock bags of chicken stock... 4 containers of homemade pesto... 1 turkey... 3 bags of corn...

I could go on, but I won't.

Apparently I need to do this sort of inventory more often.

To help prevent further duplicates, I have sorted my uprightfreezer into "zones": Meat/Fish, Veggies, Fruit, meal helpers (pizza, eggrolls, etc), desserts (pie/icecream), juices. The kitchen freezer is reserved for opened bags of fruit/veg and bread. Now I can open the door and see immediately that the fruit shelf is FULL. No more fruit to buy please -- resist the aisle at the store -- resist! And I can also see that there are only 3 cans of orange juice... that's okay, I can wait until there are none before buying more.

Sigh...I want to make a big batch of lasagna to freeze, but today I realized that is impossible until there is room in my freezer. Motivation to avoid buying anything that must be frozen for a little while. (It won't be long, boys eat a LOT of food these days).

Feeling motivated by the freezer discoveries I decided to do the canned goods pantry. My list had fallen out of service -- time to update it! A whole other set of revelations in there... and not where I thought. I discovered I don't have any baked beans, not one can (weird considering I usually buy case lots of them). I only have 1 can of kidney beans (so a batch of chili would have to wait for a shopping trip) and now that my husband doesn't like salt he doesn't take the chunky soups for lunch anymore (but apparently I'm still buying them -- I have 12 cans).

Taking inventory is very good.

In one stroke I feel comfortable with the food I have, know what I need (and what I don't) and can confidently open the door to make dinner.... oh and I can CLOSE the doors too! That's a major thing for a borderline food hoarder.


More = Christmas

How can I simplify the season of excess?

Chrsitmas compared to all the other seasons is defined by MORE.
More decorations, more lights, more food, more gifts, more social events, more treats, more eggnog & rum, more baking, more shopping, more packaging..... more... more.... more....

The problem with my desire to simplify is that I like the lights, glitter and cheer... I like the trees and the happy, charged atmosphere.

In recent years I have enforced a limit on my Christmas paraphernalia...a real, physical limit.  ALL the Christmas stuff must fit in my Grandfather's Steamer chest at the end of the season... no exceptions. So if I really want another ornament, I have to be prepared to let something of the same size go, the chest is full to capacity, that is a reality. It also keeps my storage solutions simple and out of sight for the rest of the year. A necessity.

The space in my home within my own 4 walls is under control for Christmas, GREAT!
But.... no matter how much I may want it, it's not all about ME or what I want...

Not just an excuse to decorate, Christmas is a time for generosity, thankfulness and giving... however I don't appreciate the chaos and spending that goes along with it. I feel taken for a ride on the Consumerism Express. The adults understand for the most part and I would be tempted to have a "no presents" Christmas with a loving and well thought out excuse to the family... however...

I have 2 sons with many years of experience getting major Christmas hauls.
I have 3 nieces of serious Christmas-magic age.
I have 2 nephews of toy crazy age too

and they have a full family of Grandparents, Aunts, Uncles and Parents that may not be on the same frugal-minimalist agenda that I am. That's the trap isn't it?!

I love them VERY much.
LOVE = GIFTS at Christmas...
...or at least that sure is how it looks to the impressionable munchkins.

I will have to do more research on how to give them a memorable and loving impression without adding to the clutter-junk-disposable toy cycle.  I refuse to have my affections be just another toy on the pile this year.

Experience gifts are a good option. But I feel guilty that to use the gifts (lets say a movie pass) some of the nieces and nephews have to take a ferry and drive (taking parent time and money) hmm...I'm thinking.... part of the gift could be myself picking them up from the ferry and taking the to the experience, couldn't it!? I'll have to think about that some more, it may not be practical after all.

Now that the juices are flowing here I'm pretty sure I can think up clutter-free gifts for most of my list. I don't want to spoil it but here are some ideas (If you think you may be on my list, please don't read farther).

How about:
...museum membership, satellite radio subscription, a ride on a helicopter, one-meal-per-month-for-a-year-at-my-house vouchers, bouquet-a-month for an out of town relative, Movie passes, subscription, swimming lessons, art lessons, pottery class (fun with friends!) big batch of treats (freezable so they don't have to feel like a glutton), yoga-night once a week at a friend's, garden plant...

The problem is still there though (2 problems really) How can I simplify this season of excess? How can I still say I love somebody at Christmas without giving them something to unwrap?


Christmas ( + Other Clutter Occasions)

Don't hate me for mentioning it in October...  I like to get the shopping done early.... CHRISTMAS IS COMING!

Before kids it was an easy occasion to look forward to. I'd head to mom or dad's (or the in-laws) for all day eating and present opening. Some traditional tunes in the background (Boney-M is my personal fave) and then, fat and happy, I'd roll home with my haul.

NOW... 2 boys later... I dread the big day, actually the WHOLE MONTH. It's non stop stuff morning noon and night. (The great disadvantage to living so close to so many family members is the endless people to buy for and the endless toys that come from all of them.)

Honestly I have gift-fatigue in a BIG way. I really don't know how to tell them I hate it. I can't deprive the relatives from seeing the delighted faces of my boys when they get their gifts, and I can't deprive my boys from it either -- can I?

Maybe in about 3 years (oldest will be 18, youngest 14) we can disapear to somewhere warm and far away for the holidays... is that cheating? Bring everyone back an edible souvenir? Vanilla Beans, coffee, chocolate or if we are feeling like Hawaii is the place to hide, sweet sweet macadamia nuts!

In the past I have experimented with gift exchanging. One year I insisted we only get handmade things. Another year I asked for "experience" gifts, and another year I said no adult presents, family gifts only. Well it all failed miserably because only SOME people respected my requests. Then the day would come and some people went overboard, some people got left out (because they were playing along) and some people just did whatever the heck they wanted to.... hey, it's their Christmas too, who am I to make the rules???

I guess I should just shut up and ride the peer-pressure treadmill for the last few years before the kids are grown... but I don't want to. I really don't.

So do YOU have a plan for averting the gift-avalanche this upcoming season?

Or for that matter, any gift occasion? Birthday, Easter (how did that get gifty anyways?), etc...?


Short but sweet

No time to write these days, but no time to shop either!

I have squeezed out a few missions of decluttering in between jobs -- nothing that couldn't be done in 15 minutes or less. So nothing deep. I did get brutal with purging the summer linens as I brought out the fall ones. I am getting rid of twin size, summer-weight duvets (2 of them) -- the duct tape holding a seam together is the dead givaway that I've been too clingy to these items. Also a feather pillow that suddenly decided to puke feathers all over my boy's room (no rips, just coming right through the ticking!)... can feather pillows be composted I wonder? Right now it's in a bag waiting for proper disposal

I also said goodbye to 2 pairs of very pretty shoes that pinch, it wasn't easy because both pairs are Italian and unique... but come on they aren't house decorations, they are footwear, so if I can't wear them on my feet, they need to go to someone else's!
+ another jacket
+ a CD holder
+ some decorative items that I wasn't "seeing" anymore
+ a few craft items

 I've been putting these things in boxes and bags... no time to run to the charity to get them out of here though. I HAVE TO GET THESE BOXES AND BAGS OF DECLUTTERED THINGS OUT OF MY OFFICE!

Update on my sister "robbing" me:
She won't do it.
She says I have decluttered enough and she can't think of anything that's too much or out of place now. Oh how little she knows where I'm going!!!!! I will need to find a true minimalist to help me with this cleansing plan.

Baby steps to see my space lighten up. It's important to me. My time is too valuable to be buried all the time.


Slippery Slope of Crap

As I mentioned last post, my busy work season is here. And unfortunately, my decluttering efforts have stalled as a result.

The thing that really confuses me is where all this stuff is coming from to smother me? After all, I don't have time to even think about shopping!

So here I am at my desk feeling buried by the same old stuff even though I thought I already got rid of the desk clutter... but there it is. Same crap. Different pile.

Not enough time in the day to be super-mom, super-wife, super-designer AND super-declutterer. I still amd confused about the source of the mess though. It must be me, because it's my stuff. But when? Where? How? did it find it's way onto my desk and around my feet?

I feel like I want to do a major purge... I mean MAJOR (I still have to talk to my sister about "robbing me") otherwise if I am going to have to keep sitting in all this poop, I will surely go mad.

(Sorry, it felt like a rant day today).


Busy Times = Less Purging

It's my "busy season" for work right now. I look forward to the creative shot in the arm that living, breathing and sleeping with my work makes happen, but the rest of my plans tend to get de-railed (at least temporarily).

So if I'm not posting like I used to, don't be alarmed. I'll be back with new tales of clutter crusades, moments of minimalist inspiration and progress photos by the time the trick-or-treaters have haunted my front steps....

TTFN, I hope I don't get buried by the neglected accumulation over the next few weeks.


Handing Over the Reins

Miss Minimalist is one of my regular reads. And one segment she does regularly is "real life minimalist" where the minimalist shares their journey in their own words... very cool stuff reading the different motivations for simpler living. This week it is Sandi, and her story is of living abroad and of being robbed a few times motivating her to really evaluate the true value of her possessions.

It got me thinking. My hang-up is not my desire to live with less, my stumbling block is making the decision of what to keep. How can I simplify this process?

Experiment Time:. I am going to let my sister "rob" me one afternoon. I will provide boxes and tape, and she can box up anything that she thinks I can live with out. If I don't miss the items after 60 days I will be donating the boxes to my friend Spider for her charity work....  if I do miss an item, my sister can remove it from the box (without me seeing what else is in there).

(Even writing this out gives me shivers of fear, so I think it could be a very telling exercise!)

I'll keep you posted as to when this will happen....


Tough Measures

Boosted by my successful release of 4 boxes, 2 bags and a piece of furniture yesterday (all from my stuff stored at my sister for the "sale" of our home (ugh), I am waging war on my storage shelves in the basement today.

I am happy to report that the boys agreed to let go of 3 really bulky remote control vehicles and a pair of roller blades - straight off to the charity shop. The oldest boy SOLD his long board for $30 last week after finally admitting that he preferred his bikes by about a million percent too! (proud mommy)

I am horrified at the volume of crap that me, my husband and our 2 boys have been clinging to with the lame excuse of  "having the space". It would be truly wonderful to cut my shelving in half to be able to tuck my freezer in the space instead... I am getting there, slowly but surely.

My focus has to be on the goal. It is a mountain that I am determined to climb. Like an alcoholic that has tried to quit a thousand times, my clutter habit (the fact that I keep bringing stuff home) is not going away just by knowing it's the right thing to quit. It's not even enough to know the benefits of quitting or WANTING to quit. I have to feel it in my bones that's it's life or death. I have to beleive with all my heart that that phase of my life is truly, once and for all, OVER. The packrat must retire her bins, boxes and attachments. She must find the strength to overcome bad habits, the fortitude to NOT look at garage sales, thrift stores or sales racks. She must find it within herself to say NO to hand-me-downs that look useful and recognize when enough is enough... and whoah baby do I have enough!

The original Twelve Steps as published by Alcoholics Anonymous* can easily be adapted to what us serious recovering packrats should follow:

1.We admitted we were powerless over [the potenially useful items]—that our lives had become unmanageable.
2.Came to believe that [less stuff] could restore us to sanity.
3.Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of  [faith in what we can do with less].
4.Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves [and our stuff].
5.Admitted to ourselves, and to other human beings the exact nature of our wrongs [that we let be in our home]
6.Were entirely ready to remove all these defects of character [and obstructive things].
7.Humbly ask [thrift shops, charities and garbage disposal] to remove our [excess stuff].
8.Made a list of all [spaces] we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
9.Made direct amends to [remaining valued belongings] wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
10.Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
11.Sought through [careful consideration of belongings] to improve our conscious contact with [our true space and core values] and the power to carry that out.
12.Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to [packrats/shopaholics] and to practice these principles in all our affairs.
* I mean absolutely NO disrespect to AA, I am just drawing a parallel from one addiction to another and honouring these proven steps that work so very well for so many sufferers.

In addition to the physical decluttering, I will be going on a spending diet. I pledge to only buy immediately consumable items (ie: food, fuel, paper products) until Halloween - unless there is an absolute emergency of course. That's only 51 days, I am quite sure I can manage that!

The boys have enough clothes, the school supplies are in their bags, there are no birthdays for a bit and there is nothing I "need" right away. To launch this endeavour I will be pantry-shopping for as long as I can... it'll give my canned goods and freezer items a good use-it-up rotation!



Yesterday I went to my sister's house and got serious about clearing MY stuff out of there from when our house was staged.

My husband almost cried over the volume of crap returning to the house.... he was loving the show-home level of clean and tidy.

Box after box stacked into the pickup truck (and I have one more trip to make!).  I decided to approach one box at a time before it came into the house and deal with the contents immediately before really letting any stay. I talked the boys into filling one box each of their stuff to donate (I bribed them) and collected one bag of trash. With my stuff I have filled 2 boxes (and counting) of donatable items, and one special box of more valuable stuff for my friend Spider's fundraising.

Still... I'm nowhere even close to coming to terms with the influx of belongings... ugh.

Smothered, smothered, smothered. The tea cupboard is ready to burst again, and so are the spices... a month without a dozen varieties of herbal tea wasn't really that bad.... maybe I should just ditch them. How many bags of different kinds of hot-chili rubs do I really need when only one of them is my favourite?

Obviously I still ahve some purging to do before this avalanche of new old stuff threatens to bury me.


Bye Bye

I have a sock thing. I love socks. They are a cheap source of happy for me.... but enough is enough.

Today I purged:

7 pairs of boring socks.
2 t-shirts
1 pair of shoes
a few toys (shhh.... don't tell the kdis)
1 pair of capris that I haven't even tried to wear this summer

oh ya baby, that feels good! what else can I find?


It all has to come home

Now that my house is back OFF the market, I need to make some tough desicions about what is coming back into the house.

I parked some of the de-personalizing boxes of things in my sister's garage, but now they have to come home. Living in a "show home" was really quite nice (see my other post on that). It won't be easy. I will fight every box I'm sure. There were some things that I genuinely missed... but most things that I have pretty much forgotten about.

So far :
- a box of toiletries has been gone through... not too much luck there, I removed some perfumed lotions and some old nail polishes.
- a box of office stuff... I cleared out enough books from my bookshelf to find space for this box of circa 1960s Popular Mechanics Magazines (I still love them). TTFN seldom-used-reference books!

2 boxes down, 30 more to go!


Really Good Post on "STUFF"

I just have to share this with you because it perfectly sums up what I am getting at with my Happy Shiny Me quest towards minimalism.

If you like decluttering, then it's worth the 2 minutes to read it.


This part in particular could have been written about me 10 years ago:

It wasn't always this way. Stuff used to be rare and valuable. You can still see evidence of that if you look for it. For example, [a house] built in 1876, the bedrooms don't have closets. In those days people's stuff fit in a chest of drawers. Even as recently as a few decades ago there was a lot less stuff. When I look back at photos from the 1970s, I'm surprised how empty houses look. As a kid I had what I thought was a huge fleet of toy cars, but they'd be dwarfed by the number of toys my [kids] have. All together my Matchboxes and Corgis took up about a third of the surface of my bed. In my [kids'] rooms the bed is the only clear space.
Stuff has gotten a lot cheaper, but our attitudes toward it haven't changed correspondingly. We overvalue stuff.
That was a big problem for me when I had no money. I felt poor, and stuff seemed valuable, so almost instinctively I accumulated it. Friends would leave something behind when they moved, or I'd see something as I was walking down the street on trash night (beware of anything you find yourself describing as "perfectly good"), or I'd find something in almost new condition for a tenth its retail price at a garage sale. And pow, more stuff.

It was my affliction too. Thrift Stores were my Siren's Song... it caused me physical anxiety to drive by my favourite places for fear that I was missing out on some underpriced treasure! It would be different if I had an antique shop or an eBay store specializing in vintage toys to flip these things at... I didn't. I just WANTED them because they were cool and cheap and "worth more" than I paid for them.

Now owning fun, vintage things just for the sake of owning them is done for me (at least 90 % of it), and I am willing to just let go. Some other person in that accumulation phase will find them at the charity shop and squeal with glee and maybe even be able to turn a profit, but that's not where I am anymore. And the value of the experience of having these things when they brought me pleasure is done.... finito, over.

I guess I don't feel "poor" anymore!



There is a connection that I need to share... clutter isn't just crowding your home, it's affecting your health too.

A cluttered home can lead to unhealthy food choices - counters crowded? scared to open your cupboards? can't find anything in the pantry? chances are you will throw your hands up in surrender and either go out or call in some quick-fix meal with a million calories. Or maybe you are depressed by the mess? Eating a cookie (or 10) is easier than tackling the insurmountable mountain of stuff. And opening that chocolate bar is so much easier than slogging through an over-stuffed fridge to liberate the carrot sticks (the clutter/fat connection has been covered by Peter Walsh in a book in some detail)

A cluttered life can lead to a lack of meaningful exercise - When it takes all day to clean around your stuff, you have no time to hit the gym before work, go for a walk after dinner, or take the kids to the pool/beach/park on the weekends -- trust me, I know what I'm saying here. I guess you could just let the dirt accumulate -- but ewwwww. (On a personal note: having a dog made my life a non-stop chore of dirt/hair removal, and kids made the ever increasing toy round-up. The more stuff I had the harder it was to keep up with it, and my disgust had reached critical levels to the point where I was secretly hoping the house would burn down!) So if your idea of an "ideal me" involves going to the park with your toddler every day, romantic walks at sunset, or you aspire to a buff body that can turn heads and climb mountains, you have to have LESS STUFF. Even with my slow and steady decluttering, I have found way more TIME to do what I really want and more time to honour my body's need to move instead of shifting the stuff from one place to another to clean in, around, under it all.

A cluttered approach to money management can lead to a cluttered home - "oh I LOVE that" without a 2nd thought "that"comes home with you, and the lingering guilt when the credit card bill comes keeps you from parting with "that" when the first blush of love is gone. Similar scenarios are "I deserve it", "This looks useful", "What a good deal", etc... the trap is (without any consideration about the true cost of the item, cost for maintenance and the space the item takes up) the money gets spent. THEN the interest starts growing on the credit. You are now committed to making that payment (among all the other bills) and you still want to shop. It can be a vicious cycle if you aren't the kind to pay the card off every month. And buyers' remorse can follow (pass the cookies again). ** It's been my observation that the people that are closest to the line financially have the most "toys" and gee-gaws in their homes. They are soothing their feelings of being "poor" with shopping! (I am making broad generalizations here, I know, but it's what I've seen.) I have been one of these insecure shoppers for years and years. It's as if surrounding myself with "stuff" was a great big cushion against disaster -- only it can bite you in the butt because it can cause more trouble on the home front (and the career front too if you are losing things or late too often thanks to the mess). On the financial flip side, there are the folks I know that "have it together" financially on their quite modest incomes. They are content with less stuff in their homes. They may even be minimalists! Their incomes may not be any more than the Clutter-toy-shoppers, but they have found a budget that works and are happy with what they can do with it. They save for the big purchases and have a plan for their future. They have learned to say "no" to the distracting impulse wants and that false sense of security that buying lots of stuff gives, and in exchange, have a deeper satisfaction found with financial responsibility and fewer possessions.

Next time you want to bring that item into your house consider if it will in any way distract you from your health, weight or financial goals. There is a clutter connection.


Hazards of Being a Packrat

Though my house is looking better all the time, my pack-rat to minimalist journey has only just begun.

I know this because:
  • I am still struggling with my systems not working.
  • Things still get lost.
  • I can still be late.
  • Things not regularly getting finished on time.
  • And there is ALWAYS an underlying sense of dread that am forgetting something really important
  • And there is always the fear that I am going to lose something really important at an inconvenient time (keys as I'm leaving the house, T4s when it's time to do taxes, checks when it's time to go to the bank....etc...)

But, I have to say, it really is getting better with every bag of (formerly loved) things that leave the house, and every decision NOT to buy something I want (fleetingly). I can see the results, I can feel the difference! And that gives me the strength to continue.


Free Space is Room to Breathe


In the 2 boxes of stuff I took to charity last weekend, some of it was kitchen stuff. It was surprisingly hard to part with these things. A good quality stainless steel mixing bowl set, a pan with egg coddlers (and tight-fitting lid), some genuine tupperware sippy cups. These items have lots of good life left in them, but did not get used in my day to day life (anymore). I have been lugging the mixing bowls and pan around for 20 years (that's how long I have had my own kitchen) but I always chose the OTHER mixing bowls to actually use, and the pan never seemed to be the right one for anything I make, the sippy cups are from when the kids were much younger. Letting go of all these things was strangely hard because they are so useful LOOKING.

Now that a few days have passed, it has been glorious without these things!
I can't over-state how wonderful it is to open the pot-drawer to put things away and have SPACE for everything without an inpromptu game of pan-tetris.
The plastics cupboard is liberated without the sippy cups -- the teetering stack of colourful plastic is off to a new family somewhere, and now my ziploc containers can be found easier.
But the most dramatic difference is in the corner cupboard where the mixing bowls lived. It now has at least a full square foot of more space, tipping the scales from frustrating to functional. I still open the cupboard with a hand ready to catch what may fall out, but nothing does!

It feels like there is more air to breathe as I'm unloading the dishwasher. It feels like just that much less stress as I'm searching for something...

and so bolstered by this success I look ahead... there are many, many more cupboards.

What "useful" items are you not using in your kitchen cupboards? I challenge you to try removing them from your cupboards and experiencing better functioning cupboards.


Dressed for success

Thinking about the connection of footwear and clothing, I now have a small bag of clothing ready to go off to a new home:

1 slip dress,
1 tiny cocktail dress,
2 x wrinkle-prone cotton button up dresses,
1 summer print dress that is too snug around my bottom
1 knee length striped skirt
1 wrap top that is too long to be a top and too short to be a dress
1 frumpy tank top
1 white, flowy cotton skirt that is too see-thru

What does this add up to?

Enough hangers to for my remaining summer dresses to each have their own hanger!

Are you wearing all the summer dresses in your closet? Go have a look and see if any forgotten frocks can find more love in someone else's wardrobe. Be honest! Does it fit? Is it comfortable? What do you feel when you look at it? How do you feel when you wear it?

shoes shoes shoes

Alright folks... here is a dirty little secret. By splitting them up into several areas of my home I have accumulated A LOT of shoes without the impression of clutter. But I figured now was the time to fess up.

I did it back in May of 2009 but I don't seem to have improved....

Not pictured:
-Winter boots (pretty pair and snow pair)
-Work boots (steel-toed hikers)
-High heeled long boots
-Motocross Books

Wow, I'm such a typical girl! So many of them make me feel happy to look at (I'm looking at YOU red Keds pumps with the blue quilted insoles)

The thing is... I DO purge shoes... the worn out or blister causing are removed from the closets!

So WHY do I still have so many shoes?

I blame my clothes.... specifically the diversity. 
The business slacks don't go with the casual slip ons, the pumps are saved for certain outfits (the shoe choice depending on formality of the event), the heels for "date nights", and the cute shoes are worn with summer dresses while the comfy shoes are saved for everyday jeans or capris. The beach sand shoes are different than the river rock shoes and the crocs are for wearing around the house. The deck shoes are for boating and the runners are for running and the suede lace ups are for hiking and the slip on sneakers are for errands in the car (I wear these most during the school year). You see they ALL have their purpose! So the only way I can reduce the number is either A) get rid of the associated outfit(s) at the same time or B) tackle multiples of the same function.

Let's start with "B".... here are the ones that are going:

I picked the most comfortable water shoes, the best deck shoes to keep and cut my flip flop choices in half. Chopped are the not-as-good real running shoes and  my ugliest crocs slated for the bin. The harder part was 3 of my least worn black dress shoes going to charity (the $289 italian leather granny shoes are hard to part with but I inherited them and have never found the right outfit to go with them)... 11 less pairs of shoes.... I must keep better track of these things!

That feels better!

If someone told me that I must chose one pair of shoes (and only one pair) to mold my life around I am happy to say the choice would be very easy... not the prettiest, not even the most supportive, but simple, comfortable and cushy... my TOMS!

NOW I challenge you to line up all YOUR shoes and take a picture. Are you horrified? Proud?


Less is More

"the less you have, the easier it is"

I don't know exactly where the quote came from.... but doesn't it make great sense!?

after all.....

the less you have, the easier it is to put away
the less you have, the easier it is to store
the less you have, the easier it is to keep track of
the less you have, the easier it is to care for
the less you have, the easier it is to give it the attention it deserves
the less you have, the easier it is to use it up before it goes bad/gets lost/loses relevence, etc...

It works for all sorts of possessions and stress and debt too.

A road less travelled

I have always been a frugal consumer. My sister calls me "cheap", my mom calls me "a tightwad"... but my stepdad calls me "sensible"... who is correct?

if I can find it used, I won't buy it new.
if I can live without it, I will wait years to find what I want at the price I want to pay
if it breaks I will fix it before even considering replacing it
if I find it really cheap but needing TLC, I will buy it and give it TLC
if I can cook it at home I won't order it at a restaurant
if I can get home for a meal I won't eat out
if I can get it from the library, I won't buy it

I have no problem donating my no-longer-needed, usable items to charities or friends instead of selling them
I feed my family very good food
I have good quality furniture and clothing
My family engages in somewhat expensive recreation
We always host the big holiday family meals

I believe quality is more important than quantity and saving for something I really want is well worth the wait. I don't want to buy something just because I can. And I don't want to waste resources buying new things that won't add anything more to my life.

I am bucking the trend, going against the grain, ignoring the Jones completely and living my own life.... in my family I am taking the road less travelled.