Minimalism: When the heart is onto it but life is a little behind

Baby GoatsOpening day at a local farm venue–the activity was free and the weather almost balmy for the beginning of April.  My sweet sister and I took our children to gawk at the chicks, feed the baby goats, and learn about Native American culture.  The rest of the families in the city had the same notion, and we were met with crowds.  The day didn’t turn out quite as blissful as planned, but the kids had fun–success.

Caleb and Adi 2


Days later, I am still pondering the life of Native Americans.  The guide for the Native American lodge was very knowledgeable about her people’s traditions and tales. She offered a glimpse into a culture that survived communally and washed in a belief that the natural world should be respected and cherished.  Each plant, animal and season had a purpose, a message, a cause to exist, and therefore was worthwhile.  But I digress.

The housing–I can’t stop thinking about their houses.  You see right now as I type this, it is late Sunday night and I’ve crossed over back to my home state line with a trailer full of stuff– small tools, boxes of garage items that haven’t been opened in three years, golf clubs that I haven’t used since before my first child was born, and a few lonesome house plants.  Yes I declare myself a minimalist, and my extended family laughs at my paltry pieces of housewares that I make do with because I want to live with less and a kitchen knife is my type of food processor (I’m good with having just enough…I thought).  But right now I’m cleaning out what remains in my former home, and it is too much.  Too much of my weekend has gone to digging through stuff.  Too much money has been wasted on buying this forgotten stuff.  Too many earth’s resources eradicated and redirected to creating this stuff.  Too many people injured by the unethical work conditions or pollution created so I can have more stuff.  And my children spent their weekend mostly absent from me and their dad because we had to deal with the stuff.  How ridiculous it all sounds when I write it out, but here I am in a truck with trailer attached trucking past America’s Main Street in middle states hauling stuff…junk…and then I think about the cool walls of the lodge, the dirt floors, the multiple families that would have lived, loved, and survived under its thatched skyline and I envy them.

Courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net
Courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

When I was 16, I stayed on the Navajo reservation working and worshipping with this tribe.  They were then and are now few in number.  Separated, desolate, and  living in poverty under horribly harsh and unfair conditions.  These are not the Natives I envy–this scenario makes me angry, sad (but again I digress).  My admiration is for the ancestors of a people who took from the earth only what they needed, who worked as it was needed, who lived in a time of kinship and community ( and no I’m not completely deluded–it was far from perfect).  Life was real and imperfect, but it was not a residence like this Skype-d up alter-egoed FaceBook fairyland where modern man resides.  They were flesh who lived in the flesh.  I envy that while some groups did travel with their houses tied to dog or horse, they carried only what they needed.  They did not travel carrying a trailer full of junk wondering where to store it in an overburdened garage.  I envy that they some tribes thought beyond to the seventh-generation, and well I’m just praying we don’t pop a tire on this burgeoning trailer tonight…  Yes, I’m a minimalist–unfortunately my life hasn’t completely caught up with my heart…

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5 Things to Do in 5 Minutes__to Prevent YOU from Shopping

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Photo courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

 

Twelve years ago I began to question my consumeristic lifestyle–I began to wonder how it affected my life, the planet, and my dreams.  I recognized that if I ran the race as I was I would have piles of stuff, have taken several vacations (I would be paying for on credit), be a caretaker for a home that I owned less than five-percent of, have loads of worry and very little true wealth and happiness.  So I dropped out (in a sense).  I stopped buying stuff!  I needed a break from the constant stream of things that I was bringing into my life.  I needed to have some room to really recognize what my true needs and wants were.  This not so astonishing thought process began when I realized I had more debt than I could afford.  I needed to climb out of the dark well of indebtedness I had fallen deeply into. So I cut up the credit cards, walked away from the ped-mall, and got to work…but, like in any modern day fairy tale the dark nemesis was always lurking behind every corner…in this case he came clothed as a L.L. Bean catalog…but that is another story.  

Opportunities to buy are everywhere.  Well-meaning friends, family members, and coworkers often offer opportunities to spend.  Commercials, popup ads, magazines, and billboards throw desire at you constantly, and when you’ve been in the habit of spending at whim it is hard to break this spell.  The first thing I did was always try to recognize what the advertisement was trying to sell me and how the marketer was trying to play on my emotions to make the sell.  If I had to think like a marketer, their advertisements became less seductive.  Additionally, I made visual charts that showed my debt–how many dollars I had to earn to climb out of it and how many life hours that would take. At times this charting was depressing–but it worked to keep me focused–as the debt on the chart grew smaller my motivation grew bigger.  Lastly, I limited my exposure to ads.  I watched less television, read fewer magazines, etc.  But sometimes…I wanted to shop and so I had to take action…here is a sampling of some of my action steps.

Five Things to do in five minutes to prevent you from shopping–

1. Rearrange furniture – Sometimes we shop because we desire to change our lives and so the simple act of moving a chair, potted plant, or a picture can trick our brains into the mindset that something substantial has changed for us.  It works–try it!

2. Shake the cobwebs off an old article of clothing – Pull out a clothing article you never or rarely wear and create an assemble using this piece.  When we shop we often desire something new (different).  Make an old piece a new piece and wear it that day or the next!  

3. Use the “good” dishes – Find an item that rarely gets used because it is designated for special days, and pull it out.  A good set of dishes, jewelry, a spectacular pair of shoes can be used more than once a year, and they can often make a less than great day into a fabulous one.  Often we shop when we are blue and this may relieve your blues.  For me it was a special set of antique candlesticks–these candlesticks added elegance and sparkle to my evening and made me feel better about sticking to my goals.

4. “Buy” free resources – Grabbing an electronic book from the library, Amazon.com (yes Amazon has loads of free electronic books) or listening to a free book on librivox.org is a great way to feel as though your are “shopping” without pulling out your wallet.  Even more, a good book will draw your mind elsewhere while you’re learning to live happily with less.

5. Give a gift to someone else – Write a letter, find something you no longer need that a friend will treasure, drop a treat (picked flowers, a cookie, an orange, a special quote that inspires you) on your neighbor’s door.  Consumerism drives our society into often “selfish” thinking.  We may find ourselves thinking of only our own wants.  Pushing wants aside and thinking of others can become the best medicine for forgetting yourself and your desire to buy.  Plus, you just might make somebody’s day.  

The complexities of why we shop are too much for this blog to handle (at least for today).  The desire to pull back no spending is often a valiant one.  It takes time and patience to create this new thinking and new habit when consuming, but it is possible!  Be extremely patient with yourself. Slowly you will see that you can walk away from the intoxication of buying more of what you don’t need and that is beautiful freedom.

 

 

 

A Discussion With My Daughter (about owning quality stuff)

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I want a Hudson Bay point blanket.  Some individuals may be disheartened to know that this simplicity blogger longs for a blanket derived from wool (and I do apologize for offending), but I am human and to err is my way.  Both sets of my grandparents owned Hudson Bay point blankets–moths had eaten them in spots but I didn’t mind.  To crawl under their heaviness was warm, comforting and to me felt like love.  During a winter spent in Canada I admired and desired a Hudson Bay point blanket even more–North American winters can be cruel and again these blankets spelled love.  I promised myself despite the blanket’s expense, I would buy one with the knowledge that it would be owned for a lifetime.  My grandparents’ household economies often meant quality over quantity–this was the norm for their generation–a Hudson Bay point blanket was a common item in many households as a result.

Today, I own a synthetic blanket–it has lasted over ten-years, but it is thin in spots and falling apart at the edges.  I told my young daughter about my desire and plan to save for a new or used Hudson Bay point blanket.  She knows that we are a household that has a “stuff rule”–one comes in only when one goes out.  This keeps things balanced (most of the time).  So she understood a need for a new blanket and the future exchange, but when I explained to her that I will never likely buy another blanket this baffled her.  For my child’s generation products don’t last.  Very often superfluous stuff (and even the necessary) is made with planned or built-in obsolescence–a product is designed to have a limited use or life.  Nothing lasts.  This statement is the opening to many philosophical conversations, but as a consumer it is just depressing.  If you live a life as a minimalist, seeker of simplicity, or even as a smart consumer you can suit up and battle this “nothing lasts” ideology to a degree–buy better.  It may cost more up front but there is lasting value in these type of purchases.  The Amish know this secret and often upgrade on important items used for working and living. Their culture treasures antiques for their beauty, quality, and their future monetary value.  For our current consumer culture this idea is not evident–we spend our dollars buying more and more until our homes bulge and our savings dwindle, but we often do not open our wallets and look clearly for any type of lasting value.

I did some morbid math, and since I plan on living to nearly 100 I’ve got 60 good years in front of me.  The cheap synthetic blanket was still a “quality” blanket and costs around a hundred dollars today.  If the inflation rate for the next 60 years remained at around 3%, and I bought a similar blanket to the one I have now every 10 years during these next six decades–I would spend about $1,800 on blankets and use up six blankets worth of the earth’s resources.  The Hudson Bay point blanket is looking like a good investment at around $500 to $600.  What is more these blankets maintain some of their value, and can become family heirlooms.

Stuff is never going to be my cup of tea, but I do need a cup and tea on occasion.  When I do shop I plan to buy with quality and beauty in mind.

Have you made any “lasting” purchases?

 

7 Ways to Avoid Christmas Clutter

In less than a week the merry making of the Christmas season will officially begin.  (Curiously, the Christmas season seems to have truly begun on the day after Halloween, but that is fodder for another blog.)  During this season of decking the halls and Yuletide carols being sung by a choir, there is an awful lot of stuff that enters our homes in preparation for the holidays.  Before we know it we have received the messiest gift of all–the gift of Christmas clutter: cards, catalogs, free calendars, holiday art projects, fruitcakes,  and gifts–as the piles grow, so often does the anxiety as well.  To avoid the overwhelming piles of stuff it is imperative to have a plan.

Avoiding Christmas Clutter: a plan

1. Go through your children’s toys and donate gently used toys–throw broken and damaged toys away or recycle them if possible*  Often local groups are taking gently used toys to bless families who may have not have resources for gifts at this time of the year.  I generally know how many gifts my children will receive during the holiday season and so our rule is one toy in one toy out–that gives me a number to aim for when discarding toys before Christmas Day.

2. Avoid excessive holiday decor*  Personal taste rules here, but if decorations are tasteful and simple it creates a beautiful landscape for holiday celebrations.  If we have too much we cannot appreciate what we have and the eye becomes overwhelmed. For myself, I enjoy decorating with perishables–a hurricane lamp with a single large candle surrounded by cranberries or nuts, a vessel of pine cones, fall branches wrapped in white twinkle lights, a mantle dressed in evergreens, an antique crockery filled with fruit, oranges embedded with the deep scents of star shaped cloves hung in windows, a simple Christmas tree or Jesse tree ornamented with only those cherished items–these are all simple and lovely decorations that will get (mostly) used up or can be composted after the holiday season.

3. Christmas cards have a “home” during and after the holiday season*  We clip our Christmas cards with clothespins onto rustic twine over an open doorway during the season–it does the job nicely of displaying our cards and looks a bit rustic and whimsical.  We’ve been known to add paper snowflakes to the mix for embellishment.  When the holidays are over the paper cards are immediately recycled to either the recycling bin or the kids’ art bin.  The photo cards are filed in a special photo bin.  Those photos in the photo bin are reexamined before the Christmas season each year so any cards that do not hold sentimental value can be thrown out.  

4. Calendars and other freebies are dealt with before they become a problem*  For those free calendars, pick the one calendar you plan to use and donate or recycle the others.  To avoid wasting an individual’s or group’s monies on calendars, cards, labels, etc. you may send a polite note requesting that they not send you anymore freebies.  Since these are small businesses this is often a better method than opting out with dmachoice.org.  Other holiday freebies may show up at work or holiday parties.   The answer to this clutter inducing condition is do not take the freebies!  If you do take something to avoid looking or feeling rude drop these items in a bag or tote to be dropped off at a thrift store after the holiday season–free unused holiday cards and calendars from charitable groups can be donated as well.

5. Pick the best of the best for a child’s artwork*  Artwork and gifts from children is often the most difficult clutter to bust.  During the season grandly display one or two of the child’s artistic expressions.  Recycle the others. (You may want to do this without the kids knowing.  I know it sounds cruel but isn’t it crueler to have a stressed out parent during the holiday season because they are overwhelmed by the mess of stuff?!)  After the holidays choose one art item to put in their portfolio.  (Portfolios at my house are kept in special file bins and are reevaluated each summer to see what still remains important to the child and myself.)

6. Don’t hang on to presents…these are different from gifts*  A gift is something that blesses your life, a present does not.  Presents we don’t or won’t cherish cannot do us any good cluttering up closets and lives.  Even more, a present that makes a person feel guilty because of lack of use is really a burden and not what the giver of that present intended.   While presents are usually given with love, the gift of clutter is no gift at all…it is a present!  Express your gratitude for the givers generosity and thoughtfulness because we are blessed when people in our lives care enough to think of us during the holiday season and then gracefully move on.  Exchange the gift if possible and get something that is truly useful and beautiful to you.  If it isn’t possible to do this then you may try to sell it on EBay, Craig’s List or a consignment shop.  Finally, if this isn’t a feasible option then donate it to someone who will find pleasure in this item.  Some may question the ethics of this, but truly the difference here is time.  Over time we let these presents sit in on shelves collecting dust until we finally put them in a garage sale or donate them.  This time you can take care of these presents much earlier and remove the guilt and burden earlier as well.

7. Frozen food saves waistlines*  There is an abundance of food during the holiday season and as a result clothes get tighter because we don’t want leftovers to go to waste…so they go to waist!  Chocolate, baked goods, meats, cheese balls, and many other bits of holiday fare can be frozen and consumed later.  When we eat everything at once we kind of lose the speciality of the food we are eating and our palate cannot identify how delectable these treats can be. If we slowly consume them and allow ourselves the chance to truly savor these morsels, we get to extend our holiday menu a little longer and find a pleasure in eating things slowly and with greater gratitude.  

The holidays are truly a blessed time of year and avoiding the frustration and confusion of holiday clutter allows for a calmer more enjoyable season.  

Do you have any ways you lessen the Christmas clutter?

The Burden that Binds the Joy

In the summer of 2000 I traveled throughout Western Europe with only a backpack (at first).  It was glorious to be responsible for only myself and the few belongings I carried with me—I was living in the moment and not living with stuff. 

However, as the trip continued I purchased trinkets to take back home: a miniature Eiffel Tower, Venetian masks, and set of Swiss knives for a friend’s wedding gift.  Eventually, I could not carry my carefully selected wares from the world and so I resorted to buying additional luggage, a small rolling suitcase.  My backpack became a burden as I had to hunch over and tilt to create balance as I rolled the suitcase behind me.  When my suitcase could hold no more I sent a couple items by mail—often the postal costs outweighed the cost of the actual items.  

When I returned to the States I doled out the gifts that I had purchased and the few items I kept for myself stayed out for a year or two and then made their way into boxes when I got married.  The items that I gave to family members as gifts slowly made their way back to me.  Items from somebody else’s vacation—no matter how exotic—are not your own memories and so they were lovingly returned and put into boxes. The time, resources, and energy extolled to collect those trinkets was truly not worth it.  I could have enjoyed another fresh squeezed blood orange juice in a warm summer day in Florence and left the Made in China fare in the overly homogenized international corner shops.  

Truly doesn’t this become the paradox of life?  We consume items to show we have arrived at our destination—to fill up our pantries, to be prepared, to have enough, or whatever other reason we may feel entitled to pose…and then we realize these items have little value to us and the become a burden that must be dragged along side of us until we find space to pack it away…living in the moment is lost in all this drudgery and a cheap useless trinket have replaced that gift.

Have you ever felt burdened by your belongings?