Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Proactive Helping

My main disclaimer here is that I'm writing this as a reminder to myself!

We hear a friend or relative is having a difficult time. We sympathize, or even deeply empathize. We want to help. So, we respond:

"Let me know if you need anything. Really, I mean it! Don't hesitate to ask."
"Let me know if you'd like me to bring you a meal."
"Let me know if you want to come over for dinner."
"Call me if you need to talk."
"Let me know if I can help."
"I'll be thinking of you."

Our offers of help and comfort are sincere and well-intentioned. Encouraging words are wonderful. Letting someone know you care and you're there if they need you is great. All of these gestures are welcome and appreciated. All our responses come from a real, heartfelt desire to help.

But, if you're the one who's struggling, how often do you actually contact these people and ask them to make good on their offers???

If you're like me, the answer is almost never. Or, possibly, just plain never.

But here's what I think is the real problem. When we're on the help-offering end, although we sincerely feel for the person, we're not really taking the initiative - taking action. I fervently believe we can't just assume that if they didn't call or contact you, they must be okay. In a culture where people don't drop by unannounced, we live separate from our extended families, we value privacy, we like to be independent and in control, (and if we're brutally honest, we're just too busy and over-scheduled with our own stuff to do things for others), there are so many barriers on both sides to tangibly helping each other.

To overcome these obstacles, I think we need to change our response. So, the next time you know of a friend in need, you might try one of these approaches:

"I would like to bring you dinner. What day can I bring one next week? Wednesday, Friday or Saturday would work great on my end, will any of those work for you?"

"I'd like to drop a meal off on Monday afternoon and you can put it in the freezer for when you need it. Let me know when you'll be home."

"I would like to have you over for dinner. What day works for you next week? Friday's a good day for us, but if that doesn't work let's figure out something else."

"I would like to take your kids for a couple hours next week - will Thursday morning work for you?"

"I'd like to come over Saturday and help you move/unpack/keep you company/help with XYZ...what time should I show up?"

Any of these approaches get a real conversation going between you and your friend. It becomes a given that the help WILL happen - it's only a matter of where and when.

And CALL! It's much harder for someone to pass up your offer when you have the person on the phone. We all know that in this day and age, an actual call means so much.

Or, dare I say, don't even ask. Just figure out a way to show up at the door, drop something off, etc. We can make excuses all day long for why this isn't appropriate, or what if they're in their pajamas or not home...just get past this and figure out a way to make it happen.

And take it a step further - if your first attempt doesn't work for schedule or logistical or unexpected reasons, avoid thinking, "we'll, I tried." Most of the time you can tell if they did really want it to work out somehow. Figure out a way to reschedule or try a different strategy or mode of helping. So many of us pride ourselves on being persistent and driven in other aspects of our lives; we can certainly channel these qualities into helping others.

I know we can't all do this for everyone all the time. But I sure think it would be great if we could try it more often. Let's get all up in each others' lives and business, yo?

Anyway, that's all.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Ditchin’ the DVDs

Well, the cases anyway.

This was harder than I thought it would be.

But I don’t know why I didn’t think of it sooner.

We’ve already been gradually whittling down our books and DVDs. Eventually, we’ll probably be close to 100% digital/cloud/whatever, but until time and money permit, we’ll just work with what we have and continue gradually purging anything we wouldn’t want to watch/read over and over again, or loan out to friends. We don't currently have Netflix or HuluPlus or anything like that.

Just to be clear, I love old-fashioned, regular old books and will probably always have a few favorites around to treasure. But I don’t need tons. We are avid patrons of the public library. One shelf-worth of grown-up books and one shelf of kid books to own at any given time will suffice for me. Except for a handful of odds and ends in storage, we’re pretty much down to that after my latest purge.

But back to the DVDs. Today I ditched the cases and liner notes. It was hard – some of them really are kind of special. The Lord of the Rings Extended Edition has lovely artwork all over the box. West Side Story Collector’s Edition comes with a script. But like many of you, I did this with my CDs a long time ago. I had to ask myself now, do I ever think longly about all those liner notes and cases? The answer is no. So I was ready.

I had an old CD binder laying around with a few random CDs in it, so once I sorted through those and consolidated, I used that binder for all the DVDs. Now I can get rid of an entire bookcase in my bedroom (also used to contain a few books, but was able to consolidate those to the one-kid-one-adult-shelves) and a crap-load of worthless plastic. And our movie collection is now so portable, compact, and easily accessed, at least considering it's non-digital.

And it was hard--but only while I was actually doing it. Now, I'm completely fine. And that reminded me of an important downsizing lesson. A lot of people tell me they just can't do it. They may be referring to a certain item or a group of items. They really would like to do it, but just can't. Today, I was reminded that, yes, it is kind of a bummer and it does actually hurt! I realized that I need to do a better job of acknowledging that this is true.

It hurts, but the end result is worth it, and it feels great.

Like so many things in life, eh?

Note: We're still holding on to our actual CDs in a binder because we like to listen to them in our older-model car on road trips, but I once I have time to make sure they're all burned into iTunes and I'll probably ditch 99% of them. It's a process!

Friday, November 4, 2011

Top 10 Reasons Why a Minimalsist Would Host a Jewelry Party

(Okay, why this minimalist would host a jewelry party. Not speaking for all of them.)

I suppose to some, "minimalist" and "jewelry party" could appear to be a contradiction in terms. For the benefit of all the doubters, nay-sayers, and people who enjoy mocking me out of general principle, I made this list of reasons why I'm hosting one.

Without further ado, in no particular order:
  1. The Jeweler. Nikki is a super cool person and I want an excuse to hang out with her and introduce others to her awesomeness. She is funny, smart, genuine, brave, extremely generous, and also one-of-a-kind – just like her jewelry!
  2. The story of Nikki’s jewelry business is inspiring. A couple of years ago her husband was out of work and they needed to put food on the table. She tapped into her creativity to help take care of her family. I love that!
  3. Nikki reuses and recycles many materials in her jewelry. Reducing waste and being resourceful – what could be more minimalist than that?
  4. Accessories are a minimalist’s plucky sidekick. They allow you to own fewer clothes and make outfits “different” by varying the accessories. Jewelry, in particular, takes up so much less space than clothes.
  5. Girl time. Adult conversation. ‘Nuff said.
  6. Hospitality is one of my core values. But I’m not a natural at this – it tends to stress me out, balancing getting food ready (ooo, not a natural at this either, even under normal circumstances) and the house clean while simultaneously managing the kids. But I think it is important, and I like the end result, so it’s good practice for me.
  7. I will be extra lonely. Pete will be in France for much of November and December and I won’t be able to go out, so why not have people in? (Yep, I just played the pity card.)
  8. People have been asking me to host another one. I don’t like to disappoint.
  9. It’s more like an art show than a typical hostess party. I want people to come admire art, celebrate creativity, and be inspired.
  10. An excuse to eat yummy snacks. And yes, I will provide wine.
So come check out some Pierced Zebra Jewelry on Wednesday, November 30th, anytime between 7-9pm, my place!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Craigslist Tips - Selling

  • I’m not a CL expert. I just like it.
  • The simplest way to get rid of something is to donate it without a tax receipt.
  • These are not safety tips. I find safety tips to be quite dull. I’ll let you figure out if you want to invite your buyer into your living room for a cup of tea, or meet in a public location with body guards. Everyone has a different comfort level.
For the purpose of this post, let’s say you are selling, oh, a nightstand.

1. Be mindful of common misspellings, alternate names and spacing, and plural versions. I usually type some of these words at the bottom of the post just to catch anyone who spells it “night stands” instead of “nightstands.”

2. Scope out the competition - do a search for your item to find out what other people are selling similar items for and try to be the best deal out there. Also keep in mind that if you live way out in the boonies you might need to offer a lower price.

3. Post big pictures - you have the option of uploading 4 pictures at the bottom of your post. All well and good. But if you’ve seen the ads with “img” at the end instead of “pic,” these have lots and lots of huge pictures. You want to be one of these, particularly if you’re selling a more expensive or nuanced item. I’m sure there are lots of ways to do this, but I use I upload the pictures to this site, shrink them a bit so the post doesn’t take ages to load, and copy the HTML code it generates into the text of your post. I really do think items sell better and faster when I take the time to do this step.

4. Use a separate email address dedicated to your craigslist account. That way, if you’ve got an email account that saves the address of everyone who emails you, your contacts won’t be clogged with the addresses of everyone who showed interest in your crap at one time or another.

5. Tell the buyer exactly what he/she needs to do. I typically say:

“Please email with:
1) your name
2) your phone number
3) time/day you can pick up.
4) city or general area you’re coming from

I only recently started including #4, especially if I know I’m going to get a lot of responses. It’s just another way of filtering through otherwise equal candidates and potentially speeding up the process. Anyway, this list gives you the info you want, while also weeding out the non-serious, too picky, or simply incoherent folks. Subsequently, this becomes the type of response email you are looking for:

1) Joe Smith
2) 503-999-9999
3) 1pm today
4) SW Portland

Joe Smith can read and follow directions. Thus, he will find my house. He will bring money - actual U.S. currency, and maybe not even a giant plastic bag of coins. He will not be trying to drive here from Eastern Oregon. He’s not asking picky questions about the merchandise, he’s motivated and he wants it as-is. All valuable (yet sadly rare) characteristics among craigslist shoppers. And yes, the most awesome people will actually number back their responses like that!

6. I never put my own phone number in the ad because I don’t like giving up control over who I actually talk to. Let your email be your initial filter. This is not a safety tip. It is a control-freak tip.

7. The goal is to make it go away - the money is only an added bonus. My husband would say I price things way too low. But he can’t argue with the fact that our stuff sells fast, often within the hour. Maybe you like waiting around to see how much money you can get. But for me, once I have decided I don’t want something, it’s as if it begins to rot in my house. When it’s gone, I can stop thinking about it and move on with my life. This is a letting-go-of-stuff muscle that gets better with practice.

8. Don’t forget the “free” option! I know this post is supposed to be about selling stuff but I just couldn't resist! There’s nothing better than having someone take a gigantic something you don’t want anymore off your hands. Don't get hung up on missing a tax credit, you'll live. It's worth it to see who gets to have your stuff - they are always happy and grateful for the gift.

What are your favorite Craigslist "selling" tips?

Sunday, September 11, 2011


Sometimes I just wonder..

It’s fall. New routines, new activities, and new schedules.

Of course, we’ve got to have our kids involved in “extracurriculars.” It’s just what we M/UMCs do. They’ve got to have an opportunity to make friends, to learn “socialization.” They’ve got to develop a skill, a passion, a talent. They’ve got to develop their strengths. And shore up their weaknesses. Be well-rounded individuals. They’ve got to get exercise, learn teamwork, leadership, or to just plain follow directions. They must have fun – structured, organized fun. They’ve got to keep up academically. And whatever they do, they’ve got to start early/right away/ASAP/yikes, we should have started last year!

It’s fall. We run from activity to activity.

It’s fall. Our schedules are full.

It’s fall. We are already stressed, over-extended, overwhelmed. We are BUSY.

But it’s okay. We’re all in the same busy-busy-boat. Our culture acknowledges this. So now, we are taught it’s okay to say NO. We must learn to say NO, even to the good opportunities. It’s healthy and right and good and sanity-preserving to say NO.

So now we go around being busy and saying NO all the time.

Does this seem backwards to anyone else?

Sure, you’ve got to learn to say NO. But what is not emphasized enough, I believe, is saying NO a little earlier in the process. Saying NO at the beginning, before we’re even close to full.

Leaving blanks.

Big, fat, awkward-feeling blanks.

Just leave them there.

Until …

We are needed. By someone else. By another family.

Until we can say YES when it counts.

Blanks are opportunities to give ourselves to others when the unexpected need strikes. What percentage of needs are unplanned and unexpected?

(That was a rhetorical question. But I’m betting it’s most.)

Blanks are opportunities to teach our kids that life isn’t about us and our own activities and interests. Sure, we can do special service projects around the holidays or sprinkled throughout the year and involve our children. We can repeatedly admonish them, “Life isn’t about you all the time!” But, in reality, life IS about ourselves and our personal enrichment activities 95% of the time.

What if instead, we taught and practiced service together as a day-to-day lifestyle?

To do this, ya gotta have blanks. Lots of gigantic ones.

I have a new kindergartener this year. Maybe that’s why I’m thinking about and picking on “extracurricular activities” right now – but this could apply to all our involvements and commitments at any age. As I begin to make decisions about all those “extracurriculars,” sometimes I just wonder….

What if our kids’ extracurricular activity was being available to help and be a friend to others? Just whenever. What if we developed this as a special talent, as a way to have fun, in our kids and in our family unit? “Who can we help today, kids?”

What if we said NO. And left it all blank. Or at least mostly blank.

Sometimes I just wonder...

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Help with "The Wanties"

"Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today and creates a vision for tomorrow."
Melody Beattie

As a budding minimalist, I still like to randomly spend money once in awhile, particularly on my kids - a quality-non-plasticy-toy, fun art supplies, good books, clothes. It's just fun. Retail therapy. Something to do. Or just a case of "the wanties." And, really, sometimes the stuff is cute and good and useful and edifying and, and, and....I'm convinced I can justify any purchase one way or another if the funds are there.

One thing that has really helped me lately, when I'm about to buy something, is to stop and think about what I have. By that, I don't mean just make a mental list. It's deeper and more thorough than that.

Let's say I want to buy a new set of markers or other drawing/coloring implement for my kids - because it's kind of cool or different than what we already have. I'm sure my kids would love it and get good use out of it and it doesn't take up too much space and it's a good price and it's totally in my kid stuff budget and I get 20% off because it's from where I work and it's good quality and it's for doing art for goodness sake there are worse things.

Bam. Justified.

But I stop for a moment. I go through a checklist of the art supplies we have at home. But then I picture actually getting them out, handling them, looking at them. I picture them in detail. I picture setting them up for the kids. I picture the kids sitting at the table working on their creations. I picture the art they create. I picture their proud smiles as they show me what they've made. I picture putting it all away. I take a moment to be grateful.

This process goes a long way to curb shopping, particularly impulse shopping. The sense of gratitude begins to overwhelm that "wanty" feeling. I am now trying to teach my kids to do this at the store as well. My daughter is nearly six and it works pretty well with her.

And, if you have too much stuff at home in any category, you will have a hard time picturing each individual item you already own (hello, item-in-closet-with-tags-still-on), and by definition you probably don't need more, even if it's a slightly different item.

Could your kids give you a relatively accurate inventory of their toys? Just curious.

Anyway, it helps me. Maybe it will help you.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

The House Dilemma - Part 2

Previously on A Cup of Rosie Leigh, I described how I’ve always pictured our family eventually upgrading to a larger home and settling there “forever,” but how that ideal has shifted over the past year or so. I also explained that while I’m completely on board with whittling away our possessions and quelling the acquisition of more, somehow “house” found itself in a separate category for me. That dream has stubbornly refused to fade like I feel it should in light of my new outlook on life.

A primary reason I’ve dreamed of bigger home is that one of our core values (ideals, maybe at this point) is hospitality, despite the fact that it doesn’t come very naturally to me. I wanted that permanent guest room, so friends and family could enjoy comfort and privacy when they visit. I wanted that large (not necessarily formal) dining room and proportionally sized dining table that accommodates my immediate family plus a gaggle of guests. It just doesn’t feel as warm, hospitable, and embodying the “togetherness” of my mental picture with everyone spread over couches, bar stools, and the floor, engaged in their own isolated conversations.

Yeah, poor me. None of these things are actual “needs” and I am fortunate to have what I have. Still, I am always amazed how when you choose to look at life from a simple or minimal or even just low cost point of view, your creativity blossoms. You discover solutions to problems that now seem so obvious, but that you were blinded to in the past. You take the status quo and simply make it work somehow, instead of wasting mental energy wishing for something else. And the solutions you find subsequently open up more doors to even more possibilities. It’s not always that you’re thinking outside of the box, but that the box itself disappears. You begin to realize that the so-called box often involves the perceived expectations of others, or how your situation compares to theirs or to “most people’s” – what is common, typical, expected based on who and where you are. The new and absolutely liberating response is: “Who cares? We play by our own rules.”

Enter the folding table. Or should I say tables. Not as a temporary solution until we get a bigger/different house ASAP: a long-term solution. Once I accepted the fact that we are “stuck with” this house until we pay it off (aggressively) or relocate based on an exciting new opportunity, I started seeing it with fresh eyes. I looked at our house (think detached townhome) with its 1690 square feet (only 660ish of which are downstairs and not the greatest use of that space to begin with) and began to think, what can we do with it to meet our desires? It is most certainly “enough,” even more than enough, so what can we do with it to maximize its potential to actually be enough so that we are content? (Okay, Pete’s always been content. It’s all me.) How can our dining room (okay it’s really just a nook, not even a room) best fulfill our desire to “entertain,” such as it were? (Sorry, I REALLY like parentheses and quotation marks!)

Our current dining table seats 6 rather snuggly (we bring out 2 folding chairs implement the table leaf for this).

Adding one long (20” x 48”) folding table right alongside our current table for $26.99, plus 2 more folding chairs means seating for 8 at what is functionally one table. Adding 2 tables and 2 more folding chairs equals seating for 10. This “new table” extends into our kitchen a bit, but there is still room to get around. Any more than 10 people at one table and it becomes difficult to have one big conversation anyway*. But this would be perfect for, say, my book club, or a gathering of Pete’s relatives or mine who live nearby.

However, what if we DID want to have more at the table? We could actually put our main dining table at an angle, and begin to line up folding tables next to it pointing out into the living room. We could add way more than we’d ever need! Each new table would provide 2 more seats. By golly, I think we could fit 20 people at “one table!” When we’re done eating, we’d just fold everything up and we have our living room back again. Hooray for multifunction, a staple of simple, minimalist living.

The “old me” probably wouldn’t have come up with this solution to begin with. It’s not that I’m a stranger to card tables or inexpensive, make-do solutions. Yet, I would never have seen it as a long term fix or reasonable alternative to a bigger dining room – just a somewhat tacky stop-gap. Now, I have no choice but to admit this is a 100% practical perfect-fit solution to the problem, and what more could I ask for than that? As for the “new me,” does it mean acquiring some more stuff? Of course. But you have to compare that to a bigger mortgage and a bigger house to inevitably fill with way more stuff than just some light-weight, flat-folding, easily-stored tables and chairs. We’d have to purchase hundreds, maybe thousands of tables before those two options came out equal.

Besides, then you’d just have thousands of tables. See what I mean?

But back to the tackiness issue for a moment. Will my “dining table” be tacky? Ah, but the response: “Who cares? We play by our own rules.” The great thing about friends is that by definition, they don’t (or at least shouldn’t!) care. The point is togetherness! Will we be knocking each other’s knees? Oh yeah. But that’s just cozy. :)

In a related story, I came across this article recently, just as I was going through a particularly low period of lamenting my smallish house and how I’d never REALLY be able to entertain like I envisioned (boo hoo!). I recommend reading it if you are in a similar situation – some great “disappearing box” entertaining ideas that I can’t wait to try!

Oh, yeah, and the guest room thing. I do have a few ideas up my sleeve…but that’s for another post!

Meanwhile, I’m excited to make a pretty table cloth for my gigantic table.

*I have also found that unless it is completely expected that you’re having a sit-down dinner situation, you might as well not bother putting up the extra tables – they just get in the way. People ignore them and gather at couches, on the floor, at the kitchen counter, etc – which is totally fine by me. I had 11 adults, 2 teens, 5 kids, and 2 infants here the other day for dinner and this is exactly what happened.