Tuesday, June 28, 2011

What I Think of YOUR Cluttered House

The SIMPLE answer: Is it cluttered? I didn’t really notice. Must not bother me!

The more of my friends who find out about my developing simplicity /decluttering /minimalism philosophy, the more I hear the comment:

You must think my house is SO cluttered!”

This makes me sad. The last thing I want is for people to feel self-conscious in their own homes because of me, and for that concern to be unwarranted in the first place.

So, please allow me to set your mind at ease. Here are…

Some Reasons I Don’t Notice or Care About Your Self-Alleged Clutter:

1. When I visit you in your home, I’m there to see you, not your stuff. Remember, I don’t care much about “stuff” in the first place. I would like to focus on hanging out and enjoying your company instead – and, usually, I do. :-)

2. I have no part in paying for, cleaning (up), maintaining, fixing, etc. your stuff. This journey is about finding what is most simple and practical for me, and your stuff does not affect the simplicity vs. complexity of my life one bit. Unless you’re planning to leave it all to me in your will. But, if you’re here reading this, you know that would be a bad idea. :-)

3. Along with being extremely practical, I am really not a “decorator.” If there is something that looks “nice” in my house right now, there’s a good chance it’s because a friend switched it all around for me. So in general, I’m not highly tuned in to the aesthetics of your home.

4. We all notice more things about ourselves than other people would ever notice about us (because, by definition, we’re all too busy worrying about ourselves). That’s junior high school lesson #1, right? Same goes for stuff. Selfishly, I’m much more concerned about my own stuff than yours.

5. I am not espousing what I think is the “right” way of life for everyone. We all have our own values, priorities, and quirks. Many pure minimalists (which I am not) still keep collections of certain things they value. So anyway, keep being you. I like you. I won’t pick on you for your extensive miniature elephant collection if you promise not to pick on me for leaving the thermostat at 70 degrees 24-hours-a-day-year-round.

6. This one’s difficult to explain, but I’ll try. When I visit an art museum, do I feel like it’s too cluttered with paintings? When I walk into a well-stocked library, do I suddenly get the urge to purge? No. In my mind, places and things do have a practical, useful, and even beautiful purpose. But in my mind, that purpose is usually pretty cut and dry. The library is where the books live. The art museum is where the art lives. Amy’s house* is where Amy lives. Your house is just that - your house. It’s one complete package. It’s that simple for me. Beyond that, I’m not all that interested.

Ok, I suppose if you are a full-fledged hoarder, I might notice. Otherwise, unless you point it out, I probably haven’t noticed. If I did notice, it didn’t bother me.

Simple as that!

*I used the name Amy because I happen to have (too) many friends named Amy. But not to worry, Amys, I have no intention of decluttering you!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Slow Down and Take the Bus

(I have coined an acronym for the purpose of this blog. M/UMC = Middle and Upper Middle Class. Hmmm…you may already see where I’m going with this….)

Most people think of Portland as a public transportation-friendly area. But when broken down by suburb (and sub-section of a suburb – a subsuburb?) and then also by demographic, both use of and attitude toward the public bus, specifically, varies dramatically. In fact, I can think of several of my friends (in the same general area and demographic as me) whom I can’t even fathom encountering on a public bus. And not just because they’re not on the route. It may as well be Donald Trump on the bus in my mental picture.

Even for my own kids, riding the public bus is an exciting adventure or special treat, not a fact of life like it is for most of the other kids and families we encounter on our rides. It’s amazing how sheltered we can be from something that passes near our house multiple times per day. It’s a traveling piece of culture we don’t interact with unless we choose to go along for the ride.

Honestly, l feel quite silly writing about this at all. I’m sure all my British relatives are having a jolly good laugh at me. I mean it’s the bus, for goodness sake. It should be no big deal, and it really isn’t. Yet somehow it is to me – or what it represents in my life, anyway. So I’m compelled to write about it anyway.

Ok, obviously most of us suburban M/UMCs don’t ride the bus because we have cars. Pete began riding the bus to work when we became a one-car family, and the kids and I ride the bus (or stay home) when he has the car. But even before we dropped a car, I occasionally took the kids places on the bus just for the heck of it. It wasn’t really to save money or gas or to be “greener”, although these are nice perks. The real reason I did it was to force us to slow down and view life from another perspective. It’s no secret that we suburban M/UMCers are typically extremely busy and overscheduled, running from one activity or errand to the next. We like to be efficient with our time and in control of our lives, while packing in as much fun and enrichment into each day as we possibly can.

All this hurried efficiency tends to go out the window when you ride public transportation. However, here is what you might gain in return:

1. You’re forced to be outside for a lot of the time. Nothing wrong with that. The fresh (or semi-fresh) air will do you good.

2. You’re forced to walk a bit – from bus stop to your actual destination and back. You are forced to walk fast if you’re about to miss the bus! Exercise is good.

3. You notice things on your little walks – the stuff that you drive right by on your normal routes through town.

4. You wait. You must be patient – there’s not much choice in the matter. No immediate gratification of hoping in your car and going exactly where you want, exactly when you want. A set of trips or errands that would normally take you two hours will take four. Oh well.

5. Similarly, you must let go of some control. That we are in complete control over our lives is an illusion anyway, right? Might as well practice letting go of that illusion when you can.

6. You can also practice letting go of germaphobia – a highly common M/UMC affliction.

(Note: if this is all beginning to sound like your own personal version of hell, it may mean some bus time would do you good – like it does me!)

7. You appreciate your car a bit more in the process, and are forced to reckon with the true purpose of a car (which is not to be new, expensive, fancy or impressive, just in case you were wondering). You will likely be more grateful for the luxury of its convenience.

8. You rub shoulders (yes, sometimes literally) with people you probably wouldn’t in your normal day. Especially if you have a gregarious child who strikes up a conversation with anyone and everyone. (Eh hem!)

9. Your children, gregarious or not, get to learn all these lessons along with you.

I’ll say it again – I feel a bit silly writing all this. I feel sheltered, quaint, and a bit spoiled. Taking the bus is no noble or important act. It just boils down to the fact I’m all in favor of anything that forces us M/UMCers to slow down. We assume we need a get-away, beach vacation, or break from our normal lives to achieve this sense of slowness. In reality, all we need is $2.05. Kids under 7 ride free.

How about you? Do you ever ride the bus? Do you enjoy it?

Thursday, June 16, 2011

"Simple" Decluttering

I recently read a blog post on a simplicity website describing how to declutter and make money doing it. The article went on to discuss yard sales, craigslist, eBay, and claiming donations on your taxes. I have nothing against those activities and have done all of them (except I’m still an eBay virgin. tee hee). In fact, we just had a huge garage sale last Saturday.

Yet, there was something that rubbed me the wrong way about that particular post. It needed a disclaimer. If simplicity is the overarching theme of your blog/book/article/message, I personally believe you should start by at least identifying the most simple path to the goal. Just an acknowledgment will suffice.

It seems to me that the simplest way to get rid of something is to donate it or put it up for free and then walk away. No receipt.

Selling an item means figuring out the item's "worth", setting a price, negotiating a price, and arranging a time and place for conducting the transaction. This complicates matters. Requesting a receipt for a donation means identifying the object’s worth, filing or keep track of the info until it comes time to file your taxes, and then entering the info. The item has now left a little trail for you to follow - its imprint lives on. This complicates matters.

Again, I have nothing against getting money for stuff you don’t want. I do it all the time. But what is the purest form of decluttering? If I’m in a situation where simplicity is my driving motivation - it’s no-receipt donation.

Is it just me, or do we feel a rap coming on in that last sentence??

What do you think? Am I splitting hairs here? For me, it’s a definite mindset difference. It’s one thing to simplify your environment by decluttering. It’s another thing to simplify both your environement and your life while decluttering.

Plus, it’s just plain good practice at letting go.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Why Minimalism(ish?)

(originally posted as a Note on Facebook)

Our little family has undergone many changes over the last year. Some big changes - namely, Pete quitting his job in a bad employment market with no position lined up, then finishing his MBA and starting a new job in a new field. Some moderate changes - like dropping down to one car. And some small changes - like forgoing paper towels and a microwave (which now stores our toaster). I have also been reading a lot of blogs and books on simplicity (from toys to education to parenting to schedules), decluttering, and minimalism. As time goes on, these concepts and ideals influence our practical lives more and more. Really, at heart, Pete’s probably been there all along - it was me that needed the gradual convincing. We have not become complete minimalists by any means, but we may be moving in that direction ever so slowly. At any rate, as typically happens when life changes, priorities and values get re-examined.

Since I haven’t been very shy about sharing the process thus far, I find that a lot of people want to know WHY?. What is driving these decisions and actions? And, when I am asked, I feel like I can’t come up with the right answer for that person on the spot. So, I decided to type out some of my thoughts. Pete said he agrees with what I came up with. So here we go, in no particular order.

Why Minimalism(ish)?

  1. We are generally anti-consumerism and anti-marketing. We don’t want to get caught up in comparing ourselves to or keeping up with other people, nor with the prevailing culture of excess and waste. We want to take the focus off of what we own and instead focus on what we do.
  2. We believe that owning less and buying less keeps us in touch with what it means to have “enough.” It helps keep us closer to and more mindful of people who don’t have enough to meet their basic needs, as well as freeing up more financial resources to help.
  3. We want to spend less time researching, buying, working to pay for, cleaning, cleaning around, maintaining, fixing, and thinking about stuff - and to spend more time on people and relationships.
  4. We value living in the present. A lot of “stuff” is related to commemorating or hanging onto our past selves, trying to anticipate the future (oh but we “might need it someday!”) or something we aspire to be or do (our imaginary selves). Meanwhile, all that stuff is collecting dust and taking up space.
  5. We want the freedom to take opportunities and be spontaneous. Stuff and attachment to that stuff can be a physical and psychological “weight” that prevents us from seizing opportunities (i.e. following a passion - maybe a career in a different location and/or with less pay, living overseas, helping someone in need, etc).
  6. We don’t like clutter and we value empty space. We find this creates a peaceful environment that also inspires creativity and resourcefulness.
  7. We value community and even have some communal living ideals. We want to foster relationships with our friends and family in which people share more and individually consume/own less.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

No More Nightstands

I am disproportionately loving life without nightstands.

I should back up a bit. Pete and I have been purging our house of excess stuff. We decided that we don't particularly like stuff in general. But once you start this process, it's a bit difficult to stop. You begin to question everything. Do we really NEED that? What would life be like without it? It'd be kinda fun to find out, right? Heck, let's go for it!!!

Topics of simplicity, minimalism, decluttering, downsizing, etc. will definitely be part of this blog. However, I don't think they'll be the only themes - which is why I didn't call this blog "Rosie Declutters," catchy as it might be. But, more background on that later. Meanwhile, please allow me to tell you just a few of the reasons I'm loving my new no-nightstand lifestyle:

  1. No surface to collect clutter.
  2. No surface to collect dust.
  3. No lamp to dust or replace light bulb in or to use electricity or adjust crooked shade or knock over or break or fix or get the idea.
  4. No object to awkwardly vacuum around or behind.
  5. No corner to stub toe on or jab thigh into in the dark.
  6. No drawers to collect random stuff that has no business being there.
  7. Can easily reach the outlet it used to block. Especially handy for plugging in our phones at night, which double as alarm clocks.
  8. More space in the room.
  9. If/when we move, fewer items to deal with.
(x2. Because we had two of the darn things).

I read in The Joy of Less: A Minimalist Living Guide that the bedroom should be the least cluttered room in the house, and that everything contained therein should directly relate to sleeping or relaxing. Since then I've removed probably 75% of the items originally in the room, and now work the hardest (compared with the rest of the house) at keeping it free of clutter. It quickly became my favorite room in the house. By far. Interestingly, the kids seem to gravitate there more now as well.

How can YOU get in on the nightstand-less action? I'm so glad you asked.

How To Get Rid of Your Nightstands and Begin Disproportionately Loving Life:
  1. Make sure there are other ways to get enough light in the room, particularly if you read in bed. We already had a floor lamp in another part of the room that, with a little repositioning, gave us plenty of light.
  2. Clean out and clear off nightstand, making a pile of only absolutely essential items (i.e. limit yourself to one bedside book at a time).
  3. Put these essential items in a small bin or basket that can be tucked under your bed and easily accessed (better yet, choose the bin and let that limit and determine the items you can keep). Maybe one bin for each side of the bed if necessary.
  4. Post your nightstands and lamps on Craigslist as a package deal for a ridiculously low price. Ours were gone in about 30 minutes from time of posting. The key here - forget what you originally paid for them or how much they're worth. Only focus on what will make them go fast. The money isn't important and it's not the goal, it's just an added bonus. We posted our 2 lamps and 2 nightstands for $25 total. Then we ate at PF Changs Happy Hour and went to a gelato place for dessert and had money left over.
What's not to (disproportionately) love?

I should probably post pictures. I'm still a bit shy about that. I'm not a decorator (obviously) and I'm not a photographer (nor aspiring to be either one). But we'll see. Maybe when I get to know you a little better.

Here's some gelato.