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.

Monday, August 1, 2011

The Clipboard

Paper clutter (along with mental clutter!) is one of my biggest, if not my biggest, clutter nemeses. Over the past year I've been working on a system. It is ever-evolving. One aspect that I think will stick around for a long time, however, is The Clipboard.

Yes, by The Clipboard I mean an actual board and and an actual clip. Not a cool new piece of organizational software. Sorry 'bout that.

Allow me set the scene.

When I sort the mail or other papers that enter the house, here are my basic categories:
1. Recycle
2. Shred
3. File
4. Action

Recycling and shredding I try to tackle immediately, using my bins in the garage (before I come in the actual house.) After that, I'm usually left with some filing and action items. The items to be filed (not too many nowadays because I've become cut-throat in my shredding) I put near the filing cabinet and try to get to that as quickly as possible, if not immediately. Action items are things like bills or forms that need some sort of action from me before I can recycle/shred/file and move on with my life.

This is where The Clipboard comes in. On the top of my clipboard is my on-going to-do list. Under the to-do list, I clip any papers that require action. I like this system for the following reasons:

  1. I write the action items right on my to-do list when I clip the corresponding paper there. Feels very streamlined and helps me not forget.
  2. My to do list and the action items are always together. I have tried keeping an electronic to-do list, even on my smartphone, but I didn't like the disconnect between the list and the physical items that need to be dealt with, if that makes sense.
  3. I hang my clipboard on a hook in my pantry, thus eliminating the need for one more pile of papers on a surface. Flat surfaces are the enemy when it comes to curbing paper clutter.
  4. The clipboard physically limits how big my pile of action stuff can get before I feel forced to deal with it. A pile of papers on a surface is only limited by how tall it gets before it starts to topple over. Much bigger than what fits in a clip. And then that pile is prone to multiplying....
  5. My action pile is portable. I can take it all with me on my errands if necessary.

I have come a long way. For several years I just kept a box in my closet where I threw any paper I might need later. I was in denial that effectively dealing with paper was something that was going to take a degree of daily vigilance for the rest of my life. I finally made peace with this fact and got my files back in order in January. But I've never had a satisfactory system for action items. I had a manila folder for awhile, a box for awhile, but I hated it and inevitably ended up with generic piles of miscellaneous paper. Of course it's not 100% fail-safe, but this works so much better for me than other methods I've tried.

What works (or doesn't) for you?