Thursday, September 6, 2012

My Top 5 Tips for a Less Cluttered-Looking Home

Everyone knows #1 and #2.  Take it to the next level by adopting #3, 4 and 5.
  1. Own less stuff. This is always takes precedence over “organizing” your stuff.  The Container Store is not your friend.  Before you run out to buy an "organizing" tool to contain something you feel you must keep, try getting rid of something else and using the remaining space you've gained differently.  But with that said...
  2. Everything you own must have its own home – a place where it belongs and can always go back to – down to the tiniest random thing.  And unless it’s on display for its aesthetic value or has a specific purpose for being out all the time, this home is not just “out” on a shelf or something.  It’s away, - in a drawer, cabinet, box, etc - unseen.  When in a room, you should not be looking at anything that doesn’t have a specific function or beauty exactly where it is.
  3. No appliances permanently stored on the kitchen counter - even if it’s rather large or you use it every day, like a coffee maker.  And even if you do end up keeping it out most of the time, at least keep a specific place for it that’s “away” for the times you want it away (i.e if you're cleaning the counters or expecting company).  If you think it’s too inconvenient to be constantly getting stuff in and out, just try it.  Put all your small appliances away for a couple days, getting them out only when used, and see how you feel.  You might get addicted.
  4. No toys stored (visibly) in the main living area.  This doesn’t mean kids can’t play with stuff here.  Just make sure every toy’s “put-back-place” is in the kids’ room or playroom or a closet or whatever you have.  If you must store them in the main living area, find something you can completely close so you don’t have to look at them.  Visible toys will almost always look like clutter.
  5. Cut down on surface areas by rethinking the type of furniture you own.  Adopt a “defense is the best offense” mentality with surface areas.  Surfaces are the biggest clutter magnet in your home, so why not try to eliminate or shrink some of them?  You can make a trade by selling one piece of furniture and getting something with the same function but a smaller surface area instead.  Anytime you’re considering a furniture purchase, think about what type of surface area it will create.  In the market for a new computer desk?  Try to find one with the smallest surface area possible for what you need.  Opt for tall furniture with a not-as-reachable top so you’ll be less likely to plop things down on it.  Opt out of other unnecessary surfaces.  For example, we don’t own nightstands – use a ceiling or floor lamp and a small plastic bin or basket tucked under your bed for whatever else you absolutely need within reach. 
Even that tiny space beside my computer attracts clutter! (I only moved it for the picture.  In retrospect, my point would have been better made if I'd left it.  You'll have to imagine a random cord, 2 bits of paper, and some pistachio shells)

Saturday, May 26, 2012

We Can't Afford It - Or Can We?

A friend of mine brought up the topic of summer camps other day.  Like many middle class parents we know, her goal is to book the kids up with camps, so the kids stay busy and the parents stay sane.

In the past we've enrolled our kids in camp, maybe one week out of the summer for 1-3 hours a day that week.  A couple years ago, my best friend and I decided to put on our own soccer camp to save money, and so our younger kids could participate along with their older siblings.

Camps cost money, and when I consider all-summer-long camps for two kids, my first instinct is to tell myself, "We can't afford that."  But it bothers me when people say, "We can't afford it."  It could be anything - from a new car or a vacation, to smaller splurges like eating out or a buying certain toy or and outing for the kids.  Sure, sometimes this is absolutely true.  For an extreme example, I can't afford to go buy a jet.  I literally and objectively do not have enough money.

I just think, in general, we throw that phrase around too loosely.  In many cases, for the smaller items or activities, if we reworked our finances, made sacrifices, saved, planned, and budgeted carefully, we could totally afford whatever it is.  Sometimes this is even true for the "big" stuff.  If it was a priority, we could do it.  If it was that important to me, I could send my kids to summer camp every day all day for the entire summer.  I won't delve into the reasons why this is not a priority for me and why I'd rather spend my money on something else, but the point is, objectively speaking, I have enough money - it IS possible.  To say we can't afford it feels an awful lot like a lie.

I know I'm splitting hairs, but I prefer the phrase, "It's not in my budget right now."  To me, this statement at least implies a sense of forethought and flexibility of thinking.  A budget can be reworked and revised, with money shuffled in any number of ways, as long as it comes out balanced in the end.   If you wanted to go even stronger, you could say, "I'd rather spend my money on something else," - but although true, I think this would come across as rude.  However, to at least THINK that phrase to yourself the next time you're contemplating a purchase is much less defeatist and much more empowering.   Really, it's just less whiny.

On a related note, my husband has always had a similar issue with with the phrase, "I'm too busy."  People often say they are too busy for something, but what they really mean is that it's not a high priority.  We actually mean we have not budgeted time for it, but rather we have given that time to something else that is more important in our eyes instead.  If we reworked our "time budget," in most cases, we could make the time.

What would be a good alternate phrase for "I'm too busy."  Is "it's not a priority for me right now" too strong?  How about, "It's not in my time budget?"

I'll think about it.  Meanwhile, enjoy these photos of Homemade Soccer Camp 2010.  Because you have to admit, they're pretty cute.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Heavy vs. Hovering

When we tell our friends that we are moving to Europe, a frequent comment is, “Wow, how fortunate you had already been minimizing and getting rid of so much stuff!”  And they are correct.  The move will be much simpler because of it, and we will be able to easily fit everything we own into small European living quarters.

But the nuance that many overlook is that a big part of a reason we are making this move is BECAUSE we simplified and downsized.  It’s not just a nice coincidental side benefit.  Rather, it’s actually one of the key causes of the move in the first place.

I believe it’s all about attitude and state of mind, which is backed up by your “physical” life.  It’s about the direction in which your life is already pointing.

So, humor me for a couple minutes.  Picture a 2500 square foot house (about average these days in the U.S. – can you believe it?).  Picture it full of stuff.  Not excessive, hoarder-level stuff—just the typical U.S. household.  Multiple couches, beds, dressers full of clothes, bookshelves full of books, entertainment centers and equipment, 2 or more cars, recreational equipment, bins of decorations for various holidays, kids toys and gear, house and yard care equipment, rarely used "formal" or "spare" rooms with rarely used furniture, etc.

When I picture this dwelling, these are the words and feelings that fill my senses:

Dug in
Pointing down, into the ground

Now picture a house maybe ½ that size.  Picture very sparse furniture, and none of it very heavy (i.e. beds with just a frame, no large, heavy head and foot boards).  Picture it containing relatively limited amounts of the items in the larger house, such as extensive holiday decorations, bookshelves, dressers, multiple cars, and lots of stuff in indefinite “storage” in the garage.

(bedroom = a bed room.  period.)

(Now for those of you who are already thinking “bland and boring,” I’ll just quickly interject one of my favorite quotes: "Minimalism may appear plain and boring to begin with, but that is only true when your view of life is limited to physical possessions.")

Anyhow, when I picture this second dwelling, these are the words and feelings that fill my senses:

Free space
Pointing outward, upward

The more (and heavier) physical possessions you acquire, the more you physically entrench yourself where you are.  I’m not typically a “new age” sort of gal, but I really believe it’s a life energy you embody.  I am in no way saying that a person or family with a big house and a lot of heavy stuff doesn’t move overseas (or whether they should or shouldn’t).  It happens all the time.

I just think it’s often slower and harder.  You have more to “lose,” and you have to sort of dig yourself out of where you are so heavily planted to look up and out, before you see or open yourself to the possibility.  You may not even think it’s possible, or focus primarily on the reasons it’s not.  You may casually hope that it would “happen to you.”  But you must make the transition from looking downward and inward to looking upward and outward, and there’s some inertia that accompanies the physical heaviness of your life that you must overcome to do so.  And even if you do go, you may find that you can’t bring everything you own; you must leave some of its girth and bulk behind.  But you “might need it again someday,” so its weight stays with you and you can never fully detach from it.

All I’m saying is that minimalism and this move are connected more intimately than you might think.  We didn’t wish an opportunity to move overseas would someday “happen to us.”  We were already ready.  We were looking outward.  We were open.  We had little to risk and much to gain.  We were light, floating—ready to seize an opportunity at a moment’s notice.  We were hovering.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Curly Girl

I read this book and it changed my life.

And it was about hair.

I've read a few books that have changed my life, actually. But hair? Silliness, right?

I've never been overly concerned with my outward appearance. As a child and even a teenager, I was a tomboy. My careers as a teacher and then stay-at-home mom, while demanding, never demanded high fashion. In my thirties I've displayed a bit more effort figuring out how to be a grown up. I've worked a little on my wardrobe and on wearing real makeup for grown up women every once in awhile. I exercise. Sure, I go through phases of more heightened vanity, and the occasional boredom-inspired bout of "caring," but ultimately I've gotta be on the low end of the spectrum when it comes to maintenance of my looks. Just don't care enough to spend the time and money to look anything beyond "presentable," at least at this stage of my life (she says as the TV cameras swoop in for horrific surprise makeover).

I've occasionally blow-dried my hair straight over the years, and I've experimented with a flat-iron in the last few months. And I tend to get compliments on my hair when it's straight (and I admit I feel a slight twinge of sadness when that happens). I'll often straighten it if I know an important photo will be taken. Because, with curly hair, and as only a curly girl can testify, you just never know.

Suffice it to say, the real F-word is "Frizz."

If you have curly hair, or even a bit wavy hair, and especially if you have a daughter with curly hair, you must read this book. Even if you decide not to follow the hair-care instructions exactly*, the overall message is important: Stop trying to make your hair into something it's not. Embrace what it is as beautiful, and treat it tender care. Ditch the blow-dryers and flat-irons and chemical relaxers (and even combs and regular shampoos!) and begin treating your hair the way curly hair likes to be treated. Even occasionally dabbling in that stuff will only set you back. With patience, allow your curly hair to become the best curly hair it can be, and be a good role model for the other curly girls in your life by accepting it joyfully.

So, in the end, hair is hair. It doesn't define who we are or our worth. But we can all do a better job accepting ourselves, both outside and in.

I can get behind that.

*they've been working very well on my hair for the past couple weeks!