Points of Privilege

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Note: This post is in the same series as The Toilet Paper Chronicles and Cowboys & Hankies. They can each be read independently, but if you would like more on the same topic, click the links.

Studies have shown that homelessness can cause anxiety and that people typically end up on one end of the spectrum or the other. The one end of the spectrum is hoarding. The other end of the spectrum is minimalism.

Hoarding makes sense on multiple levels. When you live in poverty, you often do not have the money or resources to be able to dispose of trash or other items. There is also a sense of urgency in procuring things and holding onto them “in case you need them.” Some people go from having absolutely nothing to wanting all the things.

I have a family member who falls into this category. Their house is quite literally filled with wall to wall, floor to ceiling stuff. It is all very clean and well maintained. They are constantly buying even more things. Their basement, attic and garage are all full to the brim. I refuse to go to this person’s house because it is too anxiety provoking for me.

Then, there is a smaller group that falls into minimalism. That is the group into which I fall. When I was homeless, it was very stressful trying to hold onto and keep track of your things, even if all that you had in the world was only enough for a paper grocery bag (yes, I lived like that at one time). I personally experience extreme anxiety when I am surrounded by a lot of things. I do not like being responsible for things. The things I do have, I keep nice. Too many things that I have to keep nice, maintain, and dispose of just drives me nuts.

There are points of privilege and points of loss in everyone’s life. For some, minimalism is a necessity. Like when I was homeless and everything fit into a paper grocery bag – that type of minimalism is a necessity. That is all the stuff you have in the world.

Then there is the form of minimalism in which I now engage that I feel is a privilege. It all comes down to economics, economics, economics.

Going in the same vein as The Toilet Paper Chronicles and Cowboys & Hankies, I did recently decide to order a set of ladies’ handkerchiefs from a maker on etsy. I have been doing quite well with the $4 handkerchiefs I had purchased at Walmart, but was having difficulty making 6 of them last a week until the next load of laundry.

I purchased a set of 10 beautifully handmade ladies’ handkerchiefs in a bunch of fun designs from etsy. These ones are also flannel cotton and much softer on my nose than the Walmart ones. In fact, the ones from etsy feel like heaven on my nose.

I realized this weekend that the fact that I had $20 to spend on cloth handkerchiefs is in itself a privilege. It is a good investment. With the money I am saving on paper facial tissues, the cloth hankies will pay for themselves in about 2-3 months.

However, it is that initial layout of cash that most people don’t have. As with the toilet paper scenario, with facial tissue, it feels cheaper to shell out $1 for a box of tissues when in fact that $1 is more expensive. It is that balancing act of having to live on a small finite amount of money.

I have the added benefit of the fact that I have room in the house to store a stack of (now 16) cloth handkerchiefs. I also have a washer and dryer to launder them on-site without having to trek to the laundromat. Someone living on the streets with all their belongings in a paper grocery sack or a back pack does not have any of these privileges.

I also recently decided that I want to try to use less paper towels. Paper towels are something I have to buy and spend money on. I am trying to decrease expenses. Sometimes, to decrease expenses, you have to have an initial outlay of cash and it can take months or years to see the benefits of your purchase.

In an effort to try to decrease my paper towel usage, I purchased microfiber cloths that I am using when I wash the windows. After I use a microfiber cloth, I can put it through the wash and it comes out clean again for reuse.  Now, the only thing I am using traditional paper towels for are cleaning the cat pan or anything else that is really gross. I just can’t bring myself to use cloth to clean really gross things.

My next task will be switching from paper napkins to cloth napkins, but that one may take a little bit. I am looking to buy cloth napkins from the same maker on etsy who made my cloth hankies.

Sometimes, when I think of minimalism, I ask myself: “What do I really need to survive?”

This is the extreme form of minimalism where people try to have fewer than 100 belongings or whatever can fit into a back pack. This form of minimalism works for some people. That’s great, but that’s not me.

Some people are forced into that type of minimalism by life circumstance.

For me minimalism is what do I need to survive plus what gives meaning to my life. Minimalism is not just about taking away, it is about what adds beauty to my existence here on Earth.

Of course, I try not to have frivolous things. But, I do. I’m sure we all do. Even if you live out of a back pack, I am sure you have even just one item that probably is not completely necessary to your survival, but is meaningful to you.

When I visit friends who have fewer things, I envy them. I get so overwhelmed being in this big house. I did not want a house this big, but this was the one that met all the requirements for the low income housing program I was in and I needed a way to keep my family together. So, here we are. One person and two cats rattling around in a huge space. The cats love it, of course.

I constantly look around thinking “do I really need that?” Do I want to clean that?

Then I realize that some of those people I envy live that way not by choice but by necessity. I am fortunate in that I have many privileges. But still, I think, I can get by with just a little bit less.

Even though I am on the minimalist spectrum after my homeless experiences, I do have some hoarding tendencies. As previously discussed, toilet paper is probably the biggest hoarding tendency I have. I always buy the  jumbo packs because they work out to be cheaper, and tend to get another one when there are 4-6 rolls left because I am so paranoid about going without after the childhood I had.

I still think there are things I can declutter on this minimalist journey. Sometimes, you reach a plateau. That’s ok. Right now, I think I’m taking a break from decluttering for a month or two. Mostly because it’s summer. When the weather is nice, I like to be outdoors as much as I can. Who wants to be stuck inside cleaning or decluttering?

For me, minimalism is a choice. I have over 1600 square feet that I could fill with stuff, but I purposefully choose not to do that. For me, minimalism is a point of privilege. I have the resources to take things I don’t want and dispose of them, recycle them, or donate them. I have a vehicle that I can use to take things out of my house as much as some people use their vehicle to buy things to haul to their home.

I have the convenience of an on site washer and dryer to be able to keep things clean and buy cloth items that can be reused so that my consumable expenses decrease.

What are the points of privilege in your life and how does that effect your minimalism journey?

That Crazy Cat Lady

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Clarence survived the winter. Big Tom is fearless and domineering. Lucy looks bedraggled. Dot is shy and easily bullied. Who are these people? These are the stories of the 9 Lives Gang. It sounds like a soap opera, but really its just that crazy cat lady.

I may not know all my human neighbors, but I know all of the cats and dogs in the neighborhood. It all started with Clarence last fall. The weather dipped down below zero, and he was still outside. What sort of evil person purposefully leaves their pet outside when it is that cold? I understand if the pet will not come inside or ran off, but who would let a pet outside in that knowingly?

Most cats, like Lucy and Dot, are neighborhood cats. I know where they live. I did not see them at all over the winter, because they stayed inside their houses, as it should be. Clarence is the only cat I saw outside consistently all winter. I am 95% certain that Clarence is homeless. He also acts way different than all the other neighborhood cats.

Then, there’s Big Tom, or Old Tom, as I call him sometimes. I’m not sure what his story is or if he has a home. Based on what I have seen of him and how he acts, I am 80% certain that Big Tom is homeless.

Yes, I am that crazy cat lady who names all the homeless cats. I leave out water bowls and food and made an outdoor cat shelter with insulation for winter.

Now, my main purpose in this was Clarence. It just was not right for him to be out in below zero temperatures this winter, so I started by making him an insulated outdoor cat shelter that sits on top of a wood pallet in my garage. I know that he used it because I found paw prints and bits of black hair inside. I like to think that I was a big part of how Clarence was actually able to survive the winter.

Now that the weather has cleared, I do not see Clarence as often. I’m sure he has expanded the geographic area he roams. Although, I got to know his patterns over the winter. Even when Clarence was using the outdoor cat shelter, he typically leaves early in the morning, shortly after first light. Clarence then typically reappears in the mid to late afternoon for a snack. He would go into the cat shelter after dark.

It’s possible he is keeping the same schedule. I see him sometimes. There is a lot going on outside this time of year. Jude and Simon and I have been having great fun bird watching.

So, yes, I am that crazy cat lady. Even though the neighborhood cats have homes, I am not sure what sort of care they get in their homes. Every animal needs food, water, shelter and LOVE. I always leave out bowls of water for all the cats, as I have heard that strays are often dehydrated. I still leave the cat shelter out even though it only gets down to 30 at night now just so that the cats have a safe place to go if they need it.

I watch Big Tom chase off Dot. I feel sorry that he chases her away, but she comes back when he is gone. Dot is very shy, but if she needs a drink of water, she should be able to access a bowl of fresh, clean water.

Lucy looked a little bedraggled the other day. She looked wet and muddy. It’s been raining a lot, but still, she can always go inside my garage or the cat shelter to stay dry if she is stuck outside in the rain and cannot get back into her house. She at least has the option of a dry, safe place even if she chooses not to use it.

Lucy is super friendly. She lives a few houses down and we joke that she is Jude’s girlfriend. He gets so excited when he sees her outside and she comes much closer to the house and the windows than any of the other outdoor cats. We also joke that Dot is Simon’s girlfriend. He gets all excited when he sees her. We don’t see her much because she is shy. I’m pretty sure she is also new. I don’t remember seeing her last fall.

Ever wonder what your outdoor cat does during the day? I’m sure if you have a crazy cat lady in your neighborhood, that she could tell you.

Lucy likes to lay in the flower bed in front of my garage and watch the birds visit the bird feeder. Dot likes to hide behind the bush in front of my house. When Clarence gets scared, he hides on top of the garage door (that is open – between the garage door and the ceiling). Big Tom sleeps on top of the extra house siding that is stored on the second floor of the garage. He won’t go in the cat shelter.

I’m sure they each have their own daily routine and that it differs depending on which property they are visiting at the moment.

My two cats are indoor only. They have a huge house to play in and I know they are safe. Not all cats are indoor only. For those that are outside, I try to make their lives a little bit easier. I can’t control what happens to them, but I can at least provide them with a dry, safe place to rest that has fresh water if they choose to visit.  I’m happy that Clarence at least made it through the winter. I figure that anything beyond that is out of my hands.

The stereotype of that crazy cat lady is always someone older in a robe and curlers going out with a pan of food for 15 cats. Ever think that the reason why she is doing that is because no one else will step up to care for these animals? Truthfully, if people were responsible pet owners they would spay/neuter and keep their animals indoors or at least bring them in at night. Every pet deserves love and attention. No one deserves to be constantly caged or left outside without human interaction.

Pet ownership is a life long commitment. It’s like having a human child. Some people don’t seem to get this. Dogs can live 10-15 years; indoor cats can live 15-20 years. When you adopt an animal, you adopt for life. That is a long commitment. It is not just about the adorable puppy or kitten phase. You cannot just push your pet over to the side and completely neglect their care when you are having a personal crisis in your life.

Pets are living, caring beings who depend on people for much of their survival. You can’t just leave a pet outside to fend for itself when it is used to depending on you. The only thing that they ask for is love and we all know that they give so much love in return. Being loved by a pet is the greatest honor I have ever known in life.

So, yes, I am that crazy cat lady. I hope that you all love your pets, and even if your cat is indoor/outdoor that you are showing them affection when they come inside for the night. If you’re ever curious about what they get up to when they are out and about, ask your local crazy cat lady. We tend to watch out for them when they are on our property. I call my bunch the 9 Lives Gang.

Ferals in the Neighborhood

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Jude and Simon love looking out windows. They are avid bird watchers. One of the things I knew we would miss when moving from the apartment to the house was the sliding glass door that was on the second floor apartment. The cats loved looking out this and watching all the birds in the trees.

Even though there is no sliding glass door in the house, the cats are enjoying all of the windows just the same. We have finally settled into a routine and I have identified Simon’s favorite window and Jude’s favorite window. When I identified Jude’s favorite window, I took the cat tree and put it in front of it. The cat tree was in front of the sliding glass door in the apartment, so now it is in front of Jude’s favorite window in the house. Simon’s favorite window in the house already has an ample perch for him to bird watch. (He sits on a chair.)

Something new that we have all noticed outside since moving to the neighborhood are outdoor cats. The apartment was on a very busy highway and all cats were indoor only. We never saw any outdoor cats at the apartment. There are many outdoor cats in the neighborhood at our new house.

I have pretty much been able to figure out which cat goes to which house. I may not know all the human neighbors, but I know all the neighborhood cats and roughly where they belong.

There is one cat that I jokingly call Jude’s girlfriend. We will call her “Lucy.” When Jude sees Lucy out the window, he gets really still and intent. He watches her closely. If she is walking down the sidewalk and leaves his frame of view, he will race to the next window just to see her. He does not seem agitated or aggressive, just very, very interested. Lucy seems interested in Jude too. The closest she has come to looking at him through the window is our front steps.

There are other cats Jude sees out the window, who must be male. Jude puffs all up and growls. Sometimes he even turns around and growls at Simon because he cannot take out his aggression on the outdoor cat.

There is one cat in particular that upsets Jude and he continuously takes it out on Simon. Simon is black and white. He is pretty much equally black and white. The outside cat in question is also black and white, except this cat is almost all black with just a little white on his chest. I think Jude gets confused because the outside cat looks so much like Simon and then takes out his aggression on his brother. We will have to work on that.

We have already had well over a foot of snow and days below zero. As winter has progressed, I have noticed that I do not see the outdoor cats anymore. They are being kept inside their houses, which is great. They should be inside when it is negative 12 out.

The one exception is this black cat with the little bit of white on him who absolutely pisses Jude off when he sees him outside. Since I have gotten sick of just referring to him as the outside cat, I am calling him “Clarence.”

I am pretty sure Clarence is homeless. Like genuinely homeless.

He is the only cat in the neighborhood I still see outside in bad weather. He is outside all the time. I see his footprints in the snow all over.

As the temperature has plummeted, I am concerned. I see him huddled in places.

My garage door is open year round. There isn’t really anything in the garage except garden rakes, snow shovels and the garbage can. I firmly believe that a garage is for parking my car inside not for storing stuff. I refuse to be one of those Americans who has a garage so full of stuff that you can’t fit the vehicle inside. I have a hard time putting the garage door up and down, so I just leave it up. Apparently the prior homeowner did the same.

The point is, my garage door is up, and I noticed that Clarence would dash inside to hide from the elements. It makes sense. It’s probably one of the easiest shelters for him to find.

I probably shouldn’t have done this – I’m either a sucker or just a soft heart, but I went online and read about feral cat shelters. I strongly dislike the idea of Clarence being outside in such frigid weather. I’ve been homeless myself and I know how much winter sucks without permanent shelter.

I made a feral cat shelter out of a storage tote, some styrofoam, and one of my old space blankets from a marathon. These are the blankets they drape on us after a race to retain heat. They work. The website said to use straw, but I couldn’t find any. It said not to use blankets or towels because they retain moisture, but I did put a fleece blanket inside in lieu of the straw.

I put the cat shelter up on a pallet in the garage to keep it off the cold concrete floor. I have no idea if Clarence actually goes inside for warmth or not, but I feel better knowing it is there as an option for him.

On the days the thermometer has dipped below zero, I took one of my microwaveable rice bags, heated it and put it inside the shelter twice a day.

People have been saying that I will now never get rid of him. Some people say I should just let him in the house. My thought is that I don’t want him in the house. I am okay with him outside. I already have two cats and they are all I can deal with as far as family members. Ideally, I would like to either trap, neuter, release (TNR) or trap and take him to a shelter. We will see.

Part of the reason why I think he is truly homeless is that he is very skittish. He runs away. The only time I see him is through the window. If I am outside or open the door, he runs away. He is either not used to humans period or was/is abused. All of the other neighborhood cats are friendly. They will at least walk past you on the sidewalk and some will even rub up on your legs if you let them. Clarence is not friendly. At all. He is also the only neighborhood cat still outside in all weather and temperatures.

The other thing I noticed was Clarence licking my front steps for water. I felt bad. So, sucker again, I set out a water bowl. I just don’t think any human or animal should have to go without water. That’s not right.

I figured that if I am wrong about Clarence being a boy, that I would just call the girl Clare. Clarence is the name of the angel in the Wonderful Life movie. However, I am pretty certain Clarence really is a boy. His footprints are rather large, plus Jude strongly dislikes him.

The other reason why I am pretty sure Clarence is a boy is that someone sprayed (peed on) one of the snow shovels outside. I am pretty sure it was Clarence. I don’t think he has been fixed. While I am not sure if he is actually using the cat shelter or not, it is pretty clear that he is marking that space as his “territory.”

This whole experience of outdoor cats is new to me. My cats are indoor only because they are beloved family members and I would be too worried if they went outside. Various people tell me not to feed them or whatever because then you won’t get rid of them. But if they are truly homeless, shouldn’t we try to help somehow? Trap, neuter, release (TNR) to reduce the homeless cat population or trap and take to an animal shelter to be adopted. I cannot take strays into my home, but I can at least help support the homeless population. I can’t just leave them outside to dehydrate and freeze.

Right now the only homeless cat in question is Clarence. I have read about feral colonies on the internet. There is not currently a colony here. All the other outside neighborhood cats appear to have houses. Except this one.

Isn’t that what life is all about? Trying to change the life or make a difference in the life of one person? I’m just trying to offer resources to a homeless cat to survive the winter. I am pretty sure that he would survive without my help, but as someone who has experienced homelessness in my own life, I just can’t stand by and watch.

Do you have feral cats in your neighborhood? Any experience with building outside cat shelters? How do you interact with homeless cats?