Clean Slate

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Many beginning minimalists will hear the advice that if you are unsure about getting rid of something, put it in a box for 3 months, then get rid of it. This is great advice for people who are scared about getting rid of something for whatever reason.

Unfortunately, this method doesn’t really work for me. When I put something in a box, I won’t remember what is in the box come next week. I don’t really need to keep it for 3 months. I have yet to declutter or get rid of something and then miss it after it was gone. I cannot tell you how many items I have gotten rid of or what left because I really don’t remember. Poor memories and ignorance are both forms of bliss.

When I moved into the house, I have double the space I had in the apartment. My community has a huge garage sale event the first weekend in June. I had started putting decluttering boxes in one of my empty rooms to store them for this garage sale weekend.

These boxes have frustrated me all winter. When I go into that room to clean, seeing them there stresses me out.

When I thought about the logistics of a garage sale, I honestly have no idea what is a reasonable price to put on an item. I also really don’t care. I was thinking of doing a “pay what you will” sale where people could take an item and pay what they feel it is worth (and if you need an item and take it for free, that is okay too). However, the more I thought about it, I was worried that people would think I was weird.

Not only that, but participating in this sale would monopolize an entire weekend of my time. Do I really want to spend an entire weekend holding a garage sale or a pay what you can sale? No, I do not.

I ended up taking all the boxes to their appropriate donation locations. One box went to the animal shelter (see Dog Gone Down), several boxes went to the Salvation Army, and one box went to a local Boy Scout fundraiser/call for supplies.

Now that all the boxes are gone, I feel so much better.

I feel like I have a clean slate again to be able to move forward in my decluttering journey. I literally and figuratively got rid of that which was holding me down.

The ultimate goal for the upstairs of my house is to have the spare bedroom with closet in use, the bathroom with closet in use, and then two empty bedrooms with empty closets. Part of this is because the stairs in my house have been challenging for me. I have been falling down a lot.

The upstairs bathroom is the only bathroom in the house. I can’t get around that. If I have one bedroom upstairs as a spare, then I am prepared for any company who may decide to visit and stay over. I pretty much live downstairs and stay downstairs. What is supposed to be the dining room is actually my bedroom. I have a large eat-in kitchen, so the dining room is in no way a loss. I really need to minimize reasons to go upstairs. The cats are up there more than I am.

Getting rid of the boxes I don’t need gives me the opportunity to settle into the house more and organize it how I want it to be organized. I have only been in the house for 7 months, and I still have moments when I can’t find things because I don’t remember where I put something in the new house. I can tell you where the item was located when I was in the apartment, but good luck finding things here sometimes.

Each person’s decluttering journey is different. If it is helpful to you to put something in a box and then wait 3 months to get rid of it, then do that. For me, it is beneficial to get rid of boxes shortly after they are full. I pretty much held onto these boxes all winter and they drove me completely nuts.

I am also still in the process of settling into my house. It’s going to take time for this house to truly feel like home and for me to establish exactly where everything’s place is located. The nice part of this clean slate is that I literally have the rest of my life to figure it out. I’m not moving again, so I’ll be dying in this house.

I have the advantage of achieving this clean slate by moving into a new location. If you do not have that privilege, you can achieve the allusion of a clean slate by reverse minimizing.

Sometimes you have to empty an entire room to figure out exactly what you want to have in it. If it is too difficult to subtract by decluttering, try emptying an entire room and then only add what you love. This exercise mimics moving. When you move to a new location, you are starting with a blank canvas – a clean slate – and adding your stuff.

Oh, the psychological tricks we play in our journeys to simplicity.

Use whatever works for you. The goal is to have more time for the people and things in life that are truly important to you. Whether you decide to add or subtract, to get rid of boxes immediately or wait, it’s your choice. Our goal is the same, but the journey is different.

What methods do you find helpful in decluttering?

Home is Where the Cats Are

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Jude in the new house Christmas 2018

Many people get upset and emotional when they move from a place where they lived for a long time. It’s understandable. There was a lot of living done and may memories created when we stay in one place for a long time.

You would think that I would have had an emotional reaction when I moved out of the apartment I had lived in for 14 years. It was the longest I had ever lived in one place and the only place I lived that ever truly felt like home.

The second day I was in the house, I had a single moment of meltdown. I remember sitting on the bed in the new house, tired, dirty, drained, and stressed, crying because I wanted to go home and didn’t know where that was. Ten minutes later the moment passed, and I continued with unpacking boxes and getting settled into the house. That was the only “moment” I’ve had.

When some people move to a new location after living someplace for a long time, they will have a moment of confusion when driving and accidentally drive towards the “old house” before realizing that they have to take a new way home now. I’ve heard of this happening, but have never experienced it myself. From day one of when I moved, it was pretty clear to me where I was supposed to be.

I always return to where ever my cats are. I knew exactly where my cats were, so that’s where I go, no question. Home is where the cats are.

Within two hours of closing on my house, I moved the cats. The cats moved first before anything else.

I know that when moving with pets, this is counter intuitive. You are not supposed to move the pets first. You are supposed to move them last so that they do not get lost. In my case, I had to move them first before I even gave notice to the landlord that I was leaving. I had to be sure that the cats were safe and stably housed, since they were part of the “problem” for a landlord who was going pet-free.

Once the cats were in the house, this is just where I return. Every day. Every time I go out.

I think this is part of why I am NOT emotional over the whole move. Other than my one “moment,” which I think was mostly exhaustion and frustration from the move (who wouldn’t be exhausted and frustrated when moving?), I haven’t had any other break downs over the move.

I moved and did not look back. Yes, the situation was unfortunate. I am mostly mad at the circumstances of the move – that it was a forced move and not something of my own volition. However, the goal in that hellish situation was always to keep my family together. By purchasing a home, I have been able to keep the three of us together. That’s all that really matters.

People ask me if I like the house. I like it well enough. It is taking some time to get used to. It does not feel like “home” yet. That will come in time. I hate the stairs – I never wanted a two story house. I love my kitchen. It’s my favorite kitchen I’ve ever had anyplace I have lived or ever seen anywhere.

What is most important, is that the cats are happy here. They each have their favorite window for optimal bird viewing. I am so happy there are birds here for them to watch, as that was one of their favorite activities in the apartment. They seem to be happy. They both cuddle with me.

Jude has been spending a lot of time rolling around and on his back. He did that a little bit in the apartment, especially when I first adopted him. Jude likes to roll. However, I noticed on Christmas that he was so happy over one of his presents that he laid on his back with all his legs in the air. I’ve seen him do that a few times in the new house. He never did that in the apartment. I’m thinking he must like the new house if he is that comfortable here to expose himself like that.

Over the past 4 months we have been in the house, Jude spends less and less time hiding in the kitchen cupboard. In fact, the only time I see him go in there now is when someone comes to visit. Sometimes, he doesn’t even go in the cupboard, he finds other places to hide. The fact that Jude is so comfortable in the house that he no longer hides in the cupboard on a regular basis speaks volumes.

Simon is happy every place. This is the cat that even purrs at the vet office when getting his rabies vaccine. Nothing seems to phase Simon. Except thunderstorms. We discovered this summer that Simon is terrified of thunderstorms.

We are still getting settled into the house. We are getting into new routines and moving things around. We are all together, and that is what is most important.

I literally could have lived anywhere. Given the situation when the new landlord took over the apartment building last spring, I was fully prepared to be homeless again and was trying to figure out how to live in my car or an RV or someplace with both cats. I’m really glad that it did not come to that, but I was literally prepared to live anywhere with them. We are a family and we have to stay together.

So while it doesn’t really matter where we live as long as we are all together, this house is by far the nicest place we have ever lived. It’s home because this is where my cats are located. I come home to them every night.

As long as Jude and Simon like the house, then I’m happy.

Home is where the cats are.

15 years and 6 hours

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Christmas lights at the library

Even though I try really hard to be a minimalist and only have what I absolutely need, it still took me 6 hours to move into my house. It was overwhelming. Granted, I had lived in the same location for 14 years, so it basically took me one day to move 14 years worth of stuff. I suppose that’s good. It was still overwhelming.

I had the thought that the next time I move, it better not take 6 hours. It better be closer to 2-3 hours. However, I won’t be moving again. I bought a house. I’ll be dying here.

I suppose that is why so many homeowners have so much stuff. It’s that feeling of comfort that this place is your’s, so why not store something? There is no need to get rid of things if you have a place to put it. Then, we wonder why we are surrounded by so much stuff.

The point is, even if you do own your own home, when you die, you can’t take it with you. Some relative is going to be left with the chore of going through all the stuff stored in your house that you didn’t want to deal with when you were alive. Newsflash: your relatives won’t want to deal with it when you’re dead either.

So even in my house, I’m still striving to be a minimalist so that I am not leaving a heap of crap when I die. I also do not want to be wasting my time cleaning or keeping house.

Someone tried to give me a lamp a few months ago. I took one look at it and thought “no way in hell do I want to have to clean that.” My mouth said “no thank you.” In reality, do I need a lamp? Nope. I have enough interior lighting.

Having less stuff means less to clean when you’re alive and less to get rid of when you die. I like both of those ideas.

Christmas vacation will be coming up, and I will be continuing my decluttering process. Now that I am in permanent housing – my own home – what do I really need? Not to mention that I have more built-in storage space. I can probably get rid of an entire bookcase simply by putting the items into some of the house’s existing space. It’s my space to be used. It’s not like I need the bookcase for some future dwelling when this is the last stop.

One of the positives about being a minimalist is that it is not all about what you are removing from life. It is about removing things from life to focus on other things. In fact, you can even upgrade things.

Here’s an example. About 5 years ago, I bought a set of dishes from the second hand store. I’m pretty sure I paid about $5 for a set of 4 bowls and 4 plates. I’m one person. That’s all I need. I love the dishware, but many of the bowls now have chips in them. I can’t really complain about $5 dishware. I’m sure that prior to my use, they probably served someone else quite well for a decade with no chips. But, now my bowls are chipped. I noticed it when I cut a finger on one.

One of the benefits of minimalism is that since I am not up to my eyeballs in debt (I don’t do hardly any shopping), I can spend money on quality dishware. Five years ago I spent $5 on dishware because I only had $5. All my money was going to this credit card bill or that bill or whatever.

Now, I have no debt as a minimalist, so I can go wild and pay $5 a plate if I want. And then some.

I decided to try Fiestaware. I bought one plate and one bowl. If I like them, then I will order more so I have a set of 4 bowls and 4 plates. However, Fiesta is expensive, so I am ordering pieces gradually. I view this purchase as an investment in my future. I have permanent housing. I need permanent dishware that’s not cracked and cutting me. I figure I should be able to get a good 15 years at least out of the Fiestaware. I’ve heard some people have pieces from 30-50 years ago.

I never in my life thought I would be paying $15 for a lunch plate. But estimating that it will last me 15 years makes it worth it. The fact that minimalism has realigned my priorities means that when I do have to replace something, I can afford higher quality items that will last longer.

I’m expecting to live in this house until I die. Hopefully the Fiestaware will be the last set of dishes I buy too.

My single Fiesta bowl and single Fiesta plate just arrived today. We will see how I like them before I order more. Of course, if everything works out, I’ll be ordering more bowls before I order more plates since it is my current bowls with chips that are causing troubles.

When deciding on dishware, I decided to avoid the second hand store this time. I love the second hand store, but I do not want to buy another set of dishes that will only last me 5 years. I want dishware that will last me 15 years.

I had narrowed down my choices to either Corelle or Fiestaware. I currently have a few Corelle bowls. In the house, there are water dishes for the cats both upstairs and downstairs. I had to buy more bowls to put water dishes upstairs and it just so happens that they are Corelle. I like Corelle. However, the idea of being able to mix and match colors with Fiestaware was very appealing.

We will see whether I ultimately decide to go with Corelle or Fiesta once I have had the opportunity to use the Fiesta. Corelle is more affordable, but Fiesta feels more substantial and oh, those colors.

Given that I am buying new dishes, you would think I’m not really concerned about the whole having to move in 6 hours thing. This is partially true. I like to think that when I die, whoever goes through my house would be happy with 4 Fiesta bowls and 4 Fiesta plates. Let’s keep it real.

I would like to get rid of things so that it would take less than 6 hours to move, but I still need stuff to use to survive. Plus, I’m not moving again. Hopefully whoever has to clean out my house after I die will be able to do it in less than 6 hours. At least they’ll have some fancy dishware to show for it.

Midlife Anti-Crisis

WP_20180902_14_28_45_Pro.jpgAbove: I have the best and most blinged-out mailbox on the block thanks to my friends.

The midlife crisis is a way to rage against complacency, stagnation and stability. Tales of shiny red corvettes, new hair styles and relationships embody the stereotypical midlife crisis. Midlife is typically the time when you “arrive” in life – you are well-established in your profession, are comfortable in your mortgage, and are raising a family with a long-term partner. The midlife crisis is a way to shake up the hum drum of the everyday.

I’m here to tell you that I am NOT having a midlife crisis. I’m having a midlife ANTI-crisis.

Remember my housing crisis (genuine crisis) I have been having since May 2018? Well, here we are in September 2018 and I have effectively solved my housing situation.

I bought a house. #Boom. #ProblemSolved

I have never even lived in a house in my life and now I own one. Over the course of my life, I’ve gone from homeless to home owner.

While most people my age are trying to shake things up a bit, I am looking for stability and a sense of permanence. I needed a place to live that I could afford and keep my family together. Since the new landlord that bought my apartment building raised the rent to well over 60% of my income and is going pet-free, I needed a place to live.

All the rentals in my area are “no pets.” Or, they only allow one pet. Would you be able to choose which of your children to put up for adoption in order to keep your housing? Me neither. We are a family and we stay together.

The only viable option for me to be able to keep my family together was to buy a house and I have done so. By the way, my mortgage (including taxes and insurance) is almost $400 a month LESS than what the new landlord was going to charge me in “market rate” rent.

I’m going to live in this house until I die. While most people are bored with life, I’m just getting started. This is my midlife anti-crisis.

We just moved in last Thursday and have been here less than one week. Within the first 24 hours of home ownership, I already had an “idiot call” to the plumber. I broke down sobbing one night at bedtime saying I wanted to go home, but didn’t know where that was. I have used every tool in both my toolboxes. I don’t know the names of the tools, but I know what they do and I have used them all.  

I have a real mailbox with a real flag for the first time in my life. I have curbside garbage pickup for the first time too. I have more cuts, bruises and sore muscles that I have ever had in any of my 15 marathons.

I have been on vacation from work during this, and have pretty much “vacationed” at Lowe’s – I’ve been there every day. Some days, I’ve been there twice. I have been amazed at what I can fit in my 4-door sedan, and humbled by the many people who have been helping me and checking on me.

I successfully assembled a lawn mower and used it. I bought an old fashioned push mower. I only have .11 worth of grass to be in charge of. I mowed my own lawn for the first time. Mowing a lawn is some level of hell Dante forgot to mention in his inferno, but now that it’s done for the week, it’s kind of comical. One of my neighbors came out to check on me, and I could not tell from his reaction whether he was laughing inside, genuinely concerned about my efforts or both, but I’m sure I amused the neighborhood.

I have a detached garage and this was my first time in 24 years of driving that I have had a garage in which to park my car. Someone came to visit me while I was assembling the lawn mower, and I texted them to say I was “in the garage.” Hey, it was exciting to me.

I have a front porch where I’m writing now. I don’t think I have sat down for 4 days straight. I have plenty of chairs for all the people who have been helping and visiting. If it weren’t for my friends, I would not have been able to laugh through any of this.

Simon is adjusting slowly but surely. Jude has not left the kitchen cabinetry. I’m sure it will take time. I don’t think they realize what I had to go through to keep us all together. I was so scared that if this had not worked out, we would have been living in the car (again). We finally were able to escape anti-pet greedy people.

My goal is to get settled by the end of this week so that next week we can get into some sort of regular home owning family routine. The past week has literally been the ride of my life. I never thought I would own a home. I’m just happy that I was able to keep the family together.

While everyone else is having a midlife crisis, I am happily learning the positives and negatives of home ownership. Based on my first few days, I can tell you that this is one of the hardest things I have ever done. Hopefully, it will be worth it.

So far, it’s already worth being away from the toxic situation I endured with the new landlord over the past few months. It’s scary to think of all the responsibility that comes with a house, but at the same time, I get all the rewards.

So far, the time I spend on my new front porch with friends is the best time ever. It almost makes up for the fact that I sacrificed my camping trip, marathon, and summer beach days. Almost.

I have a lot to learn on this new journey. Instead of shunning responsibility, I am embracing it. This is my midlife anti-crisis.

Welcome home.

 

Closets, Clothes & Packing For A Move

The kids are ready to go! Destination and moving day unknown.

My closets are the cleanest and most organized part of my house. This probably seems like an oxymoron and I’m sure you hate me right now. For most people, the opposite is typically true. Closets are usually the most cluttered and messiest part of a room. Company coming over? Gather items in your arms and shove them in a closet – instant space and instant closet mess.

I’ve been downsizing for a while now, and I got to a point where everything has its own place. When every item has a place to live, you don’t feel cluttered anymore. It’s only when things are overflowing that we tend to feel cluttered. This also means that we have a tendency to adapt to our space.Your stuff evolves to fit the space in which you live. Bigger space, means more stuff. Smaller space, you need less stuff. It’s all about balance.

For me, my closets became organized because I have been ruthlessly decluttering for years now. Every object has a place. Items in my closet have been culled and are there for a specific purpose.

My coat closet contains my winter coats (2), snow pants, boots, storage bin of hats, gloves, scarves and snow tires. My linen closet contains towels, sheets, cleaning supplies, and a box of toiletries. I do place large orders of toiletries in “bulk” as everything from shampoo to lotion has to be special ordered from one company due to my allergies. You would not believe how many toiletry items contain almond oil so I have to special order everything to be nut-free. Aveeno body lotion sent me into full anaphylactic shock one time, but I digress.

My spare bedroom closet contains Christmas and camping supplies. Everything is in its own storage bin. As you may know from prior posts, I have decluttered Christmas so that everything fits into one storage bin, plus the tree. I’m pretty sure when I started there were three Christmas bins.

My closet in my actual bedroom has my clothes, my luggage, and the storage bin of seasonal clothing. The seasonal clothing storage bin currently holds winter – hoodies and sweaters. My bedroom closet also stores the air conditioner when it is not in use in winter.

Everything else in my house that is not in a closet is out, in use, or in its designated place. The only items overflowing are the CDs. More on those later.

Back to closets. The only reason why I noticed how clean and organized my closets are is because I started packing. I don’t know where I am moving to yet or when, but I am packing. In looking at my closets, there is really nothing in them to pack. Pretty much everything in all the closets is already in some sort of storage bin or container, so all I have to do is pick it up and move it. The only exceptions are the coats in the coat closet and my clothes.

Let’s move on to clothes. I am a big fan of capsule wardrobes and Courtney Carver’s Project 333. I’m not a huge stickler on the numbers. Again, I’m one of those that as long as all my clothing fits in my dresser and closet and I only have one bin of seasonal, I am fine. I have no idea if I have 33 items of clothing or 50. I know that everything fits in my designated space, and that I wear everything I have. My clothing is comfortable, fits well, and has no tags or holes.

Since I am packing, what exactly do I have for clothes? Well, since I am not moving right now, I can’t actually pack the clothes. I literally wear and use everything I have. When I do move, moving my clothes will be easy. Remove the drawers from the dresser and carry clothes that way. For the closet, take a garbage bag to wrap the clothes in to keep them clean.

What is in my closet and drawers?

I actually do have work clothes and everyday clothes. I am not one of those people who is able to have one all-purpose wardrobe. I’m a jeans & baseball shirt type of girl; that doesn’t really fly when my office is business casual. I don’t like business casual. It’s an uncomfortable but necessary evil.

In my closet, I have 15 hangars in use. Some are random, like the one that holds my hockey jersey. Hey, I’m not perfect. I do have random things that bring me joy. I don’t have a set number of items.

I would say that there are 10 hangars in active use. For work, my color palate is a base of black or grey that is accented with jewel tones of blue, green, and purple/burgundy. So, on 10 hangars, I have:

4 pairs of work dress pants (2 black and 2 grey)

2 blazers (1 black, 1 grey)

2 cardigan sweaters (1 black, 1 grey)

2 dresses (not work appropriate, totally summery, for going to the theatre, a wedding, etc. If you are interested, one is pink and the other a summer orange and they are both fun.)

My dresser has 4 drawers.

In one drawer, is my everyday tops. These are mostly baseball, football, or hockey shirts. Yeah, you’ve seen them. They have the team on the front and the number and name of player on the back. I have about 8 of these in a drawer. Along with 2 thermals and 2 flannels for winter when it gets chilly so I can layer. That’s one of my four drawers.

There is one drawer of pajamas. For every capsule wardrobe or challenge I have read, pajamas, underclothes and workout wear don’t count as “wardrobe” if you’re doing one of the number challenges like 50 items or Project 333. I have one drawer of pajamas and the color scheme here is very heavily pink. I like pink nightwear. I have a bin of summer running clothes, a bin of winter running clothes, and one of those plastic containers with 3 drawers that has bras, undies and socks.

My third drawer is work tops. Again, my color scheme for tops is mostly blue and green with some purple thrown in. I have about 8 different work tops. Right now, I also have “summer” in this drawer, which means my tank tops (not work wear) for when its 80+ degrees out like it is now.

In my fourth drawer, I have everyday bottoms. Like work clothes, I have 4 bottoms. Except for everyday, this includes 2 pairs of jeans and 2 pairs of my infamous Victoria’s Secret yoga pants. Also, for summer, this drawer currently holds 4 pairs of shorts and some swim wear.

In the seasonal box, which currently holds winter, is 3 hoodies (those are bulky), a pair of corduroy pants, and 3 sweaters.

My clothes aren’t a problem and don’t bother me. I have no decision fatigue in the morning. I can get dressed immediately without having to put on multiple options or throw items around the room because “I don’t want to wear this today” or “this isn’t working.” Like I said, moving my clothes is going to be super easy. I don’t even really have to pack them or put them into luggage.

I typically have two loads of laundry per week – one of work clothes and one that consists of everyday clothes, pajamas, towels and sheets. Clothes are easy to move.

What has been stressing me out in trying to pack is not my clothes and not the items that are in my closets. It is my everyday items that are out and in use. Specifically, this would be my media of books, DVDs, and CDs. I have packed this stuff up and am now looking at it thinking, “I don’t want to have to (physically) move this stuff.”

Before I started packing, everything was in its place and I did not feel cluttered. I have one 2-shelf bookcase of books, and one 2-shelf bookcase of DVDs. The CDs are overflowing. The CDs I was just going to start curating, and decided to take them all with me to curate in the next location. When packed, the CDs, don’t seem like much. I’m not sure if it is just looking at a pile of boxes that is getting to me or what.

I left 5 DVDs and 5 CDs out to play with in this transition process. It has been challenging. For example, I find myself wanting to unpack the DVDs because “Oh, I want to watch this, and it’s packed.”

Right now, I am unsure if I “have too much stuff” or am simply overwhelmed at the idea of moving after being in the same place for 14 years. Whatever I’m doing, this is a super big change. I can also say that the kitchen is a room that I cannot pack right now because I am still literally using everything in my kitchen.

The only thing kitchen related I have been trying to do is to eat up and use up everything in my cupboards, frig and freezer, so that there is less food stuff to move. There really is not any cook ware or dishware I can pack that is not in use.

One of the problems of being a minimalist is having to wait to the last minute to pack because you are literally using everything you have. I guess this is a good problem to have. If I can pack something and have it sit there for months without needing it, then it is probably something to get rid of anyway. I only like to have items that I use or love.

I’m fortunate in that I have been minimizing myself for a few years now, so I am sure that I have less now than I would have, say 5 years ago. Still, it feels like so much. It could be because I packed two rooms and have all the boxes from two rooms in one room. Maybe it just seems like more than it is.

Downsizing, minimizing, and simplifying are all a process. Whenever and where-ever moving day happens, I will have to see how I actually feel about my stuff once I start physically moving it. I will be moving all the small items myself.

The large furniture items like my couch, bed, table, etc., I will be enlisting help to move. I have already figured that all of those large items I can shove into one room to make it easier for my helpers to move me.

It’s just all the little stuff that seems like a lot.

What I am learning is that my clothes and my closets are not a problem. So I’ve done a wicked good job with those. I have downsized my wardrobe to the point where I am actually able to live and enjoy life without worrying about what I’m wearing or wasting my time shopping.

The benefit to this exercise is that I am learning about the areas of my living space I need to focus on simplifying next – which seems to be my living room and media. Yet, when I find myself missing and wanting things that are packed … maybe they are not a problem after all if I am using and liking them. Collections are not bad if you enjoy them.

Minimalism is not some exercise in pain or how to live without. Minimalism is about having room in your life for what’s important. Apparently all the stuff I have now is coming with me – even if it does feel overwhelming to move it.

I’ll let you know how it goes when moving day comes (whenever that may be, but hopefully soon).

 

Redefining Freedom

My family – Jude, age 6 (right), Simon, age 2 (left)

Freedom means different things to different people depending on circumstances. For many, travel means freedom. It is even popularized in a commercial as being “free to roam the country.” I had this grand Freedom at Forty plan that I would finally be able to go someplace to have a stamp in my passport.

While I would love to travel, I have had some life circumstances lately that are not only making travel impossible, but literally threatening my day-to-day existence. When faced with a life-changing crisis, we quickly realize where our priorities are and fight to make sure they are met. For me, that means that this year I am redefining freedom.

Freedom now means the ability to live with my family someplace safe and in peace. As long as the three of us get to stay together, nothing else matters. This has always been my first priority, but it tends to become more pronounced when your family unit is threatened with ultimatums such as “separate or get out,” or “choose between your children because you have too many.” Sometimes even just keeping a family together feels like a losing battle.

That losing battle straddles a fine line between freedom and survival. There are ways to keep families together and survive. It could be living in a car, a RV, or migrating somewhere new where you will hopefully be able to stay together safely. Freedom is more than survival. Freedom is being able to keep your family together in a way that enables you all to be comfortable, safe and to build a life where you can transcend survival and be able to thrive.

Right now, I am in survival mode trying to keep my family together and find safe, affordable housing that will accept us as a family unit. I’m hoping that the Fourth of July will be some sort of good luck charm to finding freedom to live with my family intact.

It’s pretty sad in this land of alleged plenty that keeping a family together is seen as a privilege and not a right. If keeping a family together is a privilege, then we truly are not free at all. Everything can be taken from you with only a moment’s notice – including those you hold dear. The whole point of minimalism is not to have nothing. The point of minimalism is to have just what you need so you can focus on what’s important. Being able to be a minimalist is also a sense of privilege in a country where some people are struggling to obtain even just what they need and to hold onto what’s important.

Freedom should include the right to keep a family together. As people spend the Fourth of July having barbeques and watching fireworks with their family, they should think about whether that family is a right or a privilege. Currently, in this country and as I am seeing in my own life right now, family is a privilege. True freedom would include the right to keep a family together in a safe environment.

The Fourth of July is also an anniversary. It was Fourth of July weekend back in the late 90s that I moved from Massachusetts to New York. I have gone back and forth over the years whether or not that movement was something I regret.

I have come to the conclusion that I do not regret leaving Massachusetts because of the positive things that have happened since I arrived in New York. I was finally able to achieve my degrees and I would not trade a single minute with my family to go back and do it over differently. However, the moving that I did that long ago Fourth of July weekend has had significant impact on the course of my life over the past 20 years.

While I do miss Massachusetts and wish I could afford to move back, I realize that in New York, I achieved a level of freedom that I would not trade. I now have education to bring in income that buys freedom (unless you are looking for affordable housing). I have the freedom of being with my family and that is the greatest gift I have ever received.

This Fourth of July, I am redefining freedom. My Freedom at Forty plan no longer includes international travel. Given my current circumstances, that is not a realistic goal. This year, I am redefining freedom as the ability to keep my family together. If I can keep us together in safe, affordable, stable housing that will be even better. The outcome is yet to be seen.

How are you redefining freedom this Fourth of July? What does freedom mean to you?  

 

Seattle #TBT

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Monthly #TBT from when I returned to the east coast from the west, and all the thoughts and feelings a decade brings.

When I think about leaving the west coast and returning east in 2005, I think about freedom. Everything we owned fit right into the back of a pickup truck. I took one backpack with me on the plane from Sea-Tac to Upstate New York. I was perfectly content with being able to wait a week with the contents of that pack while the rest of my belongings arrived. While books, CDs, and other household items make one feel comfortable and help to fill the time, they are not necessary to survival.

Fully embracing your local community and taking advantage of what is readily available is key. Using farmers markets and shopping locally not only helps your neighbors financially, but helps you to make friends as well. When we were in Seattle, we were constantly going to this show and that show, and having the best time with people – all by word of mouth without things such as Internet and social networking.

While it took time to build this same foundation and network on the east coast, we did build. It started with a poster. Go to a show. Talk to like-minded people who hang out in the same places as you, and suddenly you have a group of friends with common interests.

What I miss the most about the west coast is that it was affordable to live right in downtown Seattle and be within walking distance to practically everywhere. While we did have a truck, it often set idle in the driveway. Many times, we could bike or walk any place we needed to go.

On the east coast, housing is too expensive to live in a city or town to be able to walk or bike anywhere. On the east coast, vehicles are a necessary evil, as housing prices are more affordable in the suburbs, and things that you need like grocery stores and medical care are too sparse and spread out to be able to rely on public transportation. Not to mention, public transportation on the east coast often runs infrequently with limited routes.

Seattle reminds me of being able to throw the surfboard in the back of the truck and spending a day at the beach. Literally everything you needed was readily available. There was no need to have a vehicle on a daily basis unless you wanted a beach excursion or other type of road trip.

I’m sure that things have changed since I left the west coast- housing prices and availability for one. There is something to be said about being able to pack up all your belongings in two or three storage totes and pick yourself up for a cross-country relocation. There is freedom in not having to spread yourself thin trying to get to work, obtain groceries, or run other errands. On the east coast, the geographic challenges tend to contribute to more social isolation, and thus I feel it necessary to have more entertainment and distraction options in my home – movies and books for when the snow flies, and everything shuts down for a day, buried under feet of white stuff.

While hindsight is 20/20 and often viewed through rose-colored lenses, the aspects of coming back east that stick with me the most is how much I experienced on the west coast with so little belongings. When you settle in one place for an extended period of time, as I have been on the east coast, you accumulate stuff. Life was so much simpler without all the things.

It is thoughts such as these that contribute to my wanting to rewind real slow. That yearning for the wanderlust of youth when you had exactly what you needed, and nothing more, and if someone said, “let’s do this,” you enthusiastically replied “okay.” Seattle also taught me that I was put on this planet to live. Living is not simply working and paying bills. I deserve to have experiences in my very short time I have to be on this planet. That is a lesson I often forget in the nose-to-the-grindstone mentality of east coast workaholics.

Seattle is also special because it is the last large expanse of time in which I remember being present. Before the widespread use of smart phones, constant pings and notifications, social media, etc, we lived every day in the moment. Life really was much simpler when if you wanted to see or talk to someone, you had to find them, and if you could not get there due to distance, you wrote them a letter. The mail takes 3 days.

Ten years of living the grind on the east coast has definitely taken it’s toll. In my efforts to rewind real slow, I am hoping to return to some of the ease I felt on the west coast. Not only the relaxed pace, but the ability to live in the moment without fear of the future. The desire to recreate that feeling anywhere without being geographically bound to a particular location is what I am hoping to achieve. They say home is a place you carry with you. I am trying to build that feeling for myself where I presently am.

Is there a certain place in your life that elicits certain feelings? How can you recreate those feelings in your current location? Whether nostalgia or rose-colored glasses, how can you work to create experiences you envision?

Portage

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They say portage comes from the Native American practice of carrying a canoe and all of your belongings over a body of water. Everything that you own travels from one side of the river to the other. While the most freeing moments in life have been those that I was able to carry everything I owned in a backpack or duffle bag, they were also the most challenging. There is something comforting and stable about the notion of home.

In the same manner, turtles carry their home on their backs. With the contraction of some muscles, they can put all their extremities inside their shell. If a turtle looses his shell is he naked or homeless? Turtles have freedom to go where they please, and home is always with them.

When I attempted to move back to Boston a few years ago, I started by taking everything out of my storage unit and putting it into my house. If I was going to complete an interstate move, then I needed to pack everything up and take it with me. In retrospect, I am glad that my plans fell through. Downsizing and minimizing has shown me that I would have been lugging a whole bunch of unnecessary items across state lines. This is a hardship that I do not need to endure. As I have gone through my belongings, I have not only learned what is important, but have come to realize that the timing of that “move” was completely wrong. I was not ready in any sense of the word. Sometimes, answers come in the form of not getting what you want.

In the past three years since my move fell through, I have taken the opportunity to pare down. I opened every box that was in storage. If you have things in storage that you are not using every day, do you really need them? Are you keeping things “just in case?” Has that “just in case” event happened in the last 3, 5, 10 years that you have paid to have that item in storage? As I went through everything I had in storage, I did pull out a few items that are now in use. Those items are the exception. I saw that many of the items in storage were unneeded or redundant. I am glad I have had this time to shed those items and did not lug them through a few states. Moving is expensive enough without hauling things you don’t need.

Going through the process of downsizing and minimizing has been very freeing these past few years. It has helped me to realize what is important and what is not. I have realized that the accumulation of stuff is sometimes a defense mechanism – a sense of false security – after having nothing for so long – to accumulate items in an effort to feel accomplished. These items are not comforting at all. I have been weighed down by baggage both physically and metaphorically.

While I doubt that I will ever return to the days of having everything I own fit into one backpack, it is freeing to have less. I am not one of those minimalists who count my belongings and strive for a certain number. Rather, my goal is to have enough; enough to be able to experience my life in a way that brings me joy and no more.

As I pare down my house, I try to keep in mind that the next time I plan an interstate move, I want it to actually happen, not fall through. I am trying to prepare myself to be able to pick up and go if the chance arises. If that opportunity never knocks, then I want to be able to enjoy my life where I am while living lightly.

Going through and getting rid of the items in storage was relatively easy. Now everything I own in this world is inside of my house. I am free of the monthly payment to store stuff I did not need – the ultimate definition of pissing your money away.

The hard part now comes of being able to establish the limit of what constitutes enough. The hard questions now need to be asked: Is this item useful? Does it bring joy to my life? How do you know how much you need?

I have tried to set limits on certain items to ensure that I am only surrounded by that which I love and get rid of the excess. All books must fit on the shelf. If I want to keep a novel, and the shelf is full, then one book must go to make room for the one I want to keep. I have been trying to engage in the practice of joy without ownership. My library card has been getting quite the workout, as I check out books, DVDs, and even CDs to enjoy media without the responsibility of possession or ownership of the item. My barometer has been if I check an item out of the library two or three times, then that is an item I probably need to look at owning. If I only check it out once and then forget about it after, it was an item that I did not need to have in my house long-term, and I was better off borrowing than owning.

It is a delicate balancing act trying to figure out one’s comfort zone. I still look around and think that I have too much stuff, especially when contemplating a(n imaginary) move. Yet now it is more challenging to be able to figure out what is necessary and what is not.

Some of it is fear. Where I am now is the longest I have lived in one place in my life. I feel stifled by complacency. There is the fear that how I am living now is too good to be true and that it will all fall apart someone how. There is the fear of returning to the world of my 20s in which my living situation was precarious, and a car is simply a house on 4 wheels.

Yet overriding the fear is hope. There is hope that I am not done yet in this journey called life. There is hope that the best is yet to come, and that I must be prepared to answer its calling. If I am asked to cross the torrents of the river, then I am readying my canoe to be portaged across that river. While most of my life has been a struggle to survive, I am now at a point where I am ready to live. I do not want to be weighed down by stuff that may stifle opportunity to experience some of the best moments of my life.

Like the turtle, I have finally come to realize that the notion of home is something that you always carry with you. It is in the journey, not the destination that life’s greatest moments occur.

Are you ready for portage? If someone offered you your dream job tomorrow in a city that was 5 states away, would you be able to pick up and go? Are you tied down by your stuff? Would you run around frantic trying to figure out how to pack and move the house? Many times, opportunity only knocks once. Letting go of what holds you down will enable you to live the life of your dreams. You do not need to have a certain number of possessions. What you need to have is enough to make you happy, without having too much that tips the canoe.