Never Say Never

All through this minimalist/simplifying process, the one thing I said I would not touch is my CD music collection. Typically, every person has that one thing that they will not touch, and for me, that was music. For some, books are hard to declutter, for others, their closet, and for others still, the boxes of artwork their children made.

This week, I actually got rid of a shoebox full of CDs.

A few weeks ago, I realized that I was only listening to some of my CDs. There are many CDs that I have not bothered to listen to quite literally in years. Similar to how we wear 20% of our wardrobes 80% of the time, I realized that I was doing the same thing with my CD collection.

I have also come to the point where my collection is so massive that it is overwhelming. I have two containers of CDs stored in a closet. I physically do not have enough space in my living room to display the entire collection of CDs. The idea behind storing some in the closet was that I would be inclined to listen to the CDs physically displayed in the living room more often. This has not happened.

I’ve decided to cull the CDs.

Decluttering my music collection is one of the most challenging categories to declutter in my home. Like many others, I thought books would be the hardest to downsize. Books were surprisingly easy. As with DVDs, I only keep books that I have read more than once. There is no point in keeping a book if I do not intend on reading it again.

Sidebar: my library has begun printing how much money you have saved each year by using the library. They use list prices to ascertain that if you had gone out and bought the book/DVD/CD new instead of borrowing from the library, you would have spent so much money. I have saved over $400 so far by using my library this year.

What makes CDs challenging is the fact that I have listened to them all multiple times. Yet the collection is so massive that it is overwhelming. The very first CD that left the house was one that I listened to in college back in the 1990s. I put it in the CD player and could not for the life of me figure out why I had the CD or why I had listened to it so much 20 years ago. That album is crap. I suppose that music tends to just fit depending on the points we were at in life. Yet this “crap” album had no memories associated with it, other than I remember listening to it back in the day.

The albums in the shoebox that left are all albums that either holds no meaning, or when I listen to the CD, I only really like one or two songs on the album. I do not think one song is worth it to hold onto an entire CD. If I want to hear that one song that badly, I’m sure I can find it someplace online when I need a “quick fix” of listening to one particular song.

Getting rid of one shoebox of CDs is huge for me. Music is the one category I said I would not touch in the process of simplifying my life. However, I am learning the economic theory of diminishing returns and that you can have too much of a good thing. When your music collection is so large that it is overwhelming and no longer enjoyable, then it is time to curate that collection.

In the grand scheme of things, one shoebox of CDs is very small. There is still 1 and ¾ of a container of CDs stored in the closet. I’m sure this is going to be a slow journey, as music is my most challenging category, but the ultimate goal is to get down to the amount of CDs that can be displayed in the living room without having any stored in the closet.

Before anyone says to just digitize everything, keep in mind that digital clutter is still clutter. I’m not about to make the conversion from physical clutter to digital clutter. Not to mention, I’m not a huge digital person anyways. Especially with music, I like to have the physical product for the experience. Remember things called concept albums? How album covers, art, and packaging all contributed and added to the music inside to create a story? I’m really into that experience.

As we move to simplify our lives to focus more on what’s important, we all have that one category that we won’t touch. That’s ok. If decluttering your home and purging items is painful, then you won’t stick with it because it feels like punishment. For me decluttering my home is not punishment, it is a sort of freedom in that the less items I have to clean and maintain, the more time I have to spend with the people who matter the most. The only reason why I am finally touching that one “never declutter” category is that it has become so overwhelming that it no longer brings joy.

What is your “never” category? Is it still sacred and untouched? Or, have you started to downsize that category? What strategies did you use to attack the most challenging category to simplify?

Revisiting The Rule of 3

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I have previously written about how I incorporated the rule of three  into my decluttering goals. At the time, my goal had been to ensure that surfaces contained no more than three items that I found to be either meaningful or useful. To go all KonMari  again, I do not see the point in wasting space to contain items that do not bring me joy. I also do not see the point in wasting precious time in cleaning, dusting, or organizing items that are not either meaningful or useful.

I am proud to declare that I have been quite successful in minimizing all surfaces so that they only contain three items.

Having surfaces that contain only three items simplified my life in such a way that I decided to take the rule of three and run with it. I also applied the rule of three to my walls. I went through each wall in my house, and there are now only three decorative items per wall. I cannot tell you how much easier it is to clean my house now that there are only three items per wall and three items per surface.

When I applied the rule of three to my walls, I noticed that many items that were on my walls did not bring me joy. I decided to replace those items with things that do bring me joy. For example, I had some of my photography printed and framed, and now my artwork is gracing my walls, were previously was some commercial print that I neither liked no held any personal meaning to me.

Some walls in my house have less than three items on them. Some have only two items, and I am looking at a wall now that only has one thing on it. It is very relaxing to sit in my living room either before or after a long day and be able to enjoy sitting there. I also now have less things to dust, windex, and clean.

The rule of three inadvertently spilled over into other aspects of the declutter process as well. I culled my wardrobe again. While I am one of these people who will probably never have only 33 or 37 or 42 items of clothes, I do want to be sure that I only have clothes that fit my body well, that I love to wear, and that fit into my dresser and closet without overflowing my available space.

My dresser contains four drawers, and I have decided that one drawer is for pajamas and nightwear, and everything must fit into the drawer. If the drawer starts to overflow, then I need to get rid of items so that everything fits comfortably. I applied the same concept to all underclothes, such as socks.

One drawer contains my jeans and other pants that do not need to be hung in the closet. My work pants are hung in the closet so that they are not wrinkled. As most Americans. I realized I had an obscene number of jeans. I culled my jeans so that I only have three pairs. That is way more than I wear in a typical week. I kept my three most favorite pairs. Applying the rule of three to my jeans has also allowed me to upgrade. I was able to replace one of the $10 pair of Walmart jeans with a $40 pair of Levi’s, which I’m sure will last me much longer, and I am way happier with the fit and feel of them.

In applying the rule of three to the closet, I have three sweaters for when it is cold in the winter, three summer dresses, three hoodie sweatshirts, and three suit jackets. I currently have five pairs of work dress pants, but that will soon be decreasing to four. I have a hard time finding dress pants that fit, so I like to keep more than three pairs of those.

So while I may not have an overall goal number concerning the amount of clothing I aim to own, I have been trying to apply the rule of three to individual categories of clothing. Of course, for shirts, I have way more than three. Shirts do not seem to be as sturdy as pants. For work, I have nine v-neck shirts in various colors (that I will need to gradually replace, as they are becoming worn). I am hoping to get that number down to seven.

I do have a drawer of shirts that I wear when not working that include running shirts, baseball, hockey, and football shirts. I honestly do not know the number, but they all fit quite comfortably into their assigned drawer, so I am not concerned about their actual number. What I have been trying to do is to be sure that I am wearing everything, and if anything is in any way uncomfortable or does not fit well, then it goes into the donate pile.

I only want to be surrounded by the things that I love.

Have you incorporated the rule of three into your life? Have you applied it to surfaces, walls, or drawers? I am finding that it allows me more time to be with the ones I love and do the things I love because I spend less time cleaning and having to weed through mounds of clothing.

Even if the rule of three seems daunting, start with one surface. Choose just one stand or shelf and apply the rule of three. See if it helps to simplify your life.

There Goes My To-Do List

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Oops. No more list. It’s all good. I can get everything done.

Back in the day when I was working 2-3 jobs 60-70 hours a week and going to school full-time pulling a 3.9 GPA, my to-do list was massive. I even had to schedule laundry, cooking, and cleaning. My life was so overscheduled that if I did not purposefully plan every single activity, it would not get done due to sheer lack of time. I was not living. I was surviving. I was working to pay the bills and trying to get through school to hopefully build a better life that I could enjoy at a much slower pace.

Last summer, as I was writing my thesis and finishing grad school, I had successfully minimized and downsized my life enough that my to-do list consisted of three items per day. I did this in order to prioritize my activities and to try to regain a sense of control over my time. It was quite effective. While the goal was three items per day, there were some days when my to-do list had five items, and others when it simply had one, but it was way better than what I had previously been facing.

My to-do list was so overscheduled that at one point I was a participant in a research study for Cornell on time management, and the researcher was so overwhelmed with my process that they even photographed my planner. Not only did I have a 5×7 size planner, but also it was color coded and notated with various tabs and small post-it notes with additional information that would simply not fit in the box. No one seemed to be able to understand how I was able to accomplish it all. Quite frankly, I have no idea either. Lately, my autoimmune disorder has been taking pretty much everything out of me, and I honestly cannot fathom how, just a few years ago, I was able to achieve everything in one day that I completed. Yet, somehow, I did.

I have been out of school for a few months now, and not only have I been able to better keep to my three items on the to-do list per day rule, but often, my to-do list has nothing on it. Nothing.

How does this happen?

Well, first of all, now that my life has significantly slowed from its breakneck pace, I no longer have to schedule, list, or plan for activities that need to be completed to sustain every day life. When the laundry basket fills, I wash clothes. When I run out of food, I cook more. I actually have time to do these necessities on a daily and as-needed basis without having to schedule every minute detail.

This means that my to-do list now only has occasional items on it such as doctor appointments, my book and writing clubs, and major home projects that need to be done as part of my KonMari plan. I have leisure time now that I never had before. Retired college student, indeed.

No longer having a to-do list is very freeing. It is freeing to the point where I actually feel lazy. I have been able to slow my life down to the point where not only am I able to effortlessly perform the duties required to maintain everyday life like laundry and cooking without having them scheduled, but I also have time to do pretty much whatever I want to do with my non-work hours. I have plenty of activities to fill my time, yet I do not feel overwhelmed in the slightest.

If you do not have the luxury as I do to throw your to-do list out the window, can you minimize it? Once we get past the point where we are scheduling survival activities on the to-do list, the list should only consist of those additional activities that are an addendum to everyday life, and not a necessity.

Another thing that has helped this process immensely is identifying my priorities. I have three priorities in life, and now that I have identified what they are, I am able to be sure that everything I do is aimed at achieving those goals. Everything in life that is not a priority, I have let go. Everything else is simply extraneous activity and background noise to what is truly important in life.

I still have a planner. My planner has gone from 5×7 size down to a more 3 ½ x 5 size. I no longer fill the boxes completely, and gone are the highlighting, tabbing, color coding, and additional post-it notes that I used to have. I use the square provided to me, and it is not full on any given day.

There is great freedom that comes when we have the privilege to be able to slow down our lives. When we have employment we enjoy that pays our bills and allows us time for recreation, we have time to do what we truly want to do without having to engage in the never-ending rat race that steals souls.

While my to-do list has gone out the window, I am in fact accomplishing more than I was completing before and I am so much happier doing it. Life is much more manageable when we slow down the pace to be able to focus on our priorities and goals to achieve that which is truly important.

If you do not have the luxury of sending your to-do list out the window, what can you prioritize to make it more manageable? How can you slow down today?

Demon Snuggling

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In my efforts to downsize and minimize, some items are easier to evaluate and part with than others. The two criteria by which I usually decide an item’s placement in my life is if it is useful or if it brings me joy. Perhaps the items most difficult to go through, not only for myself, but also for anyone are sentimental items. While not useful, sentimental items tend to fall under the category of “joy.”

It is completely understandable. The coffee mug that reminds you of your Alma Mater, or the quilt your now-deceased grandmother made by hand are items to treasure because they make your heart sing. While these points seem obvious, what is perhaps more difficult to understand is the phenomenon I will dub “demon snuggling.”

I recently got down and dirty “demon snuggling,” and am happy to declare that I am demon snuggling no more.

These past few weeks, I decided to go through the “stuff from growing up” box. Most everyone has one. Parents usually save items that were significant from childhood including baby shoes, report cards, art projects, teddy bears, and other well-loved items that usually make their way into adulthood. If you have children, then this entourage grows, as most parents tend to keep a box of precious belongings for their children in turn.

While for most people, these are happy memories, for me they were not. I had a less than stellar childhood, and I prefer to leave it behind. I am proud of the fact that I overcame some challenging circumstances, but I do not need the reminder of that triumph locked in a box to peruse for the rest of my life.

So, I got in down and dirty for some demon snuggling and was able to reduce that box from an approximate 50-quart storage bin down to an approximate 10-quart storage bin. While earlier in the fall, I looked to the future in Playing Dress Up , this winter I dealt with the past by demon snuggling.

A 50-quart box of things from growing up is not something I would ever want to cart with me if I move. Yet, and I am sure most of you would agree, it’s not something I want to get rid of completely either. Some things like your first Winnie the Pooh always stay with you.

For better or for worse, sentimental items are perhaps the most difficult items to downsize. There is so much emotion attached. In demon snuggling, I had a lot of starts and stops to the process, as I had to process through pain in order to part with some items. The pain, however, was good, as I was able to kick some major negativity to the curb. However, it is almost always easier to snuggle with your demons than to face them.

Many of the items that were shed, I took photos of them and uploaded those photos to the cloud. I am perfectly fine with looking at a picture of the happy-gram I received in 1988 for “appropriate attire in physical education class” as I was in physically having the happy-gram. In fact, I am pretty sure that when I’m dead and people are going through my belongings that if said happy-gram was still among my possessions, that whomever was going through my stuff would put said happy-gram in the trash anyway. Replacing the physical happy-gram with a digital photo of it that exists in the cloud does not in any way diminish the lessons I learned by dressing appropriately for gym in 1988. I have 14 marathon medals, and many of those were earned in inclement weather. I am pretty sure I am well versed in being able to dress myself for participation in physical activity.

While something such as a happy-gram seems quite innocuous, I did try to keep in mind (forgive the morbidity, but we’re talking about demon snuggling here) that someday someone will be going through my stuff after I am dead and gone. What type of burden do you want to leave for that person? It is going to be hard enough for loved ones to deal with the fact that you have passed on, do not give them the added chore of needing to spend months or even years going through all of your stuff and trying to figure out what to do with it.

Keep in mind that what is left behind after you die is also a part of your legacy. Your most intimate possessions tell a part of your legacy. What do you want your legacy to say about you? Do you want your legacy to say you had a whole bunch of things hoarded from the 1980s (as people find your old band outfit and track ribbons)? Or do you want your legacy to say you had a full, active life full of adventure (as people go through your luggage and sporting equipment). What you have is not as important as what you do or how you make people feel. How you make people feel is your greatest legacy, and hopefully you have the chance to touch some hearts along the way.

Back to demon snuggling.

Many of the items in my “growing up” box were not there for the happy sentimental feelings they evoked. Rather, there were many things in that box that brought to mind painful memories, and made me sad, mad or hurt. For some reason, it is easier to snuggle with our demons than it is to kick them to the curb. It was actually more challenging to rid myself of the items that evoked negative emotion than to contemplate whether or not something brings me joy.

Life is too short to be unhappy.

I do not need reminders of times in my life in which I felt pain or was not happy. Yes, those are parts of my life that happened and I must own. Just because I accept and admit that they happened does not mean I need a constant reminder or slap in the face to remind me of what I have endured or overcome. Many times we demon snuggle because it is easier to live with the pain than it is to process that pain and come through the other side. Pretty much anyone who has faced their demons in life fails to come through unscathed. However, the triumph of facing demons far outweighs a few scars.

I am not sure why demon snuggling is so easy. It is counter-intuitive that it is harder to part with pain than it is to part with joy. I don’t have enough time or space to figure that one out.

I will say that downsizing sentimental items is challenging. Setting a limit on what number or type of container you want to hold onto is helpful. For me, I wanted to downsize from a 50-quart box to a 10-quart one. Maybe you have three boxes of stuff from growing up and want to downsize to one. Maybe you are struggling with all of your children’s treasures that you are saving for when they leave the nest someday.

Taking photos of items such as artwork and certificates is helpful because they can be stored digitally without taking up space. The less space taken up by paper products means more room for teddy bears and action figures.

How do you deal with sentimental items? Do you find some items evoke negative emotions? Have you figured out a system or a way to cap the treasures you keep? Just because you dragged that Care Bear everywhere does not mean that your children will do the same. They will have their own cherished object that goes everywhere with them.

Are you snuggling with your demons or have you kicked them to the curb? As I strive to only have things in my life that are either useful or that bring me joy, I am happy that I am able to recognize when I am demon snuggling so that I can kick them to the curb.