#ROW80 check-ins, decorating and organization, simple living

Why I’m Simplifying

As many of you know, I’ve been on a mission to declutter my home. I moved (twice, technically) earlier this year. Once we put all everything in storage and lived with my in-laws for several weeks until our townhouse was ready. And then we pulled all of those boxes out of our storage units and packed it all into our new home.

I realize if I move again, I don’t want to be carting around that much stuff. So that’s one reason I’m simplifying. But I’m also doing it for peace of mind. I need space so there’s room for energy to flow in my home. I need less to take care of so I can devote time to what really matters.

In my ideal world, I’d do yoga or tai chi or meditate daily. I’d sit out in a nearby park with my journal and free-write. My home would be a serene and calm space for making art and connecting to my spirituality. And decluttering is part of that.

ROW80 check-in:

Writing: Wrote 4,507 words. Finished my short story “Into the Faerie Forest” and started a draft of a novella, Goblins and Grimoires. I also did some plotting for the latter, which is an expanded version of a short story I wrote last year.

Reading: Finished If I’m So Smart, Why Can’t I Get Rid of this Clutter? by Sallie Felton. It wasn’t my favorite. I think it’s that I’m already a fairly organized person—I just want to own less stuff. If you’re really disorganized, this book will be helpful. Started reading The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying up by Marie Kondo. It’s exactly what I’ve been looking for—a system for getting rid of a bunch of stuff and living with less. Highly recommend. Also started The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie. It is amazing. Another book I would recommend.

Decluttering: So, I abandoned my goal to get rid of five things a day for 100 days. The reason? It was too slow. Instead, this weekend, inspired by The Life Changing Magic of Tidying up, I went through all of my books, clothes, etc., and did a major decluttering. I would estimate I got rid of four or five boxes of books, a large bag full of clothes and blankets, and a large box of miscellaneous stuff. I also want to go through my dishes and get rid of some. That will probably take up two small boxes. I’ll still have to go through the stuff that’s in the attic, but I’m now happy with the number of books and clothing items I own. A big step forward on that front.

A Round of Words in 80 Days is the writing challenge that knows you have a life. Click here to cheer on fellow participants.

Have you ever tried to simplify your life? Why? How would you feel if you owned less stuff? What would your ideal day look like?

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decorating and organization, simple living

Defining “simple living”: In the 21st century, does it exist?

photo from istockphoto.com.

In the complicated, super-speed era of the 21st century, does such a thing as “simple living” still exist? I recently stumbled across a quote from Henry David Thoreau, transcendentalist and spokesman for the simple living, “Walden Pond” lifestyle. Thoreau said, “Our inventions are wont to be pretty toys, which distract our attention from serious things. They are but improved means to an unimproved end.”

As we cross the street without glancing up from our iPhones and spend most of our evenings staring at one or more “glowing boxes” (TVs, laptops, iPads, cell phones, iPods, etc.), Thoreau must be rolling over in his grave.

I’m not advocating for people to sell their worldly possessions and move to a small cabin in the Massachusetts countryside, idyllic as though it may sound. The 20th century brought us hot-water heaters, dishwashers, washers and dryers, and air conditioners, among many other creature comforts. And I certainly think a number of these inventions do improve people’s lives. Think how much more time we have thanks to washing machines. Think how many more books are written and connections made through computers and the Internet. (I’m still not sure how smart phones are improving our lives, but I’m open to suggestions.)

So, how do we simplify our lives? If, as Thoreau also said, our lives are “frittered away by details” and we must “simplify, simplify!” how do we go about that? In short, in an era of Twitter, when we have dogs to walk, bills to pay, doctors appointments to make, “House” reruns to watch, and kids to chauffeur off to gymnastics or soccer, where’s the simple in living?

I think today’s take on simple living has several main aspects: one, work-life balance; two, sustainability; three, paring away the excess to focus on the true heart of our lives.

I work two jobs, and my husband works full time in IT and goes to school part-time. Much of the time, work-life balance doesn’t seem to be in the cards for us. We work hard to carve out time for our relationship, though I’m not sure how we would do it if we had children. I think we’d have to sacrifice some of the work (one job, not two, for example) for more of the life.

So, is work-life balance imaginary? In some ways, perhaps it’s a privilege to even discuss seeking balance in our lives, but balance is a key ingredient in simple living. When we “pare away the excess,” it’s easier to achieve balance. This can mean saying no to yet another project, having a yard sale or donating unused items to charity, or paying down debts so we can live a life more in line with our values. I guess I would say that work-life balance could begin at work, but it also begins at home, by “clearing out clutter” whether mental, financial, or physical. And when we buy fewer items, waste less food, need less space to store that excess stuff, and use the items we have until they’re worn out, we ask less of the earth, allowing us to live more sustainably. That sustainability isn’t just good for the planet, but for our fellow human beings and ourselves. It saves us time, money, and energy.

For example, a key value for my husband and me is travel. We travel for pleasure, but also for knowledge and self-improvement, because seeing new places helps challenge our preconceived notions in ways both small and large. Yet we’ve cut back on our traveling to focus on saving and paying down debts. Most of our debt is education related and, while it’s not stifling, we’d sleep better at night knowing it was paid off. By living debt free, we could not only travel more, but also start saving for one of life’s biggest adventures: homeownership. We’re both pushing 30, and our wanderlust is starting to yield to the urge to put down some roots (even if we’re not sure where).

Simple living is simple when our actions and energy are dedicated to the things that matter most to us. That’s what Thoreau meant. The Internet is a great place to waste both time and money. Think of all those collective hours spent staring at cute pictures of cats or fantasy shopping on Zappos. But the Internet connects us to like minds, provides new ways to access endless reams of information, and creates new avenues for sharing art and knowledge.

So, what is distracting you from your core values? Do you wish you had more time to spend with family, more money to pay for travel in cash instead of wasting dollars on credit card interest, more time to dedicate to a hobby or career path? What’s the “excess” getting in your way?

Here are a few ways we can simplify our lives:

  • Identify your big time-wasters. Is it online shopping, video games, or reality TV? What would you rather be doing? Make your alternative specific. The next time you catch yourself watching the cooking channel, why not turn off the TV and try to whip up a healthy dish?
  • Practice gratitude. Our lives so often get lost in the business of acquiring, to the detriment of our values, our wallets, and our planet. Shop in your own closet and try to pull together an outfit from what you already have instead of buying a new one. Start a small garden and find a sense of contentment in the fact that you’ve grown healthy food for your family from the earth. Enjoy what you already have instead of grasping for more.
  • Clear the clutter. Go through one drawer, box, closet, or shelf per week and get rid of the excess. It’s less to clean, less to haul when you move, less to worry about all around. Not only will you make space for new, but you’ll make your home feel more open.
  • Find little ways to give back. With a newfound sense of gratitude and plenty of open space in your life (both physical and mental), serve your community. Volunteer one Saturday a month, or donate to a local nonprofit. Consider your values. Are you an animal lover or a fan of the arts? You’ll connect with like-minded people and experience the rewards of giving your time or money to others who have less—offering yet another opportunity to practice gratitude.

How would you define “simple living?” What steps are you taking to simplify your life and pare away the excess?

Writer’s note: This post is part of the “Frugal Days, Sustainable Ways” blog hop over at Frugally Sustainable. Click here for more posts about living a simple, frugal, and sustainable lifestyle.

decorating and organization

Looking Forward to Spring Cleaning…seriously.

Though February is speeding its way toward March, we just had our first significant snowfall this weekend in Southwest Virginia. And even though we’re currently living in a winter wonderland, I can’t help but have my sights set on one of the more interesting spring traditions in which so many of us participate: spring cleaning.

Though it lacks the nostalgic joy of dyeing eggs and the earthy satisfaction of sowing the first seeds of the season, in my household, we take spring cleaning seriously.

Well, I do. My husband mostly grunts and nods. Who would get excited about cleaning the ceiling fan with a pillowcase, pulling all of the shoes out of the closet, or lugging a box of old junk to Goodwill? Besides me. Anyone?

New Year ’s Day arrives after the flurry of the holidays, when the tree is still up, the gifts are still shiny and new, and the year is a clean slate. We arrive full of hope for the upcoming year, a fistful of goals in our hand and an ambitious resolution in our pocket. The first months of the year drag on, for many of us, full of gray days spent complaining about the weather and searching for our missing glove. Resolutions fall into a period of waxing and waning of purpose.

For me, the year really gets going in the spring. It’s the start of a year in a different sort of way, a beginning more in tune with the cycles of nature, of rebirth and growth and fertility. Spring cleaning can be a time to cleanse our surroundings, physically and spiritually. We can dust all of those places we always forget about, sort out that pile of papers accumulating on the corner of the desk, or sweep the remnants of the last fall leaves off the front porch.

In the delirium of cabin fever, thoughts of my spring cleaning frenzy are already swirling in my head.

Intellectual clutter…

Spring cleaning can be a time to finish or discard old projects. That scrapbook we started and then forgot? Should we finish it? Or is it possible that we went to the craft store, bought all the supplies, and came home full of enthusiasm, only to realize that we hate scrapbooking more than we hate scrubbing the toilet? The picture frame we fell in love with, but forgot to put a picture in and stick it on the mantel? In the spring, nature is in a frenzy of growth and chatter. The robin is building her nest in the holly tree. Why not clean our nests and start afresh?

And the emotional clutter…

Who isn’t notorious for filling their home with sentimental clutter? For years, I kept my high school graduation gown. Our school colors were green and gold, and, no surprise, the gentleman got to look dashing in hunter green while the ladies wore brighter-than-the-sun yellow, a color that looks flattering on no one. I hated that graduation gown, and yet for some reason, I held onto it. Finally, I had to acknowledge: I will never wear this again. I have photos of my graduation and lots of memories of high school. I don’t need that gown hanging in my closet, blazing out at me like a polyester hazmat suit.

Spring is a good time to go through the drawers, closets, bookshelves, and miscellaneous bins and get rid of the clutter that no longer serves us. Since I live in an apartment, I can’t keep every single gift everyone has ever given me. If it isn’t useful and we don’t love it, why keep it?

I have a hatbox in my closet full of mementos I don’t plan on parting with. The oddest of them is a Pokémon “finger skateboard” my youngest brother gave me. I was a teenager, and he was in fifth grade. We had nothing in common and didn’t get along well in that period of our lives, but one day, I happened to mention that I thought Pikachu was funny. My brother went to the mall with his friends and brought this mini-skateboard back for me. It makes me smile. So I keep it. 🙂 But we don’t have to keep everything.

And, ugh, physical clutter…

I can hear my husband sighing, but I like to go from room to room and make a list of everything that needs to be done. Yes, there’s occasionally always a clipboard. Some rooms are easier than others. Our bedroom, for example, is usually the easiest room in the house. The living room is harder. The baskets next to the door fill up with random items, heavy foot traffic means the carpets need to be scrubbed, and my stack of catalogs needs to be recycled. Going through all of the papers in our offices is so scary that we tend to leave that task for last. I’m still looking for a better way to deal with paper clutter. I’ll let you know when one arrives. 😛

Maybe we don’t finish everything on the list, but I get a sense of satisfaction in checking items off—even the small ones, like “clean off bottom shelf of coffee table” or “discard old textbooks.”

When we need a hard hat to enter our closets, it’s spring-cleaning time.

“Out with the old, in with the new,” seems to apply better to January than to March, but as the season of rebirth heads our way, we can make room for growth in our old lives. Finishing an old short story or admitting we no longer care for it allows room for a new project. Cleaning out a door crammed with clothes that don’t fit makes it easier to find the ones that do. Clearing the physical clutter brings fresh air into the house as much as opening the window to the warm spring breeze.

I know maybe I go a little overboard, but how do you approach spring cleaning? What method works best? At the end of the process, do you feel rejuvenated and less stressed, or exhausted and more stressed?