Unclutterer.com had a post that really got me thinking!

The connection between surroundings and perspective

I agree that surroundings influence a person’s sense of comfort and well being on a really visceral level and it's not the same for everyone, in fact it isn't even always the same for ONE person!

What astonishes me most is how the relationship with surroundings can change (sometimes dramatically) in a relatively short amount of time. I used to feel extreme anxiety in a sparse room... I couldn’t relax, I felt exposed and vulnerable. I felt sorry for people that didn't surround themselves with books and knicknacks and other pretty personal items. Really.... sorry for minimalists! It's laughable. This interaction with my surroundings lasted into my 30s.

Pretty much from the moment I left home for college I was forging ahead on my own, from scratch with nothing to define me except the boxes that I moved into my first apartment and my class list (in a strange town) life was thrust upon me.  And it got more full, slowly at first... acquisition of furniture... pursuing a career... then it really got busy!... marriage... home ownership... 2 babies... 

I needed my stuff, my stuff needed me - a cozy relationship.

Now at this present point in my life (approaching 40 with lightening speed) the opposite is true, clutter feels heavy like it will squash me and sucks out my freedom with every dust-catching surface, it's emotionally draining and "loud" all the time. 

What changed? I have a theory that the more full and stable my life becomes, the less tangible affirmations (aka stuff) I need to define myself to feel confident in my own skin.

Perhaps that is part of what hoarding is about. I am amazed how many of the hoarders (on the TV show) started off as tidy people... only to suffer some tragedy that changes their needs. These people need to feel secure and search for the security with things, it's tragic how messed up (literally) the stuff made everything!

I was a packrat. One personal tragedy away from much worse habits... it's a reality that I'm okay with really. Through love, trust and self-realizations I have come out the other side with a greater respect for my things. Not so much of it means what it used to, and I honestly think that is a very very good thing!

Bravo minimalists for not needing the stuff to be happy. But please don't underestimate the genuine comfort a bit of clutter can provide for anyone that's feeling a bit lost.


Freedom of Choice -- too much of a good thing?

Yes freedom of choice is AWESOME.

But everything in moderation, right?

There is a wall of yogurt at my grocery store. A whole aisle of cereal and the cheese choices are so plentiful that my store has a wall near the yogurt and 2 more big display areas in the deli. (Did anyone else laugh at the "what's dis?" part of Borat with the cheese? Just me? okay.)

We are so spoiled here it's quite ludicrous.

Other than groceries I'm not a fan of shopping. I know LOTS of folks really love it... I'm just not one of those folks.  Its all the choices that do me in.

When I enter a BIG MALL I start off with a tingle of excitement at all the shiny pretty things, then I quickly fade to anxiety over too much choice and too many things that are desirable/novel/expensive, and then a deep funk comes to me that is either tied to buyers remorse, or not being able to find what I entered the mall to buy (despite millions of items being there). The whole process takes about 20 minutes, and if I am determined to get that thing I came for, the funk just gets more and more tedious until I can't stand it anymore and I have to leave. I wish it wasn't like that. I really do.

I have found ways around the anguish of new-stuff-browsing-frustration-overload.

My favourite trick is going to the local thrift shops. Variety is amazing when you get a great thrift shop. Every style, every vintage (and every quality level) is hanging out there. Let's say your in the market for a red, 100% cotton, cable-knit sweater... it takes about 35 seconds to go to the sweater section, look for red, check the size and then the materials label. Nothing there? Great, now you know and your day can continue practically uninterrupted. In the mall it may take 2 hours just to go through those steps (department, colour, size, materials)... and then either come up empty handed or find the only one in the right size that is pleasing is over $100.  At the thrift store I know where I stand in my hunt very quickly, I won't be out more than $7 if I do find one, and I already know how it will look after a wash (bonus!). Some people may say that takes the fun out of shopping, but lets be honest here, if the thrift store doesn't have it, it was probably a "want" more than a "need" anyways, so live without it for another day.

(My favourite "score" at a thrift shop... I was in the market for ankle boots, I found PRADA bootlets with a cool chrome heel for $8 -- so comfy, almost too pretty and they have lasted for years).

A trick for staying sane shopping for NEW stuff:

Lets say a toy is needed for a birthday party or some similar scenario (like buying grooming products for example), head straight to the back of the store and check out the clearance section. Don't even look at anything else because you are on a mission. You may find a product you didn't know existed that could be your new favourite. Nine times out of ten something really cool is back there at a deeply discounted price that completely fulfills the buying criteria. If nothing suitable is there, then wander to the proper department and look only at the SALE tags... still no luck? Now you can face the flood of abundance of choice by looking at the full-price items.

Choice is great, I appreciate choices every day. And I choose to look at alternatives to the mall. I choose to re-use and make-do before buying new. My favourite choice is my choice to skip the mall entirely if I can.... my time is more precious, and my money too hard to earn to spend it on glamour and regret.

What are your freedom of choice overload point? Is it eating out? Exercise? Hobbies? Travel Destinations? Gadgets?


Making Time - Making Priorities

When my youngest son broke his right femur 5 years ago, I learned a valuable lesson.

Priorities can change in a heartbeat.

I went from planning my day around emails from clients & meal planning for the family to 24 hours-a-day taking care of Cami in the kid's wing of the hospital... literally in a heartbeat.

That was just a broken leg ("just" being a relative term versus let's say a brain injury or amputation or blindness or something). That snap of the bone changed my world for more than 8 weeks. Suddenly clients were forgotten, personal concerns evaporated, clutter-smutter! Time was irrelevant compared to the tasks and trials that needed attention.

My husband and I took shifts at the hospital around his work and Steve's last few days of school for the year (after all my older boy was still just 9 at the time). Sleeping on a cot was fine, no personal space (because nurses were coming in and checking every hour) was fine too. Living out of a cold, concrete room and walking down the hall to get refreshments was completely reasonable.... because my little boy -- my BABY -- was in traction, in a hospital bed, in a prone position! Going home when each shift was done was a strain on me. The priority for home was: make sure Steve was coping with the weird schedule, shower, eat something healthy, feed the cat, sleep. Clients were completely neglected, housework was left, I ate what was home because the idea of grocery shopping was crazy. In other words my life was turned upside down. In fact, our neighbours, who didn't know what was going on thought maybe my husband and I separated because of the disjointed attendance.

Then 6 weeks in a Spica cast (which included the trunk of his body and full leg) so my little boy was like a mannequin  -- frozen in a semi-sitting position -- I had to carry him to the toilet and hold his stiff body there, he slept propped up on pillows, he lost muscle mass, and a whole summer of freedom. Rehab was quick, but painful when the cast came off just before school started.

We did what needed to be done. We adjusted, we all found a new "normal" and we carried on.

The lasting effect of this experience for me was the knowledge that sh!t happens then life goes on. All priorities can be tossed aside, and time can be found for anything if it's important/urgent enough.

Current priorities (alphabetically):

- Family - Finances - Friendships - Health - Home - Personal Growth -

the question is what order are these in? I know which ones SHOULD come first, but "urgent" matters (not necessarily important matter) intervene often enough to bump them all over the list.

It's nice to take a conscious minute to slow down and think about my priorities, really think about them, instead of just constantly reacting to what life throws my way.


Inventory Time - food edition

Inventory time on the pantry/freezer situation!

Food is a passion of mine. Cooking - Eating - Shopping. And one way I "indulge" is by stocking up... it can be a little on the crazy side (depending on how vulnerable I feel) at times. The good news is that I now recognize that I don't have to save up for a catastrophe -- at least not an apocalyptic one -- and just because it's on sale doesn't mean I need to buy 24 of it either. There are positives that I can't deny, for example, one things is certain... I can ALWAYS come up with a decent meal with savoury seasonings and full, satisfying portions for the whole family from my pantry at any time.

Today was the day I dug everything from my freezer and took inventory. This exercise is very revealing... for instance I found out that I really like buying frozen fish fillets. I do, in fact, like eating fish, but rarely chose to make it. VOILA an excess of Basa and Sole in the freezer (about 7 pounds). And blueberries.... LOTS of blueberries.... 6 bags (I now know without a shadow of a doubt what kind of smoothies we will be having for breakfast for a LONG time). And I'm not sure how I managed to forget to use the cranberries and then buy more -- 5 times!

Other insights... 8 family servings of Edamame... 6 deep dish pie crusts... 3 big ziplock bags of chicken stock... 4 containers of homemade pesto... 1 turkey... 3 bags of corn...

I could go on, but I won't.

Apparently I need to do this sort of inventory more often.

To help prevent further duplicates, I have sorted my uprightfreezer into "zones": Meat/Fish, Veggies, Fruit, meal helpers (pizza, eggrolls, etc), desserts (pie/icecream), juices. The kitchen freezer is reserved for opened bags of fruit/veg and bread. Now I can open the door and see immediately that the fruit shelf is FULL. No more fruit to buy please -- resist the aisle at the store -- resist! And I can also see that there are only 3 cans of orange juice... that's okay, I can wait until there are none before buying more.

Sigh...I want to make a big batch of lasagna to freeze, but today I realized that is impossible until there is room in my freezer. Motivation to avoid buying anything that must be frozen for a little while. (It won't be long, boys eat a LOT of food these days).

Feeling motivated by the freezer discoveries I decided to do the canned goods pantry. My list had fallen out of service -- time to update it! A whole other set of revelations in there... and not where I thought. I discovered I don't have any baked beans, not one can (weird considering I usually buy case lots of them). I only have 1 can of kidney beans (so a batch of chili would have to wait for a shopping trip) and now that my husband doesn't like salt he doesn't take the chunky soups for lunch anymore (but apparently I'm still buying them -- I have 12 cans).

Taking inventory is very good.

In one stroke I feel comfortable with the food I have, know what I need (and what I don't) and can confidently open the door to make dinner.... oh and I can CLOSE the doors too! That's a major thing for a borderline food hoarder.


More = Christmas

How can I simplify the season of excess?

Chrsitmas compared to all the other seasons is defined by MORE.
More decorations, more lights, more food, more gifts, more social events, more treats, more eggnog & rum, more baking, more shopping, more packaging..... more... more.... more....

The problem with my desire to simplify is that I like the lights, glitter and cheer... I like the trees and the happy, charged atmosphere.

In recent years I have enforced a limit on my Christmas paraphernalia...a real, physical limit.  ALL the Christmas stuff must fit in my Grandfather's Steamer chest at the end of the season... no exceptions. So if I really want another ornament, I have to be prepared to let something of the same size go, the chest is full to capacity, that is a reality. It also keeps my storage solutions simple and out of sight for the rest of the year. A necessity.

The space in my home within my own 4 walls is under control for Christmas, GREAT!
But.... no matter how much I may want it, it's not all about ME or what I want...

Not just an excuse to decorate, Christmas is a time for generosity, thankfulness and giving... however I don't appreciate the chaos and spending that goes along with it. I feel taken for a ride on the Consumerism Express. The adults understand for the most part and I would be tempted to have a "no presents" Christmas with a loving and well thought out excuse to the family... however...

I have 2 sons with many years of experience getting major Christmas hauls.
I have 3 nieces of serious Christmas-magic age.
I have 2 nephews of toy crazy age too

and they have a full family of Grandparents, Aunts, Uncles and Parents that may not be on the same frugal-minimalist agenda that I am. That's the trap isn't it?!

I love them VERY much.
LOVE = GIFTS at Christmas...
...or at least that sure is how it looks to the impressionable munchkins.

I will have to do more research on how to give them a memorable and loving impression without adding to the clutter-junk-disposable toy cycle.  I refuse to have my affections be just another toy on the pile this year.

Experience gifts are a good option. But I feel guilty that to use the gifts (lets say a movie pass) some of the nieces and nephews have to take a ferry and drive (taking parent time and money) hmm...I'm thinking.... part of the gift could be myself picking them up from the ferry and taking the to the experience, couldn't it!? I'll have to think about that some more, it may not be practical after all.

Now that the juices are flowing here I'm pretty sure I can think up clutter-free gifts for most of my list. I don't want to spoil it but here are some ideas (If you think you may be on my list, please don't read farther).

How about:
...museum membership, satellite radio subscription, a ride on a helicopter, one-meal-per-month-for-a-year-at-my-house vouchers, bouquet-a-month for an out of town relative, Movie passes, subscription, swimming lessons, art lessons, pottery class (fun with friends!) big batch of treats (freezable so they don't have to feel like a glutton), yoga-night once a week at a friend's, garden plant...

The problem is still there though (2 problems really) How can I simplify this season of excess? How can I still say I love somebody at Christmas without giving them something to unwrap?


Christmas ( + Other Clutter Occasions)

Don't hate me for mentioning it in October...  I like to get the shopping done early.... CHRISTMAS IS COMING!

Before kids it was an easy occasion to look forward to. I'd head to mom or dad's (or the in-laws) for all day eating and present opening. Some traditional tunes in the background (Boney-M is my personal fave) and then, fat and happy, I'd roll home with my haul.

NOW... 2 boys later... I dread the big day, actually the WHOLE MONTH. It's non stop stuff morning noon and night. (The great disadvantage to living so close to so many family members is the endless people to buy for and the endless toys that come from all of them.)

Honestly I have gift-fatigue in a BIG way. I really don't know how to tell them I hate it. I can't deprive the relatives from seeing the delighted faces of my boys when they get their gifts, and I can't deprive my boys from it either -- can I?

Maybe in about 3 years (oldest will be 18, youngest 14) we can disapear to somewhere warm and far away for the holidays... is that cheating? Bring everyone back an edible souvenir? Vanilla Beans, coffee, chocolate or if we are feeling like Hawaii is the place to hide, sweet sweet macadamia nuts!

In the past I have experimented with gift exchanging. One year I insisted we only get handmade things. Another year I asked for "experience" gifts, and another year I said no adult presents, family gifts only. Well it all failed miserably because only SOME people respected my requests. Then the day would come and some people went overboard, some people got left out (because they were playing along) and some people just did whatever the heck they wanted to.... hey, it's their Christmas too, who am I to make the rules???

I guess I should just shut up and ride the peer-pressure treadmill for the last few years before the kids are grown... but I don't want to. I really don't.

So do YOU have a plan for averting the gift-avalanche this upcoming season?

Or for that matter, any gift occasion? Birthday, Easter (how did that get gifty anyways?), etc...?


Short but sweet

No time to write these days, but no time to shop either!

I have squeezed out a few missions of decluttering in between jobs -- nothing that couldn't be done in 15 minutes or less. So nothing deep. I did get brutal with purging the summer linens as I brought out the fall ones. I am getting rid of twin size, summer-weight duvets (2 of them) -- the duct tape holding a seam together is the dead givaway that I've been too clingy to these items. Also a feather pillow that suddenly decided to puke feathers all over my boy's room (no rips, just coming right through the ticking!)... can feather pillows be composted I wonder? Right now it's in a bag waiting for proper disposal

I also said goodbye to 2 pairs of very pretty shoes that pinch, it wasn't easy because both pairs are Italian and unique... but come on they aren't house decorations, they are footwear, so if I can't wear them on my feet, they need to go to someone else's!
+ another jacket
+ a CD holder
+ some decorative items that I wasn't "seeing" anymore
+ a few craft items

 I've been putting these things in boxes and bags... no time to run to the charity to get them out of here though. I HAVE TO GET THESE BOXES AND BAGS OF DECLUTTERED THINGS OUT OF MY OFFICE!

Update on my sister "robbing" me:
She won't do it.
She says I have decluttered enough and she can't think of anything that's too much or out of place now. Oh how little she knows where I'm going!!!!! I will need to find a true minimalist to help me with this cleansing plan.

Baby steps to see my space lighten up. It's important to me. My time is too valuable to be buried all the time.


Slippery Slope of Crap

As I mentioned last post, my busy work season is here. And unfortunately, my decluttering efforts have stalled as a result.

The thing that really confuses me is where all this stuff is coming from to smother me? After all, I don't have time to even think about shopping!

So here I am at my desk feeling buried by the same old stuff even though I thought I already got rid of the desk clutter... but there it is. Same crap. Different pile.

Not enough time in the day to be super-mom, super-wife, super-designer AND super-declutterer. I still amd confused about the source of the mess though. It must be me, because it's my stuff. But when? Where? How? did it find it's way onto my desk and around my feet?

I feel like I want to do a major purge... I mean MAJOR (I still have to talk to my sister about "robbing me") otherwise if I am going to have to keep sitting in all this poop, I will surely go mad.

(Sorry, it felt like a rant day today).