Sunday, July 26, 2015

Weeks Ten and Eleven : Keeping on keeping on

Weeks Ten and Eleven: July 18th and 25th, 2015: Keeping on keeping on

The last two weeks were busy with summer activities, work, and maintenance. we didn't do any big new projects. Instead, we maintained. We had friends and family over for lunch and dinner without panic cleaning, allowing s to relax and enjoy having guests over (well, I did make a LOT of salads, but besides that, we didn't do a lot to get ready for company). We did not look at the simplification books at all. Instead, we sat down as a family and discussed how we can keep our home organized and clean.

Looking through chapter 4 from Organizing Plain and Simple by Donna Smallin, we realized that we were already doing a lot of the things the expert simplicitarians recommend! A few of her recommended habits are...

  • Don't put it down, put it away.
  • Clean it up - now, not later.
  • Each person is responsible for his/her own mess.
  • Leave to trace when you use a space (or better yet, leave it looking better).

These are the things we are working on daily. Doing so has freed up our days to cook, garden, read, paint, ride bikes, and simply to breathe.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Week Nine: Digital Housekeeping

Week Nine: July 11th, 2015: Digital Housekeeping

Now that we are in the daily and weekly habits of simplifying, cleaning, and leaving no trace in our home, my attention has turned to the digital landscape. I started playing with Social Life Management ( in an effort to limit my social media footprint a bit. I've been minimal on Twitter (but had two accounts), YouTube, Pinterest, etc. but my Facebook footprint is so big I'm surprised a sasquatch hunter hasn't cast it in plaster.

Additionally, I have growing concerns about sharing pictures online to too broad an audience. Not just for security for my family, but more the ego driven part of selfy culture and a tendency to vomit 'look what I can do!' Stuart moments out into the digital ether versus being really present in that actual moment. I say this not with criticism of others, but of absolute admission that I have been doing this for YEARS. Time to stop. We have claimed some simplicity - time to reclaim our privacy and set a better example for our daughters that life is beautiful, moments are precious, and experiences are fleeting. Be in it instead of tweeting it.

So, last night I started cataloging how many pictures I had on Facebook (>5,000 - yup), how many Google+ profiles I had out there (at least three), and all the others. I'm still going to keep a few photos on Facebook, but will try to keep it to <200, and half of them will only be viewable by family members. I already deleted all my Google+ profiles (which I never used - and then had to add one back just so I can use Blogger), my extra Twitter account, and am trying to figure out how to download my Instagram photos and then that may go away too. This is not an effort to cut social media out completely - but to SIMPLIFY what feeds I feed into, what I share and with whom, and to reclaim privacy and the ability to fully enjoy moments without the needs to over share. 

Here's another perspective on why to be in the moment instead of on Instagram or Facebook.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Week Eight: Freedom from clutter!

Week Eight: Saturday, July 4th : Freedom from clutter!

As we celebrated our 4th of July, we had the time to relax, swim, grill, and have friends over...all without panic cleaning before hand. In fact, we are finding we have so much extra TIME now, that I was able to take on a couple larger projects over the three day weekend (painting the upstairs bathroom, fixing the downstairs toilet, cleaning and organizing my art room/art studio/woman cave),  sort and organize our filing cabinet, the girls school pictures, yearbooks, and school work from elementary school (they will both be in jr. high or high school next year!)...and STILL have time to chill out outside, watch the new Hobbit movie, and sleep in a little.

We didn't add any new concept or method to the simplification madness this past week, but kept on organizing drawer by drawer, room by room. Our pile for Goodwill keeps getting smaller and smaller each week, and now we'll have an even bigger stack of storage containers to donate. Joe finished up going through his 'memory' boxes so now those can also be stored away.

This week we are doing one thing from Kondo's book: unpacking and repacking our bags each day. We both bike commute, so who needs the extra weight of extra stuff? In my case, I had about 1,000 lip balms, about 2 lbs of loose change, and several pairs of headphones. WHY? So, I cleared out my bag, repacked with just what I needed for the day, and it is a bit lighter and more organized for the effort. And with to work I go!

Monday, June 29, 2015

Week Seven : Unpacking memories

Week Seven: Saturday, June 27th : Unpacking memories

Now that we are nearly two months into creating these new habits, we are finding that we have a lot more time and since our daily chores are fewer, we also have the time and energy to tackle some bigger projects. In line with two of the concepts we have been trying to adopt (below), this weekend we tackled our two main storage areas. The two concepts that we tried to keep in mind were:
  • One drawer, one shelf at a time (or one room): Everything out, clean the area, organize/thin down the contents before putting only what matters back. Recycle, donate, discard the rest.
  • Minimize the need for storage containers: Curb your surplus. Don't have so many possessions that you now also have to possess storage containers. 
In the past few weeks we have emptied MANY storage containers and as we bring our donations to our local Goodwill (we have been regulars there lately), we are bringing them IN one of these extra containers and donating that as well.

This weekend we pulled out all of the items in our storage closets (we have a bungalow, so no walk up attic, just a couple of storage areas on the second floor). I had over a half dozen bins of old baby clothes (my daughters', my mother's, my own), old papers from college, a mountain of photos, and even crazy things like coupons that expired in 1994!

Short story here is that we thinned down everything to the point that my main 'memory' possessions fit into one container, with all clothes in another. My daughters' school work is a different story, but our plan is to go through those containers when they get back from a week with grandma up north.

The longer, and more important story, was the joy, humor, and sometimes tears this process brought us. Joe and I both doubled over in teary laughter after he found a very interesting bit of art he made in elementary school. An apple and a worm, and the worm looked like...well, I'll leave that up to your imagination. I laughed when I found those horribly expired coupons, pictures of my dear childhood friends (some of whom were just a text message away as I shared some of the crazy photos and items), and read some of my high school poetry (it won't be shared here, trust me). I cried when I found my grandmother's sweater which I had kept after she passed away just to hold on to her smell. I cried when I found my grandfather's obituary, yellowed and fragile I was afraid to even touch it. The whole experience was cathartic and beautiful. Our storage areas are on their way to being immaculate and organized...but our hearts and minds are full of beautiful memories because of it.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Week Six: Clearing and blessing

Week Six: Saturday, June 20th : Clearing and blessing

This weekend we didn't do many chores or projects. Instead, we decided to bless our home now that the roots of simplification seem to have taken root. It is the longest sunny day of the year (the solstice), Joe's fifth year as a step father (Happy Father's Day), and with some big changes on the horizon (I start a new job on Monday), I wanted to do something symbolic to honor the work we have been doing to be a happier, more peaceful family.

When we first bought our house a few years ago, we did a sage smudging ritual. It was something the girls had done in elementary school, so it was familiar to them, and the ritual has some beautiful symbolism and tradition behind it. Sage has been known through many cultures as an herb symbolic of cleansing. "The Latin for sage, ‘Salvia,’ stems from the word ‘to heal.’ The other qualities of sage when burned, such as giving wisdom, clarity and increasing spiritual awareness, are also indicated in the name. It’s no accident that we refer to wise people as sagely."(from

We still had a small sage stick and sweet grass braids from when we did this three years ago (Sage to clear; sweet grass to attract positive energies). We followed the guidelines from Inspired Everyday Living, but made some modifications that felt right for us. I woke early, opened every window and door letting in fresh air and sunlight. I gathered up the sage stick, sweet grass braid, paper, pen, candle, and safe containers for burning paper and smouldering sage. I made a pot of coffee, lit some candles, and then roused the rest of the family.

We started with setting our intention. Each of us wrote out some negative things we wanted to let go of, and then some positive things we desired to have more of in our life and/or felt gratitude for. We read aloud the negative thoughts and then burned those pieces of paper letting go of: ego, negative words, negative thoughts about others, arguments, anxiety. We then read aloud our positive thoughts: time together, time in nature, peace, happiness, health, creative inspiration. These we kept, placing them where we would see them every day.

Then we lit the sage and first 'washed' ourselves with the sage smoke - reminding ourselves of our intention, focusing on positivity, and making sure we discarded any negativity. Then we said a blessing as we walked through the house from room to room, in a clockwise pattern, starting on the front porch. The blessing we used was:

We banish all negative energy from our home. 
We enlighten our home with the positive energy of love, prosperity, and peace.

When we finished blessing every room, closet, and even the (now clean) garage, we came back inside the house and extinguished the sage. We lit the sweet grass and read the following blessing:

Let our home shine with light and beauty and provide a warm, comfortable haven from the world. 
Let our home be filled with an ambiance of peace, prosperity, health, happiness, harmony, and love. May only beings that are kind-hearted and well-intentioned enter here. 
We believe in one another, in this family, and in this home.

We walked the same path as before, blessing each room and saying a loving kindness meditation phrase in each room "May we be safe, may we be healthy, may we be happy, may we be at peace." We made this directional in each of the girls' rooms, and when we came across one of our pets. Fiona got silly and added her own ideas to the phrase, which was fine. Our home was already feeling lighter and happier.

We agreed to make this a ritual every spring, maybe on the solstice, or maybe when it was warm enough to open all the windows and doors. Even if you don't believe in the idea of positive or negative energy in your physical environment, rituals like this can help your mindset shift from being negative to more positive. Whatever is going on in (environmental cleansing and/or psychological re-framing) it works for us.

Week Five: The great purge

Week Five: Saturday, June 13th, 2015: The great purge

Last weekend I didn't write since we were busy working on sorting, organizing, purging, and cleaning.  We have been actively working on simplification for over a month now. And I've also spent a lot of time thinking about why it is important that we do this work, especially right now. This has been a period of introspection and difficulty for me personally. Letting go of the clutter helped me gain clarity of mind. My favorite mantra lately is a Thich Nhat Hanh quote about  being present "If we are not fully ourselves, truly in the present moment, we miss everything." I've allowed myself to be distracted by negativity. These daily acts of deliberate simplicity, non-self, and being in the moment have helped me prioritize what is important for our family. I've been able to slow down and just be...stop to enjoy a beautiful dragonfly with my daughter, laugh with an old friend, or enjoy the warm of my husband's arms. Slowly working on not always being on and choosing instead to be IN the now. It is constant work, but we are experiencing quality time as a family in new quantities and glimmers of happiness we haven't seen in a while.

One more quantifiable measure of our success so far is that we now have a large number of empty storage containers. One of the ideas Joe wanted to try (from 'The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up' by Kondo) was minimizing how much seasonal storage we rely on. Now all of our winter items (with the exception of hats, gloves, and some winter sports gear), remain in our closets and drawers. We have made room by reducing the amount of clothing we have in the first place (and we still have a lot!). We have gone through nearly every container of stored items and clothing purging what we don't need. What a change to go from buying storage containers to deal with the clutter to perhaps donating a stack of them as part of the clutter!

We also cleaned out our garage last weekend. It amazing how quickly the garage becomes the depository of items we don't use or don't use often enough. I wish I had taken some before pictures, but trust me when I say there is a dramatic change in our garage. We filled an entire Bagster with junk that couldn't be donated or recycled (although the scrappers had a hey day going through what we had tossed and probably found a few gems). Also brought many loads of donations to our local Goodwill. We are now known well by the fellows in the donation center as the crazy couple on bikes. It took a while, but one load after another was hauled by bike by either me or Joe, freeing up space in our home. Every load that left made our home feel lighter.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Week Four: One month update

Week Four: Saturday, June 6th, 2015: One month of simplification

Thanks Albert. Well timed. Today marks a month of doing Simplification Saturday as a family...even though sometimes it happened on Sunday, instead of Saturday. It was also an intense month for our family, with me choosing to accept a new job moving on from one that I have loved, having some health issues, Fiona finishing elementary school, Ella finishing middle school, and Joe supporting all of us through it all.

The greatest joy so far is seeing how our daughters are getting into it. Instead of 'chores' coming from me or Joe, they are participating in selecting how we do things and working to make their own spaces more awesome. Today Ella, age 14, elected to spend a few hours organizing, cleaning, and purging things from her room. When she was done, she came downstairs and declared"I'm so pleased with how clean and organized my room is!" She may be the first 14 year old to ever utter these words. Fiona, age 11, says its 'Simplification Saturdays are nice because I feel like we are getting rid of what we don't need, and make the things we do have (or keep) more precious...making it so that the entire house feels nicer."

Results of ideas tried so far:
  • 'Leave no Trace' kitchen (not leaving any trace after using the kitchen) has been working like magic. This idea is a simple one and has been sustained for 3 weeks. Our kitchen is staying clean all the time, with minimal effort. The sink is free of dishes. The kids are cleaning up after themselves without being asked (most of the time). We are cooking more meals instead of going out, and using up all the produce we buy at the grocery store or farmers market. We enjoy being in our kitchen.
  • 'Leave no Trace' living room (same idea) was started two weeks ago and the living room is remaining clean, again, with minimal effort. It has been nice to have friends over and they comment on how clean the house is (and I'm not still moping my brow from frenzied pre-guest cleaning). We have also tried to extend this to the dining room, but as this is the hub of the house (where I sit now, typing this out), that has been challenging.
  • One drawer, one shelf: This also works, but when we expanded it to a whole room, it became daunting. So, we are trying to still pull back to one small area of a room or one drawer/dresser/bookcase at a time.
  • Email/subscription list minimization: Amazing. Still ongoing, but already hearing less pings and have few piles of publications. 
  • Other successes: 
    • We seem to magically have more time all day long.
    • We are spending more time with friends, or having friends over (again, without either being embarrassed by the clutter and/or doing intense 'binge' cleaning before hand).
    • I've found enough time to meditate and go to the Zen center weekly.
    • Amid a few weeks of intense professional stress, my home felt more like a refuge than it has in a long time. 
Today we sat down with our remaining four books (we started with four, donated a few, but uncovered others while we have been cleaning) which we have decided are our favorite books: 10-Minute Housekeeping by Kennedy, The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Kondo, Organizing Plain & Simple by Smallin, and the Simple Living Guide by Luhrs. We may eventually get the books down to a couple, but it has been fun to each pick a book and share an idea. Also finding inspiration from How to Train a Wild Elephant by Bays, which I've been listening to on Audible...but may get the book (I know, adding more stuff...but this book is amazing for a myriad of reasons, not just the simplification effort).

New ideas we are trying:
  • Creating a family wide budget (that the girls are a part of versus just having it be the parental budget)
  • Making our own 'orange' spray to combat the cat pee in the basement (trying Alice's Wonder Spray which we normally use anyway, but adding a teaspoon of sweet orange oil).
  • Avoiding winter storage bins (minimizing our clothing so that we can keep our year round wardrobe in the space we have, versus turning the closet and dressers yearly).
  • Shorter hair: I cut my hair very short and am contemplating shaving my head (I've done it twice before and loved it...but with starting a new job in two weeks I've opted to keep it pixie short versus Mad Max short...but hoping Charlize Theron looking as gorgeous as she does makes the shaved head look a little more socially acceptable for women. Think of all the time and shampoo I'd save!)

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Week Three : Leave no Trace continues...

Week Three: Saturday, May 24th, 2015: Leave no Trace continues

Well, we tried to unplug a bit this weekend, so here I am posting what we did this weekend on a Tuesday morning. It was quite an intense week professionally and emotionally, letting go of some things that were causing distress, so it was good to be at home with the family working on making our lives simple, humble, and happy.

Results so far...after a week of Leave no Trace in our kitchen, we have been pleasantly surprised that not only is the kitchen staying immaculate with what seems like minimal effort, we are also cooking more. Instead of walking into the kitchen and saying 'oh gosh, what a disaster. Who wants ______ for dinner!?'  ______ typically means Pizza Luce, On's Thai, or some other form of delivery. This week we splurged once for On's, but otherwise were busy cooking. I brewed kombucha for the third time this spring, made water kefir and soy kefir, miso soup, soba with swiss chard, homemade seitan and vegan mayo, and then a beautiful faux chicken curry salad from said seitan. Fiona made vegan cupcakes on her own, dropped the first batch on the clean floor, and resolved to clean up and start again. She made $5 selling her baked goods ala lemonade stand outside on a beautiful Memorial Day. We are all amazed at how simple and effective this idea ended up being in the execution and reinforcement of it...and how it led to us actually using the space more.

It was working so well that we decided to continue it for the living room, the room we really do live in the most as a family. I spent the good part of two days cleaning every nook and cranny, organizing books and record albums, rearranging so that the focus of the room was conversation vs. television. We had already gotten rid of our video game console, so now the room is focused on the moment and other people, instead of mindless distractions. Its now so clean that any 'trace' will be obvious and we will avoid it. Also discovered some wonderful books I haven't read in ages, so have a new reading list for the coming weeks.

Overall we are still practicing the 'one shelf, one drawer' rule (with me taking on whole rooms at a time, which has been quite cathartic). This has been working well versus my normal method of cleaning the entire floor of the house in a day. We have another (maybe our fourth so far) pile for the Goodwill piled on the front porch. Removing the things that are no longer useful to us has been liberating.

We also uncovered a handful more 'simplification books' (eight total now) and have again it down to four we think will be most helpful. Will post the new list next Saturday. The irony is not lost on me.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Week Two: Leave no this kitchen

Week Two: Saturday, May 16th, 2015: Leave no this kitchen.

This Saturday our house was empty. Not literally (we aren't aiming for THAT level of simple), but figuratively: the human occupants were otherwise busy. The girls were visiting their bio-dad, Joe was working doing support for a bike ride, and I was at my first Zen Buddhist sesshin. Finally getting to this blog post this morning.

One of the portions of the sesshin was the meditation meal ritual, the oryoki. This word translates to 'just enough'. Food is prepared in silence. The three small oryoki dishes and the utensils (chop sticks, spoon, and spatula), bundled together with cloth, tied with a knot resembling a lotus, are set out. Once everyone is seated, blessings are given, an offering is made to Buddha, and the meal begins. Each bowl holds just enough for a small serving. Once everyone has finished eating, the bowls are scraped down with the spatula, so that nothing is wasted. A small amount of hot water is used to wash the bowls, reusing to wash each item, and then drinking the water. The bowls are then dried and again, bundled in cloth with a lotus-like knot, and stored for the next meal. In a multi-day sesshin, you would use your same set of small bowls for every meal, so keeping your set clean is very important. You leave no trace. Everything is back where it began.

As luck would have it, I have also been listening to "How to Train a Wild Elephant (& Other Adventures in Mindfulness)" by Jan Chozen Bays. One of her exercises is the 'Leave no trace' exercise, where you leave your kitchen just as you found it. Nothing in the drying rack or dishwasher. Nothing on the counter tops. Similar to the LNT environmentalist ideal and/or what should be practices when backpacking or camping, you leave things as you found them and do no harm. We are horrible about leaving a sink of dishes until the next morning. Sometimes even the next night. We are so busy (and lazy?) that we put it off. We have more important things to do. The result is that we mindlessly grab another clean glass or bowl or spoon, while the last one we used sits dirty in the sink.

When doing this activity, we have to be mindful of what we are using in terms of food and dishes. As in oryoki, we take just what we need, knowing we need to deal with the left overs. We wash whatever dishes we used after the meal. Ella is washing out her morning breakfast bowl right now...drying it and her spoon, and putting them away. Last night, when we had more dishes from dinner, one washed and one dried and put away. The drying rack (we do not have a dishwasher), is put away for the week to see if we can live without it (although I may miss the sculpture like stacks of creatively balanced dishes). So far, so good. The kitchen is immaculate when we enter it...and when we leave it. We have put up small signs 'Leave no trace in this kitchen' along side our prayers of reverence for the water and reminders to be present when washing dishes.

In other news, we continue with one drawer/one shelf at a time. We have purged several trailer fulls of stuff we no longer use often enough to keep (and trailer, I mean bike trailer. We do not have a car either). The house is already feeling more calm and clear. Not sure what activity we will do this Saturday, but more than likely we will continue on this path.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Week One: Our first Simplification Saturday

Week One: Saturday, May 9th, 2015

This is our first Simplification Saturday. This blog is new and an effort of tracking and sharing our efforts to simplify over time (versus my typical giant, cathartic spring purge). We have lived in our home for three years and the stuff has flooded in. Now chores have more to do with keeping the clutter at bay than it does with really making it the best home it can be for our family. Instead of wasting time with the way we've been doing chores, we are moving to Simplification Saturdays! Setting aside one morning a week not for chores, but for finding ways to have fewer chores because we have less crap around the house to take care of in the first place.

We happen to have acquired four books over the years. Some I've had for years, and others were purchased during past attempts at simplification (with the best intentions...adding books on organization and simplicity to, you guessed it, the clutter! Oh, the irony). With the mindset of making more from what we have, we are using/reviewing the books we already own. Whatever proves to not be helpful will go into PILE 3 (headed to Goodwill):
There are four of us, and four books, so each Saturday we will each pick an idea or two from each book, or from our own noggins, and see if we can make it happen in our household. We will share WHAT we are trying, WHY (read above...but also with some specifics), HOW to do it, and WELL...that worked or didn't work.

WHAT we are trying this week:
  • Cancelling almost all magazine subscriptions (our own idea)
    • WHY? We don't have time to read them. They cause clutter and just end up in the recycling anyway.
    • HOW? Just call or go online and cancel them. Sometimes you get a refund sometimes you don't. Oh least we don't waste time with more clutter.
  • Removing almost all email subscriptions (our own idea)
    • WHY? I sign up for crap ALL the time. Information is power, right? Well, the result is I often start my day wasn't time sorting through them all and deleting the majority. What a waste of time.
    • HOW? Instead of just deleting that annoying incoming message, scroll to the bottom, click 'unsubscribe'. Done and done.
    • WELL? Have already been working on this and its already getting the inbox down to a more manageable number. 
  • Staying Car-Free (from Merken)
    • We are already are. Done and done.
  • Zero population (from Merken)
    • Another one of Ella's snarky contributions...we will not be adding any humans to the global population this weekend. You're welcome.
  • The Drawer-by-Drawer, Shelf-by-Shelf rule (from Luhr, 355):
    • WHY? We have many areas that are like the trap in the sink, collecting junk we really no longer need. Time to deliberately attack those small areas and purge.
    • HOW? Modified slightly slightly from Luhr:
      • Each family member picks 2 areas: a drawer or shelf in their room and a drawer/shelf/cupboard from a communal family area. 
      • Empty out/off the space completely. Purge what is no longer used/usable. Wipe down/clean the now empty area before returning ONLY the items that are usable and will be used often. 
      • Additionally, from Smallin, we are tackling ALL toiletries as a group (from all four of us), organizing, sharing, purging.
  • The Three-Pile Rule & The Taped-and-Dated Box Rule (combining them, from Luhr p 357-358)
    • WHY? Just doing this with clothes, shoes, and outerwear. Its spring, so everything from winter is still out and now the spring/summer clothes are out and there are piles of clothes and shoes and jackets everywhere I look!
    • HOW?
      • We have blended these two rules and added the 'hand me down' part for pile 2. Each family member takes out ALL of their clothes, shoes, coats and puts them in one giant pile. All closets and drawers are empty! Go through the items and make three piles: 
        • PILE 1. Love it and use it all the time! Awesome. Wipe down your closets and drawers and put this stuff away!
        • PILE 2. Like it, but don't use often: This items are up for grabs from other family members. Anything not claimed, goes into a box or rubbermaid/sterlite container with the family members name and the date we put the items into storage. This goes away for 6 months. If items are not used (excluding items that might not be used for seasonal reasons - like winter coats) in that 6 months, they graduate to pile 3.
        • PILE 3. Don't like it, wear it, or it doesn't fit: This pile goes to Goodwill stat!