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 Trace...in this kitchen

Week Two: Saturday, May 16th, 2015: Leave no Trace...in 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 well...at 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!