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!)