Monday, September 27, 2010

The Sock Situation

I was sorting my socks this weekend. As usual, there were several socks without mates. Drat! How to solve this problem?

At first I thought a separate box would be great. I'd toss all the lonely socks in there until I did enough laundry to make a match. Yes, the "lone sock box" was probably my most brilliant organizing idea ever!

After a minute of celebrating my cleverness, I thought about the situation from a minimalist perspective. A minimalist would probably have only one type of sock and probably just a few pairs...enough to get through a week or two. And there would never be an extra sock because they would all get washed at the same time. There would be no need for a "lone sock box" at all.

Like Leo Babauta says, minimalism is the end of organizing.

So, while this post is technically about socks, it's also not about socks. It's an example of how I used to think (which is what got me into this mess) and how I want to think (so I can get out of this mess and live the life I really want). It's nice to know that these behaviors I thought were a part of "me" are really just learned habits. And it's getting easier to unlearn them.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Better Things To Do

Most people reading this blog know me from my other blog, Sonnet of the Moon. There I talk about things like fabric and quilting. Not very minimalist, I know...but I have a soft spot for making things that are pretty and in an effort to make them useful, I stumbled across quilting.

For a while now I've wanted to try some sewing techniques that are more complicated than the simple sewing required to make quilts. A year ago I picked up The Art of Manipulating Fabric by Colette Wolff and I flip through it on occasion, awed by the things she can do with a simple piece of fabric.

I've spent a lot of time thinking about my future as a minimalist and focusing on what I want to accomplish in my life. For the past few years I've been "too busy" to create anything important. I fancy myself an artist yet I don't make any art! While workng to rediscover my creativity, I remembered this book and a project I had always wanted to try.

I was flipping through the pages on my lunch break when a co-worker walked by and stopped to see what I was reading. She's sewn a few things before so I knew she'd be interested.

What she said next was completely unexpected. She looked distainfully at the book and said "this sort of thing is for people with nothing better to do."

I thought about this after she left and I'm pretty sure I know what she was really saying. She was saying that her life (her cooking and cleaning and laundry and watching the soap operas she records while she's at work) is all so important and she simply has NO time to do silly things like work on challenging projects or pursue meaningful interests. And she took it out on me, tried to make me feel silly for pursuing things that are, in her mind, not important, a waste of time.

And that's fine. Because I took her statement as a compliment. No, I really don't have anything better to do because everything I do is the best! I'm in the process of freeing myself from obligations and distractions which leaves me time to focus on all the awesome things I want to do! Like going on a nature walk with Ian, having coffee with a good friend, creating art, developing skills.


Life is too short to watch soap operas! I have better things to do!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Little Changes

I just dropped off 6 boxes and 2 lamps at the Goodwill. I was in such a bad mood while packing up all my treasures this weekend. Treasures I found in a box that had been sitting in the basement, unopened, for 5 years. Most of it didn't matter but a few things were pretty and I remembered them fondly. Now they're (hopefully) on their way to someone who will treasure them as much as I did. And I'm in a much better mood, even if it was hard to give my things away. It gets easier each time, though.

I very nearly met my goal for the weekend which was to set the living room and kitchen to rights again. Ian and I have been living in a sea of boxes and we finally had some time to devote to getting things put away (and giving things away). Two more boxes to unpack and we'll be able to use the kitchen table again.


Slowly, things are becoming lighter...both in the house and in me. I'm noticing so many things that I never thought about before. Like just how much stuff I feel like buying just because it's there. Or just how much stuff there is to buy! Ian and I went to Target last night to buy some fake meat and the amount of stuff was overwhelming. It was all bright and shiny and tempting...but totally useless. Ma Ingalls would have freaked out.

I nearly freaked out! And I was happy to notice this because it means I'm changing. It means that stuff is losing its power over me. It means I've finally learned that stuff won't make me happy. It means I'm becoming a minimalist for real! How cool is that?

Friday, September 17, 2010

Things to Ponder

I found these articles particularly interesting and thought you might too:

Minimalism Explained and 3 Lifestyle Myths.

And finally, the one I'm focusing on the most lately: Being Busy is NOT That Important (and this goes with it too).

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Say Things That Matter

I've been challenged by Everett Bogue (not personally, of course, but through his blog) to say something that matters today.

Years ago, I kept an online journal. At some point, I made a promise to myself. I decided to stop talking about what I was going to do and instead, talk about what I'd done.

For example, I used to write "this weekend I'm going to clean the house and go to a museum and see a play and finish a painting and save the world!" Pretty sweet, right? Except that I never got around to doing any of those things. It sounded like I did them and soon I started to fool myself into thinking I was busy doing all sorts of fabulously important things all the time.

But deep down I knew I wasn't. I finally got fed up with dedicating so much effort to talking about things I'd never do, with wasting time dreaming of the life I wanted to lead but never leading it. When I made the switch to talking about the things I'd actually done, things I'd actually accomplished, my journal became strangely silent.

But only for a while. Soon I started doing cool things so I could write about them. Then I was doing cool things just because they were fun and rewarding. Then I gave up the journal and started my very own blog so I could show off all the cool stuff I was creating.

I'm not perfect, I still think about doing things more often than I actually do them. But I'm learning to sort out the important stuff from the busy-work and that's helping.

So, what have you been "going to do" for a while? Can you change that into something you "have accomplished"? Can you do it today?

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Minimalism by Theft

The other day I had, what I hope will turn out to be, a great idea. In the book Et Tu, Babe, Mark Leyner (both the author and main character) is caught stealing a vile of Abraham Lincoln's morning breath. His punishment is that every week, the authorities come into his home and remove one item. He doesn't know what it is (it could be anything) and if he discovers it missing, he's not allowed to replace it.

I used to think that was a terrible punishment (what if he needed those things someday?) but now I'm intrigued by the idea. In fact, I've even asked Ian to help me implement a similar project.

The rules are simple: every day Ian takes something of mine and puts it in a box. I don't know what it is and it could be anything. At the end of the month, I'll go through the box and keep what I think I need and give away everything else (especially things I didn't notice were missing). If I choose to keep something, I have 30 days to use it or it goes in the donation box for good.

Also, if I go to use something but can't find it because it's already in the box, it can come out so long as I actually use it that day. If I remember correctly, they took Mark Leyner's toothbrush and I can imagine Ian might find confiscating similar objects similarly funny.

I'm really excited about this idea. I'm especially interested to see just how many things I won't even know are gone. So far it's day 15 and I haven't noticed anything missing. I haven't peeked in the box either, although it is tempting. I'll show you September's collection on October 1.

Friday, September 10, 2010

On Books

I love books! I'm always reading one but more often two. I like to switch back and forth, picking the book I'm most in the mood for that day.

Ian has about a billion books and before he moved in, I promised he could use the floor to ceiling (and wall to wall) bookshelf in the room that would be his office. But where would my books go?

About this time I read a great article about breaking the sentimental attachment to books. I stared at my piles of books and no longer saw my trusty friends of old. In their place I saw battered paperbacks that I bought because they were only a dollar. I saw multiple copies of the same books, because, you know, one was just not enough. I mostly saw books I bought because I was going to read them someday.

I looked at those books and felt sad. I'd deceived myself, lost sight of what was truly important. All my friends, all the adventures...they are not books, they are not pages. I thought I loved books but that love was misplaced. What I actually love is reading.

As obvious as that is, you'll think I'm an even bigger idiot after I tell you I own a Kindle.

reading Jane Eyre

For almost a year, I've been happily reading books on my Kindle. No paper, no pages, just words and stories and emotions and adventures. I take it everywhere. I carry all my books at all times. Without realizing it, I'd stumbled on the nearly perfect minimalist approach to reading (and collecting) books.

Letting go of the physical pages wasn't as hard as I thought it would be. Here are the books I thought I couldn't live without:

books I couldn't live without

And these are the ones I'm keeping for now:

books I'm keeping for now

Quite a difference! And this stack might get smaller if certain books become available for the Kindle. For instance, I'm rather particular about translations and the Oxford Classics version of The Three Musketeers is my favorite. Don't be fooled, the Kindle version is NOT the same translation.

I wrote down the titles of all the books I was "going to read someday" and then gave them away. I feel lighter and a little sad, but that's alright. In just 60 seconds I can be with my old friends again. And that's what's truly important.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Moving Day

Ian moved in with me this weekend and try as I might, he wouldn't let me apply my new minimalist fantasies to his stuff. Consequently, we had lots of stuff to move!

As I hauled box after box down the stairs, I'd yell things like "Next time I move, I want all my stuff to fit into my car!" or "when I move, I want all my stuff to fit in only three boxes", and so on.

I've only recently noticed that Ian already lives a pretty minimalist lifestyle. Aside from books, cd's, canned goods and exotic "someday" cooking ingredients, he owns relatively few things.

But as I hauled box after box, I wondered how someone who doesn't own much stuff could still fill an entire moving truck. It got me thinking about how some stuff can add up to too much stuff pretty quickly.

While I've actively avoided making rules or deadlines for my minimalist journey, I'd be silly not to take away a few lessons from this weekend.

I think in an ideal world, I'd like to be able to fit everything I own into my car. I'm not sure I could actually go any smaller because I'm not willing to give up some of my hobbies at this point. Still, I feel so free when I think about my tiny car packed with only a few boxes! I could go anywhere and all it would take me would be a day of packing. How absolutely liberating!

But then I think of all the stuff I'd have to get rid of and I start to feel panicky.

To fight this, I've come up with a few schemes for getting rid of stuff gradually and hopefully by next summer I'll have reduced my stuff by half or more. Maybe I won't be able to pack it all into my car but it'll be a great start.