The Year of Living Minimally – Week Forty-one


scrabble freedom

You have a very good salary, but your bank account is low and your debt is never-ending. You live a house that has more bedrooms than people to inhabit them. You have a mortgage and a car loan and credit card debt. Are you happy? Are you free?

I’m not judging. When I was in my twenties, I lived way beyond my means. I was stressed about credit card debt, and while I always made the minimal payments, I wasn’t getting myself out of debt, because every month I’d make more purchases, just to feel good. Ha! Joke was on me. I worked in a bank (yes, me) and I hated it. But when I had a chance, a good chance to switch to a job at a college, in a field far more suited to me, I couldn’t do it. Because it paid slightly less and I couldn’t afford a lower salary – because I had debt.

In my thirties, I got married. I didn’t bring a lot of money to the marriage, but by then, I’d worked my way out of debt and was living more carefully. We bought a house and furniture. We had a mortgage that at first was daunting. But we managed, even paid a little extra each month. And as my salary increased, I began saving aggressively, trying to make up for the previous ten years when I squandered money easily.

By the time I hit my forties, I was earning a good salary. More importantly, I was saving a lot. My 401k grew substantially, and whenever my pay went up, my contribution to it went up as well.

I quit that lucrative job in my fifties. It was making me sick, and I didn’t want to have a heart attack or a stroke. I started writing novels, and while I probably won’t ever get rich from writing, I’m doing something I love. We’ve never had credit card debt, and I’ve found that we need so much less than I used to think.

Joshua Fields Millburn, who is one half of The Minimalists (with Ryan Nicodemus) says this: “Minimalism is a lifestyle that helps people question what things add value to their lives. By clearing the clutter from life’s path, we can all make room for the most important aspects of life: health, relationships, passion, growth, and contribution.”

Look, my clutter isn’t your clutter. Each of us has to take stock of what we have, and what we can live without. But by clearing our the excess, the stuff that doesn’t bring you happiness, you will find space for the more important things.

 

The Year of Living Minimally – Week Forty


This was a week for boxing up and carting items to The Salvation Army store in my town. Funny, but I had no emotional attachment to these things and was able to let them go easily. They’re just things!

Decorative and pretty, yes. But I haven’t used any of these items in years. Someone else might find a treasure, and that would make me happy!

My husband agrees that it’s time to donate the service for twelve (twelve! There are five of us left in our combined families) that was his mother’s. I think we used it twice in the nearly twenty-four years that we’ve been married.

It’s a lovely service, and I do hope that a family will use it.

We still have a lot of glassware and knickknacks in the top half of our china cabinet. Onward!

The Year of Living Minimally ~ Week Thirty-eight


Oh, I didn’t get this posted on Friday morning! I thought I did. Sorry!

My husband’s birthday was this past Monday. He said he didn’t need anything, and I believed him. We have everything we need! So I bought him a bottle of Limoncello (it’s spring!). No longer do we feel the need to show our love for each other with purchases. We’d rather have time together, because time is the most precious commodity.

A couple of weeks ago, I met my friend Lori and bestowed upon her a few items from my ‘former life’ as a fraud investigator. The apex of my professional career was being a Certified Fraud Examiner, president of the local chapter, and Regent for the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners. But now I write novels!

So I gave Lori a few ACFE padfolios, and this!

It used to hang on the wall of my office, and even though I had nothing to do with the investigation of Providence’s former mayor, I loved this poster. If you’re not local, you can read about him here.

Little by little, I’m finding it easier to not hold on to things. Things are not memories, or emotions. I know my journey will not end with the ‘Week Fifty-two’ post.

The Year of Living Minimally – Week Thirty-seven


Goodwill bin

This week I gave away more stuff. This time I cleaned out the linen closet. We all have one, right? Towels and sheets and blankets and so many extra pillowcases. All clean, all very usable, all too much for us.

We live in a town that has many lower-income residents. All I have to do is drive from the relative sanctuary of our condo, encircled by woods, with a golf course across the street, and head over to the farther side of town, where there are triple-decker tenements, boarded-up businesses, poverty. Many people in this town struggle to get by, as I know there are people like that in virtually every town across America.

When I see the need that is so apparent, I want to hurry back home and gather up more. The dinnerware, the linens, clothes and shoes and winter coats, all excess in my eyes but gratefully accepted for those who don’t have room for ‘extras.’

At this point in my year-long journey toward minimalism, I spend each week thinking about what I don’t need anymore – can someone else use it? Then donate it. Can it be recycled? Into the bin. Must it be trashed or can it be repurposed somewhere else? And I’m finding I need less and less to be happy.

The Year of Living Minimally – Week Thirty-six


We’re only two people!! We don’t entertain (thankfully, my sister Ann and her husband Jon are happy to host us on holidays). And yet…three red Christmas plates, four round white salad plates, four square white salad plates, eight blue salad plates, and four very pretty strawberry-designed dessert plates. What’s left, you ask? Four round white salad plates. That’s enough.

I’m adding to the donation boxes three white dinner plates (originally we had eight, but someone – not I – broke one, so we’re keeping four). Four bowls, four mugs. My service for eight will be halved. Eight blue stemmed water glasses, not used anymore.

The ‘good china’ that was Jim’s mother’s needs to go, too, but it’s his call as to when.

Meanwhile, Jim started on the garage without me! Well, he bought a new mountain bike and is motivated to have plenty of space for it.

And this week I kept track of plastic. It’s hard to see here, but I kept all plastic wrappings (produce bags, empty deli bags, one that held granola, etc.). They’re clean and will be deposited into the appropriate bin at Whole Foods. Progress! I hope you had a minimal week! Spring is here – finally!

The Year of Living Minimally – Week Thirty-five


My mission to reduce plastic is continuing. It’s growing. And it’s frustrating as hell.

plastic

Yes, ditch the plastic straws. That should be easy. Refuse a straw in a restaurant. Don’t even let your server bring you a straw. I usually ask for a glass of water, no ice, no straw, please. Simple. But the problem is so much bigger than straws.

This article says that ocean garbage is now twice the size of Texas. There is so much crap plastic in our oceans that sea life is dying. Humans have produced 18.2 trillion pounds of plastic since the 1950s. That’s equal in size to 1 billion elephants.

Plastic is everywhere. Every one of us should be using a refillable water container and a refillable coffee/tea container. No more Dunkin’ Donuts coffee cups! No more Dasani water bottles! (Oh, and did you read the story about microscopic plastic particles actually in the water in the water bottles?) More bad news here.

It’s impossible to not get things in plastic. Buy organic chicken at the market. It’s not wrapped in paper. I tend to pick up easy-to-prepare meals from Trader Joe’s – usually from their frozen food aisle. Garlic naan. Kung Pao chicken. Frozen strawberries for the morning. All in plastic bags. And I’ve been putting them in the trash. I’m ashamed of myself.

So I am now trying (I really am) to separate what goes into my trash bag. We don’t compost (we probably should, my sisters both do), but maybe if I rinse out the plastic bags after I open them, I can find a place to bring them. Because I’m sick about the plastic. Our poor, poor planet.

The Year of Living Minimally – Week Thirty-four


I’m writing most of this blog on Monday (for early Friday publication) and we’re expecting a foot or more of snow on Tuesday into Wednesday. March can do that to us here in southern New England – tease us with springlike days of sun and mild temperatures, then wallop us with whiteout conditions. So it looks like like the garage clean-out is on hold – again. (We got 14.5″ of snow)

credit cards

In this cashless society, it’s so easy to just swipe. How much actual cash do you carry around with you? For me, it’s usually about twenty bucks, same with my husband. I never carry my checkbook with me. The ease of swiping a credit or debit card also brings the ease of buying, even if you don’t need the item. It’s why so many people have tons of stuff – and they’re still miserable.

So before you swipe, ask yourself if you really need the item. Really. Make it a habit to pause and ask. Would you buy this same item with cash?

coupnos

Remember coupons? There used to be tons of them in the Sunday newspaper (remember newspapers?). Manufacturers wanted you to clip coupons to save on purchases, but most of the time you ended up buying stuff you didn’t really need or want. Save a dollar when you buy two boxes of rice. But you don’t need two boxes of rice. Still, you want to save a buck, so…

There are coupons, and online coupons, everywhere. And there’s nothing wrong with shopping smart – heck, if I can save ten bucks on a pair of shoes that I need and want, I’m going for it. But ask yourself (again), “Do I need this?”

When you buy, try to purchase high-quality items that you need and want. Shopping can be an escape, an emotional high, and very satisfying, but you don’t want to regret the purchase when the credit card bill arrives. (And I don’t need to remind you that debt, especially credit card debt, is a four-letter word!)

Now, where should I donate lots of extra plates and cups and glassware?

The Year of Living Minimally – Week Thirty-three


pexels-photo-269887

This process of decluttering has been at times very easy and at times very difficult, but it’s getting easier. Let me explain.

In the beginning, it was simple to toss out old makeup, to rinse out mostly used-up containers and throw them in the recycle bin. It’s why I started with the easy stuff. What’s difficult is getting rid of items that no longer have a use or purpose but were gifts, or have sentimental value. I’ve written this before: no one is obligated to toss out anything! And when an item has a special meaning, it’s perfectly understandable why you want to hold on to it. Back when we began to clear out my father-in-law’s house last September, I had to step back and allow my husband to decide what to keep, what to toss, what to recycle or repurpose. His father, his choice. To his credit, Jim didn’t bring much back, and whatever is important to him should stay in the house.

But we’ve arrived at the point where we try not to buy each other things anymore. For the nearly twenty-four years that we’ve married, each birthday, each anniversary, each Valentine’s Day was an opportunity to buy a gift. And we did. Books, CDs, DVDs, jewelry, perfume, accessories, trinkets. Stuff.

Now we gift experiences – dinner at a new place, maybe a getaway if we can swing it, a concert. I don’t want things. And the things I have? I’m letting go, but very gently.

My friend and co-worker Jaritza recently returned from a vacation in Paris (lucky!). She remembered that I’m on this quest to live more minimally. How thoughtful was she to bring me – – – a bookmark! I love it.

bookmark

The Year of Living Minimally – Week Thirty-two


stress-1277561__340

Are you a juggler? Trying to manage multiple responsibilities, perhaps too many responsibilities? We all multi-task, even those of us (me) who say we hate it and avoid it as much as possible. It’s the way life is nowadays.

But taking on too much will surely lead to stress. Too many things to do clutters up a life that should be lived well. I used to say ‘yes’ to practically everything that came my way, and this was while I worked full-time outside the home. Serve on this committee? Of course, I’m honored you asked. Can you help this weekend for our charity event? Yes, I’d reply, even as I wondered when the laundry would get done.

Now, I work outside the home one day a week, and it’s enough for me. That’s not to say I don’t work while I’m at home. I try to write one good novel every year. I take on editing projects and usually enjoy the work a lot. I participate in the annual A to Z Blogging Challenge (April 2018, and while it might sound like just a lot of fun, I’m a meticulous planner and researcher). I manage our finances, and maintain the house. I don’t make a lot of money, but I’ve learned that I need a lot less than I might have thought I needed years ago, when I earned more.

And I’m learning to say no. Recently, an opportunity presented itself, one that really intrigued me. I wanted to do it, I wanted to challenge myself and succeed at the task. But I knew it would eat up so much time, and more importantly, I knew it would bring stress.

What helps us to live more minimally is recognizing when adding one more responsibility to our already-full plate is one too many. It’s saying no (kindly, politely) to a request for more of our time. It’s then using that freer time to do something that will relieve stress rather than increase it (yoga, walks, reading, cooking, playing with your children or grandchildren, conversations with friends, electronics-free time!).

Getting rid of clutter doesn’t just mean cleaning out the closet.

The Year of Living Minimally – Week Thirty-one


Can we call this post “Round Two”?

This week I recirculated through the house, opening closets and drawers and pulling out clothes and shoes. And I realized that when I first attempted to pare down my wardrobe, I picked the easy things – dressy dresses from 2003, high heels I no longer wear, that brown sweater I never liked and never wore, the extra black trousers.

This time, I looked at my clothes with new eyes. (This is what I do as a writer, too – get that first draft written, do a quick self-edit, then tuck it away for a few weeks. When I go back to it, I see how much needs to be rewritten.) I pulled shirts that I haven’t worn in years. Christmas placemats and tablecloths. A couple of purses I’ll never use.

Living minimally is an ongoing project. Last week I bought new socks and underwear for my husband (because he probably wouldn’t have). Adding means subtracting – and old socks and underwear don’t go in the donation bin! I hate drawers stuffed with…stuff, crammed with t-shirts and rolled-up pairs of socks. Everything needs its place, and sometimes that place is the trash.

We have lots of things that need to go somewhere else. They’re useable, and neither of us wants to throw away anything that can be used by someone else. I think this is why I’ve avoided dealing with…the extra microwave, the china, the sheets and towels. But I must. And I will.