The Year of Living Minimally – Week Thirteen

A quarter of the way through this year-long project. The focus is still on ‘the other house.’ But what a lot of work has been done in just a few weeks’ time! Seven rooms, an attic, a basement, and a garage. Donations and discarding. Discarding isn’t easy, but it’s necessary.

Joshua Fields Millburn of The Minimalists posted this (excerpt): “Initially, I didn’t want to let go of anything. If you’ve ever lost a parent, a loved one, or been through a similarly emotional time, then you understand exactly how hard it was for me to let go of any of those possessions. So instead of letting go, I wanted to cram every trinket, figurine, and piece of oversized furniture into that storage locker in Ohio, floor to ceiling. That way I knew that Mom’s stuff was there if I ever wanted it, if I ever needed access to it for some incomprehensible reason. I even planned to put a few pieces of Mom’s furniture in my home as subtle reminders of her.”

We felt the same way – Jim had the emotional ties, I was being practical (don’t toss it if it can be used). But the clothes, the coats, the hangers, the photographs, the curios, each item held a small memory for my husband. The memories would remain, even without all the stuff.

We are not defined by what we own. Not by the car we drive, or the square footage of our house or apartment. We’re not measured by our possessions. There is joy in knowing some things will be put to use by others.

In California, some folks have literally minutes to evacuate their homes. Minutes! What do you grab? (My external hard drive – it holds my books and my wannabe books).

As Joshua noted, he didn’t need his mom’s stuff to remind him of her. We don’t need Ray’s houseful of stuff to fuel our memories. 

I began this project by tackling little things – a couple of drawers in the bathroom, the kitchen. I donated some books, some clothes. Larger projects await me in my own house (the garage, my writing space), but I’m ready.


The Year of Living Minimally – Week Twelve

Collectibles.  Are you a collector? Perhaps it’s a generational thing. Young people, more mobile, tend not to collect things. Folks our age inherited our mothers’ (or grandmothers’) china, tea sets, cake plates, etc. I know, we have a china cabinet full of these things. Nobody wants them. I’m not sure what to do with them. I cannot throw them out. 

I am not a collector.  This is the extent of my collection, and these little pieces were gifts from my husband in the early years of our marriage.
They’re tiny, and they’re housed in a little display case. It’s enough!

The work continues at my father-in-law’s house. It’s okay – our condo is in great shape, comparatively speaking. But a house occupied by the same person since 1972 had a whole lotta stuff in it.

This is on a wall in the basement! Jim’s dad and my father would have gotten along well.

We’ve dropped off clothes, lugged furniture and mattresses to the curb, hauled countless broken and non-working items to the dumpster. We’ll bring the electronics to the recycling place. We’re getting there. And balancing the arduous work with moments of gratitude. We grieve, we cry, we curse the collectibles! We smile, we laugh. We’re okay. 💚💚💚

The Year of Living Minimally – Week Eleven

The focus shifted, rightfully, away from us this week. We honored my husband’s father (above) with the military funeral he deserved, and I know that he’s now at peace, after years of living with a cruel disease.

Apart from the viewing, the Mass, and the burial, there was work to do at his house. And that work continues. He clung to his independence, living alone in the same house he’d lived in since 1972. There were memories in that house. And lots of stuff.

Look, it happens. It would have upset him more if we’d started cleaning out the excess while he was still alive. So we have our work cut out for us. Clothes, shoes, blankets, linens. Books, DVDs, CDs. Food. Furniture. And so many photos. Donate, keep, or discard. I’m mindful that there’s a lot of emotion right now, so if my husband insists on carting a few things back into our house, I’m keeping my mouth shut. ❤️

The Year of Living Minimally – Week Nine

Hurricanes. Fires. Floods. Tornadoes. We’ve had many natural disasters, and far too many people have been impacted. It’s a heartbreaking situation.

When you’re ordered to evacuate, usually you have very little time to pack and flee. If your local emergency management official told you you had thirty minutes to leave your residence, what would you take? What could you leave behind? 

This isn’t a post about disaster preparedness – you should familiarize yourself with it. This is about ridding yourself of the excess stuff around you. This week I’m tackling paper. Part one of I don’t know how many parts.

While cleaning out a closet last week, I found an accordion file from 1998. I’ve kept a file like that each year for the past 30 years – bills, receipts, cancelled checks. This one, from nearly 20 years ago, must have missed the shredder. I keep my records for seven years.

Look at my cable bill! That included my phone, too, but not internet. 

In light of the massive Equifax data breach, I wonder why I worry about shredding old documents. 

I also cleaned out the refrigerator. Even though we don’t live with the constant threat of hurricanes or tornadoes, we’ve lost power (more likely in a winter storm), and when you lose power for a prolonged period of time, you might lose what’s in the fridge and freezer. My husband is the Condiment King. I cleaned out near-empty jars of salsa, bottles of ketchup and soy sauce. 

I know I’ve been all over the place with this project. I could have stuck to cabinets and drawers until everything was cleaned out, but I’ve jumped around – closets, paper, furniture. Bit by bit, week by week, decision by decision.

The Year of Living Minimally – Week Eight

My husband and I bought our first house in 1995, a few months after we married. I’d lived in at least six apartments before I met him, and each time I moved, I hauled boxes and bags full of my stuff to the new place.

At one point during the unpacking, I pulled a pair of size 7 jeans from a box of clothes. I held them up, staring at the tiny waist, reluctant to put them in the bottom drawer of my dresser, where they’d resided for over ten years.

“Whose jeans are those, hon?” he asked. 

“They were mine. I used to wear them.”

He walked over to me, and in the kindest voice said, “Oh, honey, you’ll never wear them again.”

And he was right! For the one year that I could fit into those jeans, I had poor eating habits, was at times bulemic, and I was 25 years old. But I held onto them, as if keeping the jeans were magic and could make me skinny. 

We keep clothes for a variety of reasons. Perhaps you spent a lot of money on that dress, and even though you haven’t worn it in seven years, you can’t let it go. Or the jeans that would fit great if you lose just ten (or twenty) pounds. The shoes – oh, the shoes. We buy a shirt because it’s on sale, even though we have nothing to wear with it and don’t even really like it. But it was 75% off!

And sometimes, we keep clothes for the memory. Your wedding gown, preserved because you hope your daughter will want to wear it. Your baby’s christening gown. Your college sweatshirt. 

Still, we don’t have to let everything go. In 1994, a month before we married, my husband and I took a day trip to Martha’s Vineyard and he bought me a beautiful Irish-knit sweater. I don’t think I’ve worn it in twenty years. It still fits, but it’s bulky, and I prefer layers. There is emotion and the memory of a wonderful day tied to that sweater, and I want to keep it.

So, here’s what’s going in the donation bin this week:

After I ended my full-time job, I boxed up most of my professional attire and donated it, keeping a few pairs of slacks and two or three blazers. I haven’t worn a dress in over six years. I kept this one, thinking I’d need it for a funeral, but I’ve been to plenty of funerals in the past six years, and dressy slacks are perfectly acceptable.  

I bought this sparkly outfit when my friend Fr. Brian Shanley, who I’ve known since fifth grade, was named president of our alma mater, Providence College. I think it was 1995, and I’ve had no reason to wear the outfit or the shoes again.

A pile of scarves, never-worn t-shirts (Austin, Montreal), dressy tops, belts. Off they go, hopefully to folks who can use them.

The Year of Living Minimally – Week Seven

After last week’s big furniture moves, I had to take it easy this week. My melanoma surgery was last week (the heavy lifting was done prior to the procedure, of course), and I’ve been mindful of the three-inch-long incision, with sutures, on the back of my thigh. So this week, I made small, light-duty changes. And I reminded myself that I have forty-five weeks to go 😉

I tackled a few cupboards this week. Under the sink – ugh! A catch-all for vases and nearly-empty cleaning products and rolls of waxed paper. Yes, I discovered that I’ve got plenty of plastic wrap (three rolls). I rinsed out containers and tossed the empty jugs into the recycle bin. When I go back to my one-day-a-week job, I’ll bring a few vases. Our inpatient unit can use them.

This one wasn’t too bad, actually. A couple of bottles that had a half-inch left (balsamic vinegar, whiskey) that were tossed, but this cabinet needed rearranging, mostly.

It looks like a pharmacy in there! We don’t take all of these! Many of these were prescriptions that neither of us need anymore. Then there were all of the cough and cold remedies in the back – old, expired, useless. It’s usually not a good idea to flush pills down the toilet – they can contaminate the water supply. Check the label: It may tell you if you should not dispose of the medication by flushing it down the toilet.  Set them aside and check with your pharmacy or local police department – a few times a year, they have ‘take-back’ days when you can bring in your old meds. Remove any identifying information from the label.

The Year of Living Minimally – Week Six

This week, it was time to go big.

Goodbye, bench. You were falling apart and, sorry, quite useless.

Our old neighbor made this bench about fifteen years ago, and we bought it. It looked sweet on our back deck, and when we sold the house and bought a condo, we picked up the bench and put it in the back of Jim’s truck, and carted it across town to the new place. But we didn’t use it – I never sat in the back – there was no shade. ☀️ The wood might be recycled, but not if it’s been treated with chemicals. 

The dining room table and chairs! Yep, gone. Hey, I’m serious about this project. And no, we’re not going to eat the rest of our meals while sitting on the couch, nor are we going to eat out every day. I have a smaller table (Eastern Butcher Block, any locals remember?) and chairs upstairs. They’re going to be repurposed for our dining room. We’ll have more space. And we don’t host large eating events anymore. (And we took care of this ‘heavy lifting’ project on Wednesday, since I knew I’d be out of commission from Thursday).

I posted this photo on a community Facebook page and within hours, the table, chairs, extra leaf, and pads were carted away by a grateful stranger in my town.

Cut It Out

And they did. The malignant melanoma on the back of my thigh was excised yesterday afternoon.

It was no bigger than a nickel. Discovered three weeks ago during my first-ever total body scan, I received a few shots of Lidocaine, then a shaved sample was removed for biopsy.

The results came back the following Friday – cancerous. The spot that never scabbed over and continued to weep had to come out. My appointment was scheduled for Wednesday the 23rd, just shy of three weeks from the initial assessment.

I don’t know why, but I always thought of skin cancer as a ‘lesser’ cancer. Breast cancer is bad. Colon, pancreatic, ovarian, liver, lung – all really bad. Very scary. Why did I think of skin cancer differently? Is it because I could see it? (Well, not this one, on the back of my thigh). Would a nickel-size spot on my mammogram have me as calm? On my lung? I know in my heart I’d have been panicked.

And that’s not to say I wasn’t worried. Two Valium an hour beforehand did little to allay my anxiety. The procedure was over in about an hour. The lidocaine lasted into the evening. I slept last night without any sleep aids.

Today it hurts. I’m taking Tylenol, extra-strength, and resting at home. I’m very much aware that there was trauma. And I am leaving the bandage on for now.

Is all of this TMI? I’m a relatively private person (and here I am, showing you a picture of my thigh!). I guess I just want you to get your checkups. I don’t think this is the last of my skin issues. But I plan to be diligent. Be like Martha, at least in this. ❤️❤️❤️

Skin – Your Body’s Largest Organ

I’d put off the ‘body scan’ by a dermatologist for a while. But when someone my husband and I both knew died as a result of a malignant melanoma, we knew we needed to make the appointment. He’s 60, I’m 59, and like many people our age, we’ve had more than a couple of blistering sunburns.

I could never tan, but it didn’t stop me from trying. And the result for me was a melanoma on the back of my thigh, where I’d never see it. 

It will be removed in ten days, the earliest available date. Thankfully, it’s still in an early stage, and hasn’t affected my lymph nodes. Numb me up good and take the damned thing out, I say.

No one I know likes these preventive procedures. Colonoscopy prep is inconvenient. Mammograms hurt. And having someone inspect every inch of your skin, well, it just underscores the fact that loss of elasticity and gravity are cruel reminders of aging. But that’s how you find out. I’m glad I found out.

The Year of Living Minimally – Week Four

Living minimally doesn’t always mean donating/recycling/tossing out things. I’m still purging (bags of shredded paper mostly), but this week I’ve been focused on health issues, and thinking about other ways to clear out the clutter.

I’ve pared down my email by unsubscribing to many newsletters and websites. It was all too much! I was receiving as many as 140 emails a day – recipes, health tips, political articles. I’ve deleted a lot of them. I still follow plenty of blogs, but I’ve changed the delivery of most of them to Saturday morning, when I don’t mind taking the extra time to catch up.

Late last year, I cut my Facebook friends list by about two-thirds. It was right after the election, and I had serious doubts about even continuing with Facebook. I decided to keep my author page active, but cut down on the number of connections on my personal page. There were some hurt feelings, which was never my intent, and I reclaimed as friends those who reached out to me. Social media has helped me find new readers. It’s enabled me, the introvert, to be social in a way that’s not anxiety-producing. But I try to limit myself to morning and evening – an hour or so at the beginning and the end of the day. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram – it’s enough.

Think back to a time before social media. We kept in touch with friends by calling, writing, getting together. We certainly didn’t call our friends several times a day to

  • Tell them what we ate for breakfast
  • Describe what we were wearing that day
  • Let them know we were tired
  • Tell them what we ate for lunch
  • Moan about traffic
  • Tell them which restaurant we were in for dinner (and what we ordered)

I’m guilty, too. But I’m trying to be more mindful, trying not to clutter your feed with meaningless posts. In the end, each of us chooses what will bring us joy, inspiration, laughter. 

Next week, back to filling the recycle bin!