Day 3 Stopping the Insanity

February 24th, 2012 § 1

Day 3: Goal – Do not bring anything into the home that is not totally necessary.

Grade: C

Here is what brought our grade down.

On Wednesday after my big announcement about how nothing is coming into this house that is not completely necessary during the whole of Lent, my daughter, Antonia, comes over with our neighbor’s daughter. She is carrying a mini-motorbike for an American Girl doll. My neighbor’s daughter looks up at me with large blue eyes and says, “We don’t need it. She can have it. Really,”. Ugh!

Next thing I know, Antonia turns around and hands over a giant piece of Littlest Pet Shop plastic with some Littlest Pet shop figures inside it and says, “And you can have this!” So now my daughter is trading in plastics. It is technically breaking the rule, but an even bigger piece of plastic went out. Does that cancel it out??

I explained to her later that night that it was seriously breaking the rule and that next time we’ll have to say no.

Then my darling children asked the question “What do we do with our allowance money?”. Well, my lovely children, it is something called saving. Let’s spell it out s-a-v-i-n-g. Got it? Try it. At the end of forty days, it will add up!

Our next possible pitfall is coming this afternoon when my husband and son are off to the baseball shop. Turns out my son has grown out of his baseball pants. I admit that I did think about this for a split second. But then a vision of my son on the baseball field looking like he is sporting his sister’s leggings flashed through my mind. White leggings?? Not a good look. So, okay, I cave. I am just dreading all the extras they may come home with. My son is master of persuasion. The words “need” and “want” are synonymous to him.

I am doing very well considering I get a bucket load of emails this time of year saying, “New Spring line!” Delete! I don’t even look. I’ll never know what I am “missing” that way.

Regarding clutter clearing, a touch of pneumonia put a wrench in the spokes there. Now I know I have it, I am giving in to the exhaustion.  I feel like such a lazy bird!

But I am biting at the bit to get back to the cupboards and closets. I figure I have a few weeks to get it all ready for the rummage sale. I love the deadline!! Fortunately, the pneumonia is not bad. I am sure I will be running around our house with large black bags soon.  Now that is a vision I can handle!

Clutterly Insane!

February 22nd, 2012 § 0

I am insane.

According to the Native Americans I would be considered a raving lunatic.  In Native American cultures having or taking more than you need is considered a mental illness.  This was my big take-away from the movie “I Am”.

All you have to do is look at my bookshelf, closet or kitchen cupboards and you would lock me up in a room with padded walls.

Meanwhile, every day I get tempting emails about new products or products on sale. Or I go to the shops to buy one thing and see six more that I like.  It truly is the curse of being spoilt for choice.

Then there is that thing where you are looking for a specific item.  Let’s say a red shirt. I never end up finding just one red shirt that I like, but three red shirts that I like.  That is when the insanity takes over.

My kids are the same. My son buys a new baseball mitt and in no time he wants another one. “But this one is different!” he protests.  They say insanity is hereditary.

So I have proposed something to my family, which my kids are so not happy about. Starting today (Ash Wednesday) for forty days – all through Lent, we will not bring one thing into this house that is not absolutely necessary. So food is legal (otherwise I think I will have social services on my tail). Replacing broken lightbulbs, empty shampoo bottles, something needed for school, etc. are completely legal.  Books, dolls, clothes, toys, sports equipment, shoes, etc. are all illegal for the next forty days.

While we are going through this process, we will be clearing out closets, bookshelves, cupboards, etc. We have started in the kids rooms and have gathered bags and bags of stuff for our school rummage sale next month. I think if we are the only family who donates to the rummage sale, the school will still make a fortune.  It makes me realize what is valued and what is not.

After a recent trip to Pottery Barn Kids, my daughter made a goal to have the “Pottery Barn” girls’ room. So every time she wants to keep some junky keepsake from a party bag, I remind her of the Pottery Barn room and how they don’t have any of that junky stuff. It is working. She is one who likes to hoard and keep every little “memento”.

My goal isn’t just to clear clutter and be lighter. I am really hoping that by the end of the forty days we will all take a vow to really think before we bring anything into our lives. Ask key questions. Is this necessary? Do I really need it? Will it really make a contribution to my life?  Be sane!

I have promised the kids an adventure if we stick to the forty days. I figure experiences are better than stuff any day!!  They do make a contribution to life!

Watch this space.  I’ll be reporting our ups and downs over the next forty days!  Wish me luck!

Simply Free

March 4th, 2011 § 6,075

If my grandparents were alive today and walked into our local bookstore, I am sure they would have been in hysterics.

After raising eleven children in a two-bedroom house with very little in the way of material goods, they would see magazines like, “Real Simple” and “Simple & Delicious” and have a real laugh.

My grandmother, who was an amazing chef to eleven children and thirty plus grandchildren, would have giggled at the idea that people write cookbooks about “simple” cooking.

My grandfather would have grumble-laughed at the self-help aisle containing books about how to simplify your life and how to declutter your office or home.  I am talking about a man, who at one point, actually made a house out of adobe for his family!

How over-complicated have we made life?  After decades of the “more” generation (as in having more than our parents and grandparents), there now seems to be a drive toward simplicity.  Where is this drive coming from? Why is maintaining a simple life so hard?

When my grandparents were raising their brood, living a simple life was not an effort.  It was just the way life was.  They were not preoccupied with decluttering or putting together “simple” menus.  They had what they needed and ate beautifully cooked simple staple foods such as beans, rice, corn, and chicken.  There was no fuss over organizing kids’ activities and play-dates.  The kids went to school, maybe played a little sport, and worked to help the family. There wasn’t the same drive to have more and do more.

I have asked several people what simplicity means to them and have got answers such as, “Two sizes of coffee – small and large,” and “Simple cooking saves time.”  What does simplicity mean to you?

I visited the Fundacio Joan Miró in Barcelona recently and my big take-away was his quote, “For me to gain freedom is to gain simplicity.”   We can all gain so much from freedom through simplification. When we simplify we give ourselves the freedom to explore, to love, to create, and to enjoy. What a beautiful gift!  Here are some ideas I have about what we gain from applying simplicity to different aspects of our lives.

Home

When our homes are simple and clear of non-essentials, we are free to move around in our space and breathe.  We are free to just be. Rather than tidying up all the time and maintaining stuff, we have time to read books, listen to music, and enjoy engaging with those we live with.  Life outside our homes bombards us with flashing signs, messages, sounds and other means of stimuli.  Wouldn’t it be nice to give our eyes, ears and minds a rest when we are in the sanctuary of our home?

Food

When we choose simple foods, prepared in simple ways (as opposed to boring), it not only gives us time to enjoy our food, but we can really taste what we are eating.  Have you ever really tasted a crisp, fresh Granny Smith apple?  Have you ever taken the time to smell it, look at the color, feel the crunch, taste it in all its sweet and sourness– really?  When our food is simple the body spends less energy digesting, so that energy can be used to fight disease, heal and help the body function well.  I try to stay away from foods that do not rot, are not in season, have unpronounceable ingredients, or that my grandparents wouldn’t recognize. These are all words of wisdom from Michael Pollan’s book Food Rules.

Schedule

When our schedules are simple with space in between commitments, we give ourselves time to process and recharge the batteries before moving on to the next thing. I am less likely to be worried about moving on to the next thing when I know I have time before my next commitment.  Having this time helps keep me present.

When we allow gaps in our schedules, not only to do we free up time, but we free up energy that can be put toward simple pleasures such as spending time with friends and loved ones, listening to music, or drinking tea.  We can take time to explore our creativity: read, write, paint, learn or do whatever makes us feel passionate.

Wardrobe

Ah!  My nemesis!  I love clothes, so I am preaching what I very much need to hear!  When our clothes and style are simple, we wear the clothes. The clothes don’t wear us.  When we are able to maintain a “capsule” wardrobe with only one of each essential (you probably know what yours are), then everything works well together and we do not have to spend fifteen minutes each morning deciding what to wear and wondering if that shirt goes with that pair of trousers.

Family Life

For a long time I resisted the idea that my children need to be “so busy” with activities and that they need to keep up with all the other kids.  But after years of begging, I relented and signed my son up for baseball.  He is ten and the only one on his team who has never played.  My resistance was mainly because I wanted my children to have time to potter around the in back garden, play with a friend on a whim, draw, be bored.  It also means a lot to my husband and I to have family time together, even if it means doing chores together or just watching a movie.

Health

After I was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease, I became obsessed with information and advice on diet and health.  I read books, articles in magazines and on the Internet.  I have tried different diets, medicines, treatments, etc.  I finally realized that the path to health for me is pretty simple.  Eat a clean diet free of processed foods, dairy, sugar and additives.  Practice yoga and walk in nature every day.  Meditate. Keep a journal. Live as authentically as possible.  Get plenty of rest.

On a final note, I just returned from a week’s stay in Barcelona, Spain where my husband and I chose to rent a flat instead of staying in a hotel.  The flat was very basic.  It had a bare bones kitchen, wooden floors, a small bathroom, one master bedroom with built in closet and one tiny bedroom with a single bed, a desk and an armoire.   The bare necessities were provided in the kitchen and once we settled in I realized I was without a hair dryer, which I actually thought was quite funny.   When we didn’t eat out, we cooked basic foods – poached egg over a bed of greens with toast.

At the end of the week, my husband and I said the same thing to each other. We both felt so free living so simply.  It gave us time to do the things we love the most – write, read, drink tea and chat.  Now that is freedom!

 

New Moon

February 2nd, 2011 § 6,540

I thought today was the perfect day for starting my blog after procrastinating for a year.  Today marks the beginning of  a new moon phase, which I always feel is a good time to start something new.  Today is also Candlemas, which marks winter’s “half way” point here in the Northern Hemisphere.  So it can also be a good time for planting seeds (literally and metaphorically) for Spring and the new year.  I love the idea of New Year being now, as in the Chinese tradition where they follow the moon cycle rather than the sun cycle, as we do here in the West.

But this blog isn’t about me getting off my bum and finally writing.  It is about Life-Editing.  Initially, the name was going to be Wabi Sabi Living, but it all got lost in translation with Japanese semantics and when I spoke to people about it, they got very confused.  And worse, they started calling it Feng Shui, which it is not.  Wabi stems from the word wa, which refers to harmony, peace, balance and tranquility. The word wabi has evolved from describing something as sad and desolate to describing someone or something as humble and in tune with nature.  Sabi refers to the natural process of aging and decay.  It is the understanding that all things grow old and become less beautiful in conventional eyes.  However, things that are sabi hold their age with dignity and grace. Imagine that in over-airbrushed Hollywood!

So what does Wabi Sabi have to do with Life-Editing?  The idea of harmony and balance has been lost in our society where more is more.  We all seem to want to find harmony  and balance in our lives and yet we are bombarded with things we can do, pills we can take and stuff we can buy to create harmony and balance.  Look at all the things we add to our lives to decrease stress:  books, cd’s anti-stress creams (yes, its true!), classes and even something called a Snuggy.   So we end up buying more stuff and adding more “to dos” to our diaries, thinking that they will bring us harmony and balance.  But in reality, they add to our stress.  The fact is, it is often not what we add to our lives that creates a state of balance, but what we hone away.  What happens when we whittle away the unnecessary? Instead of hanging on to those things we “might” use in future such as clothes that no longer fit, sports equipment we haven’t used in years and books we’ve already read, we are free to create space for what is real now.  We can live more in the moment.

Think of a Zen painting.  Now, I realize we all have differences in artistic taste, so you may not like this kind of art.  But what is the big deal?  What makes it so beautiful?  It is what is not there that makes it beautiful.  It is the simplicity.  The lack of contrast in colors creates a sense of tranqulity that is easy on the eye.  And notice that the lines are rarely perfectly straight. There is a humbleness to that, which we are not used to in media driven societies where everyone and everything is expected to look perfect.

All of these concepts are completely contrary to what I was brought up with here in the US. I grew up in Southern California during the 80′s when more was definitely more and perfection was highly regarded.  We were surrounded by fancy cars doning license plate frames that said, “University of Nordstrom” and “The One Who Dies with the Most Clothes Wins”.  And they weren’t kidding!  My family made weekly trips to the local warehouse store to buy six tubes of toothpaste, two dozen bagels and laundry detergent too heavy for any of us to carry.  It was cheaper, thus it was better. And anyway, we had a large enough house to store all of this stuff. And God forbid, we run out of something!!!

Ironically, I was also told that I could never be too skinny or too rich by the media and my peers. So with all this stuff around me and enough food in the house to feed a small village in Africa, I starved myself and spent a good portion of my free time exercising.  I bought into the low-calorie, low-fat diet idea that was so popular at the time and refrained from putting anything in my mouth that contained fat. This came back to haunt me later…..

After completing my BA in English and a teaching credential, I moved to London, for what I thought would be six months (turned out to be 12+ years).  I was blown away.  Space was limited and every day items like toothpaste were expensive. Shops were not huge warehouses or supermarkets with tons of choices.  I had a closet the size of an armoire. I had no car. I wasn’t earning a lot of money and there were no parents around to spot me some cash every now and then.  I learned to do with less…..and I had the time of my life. I felt so free. I also felt more at home in London than in the US.

While in London, I met a very handsome, charming New Zealander.  After my visa ran out, meaning I could not longer work in the UK, I moved back to California. After a long distance, on-off three-year romance, I married my handsome Kiwi.  He was on a major upswing in his career and we were in accumulation mode.  BIG TIME!  We bought three houses on three continents in an eighteen-month period.  We had four cars, three wardrobes, enough major appliances to fill a Best Buy, art, multiple mobile phones, gadgets, and the list goes on….  We were flying long-haul at least once a month between Europe, the US and New Zealand.  I have never felt more overwhelmed and stressed in my entire life. My mind was full just trying to keep track of everything. A little voice inside of me was screaming, “I don’t like this.  It is too much!”.  But a louder voice was saying, “Are  you crazy?? This is your life’s dream – to travel the world! You are SO lucky!”.

The little voice won and it took me down.  I became sick. Very sick.  Mid-way between one of our trips, I became home bound with incredible abdominal pains and other disgusting symptoms I would rather not mention. Fortunately, I’d made a stop here in California en-route from London to Sydney.  After three weeks of my idea of hell and worrying my family to death, I was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease.  Now, looking back, I realise that Crohn’s came along as a handbrake for me. It still serves as a handbrake for me in life, and as weird as it sounds, I am grateful for it.  Whenever I am doing too much, going to much, or not letting my “little voice”  have a big voice,  it lets me know. I also know that the low-fat diet I was is most likely the culprit for this disease. I recently went to see a fantastic nurse practioner named Pam McDonald here in Northern California, who ran a gamut of tests on me including an APO-e gene test. I am not a likely candidate for Crohn’s on the genetic level and on paper I look very healthy. She feels strongly that Crohn’s is an environmental issue for me.  It was all due to excess.  Excessive dieting, excessive accumulation, travel, running.

Since then, I have discovered yoga, an organic, whole foods diet, meditation, journaling and most importantly, my voice.

I am still guilty of too much.  I find myself slipping into my old ways. Over-buying so I don’t run out.  My son needed trousers recently.  So what did I do?  I bought six pair.  He wears a uniform to school!  At most he needs two pairs. So I ended up sending most of them back. I find myself going through times, like now, when every cupboard seems full.  Every closet is overflowing.  The books have taken over.  I start to go into a dark place and I feel overwhelmed.  My not-so-little voice starts warning me to get my house in order.  Take time to whittle away and breathe. And not just my house, but my car, my diary, my refrigerator, commitments, etc. Do you ever look at your diary on a Sunday night and think, “So when do I exercise?”  “When do I get time to breathe?”.  It takes real discipline to create space in our lives, especially in our society where we are under so much pressure to have more, be more, do more.

So today marks the beginning of a journey.  A Life-Editing journey.  Even if I only spend five minutes life-editing a day, I plan on taking one unnecessary thing out of my life on a daily basis. Even it is just an old magazine.  This concept can be applied to any area of life:  food, house, wardrobe, relationships, health, media, raising children, etc..  And anything that I feel needs to be added to my life will come under strict scrutiny.  Do I really need another tea? Another pair of shoes? Another book?  Take a deep breath, walk away and enjoy what is already in my life.

I know that with two children and a love of fashion, I will never have one of those minimalist homes you see in Wallpaper, but I can certainly work toward a life that is not bulging at the edges.