Sirena

This morning, it’s time to dust off those keyboard cobwebs and get some words down. Since my last post, the temperatures in our corner of New Jersey have been cooling on a slow simmer, seasoned with a pinch of chill and a splash of crispness. The daylight hours have a bluer tinge and grow more fleeting with late September’s progression. The trees have started pulling out a few of their fall colors from vacuum-sealed space bags in Mother Nature’s walk-in closet and the crowds no longer flock to the beaches down the shore.

When people think of the fall season, I assume many do not associate it with the beach. I, however, do, and am particularly excited to be reacquainted with fall at the shore this year.

Ever since my mom’s family starting renting the family shore house during the off season for the past I – lost – count – how – many years, I have been nostalgic for the empty beaches that result from the change in season, the expansive shoreline carpeted in cold sand, littered with the treasures of washed ashore sand dollars, backdropped by the dunes’ mountainous terrain, a fortress to hold back the salty tides during storms.

The shallows are warmest now, in early fall, after cooking under the hot sun throughout the summer months. Jelly salps dot the shoreline like sparkling, solid bubbles and the towel and umbrella colonies and impromptu nerf football games have vanished until Memorial Day Weekend. The crowds are gone and peace settles heavy on the sand, adjusting the arms of its Tommy Bahama beach chair until the back is at a comfortable angle.

And once fall is settled on the shore and summer put to rest in a storage bin with its corresponding seasonal items, it is time to allow the crash of the waves and whispering pull of the tide to echo as it reverberates off the dunes. It is time to let the sirenas’ sea song surround you, an intimate audience, in a fluid turned dissonant composition, mystifying and overwhelming in its power.

We Keep Meeting

I met someone new today. Her name is Ella Brady. She lives in Dublin and frequents a restaurant called Quentins. We were unknowingly introduced by my Nana, back when I was fourteen and spending the summer with her and my Aunt Arlene down the shore, via her suggestion that I might enjoy the works of Maeve Binchy, an Irish author with a great descriptive talent for storytelling. Having tried a couple of pages of one of Ms. Binchy’s books back at fourteen, the title of which evades me now, I decided to occupy my reading time with other titles and authors instead. I slid the works of Maeve Binchy onto a bookshelf in the library in my head to be revisited another time.

Maeve Binchy and I met again in the ladies room at The Bank on College Green in Dublin when I was twenty-three and she was three years passed, a portrait of her hanging on the wall along with portraits of other female, Irish artists. Seeing the portrait tugged the ball chain pull to the light bulb over the bookshelf in my head and to my Nana’s suggestion from nine years earlier. On vacation and out to dinner celebrating the special occasion of Mike and my sixth anniversary of dating, the light bulb extinguished and I continued on with the evening, Maeve Binchy, an all but forgotten apparition haunting the library in my head.

We met again most recently on Friday morning when Mike and I spent an evening visiting with my parents at our extended family’s shore house a bit further down the New Jersey coast from where Mike and I now live. Having helped to manage the house’s fully-stacked, weekly rental schedule during this other-worldy summer, it was rewarding to get to enjoy the house for a night and to relax in the familiar space rather than feel stressed and pressed for time as we often do during five-hour rental “turnovers”.

We stayed in the room that was my Nana’s when she lived in the house, the room that she’d chosen to make her own space for years before she moved to an apartment in Pennsylvania. I’d not slept in the room since before she moved to New Jersey back in 2000, back when it was the original “Cousins’ Room” with two twin beds topped with crocheted, white coverlets – the floor blanketed in dusty rose carpeting.

Even after Nana moved from the house and slept in the “cozy room” downstairs during her visits, her room upstairs was designated for the parents and the West Coast family when they visited, and then for my cousins expecting children. On Thursday, after a summer of muscle, decision making, cleaning schedule communications, logging expenses, ordering and purchasing supplies, and initiating process improvements, I felt we deserved to sleep in Nana’s old room, the nicest room in the house. When Mike asked me on the second floor landing on Thursday night, “Cousins’ room?” I just replied, “Nana’s room.”

It is a strange thing to feel like you’ve grown up so significantly to the point of noticing it over the course of a summer, but I feel that is what has happened during this very strange summer. This is how I came to be comfortable and to feel deserving of sleeping in the best room in the house on Thursday. This is how I came to be reacquainted with Maeve Binchy when I woke up Friday and saw the dusty spine of Quentins resting on the bookshelf table under the center window in Nana’s room that morning.

I spoke with my Nana on Friday and let her know that I had found one of her Maeve Binchy books and let her know that I was going to read it. I told her it was called Quentins. She said, “You read it first and then I’ll read it.” Eager to have something to share with her, I took the book home and began to read it this morning. I met someone new today. Her name is Ella Brady. She lives in Dublin and frequents a restaurant called Quentins. Once I am acquainted with Ella’s story completely, I will send the book to my Nana, and she will meet her again too, and Ella will soon be a mutual friend or foe of ours; and to find out which, I’ll go back to reading the story.

Nature and Neighborly Nurture

Some of our new neighbors gifted us a real, live plant last week to welcome us to our condo community. They are much more thoughtful and kind than any neighbors we had while living in Brooklyn.

When one of our neighbors handed this plant to Mike (since I subconsciously backed away at the sight of real, green leaves in need of care and nurturing), they told us it would be difficult to kill. I’ll take their word for it, though it is evident that they have not yet come to understand that I have very un-green thumbs despite the warning signs of the very, very dead mountain daisies and English lavender in the teal, planter pots outside our front door.

Though I have proven somewhat incapable of keeping plants alive, I appreciate our neighbors’ kind gesture and am eager to welcome the warmth of that gesture as well as the added greenery into our home. We have placed the new plant on the entertainment stand opposite the faux succulent arrangement that I purchased from my favorite gardening supply store, TJMaxx. The cool, green leaves and warm, terracotta pot tied with a straw ribbon bring me calming joy each time I glance over at the arrangement.

The reason why I have an appreciation for plants, whether replica or real, is independent of my inability to maintain their living status. My mood is sensitive to my environment, and the color that plants paint in pockets of our space evoke calm. Creating a soothing, yet vibrant color palette for our interior decor is important to me in being able to foster coziness in an environment with pared down possessions. To me, green represents freshness and vitality. It also just makes me smile.

Our condo has many of these little pockets of color by way of artwork, fabric, and furniture (and don’t pockets just make everything better?). I believe in employing color and patterns to create coziness and as a person who sews and holds fabric on the same pedestal as artwork, I take extra care to choose fabrics that encourage a coastal, whimsical, cottage feel in our home. From our folksy, Provencal table cloth printed with rows of blue and periwinkle paisley flowers to the buffalo check curtains and marled, braided area rugs, to the squishy, tufted chair cushions tied in bows at the back of warm, wood slats, I try to invoke coziness, character, and simplicity as foundational decor rules in our home to disguise the standard, modern interior that shelters us.

Our new, cozy home is neighbored by welcoming individuals, something that I did not previously value coming from a residential environment where it is rare to know your neighbors. Here, I feel a comfort in being able to reach out to a neighbor to borrow something if I need something specific and don’t already own it vs. buying new. Having kind neighbors is very conducive to a minimalist lifestyle and while it is not a community style that is available to every individual, it puts in mind the idea of creating a borrowing community among friends or family to minimize items that you need to keep on hand in your living space all the time.

I hope to reflect our neighbors’ kindness in future and to offer continued signs of welcome and gratitude for this new community, even if that welcome is only communicated by way of a smile or a quiet “hello” in passing for the time being.

To-Do Dos in a Clutter-Prone Profession

Since going back to work, I am getting reacquainted with the concept of relying on a to-do list to stay organized. Unfortunately, minimalism in the workplace is nearly impossible for an administrative professional. My work day seems to go by in light speed, filled with tasks to complete, paperwork to file, data to enter into databases, voicemails to check, phone calls to answer and make, fax machine busy tones to check my blood pressure, and so very many questions to ask that come with the territory of being new and having to learn so many unfamiliar processes very quickly. I aim for a clear desk by the end of each day though rarely get to experience the serene joy of the sight of bare, faux-wood screen printed on laminate.

When I come home, I find it hard to leave the workday behind me and sometimes find myself jotting down to-do tasks with invisible sharpies on vanishing, fuchsia post-it notes in my head. I have to remind myself to slow down and tell myself that the work will get done when it gets done and that it’s okay if it’s not going to be done today. Having worked in a profession so conducive to clutter on and off for seven years, I know all too well that it is important to take a step back from the nitty-gritty details of my admin workday in order to fully rest and refresh my mind and body.

For me, being able to relax at the end of the day is reliant on my staying organized during the work day. It is extremely noticeable when I get lazy with updating my to do list. My shoulders ache from the tension of worry, my thoughts buzz around in my mind – flapping restless wings of disquietude, and my heart hammers flutters of remembrance into my esophagus every once in a while when I remember not to forget a task. Luckily, there are tools that I utilize to help keep myself organized.

In the wonderful world of technology that we get to live in, there are so many options for task and project management. I rely on my to-do list as a backup memory to minimize the times that I experience the annoying, worry inducing feeling that I can’t quite place my finger on something I needed to do. I choose to use good, old-fashioned Google Sheets to stay organized, though there are other tools available such as apps like Asana and Trello that I have heard work well too.

In my To-Do List, there are five headers: Date Logged, Status, Date Completed, Task, and Notes

Writing down what a task is along with the date that I learned of its existence helps to ensure it doesn’t get lost or forgotten. My “statuses” are In Progress, Complete, and On Hold. Once a task is complete, I add the date completed to the sheet which lets me know I can go about the very quick business of forgetting it ever existed. I could go a step further and add formatting to move completed items to another tab in a sheet, but that is a minimalism task for another day.

While it may never be possible to eliminate physical clutter in a profession like mine, it is still possible to reduce clutter in your mind by staying organized. Reducing thought clutter and silencing the buzz of frantic self-reminders helps in achieving a state of peace each day and allows for more restful sleep, leaving you more refreshed at the start of the next day.

The Hospitality of Cheese

Any person who has been a guest in our home is likely familiar with being greeted with a hearty, “Welcome!” and a platter or cutting board full of sliced summer sausage, neat columns or concentric circles of Carr’s Table Water Crackers, and fresh-off-the-block slices of Kerry Gold Irish Cheddar. I learned the tried and true hospitality trick of providing immediately accessible snacks for guests by growing up as part of a large extended family who held frequent family gatherings.

Hosting guests is one of my all time favorite activities, likely because I grew up with the fond experiences of being a welcomed guest and learning how to be a host from the happy examples set by my immediate and extended family. These examples just always happened to involve appetizers and plentiful beverages.

When we lived in Williamsburg, we had the fortune of hosting guests frequently. We were not usually the main destination or reason to visit New York for most of our out of town guests. No, we were usually just a stopover for a night after a flight into JFK or Laguardia or a birthday dinner, Broadway show, or holiday party, but it always felt nice to be a stop on their list.

Our railroad style apartment on Union Avenue was full of cozy character and hosted countless guests over the years, some frequent visitors, and some one time only stays. When we first saw the apartment in March of 2015, I was sold immediately, standing in what would be our kitchen for the next five years, a warmth in my heart and a tingle on my skin, not yet knowing how many happy memories were waiting to be made within the confines of its red brick walls, and honey hardwood and rust tile floors.

The brick brownstone with six units was estimated built in 1895 and some of the accents would attest to that estimation. Our large, sunlit bedroom had an old, sealed-off brick fireplace growing up the wall like English ivy and our modern stove was nestled in what used to be a brick kitchen hearth. The light wooden cabinets and laminate-topped peninsula counter added practical function and a homely, cottage appearance to the atmosphere of our space and contradicted the metropolis environment of the bustling city that surrounded us.

Our Union Avenue apartment was a place where guests knew they were welcome to a hearty snack, warm meal, cold beer and red wine in the evening, clean sheets and blankets for a comfortable night’s rest on our turquoise couch, and fresh Brooklyn bagels with a mug of hot tea or coffee in the morning.

Writing about it now makes me miss our old home so much.

We pushed up our move by a week this past March when things started shutting down left and right in the city due to the pandemic. If the pandemic had not happened, we’d have been hosting some of my cousins from California that week and taking daily adventures from a meticulously planned itinerary full of truly New York and Brooklyn experiences, things that would give my cousins memories that were unique to our city while also providing Mike and me a chance to give a proper send-off to our regular neighborhood haunts.

But the pandemic did happen.

My cousins made the decision to cancel their trip after their airline offered them vouchers if they chose to cancel and after I let them know it was probably a good idea to cancel as bars, restaurants, theaters, and visiting with our Nana and our cousin’s months old son became either impossible or too risky.

We ended up moving four days after closing on our condo. We did not really get a chance to linger in our goodbyes with our home of five years before driving away in the Uhaul and car, but maybe that is a good thing. It would have made it so hard to allow that emotion to hit me, for my gaze to linger on the nail holes in the walls where our pictures used to hang, on the shiny rectangle on the floor where our warm, multi-colored, striped, shag area rug had been, and to hear the faint echo of laughter, late night chats, Friendsgiving gatherings, and regalings of recent travels from guests just arrived from the airport.

Five months after moving to our new home, the time has finally come to christen this place as a hub of hospitality. Our pictures hang on new walls now and our turquoise couch is still the same with new neighboring furniture to get to know. We no longer have our long, red brick living room wall and brick fireplace and kitchen hearth, but I’m not ever going to complain about our expansive view of the Atlantic that we get to look upon every day. My parents are coming to visit tomorrow and will be our first overnight guests. With much improved scenery, more space to move around, and an actual guest room with four walls and a door, I have high hopes that this place will live up to the cozy memories of gatherings past, conversations shared, trips planned and discussed, and memories made on Union Avenue.

But first, I must buy some cheese.

Ms. Lazy Bones

My minimalist muscle has been lazy the past couple of days because I have started working full time again. The kitchen sink is cradling a precarious stack of dishes and silverware. The coffee pot is empty, coated with the pungent residue of this morning’s 6:20am brew, the soggy grounds cementing to the reusable filter as I write. The laundry is rumpled in and around the hamper in the hall downstairs and the trash and recycling are nearly peeking out over the edge of their collection receptacles, preparing to punish us with the perfume of our laziness.

While I don’t feel like doing any tidying work right now, I know that if I do, I will be able to relax in a state of calm vs. a state of disquiet this evening. My brain is sleepy after four days of memory marathon training, working to retain as much new information as it can to be able to perform tasks independently.

My seemingly magnetic bones are halfheartedly resisting the couch’s gravitational pull so I can work on writing this post at the kitchen table with some semblance of focus.

When my living space is untidy, messy, or dirty, it is difficult for me to relax or to concentrate and so it is time to shake out these lazy bones and set a challenge for myself to see what I can get done in thirty minutes. It’s 6:08pm eastern time right now.

Ready. Set. Go.

(36 minutes later)

Ok. It’s 6:44pm, so I went over my self-imposed time restriction, but that’s not too bad. Here is a list of the tasks I got done.

-Filled the dishwasher with some of the dishes and silverware from the tower in the sink, and started the wash cycle.

-Collected a few empty bottles from the kitchen and living room, then rinsed and placed them in the recycling.

-Emptied and washed the coffee pot and brew basket and placed them in the dish rack to dry.

-Designated an area by the entryway for stuff to bring downstairs. Collected used dish towels and dish rags from the kitchen and a pair of crumpled dirty socks and placed them on the floor near my “to go downstairs” pile.

-Put away a pair of headphones.

-Took my copies of my new hire paperwork out of my work bag and put in the “to go downstairs” pile to file away.

-Removed my ballet flats, water bottle, coffee thermos, coffee mug, and used ziploc bags from a canvas tote I brought to work today. I put the shoes on the shoe rack, the dishes near the sink to go in the next dishwashing cycle, and tossed the ziploc bags.

-Emptied my “shred bot”, a little gray and silver shredder that is part appliance, part pet in our home before feeding it a scrumptious dinner of junk mail, an old receipt, and a bank statement that can also be accessed online. I then threw the bag of shreddings in the trash (I shred receipts, which cannot be recycled due to the ink used in printing receipts).

-I put my sneakers on the shoe rack before heading downstairs with my downstairs pile. I put the laundry items in the hall laundry collection (but did not do anything else with the laundry), filed my paperwork in one of the two gray file storage bins that I use to manage paper organization and put away a lovely letter from my friend, Katherine, that I read yesterday in the other gray bin in my “Cards, letters, and paper gifts” file folder to be revisited again later.

-I then completed the unfortunate task of de-clogging the drain catch in the shower which is not fun with the length of my quarantine hair and the tiny slitted design of our powder blue, ring-shaped drain catch that hugs our pop-up drain and collects everything like hair, sand, and exfoliated rejects-lovely I know. This is my least favorite chore which is probably why I let it get bad in the first place. It took a couple of minutes to empty the hollow tube of the ring via the tiny slits, but I did it and washed it with soap and water before hanging it to dry on a hook on the shower head caddy and vigorously washing my hands.

In thirty-six minutes, I completed tasks that I did not want to do, but that are done now! And it didn’t take long to do all of that. Sure, I didn’t get everything done; I still need to take out the trash for one thing, and the condo is in need of a good scrub, but that can wait till tomorrow. For now, I feel more at peace in my home and feel calm looking around at the organized space. Now it’s time to give in to the couch’s pull, sit down with a cold beer, and enjoy the golden, evening glow of the sunset, spotlit bridge and ocean.

In Memory of Travel: Ireland and Scotland

One year ago today, my family and I embarked on a ten day journey of international proportions, the first of its kind for us to experience together. Our destinations: the west coast of Ireland and the Scottish Highlands. As I drink my coffee at my laptop this morning, I am flipping through the large scrapbook that my sister made for me and Mike, full of photos, ticket stubs, and brochure clippings from the trip, feeling grateful to have had that incredible adventure with my favorite people and for the thoughtful way that my sister documented it.

For the trip, to avoid any hassle imposed by the tight baggage restrictions for our flight between Cork and Glasgow that we’d take halfway through our journey, we had decided to limit our baggage allowance to one carry-on and one personal item each. We also kept in mind that all six of us plus our bags would need to fit comfortably in a seven-person minivan in both countries and that our trunk space in said vehicles would not be an equal match for advertised seating capacity.

To accommodate our self-imposed packing restriction, I opted to pack items that could be re-worn without washing and quick drying items that could easily be hand washed in a bathroom sink. Having over-planned our leisurely trip itinerary, we had a good idea of all of the activities we’d be doing at each destination and I was able to share the complete itinerary with the group ahead of time along with suggestions for my parents for essential items to pack.

A perfect travel capsule wardrobe, in my opinion, consists only of items that you are comfortable and confident wearing, that will allow you to get a good night’s sleep, that suit the activities of your trip, and that protect you from the local weather elements of your destination. It should enhance your trip by making the process of choosing an outfit and getting dressed each morning a quick and easy task that prepares you for all of the activities for the day.

Ireland and Scotland are great destinations for trying out a reduced capsule wardrobe as the temperatures are forgiving and unless you are hiking, running, or cycling, you likely won’t sweat much. Our trip plan did not involve exercise more strenuous than walking, so active wear did not make the packing list cut. If you are visiting multiple towns along your journey through a country, you can even wear entirely the same outfit on more than one day of your trip and no one except your travel companions will know, and certainly none of them will care if they have the priority of enjoying taking in the sights.

Looking back at the pictures in the scrapbook and seeing wide smiles, the joy of adventure evident on each face, we were a bunch well-equipped to enjoy our travels, uninhibited by excess stuff so we could move briskly on our journey and roll with the “punches” thrown at us without dragging along the stress of extra baggage, and “punches” were certainly thrown in both countries by way of rough roads and car trouble-eek.

If you prefer less structured travel, a capsule travel wardrobe can be tailored to the weather conditions of your destination(s). Bring pieces that work well together that can be mixed and matched, dressed up or down, and are versatile enough for adventures varying in levels of activity and endurance. Bring a comfortable pair of walking/active shoes and a pair of shoes versatile enough to accommodate local weather conditions and dinner at a restaurant. Remember that if you pack light, you will have spare room in your bag to pick up an item here or there that can serve a purpose on your trip and also serve as a souvenir that will jog memories each time you use it even after you are back home.

While travel seems like a distant prospect amidst our current worldwide Covid-19 pandemic, I have to think it will be possible again someday and look forward to planning future trips and packing lists. For now, we have the memories of past travels to satisfy our hunger to voyage and that has to be enough for the time being.

Thanks for reading today’s post! If you have a fond travel memory, story, or an example of a time where items you packed enhanced or inhibited your trip, I’d love to read them in the comments below.

A Quiet Spectator

Today, I’m craving cozy. Outside, the sky is a bright, pale gray spread evenly with cloud cover. The ocean is relatively still, no more than a slight ripple ruffling its marbled, liquid surface. Only a couple of sailboats are on display in our limited view and Sandy Hook appears to be enjoying a well deserved day off from its usual bumper to bumper beach traffic. All seems quiet on this hazy, summer day in our upper corner of the New Jersey shore.

Behind me, the kettle works up enough steam to whistle and summons me to my Café du Monde souvenir mug and chamomile tea. The boiling water sighs with relief as I pour it over the tea bag. I squeeze a couple drops of wildflower honey onto a teaspoon and stir it into the exhaling mug, the sugar and motion working together to cloud the brew. I cool the spoon and taste it, conjuring the image of a colorful meadow as warm sweetness blooms across my taste buds, mingling with the forged aftertaste of hot metal.

I think I’ll pay a visit to my DVD collection which has recently been minimized and organized to fit in the three drawers of our simple entertainment stand. Pulling out all three drawers, I can peruse my entire collection, nothing hiding from view. After glancing over the titles a couple of times, Jane Eyre (BBC 2006) keeps pulling me back. Having learned to listen to this sense of magnetism when it comes to selecting things, I pull out the box and pop disc one into the tray, anticipating my return visit to the mysterious Thornfield Hall and those who dwell there.

For some DVDs, I use the “scene selection” function to skip past the initial exposition of the story that I have grown familiar with and immediately go to the part of the story that initially captures my interest. For this particular DVD, I skip to the third scene selection option and settle in for some cozy viewing and tea sipping on the couch.

Movies are a great resource for creating atmosphere and escapism. They are portals into other times, places, cultures, and personal lives, and it is such a privilege to be an audience to stories that differ from my own setting and personal experience. As a minimalist, movies can also be a great way to quench the odd maximal craving, but I’ll save my thoughts on that for another time.

My desired atmosphere today, as mentioned above, is cozy (as it often is), and to me, cozy is evoked in images of chilly weather, dim lighting, warm firelight glow, hearty meals, rustic textures and prints, being safe inside, and friends gathering together to be embroiled in a mystery that they do not immediately realize is happening. I sit comfortably on my couch, a spectator enjoying my escape into Miss Eyre and Mr. Rochester’s story. I am happy to be at a safe distance so as not to experience the dangers that the mysterious plot has yet to unveil but that are clearly implied through the score’s delicate, minor piano notes and string bow strokes piercing the silence of the living room like the wandering gaze of an oil portrait in a haunted estate.

I’ll leave you with that image for now.

I cannot guarantee that the oil portrait’s gaze will leave you as easily…

On the Plane of a Summit

Confronting your clutter and minimizing your belongings does not just clear physical space in your home/office/car, etc. The space that your clutter demands from your time, attention, peace of mind, and health is also important to acknowledge. Allow me to provide an example from my personal experience of how my excess stuff created excess stress.

Back when I owned 27+ handbags/wallets, I sometimes used to switch which handbag I was using on a daily basis to feel less guilty that I had purchased all of them. I would take out “all” of the things from my previous “handbag of the day” and transfer it in a hurry to “today’s news” in the morning as part of my calming daily routine of chugging through our railroad style apartment like a runaway train on a destructive path, rolling through the stations of last minute costume changes, grab and go breakfast, and panicked hair brushing, bobby pins clutched in my teeth and jewelry in my hand as I fumbled my hair into a neatly pinned swirl to deceive the world into believing that I was super put-together.

On more than two occasions, one time during a snow storm, I came home from work and got to the front door of my apartment building only to dig around in the inside of my handbag in desperate search of my house keys which I begrudgingly realized were in yesterday’s handbag on the back of the chair in the kitchen upstairs, conveniently located behind two locked doors. I’d then have to travel forty minutes each way, fighting back tears of frustration and hindsight self-deprecation, on the NYC subway and packed, Midtown sidewalks to meet Mike at his office to borrow his keys so I could enter the apartment and wind down for the day… like I had been ready to do an hour and twenty minutes earlier.

When clutter gets in the way of your time and ability to relax, it creates unhealthy patterns that build stress. I should have learned from the first time that I forgot to pack my keys (or phone, or wallet- what a mess!), but bad habits often take many attempts to break. My excess had gotten in my way so many frustrating times and, still, it took me years to find Minimalism, to let go of the excess, and to simplify my life for good.

How about you? Does any of this sound familiar or resonate with you?

Have you ever experienced a time (or many) where your excess (or the habits that bore it) got in the way of doing something you wanted to do? The activity can be anything, for example:

  • Wanting to watch a DVD that you frequently search for and can’t find
  • Wanting to play a board game that is buried at the bottom of a Jenga stack of boxes
  • Wanting to pack for vacation with the suitcase that you swore you saw in the garage the other day but that has since been camouflaged by the surrounding clutter
  • Wanting to look through photographs that are in a box somewhere in the… attic?
  • Wanting to pinpoint your house/car/office keys
  • Wanting/needing to wear your glasses (check the top of your head first)

Now, imagine a home where all of your DVDs are in one easily accessible place near the DVD player (and TV), where your board games fit on easy-to-reach shelves in the hall closet, where your suitcase fits in your bedroom closet and you know exactly what you have so packing can go smoothly, where your photos are stored on a digital picture frame or in albums stored on a bookcase in the living room, where your keys have a home on hooks or a tray by the front door, and where even if you leave your glasses goodness knows where, you won’t hurt yourself stumbling around to find them.

Finding things does not have to be a struggle. Why do so many of us make it one? If you have to dig through a mountain of clutter to access the things you want to do, you will be discouraged from actually doing those things because of the monumental effort required. Those activities get exiled to the realm of “someday”. Well, someday could be sooner than you think with a little determination, courage, and elbow grease.

Block off some time, whether it be 30 minutes in the evening or an entire weekend afternoon. Get the donation bags, trash bags, snacks, water, and tissues ready and start with something easy. The rest of the process will follow and the mountain will get smaller. You may not realize it yet, but you are already standing on the summit.

“Today is Pizza Day…”

Our power came back early yesterday morning and our lives have been returned to a state of illuminated, plugged-in normalcy. Over the past couple of days, I had a chance to thoroughly go through the things that I brought home from my room at my parents’ house on Wednesday.

It was very helpful to refresh those items by bringing them to a different location so I could shed some clarity on my level of attachment to each of them with a logical, focused approach. While I did not grow up in the house that my parents currently live in, it is still a place of sacred sentimentality and therefore, provides added difficulty in approaching the minimizing process with a critical eye.

I have sentimental memories of packing my things up from the apartment that I did grow up in prior to the move, and of staying at the house during holiday breaks from college in my senior year and spending many a pleasant weekend and holiday there ever since I moved in with Mike. It is a cozy place, abundant with conversation, music, movies, laughter, haunted only by the savory ghost of holiday meals past, the scent of pine needles, pot roast, and pie easy to recall with a quick thought and a smile. It is a place where you notice happy memories in the making and drink in the sentimentality like sips of hot coffee and spiced, pumpkin beer on a crisp, fall day.

Prior to this round of minimizing, the items that I stored in my room at my parents’ house were kept out of sight and very out of mind. While it was pleasantly surprising to come across some of the items again during this recent clean-out, I knew that if I were to leave them in that room, I’d forget about them once again… and again and again and again, over and over.

As I got reacquainted with my old belongings, I reunited with memories from my elementary, middle, and high school days as well as those from college. For a few hours across two days, I sifted through old photo books, stuffed animals, costume jewelry, writing, and every old school assignment including each written page of all of the composition notebooks I’d brought home with me. Some people might view that as a bit excessive, but being a self-identified “writer” since childhood, these notebooks were very sentimental items and the girl who wrote the content really deserved my time and attention, above all people.

The seven and eight year old girl who I once was would have been furious if the older version of herself did not read the entirety of her 3rd grade class journal which, among other topics, noted every single “pizza day” that occurred in the 1999/2000 school year lunch schedule. The thirteen year old girl who wrote the poetry in the maroon composition notebook probably would have rather shoved the entire book through a shredder before the older version of herself read it, but the versions of me in between kept it for some reason and so I read her writing with a wary eye, some of the words or rhymes playing like an audio book track in my head from memory as I read along.

Some assignments really held no attachment for me at all and were easy to part with, but I did end up keeping a full, multi-compartment, accordion folder of old schoolwork , birthday cards and letters, and writing as well as composition notebooks from my 11th grade Creative Writing class, my 3rd Grade school year, and my personal poetry journal from ages 12-13 each of which sparked either happy or important memories.

After sorting through all of the other items, we brought three bags full of old clothes, costume jewelry, stuffed animals, art supplies, and miscellaneous items to our local Goodwill donation drop off and shed the excess, feeling lighter as we got in the car and drove home.

While the process of letting go is difficult in the beginning of the minimizing process, it becomes a regular, familiar part of a Minimalist’s routine. The letting go allows you to really cherish the items that you choose to keep and makes those items more accessible and easy to find and look through when you need to revisit those memories. With the time that you do not have to spend searching for those memories, you gain so many more opportunities to enjoy them without the burden of feeling like you’d be able to do so more easily if only you cleared out the clutter.