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.

A Toast to the Big, Red Moon

Last night, after eating dinner by candlelight, we sat out on the balcony to catch the cool breeze that rolled westward off the ocean. The familiar, dusky darkness wrapped us in its dependable embrace while we sipped warm, red wine from stemless glasses watching bats as they zoomed above the parking lot in erratic flight.

Deprived of some of the conveniences that we usually take for granted, the dark opened our eyes to its hidden beauty which we often overlook. The bats, for one were a confusing entertainment, one we had not yet observed as we are often inside at that time, perpetually half-distracted by the digital world that we allow to bombard us daily. The big, red moon was another, more familiar one.

I did not realize until moving to the shore that when the moon rises at night over the ocean, it appears very large in size and reflects a deep red complexion. It is not a blood moon or a honey moon, but rather, just the regular old moon that many people have seen as orange, pale gold, or white in color as it rises higher in the sky. The big, red moon has become one of my favorite aspects of having an ocean view and last night, sitting out in the breezy darkness, we had excellent seats to watch it rise above the glassy, black horizon.

Without the light pollution from the parking lot and patio lights of our complex or from the streetlights on the bridge linking the mainland to the barrier island, our view had little disruption. It appeared above the water, slightly south east, and we marveled at its reassuring sight.

Meanwhile, in the far distance on Long Island, a tiny fireworks show of red and gold dazzled like a Lilliput carnival and further west in the distance, the planes taking off from and landing at JFK floated slowly in the sky like glowing, paper lanterns. We sipped our warm, red wine, chatted, and smiled, feeling lucky to live where we live. All the while, our home was filled with the deep navy of night and nothing but the breeze from the open windows to cool it, but we had each other and welcomed our present, pleasant company of the big red moon.