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.

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.

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.

Hard Learned Lessons: Clothing & Accessories

When I took the first step to removing my clutter in order to make room for the important things in my life, the most overwhelming question confronted me right from the get go as I looked around my seemingly never-ending, hopeless collection of things. Where do I start? As I have since learned that many new to the process of decluttering do, I began with my clothes and accessories.

I’ll try to draw up an image of my clothing and accessory collection prior to starting this journey. This is going to be a bit cringe-worthy for me, but it is important to lay it all out for this post, so here we go!

In our Williamsburg apartment, my husband and I shared a closet. The closet had a small organization system of racks and shelves built into it, though organized was far from how I would describe it. Mike had one neatly organized bar for his work clothes and I had two… and the shelves… for my closet collection. The weight capacity of each of my hangers was tested, some to the breaking point, almost each one holding two items (or more-yikes!).

My Hemnes dresser from Ikea (not a plug- just want to convey how large of a dresser it is) was packed, each drawer brimming over the top such that I had to squish down the contents to close the drawers. Countless shirts, sweaters, skirts, pants, jeans, leggings, scarves, hats, gloves, swimsuits, sweatshirts- some items folded, but most haplessly crumpled due to my having tried on multiple outfits in the morning to find something acceptable to put on my body.

Draped on the chair by my sewing table were usually the clean parts of my outfits from the previous few days along with other pieces from “tired frenzy – the morning collection” that didn’t make the cut.

In the corner of the room lurked my large storage bin filled with seasonal items and clothes that didn’t fit or that I did not enjoy wearing but had paid good money for and so needed to be kept (but kept hidden and unused), right? On top of the bin, as mentioned in my first post https://cozydoesit.com/2020/08/01/finding-minimalism/, lived my extensive collection of handbags, totes, backpacks, and soft-sided luggage, an addiction born from working in the NYC Midtown sales world of handbags for nearly two years. Just now I tried to think of all the bags I used to own and came up with the list below and I know this is likely not even all of them…

5 totes: 1x leather, 3x faux leather, 1xcanvas/leather

6 backpacks: 2x nylon, 2x canvas, 1x faux leather, 1x cotton twill

8 crossbodies: 2x leather, 2x nylon, 3x faux leather, 1x suede

3 evening bags: blue, black, gray

5 wallets: 4x faux leather, 1x leather

That’s 27 handbags / wallets. Twenty-seven. Ugh. I did not even include grocery totes and canvas tote bags or the main bags that I use today which I purchased in my early days of minimalism, a black canvas and leather crossbody, and my black “ebags” travel backpack.

I’m a monster.

Okay, moving on.

In front of the bin were at least two white kitchen trash bags stretching at the seams with clothes I was silly enough to think I could sell at Buffalo Exchange, a trendy consignment store in my neighborhood. After my first humiliating attempt to sell my items at Buffalo Exchange, I learned that they only take really nice or really unique stuff and you stand there as the in-store buyer sorts through your prized junk that you paid good money for. It was lucky if they took one thing for a pittance of a price but usually they just pushed most of the hoard back across the counter for me to awkwardly stuff back into the trash bags in front of the line of hopeful fashionistas waiting behind me to sell their last-season designer items.

After lugging my un-sellable stuff to and from Buffalo Exchange and Beacon’s Closet (another consignment shop in Williamsburg) countless times, I always felt drained and a little embarrassed. After donating to Salvation Army and Goodwill or dropping off my textile recyclables in H&M’s recycling bins, I always felt lighter- a weight off my shoulders- the cycle complete.

This lesson was one that, oddly enough, took a couple of years for me to learn and one that led to me donating many of my clothes and recycling the worse for wear ones instead of trying to sell them because it made me feel happier to do it that way. My clothes no longer had the same value to me as the price I paid for them, but I wanted to send them off in a way that was positive for my own mental health.

The hard lesson was learning that getting rid of my clothing items did not mean that those items never provided me value. The value of those items was in the distraction from stress or impulsive joy of the shopping experience, even if those items hung in my closet for years with the tags on. Their value lay in teaching me what does not work with my body shape or the type of fabrics and cuts that make me self-conscious, itchy, or feel just generally uncomfortable in. You don’t need those uncomfortable reminders in your closet staring you in the face everyday as you go to choose an outfit. You are enough whether that skirt makes you look a little chubsy or whether that dress caused someone to offer you their seat on the subway (cough- just chubby-not pregnant- oh the shame).

I wish I had written down how I initially approached deciding what to part with from my clothing hoard as I am having trouble remembering. I definitely did not know at that time about the KonMari method of putting all of your clothing items on the bed and holding each item one by one to see if it sparked joy (though experimented with this sometime later). I know that however I did it, it was little by little, two plastic grocery bags at a time, and I know that if you want to and put your brave face on, you can do it too.