Embracing limits

December 31, 2011 § Leave a comment

I’m fascinated by those stories of other folks imposing outrageous limits on themselves … Six Items or Less; Project 333; 100 Things … I really WANT to want these limits.

For those of us who don’t come by minimalism naturally, I believe limits can be a great tool for decluttering and avoiding recluttering.  Since I was raised in an all-you-can-eat American family, I’m still working on shifting my paradigm to embrace limits.

One of my holiday-gift-card purchases this year was two sets of non-slip hangers — 36 in total — along with six clip hangers.  I’ve set a goal for 2012 to reduce my wardrobe to just those hangers and the items that get folded (undergarments, pajamas, athletic attire).  Though it may not sound like it, this is a really huge goal for me because my closet is currently overflowing with items that I think I love, but don’t wear for some reason or another.  I also have overflowing drawers and an off-season box of clothes under my bed.

My closet is often the first place I go when I need to spend a few minutes decluttering and no matter how often I clean it out, there are always new pieces of “clutter” in there that I didn’t see last time.  So first, I’m going to use the backward-hanger tip to identify what I really wear every season; then I’m going to replace the hangers for those items I have worn with my new hangers.  I’ll start this week by hanging my fresh laundry on the new hangers and at the end of each season, I’ll declutter those items that didn’t get worn.   (If I have a problem getting rid of any of these items, I’ll use Colleen’s tips here.

My new thought about limits: unlimited=excess; limited=enough.

Happy holidays to our military

December 16, 2011 § Leave a comment

At our middle-school Christmas concert last night, I saw one of my favorite small-town vignettes during the “March of the Armed Forces”. Three, maybe four, generations of service people were in attendance and stood to represent their branch and be recognized. Each year I live here, I recognize a few more of those standing … so this year I felt for some fellow band parents when their son stood for maybe the first time as a representative of his military branch; for our band instructor when her father stood up as a long-time representative of his branch; and for many of the the eighth-grade parents serving active duty.

I grew up in a big city, too expensive for retirees to live on a limited income and so the average age in my community always stayed relatively young. It’s the kind of place people move to “make their fortune” or when their first marriage breaks up and they want a fresh start.

The town where we first moved to raise our girls was a fast-growth town with big, shiny, new houses and young families to match. Some of our parents moved in to be close to the grandkids and now the retirement community is growing there, but it’s not the organic growth that you see in a town where people rarely leave.

Our new town is historic, with a Main Street that pre-dates the Civil War and a sense of community all new to me. Support for our military is a shared community value. The first town settlers were veterans of the Revolutionary War who were granted land as payment. A major battle of the Civil War was fought inside the town limits and local homes were commandeered as field hospitals and headquarters for both the Confederacy and the Union. I witnessed the town’s continued dedication to service at our high school’s 100th anniversary Veteran’s assembly when my daughter was in JROTC and we had local veterans from every war all the way back to WWI attend and be recognized. Our Veteran’s parade in downtown is heavily attended, even in the middle of the week in the middle of the workday.

I come from a military family. My father was in the Navy. Both of my grandfathers were career military. I have eight different “patriot” lines in my ancestry documented with the Daughters of the American Revolution. I was raised to honor our military heritage even at a time when that was incredibly unpopular where I lived. I’m grateful that time is gone.

To all who are or have served I thank you and wish you a wonderful, peace-filled holiday season!

Semi-minimalist entertaining?

December 15, 2011 § Leave a comment

We had a party this past weekend — not a big one, smaller than all of the ones we’ve had previously — but still definitely not a minimalist thing.  I pruned the guest list and the menu and the supplies so that it wouldn’t be so cluttered and so crowded and so much work.  It ended up being a really enjoyable party for me — much more so than the large ones I’ve had in the past — and it made me remember that even back in my “party days” I always enjoyed a small get-together more than a big party.  It’s funny how bringing some awareness to your activities helps you remember so many things you already knew!

The quest for perfection

December 4, 2011 § 1 Comment

The quest for perfection. This has been a lifelong vision of mine — and I AM a visionary. I can SEE how perfect that new bag would hold all of my stuff; how fabulous this room would look if it only had some custom-made valances; how gorgeous I will look in that new red coat with matching hat; or how beautiful my table will look with those placemats and napkins.

It’s also my special talent to walk into a restaurant or other customer-focused business and be able to identify the single thing that either makes the place or breaks it. (Sometimes there’s more than a single thing, but I can usually hone in on the single biggest thing.)

When someone hits the nail on the head, I am passionate about that perfection and I become a “brand ambassador.” (Tervis tumblers for example — made in America, lifetime guarantee, keeps beverages hot or cold without outer condensation, plastic is perfect for travel and around the pool, and they can be customized. We take our Tervis tumblers on every road trip to refill. I take my Tervis to the office with my coffee in it and then rinse it out for my water the rest of the day. Note: I don’t work for Tervis or have any association with them.)

So, what’s the downside of this quest? The graveyard of imperfection. How many things do I buy thinking they are JUST the perfect thing — the perfect shoes; the perfect bag; the perfect chair; the perfect tablecloth — only to have them fall short in some way? If they fall short immediately, I’m ruthless with returning. I don’t mind paying good money for the perfect thing, and as I’ve downsized my acquisitions over the past couple of years, I find that I pay more to get exactly what I want and I’m willing to do without or to wait. BUT, that means when something falls short after use, it’s much more painful to purge it because it has more value to me. I also still have that original vision of me using it in just the perfect setting and sometimes it just sits around waiting for that perfect setting to arrive. So I still have that perfect portable doggie bowl and water bottle for when I take my dog on the road (except she doesn’t like long trips).

And I’m not even talking about the things that WERE perfect for a time in my life that no longer exists. I have the perfect scrapbooking collection complete with rolling storage tote, (but I haven’t scrapbooked in over four years).

In my new quest for semi-minimalism, I’m working on these two things:

  • Defining “enough” … how many pairs of shoes are enough? How many drawers are enough? … and then working toward and living with that definition.
  • Embracing the wanting … it’s the human condition to want. Even with unlimited funds, time and space to fulfill all of my wants, they won’t go away. The only thing that stills the wanting is gratitude and that means being grateful for what I already have.

What I’ve found so far is that the more I get rid of, the more I feel the abundance that already surrounds me.

The gift of giving

December 1, 2011 § 2 Comments

I’ve been reading on many minimalist blogs about how we should all just stop giving gifts and we should tell everyone not to buy gifts for us.  Maybe I’m just not a minimalist person by nature (this is true), but I think the BEST part of the holidays is having the opportunity to give.  I get giddy when I send money to good causes (which I seem to do more of during this season).  My family loves to “adopt” a few kids to buy gifts for.

Some of our best life lessons have come from these opportunities.  One year when my oldest DD was small, I told her to pick a request from the “Santa Tree” (Charities bring them to our office with paper Santa “ornaments” that list a child’s name, age and gift request,) and she came home with a request from an 16-year-old boy who wanted socks.  I told her I thought that was a really boring one.  I said it would be so much more fun for us to shop for a little girl who wanted dolls.  She replied, “But, Mommy, it’s so sad that he’s asking for socks for Christmas.”  And that was it.  A HUGE life lesson for me about how a little gift can to make a big difference to someone else.

So we’re definitely going to keep on giving and enjoying the heck out of it.  We have changed what we give over the years so that our giving aligns with our values.  We try to give gifts along these guidelines:

  1. Experiences (memberships, concert tickets, conference registrations)
  2. Consumables (cash is always good as well as locally made food or personal care items)
  3. Hand-made gifts (either locally or by microbusinesses in emerging countries)
  4. Gifts made in the USA or made using sustainable manufacturing (ideally both!)
  5. Gifts purchased from a local small businesses

And we’re also reducing gifts when we can.  This year when a family member called to ask what we wanted for Christmas, we told her, “nothing,” that we already had more than we could ever hope to need and that we would love it if she would make a donation to a charity of her choice as our “gift.”  She sounded a bit skeptical and I felt bad — like I might be cheating her out of the joy of giving — but she called yesterday and told us that not only had she found some good charities (she’s retired and volunteers with several), but that the rest of the adults in our family had opted to do the same when she told them our request.

I’m pleased with this progress and feel like I’m enjoying the holidays even more this year!

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