Archive for the ‘Simplicity’ Category

Driving my Porsche to Happiness

What makes you happy?  I mean, truly, honest-to-goodness, head-over-heels happy?

Is it your house?  How about your iPad or your new Mac notebook?  Your smartphone?  What about your car?  Does your fashionable clothing make you that happy?

What about that new cereal?  The one with the ad on tv showing children in a bright kitchen and big smiles on their faces?  Do you find this happiness in buying the right antacid?

Am I getting silly?  But really, how often do we fall for advertising’s goal – that to be truly happy, we only have to have their product?  And yes, even antacids are included in that group of ads.

I read a quote in a back issue of Mother Earth News today – I don’t remember the exact quote now, but it basically said – “Does anyone’s luxury car ever create true happiness?”

Hmm.  We’ve been inundated with commercials that try to persuade us to believe that if we can just live up to the standards of the rich, we will be truly happy.  But those commercials end up making us profoundly unhappy – because we can’t live up to those standards and we think happiness is lost.  And – please speak up if I’m wrong -but  I don’t think there are very many people who found true happiness and contentment once they got that car – or house, or iPad.

Don’t get me wrong; those things are fun and great if you can afford them without debt (making yourself even more stressed and unhappy.)  They do bring on some happiness and joy, especially when you first get them.

But true happiness is found in the things you can’t buy.  Oh, that’s so cliche, but true.  I find great happiness in my children and the little things they do – things that are gone in a moment.  I think I find more happiness in a good meal or a nice bar of chocolate than my 2009 Chevy we bought new.  I find more joy in knitting a beautiful sweater than buying the newest haute couture  style off the rack.  I’m sure you all know what I am talking about!

After my last post, I’ve continued to declutter my house.  There is something so liberating about getting rid of the stuff  and finding the things I really enjoy – they don’t bring me that true happiness, but having a house full of only things I love will, I think, because I can spend my time enjoying the things I have rather than trying to find them!

Do we really need all the stuff?  Will we really find the El Dorado we are looking for in the newest gadget? Tell me here what brings you the most happiness!

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15 minutes to Zen

Wow, I got a great, unexpected response to my last post, Simple Pleasures, where I talked about my desire to live a less cluttered, more purposeful life.  Most of you did not post, but many of you emailed me or convo’d me through Etsy.com to talk to me about having the same desire.

I thought since there are so many of us of the same mind, I’d share something else from the book “Sink Reflections” that was an epiphany for me (and I’m not exaggerating!)

I was brought up – intentionally or not – to believe that if you are going to do something, you should do it right.  It’s not a bad standard, unless you make “right” to mean “perfect.”  I’m certain this was my own interpretation of the saying and not something my parents told me; I rarely remember them being exacting about my performance, and usually only when it was sub-par.

So as a newly married housewife, I found that doing it “right” meant making everything look perfect – not too hard when it’s just you and hubby in a 720 square foot house!  Child #1 came along and it was slightly more difficult, and then #2, and then #3 and perfect was just a ghost of a dream.  When vacuuming “right” means that every single thing is picked up off the floor and the furniture is moved…well, let’s just say I haven’t seen the entire floor in probably a year, even though I’m constantly picking up toys and clothes and mopping up spilled milk.

My solution (thanks to the FLYlady)?  “You can do anything in 15 minutes.” 

She doesn’t mean it literally, but think of it this way: you got into the mess you are in bit by bit.  You can get out that way, too.  I spend about 15 minutes with my daily keep-up tasks: running the dishwasher, switching over one load of laundry, picking up stuff that has accumulated in places that were clean, sweeping the floor.  I also wipe down the sink with a washcloth and swipe the toilet seat and back down with a bit of toilet paper (I’m working on something reusable for this!)

Some of those I can do while I wait for something else.  I can load the dishwasher in the time it takes for my coffee to brew.  I can throw in a load of laundry or switch it over while I’m browning meat for dinner.

Then I spend 15 minutes doing other chores – once a week I dust, or change sheets, or wipe down the appliances.

Finally, if I have the time, I try to take 15 minutes to declutter: a couple times a week I work on decluttering an area or cleaning up a

30 to 45 minutes a day, and my friends and husband have noticed a difference.  I feel more at rest.  And I’ve learned that vacuuming up only what I can see is good enough – that’s where most of the junk is anyway!

This was a pile of boxes twice as big - now it's easy to find what I need for WeeEssentials and Dyeing To Spin!

 

And what was the epiphany?  That I can clean my house daily in half an hour!  It’s not perfect, or anywhere close, but I don’t expect it to be anymore.  It’s clean, fairly picked up, and I’m keeping up.  And as I get rid of the things I don’t use or don’t love, I’m finding I get more and more cleaning done – some days I get done early now!  Pretty cool, huh?

Simple Pleasures

I was out in my garden this morning, rueing the fact that I had avoided weeding the watermelons for so long that the crab grass and other weeds that surround my garden had made that patch almost indistinguishable from my lawn.  It was the fact that the weeds were so dense they were hard to pull that bothered me, but at the same time, I found peace in weeding.  It’s a methodical, deliberate task, done in a quiet, uncluttered space.

I’ve mentioned my quest on this blog before – I want to live with purpose.  I may not end up famous, or rich, or popular, but I want to be content because I’ve chosen a path and lived it well.

This past year I was thrown for a loop.  I was going along well when all of a sudden we had three children.  And that third one was a big deal, because suddenly everything was different, harder.  Going from one to two was, for some reason, infinitely easier.

I found out later that it was, perhaps, the fact I was diagnosed with chronic major depression years ago and never did anything about it, coupled with post partum depression after Baby Girl was born.  My life was literally spinning out of control, and at the same time, Wee Essentials was growing with a lot of speed.

Fast forward to now, and I’m on medication and feeling better than I have since I was a young teenager.  I’ve created systems and routines and worked with my husband to schedule time for everything that has to be done.  It may sound like I’ve regimented my life, but what I’ve done is relearned how to live with purpose.

One of the major things that has helped has been a book called “Sink Reflections.” Many people know the author as the “FLYlady.”  I’ve learned a lot from her, but I think one of the most important things I’ve learned is that when your house is cluttered, your life is cluttered.  Your mind is cluttered.  And your spirit is cluttered.

We don’t have a cluttered house.  You wouldn’t call the TV show “Hoarders” to come help us.  But when I decided that if it’s not useful and if I don’t love it, it needs to go, more peace settled on my house.  I’m not done yet, but my spirit is lighter because my physical burden is lighter.

 

My challenge to you is to find 20 things in your house that you can do without, and throw or give them away.  Don’t save them for a yard sale, don’t think about freecycling them.  Just stick them in a box and then put them in the car.  Go to the Goodwill or the Salvation Army the next time you run errands.  Remember, if you are saving them “just in case” it’s likely you won’t use them.  Don’t be selfish and hang onto items other people could use!  (Trust me, I know personally how easy that one is.)  Good luck, and go!

Can consuming make you healthy and wealthy?

Our culture of consumerism is damaging to both our earth and our wallets.  One of my goals with this blog has been to document our steps away from the greed and gluttony of first world society and toward a more sustainable life – both monetarily and ecologically.  Fortunately they go hand-in-hand.

I haven’t approached this before on this blog, but between student loans and credit card debt from a previous failed business as well as our own poor financial planning, my husband and I have found ourselves deeply in debt – and almost dangerously so.  We have been working the past few years to erase that debt – although in the past few months we have finally become truly serious about it.  We’ve started using Dave Ramsey’s plan, which in theory is brilliant.  With the right attitude, I am confident it will work – because it’s about changing our mindsets about consuming, not just about getting out of debt.

I think that’s the key to changing our ecological habits, too.

If we can overcome the mentality that our self-worth is in what we own, instead of who we are, we can overcome the consumerist mentality.  We can overcome the burdens we’ve put upon ourselves in our search for satisfaction and adoration.

The problem with “going green” in the US is that it’s marketed as a salable lifestyle. Shop at whole foods, buy the right (and expensive) cleaning supplies, cash in your clunker, and install solar panels.  If you buy the right things, you will be so ecologically friendly.

These companies see green alright – in the form of cash.  But do their products really make the world cleaner?  Sure, that organic cotton t-shirt has fewer chemicals in it, but how much water did it take to grow the cotton so you could buy another t-shirt to add to your overflowing closet?  How much gas did it take to transport the cotton to the processing plant, the fiber to the spinners, the spun thread to the weaver, the fabric to the factory, and the finished product to the warehouse, where it sat until the store called for it?  We don’t see anything but the end product, so we don’t think about all of the resources it took just to make those items.  In the end, the fact that the cotton is organic is only an insignificant change in a long series of events that are no better than they ever were.

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But it’s reached a new low. Yesterday a new commercial came on as I was watching a cartoon with the kids, and every time I saw it, I grew more disgusted.  The commercial advertised a book called “The Green Millionaire” by Nigel J. Williams  (Free with a trial membership to their emagazine, which is expensive  and probably impossible to cancel.)

The premise of this book is that there are ways to be green that will make you rich.  Most of the ideas appear to be fairly obvious and require purchases.  Some of the claims from the website:

Would you buy a used car from this guy?


“Get your share of the billions that will go unclaimed in Government “green” money.”

“Learn how to keep your gas tank full for free.”

On the commercial, the author talks about “making your electrical meter flow backwards” and getting cash for greening up your automobile, your appliances, and your home.

First of all, many of you have probably figured out exactly what he’s talking about with a lot of this.  The electrical meter – installing solar panels or wind generators may mean you can sell energy back to the electrical company.  But installation on that scale is still expensive and requires a good investment of money.  You won’t get rich on that, though I have heard of people making a small profit.  And what about the manufacturing process for the panels?  And disposal of old electric systems?

Gas for life?  Complaint boards are full of explanations – the book tells you to buy a diesel vehicle, install a biodiesel converter (more buying), and find a source of free used vegetable oil.  Where do I start?  Raw vegetable oil is not a legal motor fuel and will cost you in expensive government fines if you got caught using it.  It has to be converted to biodiesel to be truly efficient, which for the average person, could be costly as well.

Cash from the government for your clunker?  That program is over, and even when it was running, you wouldn’t see a dime of the money in your pocket.  It was a rebate – a discount, basically – off a brand new car.  When we bought our Chevy back in August, it simply meant we got a better deal. But we still paid $18,000 out of pocket in the form of a loan.  We aren’t getting richer, my dear readers.

We won’t even head in the direction as to whether or not the program was effective – considering an estimated 25% of the lifetime emissions on a vehicle is from the manufacturing process, it probably wasn’t.

And cash for your appliances?  That’s over, too, though the story is the same.  You may save some electicity, but the manufacturing and transporting process probably required a lot more than you will ever get back in green brownie points.

The book appears to talk about government grant money for “green” improvements.  You don’t need Williams’ book to get that information – it’s right here. And it’s free.

I could go on and on, but that’s not my point.  Everything this man advertises is scammy – not only is the internet fraught with complaints from consumers about this guy and his book, but nothing he says seems to come close to actually helping the environment or his readers’ wallets.  Every suggestion from the book that has been publicized requires buying stuff! Stuff that the average person doesn’t need to buy!

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The most “green” thing a person can do is not consume unnecessarily. Buying new things when what we have is perfectly serviceable is not ecologically friendly, and it’s not frugal.  (I also don’t think it’s morally wrong, just for the record.)

Here’s my plan to help the earth and grow my wealth:

1. I’m going to remove my financial obligations to others by paying what I owe so I can put future money in the bank.

2.  I’m going to buy what I need, and only a little of what I want, so that I have more cash to put towards those debts/savings and so I have less that requires manufacturing and disposal.

3. When I do buy, I’m going to buy mindfully – buying used when possible and choosing products that have a minimum of packaging – particularly packaging that can’t be recycled or reused.  I’ll also try to choose products that are as whole as possible – that is, they are as close to their natural state as possible, with fewer chemicals, dyes, chemical fragrances and preservatives.

4. And I’m going to consider whether or not I really need it.  Can I do without?  Can I use something else? Instead of buying the $10 all-purpose cleaner, can I use vinegar?  Baking soda?  Can I use potent essential oils to scent my house instead of buying fake smelling air freshener?  Could I use cloth napkins instead of paper or cloth menstrual pads instead of tossing away uncomfortable paper ones every month?

Ultimately, I know there will be purchases I make that will be unnecessary.  And that’s okay with me, as long as I’ve considered the things above and made a purchase bought with thought rather than compulsion.  And we must think about these things – our society is capable of change only when we change our minds about the necessity of consumption!

A New Year’s Resolution

Happy New Year!
I normally don’t make resolutions on New Years –  I figure if I’m going to make a change, I might as well start right away, whether it’s the beginning of the year or the middle.  But this year, a few things have been nagging me, and I plan on paying attention to them!

So my New Year’s Resolutions:

1. Find out how this county recycles.  My husband is a reluctant recycler, to say the least.  When he signed up for garbage service when he moved in, he asked about recycling.  But we live in the county outside city limits, so there is no curbside pickup.  For my husband, that was the end of that.  I’ve let it go for a while, but I feel like I need to get back on track.

2. For the past month since I moved into the new house, I’ve been slow to unpack and declutter.  We moved from a 2100 square foot house with ample storage spaces (and a basement) to an 1800 square foot house with 2 small closets, a kitchen laid out more for looks than functionality, and an unfinished upstair.  I don’t want to store a bunch of junk upstairs (especially since it will become three more bedrooms and a bath soon) so as I unpack I’ve had to really think about what I want to keep.  Hello, Freecycle!

Those are my current goals.  I don’t want to get them done by the end of 2010.  I’d like to complete them as quickly as possible! 🙂

What are some of your New Year’s Goals?

Simplicity at Home, Part 2 – Where does this stuff go?

A few days ago, I talked about a simple way to start conquering clutter in your home.  I have it easy – I just have to pack up my whole house, separating the things I want to keep from the things I don’t want any longer!  Most of you, I wager, don’t have it so easy.  (LOL.)

Today I wanted to cover what to do with that stuff.

Okay, let’s say you’ve already had a garage sale, so a lot of the good, usable stuff is gone.  Some of the items (like used printer cartridges and old sneakers) are probably best left out of the sale, but you hate to throw them away.  What do you do?  Where does this stuff go?

Well obviously, the next bet might be freecycle.  In any given city, it’s likely you will find a new owner for your cracked aquarium, your well-worn (and moth-eaten) wool coat, and your legless coffee table.  But if you have no takers, here are some other options:

Ink Jet Printer Cartridges: Many office supply stores will accept used printer cartridges for refill.  If you don’t want to refill them, get a credit toward purchases at their store, instead!  I have been told that both Staples and Office Depot will give you a $3 store credit for each cartridge you relinquish – up to 10 a month.  That’s $30 in your pocket to use for school supplies, office supplies, and other household necessaries!  I’m about to try this – I have well over 20 cartridges saved up – so I’ll let you know how it goes.

Unusable Clothing: Drop them off at your local Salvation Army anyway.  They recycle clothing that is too torn, stained, or otherwise unwearable into other products.

Magazines and Books: You can always trade them at Paperbackswap.com for other books, but if you don’t want to wait, give them to your local library for their fundraising book-sale.  Or you can offer them to your local nursing home – residents are always grateful for new reading materials.  Family friendly magazines can be dropped off at your local elementary school office (with permission, of course) for teachers to grab for art projects.

Egg Cartons, Baby Food Jars, Shoeboxes and other clean “trash”: Again, teachers love this stuff.  Especially elementary school teachers.  These items, and many others, are great supplies for wonderful art projects but aren’t always easy to find.  I once taught elementary school myself – these kinds of items are worth their weight in gold!

Personal Care Products (Including partially used ones): I put some personal care products up on Freecycle, many lotions and shampoos were partly used, but didn’t work for me.  I had someone pick them up for their own personal use, but I also had someone who was an employee of a local nursing home who was interested in them for the residents there.  She said it wasn’t technically allowed (at least not the used items,) but often the residents would run out of what they needed.  Ask around a bit, and you may find someone willing to take them – a nursing home, a women’s shelter, or the family down the street with lots of kids!

Any other suggestions for creative locations to give things away?

Simplicity at Home, Part 1

One of the most challenging aspects of moving is packing up – you start to wonder how you’ve managed to collect so much stuff in such a short period of time!  As I’ve been packing up our boxes, I’ve been ruthless in getting rid of things I didn’t know I had, things I never use but always thought I’d need one day, and things that I don’t care for anymore.  I do this in reaction to our last move – we had a large moving van, but had to rent a trailer to go behind it, too, just to get everything in!

I don’t want to do that again.  I hate the idea that we are carting around items we don’t use, and I’d like to simplify!

I’m sure you have closets, cupboards, and basements full of stuff you no longer use.  It can be frustrating to look at the piles – where do you start?  What do you do with all the things you no longer want?

Today I want to explain my techniques for sorting out the clutter, and tomorrow I’ll tell you what you can do with that stuff!  Obviously, most of you are not moving and can’t just separate the “keep” and the “pack” as I’m doing (which makes it less overwhelming.)  But you can clean out one closet, or one shelf today.

Candice’s Super Easy Effective Decluttering

(Okay, this is  a pretty common technique – I can’t take credit for it.)  You’ll need to set aside at least a couple hours to do each area. If you don’t set aside enough time, you’ll end up with a bigger mess than before, and that’s very frustrating!

1. Choose a location – a closet, a corner, or a dresser, for instance.  I’m going to use a closet for my example.

2. Take everything out of the closet.  This will create a huge mess, but it will work best if you can separate types of items – put clothing in one pile, shoes in another, etc.  Now, if your closet is disorganized and everything is mixed in to start with, don’t worry about making piles.  The point is not to make decluttering take more time than necessary, and sorting things out isn’t as important as just getting on with it.

3.  While everything is out of the closet, take a damp rag and wipe shelves, baskets, drawers, and the top of the hanging bar.  Check for cobwebs in the corners – if they are there, get them out!  Vacuum or sweep the floor.

4.  Now start putting things back in.  This is your chance to be as ruthless as you want – do you really need 4 black raglan sweaters?  Do you ever wear that stretchy magic shirt from 2001? (Apparently these are back in style!)

Magic Shirt courtesy of Amazon.com

Magic Shirt courtesy of Amazon.com

Check the items you want to keep for missing buttons, for tears, and stains.  Put the items you want to keep back in the closet, but if they need mending or cleaning, put them in a separate pile.  You will also have two more piles:  donate/sell and throw.

Since we are trying to be green, hopefully your “throw” pile will be very small.  Or maybe you can title it “recycling.” The only things I could think of that might go in this pile are new shoe stuffings, shoe boxes, worn out hangers, etc.  Maybe you can think of other things?

Keep in mind that many places that accept donations – the Salvation Army, for example – will accept unwearable clothing.  If it’s not suitable for wear, they will recycle the fabrics into new products.  So worn out or stained clothing need not go in the trash!

Go through the entire contents of your closet, sorting into your two piles and the closet, until everything is put in one of the three places.  I’m of the mindset that if you can’t fit all your clothes in your closet, then you have too many! (And I’ve had some small closets!)

4.  Your closet is now much more organized!  Immediately throw or recycle the contents of the “Throw” box.  If you are planning a garage sale, your next task is to go ahead and price your “sell” items.  If you are like me, and just want to be done with it, drop your box of “donate” items off shortly after you finish cleaning.

You’re done!  See?  That wasn’t too hard, and now other people can enjoy the items that were languishing in your hidden cupboards and closets.  And you don’t have to worry about them anymore!

Tomorrow we’ll look at different options for donation – you’ll find you can donate almost anything if you know where to give it!

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