The Art of New Things

I’m not always good at new things. I love the idea of new things, but many times I can’t quite get behind them enough to follow through. This is why I was a bit nervous when I signed up for the the 31 day blog project again. The concept  of writing something every day is exciting, and even more exciting is the idea that people would come and read my words, but the space between the warm fuzzy of your comments and encouragement and the time it has taken this month to write all these thoughts is wide and there are days when I haven’t wanted to keep working my way across.  But here we are with only a few more days at the end of the month, and I have a plan to keep writing, and a plan to move just a wee little bit from here to my own website, another new thing to learn.

I sometimes think the idea of newness is a bit addictive. New is shiny and flashy and exciting until the time comes to put the work into it deserves.  Then it’s… well, it’s work.  Work isn’t always flashy or exciting so we abandon the old, new thing and move on the the latest, greatest new thing – on and on we go until we have piles of new things all around us but nothing has really changed at all, except for the amount of space our new things require.  And we just keep searching for that next “new thing” fix.

The reality of newness is that it isn’t an concept, a one and done approach to life, but an art.  Each and every new thing is an art and we are one of two people. We’re the people who just keep buying more art, or we are the artist.  The artist sees something beautiful and works to bring it to life.  The medium doesn’t matter, what matters is the true genesis not in acquiring but in creating. Ask any artist and he will tell you that beauty doesn’t just happen.  It’s work. It’s work and sweat and sometimes tears. It’s falling and failing and trying again, sometimes starting over completely from scratch. It’s not walking away when the shine wears off because you know that somewhere, buried deep, is a thing of such immense beauty that the world is less without it.

This is true newness.
We are the artists and the medium is our lives.
We can keep dressing life up, and masking it in all the trappings the world has to offer, or we can get to the real work of peeling away the dross and the excess, bringing to light a beautiful new thing that’s never been seen before, nor will be again.

But we have to decide to stop looking everywhere else and focus on the work at hand: our own unique life.
What we make of it will be our life’s work or our life’s waste.

And He who sits on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” And He said, “Write, for these words are faithful and true.” Rev. 21:5

 

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Divided

I do not have a multi-tasking personality.  In fact,  I don’t actually believe that multi-tasking is an effective way to accomplish anything since we aren’t being fully mindful of any one thing at a time while we do multiple things.  However, there are people who can juggle multiple tasks and ideas well, whether or not this is a healthy way of handling life. I am not one of those people. I do best with one task at a time, one person speaking at a time – which means I often feel verbally overwhelmed in a house with three teenage girls – one area of focus at a time.  This is one reason that participating in the 31 Days project makes writing easier for me. It allows me to focus on one thing to write on at a time for a set period of time. I’m not distracted by a million shiny ideas in my own head and on other people’s blogs.

On the other hand, writing for thirty one days straight has taxed me far beyond what I anticipated.  Stretching is good; I am enjoying it. I hope to continue to write with as much enthusiasm and momentum once this project is complete.  What I didn’t anticipate was the amount of time writing and organizing my blog would take once I began.  Some days I have spent hours on the work, which again isn’t a bad thing.  But, before this project began I wrote a post about something that is weighing heavily on me still: Creating Space.  Three weeks into October I must confess that I have failed miserably at reducing my unproductive online time. Perhaps even abysmally.   Instead of creating space for creativity by limiting online time, I have allowed my online time to increase proportionally to my creativity at the expense of things I am not willing to trade. I have justified it, obviously, by directing my attention to how well this project is progressing and how much I am enjoying it.

Fortunately my friend, Angela reminded me that I can (not) do all (the) things.  I don’t know why we need permission to turn off all the voices demanding our attention, but sometimes we do.  I’ve been caught up in a whirlwind of excitement about this project and let many other things, important things, fall off the wagon making it unbalanced, and making me ill-prepared to handle my days.  In short, I’ve been multi-tasking and doing none of the many things as well as I would like, as well as I know I can when I give the proper focus.

I’m confessing this here for two reasons. First of all, I read back over these posts, and it seems like they are written by someone who has it all together.  I don’t.  But I do have a vision of where and who I want to be and how I plan to get there.  It looks good on paper, but I am far from perfect in the execution.  It’s a learning and experiencing process. You may need to know that. Secondly, confession lends accountability.  There’s a finality to words on paper (or the internet, I suppose).  People ask me about what I write. They want to see if the things I spend so much time writing about really are producing the life changes I believe in.  Another friend reminded me that I said, “I only have one today in my whole life.”   Lately I’ve done very well with talking about living a focused life, and not so well with actually living it. I want to change that now, today.

I’m not stopping the 31 Days project.  In fact, I’m hoping that re-narrowing my focus will allow me to continue to produce articles about change, intentional living and hope far more consistently just as I have for the first three weeks of the month.  I just wanted you to know that I haven’t forgotten my intentions, I just got divided in my focus for awhile. Now, back to the business of enjoying life.31 days button

Ten Kitchen tips for the Minimalist

I don’t know about you, but the kitchen is always my most challenging room. To begin with, we have five people in our family who make the majority of our meals right in the kitchen.  There are always dishes to be washed and crumbs on the counters. Please don’t think after all this minimalist talk that we keep an immaculate household here. We live  in our home. Living is a messy business. Minimalism makes it easier to bring order to the mess, but it doesn’t sweep the floors or empty the dishwasher. We still have plenty to do around here which is why keeping the kitchen an easy-to-clean environment is so important. Today we’re going to talk about ten things that can make our kitchen easier and more enjoyable to navigate.

1.) If you haven’t used it in the last 3-4 months, it is time to let it go. I realize that I keep repeating this statement, but there is literally not one other single thing that will clear our lives more quickly or efficiently than disposing of things we don’t use.  Kitchens are full of shelves, cabinets and drawers that simply beg for more things to be shoved in that we can “deal with later.”  Maybe it’s time for later to be today.

2.) Make sure your storageware has mates.  I honestly no longer have a problem with losing sock mates, but I swear my lids get eaten in the night by gremlins. Any stray lids or stray containers need to move on out. Most plastic containers are recyclable. Once you have matched your goods, carefully consider how much you use or need before replacing it. I have found that less storageware forces us to use up leftovers more quickly resulting in less food and money waste. Win-win.

3.) Clear your fridge, pantry and spices of old, stale and expired items.  It’s just clutter we don’t need.

4.) Cut back to one set of dishes and glasses.  We’ve been operating on two sets right up until this summer, when I reconsidered why one family of five needs sixteen plates and bowls with different patterns. The answer is we don’t, and unless you are have a larger family, you don’t either.  We’ve been using one set of everything since July, and we have yet to miss the extra dish washing.

5.) Stop stacking piles of pots and pans on top of each other. If our stoves only have four burners, why so we need so much cookware? We’ve pared down to one set of pots (three sizes) and a steamer, a set of five cast iron round skillets, a cast iron square skillet and a cast iron dutch oven.  I love cast iron. We store lids on pans and don’t stack anywhere. They are easy to get out and easy to put away.

6.) Clear your counter tops. Counter tops aren’t storage spaces; they are work surfaces. Mail, appliances, knife blocks, knick knacks and keys make using the kitchen difficult and visually overwhelming. Clearing cabinets of excess pots, storage containers and dishes should make room for the blender, the crock of cooking utensils and and any other item that belongs in the kitchen. Mail and magazines don’t belong in the kitchen, and nasty keys should never sit on a counter. Ew.  Clear surfaces make a room look neater before we ever lift a finger.

7.) Steer clear of unitasker tools. If it can only do one thing, it’s a space stealer.  Stick with items that can be and are used in multiple ways.

8.) Get rid of your junk drawer. No really. No one needs to keep junk. Stop calling it that and you will stop filling it. We do have a utility drawer for batteries, light bulbs and a few often needed tools. No papers enter the drawer, nor do I gather up things that I don’t know what else to do with and throw it in there.  If you don’t know what to do with it, it’s trash.

9.) Stop buying every new and improved cleaning product under the sun. I find it terribly ironic that one of the messiest places in the house is the cabinet with the cleaners. Most of us only need an all purpose cleaner, a glass cleaner and perhaps an abrasive, dish soap and dishwasher cleaner.  I keep a few Mr. Clean sponges as well.

10.) Create an empty space.  I wish I could remember where I first read this jewel that suggested having an empty drawer, just to be able to say that you have it. I don’t know why it works into helping the mind stay in uncluttered mode, but I have done it for several years and somehow knowing it’s there always helps me stay on track. I actually stepped it up a notch and stopped putting things on the top shelves in every cabinet. I’m quite short, so the only things I kept up there anyway were things I never used because I couldn’t reach to get them down.

There you have it. Ten ways you can start minimizing your kitchen today. These are simple and can be done bit by bit, or you can take a weekend and overhaul the whole thing. I promise once you get started you will enjoy your kitchen more and find it much easier to keep user friendly, the way kitchens should be.

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Living Spaces: 5 ways to regain control

Several rooms qualify as living space, rather than get into semantics I’ll define my meaning here: living space is space that is not kitchen or dining room and  not used for sleeping or showering. So whether you call it the living room, the office, the den, or the great room, it qualifies as living space. These are the rooms where we spend the most time during our day, generally. Personally, I am a fan of simple, uncrowded, multi-use space. Our home now has several rooms that are “living spaces” The good news is that we also have what I call disposable furniture so when we downsize, we won’t be crowded. Let’s get to it.

1. A flat surface does not mean you have to put something on it.  Walls, tops of furniture, tables, these were not made to be filled with stuff. In fact, the less we have on them the cleaner our home looks all the time. Do not fall into the greenery, knick-knacky, quaintly cluttery trap. A clear surface is a thing of beauty.

2. If you love a coffee table, you may need to take a deep breath. I’m about to get all up your space business.  I feel about coffee tables like I feel about closets. They are crap collectors and space wasters. Most of our rooms are not big enough to accommodate them comfortably. We use them as, “we’ll take care of this later” storage spots, allowing the piles grow and spawn.  The most use they get is to hold food while we sit at them to eat and watch television. I challenge you to say good bye to the coffee table. Just put in the garage for a few weeks and see how it goes.

3. Books are a touchy subject. No one is really middle of the line when it comes to them. Either this whole paragraph doesn’t affect you at all or your jaw is set and you are already kicking and screaming, ready to throw your protests out to the world.  Take some deep breaths and go read this post about books (click here). I’m won’t repeat what has already been well written. We are down to one and a half bookcases from six full bookcases and stacks of books everywhere.  Both pieces of furniture with books are ones Hunky and I have agreed are not disposable; one of them houses school books which are, of course, not optional.  I am a lover of books. I love everything about them, the entire book experience. They were one of the last things I was able to begin letting go. But since we continue to live a gypsy lifestyle, my desire to be unburdened won out over my love for books.  Honestly, I was never going to read or reread them all anyway. I have no one to impress with my collection.

4. Anything with doors and drawers needs to be severely assessed. I’m not opposed to cupboards and drawers. I am opposed to the fact that we employ ‘out of sight, out of mind’ mentality regarding them. Just because you shut the drawer, doesn’t mean the stuff goes away.  If your furniture has drawers, doors or shelves, I suggest having a specific purpose for each one (for instance we have a cabinet with the school pens, pencils, calculators and protractors in one drawer and bound playing cards in the other. Nothing else goes in the drawer but those items that belong there).  DO NOT HAVE A JUNK DRAWER. I’m planning to talk about this when we hit the kitchen, but just don’t. It never ends well.  When you go through your drawers and cabinets get rid of duplicates, pens that don’t work, any pen if you have over twenty – don’t be that guy, trash, scraps of anything, anything  that you can’t immediately identify, old keys,  stray coins, marbles, bouncy balls…just toss it. No one misses these things. I’m not going to tell you to run out and buy organizers for your drawers because if you are diligent, you won’t even need them.

5. All the other odds and ends really fast:

  • Paper Clutter. Unclutterer has two great posts: HERE and HERE
  • Old magazines. If it’s been sitting untouched for six months, you don’t need it. Recycle or donate. Most magazines now offer digital service with superior search engines, and it’s friendlier to the environment. At least consider it.
  • There should be nothing under any furniture. Period. (Those of you with littles get a small pass because those toys are tricky. We’ll be talking about that tomorrow)
  • If  you have too much furniture for an area, stop stubbornly hanging on to it. Why not give it to someone who needs it and can use it.
  • Exercise equipment.  This is not a clean clothes shelf or a mail box. Clear it off and use it. Putting stuff on it is just another excuse.
  • Anything that doesn’t have a home needs to be removed from the room. Remember when I talked about having some boxes to keep things in while you transition? Determine quickly if it’s keep, donate or trash and put it in the right box. Random stuff sitting around is discouraging. Put it where you have a plan to deal with it. DO NOT JUST STICK IT IN A CLOSET OR DRAWER. That would be counter productive, now wouldn’t it?

Do you have any questions about your living space? I’d love to help out or point you in the direction of someone who can. Speak up in the comments!

Gypsy Life

There is an old Yiddish saying, “Man plans; God laughs”

Four years ago my family became gypsies. Before that time we lived in one town for sixteen years. It was Hunky’s home town so he had many years invested there before we met in college in my own home town. Four years prior to becoming gypsies, we bought our first home.

Did I mention it was in Florida? Did I mention we lived three miles from the ocean?
Yes, we’d have stayed.

Man plans; God laughs.

A series of life altering surprises for which we could never have prepared, led to a sudden out of state move and eventually to our losing the house in Florida. We were the unfortunate victims of buying at the top of the real estate bubble and needing to unload after the collapse. Long story short – foreclosure, bankruptcy and two people generally burned on the idea of home ownership.

We’ve rented three different homes since that time. All of them have been larger by far than the home we owned. One of them was so large, over three thousand square feet, that I began to question my own sanity. Before our move to Georgia, we’d never really questioned our pursuit of the American dream. Own a home, sell it to buy a larger home. Bigger is better; newer is best. Let the bank provide the means if we didn’t have it. But banks no longer like the looks of us, and our foray into home ownership had been stressful and expensive beyond our imagining.  It was also a mark of permanency, a kind of permanency I haven’t regained.

Life in the largest dwelling I ever intend to inhabit led to a new perspective on space and stuff, and the time and responsibility the two require. After taking care of my family and educating my girls, I spent far too much of my time maintaining my home and yard.  I began to resent the house and the time I had to spend taking care of it, but I dreaded the thought of packing everything in boxes again.  Sure we’d thrown things away when we’d left Florida, but we’d also lived in our first Georgia home for two years with a storage room filled with unpacked boxes.  We’d changed locations but we hadn’t yet changed our mindset about our stuff.

Two years after moving to Georgia we moved again, to a slightly smaller home with the most incredible view imaginable. The picture that I am using through out my 31 Days theme was taken on the boat dock of that home.  Our generous friends offered us a beautiful, temporary  place to live. From the beginning we knew time was short until we would be packing our things again.  I began in earnest looking at each item we owned and weighing the reasons why we kept it.  I discovered that my desire to keep things was directly proportional to my desire to pack and unpack it again. From clothes we never wore to books we’d never read, even after owning them for a decade or more, I was losing my desire to hang on to things for ‘just in case’. If we weren’t using it this week, it began to seem silly to keep hauling it around. Only our Christmas tree and one box of lights and ornaments are allowed to sit around in boxes.
Our most recent move at the end of May this year, was our easiest yet, and I’m still sorting and resorting with another move in mind.

I don’t love the process of packing and moving everything we own, but I don’t dread it any more either.  I have loved living in the vastly different houses have since we began living more like gypsies and less like all our faith was in the American Dream.  We’ll probably move again next year. I’ll be ready.

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10 Reasons you can’t be a Minimalist Pt. 3

This is the third in series debunking some of the excuses about minimalism. You can read Part 1 HERE and Part 2 HERE

8) I won’t know how to spend my time without housework.
This excuse is  a head scratcher to me. I’m alright with minimal house work since there are always a few things to  do in house with five people, but I have never thought to myself, “Man! I wish I were cleaning right now instead of….”  Here, again, I believe culture is stealing from us. It’s stealing the option to explore, to enjoy, to dabble,  even to sit and do nothing. We’ve bought the lie of ‘productivity is king’. If we aren’t producing, we are wasting.  We’re so busy, we’ve even forgotten how to dream.  We’ve stopped doing things for pleasure and even worse, we’ve stopped simply being still while the world goes on without us.  If we aren’t slowing enough to let our thoughts wander and our bodies rest, we begin to lose essential parts of ourselves.  We weren’t meant to run at constantly high speeds any more than we were meant to lie dormant. Minimalism is a way to create the space to rediscover who we are and what we love.   When we begin minimizing our finances as well, we have both the time and the means to try the things we allow ourselves to dream. It’s a wonderful combination!

9) I don’t want to move into a tiny house/ sell my cars/ shop only at Goodwill/ live with only 100 things…
Many people avoid minimalism because they have a set of preconceived criteria they believe must be met.  When we really stop to examine the scope and variety of minimalists who are sharing their lifestyles with the world, we can see that there isn’t a set of rules or guidelines anywhere! Some of us live in tiny houses – I would like to one day- but I currently live in a house that’s roughly 2,000 sq ft,downsized from our last house. Financially speaking it’s far and away better than smaller options we visited when we moved, as was the larger house before it. Smaller isn’t always better, sometimes it’s also not financially wiser.  Some minimalists do sell their cars. We have not since we live in a very rural area of Georgia with little to no public transportation and many miles between places we frequent.  We do own our cars so we live without car payments.  Being a minimalist isn’t the same as being an ascetic. We don’t dispose of things simply for the sake of going without. Our purpose is to remove the things that we do not love or enjoy in order to make room for the things that we do.  This is different for each and every minimalist whether we look at finances, living space, belongings or hobbies.  As I continue to strip away I am learning not to hold so tightly to the things I love. I am a shameless, wanton bibliophile who packed twenty or more boxes of books when we moved to Georgia four years ago. My love for books has not changed, but my need to possess every book I love or may one day love has diminished. When we moved most recently in June, I packed only four boxes of books, and those small ones. I am much happier allowing the library maintenance of my beloved books, managing them electronically than I am hauling them around to home after home.  Minimalism is about creating space for change; I have changed, and continue to change greatly. I still, however, have far too much yarn; I’m a work in progress.

10) I need my stuff
This is the mother of all excuses. covering every other excuse and then some.  I need my stuff.  It’s difficult to argue against. There are things that each of us need.  The problem is allowing neighbors, media, culture, geography, careers, and even our kids tell us what we need.  Instead of questioning whether we really need it, or whether it’s something someone else thinks we should have, we simply acquire. The huge house, the new car, the game system, the sea-doo,  the bedroom suite, we buy them now planning to pay for them later when we never took the time to consider why we wanted them in the first place. Now we’re stuck with a mortgage we can’t manage, cars we’re so upside down on we’ll never own them, recreation equipment that we’re too busy to enjoy. All because we of the things we need.  I know I said that minimalism isn’t a practice in asceticism, but sometimes we have to strip life all the way down to the very barest essentials to determine want from true need. Our basic needs are food, shelter and security. Most of us can’t even financially handle that. We’re one paycheck from disaster and the bills never stop coming in. We’re not secure. We don’t need our stuff; we’re owned by it.   I know. I have been here.  It’s time to strip away the cultural blinders and determine who we are and what need actually is.  Stuff is only stuff. It can’t protect us or save us or make us better or more likable. It may make us more popular, but for how long? And at what cost? Let’s stop one upping each other with our square feet, our hemi’s and our collection of kid’s sports trophies and really listen to what our soul is saying, “I’m still here. But you are selling me for things that break, rot and decay. Let them go and find me again.”

Isn’t it time we did?

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