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minimalism

Reconstruction Packing Party

A little over two months ago, we had a flood at Castle Carter that destroyed my wood floors. Before Rosie the basset hound and I moved into a hotel for a week of urban camping during the reconstruction, I reduced the repair crew’s workload by emptying the shelves in my entertainment center. One of the upsides of not having many things, there tends to be plenty of storage space in my bedside tables and bookshelf. All of my DVDs and music books easily fit with room to spare, even with the rest of my possessions.

Rosie’s happy to be home again

We’re home again, and all the furniture is back where it’s supposed to be. However, the shelves in the entertainment center are mostly empty. Instead of putting everything back, I’m using the reconstruction as an opportunity to have a mini packing party.

Packing Party Explained
A packing party is a term coined by Ryan Nicodemus of The Minimalists. In his packing party, he boxed up everything he owned as if he were moving, and didn’t unpack anything until he needed it. After 21 days, whatever wasn’t unpacked (with a few exceptions), was sold or given away.

When I moved to my condo, I did my own 72-day packing party. I ended up getting rid of about a third of the items I thought I might need in my new place.

Mini Packing Party
This time around, I’ve cleared the shelves in my living room, and I’m not going to put things back on it, until I need/want them. (I know I have a set of figurines that will survive this mini packing party. They’re one of the few sentimental items I have.)

My 8 DVDs

So far, I’ve only unpacked a few reusable tote bags that I use for shopping and 8 DVDs. My rule for the DVDs is I can’t open the DVD drawer and contemplate what I want. I have to decide what I want and then go get it. If I don’t remember what I own, it’s probably not adding value to my life.

I have several music books from the days I studied voice, but to be honest, I haven’t needed most of them in years. I suspect most of them will be going away at the end of this mini packing party. If I return to going to singing lessons, I know what songs I want to work on.

I don’t know how long I’ll continue this process, but probably a few months. I figure if I don’t use something within 90 days, I probably don’t need to hold onto it long-term.

Potential Long-Term Plan
I can see myself designating a drawer in a bedside table as the packing party drawer as a way to regularly review my possessions and get rid of things that don’t add value to my life. One thing I’ve learned since beginning the process of paring down my stuff is I tend to be happier, calmer, and more creative when I keep the excess stuff out of my world.

Urban Camping = Lesson in Minimalism

We had a flood at Castle Carter (aka my condo) in December courtesy of our upstairs neighbor’s water heater. (We woke up to a lake in our condo on a Saturday morning.) It ruined the floors. Earlier this month, after dealing with estimates and insurance, they got replaced – but Rosie the basset hound and I had to move out for five days during the process. We considered an Airbnb, but opted for a hotel.

Minimal Needs = Minimal Stuff

Our hotel was similar to this, except Rosie’s bed was next to the armchair.

Living in a hotel reminded me how little we need to be comfortable. All I need is a place to sleep, a place to work, nourishment in my body, clothes on my back, a bathroom, and wi-fi. I tried not to bring anything that I wouldn’t absolutely need to take care of myself and work on projects. Even then, there were a few garments I didn’t wear, and I didn’t have time to work on the blanket for a friend who had a baby last month.

Traveling with Rosie is like traveling with a toddler in terms of how much space her stuff takes up. We had her memory foam bed with a comforter and sheet. (She’s nine years old and 67 pounds. She deserves to be comfortable.) We also had to bring food, medications, bowls, and treats.

One thing I did that made the trip go smoothly was pre-pack all our meals. Our room had a little kitchen with a refrigerator and a microwave, so before we left home, I pre-packed all my and Rosie’s meals for this adventure (much like Meal Prep Sunday). Meals and snacks were a snap.

Minimal Distractions = Hotel Hackathon

Rosie’s such a trooper when it comes to traveling.

My life while living in the hotel was pretty structured. After work, my life consisted of walking Rosie, eating dinner, and working. I didn’t watch TV, and thanks to slow wi-fi, I couldn’t easily putz around on the internet. So I worked.

Every night I worked on the online course I’m developing on the legalities of being a professional photographer. It’s going to be twenty lessons with two bonus lessons and an introduction, so that means I have twenty-three slide decks to create. With little else to do, I cranked away at this, and put a substantial dent in this project. I brought a pad of Post-it notes on this trip so I could create a mini Wall of Pain next to my desk.

The reconstruction at Castle Carter is almost complete. It’s so good to be home, but this was a good lesson on what I need to do to get work done (eliminate distractions) and how little I need to be happy and comfortable.

If I Were a Minimalist in High School

Kristin at Buzzfeed did a video recently where she followed different high school dress codes for a week. At first, this made me wonder if I could follow my high school alma mater’s dress code but that it made me wonder how I would have been different if I had been a minimalist when I was a high school student.

Oh yes - That's my sophomore year picture, Fall 1994.

Oh yes – That’s my sophomore year picture, Fall 1994.

I went to a Catholic high school in Northern California, and our dress code was fairly strict – no shorts, no shirts with writing or images on them, and no open toed shoes were some of the restrictions. If I were the confident self-accepting person I am today back then, I think I would have gone the Jobs/Zuckerberg route and had a personal uniform that I would where every day. Judging by my current closet, probably would be blue jeans and a dark gray v-neck T-shirt. I can picture my childhood closet with 5 matching T-shirts, 2 pairs of jeans, and a solid-colored hoodie for cold days. The only things that might have changed day-to-day would have been the color of my underwear and socks, which shoes I wore, and whether I wore jewelry and/or make-up.

Given my experience with shaving my head this summer, I could easily see myself going through high school with a shaved head – or as close to it as the school’s dress code would allow. (Students weren’t supposed to shave their heads, but some guys would do it over summer break. It would be unfair for the school to punish them for something they did during vacation.)

I can rock the bald head. Photo by Devon C. Adams Photography, used with permission

I can rock the bald head. Photo by Devon C. Adams Photography, used with permission

If I were a minimalist in high school, I wouldn’t be surprised if I used a capsule wardrobe, inspired by Project 333, for the rest of my clothes. A person doesn’t need many material goods to be happy, so why accumulate it? I am not sure if I would apply the same minimalist rules to my leotard collection. As a gymnast, I had about 2 dozen beautiful leotards and I loved them, but I also wonder what it would have been like to have 6 matching leotards that I would have worn each night to practice. Some people might wonder if it would have been weird or boring; I wonder if it would have been a badass.

If I were a minimalist in high school, I would have done a lot more and a lot less with my time. I would hope that I would understand that school was my job, and accepted that there were a lot of classes that were required for graduation but pointless for my life – like literature (most fiction does nothing for me because it’s not real, especially really old fiction) and religion (I’m Agnostic). I would have cared even less about school spirit days and other functions and cared more about spending time with the people I liked. I suspected I would have done more, with less, and been happier and put more energy into developing myself as a person.

Minimizing Debt

I recently listened to The Minimalists’ Podcast episode about money. It inspired me to review my thoughts and plans about money in my life and revise my current plans.

Day 178: Almost Full by Tom Small from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Day 178: Almost Full by Tom Small from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

The Minimalists say, and I agree, “There is no such thing as good debt.” I took on a considerable loan when I bought my condo in 2014. I regularly pay more than my mortgage payment to pay off my loan faster. After listening to this podcast, I was inspired to play around with an online early mortgage payoff calculator. It showed me that I can pay off my loan significantly faster and avoid paying a substantial amount of interest by paying a bit more than I currently am each month.

As a minimalist, my overhead expenses each month are not that high. I don’t mind foregoing some temporary luxuries if it means saving over $25,000 in the long run.

Listening to this episode also made me revisit some of my other financial goals for the year – like fully funding my retirement account. I usually wait until the end of the year to do this, but there’s no reason to delay if I can do it earlier.

To date, my savings have been part of my personal and business checking accounts; however, after revisiting my financial goals, I want to open a separate savings account as well. This will be an account to deposit money that is “spoken for,” like my quarterly estimated taxes, charitable giving, retirement, as well as building a “rainy day fund” that contains at least six months worth of expenses. This can also be the account I use to set aside funds to pay off my mortgage faster and to save up for big purchases and travel.

Separating out my savings will make it easier to see how much I can save month-to-month and how much I really need to fund my life and run my business.

If you want to know more about my experience with minimalism, I suggest you read about the “packing party” I did in 2014 and got rid of everything that no longer added value to my life.

Spring Cleaning – Decluttering Paper Again

As a minimalist, I think I’ve done a good job of eliminating the stuff from my life that doesn’t add any value to it. Instead, I try to surround myself with things that make me more efficient and comfortable and I put more energy towards experiences than acquiring tangible stuff. However, my Achilles heel when it comes to being a minimalist, is paper clutter.

Buried Again by projectbamboo from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Buried Again by projectbamboo from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

There is a lot of paper in my life. I admit I kill lots of trees because I have to write down ideas in order to process them, and I’m that person who prints off stuff at work and writes notes on it by hand. It’s just how I work best. I understand it. I accept it. But it also generates a lot of paper clutter around me. And one of the things that makes me more anxious and less clearheaded, is having a cluttered workspace and a cluttered home. So then all my paper clutter ends up in piles  around the house and the office, and it takes me months to deal with it. I also have to deal with other paper clutter like receipts I have to save for tax purposes and business cards I get at events. I have systems for dealing with these things, but I suck at implementing them on an ongoing basis.

I’ve done a minimalism project before around my paper clutter – I challenge myself to deal with every new piece of paper in my life within 24 hours. This time, for the month of March, I am going to use The Minimalism Game, invented by The Minimalists, to deal with the paper clutter in my home.

The game is very simple and lasts one month. On the first day, you eliminate one item. On the second day you eliminate 2 items. Whatever day you are on, that’s how many things you have to eliminate from your life, so on the 31st, I will have to eliminate 31 items. The amount you have to remove each day is manageable (especially since I’ll be minimizing paper), but in aggregate, it has a big impact. If I follow the rules of the game, I will eliminate 496 items of paper during the month of March. (If I run out of paper to declutter (yay me!) I’ll move on to decluttering my inboxes.)

I have 2 caveats for myself in regards to playing The Minimalism Game:

  1. The game does not apply to new paper entering my life. At the end of each day, I have to have a net loss based on however many items I have to eliminate that day. So if I get 5 pieces of mail on the first day, I have to eliminate 6 items to have a net loss of 1 for the day.
  2. I am allowed to work ahead. The goal is to eliminate 496 items over the course of the month. If I get on a role and eliminate 50 items on day 1, I only have to eliminate 446 more items during the rest of the month. This particularly makes sense for me because I will be traveling for a few days in March. I need to be able to work ahead were play catch up as needed, but I hope, for the most part, that I’m all eliminating paper clutter almost every day. The game is merely a guide.

You are welcome to play The Minimalism Game with me. It’s a great way to get started with minimalism if you want to decrease the excess clutter in your life. My goal isn’t just to make my house look cleaner, but also help me feel less anxious and more creative as a result of having a space that is more conducive for my needs.

Getting to Fuck It

Sometimes the best thing I can do is say, “Fuck it.”

Phil - Monument Valley by Jared Eberhardt from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Phil – Monument Valley by Jared Eberhardt from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

“Fuck it” may be the ultimate statement of commitment, saying “I’m in” or “I’m out” while blocking all other thoughts. It is a statement of acceptance – wholeheartedly embracing a course of action and its consequences.

“Fuck it” is best used in situations where there’s no going back. As a person who struggles with indecisiveness, getting to “fuck it” is an effective goal for me. Honoring this makes it easier to block the mental and actual chatter around me and within my head. I used “fuck it” when I went skydiving, when I made the decision to go to law school, and when I went to my first flash mob when all my friends bailed on me. (“Fuck it” can also be used to make really bad decisions like getting wasted and putting my fingers down my throat to make myself throw up.)

When I was a first-year law student, I wrote Seven Layers of Academic Hell. The seventh layer is “Fuck it.” Here, “fuck it” doesn’t mean I didn’t care about doing well in school. It meant I didn’t care about law school stress and other distractions. My mind got very quiet and I could focus on learning what I had to in order to properly articulate my understanding of the course material for the final exam. “Fuck it” can be a Zen-like state.

“Fuck it” makes life more simple. As an aspiring minimalist, I embrace “fuck it.” To me, saying “fuck it” means releasing the superfluous mental garbage, mentally locking in to the one thing that needs to be done, and following it through.

Getting to “fuck it” is simple, and not always easy. It often takes courage and the willingness to be uncomfortable in the process. But when I’m in a situation that requires me to say “fuck it,” making the commitment is less painful than mulling over the pros and cons. “Fuck it” takes me out of agonizing contemplation and into action.

Once I get to “fuck it,” there’s only one direction to go – forward.

New Year, New Minimalism Projects

Happy New Year! I hope 2016 is an awesome year for you.

Flipped Hangers in my Closet - January 2016

Flipped Hangers in my Closet – January 2016

It’s the start of a new year, so you know what that means – Closet Clean-out 2016 begins! On January 1st, I went through my closet and flipped all my hangers. When I wear a garment, it will be hung up the normal way when I put it away. At the end of the year, I’ll be able to tell at a glance what I haven’t worn. The general rule is – if you haven’t worn something in a year, you’ll probably never wear it again – so get rid of it.

My wardrobe has shrunk significantly since I started minimizing my life in 2013. Since then, I’ve whittled my wardrobe down and built it up with garments that I love. The goal is to feel beautiful and comfortable in any setting.

Donation to Charity - January 2016

Donation to Charity – January 2016

I also have a shelf in my linen closet for items that need to be given away to charity. When I moved into my condo, I did a “packing party” that resulted in eliminating over 9 boxes of stuff from my life. Since then, I filled my charity shelf with more things to be given away. This week, the AZ Humane Society is coming over to pick up 2 boxes and 2 garbage bags filled with stuff for their thrift store. One box is almost all books – books I’ve read in the last year and books I’ve kept and will never read. One of the bags is filled with clothing – jeans, socks, t-shirts, and dresses that didn’t survive last year’s clean-out.

My other minimalism challenge for the year is eliminating and controlling paper clutter. I have a perpetual influx of paper into my life – bills, business publications, handwritten notes, etc. My goal for January is to eliminate my existing paper clutter and to keep incoming paper from piling up for the rest of the year. A few years ago, I challenged myself to process every new piece of paper within 24 hours. Perhaps I should try that again.

Learning to Live with Less

As a minimalist, I’ve removed a lot of the physical clutter from my life. My new challenge is learning to not take on so many commitments and becoming more of a mental minimalist . . . and being ok with it.

Day 162: Country Swing by Loren Kerns from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Day 162: Country Swing by Loren Kerns from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

In the last few years as I’ve gotten my depression and anxiety under more control, it’s become apparent that I have some ADD tendencies. When you pair that with my perfectionism, it can be quite a challenge. I often find myself thinking that I can and should take on more because it will lead to positive attention and/or I could be badass at it.

Being ADD sucks – easily distracted by “shiny objects.” It’s hard to stay focused on projects for more than 15 minutes, and too frequently I find myself saying “Who am I; where am I; what’s going on?” That’s when I know my brain is being pulled in too many directions. One of my friends who is much more ADD than I am has a prescription for PRN medication that helps him. I saw my psych nurse recently and I asked her if I was a candidate for this medication too, and she told me I wasn’t a candidate and that I need to stop doing so many things.

Fine. Don’t let me take the easier softer way.

It’s probably a good thing that she said, “No.” When I asked my friend what it feels like to take ADD medication, his first response was, “Have you ever done blow?” I don’t think he was insinuating that his meds make him feel like he’s on uppers, but it that the rest of the world falls away and he can focus on the task at hand. Knowing me, it’s too likely that I’d take this medication daily and use it as a reason to do even more – just because I could.

My life is managed with to-do lists – color-coded annotated to-do lists. It’s what I need to do to manage my life. I don’t get things done without them.

Looking ahead to 2016, one of my goals is to be more ok with doing less. I am certain I will be working as hard as ever, but the scope of my work and my total commitments will hopefully to drop significantly. I plan to travel less, take on fewer speaking engagements, and probably not take on any more community activities then I’ve already committed to.

On the flip side, I hope this will give me more – more energy, more sleep, more time with friends, more non-work adventurers, and more time just to think. I definitely don’t give myself enough time to mull over ideas with no expectation of a final product. The biggest challenges with this plan is to let myself be okay with doing less, knowing that I could take on more.

I think this is the next step in the don’t-have-a-heart-attack, be-more-balanced plan.

Thoughts about Fashion and Minimalism

Joshua Becker & Ruth Carter - Two Well-dressed Minimalists at Ignite Phoenix #16 (Photo by Tom Stokes, Creative Commons License)

Joshua Becker & Ruth Carter – Two Well-dressed Minimalists at Ignite Phoenix #16 (Photo by Tom Stokes, Creative Commons License)

About a month ago, a friend asked me to comment on Joshua Becker’s post 8 Reasons Successful People Are Choosing to Wear the Same Thing Every Day. This article brings up a lot of good points – if you have a personal uniform (i.e., Steve Jobs and his turtleneck and Mark Zuckerberg and his gray t-shirt), you save time and energy getting dressed in the morning. And you save money by not having an expansive wardrobe.

It appears the capsule wardrobe is catching on – a wardrobe of interchangeable pieces. Some people who are trying to be more minimalistic with their wardrobe do Project 333 – wearing a wardrobe that consists of 33 pieces for a 3-month period. I understand the concept of these ideas, but they’ve never appealed to me.

Being a minimalist has never been about limiting myself to owning a specific number of items but limiting myself to possessions that add value to my life. When it comes to the role of fashion in my life, I love this quote from Joshua Fields Millburn of The Minimalists:

Now nearly everything I own is my favorite thing. All my clothes are my favorite clothes. All my furniture is my favorite furniture. All my possessions are my favorite possessions—all of which I enjoy every day of my life.

I love wearing clothes that make me feel good – soft fabrics, comfortable cuts, and items that make me feel beautiful. If I’m not seeing clients, my everyday outfit tends to consist of jeans, a t-shirt, comfortable shoes, and a hoodie or cardigan if it’s chilly. When I’m speaking, I’ll trade in my hoodie for a blazer. If I’m seeing clients, I may take my outfit up a notch to dress pants, a button-down shirt, a tank top, and dress shoes.

Here are two of the things I do to make sure I’m mostly keeping the clothes I love:

1. The Hanger Flip. At the beginning of the year, I reverse all the hangers in my closet. When I put a garment away after wearing it, I flip the hanger back to the proper direction. After a few weeks, I can see what garments I’m wearing the most. By fall, I can usually tell what I should get rid of because I can see what I haven’t worn through the previous warm and cold seasons.

2. Select the Day’s Outfit in a Vacuum. I don’t open a drawer or step into my closet in the morning until I’ve decided what I want to wear. I don’t use visual cues but rather my knowledge of my wardrobe and that day’s calendar to select my outfit. It forces me to go with my gut feeling about what I really want to wear instead of getting lost considering all the possibilities.

The size of my wardrobe has diminished substantially over the last few years and I love it. (There’s no reason to own 15 sweaters when I consistently wear only 4 of them.) I love that my wardrobe is simple and filled with mostly classic pieces and awesome t-shirts. It makes getting dressed every day so much easier. I know that everything I own fits, serves a purpose, and feels good against my sensitive skin.

Closet Clean-Out 2015 Update

At the beginning of the year, I started my annual closet clean-out and I reversed all the hangers in my closet. The idea is that when I wear a garment, I’ll flip the hanger back when I put the item away. At the end of the year, anything that is on a reversed hanger is something I haven’t worn in the last year, so it’s an item that should be given away. This is something I’ve been doing for years, and every year I have fewer items and it’s easier to let go of things I don’t use anymore.

Part of my Closet - June 16, 2015

Part of my Closet – June 16, 2015

Last year, I thought I cleaned out a lot of my wardrobe, but when I moved last October, I challenged myself to replicate Ryan Nicodemus’ “packing party.” By the end of it, I had 10 boxes of stuff to give away and probably 2 of those boxes were filled with clothes.

A few days ago I stepped into my closet to assess how this year’s clean-out was going. The first thing I noticed is that most of my hangers have already been flipped back, which is a significant difference from past years. This is the smallest my wardrobe has been since becoming a minimalist. It might be the smallest it’s been at least since I stopped wearing a uniform to school. And I’m not going out of my way to wear things just because their hanger hasn’t been flipped yet. On most days, I decide what I want to wear before stepping into my closet.

I looked at the top of my closet and I noted that I have 6 pullover sweaters. This is a lot less than the 12-15 sweaters I used to have, but still – 6 sweaters?! What do I need with 6 sweaters?! Remember, I live in Phoenix. It’s pretty warm here most of the time. I took a quick glance through them and moved 2 to the charity pile.  It wouldn’t hurt to go through my jeans (I got a few new pairs for speaking engagements) and my accessories (which I rarely wear).  I definitely have more t-shirts and running shirts than I need, and I’m ok with that.

My annual clean-out isn’t about shrinking my wardrobe as much as possible. It’s about getting rid of things that don’t make me happy. I never want to feel uncomfortable in my skin, in my clothes, or in my home. When I get dressed, it makes me feel good because I feel comfortable and pretty in my clothes and I value myself enough to treat myself to fabrics that are super soft and garments that complement my personality.

I thought about challenging myself to do a capsule wardrobe – limiting myself to 33 items for 3 months – but I don’t think that would be much of a challenge compared to how I dress myself now. Instead, I’m going to continue my clean-out process and be honest about what brings value to my life when it comes to clothes.