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Thoughts about the Fire . . .

Recently, area around my hometown was hit hard by wildfires – the worst reported in California history. Over 5,700 structures burned and at least 40 people lost their lives. People on site said it was like a bomb went off.

For about 5 days, I watched the updates from inside the fire zone – both the official reports and the personal stories of the people who lost everything and those did what they could to help their neighbors. (Special hat tip to the Wilking Way crew who stayed behind after the evacuation order to protect their neighborhood with your own water truck. You are an inspiration.)

I love this photo of Jeff and me. Photo by Brandon Larkin. (Creative Commons License)

I wondered what I would grab if I were ordered to evacuate, knowing that anything I left behind could be destroyed. As I looked around my little condo, I knew I would grab my laptop, my passport, my dog, our medications, and not much more.

I don’t feel emotionally attached to my possessions. They’re just things. Many of them make life more comfortable, but it’s nothing that can’t be replaced.

I am not my stuff.

Memories don’t live in sentimental items.

People and actions matter more than things.

 

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.

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.

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.

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.

Bad Minimalist – Too Much Paper Clutter Again

Grrr . . . . I feel like a bad minimalist.

One of the piles of paper on my desk right now

One of the piles of paper on my desk right now

Paper has taken over my life again. I have stacks of it in my office, the home office, and my kitchen – notes, receipts, documents to be filed for tax purposes, business cards, and probably a bunch of stuff I can recycle. It’s the one thing I don’t have control over in my life. I can stop buying stuff, but I can’t stop the paper traffic in my life. I can only minimize and manage it.

I’ve been traveling a lot this year and it started piling up before I left town for The Undeniable Tour. I was so busy for the weeks leading up to the trip that everything that didn’t have to get done before the Tour got put in a pile to be dealt with when I got back.

When I got back after being on the road for two weeks, I had piles of mail that arrived while I was away and everything I brought back from the road. Two weeks was a long time to be away from clients; I felt like I spent at least two weeks trying to catch up again. I somewhat got a grip on the day-to-day influx of paper (mail, business cards, receipts, bills) but I still had the piles from the previous weeks. And then I had to prep for my trip to speak at Ungagged in London so everything that I could put off until after I returned was put in a new pile.

Bah! Too much paper around me!
And don’t get me started on how bad my email inboxes are right now.

In my early days of embracing minimalism, I gave myself a 30-day challenge of processing paper through my life in 24 hours or less. It was a great experience that took diligence but it gave me a clean workspaces. Clearing of my desk and counter and creating a de-cluttered environment helped clear my mind. I felt less anxious and distracted. It helped me see that I only need to do one thing at a time and trying to multi-task makes me feel insane.

I need to be more disciplined about the paper in my life. It would be foolish to let it pile up all week, telling myself that I’ll take care of it over the weekend. That is total crap and I know it. Sometimes I’m so tired by the weekend that I don’t do anything but lay on the couch and watch movies between naps or I have events and activities that take up all my time. I think I need to think about paper like flossing my teeth – I don’t like doing it but it doesn’t take that long and the long-term effects are worth it. It’s definitely a suck-it-up-buttercup task.

So what’s the plan? I have a good system for staying organized and mostly clutter-free when I chose to use it. I’ll have to have a conscious effort to get rid of the excess paper in my life and keep it that way. Thankfully I promised Rosie and myself that I’m not traveling this summer so I’ll have time to tackle this project and work on making it a habit. In regards to my email, I’m turning my inbox clean-out into a post for Attorney at Work so hopefully that will motivate me to get it done and stay aware of what’s is/is not working in the process so I can pass those lessons along to my readers.

If you go through periods where your paper clutter gets away from you and you have to make it a big to-do to get un-cluttered, I’d love to hear what works for you. Likewise, if you’ve slayed this dragon, I’d love to hear any tips you an offer for how you stay paper clutter-free.

Burning Books

No, I’m not advocating the burning of actual literature, but it is one of my sub-themes for The Undeniable Tour.

These are the Books that Started The Undeniable Tour with Me.

These are the Books that Started The Undeniable Tour with Me.

“Burn your books” is something I got from the movie, “Wild.” Reese Witherspoon’s character walked the Pacific Crest Trail and started out with way too much stuff in her pack. It was so cumbersome that she could only walk 5 miles a day. Along with cleaning out the superfluous stuff in her pack, an experienced outdoorsman advised her to tear the pages out of her books as she was reading them so they wouldn’t add weight to her pack. I’m doing something similar for my trip.

As I was packing for my trip, I put 6 books in my bag. Yes, the aspiring minimalist took 6 books on a 2-week trip. But I swear there’s method to my madness. Two of my books are copies of Flash Mob Law which are gifts. They won’t be coming home with me.

The other 4 books are from my “Read Me” box. When I finished my “packing party” I had a banker box of books that I’d been holding onto because I wanted to read them eventually. I made myself a deal – I had 1 year to read these books. If there’s a book in the box at the end of this year, I can’t be that motivated to read it so I should get rid of it. I threw 4 of these books in my bag. Most of them are thin and paperbacks – easy to tote around in a suitcase or backpack.

I tend to read a lot when I travel – it’s a great way to fill down time. I think every hostel I’m staying at has a book exchange where you can leave books you finish and grab new free ones if you’re so inclined. Instead of actually burning my books when I’m done reading them, I’ll be leaving each one behind wherever I finish it. I like that I’ll be passing along my books to fellow travelers.

My first book is Lilith’s Love by Dan Shuarette. I won this book at Podcamp AZ years ago and I’m finally getting around to reading it. I’m only about a quarter of the way in but I’m enjoying it. Check it out if you’re interested in vampire fiction. (And I’m someone who has no interest in Twilight.)

Hopefully I’ll finish all my books on this trip and I’ll be going home with a lighter bag than when I left.

Closet Clean-Out 2015

Glimpse into part of my Closet - January 31, 2015

Glimpse into part of my Closet – January 31, 2015

For anyone who has been following my minimalism project, you know I just got rid of 2 boxes of clothes during my “packing party,” which was inspired by Ryan Nicodemus of The Minimalists. Even so, it’s a new year and every garment is potentially on the chopping block again.

For me, minimalism is about getting rid of the things that don’t add value to my life. It is a constant process. Just because an item added value to my life last year, it doesn’t guarantee that it adds value to my life today. And if that’s the case, and that item should find a new home where it will be useful again.

On January 1st, I went into my closet and flipped every hanger so instead of curling towards the wall, each hanger was curled toward the center of the room. When I wear a garment and it returns to the closet, the hanger will be flipped back to the traditional position. I also took each pair of my shoes and flipped them so the toes were pointing towards the room rather than towards the wall. When I where a pair of shoes for the first time, I flipped them around when I put them away. It takes only a few minutes to flip everything around, and by using the system, I can see at a glance what garments and shoes I have and haven’t worn this year.

Historically, when I’ve done an annual wardrobe clean-out, it also included a checklist for garments that are folded like sweaters, workout gear, and T-shirts. I decided not to do that this year but instead will keep I mental checklist of what I have worn. The items that I don’t wear often will end up at the bottom of the piles and back of the drawers and I’ll decide by the end of the year if anything would be better off being donated to charity.

I got rid of a lot of clothes during my “packing party.” As a result, I seem to enjoy the clothes I have that much more and it appears I’ve flipped a lot more hangers to date then I did last year. It’s a very rare that I find myself rediscovering a garment in my wardrobe because I forgot that I owned it. It definitely makes me happier knowing that the things that I have actually help me be more comfortable and add value to my life.

I’ve considered trying the capsule wardrobe – creating a 3-month wardrobe based on mixing and matchng 24-33 garments. That might be something fun to try when I get back from all my spring travels.