Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Repair and Care

The minimalist battle cry seems to be "When in doubt throw it out."  I agree with that statement for most things, but exceptions are bound to happen.  A recent example (as I happily discovered) is shoe repair.  You may have no idea that the bits of leather and rubber you have on your feet can be restitched or glued.  I didn't know until I found myself in the need.  I own a pair of expensive name brand shoes, they were prescribed to me by my doctor for feet problems, and they broke Saturday.  I was devastated.  I have only had them for a two years.  I expected them to last forever based on price and craftsmanship.  I knew if I could not fix them I'd have to throw them out and start again and I did not want to do that.  My husband informed me that their good quality meant I could have them repaired for a fraction of the cost of a new pair!  What luck!  I rushed them to the local shoe repair shop.  It turned out the little man behind the counter did not have all the materials he needed so I am currently on a hunt for the matching buttons.    Five dollar buttons and an hour or two of labor are far more agreeable than two hundred for a new pair of the same shoes.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Loss does not follow the rules of minimalism

In the words of Nick Hornby (voiced by the glamorous Catherine Zeta-Jones) I'm in the middle of a "what does it all mean thing."  Perhaps it's the weather (cold and raining) or perhaps its the afterglow of Thanksgiving wearing off.  I think it is probably related to the death of one of our students.  She died of brain trauma, but the trauma was caused by open heart surgery to fix her split aorta.  This stopped me and caused me to spent quite a bit of time thinking.

A child dying stops pretty much anyone in their tracks.  She was eleven maybe twelve.  She was active and feisty.  But above all she was too young.  Then I started thinking about her family.  They had planned on her always being around.  Now those plans, and dreams and things will have to be reevaluated.

I worry about the hurt I'll leave behind when I go.  I am trying very hard to shed extras and leave behind only a few fine things.  I don't want my loved ones mired down in my belongings, but I wouldn't mind if they got mired down in good memories.  Our stuff can take a lifetime to accumulate.  I am hoping it will not take a life time to declutter as well.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Items to keep and Items to go

We have all been caught by a shiny new gadget or sleek new product that promises to fix our lives.  I am an Ikea sucker.  I am not claiming that as entirely a bad thing.  Ikea makes affordable products in attractive styles and easily assembled models.  I will never trade my Ikea bed for box spring and mattress again.  I know this will rile up the minimal means having next to nothing crowd.  I have nothing against those who can weed out all distractions in their lives down to the bare floors.  It has taken a long journey for me to admit I am too much of a princess to do that.

Likewise we have all looked at an item cluttering up our closet and said "why is this still here?  I hate this thing!"  For me I recently opened up the large container of winter gear and removed all but one winter hat.  I only have one head, right?  I can't possibly where more than one hat.  I realized as I dug through the box that most of them were gifts or matched coats/sweaters/outfits long gone.  I have a wonderful hat coming from my very good friend GR and I must make room in my wardrobe for it.  It deserves a spot because it has been lovingly hand made.  While it was not an earth moving event I'm taking baby steps in the right direction.

What items have you carried with you that need to go?  What is an item that will have to be pried from your lifeless hands?  Feel free to share.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Ambition made bite-sized

So as you may know my ultimate goal is to rid my home of everything that is not needed.  This is a HUGE task.  And so with no surprise I failed at my first attempt.  A quick revision of the current goal helped.  I am now sending to goodwill things that are not WANTED.  That simple distinction made the impossible possible.  Anything I can't imaging every wanting again is gone or in a pile which is soon to be going to charity.  If you are in the area look at Freecycle for the large items we are moving out :)

Thursday, September 15, 2011


I would like to apologies to those of you who were kind enough to read my  blog.  I fell off the world and left this unfinished.  I'm sorry.  I'm back to give it another go.

My first fore into minimalism was not what one could call a rousing success.  However with a new strategy and smaller goals I am beginning my journey once again.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Auto Nation

Minimalists across the web seem to have a love hate relationship with cars.  While many can say without irony that a sports car is a thing of beauty (all be it wasteful and dirty), yet they insist that no one in the world needs a car.  I think that must be true of large cities that have been well designed and in which transportation has been planned for, but the American car culture is not so easily beaten.  For one thing the entire road system of America was designed for family cars.  In order to keep body and soul together during the Great Depression, the government hired men to pave over nearly everything that would hold still.  Hyperbole aside, this reshaped the face of America and enabled ordinary people to move from coast to coast in their own car.  America is nothing if not fanatical about freedom and this freed the people to move about the country on their own time and in their own style.  With that background in mind it is easy to see how a town or city could design out their boundaries with auto travel in mind.  I for example drive 11 miles (one way) to work each day because that is where I could find a job.  We bought our home in an area where I felt safe raising our children and where we could afford.  The planning out of residential areas was not considerate of foot traffic or bicycling.  The town is (very) slowly changing as more people become conscious of their impact on the world.  A bike lane was put in on the roads down town, which is helpful except for the semi trucks with which one has to share the road.  Small scooters and other forms of transportation have increased in popularity as well.  I have considered seriously trading my car for a scooter, the only downside however, is that when the weather is poor (ie December-March) I would have to take a ride with my husband.  This isn't so bad except he works different hours and in a different direction than I do; making getting either of us to work on time difficult.  I would like a Leaf or Volt or other fancy car once the problem of "refueling" on the go has been solved.  This current limbo in which we find ourselves is exciting and frustrating, but I believe the light at the end of the tunnel is nearing and on the other side is a new smaller, faster, sleeker generation of alternative cars.

Friday, April 22, 2011


I'm being eaten by my final exam....send help!

More interesting minimalist info to follow next week.

Friday, April 15, 2011

the In-Law initiative

This weekend my husband's grand parents are coming to visit us in our new home for the first time.  GULP.  Nothing like the fear of criticism from the family matriarch to light a decluttering fire under your butt.

Don't get me wrong his grandmother is a lovely lady, but she has strong opinions and of course I want them to be positive where my efforts are concerned.  So I have spent my spring break this week packing boxes to take to charity, returning things to their proper places and generally giving the whole house a good scrub.

Now I am exhausted but the house is almost spotless, which is a nice change from sanitary but cluttered (the normal status of my space).  Our lady of minimalism tells us not to clean or organize our clutter, but instead to remove the offending items.  Sometimes that is not as possible as we might like.  I had to buy a set of shelves to fix my foyer problem.  Coats and shoes are always being left there by my family and company.  It has helped to make the area more manageable.  I think next I will have to pare down the coats and hang only the most weather appropriate one in the hall.  I will try to include pictures when the area is complete.

Friday, April 8, 2011

My minimal Vacation

It's Spring Break and I am ready to head off in search of adventure.  But were does a minimalist go?  With planes splitting open, fuel costs rising, and the government on the verge of shutting down?  Camping.  Well of a sort any how.  I was lucking enough to marry into a group of industrious peoples.  My grandfather in-law build a wonderful cabin in Floyd County Virginia.  There is nothing like the peace of sitting on the front porch of that cabin and looking out over the neighboring farms.  The acres surrounding the house are fantastic for farming and hiking.  It helps that the horse breeder and dairy farmer next door allow us to hike her fields as well, lending an extra 400 acres to our adventures.

From experience I must suggest not to traipse through a cow field after calfing time, or you are likely to be chased by a big angry matron cow protecting the new moms.  If we can't hike around the house we drive over to The Buffalo, a park down the road from Floyd.  It is a nice hike with amazing views of the surrounding area.  It offers a true "I can see my house from here" moment.

If you still have energy you couldn't do better than heading into Floyd proper and wondering down main street.  With dozens of adorable shops, restaurants, and the new art school there is an abundance of this to see, taste, and do.

Now I'm not saying everyone needs to vacation in Floyd County Virginia, but I think we should all strive to downsize our vacations.  You don't need to fly hours and hours off to some exotic tourist spot when there are beautiful treasures right in your own backyard, often in your own family.  So go visit Aunt Millie's tiny cottage or Grandma's historic bungalow.  They will be grateful you did, and you will learn something new about yourself.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Minimal reading required?

I have been taking classes for a degree in Technical Writing, and I am rather enjoying it.  It is all online with no face to face classes.  It has taken some getting used to, but I can see many benefits.  Firstly I did not have to move to take the courses I needed for the degree, which was a concern when I first started looking for schools.  Secondly it is better for the environment as none of us have to commute by car or bus to class.

There are other call backs to the minimalist lifestyle in this process as well.  All my primary and secondary research is being conducted online as well.  As a bibliophile I miss the feel and smell of moldy old tomes.  Still I have access to amazing articles and journals with just one click of the mouse.  If I had been told when I was 8 and hording chapter books from my local library that in 20 years I’d be able to read anything I wanted on a computer, I would have called the police on that person for being dangerous and mentally ill.  We are truly living in the future.

Other minimalist, I know, have invested in a Kindle or Nook.  These devices are amusing, but I just can’t see myself taking one to the beach in order to read a bit of mind rot and enjoy the sunshine.  The warmth of a book cannot be replaced by hard plastic, no matter how ergonomic.  Still I would have tons of space if I could get rid of all my books.  I have at least two book cases in every room of my house.  I recycle my books that I do not intend to keep forever by giving them to my friends, selling them, trading them for different books at the local used book store and giving them to charity.  I feel that as long as I am getting enough use out of my books (and I do reread many of them dozens of times) there is no need to do away with them in favor of the latest gadget.

What do you think?  Have you traded a traditional hobby for its modern counterpart?  Let me know your experience in the comments.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Getting Dirty is even more fun than you think!

First and foremost I want to apologize for not posting the last two Friday. There was no natural disaster or power outage or even really bad traffic that kept me from posting. No my excuse is not as interesting, but perhaps entertaining. I hurt myself falling during a unicycle lesson. I’ll let that image hang in the air for a bit... Here is how it happened. My students were offered the opportunity to learn on thing they wanted to know, the vote was they would like to learn to ride unicycles. That took up all of Friday and the soreness bled over into Saturday as well. The ankle did not mend as I had hoped so I was still hobbling around this past week as well.
Which is actually for the best as the extra time gives me more to talk about here with you, my readers.

Spring has sprung and left its big flowery footprints all over town. I was thus inspired to make things grow from the ground, something on which I am not all together an expert. Fortunately my honey has a sixth sense for building projects. With his help we were able to begin square foot gardening.

For those of you who don’t know the soil in our area is hard clay, scrape way the grass and top soil and you have red muck perfect for making bricks but rubbish for growing anything. I was unwilling to believe that plants were not going to thrive in my yard and so the first spring in our new home I threw loads of money away on flowers, herbs, veggies, and ivy. The ivy is all that remains and is quite happy living entangled in my retaining wall. Everything else is dust. Ever the optimist I went out the next year about bought herbs and plant food thinking that maybe the bad weather had ill effects on my plants. I planted loads and only the sage survived. Which is fine because we eat a lot of pork chops and sage is lovely, but it would have been nice to reap the benefits of all the plants. You’d think I’d be curled up crying and throwing in the towel, but I’m not. I found a solution on the glorious Internets. A raised bed with controlled soil and weeping hose giving extra water, WILL yield healthy plants.

So my husband and I are growing our own tomato sauce, basically. We have two kinds of tomatoes (early girl and another bush hybrid), loads of basil, and for variety we also have green beans, peas, lettuce, and broccoli. I am very excited. The first step was to start the seeds so they have been growing in egg cartons for a while now. The lettuce is all sprouted, several of the peas have come up, a large number of the broccoli are up and we have one green bean.

Over the weekend we went to buy the materials to make the flowerbeds. I hear you at your laptops saying “if you buy lots of materials and create waste it isn’t minimalism.” The good news is most of the materials will be use to the fullest and the boxes themselves are reusable. The wood from the boxes is not recycled, I’d love to have found reclaimed pieces but they were not available. And better than all that we will lower our overall grocery bill as well as the footprint of the veggies we consume!

Friday, March 11, 2011

(Premature) Spring Cleaning and Adventures in Selling Myself

I awoke this morning to winter’s (hopefully) final hurrah. The snow drifting passed my windows, the cloudy weather, and the wind are making it hard to stay awake and focused. Winter always seems to slow down our thoughts and ambition. We fall prey to a sort of hibernation and routine becomes all we need. Now that I’ve had a taste of Spring my blood is boiling, I’m fired up and ready to tear the whole world apart and put it back in order.

Yesterday I ferociously attacked my guest bathroom. In my own defense I was provoked. The counter was covered with make-up products out of their place, magazines trooped in by my husband, and unnecessary knickknacks I had once put out thinking they might “look nice.” I was exhilarating to remove stuff, clutter, and junk. I was so inspired I pulled out all the drawers from the cabinets in the bathroom and emptied them of anything I wasn’t going to use. Believe it or not I filled up the tall kitchen trashcan and had to empty it and start gain. In the end I had 2 bags to take out to the curb and a much nicer bathroom to share with my guests. All that empty space sets off the fact that the paint on the walls is dingy and needs to be redone. C'est la vie, no?

I don’t always dive head long into Spring cleaning though. Sometimes I have to creep up on it and take it by surprise. I usually start by sorting things into piles one for giveaway, another marked return to sender, another for rubbish, and the last and most dreaded pile-for sale. This has always been tricky for me. Most of the time it is books, CDs, DVDs, or computer games. All of these I can take down to my local used bookstore and trade in for cash and credit at the store. This is great since I recycle books in and out regularly I always have credit and I don’t need cash to get that book I can’t find online, or at the mall.

Where this has gotten tricky lately are books that aren’t easily traded. I have disbanded my role-playing game sets and so those guides need to go to a good home, but the used book store isn’t it. I will be lucky to make back ⅓ of the value and few “gamers” go to that store to retrieve manuals. Now if I’m going to see these off to an appreciative audience I’m going to have to try to sell...online! For some items this may mean popping over to Amazon.com to peddle my wares. For other items I may have to venture over to EBay. I don’t know why this is more intimidating, but I just don’t feel familiar or comfortable with the pace. All the best sketch comedies paint EBay as a cutthroat market for our unwanted junk. I feel guilty selling part of my life online. It makes me feel odd having a part of myself out there for others to browse. I also feel guilty because I don't want the item anymore, but here I am enticing someone else to come and buy what I feel is a useless item. I'm sure they will treasure it as I did, at least for a while. With a mountain of items needing to be sold: this weekend I will take the plunge. Wish me luck, friends.

Friday, March 4, 2011

The problem with parties

One of the (many, many) questions I have about minimalism (and the extent to which I am willing to pursue it) is the problem of entertaining. What does a minimalist "party" look like. Will this be another part of my past that gets left on the curb when I have completed my transformation? Our lady of the streamline life, Miss Minimalist, tells us how to de-stress our holidays, but has not fully unwrapped the dinner party or summer shindig.

When I was a child my parents did not throw large Gatsbian parties or elaborate dinners. That is not to say they did not entertain. A "party" was anytime a friend or family member dropped by. My aunts and uncles would show up with a board game or a bag of gourmet coffee beans and my cousins in tow. The adults would stay up until all hours drinking coffee and playing Rooke, Rummy, or Risk. My cousins and I would run all over creation, engaging in games of Sardines or anything else our imagination could muster. Late the next morning we would go out for pancakes or my uncle would cook (biscuits and gravy is a family favorite). The next time the houses would rotate and my parents and I would travel. This is my ideal of minimalist entertaining. The friendship is the focus, not the food or the activities.

Now that I have my own home and my own family, I like to entertain when I can. I have the some goal I inherited from my parents, but I don't always hit the mark. Even though sometimes I try to fit 10 or 12 people around my small dining table, the focus is always my friends.

A quick Google search on "minimalist entertaining," 1,120,000 results including books and blogs on how to entertain minimalists and how to make your home more conducive to minimalists. It seems I am not the only one struggling with this conflict. I would like very much to see how you, my readers-my compatriots, deal with this issue. Please feel free to leave any suggestions in the comments.

Friday, February 25, 2011


Miss Minimalist herself, Francine Jay, has blessed my effort to keep track of the sometimes daunting journey from overstuffed to streamlined. I also had a visit from some out of town friends, which always throws a schedule for a loop, even if you really love the guest. AND my very good friend is going to have her baby any time now! With the added excitement I nearly forgot it was time for another entry. Luckily I recovered my senses and was able to meet my deadline.


Look around the room. Believe it or not you are surrounded by stowaways. Some are small, maybe even cute, and innocuous. Others, however, are giant space hogging monsters. I'm speaking of the most perplexing category of clutter, "other people's stuff." This category includes those not so thoughtful gifts, lent items,and the worst of the freeloaders the "hey would you hold on to" items. Look around the room again. Do you see them? All the little things you have been given, lent, or begged to keep? Lurking in the corner or hiding in a closet these space wasters wait. Creepy isn't it?

I first noticed my stash of stowaways last year. My family had come to visit and my mother generously gave me a beautiful Hall China pitcher. I was thrilled! My parents, like most parents, worry that Mr. A and I won't have enough (stuff) to get by on. They are always popping in and dropping large thoughtfully packed boxes on my stoop. While I appreciate that they worry and I understand the need to provide sometimes enough is just enough. So rather than hang on to lots of stragglers and stowaways I began taking unwanted items to my school and using them with my students or giving them as prizes (such as candy or books). Soon the extras were spent and my parents has a great cause to support. Now instead of giving me lots of stuff for the house, my parents generously donate to my students and everybody wins.

Sometimes, though "other people's stuff" is not so obvious. Has your sister accidentally left behind items on an over night visit? Did your brother ask you to watch after his bike for a couple of days...two years ago? Or maybe your best friend lent you that 12 book fantasy series you just had to read. I was able to remove almost half of my largest book case by giving back books that had been lent to me. If I really feel the need to read them later I can check them out of my local public library or if I get really desperate I can pick on up from the local used bookstore.

If you have been eying items in your home with suspicion while reading this post, I suggest you start by identifying items as "mine," "gifts,""lent," and "yours." Anything that ends up in the "yours" pile gets a one way trip back home. Of course you should tell the person when and why you are returning the item if you have been keeping it as a favor.

Lent items are much easier to return as they were assumed to be temporary anyhow. Anything you were lent and have finished using, or don't really need in the first place, just return with a polite, "thank you." (A note would be even better.) With these two piles out of the way you can move on to the hard stuff.

Gifts are never easy to remove. Even if you will never use Aunt Millie's childhood croquet set, you still feel like a villain for wanting it gone. Again a good place to start is with a note. If you have a niece who is in love with Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, she may be the perfect repository for this gift.

I found labeling and returning items to be very liberating. I was so pleased I removed the empty bookshelf and finally got a shelving unit (from Ikea) to store my vinyl records. I had been waiting for space to mysteriously appear when I could have just returned "other people's stuff" and been on my way.

Friday, February 18, 2011

A Single Step

When you were a kid….maybe 5 years old….. you looked forward through your mind to what your life would be like when you turned 25, what did you see? I saw myself with a PhD and a professorial position teaching history or literature while I wrote novels and did book tours on the side. I saw a nice house with nice things and a nice husband who loved me and thought I was the greatest thing since cable tv.

Well, I just turned 28….and I have a brilliant and talented husband who thinks I’m tops and a life that’s not exactly as planned, but it’s pretty great anyway. I have the nice house, but my house, like my life, is filled with too many things and not enough places to put them. These things make it hard to make changes or repairs to the house and I generally feel we could stand to cut down.

Webster's defines minimalism as “a style or technique (as in music, literature, or design) that is characterized by extreme sparseness and simplicity.” Everyone knows how to be a minimalist, but has forgotten with the accumulation of stuff. Think back to your dorm or first apartment. When you have nothing, you can see what’s really important.

Simplicity is what I’m after. That’s where this blog and you the reader comes in. This is my open and public journey to go from stuffy and cluttered to streamline and easy. I will be using The Joy of Less, A Minimalist Living Guide: How to Declutter, Organize, and Simplify Your Life by Francine Jay (miss minimalist) as my guiding text in this journey. Let’s get started.