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.