Thursday, December 29, 2016

The Purge End of 2016 Edition- Why I'm Happier Living Minimally

This is the phrase that has been going through my mind a lot lately.
I noticed yesterday that my last personal blog here was January 2015 and was about paring down. Specifically it was about paring down clothes à la the 333 system---33 pieces of clothing (not specialty/sports) for each season.

Part of the reason I haven't been posting on here is that the last couple of years I have been all consumed with my dissertation. But the other day I was trying to explain and lay out the minimalist movement (minus the pretentious hipsters) and then last week someone was talking about the 33 clothing movement. And on Christmas it came up again.

For the first time in a long time I have some breathing room so I thought I'd provide an update to how paring down has worked for me and briefly outline how I use minimalism.

The last couple of years I have taken a ridiculous amount of truck loads of stuff to Goodwill and I still look around the house and spot things that go in the next round. In fact the box on the dining room table on the left hand side of the picture is the current "To Goodwill" box and I just took a full truck load last week.
Now my living room is wide open, which Nehi loves because now it's become a big playground for her. This may seem like a silly thing, but this is a side effect of paring down. I get more joy out of the multiple play dates a day that occur in this open space then I ever did with the stuff that used to fill it.
Here are a couple of examples of recent purges:
  • I got rid of my DVD shelves. I realized that my TV sat on shelves. Which were empty. And it hit me that a lot of furniture is just an excuse to fill it with more stuff. So I moved the DVDs to the TV shelves and dumped the DVD shelves. The hallway (to the right) is now clear. Nehi can race between the living room and bedroom and I no longer feel cramped. 
    • I no longer buy DVDs, preferring digital copies, but next goal is to use Vudu to transfer my DVDs to digital copies so I can get rid of them for good.
    • I got rid of VHS tapes a few months ago so this is the last remnant.
  • I only have two dining room chairs. I want none honestly, looking for benches instead. And that too is part of paring down---a lot of things you get rid of, a lot of things you get better versions of, and a lot of things you replace with things you realize would work better. In over a year I have had one instance where I had two people over for dinner. I rolled my desk chair in and sat on that. No one cared, least of all me.
  • I recently got rid of the one chair I had in the living room. No one visits me so it literally just sat there. And it wasn't comfortable so I never sat in it. I'm thinking about getting a replacement, but another side effect of paring down is you spend a lot more time contemplating purchases, so it may be a while.
  • I recently realized I had posters that I had bought during undergrad at one of those center of campus cheap market things. I didn't like the pictures. But I had moved them for over twenty years. 
    • This too I've noticed with paring down, you suddenly look at something and wonder why the hell you have it.
    • The flip side is on the left there's a Captain America comic print that I bought as celebration for a piece I wrote that I love. On the wall is a pair of pictures, a shot I took of Alcatraz and a commemorative piece of art that supported Alcatraz.
The bedroom looks disorganized because most things are out. I discovered that I like to see things out, so I leave stuff out.
  • I used to have a trunk at the bottom of my bed. It held linens, so was useful, but there was no reason to have it out, so now it's in the closer, accessible but away. I like this trunk as it was a gift when I moved into my dorm freshman year of undergrad and it's been everywhere with me. Likewise I had another trunk but it was empty. So it's become a bit of a hope chest, things I don't want to get rid of for sentimental reasons, but also don't want to have out.
    • The bonus of this is that I no longer bang my foot on the trunk in the middle of the night and Nehi has more running room (are you sensing a theme?).
  • One example of the shifting perspective of paring down is my adorable penguin flannel duvet cover. Before Mom died she bought two flannel comforters for me and the house for winter. One had snowmen on it, another cute stockings. Nehi de-stuffed the snowmen early in her puppyhood and I took the stockings, lugging it cross country. But I realized this winter that it's a comforter for a double and I have a queen, so it never provides coverage or warmth. So away it went. 
  • In the three plus years I've been getting rid of things I have only regretted giving away one thing, a blue sweater of Mom's. And even that not really. It was a 3x so I never wore it, but I had it. The stocking comforter recalled some of these same feelings. It's a little harder to get rid of things I associate with her. But I don't use this, I didn't need it, and someone else could. Do gone.
    • I looked long and hard for a flannel comforter to replace it, because the high desert does get cold in the winter and I did need something. I toss and turn a lot so lots of layered blankets aren't an option. I found this penguin flannel duvet cover. Now my personality tends to snark at things like Spark Joy, even though I do like some of the ideas, but I admit that every time I see these guys I am happy. Look at them---they're adorable!
    • So this is another side effect of what I've found. This duvet cover was pricey. But it's exactly what I wanted, it's adorable, it's super soft and I justify the cost because I won't have to buy a winter cover ever again.
The next big area, and harder for some than others, is the closet.  For me this was harder and easier. At first it was hard because for me getting rid of a lot of things meant getting rid of preconceived ideas about me. I don't wear skirts to work. In fact, I don't wear skirts. I wear dresses to Mass but only a certain kind. I prefer to be comfortable than anything. I had to let go of the idea that I was ever going to be a person who wore skirts, girly-clothes, was going to fit into X. And the weight that lifted from letting all that go was amazing.
Some other key things:
  • I used to wear button down shirts, ties, and vests. Part of it was because men have it easy with dressing professionally and part was comfort. But last year when I was having anxiety attacks a side effect was I couldn't wear tight clothing because it made the attacks worse and/or could start them. Last year I also went back to teaching high school, which is more informal. So I went shopping.
    • Since I had given myself permission to buy new work clothes (but still following the one in, one out rule- so I had to purge things to bring things in) I thought about what I wanted in my work clothes. I wanted something that fit, comfortably, so not tight. I liked colors. I liked no collars or buttons. So the majority of the shirts I got were tunic tops. I got some button down shirts but because they're female not male styles they don't have to be tucked in, and I went a size larger because I have Hulk shoulders, so this fixed the suffocation issue. 
    • The shirts are best for summer, they're cotton and fairly light, but they work for colder seasons by just putting a t-shirt under them and/or a jacket over them.
  • I'm pretty proud of my pared down closet. In the high desert seasons are weird- it was 20 on Christmas, and 58 yesterday, so like the South, we tend not to pack away clothes. Your wardrobe is your wardrobe all year long.
    • I do have a weakness for jackets. I don't get to wear them a lot here, one professor jokingly said New Mexico had like one week where you could wear a jacket and he wasn't wrong. But these are good quality, I do love them (and the matching pins I've collected over the years), and if I move somewhere else I'm sure I'll get more use out of them.
This year my favorite discovery was Old Navy's Boyfriend Tee. I have tattoos so I hate the cap sleeve tees that most women's t-shirts have. As a high school teacher, I also don't like deep v-necks. These t-shirts are perfect (middle stack). They're not expensive. They're super soft, and they fit great. I bought five short sleeves and when the long sleeves came out bought a bunch of them (left side). I love them.  Colors I couldn't find I search Goodwill for (right side). They're light so they're good for layering, I wear them under sweaters, under the Wal-mart tunic topics I bought, so they're good all year.
Sweaters also got pared down. Just seven. Neutral colors mostly, go with just about everything else I own. That red sweater was Mom's and is older than I am. I have decades of pictures with her in it. I don't wear it often but I'll never get rid of it.

The top shelf is pants- 2 khaki, 1 navy blue, 1 sage, black corduroy, red corduroy, grey, purple jeans.
Bottom shelf is cargo pants, three pairs of jeans.
I struggled with the pants because I've been trying to lose weight the last couple of years (which when dissertating you should just cut yourself slack on) so my weight fluctuates a lot and so I pretty much rely on Goodwill's $5 pants.

One thing I like about my wardrobe is what things like 333 and Spark Joy is that I love everything I own now. It all fits. It all looks good on me. It's all in good shape. I love it all. There is no stress at all getting dressed for work, or anything else, because I can literally grab anything and be happy. This seems like a small thing, but it's not.

The middle shelves are my t-shirt collection which I will never get rid of, never pare down. Some of the shirts are just my geek shirts, but a lot were purchased when traveling and represent adventures.

The miscellaneous:
  • I have several sweatshirts/sweatpants because I run/walk with Nehi every day.
    • It's the same reason I have a lot of knit hats and gloves. For warmer weather I also have a lot of caps for the same reason. Could I get away with less?  Maybe. But this is one of those conversations- if I had one sweatshirt/one pair of sweatpants instead of seven I'd have to wash them every day. So what's the trade off of more items versus water? Time? I choose to keep what I have.
      • But this also means that I got rid of all my pajamas because I didn't wear them and run Nehi in the pair I wore that night, so...
  • I have a wool Navy pea coat that's a "fancy" winter coat.
  • A military winter coat for long time in the cold and a jean jacket and polarfleece, so I'm covered there.
  • I have a lot of fashion scarves. I don't wear them often. But some of them were Mom's so for now they stay.
  • I struggle with shoes. I have issues with my knees, and standing on concrete floors for eight hours a day doesn't help. I tend to have two pairs of everything, one brown one black, so two pairs of boat shoes, two pairs of dress shoes, two pairs of work boots, one pair of sneakers.
    • The shoes are an expensive trial and error. Finding shoes that don't make my knees throb by the end of the day is hard. 
    • As a default I wear my sneakers most days.
I recently reorganized my office.  I wanted all my "work" books out, I wanted a better background for the video lectures I make for my online classes, and I wanted to clear out some living room space.
  • The bookshelves on the left are full of books that if I ever got a college teaching job would go to my campus office.
  • Nehi's crate is there because I watch her through my web cam while I'm at work.
  • I made the desk, it's wide and long (and it's my fifth desk incarnation) because I noticed while dissertating that I need to be able to spread out my papers, notes, books so I needed to large surface space.
  • But there's not a lot else. I have a plastic filing box for current tax stuff that gets filed regularly, a small filing cabinet under the desk that's the only drawers I have.
  • Above my desk is a corkboard for inspiration and a whiteboard where I track dissertation progress.
The office has a walk in closer which I converted two years ago into extra shelf space. I made ladder shelves which are super easy and cool. Next time I move I'll probably paint them before moving them into a new place. These are mostly high school teaching books, recreation books and banker boxes that contain dissertation work.
  • Last year I got rid of a lot of papers I'd been dragging through multiple moves, lamps that didn't work that I "might" someday fix.
  • One project that I do have on the horizon is to digitize all the family photo albums using Scan My Photos. I did a box last year, and was really happy (it's $99 per box, you fill it, they can it and send you them digitized and return the photos). I inherited all the albums when Mom died, so I'd like to see them saved.
  • I personally don't display many pictures, but I like seeing them on my computer as my screensaver. Digitizing them has also allowed me to share them with family and friends which is nice.
 My kitchen is small. Super small. Nehi frequently gets told to get out if I'm in there because there's literally no room.
  • I pared down kitchen utensils to bare necessities, silverware to same, plates, cups, glasses, mugs all down to just what I use.
  • Same with tupperware and most recently, cooking ware. I've gotten rid of frying pans (why do you need more than one? I don't, gone) and have upgraded some. I recently started baking bread weekly so got a great Lodge pot to do this in.
  • I noticed that when I'm off from work, and have time to hand wash my dishes, I use less and could probably purge down more. Except I'm not off work much, so I keep the extras and use the dishwasher.
  • My godmother got me a toaster for Christmas. I had mentioned the paring down during one of our Skype conversations and one example I mentioned was that I had been debating for over two years about whether or not I should get a toaster- did I not eat toast because I didn't have a toaster? Would I eat more toast if I HAD a toaster? Was broiling bread enough like toast to get by?
    • Her note on the toaster said Santa sometimes brings you what you want and not just what you need.
    • I've had toast pretty much every morning since :-)

So those are all the details, the breakdowns, but here are some of the larger takeaways I've noticed.
  • Returning to the quote at the top, I seem to be returning more and more to the hippie roots of my childhood. Giving to Goodwill, shopping at Goodwill, doing more with less, these are things that I feel good about. I feel good about ducking out of the capitalistic revolving door. If I need things or really decide I WANT something I get it. But I think a lot more about purchases before making them.
  • This mindfulness is one of the things I like best. I am more aware of the footprint of purchasing. What went into making certain things, whether or not I want to condone those practices. Packaging material. Supporting more small businesses whose practices I approve of. Thinking very hard about the difference between want and need.
    • I'm an English teacher so you would think that paring down the books was hard. But it really wasn't. Books I need for work are hard copies, because I highlight and Post-It note them. But books for fun I ask for on Kindle now. Or get from the library. While I love to read I realized as I pared down that books for me got sorted into: work, loved and will read again, special editions to keep, and things I liked but will never look at again. The majority of my books fell into that last category, so I released them into the world for others to love.
  • The last few years have been hard, working on my PhD, other things. A lot of things out of my control. A nice side effect of all of this is the control. I can shape my space. I can clear the clutter. I can control this. Making my home an island of calm has been nice.
  • You'll notice that a lot of these things resulted in making life easier for Nehi. This may seem insane at first. Except she's one of the things that makes me very happy, like ridiculously happy. And this too is a result of paring down, when you get rid of stuff you don't want or need, and pare down to only the basics, you start to think more and more about what DOES make you happy and refocus on that.
    • So the house is clearer because playing in the open space with Nehi makes me happier than anything else.
    • So I have seven sweatshirts/sweatpants/hats because my twice a day runs/walks with Nehi are often the best parts of my day.
    • I started buying Nag Champa incense again because the smell reminds me of growing up and makes me happy.
    • It takes me fifteen minutes to clean the house. That means there's lots of time for other things. 
    • The simplicity has spread to other things:
      • No bottled water, I have a water bottle.
      • Less and less processed food, simpler foods, meals where I know everything IN the meal.
      • More cooking, less buying crap.
      • More time running, walking, doing yoga. 
I am certainly happier now than I was. Not just because I've decluttered, or pared down, but because by doing so I had to really think about who I was and what it was that I wanted, what made me happy.
I know this isn't for everyone.
But I know for me, this is the best way to live.

And it seems that once you get started, the more you realize just how little you need or want, and how much happier you can be.

So if anyone is looking for a new start in 2017 I recommend this. You don't have to do it all at once. There are tips like pack things in a box and set aside for a month, if you don't look for anything in that box in that time, get rid of it. Or if you have a garage you can move things there as a temporary try out period. There are lots of websites and blogs you can read. For me it's less about the method, or the things, then what you discover about yourself.