The Downsizing Dozen: Finding Focus

IMG_0046
If you really get to know me, you’ll find out that I’m a curious mix of distracted and obsessive. I can go from forgetting to eat in the midst of a mission to darting my attention around in conversations like a squirrel in traffic. I can get nothing else done until I finish that book or stream an entire TV series, and then again I’m capable of hopping from one uncompleted cleaning task to another until I’ve stirred up more dust and chaos than when I began.

Part of why I love practicing minimalism is the clean slate that comes after a total purge of all life’s unfinished tasks and cluttered surroundings. Then there’s a chance to introduce projects one at a time, while establishing a balanced routine that doesn’t neglect eating, sleeping and human interaction. I say there’s a chance, because more often than not, my mind remains cluttered and my attention span scattered enough to undo that lovely empty potential that I’ve cleared.

But the very act of purging has been a meditative focus for me. For years, as I sat in my 1985 suburban tract house that was carefully organized and way too big for the three of us, I would mentally sort through all our possessions to see if they were still needed and necessary, using this purging visualization to calm down my squirrel mind, give me hope for a fresh start and put me to sleep at night. That way, in my dreams at least, I could trash all the unrealized hopes, unfulfilled goals, and creative disappointments in the big subconscious recycling bin in the sky, ready to be reincarnated into some new piece of writing or artwork.

Then came the great Purge and Merge of 2014, when my family unloaded many possessions to move into a small apartment and blend all our activities into shared space. My minimalist meditations were finally manifested, and for months, I was at a loss on what to visualize. Even though there is always something to organize and purge (hello junk mail!), I couldn’t get my teeth into the physical stuff anymore–it was all gone.

And going any smaller right now wouldn’t be wise or practical. So, it gradually dawned on me that what I need to let go now is all that mental clutter I’ve stored my whole life, from revenge for that playground group I was kicked out of in 5th grade, to the college anxiety dreams where I didn’t study for the final exam of the class I hadn’t dropped, to a kick-ass response for the woman who screamed at me in front of my child for parking too close to a school fire hydrant  (I don’t have unresolved anger issues, do I?), to a rebuttal for the speeding ticket I didn’t deserve during a speed trap (my first and hopefully my last).

Well, that last run-on sentence is a perfect example of what my squirrel mind is capable of creating every waking moment if I’m not careful. My new reality is this: now that the physical clutter has been downsized and minimized, I have nothing left but to face my mental mess. Even though this is a life class I never signed up for, it would serve me well to attend all the lessons and face that final exam, however long it takes, with or without the speeding ticket.

Once a month for the next twelve, I’ll feature another step in the downsizing journey that didn’t just begin when we sold our suburban house and moved to a small walk-up apartment in June of 2014. This shift to a simpler life has been years in the making, and I hope you’ll join me in my family’s quest to get down to basics. My inaugural post entitled Giving It All Away was featured in July, Make It Stick in August, Following Your Feet in September, Case of the Missing Mac in October, Diminished Drumsticks in November, and Dwindling Decorations in December.

Advertisements

The Downsizing Dozen: Dwindling Decorations

photo
Have to admit that I anticipated the annual dragging out of the old Christmas boxes with some trepidation this year. Why? For the last ten years, we have known exactly where all the decorations would be placed–snowmen chilling on the fireplace mantle with the stockings, lights of the correct length wrapped around our breakfast nook railing, tree positioned front and center in the living-room window bay. Now all bets were off when faced with the alien (and rather compact) landscape of our new apartment.

At least the ever-important tree placement was easy. There was clearly only one spot in the apartment that would work, by the door to our balcony, where we had strung our remaining outdoor lights for a show of holiday spirit among the drab units surrounding us. The tree is actually one that my daughter bought last year, and one that she is willing to share with her miserly parents. (Actually, we have no idea what sort of ornament-hanging structure we really want when she moves out.)

The other Christmas detritus was more problematic, however. As we unwrapped the holiday candy dish and the rather heavy stocking hangers, the snowpeople collection, bottle brush trees, my husband’s family nativity and 1950‘s ceramic bells in the shape of Christmas ladies, I was once again grateful that we had purged a good deal in the last couple of years, keeping all Christmas keepsakes down to two storage bins and an ornament box. Everything had to fit into the life raft of those boxes or be set loose upon the open seas at Goodwill.

Thank heavens for a lengthy bar area along the kitchen counter, a tabletop with enough space for the snowmen, and a bookshelf with a lack of books and plenty of parking places. We found just enough room for everything except a very large fiber optic angel, a string of lights and one pair of festive tealight holders. The added bonus is that we can sit in our living room and enjoy all the decorations without having to get up and walk into another room, like we had to do in our old house.

Much has changed in our lives, but some traditions live on in new digs without too many of the trappings. We toast our good fortune in relocating to a warm and comfortable nest with the annual spiked eggnog while our cat re-acquaints himself with the penguin tree skirt.

Happy holidays, my friends, and see you in 2015!

Once a month for the next twelve, I’ll feature another step in the downsizing journey that didn’t just begin when we sold our suburban house and moved to a small walk-up apartment in June of 2014. This shift to a simpler life has been years in the making, and I hope you’ll join me in my family’s quest to get down to basics. My inaugural post entitled Giving It All Away was featured in July, Make It Stick in August, Following Your Feet in September, Case of the Missing Mac in October, and Diminished Drumsticks in November.

The Downsizing Dozen: Diminished Drumsticks

photo
Over the last few years, gatherings around our extended family’s holiday table have dwindled, sad to say. We’ve lost the older generation of grandparents, great aunts and uncles, and while I’m blessed to still have both my parents, the scores of side dishes and days of preparation are over.

Dinner was pretty simple this year: my dad’s special brined turkey and sausage stuffing, the creamed onions he only makes at Thanksgiving, my mom’s fancy cranberry sauce spiked with undiluted Grand Marnier liqueur, and a pumpkin pie using almond instead of cow’s milk to accommodate my new diet. Mashed potatoes and roasted butternut squash rounded out the menu, and I even tried my first turkey liver to fulfill a weekly quota of organ meat.

I have to admit it was refreshing not to crowd my plate with so many different foods that outer fringes of peas and brussels sprouts rolled off the brink, and real estate around my place setting became a maze of bread plates, dessert forks and wine glasses. In the past, main dishes grew cold waiting for the rest of the meal to find its way to the table. My mother was often so exhausted the next day that my father took her out for a drive and a nice lunch to get her away from the tremendous pressure of the holidays.

There were just four of us gathered for the holiday meal this year. No need for place cards or a children’s table. The kitchen counter wasn’t groaning under the weight of dirty pots and pans. Clean up took an hour instead of a whole night switching sodden dish drying towels. Our smaller turkey actually fit into the refrigerator along with a manageable amount of leftovers.

And while I do miss the relatives who made the holidays special and colorful, let it be known that I’ll never wish to live up to the reputation of a Norman Rockwell holiday feast ever again, however nostalgic.

Happy holidays from 900 square feet.

Once a month for the next twelve, I’ll feature another step in the downsizing journey that didn’t just begin when we sold our suburban house and moved to a small walk-up apartment in June of 2014. This shift to a simpler life has been years in the making, and I hope you’ll join me in my family’s quest to get down to basics. My inaugural post entitled Giving It All Away was featured in July, Make It Stick in August, Following Your Feet in September, and Case of the Missing Mac in October.

The Downsizing Dozen: Case of the Missing Mac

photo
Well, this has been an interesting October. While one would hardly call me a Luddite, I was reduced to a smart phone, some stolen moments with my husband’s computer, and the throwback of pen upon paper, while my ancient five-year-old laptop was away for updates.

I admit that I was one of the lingering Mac users who still clung to the old Snow Leopard pride in operating systems while the rest of the world marched on to bigger cats, and eventually became mavericks reaching new heights in Yosemite. When links failed to open, secured sites became insecure, and social media lambasted me to change my browser with such frequency that I could’t ignore the situation any longer, I reluctantly scheduled surgery that would require wiping my laptop and restoring its information.

What caused such fear of change? Not so long ago, I eagerly embraced the latest operating system or newfangled gadget that would supposedly enhance my life. In a word, it is “digital,” a battle cry for minimalism, and the blessing and bane of my life. During my Great Downsizing Purge of 2014, and even before, I extolled its virtues while digitizing music, photos and documents, and backing them up in various formats.

The problem with updates and interconnecting devices, however, is that sometimes you are locked out of older program versions after updating, or your phone, computer and tablet can gang up on you in the Cloud these days, deciding to delete everything in your best interests. This, along with the realization that I’ve digitized nearly all my meaningful music, writing and photos since 2003, is enough to give me pause.

So, in October I spent an inordinate amount of time googling worst-case scenarios and possible options while waiting for my beloved word processor to return from Apple’s latest mountaintop, wondering if it could even survive the thin air of progress much less work properly. I’m happy to report that it’s running well with a fresh outlook under the lid, although my old friend came home to find a new grandchild added to the family, a tiny tablet with better retinal vision and response time than its elder.

For now, we’re progressing cautiously, with a bigger backup arsenal, a variety of devices to do the job, and a little more confidence.

Once a month for the next twelve, I’ll feature another step in the downsizing journey that didn’t just begin when we sold our suburban house and moved to a small walk-up apartment in June of 2014. This shift to a simpler life has been years in the making, and I hope you’ll join me in my family’s quest to get down to basics. My inaugural post entitled Giving It All Away was featured in July, Make It Stick in August, and Following Your Feet in September.

The Downsizing Dozen: Following Your Feet

Autumn
Here in our new home of communal living, exercise options are abundant. There’s a pool and jacuzzi (about to be closed for the winter), fitness center, and even half a basketball court in addition to the local Y and miles of walking trails and bike paths. Combine that with a tiny amount of storage space in the single-car garage where we fully intend to shelter our vehicle, and you can guess which type of equipment was jettisoned first in our move.

A whole host of balls, bats and mitts was sent away to greener playing fields. One football, the only inflated basketball (for the new court, of course) and our beloved wiffle ball set were kept, as well as my husband’s modest bag of golf clubs to see if he can renew or even revive that particular pastime. If not, then they will follow their obsolete brethren to other well-manicured pastures.

But so far, despite all the tempting new choices, walking remains our main form of exercise. An embarrassing number of cool summer days and a cloudless blue beginning to fall have pulled us from our device screens and out the door. We find our feet wandering into local parks and public areas, or strolling to errands we used to complete by auto, as the soles on our sneakers wear down to a satisfying thinness.

Back in the bad old ‘burbs, walks were limited to a close-minded neighborhood orbit, and shoulder-less local roads became too inhospitable to navigate, even in midmorning’s deserted hours when most everyone had gone off to work and school. Our bikes gathered cobwebs full of possessive spiders while rusting in a spacious two-car garage. To tell the truth, we can’t remember when we sold them, it was so long ago.

Perhaps as we put miles of exhaust behind us and treat our environmental elders with respect, ever-green Santa may reward us come December, and we’ll awaken to discover shiny forms of alternative transportation among nature’s gifts, the chrome of our intentions still un-smudged, and brand-new handlebar tassels glittering in fresh, unpolluted air.

Once a month for the next twelve, I’ll feature another step in the downsizing journey that didn’t just begin when we sold our suburban house and moved to a small walk-up apartment in June of 2014. This shift to a simpler life has been years in the making, and I hope you’ll join me in my family’s quest to get down to basics. My inaugural post entitled Giving It All Away was featured in July, and Make It Stick in August.

The Downsizing Dozen: Make It Stick

Tape, anyone?
As long-suffering followers of this blog have read ad nauseam, I’ve been on the minimalist path for quite some time now, posting one-hit wonders such as Don’t Minimalize Your Bangs, Goodwill Hauling, The Urge to Purge, Hobbling the Hobbies, and my biggest blockbuster to date, What’s In YOUR Garage? Since 2009, I swear to you on my mother’s outdated china pattern that I’ve tried to walk the talk. So, imagine my surprise and shame while packing to move, when I repeatedly pulled out of various drawers and pandora’s boxes an endless assortment of . . . tape.

In shock, I felt moved to document the phenomenon in the photo above. That’s right folks, you counted correctly. There were no less than ten dispensers (couldn’t get them all in the picture) of sticky stuff. For every act of stickiness imaginable, I had all the bases (or folding flaps) covered. And this number doesn’t even include the medical tape I found, or the tower of duck, masking and electrical tape hiding in the garage, but that was to be expected.

No, the big mystery to me was how on earth a family of three had managed to buy and then forget about all that packaging tape. During her formative years, my daughter was (and still is) a very creative child who went through yards of tape to hold her projects together, bind her handmade book pages, fasten her abundant artwork on the walls, and ultimately leave waded on the floor only to be cut out of the hairs of a wandering family cat or dog later.

With all this taping of hers going on, I rarely had enough on hand to wrap the occasional gift much less mend a careless rip, in which case I was stuck with the ugly duck or masking tapes, and if we were out of those, then house caulk or chewing gum often came to mind. With the necessary scotch tape truly invisible to my naked eye, yet another entry to the weekly shopping list was made.

Here’s what I think happened: as the years went by, and my daughter’s appetite for temporary paper creations switched to sketchbooks and computer art, the tape dispensers disappeared into the gaping cavern of her closet, and fell behind the beanie babies and spirograph sets lurking on the back shelf. Our holiday gift wrapping has diminished (maybe that’s why we don’t have as many friends), and even when absolutely necessary, by then I had discovered the wonderful world of gift bags to fit any oddly (or normal) shaped object.

But here’s the big reason why I found so many. You ready for this? The reproductive habits of scotch tape are little known, so it’s my theory that they breed in any dark corner or unattended shopping bag. And in my case, they are known to disappear for years, only to reappear in multitudes. Furthermore, they are not the only office supplies known to do this–rubber bands and paper clips are also likely suspects.

So what can the unsuspecting suburbanite do when they open the door to a cascade of slippery plastic dispensers with their guillotines of tiny razor teeth? Follow these next steps carefully:

1) You evaluate possible causes of your dirty little secret, vow that you will go to great lengths not to recreate a similar environment ever again, and make that resolution stick.

2) You may be tempted to fling all humiliating signs of tape debauchery into the trashcan, but please take a deep breath, and think of a daycare center, classroom or craft program that would benefit, turning a bad situation into good.

3) Whatever rolls of tape you do keep, for the love of tidiness, I plead with you to store them in a well-lit area, out in plain sight, and NEVER, EVER allow them to wander off in pairs. You, your wallet, and your pets covered in little bald spots will thank you for it.

Once a month for the next twelve, I’ll feature another step in the downsizing journey that didn’t just begin when we sold our house and moved to a small walk-up apartment in June of 2014. This shift to a simpler life has been years in the making, and I hope you’ll join me in my family’s quest to get down to basics. My inaugural post entitled Giving It All Away was featured in July.

In the Bag

DAY 9: IN MY BAG
DAY 9: IN MY BAG

Pictured are the contents of my striped summer purse. I have a winter one that houses slightly different circumstances. But if you were to open this purse, you would find another . . . purse. Now, I normally don’t fancy that particular shade of pepto pink, but I was wandering through Target one day, and smiled when I saw the pink pouch with a retro eyeglass pattern. I immediately flashed back to my punk phase in the 80’s sporting pink Keds, an asymmetrical bob, and a vintage mini dress. Thankfully, there are no existing photos.

Inside the pink purse, my wallet lies in hiding. It’s a plain men’s billfold, with the added bonus of a zippered coin pouch. I find that the pink pouch keeps this wallet from getting lost, and helps organize the overflow of loyalty cards, stray pens and rambling breath mints that tend to mill around evasively at the bottom of my big purse.

Then there’s my minimal key chain. Yes, folks, that’s all I’ve got. One car key, one house key, and a little orange Buddha that my husband brought home from a business trip to California years ago. So far, Buddha’s done a great job keeping track of my keys for me. Plus, he’s fun to look at.

And finally, you’ll notice my sunglasses, which are not shaped like any of the frames illustrated on the pink pouch. This is probably the most expensive pair of glasses I’ve ever owned, because of the Coach frames. Trust me, I did not get them for status, but because they were the only ones that fit me.

Okay, you’re next. What’s in YOUR bag?

This month I’m taking a photo a day and following the topics of Susannah Conway’s August Break 2014. And why don’t you join me? I double-dog dare you!