Photo Friday: Dining Alone

This year I’ve decided to join the 365 Project on Flickr. There are many variations, but the main goal is to take one photo a day for 2011. As usual, I was a late starter, beginning on the 20th of January (I’m always wary of commitment). And I worried that I would run out of ideas. But, so far I’ve enjoyed the discipline while paying attention to the everyday beauty around me — yes, even in the suburbs.

So, I thought I’d start posting a photo every Friday, a tasty bit from my week of daily photos. This week, I’m focusing on the simplicity of my seldom-used dining room. It consists of a table (covered by a tablecloth to prevent my cat from carving his initials in the top), four chairs and a bench against the wall for setting aside extra dishes at a meal. As you can see, there are no stacks of papers, mail catalogs, sewing projects or jigsaw puzzles cluttering the surfaces.

The only decoration needed is a candle in a hurricane holder (with fingerprints), and the play of afternoon sunlight, free of charge.

Until next Friday. . . .

A Minimalist Moment: The Urge to Purge

Some folks march to the fridge and stuff their faces, others hit the bottle, many head out for retail therapy. Me? When I’ve reached the end of my rope, thrown in the towel and broken the last straw on the camel’s back (whatever that means) — I purge.

What do I get rid of? It can be anything that doesn’t move. On its own, that is. Likely targets are those piles of hapless papers, closets full of unsuspecting clothes or maybe the countless bins of well-meaning craft supplies. My merciless roving eye casts about for the next victim to pay for my wrath.

I know this is probably wrong, but I can’t help it. The desire for a clean slate and uncomplicated surfaces takes over and I’m already circling my quarry, hoping to get the unnecessary object out the door before it even knows what hit it.

My rules of engagement:

1. Ask first. If I am not the owner of the offending item, I must procure permission from the perpetrator (this includes the dog).

2. Remain calm. I don’t want to be caught rummaging around in a dumpster at midnight, flashlight clenched between my teeth, with tosser’s regret.

3. Keep a limit. Even though I can’t get enough of those elimination endorphins, it’s no fun to find yourself with nowhere to sit at the end of the day.

Hopefully, after my purging fix I am calmer, a solution has appeared to my problems, the drawers are better organized and my house is emptier.

Within reason, of course.

If you are interested in reading about minimalism in all its glory, Tanja at Minimalist Packrat and Francine of Miss Minimalist have compiled The 2011 All Star List of Minimalist Blogs. There’s 124 and counting, so go click some links!

Project 333 Winter Love

Update: I’ve grown very fond of layers and anything that’s fuzzy in my carefully chosen wardrobe of 33. A month into the second phase of Courtney Carver’s minimalist clothing challenge, and the sweaters, scarves and trusty turtleneck have become my best buddies. Even the “you shouldn’t have” holiday gift socks shoved to the back of my drawer have seen the light of day recently.

Why all the warmth and affection? Well, let’s see: the sun has appeared a total of 3 hours so far this year, I’ve forgotten what grass looks like (the lawn variety), icicles on my house are so large that I’ve started using them as canes to cross the treacherous luge run of my driveway, and I haven’t left the old homestead in a long, long, long time.

Well, that’s not entirely true. Earlier this week, I did manage a dash to the store for essential supplies like toilet paper and pop tarts before THE GREAT STORM of 2011. Which I survived obviously, although I’m in serious mourning over the ratty pair of long underwear I recklessly discarded at the beginning of this project.

Ah, what a fool this mortal is!

A word to the wise about my other wardrobe decisions so far:

Travel will be super easy if I can just get out my door. Although I work from home these days, I was looking forward to a business trip this week with minimal selection and light packing. But because of THE GREAT STORM, that ain’t happening.

Lose the dress slacks. I l-o-v-e denim. My black denim jeans can look casual or dressy depending on what I wear with them, a pair of heels or mukluks. And the long-sought-after, perfect blue pair is my BFF.

Color is a good thing. While basics in black and grey go with everything, during countless gloomy days I really enjoy the bright spots found in scarves, accessories and yes, even those socks again.

I’m having fun with mix-and-match. It’s like a puzzle for those everlasting snow days, when cabin fever sets in and you begin to wander around the house talking to yourself. (Okay, more than usual.) Instead, play with different combos to see if they fit your look. Can I pull off stripes AND flannel?

Big surprise, I haven’t missed my jewelry yet. I don’t linger over the “perfect” choice of earrings these days. I either wear one of the two pairs selected for the Project, or I don’t. (Having them frozen to your earlobes for weeks at a time helps with the decision, too.)

And now, on to February and fresh revelations, not to mention the early spring promised by Phil, Chuck and other weather-predicting rodents out there. Personally, I can’t wait for Valentine’s Day and candy.

Forget romance — at least the Red Hots will keep me warm.

A Minimalist Moment: The Sound of Digital

I’ve been whiling away quite a few long hours of this endless winter with some ripping. And it’s not my abs, sad to say. No, I’ve been going through stacks of my household’s rather healthy collection of music CDs and transferring them to my laptop and various MP3 players.

Importing all of these audio treasures has allowed me to time travel while I wait for the iTunes completion “burp.” Musical tastes around here are rather eclectic, anything from Chopin and Billie Holiday to CSNY and BeauSoleil to Enya and Modest Mouse.

Funny how the specific combination of a few notes can send you back to the awkward moves of junior prom, slam dancing in a downtown loft, your toddler’s first little jig, or the jams of rock concerts you could remember (and hear). I’m sure there will be raucous melodies I associate with assisted living when the time comes.

It’s also caused me to contemplate all the vehicles that have carried melodic ditties over the half century of my life, including 45s, LPs, eight-tracks, cassette tapes, CDs and now MP3 files. And these would be nothing without the radios, phonographs, reel-to-reels, stereos, cassette decks, boom boxes, and tape recorders needed to make them sing. I wonder what will take us down the pike next, forging ahead to some new George Jetson fantasy world.

Around 50 CDs left to go, and I’m at the end of the R’s, heading into the many S’s. (Yes, I alphabetize my music, okay. I’m gunning for the anally retentive retirement home.) Although I know that numerous outdated gems should be culled out, the money spent over the years makes me wince, and I’m reluctant to part with my partners in crime without giving them a second chance.

After all, there can be new life in digital mode. Long forgotten stuff pops up on shuffle like deja vu, and I find myself listening to golden oldies like they’re brand-new. Amazing what playing out of the expected order can do. Now, if I can only read the tiny print on my iPod that gives the song titles.

Here are the steps I took to dance to the “digital” beat:

  • Get rid of that handy CD rack. This is an excellent way to pull all the cases out and lay them on the floor in front of you. That way you’re forced to spring into action so you don’t keep tripping over them.
  • Round up all the strays. It’s easy to stay in denial if you’ve got scads of the little buggers stashed away in the attic, car and closet. Corral all of them together so that you can see the folly of your music-loving ways.
  • Set aside some downtime to rip the discs. My best opportunities come during the countless hours of sports viewing that occur at my house. I’ll be lost down memory lane while blocking out the fumbles and fouls, all the crying and floor pounding.
  • Take on only what you can handle. I’ll grab about five to ten albums to transfer. Otherwise it can seem like a formidable task. You may be asking yourself why on earth you needed to acquire EVERYTHING by your favorite 80’s hair band. Take little steps, as they say.
  • Organize, and organize some more. Whichever media player you use, I find that categories and playlists really help handle thousands of songs. Even the best alphabetizing can only go so far. And don’t even start me on compilations, oy vey!
  • Back it up, baby. I have one external hard drive and an older desk computer that I use for back up. It probably wouldn’t hurt to have a third copy, just in case. I’ve also read about saving your files to the digital Cloud but I’m too cheap at this point to buy the extra storage (music files take up a lot of room, as you know).
  • Time to say goodbye. Quite a few industrious minimalists make money selling their old CDs and records on eBay and Craigslist. I’m too lazy and besides, I’m not sure how many fans would line up to purchase my pristine copy of Al Hirt’s Greatest Hits, and various other one-hit wonders. There’s always Goodwill, but I prefer to donate my musical hoard to the local public library, where the CDs can either be sold or maybe added to their collection.

I’ll come clean at this point, and tell you that I’m not getting rid of ALL our CDs. There are favorite albums from special times in our lives, that I just can’t part with as of yet. We’re keeping about 40 of them, only what will fit into a basket under a mini-stereo in the family room. They are the old friends we pull out and take along on car trips since tuning in the iPods on the car radio is a royal pain. So until we get a “modern” car, the CD player is how we roll.

In fact, writing this is getting me in the mood. Road trip, anyone?

Do you have other ideas on how to minimalize CDs, records and tapes, and the various options out there? I’d love to read about them here.

The Project 333 Affair

This year I’ve decided to have a fling. With my clothes. I’m tired of standing on the sidelines while others engage in passionate and groundbreaking liaisons with their garments. I’m filled with jealousy reading about romantic trysts with neglected accessories. I’m hopeful at the prospect of breathing new life into old footwear. Yes, I am ready to take the plunge into Courtney Carver’s second phase of Project 333.

Last fall, apparel pioneers like Meg Wolfe, Beverly Army Williams, Robyn Devine, Andrew Odom and many more had the guts to seek new relationships with their wardrobes. And like a good matchmaker, Courtney has set specific guidelines and boundaries for successful clothing courtship, while she, herself, practices what she preaches at Be More With Less.

Briefly, the game plan is this: Your closet is limited to 33 items from January 1st through March 31st, including jewelry, shoes and outerwear; excluding jewelry one wears all the time (or can’t remove), loungewear, workout raiment, undergarments and PJ’s. For those who get cold feet, Courtney has included new bonus rules for a little wiggle room.

As an evasive Pisces, I am often a weenie about commitment, but I am all about turning over a new leaf (or fin, flipper, whatever). Therefore, I have tried to stick to the original plan with no exceptions. Once I could let go of the whole “just in case” quagmire, choosing the clothes was not as difficult as I thought.

The big pitfall for me was in limiting those earrings. I like to wear different, and often wacky, baubles to suit my mood. As an aside, I was known to dangle plastic food from my ears in the good ol’ punk days — a fetching pair of fried eggs was my favorite. And no, I don’t still have them.

I am older now. I keep telling myself that, anyway. My clothes are not as “interesting” as in my vintage days of yore. I’m also in between identities at the moment, so my selections are versatile and a tad nondescript (for camouflage purposes).

Without further ado, my list of 33 items:

  1. White tank
  2. Black tank
  3. White t-shirt
  4. Black t-shirt
  5. Green long sleeve t-shirt
  6. Black long sleeve t-shirt
  7. Black turtleneck
  8. Black print tunic
  9. Purple velvet tunic
  10. Print blouse
  11. Blue top
  12. Blue plaid shirt
  13. Grey cardigan
  14. Blue cardigan
  15. Blue sweater
  16. Maroon sweater
  17. Black vest
  18. Grey dress pants
  19. Black dress pants
  20. Black jeans
  21. Blue jeans
  22. Black winter coat
  23. Multi Print scarf
  24. Blue print scarf
  25. Grey hat
  26. Gloves
  27. Purple purse
  28. Black pant boots
  29. Black loafers
  30. Black sneakers
  31. Purple necklace
  32. Blue 1928 Earrings
  33. Buddha Hand Earrings

Who knows? I may fall in love and make this a permanent thing. Guess I’ll have to break it to my husband gently.


Most of my 33 things.

A Minimalist Moment: The Tannenbaum Tango

Our tree in its younger days.

What did you do on Black Friday? Were you hunkered down in lines outside superstores during the wee hours? Driving from mall to mall to check for any lingering unbelievable steals? Sleeping in because you blacked out on tryptophan? Or were you up in the attic untangling a mass of Christmas lights?

At my house, the day after Thanksgiving was spent setting up our ten-year-old artificial Christmas tree before my daughter went back to school. After growing up in a family nursery where cut evergreens provided a major source of winter income, and years of loyally spending big bucks on tree farms and garden centers in the midwest, I went rogue and bought our one (and probably only) artificial tree in 2000.

The purchase would be viewed as sacrilege by environmentalists and extended family alike, but I figured that since we were going the fake route, why not take it all the way with a decidedly unnatural but beautiful white tree full of gold, silver and purple ornaments with beaded garland. For nine years, this work of art has sparkled in front of our living room window, adding to the decorations outside (strings of blue LED lights).

This year, however, when we pulled out the pre-lit tiers of branches with color codes matching the center pole (no easy hinges on this baby), my husband, daughter and I could no longer deny that the formerly pristine “needles” had browned to a dingy gold. And so, after this Christmas, our one artificial guilty pleasure will be retired.

Which leads to the question of its replacement. Or not. In the quest to conquer clutter in my life, all but the Christmas stash has been ransacked. And now, I have to address the white elephant, or should I say snowman, in the room. (And yes, it includes the Frosty collection that has snowballed over the years.)

This past Friday, already on a roll from decorating the tree, we decided to go ahead and put up all the decorations. And, there was simply not enough room at the inn for snow people, or snow globes, or even the manger. My diligence in purging furniture has led to a holiday housing shortfall. Too many festive guests, so somebody will have to move on to the Island of Misfit Toys (or Goodwill).

Picking out who goes will be difficult, kind of like choosing your favorite puppy from an adorable litter. The stockings will never leave, nor the little wire tabletop tree with blinking lights that my daughter named “Timmy” one year for some reason. Ornaments sporting the big orange T’s of my husband’s favorite team won’t be heading out any time soon, despite a less than stellar football season. The herd of tiny plastic reindeer, with nearly all its fake fur loved off, has already made the trip back to the dorm.

As for our largest symbol of the holidays, both ancient and modern, I’m thinking of taking a sneaky detour from the whole fake vs. real dilemma. I’ve got my eye on one of those old-fashioned feather trees for next year. Made out of genuine wood and fowl and not some cheap plastic imitation, it is still the antique version of an artificial Christmas tree. I’ll think of it as a piece of seasonal furniture that you can take apart and put away after the big twelve days.

Or, I can probably turn it into a handy stool for the rest of the year.

A Minimalist Moment: What’s In YOUR Garage?

I must confess that I cannot help garage snooping when I go for my strolls around the neighborhood. After all, this symbol of suburbia is the first thing you see when you approach the ubiquitous tract home, and the doors are often wide open just begging for a quick assessment as I walk by. (Don’t worry. I never leave the sidewalk, although tempted.) I’m always struck by the different levels of organization found, and the variety of stuff displayed in these showcases of lifestyle dead ends and buyer’s remorse.

I consider this particular appendage of the average suburban abode to be valuable real estate. After spending four years out in the boonies of a cold climate state garage-less, I am completely committed to using this space for what it was originally intended — horseless carriages. Who wouldn’t want to hop into a dry, relatively warm vehicle in the middle of a winter wonderland, rather than spend five hours starting, brushing, scraping and otherwise resuscitating a frozen piece of metal sitting in the driveway deep freeze? Not to mention digging out the giant igloo created by over-zealous snowplows if you are unlucky enough to park on the street.

And yet, placing one’s car “inside” seems to be a novel idea in the burbs, at least in my neck of the woods. Sometimes, there is one car residing in the 2-compartment models, with the other side piled so high that it would make the builders of the pyramids jealous. Or, the majority of the space is devoted to the enthusiastic overflow from hobbies such as camping, fishing, engine tinkering, paint-by-numbers, drumming or beer drinking. Plus, there’s signs of excessive devotion to the Church of the Everlasting Yard Work with its altar tools of lawnmowers, wheelbarrows, shovels, clippers, edgers, blowers and assorted fireworks for removal of small rodents.

Before you think I am a judgmental jerk for pointing out other people’s annexed sins, I will admit that I am just as guilty as the next suburbanite of cultivating a mess. My family does manage to fit our two cars into a small garage, but it’s a tight squeeze when you add bikes, gardening tools and a grill. We have never been able to bring in the patio furniture for the winter, so we tell ourselves the rusting table and chairs are acquiring a “vintage” patina.

We also have no real do-it-yourself equipment to speak of, which is just as well since there is no space for a workshop. And not much skill as do-it-yourselfers. My husband is an excellent housepainter, however, so we have collected a nice range of ladders and a bin full of painting supplies.

Oh, and don’t forget the gates, crates, feeders and straightjackets (for the people) necessary to care for our animal companions. You throw in suitcases, potting soil, recycling and awkwardly shaped seasonal decorations, and you’ve got overcrowding on the scale of India in your carport. Did I mention that we live in a tri-level house and all THREE attics need a contortionist to access them? A contortionist, I ain’t. Sorry.

So without further ado, here’s my list of rules to stay sane and keep my garage from overflowing to the street and clogging the sewer drain:

  1. Hang em high: Use walls and ceilings whenever possible to get stuff off the floor and onto shelves, hooks and chains. Pegboard is hard to paint but worth the storage. That’s prime space up there just waiting to be utilized.
  2. Paint it light: The use of white or any light color on the garage walls prevents the “black hole in deep space” syndrome. We have yet to implement this trick, but I have seen some very nice examples during my walks. Leftover interior paint will do nicely and not end up in the landfills.
  3. Keep it in: DO NOT, under any circumstance, leave your automobile outside. Once it’s out, like a bad teenager, it may never come back in again. You get used to the extra room, and before you know it, you’re using the ping pong table as a depository for the yard sale you will never have.
  4. Take it out: DO clear out the trash, recycling, leftover party guests and any other jetsam that gets dumped in the garage as a temporary holding cell until you get around to hauling it away in the car or dragging it out to the curb.
  5. Make it nice: My husband is very conscientious about giving our garage a thorough sweep. It’s a good thing too, since I’m lucky if I notice that the kitchen tile has changed color (and no, we haven’t replaced it recently.) I also try to keep anything edible in bins so that we don’t have to take out more unwelcome visitors (see #4).

It is my sincere hope that we can downsize to one car in the future, which will be better for the planet — not to mention our wallets. And if we’re still living here in the suburbs with the all-important suburban symbol, we can finally hold that world championship ping pong tournament we’ve always dreamed about.

Want more? Check out my other Minimalist Moments:

What Do You Give a Minimalist?

Taking On the “100 Thing Challenge”

Traveling Light

A Minimalist Moment: What Do You Give A Minimalist?

Every few months my mother asks me the following: Do you want the ________ that was great-great-________’s? (Fill in the blanks with an assorted array of dishware, spoons, nicknacks and relatives.)

And my answer?

Well, there is a reason why, when my mother visits, she marvels at the empty space in my house.

I’m pretty much over the guilt-in-refusal tactic, but the lady is persistent. I guess my mom thinks she’ll catch me at a weak moment. For the record I have accepted well-loved heirlooms and hand-selected oddities over the years. I enjoy them for a while — and then return them so another relative can have a chance. (Cough)

Her latest offering of monogramed silver plate has prompted me to imagine how difficult it must be to pass along the ancestral hoard to a minimalist in the family. The good news is that, as far as I know, I’m the only one. The bad news is that I’m the only “girl” as my mother would say, and the last possible depository for certain categories like jewelry and similar girly stuff.

There are those out there who would label me an ungrateful wretch, that I should count my blessings there is evidence of my family’s rich history, that it wasn’t destroyed by war or sold for food. (Actually, some of it was, but we don’t know what, so we can’t whine over specifics. Just in general.)

While I certainly understand this point of view, I have also been burned by dragging “priceless” or “antique” treasures through many moves, afraid to sell or give them away because I might incur the wrath of the ancestors.

Believe me. I had no illusions that I was going to end up on the highlights of the Antiques Road Show with any of the family artifacts. But I learned the hard way that beauty (and worth) is in the eye of the beholder. Sometimes, there’s a reason why that interesting bed pan of great-aunt Ethel’s or the frighteningly ornate armoire from the Transylvania side is moving on down the family line.

Are any of you having a vision of the Petrie family brooch from The Dick Van Dyke Show? If you’ve never seen “The Curse of the Petrie People” check it out on Hulu (Season 5, Episode 18).

Let’s face it: All the valuable stuff has been sold long ago for food. Or land. Or passage over to a new land. What remains are remnants that hold sentimental value. And if you are not particularly sentimental, then you’re an odd duck. And one of those ungrateful relatives.

What do I value? Family photo albums full (unfortunately) of unknown faces since most of this information has been taken to the grave. My family is reduced to sitting around the table after a holiday meal making educated guesses.

And the most important treasure I keep? When I walked through my grandmother’s house for the last time, I was told to take whatever I wanted, whatever was important to me.

I came out empty-handed.

I already had everything I needed. The gift of memories.

A Minimalist Moment: Taking on the “100 Thing Challenge”

My unending quest towards minimalism and the state of less has led me to one of the most influential leaders in this movement. Whether intentionally or not, Dave Bruno of The 100 Thing Challenge phenomenon laid the gauntlet down for minimalists everywhere to take stock of their belongings, set a limit to those items and try to live with that number for a certain period of time without accumulating more.

Yes, that’s right. He asks you to list every single thing you own, or at least attempt it. As you look around your humble abode, you may be thinking “What the? That’s a recipe for insanity!”

So, of course I had to try this exercise.

Dave does provide some rules to keep frustration and suicidal tendencies at bay. For him, the experiment lasted one year and he gave himself permission to bend or break the rules as needed. As a family man, he only counted items that he personally owned, leaving out all the furnishings and household goods he shared with the wife and kids.

He also groups pesky multiples like socks and undies as one item, and techie items include their accessories. Books and collections may or may not be counted as one. Obviously, he encourages participants to create rules based on their own situations, which has prompted critics to point out whether a game with self-enforced refereeing constitutes a challenge.

Of course, the location-independent minimal extremists have taken it to a whole new level, pushing themselves to 75 or even 50 items on their microscopic lists of worldly possessions.

As for me? As a middle-aged boomer with a house and a husband and too many pets, my personal list comes to around 150, which includes a car and a ukulele. It does not include an extensive CD collection which is slowly becoming digitalized, or an accurate count of my paperclips and staples.

And, no, I will NOT list all 150 items on this blog. (I’ll wait until I’m down to 114.) And, yes, I have every intention of shrinking this list rather than growing it. For every item added, I will let go of one (or more) possessions.

Anyway, I think the anal among us (of which I am a card-carrying member) miss the point of Dave Bruno’s idea. It’s not about creating the world’s smallest or most essential list. He’s asking you to take responsibility for your stuff by making a list, and to physically write it down for you and/or all the world to see–and to acknowledge his three R’s:

Reduce (get rid of some of your stuff)

Refuse (to get more new stuff)

Rejigger (your priorities)

For me, this literal writing of a list was a pain in the patootie, and an excellent opportunity to really “feel” the amount of my stuff as I wrote it out by hand. I could even pause in my practice to purge something that wasn’t worth adding to the list.

And sometimes my hand refused to write an item down. (Ooooh, creepy, is it not?)

I, for one, think that everyone should give Dave Bruno’s 100 Thing Challenge, and anti-accumulation, a chance.

Want more? Check out my other Minimalist Moments:

Traveling Light

Organization–Do You Need It?

Hobbling the Hobbies

A Minimalist Moment: Organization–Do You Need It?

This is not a trick question, although it may turn into one (you never know around here). Ever since there has been more than one thing, this situation must be addressed.

Ever since nomads had to separate the little goats from the big goats for better accounting, or pirates needed to keep track of their buried treasure, or Monty Python grouped various livestock according to impact for the cow catapult, there has been a need for organization of some sort.

See. It’s been going on a long, long time.

My answer? It depends.

Organization is all well and good as long as it isn’t an excuse to keep stuff you don’t need.

I’ll admit that occasionally I falter on the simple path and gaze longingly at the Container Store website with its sexy rows of cubes and bins that stack (oh my!). And I’ve always been a sucker for Ikea’s minimalistic storage units glowing with the luster of European neat freak.

But wouldn’t it be better to NOT own the silly bits that wait to be corralled into those lovely temples of spontaneous shopping weakness, in the first place?

Of course, there are moments, albeit minimal ones. I happen to possess a fair collection of earrings (they ARE small and in pairs which my inner ark loves). For others it could be toe rings, or nose apparatus. Whatever.

I have arranged my earrings in the best storage container for jewelry OF ALL TIME — a clear plastic fishing tackle box with wonderful little units you can make bigger or smaller, depending on your whim.

I can’t take credit for this brilliant idea, but I forget which organizing show sent me running to the nearest fishing aisle of the local superstore. Just know that somewhere out there is a genius who figured this out. Maybe while fishing. Or watching the Red Green show.

So, every morning when I am stumbling around trying to get ready for work or cat patrol, you will not find me rummaging in an antiquated jewelry box with a twirling ballerina on top, yanking on a tangle of mismatched French wires, bangle bracelets and the occasional orphan crackerjack ring.

Instead, my beauties are proudly displayed in their neat little cubicles, perfectly matched and judiciously separated from the other jewelry riffraff.

And with just the right bobber, always ready for when the fish are biting.

Want More? Check out my other Minimalist Moments:

Hobbling the Hobbies

Out of the Closet

Houseplant Hoarding

The Mail Monster