About what matters

Writing about what really matters

Category: Organization

Making way for the new

Receive

Today I’ve been conscious of the need to clear out the old, all that no longer serves me, to make way for the new.

I was waiting for an important phone call this morning; I’d suggested 11 am, but that hour came and went, and no phone call. My instinct was to clear some clutter in order to create some space.

Recently I scheduled a book exchange and dinner with friends, and I’ve slowly been working through my stack of “maybe these can go” books. (Those that can definitely go are pretty much already gone.) Each of us will bring a dozen books or so, and take home books we’re interested in reading. I plan to donate the unclaimed books to either my neighborhood’s Little Free Library, or a nearby community library.

Our last exchange, of unwanted Christmas presents, was lots of fun. We all offloaded our unwanted stuff (and unwanted presents from family can have some weight to them), and came home with a few things we did want. I’ve also attended a clothing exchange in the past, where I was able to see others appreciate my clothes that seemed too good to just drop in a donation bin, and pick up a couple of things myself, including a t-shirt and new-with-tag pajamas that are still in rotation.

I wanted something faster, though, and I thought of my basket of catalogs. I grabbed my recycling basket, and tossed in virtually everything I’d received prior to January of this year. I filled it three or four times, and dumped the old catalogs in my recycling cart. I began emptying my wastebaskets to take the trash out as well, and in the midst of doing that, shortly after 1 pm–the phone rang. It was good news, and a good conversation.

I put out fresh towels, did laundry, ran the dishwasher, and cleaned the bath. Next up is a good spring clean of the flowerbeds.

I’d love to hear some of your favorite ways to clear clutter and make way for something new to emerge in your life!

This post is illustrated with my SoulCollage® card Ready to receive.

SoulCollage cards are for personal use, and are not for sale, barter, or trade.

 

Trust the tides, but row the boat

Trust

Trust the tides, but row the boat. –Danielle and Russell Vincent of Outlaw Soaps, quoting the best business advice they received

When I came across this quote on Pinterest recently, it really spoke to me. I believe in setting intentions, and in a supportive, benevolent, abundant Universe, but sometimes what’s needed is some muscle behind those intentions.

Above is the SoulCollage card I made to represent “Trust the tides,” and below is the one I made for “Row the boat.”

Row

I’ve just finished an impromptu pruning of my largest rose bush–my dog needed to go outside and, knowing the pruning needed to be done, I grabbed my Felcos on the way out. I find this process a bit symbolic of what I’m doing in my own life right now.

When you prune, you remove deadwood, spent foliage, and the less important of crossed canes in order to create space and potential for growth, and direct the plant’s focus of its energy and resources toward its most important, freshest goals.

Just last month, I journaled about being unsure what to prioritize first, but recently, what needs to happen in my life has been speaking with a bullhorn. Intuition is hardly needed to discern my priorities.

I found out, for example, that even cast iron has its limits. My next-door neighbor’s original terra cotta drainage pipes gave out years ago (with a bang, not a whimper), and my cast iron ones apparently just recently had begun wearing through. I found out that under my pier-and-beam house, varying degrees of outgoing water were leaking at most of the major points in my plumbing system. When my plumber gave me his quote and I mentioned that I would need to check on how much I had in my account and how much I needed to transfer, he gave me to understand that the project needed to be started now, while I figured that out, not later–though we ended up having to wait for snow and ice to clear, and the plumbing supplier to re-open for business, to begin.

So this priority has been addressed this past week, and now my much-loved old house has a brand-new drainage system–more cast iron that I expect to outlast me. The first set lasted more than 80 years, so I expect this to be something I don’t have to deal with again–in this house anyway. The process was fairly painless, thanks to a good plumber–though writing the check was decidedly not! I love my old house, but as an old-house owner, you certainly do get to invest significant sums in things you can’t see or directly enjoy.

This past week, as other items indicated in various ways that they needed to be addressed now, not later, I made a fresh list of my top five most urgent tasks and goals, and prioritized them. All require varying amounts of money, perhaps for a tool I’ll need–the latest version of TurboTax so I can complete my 2014 tax return, for example. Some also require significant effort.

It feels good to have them spelled out on paper now, and ordered. Now I know exactly where I need to focus. What I’ve been doing, and plan to continue, is each day to take at least one step toward the top goal on my list, until I’ve done all I reasonably can to make it happen. If a goal is blocked, waiting for input of some kind, I’ll begin addressing the next one.

How do you determine what’s most urgent or important in your life? How do you go about accomplishing those things? Do your priorities speak with a bullhorn, or a whisper? Please feel free to share in the comments below.

SoulCollage® cards are for personal use, and are not for sale, barter, or trade.

 

 

Putting the house in order

kitchen

This week, I’ve been putting my house in order–but not, of course, in an end-of-life way, though I do sense that a new phase of my life is coming. Usually, when I feel this urge to organize and improve my surroundings, or do some serious clutter clearing, it’s because something wants to be birthed or realized in my life. I suppose it’s really a nesting instinct.

Some previous instances have involved the acquisition of a major piece of furniture to be used for storage–a linen press, a sideboard. I clearly remember seing my Prohibition-era Art Deco sideboard at the antiques shop and getting an adrenaline rush because it was, though I hadn’t known it until that moment, exactly what I wanted. I still love its beautiful curves, chevron and fruit carving, exterior and interior nickel fittings, and clean, restored silver drawer. The little liquor cabinet hidden in one side isn’t particularly useful, but adds to its charm.

I gathered dinnerware, glass, silver, and cloth and paper napkins from all over the house, and arranged them neatly in its drawers and on its shelves. I enjoy little more than organizing something well; I find this kind of thing deeply satisfying for reasons I can’t fully explain.

This week there was no new sideboard or linen press, but there was a new dishwasher–delivered and installed at last. I was loading it for its maiden voyage while my plumber was still here, and he observed that I was wasting no time. After more than a month without a working dishwasher, I’ve never been so excited about using one. This is also the first time I’ve ever had a new one. I believe in using things up and wearing them out, and that certainly happened with my 32-year-old former dishwasher, which came with my house. I can remember–and perhaps you can too–when almond was the ‘it’ color! (No one can deny that it was a huge improvement over the avocado green and harvest gold of my childhood–colors I recognized as truly hideous even at the time.)

I ordered the new dishwasher in a color meant to tone with my restored Kelvinator refrigerator called pastel turquoise. The manufacturer inadvertently added a metallic finish to the paint, which resulted in a silvery green. They said they’d make and send a new front panel in the color I ordered, but meanwhile I am thrilled to have a functioning dishwasher once again.

I’ve been hand-washing the dishes, flatware, glasses, mugs, pots, and pans I needed to have a functioning kitchen, but since I collect dinnerware and kitchenalia, I have extras of almost everything–and thus I had a backlog of dishes to do. As of this morning, I’m caught up with running the dishwasher, and my kitchen cabinets are satisfyingly full of tall stacks of plates, bowls, and the refrigerator dishes I collect and use (food keeps better in these old-fashioned containers than it does in plastic).

The electricians have been here this week as well–only painters and carpenters were missing, though they would have been welcome too! They replaced a bad pull chain over the kitchen sink, as well as various outlets that had been missed on prior visits. Best of all, they took care of a scary-looking (and live, I found out) hank of wiring and electrical tape at the back of one of my kitchen cabinets. I think it’s all that’s left of a former wall oven. The young electrician expertly (and impressively–I’ve seen experienced electricians make a mess of similar jobs) sawed a small hole in the back of the cabinet, recessed the wiring in a box, and covered the whole thing with a plate. A small thing, but quite gratifying to have something annoying so well addressed.

I also went and bought additional clear shoe boxes this week, as somehow I’d managed to accumulate more shoes than I had boxes. All are now properly housed. I also brought home another mini filing cabinet, twin to the one I already have, for those filing categories it couldn’t accommodate. I’m labeling the drawers as I remember missing categories. I also used my discount card (the large women’s shelters here raise funds in the fall by selling discount cards that can be used at many retailers for 10 days) to buy the new skillet I’ve been needing–Le Creuset this time as I have other pieces from them I love–and some Equal Exchange fair-trade coffee to give at Christmas.

I replaced batteries in two clocks that were running slow (bad feng shui, I know) with new lithium ones that should last for years. And my plumber replaced the curved shower curtain rod that came with the house, which had bent, with a new one fashioned from thick copper piping–very industrial chic. I couldn’t rest till I went out and bought a new fabric shower curtain liner to go with it. The plumbers also made an impromptu improvement to the flooring in the laundry room, which I truly appreciated.

The dishwasher being installed provided me with the opportunity to pull everything out from the kitchen sink cabinets, which I tend to do only when the kitchen plumbing needs attention. I cleaned, culled, and organized there, and also cleaned the dishwasher enclosure, which I suppose hadn’t seen the light of day in 32 years. Completing these and other cleaning tasks, I didn’t use quite every cleaning rag in my arsenal, but I did come close.

My new dishwasher, with its solid metal door and superior insulation, is exponentially quieter than the old one, and with its Energy Star rating, probably equally more energy-efficient. Interestingly, though, my old dishwasher cleaned just as well. While I generally like to keep my home relatively low-tech (no TV, no stereo, etc.), dishwashers will always be beautiful and essential technology to me.

Now that I’ve cleared the decks, and am well on my way to getting my house in order, I can’t wait to see what’s next.

How to get unstuck

winnie-the-pooh-stuck-in-rabbits-house

By chance are you feeling stuck today? Perhaps you know what you need to do, but you’re unsure of the next step. Or perhaps you know the next step, but can’t seem to take it. Maybe you just have an aimless feeling, like your sense of purpose has gone AWOL. Maybe you feel like you’ve been in a rut forever, and don’t know how to get out. Perhaps you find yourself in a liminal stage between an ending and a new beginning, and things aren’t flowing as you’d like. Whatever your level of stuckness, here are some ideas to get you moving in the right direction …

  1. Write down some intentions about what you want your life to look like. Get out your journal–or, if you don’t have one, take a quick trip to the bookstore and treat yourself to a lovely new one in a favorite color. Then open your journal to a blank page, and let your intuition guide you as you write a title. It could be “My intentions for …” or “What I want my life to look like.” Your title could relate to how you feel stuck, or it could relate to something seemingly different. Thoughts about your list may come to you over a few days. Fine-tune it until it really expresses what you want (you may want to copy it out again once you’re done), and then read through it every so often. I like to read through mine before I meditate.
  2. Check your energy flow, and correct it if necessary.
  3. If you’re feeling stuck, you might not be grounded.
  4. Fix something that’s bugging you. WD-40 the creaky door. Pull the weeds you’ve been eyeing. Is a tree seedling or some noxious weed (devil vine is the bane of my existence) sprouting from a seam in your driveway or sidewalk? Boil the teakettle and put a stop to that. (Sometimes it takes more than once, but boiling water always wins.) Kick something ugly to the curb. Say no to something you’ve been asked to do that doesn’t feel right for you. (Don’t you feel better already?)
  5. Clear some clutter. This is a fantastic way to power through a barrier. You’ll get the biggest bang from clearing old and/or negative clutter (i.e., clutter with negative associations for you). Bonus points for clearing clutter directly related to an area where you feel stuck. You may want to identify an area where you can make a significant impact in a reasonable amount of time–an area where you’ve already made a decision about what needs to happen, or where you can make that decision right now.
  6. Try something new today–and if you don’t try new things regularly, begin to make it a habit. (This one step can easily change your whole outlook on life.) Have lunch or dinner at a new restaurant that’s getting good reviews. Try a food or cuisine you’ve never tried before, or a new recipe. Call a friend and have an impromptu picnic, or take a walk, in a park or public garden that’s new to you. Stop in a store that’s caught your eye. Go see that museum exhibit that looks so interesting. Take a weekend road trip to someplace you’ve never been. Take a workshop and learn how to do something you’ve never done before. If there’s something you’ve always wanted to do, take that first step today. Always wanted to play the piano? Find a teacher and book a lesson. If you’re deciding whether or not to do something, and the no feels like unjustified fear–say yes.
  7. Look around your home for things that belong to someone you used to be. Are there textbooks from the student you used to be? (You’ll never need to know more about the accounting methods of 20 years ago.) Shelves of novels when you’ve stopped reading fiction? Magazines about hobbies you don’t do anymore? A whole wardrobe? Love letters (or hate letters)? What baggage could you release today in order to create space for the you you’re becoming?
  8. Look around your office at work. What’s out of date? What project is every bit as extinct as the dinosaur, but you still have all the paperwork? (Maybe you can let go of all the files for Project Dinosaur, if there’s no company policy that mandates keeping them.) Do you see any paper that’s actually yellowed? This may be a clue.
  9. Add something to your life that will guarantee change, like a new friend, or a new pet.
  10. Slough off your old skin quite literally. Go shopping for a body scrub that smells wonderful, and use it. (Fresh has some lovely products.) Get a pedicure, facial, or massage. Get a haircut. Get your teeth cleaned (it’s good feng shui!).
  11. What do you have that’s expired, past its use-by date? Check the cupboards and medicine cabinet. Find a prescription take-back program (your city or pharmacy may have one), and take advantage of it.
  12. If you’re still not sure what your next step is, ask yourself the question, and go to sleep. See if you don’t wake up with new insight.

 

What’s not to love about that?

Rosie

I find it fascinating how, when I feel compelled to organize and clean, so often some sort of insight or breakthrough follows right on its heels.

This past weekend, I did two clutter-clearing kinds of things. First, I bought and organized a filing cabinet I’d been wanting for a couple weeks or so. (Really it’s years that I’ve liked the look of these little cabinets, especially the bright red ones!)

I also got a massage. It became clear to me some years ago that I tend to store negative cell memories in my shoulders and neck. My aha moment came when I was getting a shoulder massage from a coworker who was also a massage therapist (and quite intuitive as well, as I think many of them are), and she immediately started picking up on information about my father. I hadn’t been thinking about him at all–but I had far less than normal range of motion when turning my head due to pain in my neck (ah, the much-discussed pain in the neck!) and shoulders.

Unfortunately when I called to make my weekend appointment, my semi-regular massage therapist had left my salon, and I made an appointment with someone I didn’t know who was available.

The massage seemed OK, but afterwards I could quickly feel what I think was (and is) toxicity and therefore pain (a painful, slightly burning and stagnant sensation) spreading around my shoulder muscles and lower back. This was unlike anything I’ve experienced with a massage before, but I’ve since talked to someone who used to work at a spa who’s heard of this type of reaction before. (My usual massage therapist would really go after it at certain points, and I’d often do breathwork in order to tolerate the intensity. By using breathwork, I wouldn’t need to ask her to back off. I’d be sore afterwards, but not like this.)

Before long, my digestion was out of whack. And Monday morning I woke up nauseated–an unusual sensation for me. Fortunately I’d finished all pressing assignments before leaving the office on Friday, so had no reason not to stay home sick. By mid-morning, the promise of the nausea was fulfilled, and it wasn’t long before no particle of anything I’d eaten in recent memory remained in my body. (Talk about your clutter clearing.)

Meanwhile the ache had spread from the parts of my body that had been massaged (upper body only) to those that hadn’t. Note to self: Think of massage as less a salon service, more holistic healthcare. I’d actually gotten a recommendation of a massage therapist who sounds much more skillful prior to keeping my appointment … live and learn.

In my world, there are two kinds of sick–too sick to read, and the other, better kind. For a good while, I was too sick to read.

But, once I felt better, I really felt better. I got a bit of a post-illness high. I spring-cleaned some more, I felt cheery. (The high continued today. I asserted myself; there was no getting me down.) I also realized, when there was very little in the house appropriate for a sick person to eat, that my diet–organic, unprocessed, and delicious though it may be–really is too rich. I’m feeling ready to do something about that.

And … I was ready to hear the guidance that yes, at last, it is time to go. I can see clearly that now I’m in the right frame of mind to set intentions and parameters, and make good decisions about what’s next. “Get me the hell out of here” isn’t the best launching pad to success, I do see that now.

I don’t exactly regret anything, and I feel pretty pleased with the eventual outcome, but I do believe I’ll think twice about the skill of anyone in whose hands I place my body in the future. I also realized while writing this that probably the reason I have felt so traumatized recently by being treated unfairly (and I think betrayed is not too strong a word) by authority figures was a connection to past-life issues in this area. (So many of us have lost our lives and loved ones unjustly in the past. If you tend to seize up a bit around the so-called “important” people of this world, you very likely have this in common with me.) So probably the toxicity I’m feeling has not to do just with recent and earlier experiences, but likely some past-life stuff as well. All part of the clutter I’m here to clear.

The toxicity is certainly not all gone–I can clearly feel it still in my body, there’s more work to do–but today I feel lighter, as well as having a mandate to move forward. And what’s not to love about that?

This post is illustrated by my SoulCollage card Persistence + Rosie the Riveter.

How to create a filing system

Bisley silver

When you finish clearing paper clutter, what to do with what remains? You need a filing system.

For me, the purpose of a good filing system is to be able to lay your hands on the paperwork you need immediately, with an absolute minimum of hassle or stress. When your formerly-photographic memory starts to curl around the edges, a good filing system comes to the rescue!

This weekend I bought this lovely little filing cabinet on sale, and today I labeled its drawers and began using it.

Because I dislike hanging files, this is the first filing cabinet I’ve ever owned. The beauty of this one, with its 10 equally-sized 9 3/8 x 14 1/2″ drawers, is that each fits a small stack of papers, including tearsheets from just about any size magazine–no folders necessary.

My existing system consisted primarily of document boxes. I have both large and letter-size document boxes. What I’m currently buying are from Bigso Box of Sweden. They’re made of 70% post-consumer recycled fiberboard, and my color of choice is hot pink. (Sadly, Bisley doesn’t make filing cabinets in hot pink! I’d be all over that.) I’ve used these boxes for many years now–they’re sturdy and attractive.

In the letter-size boxes, I keep the images I’ve saved for SoulCollage:

  • People
  • Animals
  • Divine
  • Flowers and nature
  • Architecture
  • Objects
  • Backgrounds

I use the larger document boxes for everything else. I keep one for each year. In these boxes are

  • Paid bills
  • Receipts (except for wardrobe and flexible spending)
  • The completed kitchen calendar for the year, which shows when I did what
  • Completed tax return

There are other document boxes for

  • Important papers, like birth certificates, Social Security cards, adoption papers for the dogs, etc.
  • Collections, which has receipts for collectibles
  • Wardrobe–This includes a large manila envelope for each season (fashion seasons, Spring and Fall). On the front I write what I bought–date, store or website, manufacturer/designer, item description, price. I also keep a running total of what I’ve spent for the season. On the back I write what wore out and had to be discarded. Inside go all receipts, hang tags, catalog pages, packing slips, etc. This makes returns nearly effortless.

I’m using the drawers of my new cabinet for the following:

  • Tax paperwork–W2s, mortgage statements, etc. Previously I kept a large manila envelope recording donations in my “year” boxes. On the outside I’d record the date, organization, and amount, and inside I’d keep receipts, acknowledgment letters, etc. These envelopes are a bit too large to fit in the drawers of the new cabinet, so I’m planning to get a smaller size envelope, and keep donation information for the previous and current year here–until the tax return is complete, at which time I’ll file it in the appropriate “year” box.
  • Flexible spending receipts–I never know just when my flexible spending program will demand documentation. I’ve filed current year receipts and health insurance claim reports here. I’ve learned to ask for what I’d need while I’m still at the healthcare provider’s office. A couple minutes’ effort there saves me a big headache later.
  • Cards–my own business cards, blank cards for my beautiful handmade address file, extra drawer labels.
  • Garden inspiration–tearsheets and articles.
  • Interior inspiration
  • Products to try
  • Home improvement–sketches, estimates, products, ideas, tearsheets.
  • Work-related paperwork such as hardcopy resumes, reviews, notes, memos.
  • Summer recipes–Except for baking, I cook without recipes, so these are for inspiration.
  • Winter recipes

Adding my new filing cabinet inspired me to spring-clean my office, and pitch out a number of papers that were once important, but no longer are. I’ve added others that I couldn’t identify immediately to my paper basket, where I’ll identify whether they’re still relevant, and if so, to which category they belong.

What you care about and want to keep may be different from my categories, but I hope these ideas and strategies will be useful to you and adaptable to your needs. Happy spring cleaning and filing!

Cunning in the kitchen

Right now the world outside is frozen, and just beginning to thaw. Here, we have no snow tires or chains, snow plows, or salt, and very little sanding. Everyone says that people here don’t know how to drive in the ice and snow, but the reality is that without the normal tools people use in places with an actual winter, it is really darn difficult, not to say impossible, depending on what kind of vehicle you have. My car is only two-wheel drive.

A few years ago when it iced and I got bored with the food in the house, I decided to venture out to the grocery store. I never got there, but I did have an interesting adventure that yielded no actual food. I got stuck on the hill across the street from the grocery store, and several nice people helped me. Someone came running out from the vet next door with a pan of kitty litter, and a couple guys pushed me. I was smart enough to drive back down the hill and go home.

Thursday night on my way home from work, the rain started to freeze on my windshield while I was still waiting for the engine to warm up. I was losing visibility as I worked to stay in my lane while defrosting the windshield. I live only a couple miles from the office, but by the time I got home, a substantial crust of ice had formed on the back windshield. And here I’ve been ever since.

The larder is a bit bare, as I typically go grocery shopping on the weekend. I’ve eaten the last of the frozen fish, the last of the ham, the last of the green onions and grapefruit. I’ve begun pulling assorted oddments out of the deep freeze, and finding them lacking.

I typically bake an egg for breakfast, but since I had only one egg left yesterday morning, and it looked like I was going to be eating at least one more breakfast before going to the store, I decided to make pancake batter instead. I diluted some leftover heavy whipping cream with water to approximate whole milk–and I must say, the pancakes were excellent. (Thanks, Stonewall Kitchens. I do know how to make pancakes from scratch, of course, but this mix is quite good.)

However, the lean blueberry sausage I pulled from the freezer and fried up didn’t quite make the grade, and ended up in the dogs’ scrambled eggs. A bit of Parmesan cheese also missed the mark, and I decided to eat my spaghetti without it. (It will go in the next batch of eggs for the dogs, which will definitely require a trip to the grocery store, as I’ve now used every last egg in the house.)

The only tomato product in the house, not counting ketchup and chili sauce, was leftover frozen tomato paste. (While I realize some people do dress spaghetti with ketchup-derived sauces, believe me when I say I will risk life and limb prior to taking that step.) The flavor of the thawed tomato paste was less than vibrant, so I had to pull out all my improvisational tricks to end up with a satisfying pantry spaghetti sauce. Along with the fresh onion and garlic I had on hand, and the usual Italian herbs, I threw in Chardonnay, juice from the jalapeno jar, cayenne pepper, molasses, brown sugar, celery salt–and finally ended up with something quite good.

Never give up! The key to success in the kitchen–and no doubt elsewhere as well. Skill and cunning can trump raw materials!

Now I’ve reached that stage of cabin fever where I’m starting to have food fantasies. As I walked through the kitchen just now on my way back from the freezing laundry room where I’d just put a load of laundry in the dryer, without conscious intention I suddenly vividly conjured a steaming dish of lovely Thai curry. Mmmm … that would be fabulous. (This is something I go out for rather than cooking it myself, so I have only a small fraction of the necessary ingredients on hand.) Something else to do when the ice melts …

I’ve been thinking how best to prepare for the next hard freeze. I could, and should, have left work early and gone to the grocery store–and that’s what I’m going to do next time. This freeze has been harder than predicted (whereas the last predicted winter weather episode panned out to exactly nothing).

I really enjoy the flavor of absolutely fresh ingredients, so I’m struggling to think how I can have the variety of ingredients I’d like on hand without compromising freshness or flavor. Right now I don’t have as many canned goods on hand as I usually do, so bumping those up makes all kinds of sense. Since I was disappointed in the quality of the meat and cheese I pulled from the freezer this weekend, I’m feeling a bit reluctant to stockpile there.

How do you stock your pantry and cook from it when you don’t have access to any ingredients other than what you have on hand?

Of budgets and windfalls

Verbena cottage

I never thought I’d be the one to say this, but there’s something about making and sticking to budgets that really feels great. Perhaps it’s being the creator of discipline, rather than having it imposed upon you by outside forces and circumstances.

I structure my budgets to ensure that I can have some of what I want right now, in accordance with my belief that every plan (budget, diet, or what have you) should include carrot as well as stick. There’s an overall outline for the year, various goals measured in months, and then a very specific budget for each pay period. Each of these allows for bills to be paid, debt to be paid off, and necessities, as well as some entertainment (going out to eat with friends or antiquing) and other “want to” types of spending. (I initially typed “wait to” types of spending–and waiting is certainly a key concept in my theory of budgeting. Suze Orman‘s idea of waiting a day to go grocery shopping can be applied to many types of shopping and spending.)

Not long ago I watched Oprah’s recent interview of Sarah Ban Breathnach, the author of Simple Abundance who made, and then lost, millions from its royalties. I’ve found it food for sobering thought ever since. It would be very easy to think, I’ve got more common sense than that! It could never happen to me.

But it’s happened to more than one inspirational writer, all of whom have published books that seem to indicate they knew better–this situation is not a one-off. And it happens when people get windfalls at all levels, whether it’s a relatively small storm-relief stipend spent on a Louis Vuitton bag, or millions of dollars earned and spent with very little left to show for it.

It all seems to beg the question, Is it my values or my circumstances that are determining my lifestyle and the choices I make?

Since 2005, I’ve been participating in an online discussion about building a wardrobe via a handful of high-quality acquisitions each season. This discussion has turned into a virtual support, accountability, and advice network that stretches over continents. It’s a way of life now, an ingrained habit for me to carefully consider every clothing purchase I make. My intention is always for every item to be beautiful, useful, and make a lasting contribution to my wardrobe. I take a similar approach to buying the other things I need.

This approach is important to me, not just because I want to use my own resources–such as time, money, storage space, and head space–wisely, but also because I don’t want to grab an inordinate amount of the planet’s resources. I want to take only what I’ll really use and enjoy, and leave the rest for others.

So what (I ask myself) would happen if there were no practical limits other than the ones I myself set? Magazines are chock-full of documentation of the obscene results that can occur when people have huge amounts of money to spend. I have yet to understand, for example, what people can possibly be doing in a 25,000 square foot house.

I’ve always preferred cozy little cottage-like houses … they speak of home to me. I truly don’t understand the appeal of a house you could truly get lost in–unless perhaps it’s an historic treasure. Still, it’s hard to imagine actually living in a castle. I’d really prefer to live in the gamekeeper’s cottage. (Of course, Sarah Ban Breathnach also lived in a cottage–Newton’s Chapel.)

My house is 1400 square feet, and I found when looking at 25+ houses that there was a very specific size that felt right to me. I’m a fairly abstract person, I’d always thought not that spacially-oriented, so I was interested to find that even 100 additional square feet registered as too much.

So 25,000 is a bit mind-blowing for me. Do people really find that comfortable, or is it just about impressing others? Or oneself? These are the kinds of questions I wish interiors magazines would ask (perhaps a bit more obliquely), instead of about the difficulties of bringing a hugely bloated space back down to human scale.

I’d like to believe that should I experience my own windfall, I would continue to take a measured approach to spending and acquisition. That I’d still value a few exquisitely beautiful, high-quality things. That I’d still want a house that feels cozy and home-like to me and others. That I’d still believe that all the best furs are attached to furiously-wagging tails, and greet you at the door of your cozy cottage.

How to spend Black Friday

Trinity Trails

Today was a lovely day where I did not much of anything. No shopping atall … the only money I spent was at a restaurant. What I was doing today was relaxing … that was my mission.

I was raised to believe that being productive was next to godliness, and I wish I had a dollar for every time I heard “Time is money.” Here’s the thing: It’s not.

This is what I’ve learned on my own (heresy as usual): Doing nothing is a completely worthwhile activity.

Today was, of course, Black Friday, which has virtually no meaning to me, not least because my goal is always to have my Christmas shopping done before Thanksgiving. I don’t always achieve that goal, but this year I did. I shop throughout the year for the people in my life who I know will be on my Christmas list. When I see something perfect for someone, I buy it and put it on my gift shelf.

Each fall I make a list of what I have, and then just fill in a few gaps. My mother and her husband are big coffee drinkers, but would never spring for fair-trade or organic on their own. (“Isn’t all coffee fair trade?”) Since it needs to be fresh, that’s one of the last things I buy. I believe I did that in October.

So instead of shopping today, I slept in. Ate a leisurely breakfast. And lunch. When I went out to water the garden, I also cut back my tender plants that have been taken out by the frosts thus far. Also cut up a fall tree branch (my light-weight purple Dramm loppers, a past Christmas present, totally came through for me), and put everything in my yard carts (the city makes free mulch from our yard trimmings).

I did a tad bit of essential housecleaning, then took a long walk by the river. Tried something new–a pumpkin, coffee, and Kahlua drink, and some brisket-stuffed peppers.

Dropped by my mother’s to pick up the gravy I forgot to ask for yesterday to go with my leftovers. As I drove, I noticed how relaxed my muscles were. Ah … my strategy of doing nothing is really working.

The minimalist’s approach to housecleaning

I nearly said ‘the lazy girl’s approach,’ but in fact I am far from lazy. It’s just that housecleaning doesn’t exactly have me in its thrall.

As a child I’m pretty sure I was considered free and highly effective household labor from a young age. I folded laundry and vacuumed the apartment daily from the age of 3 (my mother moved the pumpkin, which was too heavy for me). I was also regularly assigned to dust things on which I could perceive no dust.

This approach did not stick, probably because it never made any sense to me. I never could understand why one would dust something that wasn’t dusty. These days, when I dust, I make an impact. There is before, and then there is after, and I am going for a dramatic difference. My black lacquer tables are especially great for this. If there’s dust accumulated on them, it shows–no pretending necessary.

My washer, dryer, and dishwasher are my favorite household appliances–I love the way they do all the work. I’m happy to load them up, feed them detergent (Mrs Meyers aromatherapy laundry detergent in basil, lavender, or geranium makes the task even more pleasant), and press all the appropriate buttons. It’s the least I can do.

But perhaps my most important theory of housecleaning is to work first on whatever’s bothering me most, thus guaranteeing the greatest possible payoff. Spot a grungy fixture? Just grab the basket of cleaning supplies, and in 5 or 10 minutes, problem solved. How many of life’s problems can be solved that quickly?

The vacuum is pretty amazing too–it really knows how to make a mess disappear. So does a good rag, especially the gold standard of rags–the microfiber cloth. They’re the best way to get beautiful streak-free glass, and microfiber picks up dust (the kind you can see) in an amazingly effective way.

Here’s to the dramatic difference a strategic expenditure of effort can make … and to not worrying about flaws that can barely be seen with the naked eye.

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