Sunday, March 29, 2015

Creating a Minimalist Sanctuary

My minimalist sanctuary
On the journey to declutter my life, I find that it is easy to get discouraged. After decluttering and decluttering, I only see the need for more decluttering. I haven’t taken much time to really SEE what I have accomplished, to celebrate and appreciate the progress. And there is progress!

According to Courtney Carver, on Be More with Less, “The key to creating a simple life, and to finding simplicity everywhere, is to start by finding it somewhere.” Courtney lists 5 ways to find simplicity somewhere:
  1. Create a minimalist sanctuary,
  2. Go outside,
  3. Be grateful,
  4. Edit your work and your life, and
  5. Just breathe

Of these five ways of finding simplicity, I realized that I have already created a minimalist sanctuary (in my bedroom), and that I can incorporate the other four ways into my life fairly easily.

Special things in my minimalist sanctuary:
a wall-hanging I wove, a meaningful picture, a ceramic piece
made by my daughter, and a favorite bedside clock

My minimalist sanctuary—the one area of my home that I simplified just for me—is what I see first thing in the morning. If I let it, this space can inspire me to simplify more of my home and life. It is a constant reminder of the peace and calm I am seeking and creating.

 For the next few weeks, we will be travelling, so my decluttering project will focus on computer stuff. Since I will take my laptop with me, the plan is to clean off my hard drive and back up important files. I also plan to spend more time outside (see #2 above), so I can focus on the simplicity of nature and gratitude (and "just breathing"). 

That's been one of my mantras - focus and simplicity. Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it's worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains. ~ Steve Jobs

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Decluttering: Not inherently easy

So hard to let go...

I have said that I want it to be easy. And I have given criteria for making it easy:
  • Find a mentor to show you the ropes, the tricks and best practices.
  • Practice, practice, practice until it becomes so easy you don’t have to think about it—like walking is easy.
  • Make it a habit, so you don’t have to think about it—like brushing your teeth is a habit.
  • Block out specific time for it—a no-brainer schedule (habit). (Think like a pro.)
  • And so on…
But I haven’t been following my own advice, especially the part about making it a habit. Take decluttering, for example.

When I hit a road-block with moving all my excess fabrics out of the house—my insistence on finding good homes for everything; bad weather preventing me from taking the boxes of stuff to specific meetings where I know people would want the kinds of things I had—I froze up and stopped the decluttering process. If I can’t move things out of the house, then I can’t get the boxed up things out of my mind. As long as the filled boxes are still here, I find it hard to move on to the next category to declutter.

Last Saturday, I was finally able to take five more boxes of fabric and patterns to a wearable arts meeting, and many of the things found new homes. And, my quilter friend, who took away 10 or 12 boxes last month, will be picking up some more quilting fabrics and tools this week to share with her guilds. Now that the boxes of excess fabrics are going away, I’m starting to look at the next category of things in my studio to declutter.

It turns out that decluttering isn't inherently easy for me. I can let a rigid mind-set about how it ‘should’ be done get in the way of getting it done!  Maybe it’s time to add one more item to the Making It Easy list: Constant Re-adjustment. If something isn't working, rethink how to do it, and try that! Maybe it’ll be easier that way. Just keep trying.

If you're trying to achieve, there will be roadblocks. I've had them; everybody has had them. But obstacles don't have to stop you. If you run into a wall, don't turn around and give up. Figure out how to climb it, go through it, or work around it. ~ Michael Jordan

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Along the Danube

Today I'm taking a mental vacation along the Danube River. Will return to the decluttering project soon...



The old and the new coexist...

Sailor's Bastion, Buda

The old and new together in Vienna

Peaceful Durenstein

Memory is a way of holding on to the things you love, the things you are, the things you never want to lose. ~ Kevin Arnold

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Honoring our foremothers

My special knitted doily
noun - A family possession handed down from generation to generation.

How do we honor our ancestors, especially our foremothers? What value do we place on the work of our hands, or that of our foremothers’? What is the work of our hands? Why do we make things? All these questions keep swirling around in my head as I tackle a bagful of my Grandmother’s hand work that has been hiding on the upper shelf of my studio closed for nearly a decade.

In a frenzy of decluttering, I very nearly just got rid of the whole thing.

The whole pile of needlework heirlooms
My Grandmother was an avid needlewoman, and the items in this bag represent many hours of her life and work. Included in the bag are the following:
  • Doilies: 17 crocheted; 7 knitted; 1 of unknown technique (bobbin lace?);
  • 4 sets of crocheted blocks, intended to be made into bedspreads;
  • 3 crocheted edgings, apparently cut off of something;
  • 1 crocheted dresser scarf; several crocheted and knit items;
  • Yards and yards and yards of tatted edging (my grandmother, when she was no longer able to see to do other needlework, would sit and tat for hours, because she didn’t have to look at what she was doing. She was keeping her hands busy;
  • 2 table cloths: 1 embroidered, 1 cutwork; 2 embroidered dresser scarves, one with crocheted edging;
  • 30 or so delicate handkerchiefs (that my mother had collected);
  • Several sets of hankie-sized embroidered napkins;
  • 7 batiste embroidered baby dresses, and 5 slips (some of which I probably wore as an infant); and
  • A few things that were beyond redemption.

These lovely items were treasured. Or were they?

Many of the pieces appeared to be in really rough condition. They had been stored in poor conditions in Houston, Texas, where it is muggy, and buggy. There are stains (those mysterious brown stains that show up on ageing fabric, as well as apparent spills) on some of the pieces, and dirt and debris. They were just stuffed in a plastic bag. This could be a bag of old rags.

A few knitted, tatted, and crocheted pieces, cleaned up

After my first impulse to get rid of these things, I decided to wash everything, and see what I actually have. Most of the items, especially the crocheted and knitted things, cleaned up quite nicely. I’m beginning to see the hours of my Grandmother’s life represented here, and appreciate her skill and passion. Just because I am keen to declutter, and remove all the extra things from my home, doesn't mean that these lovely textiles should just be discarded. My daughter, who is a picture framer and an avid genealogist, reminds me that these are her heirlooms, too. She took a number of pieces, and plans to frame them.

Choosing specific pieces to frame strikes me as the perfect way to honor my Grandmother’s life and work. She deserves the recognition. I already have a special knitted doily Grandmother gave to me, framed and hanging on the wall. That is my daily reminder. She was a wonderful person and I miss her.

Tatted lace edging I will use for some special things

Cleaning up all the beautiful textiles that Grandmother made has given me the opportunity to remember and to think about the work of our hands, and why we make artful things, and whether we need to keep it all. I can honor Grandmother by passing the rest of the things on to my daughters who want them, and sharing with my needlework friends who appreciate them. One special piece is enough for me. 

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Sell it, or give it away?

For Sale!   /   Free to a good home!

When decluttering, you’re faced with a choice of what to do with your excess stuff: do you sell it, or give it away? I can see good reasons for doing both.

  • You get to feel that what you've collected over the years is worth something, that you haven’t just wasted your time and money. (I have seen the sale of friends’ needlework stashes bring in some serious money)
  • You get to recover some of what you spent buying it
  • You might make enough money for some particular purpose (say, to help with a move)
  • You get to feel entrepreneurial, smart
  • You NEED the money (survival)
  • You get to feel generous (helping your community)
  • You get to have some control of where your stuff goes (find a good home)
  • You get the stuff out of your house fairly quickly (especially if you’re donating to thrift stores)
Other than necessity, the decision of whether to sell or give your things away is a matter of choice.

I choose to give my stuff away, because, to me, selling is a separate issue from decluttering. It adds a layer of complexity and work that would completely derail my process. My goal here is to remove from my life anything that is no longer serving my needs. And I hope that what I give away will be useful for someone else. 

My choice to give my things away isn't quite bullet proof, though. As I said in my last post, if there’s a specific place or group where I want to give these things, a delay could happen (meeting cancelled due to weather) and I could be stuck with boxes of stuff for far too long. I still haven’t taken the boxes in my car to the intended meetings. It’s hanging over my head. I need to let go of my preconceived notion of where the stuff should go, and just move it on out.

As I said, my goal here is to remove from my life anything that is no longer serving my needs, and to send it out into the world with love, to benefit my community.

Generosity is nothing else than a craze to possess. All which I abandon, all which I give, I enjoy in a higher manner through the fact that I give it away. ~ Jean-Paul Sartre

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Keeping the declutter momentum

Finally, the boxes are on their way out

The problem with getting rid of some very nice things is that they can be hard to part with. The last tidy up day in my studio was almost two weeks ago. I went through my fabrics (for clothing, handbags) again, making a second pass at discarding while putting the remaining fabrics away. First pass: no-brainer, easy-to-get-rid-of fabrics. Second pass: asking the crucial questions of the things I thought I wanted to keep on the first pass—does this spark joy, do I really want to commit the time to this, is this for me or for my fantasy self—while putting the fabrics away in their new Home. The second pass deals with the nicer, harder-to-part-with fabrics. Second pass resulted in more boxes of fabrics to share with friends and other fiber artists.

The full boxes were queued up in the dining room, ready to be moved to the car so I could take them to the next Fiber Arts meeting. And, there they sat (and sat), waiting for the meeting day. I kept eyeing those boxes and thinking I should look through to be sure I didn't want to keep anything. So tempting, the seed of doubt was sown. Then our guests from out of town arrived, and I moved the boxes into my car to clear the dining room. I had to miss the meeting. The seed of doubt was growing; I need to look through those boxes again before I take them away.

OK, time for a new rule: Once you have decided to get rid of something, get it out of the house right away because:
  • Keeping the full “donate” boxes (queued up in the dining room) adds visual clutter;
  • Keeping the full boxes around tempts you to look in there and reconsider some items;
  • Keeping the full boxes for too long makes it harder to remove them from the house;
  • Keeping the boxes makes you feel stuck or stalled, the job uncompleted; whereas
  • Removing the boxes right away erases them from your mind (mental clutter);
  • Removing them right away makes your progress visible;
  • Removing them right away gives you a nudge to declutter some more.

My declutter project has been stalled for almost two weeks. I'm not sure whether to call this Resistance, or Self-Sabotage, but it's time to face up to it and get started again. 

“Clutter is almost always a symptom of delayed decisions.” – Brooks Duncan 

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Writing sanctuary

Toward the light...

This was one of those weeks when I had something scheduled for every day of the week—Monday through Saturday, including some all-day classes—plus guests from out of town staying at our house.  This is one of those weeks when staying flexible and fluid is the only way to manage: shift one appointment to another time, skip one meeting, spend time with our friends, and just don’t sweat possible flub ups.

While staying flexible, I also kept to my 6 a.m. arise and write routine. This is one habit that never fails to make my day go so much better. It helps me focus, it lets me achieve at least one thing for the day, and it feels bad when I don’t do it. Even with company visiting and many things scheduled for the rest of the day, my morning writing time is an oasis that keeps me going.

I may not write anything worthwhile on a given day—I might even spend some time doing “research” or getting “inspiration” on some of my favorite minimalist blogs—but I try to write anyway. This single habit is helping me stay focused; it’s my #1 MIT (Most Important Task).

This particular MIT is relatively new for me. For the last nine years (from when I retired) I've been sleeping in later and later. Not having a job or early morning classes to attend, I didn't have a reason to rise and shine every day. Even though I had joined several fiber-related guilds, with meetings several times per week, I still didn't have to get up early: the meetings all started no earlier than 10 a.m., and most of them started after noon. This schedule seemed ideal, but I had really begun to feel slovenly and unproductive. I was getting up early enough to make it to meetings on time, but had no time to myself for introspection or creating anything. Besides, I really am a morning person at heart.

So now, no matter how busy I am, I've begun to honor myself again by carving out an early morning space for thinking and writing. This is my time; this is my Most Important Task; this is the one thing I do every day no matter what. This is home; this is sanctuary.  

“Every morning we are born again. What we do today is what matters most.” ― Gautama Buddha

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Do the Most Important Thing

Mysti, doing her Most Important Thing

What is your Most Important Thing? What is it you want to do, but never seem to get around to? What is it that always seems to get bumped in favor of the urgent, the necessary? THAT is the thing that should be first on your list of things to do, that Most Important Thing (MIT). On your to-do list, the MIT is your Most Important Task. Do your MIT first every day, and the rest of the day is gravy.
Some of us seem to take a long time to learn this crucial lesson. We wonder why we are so busy and rushed yet never manage to write that novel, paint that painting, finish those quilts, declutter the house. These MITs can seem like selfish pleasures that must take a back seat to the daily necessities of living a life, taking care of a family, and running a home. It turns out that by scheduling and working on your MITs first thing every single day, you now have the time to focus more clearly on your home, family, and life. At least I’m discovering that to be true for me.
Since starting this blog about my One Goal of decluttering my house, I have been able to accomplish two things that have eluded me for decades: writing (and sharing my writing with others), and getting rid of the excess things clogging up my life and home. Both of these activities support and reinforce each other, and by starting my day—every day—with writing I've been able to accomplish more decluttering in the last two months than I ever thought possible. And because I take the first two hours of my day—every day—to write, I can really focus on the other things and people in my life during the rest of the day.
When I’m doing my MITs, I’m really focusing on them instead of worrying that I should be spending time with someone; when I’m spending time with someone, I’m really focusing on them instead of worrying that I never get time to work on my MITs. This one new habit, to schedule and work on my MITs first thing every day, is changing my life. 
" the most important thing first. Every single damn day.  When you make this habitual, it will change your life...  What you prioritize [is] what gets done. Don’t leave things up to chance or when you “have time for it”... Start your day with the most important thing. The rest will take care of itself."  ~ Thanh Pham,

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Snowy interlude

Silent, white, beautiful, the snow this week gave us a reprieve from our usual busyness. In our neck of the woods, everything shuts down when it snows, at least for the day, and we have a quiet interlude. In this part of the country, when we get a snow storm we get icy conditions and many businesses close; classes and meetings are cancelled; we get a holiday!

My holiday from busyness (most of two weeks) afforded me the opportunity to make progress on decluttering my studio, and to reflect on my schedule. Do I really want to continue with all the things I've committed to? When there’s a meeting, or class, or activity scheduled for almost every day of the week, there’s no time to reflect and no time to create anything, no time to savor. Slowing down for a couple of weeks because of the weather has allowed me to enjoy some quiet time. And I've made progress on decluttering my studio... and decluttering the driveway (hey, I like shoveling snow!)

Everybody needs to take some time, in some way, to quiet themselves and really listen to their heart. ~ Jack Kornfield