Thursday, August 4, 2016

Developing New Habits

Doth suffer a sea change, into something rich and strange.
~ William Shakespeare

A transformation occurred over the past six months, initiated by my involvement in the Uncluttered course, but one that flowered in wonderful ways that I couldn't have imagined. I may have become disconnected during the process of uncluttering specific areas of our house, but I became infected with the desire to change my life by living with less.

There were areas that I uncluttered in an assignment only to return later to continue paring down and cleaning up. Newly uncluttered spaces gave me a strong sense of peace and happiness. I wasn't just getting rid of clutter, I was getting rid of stress. I started to go through sentimental items like slides and photographs, things I previously considered sacred and protected from this scythe I was wielding, and make decisions about what I would keep and what (as it turns out, a lot!) I could jettison.

During all this, I also discovered a whole community of people living variations on the minimalist lifestyle. Two very influential ones were Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus, collectively known as The Minimalists. After being tipped off to their podcast, still relatively in its infancy, I became a regular listener. Looking back, I wonder how much this contributed to my willingness to let go of the Uncluttered course for the time being. Here were two guys who had given up high paying corporate jobs in favor of minimalist lifestyles, and they were willing to talk about all aspects of it on a weekly basis. They didn't assign anything and there was no timeline. All I needed to do was listen, be inspired, and act accordingly.

It also turns out that they had created a documentary about minimalism that would debut in select theaters toward the end of May. When I was able, I bought tickets for my wife, daughter, and I to attend. It was excellent! Please watch the trailer...

This, too, was very inspirational and transformative. I may have only completed half the Uncluttered course, but the desire to live more of a life with less had certainly taken a firm hold in my psyche. I was hooked. I am hooked. My wife is hooked. We started sharing Josh & Ryan's book, 'Essential', by reading a few essays together each morning, and have now moved on to Dan Harris' book about meditation, '10% Happier', after we finished. We've had numerous discussions, not only about where we can trim more of life's fat, but about where we see our future. Although we have shared a wonderful rural homestead on which to raise our daughter, we both see ourselves moving to a smaller place, closer to more culture, and with much less maintenance required in our retirement years. I'm not sure we've spent as much time talking about our goals and our future together in all the years we've been married!

Catching Up / Reboot

Let reality be reality.
Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like.
~ Lao Tzu 

Can it really be six months after my last post here? Did I give up on the course? Have I reverted to my old "maximalist" lifestyle? 

The only (good) habit I quit was the newborn habit of posting. Minimalism has become even more inspiring and incorporated in my life that I could have imagined back in January. I continued with the Uncluttered course through the first two modules, at least at first. The first involved finding our motivation, and encompassed the first two weeks that I wrote about back in January. The second module was a bit more nuts-and-bolts and involved uncluttering various rooms in (and around) our home. Together with my wife, we systematically attacked our cars, our living room, our bedroom, our spare/guest bedroom, our closet(s), and the kitchen. Each of those areas could probably stand to have us go through them again, but we both feel good about the carloads of boxes and bags we donated to Goodwill.

Somewhere around the time we were tackling the kitchen, things got a bit nebulous for me. The kitchen has never been a primary domain of mine, so many of the decisions about what and where to declutter were really not mine to make. In addition, we were both busy with our teaching jobs, and we found our time to collaborate limited. The last week of that module was to get our daughter involved and work on areas that were primarily her domain. Since we have yet to bring her fully on board with this movement, my activity in the course stalled. 

By this time, I had also grown frustrated with the Uncluttered Facebook group, too. What once felt like a small community encouraging each other grew to feel like a much larger community with many people posting long, personal stories. Some were way ahead, some were way behind, some seemed to want to show off their progress more than simply show it. Combine that with a busy work schedule, and I drifted away from the course. I knew that my initial payment guaranteed my access to the material in the future, so I resigned to resign for the time being.

The second run of the course would be in the summer months, which felt like it would work well for both me and my wife. The remaining two modules of the course were more philosophical in nature, although they would certainly include specific assignments. Module 3 was about Developing New Habits and Module 4 had to do with Experimenting With Less.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

The Case for Less

Out of clutter, find simplicity.
~ Albert Einstein

Week 2 of Uncluttered. The assignment, to spend an hour or two taking a "tour" of each room in the house, noting both how much the room is used and the level of clutter in that room. Then, go back and remove any obvious clutter that we have seen. No hard decisions, nothing questionable, just collect at least one large garbage bag of unwanted items throughout the house. (Separate into donate and recycle afterward.)

I wanted to do this with my wife and, thankfully, she was all for it. Our schedules being what they were, we didn't actually get to the task until Friday. Of course, some rooms were worse than others. We did it, though, and I think we were both surprised at the pile we had accumulated in just that initial, cursory sweep of the house.

In the bag was a collection of shower stall accessories that never got put up and under that was a well used compact indoor grill and an old waffle iron. In the rectangular bin were all sorts of miscellaneous pieces of flooring from when we installed laminate on the second floor. That gold thing is a desk lamp that had not worked for years! 
It's somewhat astounding, to me, that all this stuff was lying around even though my wife and I both knew that it was useless to us. We had been keeping it purely out of momentum, or better yet the lack thereof.
What I found most difficult about this exercise was not getting rid of things as much as it was knowing where to stop. Once you start to clean out clutter, the very look of that progress motivates you to do more. In almost every room, I wanted to keep going, even though we would never have finished the assignment in a reasonable amount of time if I had. It was, in the end, a powerful motivator, and I suppose that was the point of the assignment. Yes, there is much work to do but, little by little, progress is made.

There is a Facebook group for the current members of this class. Based on posts I've seen, there is a very wide spectrum of progress, ranging from people posting that they are intimidated to even start to those who somehow managed to seemingly completely declutter major portions of their home already. What has been nice about the Facebook group is how encouraging everyone is of each other. We're all in this together, and it looks like we all want to see each other at the finish line.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Know Your Why

This way or no way, you know, I'll be free
~ David Bowie

Week 1 of the Uncluttered course also started with the death of David Bowie, one of my biggest musical heroes. He died just two days after his 69th birthday and the release of his 25th album, Blackstar, which turns out to be his parting gift to us. He had been battling cancer for the past 18 months, but had somehow managed to keep it a secret from the public at large until the announcement of his passing. To be honest, I was in a bit of a haze of disbelief on Monday.

What does any of that have to do with uncluttering and simplifying? Well, there it is again, the mortality monster. It was the death of my father and sifting through so much of his unfinished business that started this ball rolling. Since then, I've spent a lot of time weighing all the "stuff" that I have verses the time that I may have left to enjoy it and/or make use of it. It seems so out of balance, and then along comes another reminder that life is short and I'm really not making the most of it.

The topic for Week 1 of Uncluttered is called 'Know Your Why"... Why do I want to scale down and simplify my life? I want to spend less of my time handling and organizing stuff. I want to decrease the stress of tending to the things that I own. I want more family time. I want to travel more. In general, I want to experience more and live a more meaningful life. I'm not unhappy right now, by any means, but I feel like there's a whole lot of joy and happiness buried under all the time I spend with material things.

So, my goal in minimizing? Live more with less stuff. In some ways, I guess I must have known this all along because that's what I named this blog. I desire to own less so I can experience a more meaningful life, spending more time with my family and on pursuits that benefit those around me. I want to engage in life on a deeper than material level.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Now It's Official

"You have succeeded in life when all you really want 
is only what you really need." 
~ Vernon Howard

Today I took a very definite step toward decluttering and simplifying. I registered for a 12-week program called "Uncluttered," put together by Joshua Becker of Becoming Minimalist. Throughout 2015, I certainly made strides on my own, encouraged by posts on the Becoming Minimalist Facebook page. I feel good about the progress I made, but it felt unfocused and somewhat random. Two steps forward, one step back, and that's only when I was remembering to walk. 

I'm hoping this program will give structure to the plan here. The guidance will do me good. Apprehensive about the level of commitment I could afford while still working full time, I contacted Joshua about the time requirements. His response definitely gave me the impression that it would be reasonable.

Throughout the 12 weeks there will be 7 videos of 12-15 minutes each, 12 written pieces of about 1200 words each, and 8 video interviews that are somewhat optional, making the average weekly commitment to interact with the material 1-2 hours. Of course, the bulk of the time commitment will be in the weekly challenges. They recommend participants set aside 2-4 hours per week for decluttering in our homes. The actual time needed will vary based on each individual's starting points.

In addition, participants in this course have lifetime access to the content. Anything we might miss or might not complete the first time through can be revisited on our own or with the next group.

So, yeah, I've made official my desire to declutter and simplify my life. I would imagine that many of my entries over the next 12 weeks will center around my progress with this program. I'm a little apprehensive, but mostly excited to take this new lifestyle to the next level.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

A New Start

I'm gonna clear out my head
I'm gonna get myself straight
I know it's never too late
To make a brand new start
~ Paul Weller

My dad passed away in August 2013. As much as I love the man, I have to admit that he was always a pack rat. He seemed to save everything, always believing that he was going to find a use for whatever-it-was some day, or already having a use for it if he could just find time to work on the project. Right up to the end, he kept piles of boxes full of half-finished projects and "get around to it" supplies. When he died, the rest of us started going through what seemed like a lifetime of unfinished hopes and dreams. It was as frustrating as it was sad.

It also tripped a trigger in my head. As much as I may have taken steps to never let that happen to me, it did. I was 50 years old with a house (and a barn) full of never-quite-started and half-finished projects. We had built an addition to our house in 2005, and since then I had somehow filled up what seemed like every empty nook and cranny with stuff. I had become my pack rat father. Going through so much of his stuff after his passing kept turning a mirror on my own lifelong accumulation, and I didn't like what I saw. Not only did I not want to leave that kind of "legacy" for my wife and daughter to clean up, but I just didn't want the burden of all that stuff in my own foreseeable future.

I started looking at my possessions with a much more critical eye, trying to clean up some of the clutter. My wife and I started keeping a bin in the kitchen in which to put items we could donate to charity. We started cleaning out our closets a bit more, discarding clothes that no longer fit but, for some reason, we were still hanging on to. Our daughter had toys and games that she had outgrown, there were kitchen supplies we weren't using, old electronic devices stashed away in our home office, books we no longer wanted to read, DVDs we no longer watched, CDs we no longer played, etc. Bit by bit, we began to declutter our surroundings over the next year and a half.

During that time, I also became aware of communities of people devoted to scaling back and minimizing possessions. The most inspiring one, for me, was Joshua Becker's Becoming Minimalist blog. The first time I spotted one of his posts while perusing Facebook, it felt great; like confirmation of everything I had been feeling. To this day, his posts (and he often shares posts from other like-minded writers) inspire, motivate, and guide me in this quest to live more with less stuff. I will be forever grateful for the help, especially since I still have a long way to go.

That brings me to this, the first post of this blog. New Year's Eve. I'm hoping this will serve partially as a diary of my journey to keep possessions from owning me, and partially as personal motivation to keep me on track. If, in the process, it helps anyone reading it along on the same journey, all the better. I'm excited and hopeful about becoming even more minimalist in 2016 than I was able in 2015.