Going green

I have never been what you would call a tree hugger.  I have never been too concerned with my so-called carbon footprint or whatever you want to call it.  And yet, the process of minimizing has had a side effect I did not expect.  Every time I start to throw something into the trash, I have begun to imagine what it would look like being thrown into the ground.  What’s more, on the rare occasion I do buy something, I begin to look at all the packaging items that cannot be recycled.  It seems that being eco-friendly goes hand-in-hand with living a minimalist lifestyle.  Next up… actually refilling my ink pens.

It takes a dishwasher…

There is nothing quite like a broken dishwasher to convince one that they have too many dishes. I went to turn on my dishwasher the other day only to discover to my horror that it was broken. What about the pile of dirty dishes already in the dishwasher? What am I to do with those? One by one I brought them out of the dishwasher and laid them in the sink… on the counter… on another counter… The bowls looked more like petri dishes than the sterilized food containers they were supposed to be. What was I to do? It was inevitable; I would have to wash them… GASP… by hand! Oh the horror of it! I knew I had a drying rack somewhere; I had received one as a housewarming gift several years ago. I began to burro under my kitchen sink for the desperately needed device. I am sure I looked more like a dog digging under the fence to gain freedom than I did a newly converted minimalist. I made a note: Next on my to-be- minimalized list would be my kitchen! As I began the laborious task of washing the pile of dirty cups and glasses, I realized that perhaps I had too many. How many glasses does one person need anyway?

“What have you learned, Dorothy?”

One of the first questions I asked when I began my journey into minimalism was “How do I get started?” Though I loved the thought of not having so much stuff and the freedom it would offer, I didn’t know how to begin. My mind kept jumping back to all of the collections I had and all of the things I had been holding onto for so long. In the end, the process to begin minimizing is one of the hardest, yet one of the easiest things to do. Here is a list of some of the things I have learned in my journey to minimise over the past few weeks.

  1. Begin Somewhere minimizing can begin with just one item, or one area. It doesn’t have to be done a room at a time. I began in my closet with the the clothes I didn’t like or that I knew didn’t fit.
  2. If you love it, keep it. If you need it, keep it. One of the easiest things I have discovered is that just getting rid of the things I do not absolutely love has made a huge difference in removing all the clutter.
  3. You don’t have to get rid of anything. What you give up and what you keep is completely your call. This is your project and only you can decide what you want to keep. If you have something that you don’t necessarily love, but don’t want to part with, then don’t. Hang on to it for a while.
  4. Work with your moods. When I was a child, Mom always used to tell me that if I didn’t clean my room, then she would go in with a “high pitch factor.” What she meant by that is that she would be throwing a lot of the stuff she didn’t think I needed away. I used to dread the “high pitch factor” moment, but now I have learned to love and embrace it. Use those “High pitch” moods to clear out clutter you don’t need but have been hanging onto for some reason. Once the items were gone, I have found that I do not miss them. There is satisfaction in being free from ownership by stuff.
  5. Do something every day. Sometimes I am just so tired from work that I don’t feel like doing anything. To keep the momentum going, it is important to do something every day, even if it is just clearing off a counter or taking out the trash.
  6. Decide to never go to bed with clutter. As you begin to see the clutter disappear, resolve to keep it gone. Once you have decluttered something, decide that it will not be allowed to be cluttered again. You might need to use a surface you have decluttered to help you sort through your belongings. However, it is very important that any area you have decluttered is returned to its decluttered state before you go to bed. This allows you to easily see your successes on a daily basis and helps keep the cluttering habit at bay.
  7. Limit the space for collections I have always loved to collect things. Now that I have begun this minimizing process, I have had to make decisions about what collections I will allow myself to keep. One of the best decisions I have made for my collections is to limit the space they are allowed to take up. Once the space has filled, I cannot add to my collection unless I first remove something. This helps keep the collection under control, while allowing me to still keep some of it, and refocuses it to keeping just the things I truly love.
  8. The decluttering process never ends. With each decluttering success momentum builds. You begin to refine your possessions, eliminating more items each time you go through them.

Minimizing has been a great source of freedom for me. Seeing a clean, decluttered room is a great stress reducer because my brain no longer has to process all that my eyes see.

A church for yesterday, today, and forever.

Maybe it’s just a sign of the times, or maybe it is something more. I can’t say that I am surprised. What I am is deeply saddened. A society of self-reliance has taken over a spirit of community. With its loss goes the heart of the church as it was meant to be lived.

Perhaps decluttering my life has given me a new perspective on many things. Things I have previously taken for granted hold a greater importance now that I can see them more clearly. It is with a new vision that I seek to bring the calmness of simplicity into my life.

Simplicity begins in the heart and in the home, but a life cannot be cluttered outside the home and still remain simple. This is a truth that has been lost in the church today. If the purpose of living a simple life is to live a life that elevates the important while diminishing the non-essentials, then it is most important for the church.

There was a time in the history of America when the church stood as a meeting point for the community. A church meant studying about the kingdom of God and then living it out in the practice of life. Spouses, friends, even jobs came through the church: quilts were sewn as gifts and fundraisers; work socials brought extra hands for harvest and clean-up and home building; financial and emotional support were all there in times of distress.

Yes, this is an era gone from American society, but maybe it doesn’t need to be. With an intentional approach, maybe the church of yesterday can become the church of today again. What it would take is an intentional movement of church members into small neighborhoods and communities. It would require the sacrifice of self-reliance for the purpose of interdependence. It would require sacrificing a lifestyle for the good of community. Intentional communities would be a difficult movement for the the people of a church to make, but if it was done, it would bring simplicity back to American life. Maybe the time for intentional communities has come.

Counting success

There are six of them.  They stand tall and proud in a corner of my living room.  It has been a difficult process for them, but one that was desperately needed; their bulky forms a reflection of a life of overindulgence. Through floods of tears and pools of sweat, each step grew a little easier than the one before.  A noble vision spurred on the work that needed to be done.  Pound by pound their weight was shed.  Now they stand together in solemn victory; the task a fleeting memory, reflected upon and then released into the space of time.  They wear no badge of success, but the pride of accomplishment is the reward they sought and of that there is ample supply.  Each one stands as a testimony to the victory of perseverance.  A countable success– six empty storage containers!

Of books and things

Yesterday I took 4 grocery shopping bags and a box full of books, DVDs and VHS tapes down to the Half Price Books store to resell. Never having done it before, I wasn’t sure how much to expect, but since some of the DVDs were unopened I felt I might get $20 for everything.

Now let me just say that I like books. I love Non-Fiction books especially. My collection covers many topics, but my favorite are the animal books. Included in the lot I brought to sell was an all-breed dog book from around the 60s or so. Other than missing its dust jacket, it was in great shape. Also included in the stack was a spiral bound book on balloon tying, also in good shape. Paring down my book collection has been especially hard for me, but I took comfort in knowing that someone else would be getting the same enjoyment out of my books that I had. So, when I received my total, I was a little surprised that it was just over $12. Even so, I agreed to the sell and took my receipt up to the cashier to collect my money. After receiving my payment, I took a last glance at my donation to say a heartfelt good-bye. Much to my surprise and horror I turned just in time to watch the gentleman behind the counter unceremoniously toss the balloon book and dog book into a can clearly marked with the word “Trash” while setting others aside on the desk. Immediately I became sad and hurt and enraged all at once. He never once told me that he didn’t actually want the books or that he wouldn’t be able to resell them. He never warned me they were being tossed. I felt helpless and trapped. I was going to send his manager a letter giving him a piece of my mind. As I thought about it more, I realized… those books had been given to me. I had never asked for them or sought them out. Someone just thought I would enjoy them and passed them onto me. The anger and hurt I felt was a sign of just how tied I had become to things. It reset in me a new determination to rid myself of more books (though likely not at a Half Price Books again). No longer would my emotional status be tied to things.

I guess if there is a moral to this story it is this: While your things are valuable to you, to anyone else they are just things to be tossed away. Placing your emotional well-being on a thing is not a healthy place to be. To quote Joshua Becker,”The things you own eventually begin to own you.”

It began simply enough…

Cleanser bottles on the windowsill

Bottles of cleanser line a windowsill

It began simply enough: a small voice coming from “somewhere” echoed in my head as I sat quietly in church a couple of years ago.  Small, yet booming, that voice cut through me and reached into my heart and soul… “Give it away!”  Covered in a blanket of peace, I knew what I was being called to do. Yet, the process to accomplish the task was overwhelming.  Where would I start?  I had no idea.

I do not like change.  Change throws me into a realm of chaos and confusion.  There is security in dwelling in the known.  Change forces me to confront my insecurities.  Like many crossroads, I chose to take the safe route and stay on familiar ground.  While I did not forget the words of the booming voice, I let its echoes slip quietly away in the recesses of my mind as I continued to live in my familiar pursuit of a safe purpose.

Two years later a catastrophe struck, thrusting the quiet echoes of the booming voice into the foreground of my mind.  Torrential rain swept quickly through a nearby town, flooding the homes and streets of hundreds of people.  An oversight gave me an uncommon, but welcomed Saturday free from work.  How I would spend the day brought me again to a familiar crossroad.

A local disaster relief organization issued a call Friday evening for volunteers to work Saturday morning to help clear debris and tear down walls saturated from the flood.  Though I had often wanted to help in situations of disaster, finding ways to be unavailable was never difficult.  With my work schedule cleared and no handy excuse left (Aside from my own reluctance to step out of my comfort zone), I found myself signing up to help.

Saturday morning arrived dark and gloomy.  Fog and drizzle hung as an oppressive cloud in the air, setting the mood for what was sure to be a difficult morning.  Leaving the house far too early for a Saturday morning, I made a quick stop by the store for some needed supplies and then made the 20 minute drive to the planned meet-up location.  Hundreds of volunteers, shovels in hand, huddled under the organizer’s tent in hopes of staying dry.  After a short briefing session, we were placed in groups and given the address where we were to assemble.  A short briefing session could never prepare me for what I was to see next.

A small church parking lot served as the gathering spot for our group of workers.  The building of the church was little more than a shell.  Already a relief crew had begun to remove the damaged contents from the church building.  All would have to be replaced.  A second group of relief workers had begun to compile donations that had already been brought by compassionate neighbors.

As we stood waiting for the rest of our team to arrive, a gentleman came up to us and introduced himself as the pastor of the church where we stood.  There was nothing about his appearance that would have identified him as a pastor– he wore the clothes of a refugee.  His countenance was of one who has been dealt a life-shattering blow.  Yet, the spirit of humility he wore and the look of hope on his face bespoke more than words could express.  He gestured to the skeleton building behind us and confidently declared that it would be rebuilt.  Yet, his concern was not for himself, but for the people he served.  He told us of the family we would be helping and of the fate of all of those who had lived on the desolate street.  Huddled together, we said a prayer for the workers and for the church and for the families affected by the catastrophe.  With more words of gratitude than was necessary, the humble pastor guided us to the home of an older couple, where we would be working.

It had been a comfortable home before the storm.  The closed gate held a sign which read, “Green Acres”; a nod to the hopes and dreams of its owner.  A mobile home sat back from the street, holding the treasures of a family collected through the years.  Behind it stood a second home, built on a concrete foundation.  Its erratic floor plan suggested a home with additions added as the family grew.   Large furniture pieces stood sentry outside the home; their bloated forms left to dry in the Texas sun.

“All damaged goods must be brought to the street.  Any walls with water damage above 4 feet must be taken down completely and the insulation removed,” we were told.  Donning work gloves and masks to protect us from the unknown, we rolled up our sleeves and got to work.  Inside, the dank, musty air clung to everything, warning of the dangers for mildew and mold to set in.  Carpets were covered in muddy water, masking any evidence for their original color.  Wheel barrow after wheel barrow; dumpster after dumpster; the water had crested at over 5 feet– all the walls had to be ripped out.  Bottles of cleanser lined a windowsill, a sad little army that would never be able to conquer the task before it.

Going through soggy stack after soggy stack of pictures and papers, family heirlooms and treasures– we remained numb to the task before us.  There would be plenty of time to sort out the senses later when we were back safe in our homes of warmth and comfort.

One o’clock came and with it our relief.  Teams rested and fed, still clean from a morning’s shower, arrived ready to take over our task.  It was a welcomed transference for our weary team.  At about the same time, the home owners also arrived.  They were holding up well in spite of their overwhelming loss.  Perhaps they were still in shock.   “What did you do to my house?  We just thought you would be cleaning the carpets for us?”  There had been some miscommunication between the husband and the relief network over what work would need to be done.  Relief Network councilors stepped in and I quietly stepped out.

The drive home was a quiet one as I began to process all that I had seen.  Walking into my apartment that afternoon, I was met with the uncomfortable feeling of overabundance– like the feeling you get when you leave a buffet; full and uncomfortable.  My eyes swept across the walls of my apartment; my mind transposing the waterline image from the home that had seared itself onto my brain.  I imagined people combing through all of my stuff, dumping it by the barrow-full into a dumpster.  Why did I have so much stuff?  The dread of guilt overcame me.  I wanted to load up trucks and give it all to the people I had met that day; but those people had no house in which to store it.  I heard the booming voice once more “Give it away!.”  “How, Lord?  Where do I start?”  I questioned.

It’s funny how time and the busyness of life can work its way into a person’s mind and help them to forget.  As time continued on, I let the memory fade and comforted myself by buying more stuff.

My lease on my apartment will be up soon.  As my rent continues to rise, it is rising right out of my ability to afford it.  Being faced with an imminent decision ahead forces one to the crossroads of decision.  I am here again, at the same place I was before.  This time, I can’t take the easier path.  Circumstances dictate that I must make a choice and take action.  My only option is to downsize.

I have been looking into tiny homes for about a year now… the concept of owning a small home and not having to pay rent or make a mortgage payment is appealing to me.  But could I ever live in so small a space?  Recently, I found a blog of an older couple who downsized into a home just under 600 sq ft.  The home is adorable and exactly what I would want for myself.  Still, my possessions overwhelm me.  I would never be able to cram all of my stuff into such a small space.  A Google search brought me to the blog BecomingMinimalist.com  The story of Mr. Becker and his words of wisdom resonated with my soul.  The booming voice of my head has risen again, “Give it away!”  “How, Lord?”  I ask.  “Like this,” he answers.

So begins the journey of a collector and pack rat into the world of minimalism.