not afraid to jump…

I honestly dislike this meme. Outside my comfort zone is usually some level of panic for me. However, when you can be smart about it and manage the risks to a level that lets you cope with the fear, it’s time to take the jump.

Image from This Is Indexed

Ok, truth? I’ve always been scared as hell to jump. As someone who suffers from fairly significant anxieties, I often feel like throat punching the various inspirational bloggers and writers who tell you to just go for it, as though it were the easiest thing in the world to take huge risks for your dreams. It’s also a little scary when you ask yourself, ‘what is my great passion?’, and you realize, maybe you don’t have one. That is to say, I have things I deeply love, but it’s more about enjoying a moment… Like the feeling I get starting out on a ride on my bike, when the morning light is streaming through the trees. Another is when I’m engaged in a great discussion with students and they are excited and engaged. I feel a deep welling of happiness in my heart when I’m spending an evening with family or friends. I love the excited satisfaction of completing a good design or freelance illustration. I enjoy the pleasure of a good book, or time playing with my pets. I love my art, and design and teaching, but I have finally come to realize after *mumble* years of age, that there is not a single grand passion, instead I have many things that if balanced and enjoyed, make for a passionate life.

So my “grand passion” if you want to call it that, is something very simple; a life well lived. One filled, as much as is possible, with a myriad of things that are important to me, this includes things like art, design and teaching. However, equally important to me is time to relax, to watch a good show, read a book or hang with the people I care about. I want time to pursue my Buddhist practice, time to play, time to work on things I feel matter. I want a life in which I have the balance and focus to appreciate all the little simple things that make up my day, and I have actually been working very long hours and pushing myself for a few months now towards this goal. My interest in minimalism, and easing back from the consumer driven lifestyle was in large part driven by this desire. I’m looking to not be on a cycle of working hard all the time at a job to buy things I don’t really need that puts me in debt so I have to work hard all day to… Well, you get the picture, I want to get off that wheel that so many of us get stuck on.

Girl jumping

Sometimes making a jump terrifies me, but sometimes it makes me feel like this.

Image by Kain Kalju

So I’m sorry it’s been a while since my last post but I’ve been crazy with this change. The big jump is that I am leaving my current job. It’s in my field and I love teaching the students, but it is a job with a lot of responsibilities that were outside of my skill set, and has required huge amounts of time beyond the regular hours in training. It’s been a crazy schedule and I’ve been stressing like mad over the last 2 years to try to handle it all. Long story short, I am going back to working as an adjunct instructor (where you are not full or part time, but get paid just for the number of classes you teach). I have some plans and real interest in new venues of teaching and training that I see as part of where education in my field is moving, and I’m excited to pursue them, but I am equally excited that I will again have time to take my 93 year old grandmother out to breakfast regularly and get out on my bike more than once a week. I look forward to continuing to challenge myself, but without working so far out of my abilities and interests that I am making myself stressed and miserable.

So it’s a jump, but me being me, it’s one I did fairly carefully and thoughtfully. I recently heard an interview with a minimalist who gave away all but 15 things, quit his job and then decided what he was going to do. Um… yeah, no. I will never have that kind of story for you. Sorry people, but anxiety disorders and throwing everything to the wind don’t go well together. In fact, my intention is of living a life that supports minimal stress and maximum time for pursuits, like exercise and meditation, that manage my anxiety in healthy ways. So I lined up adjunct positions and for a while, have been pulling insane hours to teach nights after my full time job as I built things up. So this week is my last week of full time work. Starting next week for a month or two I’ll adjunct for them till they find another full-timer to replace me (which I’m helping with). I will then, on very good terms, be leaving and working slowly towards building a career that I can largely do from home, with a few classes on the ground. I adjuncted for years when I was married, I was very happy and comfortable doing it. So a divorce and huge changes later, and I am in some ways returning to what I know works for me, and in some ways gaining time to pursue other aspects of my field like offering online training, that I’m interested in. This time however, I am doing it without the safety net of my husband’s income, which is a pretty huge jump for me.

So that’s where minimalism comes in. (You thought I’d never come back around to it did you?) I now need to live much more simply and frugally. I’ve been working on my new budget, but now it’s time to live it. I need to stay very organized as I am diversifying the schools I work at, and everyone is on a different schedule with different requirements. I will be at home more, so I want it to be clean and simple and well organized in all aspects. I want to ease away from a consumerist mindset so I spend less as I will, at least initially, and possibly for a while, be making less. I want to work on shifting my focus to doing simple things that are much more important to me. Rather than spending lots of money on expensive meals and buying things, I want to focus the pleasure of being with people and doing things I really care about and enjoy. So, I look down from the edge, excited and scared…

Time to jump. I’m ready.

Have you taken a leap, big or small to pursue what matters to you? Was it the right thing for you? How did it feel to take that jump?

where the rubber meets the road…

Ok, time to really get cracking here people. I’m on break from my fulltime job all this week. I still have some responsibilities with other classes, but I have some definite free time to get more work done on Project Simplify! As part of my long term plan, I took on extra work on top of my current full time position. This may seem the opposite of where I said I’m heading, but it’s all for a purpose, trust me. The downside of this however, is that it totally cuts into what little free time I had, and means I am worn out like a wet noodle by the time the week is finished, with little energy for large decluttering projects. I made the decision, like the suggestion in Becoming Minimalist, to just start with small, easy little projects, and do one a weekend, wether it’s just a drawer or a night stand… that way I’d keep moving forward. It’s great advice, about a good way to keep moving forward and get in a groove before trying to take on the hairy stuff. I’ve managed that so far with at least partial success, but now we are at the break, and I can really put some time into this, so for accountability’s sake, here’s what I’m planning to accomplish…

  1. Finish building my budget
  2. Complete the minimizing organizing of the back patio storage closet
  3. Tackle… my bed and bathroom (yikes)
  4. Papers in my office desk
  5. Complete going the rest of my boxes and boxes of books and donate a bunch to the library

I’m going to stop there. It would be easy to list more, but it is only a week and I am working on other things during it. If I get those done and still have time, I’ll do more. I have not been taking before pics and I feel I should start that, so I’ll try to do it with these projects. My bedroom alone scares me, I have enough clothes for 3 people and most of it’s piled in untidy piles around the room on the dresser, the dog crate etc… Tell me, does anyone else use the piles of clothes in various degrees of clean system? Where there’s the “right out of the dryer pile”, usually still in the basket, the “only worn once for a short while so can probably wear one more time” pile that is usually artfully strewn around over cabinets and such to keep them from being too wrinkled, the “worn a couple times already but don’t smell and I could dog around the house in them” pile, the “yeah, I really need to wash those pile” and of course the “I dunno if these are clean or not but the dog’s been sleeping on them so they are covered with fur and smell like pug anyway” pile? Hope it’s not just me…

So that’s the game plan. A lot was done in the “office” but there’s still a lot to do. The kitchen is pretty much done, barring a couple items I want to sell. I do call it “Phase 1” though, as I know I will likely be going back to every part of the house after I am “done” and doing a second and possibly a 3rd sweep over the next year or 2. I can already tell becoming more minimalist is something I am going to have to do in stages. I got rid of a LOT when I moved, and now more… but I think I will be stepping down in stages, kind of like easing into the cold water in the pool.

Ok so that’s my accountability post! Time to get cracking! I’ll post here about what I accomplished.

storage closet picture

This is actually partly done, believe it or not it was in worse shape than this.

is you or ain’t you?

So in my weekly readings of various blogs on minimalism and simple living, I found my way to the blog, Smart Living 365 and while I haven’t explored it fully (though I plan to!), I was drawn there regarding a post the author made which attempted to give a basic definition for what Minimalism is and then gave a small, provocative quiz on what makes one a Minimalist. I thought she hit some very poignant points about the tendency to look at it as a fad, or to use it as window dressing over a still consumer-based lifestyle. Unfortunately, that’s something I fear I do to an extent. However, as she said, “you have to start somewhere!” Still, I had some trepidation on taking her quiz, fearing I would basically flunk horribly. I felt that way since for me, at this stage I am still slowly learning to let go of some things. I’m also still pretty mired in the wants of consumerism. This is the beginning of my journey though, so I am willing to cut myself some slack as I make little steps forward.

I was pretty surprised by my own responses, they were, honestly, better than I though I’d have. I’m paraphrasing the questions here and talking about my own responses, but I’d encourage you to go check them out for yourself and think about your own answers here.

#1 asks what you would do if you won a lot of money, would you drop minimalism like a hot potato and spend spend spend? Well I have sometimes run through fantasies of “if I won the lotto” although I don’t play. I always see myself as upgrading what I have, but not going for more/bigger. I would for instance, trade in and get a newer, nicer model of my current car. But we’re talking a Honda Fit here, (don’t judge, you can put an alpaca in one of them, despite how compact they are, how cool is THAT?) But it’s an AWESOME little car with great milage and my bike fits in it. I would just like a newer one. I’d also replace the cracked white tile in the foyer of my little townhouse, with nicer tile, and the stained white formica counter tops with nice Corian-type solid surface. Several things like that. I don’t think I’d want to live anywhere bigger, I love where I am, but I would make it nicer. Is that minimalist or not? Minimalists tend to go for quality over quantity so upgrading/replacing is not the same as getting more, bigger better. However, is it the make due with what you have ethos that many minimalists adhere to? No.

Question Mark

is i or ain’t i?

#2 regards the question of doing a job you dislike if the money is good enough. I already know the answer to this is a definite NO for me. I am actually working towards a goal of working less, and focusing just on what I love to do work-wise, so that I have more time and less stress. It’s taken some time to realize a few things about me and what I do best and don’t do well, and I’ll talk more about this whole subject in a future post. But for now, I can safely say working more hours at a job that made me unhappy to have more money to buy stuff, is definitely something where I can say absolutely, the answer would be no. Of course one guy on her blog had a great answer of yes, but only for a few months to save up the money then he’d quit, LOL!

#3 Asks about if you would move into a huge mansion if you got it for free. That’s again an easy answer. Same thing if I won an expensive new car (I actually was in a contest once where that was a prize, so I’ve contemplated this). I would sell that sucker and use the money to upgrade my little townhouse or buy a newer version of my current car, make some donations and save the rest. I used to think I wanted this big house, and then we got it, and honestly I loved it, but we had huge sections closed off just piled with junk, and a lovely guest suite that was rarely if ever used. I hated cleaning it, it took a whole weekend, and there were all the bills for the mortgage and to heat and cool and upkeep it. What I’ve come to realize was that most of what I loved about it was how I made it feel like a home (ok and maybe I loved the pool/spa and my gas fireplace too). I’m in a place now that is a fraction of that house’s size, that I own outright, and although I’ve had to adapt to some things, I love it too. I just wish you were allowed to let your dogs swim in the community pool! LOL!

#4 Asks if you are truly doing it for altruistic reasons or are you only a “minimalist” because you have to/think it’s cool. I’ll be very honest here, a LOT of why I am doing this is for myself. It’s a process I hope will be similar to my path in Buddhism. I got into this to help my suffering, to find healthy ways to manage my anxieties. The outer chaos in my life is effecting my inner state, without a doubt. I also feel it stymies my creativity and causes a lot of my procrastination. So really this is about me right now. But with both minimizing and Buddhism I think if you walk this path with intention, you start to naturally become more compassionate and more focused on things that matter, it’s kind of the nature of both of them to an extent. Buddhism, perhaps more so, but I see over and over in blogs how as people got rid of the junk in their lives and worked on freeing themselves of consumerist thought and spending more time following passions and being with family/friends that they seem to gravitate to a more compassionate mindset and sustainability attitude. I’ve already seen some changes in myself over the years since I started meditating and practicing, I hope to see more. But for now, I need to find some equanimity. I think as I do, that will open up more space for others as there is less of the needy “me” filling that space up.

#5 is how you would handle being with someone who was not interested in this, would you drop your minimalist ways for them. Having lived with a “collector” in the past before I started this minimizing thing, I know this would all be a lot harder if I had someone like that in my life. I think, although this was meant to be a litmus question on how serious you are about Minimalist living (would you adhere to this? Is it really a core value for you? Or not?) I think in any situation like that in life, there is always room for compromise and a middle ground. I will say though, I am still a “baby” with this, could I get derailed right now if I fell for a guy who loved excess and took me along with him? Maybe for a while, but I think I’d come back to this because I know for a FACT stuff is not what makes us truly happy. I do still derive a lot of pleasure from nice things though, so I could see that effecting my path. I do think I’d still walk it. For now, I have the freedom and luxury to do this exactly how I wish and answer to no one. I have a financial stability that allows me to mold a work situation that fits me best, I have no children to be responsible for and a skill and profession that allows me a lot of flexibility. Many do not, and I acknowledge that and am grateful for what I do have. I do also know, wether a new love or a medical problem or a job loss, change is always a moment away, and I would hope I have reached a point where this is a core value to me. Not as much the fetish of having less stuff, but and understanding that stuff is not the real answer.

So what about you? Did you take Smart Living 365’s quiz? Did you see her list of 8 components of a minimalist? What did you think?

What do you get the girl who has everything (she wants)?

Picture of Birthday cupcakes

Happy Birthday to me!

I just celebrated my birthday last week, and aside from the trauma of turning a year older, (wow, middle age, yippee) I found it still didn’t overshadow my enjoyment of the adoration one gets on their B’day, especially when one is an attention hog like I am. It was interesting however, to experience a gift receiving holiday in light of my new found enthusiasm for minimalism and simplifying my life. Aside from the fact that I have no interest in being extreme about this (yep, middle way) I am still very addicted to consumerism (working on it), so it is surprising  how much I still find I need and want.

I do see a shift however, as opposed to having things to have things, I am looking more critically at my life and asking myself what it is I actually need and/or would make my life simpler and richer. I had a jacked up microwave, which had become fairly useless and a constant source of irritation. (Yes, I should work with my irritation, but by the same token, making my outer world more simple and peaceful is part of a goal of this change). I knew the cost of fixing it probably would not have been a whole lot less than simply getting a new one, and it was a wierd off-brand so the chances of future issues was good. So instead of lots of little gifts, most of which would become stuff cluttering up my home, I asked for a new mic. I did research and ended up with a lovely new one that’s one of the top rated for reliability by Consumer Reports. I also was replacing the old one, so I was not bringing anything additional into the house. There was also the wonderful gift of some of my good friends helping me install the damn thing!❤

Picture of new microwave

The new Microwave! It doesn’t turn the vent fan on when I hit ‘cook time’ Hooray!

Sears Scratch and Dent Outlet Centers Rock by the way…

Picture of guys installing microwave

It took many manly men much motivated mastery to install the new Microwave!

I know, as I work towards a goal of less work and working more from home, that having a house that is not only simplified and organized but also pleasing to me esthetically is a worthwhile part of this change. So I foresee a great answer to the “what do you get the girl who doesn’t want more stuff” to be things like gift cards towards Lowes and such, so I can put it towards certain home improvement goals. I read on one minimalist blog that many minimalists do like to have good quality things, what little they do have, as they are more pleasing and last longer. I see a lot of sense in this. If I end up working more at home down the road, I want to love the space. Changing the cracked kitchen tile for new flooring or replacing the stained white formica kitchen counters with nice solid surface is not adding new stuff, it’s adding longevity and durability (and hey, I’m an artist so yes, pleasing style) to the place I am living. Now I know some folks choose a minimalist life of extreme renunciation of goods and even home ownership. And I understand as a practicing Buddhist there is danger in getting caught up in placing to much expectation on the thing that is my home, no matter how minimalist, that could lead to suffering when things break, or if I were to lose what I do have. I’d rather, however, take a modest approach and create a pleasing space to live and practice in, and remind myself in my practice, that “the glass is already broken.” 

Some of the folks in my life already “get” what I am doing, my parents were kind enough to get me the awesome microwave. When I found at my dinner with them they had another present for me, I thought, “darn, they don’t get this, don’t want more stuff thing.” It turned out to be however, something I did actually need, a trifle bowl, to replace my broken one (apparently the trifle bowl is also already broken, heh). I make trifle often for the family gatherings and friends parties so it will actually get a lot of use. A couple of my friends took me out to dinner and entertainment as my “gift” this is one of the best kinds, I do love good food and hanging with friends is exactly the kind of thing I am doing all of this so I have the time and mindset to focus more on. Time with people, yeah, that’s a GREAT gift!

Picture of friends at movie

Watching the new Spidey movie in 3D at cinabistro with some of my besties! That’s was a great gift!

My sister was (as she stated) having none of my “minimizing stuff” so she got me a cute hat and necklace. So aside from the fact I love these gifts, I can still work with this… I have a ton of hats, including some old ones I got years ago that are worn and shabby, as well as old broken or corroded jewelry. So the “1 thing in, 2 things out” method works well for this, I will get rid of 2 old hats and 2 old/broken pieces of jewelry in place of my gifts, and then enjoy those gifts and use them well (it’s a damn cute hat!). Another friend got me an awesome pug shirt, a couple old racing Tees can easily be replaced with that!

picture of a pug picture t-shirt

The awesomeness of the pug shirt!

So my takeaway for birthdays, and gift giving holidays like Christmas is…

If you let people know you are making this change, many will try to be accommodating.

Even if you tell people you really don’t need anything, it often makes people feel bad not to “do something for you” so there are things you can suggest if they express frustration, such as…

The gift of their time is the best of gifts. They can get you dinner or a ticket to that movie you go see together etc. if they really feel the need to “get you something.”

Truly asses your needs, there may be something that needs fixing or replacing, gifts to help with that can be useful and won’t add to your “stuff”

Gifts for services, like in my case, a massage or facial, could be a very lovely treat, especially if you start trying to live on less not just with less and have less money for these kind of goodies!

Some people will still want to give you stuff. Deal with it. If you’re gonna be militant about this, no one’s gonna to want to hang out with you. Accept gifts with good grace, understand that person is showing how much they care about you. It may be something you love and want to keep, if so and you are not stripped down to bare minimum yet, use the “for every 1 thing brought into the house, get rid of 2” like I am doing with the hat and necklace my sis got me. Look at it as a pay it forward thing. You’re given a nice gift, you can take something of yours you don’t care about anymore and make it a gift by donating it to someone else!

So that was my first experience with people wanting to give me presents after I had made the decision to begin this lifestyle change. What about you?

How do you handle gift giving and receiving as someone who’s trying to simplify?

so… why?

The first night in the Townhouse

Once upon a time…

A girl managed to carve a niche for herself. She was an instructor, a wife, a friend, cyclist and budding Buddhist. She lived in a big 4 bed, 2 bath house with so much stuff in it that she and her husband could not park a car in the 3 car garage. She was very happy sometimes and not happy other times, but overall life was good. Still, she always felt she was going through life clinging by the skin of her teeth. A lot of that was Anxieties (yeah, capital A ones). She’d had them since she was little, never feeling safe was something she’d had to work around her whole life… she was always finding ways to cope, some healthy, some… not so much. Still, overall things were ok, then suddenly the bottom fell out of life as she knew it…

And so…

A divorce, a new job and move across town later, I sat in my townhouse and felt deeply uncomfortable and unhappy. I had already had a huge purging of so many things, moving from the large 4-bedroom home to the small but lovely 2 bedroom townhouse I now owned. The purge had been very freeing in some ways, but also horrifying to me just how much detris and junk I owned. I spent my whole life buying and owning things to identify who I was and to soothe, or entertain myself. At that point I was paying over $80 a month on a small storage place that was housing boxes of my most beloved possessions, books, and some other things I had felt I needed to hang onto, like my wedding dress, and family china.

It felt good to get rid of so much, even though it was due to necessity in my new, much smaller home. The feeling of having less felt good, and yet there I sat, still feeling deeply lost in chaos. If anything, things were worse, the organizing influence of my ex-husband and accountability of not living alone was gone, and the much smaller space got dirty and cluttered MUCH more quickly. I’d gone from having tons of drawers and cabinets in my old kitchen to TWO drawers in my new one, I had almost no storage space anywhere. I finally cleared out the storage and closed that down but now boxes were piled ceiling high in my office. I was feeling out of control and simple tasks didn’t get done because everything was overwhelming.

It was bad enough that I lost and had to re-apply for my homeowners insurance because I’d let the policy lapse. Not intentionally, I just was stuffing mail into piles to be “looked at eventually” so the bill didn’t get paid. For a while since I’d moved I’d wanted something simpler, I was seeking a happiness that no amount of things, or food or TV could really satisfy. I had been using Buddhist practices like meditation, and mindfulness in a half-assed way for over 6 years at that point, but like everything else it was being done sporadically and without real commitment.

I was surfing around Amazon when I saw a book on minimalism for only three bucks. I had heard about people who went all radical, only owning 25 things. Though I thought that far to extreme for me, I remembered reading something about it and finding the basic principle appealing. So I bought the book for my Kindle app, chewed through it in a couple evenings and had a real aha moment. When I read how we don’t own our stuff, it owns us, there was a real resonance for me.

picture of the townhouse

So empty! But it was QUICKLY filled up with stuff!

So now I am in the middle of “cleaning up my act.” I doubt at the end of the day I will be classified as a minimalist by many in the movement. I feel getting extreme about having as little as possible can be almost as clingy a “thing” as being attached to consumerism… the goal for me is fairly simple and straightforward. I want to have a simpler life. I want to be more at ease and have time to do the things that are most important to me. I want to live in a space that supports this and my practice of mindfulness/metta/meditation. I’m going at this both from the inside-out and the outside-in. I want to have no more items than comfortably fit my needs and my new smaller home. I want to have only what I need and what I truly take pleasure from owning. I want to consume less so I can spend less, and hopefully work less and focus on both work and play that I feel really passionate about. I want to live more simply, and frugally with more meaning. So this is my place to hash through my work on this. I will be doing this largely as an accounting to myself, as well as hopefully having some accountability to whomever might glance at this blog from time to time. And if I inspire or help others in the process, so much the better.

~ Respectfully Submitted, K