Saturday, December 18, 2010

More Christmas Goodness

Clearly, the theme for my blog this month, when I am not ignoring it, is Christmas. I love this time of year, and I still think it's possible to get through with less stress and more fun. I grew up with some great holiday traditions, and I have managed to add a few more as an adult. So, here are my favorite things to do between Thanksgiving and New Years

Enjoy Decorating: I love getting out the ornaments and remembering where I got them or who gave them to me. When I was young, I used to do this with my mom every year. I look forward to doing the same with my kids one day. I also love Angela's comment on my last post- she giving ornaments as gifts this year. Even better, she bought them from an organization that supports people with developmental disabilities. I think that counts as "Giving Presence!"

Have a Party: I have done something really casual the last few years- I make a big pot of mulled cider and bake a few treats. It gives me the chance to show off my decorated house and my baking skills. I think you could also throw a party in lieu of giving gifts to some of your friends. They will probably enjoy the evening more than another knickknack anyway!

Cook or Bake Something Special: There are a few treats (cheese and sausage balls, Snickerdoodles, fudge) that I only make at this time of year. They are very decadent, so I look forward to them at Christmas time and don't really eat them the rest of the year.

Play Some Christmas Music: I have created a play list on my iPod of some really great holiday tunes, and I love the day in November when I load them back onto my Nano. I play them when I put up the decorations, when I'm baking, during my party, and while I wrap gifts. I have a fantasy of being in one of those movie scene parties where someone plays carols on the piano and everyone sings. Sadly, I don't have a piano and don't sing that well, so the iPod has to suffice. Here are a few of my favorites-

Linus and Lucy- Vince Girabaldi
Baby Its Cold Outside- Dean Martin
O Holy Night- Faith Hill
Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas- James Taylor
The Nutcracker Suite- The Brian Setzer Orchestra
Walkin' in a Winter Wonderland- Dolly Paron
Carol of the Bells- Straight No Chaser

What are some of your favorite holiday traditions? I would love to hear!

Happy Holidays and KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid)

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Advent Conspiracy

Sometimes it's weird how things come together. Less than 24 hours after my last post (about giving fewer gifts and spending a little less this season), I found myself sitting in Church with Beth listening to a presentation about Advent Conspiracy. This is a movement that asks us to spend a little less on material gifts this year and donate the money to a better cause.

The presentation said this: each year, Americans spend $450 billion on Christmas. The cost to drill enough fresh water wells to solve the world's water problems would be $10 billion.

So the congregation was challenged to buy just one less gift this year, and instead use the money to support the Advent Conspiracy movement.  Here is a link to the website if you're interested: I hope that you check it out and feel moved to "Give Presence" this season!

See, it's not so revolutionary! Just remember to KISS (keep it simple stupid).

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Does Anyone Really Need More Stuff?

The  holiday season is where my desire for simplicity goes to war with my traditional belief that more is better when it comes to Christmas. Truly, I love the decorations, the parties, the plans to see family members who are far away, and especially the tasty treats. But there is one place I like to be a little Stoogy: the gifts.

Before you unfriend me on Facebook and un-invite me from your holiday party, hear me out, okay? What I'm saying is, who do you know that really needs more stuff? And, do you ever get through Christmas even remotely on budget? And, when you watch your young relatives opening piles of presents, don't you ever notice that in the end they only really love one or two of the presents?

I am not, by any means, saying that we should stop giving gifts altogether. Actually, Leo Babauta is saying that in this post (  I very interested in hearing about how he explains this position to his six children. What I do propose is that we take a less is more approach to holiday shopping. Here are some thoughts:

My co-worker is a single mother of five children. She says that each child receives only 2-3 larger gifts at Christmas, rather than a pile of small presents. Her perspective is: "I don't like to pick up toys!" She finds that when she works Christmas this way, the gifts are better quality and the children enjoy the presents more and for longer.

Most of us struggle with where to put more "things." I really try to give gifts that aren't things- magazine subscriptions are some of my favorite gifts. I also like to give restaurant gift cards and fancy foods (Omaha steaks and Harry and David baskets are my favorites).  These are gifts that get used up, instead of hanging around the house collecting dust.

Everyone LOVES gift cards- don't feel bad that they are not personal. They allow the recipient to pick something really that he or she really wants in the perfect size and color.

I really don't mind if people return gifts I give them, and I show this by including a gift receipt whenever possible. Lots of people feel too guilty to get rid of an unwanted gift, so it hangs around until the inconvenience outweighs the guilt. I don't want one of my gifts doing this.

It really is the thought, not the cost, that counts.

Very few of us will give or receive many "perfect" gifts in our lifetime. Good enough is good enough. Just don't forget the gift receipt.

Just some thoughts for holiday shopping sanity. Feel free to post your own tips for preventing "Holidaze." Goodbye for now and KISS (keep it simple stupid).

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Sometimes More is More

I firmly believe in all things in moderation. Including moderation. In my opinion, the best time to be moderate on your moderation is Christmas. I love nothing more than a tree packed with ornaments, too many lights on the front porch, and indulging in an extra treat here and there. There is a reason that this time of year is called THE HOLIDAYS! All of those other holidays come and go so quickly, but this is a whole season of joy. Why not load your iPod with Christmas music and play it too loud?  Who says its silly to let your kitten treat the Christmas tree like his personal cat toy? Eat a little cookie dough and brownie batter, I won't say a word! Christmas comes once a year, and its over before you know it. 

So you can KISS (keep it simple stupid) for the rest of the year, but you have my permission to go a little crazy for the Holidays! 

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Just Because Your Mother is Coming...

It's that time of year again. It's getting colder, the holiday shopping is in full swing, your pants are all too tight from the constant treats, and oh, yeah...your mother is coming to visit!

Maybe its not your mother. Maybe its your friends or siblings, perhaps you are hosting a Christmas party, or possibly, your (gasp) in-laws are coming. For me, this is the time of year when I walk around the house with a critical eye and start thinking about buying shiny new stuff to replace the stuff that was perfectly good for the past eleven months.

Case in point: when my parents visit, they sleep in my bed (because my "guest bed" is an aerobed on the floor and my mom's knees don't handle that well). This week I bought a memory foam mattress topper (which is AWESOME!) that I had been planning to buy but specifically thought it would be nice for when my folks arrive. Fine. Next I started thinking that I should buy some new fitted sheets with a thicker pocket to hold the mattress topper better. Then I got to thinking that the guest bed duvet really needs replacing. And so on.  As if my check card really needs more use at this time of year.

When I wrote about having a deadline party, I told you that having house guests really compels me to buckle down and get things done around the house. I do tend to be more productive with a deadline, but  I can easily get carried away with what needs to be done to make the house "presentable." I have been sleeping on the same sheets for months now, and they have been just fine all along. Knowing that visitors are coming does not change anything.

Bottom line is that our mothers love us, ratty sheets and all. Our party guests are much more concerned with the company, food, and beverages than with the price point of our sofas.  I can't give you much advice about in-laws, except to say that your very complex relationship will probably not be affected by whether you purchase new dishes or not.

So this year I am resolving to keep the Monsters in my brain from getting out of hand by not buying anything for the house that I was not already planning to get.

I read a passage by Erma Bombeck a long time ago, in which she reflected at the end of her life on what she would have done differently. She wrote, "I would have eaten popcorn in the 'good' living room and worried much less about the dirt when someone wanted to light a fire in the fireplace." (for the whole passage click here: When I am looking around my house thinking that my dining room chairs are not that nice and my living room rug needs to be replaced, I try to remember that quote. At the end of the day your stuff doesn't make a nice holiday memory- you do that with yourself and the people you love. Or are related to anyway.

So goodbye for now and don't forget to KISS (keep it simple stupid)!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

On Overpacking

I read a guest post on Zen Habits today  about traveling lightly. The author, Francine Jay, explained that she learned of the joy of traveling lightly, and then applied those principles to her life in general, thereby becoming Miss Minimalist in the blogsphere.

My problem is that I hate travelling lightly. I would rather lug an inappropriately large suitcase up the steps of the New York subway in the rain(and I have!) than open my bag and not have something I want. I have tried many times to restrict the amount of luggage I carry and each and every time I regret not having something that I left behind because it didn't fit in the suitcase. I never bring more than I can carry myself (a point of pride for this single girl), but I still carry a bag full of spares,back ups, and just-in-cases.

What I am learning from all of these blogs and books on simplifying is that I'm just not a minimalist. I crave simplicity and less clutter, but I still like to have stuff. I want Christmas decorations and too many shoes and enough matching glasses to serve everyone that comes over. The important part of this realization is that I don't even want to be a minimalist. I could sell all of my stuff and take two backpacks to Australia (a la Baker and his wife from Man vs Debt), or quit my job and move to Guam (like Leo Babauta), or live in an 86 square foot house (as in the Tiny House movement), but these are not really my goals. For me, simplicity means living within my financial means, not getting too weighed down by my possessions, and knowing where stuff is in my house. Simplicity also means focusing on my own goals and not getting too bogged down on what others are doing. Ironically, this is Leo's advice in The Simple Guide to the Minimalist Life.  For me, it is truly about needing a simple guide to a great life- or actually just taking the time to realize that I already know how to do it!

If you are reading this blog, you are probably seeking simplicity in your life also. What does simple mean to you? Is is a large suitcase full of possibilities, a tiny backpack that you can sling over your shoulder, or perhaps skipping the trip altogether and having a relaxing staycation? I would love to hear!

Until then, KISS (keep it simple stupid)!

Friday, November 5, 2010

Deadline Party

If your dining room table is cluttered, your bathroom is getting a little grubby, and there is a huge pile of stuff waiting to be taken to the thrift store, there is only one good solution: it's time to throw a party.

Having a party is a really great way to create a deadline for getting things done around the house. Decide what needs to be done to make your house presentable for company, estimate a reasonable amount of time to get it done, and invite people over shortly after that timeframe. This gives you a reason to get things finished and also an enjoyable reward for when you're done.

I'm going pretty simple this weekend and having a few friends come over to watch football tomorrow afternoon. I planned a little get together because I have been such a lazy housekeeper recently- I have been cleaning parts of the house here and there as needed, but have not had the entire house clean all at once for a long time.

I also have some other home improvements that I want to accomplish by the time my parents visit for Christmas. I am having the furniture and rugs steam cleaned next week, and am hoping to replace the counter tops in the kitchen by the time Saint Nick comes around. I will also need to clear the guest room of things waiting to be donated or sold, and somehow make some room in the guest room closet (which is now the most moster-ridden closet in the house).

The issue is not that my parents would judge me for having old counters, a messy guest room, and sofas with a mild whiff of dog, but that I'm much happier to share my home with others when it is looking its best.

On a related note, I made my first Ebay sale yesterday! A big thanks to Baker from Man vs Debt, who wrote this great guest post on Zen Habits about selling things on Ebay: If you are a little intimidated by the whole process (like I was), let Baker help you get started!

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Things Are Just Things (Except When They're Not)

Today I wanted to share a post from a blog I have been following on blogspot, called Stuff No One Told Me (But I Learned Anyway). The blogger is Alex Noriega.

I am struggling this week with some things from my childhood. My parents are moving from Mississippi to Alabama and are attempting to clear out their gigantic house. The plan is to buy something smaller in Alabama once the current house sells. My mother has two rubbermaid trunks of toys and books from my childhood that need to come live with me. She also has a wooden doll cradle that my great aunt made for me. All of these items have a huge amount of sentimental value- we only saved my very favorites. Some of the items are hand made (including quits for the cradle) and the cherished books are probably out of print. My closet here contains my Barbies and American Girl dolls, which were dearly loved and often played with. I know that loving homes could be found for the all of these things, and some could be sold for a profit on Ebay.

The problem is that when I think about getting rid of these items, I can't help but imagine keeping them for my own daughter to love and play with. As I child I really enjoyed finding toys that belonged to my parents and their siblings, and always wished there were more of them around.

The flip side is that I don't actually have a daughter- I may not ever have one. Meanwhile, I have no idea where to store this stuff. Living in Florida means that my un-airconditioned attic is not a good solution. I am working on clearing out my storage spaces, but I'm not sure that I want to fill them back up with things that I don't actually use.

So there's the problem. I know that things are just things, but some things are more special than others.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Put it Somewhere New

So sorry that I have been absent from the blogsphere for a while, but I have two really good excuses.

First, a sweet orange kitten named Leo has joined the family
He requires tons of cuddling and that does not leave much time for blogging. Oscar has been filling in while I'm at work

But the rest of the time I have to attend to my snuggling and petting duties.

The other reason is that I took a quick trip to Roswell, GA to attend a family gathering. On my way home, I stopped off at the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta. I had never been before, but I really recommend it if you're in the area. Here's a shot of the "Tunnel," where you can walk through the world's largest aquarium:

But, anyway, back to decluttering...

Aside from getting rid of stuff, another important factor in getting your space simple and clutter free is re-considering where things should go. Sometimes the "correct" location for your things is not the obvious location. For example, I started keeping lipstick in my purse, instead of with my other make-up. I just apply in on my way out the door and then I have it with me for touch ups. When I used to attempt to keep my lipstick upstairs in the bathroom, I was constantly looking for it (it was usually in my purse). Now I always know where it is.

The real majic happens when you place things to help with your repeat clutter offenses. My biggest one is the dining room table. It tends to collect whatever was in my hands when I walked through the door. Mail is the worst- I let it pile up for days (even weeks sometimes) until the surface of the table is no longer visible. Unfortunately, in my small townhouse, the dining room table is visible from every part of the downstairs. Even when the rest of the house is clean, the table can create the illusion of extreme disorganization. Also, the occasional important piece of mail can get lost in the mess.

Enter my de-cluttering heroes, Judi and Marj, authors of Scaling Down: Living Large in a Smaller Space, who changed my living room with a simple suggestion: put the paper shredder near the mail pile! Then you can walk in the door with the mail, place the junk directly in the shredder, and deal with the important stuff right then and there!

See the little, unobtrusive paper shredder against the wall? Most importantly, see the clear dining room table in the foreground?

I have to be perfectly honest and tell you that a few days worth of mail still collects on the table, especially things that need to be filed upstairs. The difference is that the table doesn't seem to get quite so covered, and the process of clearing it off (which I do every couple of days now) is much quicker and easier. I am also less likely to take everything upstairs and drop it on my desk like I used to.

Do you have a placement solution that helped you declutter and simplify? If so, I would love to hear it! I would especially love to hear a solution to a cluttered desk! More on that later I guess...

Thursday, September 30, 2010

My Favorite Things

I have been talking a lot lately about the stuff I don't love. As an alternative, today's post is about the stuff I do love and am glad to own. The original purpose of this decluttering project was to have in my house only the things I really love, and to have a place for them. So, as a reminder of my mission, here are some of my favorite possessions:

Beaded flip flops

Any true Florida girl knows the importance of  "dressy flip flops" as a wardrobe staple.  I like to think these epitomize my sense of style: casual and comfortable, but with a little chic in the mix. I wore these all summer and now I'm sad that it's the time of year to put them in the back of the closet.

Raleigh Cruiser bike

I bought this bike just over a year ago, and it was my first bicycle since childhood. It is my primary transportation to and from work.  I used to drive to the gym, pedal a stationary bike for 20-30 miles and then drive home. Now I bike around town (more so now that its getting cooler) and I love being able to combine exercise and transportation. Also I feel a small sense of superiority when I bike to work. Filling the gas tank once a month (or less) ain't too bad either!


When I first bought my condo, I purchased the blue glasses from Pier One. I felt like I was playing house, serving my friends wine and cocktails in real stemware instead of plastic cups with bank logos on them. A few years later, my mother bought me the (clear) Mikasa glasses as a Christmas gift. I really believe that any beverage tastes a little better in a beautiful glass.
I was reminded when I took this picture that I love to entertain, and have not been doing it enough recently. If you wineglasses are dusty, you are overdue for a party!

So there you have it, a few of my favorite things. I think that the possessions I love most are the ones that define me and what I love to do. Now it's your turn- what are some of your favorite things, and what makes them so special?

Sunday, September 26, 2010

What to Do With It

Whoa! After my last post, I took a few days to regroup, and am feeling a little better about the world in general. I still struggle with the issues I talked about, but for now I am putting a pin in them. Also, I might have a little something up my sleeve, so stay tuned...

For now, I want to talk about what to do with your clutter now that you are ready to let it go.

 Give it away

If you have something that you know someone else can use, ask if they want it. This works best  for things you hardly used or didn't use, like art supplies or kitchen tools. Its also great for kids clothes and toys. Tread lightly here- don't be insulted if they don't want it, and don't pawn your clutter off on someone else who doesn't need it!

Alternatively, you can donate the items somewhere that they will really make a difference. I have been volunteering at Helping Hands, a free clinic in Gainesville. Thursdays are for women only- the ladies get a meal and showers, and are allowed to pick items from the clothes closet. These are women who actually have almost nothing to wear (unlike most of us, who stand in front of a packed full closet every morning when we say that), and each article of clothing is really treasured. I feel much less guilty about getting rid of something I bought and hardly wore when I know someone else will truly enjoy it.

Similarly, many non-profit and charity organizations have thrift stores to raise funds. In Gainesville, the Humane Society, St. Patrick's School, and Haven Hospice (among others) all have thrift stores. Selling your clutter helps them raise money to support the wonderful things they do.

Sell It

Sometimes you can get actual money for your unwanted stuff!

The most hassle-free way is to take the items to a Consignment Shop or a Pawn Shop. I may be biased, but I think my friend Beth's consignment store, The Fashion Exchange (here's the website, is the best one in Gainesville. You make an appointment, bring in your stuff (clothes and small housewares), and when it sells you get 40% of the purchase price as either cash or store credit. I stop by pretty often, and there is some other Clutterella who is my exact size and has been getting rid of a lot of Ann Taylor clothing recently. I can use my store credit from unwanted clothes to gets that stuff for FREE! Yay! For pawn shops, I recommend TB Goods in Gainesville and Alachua (, which is part owned by my buddy Chris. Send him your unwanted jewelry and electronics, he'll hook you up.

A garage sale is another option. Unfortunately, this Clutterella lives in a townhouse with no garage (or driveway) so its not a very good choice for me. Judi and Marj have some advice in Scaling Down if you want to explore that route. I also think the show Clean Sweep on TLC has some pretty great garage sale tips. So I am referring you to the experts!

I have not explored selling things on Ebay or any of the other websites out there, but I am seriously thinking about it.  This guy Baker has tried it, and he has a lot to tell you about it in his blog Man Vs. Debt (  He and his wife sold most of their possessions, paid of their debts, and are now traveling the world. Just last week he released Sell Your Crap, which is a guide to making money while getting rid of your stuff. I have not tried it, but Leo Babauta endorses it, so that makes it cool in my book. I'll let you know if I try it out.

Toss it

I know we all hate this option, but sometimes its a necessary evil. Some of  our stuff can't be sold or donated (ratty t-shirts, broken furniture, expired cleaning products). Recycle it if you can. If you can't, let it go. It's not doing any good junking up your living space. If you feel guilty about the big trash pile, vow to think twice before purchasing anything from now on. Move on!

This is by no means a comprehensive guide. I would love to hear from you about what you have done with your unwanted stuff!

Monday, September 20, 2010

Emptying the Ocean with a Teaspoon

My last few posts have been very advice-y, but this time I am asking for some advice from you. I have been making headway with decluttering, I feel like I am simplifying, I understand the importance of prioritizing, but I am still a little overhwelmed by one aspect of my life: the desire to give more.

I have always said that my main goal in life is to try to make the world a better place. When I graduated college, I became a social worker with this goal in mind. Unfortunately, I lasted about six months and then quit. I felt like I was just shuffling people around without really helping them, and had started lying awake all night worrying about the children I was supposed to be in charge of.

For the next five years, I worked for a large insurance company. This was a great job, with fantastic co-workers and an acceptable salary, but I longed for the feeling that I was making a difference in someone's life. In 2007, I decided that my calling was to be a nurse. I started taking pre-requisite classes, applied for a BSN program, got accepted, and became a registered nurse in 2009.

Now I love what I do. I  have daily opportunities to ease pain, improve quality of life, and help someone get through a terrible day. I feel like I am doing what I am meant to do. I feel really lucky.

In my free time, I am also trying to do more to make a difference in the world. The book Do One Nice Thing by Debbie Tenzer helped a little- the idea is to start by doing one thing to help someone else each week. I signed up for an automatic monthly donation to the Humane Society. I started volunteering once a week at a free clinic. I visit the sites Free Kibble and Free Kibblekat (that donate kibble to an animal shelter for each visitor who answers a trivia question) most days. I bike to work instead of driving. I recycle. I have a rescue dog.

The problem is that I can't decide how much is enough. I have free time to volunteer more. I could consume less. I could have sent $138 to the Pakistan relief efforts instead of spending it on a pair of Kate Spade sunglasses. I could adopt more shelter animals. I am overwhelmed by how many people in the world are suffering while I relax, well fed, in an air-conditioned house. I feel like I am using a teaspoon to empty the ocean- I understand that I am making an impact, but it's very hard to see the results.

Does anyone else feel this way? Has anyone overcome these feelings? Is the answer to become Mother Teresa, working tirelessly to help others and owning only a chair and a blue sweater? Or do we say that just doing something is enough?

Any insight is very much appreciated!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

One Little Thing

A small confession: I am losing decluttering momentum! Like many projects I start, this one was most exciting when I first began. Now I am getting a little tired of it, and also fairly embarrassed about how much stuff I have given away, and how much I still have.

Thank goodness I started this blog, because I feel like I am accountable to the three or four people who are reading it (thanks guys!), and I have to keep going.

Here is my solution: just do one thing at a time. Decluttering the whole kitchen is completely overwhelming, but one cabinet or drawer is no big deal.

Yesterday, I started under the sink:

This area is another catch all for things that don't belong anywhere else. The drain pipes from the sink and the garbage disposal make this a weird space for storing anything tall or putting anything in the back of the cabinet.

It only took 20 minutes (during which time I was also talking to my aunt on the phone) to get rid of the expired cleaning products, consolidate duplicates into one bottle, and arrange items so they were all visible.

In fact, this project was so quick and easy that I started on the cabinet above the stove as well:

The problem here is that the cabinet is high and deep, so lots of expired baking products, cough drops, and dust-coated Tums were lurking in the very back.

I took everything out, wiped out the spilled honey and vanilla extract, and arranged things so that they are only one row deep (anything behind gets lost forever).

A big improvement, plus no more expired baking products.

The idea of doing one little thing actually came from a book that I read last year, called Do One Nice Thing by Debbie Tenzer.  The book is about how you can feel better about yourself and the world by taking a little time every week to do something nice for someone else. It can be as small as letting someone pull in front of you in traffic, or a big as donating money or time to a cause you like. This is not a book about decluttering, but it introduces the concept of taking control with one small act at a time. If you want a little taste, you can check out Debbie's website at
With this concept in mind, I have also started making my bed every morning. It only takes 60 seconds, but it makes the whole room look better. It also seems to help the room stay neat. Apparently I am less inclined to drop clothes on the floor or earrings on the dresser if the room looks tidy to begin with.
And just like that, this evening's "one little thing,"- this post- is done!

Friday, September 10, 2010

De-Monster your Inbox

A great quick way to eliminate some mental clutter from your life is to clear out and organize your e-mail inbox. Do it at work and it will feel so good you'll want to do it at home too!

Everyone has e-mails that need to be saved, especially for work, but your inbox is not a good place to store them. Set aside a half an hour or so, create some folders, and sort the e-mails into the folders. Don't get too hung up on how to categorize them, most e-mail programs have search functions to help you locate e-mails later. Once you have your inbox cleaned out and your folders set up, take the time to keep it that way: after you read a new message, decide to either delete it or move it to a folder. Only e-mails containing things that need to be done in the very near future should live in your inbox. Every few months, take the time to look back through the folders and delete notes that you no longer need.

If your home e-mail gets full of spam, courtesy offers, and sale notifications, take a few minutes to deal with these. For example, I ONCE bought a crystal bowl from a website as a gift, and received weekly "special offers" from that site for months until I finally took the time to unsubscribe. If you are thinking, "wait, I might miss a really great deal," then keep only the offers from retailers that you are really likely to use. Then, when an offer comes through, place those notes into a separate folder. After a few months, you can look back and see what you have been actually using and eliminate the rest. Be careful- these notes are very effective ways of enticing you to part with your hard-earned dollars and re-clutter your life!

Also do a good deed for the universe and mark anything suspicious as spam using your e-mail provider's button. This can prevent you and other people from getting further e-mail from that sender. Pat yourself on the back for doing something nice.

Before I was a nurse, I worked in an office where I received 40-50 e-mails each day. Every morning I would take a few minutes to look through, delete what I didn't need, file what I did need, and then get started on the requests and action items that needed my attention. Something about whittling down that seemingly huge pile of stuff made me feel like I was more in control of my workload.

When I got a blackberry a few months ago, I noticed that it was time to weed through my personal inbox again and do some serious unsubscribing. I finally did that last week- it really made an immediate difference in the volume of e-mail I was receiving. I am trying to get back into the habit of clearing out my inbox once a day (much easier with the blackberry because I can do it while waiting at the dentist or whatever).  It makes the actual, important e-mails stand out more and keeps me from feeling overwhelmed by volume.

Meanwhile, back at the bat cave, I decided that it was time to conquer the monsters under my bed.

If you take a look at my bedroom, you might think it is pretty much clutter free (although usually my bed is unmade- remember I put the domestic goddess thing on hold for a while). But under the bed, there was a pile of various bits and pieces covered by a layer of dust and cat hair. The cat hair is especially problematic as I no longer have a cat...
It really only took about 20 minutes to sort through the stuff and find more appropriate places for most of it. I left a container of wrapping paper and a back massager under there, but the cat hair is gone and I can now vacuum under the bed without sucking up a stray pencil or snapshot.
What I am finding out is that the decluttering is pretty easy and unintimidating when I break it down into small tasks.  It also feels great to lay in my bed and not worry that something scary is going to come out from underneath and suck me into an alternate universe!

***I just found out that Leo Babauta wrote an entry called "Email Sanity" on Zen Habits that has some similar ideas for the inbox, and a few more. Here is a link if you are insterested:

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Throw Away the Guilt

I long to be a domestic goddess. I want to bake my bread from scrach, grow my own vegetables, use a sewing machine, and keep my house company ready at all times.

I wish I read more T.S. Elliot. I should exercise more. I need to make a spreadsheet to track my finances. My ER patient yesterday had I diagnosis I have never heard of, I should do some research on that condition.

I have never seen a full episode of Lost, and I want to watch it, but I'm afraid that if I start, I won't leave my house for six months until I have watched every minute of every season on DVD.

Apparenly, the state of my brain matches the state of my closets. And because I could never possibly get all of those things done, the biggest Monster in my head is GUILT.

I'm reading another really great book called The Power of Less by Leo Babauta. I have only just started reading, but he begins with a really powerful concept: we need to do less to accomplish more. It's better to choose a few long term goals and focus on doing things that will bring us toward them than to try to juggle everything that comes our way.

Somewhere in the first 22 pages of this book, Leo made a point that really got me thinking: Sometimes, "Less" means letting others do tasks for you to free up your time to focus on the big picture. He may have been talking about delegating or something, but for me it means this: I can just send my huge ironing pile to the dry cleaner instead leaving it to cause guilt and prevent me from wearing 10% of my wardrobe. I can take my car to be detailed instead of feeling bad that it hasn't been vacuumed or waxed in %&$# months (I can't even admit it here).  I can buy fresh bread from the bakery, have my pants hemmed by a seamstress, and get my vegetables from the grocery store. Because doing these things does not bring me closer to my long-term goals, and only I can get those done.

Along the same line, some of the physical clutter in my house needs to be "delegated" away. I have already taken a step in that direction by getting rid of the books I know I will never read. Tonight  I tossed the embroidery project that I started when I learned that my friend was pregnant (the kid is 3 1/2 now). I have a big pile of untouched scrapbooking supplies that will be posted on Ebay this week (unless someone here wants it- you can have it for free if you post in the comments!). Clothes that fit me in skinnier days are gone already. I will also be getting rid of my unused springform pan. Who needs homemade cheesecake hanging around the house anyway?

When I took those unread books to the used book store, I felt a great sense of relief. Giving myself permission to put the buff, green-thumbed, literary domestic goddess thing on the back burner feels the same way but more.  Last week I wrote down my three big goals for this year: travel more, get the house completely in order, and start my Masters next August. Starting this week I will make my to do list, then do only  that which brings me closer to those three goals. I'll have to finish reading to find out how things like laundry and cleaning the bathroom get done-paying someone else to do everything will really deplete my travel budget!

If you want to read more from Leo, you can check out his blog,

Meanwhile, don't drop by my house unannounced, because it might be pretty messy! Domestic goddess is next year's goal...

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Buy Less Spend More

I read two very different (library) books this week that essentially had the same message: consume less, but spend more on what you buy.

The first book was How to Have Style by Isaac Mizrahi. I picked it up because I was getting ready to aggressively sort through my wardrobe and I wanted a little guidance on what to keep. The book was great and I highly recommend it, even if you are not decluttering. The message that stuck with me the most was that we should train ourselves to purchase fewer clothes but to choose better quality items to buy. While working through my closet, I reflected on my own shopping habits. I balk at spending $100 for one article of clothing, but I don't hesitate to spend $30-40 each on a handful of items. As a result, I have plenty of clothes that I like, but very few that I love. Ultimately, I spend more on the handfull of okay things than I would have spent on the one wonderful piece. I am probably not alone in this habit, because I know plenty of ladies who have a huge number of clothes, but never seem to have the perfect thing to wear.
My shopping diet is ending, so I have a new strategy: when I shop, I will limit myself to two purchases, and no more than one pair of shoes, item of clothing, or accessory at a time. I can always go back later, but the two item limit will help me focus on finding the one item I love most and leaving the "likes" for another Clutterella.
The second book, French Women Don't Get Fat, by Mirelle Guiliano, was a sort of "eat well for life" diet book. I love these kinds of books because the emphasis is on making small changes you can maintain forever, instead of herding you onto some crazy wagon you are sure to fall off of. The author is a French woman who now lives in New York, and has experienced the eating habits of both cultures. The idea is to eat only the freshest, highest quality food, in moderate quantities. Imagine the pleasure that comes from a really special meal contrasted with the guilt that comes from something greasy that you scarf down while driving! Similarly, not even the most delicious food tastes good when you are too stuffed to really enjoy it. Mme Guiliano also encourages us to eat plenty of seasonal vegetables, make homemade soup a frequent evening meal, and enjoy a glass of wine to enhance the experience. Et voila, the French secret to staying slim is only common sense, ne c'est pas? (And there you have it, all of the French I know in one sentence!).
My first step toward this type of diet was to change my chocolate habits. I bought a bar of high end, high coaco dark chocolate. I found that an ounce, at about 100 calories, is much more satisfying than a fudge popsicle (also around 100 calories). Even better, the dark chocolate has benefits for both the cardiovascular and nervous systems and lacks the high fructose corn syrup and xantham gum found in the popsicle.

I have had a busy couple of weeks- an unexpected major home repair, a sick pet than had to be put down, and a lovely weekend cruise to the Bahamas (where Mme. Guiliano's advice came very much in handy). My decluttering momentum was starting to wane, so I decided to do a quick project: the linen closet.
You will notice that this closet is pretty tiny and not that full, so it was a perfect place for a quick fix.

A bunch of disperate, non-linen items were crowded together with a pile of dust-collecting floastam at the bottom. The basket holds extra light bulbs, the lamp has been there for at least 4 years, and there is a bottle of liquid plumber just waiting to spill and ruin the floor. Lots of pet hair completes the look.

I took everything out of the closet to start. The liquid plummer was moved into the bathroom where it can sit on a tile floor next to the tub, the lamp went to the Hospice Attic thrift store, and the towels were organized into bath, beach, hand and washcloth and separated accordingly. The middle shelf holds light bulbs, paper products, and a basket of extra shampoo and toilerties (only things I really use). The bottom of the closet holds a bulk package of TP and two baskets I hope to find a use for within 3 months- otherwise they will join the lamp at Hospice Attic.
I also found that the Universe rewards Those Who Donate- while taking items to Hospice Attic, I saw a really beautiful, simple leather handbag on a rack. When I went to look closer, I found out it was Prada and priced at $18.99. Now I have my first Prada purse and I didn't have to live on Ramen for two weeks to get it (Mme Guiliano would not approve of that anyway). More on thrift store shopping soon!

Monday, August 23, 2010


The shopping diet continues. When I really think about it, the big hardship for me is not buying books. This habit started in childhood- my mother really wanted to encourage reading and would buy me a book anytime I asked. I love to read and I hate when I don't have something to curl up with on a rainy afternoon or at night before I turn off the lights. But I think the true temptation is that they offer so many possibilities: I can read a novel set in the court of Queen Elizabeth I, learn about India, get some techniques from a famous chef, or solve a mystery before the wiley detective. Not really a bad deal for 15 bucks!

My new de-cluttering best friends, Judi and Marj, authors of the book Scaling Down: Living Large in a Smaller Space, introduced the idea of "clutter triage." You walk through the house and pick up as many things as possible that you can easily get rid of. When I triaged my house, I found that I had purchased many many books that I happily read once and then placed on the shelf to gather dust. So far I have taken four reusable grocery bags full to the used book store and the Friends of the Library, and still have plenty left.

Some of these books were like a badge of honor: I was proud of having read As I Lay Dying, so I kept it around. Since high school! I realized that I don't need the physical book hanging around the house to prove that I read it. So out when most of my anthropology textbooks from college (in the interest of full disclosure I should confess that I had never read some of them) and the modern classics I was forced to read in high school more than a decade ago. I also got rid of the books I bought over the years and then never read- they were basically a big source of guilt on my shelf. Admitting that I would probably never read them was like confessing a secret and feeling a sense of relief after.

In this midst of this, my awesome friend Beth shared an amazing discovery. There is a place in town that will lend you books FOR FREE! Even better, you can use your home computer to search their collection, order the books you are interested in, and the staff will gather them together in the branch of your choice! I am of course talking about the local library.

So now, when I browse over to, and get tempted by the many helpful suggestions based on my personal purchase history, I can easily resist the temptation but navigating to the library webpage and requesting that those same books be held for me. And that is how I have managed three weeks without buying a single book but still had something new and exciting to read all along!

By the way, my Under the Stairs closet is now monster-free. This was the closet I was most afraid of, tackled first, and checked off the list!

This is the "before" picture. The closet is narrow with a sloping ceiling and no light, which makes it a magnet for clutter and a catch-all for things I don't have another place for.

I took everything out of the closet and spread it out across the living room floor. Among the more inappropriate items were: an Angelina Ballerina doll with receipt from 12/06 that was purchased for a Toys for Tots drive, around 10 bottles of expired cleaning products, my ex-boyfriend's buffer (we broke up 4 years ago), and (thankfully only) one dead cockroach.

Three large trashbags later, the closet looks like this....

I had been putting this project off for LITERALLY TWO YEARS!!! The whole process ended up taking two hours. So the score stands as, Closets 0, Melissa 1.

I feel like a superhero!

Sunday, August 1, 2010

In The Beginning

House Heaven

I'm not a pack rat. I'm not a saver, a hoarder, or a compulsive shopper. My credit cards are paid off. There are no piles of junk in the house. I can see most of the dining room table at any given time. You won't see my placeon TLC.

For me, the problem is the closets. And the cabinets. And the drawers.

Somehow, every inch of storage space in my 1000 square foot, two bedroom townhouse is filled with my stuff. Occasionally there is an avalanche from my guest room closet. I sometimes catch myself buying something new, like a tape measure or a pair of scissors, because I don't have the energy to hunt for the one I own.

I have been trying to downsize for about six months. On three or four occasions, I removed several pieces of clothing from my closet and took them to my friend's consignment store. But somehow I always found myself at the mall the next day, thinking, now I have some space and I can get something that I will really wear. Taking a huge box of books to the used book store yeilded a similar result- you get a big store credit, and then it's so convenient to browse around the store. You buy books you may or may not want, because, after all, they're basically free.

One day recently, I read an article about a man living in an 86 square foot house. No, that's not a typo. It was like an epiphany. It was like house nirvanna. I thought to myself, "I bet his mom's birthday present is never late due to his inability to find the packing tape."

So I bought another book. Yes, I'm aware of the irony. But this was a really good, worthwhile book, called Scaling Down: Living Large in a Smaller Space, by Judi Culbertson and Marj Decker. This amazing book addresses more than just how to get rid of stuff. It identifies the emotional attachments we develop with our things. Even better, it describes the emotional lightness that can come from an unencumbered life.

With the help of my new friends Judi and Marj, I'm ready to go. I started by writing a mantra to help me get through the process (suggested by the book). It describes my desire to own only the things I really love, and to find a suitable place to put them.

I also put myself on a one month (or maybe longer if needed) shopping diet. Although I say I am not a big shopper, I find myself making tons of small purchases- paperback books, shoes on sale, nail polish- of items I don't really need. These little purchases add to the volume of stuff I own, and subtract from my bank account. The shopping diet should also help my tendency to buy new things to fill the space I just made (my mother says this comes from our Hunter/Gatherer roots).

So now I just need to roll up my sleeves and get started!

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