Thoughts on Beauty and Clutter

“Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.”

-William Morris

This quotation, which is attributed to William Morris (and I confess that I did not fact check beyond that), is one that shows up in a lot of my digital haunts.  I see it on blogs, in Facebook statuses, and on Pinterest.  It certainly seems to resonate with a lot of folks in this age of over stimulation and mass consumption.  I find myself thinking about this concept as we move to pare down our household to our comfort level, wherever that might be.  I am pretty good at evaluating items on the useful/not useful part.  Lately, though, I have been rethinking the “believe to be beautiful” part.

The visual appeal of clutter-free spaces is certainly a strong one for me.  I am not one to pin things on Pinterest very often, but when I look at what I have pinned there, I see a lot of clean spaces and empty countertops.  Before I was interested in decluttering, I was interested in organizing.  As many who organize do, I purchased tidy little boxes to corral my things.  Fortunately, I have gifted, donated, sold, and recycled enough to reduce my need for quite as many containers.

Here is my dilemma: a year or two ago, I felt like I was in a pretty good place on my decluttering mission because I had peeked into most of the containers and made decisions to keep or pass on each of the items.  Anything that stayed had been deemed a keeper for the time being, which was going to be at least until my many transitions (housing/marriage/job/city status) had been made.  The “keepers” were put away in orderly fashion in their storage containers.  Things looked tidy on the outside.

Now, though, what I am really coming to appreciate is that perhaps the better threshold on the keep/toss question is if I would be willing to display something.  While I was proud that I had minimized many smaller keepsakes into what I called my “sentimental box,” I began to question why I was storing it.  So that I could pull it out once a year and look at it? So that I could still feel like I haven’t fully parted with something that I might feel guilty passing on?

I have decided to try putting more of these items out and in visible locations.  I won’t necessarily decide to display them forever, but I am noticing that there are some objects that I relish every time I see them, like this shell below.  I participated on a life-changing pilgrimage in 2006, the Camino de Santiago in Spain.  I carried this shell with me, and every time I see it I love the range of emotions that runs through me: pride in accomplishment, appreciation for humanity, gratitude for the experience, hunger to do another journey.

My Camino Shell

My Camino Shell

Other items, though, are ones that I find myself thinking, “Maybe I liked it better when that space was less cluttered.”  If empty space trumps an object in terms of what I find to be beautiful, it might be time to give that item away or at least think seriously about whether I should hold onto it!  For instance, these little wooden hearts.  I think they are well-made and interesting, and I have kept them because they remind me of a trip I went on with my college roommates to Woodstock, Illinois.  I bought them in a little gift shop there.  I still have the friendships, I don’t know who made these hearts, and while I still admire them, I would rather have empty space.  So, I’ll be finding a new home for these– and not in a little box somewhere in my house!

Wooden Hearts

Wooden Hearts

Could this strategy work for you? I’m still thinking through situations where this might not work.  Perhaps with painful memories, such as those related to the loss of a loved one? Also, my long-term goal would not be to display every single item I find beautiful.  I have too many letters from my family that I find dear, and I would prefer to keep the physical version of these rather than scan them.  Like this little gem from my then 8-year-old sister when I graduated from high school:

Letter from Littlest Sister

Letter from Littlest Sister

If you have any thoughts or tips on how to evaluate, store, or display sentimental and decorative pieces, I’d love for you to share!

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Little Things…

I loved this thought by Erin at Reading My Tea Leaves in her post “resolutions.”:

I know there are plenty of people who think that resolutions are silly.  Or worse, burdensome.  But I think that there’s so much hopefulness in the act of resolving to do just a few things better, or differently, or even at all.

A few little things that felt like small steps in the right direction yesterday:

  • A walk with my niece-pup, even if it was too cold for more than 0.80 miles. I’m eager to get home from school during the daylight hours to squeeze in more little walks.
  • Packing up our printer to get it ready for a new home.  It is missing a piece, and we have not been able to print with it for about 8 months.  The part is not expensive, but we have realized we don’t actually need a printer!  I’m thinking we’ll probably list it for free on Craigslist with a mention of what part it needs.
  • A free, month-long trial of Spotify Premium.  For the last two years I have put “more music” on my resolution list, but I’ve failed to make it happen. I don’t particularly enjoy seeking out new music to listen to, but I get a lot out of listening to music, whether it is familiar or newly recommended to me.  Fortunately, I have a friend who blogs about a number of things (mindfulness! photography! music!) and on Tuesdays she highlights new music.  Ashely blogs at Meet Me in the Morning.  Her blog is lovely, really.
  • A little self-imposed challenge to see the cost-per-meal of the big pot of Taco Soup we made on Sunday night.  We used all organic meat and veggies, and it calls for more meat than we typically cook with, so the initial bill rang in at a pricey $34 (including tortilla chips and avocado), but it will likely provide hot lunches for most of this cold week.  There is a tally going on the fridge!

After a restful break and a conference on Monday, I’m looking forward to getting back in a routine with school today.  Students will join me tomorrow– I can’t wait to meet this semester’s fresh crop!

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Cultivating Habits

A favorite little activity of mine is trying to figure out new routines or ways of doing things that will make it easier or more enjoyable to live life in a way that I value.  Most of these changes aren’t particularly difficult to make, but I find that it is easier to make good decisions on a regular basis once I have acknowledged and verbalized them.

Here are a few examples of things that are now a part of my everyday life as of 2013:

  • I wake up earlier every day so that I can enjoy the quiet and enjoy watching the trains that often stop me on the way to work (instead of cursing them for making me late).
  • I take a cloth napkin in my lunch bag.
  • We don’t buy any groceries with added sugar.  I find it easier to monitor what comes into the house than moderate what I do with what is here! (Note: I happily indulge when celebrating elsewhere!)
  • I order my water without ice at restaurants because then I will really drink it instead of just letting it sit there.
  • I don’t drink fully caffeinated coffee at home. (I usually do 1/3 caffeinated or decaff)
  • I make our grocery list in the same manner every time.

Now, at the start of a new semester and new year, I’m brainstorming about what I would like to make into new habits and routines.  Here are some things I’ll be working on:

  • getting the coffee maker ready at night every night
  • packing my lunch at night (especially right after dinner)
  • going to bed at a consistent time
  • reading something non-digital before bed instead of using that time for Facebook or online articles
  • an exercise routine
  • a system for the timing of paying bills and budgeting

I can’t wait to fold some version of these processes into my everyday routine so that it will free up my mind to start working on new things to add in.  I’m all ears for suggestions if you have any routines that have worked for you or that you’re considering!

Crossing 17.5 Years Off of My To Do List

This weekend, I have been feeling pretty motivated to make headway on our home for four reasons:

  • We’re in a fresh, new year!
  • This is the last weekend of my holiday break.  I return to work tomorrow.
  • I am participating in The January Cure with Apartment Therapy.
  • My sister just took a job in the area, and she’s moving in with us today.

With The January Cure, the team at Apartment Therapy sends a task each day of January to encourage you to take action toward making your home the place you’d love it to be. Thursday’s task, the first of this project, had me sitting on the fence about participating in the Cure.  The assignment was to walk through your home and brainstorm about things you want to address in each area.  Daunting, I thought.  I was not concerned about the “walking around taking notes” part, I was concerned about the “seeing the whole list in one place” part.  Amazingly, though, tasks that I had avoided since moving in somehow seemed much simpler when they were just little line items to be crossed off.

And that’s where I kicked it into high gear.  Had I anticipated how much progress we’d make, I would have taken plenty of pictures to ensure a good “before.”  Alas, I couldn’t predict where the day would take us!

1.  The Big Desk [Time on To Do List: 1.5 years]

The Big Desk

The Big Desk

When we moved to town a year and a half ago, my sister asked if we’d be interested in taking over her lease so that she could move into an apartment that would better suit her needs.  Yes, we said happily! When she left, though, she left this one big piece of furniture.  One huge piece.  It is an L-shaped desk that is made from a solid wooden door and a 3′ x 3′ square addition.  It has two large glass pieces on top and seven spindle legs below.  It made a great desk for her, but for us it has just been a place to pile junk.  At first we thought she’d come back for it, but her Mini Cooper could never move this thing.  Then we thought she/we’d try to sell it, but we never got around to it.  For a year now she has been saying we could do with it what we want, but we haven’t taken action.  Finally, yesterday morning, I dug out our drill and got to work disassembling it.  My husband heard the commotion, came in to help, and we dragged two huge wooden pieces, two huge glass pieces, seven legs, and a bag of hardware out into the front yard.  I scribbled “Free, Please Take!” on a couple of signs and taped them to the pile.  We posted The Big Table on Craigslist and headed to brunch.  When we returned an hour and a half later?  Gone! (It’s a good thing I’m not a betting woman… I was sure it’d still be there!)

Empty Space!

Empty Space!

2. Vintage German Dishes [Time on To Do List: 4 years]

Vintage German Dishes

Vintage German Dishes

I bought a set of these dishes in 2009.  I thought they were lovely, and I still do, but they are not what I want to use every day.  There was a point in time that I was okay with having a spare set, but that day is long gone.  I posted about them on Facebook, and a good family friend who is originally from Germany expressed interest in them for one of her daughters in their early twenties.  I’m giving them to her.  I’ve long since forgotten about the money I spent on them, I really just want them to be used and loved.  I’m relieved they’ll be gone, especially since I won’t have to figure out shipping them if I sold them online or waiting if I sold them with a consignment store.

3.  Old Computer [Time on To Do List: 4 years]

I have a computer that stopped running well four years ago.  A friend borrowed the power cord when she lost hers, but she forgot to give it back.  I waited, thinking I’d recycle it once I had charged it and saved files the I wanted.  Four years later? I haven’t missed a single file, so I decided to take it by Best Buy for them to properly dispose of it.  Good news: they no longer ask you to pay for that service!

4.  Old Phones [Time on To Do List: 6 months for mine, 3 years for husband’s]

Verizon gave us a five dollar credit for each of these that we applied toward our bill. Note: both phones were able to power on, but were replaced because of operating problems, so donating them was not a good option.

5.  Old iPod and Old GPS [Time on To Do List: 4 years since I’ve used iPod, 6 months for GPS]

This is a little embarrassing.  In a move to finally get rid of these, I took them to Best Buy to see if they could recycle them.  The man said he’d be glad to take them, but he asked if I was sure I didn’t want to try selling them online first. Waiting to sell them is exactly why I have held onto them so long, I thought, now I just want them out of my hands. But, his question made me feel guilty for not doing due diligence, so I took them and went on my way.  My husband listed them online, and they each sold within an hour.  We made nearly $80 for the two (the iPod was from 2005, the GPS from 2008/2009).  Who knew?!

Lesson learned this weekend? Just take action.  These things that have haunted my mental To Do List for a combined (and unbelievable!) 17.5 years took hardly any time to actually get rid of.  We made extra square footage for my sister, a friend happy, $90, and a big heap of relief.  That’s a satisfying start to 2014!

Related reading:

“Try to do one nagging task each day, or even better, avoid having a nagging task” by Gretchen Rubin.

“It’s Not Too Late! Join Us & Get Organized in 2014: The January Cure via Apartment Therapy.

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A Fresh Start

As I scroll through posts from years ago, I am struck by how much has changed and how I am very much still on the same mission.  The process to simplify my life has been ongoing since 2008, really.  I find it comforting that I continue to see the value in this process and a touch frustrating (this is still so very much a process?).

The past few years have included many significant changes: I’ve finished my degree, gotten engaged and married, moved cities, and taken on a full-time job in a new career.  I’m living with my husband now, which means we have merged two households, and we received gifts from many generous well-wishers.  During my time away from blogging I (and in many cases, we) have continued to pare down.  I have settled into a new lifestyle, and that has helped the de-cluttering process.  Whereas in graduate school I could wear denim daily, I now need a business casual/semi-professional wardrobe for teaching high school.  Whereas when I lived with my parents my dishes were stored away, I now get to use my beloved Pottery Barn Great White dishes on a daily basis.  Now that a lot of what was once in flux has been settled, I am able to move more decisively toward living out the values that I continue to hone and reevaluate daily.

2012 and 2013 were years of transitioning and getting acclimated to all of the newness in my life.  Now, I am familiar with the expectations of my job, what it is like to live with my husband, the many things this city has to offer, etc.  I am ready to hit my stride in terms of aligning how I am living with what I claim to value.

For as long as I can remember, I have made resolutions.  My format has changed through the years.  A lot of years were long, daydreamed lists of things that I would love to tackle if the opportunity came along.  Attending wine tastings, finding a go-to hostess gift, etc. Some years, such as what I have chronicled previously on this blog, were more specific, targeted goals, such as to contribute a certain amount to my Roth IRA.  This year, neither strategy felt right.  I am optimistic about the changes I can make this year–new habits, fewer things, better choices–and realistic that I cannot predict now what might be relevant goals for me in six or eight months.

What I really need for 2014?  Accountability.  I am rejoining the world of blogging to chronicle the next phase of this journey.  I have plenty of the mundane to sift through, so I make no promises about this being a page turner (page scroller?), but it is here for anyone who, like me, finds it beneficial and motivating to find inspiration in down-and-dirty, realistic photographs and mini-victories.

Here’s to 2014!

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Once, on an out-of-town trip with friends, I tried out a Japanese steakhouse.  I enjoyed it, recommended it to my family, and when they visited that town, they made sure to visit the restaurant.  It was decidedly NOT their favorite, and they decided that my recommendations weren’t usually that helpful since I tend to be a bit indiscriminate.  I like most things and get something out of just about everything.  (Which is not a bad thing, but I will tread lightly because of it 🙂 )

So, rather than write that this is the best book ever, I’m going to make my claim a little simpler: I got something out of this that made it a worthwhile read for me.  And, given that it might do the same for you, I’ll pass along the basics for you!

The book?  It’s Not About the Money: Unlock Your Money Type to Achieve Spiritual and Financial Abundance by Brent Kessel.

Table of Contents:

Part 1: The Nature of the Mind

  1. You Will Never Have Enough
  2. The Unconscious Wins Every Time

Part 2: The Eight Financial Archetypes

  1. The Guardian
  2. The Pleasure Seeker
  3. The Idealist
  4. The Saver
  5. The Star
  6. The Innocent
  7. The Caretaker
  8. The Empire Builder

Part 3: In the World and of It

  1. The Middle Way with Money
  2. The Conscious Investor
  3. The Yoga of Money
  4. You Have Arrived

Appendix: The Nuts and Bolts

This is the kind of book where you can skim it and still benefit from it.  The catchy part is the section on financial archetypes.  The archetypes represent different ways people interact with financial matters.  Ideally, argues Kessel, “the optimal human being would be balanced among all eight of these archetypes.”  He expects that most people fall into a couple of categories.

Here is the brief overview he offers for the types (from page 40):

  • THE GUARDIAN is always alert and careful.
  • THE PLEASURE SEEKER prioritizes pleasure and enjoyment in the hear and now.
  • THE IDEALIST places the greatest value on creativity, compassion, social justice, or spiritual growth.
  • THE SAVER seeks security and abundance by accumulating more financial assets.
  • THE STAR spends, invests, or gives money away to be recognized, feel hip or classy, and increase self-esteem.
  • THE INNOCENT avoids putting significant attention on money and believes or hopes that life will work out for the best.
  • THE CARETAKER gives and lends money to express compassion and generosity.
  • THE EMPIRE BUILDER thrives on power and innovation to create something of enduring value.
It was fun to read through and see what types I was.  I always enjoy personality inventories from psych classes and quizzes from magazines and such.  And this has more long-term benefit than knowing the answer to “what type of perfume best fits your personality” or “what type of dog would you be.”  🙂

Decluttering Challenge, Round 13: 216-237

216. Envelopes and change of address cards.  I had a stack of these I was waiting to record.  My grandmother got rid of a little address book, and so I’m filling things into it.  Now that many of my friends are married and have purchased houses, I don’t mind filling in an address book.  It was frustrating a few years ago with college addresses that changed yearly, maiden names often changing, etc.

217. A scented soap. I gave this to my mom to use in our downstairs bathroom.

218. A pair of pearls.  These looked cute on my mom, so I gave them to her.

219. Some used gift cards.  I had been hanging onto these to make sure they’d been used.

220.-221. Gift boxes. A beautiful Kate Spade gift box and another gift box from jewelry.  I kept the gifts from inside the boxes!

222. Pens.  I kept the keepers, passed these on.

223. An old prescription (filled) with remaining meds.

224. A copy of a thesis I borrowed.

225. Jeans.

226. Jeans.  

227. Notebook paper

228 & 229. Two tops.  Gave these to Mom.

230. Black strapless dress.  Mom borrowed this last year, and it looked cute.  I’m letting her keep it.

231.-234. History books.

235. A pink bra. 

Up until #235 I was playing catchup.  I got rid of those things a while ago, but I had not yet posted about them.  They were in draft purgatory for a very long time. 🙂 That means only things from #236 on get to count toward my September goal of getting rid of 30 things!

236. An old nametag. My church got new ones.  No one else needs a tag with my name on it!

237. Straps that came with a dress.  I would never add them.

237 down, 128 to go!  

For some reason I thought things would feel lighter around here with 237 things missing, given that I’ve already been decluttering for a few years now.  Maybe the next 128 will make more of an impact?  I don’t think I’ll ever really feel “finished” with the decluttering, but I wonder how many past 365 it will take for me to feel the benefit and impact of how many things I’ve passed on.

I’m eager to spend more time in the classroom this fall and see how my wardrobe does.  I will feel prepared to pare it down a bit more once I know what I actually wear and what still sits in my closet!