Category Archives: General

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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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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Change of Course…

I’ve decided to nix posting my spending diaries on ListfulWistful.  Sure, I didn’t start them all that long ago, but I was intending to keep them going. 

It’s not because I’m embarassed to admit that I spent $45 on dinner for my boyfriend and I on Saturday (though I did, and I am; it was Takosushi, though, and it was delicious, at least!) when I intended to have a miscellaneous spending budget of $50 for the second half of the month, and it’s not because I don’t consider it a valuable exercise.  Tracking spending and paying attention to no-spend days does a lot of good for helping me achieve my financial goals, and it fits with my general stance toward conscious consumption (even when I make mistakes I still like to be quite aware that I’m making them!). 

The thing is, though, that I already track my spending.  I’ve done it without fail for nearly a year.  And I like–no, relish–putting money in all my little savings accounts as soon as I get paid.  So while there are definitely plenty of areas of my spending that could use improvement, I don’t think blogging about my daily spending was helping me grow in the new areas where I want–well, crave–balance.  I’m sure finances will come into play on here (and I’ll always love the personal finance blogs I follow religiously!), but I’m going to try to focus my efforts toward simplifying, finding balance, consuming consciously, and becoming sufficiently (but not excessively!) proactive about fulfilling my responsibilities.

School began this week, but with two classes cancelled and a substitute professor for one, it didn’t feel like the rhythm of the new semester.  I expect things to be in full swing next week.  In the meantime, my boyfriend and I are going to visit good friends in Atlanta for Labor Day weekend.  I’m excited for the getaway! 

I have some goals for the month of September:

  • exercise at least 8x.  That’s only 2x/week, it should be more than doable; the goal is low because I’ve only exercised about that many times this entire year; pathetic!!; I think that as the heat subsides a touch I’ll be more inspired to be active…
  • get my car washed.  I have a coupon that my parents gave me for Easter; I need to use it!
  • get an oil change
  • list 5 items on Amazon. After a long dry spell, I had two books sell in the last week, which reminded me that it could be a nice way to keep decluttering and contribute toward my gum graft & student teaching funds!) 
  • call the consignment shop to see if the rest of my spring/summer goods sold and if there are any items that did not sell that I should pick up
  • take at least 3 items to consign for the fall. More would be great, but I took a good many last year, so I have fewer pieces to get rid of this go ’round.
  • get a haircut. 
  • get rid of at least 30 more things.  That’s one a day.  I’ve got this!

I’ll leave it at that for now–

I hope you enjoy your weekend!


My Living Space Manifesto

In my attempt to generate more side income to pay for upcoming expenses, I’ve been babysitting a lot.  By the end of the month I will have spent nearly 60 hours in other people’s homes.  I find it fascinating how people choose to live and use spaces, what things they choose to own, etc.  (I love the blogosphere for allowing me peaks into the homes and decision-making processes of others!)  Don’t worry, I’m not a creeper– I’m not opening drawers that shouldn’t be opened or exploring beyond what is in plain sight!  What I have been doing, though, is taking mental notes on aspects I like–and those I don’t like–of how people use their homes.  More specifically, how I would like living in their spaces or trying similar set-ups in my own home.  (Important: I’m not passing judgment on how they live, I’m simply paying attention to how I feel in certain spaces, taking notes for when I’m assembling my next living space.)  Here’s what I’ve got so far:

  • No candles that aren’t used regularly.  I love having unscented, natural candles burning–for during dinner, to prepare the mind and body for sleeping, to purify the air, etc.  I don’t particularly love colored or scented candles, candles with wicks that have never met a match, or candles sitting in places you wouldn’t likely use them (within inches of heavy drapes, for instance).  Plus wax is a magnet for dust, so candles aren’t ideal tchotchkes anyway.   
  • Consider where you use things, don’t just put like with like.  Coffee filters, for instance, might work best near the coffee maker, rather than in the cabinet across the room with other paper products.
  • Label as few things as possible, as discreetly as possible, and as attractively as possible.  Purchasing another cassette of label maker label tape (what would you call one of those? a spool? roll? ream?) had me itching to label things.  But as nice as it is to know where things go, I don’t find it that peaceful to be in places where everything is labeled.  Unless, of course, it’s in my file cabinet.  🙂  And sure, the “attractively as possible” is subjective (as is this whole list), but in some cases it might be in clean, black lettering on a white background with a utilitarian feel or it could be something more natural and organic-looking.  What I really mean by this bullet point is “MEG, DON’T GET LABEL MAKER-HAPPY AND STICK WORDS ON EVERYTHING.”  I’d rather make spaces that can be navigated intuitively.
  • Decant often.  Just as the labels I put on things count as visual clutter, so do the words that come with things on their original packaging.  I much prefer containers that are glass, pottery, or some other, less-busy option.  One key caveat, though, is to put expiration dates on a sticker on the bottom of the container so that you’re not stuck guessing.
  • Don’t frame collections in only one color of frame (like all white frames or all dark wood frames).  It makes the collection look dated more quickly.  I prefer a more eclectic, acquired-over-time look. 
  • No coffee table books that I haven’t read cover to cover.  I’m not even sure that I’m into coffee table books in general, but I certainly don’t want books that I’m not particularly interested in just for the sake of having a stack of coffee table books.   
  • Let all art in the home have a story.  I like art that has been picked up during travels, or has been made by a friend, or purchased at a local art festival, etc.  I don’t love art that’s sold en masse at HomeGoods or Bed, Bath, and Beyond.  I like inexpensive and expensive art, and I’m fine with bare walls if there isn’t something I would love to have hanging. 
  • Put rug pads under rugs if they’re prone to slipping and sliding.
  • Don’t hang on to cookbooks I don’t use.  Maybe the people who own every copy of Southern Living’s Annual Cookbook really use them all?
  • No complicated TV/sound/DVD/DVR system. 

That’s where my list stops for now! 

In other news, I recently found Jill Foley’s blog, Daily Bread, and I am feeling very motivated to declutter–and to post more pictures of the process because I had so much fun looking at hers!



Upcoming Expenses… wow!

Since I am able to anticipate a need for money during the time while I’m student teaching when I won’t have my primary stream of income (my part-time retail job), I don’t want to plan on using my Emergency Fund for that time.  So, I’ve opened an ING Savings account that (once funded!) is going to serve as “income” for February, March, and April.  Obviously, I’ll still try to make side income during that time, but I can’t count on making a certain amount, so the bulk of it should be in place before February gets here. 

How much will I need in it?

Enough to cover my fixed expenses:

  • $200.04 for health insurance
  • $71.49 for JuicePlus+
  • $9.99 for CreditKeeper (allows me monthly access to my credit report, notifies me when inquiries are made, etc.)

At $281.52 a month, my fixed expenses will total $844.56 for the three months of student teaching. 

I’ll also need enough to cover my variable expenses:

  • gas (the amount I will need will depend in large part on the location of the school I’m assigned to): for now, I’ll say $175 a month, so $525
  • spending money (for entertainment, random expenses, etc.): approximately $100 a month, so $300

Grand total? $844.56 + $300 +$525 = $1669.56


If that were my only big upcoming expense I would feel pretty confident that I could come up with the $278.26 that I would need to set aside each month between now and then.  I’m actively pursuing side income, I’m trimming my expenses, etc. I’m on a roll!

The bummer?

I had my visit with the periodontist yesterday, and I’m going to need gum grafting.  There are two spots that need it, but one side can wait for a while (hopefully a few years).  One area, though, needs to be taken care of in the next six to eight months.  The pricetag? $1367!  My meager dental insurance plan covers routine cleanings, but that’s about it.  There’s a chance it could cover a touch more, but since there is a $500 maximum, I can’t count on it.  I think most oral surgery procedures aren’t included, either, so I’m not holding my breath. 

That’s a total of $3,036.56 that I need to come up with in the next 6-8 months. 

My current plan is that all side income will be split evenly between these two goals.  Additionally, I’ll be trying to maximize the amount of money from each paycheck that can go to these causes, both upfront when I receive my paycheck and with any money that is leftover from my spending allotment. 

I’m going to need to get creative!!