Gathering resources for a fresh start

It’s been a busy few weeks here, so that’s why I’ve had a short lapse in publishing–I have a new temp job after a long lapse in steady work. I enter the year grateful for this opportunity and for the fact that it’s a job helping others. I love to spread joy.

As New Year’s approaches, many people come up with resolutions. This can be good and bad. It’s not good to put too much pressure on yourself, but it can be very motivating to start positive change on a meaningful date. It’s always good to reorient your compass towards a more joyful life, so why not now? Here are some resources that you may find useful if you want to go down that path. These are specific suggestions that have helped me or people I know:

  • If you want to lose weight or eat a healthier diet. I love the Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine. I have followed their advice to quit sugar, lose a hundred pounds (so far), and lower my cholesterol to admirable levels. They also have a program called the 21 Day Vegan Kickstart which allows a person to try a vegan diet with guidance to see how it makes them feel. The kickstart program features lots of ethnic variations to suit all sorts of people. I’ve met Dr. Barnard in person and was able to thank him for how their advice has helped me. If this isn’t your cup of tea, many friends of mine endorse Weight Watchers as a good solution.
  • If you want to get more tidy and organized. I have been fighting a battle with this one for years–the creative spirit isn’t necessarily neat as a pin. I finally made peace with my housework in three major ways: 1) I have less things to put in their places. Zen Habits is a wonderful resources for this. If you want to get really minimal, you can emulate my friend Nick Winter who has only 99 things. 2) I found out I’m allergic to dust, and it creates asthma issues for me that make it very hard to breathe. I am now personally very motivated to keep my house dust-free. 3) I found Flylady. Stylistically this website is targeted at a person very different from myself, but the lady who runs it has great ideas to help you get clutter under control. Highly recommended, and maybe you’ll like how cute it all is. If you don’t, learn to see beyond the presentation to find the gold within.
  • If you want to stop smoking. I have never smoked, but smoking has affected my friends and family in a big way. When the tobacco settlement happened the states were required to put money into helping people to quit. No matter what state in the United States you live in, you can call 1-800-Quit-Now to get free help to quit or to contemplate quitting if you are not yet ready.

As you prepare to start the new year, don’t forget to see the old year out with a celebration. Enjoy the holidays, whatever you choose to celebrate. Merry merry merry to you all!

Your assignment, should you choose to accept it:
270. What might you want to change in the new year? Start contemplating it now, and have a happy holiday in the meantime.

Random fluffy bits of wisdom

I’ve been atypically domestic this week as I’ve worked on a massive project to declutter my house to help with dust allergies. The project is done, except for sorting through a few boxes of paper. This week I thought I’d share some of the myriad things I’ve learned during the process.

  • It became easier to declutter as I realized that I wanted to spend as much time as possible on certain goals I have. These include earning a living, writing, and creating art. I also need time to keep myself healthy and interact with friends. Once I sorted out my core goals, it was easy to determine that there simply is no time to learn the ukelele, and hence I do not need the ukelele (and many other things that don’t fit with my current priorities).
  • I read Lifehacker on a regular basis. It’s a great place to find tips to streamline your life. One recent article said that there are many things you can and should buy generic. It also pointed out that sometimes name brands do work better, and that Tide actually gets your clothing much cleaner than other detergents. I bought a small pouch of Tide Pods for a test, and they were right–the clothes hadn’t seemed dirty before, but now they look like new when I wash them. Good to know (and I have no connection with Tide).
  • In a previous domestic effort I had tried the Swiffer mop. I don’t like the cleaning fluids or the replaceable pads and had resolved to use them up and donate the mop. I realized while cleaning this last time that it’s very convenient that the handle comes apart, because I was able to use it to get under my clawfoot tub. I also realized that microfiber cloths will stick to it (in the little holes where the pads fit) and so I’m keeping it for those odd places and I won’t have to buy any more of those odd pads.

Clearing up my physical space makes it easier to keep out the dust that’s hurting my lungs, but it also clears up my mental space as well. I feel much better having more room to navigate and having the things I need where I need them. It has been time well spent, and I plan to try to add some domesticity into my regular routine. The benefits are worth the trouble.

256. Your assignment, should you choose to accept it:
If you aren’t very domestic, tackle a cleaning chore you’ve been putting off. How did you feel when it was done? Was it as hard as you thought? If you are domestic, get rid of at least five items of clutter. How does that feel?

Less is more, unless you’re doing drag

I live in a small apartment in Seattle, and every once in a while I get overwhelmed by clutter—it occupies the mind and saps the strength. Like many people I find myself occasionally battling this issue, but I got rid of a lot of things this week and am on the way to getting rid of more. I realized I’ve been asking myself the wrong questions as I consider which items to keep. Usually, I look at things and wonder: “Will I use this?” or “Is this useful?” The answer to those questions is almost always yes. Here are my new questions:

  • Am I saving this item just because I want to remember some story? If the answer is yes and it’s not a vital piece of memorabilia, I am taking a picture of the item and donating the item itself to the thrift store. Only you can determine what is vital.
  • Does this item reflect who I am now? I am a former Medieval historian, so I have a large amount of foreign language dictionaries even though I no longer regularly translate French, German, or Latin. I can look up words online or in the library—I no longer need these references taking up space or anchoring me to my old profession.
  • Does this item advance my goals? If the item isn’t something I can use now to get where I am going, or something to make my life better on an ongoing basis, I don’t need for it to take up space in my home.
  • Does this item have negative associations? I was keeping a bottle of lotion an old lover had bought me because she loved the smell—I never liked it, and it ended up being a bad relationship, but I was trying to use it up. Every time I put the lotion on, it brought back all those negative feelings. I removed that lotion from my bathroom and substituted the stuff I love—less clutter, more happy.

I’m going to keep decluttering. I’ll have more room to store the things I love, and it makes it easier to find things and keep everything tidy. I have been trying to bring fewer things in to my life—everything that comes in takes its own space and maintenance. No matter how good I get at this—and I have gotten a lot better over time—I know it will be an ongoing process. As I change and grow, so too will my needs and wants. My life and my space will continue to evolve, and that’s as it should be.

Your assignment, should you choose to accept it:
232. Go through a small area of your home like a drawer and ask yourself these questions about the items you find. What can you donate to charity? What do you want to keep? Are the things you love accessible and out where you can use them?

The slippery slope to storage

I am constantly fighting a war. Sometimes my side advances, claiming an empty stretch of unbroken carpet. Sometimes the other side creeps forward, and new piles appear like stealth missiles.

Despite being a Zen girl, I regularly battle the dark forces of clutter. Zen tells me that nothing is inherently good or evil, and while I’ll concede that, I would label some things as relentlessly frustrating. I’ve gotten a lot better about this over the years. I purge numerous items every time I move, and I work very hard not to bring new things in without removing old ones. I do fairly well on the fronts I am monitoring, but I am very aware of clutter’s sneaky ways. One small decision can lead to a boatload of new items before I look over my shoulder. I try to stay aware.

I’ve learned to be very careful not to collect things, because the whole point of collections is to make them bigger. For me, that’s a prescription for doom. Each decision makes a difference in this war, and sometimes I find one that helps. I had my ears pierced as a child, and during my twenties I collected an enormous number of earrings. I decided, for a while, that earrings were my thing. I bought them, I made them, and I would wear a different pair every day. Then I bought and made things to store the earrings, to organize them. It’s amazing how something so small can take up so much physical and mental space. I quit earrings cold turkey years ago, and I don’t miss them at all.

Of course some things are worth the space they claim. I will always be surrounded by books. Home wouldn’t feel like home without them. Your results may vary. The friends who helped me move them up the stairs certainly thought they were clutter, but I know better. A person also needs certain things to function. I’ve got plates to eat from, and pots to cook soup. I don’t have service for twelve, though. I’m not running a restaurant.

I know this is a battle I will continue to fight, but each small victory brings great joy. Someday I even expect an end to the hostilities. I’ve just got to find my way through these boxes first.

Your assignment, should you choose to accept it:

164. What role does clutter play in your life? How does it make you feel? What can you do about it? Take one small step today.