Our Need to Quantify

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We seem to have a need to quantify everything. Is this a particularly American trait or is it something that appeals to certain personality traits? I wonder how many people are attracted to this idea? (That question, in itself, is a need to quantify!)

Sometimes quantifying works: People who are successful at losing weight often tract their food amounts and athletes who want to improve their performance keep logs and then try to best their own record. Sometimes it doesn’t work. The national controversy with testing school children has led many to conclude that children are being deprived of learning self-motivation, of time to explore, of just being children.

Does quantifying work for decluttering? The 80/20 rule, another way of quantifying, states that we use about 20 percent of our stuff 80 percent of the time. If that’s true, which I’m sure it is, perhaps some of these suggestions will be helpful.

Joshua Becker if his book The More of Less: Finding The Life You Want Under Everything You Own suggests that we get rid of 50 percent of what we own, to try to live with only half of what we have now. He asks “Am I buying too much stuff because deep down I think it will insulate me from the harms of the world?” We need to embrace security without over accumulating.

In The 100 Thing Challenge: How I Got Rid of Almost Everything, Remade My Life, and Regained My Soul, Dave Bruno explains how he downsized his possessions to only 100 items. He says his challenge was “a handy way to get rid of stuff that was never going to fix my past or make me someone that I was not.” It was serious soul-searching as well as earnest decluttering.

Marie Kondo, in Spark Joy: An Illustrated Master Class On The Art Of Organizing And Tidying Up, her second book, focuses on time rather than on the number of items. She feels strongly that decluttering, what she defines as finding what gives you joy and getting rid of what doesn’t, should be done quickly, not over time.

Another way to quantify our downsizing is the 40 Bags in 40 Days decluttering challenge. The writer of the blog White House, Black Shutters offers tips on how to do this and lists the rules (there really aren’t any) for anyone who wants to accept the challenge.

Rather than getting rid of stuff as these authors have done, many people have vowed not to buy more stuff. Just search for “no shopping blogs” and you will find many people who have documented a year in their lives when they chose to not buy any new items. For some, after seeing how much space they had and how easy it was to live with less, it became a permanent way of life.

In his book Joshua Becker writes about a shorter challenge: a woman named Courtney created a personal experiment called Project 333 where for 3 months she allowed herself only 33 items of clothing (not including underwear and sleepwear).

Dave Bruno writes that “downsizing not only would help take care of what I’d accumulated over the years…it was also going to be my way forward.”

Are we ready to move forward? That always involves change and this first week in July is Take Charge of Change Week. Let’s take charge of change in our lives. What can we get rid of?

Linda Hetzer is an editor and author of books on home designcrafts, and food, and coauthor of Moving On: A Practical Guide to Downsizing the Family Home

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10 Things to Do on Black Friday (Besides Shop)

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We’ve all just celebrated a beautiful day, a day set aside to give thanks and be grateful for all the blessings we have. For the past 25 or so years, using some logic that has always escaped me, the day AFTER Thanksgiving has become a day for a mad (and sometimes literally deadly) scramble to acquire more things, and to get up at the crack of dawn, leaving home and family behind in order to do so.

We’ve written about that phenomenon before here and here. This year I thought I would offer 10 alternative ideas for things you can do on Black Friday, if you are one of the increasing number of people who have decided to “just say no” to all that.

1. Take out some of the board games (or puzzles, or DVDs) that you gave or received as gifts last year and play them! 

2. Get out the photo albums (or the unsorted boxes of photos) and work on labeling, sorting, dividing, getting rid of the bad ones, etc. Tell each other the stories that go along with the pictures as you work together on this task. (Maybe even record some of those stories?)

3. Begin making homemade gifts. (Think broadly: baked goods, poems, songs, stories all make wonderful gifts.) Or make lists of gifts you may want to order on CyberMonday (December 1 this year).

4. Visit someone who is ill, or in need of company.

5. Make music! Sing!

6. Bake cookies.

7. Read aloud, by the fireplace if you have one. A few suggestions:  “The Gift of the Magi” by O. Henry.  Or “Amazing Peace: A Christmas Poem” by Maya Angelou. Or “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas” by Dr. Seuss.

8. Take a walk, or a hike together. Or ride bikes, or ski!

9. Clear some space in your home for the holiday decorations and gifts to come.

10. Make a bundle of clothing, toys, books or other items to donate to those in need. Or make and freeze a meal to deliver to a homeless shelter next month.

I think I can almost guarantee that doing any one of these things–and probably many more you can think of–will be a much better way to keep the beautiful glow of gratitude and thanksgiving alive a little bit longer. And a better way to enter the holiday season ahead.

Janet Hulstrand is a writer/editor, writing coach, travel blogger, and coauthor of Moving On: A Practical Guide to Downsizing the Family Home.

Tis the Season to…

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STOP THE MADNESS!!!

Or at least slow down and back up a bit, maybe?

Have you seen this meme that’s been making the rounds?  The image on the left is from the 1978 zombie movie “Dawn of the Dead,” the one on the right, a real-life photo from Black Friday, 2013.

I remember when that movie came out in 1978, a friend came home from the theater shaking his head, and said, “The moral of this story is that, WHATEVER HAPPENS, you must never stop shopping.”

Then 2001 came, and after our nation had been dealt the worst blow we had ever been dealt in our history, what did our President tell us to do, to make things better?

He told us to shop.

So here we are in 2013. Black Friday, which was bad enough (what is the purpose of dragging people out of bed on one of the few days many of them could sleep in, before dawn, in order to start shopping? I never really understood that) has now encroached onto Thanksgiving Day, which until recently was seemingly the one holiday that was impervious to commercial corruption.

But no longer.

I’m not sure what to say about this, except that this phenomenon has all the markings of mass insanity. And that clearly many of us are letting people who don’t know when to stop, run things.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

We can find ways to make the holidays special without having to spend a lot of money, or buying consumer goods in conditions that are unpleasant,  wrongheaded, and frankly even dangerous.

We can find ways to keep the wheels of our economy turning without playing this ridiculous game.

Here are a couple of our past posts with suggestions for ways to reject the madness, and still celebrate the season of giving. And to do it in a way that is kind both to the earth, and to the people living on it.

https://downsizingthehome.wordpress.com/2011/12/23/five-kinds-of-holiday-gifts-that-wont-cause-clutter/

https://downsizingthehome.wordpress.com/2012/12/06/four-tips-for-a-green-christmas/

Happy Holidays, everyone! May this be a peaceful, happy, season of true joy–the kind that has nothing to do with acquiring consumer goods–for you and yours.

Janet Hulstrand is a writer/editor,  writing coach travel blogger, and coauthor of Moving On: A Practical Guide to Downsizing the Family Home

Five Ways to Celebrate Memorial Day

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Monday is Memorial Day, a day set aside to remember and honor those who died in service to their country.

Sometimes it’s a little hard to remember that it’s not just a “bank holiday” that marks the beginning of summer, or a great weekend for sales. So here are five  suggestions for ways to put the “memory” back into Memorial Day.

1. Put flowers on a grave. Memorial Day used to be called Decoration Day, because that was the day people decorated the graves of those who were being remembered. My father did not die in service to his country, but he did serve his country. In the little country churchyard where his ashes are buried, every Memorial Day my aunt and uncle put  flowers on his grave and on the graves of all the veterans. That simple token of love and respect for those who served their country means a lot to me.

2. Tell your chldren (or nieces or nephews) about someone in your family who lost their life in service to our country. The serviceman in the photograph above is my father’s cousin, Howard, who was like a brother to him. Howard was a pilot who served in the European theater in World War II. His plane went down over the Adriatic Sea and he was never found. When I look at this picture of him, so young and strong and full of life, and think of how much he gave up, and how much his mother lost when she lost him (he was her only child), it makes me feel sad. It also makes me want to be sure that Howard, though he never had the chance to have a family of his own, will never be forgotten by the family he came from.

3. Write about that person, who they were, how, when and where they died, what they were like, and add it to your written family history. Writing this blog has made me want to know more about Howard. So one of my Memorial Day weekend activities is going to be to try to see what I can find out, and then record it in my family history files.

4. Find  any war letters that may be in your home and make sure they are safely stored.  If you don’t want them, consider donating them to a historical society, museum, or to WarLetters.com.  Warletters.com also has great advice for how to help preserve the letters you want to keep.

5. Go to a parade, and honor the veterans who are living. I don’t know how many small-town parades are still taking place on Memorial Day. I think some of us have been relying just a bit too much on “the greatest generation” to keep these things going. But look around your area and find out who’s doing what to keep the real meaning of Memorial Day alive, and support them! Go ahead and let your heart be stirred by the sign of the stars and stripes. Enjoy the patriotic music of the day. (I happen to know that there’s a wonderful, old-fashioned Memorial Day concert each year in Brooklyn’s Greenwood Cemetery.)

So there you have five perfectly wonderful things to do on Memorial Day weekend. You may notice that not a single one of them has anything to do with going shopping, or buying stuff.

That’s not what this blog is about. And it’s not what Memorial Day is about either.

Wishing you a meaningful Memorial Day, and a great start to the summer!

Janet Hulstrand is a writer/editor,  writing coach, travel blogger, and coauthor of Moving On: A Practical Guide to Downsizing the Family Home

Living with Less…

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In a recent Op Ed article in The New York Times, Graham Hill tells the story of how he accumulated so much stuff after he sold his start-up company that he came to feel that he did not own the things he bought but they ended up owning him. Although he’s unusual in getting a windfall from the sale of a tech start-up, he’s like many of us whose life is cluttered with excess belongings.

Hill went on to create TreeHugger.com, an environmental design blog, and LifeEdited.com, a design blog for minimalist living, and now lives in 420-foot studio where his bed folds down from the wall.

“Does all this endless consumption result in measurably increased happiness?” he asks in the Op Ed piece. Studies have shown that things do not, in fact, add to our happiness.

“Intuitively, we know that the best stuff in life isn’t stuff at all,” Hill continues, “and that relationships, experiences and meaningful work are the staples of a happy life.”

He ends his piece with “My space is small. My life is big.”

Laura Bloom is also a believer in living with less. In a post on her blog Finding Walden, Bloom writes that she is a big fan of throwing away stuff because she wants her house to be a space where things can happen. “I want to walk into a room and feel a sense of possibility, and spaciousness,” she says. “I don’t want to be reminded in countless ways of the past.”

Bloom was inspired by To Have or To Be, whose author Erich Fromm says there are two essential ways of being – having or being. Although our society encourages “having” Bloom follows Fromm’s idea that by not having, you create more space for real being.

“Throwing stuff away, even precious, valuable stuff, can be lightening and liberating” she states. In a comment to the post, a reader called this “a mental spring cleaning.”

We’ve just talked about about two people who made the choice to live with less.

According to a post by Patricia Redsicker, blogs outrank social networks in influencing consumer purchasing decisions.

Perhaps blogs can influence readers NOT to make purchases, too. What do you think? Did reading this post help you to not buy something or to get rid of something you already have? If so, what was the item and why? We would love to hear your story.

Linda Hetzer is an editor and author of books on home design, crafts, and food, and author of  Moving On: A Practical Guide to Downsizing the Family Home

#BlackFriday, #BuyNothingDay and #Downsizing the Home

Maybe it was bound to happen. As Black Friday gets crazier and crazier, more people seem to be recoiling from it in disgust. There’s even an anti-Black Friday movement: Buy Nothing Day, an international phenomenon that apparently began in Mexico in 1992, thus preceding the worsening excesses of the (literally) insane consumerism we’ve seen in recent years as the holiday shopping period begins. I just discovered Buy Nothing Day this year and was pleased to know I am far from alone in considering just about any commercial enterprise about the last place on earth that I would want to be on the day after Thanksgiving.

The news reports of this year’s Black Friday were pretty sad: a woman pepper-spraying her bargain-hunting competitors; a man attacked in a parking lot as he headed toward a store opening in the middle of the night; police using tasers to subdue unruly shoppers. To name just a few examples.

So, it was kind of refreshing to read the tweets in the “buynothingday” feed, which was trending on Twitter on Black Friday this year.

The thing I find hardest to understand about Black Friday (which in my opinion was bad enough years ago, when the sales began at 6:00 a.m.), is WHY.

Why is it necessary to open the stores earlier than usual? This just puts shoppers, retail workers, and their friends and families all in the nasty position of having the peacefulness and blessed NON-CONSUMERISM of their Thanksgiving holiday interrupted–no, destroyed–sooner than it needs to be.

Why couldn’t the stores just open when they open? There is not a single reason I can think of to justify this madness.

You would think that people would figure this out for themselves. And apparently millions have. They’ve decided to BUY NOTHING!!!

Here’s what we should all be remembering: WE are in the driver’s seat. THEY have things they want to sell. We may–or may not–want to buy some of those things. If we don’t want to get up in the middle of the night to get good prices on those goods–(and who does, really?!) then we shouldn’t have to, should we?

And the people who work so hard in retail–especially at this time of year–should be able to sleep in at least until the usual time the day after Thanksgiving–shouldn’t they?

Also, most of us already have TOO MUCH STUFF!

So. Maybe some of us should be using those days after Thanksgiving to GET RID OF STUFF instead of buying more.

What a concept!

Here are a couple of articles that ran last week, that will give you encouragement and some good practical ideas about how to go about doing just that, if you want to buck the Black Friday/Cyber Monday tide of consumerism.

http://www.blogher.com/great-pre-holidays-toy-purge-2011-made-me-weepy

http://www.stltoday.com/lifestyles/health-med-fit/health/jane-brody/it-s-time-to-say-goodbye-to-all-that-stuff/article_b7bcc958-70e6-5909-84cb-a1dc848f649f.html

Just think of all the miserable mall moments you’ll avoid.

And isn’t the prospect of a less cluttered home in which to enjoy the holidays a nice one?

I certainly think it is.

JH