Poignant Personal Stories Are Motivation for Living With Less

everything-that-remains2

 

Touching stories, sometimes heartrending, always deeply personal, help us see our lives more clearly. These authors, all declutterers and minimalists to varying degrees, have engrossing stories that explain how they got to the realization, whether sudden or painstakingly forged over time, that less is indeed more.

Everything That Remains: A Memoir by The Minimalists by Joshua Fields Millburn & Ryan Nicodemus

Joshua Fields Millburn grew up poor and worked very hard to become a poor man’s version of a rich man. He made more than enough money to have a nice house with lots of furniture, a nice car, and more tech toys than he could possibly use.

He was not happy. The idea that he could do something more meaningful with his life nagged him. “Something I’m passionate about,” he says. “Although it’s usually codified with statements of significance—declarations of  “following one’s passion”—I simply refer to it as my life’s mission.” His mission, he decided, was to divest himself of most of the things he owned.

His epiphany: Having less makes what you have more meaningful.

He thought, “If I adjust my lifestyle to revolve around experiences instead of material possessions, then I need much less money to live a fulfilled life. As long as I earn enough money to provide my basic needs—rent, utilities, meals, insurance, savings—then I can find my happiness in other ways.”

He embraced uncertainty. “I didn’t really have a grandiose plan in which every detail was set and every contingency was outlined. And I certainly didn’t have an end goad. Instead, I knew my direction, and I knew how to start walking in that direction.”

And walking in that direction led him to write a book, a self-published book.

 

the-more-of-less2

The More of Less: Finding the Life You Want Under the Things You Own by Joshua Becker

Joshua Becker was spring cleaning with his wife and kids one Memorial Day weekend. He and his son started in the garage. His son worked a bit and then went into the backyard to play. As Joshua stood there watching his son, conflicted with wanting to play with him and wanting to clean out the garage, his neighbor said, “Maybe you don’t need to own all this stuff.”

His epiphany: The best things in life aren’t things.

He asked, “Am I buying too much stuff because deep down I think it will insulate me from the harms of the world?” He states that a desire for security and a craving for acceptance are two basic human objectives that “we can foolishly try to fulfill by overaccumulating.”

Early in his journey towards simplicity, he says, that one of his favorite decluttering techniques was to grab a large trash bag and to see how quickly he could fill it. Sometimes he collected trash, sometimes he gathered things that went to charity.

One revelation that spoke to me was getting rid of things, like a tennis racket, that are not who we are now. He says, “It was tough to give up my hope of being someone I am not and not likely to become.”

Don’t settle for less, says Becker, find the freedom to pursue the things that matter the most to you.

And what mattered the most to him was to write a book about his experiences.

 

white-walls2

White Walls:A Memoir About Motherhood, Daughterhood, and the Mess in Between by Judy Batalion.

Judy Batalion grew up in a house filled with stuff: tuna fish cans, items of clothing still in packages, pens, papers and magazines, almost all bought as bargains by her mother who is a hoarder. She says of her mother, “She built bigger and bigger walls around her to protect herself but all she was doing was creating a smaller and smaller, deathly dangerous universe inside.”

Of her mother, she says, “I glanced at the bags under her eyes, shelves that stored sadness.” Reflecting on her dysfunctional family, Batalion discovers that her grandmother, a Polish Jewish immigrant who escaped the Holocaust, also used accumulating things as a way to heal her wounds.

When Batalion leaves her Montreal home, travels to Europe, she lives a minimalist life in an apartment with white walls, a vivid contrast to her childhood home.

Her epiphany: She was looking for a home.

“I was not my heritage of trauma and terror…I had been seeking something intangible. But Jon [her soon-to-be husband] was real. He was my home, which I now understood was not about a certain place, present or past, but between us. It was the ability to be your self around those you loved.”

And from a quest for a home that reflected who she is, Batalion wrote a book, a memoir that is poignant, funny, and warm.

We started our quest by emptying our childhood homes of decades and generations of stuff and wrote a book about it: Moving On: A Practical Guide to Downsizing the Family HomeIs there a story behind your quest for less? We would love to hear your story.

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

Do You Have A Vision?

Peeking into the future.

Peeking into the future.

In the next few days, as 2016 comes to an end (not too soon for many of us) and 2017 begins, many people will make resolutions – or at least think about making them.

One definition of resolution is “a firm decision to do or not do something” but, as many of us know from past experience, resolutions are hardly firm. Another part of the definition is “the action of solving a problem.” Yet, can we be honest, how many problems do we solve with New Year’s resolutions?

So instead of looking at the problems we need to solve or the things we do not want to continue to do, let’s look at how we want to see ourselves.

A man in one of my downsizing talks asked me, “Do you have a vision?” and I thought what a great question. He was asking about a vision of a less cluttered life; do the steps we take make more sense if we have a vision of what we want our homes to look like. But it’s also a question about life in general. What if we looked at our vision, the end goal, what we want our lives to look like, rather than at the steps or resolutions we need to take to get there.

For the new year, I would like to set goals for myself, goals that will help me meet a vision of myself that is more positive. Goals like having more kindness in my life, being more minimalist – yes, more of less, and having more gratitude for each day. I want to have a vision of myself as a better person.

Here are five areas where I envision a better version of myself.

*I would like to be more positive.

And I definitely want to be less negative, less anxious, less stressed, less judgmental and less of all the other things that I usually am. I want to take to heart the wonderful words of Gandhi.

“Keep your thoughts positive because your thoughts become your words. Keep your words positive because your words become your behavior. Keep your behavior positive because your behavior becomes your habits. Keep your habits positive because your habits become your values. Keep your values positive because your values become your destiny.”

*I would like to be more thankful.

The quality of being thankful has been defined as the readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness. As someone wise said, “In a world where you can be anything, be kind.” In a previous post I wrote about the wisdom of gratitude.

*I want to work forwards rather than backwards.

It helps to think of “ought” as the operative word according to Harold Schulweis, an author and activist who said, “Is faces me toward the present; ought turns me to the future.” It’s not what I am doing but what I ought to be doing. A great insight for New Year’s resolution makers.

*I would like to realize a dream.

Someone said childhood dreams never leave us, but we leave them. What would we do if we knew we could not fail? Lily Tomlin had it right when she said, “I always wanted to be someone, but now I realize I needed to be more specific.” Can we be more specific? What is one task or project or dream we have been putting off and what is one thing we could do to get started?

*I would like to be an even better friend.

Friendship, the coming together of people I value greatly, has meant a lot to me these last few years and I want to continue to be a good friend to my best women friends, my group of women, my extended family of friends, the men and women I work with, and the people I volunteer with.

So I will take a deep breath – or better yet do some yoga breathing – as I look forward to working on a more positive me.

As we approach the new year, I would like to share with you wise words from Susan Sontag in her Vassar College commencement speech in 2003.

“I haven’t talked about love. Or about happiness. I’ve talked about becoming – or remaining – the person who can be happy, a lot of the time, without thinking that being happy is what it’s all about. It’s not. It’s about becoming the largest, most inclusive, most responsive person you can be.”

A happy, healthy, and peaceful New Year to all.

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

Collecting: The Things We Love…

teddy-bears

“The things we love tell us what we are.” Thomas Merton

“The Keeper” is a fascinating exhibit at the New Museum in New York City that explores our relationship to things and reflects on “the impulse to save both the most precious and the apparently valueless.”

The exhibit is a series of studies spanning the 20th century that tell the stories of various individuals through the objects they chose to save and make us ponder the motivations behind their collections. The centerpiece of the exhibit is Partners (The Teddy Bear Project) by Ydessa Hendeies, a display of over 3,000 family-album photographs of people posing with teddy bears.

Some of the collections are of the result of a chance encounter. The Houses of Peter Fritz, preserved by Oliver Croy and Oliver Elser, is a collection of 387 buildings built by Peter Fritz, an Austrian insurance clerk, that forms a comprehensive inventory of Swiss architectural styles.

houses

 

Some collections were saved by artists who were interested in the natural world. Korbinian Aigner, known as “Apfelpfarrer” or apple pastor, was a priest and art teacher in early 20th century Germany who inherited his family farm and began to document the apple and pear varieties on the farm. He continued recording to the end of his life, even documenting the species he cultivated while at Dachau.

Wilson Bentley (1865-1931) was the son of Vermont farmers who grew up in an area that received up to six feet of snow a year. From childhood on Bentley kept a daily log of the weather and made drawings of snowflakes. He photographed more than 5,000 snowflakes. Such focus, such single-mindedness from both these artists.

apples

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

snowflakes

And sometimes a collection is just so personal. Howard Fried, a California-based Conceptual artist, displays the wardrobe of his mother Hannelore Baron, who died in 2002. It provokes the viewer to ask: Is this collecting, is it hoarding, is it art?

moms-clothes

 

In a follow-up article to a review of the exhibit in The New York Times, readers were asked to explain their collections. Perry Casalino of Chicago found an album of photographic postcards of old Chicago in a building that was to be torn down and that started him on an eBay hunt for more, which led to collaboration with other collectors and eventually a database of the scanned images that is used by authors and historic preservation groups.

chicago

Why do we collect?

Psychologists point out many reasons for collecting. Some people collect for investment, some for pure joy, some for the quest, some for the satisfaction of classifying and arranging one small part of the larger world, and some people collect to preserve the past.

When does collecting become hoarding?

According to psychologists, collecting becomes hoarding when it interferes with normal daily life. If it doesn’t, then a collection is to be enjoyed.

Do we bequeath a collection?

According to one collector who is selling a collection, to inherit a collection is a burden because the heirs never had the pleasure of the hunt or the satisfaction of the accumulation.

What to make of it all?

According to the exhibit, a collection often attests to the power of images and objects to heal and comfort, and a desire to honor what survives. In our book, Moving On: A Practical Guide to Downsizing the Family Home, we talk about ‘throwers’ who relish the experience of cleaning out and ‘keepers’ who are compelled to preserve special things as well as memories. The collectors shown here are keepers beyond compare, people who were compelled to save things that heal and comfort and honor the past.

What does your collection say about you?

We would like to hear about what you collect – and what it says about you. What do you love? Leave us a message in the comments space below.

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

Just Say No

yes-no- free clip art

Recently I was asked to give another one of my talks on downsizing and decluttering but this time the person hiring me asked that I not only talk about getting rid of stuff but also about not accumulating stuff in the first place.

Interesting thought. We have discussed this topic somewhat in our blog posts but have not really looked into it in great depth. Here are some tips I came up with.

What’s even easier than sorting through your stuff? Not bringing it into your house in the first place.

1. Don’t even touch it.

Studies have shown that handling an item makes it more appealing. Psychologists conducted an experiment: some people were handed a mug as they entered the room for a meeting; for others the mug was on the table. Those who touched the mug, were handed the mug, were much more likely to take it home with them than were those whose mug was on the table. So if you don’t touch it you will be more likely not to bring it home.

2. Don’t bring it into the house.

What can you not bring in? Junk mail: toss it in the trash as soon as you pick up the mail. Takeout menus or anything else someone hands you in the street or you take from the restaurant. Programs from the theater or concerts can stay in the theater. Pens or pencils given at a conference can stay on the table. Papers handed out at a meeting can remain on your seat. Just because it’s free doesn’t mean you have to take it.

3. Don’t overbuy.

We all love Costco and BJ’s but do we really need to purchase a package of six shirts when we really only need one or a month’s supply of cereal if only two people in the family like cereal for breakfast? No, we don’t. Buy what you need, not what you think you might need in an emergency. Of course, if your family loves cereal, buying in quantity is good. But if your household is one or two people, buying in quantity can be wasteful.

4. Plan your purchases.

Before you go shopping, for food or for clothing, check your closets and cupboards. See what you have that you can use to make supper – you might just need a green vegetable to add to the leftover chicken and rice, for example. Check your closets for clothes to wear to work. You might be able to create new combinations by wearing a new shirt with pants or skirts you already own. Buy only what you really need. For clothing, think about the one in/one out rule: for each new piece you buy, you get rid of one you’re not wearing.

5. Limit the items that tend to accumulate.

Most of us have things we hold on to. I accumulate shopping bags. They’re too good to throw out and I’m always carrying something – that’s my justification, anyway. So I have a closet that’s overflowing with shopping bags that fall out of the closet every time I open it, and they certainly do when my husband opens it. I have a friend who buys kitchen magnets everywhere she goes. How many does she really need? Put a limit on the number you save, of anything, say 10, and toss the rest.

6. Give gifts that are consumable or gifts of experiences.

Give gifts of food that the recipient likes to eat: good chocolate, wine, home-baked banana bread. Or a certificate for your signature beef stew or cassoulet, made to order on a date they choose. Who doesn’t love food made with love. Or give gifts of experiences, outings like a camping trip or dinner at a nice restaurant, a horseback ride, a massage, a museum membership, bike rental, a yoga class, music lessons, or a workshop in their field of interest. My mother often gave gifts of books or magazine subscriptions. My coauthor wrote a lovely post about gifts that won’t cause clutter; you can read it here.

7. Think about how much easier it will be to clean.

Less stuff around the house means less stuff to clean. And that should be reason enough not to bring things into the house!

8. Think about other things you can do with the money and your time.

If you don’t buy things indiscriminately, you will save money and you’ll save the time you used to spend shopping. Think about what you could do with the money: save for a longed-for trip, a particular event, or a special evening out. With the time saved, you could learn a new skill or read all those books you’ve wanted to read but never had the time for before. And then you could donate the books and clear out the shelves on your bookcase!

9. Show respect for the planet.

Less stuff in the house means less stuff put into the garbage. Less garbage taken to the landfills means a happier, healthier planet for all of us. See a post here about donating rather than putting things in the trash.

10. Practice gratitude.

Be happy and thankful for what you have. Someone will always have more than you do. You could always have more than you do. But studies have shown that being thankful for the things we have, for the friends and family, is mentally freeing, makes us calmer and more loving, and leads to a more peaceful life.

Less sometimes is more. Less stuff often leads to a more meaningful life.

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

Simple Practices: Forming New Habits and Taking Conscious Risks

Better Than Before Risk-Reward

 

Earlier this week I attended an author series featuring two best-selling authors whose new books “challenge readers’ daily approach to work and life.” Gretchen Rubin, author of Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives, and Anne Kreamer, author of Risk/Reward: Why Intelligent Leaps and Daring Choices Are the Best Career Moves You Can Make, take a look at new ways to approach the small moments in work and in life.

There are two kinds of people in the world, or so it’s said, those who divide people into categories and those who don’t, and Rubin and Kreamer definitely divide by category—as a way to better understand ourselves, say the authors.

In Better Than Before Gretchen Rubin’s thesis is that the key to changing our lives is to change our habits. The more we develop habits, the less we have to depend on willpower. “One of the easiest ways to conserve willpower is to make a behavior into a habit. When something is a habit, we don’t…have to make decisions.” In the book, Rubin identifies 21 strategies to use to make or break habits that will work for each of the personality types she identifies: Upholder (one who meets inner and outer expectations), Questioner (one who resists outer expectations but meets inner ones), Obliger (one who meets outer expectations but resists inner ones), and Rebel (one who resists inner and outer expectations).

The takeaway: What bad habits do we have – dropping the mail as soon as we come in, not putting things away when we’re finished with them – that we could change by creating good habits? How would this transform our issues with clutter?

Rubin is the author of The Happiness Project and Happier at Home, which we talked about here.

In Risk/Reward Anne Kreamer says that embracing “conscious, consistent, and modest risk-taking at work can help us become more able to recognize opportunity when it appears, and more likely to seize the chance to make the right change at the right moment.” Much of this seems relevant to managing our homes, too. Kreamer writes about four Risk/Reward personality types: Pioneers, Thinkers, Defenders, and Drifters, and presents a matrix so the reader can identify his or her own innate risk style.

The takeaway: What conscious risk can we take – one that may seem radical at first but is really modest – that will directly alter the way we look at the tasks we perform to keep our homes in order? How will this help us make the right change at the right moment?

Both authors show how a little thought, a little more awareness about what we do each day can lead us to rethink our routines. What works for us, and what doesn’t? If something doesn’t work, can we shed it and replace it with a habit that does work? If a practice works for us, can we enhance it and make it work even better? Are we up to the challenge of taking a risk to change our behavior?

The key takeaway from these authors is to be aware of the small things we do every day and to make those moments more meaningful. As Gretchen Rubin says, “What you do every day matters more than what you do once in a while.” Here’s to forming new habits and taking conscious risks to make our days better.

GretchenRubinPix
Gretchen Rubin signing books at @Macaulay Author Series.

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