Minimalizing the Closet

This is the year that I enter into my third decade.  As such, I feel like I have higher expectations for myself — expectations of acting responsibly and more grown up.  Well, not only does my wardrobe not reflect that, it also doesn’t meet my expectations for minimalism either.  So, some change is in order.

Through some Googling, I found that the “10 Essentials” for a woman’s closet in 2012 (courtesy Tim Gunn) are as follows:

  1. Basic black dress
  2. Trench coat
  3. Classic dress pants
  4. Classic white shirt
  5. Jeans
  6. Cashmere sweater
  7. Skirt
  8. Day dress
  9. Blazer
  10. Sweat suit alternative

This seems like a great list if you have a “normal” office job or if you live in the city, but I currently work outdoors 4 days a week and live in a rural area.  My lifestyle is very much “outdoors.”  So what to do?  For work I normally wear jeans, boots and a T-shirt (plus or minus a hoodie sweater, weather dependent).  As my hair has been very short recently, I wear hats and headbands a lot too.

I guess my goals for the closet overhaul are as follows:

  • Trend towards more neutral colors for my t-shirts
  • Try to stick to dark wash or black jeans versus distressed jeans– I distress my jeans enough everyday at work!!!
  • Try to grow out hair a little and stop relying on hats so much– with the warm weather coming up I am going to need the added breeze!
  • I also want to try to add some of the wardrobe basics from above just to have them on hand for when I am not grungy and dirty.  A girl likes to look nice now and then!

For this “more realistic” closet makeover I guess my general tips are:

  • Stick to neutral colors that will mix-and-match well
  • Only buy stuff that you LOVE
  • Only keep stuff that FITS WELL
  • Don’t get duplicates or more than you need
  • Don’t forget to give away items that no longer fit, etc. to charity.

And don’t expect this to happen overnight.  Classic pieces are acquired over the long-term.



The cost of clutter

  1. Money spent to initially acquire the good
  2. Money spent to store the good (“rent”)
  3. Money spent to move the good
  4. Mental agonizing over clutter
  5. Cleaning and finding things made more difficult because of clutter
  6. Cost (either financial or in time) to get rid of clutter when you finally realize you don’t need it

Oh dear, clutter is SUCH a black hole.  I need to work harder in both the “trying to avoid acquiring in the first place” and “getting rid of excess clutter” departments!



“The Day Spa” or, Simplifying Personal Care

My cousin recently revealed that she calls the laundry room the “day spa.”  The first time I heard her say it, I thought I must have heard incorrectly and I asked her to clarify.  She affirmed, explaining that she feels like she is robbing her two-year old of her blanket and her favorite stuffed toy when she has to “take them to the day spa.”  So funny and cute.  When I have kids, I think I will have to call the laundry room “the day spa” too.  For now though, I am taking my evening off for a little simple, clean & green personal care time.

I am working six days in a row this week, and I find little enough time to get anything done towards organizing or simplifying the house.  When this type of situation arises, I try to remember to just focus on just being, and to accept things as “good enough” (at least for now).  In that spirit, tonight I allowed myself a night off from laundry and dishes.  I gave myself a miniature manicure & pedicure, removing all the old polish, clipping, filing, and pushing back the cuticle from my nails.  Afterwards, I opted for a polish-free (and phthalate free) week and instead gave my toes and fingers a nice warm soak in water laced with Epsom salts and spearmint essential oil.  Now I feel relaxed!

Two days ago I spent the day at the bookstore with hubby and I happened upon a wonderful book called Organized Simplicity.  I have already read through the book, and let me tell you, it is a gem.  Today I decided to simplify my shower routine and followed her recipes for the hair cleanser and hair clarifier.  The recipes follow along with the no-poo movement and basically consist of 1 tablespoon of baking soda mixed with 8 oz of water in a squeeze bottle (cleanser) and 1 tablespoon of vinegar mixed with 8 oz of water in a squeeze bottle (clarifier).  So far, so good.  I feel really clean without any excessive floral or fruity smells.   I can take a deep easy breath and know that I will make it through the next week.

That first November evening

Today after work I came home, changed into my running shorts and sneakers, and headed out the door for a run.  I started out as I mostly always do, walking, and promptly noticed the coolness of the air against the bare skin of my upper arms.  As I rounded the corner, I saw three small deer pausing momentarily from their grassy meal, taking a moment to stare back at me as if they were questioning my intentions.  Several wags of a white tail and they were off, back into the woods.  Once I made it past the gate where the scruffy and grouchy, barking dog always waits for me, I broke into a jog.  My legs and lungs are not used to the exertion quite yet, and thus I focused on making it to the next telephone pole, at which point I allowed myself a walking break until the next walking pole, and so on and so forth.

Being outside and seeing nature feels good.  It also feels good to remember how slow it feels to run, compared with the speed I normally move at in my car.  When even riding the bike seems slow, running seems like a terrapin pace.  I guess even though I may think that I am living simply and slowing down, this must surely be a symptom that I have not been doing all that I can do.

In the house, I still work towards simplification.  Lots of things feel superfluous, and getting rid of them cathartic.  One thing I have realized I don’t like to go without though, is a candle.  I go through many candles, and though it is not a necessity in this age of electricity, I still find its soft light comforting.  Even when I am not using it as a light source, when I am alone it feels like a presence, a reminder of people who are not with me now but who are not forgotten.

With my cat, a burning flame, a hot beverage, a comfy blanket, and my hubby at home I feel fulfilled.  The evening is complete!  😀

Give or take

The Catholic concept of voluntary poverty has been on my mind recently.  The pressure to have a perfect house, decor, clothing, hair and body can seemingly consume a person’s existence.  On the way to this elusive perfection, we get so used to our goal of actively pursuing and seeking that we don’t ever stop to realize that said perfection is always just outside our reach.  In our pursuit, we become comfortable in our role as consumers and we stand blankly in the aisles wondering what shower curtain or shampoo could change our lives into the picture of magazine happiness.  Then the next issue of a magazine comes out and our decor seems outdated or unseasonable and we’re out in search of the next best thing.  Eventually, we become so suggestible and indecisive that we no longer even know what our houses and bodies would look like if they were truly our own, free from the influences of television shows and magazines.

When I first toyed with the idea of minimalism, I am not sure what attracted me to it.  I guess that a part of me feels guilty for having so much and yet feeling like I waste so much or that I have more than I could ever use.  I throw away food each week that goes bad before I can eat it; I have more clothes than I ever usually wear and the bathroom is full to the hilt with creams and soaps… it would take years to use them all.  What results is a throw-out culture and a residual feeling of deep guilt and shame.  Why should I be blessed to have so much?

What it comes down to is this:  While the ability to give myself shelter and food is a huge blessing, I find that in a real way it is a kind of curse to have more than what I NEED.  Past a point of necessity, things truly do not buy happiness, or thinness, or anything else.  They can however result in other problems… like the physical problem of moving so much stuff or the guilt over wasting things.

So in this, the second or third year of my pondering minimalism I have decided that I should strive for not only a minimalist lifestyle, but one that embraces the principle of voluntary poverty.

I have made some headway since my last post.  I have continued to sell a large part of my book collection.  At this point the collection has been whittled to nearly half of what it once was.  Guess what?  I don’t miss any of those books that are gone!  I have cut my hair short and am almost back to my natural color.  I have given many clothes and much bedding to Goodwill, along with some kitchen goods.  And yet, there is still such a long way to go.

One of the hardest areas, at least for me, is in the arena of ‘acquiring’ things.  It is so easy strolling into Wal-Mart to grab an extra laundry detergent or extra food that looks interesting, but in reality is not something that is truly needed.  I work towards the “have only one of any item at one time and do not buy another until you run out” principle but in all honesty, at times it is hard.  Very hard!!  But I am working on it.

Because deep down, I know I am a giver, not a taker.

I pray for the guidance to see that true happiness lies not in our ephemeral possessions, but in living in the moment and in our relationships with people.  In work and at home I will strive to give and to create happiness.  In this,  hope you will join me.

The Zen of Doing Dishes

Getting things done feels good!  As the kitchen sink is the epicenter of a clean house, I like to shine mine up periodically à la FlyLady style.  When I don’t feel like doing the task, I like to remember a quote by Thich Nhat Hanh about the mindfulness of doing the dishes…

“To my mind, the idea that doing dishes is unpleasant can occur only
when you aren’t doing them.  Once you are standing in front of the sink
with your sleeves rolled up and your hands in the warm water, it is really
quite pleasant.  I enjoy taking my time with each dish, being fully aware
of the dish,  the water, and each movement of my hands.  I know that
if I hurry in order to eat dessert sooner, the time of washing dishes
will be unpleasant and not worth living.  That would be a pity,
for each minute, each second of life is a miracle.  The dishes themselves
and that fact that I am here washing them are miracles!”  –Thich Nhat Hanh

Redefining Normal

I have an aunt that is fond of saying “Normal is just a setting on a washing machine.”  Her saying is a nice reminder that when it comes to humans, “normal” is relative, and a moving target.  Even within the context of one life, what is “normal” can vary from year to year, from life stage to life stage.

Recently I have had a few adjustments of my own.  I found out that I will be taking daily medication for the rest of my life.  Whereas before I used to get up and eat when I pleased, now I will have to take a pill with a glass of water and then wait a full hour before being able to eat or drink anything, including coffee or tea!  In the big picture, this is a small change.  Others of us may wake up one day to find even bigger adjustments in our lives.  This New York Times article is a particularly touching example of a woman who undergoes a dramatic readjustment of “normal.”

One of the biggest points of interest to me is whether we will make the adjustments in our lives based on voluntary versus mandatory changes.  In other words, will we only make changes in response to unexpected (or even expected) health crises or will we take impetus on our own in the name of prevention?

In my case, I think that a mixture of both response to personal and environmental health AND a desire for prevention are driving my hunger for change.  Here are the changes that I aim to make within the next few weeks to redefine my normal:

  • Train myself to take my medication– each morning I will take my pill with only a glass of water, and then wait the requisite one hour before eating or drinking
  • Quit caffeinated beverages– I have read that caffeine can exacerbate anxiety, something which I am keen to rid myself of as much as possible
  • Learn to use only toothpaste and deodorant as cosmetics– I am trying to cut back drastically on the amount of chemicals and plastics that I consume, most makeup and creams end up breaking me out anyways, and that is not pretty!
  • Get a low maintenance haircut & embrace my natural color and texture– for each person this could mean something different, personally I like short haircuts that dry quickly
  • Get in the habit of keeping the kitchen sink empty– the kitchen sink is the epicenter of a clean house, and cleaning dishes is a meditative task
  • Resist unnecessary spending and impulse buys– it hurts savings and never really ends up feeling good… I will reward myself with experiences instead of things