Sentimental attachments: The Libra test

Blogging is an interesting way to occupy one’s time. In fact, I have a PhD colleague who did her dissertation on the occupation of blogging. Her study was fascinating, as she explored the meanings that blogging takes for different people. The thing that I have noted about blogging is that I write something, send it out into the ether, and then have relatively little sense of where it goes. Sure I can see when someone links to the blog, and I can track the number of hits on the site, and comments, but most readers pop in, read, and pop back out. As much as we bloggers talk about “blogging communities”, a blog is mostly a sounding board for a single individual, or a couple of writers, with a percentage of readers who comment on some posts. I love comments, but get relatively few, compared to the number of people who read this site. Sometimes I wonder…what’s the point? So much energy goes into this site. Does anyone really read it? I like writing, and the blog can be a good way to process my own thoughts and record our daily life, like an online journal, but the real hope is to impact some change. Living more simply changed my life. My hope is to pass that along. So it’s always encouraging to hear that someone was inspired by something I wrote, or a link that I shared.

Relatively recently, a friend started a minimalist challenge that she said was inspired by this blog! I found that very encouraging. Then I got a note in the mail from my mom today. She told me that she’s “following my mantra” – a load of stuff to the Goodwill every week! That is indeed how I pared down our stuff, and it felt manageable to make such incremental change, along with a sweeping whole-house Minify every now and then when the spirit moved me. My mom has been such an inspiration to me in so many ways (especially now that I’m a doc student – she’s been an excellent source of advice on life in academia!) It’s nice that we can inspire each other, every now and then. So that got me thinking – what advice helped me in the process of paring down our stuff? What was the hardest part, and where did I get stuck?

And that’s when I realized – I should share the Libra test. (I made that name up, by the way. It’s not a thing. Yet). I’m not an astrology buff, by any stretch. I like the Greek and Roman myths behind the names of the constellations, and I like astronomy quite a bit, but I digress. The point here is that this test has nothing to do at all with astrology, except that it was named after the zodiac image for Libra. Do you know it? The scales, for weighing two things against one another? Like this:

libra scales

The Libra test involves weighing your attachment to a pair of items, while literally holding them in your hands. It’s a way to help you let go of the less-loved thing, and to realize that parting with it will be totally painless. It started because I am a sentimental sort of gal. I save movie tickets, photos I don’t really like because they remind me of someone I do like, gifts that don’t fit. Or I used to, anyway. I have a hard time parting with an object if I have a sentimental attachment to it. “I still like this,” I tell myself, even when the object I’m holding in my hands is one I’ve never used, which lives on the back of a kitchen shelf. I feel an attachment. I really started noticing my attachment to things when I started participating in Project 333. It was so simple, and lovely, to dress with just 33 items. I realized that I didn’t need a closet full of stuff. I certainly didn’t need to own 12 cardigan sweaters. But when it came to actually getting rid of some of them…I had a hard time letting a single one go. “I sewed these buttons onto this one when I was in college,” I would think, holding a sweater that I hadn’t worn in the past year. Or “I got this one at a clothing swap from a friend who has now moved away,” about one that never quite buttoned up the front. I realized that I needed a way to help me remember that it doesn’t hurt to part with a thing that I never really use, and don’t need, especially when it could be put to better use in another home.

Here’s a current example: I have a pitcher that I bought in college. It was handmade, by a pottery student at my alma mater, and it reminds me of the mountains. In fact, that’s why I bought it: the glaze pattern reminds me of the blue ridge mountains. I like the pitcher. Since buying it ten years ago, though, I’ve acquired several that I like better. A fish-shaped ceramic pitcher from my mom, which glugs when we pour water from it. We use that every day. A blue handmade pottery pitcher that matches the set we got for our wedding. We use that whole set of pottery at every meal. And I have a sunset-colored pottery pitcher, also handmade, that I love so much that when it cracked down the side, I turned it into a crock for our kitchen utensils. I use that…you guessed it. Every day. The pitcher from college, meanwhile? The one that reminds me vaguely of the mountains? It sits unused, high on a shelf, because I have too many pitchers, and it’s my least favorite. It’s still a lovely object, and could probably get some daily use in a less cluttered home. Someone out there is going to love it even more than I do. And I can feel that – the sense that I don’t really love or need it – if I hold it in one hand and hold in the other hand an object that I do adore. When I compare the mountain pitcher to the blue pitcher from our wedding set, there’s no question of which object I love more, or would keep if I had to choose between them.

That’s all it takes – that moment of comparison, between a real affinity for an object that I love, and a mild sentimental attachment to an object that I know I should let go. That’s what reminds me that it’s okay to part with an object that I still kind of like, when I have several similar object that you like even better. It’s another way to approach the question, how many of these (scissors, pitchers, cardigan sweaters) do you really need and want to own? Figuring out which things I still really love, and which ones someone else will love even more, has been helping me pare down and get closer to a house that feels well loved, instead of just full of stuff.

Try it. See if it helps. Meanwhile, I’ll be parting with this mountain pitcher. Anyone want it? It’s in search of a better home!


Minify by the Numbers

I’ve been thinking about what it means to live a pared down life. How much is too much? When is it good to have a spare, and when is one enough? Here’s the current state of things at my house, for comparison’s sake:

  • Number of wrist watches owned: 1 (Timex Weekender)
  • Number of bike panniers: 1, but sometimes I think a second would be handy
  • Number of iChargers: 2, plus a car charger! 
  • Pairs of shoes: 15 (yikes! this is definitely too many)
  • Purses: 2 (one big enough for school books, one little one for weekends, both casual)
  • Raincoats: 2 (a sporty one and a work one)
  • Winter coats: wayyyy too many – I have a vintage coat problem. No, really. I have a Skittles rainbow of vintage coats, and can’t bring myself to part with many…I think there are at least 8.
  • Pairs of jeans: 6. WHY DO I OWN 6 PAIRS OF JEANS?!
  • Black pants: 1 (my closet makes no sense)
  • Pottery place settings: 8, less the pieces we’ve broken…
  • Boxes waiting to go to the thrift store: 5
  • Cars: 1 (shared), plus a farm truck waiting to come live with us
  • Bikes: 1 (mine)
  • Sweaters: at least 20
  • Sweaters I actually love: about 5
  • Alarm clocks: 1 (shared)
  • Bookbags: 1, plus a messenger bag
  • Bedside tables: 1 (mine; Josh just doesn’t have one)
  • Pajama shorts/pants: 5
  • Bathrobes: 3 (winter; summer; kimono)
  • Fancy dresses: 4 (3 from bridesmaiding…)
  • Fancy pairs of shoes: 1
  • Board games: 13! 
  • Cats: 3, all foundlings
  • Dogs: 1 hound/lab mix
  • Fish: 11 (all cohabiting in one 30 gallon tank)
  • People: 2 (no housemates at the moment! It’s a new feeling. We’re still adjusting).
  • Lamps: 3
  • Computers: 1 of my own, plus Josh’s 2
  • TVs: 1 (we watch Netflix, but never real TV)
  • Rugs: 1
  • Curtains: 2, in our bedroom
  • Throw pillows: 0
  • Throw blankets: 4, all handmade by loved ones (and we use them!)
  • Candles: 3
  • Dog toys: 18 (Arlo is decidedly unminimalist)

So that’s the breakdown of stuff at our place. Some of it is very pared down (the shared car, for example, or the single watch), and some of it is NOT (how can I possibly have so many shoes?!) Project 333 has made me ever more aware of how much stuff I have, and how little of it I actually need or enjoy having. Simplicity, I keep reminding myself, is a process, not a destination. There’s a scavenger hunt happening on the Project 333 page for aspiring minimalists –  I think some of the steps (like 10 books, or 2 winter coats) would be really good for me, and others (throw pillows? we don’t have any) we’ve already gotten ahead on. This is my challenge for May: I will part with at least one winter coat, 5 books, and a kitchen item. And a pair of shoes!


Craigslist Makeover: Guest Room Edition

I felt a little bad about our bedroom makeover from earlier this year. After all, I bought a new bedframe at Ikea instead of getting one secondhand. Granted, it was cheap and it will last forever, but no more of that. Getting things second hand is a better fit with our values, and a bigger challenge….goodness knows I love a challenge. Fortunately, I can learn from this going forward. We happen to have a two bedroom house – one room is ours (featured in the bedroom makeover) and the other is a guest room/office/laundry room. Or it would be, if it didn’t look like this:

welcome to our pile of stuff

 Featured here is  a bed that came with the townhouse, a laundry basket full of stuff for the thrift store, art my mom gave us, a file cabinet as a nightstand with a yard sale scarf draped over it and a lamp from college, the cedar chest my husband built, packages of pet food, all of the papers I have yet to file scattered all over the bed, and a sleeping cat (she’s the black ball of fur on the left hand side of the bed). And over in the corner, a broken bedframe and some cabinet doors we need to rehang.

And across the room, we have these rather eclectic closets:

craft stuff, stuff to sell, a wedding dress, a graduation robe, goodness only knows what else

Christmas stuff, camping stuff, our washing machine...

And in between them, this bookshelf, piled with stuff we almost never look at:

wedding photos, books and binders from previous degrees, and more clutter

And finally, there’s my desk, backed by some seriously cat-furred curtains and topped with a sewing machine that I don’t use because I don’t know how (and I don’t own a sewing table):

ugly desk, ugly chair, and not such a great quality picture!

Don't judge. This is the last frontier between me and a minified house!

We are so classy….I’m almost embarassed to put this out there on the internet. But how will you appreciate the after pictures if I don’t let you see the before?

So now my reasons for giving the guest room a makeover are clear. Here’s the challenge: everything must be secondhand, and since we’re also trying to minimize our spending…I’ve set a budget of $0. Any money we spend will have to come from selling things we already own (we’ve got a big pile of stuff I’ve been intending to post on Craigslist or take to the consignment store – stored in that first closet). Also, any spare change I find in the process is fair game to spend (don’t laugh. I keep finding lost rolls of spare change as I clean out the guest room closets. I wouldn’t be surprised if we’re sitting on more than 50 dollars, and that can go a long way on Craigslist!) 

That, my friends, is the guest room makeover challenge in a nutshell! I think it’ll be fun. Many of my favorite blogs, from Young House Love to Apartment Therapy’s ReNest, use a lot of upcycled and reused furniture in great designs, so I know it can be done! I’ve already identified some priorities (a working bedframe seems like a good place to start, along with decluttering a LOT), but I think the joy of secondhand is that you never know what you’re going to find. It’s like a treasure hunt! So wish me luck, and I’ll keep you posted.