I have finally pinpointed the source of my anxiety and depression, and am taking action to combat it.
In one hand is a trash bag, in the other, a donation box. Bring it on.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

First Things First

The Joy of Less suggests starting with one room, one drawer, or one cabinet. Taking something, completely emptying it out, and then selecting which things to KEEP, rather than what to get rid of.

I love this idea. What I've been doing for the past year is selecting what to toss, piece by piece. The problem with this is that for every one item I get rid of, I seem to bring in two or three more. So by keeping three items, tossing one, and bringing in two, I'm not making any progress. Not only do I need to keep less, but I need to bring in less. If I follow this pattern, the theory is that I will then one day not be swimming in a sea of things.

I think there's an extra step that I first need to take: furniture. I simply have too much of it. I've been in denial of this, and collecting unneeded pieces for some time. I think the reason for this is because I've had to start over twice.

Let me explain.

When my husband and I first moved in together, it was in a joint-cross country move. We were young(er), in love, and way too anxious to start the next phase of our lives. So we dropped everything, packed a few bags with some "essentials", and jetted from Utah to Florida. We didn't even have a guaranteed apartment lined up, just one who had pre-approved us and said they had openings. We were footloose, and with four large suitcases and two carry-on bags (one of which only held my husband's desktop computer) between us, we had very little holding us down. As a girl who'd previously had a wardrobe that filled a large walk-in closet, three dressers, under the bed boxes, and a spare hanging rack (like the clearance racks you see in stores), having a wardrobe that fit into one (admittedly large) suitcase was absolutely LIBERATING.

The first night in our brand new apartment was a big adventure. We walked to a near-by grocery store and used our meager funds to purchase some basic foods and a few cooking implements we'd neglected to think about. A frying pan, a pot, a serving spoon and a spatula, two cups, two bowls, two spoons, two forks, and two knives. One of our bags contained things like a couple of towels, a shower curtain, basic toiletries, some spices, a few rolls of toilet paper, a few blankets, and one pillow. We bunked down for the night on the floor, cuddled together, our only "furniture" the stolen shopping cart standing in the corner.

In my wallet was a gift card to Walmart, given to me by my mother before I had left. The second day we were in Florida, we walked the three miles to buy an air mattress, then schlepped it back home. I'd never before felt anything so comfortable. Over the next few months we fashioned furniture from cardboard boxes, constructing a desk and dining tables on the floor. We had the good fortune to make friends with a couple who happened to have a car, but also didn't have any furniture in their home save for a bed. They set up their computers in our apartment, and drove us to Walmart where we purchased four bean bag chairs. You'd have thought we were royalty, we were so excited to be sitting in a semi-chair position. We lived like this for a while longer, all hanging out and playing computer games together in our free time, until one neighbor was moving and gave us an old couch.

This couch had a hole in the side, which I repaired with duck tape. It was also threadbare and a tacky 70's gold striped pattern, but with one of my blankets expertly thrown over it, it became the most luxurious spot in our place.

We lived in this apartment for a few years while we both went to school full time. Over time we replaced the cardboard furniture, bean bag chairs and decrepit couch with other, nicer, cast-offs from graduating students. Then we were married and the gifts we received filled out the place quite nicely. Our kitchen gadgets filled the cupboards, and we even bought furniture to accommodate the overflow. Eventually we had a fully furnished apartment.

Soon enough came the time to leave. We were done with school, out of money, and I was seven months pregnant. It was time to cut our ties and hightail it back home to Utah. We had to do it fast, and do it cheap.

In the end we disposed of most of our furniture, choosing only to take with us what was "essential". The only pieces we brought were our futon, doing double duty as bed and seating, and our computer desk. Once again, we had hardly any furniture. Our family came to the rescue, donating odd pieces to the cause. Within a month, we had recouped our losses, yet people kept giving. And for some reason, I kept accepting. Our apartment filled up fast, and soon the walls were lined with chairs, side tables, and cabinets. You had to walk a certain way through rooms to keep from bumping into things.

At the end of our lease we had to put the majority of our things into storage and move into my mom's basement. (Thank you, Economy!) We just didn't have the funds to live on our own anymore. So we crammed as much stuff as we could into a bedroom at her place. Two weeks after moving in we discovered I was pregnant with our second child. We were finally in a financial place to move back out two weeks after he was born. Nine months later, we were moving on. But something had happened. We'd accumulated, and grown. Now not only did we have a second child, but our first child had somehow evolved from "baby" to "toddler", and had all the accessories to go with it.

We packed our things, pulled the rest from storage, and tried to set up house. The only problem was that we were trying to recreate 1000 sq feet of living space, plus nine months of accumulation, into what we estimate is a 650-700 sq foot apartment. We had little success, and a lot of our things are still collecting dust in a storage unit.

We've now lived here for about 13 months, and the situation hasn't much improved. I've tossed things out here and there. I've shuffled and rearranged furniture. I've bought container after container, attempting to cull the ever flowing tides of stuff. So far nothing has worked.

My husband and I decided this tax season was finally the time to be rid of our collected furniture, and start from scratch in our living room. So I sold or gave away our mish-mash collection, and we bought a beautiful new sectional and ottoman on clearance. We banished excess furniture from our living room, keeping only what we NEED, and I LOVE IT.

I want to recreate this feeling though out the rest of our apartment. There's finally space to spend time in here, to relax and play. It's amazing.

Don't get me wrong, the living room still has plenty of "clutter" to conquer, but just limiting the amount of furniture, keeping only what we NEED and LOVE, has wrought such a huge change in how I see the space.

So that, dear readers, is why I'm going to be taking care of furniture first.

Tomorrow starts my journey. I must decide what to keep, what to rearrange, and what's getting the boot. I'm so excited!!

Here's to Minimalism!

Last night, around 1:30, I found myself sitting at the computer, plagued by a case of unexpected insomnia. I trolled through forums and posted on Facebook, hoping to tire my mind out and finally get some rest. Eventually I posted this on a few boards....

I've been reading a book on minimalism and decluttering, and now I can literally not fall asleep, my mind is so heavy with all of my STUFF. I've been trying to "declutter" for over a year now, ever since we moved into our current apartment last March. For all of my efforts, it just seems like our stuff grows. I'm fond of saying that "stuff breeds when you're not looking."

The book is The Joy of Less, A Minimalist Living Guide: How to Declutter, Organize, and Simplify Your Life by Francine Jay, and I'm 45% into it. (Thanks, Kindle, for the percentage!) It is completely changing the way that I view my things. I realize now why I feel stifled, trapped, and bored, even though I'm surrounded by "entertainment" "hobbies" and things that are meant to keep me happy. It's all just stuff, and it's taking up the space in which I should be living my life.

My bedroom is especially horrible. It's the space where things go to die and collect dust. Remember when you were a kid and would shove all those homeless things in the closet or under the bed when Mom came round for inspection? That's my bedroom. It's certainly not conducive to resting or being with one's partner! I was laying there tonight, and the words of this book were drifting through my head as I stared at the shadows of our "floordrobe", the stack of unwanted yet kept junk mail and old bills, books that I've read once and sort of liked, yet mysteriously deserve a place on my shelf....

Weighing even more heavily on my mind were the things I could not see... The ten sets of mismatched and too worn sheets shoved into the hope chest, kept "just in case". The out-of-date handbags and shoes, tucked away into the crevices of my closet. And Lord-Knows-What, stowed away beneath my bed, somehow too precious to be given the boot, and yet I couldn't remember exactly what it was that lurked beneath me.

I'm ready to reclaim my living space. Not so I can fill it up with more stuff  (Though I'll freely admit that it's something I tend to do and struggle with. The one-in, one-out rule gives me moments of panic!) but so that I can go back to LIVING within it! How nice would it be to actually USE my desk as something more than a resting stop? It was intended for crafts, paying bills, and a place to store my (VAST) makeup collection without it cluttering up the bathroom. Now it is covered in unfinished projects, catalogs and junk-mail. My makeup has taken refuge in the bathroom, where there is definitely not space for it. (Thanks to all the other bathroom stuff.) Whenever I intend to do any of those activities, I fish out the supplies and high-tail it to the dining room, where I can work in peace. That's not functional or pleasant to look at!

I am so looking forward to this new project. I'm going to be RUTHLESS. Do I need so many slotted spoons? Spatulas? Measuring cups? Mixing bowls? WHY am I holding onto clothes that don't flatter me? You know the ones. You take them off immediately after putting them on, yet for some reason they are taking up precious space in your closet. Oh, and why do I have bins upon bins of scraps of fabric from old projects?? Even if I were to do something using similar fabric again, I'd just go out and buy a couple yards. It's time to be real about it and RECLAIM that part of my closet...

Here's to clearing out my living space! Here's to minimalism! 

...If nothing else I hope I can at least clear my mind of the cluttered cobwebs and finally fall asleep....

I hope that my journey will be successful. I know that it's going to take some time, and I'll probably make some mistakes here and there. It's hard to say goodbye to things. They hold sentimental value, they could be useful in the future, and we spent our hard earned money on them. It's also hard to stop bringing unneeded things into our homes. There's so much out there that seems like a miracle product or a good deal. There's those gifts, freebies and samples from companies, and well intended gifts. In the end, though, I'm going to have to make the decision to only live with the things that I find to be USEFUL and BEAUTIFUL.

I've decided to chronicle this journey, and share it with all of you. I want to be able to look back and say, "See how far I've come!" It's also my hope that someone out there will be inspired to reclaim their own life and space.