Category Archives: living

115 Degrees In The Shade

Well, folks, I have a couple more practical posts in the making, but they’re not quite ready for public consumption. On the other hand, I did say I was going to post at least once a week, and it’s been over a week now, so I thought I’d better offer up something.

About That Headline

Yes, it’s one hundred and fifteen degrees in the shade (135° in the sun!) here in the desert west of Phoenix. The absorption refrigerator is struggling to keep its contents cool. Stepping outside into the light breeze feels like walking into a giant convection oven. The forecast is for another couple days of the same, and the area is under a Heat Advisory. Summer is definitely here.

Keeping My Cool

Thanks to the Wonder of Ancient Technology known as an evaporative cooler, it is a very comfortable 82 degrees indoors, without running the air conditioner. I love my swamp cooler — not only does it save energy and money, but it also allows me to enjoy fresh cool air and open windows instead of having everything closed up and recirculating the same stale air. In another week or so I’ll unfortunately be having to do just that when the monsoon season’s increase in humidity renders the evaporative cooler ineffective. I’ll also see my electric bill triple for about three months.

Avoiding The Heat

So what have I been doing while I stay indoors avoiding the heat? Well, I’ve been pecking away at decluttering. I am amassing a boxful of small electronic bits, pieces, gadgets, and gizmos that individually would not be worth the trouble of selling, and don’t seem appropriate for thrift store donation either. Still, they’re just too darn good to throw away. I’m thinking of putting the whole boxful on eBay as a not-quite-mystery box. I’ll put up a couple photos and maybe some general descriptions of the highlights, and see what happens. If nothing else, it will be fun.

Multimedia Maintenance

I’ve also been working on my digital library as I transition from “legacy” paper and polycarbonate media to bits and bytes on a hard drive.  This is an ongoing project which I spend time on now and then when I’m in the mood. I could go into more detail sometime if you’d like to read about it. Let me know.

Clearing Clutter Pays Off

There are plenty of ways that eliminating clutter pays off. More space and less distraction, for example. But I wasn’t expecting it to pay off literally. I was going through some folded bits of paper and receipts the other day, making sure I wasn’t about to throw away anything important, and there it was folded up in an old store receipt: a twenty dollar bill! Pretty cool, huh?

In Other News

Do any of you write for content farms, or have you in the past? Are you considering writing for one to help make ends meet? You should give this NYT  Opinionator blog post and this Faster Times article a read.

How I Discovered Minimalism

Notice that I didn’t call this “How I Became a Minimalist.” While I’m certainly displaying tendencies in that direction, I’m not quite sure I deserve to wear the label “minimalist” — at least not yet.

Making Changes

All of us who are or who aspire to be minimalists have our own reasons for initially seeking this path. Often as we learn more, our own point of view changes, and along with it, some of our goals take different shapes and priorities.

When I made the decision several years ago to move from a three-bedroom house to a tiny motorhome, many people considered that to be a very minimalist move. I suppose it was, seeing as I parted with over 90% of my possessions to do so. Would I miss them? Would I feel deprived?

A New Feeling

Guess what? Instead of feeling deprived, I felt liberated. Free of the clutter. Free of the responsibility of maintaining and protecting it all. Free of the fear of it being stolen or damaged. No more spending weeks (or months!) packing and unpacking if I had to move.

Clutter Returns

I was feeling liberated by my tiny mobile dwelling and my lack of stuff. So far so good. I wasn’t really thinking too much about it as a lifestyle or a philosophy, though. I just sort of lived my life. Now and then I’d realize I needed something I lacked, or, more often, I just wanted something I saw, and eventually, after a few years, I realized that I’d accumulated an awful lot of stuff in my tiny home! Uh-oh. Not so liberating anymore. Especially when moving was taking nearly a week of rearranging and cramming so as to make this thing drivable, and then a half a day of unpacking and rearranging just to be able to use my bed, kitchen, and toilet once I’d arrived at my next destination.

A New Quest

It seems that when I had first downsized and simplified, I hadn’t made the necessary changes in my habits and behavior to sustain that simplicity. Funny how clutter can creep up like that. A trinket here and a gadget there doesn’t seem like much at the time, but they slowly, almost imperceptibly accumulate until suddenly you look around one day and go WTF? I wanted to get back that feeling of freedom and serenity.  I consulted my favorite research tool, the internet, looking not only for decluttering tips, support, and inspiration, but perhaps some help on figuring out how, once I get things back to how I’d like them to be, to have them stay that way.

A New Community

I found a small but thriving (and growing) community of bloggers, most of them calling themselves minimalists, each at his or her own stage of dealing with a similar situation, and sharing their experiences for each other and anyone else to benefit from. In addition to practical how-to advice, I was also reading about  why and about the results and how entire lives were being changed, enriched by removing needless clutter and excess material goods. As I became more involved, and started participating in the comments, I found not only inspiration for my decluttering challenges, but also a renewed interest in my own blog.

Thank You!

I’d like to express my thanks to this community, of which I now feel I am at least a small part, for not only all your words, but for inspiring me to write more of my own words. You’ll find most of the blogs that I regularly read are listed in the blogroll in the right-hand column. Maybe you’ll find some you haven’t visited before, or haven’t visited lately. And thank you to my readers and commenters, who remind me that my own blogging is a worthy endeavor.

My Current Goal

My immediate goal, at least with regards to stuff, is to get things to the point where I could easily pick up and go at any time, with a minimum of hassle. I want to be able, while in traveling mode, to still have access to all the necessities without that sensation of being in a tile puzzle.  The closer I get to that goal (which, looking around me, is still a ways off), and the more I work on decluttering, minimizing, and simplifying, the more I seem to be absorbing of the deeper meaning of minimalism. Not just decluttering, but why. I’m seeing how I am not defined by what I own, and how too much of it can weigh me down, and getting rid of the excess sets me free. And not just the physical things, either, but how simplifying life and my approach to living it makes it better and gives me more time for what I want to do. So perhaps I am a minimalist after all. Or at least well on my way to becoming one.

How about you?

Do you consider yourself a minimalist, or at least seeking that path? Do you maybe lean in that direction, but prefer a different label? Do you find yourself occasionally straying from your chosen path, and need that occasional jolt of reality (or reading about someone else’s) to set you right again? What is your immediate or next goal?

Pantry Purge (fifty pounds of crap)

I  spent yesterday going through all my cupboards, nooks, and crannies with the goal of purging them of excess, expired, and otherwise unwanted food items. The task netted me a 30-gallon trash bag filled with about fifty pounds of crap!

Now if you’ve read my recent post about Right Sized Shopping you’re probably wondering how I even had that much junk to glean from my shelves. Well, I haven’t always been such a careful shopper. Preferences and eating habits change. Some things I bought on a whim and ended up not liking. Also, I’d only been applying the right-size principle to food I bought. I sometimes get food elsewhere, like neighbors moving out or doing their own pantry purges, for example. Someone asks me “Want free food?” and I say “Sure!” I don’t take stuff I would never eat, but I’ll take something that looks interesting, or that I might eat, or that I already have plenty of. After all, it’s free, right?

Some Statistics

So what ended up in the bag? Here’s some stats:

  • Oldest expiration date: Feb 1999 (12 years old!) baking powder
  • Expiration date of most discarded items: 2008-2009
  • Largest number of same item: 12 boxes of strawberry Jello
  • Honorable mention: 8 assorted ramen noodles with 2008 dates
  • Strangest item: 5 jars of marshmallow fluff (what was I thinking?)

Plus lots of other goodies like half-used bug-infested bags of flour and masa, countless boxes of long-ago expired Hamburger Helper and Rice-a-Roni (as well as their generic equivalents), toaster pastries (I don’t even own a toaster!) and, well, I think you get the idea.

Bonus Round

While  superfluous foodstuffs were my primary target, I also managed to find and remove some extra vessels and containers, too, further lightening my load and reducing the cupboard clutter. I might miss those pretty blue glasses for a little while — lovely to look at and nice thick, heavy glass — but they just aren’t practical for me and I can’t remember the last time I drank from one of them.

Lessons Learned?

While the purge was necessary and well worth the time and effort for its own sake, paying attention to exactly what I was throwing out helps me better learn how to avoid accumulating too much (and eventually wasting) food in the future. Here’s what I took away from the experience:

Shelf life may be shorter than expected, due to vermin – Buy smaller sizes of infrequently used ingredients so I can use them up before bugs get to them.

Know what I already have to avoid buying duplicates – I had multiples of many items that I regularly eat, probably bought because I saw them on sale (or got them free) and didn’t realize I already had plenty on hand.

Rotate my stock – With some things, I found I had very old expired product in the back, with newer product in front. As I add new ones to the front, the ones in back just get older.

Use a shopping list and stick to it –  This is one I really need to work on, as it would eliminate a number of problems. The way I tend to shop is a combination of a “need” list – these are must-have necessities that I am out or almost out of and will definitely buy. The rest of my shopping is what I like to call “opportunistic shopping” (or perhaps “grazing” would be a better word?) — I stroll the aisles of the store and pick up items based on what looks good, what is on sale, or what  piques my curiosity. I try to rely on my memory to avoid overstocking (which apparently doesn’t always work as well as I’d like).

I don’t have to take something just because it is free – Even if I think I am saving it from the trash, better it go directly there than to let it take up space here and eventually get thrown out anyway. It goes against my instinct to not waste food, but so be it. All incoming food should be selected with the same care as food I buy. If I don’t need it or wouldn’t buy it, why should I take it for free?

What about you?

Do you have any tips or techniques that help you keep your pantry pandemonium and cupboard clutter in check? Or your own story of excess edibles? Please share them in the comments.

Extra Challenges of Decluttering a Tiny House

I live in a tiny house. True, it isn’t what most people imagine when they think “Tiny House”, but at 100-150 square feet, depending how you measure, it is indeed tiny by most people’s standards, and even by some minimalist’s standards. Living in such a small space presents some unique challenges when it comes to decluttering procedures.

Stuff-To-Space Ratio

If I were to take everything I now own and put it in my old 1000 square foot house, I’d still have oodles of space. If lumped together, it would barely fill one room. If appropriately distributed throughout the house, it would probably look pretty minimalist.  But put it all back here, and it fills this tiny space quite thoroughly, and it is painfully obvious that I have too much of it.

The Task

There are probably as many ways to declutter as there are declutterers, but they tend to be variations on one of two basic methods: either empty the zone being decluttered (room, closet, drawer, whatever) and then put back only that which you are intentionally choosing to keep, or go through the zone being decluttered and remove everything except that which you wish to keep. In either case, some sort of staging area is needed for the removed items as they are sorted for discarding, donating, freecycling, or selling. In a bigger house, even if very cluttered, it is usually possible to empty part of a room, covered porch or patio, or at least clear off large table, or something, even if it means temporarily making a larger pile elsewhere.

My Problem

There isn’t really enough space in here to reserve any of it as a decluttering staging area. My bed and seats can be used very temporarily, but not for anything that lasts even overnight (especially the bed). I’m left with outdoor space, which means I have to hope the weather cooperates. And I certainly don’t want to leave anything of any value (although I may have decided that I no longer need something, it still has value and is worth protecting until it becomes someone else’s responsibility) out in the dust and dirt and sun and the various desert critters for very long.

If I knew exactly what to get rid of, and I was ready and able to dispatch the cast-offs instantly, It would be a lot easier. Trash (including various trinkets that are of such little value they aren’t worth the effort of doing anything other than trashing) can be eliminated quickly and easily. Items for donation can collect in a box or bag until my next trip into town. Items for resale are a bit trickier. They need to be tested, cleaned, and if they’re going on eBay or Craigslist, they need to be photographed and descriptions written. And then they need to be kept somewhere clean, dry, and safe for up to two weeks with eBay (or even longer if they don’t sell on the first try).

How I’ve Been Doing It

First I made an overall sweep for obvious cast-offs — stuff that I knew needed to go without any real thinking about it. I just pulled the individual items out and dealt with them as appropriate. Next, and this is the stage I am currently in, I go through small zones — perhaps a corner or a storage bin — that I can expect to complete in less than a day, using the bed or table as a sorting area. Since I don’t really have room for a “think about it” or “hide it and see if I forget about it” pile, anything I’m not certain that I am ready to part with goes back from whence it came, at least for now. Then I move to the next box, bin, or drawer. Once I’ve gone through them all, I start all over again, finding more things I can live without. It seems each round I have a bit more insight — becoming more attuned to minimalist philosophy perhaps. Often more of the “maybe” items go, but sometimes something that I thought was a definite keeper eventually gets the boot the second or third time around.

And So It Goes

Slowly I progress. Or so I hope. Sometimes I think this stuff multiplies all by itself while I’m not looking! WIth such a small place to work in I sometimes feel like I’m doing one of those puzzles where you have a frame full of tiles except for one and you must arrange them in a certain order by shuffling them one at a time in and out of the single empty space. I’m open to suggestions, especially from those who have already completed their major decluttering and/or are living in a very tiny space. Don’t be shy now, that’s what comments are for.

Towel Day

I almost forgot (and didn’t get this posted in time, either): Today is Yesterday was Towel Day. Do you know where your towel is?

TEOTWAWKI?

Surprise! It’s Sunday, May 22, 2011, and most of us on planet earth are still here.  Now I can go ahead and write another post or two that I’d been holding off on.

Seriously though, I almost feel sorry for those people who had so much faith in the impending end of the world (and the precision of the date and time thereof) that they gave up all their earthly possessions and responsibilities in anticipation. On the other hand, one might envy the opportunity they now have to start all over again with a clean slate. At least until next year.

Right Sized Shopping

I’ve always been a frugal shopper.  I try to get the most for my money, especially when buying groceries and household supplies.  This can sometimes be a real challenge for those of us who are single and/or live in small spaces.  Often the best bargain is to be had in the larger sizes.

Big House, Carefree Shopping

When I lived in a great big house it was pretty simple.  My only concern was if I could use it up before it went bad.  I had plenty of cupboard space to stock up on dry and canned goods when they were on sale.  Same thing with paper products.  36-roll packs of toilet paper on a really good sale?  I’d take two or three.  I also had a great big fridge with a great big freezer.  The freezer was great when there was a sale on frozen stuff, or things that can be frozen, like meat.  The fridge, on the other hand, while it was nice to have plenty of room for cold drinks and such, was really too big for one person.  It encouraged over-buying of freshies as well as collecting leftovers that had to be thrown out once they became unrecognizable.

Little House, Careful Shopping

Now I live in about a hundred square feet.  No room to stock up on toilet paper now.  I have a really small fridge (in reality, at 4 cu. ft. it is probably just the right size for one person) with a tiny freezer compartment.  No more stocking up on meat and frozen foods.  And I’ve learned what really needs refrigeration and what can do without, as well as alternative items (like shelf-stable UHT milk).  My strategy now for many consumable items is to try to buy only enough to last until my next regular shopping trip.  I think the business sector refers to this as “just in time” inventory.  The supermarket has a lot more room than I do – I’ll let them keep my overstock.  I still try to get good deals, but I know I am not always able to get things as cheaply when I only buy what I need.   I can call the amount I overpay the price of being able to live comfortably in a small space.  And while I might be spending more buying right-sized items, I’m not wasting as much to spoilage.

How about you?

Do you practice right sized shopping?  How is it working out?  Any tips you’d care to share?