Yep, I’m a minimalist

I can go months and months and months without talking about minimalism in real life. But it seems like when I finally do talk about it, it keeps coming up.

Which is fine. I like a soapbox. Especially when I’m the one who’s on it. 😉

I’ve noticed that I have two conversations about minimalism these days: Those who know about my tendencies and want to talk about their own journeys, and those who bring it up as “This is something I’ve been thinking about” and are excited when I tell them I am one.

When I first started my journey, I had to answer questions like, “Do you have furniture?” or “Sure, you’re doing it, but what does your FAMILY think?” It didn’t seem very mysterious to me — less stuff, yay! — but it apparently struck everyone else as an enigmatic exercise in futility.

I mean, I get it. It was 2012. It was a fringe movement. There’s been a lot more focus on the minimalist and zero waste fronts in the past couple of years and that’s made it a lot less scary to the general public, I think. People have at least heard about it now. The logistics of the thing aren’t really what I’m being asked about anymore.

Now, it’s people telling me how they shop secondhand or bring a water bottle when they go out or how frustrating decluttering a room can be. And I get to say, yeah, I hear you.

It’s a nice change of pace.

A list of recent conversations: One at the grocery store with Johanna’s seventh grade robotics coach; another at a picnic with someone I’ve known since I was 9; at the dentist office; and a rare fact-to-face visit with my dear friend Shannon (hi Shannon!).

The robotics coach was frustrated with her decluttering efforts (“Have you heard of KonMarie?” she asked) and we talked about how it takes years to accumulate, but we think we can somehow get rid of a houseful of belongings in an afternoon. I told her the difficulty in removing items is actually an important part of the process — it means you’ll think about how you’re going to get rid of any new items you bring in on the front end. She was not excited to hear that but said it made sense.

We also talked the Minimalists (“What do you think of those guys?” she asked). I’m a fan of anyone who helps bring the gospel of minimalism to the people and make it palatable (whether or not their style is my jam).

I told the family friend that Eric was actually the one who packed the reusable plates, cutlery and napkins for the picnic we were attending (I made my own lunch in my own container, as per usual), that I’d made myself an iced coffee before we came and yes, this glass is specially for that purpose, and that it’s easy to get used to carrying around a water bottle. She asked a few questions and made a few comments and seemed intrigued. (Progress, since she’s one of the ones who tried to talk me out of it years ago.)

I told the hygienist how I’d found some bamboo “perio sticks” that are not only Trisha-friendly on the diet front but also compostable with a recyclable or reusable tin container. She told me that was my best appointment ever and my gums looked amazing. I told her that I was inspired by her telling me not flossing ever was “not ideal.” That made her laugh. And then she was like, You want a plastic toothbrush? and I was like, Nah, and she nodded like she expected as much and then I left. P.S. She thought the perio sticks were a scam when I first told her about them; my mouth made her a believer. Eventually the dentist came in, said he’d tell patients about the perio sticks as an alternative to floss and said, “Hey, did you know you can get bamboo toothbrushes now?!” and he was so excited about sharing that information that I kind of felt bad that I had to tell him I’ve been using such a toothbrush for years.

And Shannon told my mom and me how, in honor of my birthday month last year, she gave up disposable grocery bags in favor of reusable — and that when she forgot them, she’d put single items back into the cart after checkout and bag them herself at the car. I was touched by her dedication. Then we talked about Market of Choice. What I could do with a store like that in my hometown! (Bulk apple cider vinegar? Are you kidding me? I WANT THAT.)

Anyway, what I’ve noticed with these conversations is that people are doing their best (even me, hashtag perio sticks) (hashtag yeah I know it’s supposed to be # but you guys, that’s really called the pound key and I can’t.) Sometimes it’s easier to be a minimalist than others. Sometimes it’s a matter of making up your mind and then following through. Sometimes it’s doing the best you can with a bunch of really terrible options.

Sometimes it’s about not buying that thing in the first place.

P.P.S. I know I’m talking about minimalism and zero waste as if they were interchangeable, because that’s how I think of them: Two sides of the same coin. That’s my preference; it’s okay if it isn’t yours. I am not the boss of you.


In which I try a shampoo bar

One of my consistent inconsistencies, as Eric calls them, is my willingness to try something new based on its weirdness factor. I like routine, I’m happy with my established likes and dislikes, I don’t need to go chasing the next big thing. Um, except when I do.

While in Banff last month, we happened into the Rocky Mountain Soap Company shop. Never heard of it, but this place was right up my alley — minimally packaged soaps of all description that weren’t overpowering (I kind of hate smells. Also, there were plenty of packaged items, but I wasn’t in the market for lotion).

As I looked around the shop for the lavender bar that had been supplied at the condo we were staying at — I wanted to get a couple of gifts — I spotted a rosemary shampoo bar.

You know, I’ve always wanted to try a shampoo bar. Back during my Simple Year/zero waste year, I thought a shampoo bar would be the answer to all my packaging problems. I was following a couple of zero waste boards at the time, and everyone seemed quite excited about their own shampoo bars. But, living in a small town with limited options, I never did find one.

And here was whole stack!

So I bought one. I talked to one of the shopkeepers and she suggested cutting it into pieces so I wouldn’t have an entire bar to contend with in the shower AND because it would help on the lather front. I took note and gleefully made my purchases.

Here’s what I didn’t think about before actually hopping into the shower with a shampoo bar: I have thick hair. We’re talking enough hair for three people, and I wish that was hyperbole, but it’s the truth. Ask the darling woman who cuts and thins it every three months so I can keep this mop under control. I lathered my piece of shampoo bar — wow, very nice lather! — and then … tried to figure out how to translate that to my entire head. I concentrated on my scalp. I tried my best. And overall, my hair did feel clean. It just that it did not feel like my hair. The texture was off.

I was ready to try again. And again.

By the third try, I decided that what I really needed to do was lather up in my hands AND rub the bar all over my scalp for maximum suds. And that was the best hair wash I’d had up to that point. But while my hair definitely felt and looked clean, the texture was still off.

The next time I washed my hair, I used Eric’s packaged shampoo and conditioner. And breathed a sign of relief. And then I sat down to write a post about my shampoo bar failures.

But as I was writing, it occurred to me that there was a possibility it wasn’t the bar, but my lack of experience / knowledge of how to properly use one. I did a quick search and found the following advice:

Rub the bar up and down your hair to work up a lather, rinse and repeat — and then rinse and repeat again for a total of three times, followed by an apple cider vinegar rinse.

Bonus weird round! I was on it!

So that’s what I did. I rubbed the bar on my hair in sections, and lo and behold, I got an amazing lather that translated quite nicely to my scalp. I repeated the process until I’d washed my hair a total of three times. By the third time, I felt like I had really gotten somewhere with the bar — my head felt clean.

Then it was time for the apple cider vinegar rinse. I have a squirt-type bottle I use for the bulk bins (bulk jugs, I guess) at the grocery store, so I filled that with a little ACV, topped it off with water (um, maybe a cup total?) and rinsed my hair all over with that. I used the whole thing because why the heck not? The site said that the ACV helps restore the pH balance. I could tell it worked right away as I was rinsing it out. (Um, wow, that hurts when it gets in your eyeballs.) I could tell it worked as I brushed my hair. I could tell it worked as I watched it dry.

My hair felt soft! It was manageable! There was a slight apple smell from the vinegar, but I didn’t mind. It’s the manufactured smells that make me feel slightly ill.

I will be darned. I guess I’m a fan after all. Good thing this Canadian company does mail order. 😉

That ended up being a really good stop.

A modest proposal

This Fourth of July, I’d like to propose that we ban over the counter fireworks in the United States.

My reasons are thus:

From an environmental standpoint, over the counter fireworks are wasteful. Most are not disposed of properly and can be seen littering the streets and sidewalks for days after they’ve been used.

Environmental standpoint II: This is fire season. Fireworks pose a risk of setting fires. And fires can be deadly and devastating.

From a pet owner’s standpoint, over the counter fireworks cause a great deal of unnecessary alarm. The kittens do not understand what these loud noises are, just that they are loud. I’ve written articles about pet safety for the Fourth, and dogs and horses are also at risk for running away or harming themselves as they attempt to flee the noise.

From a mother’s standpoint, getting a kid to bed when the neighbors are shooting off fireworks at midnight? Yeah, impossible.

I know that there will be those who disagree. Over the counter fireworks are fun, the booths provide fundraiser opportunities and it’s a once a year treat.

My answers to these arguments: There are city-funded fireworks on the evening of the Fourth (that could most likely benefit from a donation of whatever you would have spent on over the counter fireworks — I know our city would — and are more satisfying to watch then tiny sprays of fire), my favorite fundraisers are those where I give you money and you give me nothing, and it’s never once a year — it’s the week before and the week after, and then you have to deal with the noise again for some reason on New Year’s.

In conclusion, over the counter fireworks are an environmental hazard and can potentially cause unnecessary harm to children and pets. If the U.S. won’t ban them, then I’d settle for Oregon. Hell, I’d settle for just my city.

*Unlike my buddy Jonathan Swift, I am serious.

Scarcity myth

Abby and I have a tradition of Friday Lunch when she’s home from college. We both work downtown, so we meet up and walk to a nearby coffee shop. It’s a chance for us to hang out and catch up. And it’s fun.

During our most recent lunch, the two of us got onto the topic of journals and planners and how we keep track of our days. She talked about using hers to journal and get into a healthier routine; I’m sort of over my planner because it’s got a self-help aspect to it and, since my father-in-law’s death, I’ve just kind of decided I’d rather enjoy the moment instead of constantly feeling like I need to be working towards some goal.


Scarcity mindset: That there is never, EVER enough. Photo by Bernard Hermant on Unsplash.

And then Abby was all, Well, that’s the scarcity mentality, Mom. It makes you think there’s never enough time or money and that you constantly have to work to improve your situation. That you’re never good enough. And I was like, WHAT.

Because I’d never thought of it like that, in terms of why I always feel like a hamster on a wheel. But lo and behold, the answer is simply that we’re bombarded with messages that we are not enough as we are.

Case in point (and I’m still kind of pissed about this, vaguely): We went to the big city recently to buy an eighth grade promotion dress for Johanna. While in the mall (wow, nothing like going to a mall to remind you why they suck), a salesman called me over and tried to sell me all manner of beauty product to improve my skin in general and lift the area under my eyes in particular. ‘Cause I’m noticeably middle aged, I guess.

And then, as I was walking away, a saleswoman tried the same thing. I was fuming. Eric was like, They’re just doing their job, and I was all, Yeah, point taken, but why, as a woman, am I supposed to give literally any shits whether or not I meet some unattainable definition of beauty? They aren’t calling YOU over.

I am six feet tall (truly, that’s not program height 😉 ) and I weigh 138 pounds. And I still feel like my body isn’t thin enough in the right places. I don’t color my hair, but I keep it trimmed and thinned, and I use a flat iron religiously because it’s very thick and that’s the only way I can keep it from puffing out. And my skin care routine is basically a bar of soap and some sunscreen, but I wear makeup because then I feel presentable.

So basically I was fuming because it made me confront all the ways I DO give a shit. Self-realization is hard, yo.

But Abby’s words made it seem more … I don’t know. Like, I could understand the tendency on a fundamental level. It’s just that I wanted to actually know why this is even a thing.

So: I started researching “scarcity mentality” to try to figure out more thoroughly what it means and what it does to a person’s overall health.

Most of what I found had to do with financial issues. Finding information on the mental and emotional aspects was harder and I never really did come across anything that struck me as an explanation as to why we do this to ourselves. I did find a book called “Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much,” which I have added to my reading list. But otherwise, the closest I came was this paragraph:

Having thoughts and feelings of scarcity automatically orients the mind towards unfulfilled wants and needs. Furthermore, scarcity often leads to lapses in self-control while draining the cognitive resources needed to maximize opportunity and display judgment. Willpower also is depleted, which makes one prone to feelings of giving up. People in this state attend to the urgent while neglecting important choices that will have a drastic effect on the future. (LINK)

(That was the only part of that article I found helpful, incidentally.)

What I found ironic about my (admittedly quick, we’re talking a couple of hours) research is that most articles were linked with ways to create an abundance mindset — and I have no interest in that, as it seems like one more think I need to feel bad about: My mindset isn’t abundant enough! Better add that to the list of self-improvements!

So my overarching questions did not get answered immediately is what I’m saying. What did become clear to me is that this scarcity mentality is probably why minimalism is still considered an alternative lifestyle choice (and again, easy for me since I’m not financially strapped), why I sometimes make terrible decisions on everything from adding to my closet to what I put on my plate, and why we live in such a need-based society — why we’re never satisfied with what we have and where we are (we need more money / recognition / socks / knickknacks / travel / friends / health / etc.).

My limited search did make me think of this on a grander level, as in people I know, as I’m sure we all do, who never give but always take and/or why women have such a hard time rooting for each other, as if someone else’s success somehow takes away from our own. Why sometimes I don’t want to give. Why I have to make a point to remember I want us all to win.

And that maybe, much like I shout I CHOOSE PEACE when I find myself in a negative mental loop, I need to start yelling THAT’S A SCARCITY MENTALITY when I catch myself wondering if my neck is too wrinkled or thinking that I need a certain object to make my life better or catch myself feeling angry that I have to donate $5 to that person’s office birthday fund when everyone knows she doesn’t donate herself, even though $5 means nothing to me.

Uh, I might have some unresolved issues to work through.

I find this quite fascinating and I’ll follow up after I read “Scarcity.” I would really, truly love to hear your thoughts on this topic. I don’t pretend to be an expert on this after one conversation with my brilliant kid and a quick search.

Link HERE: The NPR story on the authors of “Scarcity” and what they learned in their research. It’s a quick read.

Decluttering v758.0

Let’s see here: I started my minimalism journey in 2012 and began decluttering. I started Project 333 in 2013 and eventually made two more passes through the house, particularly my kitchen, before starting a zero waste year in 2016.

And here we are, 2019 and I’m starting to declutter again. Um, how many times am I going to have to do this?

Never mind, rhetorical question. All of that is just to say, here we go. One more time. And probably not even the last.

I’m actually a couple of months into this and, wardrobe aside, it’s going fine. What’s really helped me is following the FlyLady zones because it gives me a set area to concentrate on with the added bonus of mini-missions. I can’t say I follow what she prescribes each week because I have a different agenda. But I do give myself five chores at the beginning of each week that can be accomplished in 15 minutes.

Spoiler alert: I generally manage to get four of the five done, which I count as a success.

Anyway, it’s been quite helpful in getting down to the nitty gritty of cleaning and purging that I haven’t had time for / haven’t wanted to deal with in the past. I’ve cleaned under the bathroom sink, tackled the top shelf on my side of the closet, gone through and wiped down cabinets in the kitchen and started in on the hutch. I kind of like the hopping around from space to space because then I don’t get bored. And because I set a time limit, I don’t get frustrated or bogged down.

One thing I’ve learned in all that past decluttering is that you can burn yourself out quickly if you try to do too much to fast. Which is why I am a big fan of this slower route. 

It amazes me how much cleaner a particular area can look after each of these small sessions. How it all adds up. And how accomplished I feel. It’s not all about decluttering for me, per se — it’s about getting a handle on my home. Getting rid of stuff is just an added bonus.

I guess my point is this: No matter where we are on our minimalist journey, there is still work to be done. And half the battle is starting. AGAIN.

Wardrobe woes

Once upon a time, I really had a handle on my wardrobe (thanks, Project 333!). It’s been a year or so since I stopped P333 because I felt like I’d learned the lessons I needed to and, at the end of the day, it didn’t matter how many items were in my closet. I’m a minimalist. I gravitate towards minimalism.

Ha ha ha, isn’t it HILARIOUS when you get all cocky about being a genius and then the world knocks you down? Karma in action! Because:

Johanna and I hit the Goodwill in the town next door a couple of weeks ago — the weather had turned quite warm and I wanted some “spring-y” t-shirts. Johanna just enjoys thrifting in general and always finds something. The problem is that once she finds it (and buys it), she doesn’t always like it later on. This is actually called “pulling a Johanna” in our household.

My “spring-y” t-shirts ended up being burgundy, gray and a black/white patterned tank — I guess I’m not cut out for bright colors. (I saw a pink cardigan that was kind of cute and asked Jo what she thought, and she was like, That’s not even you. True, kid, thanks for the wisdom. Gray it is!) When we got home, I began organizing my closet for the warmer months. Johanna decided to go through her closet and got rid of a couple of items, one of which was a striped navy number that I decided to add to my closet instead of the rummage sale bag.

My spring t-shirt situation was really starting to look up, but my closet was getting away from me. I started running out of hangers. And I refuse to get more hangers. I have more than enough if I keep my closet to 35 or so items. Um, that ship had sailed, so I solved that problem by folding sweaters and long-sleeve t-shirts and storing those in my standing wardrobe. Not ideal because I tend to forget about what I can’t see hanging in front of my face. On the upside: It did make things look more manageable, at least.

And then Abby came home for the summer — P.S. YAY — around 6:30 p.m. last Monday. She decided she needed her room completely clean before she went to bed (she is the most organized teenager ever), which seemed to me like an impossible task, just looking at all the boxes and bags and suitcases she had strewn around the place. I was tasked with hanging up her clothing.

“I have a lot of clothes,” she said, “but I love them all.”

No judgement, kid. It’s your life and your closet. I’m just over here, hanging it all up.

As she went through her suitcases, there were a few items she decided she no longer wanted … one being a baseball-style t-shirt she got in high school that I’ve always thought was adorable. Um, so that’s now in my closet.

And then the weather went from 90 degrees F last Saturday to 65 degrees by Wednesday. So all the sweaters I had folded KonMarie-style (damn you, Netflix!) are now hanging across the bar in my closet. So I can get to them. Because I’m out of hangers.

What were the lessons I’d learned about minimalist closets again? I’ve clearly lost my wits.

Anyway, here’s my solution, and I will tell you right now that it’s lame, but it’s what I’ve settled on so whatever: When I wear an item, I turn the hanger back-to-front (putting it in backwards?) so I can see what I’m actually wearing. Of course, whatever I’m wearing out of my standing wardrobe doesn’t get the same treatment, but I’ve decided that isn’t so much of a problem because it’s not prime real estate like my closet. At the end of the month (which is coming up surprisingly quickly), I will reassess.

Um, so the moral of this story is that I’ve got a little work to do. 😉

P.P.S. Some links on my experiences with P333 (that maybe I should read myself):

HERE (Just beginning and the issues I ran into right off the bat)

HERE (Putting together a spring and summer wardrobe)

HERE (Lessons learned from my winter wardrobe)

Paper vs. digital

We’re going to go a different direction with today’s post — and ironically, I’m going to use a digital platform to talk about paper.

I’ve never actually thought much about paper vs. digital formats, I guess because my life naturally involves both. I started blogging on my 39th birthday as a way to deal with having the 40s in my sights, but even before that, most of my working life has revolved around what I produce on a desktop computer screen.

Eric and I got our first home computer in 2001 — Abby was around 2 — and I immediately took to it. I am a fast typer (had to be: English major, history minor, there were a lot of papers going on in my college days) and I enjoyed being able to toss out my thoughts quickly and cleanly. Word docs look so organized!

I have also been an avid journal keeper for … most … of my life. I started at around 10 years old (I was also writing stories in earnest when I was 6, much to the delight of my first grade teacher, who just knew I’d have a writing career. I guess she was sort of right) and kept them religiously until I was 25 or so. Then I just got busy. When the girls were born, I kept journals of the funny things they said while simultaneously writing about how overwhelming young children are. (I’m so happy with my older kids, I can’t even tell you.) And I’d go through phases where I’d keep a personal journal — mostly that was anxiety control, and the thought of rereading any of it isn’t something I’m up for at the present time. I’m in such a better head space now.

All of THAT is just to say that I like and use both formats, the paper and the digital, and I can see the benefits both bring to my life: Sometimes writing longhand is therapeutic; sometimes I want to write quickly and get it all out.

My blogs have served as a bit of a journal from the get-go, and I never really thought about the possibility that any of what I’ve written would ever go away. Until I read “Raiders of the Lost Web” (HERE) about how the internet isn’t exactly forever.

My favorite parts of that article, written by Adrienne LaFrance:

Digital information itself has all kinds of advantages. It can be read by machines, sorted and analyzed in massive quantities, and disseminated instantaneously. “Except when it goes, it really goes,” said Jason Scott, an archivist and historian for the Internet Archive. “It’s gone gone. A piece of paper can burn and you can still kind of get something from it. With a hard drive or a URL, when it’s gone, there is just zero recourse.”

And, later:

“There are now no passive means of preserving digital information,” said Abby Rumsey, a writer and digital historian. In other words, if you want to save something online, you have to decide to save it. Ephemerality is built into the very architecture of the web, which was intended to be a messaging system, not a library.

She concludes:

But the thing unsaid, the fact that unravels even an optimist’s belief in what the web can be, is that the ancient library was eventually destroyed. Not by technology or a lack of it, but by people. Saving something and preventing its destruction are not entirely the same thing.


I don’t know that I need to save everything I’ve ever written online right this second and for evermore, but I do like the idea of my grandkids, if I ever end up with any, being able to read my stuff. It’s vanity, of course, thinking that they’ll care or that I have anything to contribute in any possible way, but whatever, I still want that option. So maybe I’ll pursue some sort of paper version of my favorite posts someday.

Because my mother would totally read it even if my own grandkids never materialize. WORTH IT.

It’s interesting to me that right now, my Simple Year co-bloggers and I are working on an anthology that will take a digital media platform and translate it to paper. (Or maybe still digital format, since I wouldn’t mind seeing it available for eReaders.) So I know the process I’d have to undertake to get an anthology of my own work going for those future maybe grandkids. What ticks me off a bit is that had I just written this stuff down in a notebook and not gotten sucked into the idea that digital is better / anyone besides myself would want to read what I’ve written, I wouldn’t have to do anything else besides hand it over at the appropriate time. Um, not that I’m going to stop blogging. VANITY.

And there’s no way I’m transcribing any of those entries in longhand, I can tell you that right now. Plus my handwriting at this point is terrible because all I do is type.

I guess it’s a bit of a war with my minimalism, too, now that I think about it. Of course I’d prefer to write online — nothing physical to have laying around the house. But I also have three paper journals going at the moment: A planner, a bullet journal for daily brain dumps and notes, and a quote book. I like being able to play with these, make them pretty or just scribble. They are whatever I say they are, with no one to please but myself.

And damn! I love journals! I love that paper aspect and how I can go back and read whatever it is I thought important enough to write down without having to scroll through a bunch of screens. There’s a sense of possibility with paper that I don’t get from a blank Word doc. (Word docs symbolize work.)

I have no idea where I’m going with this now that I’ve come to the end of this post. But I like how this aspect of my life is coming to the forefront … that I read an article about the vastness yet limitations of the internet around the time I’m translating my experiences with my zero waste year to paper via the computer screen.

Well, I don’t have a lot of hobbies.

Um, thoughts, feelings, ideas?