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.


No Plastic September


No Plastic September just crept up on my radar. It was mentioned on a blog … I decided to do a little research into what I thought was an established September movement … and have found really nothing of substance to define what this even is, let alone whether or not it’s a real thing.

It might be a no plastic straw movement? Or it might be, like, do not use or purchase anything in plastic for 30 days?

I’m intrigued. By all of it. And I like a challenge.

So here’s what I’m going to focus on this No Plastic September (which I have decided to make a real thing):

Eliminating single use plastics. I take this to mean things like paper coffee cups (which are coated on the inside with plastic) and their corresponding plastic paraphanelia (lids, straws), plastic bags at the market, to-go containers, plastic silverware, and products that are wrapped in, lined with or are entirely made of plastic (yogurt containers, potato chip bags, cereal).

Full disclosure: I am going into this knowing full well that because of my stomach issues, there will be some plastic coming into the house on this front. I mean, my alternative for bread is a rice and sesame cracker that I eat daily. But I can up my game in other areas. One strike does not lose a battle.

Take my own silverware, napkins and cups. I do a lot of this already — it became a habit after our Zero Waste year. So I have a reusable water bottle, coffee canteen and even a glass to-go cup for iced coffee emergencies that go with me everywhere.

I am not always great about planning ahead with napkins and silverware. I mean, yes, I am fantastic about that when I’m packing a lunch in my reusable containers. I am not so great about it when I get snacky and end up at the store. I’m also not great at making sure Johanna has her reusables — she’s also got cups and straws and the whole works … at home. And she, too, has coffee emergencies. We can do better.

Focus on food storage. I don’t have many plastic containers left in our house — there are a few that have survived years of being packed in the girls’ lunches, and Eric has a set that he packs his lunches in every day. Most of our leftovers are stored in jars (Abby said her college friends who visited this summer were fascinated by all of our jars. That made me laugh. Apparently that’s not typical storage behavior?), and I’m not above putting a plate over a bowl and sticking that in the fridge. But because these behaviors are automated, I don’t tend to notice when plastic sneaks in. So for this one, I’m going to notice.

For those also intrigued but maybe don’t have the running start that we do,* some ideas:

Refuse straws. Just say no to plastic straws. Why? READ THIS.

Avoid fast food. It’s all single use containers, and all coated in plastic.

BYOC. Bring your own cup. Or mug. It’s astounding how much waste goes into that daily cup of coffee (HERE). Bottled water is also a scam and is also dripping in plastic (HERE). This is actually a fairly easy habit to get into — and honestly, just doing this all September if it’s not something you’ve ever done before would be amazing.

BYOB. Bring your own bag. I’ve been jacked to see more people with cloth produce bags lately — but just bringing a cloth bag to the grocery store and eliminating all of that plastic? That would also be amazing (HERE).

And just to get it out there, I realize that sometimes, you really do need plastic, like with patient care. When my father-in-law was in the ICU, that whole place was dripping with plastic.

I am pro plastic in these instances. It’s for the safety of everyone. What I’m talking about eliminating here are household plastics, coffee shop plastics, that kind of thing. We don’t need to be perfect; we just need to be better. I’ve talked with a lot of people who get caught up on doing things perfectly and then, when they mess up (as we all do), they get discouraged and just quit.

Did you learn to walk in a day? No.

From mistakes comes growth. That’s cheesy as hell, you guys, but it’s so true: Every failure is a learning experience. You’ll be more aware next time.

Okay, who’s with me?!

*We did a zero waste year, for crying out loud. I’ve elimiated most disposables and replaced them already with reusables — over time. I don’t think the point of this exercise is to toss all your plastic, run to the store and purchase new stuff. DO NOT BUY NEW STUFF. Or rather, yeah, you might need to buy new stuff (may I recommend a coffee canteen?) but you won’t know what you need for a while. I made the mistake of buying into the idea that to be zero waste — to eliminate the plastic — I needed to get “zero waste stuff.” What I really should have done was waited; I’d have made much better purchases if I had.

Learn from my mistakes!

Input vs. output

All members of the Walker Four are now equipped with iPhones — Eric finally broke. The best part was seeing Johanna’s face when we gave her that box because it wasn’t even remotely on her radar. Abby immediately set up group chat threads. Eric immediately started complaining about all the notifications received from said group chat threads. 😉

It’s funny how, being without a smart phone for literally years, we have all quickly adapted to the new technology.

Driving around and need directions? Siri can help with that!

Bored in the waiting room and wanting to kill some time? Word games!

Funny thing happening at home that Abby needs to know about? Snapchat!

But I’m old enough to remember a time when phones were connected to the wall and you actually had to be home to answer — no call waiting, no message service. You had to sit there and talk because the cord only allowed you to go so far.

I’m also old enough to remember a time when we would actually pay attention to the people around us. Get this: We would eat a meal or play a game or just have a conversation and that was ALL WE WERE DOING.

I know, crazy. Even crazier? We could work on a project and not be interrupted by bells and whistles and our own sense of boredom. We could focus.

I can no longer focus.

Looking at myself here, I’ve been thinking a lot about input — what I take in — vs. output — what I create. The cards are stacked in favor of input. I spend an awful lot of time just cruising around news apps, Twitter, Instagram, playing word games and checking out daily featured apps, and at the end of those countless hours, I can’t even remember what I’ve read or learned.

Probably because I’ve learned nothing. Or at least nothing worth retaining. But I have managed to get myself worked up over some stupid something that I have zero control over.

Why do I do that to myself?

What if I focused on output instead?

It’s an interesting concept: Create more than you consume. Is that even possible? I have no idea, but my September goal is to find out.

I’ve broken it down like this:

Input that makes me feel bad about myself

  • Twitter
  • Facebook (especially our newspaper page because the comments are generally terrible)
  • Unfiltered news pages that are more entertainment and shock value than actual news
  • Unfocused scrolling time
  • Playing games

Input that I enjoy and value

  • Books
  • Snapchat because it’s Abby’s primary method of communicating
  • FaceTime conversations because ditto
  • Reading blogs and real newspapers (aka papers, not screens)

Output that I enjoy

  • Journaling
  • Blogging
  • Working on my 365 project, which is basically a memory a day for a year … that I’ve been working on for like five years because sometimes I don’t want to remember
  • Working on The Simple Year draft
  • Writing news stories for work
  • Cooking (hashtag question mark because I’m kind of over cooking but also I like to eat)
  • Conversations and time with Johanna and Eric
  • Decluttering and cleaning (well, when it’s over and I can see progress)

Possibly I’ll add to these lists as the month goes on. It strikes me as ironic that I KNOW the inputs that make me feel like a terrible person and waste all my time and keep me from doing the things I actually value, but I DO THOSE THINGS ANYWAY.

On purpose.

I choose that.

Output makes me feel less scattered and more focused. I feel more grounded. I am calmer because I can release pent up thoughts and emotions when I’m able to be creative — I can let go. I am able to detach from what really doesn’t need my bandwidth. And I feel more gratitude and less … like I’m being put out, put upon, asked to give up too much mental and physical space.

Input that I enjoy — the books and coffee and blogs (like those by our friends Chris N and SarahN) seems to produce those same outcomes / feelings of wellbeing / sense of connectedness. Input that is just noise does the opposite.

Well, I’ve journaled about this and said it out loud on the blog, so I guess I have to do it.

Wish me luck.

And tell me your experiences or thoughts.

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.

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)

Let’s get happy*

Spring has never been my strong point.

I’m not one for change — give me sameness any day of the week, and preferably every day of the week — and this includes the seasons. Spring in Oregon is a mixed bag, and that’s hard to plan for: Do I need a rain jacket today or can I get by with a light sweater? Do I dare wear my pretty new mary janes or should I opt for my ankle boots AGAIN? It’s also a busy time at the newspaper because we put out a four-section special insert to coincide with blossoms on the fruit trees … as well as a home and garden insert, a review of business stories and, you know, our regular biweekly editions.

Spring break passes and everything I want is in the future: Abby will be home from school around Mother’s Day and I’m counting the days until the Walker Four is all under one roof again. I’m looking forward to the long, hot, lazy days of summer.

I strive for contentedness each spring — hey, winter is past! The hard part is over! The sun is coming! — but mostly I feel out of sorts, anxious, overwhelmed and detached.

I’m never going to be happy in the spring — I feel like I need to grit my teeth and just get through it — but this year, I am trying something different: Tackling a spring cleaning project.

I’m looking at this as a way to give myself something to focus on that produces tangible results but doesn’t take up a lot of time.

One thing that DOES make me happy is how my house looks when it’s freshly cleaned. We don’t have a lot in our house (thanks, minimalism!), but we live with three cats (hair and dust) and a kid (art projects). We have a woodstove (ash). We live here (a stack of my journals is currently taking up half of the dining room table)!

Which is how I decided on the spring cleaning project: A clean house makes me happy. I am feeling out of sorts. Plans and schemes help me feel more in control. Crossing items off my list makes me feel productive. And I don’t even have to think too hard about it, because the FlyLady already has.**

She has the entire house broken up into sections; each section is the focus of a particular week. The order of the sections never changes. You set a timer for 15 minutes and focus on one task in that one area each day. What you don’t get this time around, you’ll get next time.

I don’t know, I find that very comforting.

I found myself looking forward to setting my timer and tackling a job in the front entrance or dining room (week one zone). I detail-cleaned our main light switch. I cleaned out five drawers in our hutch and polished the (bottom) front. I dusted underneath the thing (and found a couple of cat toys, which Bean and Goose thoroughly enjoyed for 10 minutes before losing them again). I wiped down moldings and doors and knobs. I got rid of a couple of candles and a wobbly platter that I’ve been hanging onto out of guilt (I spent A LOT of money on that thing and have always regretted the purchase).

This week is the kitchen, and I already know which areas I’m going to focus on for some serious cleaning and decluttering: Two catch-all cupboards, one by the fridge, the other by the stove.

I may not be happy this spring. But I feel like I’ve at least got a plan to get through it until summer hits and I can breathe again.

*My title today comes from a song by The Cure: “Doing the Unstuck” from the 1992 “Wish” album. I like the manic hopefulness of it. Sometimes you have to talk yourself into being happy.

**When the girls were little, I found FlyLady — which is also what led me to minimalism. I haven’t followed her system in years, but I remember how helpful it was and am grateful to have it as a resource. I also like how it’s not about perfection, but about getting shit done. I can get behind that.