The Flexibility for Family Time

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As I became acquainted with other tiny house dwellers in the Pacific Northwest, I discovered that for several of them the ability to be present with family members is a key motivation for adopting The Little Life. Dee Williams explains that the passing of a dear friend was a big part of her decision to downsize and simplify her life. Tammy Strobel of Rowdy Kittens noted that by right-sizing her life she was able to be present during a family member's illness. This week I, too, became grateful that my decision to embrace Intentional Living has freed up my time so that I can be present for my family during a hard time.

One of my cousins had to go in for surgery last week so I was recruited for childcare. When I first received the request to travel to the Seattle area to take care of my 8 and 11 year old cousins I went through my old thoughts of “Oh, no, I can’t do that. I have too much on my calendar. There are too many people counting on me here in Portland.” I told my family I’d see what I could do and I’d get back to them.

But as I looked at my calendar I realized that many of the things on it could be shuffled around to accommodate me being out of town. Most of the tasks and appointments that couldn’t be postponed could be done

remotely. When I contacted one of my design clients to ask about rescheduling she was gracious about it and she said it would actually be better for her to rebook because she’s was busy this week because she’s moving. When I talked to Joan of Portland Alternative Dwellings, she reminded me that one of PAD’s key roles is helping people to create the freedom to focus on family – in good times and bad. So I arranged a room for Raffi at Meowhaus, booked a Bolt Bus ticket, and told my auntie I was all set to come to Seattle for the week.

I was, of course, distressed that my cousin needed surgery, but I was grateful that there was something I could do to help. My aunt and another cousin were able to care for my cousin before and after surgery while I spent most of my week playing parent. Turns out I’m really good at cutting the crusts off PB&J sandwiches, I’m better at reminding kids to grab their homework packets than I am at remembering to grab the car keys, and when I make Annie’s mac and cheese it’s ALMOST as delicious as their babysitter Hannah’s. I also got to reminisce about middles school dances when I took my 11 year old cousin to her very first one! It was an honor to help her get ready for that rite of passage.

The younger kiddo was home sick most of the week, so I didn’t end up getting much work done remotely, but I got more quality time with her than I’d ever had before. She introduced me to Totoro and Animal Jam. She also taught me just what order all her blankets need to be arranged in when she’s tucked into bed. And when she woke me up in the middle of the night to tell me she was too hot, I suggested she take off one of her blankets. She headed padded back to her room. The next morning I asked how that had worked out for her and she confessed “Not very well. I couldn’t figure out which blanket to take off. I didn’t want any of them to get cold.” Fairness is very important to this child! How amazing to see how her mind and heart work!

These are the moments that make me remember that THIS is what it’s all about! Yes, I recognize that The Little Life isn't possible or even desirable for everyone. And yes, I know that it's harder to be a full-time parent than to stand in as one once in a while. But nevertheless, I'm glad that The Little Life I've created for myself allows me a flexibility that I've never had before.

The Minimalist's New Clothes

This weekend I spent a couple hours scouring some of Portland’s very best thrift stores for additions to my minimalist wardrobe. I prefer buying clothes second-hand and Portland is a great place to do it. As I tried things on I asked myself these simple questions:

  • the minimalist's new clothes

    Does it look great on me? (Does it fit me properly? Is the color right for me? Does the style suit me?)

  • Is it comfy? (Does it move with me? I’m well past the point where I’d wear something uncomfortable just because it’s cute. If I’m not comfortable I won’t carry myself well and that’s the most important part of looking presentable!)
  • What’s the fabric content? (I’m a big fan of natural fibers that breathe well – like silk, wool, and modal – so I’m purging the cotton from my winter wardrobe.)
  • Is it versatile? (Can it be combined with at least two other items in my wardrobe? I don’t like having “outfits” as much as I like having a mix-and-match options.)

Of course, sometimes it’s easier to say yes than to say no. So if I really get stuck on whether or not I should buy something I ask myself instead: What’s wrong with this? If I can pinpoint anything at all I probably shouldn’t buy the item. Usually I don’t. But my heart still gets veto power. I suppose I could also ask one of my little sisters their opinion since they’re very fashionable. I’m sure they think I’m a hopeless case. But over the years I’ve developed my own style that blends practical, classy pieces with earthy, elfin accents. I think it suits me for now. And my beautiful and beautiful sisters are free to be as stylish as they darn well please. I’ll continue to admire them along with all their other adoring fans!

I ended up buying six items. I spent about $60. That’s not bad considering that I snagged two cozy wool sweaters, two stylish blouses, and a cute skirt, which are all suitable for work, school, or weekends. I also acquired a smashing little black dress. (How could I resist?! Now I just need a great excuse to wear it… C’mon Portland, give me an event that’s not casual Friday!)

These six items have joined the other 31 items in my wardrobe, so I now have 37 clothing items and 8 pairs of shoes. It seems my clothes are approximately a quarter of my possessions these days. And I’m okay with that. I could get away with less, I’m sure. Sometimes, I consider paring my wardrobe down to just a 10-Item Capsule Wardrobe like my hero Francine Jay. I certainly do when I’m traveling and Packing Lightly vs. Packing Densely. But I like the variety when I'm home. For now my wardrobe is minimalist enough.

Want to know what’s on my list? Check out My 203 Things List. (More about My Things Challenge.)

So I’m now at 203 things. And I’ve been racking my brains about how am I going to get back down to 200! I’m still Strategizing Digitizing and Getting All My Docs In a Row. That will help me drop two items since I currently have two tubs of paperwork. Eventually I’d like to digitize my old journals. That would help me drop another item.

I’ll keep thinking about what I can purge as I go about My 200 Things Challenge. But at the moment, I’m feeling okay with the number 203. After all, the point is to raise my own awareness about my possessions and the role they’re playing in my life.

Taking Stock Without Stocking Up

my new fuzzy slippers One of the things I could really relate with as I read The 100 Thing Challenge book (on my Kindle, of course!) was the chapter about how we often own many different items that serve similar purposes because none of the items is just right. As I was Inventorying & Packing Up my things because I was Downsizing from a Tiny House to a Tinier House, I got rid of several items that weren’t quite right, hoping to eventually replace them with things that were just right. I’ve done a bit of that replacing but I’ve also realized that some of the things weren’t actually necessary. It seems that sometimes promising myself that I can replace it lets me part with something that I really didn’t need.

After doing a New Years’ Re-Inventory I realized that I wanted to do some clothes shopping. But I also knew that I was 14 items over on My 200 Things Challenge. In addition, over the past month I was gifted a travel spice kit by my aunt the gourmet cook, two beautiful hand-painted tiny bowls from my 10 year old cousin, a hand-printed Old School Stationers letterpress calendar, and a flax seed pillow which is My New Favorite Thing. I also bought myself a pair of cozy slippers to deal with the fact that my floors are chilly when the temps drop below freezing, even after Weatherizing the Yurt. (REI had exactly one pair of the slippers I wanted - they just so happened to be my size and on clearance. My lucky day!)

So today I decided to do a little CPR (categorizing, purging, and reorganizing) on my stuff. Here’s what happened:

taking the not so big life digital
taking the not so big life digital
  • I realized that I prefer having photos cycle through on my desktop to having photo frames sitting around the house, so I was able to part with a couple of my decorations.
  • I checked the Kindle store to see if any of my books were available electronically. I decided to go for a digital version of The Not So Big Life since it’s mostly text and very few pictures. I’ll pass my copy along to some tiny house friends and they can pass it on from there. I decided not to digitize Sarah Suzanka’s Home by Design even though it is available in a digital format because I love the pictures!
  • I noticed that I hadn’t worn my slacks very much this winter so I’ve decided to put them into purgatory. If I don’t feel like digging them back out I might not keep them!
  • I put the white board that has been living on my fridge into purgatory, too, since I usually keep my grocery list in my phone. But I didn’t get rid of it since it’s nice to have a white board when sharing a house and I hope to share a home with someone beloved again someday.
  • I purged my two sweatshirts since I rarely wear them. I ditched two pairs of shoes that were never quite right for me. I decided to replace a couple skirts and a sweater that didn’t suit me with something I liked better. (See The Minimalist’s New Clothes for more about my clothes shopping guidelines.)

things I've decided to keep even though I don't use them every week

I also took a critical look at some things I don’t use much. I suppose I could go down to one cutting board, but it’s nice to have two when cooking with a friend. I don’t use my travel mug often since I’m not a coffee drinker, but sometimes it’s awfully nice being able to bring hot tea or cocoa with me. I don’t use my yoga mat at home since I do yoga at the gym at the university and they supply mats there, but I’d like to have it for when I’m done with school in a few months. I don’t swim very often, but having a swimsuit and goggles still seems like a good idea. So after all this I got myself down to 197 Things. I decided that was good enough. I headed out to find The Minimalist’s New Clothes.

Haunted by Unfinished Business

Moving is a great time to start The 100 Thing Challenge since you have to handle most of your stuff anyhow. But it is amazing how easy it is to just move that box/bin/tote/bag (again!) without actually taking a look through it. I’ve decided to leave no container unconsidered this summer. I’m taking time each week to dig through my stuff to prep myself for My Things Challenge. It’s been fascinating, but also disconcerting. When I moved into My Summer Garden Cottage two weeks ago I began my inventory for the 100 Thing Challenge. My plan is to inventory my things, decide how many things I want to live with and make a list of them, and then to spend the next school year living with those items. As I unpacked I recorded each item as I gave it a spot in my new home. I got through the kitchen, bathroom, clothes, and books with no problem. But by the time I got to my crafts supply bin, my toolbox, and my paperwork tote I was wiped out. I was totally overwhelmed just looking at these three containers. I couldn’t muster the mental and emotional energy to deal with them. So I took a break and decided to come back to them later.

First thing Saturday morning I fortified with a good breakfast before tackling my craft bin. Sifting through and considering its contents brought up nagging questions like these: When was the last time I painted with watercolors? Do I even like the fabric I’ve brought with me in my last two moves? Will I ever have the heart to pick up #2 needles again after burning out on knitting socks two years ago? What is this thingamajig anyhow and what in the world was I going to do with it? These are tough questions for me. Especially that last one, since some of the items in my craft bin have been in there for about twenty years now! If I haven’t done anything with the thingamajig by now, chances are really good I never will get around to it. So I’m surprised it’s so hard to consider getting rid of art and craft supplies.

Some of these materials remind me of certain times in my life and projects I felt a strong compulsion to tackle once upon a time. I was inspired a couple years ago to make a wind chime out of found objects. Another time I was motivated to make a skirt from some pretty fabric a friend picked up abroad. During my international travels I have been diligent about collecting gelato spoons and ticket stubs for my scrapbooks. But I never got around to these projects so now their unused components just make me feel guilty. My interests have shifted. This summer I have my Summer Dream Job building a tiny house, which is requiring plenty of creativity. I’ve found a new art form and a new outlet for my craft.

Unfinished scrapbooks, a lonely wristwarmer with a half-completed mate, unhemmed pants all taunt me. I’m a finisher by nature. I like a sense of accomplishment and I like having things wrapped up. My craft bin doesn’t say “look at all this potential!” It says “look what you never finished!” I’m tired of being haunted by the ghosts of projects past, present, and future. So I’ve decided that I need to do one of two things between now and my next move: I either need to address this unfinished business and devote time to these projects or I need to let them go so I can focus my space, time, and energy on other projects and ideas. Some things I may come back to. Some things I may not. Either way, I hope my craft projects and I can rest in peace.

My Things Challenge: Who’s Counting Anyway?

me with the contents of my tiny house I first heard of the 100 Thing Challenge about a year ago. I was downsizing from a two-bedroom bungalow to a tiny house at the time, but the 100 Thing Challenge seemed extreme so I dismissed it. Of course, tiny houses seemed radical when I first heard about them, too. Now I’ve spent 10 months living in a tiny house, I’ve helped with my friend’s Tiny Barn Build, and I have my Summer Dream Job: Tiny House Design-Building. Downsizing to just 100 Things doesn't seem quite so radical anymore.

The premise of the 100 Thing Challenge is simple: narrow down your personal possessions to just 100 things. You go through your belongings, you count them, and you decide what you can part with so that you end up with just 100 things. The trickiest aspect is neither counting nor deciding what to purge. I think the trickiest part is deciding how to count.

The 100 Thing Challenge is a game, a competition, a test. But you get to make up your own rules. I appreciate that since I’m much more likely to follow rules that aren’t arbitrary. Some people are pretty generous with themselves. For instance, the guy named Dave who invented the challenge counted “library” as one item. Others are sticklers for their own rules. For instance, Tammy of Rowdy Kittens counts her camera body and her two lenses as three separate things. I’m somewhere in the middle. Here are the rules I created for myself:

  • I’m going to keep two lists of 100 things. One list is my personal possessions, which is all the stuff that the two-year-old in me would defend as “mine!” The other list is household items that I would share with housemates if I had any.
  • Sets (i.e. measuring spoons) and pairs (i.e. socks) count as just one thing.
  • Identical, interchangeable, easily replaceable items count as one thing. For instance, I have a bunch of mason jars with plastic lids I use for bulk food storage, fridge food storage, to go containers, candle holders, a piggy bank, etc. I’m not going to count them as 30 separate things. That’s just silly!
  • The parts of an item are counted with that item, even if they were additions. For instance, my bike lights and lock are additions to my bike, but I don’t ride without them, so I’m not going to count them as separate things. They’re part of my bike as far as I’m concerned.
  • Accessories that go with an object are counted with that item if they are necessary for it to function optimally. For instance, I have a sleeping bag liner because I can’t stand sleeping in a sleeping bag without one. It’s technically possible but I’m going to be grumpy, so in my head the sleeping bag and its liner are one thing and I’m going to count them that way.
  • In some cases a container counts as one thing and its contents don’t count individually (examples may include my toiletry bag, my tool box, and my craft bin).
  • I’m not going to count consumable products. Food, shampoo, toothpaste, toilet paper, dish soap, etc. aren’t counted as things. But I’m going to create a Use It or Lose It policy. I have a bizarre tendency to hoard consumable things (like a lotion that smells nice or a tea I like). It’s as though I’m trying to make them last even if I don’t have to. Some things are better fresh! So henceforth I’m not going to be afraid to use things up. I’ll put consumable goods in one place and as I use them I’ll transfer them to a different place to show they’ve been used. Anything I have not used during the past month will be subject to scrutiny and purging before my move.

I'll be making two moves this summer: first to My Summer Garden Cottage and then to someplace new that's yet to be determined. (To see where I ended up, click here.) So I’m going to go through my belongings, take inventory, and figure out where I stand with the My Things Challenge. I may end up proudly claiming a larger number. The number 100 is completely arbitrary, after all. And, as previously mentioned, I don’t much care for arbitrary. But I figure 100 is a starting point and I can decide what works for me. (To find out what number I landed on, click here.)

After all, minimalism isn’t about deprivation. It’s about focus. It’s about figuring out what one needs and prioritizing what one loves. All the rest is Just Stuff.