Monday, July 29, 2019

Simple Food

Photo by Johnny Martinez on Unsplash

The food you eat can be either the safest and most powerful form of medicine or the slowest form of poison.                                                                                           
Ann Wigmore

A friend sent me a chicken soup recipe that calls for 16 ingredients.  Sixteen.  Including ditalini pasta, whatever that is.  (Okay, I Googled it.  It's the pasta I've seen in macaroni salads.)

I have a small kitchen, which means I don't store ten shapes of pasta.  I don't store six kinds of flour.  I don't keep 25 herbs and spices, since I'd probably use the same eight or nine all the time while the others just got stale.   I don't want to shop for a bunch of ingredients, and I don't want to fool with washing, prepping, and measuring all of them.

Simple food is healthier, cheaper, and easier.

Michael Pollan, author of Food Rules: An Eater's Manual, suggests that we shouldn't eat anything our great-grandmothers wouldn't recognize as food.  Well, my great-grandmother would have recognized fried frog legs, lard, and biscuits with sausage gravy, which might not be what Pollan has in mind!  He's talking about real food, as close to natural, unmodified, and unprocessed as you can get.  Organic seasonal fruits and vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts and seeds, cheeses and yogurt, free-range eggs and meats, wild-caught fish.

That doesn't mean I never buy packaged food.  Canned tuna, canned tomatoes, and frozen fruits and vegetables are all processed and packaged, but they're still real food.

Have you noticed how certain foods or nutrients get labeled "super" or "evil," and we dutifully change our eating habits to match?  I remember when butter was declared unhealthy, and my mother switched to margarine.  My grandmother predicted that someday margarine would be considered unhealthy.  Of course she was right -- it's made with trans fats.

Highly processed foods are less nutritious than simple, unmodified foods.

But the food industry is skilled at promoting foods free of the "bad" ingredients or fortified with the "good" ones.  For example:
  • Craisins, dried cranberries marketed as a naturally fat- and cholesterol-free snack, contain lots of refined sugar and none of the iron, potassium, and other nutrients found in plain old raisins.
  • Reduced-fat peanut butter, which saves all of 10 to 20 calories per serving over nut butter made solely from roasted peanuts, has added corn syrup, sugar, and hydrogenated oils.
  • Oroweat Oat Nut Bread does contain oats and hazelnuts, but its primary ingredient is enriched wheat flour, a refined product which lacks the fiber and more than a dozen nutrients found in whole wheat.

Simple food won't break your budget.

A lot of it can be found in the produce section or in bulk bins.  Besides, a lot of processed foods (especially snacks and beverages) are quite expensive.  Organic dairy, eggs, and meats can be pricey, but eating smaller portions of those things is actually healthier for you, and it's easy to get a lot of your protein from plant sources.

Simple food can be raw.

Think of large salads made with all kinds of dark, leafy greens, diced cucumbers, grape tomatoes, shredded carrots, thin slices of red onion, and shavings of Parmesan cheese, drizzled with a dressing made of olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and Dijon mustard.  Other non-cook options include hummus with celery and carrot sticks, half an avocado filled with fresh salsa, or cottage cheese topped with fresh, seasonal fruits and sprinkled with raw nuts.

Some simple food is quick and easy to cook, and some can cook slowly, without a lot of supervision.

I like old-fashioned rolled oats cooked with a diced apple or pear, or scrambled eggs on whole grain toast.  Or pinto beans simmered in a slow cooker with diced onions and bell pepper, garlic and crushed tomatoes, salt, pepper, chili powder, cumin, and a pinch of cinnamon.

My favorite chicken soup recipe calls for some leftover chicken (originally roasted with garlic, black pepper, rosemary sprigs, and a lemon -- or I use part of a rotisserie chicken from the deli), chicken stock (or organic chicken broth), chopped onion, carrots, and celery, salt, pepper, and bay leaves.  Sometimes I add some diced red skin potatoes or a pinch of red pepper flakes.  Healthy, easy, affordable -- and a lot fewer than 16 ingredients.  My husband likes grilled or baked pork chops marinated in fresh lime juice, olive oil, and crushed garlic.  Four ingredients and simply scrumptious.

And simple desserts?  A juicy sweet tangelo.  A bowl of picked-this-morning local strawberries topped with plain yogurt and a drizzle of honey.  A couple of ripe apricots.  A baked Honeycrisp or Pink Lady apple.  Or a piece of extra-dark chocolate.  Real delicious simple food.

Friday, July 26, 2019

A Simplified Kitchen

Does the kitchen you've created support the healthy body you want to have?

Photo by Dinh Ng on Unsplash

Small daily choices lead to a cluttered or an uncluttered home, just as they lead to a thriving, active body or its opposite.  It's hard to change, but we really can choose freedom and vitality!

Since better eating habits are hampered by a cluttered kitchen, let's start there.

1.  Work with the space you have.

Many of us think our kitchens are too small.  But more space won't solve a clutter problem.  In fact, when we have more space, we tend to fill it with more stuff.  Rather than searching for the perfect storage hack that will let you cram more in, try to accept the boundaries as a reality check.  The kitchen you have is what you have!  Not accepting limitations leads to dissatisfaction and stress as we try to have it all.

2.  Clear the counters.

Put hobby supplies, schoolwork, and the laundry basket where they belong.  Wash and put away dirty dishes.  Then remove all of the cutting boards, spatulas, plants, decorative items... EVERYTHING.  Put the decorative items in a box and get it out of the room.  Thoroughly clean your empty countertops.

You're not going to crowd your counters with appliances you use once a week or less, or with food canisters or vitamin bottles or anything else.  It's not more convenient to have them there.  It's not convenient to have no room to slice a tomato or to mix up a batch of hummus because the counter is already full.

Make an exception for something you use more than once a day (perhaps the tea kettle or coffee maker).  But clear off everything else.

You're going to put the things you use into your kitchen cupboards and drawers, near at hand but out of sight.  I realize your cupboards may be stuffed to the gills.  But here's a decluttering clue:  you like the dishes that were dirty better than you like the clean ones just sitting in the cupboard.

You use the appliances or utensils that were on the counter more than you use the dusty ones filling the cupboards.  Those dishes were dirty and those items were on the counter because you chose them.  You chose them over whatever is sitting in the cupboard.

Soon your cupboards won't be so stuffed that you have to rearrange everything in order to retrieve what you need, and it will only take seconds to get out the toaster or the oatmeal.

Meanwhile, clear counters are important while you're trying to develop new clutter-free habits.  If nothing belongs on the counter, you can't justify putting random stuff there.  Once you habitually keep your kitchen clutter-free, you can add one or two decorative items if they make you happy.  Until then, keep them put away.

3.  Deal with paper.

Paper enters every day and can't be ignored.  When you create a system that lets you keep up with the flow of junk mail, magazines, permission slips, coupons, receipts, and bills, your visible clutter decreases.

4.  Condense your cupboards and drawers.

Start anywhere, decluttering by category: pots and pans, dishes, glasses, silverware, serving pieces, storage containers, gadgets, etc.  Search for every item that belongs to each category, because once you gather them you'll see just how much you have.  If you're like most people, you have many duplicates.  But you don't need five colanders and two apple slicers (if you have a good knife, you don't even need one).

Don't look at each item and ask if it sparks joy or memories.  At one point it probably did, which is why it's cluttering your cupboard.  Enforce a use-it-or-lose-it guideline.

Do you regularly set the table with more than eight place settings of china?  Do you use water glasses, juice glasses, wine glasses and champagne flutes?  Or will a set of stemless tumblers work for everything?  Have you used your rice cooker or ice cream maker in the last week, month, or year?  If the answer is no, donate it!  Ultimately, the most important items in your kitchen are the ones you use daily to prepare family meals.  (Hint: the plates, bowls, mugs, utensils, and pots and pans you had to wash are probably your favorites.)

As you find homes for the things you are keeping, stay user-friendly.  Make things easy to find and access.  If you're not sure, make your best guess; you can adjust later if you must.  When we start squeezing things into odd places, they're harder to retrieve, and we're less likely to put them away.

5.  Organize food storage.

Clear the pantry of foods past their expiration date, and food you're never going to eat.  Toss the outdated, and give usable items to a food bank.

Group foods into categories to make it easier to locate items and prevent over-buying.  For example, you might have groups of spices, canned goods, cereals, teas, and baking ingredients.  Accept the boundaries of your space -- you're stocking a kitchen, not an entire grocery store!

Throw away old foods from the refrigerator and empty it completely so you can clean.  If you have to stifle your gag reflex as you open up food storage containers with ancient inedibles, you have too many food storage containers!  You don't need as many as you can shoehorn into your cupboard, because that just lets you go longer before you run out and have to clean the fridge, tossing all of that wasted food.  A few containers in two or three sizes will help keep you current.

Just as you don't want to bring in new clutter in the form of knickknacks or another set of dishes (no matter how cute), don't let yourself bring in new food clutter.  Toss candy, pretzels, ice cream... whatever foods tempt you most.  Make room for healthier foods.

We need simpler kitchens.

A simplified kitchen provides the space, order, and essential tools we need to accomplish mealtime tasks.  Increase satisfaction, decrease stress, and let "the heart of the home" nurture our bodies and our healthy choices.

Monday, July 22, 2019

Does This Clutter Make Me Fat?

Photo by Jason Leung on Unsplash

If your house is out of control, it's possible your eating habits are too.

Clutter guru Peter Walsh wrote Lose the Clutter, Lose the Weight because so many of his clients struggled with obesity.  "What you weigh isn't just about calorie counting or doing stomach crunches," he writes.  "What you weigh is about how you live."

Research shows that women eat more sweets and fatty foods when under stress from work or other responsibilities.  And guess what?  A cluttered, messy kitchen caused women to eat almost three times as many sweets than a less chaotic kitchen.

Clutter is exhausting and it drains your energy, which can make you feel hopeless and apathetic about everything, including exercise or a healthy diet.  Researchers at UCLA found that women who live in cluttered homes have elevated levels of the stress hormone cortisol.  Excess cortisol causes increased insulin, which causes weight gain.

In other words, there's a clear link between clutter and obesity.

If I can't find my athletic shoes, I'm not going to take that brisk walk to the park.  If my kitchen counter is cluttered with piles of mail, unwashed dishes, condiment bottles, boxes of cereal, and a row of a dozen cookbooks, I don't have room to chop vegetables or soak a pot of beans.  When I'm that overwhelmed, it's too easy to grab junk food for a hit of quick energy, or turn to takeout because I can't face the work that needs to be done before I can even start to cook dinner.

Walsh says he knew his clients would feel more positive and capable once they decluttered their homes.  What he didn't realize was that "filling your life with stuff you can't possibly use or want doesn't stop at the front door.  Clutter invades every aspect of your life."  Clearing the detritus brings freedom and a sense of control, and this new mindset sometimes results in weight loss, as well.

Marie Kondo, international best-selling author of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, has written that "when we reduce what we own and essentially 'detox' our house, it has a detox effect on our bodies as well."  Decluttering could be the jumpstart we need to change eating and exercise habits.

Minimalism is a mindset that helps us choose what is valuable and discard what is in the way.

It's about clearing away the unloved and unnecessary so we can start over with the stuff that matters.  In the same way, healthy eating isn't really about "going on a diet" -- it's about removing the junk so we can be nourished by the good stuff.

Friday, July 19, 2019

We All Want the Same Thing

"Kathryn Blowing Bubbles"
by April Moore-Harris on Flickr

I spend a fair amount of time on this blog pointing out differences between minimalists and the majority of people in our consumerist society.  Sometimes the easiest way to understand something new is to contrast it with something familiar.

But minimalists and materialists have a lot in common.  We're generally seeking the same things:

Happiness.  Fulfillment.  Freedom.  A good life.

It's just that our philosophies and methods for getting there are different.

Where a minimalist finds comfort and contentment in the simplicity, clarity, and order of her home, finances, schedule, relationships, mind, and spirit, a materialist finds comfort in the quantity and perceived desirability of her possessions, job, contacts, and life events.

And that's not inherently bad, though I think it's limiting.  Fulfillment in that way requires a certain amount of wealth, a constant search for more and better, and quite a bit of waste.  It also tends to become a competition, so the possibility of dissatisfaction and unhappiness is actually fairly high.  And if you fuel that competition with debt, you forfeit your freedom.  The money you earn now is going to pay for things you bought in the past.

Minimalists know that fulfillment doesn't have to be about who has the most stuff, or even the most experiences.  Someone has said that "Wealth is the car you didn't buy."  When you opt out of the materialist competition, you're left with more money, more time, and more energy.  Free from the influence of others, you decide for yourself what is truly valuable and essential.

I think that for most people, a shift in mindset could make them happier than winning the lottery.  And no one needs luck to think differently, just inspiration and encouragement.  That's what I try to offer here.

Contentment is found not by pursuing more, but by realizing how much you already have.

Want some inbox inspiration?  Please subscribe to Maximum Gratitude Minimal Stuff.  Additionally, use the Contact Form at the bottom of this page, and I'll be happy to send you "100 Items to Declutter for a Simpler Home," bonus content I've created just for you!

Monday, July 15, 2019

Una Bella Vita *

Does the home you've created support the life you want to live?

"Tuscany" photo by Ky0n Cheng on Flickr

Tell me where you would rather be.  At the beach?  In a ski cabin near Lake Tahoe?  In Paris?

Perhaps a trip to Tuscany is part of your dream.  So while you are in your current home, you're longing for Tuscany.  If you travel there and then come home to what you think of as your boring life in your boring house, you'll be disappointed.  Your wonderful dream trip will have made you discontented with your daily life.

That's a sad state of affairs, because vacation trips, as terrific as they are, last for a week or two.  You live in your current home all the rest of the time.  Do you want to be discontented all the time?  Continually longing for something you don't have?  Fantasizing your real life away?

No, no, no.  That's no way to live.

Live in your dream home now.

You can pay off all your debts, research jobs and housing, and make a plan to move to Tuscany, if you want to.  But you can also figure out what it is about Tuscany that makes your heart sing.  What does Tuscany offer that your home town doesn't?

Perhaps what appeals to you is the warm climate, the rural vineyards and olive groves, the slower pace of life, the wine and the food, the language, the colors, the art, or the ancient buildings.

Why not incorporate the attributes of Tuscany into your everyday life?  Wouldn't that bring more enjoyment to all of the days you aren't spending there?  It seems much smarter to appreciate life every day than to regret what you don't have.

Now, I don't mean you should run out to the big box store to buy up all of the "Tuscan" d├ęcor mass-produced in China.  Sure, if you're planning to paint your walls anyway, you can choose a warm muted yellow or tan, incorporating a texture additive to mimic a rough plastered finish.  If you already have distressed wood tables and a neutral beige couch, you can add pillows or lamps in olive, gold, burgundy, or eggplant.  Some wrought iron chairs around the dining table, or an ornately framed mirror, would contribute to the "Tuscan" look.

You can use Shutterfly to make a photo book of your Italian travels, or have one excellent photo enlarged and printed on canvas to hang on a feature wall.

But what you really want to do is make your entire lifestyle more like what you experienced in Tuscany.  You want to slow your pace of life, say no to some commitments, bicycle to work.  You want to create a sunny nook, indoors or out, where you can sit and read or sip a glass of wine.  You want to make your patio a summer dining room, with strings of white lights wrapped around a sheltering tree, votive candles twinkling on the table, and scents of lavender, rosemary, and thyme drifting over from your container garden.

Maybe you want to listen to Italian opera, visit more art museums, or even learn to speak Italian.

Perhaps you'll perfect your own ribollita or cantucci so you can enjoy a taste of Tuscany at home.  Or you might use that pasta machine you bought so many years ago, instead of letting it gather dust at the back of a closet.  At the very least, you can stock your kitchen with Chiarentana olive oil and pecorino Toscano cheese.

It could be that what you miss most about Italy is a concept that seems truly foreign to Americans:  il dolce far niente, "the sweetness of doing nothing."  It refers to the ability to focus on, enjoy, and completely bask in a moment without multi-tasking or being in a hurry to move on to the next thing.  You're not wallowing in FOMO, obsessing about your to-do list, or numbing your thoughts with TV.  Instead, you're entranced by a sunset, savoring a juicy peach, or gently rocking your infant son who has fallen asleep on your shoulder.

Minimalism can help you craft your best life.  You can remove clutter and distraction and be free to concentrate on what brings you fulfillment.

Live your dream every day.

* Una Bella Vita:  A Beautiful Life

Friday, July 12, 2019

House Beautiful

Does the home you've created support the life you want to live?

Photo by Jorge Garcia on Unsplash

You don't need to add on a master suite or put in a swimming pool to make your home more supportive of the lifestyle you want.  Instead, figure out what bothers you, and use your creativity to improve it.

Does your entrance hall depress you with its constant disorder?

The front hall plays a key role in the feelings you have about your home, so make it attractive and functional.

Paint the door a color you love.  If your doormat has seen better days, replace it.

Lighten the space with a mirror.  A narrow table or waist-level shelf can hold a tray for keys or outgoing mail, as well as a favorite plant.  Place a small bench or stool underneath which can be pulled out when you need to deal with your shoes.  Remove all other furniture.

Declutter extraneous outerwear, and make sure the front closet is clutter-free so there's plenty of room to hang the coats and scarves you actually use.  Put up heavy-duty hooks for backpacks.  Place a large basket or storage cubby on the floor of the closet for outdoor shoes.

Do you hate your kitchen?

First of all, declutter.  Clutter is not attractive, it's not convenient, and it's not hygienic.

Start by getting rid of duplicate utensils, unused gadgets, expired foods, and stale spices.  Donate the third set of dishes (remember that the ones you use all the time are obviously the ones you like), half of the mugs, and serving pieces you never use.  Clear off the refrigerator -- put a magnetic board inside a cupboard door and hang only current cards, notes, photos, or kids' artwork.

Decluttered spaces look better and function better.  They're roomier.  They're calmer.  How do you feel about your kitchen now?

If you'd still like an update, consider some of these DIY ideas:

  • Paint the walls.
  • Hang art.
  • Paint the cabinets.  White is clean, updated, yet timeless.
  • Remove a couple of cabinet doors to create open shelving.
  • Replace cabinet hardware.
  • Add roll-out shelves to one or two base cabinets.
  • Replace light fixtures.
  • Replace the faucet.
  • Remodel the backsplash.

Do you hate your bathroom?

You know what I'm going to say -- declutter!  Get rid of all the tried-it-and-didn't-like-it lotions, soaps, shampoos, and makeup.  Get the candles and figurines and other doodads off the counter.  Take your frayed and stained towels to an animal shelter.

If you'd still like an update, consider these (mostly) DIY ideas:

  • Paint.
  • Hang art.
  • Replace cabinet hardware.
  • Replace light fixtures.
  • Replace the faucet.
  • Frame or replace your builder-grade vanity mirror.
  • Replace the showerhead.
  • Replace the flooring (in such a small space the cost is minimized).

Do you wish you had a kid-friendly space separate from the adults' living area?

Instead of putting two children in separate bedrooms, have them share one and use the other as a play room.  Kids usually love a bunk bed; you can put the younger child in the lower bunk, or if they're both school-age, put the older child down below and add a tension rod with a curtain to make a private nook.

If the children are the same gender, they can continue to share a room throughout high school.  The play room can morph into a room for crafting, building models, playing video games, or doing homework.

Alternatively, create another space for adults to relax while the kids play or watch videos in the living room.  A sitting area in your bedroom can feel luxurious.  A pair of chairs or a loveseat, a table, and a lamp can make a quiet nook you'll both enjoy.

Does your home feel dark and dispiriting?

Studies show that exposure to natural light, especially in the morning, improves mood, sleep quality, and general well-being.  So how can you bring more light into your home?

Clean the windows and remove clutter from the sills.  Hang curtains on a rod that extends beyond the window frame so they pull completely away from the window when open.  This allows for maximum daylight.

Pale walls and ceilings will make rooms feel more spacious, and a satin or semi-gloss finish will reflect light.

Mirrors can double your daylight.  Hang one opposite a sunny window, or place one strategically to reflect light down a dark hallway.

Are your trees overgrown?  While a mature tree is a wonderful asset, professional trimming may be necessary.  By pruning limbs that crowd the roof, and thinning branches to create an airier canopy, sun exposure and air circulation can be improved.  

Do you live in an apartment but long for a garden oasis?

Enjoy beautiful indoor plants which purify the air, reduce stress, and lower blood pressure.  A peace lily, golden pothos, philodendron, or sansevieria (also called mother-in-law's tongue or snake plant) will thrive even in a less-than-bright room.  A ficus tree, rubber plant, Boston fern, or flowering kalanchoe will appreciate a sunnier spot.

Do you have a balcony?  You can create a mini garden even in the city.  A fragrant climber such as jasmine can cover a trellis or fence and provide privacy as well as greenery.  Herbs like rosemary, mint, basil, and lemon balm do well in containers or even a window box.  I love growing miniature roses in containers; they are profuse bloomers in a sunny spot.  A miniature lemon tree, whose blossoms exude a heavenly scent, can have a long fruiting season if you look after it carefully.  Add a couple of chairs and a petite table, and hang a string of lights so you can linger in your garden after dark.

You can make your current house more like your dream home.

Monday, July 8, 2019

Home Improvement

Photo by Pablo Merchan Montes on Unsplash

Does the home you've created support the life you want to live?

You don't need to remodel the bathroom, install granite countertops, or buy new furniture.  Instead, figure out which details have the most impact on your daily life, and approach them like a minimalist.

What do you use as soon as you awake every morning?

These items need to be accessible, whether this means having a place for your eyeglasses or your medications, your favorite spiritual book, or your journal and a pen.  If you don't have a drawer to store these in your bedside table, place them in a shallow basket that can slide under the bed (now that you don't have a bunch of clutter under it).

What do you use to get ready for the day?

The bathroom needs to be clean and ready to go.  You need enough hooks on the wall so towels can be hung to dry rather than dropped on the floor.

Keep counter tops and tub ledges clear so the space is usable and easy to clean.  If you don't have enough drawers or cupboard space to put away everyone's grooming items, give each family member a storage tote (like the one you may have used when you lived in your college dorm).  That way each person's products are convenient for use, but easily removed from the bathroom when someone else is using it.

Adopt a streamlined grooming regimen and the right haircut and style so you can get ready quickly and easily on busy mornings.  Consider a more natural look so you can pare your makeup down to a handful of products.

Your closet should only hold clothes that fit and flatter, that you love to wear, and that go with one another to create outfits.  Your shoes and accessories need to be stored in an accessible way.  All of this should make getting dressed a pleasure rather than a hassle.

How do you feed yourself and your family?

Each morning, you enter a kitchen that's ready to meet your needs, because you've cultivated the habit of cleaning it after dinner.  Your uncluttered cabinets aren't crammed and disorganized, and clean dishes are available when you need them.  The refrigerator and pantry hold nutritious foods, and you've simplified your menu so it's easy to decide on and prepare meals.

What do you need to do your job?

Your laptop bag is packed and ready to leave the house with you; so are the kids' backpacks.  Your purse holds the items you need, with no extraneous clutter or garbage to dig through.  Your keys and sunglasses are right where you expect them to be.  On a rainy morning, your umbrella hangs ready on a hook in the closet, and isn't jostling for space with three tattered, broken umbrellas.

How do you relax?

You have several comfortable spots in your home to sit and read or embroider or do sudoku or whatever you enjoy.  There's a table for your cup of tea, and a lamp to turn on as it gets dark.  If you like to put your feet up, or if you tend to get chilly, there's an ottoman and a cozy throw handy for use.  And if you never use those items, they aren't in the room cluttering it up.

Who are the people you want to interact with every day?

You have time to call your sister, because you haven't fallen down the rabbit hole of cat videos and click bait.  Phones don't show up at the dinner table, so you actually talk to and listen to your children.  And they have a wind-down ritual and a regular bedtime, so there's usually time afterwards to spend with your partner.

Your bedroom isn't cluttered with baskets of clean clothes that need to be folded or miscellaneous junk that migrated there because it doesn't have a home anywhere else.  You've banished the computer and the TV, so the two of you can relax with a glass of wine, listen to some Ludovico Einaudi, and talk about plans for your upcoming weekend in Napa Valley.

Almost everything about your day has gone smoothly, with no upsets while you looked for something important that was lost in piles of junk, no dithering and dissatisfaction about what to wear, no stresses about leaving the house late and putting your entire schedule out of whack, no arguments about the kids' bath time or why your husband is still watching the news on the bedroom TV while you're trying to go to sleep.

Maybe it sounds impossible, but the space, the time, the energy, the patience, the clarity, and the freedom are all byproducts of a decluttered home, and the changes in habits and mindset that brought it about.

It's not a perfect paradise, but it's so much less stressful and so much more supportive that you feel like you're at a getaway.  You're much more content in your same old house because it's no longer like your same old house.

It's more like your dream house.

Friday, July 5, 2019


Our rooms shape our thoughts... our moods.  By improving the state of our surroundings, we can improve our state of mind....  It's clear that for most people, outer order does indeed contribute to inner calm.
Gretchen Rubin 

Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash

As you declutter one corner, one closet, or one room at a time, and keep it that way, you'll notice that the clutter-free areas of your home make you happy.  Here are some of the factors contributing to that good feeling.
  1. You save time, energy, and patience because things are easy to find, use, and clean.
  2. Your family nags and argues less because your spaces are usable and accessible.
  3. You can truly relax at home because you're not constantly surrounded by a guilt-inducing mess.  You find yourself less anxious in general.
  4. You feel more capable and self-assured, in control of your environment.
  5. You're not weighed down by stuff from your past, so you feel free to explore new options and experiences.
  6. You have more time and space to be creative, and you're more able to focus on tasks or hobbies.
  7. You have more enjoyment from the things you own because they're all either useful or beautiful.
  8. You own only what you need and love, so your home, office, wardrobe, and everything else reflect your true identity.
Wow!  The progress is gradual, but unmistakable.  The positive vibes you've created are infectious, energizing, and will help keep your new-found minimalism sustainable, so you never return to where you started.

Those newly-cleared spaces aren't in a museum.  They're meant to be lived in.  Items such as mail, groceries, dirty clothes, and school papers (to name a few) will enter every day.  Once decluttered, you must still maintain those spaces.

But re-decluttering (to use a term coined by Dana K. White, author of Decluttering at the Speed of Life) is so much easier than decluttering.  Keeping things clear is much faster and easier than getting them clear in the first place.

You've already made the hard decisions; now it's mostly a matter of putting things away.

Staying uncluttered becomes easier as you practice it.  Each time you re-declutter, you gain experience and even foresight.  Now you can see junk mail or an impulse purchase for the future clutter it is, and refuse to bring it into your home.

You can feel those good vibes every day, starting today!

Monday, July 1, 2019

A Real Home Makeover

photo courtesy of Magnolia Home

Imagine your dream home.

Walk up to the front door.  Open it, step inside, and look around.  What do you see?

Maybe you picture one of those HGTV makeovers.  The "after" reveals are beautiful, but notice what's missing:  no piles of magazines on the coffee table, no unfinished quilting projects taking over the guest room since last November, no unmade beds, no toys scattered dangerously over the floor.  The refrigerator door is clear of magnets and the dining table is set for a beautiful meal, not covered with a backpack, keys, sunglasses, a jar of peanut butter, cat toys, and the TV remote.

What makes those rooms beautiful is the lack of clutter, the soothing colors and comfortable design, and the sense that they're ready and open for life to take place.  They don't have piles of mail, laundry, dirty dishes, unfinished repairs, or stuff that needs to be cleared away before you can use a counter or sit on the couch.  They're a game ready to be played, a canvas ready to be painted.

People love the "after" look because they'd like to live that way for real, all the time.

Unfortunately, it can be hard to get started with the sometimes tedious job of reducing the amount of stuff we've accumulated over the years.  As much as we might want to live with only the things that "spark joy," that also means we have to deal with all of the things that don't, things we don't really want or need, things that weigh us down and make us feel stressed or unhappy.

Minimalism sounds attractive, but maybe you want to know "What's in it for me?"  Maybe some of these statistics will help you find your "why."

1.  According to the American Cleaning Institute, getting rid of clutter eliminates 40% of housework.

It only makes sense.  Without clutter, tables and counters are easier to clean.  There are far fewer items to dust.  Not only is it quicker to sweep or vacuum, but you can do a more thorough job.  Without fussy or multi-layer drapes, it's easier to clean the windows.  It's simple to put things away because there's plenty of storage space.  Less stuff equals less cleaning; it's as simple as that.

2.  The National Association of Professional Organizers reports that we spend up to a year of our lives looking for misplaced items.

That's tens of thousands of hours searching for phones, keys, sunglasses, the other shoe, and important papers.  And it's not just time that we lose, but peace of mind and possibly our tempers as well.

3.  According to Harris Interactive, 23% of adults admit to paying bills late because they lose them.

Think of the late fees!  And late fees on a credit card bill can result in a higher interest rate and a lower credit score as well.  Decluttering can save money as well as reducing anxiety and stress.

4.  The US Department of Energy reports that 25% of Americans with two-car garages have so much stuff in them that they can't park a car.

I personally hate the look of a car-choked residential street.  Here in California that statistic may be even higher, because it seems that almost no one parks a car in their garage.

5.  In spite of clutter in their garages, 1 in 11 American households rent additional storage space.

There are more self-storage facilities than there are high schools.  There are more self-storage facilities than there are McDonald's and Starbucks locations combined.  The self-storage industry made $32.7 billion in 2016, nearly three times Hollywood's gross box office earnings.  And it's grown at over 7% every year since 2012.

6.  According to the National Association of Productivity and Organizing Professionals, 80% of the items we own are never used.

And neuroscientists at Princeton University have found that physical clutter in our surroundings reduces our ability to focus, making it harder to do well at anything, from work to relationships.

Imagine how our lives would improve if we only kept the things we use!  Imagine how much time, energy, and money we would save, and in what other more fulfilling ways we might use those finite resources.

So, do you want your dream home?

You can get it for free when you declutter and then create habits to keep it that way.  Your home will be more spacious, more attractive, and filled only with the things you love and use.  Minimalism will allow you to experience the home of your dreams.