The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up (Book Review)

Simplify, simplify, simplify.  Simplify possessions, simplify wants, simplify commitments.  But how in the world do you go about this?

Before we left on our adventure, we spent months and months planning and reading to figure out how to approach a trip of this sort, what we would need, and where we would like to go.  We also spent years preparing financially, even before we made the final decision to travel.  Over the past two years, folks have asked me about how we’re able to do this, and I plan to get into this in later posts.  But this post deals with what we did not do before we left, which was simplify possessions.

Sure, we simplified to a certain extent by necessity.  We had to choose a limited number of things that would fit into our car.  After about a week on the road in our Eurovan, we already had a list of things we would be jettisoning.  When forced to reckon with the smaller space of our car after the death of our Eurovan (R.I.P. Bobby), we purged quite a bit, but still felt as if we had more than we needed.  And yet, we continue to have an entire storage unit in rural Pennsylvania sitting full of items from our former three bedroom townhouse.  I do not miss 99% of these items.  Most of the time, if I’m thinking about missing something, it’s my crock pot.  Strange – whatever!  Sure, we will need some of these not-missed possessions when we have a home.  And there are others that I cherish.  But there are many, many items that we can do without.

As we have been focusing more on finding a home, I have been giving a lot of thought (some would say an unhealthy level of thought) to how we are going to simplify and minimize.  I have begun following several minimalist and simple living bloggers hoping to get inspiration and insight into the process I look forward to going through.   And I am planning on writing about why I am heeding the siren’s call of simplicity and why it may be something for you to consider, as well.

But enough on that, how do I (or you) get started?  I kept seeing the same advice that I have tried in the past in many different places.  And then I had the opportunity to read “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” by Marie Kondo.  It changed everything.  Is it a book for everyone?  No.  Was it a book for me and may it be a book for you if you are interested in learning how to simplify your possessions to increase peace, time, and contentment?  Most certainly, yes!

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The book can get a little cheesy from time-to-time.  The author seems to have an unhealthy obsession with tidying and has been doing it since she was a small child.  Her unhealthy obsession, however, is our gain.  The book provides a number of specifics for decluttering, but not for organizing, since she believes this is unnecessary once you have pared down your belongings.  The most important take-away points are:

  • Do not tidy section-by-section.  Do it all at once, and if you do it well, you only have to do it once.  She estimates the average person’s “all at once” will take six months.
  • Do not ask if you have used this item in the past six months to a year or if you need this item.  Instead, pick up every single item that you own and ask about each item, “Does it bring me joy?”  This, my friends was the magic formula for me.  Of course!  All these years I have been collecting things and holding onto items that I may need one day.  But in the interim, I have to store the item, clean around the item, put away the item, and think about the item.  If it doesn’t bring me joy, why am I doing it?

You may wonder how I will be transitioning to life off the road.  If you listen closely enough, I will be somewhere in the distance, speaking to my things, donating a whole lot, and becoming freer in the process.

 

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review; however, I am completely honest in my reviews.  If I didn’t like the book, you would hear about it.

 

 

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Weekend Roundup: Ithaka, Vandalism, and the Holidays

Things I’m digging lately:

  • The Lies Your Mind Tells You to Prevent Life Changes – A post from Zenhabits that we should all revisit from time to time.
  • Why the Creepytings National Park Vandalism is a Big Deal – If you have not heard about this “artist’s” vandalism, it is worth reading about.  She has vandalized precious, beautiful locations that belong to us all.  Some may say that this is not that big of a deal (I am not one of those), but seeing where she painted turned my stomach.  I only hope that this can be used as a lesson to many about the importance of respecting our wild, beautiful, and public lands.  Unfortunately, we saw our share of vandalism in parks, most notably in Joshua Tree and in Petroglyph National Monument in Albuquerque, but nothing quite so widespread or brazen as this.
  • Holiday Calendar from Center for a New American Dream – Looking for some alternatives to a holiday season filled with shopping and last-minute errands?  The Center for a New American Dream has put together a great holiday calendar with ideas to celebrate the season away from the malls and the online retailers.
  • And finally, I leave you with the last two stanzas of Ithaka by the Greek poet C.P. Cavafy.  Click here to check out the entire poem that speaks so loudly to me right now.  Does this resonate with you?  What is yourIthaka right now?
    .   .   .

    “Ithaka gave you the marvelous journey. Without her you would not have set out. She has nothing left to give you now.

    And if you find her poor, Ithaka won’t have fooled you. Wise as you will have become, so full of experience, you will have understood by then what these Ithakas mean.”

 

Have a beautiful weekend, friends…

Nomads in Search of a Home

No one ever told me that this was going to be easy.  The first nine or ten months of living on the road, traveling as we pleased, and living out of a backpacking tent were, more or less, amazing.  Yes, we left our van on the side of the road in Memphis, but overall, our trip had many more ups than downs.  But what we didn’t have was an exit plan.  Well, we sort of did.  Our exit plan was to travel, find a place we loved, move there, and then find jobs and figure it out.

We did part one – travel – but the rest has not been nearly as straightforward.  We found lots of places that we liked, but no one place called to us and whispered “I am home” as we drifted off to sleep.  Lesson learned – there is no perfect place.  There are really great places and really lousy places, and you make one of those really great places your perfect (or as close to perfect as you can get) home over the course of time.  So, back to the drawing board.  We made lots of lists (we’ve been doing that for years), weighed the pros and cons, and thought we had come up with a location – Western Massachusetts.  Okay, so now part two was checked off, or so we thought.

Now it was time to move there, find jobs, and figure it out.  And this is when things got real.  Or rather, when we really began digging deep and figuring out what we really want out of this short time we have in this beautiful, ragged world.  We spent several months in Western Massachusetts trying to figure it out – half of which was spent in an artist’s unfinished, musty basement that leaked when it rained.  If that wasn’t motivation to figure something out, I don’t know what would be.

We figured out a lot.  We realized that we didn’t just want to find any job, we wanted to do something that was meaningful and that we were good at.  And I wanted to stay home for a few years until the little guy is in school.  And so we began anew on a journey for Alan to focus on his talents and his passions.  And so, the last year has found us bouncing around from place to place while we figure things out and while Alan completes coursework and studies to pass a certification exam for his new career.

This past year has been one of the hardest of my life.  Which, when I look at it in perspective, means that I’ve been an inordinately lucky lady.  Yes, the past year has seen more than my fair share of tears.  It has been hard to not have a home for so long.  It has been hard to feel unmoored and to deal with drama that is unnecessary and defeating.  But we have our health, we have each other, we have amazing people in our lives, and we have learned more about ourselves than we ever would have if we had not decided to jump into certain adventure.  But the challenges have made it difficult to share openly on this blog, which is why posts for the past year have been sparse.  I’ve been struggling with what to share and what to keep close.  By not sharing, I realize that I have become guilty of airbrushing this nomadic lifestyle. And so, with renewed attention, I plan to begin sharing again.

We have decisions to be made over this next month or so.  Big decisions.  Decisions that will hopefully allow me to announce that we found a place to call our (for now) home.  And I have so many plans.  Plans for us, for the little guy, and for continuing to share our adventures as we gulp down the moonlight.  Bear with me as I dip back into the blogging world and try to wipe off any veneers of perfection.

It’s Never Too Late

I imagine I’ll be saying that frequently once we have a home and I begin trying my hand at new skills.  In the mean time, I’m racking up a list of things I want to learn/try/improve upon once I retire from the nomadic lifestyle.  When I realized in mid-winter of last year that we wouldn’t be hanging up our nomadic shoes anytime soon (and how right I was), I decided to begin one of the many things I’d been putting off until I had time.  Knitting.  And if you’ve seen me in the past ten months, you know that this has become a major part of my life.

I love when I try something new and it becomes a part of me.  I struggle to remember that there was a time not very long ago when I didn’t know a knit stitch from a purl stitch.  The fourth time was a charm (there were a few short-lived efforts in years past).  I began with dishcloths and a scarf that has since been frogged (unraveled) to make a much nicer scarf for Van.  I then took a class at Webs in Northampton during the six weeks we were house sitting.  It was fantastic!  As soon as we settle somewhere I’ll be looking for more classes.  When our instructor showed us what we’d be making over the course of the class, my eyes grew wide and I laughed to myself.  But I did it!  And then some.

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Though I’m currently in the midst of three knitting projects (a hat, a scarf, and a blanket) and have a few more projects waiting in the wings (more hats and a cowl), this doesn’t stop me finding new and great patterns to try.

In the spirit of “taking a class” without taking a class, I was excited to begin reading Knockout Knits by Laura Nelkin.  It is basically a class in three advanced techniques with patterns that progress in difficulty.  The sections are devoted to wrapped stitches, lace, and knitting with beads.  The patterns are beautiful, modern, and unique.  Each section begins with a cuff to master the basic technique and then works up in difficulty from there.  Because the patterns are all for accessories (no blankets or sweaters in this book), many of the patterns require a skein or less of yarn.

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I plan to begin working my way through the section on wrapping stitches in November while we have a home for a month (we’ll be staying near Frederick, Maryland).  There is a gorgeous pair of mitts that are listed as advanced beginner, so I think that will be a good place to start once I knit the cuff.  To be completely honest though, the book sold itself when I turned to page 78 and saw a photo of the Loco Shawl.

Loco Shawl from Knockout Knits

Loco Shawl from Knockout Knits

Wow!  Breathtakingly beautiful.  I’m nowhere near ready to begin something that complicated and delicate at this point, but I am determined to get there.  I’m not even sure where I’d wear that shawl, but when I spend the time and energy to make it, I’ll probably wear it everywhere.  Lookout!

Do you knit?  I’m always looking to expand my small circle of knitting friends from whom I gather (and can hopefully provide) inspiration.  If you are, send me a message or leave a comment below.  Any favorite patterns?  If you’re not a knitter but have thought of starting, I can’t recommend the book Stitch ‘N Bitch more highly.

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

August in New York, Minus the Humidity

The view from our home for two weeks.

Instead of crickets, horns. Instead of late-night revelers around a fire, late-night stumblers struggling to turn their key and escape into their box in the sky. Instead of hikes through lush woods or up mountains, walks on pavement through a canopy of skyscrapers. But the food and the friendships are so much easier to source here. After two weeks in Manhattan, I grew weary of the city life and was eager to spend much of September hiking through the early fall leaves of the Green Mountains. But I enjoyed every minute of being there (minus those ten minutes mistakenly walking through Times Square that I can’t get back), especially those spent with wonderful and dear friends. That those times were spent over delicious foods that are harder to find in other parts of this beautiful country made it even sweeter. I only had a few points on my agenda before we arrived – see several friends that I haven’t spent time with for way too long, visit the 9-11 Memorial, explore the High Line, listen to my favorite band in Central Park, and eat lots of ethnic food. Before long, our agenda filled up with all of that plus five live music shows in as many days, lots of time wandering the neighborhoods south of mid-town, watching the little guy get braver on the nearby playground, taking the boy on a boat, and using the gym like a normal person with a home and a routine.

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Van’s favorite playground in the city – Madison Square Park

As our two weeks drew to a close, I penned a few words of advice for those visiting Manhattan:

  • Unless you’ve never been to Times Square before, skip it.  I’m not a city person, but I absolutely love New York City.  However, if all of the city was like the area around Times Square and Rockefeller Center, it would be one of my least favorite places in the world.  Yuck!  It’s worth seeing once (maybe – it’s debatable), but make it a quick trip and then start exploring the rest of this city.  It can take lifetimes.
  • Whatever you do, don’t skip the High Line – it’s magical.  I spent much of my pregnancy taking long walks through Central Park to get my nature fix, but I really should have been up on the High Line.  The beautiful (and distinctly not city) smells are reason enough to spend an afternoon.
  •  If you visit the 9-11 Memorial, don’t skip a visit to St. Paul’s Chapel.  I’ve been half a dozen times in the last ten years and it never fails to make me cry.  It is a personal and beautiful testament to the best in people.
  •  Spend time in the city’s living rooms (and dining rooms, but hopefully not bathrooms) by enjoying at least one full day in one or more of the city’s great parks.  Central Park is an obvious choice, but there are so many.  I made my first trip out to Governor’s Island on this visit and can’t recommend it enough.  Especially with kids.  We took an early boat out (the first couple of boats out are free!) and spent several hours exploring with my dad before Van was beyond ready for a long nap.
  • Eat, eat, eat!  But not boring food.  Eat the kinds of food that are harder to find elsewhere.  Eat the kinds of food that satiate you and your sense of adventure.  After checking out many different eats around the city during our visit, Van proclaimed Korean food to be his favorite.  And I will admit, that was an amazing meal.  Thanks, Dad!
  • Put on your walking shoes and just wander.  I could write this advice for just about anywhere, but I think it’s particularly applicable to such a walkable and large city.  There is no better way to experience the city (other than living there) than walking through its various neighborhoods.  Though we didn’t conquer any epic walks (Alan’s longest pre-kid NYC walk in one day was about sixteen miles), we bypassed public transport a number of times and walked many, many miles to explore neighborhoods we hadn’t seen in a while.
Grandpa and Van enjoying a car-free Park Avenue for a day of strolling.

Grandpa and Van enjoying a car-free Park Avenue for a day of strolling.

I must mention that we lucked out when it came to the weather.  I wouldn’t normally recommend that a NYC visitor plan a trip in the middle of August, but I really wanted to spend some time there before we settle somewhere new and the timing worked well for us.  I could not believe how amazing the weather was – seventies with low humidity.  Where was I again?  It was bliss!

One more shot of the view - I can't resist!

One more shot of the view from the balcony – I can’t resist!