Silk Purse From A Squirrel’s Ear

Our house went on the market Thursday. There’s no way I can possibly describe to you exactly how much work it was. I’m uncharacteristically speechless.

The biggest surprise? We still have stuff we don’t want or need.

You’re probably thinking – how is that possible Christine? You just got rid of 10,000+ things. You and me both.

We staged.

…right down to the closet shelves.

(These are the only pictures of mine that turned out – I’ll post the listing photos when I get them to prove to you that we do actually have bedrooms and a kitchen.)

It started out innocently enough, but halfway through I started to feel a little cheap about it especially when my son asked me why someone wouldn’t want to buy his room the way it was.

Our realtor had a designer do a walk through and his suggestions were labour intensive and 100% accurate.

The best advice he gave us was “nothing on the floor.” Why is it that the simplest suggestions are the most difficult to execute. It is shocking how much floor space (closet and otherwise), we were using for stuff other than the furniture.

Laundry hampers, duvets, stacks of books, stuffed animals, floor cushions! The list goes on, but the minute I removed it all, the space felt instantly cleaner and more spacious.

Squirrel’s five laundry hampers full of dirty clothes became a bone of contention.

I lie. It was more than a bone of contention. I almost lost the plot when I discovered his quintet of overflowing coffers.

Nothing on the floor? Then where do five laundry bins full of clothes go? I considered stuffing the whole mountain of it into the oven.

But it was obvious what actually needed to be done – ten loads of laundry.

If there was time to get angry about it, I would have. Turns out my only option was to wash, fold, repeat. But while my hands were busy, my mind was too.

How can I make sure this never happens again? Well, if Squirrel only had ten T-shirts (instead of 47), that would pretty much force his laundry hand, no?

I washed folded, labelled, and shelved close to forty T-shirts. The label says: “T-Shirts – Out of Rotation.” It means, I’m going to donate these in six months if you don’t miss them.

Are you wondering what the “silk purse” part of this story is? Well, when the work was done, I realized that I wasn’t mad at Squirrel anymore. That’s unprecedented.

Turns out he just has different priorities. He’s not really trying to ruin my life with a diabolical laundry plot. You aren’t, are you Squirrel?

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It is so on!

2 days to “imaginary” moving day, $133 raised for your charities

(image source)

On Friday, Squirrel emerged from his winter burrow. It happens exactly the same way every year.

He dusts the powder off his bushy tail, scrambles up to the kitchen island, takes a long slurp of his coffee and declares:

“We’ve really got to clean this place up!”

Oh really? I think as I’m unloading the dishwasher with one hand, flipping pancakes with the other, and correcting homework with the third that I seem to have grown during his seasonal absence.

I calmly remind him that the house actually does gets cleaned every week during ski season by the same glorious goddess that makes sure the children are fed, homework is done and everyone is wearing clean underwear.

Here’s where I’m afraid to say it gets ugly and if you’ve come to be fond of Squirrel, please cover your ears. In fact, I’m not even sure I heard it correctly – the sudden rushing of blood to my own head was so deafening. There was talk of that weekly cleaning not being….up to his standards???

Which instantly reminded me of the stashes:

the messes:

the incomprehensible:

And all my passive aggressive heart could think while watching him casually sip his coffee was:

It is so on!

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In fact, with fighting words like those, I’m feeling decidedly unsentimental about which of Squirrel’s treasures make the moving day cut:

You see, I too have standards.

(Pending an apology, none of Squirrel’s things were actually disposed of in the writing of this blog.)

Oh, Just Keep It!

6 days to moving day, $118 raised for your charities

I’m not going to lie to you, I’ve been blocked.

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Between the power washing and the landscaping and the novel-writing, I’ve come up with some pretty convincing ways to avoid decluttering.

To the outside world, I’ve been a whirlwind of productivity – garden beds have been weeded, patio stones have been laid, rock walls have been restored to their original colour, moss has been killed, and chapters have been written and rewritten.

Give me ten extra minutes and I’m mowing the lawn, five and I’m planting a basket, two and I’m offing a stray weed with one hand and tapping out prose with the other.

I recognize this feeling. If I can’t control when and if our house will sell and when and if we’ll find a new one, I may as well blast moss off every stone on the property and write the next Harry Potter.

The trouble is that it never quite works out that way. My projects languish from the lack of focus and by the time I reach the original goal (selling the house) I need about six years of uninterrupted sleep.

Even my decluttering project seems to have taken a back seat to all the other very important things I must do – did I mention, I refinished two coffee tables?

That was until this morning. This morning – I got over myself.

I put the three bags back on my arm and instead of obsessing over whether I should or shouldn’t keep something, I (gasp!) gave myself permission to keep one or two things I couldn’t decide on.

Phew! That wasn’t so bad.

Well, the whole thing snowballed and before I knew it twenty-five items were on their way to the garbage, the recycling bin, or the thrift shop.

And the nice thing is that once freed from the perfectionism of making the right decision, I found myself more and more willing to give up stuff that just a few months ago I thought I wanted to keep. Decluttering was fun again.

I’m back, and not a moment too soon. It’s six days until I have to have this place in move ready condition, and six days until I donate some of my craigslist proceeds to one of your charities.

If you haven’t already, please let me know in the comments where you’d like to see the money go.

Resist the Newfangled…

53 days to moving day, $53 raised for your charities (coincidence?)

I was tossing this new mascara in the garbage today:

when it occurred to me that I haven’t come very far in the experimental purchasing department. You know those things you buy in a pinch when the store is out of your favourite brand or you think perhaps they have indeed designed a better wheel.

I am a persnickety consumer – thank goodness, really – or we’d be in a lot more debt than we are now. Still, I do find myself reaching for a newfangled thingamabobber on occasion.

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I realize that last statement makes me sound like I’m 80 years old.  I’m only halfway there, but there are a few things that I’ve learned in my forty years about what to resist.

1) Never buy anything that is an improvement on what already works for you. You will always be disappointed.

2) Never buy the next closest thing to what you really want.

3) Never buy an exercise gadget.

4) Never buy something for your child that they just saw on TV.

5) Never buy anything that requires more maintenance than you are willing to provide for it.

6) Never buy a brand new home or a brand new car. Let someone work out the kinks and absorb the depreciation for you.

7) And never, ever, ever buy this:

unless, of course, you are:

A) living in a dorm

B) courting a hippie

C) experimenting with drugs, or

D) all of the above

And if any of the above apply to you –  nothing I write will make any sense to your for fifteen or more years.

Artificial Motivation: Creating the Circumstances to Succeed

I’ve started ignoring stupid stuff again. There’s a pile of donations in the garage that have been there since my 100 things 100 days project ended. My four-year old has three acceptable pairs of socks that have all disappeared somewhere between his bedroom and the laundry room.  And I’m missing a pair of tinted glasses (that I need to drive) since January.

And I’m not just being too hard on myself. This is stupid stuff!

It’s stupid because every one of  these things irritates me daily and every one of them could be solved with minimal effort.  Where has my motivation gone?

How was it possible to get rid of a hundred things most days for a hundred days, when I couldn’t toss ten out the window today if the house was on fire.

Blogger Julien Smith writes about motivation (among other things) on his blog, In Over Your Head and, I’ve been pondering his posts since Christmas. With inspirational titles like: The Complete Guide to Snapping the @#$% Out of It – who wouldn’t?

Yes! I thought, I do need to snap the @#$% out of it, but what is he talking about get yourself a system? I’ve been learning systems since I was five years old and I haven’t learned to like one yet.

And just when I was about to say thanks, but no thanks Julien, a system won’t help me get me back on track with my decluttering, he posts this:

I’ve changed a lot in my life, but it’s not because I’m special. I just created special circumstances.

Creating special circumstances sounds like something I could wrap my right brain around. Isn’t that kind of what my 100 things 100 days project was, a set of special circumstances that made it possible for me to crawl out from under the clutter when it had not been possible before?

Looking back, four things stand out as making success possible for me:

1) a complete understanding of how I could benefit from decluttering (more time, less frustration)

2) tying a reward to the action, I love blogging, half the time I only got rid of stuff to have an excuse to write to you guys

3) tying social pressure to the action, because I break promises to myself  regularly, but I’d never break a promise to someone else

4) tying a deadline to the action, mostly because it gave me a reason to focus on my goal when my tendency in the past has been to get wrapped up in unproductive things like worrying

Could I do it again? Yep!

Not only do I think having less will be less work, I know it!

So I’ve decided that May 1 (deadline) is imaginary moving day, and for every new thing that gets decluttered in the packing process, my kids and I will put a loonie on the calendar (social pressure). On May 1st we’ll celebrate with a moving party including a draw for a donation in the amount we collect, in your name, to your favourite charity (reward). Here’s my low tech, Julien cover your eyes!, kitchen table system:

So how will sending a donation in your name a reward for me?

Maybe it’s for the same reason that people like to root for the underdog. I think we’re all motivated in some way by an essential sense of justice. Ask someone what one thing they would change about the world if they could, and get ready for their passionate response.

Donating the money to my favourite cause would be wonderful but finding out what you believe in, and giving you the chance to change the world in a very small way that’s important to you would be even better. Plus, it’s the giveaway that will never require decluttering.

Tell me about your favourite cause in the comments below anytime before April 30 and I’ll enter your name in the donation draw. And if you want to imaginary move with me, what’s stopping you?

Doing Less Of What I Suck At

I’m back! I just wanted to let you know I didn’t run off to raise my family in Hawaii. Although, at times,  it was awfully tempting:

The house exchange with my close friend, who did run off to raise her family in Hawaii, was a huge success.  She is herself a minimalist and an artist and her home is one of the most relaxing and inviting places I’ve ever visited. In fact, it took her .5 seconds to spot the McDonald’s toy I perched on her well-edited bookcase as a test. And here I thought I was being so stealth!

So I spent a lot of time, as I usually do on vacation, thinking about what is wrong with my real life. Apart from the fact that it is not set against the backdrop of paradise, here’s what I came up with.

Too much stuff! And I don’t mean the kind of stuff you get at the dollar store for an Easter project, or the kind of stuff the kids get in birthday party loot bags, or even the senseless kind of stuff you buy yourself but regret before the ink dries on the receipt. I mean, I’m doing way too much stuff.

For instance, it’s 11:10 pm and I just took a loaf of bread out of the oven. It’s not the first time I’ve baked bread, but with any luck, it will be the last. I’ve just never come to terms with the fact that I’m not good at everything. Or, I should say, that I actually suck at doing certain things. Funnily enough, it is those very things that I take a run at again and again, hoping for a different outcome. My bread is hard as a rock, but I’m thinking that a pat or five of butter might make it edible.

And yet, there is a bakery not far from here that gets it right every time.

I struggle, as we all do, with certain things, but my real problem is that I never can seem to grasp the obvious solution. So, my resolution this year is to focus on what I’m good at and enjoy, and tailor the rest of my life to minimize time spent on the things that trip me up again and again.

This roughly translates to more yoga, writing and nurturing friendships and less baking, decorating, crafting and chit-chatting. That last one’s a tough one! I’ll be posting the details as I work out strategies to prioritize my time and, of course, there’s still some physical stuff to get rid of, so I’ll keep you up to date on that as well.

In the meantime, I’ll direct you to this video of the comedian George Carlin talking about stuff. I saw this several months ago in a post by the minimalists and I still can’t stop thinking about it and giggling inappropriately. Enjoy the belly laugh, I’m going to go try that bread.

Guidelines for House Swapping With A Minimalist

I don’t mean to be inhospitable but there are a few things you should know about house swapping with a minimalist:

1) What’s mine is yours. And, since I have next to nothing, please feel free to use all of it.

2) Make sure you bring whatever you think you might want because if you don’t actually need it, I don’t have it.

3) They’re floor pillows!

4) 1 bowl, 1 spoon = better get takeout.

5) If you can’t find it, I don’t have one. Do you really need one?

6) White and black are colours!

7) What arrives with you, must leave with you – except, of course, for wine and chocolate in recyclable packaging.

7) Many happy meals were made in that blender.

9) You won’t break a thing if you dance in the living room (or the kitchen, bedroom, pantry, powder room and hall).

10) What do you mean you’re accustomed to conventional furniture?

11) I like you too much to burden you with unnecessary crap.

12) Yes, I threw it out on purpose.

13) No, I didn’t forget to stock up on toilet paper.

This is, of course, tongue in cheek. I haven’t moved far enough in the direction of minimalism to make all of the above true. I just started to wonder what my friends might think of my departure from the realm of excess and how it could become more and more confusing for house guests the further down that road I go.

Happy Holidays Everyone!

Anything house guests should know about a visit to your place?