Saturday, December 31, 2011

Taking charge of piles

I'm on the (slow) mission to eliminate unneeded things in this house and each day it's a step by step process. My older kids are on the mission to get rid of a minimum of one-third of what they own and it's going remarkably well (more on that another time). But it's true that once the ball gets rolling, it's contagious. They have the incentive of new beds once they complete their task, and I have the incentive of a simplified living space once I complete mine.

By the way, I came across this great article about the benefits of simplifying and minimizing our children's toys, but I think we should all consider applying it to all of the "stuff" that we have. It's true that as my kids (who share a room) have been getting rid of stuff and cleaning up their space, they have started getting along more! It was kind of amazing to watch (or "hear" since I was in the other room not willing to jinx the good fortune of kids getting along so well).

Anyhow, back to my own decluttering.

One of the things that can take over in this house is stacks of paperwork and magazines (a.k.a. "piles"). We have subscriptions to some things (that I hope to turn into e-subscriptions somehow) and I get tons of free magazines from work once they are out of date. Yes, I can choose not to take them, and often I do... but sometimes there is something that I want to read or learn about in one of those magazines, so I bring it home. Eventually it gets added to a pile - come on, most of us have them... whether they are in the bathroom or on the side table, the pile is there. I hate the piles in my house, they are truly my worst enemies. In the past I have left the piles until they get out of control and I freak out and get stressed about them and my partner "deals" with them when I am out. I'm sure there have been tons of "important" stuff in those piles, but when it gets to that point I just don't care. Good riddance!

It's time that I take charge of this situation and keep piles from forming in the first place. So today, I found three piles of magazines from various locations around the house, and I dealt with them. See, some of that stuff I wanted to keep, but not much of it. Some recipes, a few inspiring pictures or writings or tidbits of info.
So I found a folder that my kids were done with and I started organizing. Recipes on the right, "other" on the left.
There, I had all of the info that I needed and recycled the rest of it.
It has been a while since the recycling bin filled up this quickly, but it had to be done. This picture barely shows you how many magazines are really in there.

And to tell the absolute truth, I'm no where near done. We have two bathrooms and I only tackled the magazine pile from one of them (as well as the living room pile). Oh, but the national geographics we are saving... for now. I don't want to get into any habits of collecting things at this point, but my older two kids are just getting to the age where those particular magazines could be a valuable resource for school, etc. I'm also in the process of looking for the "right" bookshelf to put in our living room for family books and games so I think I will make a row of these magazines on it. However, I do reserve the right to get rid of them at any point if I can't deal with them any more.

Meanwhile, I feel a little bit better. It's not THAT different around here just yet, but some cleared up space for the new year will do us good.

Happy New Year to everyone! Here's to a more simplified life in the new year...

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

America's food waste

I think that I have posted about this before, but I finally just got the chance to watch the documentary Dive! Living Off America's Waste. I highly recommend that you check it out (it's on netflix on demand if you've got it).

It reminded me that there was once a time not that long ago when wasting food not only didn't happen, but it was totally looked down on.

So think about buying less and eating more of what you've got already. Finish up those leftovers and don't let your food rot. It's actually ok to see the back of your pantry every now and then. Get creative! Find a way to use up the rest of something instead of having to throw it away.

As for me, well one of the reasons that I had time to watch this documentary finally is because I was home sick today. I decided last night to indulge myself and eat a burger when I haven't eaten beef in 20 years. (Seriously, what was I thinking??) I'll leave out the gory details and just say that my body was angry with my impulsive decision. I think it's time for me to seriously consider cutting meat out of my diet again - sorry in advance to my meat eating family members, but you won't be seeing much in the house anymore.

(However, I do reserve the right to enjoy some local bacon or chicken every now and then, but only if I know the farmer personally.)

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Focusing on the positive

Some of you might know this, but I go to school. Here is proof, my school gear:

My recycled notebook paper, a pink argyle folder scavenged from my kids room (they were done with it), my current study book (found on the book swap at my co-op!), my water bottle, my coffee cup (you can't see that) and a tin cup for snack time so that I don't have to use the paper cups to put my snack in (yes, we have snack time.) I found the bag at a thrift store, but it's made by this awesome local company called Blue Q and made mostly of post consumer recycled waste. 

I'm sure you could really care less about my thoughtfully waste free school gear, I bet you are wondering what I'm doing going to school if I really claim to be as busy as I am. Well, I go to a place called Alkion and I'm studying to be a Waldorf teacher. Now, I know that there are some of you that feel one way or another about Waldorf education, just know that I am not here to talk you into it. (However, I would be happy to talk to someone interested in learning more on the side - email me directly.) I am halfway through my second year of the foundation program at the school and currently plan on doing the teacher training year next year. I am not really sure what I'm going to do with the training - I might pursue becoming a class teacher... but the more I do the training, the more I want to pursue art again... and maybe being as art teacher at a Waldorf school would be ideal. Who knows. But the good thing is, I don't have to decide now so I can just go with the flow and enjoy what I am learning.

Ok, so what the heck does this have to do with focusing on the positive? Well, I'm getting there.

One of the classes that I am currently taking is called "Inner Practice". It's really a great class that focuses on the six basic meditations taught by Rudolf Steiner to help gain more control over your thoughts, feelings and actions.

The six exercises

1. Control of thought aims to gain control over what you think.

2. Control of will aims to gain control over your actions.

3. Equanimity - the exercise of feeling - aims to be aware of
your feelings, to weaken strong feelings and strengthen weak
ones and to balance them.

4. Positivity aims to see the positive in addition to the bad and
the ugly. In this exercise thinking and feeling are combined.

5. Open-mindedness aims to be always open to new
experiences. In this exercise feeling and willing are

6. Inner harmony: the sixth, in which the previous exercises
need to be practised in order to create harmony between
thinking, feeling and willing.

(To learn more about each exercise, check out this blog that I just found that has a brief description of each.)

Yesterday, we learned about the forth exercise. I have been thinking about this quite a bit because out of all of the exercises that we have learned so far, this is one that I wish more people around me would work on (disclaimer: I work with the public and interact with hundreds of people everyday, so you can imagine how different things would be if everyone tried this more frequently).

"In many situations you encounter, you see the negative and ugly
aspects quite clearly. In this exercise the aim is that you always see
something positive, too, without denying the negative. When
something is negative, you can emphasize the positive within or
besides that. There is always something beautiful or good that lies
concealed in everything. The exercise should not lead to an uncritical
attitude and a vague "everything is good and beautiful" or to denying
the negative.

During and after this exercise you still see the negative, but you try
to find something positive in it. Sometimes this only succeeds when
you look back, which may be days or even years later. As you
observe more and see the situation from different angles, you will
restrain your opinion at first and you become more open and will
observe more comprehensively. Therefore the exercise leads to
greater tolerance. Ultimately, there is almost nothing that does not
have something positive in it."

I am going to leave you with that, and those of you that can take from it, please do. Those of you that think I'm crazy... well, I hope you will hang in there for my next blog post. I will try not to make it so heavy.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Christams tree solution

I know that some of you have been curious about what we ended doing for a Christmas tree this year. I was so into the idea of doing something different and getting away from the traditional tree idea... and then I was excited about not having pine needles all over the floor for once. But, once I got better from being sick, there was suddenly no time again. My idea of making a tree obviously didn't happen. So then I thought I liked the idea of a live tree (still less needles!)... but I wasn't so keen on the price tag that came with the live tree. It was back to the drawing board again - which in this case meant going to the local tree farm to get a cut tree.

Yesterday we were getting ready to go to Seekon Tree Farm and get a cut tree when our friend showed up with the perfect solution - he had been trimming pine trees (I think - I'm actually not sure what he was doing) and he had chopped off the top of a tree and brought it to us knowing that we were looking for a tree still. It was perfect!
We thought it would be too charlie brown like, but it's totally not. I'm really into this tree actually.
The kids really liked it too. I think they were starting to get worried that we might not have a tree this year since Christmas is just a little more than a week away.
I have been thinking about this tradition of having a tree in the house... and I realize that I have had a hand in making it part of what my kids expect, but mostly because I have always had a Christmas tree in my life every year and couldn't really imagine a holiday season without one. This isn't such a bad thing, but I want to work towards changing the idea of what a tree needs to look like. I think with better planning for next year, we might just yet be able to build our own creatively fantastic tree.

But for now, while turning the top of a pine tree into a Christmas tree may not be traditional, we pretty much have a normal tree this year.
My youngest of course loves the nutcracker ornament.
And I still love these handmade sweater ornaments made by my sister in law last year (or possibly before then). Maybe if she reads this she might post the pattern (hint hint)... but since I can't follow a pattern to save my life, I will not be duplicating these anytime soon.
My youngest set up the traditional wooden train track around the base of the tree. The tree skirt I am really not a fan of, but we have had it forever and there is no reason to get a new one. It was actually once a woman's skirt that I turned into a tree skirt - it was really easy actually. I'm pretty sure that I just cut off the top and cut it open to wrap around the tree. I don't even think I hemmed it.

Now that the tree is up, I'm finally starting to think about gifts. I am working hard to keep the gifts small, thoughtful and with the thought of zero waste in mind. I obviously can't tell you some of the stuff we are giving because a few of you out there might be recipients... but I do want to touch on the wrapping of those gifts.
Without giving too much away, here is a little sample of what I am doing. I have been collecting any funnies from the paper that I can get my hands on at work, but otherwise, I will just use any newspaper really. I have so much scrap cloth in my life that I decided to use some as wrapping - I just tied some spare yarn around the top. (If you have the time and energy to sew some cloth into bags as wrapping, then you will have two gifts in one!)

This year, for the first time, we have requested from family that any gifts to us or the kids be kept minimal and second hand if possible. We also requested that as little disposable stuff as possible come our way - considering that we have no trash pick up and are still using the same trash bag from 2 or 3 months ago, we don't want to have to throw things away. I suggested wrapping paper that could easily be thrown in the fireplace on Christmas morning (you cannot do this with regular wrapping paper!) like newspaper, etc. I was so pleased when the first package from family arrived today and I opened it to see what was inside:

Good job mom!

I would love to tell you all more about my ideas for my family as we spend our first Christmas cutting back on holiday craziness, but I will have to save that for after Christmas (just in case)...

Until then I hope everyone has a great holiday!

Friday, December 9, 2011

Clothes clothes everywhere

Seriously. Look around you... do you have a lot of clothes in your house? I certainly do.

I've been able to finally spend a little bit of time focusing on going through all of my clothes and getting rid of stuff that I don't need or want anymore. This is not easy, as some of you may know. I had to be honest - had I worn it in the past 6 months? 3 months? If not, get rid of it. I successfully was able to eliminate about 1/3 of my wardrobe... it's a start for sure but I'm still not satisfied. I want less.

One question that comes up is what to do with the clothes that we get rid of. I quickly realized that this made a huge difference on whether or not I could actually let something go! The idea of just taking a big bag of clothes and dropping them in a bin was ok for some stuff, but we all have our favorites that are hard to let go of. I was able to weed out so much more if I knew it might end up with someone that I knew, or someone in the community who might love it and wear it more than me.

Here are some of the clothes that I took to a clothing swap. There was more not shown in this picture that I opted to take to a local consignment shop, but only about one bag.

Let's talk about clothing swaps for a moment, for those of you who might not be familiar with them.

First off, they rock.

And they are fun.

And you can get rid of your stuff and feel good about it. Sometimes you can find a real gem for yourself in the piles of clothing and shoes that others are done wearing. It's exciting!
It's like show and tell with clothes. You can invite all of your friends, no matter what their size... the more the merrier! You can go to a clothing swap even if you have no clothes or accessories to swap - most of the time people are happy to have others there to TAKE stuff. We usually have women only swaps (since there aren't changing rooms, no kids or guys just works better for us), but we bring clothes to swap for everyone. At the one that I just went to, I come home with something for myself and all of my kids, including a killer snowsuit for my youngest.
We eat and drink and hang out... and sometimes we might even end up in another room dancing!

Have I convinced you yet? Clothing swaps rock. Try hosting one! (and invite me please)

So the other thing that I want to convince you to do is to support your local consignment shop.

In my town, there is a really nice shop here that I just started going to that has quickly become my favorite place to shop for myself. It is called Renee's Boutique and if you live anywhere near southern Berkshire county, please go there and check it out. The whole idea of consignment is perfect: passing on clothes, etc. that we are no longer wearing while supporting a local business that supports buying second hand and keeping clothes in circulation so that we don't need to buy any new ones. At this store, there is a 60/40 split (the store makes 60% obviously) and my 40% is given to me as store credit. I really like this because it means that I can go in there, ask how much in credit I have and then see if there is anything that I like. My plan moving forward is to take something out of circulation in my wardrobe whenever I add something new. Today, I added a pair of jeans and removed two sweaters and a pair of jeans that I wasn't really wearing enough.

As I was leaving the consignment shop today, I asked the owner how it was going. She looked at me and said that it wasn't going well. She said fall went well but right now is super slow. Why would that be? I would think that people could be buying Christmas gifts there... I know the store is just for women, but there is more than just clothes - there are shoes, scarves, jewelry, bags and wallets there too. This place is set up with quality products... and while it could seem a bit pricey to some, just remember that it's not a thrift store, it's a consignment shop. When you shop there, you are still paying less than you would be if you had bought it new, meanwhile supporting a local business. She sells brand name stuff there too, so you can find a little bit of everything.

Ok, ok I'll stop. But please consider supporting a local consignment shop before you buy something new from a big store. You will feel better about, I promise.

As for kids clothes, my favorite thing to do is to find someone with a child that would fit into the clothes that we are ready to pass on and ask them if they want them. I personally love when people ask if they can give me clothes for my kids, so I just assume that others feel the same way. Don't forget to pass on those shoes and boots too! You could also set up a kids clothing swap - it can still be a fun night just for the parents, but you could be swapping kids clothes instead of clothes for yourselves.

And now, I am off to do laundry.