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Thursday, December 31, 2015

The 7 Experiment - Media Fast

I'm going to write this one as I go and publish it at the end of my fast. 

This month is media.  My plan is no Facebook for three weeks.  Also, no gaming or random internet surfing.  Basically, I'm trying to redeem the time I spend after diner just vegging in front of the computer. 

I started Thursday (making today day 4).  I turned off all my notifications that email me saying who posted things on Facebook.  At first that helped me not desire to go check out the 'news'.  However, today I find myself wondering what is going on in people's lives.  I feel a little removed.  It's interesting.  Also, what am I supposed to do with all my silly and interesting life events and comments swirling in my head if I can't post them?

Week one down.  Here is an interesting development.  Instead of using my after dinner time for work or family, I've been going to bed earlier.  I think my body is trying to tell me that I've overextended and I need some rest.

Week two almost done.  My email is boring without Facebook and it is full of junk mail.  I try to unsubscribe them but more come.

My life seems to be getting quieter and smaller without Facebook.  I don't know all the details of friends' lives who are spread around the country.  I don't have the urgency to check on them daily. I like that social media allows me to reconnect with people I care about, but I don't miss the pressure (self-imposed mostly) to not miss an update. 

I'm not sure it's quiet enough yet though.  I still don't seem to be spending more time with family or getting more chores done.  I think it's time to reduce my inputs even more.  I read that multi-tasking, especially when related to media, undermines our ability to focus.  Also, it can cut creativity and deep thought.  Lastly, inputs of new information can be received as more urgent to the brain than other necessary tasks. 

I think that relates to me.  Sometimes I get obsessed with gathering new information on whatever topic has caught my interest.  I'll listen to audio books, watch youtube videos, etc. while doing other tasks.  This is not a bad thing in itself, but I think I get overstimulated at times and too driven to find out all I can.  So, for now, I'm fasting from multi-tasking.  I want to focus on what I'm doing and listen for God's voice in all things. 

If only it was that easy.  Unfortunately, the first voice I hear is not God's.  It is the voice of my own anger, irritation, and selfishness.  I find myself getting upset about unimportant things.  It's as though my emotions are raw and vulnerable.  This is always the first 'benefit' of fasting - it shakes me up and shows me what character defects remain unsanctified within me.  I pray for God to continue healing me.  I want to be so full of His Spirit that there is no room for my sinful nature.

Today I endeavored to look outward and pay attention to others instead of focusing on my own wants and needs.  The ugly voices in my head dispersed and it was a much calmer day.

As the three weeks comes to a close,  I think it's time to make some decisions about permanent changes to make.  I would like to 'keep the baby, but get rid of the dirty bathwater'.  I want to keep in contact with friends and family without surfing mindlessly for hours.  I also have become aware of how plugged-in my children are.  They need some limits as well.  I'm considering making one evening a week a 'no screen night'.  Ideally that time would be filled with family time and bonding.  I do plan to sometimes listen to my e-books while doing mindless chores, but wouldn't it be even better to include my children and develop more talk time with them? 

In general, I think I need to intentionally consider how I can trade good for better and better for best in my life. 

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Learning to crawl

When my first daughter learned to crawl she had trouble getting her hands and legs to work together.  It went like this - hand, hand, flop on face.  The amazing thing is she didn't cry or get mad.  She just pushed herself up and tried again. 

I could certainly use a little of that determination because apparently my ministry to the poor is going to look a lot like Stephanie crawling - progress, progress, face-plant. 

I am overjoyed that God has given me a desire to minister to the less fortunate.  My own attitudes are being shaped and sanctified - progress.

I organized another free yard sale for needy families.  Our church found a Christian non-profit to partner with and many people at church got involved in various ways - progress.

Under 30 people came - flop.

About half way through I had a melt down.  I asked God if I had gotten these people involved for no reason.  I asked Him if I had misinterpreted His instructions.  I asked Him if I was a failure and the whole thing was a mistake.  Then I tried to pretend everything was fine and count the minutes until I could leave.

Fortunately a few ladies figured out I was upset and reassured me.  They did not feel that the work they put in was a waste of time, and they did feel like the people who came were worth the effort.  They said if one person was influenced and helped it was enough. 

How did I get so blessed to have people like this in my life.  God is good.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

The 7 Experiment - Month Two - Clothes

As I've explored the ideas of simplicity and minimalism, I ran into a lot of people talking about downsizing their wardrobe.  In my first major purge I did donate several bags of clothes, but I had no desire to create a capsule wardrobe or try the 333 challenge (33 clothing items for 3 months).  Then I read Jen Hatmaker...

As part of her fasting from excess, she wore 7 clothing items for a month and loved it! 

I wasn't sure how I wanted to approach this month of 7, but I started by counting my clothes - tops, bottoms, dresses, nightgowns etc.  I did not include undergarments.  The total was 230.  That is not a mountain, but it is still a lot for a person who claims to not care about clothes.  So, I decided to jump in and see how little I could live on for a month. 

I started with 1 pair of jeans, 1 pair of shorts, 1 t-shirt, 2 dress pants (black and brown), 3 semi-dressy tops, 1 pair of sweats and 1 dress.  I discovered it was sort of fun.  I kept the experiment secret and wondered if anyone would notice.  For two weeks I had this tiny pile of laundry and few choices to make in the morning.  In fact, it was two easy.  At two weeks I decided to narrow the playing field.  I eliminated the shorts (cool weather coming anyway) and the sweats and one top.  Now I had to repeat tops twice in a work week.  Still no one seemed to notice.  I guess the world really doesn't revolve around me. =p

By the fourth week I was a little bored with those tops and really ready to wear a different dress to church, but it certainly was not difficult or painful like fasting from food.  So, I was right to say I'm not all that attached to my clothes. 

Still, this was a fast, and I wanted to hear God's voice.  I asked him what he wanted to show me this month.  I had spent some time thinking about image and how we feel about ourselves and others based on clothes.  I also pondered how much we spend as a nation on clothes and how even thrift stores will reject clothes at times because they just have too much.  So as a society we have extreme waste in this area.  I try to get most of my clothes used for this reason. 

The one thing I had not considered was how clothing related to social justice.  I watched Jen's video for this month and did some internet surfing to find out about worker abuse, child labor, and unsafe working conditions.  It's a big topic and not at all clear-cut.  Here at last was the place where this fast pinched.  I found a listing of various companies and how well they were doing with safety, living wage, and child labor.  Unfortunately, most of the labels in my closet were not on the list so I have no way to judge them. I did decide to support the companies with good rating when possible.  Of course when you buy from a company that uses fair trade cotton and pays their workers above minimum wage, you might get sticker shock.  Then I discovered that certain countries are more known for worker abuses.  I started checking my labels again and I had lots of clothes made in the top two.  Since I wanted to purge anyway, I donated many of these.  I also chose to keep some - things I wear often or really liked.  It wasn't as easy as I thought. 

The next day I took my daughter shopping for a recital dress.  We found one she liked (a major feat) and it fit.  Only after it was in the cart did I check the tag -- ugh it was from the country I told myself I was no longer supporting... but it fit, she liked it, and it was cheap... and I bought it. =s

Now some will say, justifiably, that I have no way of knowing if that dress was made by a modern-day slave or a home-business trying to get out of poverty.  That is true.  It's also true that in that moment, the for-sure needs of my own child outranked the maybe abuses of somebody else's child.  I am weak when it comes to my dearest treasures - my children.

So, I leave clothes month with a smaller wardrobe (@150 now) and a lot of questions about justice.  As someone reminded me, it's not just clothes.  Injustices abound in so many industries.  I don't know how to even begin to make a dent in this issue.  As with so many things the goal may be progress not perfection.

Friday, October 30, 2015

OA teaches me about Christianity

It's been a little over a year and a half since I joined OA and this proram has revealed new things abut my faith. Today I was thinking about evangelism.

  People have watched my journey for the past year and a half. They have seen my body and my spirit change. Last night 3 new ladies I have shared pieces of my journey with came to our local face to face meeting. I had invited them in the past, but I had no idea they were coming this week. I didn't actively pursue them, I just lived my life in front of them and they noticed. I also befriended them with no condemnation. 

 I hope I can translate this into myChristian witness. My life should be lived in such a way that people notice my deeds and my spirit. It should attract them to Jesus. As I befriend people, not assault them with the gospel, I earn the right to speak God's love to them. 

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Serving and Growing

"Something happens when you serve.  Something you cannot control.  You start with all kinds of obstacles, fear, incompetence, and even a desire to avoid the hopelessness that occurs when you realize that you do not have the power within you to fix people.  Something changes and you stop seeing people and you see a person.  Maybe even for a fleeting second you see a person through God's eyes... and that is when you get it.  Serving was never about them.  Serving is about getting gripped in the heart by God.  And he touches your heart through the ones you serve."
     -- Barefoot Church  by Brandon Hatmaker

I read this tonight and it summarizes my experience so well.  My first attempts at serving the poor were so stumbling and pitiful.  I first decided to go to the local free community meal and help serve.  They asked me to take care of the drinks.  That sounded easy until 100 people started filing in and there were only two of us trying to pour and deliver all those drinks.  I was overwhelmed and frustrated.  People complained that we missed their table, I didn't know where the sugar was for the tea, we ran out of ice....  Talk about feeling incompetent.  I did not feel like Mother Theresa but more like Cinderella before the ball.  I found myself feeling grumpy and critical.  Then God's voice whispered that I wasn't here to feel good or get brownie points, I was here to give an offering of service.  Well, my offering was pitiful, but I gave it and I kept coming back.  Eventually I started getting to know the regulars and I got better at serving drinks.  Now I chat with them and serve them with  smile and I love it.

Then there was the night of the tailgate party for the homeless. (See my post - The Homeless are Healing my Heart).  That was when I got to see some people through God's eyes.  I hugged a hurting veteran and listened to his stories.  I saw individual people that night, not just a group of homeless and God did grip my heart. 

The farther I get on this journey I realize that the things God calls us to are not meant to be painfully sacrificial.  It may be difficult at first.   Transformation is not easy.  However, in the end, the changes he calls for are meant to give us joy and the abundant life he promised.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

The 7 Experiment month one - food

Well, my newest obsession revolves around a book (big surprise).  It's called The 7 Experiment by Jen Hatmaker.  My friend introduced it to me with the sentence - "You have to read this, it's so you."  All I had to do is read the back and I was hooked.  This author looked at seven areas of excess in her life and pared them down to the essentials.  Most of the areas were the same ones I've been making changes to in my own life - food, clothing, possessions, media, waste, spending, and stress.

In my life (somewhat documented in my story, Journey of 100 Bags) I made gradual, sustainable changes in various areas.  Jen Hatmaker took it to the extreme.  She considered each section a fast and her goal was for God's kingdom to break through in her life. 

For the first month she ate only seven foods - chicken, eggs, whole wheat bread, sweet potatoes, spinach, avocados, and apples.  She examined the Western diet and discovered how it is making us sick and fat.  She explored the ideas of whole food, organic, local food, and industrial agriculture.  She looked at how much food we waste as well as what God has to say in the Bible about food and our bodies.  She looked at the world around her and how so many are starving while a few are so indulged. 

I was challenged and excited.  I tried a water fast for one meal - yep just 1 meal.  I was miserable.  I felt weak and hungry and irritated.  I learned that fasting knocks me off center, shakes me up and reveals my character flaws.  It's not fun. 

Then I decided to follow one of Jen's suggestions and fasted from seven foods in my ordinary diet.  This was easier than the water fast, but it still got old fast.  I was not entirely successful.  One particularly stressful day I came home and ate cinnamon rolls.  These are not one of my trigger/binge foods, but they are a treat and one of the seven foods I chose to fast from.  I learned that I still turn to food for comfort.  One day my daughter drank the last of my unsweetened tea.  I snapped at her.  I was tired of drinking tea with no sugar to start with, but if it ran out I only had water.  I was embarrassed to see that a drink was that important to me.  Another day I was again bemoaning my lack of sweet tea when I looked at my glass of water and decided to be grateful.  I was thankful that I live in a country with pure water and that I can even afford to buy bottled water if I want to.  I learned that my life is full of blessings that often go unrecognized.

Food month was hard.  That means I need to do it again sometime.   I have more to learn... but this month is clothes. Bring on the next adventure.

Friday, October 2, 2015

The Homeless are Healing my Heart

I used to live in a place where I hated to go grocery shopping.  When I walked in I passed a line of beggers.  When I walked out one of them  would usually follow me to my car asking for money.  He would have a story about how he was stranded and needed money to get gas to go home or how he hadn't eaten all day.  I knew this was most often  a lie.  These men had wives and children waiting at home to see if they would return with a little extra cash but most often they returned drunk and abusive.  Every time I had these encounters I felt violated.  My heart hardened and scar tissue grew over my compassion.

When I moved to Alamogordo I saw a few guys flying signs here and there asking for help.  I assumed they were fake and I drove past.

Recently God has been working on my attitudes toward the poor.  He revealed to me how rich, how blessed I am and how impoverished so many in the world are.  He impressed on me that the whole world is a family - His family.  I would never let my children go cold if I had an extra coat (or any coat) to share.  Maybe it was time to share with the rest of God's children.

I began giving things away.  That was easy and it felt good.  Some of the callouses fell off my heart.  Then I helped my church organize a free yard sale for the needy.  That was amazing!  Light began to shine on my soul. 

Then came the day I had extra strawberries and God said - go give them to the homeless begging on the corner.  I was scared.  What would they say?  What would they do?  What would they expect from me? 

I took my two young daughters with me.  They were excited.  They gave me courage.  I pulled into the parking lot and left my purse in the car.  Then I met Frank.  I didn't know if he would accept my offering.  Maybe he just wanted money.  I approached and asked if he would like some strawberries.  His whole face lit up.  "Those are my favorite.  Thank you miss.  I get so tired of hamburgers."  He was so grateful and friendly.  We chatted a minute and then he asked if I would take what was left to his brother across the street.  In that moment I saw generosity.  These guys and others I would meet share and take care of each other. 

I went home and told my husband that the guys on the corner where friendly and kind.  They didn't feel entitled to anything.  They were just trying to live.  They aren't saints, but they have a lot to teach me.  My heart was healing a little more.

Then I went to a tailgate party being held by a church group.  They made care bags to hand out to the homeless.  They also had a meal and clothes to give away.  I sat down to talk to a man I had me before.  He shared his story with me.  He is a paranoid schizophrenic and he has PTSD from being a war veteran.  With tears in his eyes, he told me he could never be forgiven for things he was ordered to do as a soldier.  He admitted that he is an alcoholic and that it cost him his last job.  He's been homeless ever since.  I held his hand.  I told him about God's love.  I felt my own heart restored.

Jesus told us to serve the poor, but what we often forget is that it is not just for their benefit.  It is for ours.  the poor can teach us how to love, how to share, and how to heal.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

OA -Step 10 - the journey continues

Step 10 - Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it.

I would rephrase this step as 'repeat the above as necessary'.  It would be nice if, once our lives were cleaned up, they stayed cleaned up.  However, life is not like that.  We continue to face challenges, make mistakes, and unearth new character defects.  So, we continue to need the process outlined by the 12 steps. 

When I feel discontent in my spirit, or bursts of anger, or sudden sadness, I know it's time to revisit the steps.  I admit I have problems I can't solve on my own. (1) I turn to the God who is able to heal me (2) and ask for His help (3).  Then I look for where I have muddied the waters. Have I allowed fear or resentment to enter my life?  Have I allowed old character defects to return? (4)  I confess my sinful attitudes and actions to God, myself, and a trusted confidant. (5)  I choose to let go of the ugliness that is marring my spirit. (6)  I ask God to remove it. (7) Then I check to see who I have hurt in the process and make amends to them in whatever way seems best. (8-9) 

Sometimes  this process takes hours, sometimes just a few minutes.  I know it is done when peace returns to my spirit.

Today I found myself feeling depressed and angry.  I was growling at people and situations that really should have only been small irritations.  I knew there was something amiss in my spirit.  I didn't exactly go through the steps in order.  First I sought counsel from a friend which is one of the 12 step tools.  Then I cried out to God about something I felt was unjust.  That is when I realized that I was mad because people and situations were not playing out the way I wanted them too.  This is a reoccurring theme with me.  My sponsor once pointed out that I seem to want to be in charge of the world and I selfishly try to put my will on others. Ouch.  OK I did it again (with the best intentions for a good outcome, but still selfish).  God spoke to my spirit that sometimes I need to wait for doors to open instead of banging against them.  I humbly admitted that He is in charge, not me and I will wait for His timing.  You see, I tend to rush - in life, at church, at school.  I get an idea and run with it.  God is teaching me to wait for Him to get other people ready too.  That will be my living amends.

Step 10 is powerful because steps 1-9 are powerful and worth repeating often.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Getting too Comfortable

I just finished a book called Hidden Treasures. It's about the Fly Lady systems of cleaning and organizing. I did try her method last year and found it too intense for me at the time. However reading this much more personal version was helpful.

The biggest a-ha moment was about change. She talks about how we put in a big effort to change and then sit back to enjoy it. We get comfortable with the way things are and quit doing the things it takes to keep it that way.

Wow. This definitely happens to me. See, once I decide to do something, I jump in full force. I like big projects, at least at first. I did major overhauls in each room of the house. I loved seeing the changes, but then my home got to a place where I was no longer ashamed and I slowed down. I lost the drive to finish the last few corners and daily maintenance has always been my nemesis.

The book says "Becoming comfortable with where you are causes you to stop moving forward... You have to get to a level of discomfort with where you are to move ahead and find peace"

I think this is true of any life change. Maybe I just had to coast a little while in order to get uncomfortable enough to move forward again.  Maybe I'll even try the Fly Lady system.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

OA - Steps 8 and 9 - Amends

A friend was talking today about how in the Bible miracles didn't just happen.  God often required people to do something first and/or to use what they had at hand before the miracle occurred.  That reminded me of my OA journey.  It has been miraculous healing and it has been a lot of hard work.

Step 8 - Made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all. 

Once you search your soul for character defects and harmful behaviors in step 4 and ask your higher power to remove them in step 7 you are ready to live life with different rules, better coping strategies, and more peaceful results.  However, you still have the mess of the past to clean up.  Some religions call this penance, I just think of it as making things right. 

Some names came to mind right away.  I knew who I had hurt and how.  Others were more hidden.  As I had analyzed my past with my sponsor in step 5, I discovered that very often hidden in my resentments, hurts, and fears were my own wrongs.  Human beings often hurt others when they themselves are hurt.  I learned that it didn't matter who started it or who did more damage, I was still responsible to clean up my side of the street.  I was also responsible for the choice to hang on to un-forgiveness and pain and letting it corrupt my life. 

For me this step was a process.  There were some names on the list I was willing to reconcile with right away.  Going through the process gave me the strength to tackle other names that were not so 'easy'.

Step 9 - Made direct amends to such people wherever possible except when to do so would injure them or others. 

My first amends was to a former college roommate whom I felt I had treated unkindly.  I found her through social media and sent a letter of apology.  She wrote back and thanked me and included her own apology.  It was an amazing moment of healing.  We both felt honored and validated.  It was a precious experience. 

Not all amends are this easy or productive.  The people you approach may not be ready to accept your repentance or to forgive you in kind.  They may not even want to talk to you.  It's not about that.  It's about doing the right thing for the right reason and leaving the results up to God.

There are a few types of amends.  First is the direct amends - an apology or possibly financial reparation.  This can be done face-to-face or in a letter. It is important no to mention anything the other person did to you.  This is only about asking forgiveness for your actions.

Another type of amends is indirect.  This involves situations where the person has passed away.  Many people find healing by writing a letter and taking it to the graveside or burning it.

Lastly, there are living amends.  This is where you live the apology.  Some situations are too tricky or the person involved would actually be hurt by your revelation.  It is your job to live out the changes in behavior that will show them your apology.  In a way all amends should be followed up with living amends.  Otherwise the words are hollow and meaningless.

So - what does all this have to do with food, or drinking, or any other addiction?

The Big Book of AA says that if we do not rid ourselves of the character defects that cause self-seeking behaviors and cause us to harm ourselves and others we will return to our drug of choice.

For me this means, I cannot afford to bury my feelings and my selfish behaviors if I want to live a healthy , happy, free life.  The road to peace is the road of repentance and restoration. 

I've lived on the other side - enesticized by food and afraid of life.  This way is so much better!

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Cooking failures

Grr.... cooking should not be so hard.  You follow a recipe and you get the result.  That's how I remember it back before I started relying on so much processed food. 

I do not remember falling on my face over and over and wasting food by creating failures.  However, maybe that is part of why I quit in the first place.  Maybe I just blocked the flops out of my mind.

Today I sliced my thumb grating carrots for cole slaw.  I got a giant head of cabbage in the last co-op basket.  Despite the fact that I did not have the right spices (realizing my spice collection is seriously lacking) it turned out basically the way I remember it.  However, I didn't want to use the whole head of cabbage because it would go bad long before I ate it.  A friend suggested a frozen slaw recipe.  I found one that used things I had on hand (except for spices I thought I had).  I had to boil  vinegar, sugar concoction. It started to boil and before I could reach the burner control to turn it down, the mess erupted all over my stove.  The smell of 'candied vinegar' burning on the stove was horrendous.  It might also be permanently attached to the stovetop.  All this for a dish I may not even like.

Two days ago I made chocolate banana bread that turned out well, but last week I made blueberry muffins that were burnt and greasy.  The pre-made or even box mix ones never have that problem. =s

As with so many things in my life, I am just not great at this.  I am ok, sometimes, and I can improve, but I don't think I'll ever be good at it.  That leaves me fighting the temptation to quit. 

Change is not easy.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Eating and Traveling

I've been making many efforts to eat healthier- more veggies, less processed food, more water, etc.  Things are going pretty well at least at home.

I took two trips recently and that was a whole different matter.

First of all restaurant portions are out of control. I tried to eat half of what was on my plate and was most often stuffed (and feeling guilty for wasting food.)

Also it is way too easy to avoid vegetables when eating out. At one meal I looked at the table and realized no one in the group had anything green on their plates. It wasn't a conscious decision, we just ordered what sounded good. It was nearly impossible to order a meal with two veggies without adding a side dish.

However, I didn't do much better when I was in control of my food. I found myself in the car for four hours with all processed food. Why hadn't I filled a cooler with cut veggies or made homemade granola?

The problem is real food takes planning and I'm not used to that yet.

Thankfully the pounds I gained each time came off quickly and each mistake I make gives me information to do better next time.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Journey of 100 bags - the last chapter but not the end of the journey

Epilogue – The Journey Continues

            I have now made a first pass through most of the rooms and corners of my house and I have begun to realize that this was only the beginning.  I have only given away my excess.  I have not really made any sacrifices.  I think of the Biblical story of the widow’ mite and I know I am no were near her level of giving.  This summer I plan to start over, move forward, and dig deeper. 

            This spiritual, mental, and physical journey I’m on has morphed into other areas of my life as well.  For instance, I have embraced the recycling movement.  Most of my life I did not really see the need for this.  I tossed my cans in a bin if it was convenient and that was about it.  I was fairly ignorant and unconcerned about how much trash I created.  The week I tackled the art room I began to feel guilty as the bags of trash, mostly paper, piled up.  I guess it was the amount that got me.  A little trash here and there didn’t seem to matter, but four bags of mostly paper that could have been recycled seemed like such a waste.  I decided that day that it was worth the inconvenience of sorting and delivering recyclables in order to make my trash reusable instead of just adding to a landfill.  Now I collect plastic bottles, paper, tin cans, glass, cardboard, and aluminum cans.  In addition I use cloth bags when I shop.  It’s a start.

            Another area of growth has been financial.  Now that I am rid of so much excess stuff I certainly don’t want to refill my house.  I find myself buying less.  I look at items critically before I purchase them to decide if they will be useful and/or bring me joy.  I try to decide if this purchase will only end up filling a thrift store bag later.  I’m especially skeptical of giveaways.  All too often those are the items that morph into clutter. 

            An extension of these two areas has led me to want to purchase used items whenever possible.  It seems that there is so much stuff in the world, it is a little wasteful to buy new.  I recently lost some weight and needed new clothes.  It would have been so convenient to go to the local department store, spend a couple hundred dollars and get what I needed.  I decided instead to put my new values to work.  I went thrift store shopping.  It certainly wasn’t as easy and it took more time.  I went to several stores the first day.  I discovered which stores in my area had the best selection of plus-size clothing and which ones were organized by size to make shopping easier.  The selection was somewhat limited but when I did find an item that I liked and it fit, I felt a surge of accomplishment.  It was like a treasure hunt and it did not break my budget.  There was an element of faith involved as well.  I was asking God to provide for my needs rather than just relying on my credit card. 

            One other area of growth has been related to poverty.  As I was decluttering my bookshelves I found a book about the spiritual discipline of simplicity.  This concept seemed to encompass the whole journey I’ve been experiencing.  It discussed ownership and finances.  Then it delved into the subject of poverty.  I found out that anyone making $40,000 a year is in the top 1% of the world.  Also, 92% of the world’s population don’t own a car.  In other words, most of us in America are rich by the world’s standards.  We are blessed and we need to decide how to use our resources.  We need to explore the idea of whether our extravagant lifestyle is pleasing to God when so many are starving through no fault of their own.  I know that this is not a simple issue.  It is full of political intrigue.  Personally I have always felt that some social programs where enabling laziness and ensnaring people so that they could not move on to financial independence.  However, I have to admit that the Bible espouses helping the poor.  For example, farmers were to leave the edges of their fields unharvested so that the poor could glean what they needed.  Some theologians have embraces what is called “The theology of enough.”  When manna rained down on the Israelites there was enough for everyone’s needs, but hoarding was not allowed.  Each days needs were provided, just as Jesus told us in the Lord’s Prayer.  Gandhi reiterated this when he said, “The world has enough for everyone’s need but not for everyone’s greed.”  Right now, I don’t know what this means for me.  I’m still asking the questions and exploring the issues.  I do know that sharing my excess and spending my money responsibly is moving in the right direction. 

            All in all, this has been a journey of less: less stuff, less trash, and less spending.  It has also been a journey of more: more time, more beauty, and more joy.  It has been enlightening, challenging, confusing, and exciting.  I look forward to where this road will lead me next.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Reducing Trash

In the past few months we have reduced our trash from 2 big bags a week to 1/2 a bag a week.  I'd like to do more, but this is still a big improvement. 

Here are some of the ideas I gathered from various sources and implemented in our household:

1) Recycle -
Of course this is an important step.  I don't have curbside pickup but there are bins at the local Walmart parking lot for plastic 1&2, mixed paper (including paperboard - cereal boxes etc...), aluminum cans, tin cans, and cardboard.  I'm there every week so it's easy.  Our local natural food store collects glass.  Sorting out just these things made a big difference.  It made no sense to put this usable stuff in a hole in the ground (landfill.)

However, I learned that it takes energy and money to turn these types of trash into usable items again.  Also, many materials eventually degrade to the point that the can no longer be recycled.  To top it off, some items are putting a lot of carbon in the air traveling around the world to get recycled. 

This brings me to the other parts of the recycle mantra - reduce and reuse - which are even more important in the long run.

2) Reuse -
I now wash plastic bags and containers that I can use again.  Since my area doesn't recycle plastics 3-5,  I reuse those containers to store leftovers.  (However, I put the food on a plate to reheat.  I'm beginning not to trust plastic.)  I also wash and reuse glass bottles and jars.  These items are starting to collect on my shelves now, so I donated some of my old Tupperware type stuff to make room.

3) Reduce (also known as refuse) -
This is really the big one.  It's based on a mindset that we are wasting resources by just throwing them away and the best way to avoid this is not to bring trash into your house in the first place.  How is that possible?  There are three major ways ---

3A) Replace disposable items with reusable ones
     - use cloth bags for shopping (not just groceries)
     - use cloth napkins
     - I found reusable straws in picnic supplies
     - use patches of cloth instead of cotton balls for makeup removal (wash in a mesh bag)

3B) Eliminate single use and disposable items
     - avoid paper plates and plastic silverware
     - no plastic bags
     - find alternatives to Saran Wrap (I use an Abeego wrap made from beeswax)
     - no single serve foods - eg. get a big container of yogurt instead of multiple mini-cups

3C) Reduce packaging
     - purchase from the bulk food isle and reuse bags or bring your own containers
     - use razor with replaceable blade instead of throwing the whole thing away
     - (Ladies) tampons without applicators
     - buy large sizes of food items as long as you will use it before it goes bad.  This way you have one container to deal with instead of multiples
      - Look for glass containers when possible - easier to wash and reuse and they do not degrade when they recycle
     - buy used - my kids love toys from thrift stores and they don't come with tons of useless packaging

Oh - there is one more way, but I have not implemented this myself yet.

4) Rot --
Create a compost pile or worm farm to deal with food scraps.

Journey of 100 Bags Chapter 6

Chapter 6 – Ponderings
            I mentioned in chapter three that I discovered listening to books and videos helped me focus on cleaning and not get bored.  At first I listened to decluttering gurus.  Their ideas inspired me to press on.  Eventually and accidentally I ran across a whole other group of people who wrote/spoke about getting rid of clutter as more than a menial task.  They saw it as a philosophical and even spiritual journey.  Most of them called themselves minimalists.  Their ideas centered around getting rid of the stuff in your life that is stealing your time and money and distracting you from the important things in your life – family, friends, goals, growth…  As it turns out clutter doesn’t just take up space in our houses, it crowds our minds and lives.  Joshua Becker tells the story of the day he became a minimalist.  He was cleaning out his garage (an all-day project) and his son was playing alone in the back yard after repeatedly asking his dad to join him.  He realized that the stuff collecting dust in his garage was robbing him of time with his son.  He began to explore the idea that maybe he did not need all that stuff and maybe his life would be better without it.  He and his wife began to purge everything in their home that they did not need.  Most minimalists use the guidelines that you should only keep things that are useful or that bring you joy.  Useful means it is currently being used on a regular basis in your life.  The fancy dishes I might need someday but hadn’t used in twenty-one years of marriage didn’t make the cut.  Items that bring joy can be sentimental objects or decorations.  The caution here is not to keep things out of guilt.  I have a few art items my mom created, but I do not have to keep everything she ever touched in order to honor her memory.  

            Many great minds through the ages have espoused the benefits and necessity of simplicity.  I had read Thoreau and others like him, but even though I am a Christian, I had overlooked the guidance found in the teachings of Christ.  In Matthew, Jesus tells his followers not to store treasure on earth because their hearts will be directed towards their treasure.  I had to ask myself some serious questions.  Why do I have all this excess stuff in my house?  Why am I holding on to things that other people might need?  What am I afraid of? 

            People hold onto things for many reasons and most of these applied to me as well.  Sometimes we keep things out of fear.  We imagine that we will need it in the future.  The truth is we may not be able to find it when we need it anyway.  All too often people buy something they already have but can’t find in their cluttered house.  It’s even more likely we won’t need it.  We also keep things out of guilt.  This is especially true if the item was a gift or an inheritance.  I slowly began to realize that if the giver loved me, they would not want me to keep something that brought me guilt rather than joy.  Another reason for hanging on to so much stuff is pride.  People like to show off their stuff and look good to their peers.  This effort to prop up your self-esteem is fleeting and fickle.  It leaves a person chasing the next great gadget to brag about, and it often leaves your wallet empty.  Lastly, people buy and keep excess stuff because they think it will make them happy.  We all claim this isn’t true, but just try giving up some of your comfort objects.  You will discover a definite dip in your mood.  I have been guilty of buying one more board game because I thought it would create fun family time (even though the cabinet full of them at home had not done the job).  Many people indulge in fast cars or beautiful diamonds or any number of new, shiny things to feel that initial high.  All too soon the high is gone, the bills remain, and your house is even more crowded.  Maybe we are chasing the wrong things.

            Luke 18 tells the story of a rich young ruler who asks Jesus about eternal life.  After discussing the commandments, Jesus gives him the mandate to sell all his possessions, give the money to the poor, and follow him.  The young man walked away sad.  Most preachers say that the man’s money was a metaphor for anything that a person values more than their relationship to God.  It’s not really about money and possessions.  What if they are wrong?  What if Christ was teaching about a better way of life, a road to happiness?  Many minimalists, regardless of their religious beliefs, feel you can’t find true happiness (the abundant life) if you are weighed down by possessions.  Our lives are too valuable to waste chasing after stuff.  So, am I ready to pitch everything and embrace poverty?  I have to admit, I’m not.  However, I am trying to get rid of and share all my excess.  I am trying to be more frugal with my money so that I can be free to give.  I am endeavoring to be less wasteful and more generous.  I am moving forward.


Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Hospitality - Who me?

I've never been one to host big parties, and over the years my husband and I got away from having anyone over except for family.  It's not anti-social.  I love visiting other people's houses.  Of course, you don't get invited very often when you don't return the invitation.  The thing is I was ashamed of my housekeeping and cooking lack-of-skills.  I figured I just didn't have the gift of hospitality. 

Then I began this journey of purging and organizing my house. It's still cluttered but I'm not ashamed of it any more.  I decided it was time to try inviting someone over.  We picked a couple at church whom we have been wanting to get to know better.  Relationships can only get so deep in a few hours on Sunday.  Real friendships are built by more personal connections.  So, we made the invite.  We cleaned up some, but no were near the white glove test.  My husband grilled burgers and I made simple side dishes.  It wasn't fancy, but the conversation was great.  I think we all enjoyed it so much more than we anticipated.  Why did I wait so long?

This past weekend we had the youth group over for a planning meeting.  We lunched on grilled cheese and chips.  They laughed, wrestled, and had a great discussion about service project ideas.  No one seemed to care about the dust on the shelves or the simple food.  They just had fun bonding.

So, what I learned is you don't have to be perfect to enjoy opening your house to others.  Keep it simple and enjoy.  Who knew?

Monday, June 8, 2015

Journey of 100 Bags - Chapter 5

Chapter 5 – The Last Room
            During this whole journey there was one room I avoided.  We call it the front room.  It is basically a second living room.  It was originally set up to be my personal get-away space.  I had visions of curling up in the chase lounge reading a book, but I never did.  Over the years it became a place to store things, a junk room.

            When I first began purging the house, I put my give away bags there in-between trips to the thrift store.  I also stored items I wanted to sell there as well as things I wanted to keep but had no idea where to put.  Basically, I sacrificed this room to redeem the rest of the house.

            Eventually, I know I would have to face this room.  It would take all the skills I had developed, all the tricks I had learned and all my determination to successfully transform this area.

            One skill I utilized was visualization.  I began to dream about what I wanted the room to look like and what purposes I wanted it to serve.  I had contemplated having a dining room for a few years.  This seemed like the right time to pursue that goal.  I sold the chase lounge and end tables that were not being used and began to look for a decent dining set.

            This room also houses my daughter’s piano, my library, and my computer desk.  I sketched out how these items could be rearranged to form a multi-purpose room.  Then it was time to eliminate everything that did not fit the new vision.

            I revisited the ‘packing party’ concept.  Starting in one corner of the room, one shelf/drawer at a time, I sorted every item.  Anything I wanted to keep went into a labeled box.  Items to sell went into a corner and bags to give away went by the door. 

            I unloaded my file cabinets into boxes of paper to be sorted.  Eventually I eliminated three partially-filled file cabinets and condensed into one with four drawers.  As I looked through these papers I was mortified to find ten year old electric bills as well as my high school calculus notes.  It was embarrassing to admit that not only had I kept these useless items, but I had paid to move them a few years before.  In the end I had one box of papers to save and file, three boxes to shred, and numerous bags of paper to recycle.

            Next I turned to my bookshelves.  Before I touched the first book I sat down and made a list of all the books and types of books I knew I owned.  If a book was on the list it was a keeper.  This helped me pre-set my mind so that when I picked up a book I didn’t even remember owning, it was easier to let it go. As I boxed up my books I asked myself various questions:  Have I read this book?  Do I even want to read it?  How long have I kept it without reading it?  Am I keeping it because I ‘should’ read it?  If I did read it already, did it bring me joy?  Do I really plan to read it again?  Can I find the information contained in this book online?  Did I even know I had this book?

            I put all of my baby-raising books in a giveaway box since I am not planning for any more children.  I got rid of most of my diet books and all of my college texts.  Then I turned to the religious reference section.  I decided to pair this down by looking at categories and only keeping one or two in each sub-category.  Overall, I eliminated boxes of books I did not even remember having.  Lastly, I put many, many books on probation.  I decided to keep them for now, but plan to donate them if they are not read in the next year.

            As I continued to work my way around the room, I discovered things that could now be re-homed in other rooms.  Because a large portion of the house was now organized, I knew where things belonged.

            Eventually, I got everything I wanted packed up.  Then I was able to rearrange the remaining furniture and begin to unpack.  I used the container concept and only kept the desk supplies that fit in my drawers, the movies that fit on the shelves, and the decorations that made a pleasant display.

            At the time of this writing I still have four boxes of pictures to sort through.  I can’t quite make the leap to scanning and discarding them, but I am paring down.  I’m only keeping the best ones to put in albums.  The rest can be given away to family or discarded.

            I love the fact that this room is no longer an embarrassment.  It is now functional and attractive.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

The Misfits

Back in high school, I did not fit any of the cliques.  I was smart, but the smart kids at my school also happened to be the cool kids and I did not have the looks or the outgoing personality for that group.  I definitely wasn't a jock - no athletic skill or coordination.  I stayed out of trouble and had no 'clique-worthy' skills.  I did play the clarinet, but I wasn't in marching band which defined that group. 

I found myself in an eclectic group of left overs who also didn't fit elsewhere.  Later in life I named us the misfits.  In that group I found acceptance.  We were all different and we appreciated those differences.  Some were smart, some were musical, and most of us did not care about social status.  We just wanted to be friends and hang out.  I loved it.

Adults like to think we are more evolved than teenagers, but most of our social groups are still cliquish.  Even in churches you can see the cool kids, the jocks, the leaders, and the trouble makers.  Most of them are friendly, but I still don't fit there.  I almost forgot to look for and embrace my misfits.  They aren't the best dressed or the smartest or even the most involved, but they are kind and loving and accepting.  Sometimes they are the outcasts.  Sometimes they look like the folks Jesus hung out with and got criticized for.  They are my peeps and I love them. 

Happy to be a misfit! =)

PS  - Further pondering - maybe we are all misfits hiding behind various masks looking for acceptance.  I can't let those artificial walls define my friendships.  There are kindred spirits all around.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Journey of 100 Bags - Chapter 4

Chapter 4 – Christmas


            The next break and the next big projects came at Christmas time.  I tackled the linen closet which was overflowing and sloppy looking.  Anything stained or torn went out.  Then I sorted the sheets by size and kept only 2-3 for each bed in the house.  Then I kept however many towels fit in the remaining space.  This is called the container concept, another idea from Nony the Slob.  You set a space for certain items whether it’s a shelf, a closet, or a drawer and you keep however many items fit in the space.  This forces you to choose between good, better, and best.  I think I still have too many towels, but at least they all fit neatly in the closet.

            I also used the container concept when I tackled the craft room.  My mom had been an artist and craft collector.  When she died I sorted through her large craft room and shed giving away any items that I felt I would never use, but I kept everything I thought my daughters or I would ever possibly want which amounted to a large collection of stuff.  As I looked at the over 100 cross-stitch kits I owned, I decided to keep only as many as fit in a certain drawer and only if I felt I might truly want to complete them one day.  The rest I sat aside to sell.  Then I looked at my two large overflowing tubs of yarn.  I sorted them down to one tub.  I continued this process as I made my way around the room.  I also eliminated excessive multiples.   I decided, for instance, that five watercolor sets was enough and donated the rest.  As you can see I still kept plenty of supplies to keep my girls happily creating art for years to come.  This room took about four days and I donated at least eight bags.  I also sorted out things to sell.  I am not a big fan of selling my stuff.  I don’t like all the work involved, but I decided to put things in groups and list them on a local website.  I did get a little spending cash this way. My youngest daughter helped me put the finishing touches on the art room as we labeled drawers and shelves in hopes that things would be easier to find and put back away.  As soon as we were done she dove into a new art project.  As it turns out a clean space is more inspiring than a messy one.

            The next project turned out to be totally fun.  I decided it was time to tackle my oldest daughter’s room.  She has the smallest bedroom and it was crammed with toys, clothes, and books.  On top of this, she loves her stuff.   This time I used an idea from “The Minimalists” and we held a packing party.  I told my daughter that we were going to pretend she was moving to a new house and we had to pack up all of her stuff.  I had her take everything out of one drawer or shelf at a time.  I added my own twist to the idea by having her put each item into either a box labeled ‘love it’, a box labeled ‘like it’, a bag for give away, or the trash can.  Most items went into the first two boxes (and more boxes with the same labels) but she did collect one bag to give away and we found some trash.  When she took a break I worked extra hard and pre-sorted some items for her.  I eliminated unnecessary multiples, toys that never saw the light of day, and old school papers.  I also sorted through her bookshelves myself since this was too emotional for her.  I moved some books to her younger sister’s room and some to a local program for teen parents.  As we worked I found lots of stuff that did not belong in her room.  I had stored memorabilia including her baby book in her closet.  Her sister had numerous clothes and toys hidden here and there.  All these items were relocated.  When we started this project I anticipated that we would put all the ‘love it’ items back and then make choices about what ‘like it’ stuff would fit.  As it turned out, we were able to find places for everything that was left.  I sorted toys into semi-logical groups and put like items together.  We even labeled the drawers and shelves.  The end result was amazing!  Her room no longer looked like a thrift store had blown up.  Now it was roomy, organized, and ready to use.  My daughter loved her new room. My younger daughter thought it looked like fun so we followed the same procedure in her room and created a new, play-friendly place there as well.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

OA - Steps 5, 6, and 7

Back to my Overeater's Anonymous journey.  After making the searching and fearless moral inventory in step 4, it was time to share it and allow God to heal my character defects.

Step 5 - Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.

Step 6 - Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.

Step 7 - Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.

I approached step five with some trepidation.  I had been thorough and truthful in my inventory and I was not sure I could share it with another person.  You see, I have always believed that if people really knew me they would reject me.  Some in my life already had.  Still, I had already seen and felt the healing that comes from this journey and I knew I needed more.  Because my sponsor was not local, we did the inventory electronically.  I was able to tell her things one at a time and discuss them before moving on to the next item.  I started little and built up trust.  I learned that my sponsor had the gift of wisdom.  She often saw things I did not and was able to unearth further character defects.  I'll never forget the day she told me I was selfish.   I was so angry.  I thought 'you don't know me.  I'm a kind person.'  Then I looked at her evidence and had to admit she was right. I was trying to run the world and angry when people didn't do things my way (since I always knew best).  I was selfish.  Her vision and wisdom where a gift.  More than that, though, her love was a gift.  You see, when you give your step five to someone who understands the program they give you the gift of loving acceptance.  Nothing I could say drove her away.  Instead she put her cyber-arm around me and told me we all had these issues and we were all on the path to getting them healed.  We are in this together.  That is the strength of the program.

Step six involves deciding if I was ready to get rid of all this spiritual sludge in my life.  Sometimes this is difficult.  We know that the way we are facing life is causing us pain.  It isn't working, but it is comfortable and familiar.  It may have even served us in the past as coping strategies for traumatic circumstances.  Facing the unknown and doing something new can be scary.  I had the gift of desperation.  I knew the path I was on was self-destructive.  I had to try a different way. 

Step 7 involves praying for God to do something we can never do ourselves - to remove our character defects.  Here is the prayer OA offers:

My creator, I am now willing that you should have all of me, good or bad.  I pray that you now remove from me every single defect of character which stands in the way of my usefulness to you and my fellows.  Grant me the strength, as I go out from here, to do your bidding.  Amen

I did not immediately become perfect when I prayed this prayer.  I spent time praying over each defect/sin I had uncovered.  I spent time talking to my sponsor about different ways to cope with situations in my life.  Growth and change are a process.  I still stumble, I still hurt people, I still hold grudges, but I admit and change a lot faster.  I apologize sooner, and as a result....

I walk in so much joy and peace, it is hard to imagine I ever carried all that junk around.

Wishing you joy in the journey - Jaki

Monday, May 25, 2015

I ate an artichoke - sort of.

Well food adventures continue.  Two weeks ago I bought an artichoke at the famer's market.  I asked friends what in the world I should do with it.  Then I got scared and let it sit on my counter looking interesting.  (Little did I know it should have been refrigerated)  My fear lasted longer than the poor veggie.  It dried up and found it's final destiny in the trash can. =(

Out of guilt I got another one (actually two the farm guy gave me a 2 for 1 deal).  This time I put them in the fridge, and today I got up my nerve to eat one.  I boiled it as advised and prepared a few dipping choices - butter, mayo, and a salad dressing I like.  I pulled off a 'leaf' as instructed and scraped the innards out with my teeth. Somehow I was not ready for how tiny this edible morsel was.  It seemed like almost a waste- all that 'handle' part and a speck of food.  Also, it was a little annoying to work so hard for such a tiny speck of food.  I was glad that it wasn't mushy or disgusting.  I didn't mind the taste - pretty mild actually. 

Eventually I gave up on the leaves and decided to go for the heart.  I kept pulling off the leaves as instructed.  They got smaller and softer.  Eventually I ran into a bunch of fuzzy stuff.  Too late I realized I had dismantled the heart instead of eating it.  At least, I think that's what happened. 

So - I think I failed at eating artichoke, but I did face my fear and try something new.  That is a victory.  Now I just have to figure out what to do with the remaining artichoke.  (My daughter, Stephanie, recommends feeding it to the guinea pigs.)

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Journey of 100 Bags - Chapter 3

Chapter 3 – Maintenance

            By the time summer was over I had worked through the entryway, kitchen, both bathrooms and part of the living room.  I knew that these major projects would have to be put on hold while I returned to full-time teaching.  A wise friend suggested I focus on maintaining the progress I had made and push forward on breaks.  I realized that in the kitchen especially, maintenance was a huge issue for me.  Most weeks I ignored the dishes until both sides of the sink were full or until something I needed was dirty.  I picked up an important tip from Nony the Slob’s blog – wash the dishes every day.  This seemingly obvious concept had never been a reality for me.  I decided to try it out.  Imagine my surprise when I discovered that it was so much easier and took so much less time to wash one day’s worth of dishes than it had to do a week’s worth.  I also discovered that all my glasses did not fit on the shelf at one time!  I even discovered the joy of a clean sink and sparkling counters.

            Another problem area was the living room.  It was littered with toys, tools, clothes, and anything else we happened to drop there.  I worked together with the family to establish a daily ‘quick clean’ time right after dinner.  Each of my girls gets a laundry basket and fills it with any of her belongings that have migrated to the living room.  My husband and I gather our stuff.  Actually most of the time I gather his stuff and put it in his ‘man cave’ for him to deal with.  This has not been a smooth road for any of us.  The girls would often argue over whose stuff belonged to who and who had to return jointly-owned items like art supplies.  Also, there was the problem of items on the floor that no one claimed ownership to.  This one I could usually resolve by offering to put the item in the giveaway bag.  Someone usually claimed it.  Still the ‘quick clean’ has never become popular.  As with many things in my life, this is a journey of progress rather than perfection.

            One accomplishment I am proud of is teaching my children to clean the bathroom.  First we did it together and I led them through each step.  Then I turned them loose to try it alone.  Arguments about who would do what ensued.  I tried an experiment.  I wrote all the various jobs on separate slips of paper – clear off and wipe the counter, scrub the bathtub, etc.  Then I called the girls together planning to have them draw for jobs.  Surprisingly, they grabbed the papers and split them up themselves without complaint.  Then off they went to make the bathroom sparkle.  I am amazed at how well this strategy worked.

            For most of the summer we kept the main living areas of the house clean and usable.  It was a great accomplishment.  We also passed the fifty bag mark for removing stuff from the house.

            Then school started.  Suddenly we were all busy and tired at night.  I came home and collapsed on the couch.  It was enough to fix dinner, oversee homework and piano practice, and prepare for the next day.  I had no desire and seemingly no energy to clean.  The dishes piled up.  The clutter crept back into the living room.  I would vow to get back on track, but it didn’t happen.  I felt stuck.

            One day I was listening to an audio book about procrastination and habits.  It discussed rewards and gave the example of parents letting their kids play outside after school before doing their homework. Of course, this works for some families, but for some kids this is giving them their reward first and removing any willingness to go back and do their necessary work.  I suddenly realized this is exactly what I was doing for myself.  I came home and sank into my comfortable couch and disappeared into the internet.  My selfish psyche had no reason to leave this nest and go clean.  I tried setting a time limit, but this did not work for me either.  I just didn’t want to get up once I settled in for the night.  The only solution I could come up with was not to sit down when I got home.  Anything I wanted to get done had to be done before I sat down.  It sounds crazy but it worked.  I started coming home and throwing in some laundry or reloading the dishwasher while I was making supper.  Then after supper I could relax guilt-free.  Also, I created a reward while I was working.  I enjoy listening to audio books and you tube videos, so I started playing these while I was working.  It made my chores so much more enjoyable.  I guess my mind just got bored when doing menial tasks.  Having something to think about during the process helped immensely.

            My cleaning routine is far from perfect, but it is also far better than it was in the past.

Friday, May 22, 2015

The Journey of 100 Bags - Chapter 2

Chapter 2 – The Summer of Progress

            This first victory spurred me on to tackle other areas of the house one by one.  I next went to the kitchen which most professional organizers will tell you is a mistake.  The kitchen is not for amateurs.  It is a big complicated area.  However, in this case, ignorance worked for me.  Getting the kitchen under control was a foundational piece for me to conquer.  I broke the area into smaller goals and used the same process – take everything out, sort, purge, put things in other rooms, clean, and put items back.  At this point I found it very helpful to seek out support.  I joined a facebook group based around decluttering.  I began to share my journey with pictures, comments, and questions.  People were very affirming of my efforts.  I got tons of pats on the back and lots of great advice.  This spurred me on.

            As I worked on in the kitchen I was not just sorting my own items.  I had numerous pans and gadgets that had belonged to my mom when she lived with us several years back.  When she died, I gave away a lot of her stuff but held on to some things “in case I needed them” or “until I find someone who can use it”.  Now I had to overcome these two very common reasons for holding on to stuff.  First I admitted that ‘in case of’ had not happened in five years so chances were it wouldn’t.  If I ever needed those items I could borrow or repurchase them.  I could not save everything and have a calm, clean, workable space.  I had to choose.  I chose peace.  The second realization was that I might not find that perfect person who needed my items.  However, if I donated them the universe might make a connection that certainly was not going to happen with the item hiding in my cabinet.  Once I was able to overcome these roadblocks I received a joyous surprise.  I loved giving things away!  Every bag I took to a thrift store or shelter made me smile.  I enjoyed knowing that now people who needed these items could get them for free or a reduced price.  I felt like it was a service to humanity.  I began to count the bags.  I was curious how many 13-gallon trash bags of unused stuff I could remove from my house.  That summer the bags piled up quickly and each one gone created more breathing room in my home.

            One day I sorted out some cut glass serving platters I had never used.  They were pretty and I valued them but truthfully, they were doing me no good.  I decided to take them to church and give them away.  I knew several ladies who do fancy dinners and I thought they would be overjoyed to receive my gifts.  One or two of the dishes were picked up quickly but the last one almost didn’t find a home.  That day I learned a lesson about objects – not everyone will love my stuff or even the same stuff as I do.  In fact, stuff is just stuff.  It was a pretty plate, but it was just a thing.  In that moment I let go a little more of my attachment to things.

            Each time I got to the ‘put it back’ stage of my process it was like a puzzle.  I had to figure out how to best make the pieces fit.  I used certain guidelines.  First of all I put like items together.  Then I considered easy access and visibility.  My husband has the “out of sight, out of mind” concept embedded in his psyche.  If he can’t see an item or find it quickly, he buys another one.  So, I had to put things he uses in visible or easily accessed places.  This makes my kitchen counter more cluttered than I would prefer, but it does keep peace in the household.

            As I was organizing I also incorporated another concept from The House That Cleans Itself.  It’s called creating stations.  My family has a problem. We have spent countless hours looking (often unsuccessfully) for one of the twenty plus pairs of scissors I know we own.  The author suggests creating groups of items near where they will be used.  For instance tape, wrapping paper, tags, and scissors should all be together in the room you most often wrap presents.  In this way some duplicate items are helpful.  For instance I now keep scissors in a kitchen drawer, at my desk, and at the girls’ homework area.  However, too many duplicates is just clutter.  Over the years I made the mistake of keeping anything I thought was useful.  As I purged this time I acknowledged that no house needed hundreds of pens and pencils.  I filled stations in various rooms and donated the rest.  I might need them in the far-distant future, but someone else could use them today.