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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.