Before smartphones, there was mom.

We’re plugged in 24 hours a day now. We’re all part of one big machine, whether we are conscious of that or not. And if we can’t unplug from that machine, eventually we’re going to become mindless. ~Alan Lightman

Lately, I’ve been trying to think of ways to resist the constant pull of technology and social media. I’m planning on deactivating my Facebook account in February…whether that will be a permanent thing, or just temporary, has yet to be determined. All I know is that I need a break from it. It has become nothing more than a platform for people (myself included) to voice their complaints on everything from their relationships to traffic and – especially this time of year – the weather. I think I can do without that for a little while.

Another idea that keeps popping into my head is getting rid of my smartphone. So far, I’ve talked myself out of doing that, since I use it for absolutely everything…it’s my camera, GPS, encyclopedia, and radio. I download books to my Kindle app for my monthly book group. I have a special trails app for all the hiking we do. I have a tabata app for when I workout at home. I use this thing for far more than just calling and texting people. Could I live without it? How DID I ever live without it?!

I’m trying to think back to the days before smartphones. I remember when I had my teeny little Ericsson flip phone about 15 years ago, that at the time seemed so advanced, though I couldn’t even text with it. How did I ever get to where I needed to go? What if I got lost? And what did I do when I absolutely had to know, RIGHT THEN, who invented those crazy elaborate devices that performed simple operations by sending a rubber ball through an insane sort of obstacle course (answer: Rube Goldberg)?

I called mom.

My mom was the reference librarian at our town’s public library for many years. She is a veritable encyclopedia of information all by herself, but armed with the infinite amount of information available on the Internet, she is absolutely un-stump-able. I would frequently call her long-distance (back when that was a thing) whenever I had a random question about a movie/book title, or the spelling of a particular word. Oftentimes, the questions were much more complicated than that, but she was always able to give me the answer very quickly.

I called her numerous times when I was lost in Boston, and she would patiently give me turn-by-turn directions (from memory) over the phone until I found my way to Storrow Drive, whence I could find my own way home. When I moved to Indiana, I would continue to call her whenever I was lost in the maze of neighborhoods full of identical mid-century houses, nary a landmark to be seen. I would give her my cross-street, and she would plug my coordinates into MapQuest and get me wherever I needed to go.

My mom never seemed put out by any of these requests, but she loves solving puzzles, so it’s in her nature. I like to think I take after her in that regard, and I think the hours I spend researching various topics online out of my own curiosity is a clue that I do. Unfortunately, the ability to access all of this information from a handheld device has taken me away from the people right in front of me, on so very many occasions.

I’m not sure how practical it would be to go back to the days of a simple talk/text cellphone…the days of calling mom whenever I got stuck. I know she wouldn’t mind, but my parents are far better at unplugging than I am. I wouldn’t be able to guarantee that I could reach them. They are often without a cellphone, and don’t even have a voicemail box set up. They are also completely unapologetic about this, as well they should be. On the rare occasion they are questioned about it, they simply ask “What did people do in the days before cellphones??”

What DID we do?

We got lost. Sometimes we were lucky and had a map in the glove box. Other times, we had to – the HORROR – stop and ask someone for directions. We had to actually consult another human being. I often wonder if my shyness and introversion is exacerbated by the fact that there is very little need for human interaction these days. I can do everything online – I don’t even have to call and TALK to anyone. It is both a blessing and a curse.

Long story short, I’d love to disconnect. I’m just not sure how far I’m willing to go. I’d like to get out of my comfort zone, but it’s just so damn convenient living this way. But perhaps, it’s not as much of an adventure. And that’s something that everyone could use a little more of.

You know...that THING?! With the things??

You know…that THING?! With the things that move and it does something at the end? You know??

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Beginning again

A simple life is not seeing how little we can get by with – that’s poverty – but how efficiently we can put first things first…When you’re clear about your purpose and your priorities, you can painlessly discard whatever does not support these, whether it’s clutter in your cabinets or commitments on your calendar. ~Victoria Moran

I know spring is generally the time for renewal, but I feel like this fall has been full of restarts and second chances. Maybe I’m just subconsciously getting a jump on some New Year’s resolutions, though I’ve never been one to commit to those, anyway.

I’ve been trying to implement some lifestyle changes…just little things that I can improve on to get me closer to the life I feel I should be living. We’ve been doing a lot more cooking at home, eating healthier, enjoying the great outdoors, and spending time with family. I’ve gone from hitting the gym 2-3 days a week to a pretty consistent 4-5 days. I’ve even started running again here and there, though not for any great distances.

We’ve been playing a lot of disc golf on the weekends, and have played courses all over New England. I’ve improved quite a bit since I started, but am definitely still a novice. Mostly, it’s just fun to get outside, and the courses are beautiful and full of pine trees.

Curtis and I have both been struggling with trying to “unplug”…we have realized how utterly dependent we are on our smartphones, our cable TV, and the Internet. We have been a bit better about not using our phones while out to dinner, and at night before we fall asleep, but it’s a challenge…the temptation to use it is always there. On the rare occasions I am forced to go without my phone, I feel like I am experiencing things so much more fully. I am hoping I can continue to chip away at the time I spend with that thing in my hand.

I think the biggest challenge I’m facing right now is finding time for friends. With work, gym, and weekly visits with both our parents, there isn’t much time left over. I feel like I need a full day to recover from the work week, and then when Sunday rolls around, we are preparing for the beginning of another week. It never ends. I’m not sure how to make time for people, unless they book me in advance, and it seems a bit presumptuous to expect that of my friends. I wish I could be more spontaneously available to them, but I am a creature of routine.

Fortunately, November is a month full of birthdays, and my calendar is slowly being filled up with dinner dates with the girls. It will be nice to catch up with all of them…we live such different lives these days. Some of them have a house full of kids, some are trying to, one is eternally single, another is a serial romantic…and here I am, married, still living in an apartment, and no plans to have children. It definitely makes for interesting conversation.

My main priority right now is simply trying not to stress out too much. There are things that I want in life that I do not yet have. But that will always be the case. As easy as it is to find things to complain about, I think it’s better to celebrate the good in life. I have a roof over my head, a wonderful husband, a supportive family, and two cats that keep me entertained. I eat well, and I have fun every weekend (sometimes, a little too much fun). It’s a good life.

Mt Washington

We finally hiked Mt. Washington. 2 hours, 20 minutes to the summit!

Hammock

Relaxing in Maine at my parents’ cabin. Good times.

Pumpkins

Annual pumpkin carving with the in-laws!

CrossFit Cape Ann Halloween Party!

CrossFit Cape Ann Halloween Party!

Reboot the mission

Normal is getting dressed in clothes that you buy for work and driving through traffic in a car that you are still paying for – in order to get to the job you need to pay for the clothes and the car, and the house you leave vacant all day so you can afford to live in it. ~Ellen Goodman

Many times lately, I’ve found myself sitting in traffic on the way to and from work, thinking about what my life would have been like if I’d discovered minimalism ten years ago. I have to laugh at the absurdity of it all. I decided to go to school when I was 25, years later than most of my friends. I’d been working in libraries since the day I turned 14, and LOVED my job, but I knew that I would never make enough money to get by unless I got a degree.

At the time, I was very ambitious…freshly divorced from a man who was adamantly opposed to my being successful at anything outside of the kitchen, I wanted to go all the way. I wanted to get my bachelor’s in technology, then go on to Simmons for my Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS) degree. This would be the safest way to stay relevant in an age when libraries are becoming increasingly under-appreciated. I was hoping to follow in the footsteps of some of my colleagues who had worked tirelessly to reinvigorate the image of the public library and promote its relevance in today’s world by using the same technologies that were supposedly rendering us a thing of the past.

I began my education at ITT in June 2007. I was a good student, and was selected for an internship with a government agency in Boston. I worked at their help desk, answering phones, and responding to a variety of complaints (usually, I just told the user to reboot). For 8 months, I worked 60+ hours between my library job and my internship, on top of a full-time course-load at ITT. I was burnt out. Just when I was about to completely unravel, I received full-time job offers from both my employers simultaneously. I had to choose between a job that I loved, and one that I knew would guarantee my financial security.

I chose the money. My heart wanted to stay at my beloved library, with my wonderful patrons and co-workers who were like family to me. But, my brain knew that my student loans hung above me like an ominous raincloud, just waiting for their opportunity to crush my American dreams. I began working in Boston full-time, though I was still an intern. I received my associate’s degree, then continued on with the bachelor’s Information Security program. And then, the government imposed a hiring freeze. I was next in line for a permanent position, but found myself facing possible unemployment once I graduated, as one has to be in school to maintain internship eligibility.

Somewhat miraculously, one of the telecom contractors was retiring about that time, and they asked if I would be willing to replace him. It would mean going “to the dark side”…contractors are treated as second-class citizens in federal buildings, receive little to no benefits, and there’s pretty much no going back. But, I nearly doubled my salary. Once again, I sold my soul to get more money. In my mind, I was doing the right thing for my future.

Today, I’m making more money than I ever thought I would. But those pesky student loans came due, like clockwork, 6 months after I graduated. Since I have to drive to work (my company pays for parking, but not public transportation), I had to get a reliable car. Between student loans, car payments, and hundreds of dollars a month in gas, I find myself feeling more broke than ever before.

Was any of this necessary? Couldn’t I have lived more simply, and continued doing what I love? Would I have been happier? Have I wasted the last 7 years of my life chasing someone else’s idea of “success”? These questions torture me daily. At this point, it’s futile…I have to make peace with the decisions I made years ago. And I firmly believe that all of the choices we make – big or small – determine the course of our lives. From meeting my wonderful husband, to being able to make that trip to Sweden, there is definitely some good that has come from my decisions. Would I do it differently if I had the chance? Absolutely.

For now, I will look at my job as a means to an end. The bills will all be paid off in time, and that will enable us to live more freely. And the more simply we live now, the sooner that day will come. This whole epiphany has only strengthened my resolve to pare down my possessions and my lifestyle. I would be just as happy with a meal at home and a walk on the beach as I would eating out at a fancy restaurant, if not more so. And I really, REALLY don’t need another pair of shoes. Much as I want them. Making these small sacrifices daily will make a big difference over time.

It’s time to reboot!

Bag lady

The ability to simplify means to eliminate the unnecessary so that the necessary may speak. ~Hans Hofmann

I have to give myself just a little bit of a break here, because I truly am not that big of a purse girl, despite my lifelong obsession with shoes. If I could apply the same principles I use when selecting a handbag to every other part of my life, I would have been a minimalist of the highest order a long time ago. I am extremely discriminating when it comes to buying bags. The bag needs to be high quality – usually leather – and must go with the majority of my clothes. It can’t have crazy logos all over it, and it must only have one strap, since any bag with two will slip right off my shoulder. It has to be large enough to hold the “essentials” (hair brush, wallet, makeup, keys, etc.), but not so large that it will be cumbersome to carry (since I realize fully that no matter how large it is, I will fill it to capacity).

I generally buy a new handbag about every 3-4 years. For a girl who is barely in her thirties, I think that shows quite a bit of restraint. I consider handbags to be a long-term investment – something that I’m willing to spend a few hundred dollars on, as long as it meets ALL the criteria. In the end, I think the cost-per-use is pretty reasonable, even if I purchase something high-end. The bag that I’ve owned and (mostly) loved for the past 4 years has been my black leather Dooney and Bourke hobo. It was the perfect size and color, and was suitable for almost any occasion. Unfortunately, it was also a catch-all, and could also be considered by some to be a deadly weapon.

Handbag, or deadly weapon?

Bonus: handbag doubles as wrecking ball.

I have nearly screamed in frustration when trying to find my car keys, which always manage to shimmy themselves to the very bottom of the bag, underneath all of the other items that I deemed too important to go without for even just a few hours. Most of the time, wading through receipts, gum wrappers, hair ties, hand sanitizer, and nail polish produces nothing, and so I slam my bag down, inadvertently scraping the hood of my car with the metal clasp, yanking out as many items as necessary before seeing the glint of those familiar keys…and only then, does my heart rate return to normal. The whole situation has become a source of stress for me, and so I decided to do something about it.

I have a pretty fabric wristlet that I received as a gift from the woman I purchased all my bridesmaids’ wristlets from (check her Etsy shop out – such cool stuff!). I love it, but haven’t used it very often since it’s so much smaller than what I’m used to. I never thought I could fit everything I needed into it. But yesterday, I decided to try. I pulled all of the stuff out of my purse that I knew I truly couldn’t live without. Cash, phone, keys, chapstick, one hair tie, and gum. To my amazement, my hairbrush actually fit, too. I really don’t need anything else! It was so nice to not have to lug my heavy bag around when we went out to dinner. And I know that when I return to my car in the parking garage tomorrow after work, I won’t be panicking looking for my keys. And no more scratches on my car!

I might not match everything in your closet, but I'm fabulous.

I might not match everything in your closet, but I’m fabulous.

Imelda’s revenge…

The secret of happiness, you see, is not found in seeking more, but in developing the capacity to enjoy less. ~Socrates

I promised myself last week that I would take a day this weekend to assess my shoe collection, and get rid of as many pairs as possible, no matter how long it took. I can’t remember when my dad started calling me “Imelda” (after Imelda Marcos, the notorious shoe hoarder), but it was a well-deserved jab. Shoes have always been a weakness of mine, and I knew this would be quite the task.

So, I spent a good 4-5 hours of my Saturday with 50 of my oldest, dearest friends, and managed to give about 15 pairs their walking papers. I should mention that I donated at least a dozen pairs prior to moving into the new place a couple weeks ago, so cutting even deeper into the collection was a painful process.

Ducks in a row

Breaking up is hard to do…

I lined them all up so I could see every pair at once, and tried to put similar pairs together to make any “overlap” more obvious, figuring this would make faster work of the initial rejections. I saw right away that I had two pairs of red patent-leather flats with bows, so I plucked the less-loved pair out immediately. I was able to part with another 6 pairs rather quickly, simply because they had been worn into the ground or had been used as a scratching post by my leather-loving kitty, Pixie (my favorite cowboy boots – noooo!).

The rest of the task was painfully slow-going. I decided that it made sense to try every pair on to make sure they fit well, and also to ensure I owned something that I could wear them with. This resulted in an unintended purge of a number of pants, as I had to try all of those on as well and realized that quite a few of them no longer fit me. I even discarded a few tops, since I ended up putting together entire outfits to be certain I didn’t have any items in my closet that had survived this long only because they looked good on the hanger.

It was the best kind of ripple effect, and by the time I was finished, I’d filled a few large shopping bags full of clothes and shoes. I can now fit all of my shoes on a rack on the floor of my closet, and I placed my boots in a row behind it. Being able to see them all simultaneously when I open my closet will make my daily outfit selection process much smoother. I have some shoes that are practically brand-new that I’d nearly forgotten about – it was almost as good as going out and buying new ones!

My project for the next few days will be to attack all of the random containers – plastic totes, bags, and an assortment of boxes – that I have been stashing junk in for years without giving it a second thought. While I now have plenty of room for these things, I am fairly certain that I will be able to dispose of a vast majority of the contents of these containers, and will have that much less junk in my life. Hooray!

The clothes conundrum

Owning less is far more beneficial than organizing more.
~Joshua Becker, http://www.becomingminimalist.com

I can hardly remember a time when I did not own far too many clothes. My closets and drawers have always been notoriously cluttered and overstuffed. As soon as I started making my own money, the majority of it was spent on expanding my wardrobe.

As a teenager, I remember not being able to see a square inch of carpet in my bedroom because of all the clothes strewn about. My friend Amy, a neat freak, would occasionally come over and clean my room, sometimes when I was sleeping, and I would wake up and be shocked to find everything put away (though it would take me an hour to find anything).

Shirts in a row

Pinterest is a great tool for enabling clothes hoarders.

I have had varying degrees of success with organizing my wardrobe, utilizing shoe racks, hanging shelves, and some ingenious hacks like the one above, which I found on Pinterest. All that has been accomplished by such tricks is to create more space to fill with new clothes. My dream was always to have a huge, beautiful walk-in closet where I could have room for everything I ever wanted. I realize now that this would be a serious mistake. I can only imagine the epic shopping sprees that would result from having so much room.

Now, I yearn for the simple, sparse closet filled with only those treasured pieces that I will want to wear for the next 30 years. We recently moved into a much larger apartment with loads of closet space, and I am resisting the urge to over-organize and utilize every square foot of it. Instead, I am going through all of my clothes and ruthlessly purging items that I haven’t been wearing, even if they are fairly new.

Somewhere along the line, I picked up a habit of purchasing brightly-colored tops that never get worn because they go so poorly with my Irish coloring. It was difficult, but I decided to part with these. Just because something is my husband’s favorite color (orange), or seems like a cheery contrast to the drab weather we’ve been having, does not mean I need to buy it. I can now say with confidence that orange is not my color.

Instead, I am trying to focus on the items that I wear constantly – what do they have in common? What will I never tire of? I think I could be pretty content with just a few pairs of really great jeans, tops in neutral, earthy tones, plain white T-shirts, and sweaters and comfy blazers. I learned long ago that anything that requires special laundering is a no-go. Almost all of my clothes are cotton (or a cotton blend), which makes life so much easier. I am lucky to have a husband who does laundry quite frequently, and I don’t expect him to read all those labels. Besides, cotton clothes just feel better!

Becoming a minimalist does not mean that you can never purchase anything new, ever again. I think that with this lifestyle, there is a better focus on quality over quantity – it is preferable to own a few, very nice things, than to be buried by mediocre items that only make it harder to find that one shirt you are looking for (despite having worn it just a few days ago). Ditch the deadweight in your closet, and have a couple of those shirts, instead.

When I purchase something new these days, I go home and fill a bag of clothes for donation. I’ve purged probably a dozen huge black trash bags filled with clothes since I began this process. It is refreshing to see my closet’s contents begin to reflect my own style (classic, casual, sometimes a little quirky), as opposed to what was on sale at Marshalls that day. As a bonus, getting ready in the morning has become a breeze.

This weekend, I plan to attack the shoe pile…this one’s going to be tough.

So much stuff.

You buy furniture. You tell yourself, this is the last sofa I will ever need in my life. Buy the sofa, then for a couple years you’re satisfied that no matter what goes wrong, at least you’ve got your sofa issue handled. Then the right set of dishes. Then the perfect bed. The drapes. The rug. Then you’re trapped in your lovely nest, and the things you used to own, now they own you.
~Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club

Seamus the cat

My ever-helpful moving buddy, Seamus.

I move quite frequently. On more than a dozen occasions since I left high school, I have found myself packing up all my belongings and hauling them off to my latest destination. With each move, the amount of things to pack into boxes increased dramatically. Exponentially, even.

Some of the moves were impulsive ones, leaving me geographically isolated from family and friends. When I wasn’t getting lost in a cornfield somewhere (one of my favorite pastimes, up until the tornado incident…storm-chaser material, I am not!), I filled my free time with solo shopping trips, justifying the expense by telling myself I deserved to be surrounded by things that I liked. I was a hard-working, self-sufficient, independent gal. I moved out to Indiana in a hatchback Mitsubishi, and moved back in a U-Haul. I should have stuck to the cornfields.

Finding places for all my things got trickier as time went on. Unlike Indiana real estate, square footage in Massachusetts comes at a premium, and in order to move into my last residence in our beautiful hometown of Rockport, I needed to rent a storage unit to house many of these things for the two years we were there. The unit was essentially a large, expensive, off-site closet. My then-fiance (now husband) was in the Army and deployed at the time, so my brother very kindly hired me a moving company, who loaded up all of my furniture and boxes and moved them into our tiny new apartment, and then brought the overflow to the storage unit.

I envisioned trekking there to retrieve items at least a couple times a month, but for nearly two years, the unit was barely disturbed. I never knew I had so much unnecessary stuff – stuff that I wouldn’t realize was missing if it suddenly disappeared forever.

Cat in a box

What is wrong with this picture?

In the photo above, you see some of the items that were deemed “essential”…things that were “too good” for the storage unit. These include a jump rope (despite us having no yard and living in a second-floor apartment with low ceilings), an ornamental cross (I’m agnostic), and an entire set of Encyclopædia Britannica from the 90s that I snagged from my old library simply because Volume 8’s spine reads “Menage – Ottawa”. Come on, that’s hilarious.

I’m glad to say that after my most recent purge, the only items that remain in my care are the bookshelf, Seamus, and Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 8. My prized possession.

I guess what I’ve learned from all of this is that the things that matter to you now might not matter at all a couple of years down the road. Love for material objects is fleeting. I wish I knew, when I held something in my hand, whether I would still love it as much in ten years. I am going to try to ask myself that about everything I want to purchase from now on, before I get in the checkout line.