Saturday, December 29, 2012

The Great Knick-Knack Purge And Why I Chose To Become A Minimalist

Over 60 books once gathering dust in my home have now found new purpose at my local public library. The man who accepted my box of books seemed super excited to have them. I also donated another full carload to Goodwill this month. I carefully itemized everything before I brought it over, and will submit that information come tax season. Who knows... if our country falls off this fiscal cliff, these donations might really help my with the extra costs I would accrue!

There is a pile of items in my basement that I plan to sell, and each item was noted in detail and photographed before being put into storage. Now I can post them online at my convenience and watch them slowly find new homes where they will be more appreciated.

I also have one (yes, only one) box filled with sentimental items from my childhood. This box is mostly photographs and papers (which I plan to digitize) and precious small toys or stuffed animals. The box is only half full.

My attic currently only stores my window air conditioner, my suitcase, a bin filled with Halloween costumes and decorations, and a bin of outdoor winter gear. I've reduced my Christmas decorations to one box, along with one box for ornaments, and one box that contains my fake tree.

I have also been filtering through the items in my old room at my parents' house. I used to hoard a lot of paper, because I'd see an article or an image that inspired me and I'd tear it out and save it (these were the days before Pinterest). I ended up recycling about 9/10 of that massive stack. What's left are some personal documents, a few images, and some posters that I can sell to forever fans (people still collect Linkin Park stuff, right?). I've already made some money on items I've sold, and it has happily padded my savings account while stripping away unwanted things.

There is an inevitable moment during the minimizing process where the question arises: "Why did I ever think I needed all of these things?" It's taken me years to acquire all this stuff, and I'm sure it will take me a while to whittle down my possessions... if anything, to adjust to the change it brings along the way and how it forces me to live a little deeper than what I own.

That brought me to ask myself a follow-up question: "What was the watershed moment, one that made me realize I wanted to change and live more simply?" Just three years ago I was writing in my blog about how I wanted a massive closet filled with clothing and how I wanted a gigantic record collection, etc. It was all about quantity, or so I thought. Then... I got married.

I wed someone who very much enjoyed having things. It was about acquiring more, because if he had things, that meant to others that he had the money to buy them. It was a representation of what he valued; appearance was the priority. I found myself becoming disgusted with the stuff he accumulated, without really understanding the correlation that I was collecting things I thought valued, too.

When the marriage ended, it left me with a lot to think about. I was about to start a new chapter in my life. How did I want it to look? He had taken his things with him, and I found that a more spacious home really appealed to me. I began reading inspirational blogs (listed on the right hand side of my page) and understanding that what I craved was a simpler, more minimal lifestyle. It became apparent to me that I still wanted nice clothes and great records, but it became more about the quality of what I acquired. Will I wear this dress? Do I even listen to this band? Should I buy it because it is cheap or on sale or given to me for free? Should I keep it even if I paid full price but I never use it? Assessing what I really wanted to keep made it easier for me to part with the rest. I still have a healthy wardrobe and a record collection, but I've pared it down to what I use frequently and love the most.

One would think this is a common sense approach. Honestly, I thought what I was buying had use and value to me at the time. Before I knew it, I felt more tied down by my stuff than excited by it. The consumer bug had his claws in me, big time, and I hadn't even seen how it was changing me. I was also seeking happiness in things to distract myself from the unhappiness in my marriage.

The divorce had me looking at other areas of my life that I wanted to improve. I discovered I was utterly disgusted with materialism and ended up going very much in the opposite direction in a very short time. Though I dove into minimalism rather assertively, I have found I truly enjoy it. There has not been one regret as I donate, sell, or give away something I once deemed worthy enough to take up space in my home. My life has become more about quality, in many ways.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Attitude Adjustment

I hadn't written a blog entry in a while, mostly because I hadn't felt like writing. Stress and frustration had whittled down my energy and left me with a sour attitude. Everyday factors tend to add up and start to feel overwhelming, especially around the holidays. There is plenty to be thankful for, and I am indeed blessed, but every now and then the burdens start to weigh me down.

All of that yuck came to a pleasant halt recently. I was having a particularly bad day at work. This time of year is busy because I'm filming a lot of holiday programs in various schools. It's easy to fall behind when other tasks are assigned and when technology glitches hold up the assembly line. I narrowly made a deadline by late morning, then rushed to a school to do some filming... only to realize I had forgotten to bring tapes for the camera. I'd already missed one appointment to film at this school, and now I was going to have to postpone it again. I was so frustrated and felt terrible.

The librarian, who had asked me to shoot this video for her, was incredibly understanding. I'd never met her before, as she had just been hired one month ago. She wanted me to tape a group of her best-behaved kindergarten students checking out books in an orderly manner, to use as an example to show other classes. Not only was she gracious enough to reschedule with me yet again, she offered to let me stay and watch the kids so they could "practice" acting in front of the camera.

The next half hour was such a pleasant experience. She sat the students down in a group on the floor, and told them, "Boys and girls, I have a surprise for you.... Did you know that we are a FISH school? Do you know what that means?" And she used this method to proceed to tell the kids about the FISH philosophy and the rules to abide by FISH. She had printed the rules onto giant paper word balloons, laminated them, and placed them on various posters in the library. Aaron Rodgers, a crocodile, puppies, and One Direction were all "speaking" these guidelines for FISH.

Then she read "The Gingerbread Man" to the students. Part of the way through, when the Gingerbread Man runs away from a sow, she set down the story and asked if anyone understood what a sow was. Her voice never came above a soft-spoken tone, never lost patience, and the kids obediently listened and read along with her. They stayed put in their seats and always raised their hand to answer her inquiries. I was astonished by the effectiveness of her communication.

When it came time to check out their own books, she would look at one individual kindergartener and say, "You, my love, may go." She did this one at a time for each student, to keep the flow of traffic down.  Eventually she changed her compliments and began addressing kids by different names: "You may go, Cutie Patootie. Mr. Muscles, you may go." Some kids didn't return their old books so they couldn't check out new ones. She kindly asked, "Remind me dears... what happens when you don't need to check out a book today?" One child excitedly responded, "We get to go read a magazine!" The librarian smiled and said, "Oh! I knew you'd remember!"

Afterwards, I pulled the librarian aside and thanked her for the opportunity to shadow her class. I told her that I spend my days in a stuffy office building with a bunch of grumpy adults. This was the refreshment I needed to change my attitude. She beamed at me and referred to a poster in her library that said "Attitude is Everything. How will you choose to see today?"

I realized at that moment that part of my stress was in how I viewed the situation. I decided that in spite of a tough economy, a job where I am overworked and undervalued, my stubborn weight not budging despite my efforts to change it, my worries about gifts this year for loved ones, family obligations, and the feeling of drowning in my own stuff... I was going to look at it differently.

First, I needed to be honest with myself. I've been logging all of my food intake and fitness minutes on SparkPeople. Since I started tracking on September 1st, one third of the days have been over the limit for calorie intake. How can I expect to see results when I'm overeating 33% of the time? Many times it wasn't by much, but having two or three cheat days a week is not a lifestyle change. I needed to admit I was being too lax with my self-accountability. (Since remedying this, I have only gone over on one day, and the scale has started to tip back in my favor. Who knew?)

Secondly, I was able to convince my beau to get a gym membership. He had been interested in it for some time, but he needed to be ready to commit. Now we're workout buddies and we go at least twice a week. On other days I work out from home, or we play dance games on the Wii. Not enough time has passed to see real results yet, but I am increasing my lifts on the weight machines. I can feel by body strengthening and toning. I also started taking a kickboxing class at the gym every Thursday. Because of my Insanity workouts, I can run with high knees longer than anyone else in the group! I know what it feel like to push myself past the level of discomfort and know that it won't kill me. If I am not a sweaty panting heap by the end of a workout, I now feel like I've cheated myself. I sleep so much better after I exercise, too!

Next, I sent an open letter to my relatives, encouraging them to think about our Christmas traditions and if we might consider changing them up a bit. I wanted to know if anyone else would be open to foregoing the gift exchange this year to eliminate a little time and financial burden. I didn't get any response, but I feel good about throwing my idea out there. Maybe they'll think about it. We're all working-age adults now, and most open gifts with their immediate families anyway.

Finally, I committed a weekend to putting a bunch of my stuff on eBay. I was quite surprised to discover there has been a bidding war on my 3-foot-tall plush Bugs Bunny toy from childhood; it's up to $60. And here I was just going to donate it to Goodwill! It feels great to get rid of things I don't want and lighten the load on myself. It's also great to ensure these items go to someone who wants them instead of just winding up in the trash.

As far as work goes... there isn't a whole lot I can do, but I'm working with what I can. I'm in the process of moving out of my shared office and into my own space. It's just a corner of a large room that is mostly used for storage, but now I won't be interrupted when I'm editing. It gives me a quiet space to concentrate and do better work. I've been trying to get a meeting with my boss since July, but I can't even get his secretary to e-mail me back. I'm not sure why it is so difficult to make an appointment, but I will keep trying.

And of course, there's the perk of making friends with that new librarian. She and I plan to have lunches together from week to week. Most of my office building consists of people at least twice my age, with adult kids of their own, so it's really refreshing to have a co-worker near my age to hang out with! She's just such an encouraging influence, and a reminder that I have more control over the state of things that I may realize.

There are some circumstances I can't change, but I can change how I approach them. Also, check out this well-written guide to getting what you want. And good luck to you on pursuing what you want! It may only be as far away as an attitude adjustment.

"You, my love, may go..."