My first chicken to tackle is one that has been pecking at me for years without me really even knowing it. A real Foghorn Leghorn.
Foghorn rears his head the most whenever I am packing to move (and I am currently preparing for move #15 in my adult life), or unpacking for that matter, but is always there lurking among my STUFF. When I say stuff, I mean the 25 bottles of nail polish in my bottom vanity drawer (that I have not used in over a year since I went back to biting my nails), the 2 sets of king sized sheets from our furnished rental a few years ago (we own only queen beds and smaller), the kids toys, the cars, the house and everything in between. I have been wrestling with Foghorn for a few months now, and I have the upper hand — at least in strategy. I’m not ready to put my Scorpion Deathlock on him yet (holla! Sting fans), but I have him where I want him. This blog is about diminishing life’s minor annoyances and this is really a mountain of minor annoyances that were bothering me in such a subtle way that I didn’t really even realize it until I reluctantly did something about it just to appease someone else.
One day my husband started dropping hints about minimalism and living ‘the simple life’. I was unconcerned and figured it was probably just blog fodder. It was early in the morning, which meant coffee drinking and blog reading were taking place in his office (he works from home). I have never witnessed this activity in full, but I have gathered that lately, the blogs he likes are 1) places where men go to talk about their M3s (how fast they are, how shiny they are and what expensive care-care products can be used to diminish things like paint swirls and bug guts), 2) paleo/local/organic food info and 3) all things minimalist . I had listened to many a blog-inspired idea from him and knew the drill. I was always game to cook swiss chard tartletts or go observe how a mosquito literally could not get his footing on the M3 due to the space age products he had learned about from his blogs. His latest blog-inspired focus is all about reducing his total underwear wardrobe to 3 quality pairs and washing them in the shower while he washes himself in order to cut down on laundry. Me = 0, Underpants = 1. Anyway, I figured that if I ignored this one, it would go away (the minimizing, not the undies). If I needed to bring out the big guns, I would. I could remind him of his corporate ambition and the Jones’ that we needed to keep up with or if warranted, change the subject to his expensive car dreams that did not mesh with living the lean life. I had cards to play. Come on, we could afford our lifestyle and it wasn’t that egregious, so why scale back? The topic kept coming up.
The way I saw it, lots of people had more things than us, in fact, the guy who came to do our moving estimate from the relocation company said we were ‘minimalists’ compared to most people. Oh I ran with that! I said to myself ‘See self!-other people are hoarders, not you! Other people have tons of crap, but the ‘stuff expert’ says you don’t have much at all, so you should totally keep it. Maybe even go get yourself some more crap as a reward. I win’. I talked to the friendly neighbor down the road one day whose garage was full of crap he was trying to clean out. When I got home, I told my husband all about how much crap he had and that only 1 car fit in their 2 car crap-tastic garage. We have 2 cars in our garage as well as an organized shelving system therefore we win! That man was living in garage squalor and we were a picture of organization! Furthermore, minimalism was just a cool thing for smartcar-driving, compost-heaping, pre-fab-dwelling green types to hold over the rest of us who happen to enjoy having twelve pairs of back-up jeans for when the ten go-to pairs are in the wash.
We recently decided that Chad will take a new position at his company that requires us to move back to Northern Virginia as soon as we sell our house (4 months later and its still on the market, but that’s another story). We started looking at houses as soon as ours when on the market. I wanted a play room for the kids, a finished basement and how about an in-law suite? — you never know! Chad wanted a 3 car garage. We talked about the houses we saw online with 4+ car garages and he was in heaven. I was sure this minimalist thing was over.
I was wrong. He kept coming back to it and I was starting to wonder if he was going to go all Vincent Kartheiser on me and move into one of those shoebox houses with the bed that folds out of the ceiling. I needed to get a feel for the severity of this situation fast. The new house was now being discussed in the mix of all this minimalist talk. Smaller, more efficient, tiny yard that won’t require so much work. He wanted to cut maybe 1100 square feet minimum from our current 3000. Deep breaths. I could see that I might not win this one and decided to let him win a little on the little stuff. Some of it could definitely go. I’d be hard pressed to name my ten most important possessions , without searching through drawers and closets to see what I even had. We talked about the real reason for all of this. He felt like we could have a lot more time for each other and the kids without the tons of stuff to constantly organize, declutter, clean, dig through, take up space and make us feel like we need more space when we really don’t. We would have more financial freedom to travel and put quality into our necessities without tons of stuff-dependent bills (mowing, big mortgage, furnishing rooms we never use, new cars to fill the extra garage spaces, buying a new flashlight because the 6 you have cannot be found in the 6 stuff-filled drawers they are in etc.)
I started going through things slowly to see if I could do it. Clothes first. I had lost some weight (finally) after the second and final kid and still had a lot of my bigger clothes. I got rid of them. I had clothes that were too small, too short, too young. I had clothes that were too wrinkly, too bunchy, too scratchy and just wrong for every occasion. Just because you have Forenza jeans from 8th grade that you can still fit into doesn’t mean you should keep them. Shoes, bags, athletic wear, formal wear, pj’s, bathing suits and more — gone. I found that I rotate about five pairs of jeans and six or seven tops with a few other things thrown in. I still have some buffers, but I probably downsized by 60-70% as far as articles of clothing. Chad did the same. He had way less to start with, but he threw out everything from the ill-fitting suits to the Chandler-from-‘Friends’ sweaters. (amen). These photos show the closet at the height of its chaos and now:
It was so refreshing to eliminate all the stuff that was just in the way! It has been even easier to identify additional things I don’t need now that there isn’t such an overwhelming amount to sift through. I used to dread going into the closet to pick out my morning clothes. This is sort of how it played out:
There are my jeans – hmmm. Which ones actually fit me right now? I am still to fat for those. I wonder if I will ever fit into them again. Probably not… Depressing. These are way too big but I better keep them since I could always gain weight in the future. I should only have one piece of bacon this morning…(sift through more jeans weighing my options)…I think these fit me and they are clean. I am wearing these no matter what and will find a shirt that goes with them. I am not changing jeans for the shirt, these were too hard to find.
Let’s see – shirts. Okay I need to find one that is okay if Rocco wipes his nose on it. Here’s one. Wait, that one is too long and covers my butt. My jeans have pockets with buttons, so it will look like I have nipples on my butt sticking through the back of the shirt. Okay — something shorter. And it has to not need to be ironed. I don’t iron. I love this one except it has mysterious grease stains that only appear when I have it on my body. I can’t see them now, so I will keep the shirt, but since they appear only when on my body I won’t ever wear it. Oh here’s one that would be decent, but I wonder if I should keep looking in case there is something better in here somewhere? I really need to set aside some time to switch my clothing out for the seasons. Maybe this weekend I could take a day…
I go in now, grab what is on top of the small pile of jeans and shirts and move on. Everything in there fits and goes together for the most part. I have done other closets and rooms and still look at each area I go in with a critical eye for what we need and what we don’t need. It is easy now and so much has gone that anything that needs to go is very obvious. I know where things are and could pretty much give you a roll call of what is currently in any room or closet in my house without even looking because there are so few things. I have done everything from kids toys to pizza cutters (we had 3) to bedside tables and kids closets. Holiday decor is next on the list.
The de-cluttering of little stuff has lead to re-evaluating our needs in a house as well. We have a huge closet (see photos above) – as in – could have been our sons room if it were accessible from somewhere other than the master bathroom huge. I am pretty sure I never even saw a walk-in closet until I house-sat in my senior year of high school, so they are not a must have (yeah, I’m talking to you annoying snob couples on Property Virgins!) We both look at it now, a cavern of potential storage, with its meager but more than adequate contents and know that we don’t want wasted space like that in our next house. Why pay for a big house with rooms you will never need? Extra space that has to be furnished, decorated and cleaned? Why have a big lawn that you have to spend 2 nights every week mowing during grass season when you could be spending that time with your family? Why not find a small house within walking distance of the things you do most? When we talked about it, I found myself getting excited about how little square footage we could really live in and about focusing on quality in the things we did think were important – kitchen, nice showers, a small outdoor space, character of the house. Eliminating the extra stuff, whether it is little junk taking over the closet or extra square footage (to be eliminated when we move!), saves me from mentally managing it, a job I didn’t know I had and didn’t know was annoying me until I started to let it go! It also offers all sorts of potential in saved time and money that can be used instead to make valuable memories and have quality experiences.
So now, I kind of see it as the closer I get to having nothing, the better! I still find value and pleasure in certain things (copies of The Hobbit or The Alienist that I have read probably 15 times each, shoes that make my legs look longer, my collection of Dorrie books), but I do find that sometimes there is value in a little bit of nothing. In the famous words of Foghorn Leghorn “Two half nuthins is a WHOLE nuthin!!”
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