what’s your perfect amount of stuff?

perfect-amount-of-stuff

I’m tired of stuff management. I just spent an entire weekend up in the attic preparing the kids’ old clothes and toys for consignment.

Nearly a hundred items had been accumulating there for several months in anticipation of this sale.

While sorting and pricing all this stuff, I have to admit that I questioned my original decision to get rid of some of it and had to get emotionally detached all over again.

I know how entrancing stuff can be, but I’m done spending too much time caught up with it.

My journey toward minimalism keeps me motivated to break free from my attachments. My excitement about this lifestyle has led to some pretty heavy-handed declutter sessions over the last few years.

There are days I feel a long way from the point I dream of. But I’ll be honest, there are also days I feel like I’ve gotten rid of too much, especially when I haven’t done laundry in several days : )

So how much stuff is the right amount? It undoubtedly varies for everyone.

There are stages in your life when your right amount of stuff will be significantly more, like when you have young kids or a hobby that requires a bunch of equipment. But you’re always free to choose what your perfect amount is. I truly believe that amount can be minimal and you’ll still have everything you need.

During my weekend in the attic preparing stuff to sell, I thought about how to determine what my family’s right amount of stuff is.

If I was hesitant to get rid of something, I tried to pinpoint why. I became aware of the crazy dialogue my mind was having while contemplating whether something should stay or go.

So I wrote some of these thoughts down to help me get closer to my perfect amount. If you’re trying to figure this out too, I hope these guidelines help you get closer to that liberating clutter-free lifestyle!

It should go

Someone close to you will think you’re crazy for getting rid of it. Embrace crazy.

Everyone has one and might think you’re strange if you don’t. Embrace strange as well. A lot of expectations of what’s needed to run a household are dated anyway.

It will be stored away waiting for the moment your future grandkids will get as much joy from it as your child did. Watch Jessie’s song from the movie Toy Story 2, have yourself a good cry, and give it to another kid that will enjoy it now.

Getting rid of it represents the end of an era in you or your child’s life. A new era is waiting but may not have space to happen if you hang on to the past.

You’re afraid that without it, you won’t be able to conjure the memories of a special moment in time. There are nonmaterial things that will remind you of happy times, so if the item doesn’t bring you joy, feel free to part ways.

It might make a nice heirloom if your kids want it one day. Leave them fun memories instead.

You or someone else paid good money for it or it might be valuable in the future. If this is the case, sell it and move on. Get help here.

It might fit again if you lose or gain weight. Likewise, it might come back in style again. The benefits of a capsule wardrobe far outweigh keeping “just in case” clothes around.

It might be useful in a future sewing/craft/art/school/scrapbooking project. This is the most impervious type of clutter in my opinion. Get new supplies when and if the moment arises.

Someone has borrowed it in the past and might need it again. Give it to them now if it’s no further use to you.

It would just be one more possession weighing you down, inhibiting you from doing something spontaneous one day, like move to Maui!

It should stay

It makes you happy, even if you can’t explain why and there’s no use for it.

You could use it again or there is a very good chance you will use it again in the near future.

So what’s your perfect amount of stuff?

No one can answer this question but you, and it may take some time and soul searching to do so.

If you’re on the fence about something because it could be reasoned either way, then consider this: the lightness and freedom you’ll feel after getting rid of it will far outweigh any reason for keeping it.

The best view you can take about stuff is that it is not permanent and it should be allowed to flow freely in and out of your life.

You’ll be amazed at how the space that’s left after getting rid of stuff that no longer serves you will help you decide what you do want in your life.

Do you have any tips to add for deciding what should stay or go that help you determine your perfect amount of stuff? If so, I’d love to hear from you.

five minimalist habits that increase efficiency

Imagine what you could accomplish if you had focus. Extreme focus.

This seems elusive in a world full of distractions. Days go by and no matter how hard you work, you can’t seem to break out of the cycle of everyday tasks to make progress toward substantial goals.

There’s hope! You don’t have to become a minimalist to achieve the type of focus it takes to be masterfully efficient, but it helps to adopt a few compatible habits.

I’ve identified some traits of a minimal lifestyle that are aligned with the practices of time-management and personal-growth experts.

These five habits can be applied to the degree that works in your life to help remove the distractions keeping you from being productive.

These minimalist practices contain tried-and-true wisdom that can easily be applied to use your time more consciously and efficiently.

1. Eliminate the unnecessary

Minimalists have a keen sense of what is necessary because they’ve pruned away the things that aren’t.

This applies to belongings, commitments, tasks, or anything else that demands your time and attention.

It’s important to stop and consider what’s really adding value to your life. The act of doing something can become so routine that you forget why you even do it in the first place.

If you have trouble identifying habitual but ineffective routines, it’s time to do some reverse thinking.

Decide what it is you would love to accomplish if you had a day with unlimited time and no distractions. Work backward to identify the steps necessary, no matter how small, to make progress toward it.

If you don’t have at least a little time each day for progress on your larger goals after doing all the necessary tasks that keep things running smooth, then you need to eliminate some unnecessary ones.

It became easier to pinpoint the unnecessary once I made a conscious effort to simplify my life by getting rid of things I don’t need and saying no to commitments that weren’t in line with my goals.

2. Lose the news

This topic sparks debate. Keeping up with what’s going on in the world can be crazy addicting, plus it’s sort of an implied expectation of conformity in our society.

But the need to stay informed can put you at risk of information overload. You’re also exposing yourself to negative messages that are beyond your control.

Different forms of news have a way of becoming intertwined with your daily routines so they’re very difficult to shut out.

Have you ever tried to take a break from Facebook? You’ll receive a lot of enticing notifications of your friends’ latest status updates to lure you back in.

Social media adds a whole new level of staying informed. Being so easily accessible to everyone and bombarded with their thoughts and opinions completely derails my concentration.

Rather than weigh yourself down with the burdens of the world, choose a cause that you are passionate about. Let this be your focus and don’t distract yourself with things beyond your control.

You can be far more effective and start making a difference when you’ve narrowed your focus to just one cause that is within your realm of influence.

3. Be fully present

Only when you’re present do things become clear. When you have clarity, you know exactly what needs to be done next and this allows you to be efficient.

We’ve all heard that concentrating on one idea at a time is far more effective than spreading yourself thin. But this is difficult when there’s so much you have to juggle just to keep up.

So how do you get to this fully present state? You don’t have to be a Zen master to do it, but minimalists may get to experience it more often than others.

I think it’s because they’re good at creating space around them. They’re good at allowing things to come and go without forming attachments.

Maintaining this space means not allowing commitments or physical stuff to overwhelm you. It may take a lot of refinement and time to get to this point, but the reward is worth it and will give you momentum.

4. Store things where they’re used

There’s no doubt the innovators of the early 1900s were masters of efficiency. Henry Ford was able to accomplish great things because he was determined to do away with anything wasteful.

The processes in his factories were so refined that workers had everything they needed within reach. Ford placed tools and workers in proper sequence so that each component would travel the least possible distance.

That way, no step or space was wasted as the workers’ movements were reduced to a minimum. You can read more about this process in My Life and Work: An Autobiography of Henry Ford.

The best decision I made for my home office was to get a custom-built desk. Everything I needed to work, such as filing, printing, mailing, and so on, was within arm’s reach and I didn’t have to get up from my chair to do any of it.

You don’t have to have a custom-built desk to be efficient. An uncluttered home will provide the room you need to store things where they are supposed to be used.

5. Keep a tidy space

 Clutter is distracting. It can pull your mind away from the task at hand.

As someone who’s bothered by things being out of place, I’ve spent a lot of time tidying. I thought if I could just figure out clever ways to organize our things, I could escape the endless cycle of stuff management.

I was stuck in this cycle until I realized the only way to spend less time straightening our stuff was to have less of it. Plain and simple.

For me, neatness affects productivity but I’ve read studies that support both sides. Some say that a messy desk promotes creativity if you’re artistic, but the fact remains that you need space to create.

While a messy room may not be distracting to everyone, there’s no argument that efficiency will increase when you free up time that was spent endlessly cleaning and organizing too much stuff.

So why wait another day?

Decide what it is you want to accomplish, get rid of the excess stuff and commitments cluttering your life and mind, and experience what it’s like to be focused and efficient.

You’ll still have distractions but they won’t be overwhelming. You may just find that your someday goals are within reach and can be accomplished a lot sooner than you thought.

Do you have any habits that increase your efficiency? I would love to hear from you!

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does a decluttered home sell better?

decluttered-home

I had a great home buying and selling experience in the midst of a real estate recession several years ago.

We didn’t have our home staged, and my decor is pretty sparse as a minimalist. I think having a decluttered home was a big part of our success. Decluttered homes were also the most appealing to me when we were house hunting.

While looking for our new home and trying to sell our old one, I spent a lot of time searching online listings and reading books, articles, and blogs about selling a home.

The overall consensus from real estate experts was that staged homes sell faster and for more money than non-staged homes. This seemed to be the case no matter what the real estate climate.

While staging can help a home sell, decluttering has to happen first, so staging is really the icing on the cake more or less. Pretty place settings at the table and rolled towels next to the bathtub do help, but aren’t necessary in my opinion.

A home also doesn’t have to be completely empty to sell, but it helped in our case. The owners had moved out of the home we bought, and I was able to see every surface and imagine how our furniture would fit. The funny thing is that we saw the home several months before it was empty and we didn’t consider it a contender.

The owners kept the house neat, but we had trouble seeing ourselves living there until we saw it empty. This is probably not possible for most people while selling their home nor is it necessary, but it makes a good argument for the importance of decluttering.

I’ve always heard that buyers need some sort of furniture to be able to picture the function and flow of particular rooms. I can see where this would help if the house has an open floor plan in which rooms are hard to differentiate.

When my brother sold his house, he chose a realtor who was one of the top sellers in our area. He had already moved to another house, but left some key pieces of furniture behind for that reason.

It didn’t sell as quickly as he wanted, and the realtor told him to move the rest of the furniture out because empty houses usually sold better. He did and it sold shortly after.

Unless your home is professionally staged, your furniture and belongings may not appeal to the masses. It’s impossible to please everyone’s tastes, so eliminate as much stuff as possible. Rooms will look larger when a bunch of furniture and stuff is not crammed into them.

Features that are too personal can destroy potential buyers’ ability to see themselves in a home. The fix can be as easy as boxing up knick-knacks and taking pictures off the walls. You’ll be that much ahead on moving day!

Personal items such as family photos, wall hangings, and collectibles should be packed and stored out of sight. This might mean renting a storage unit or borrowing space in a friend’s garage.

If the thought of paying extra money or asking for favors to house your belongings bothers you, you might want to make a fresh start and get rid of as much as possible.

In my opinion, nearly every surface should be clear. Don’t worry about decorating the space as much as presenting a clean, clear space that leaves room for buyers to imagine as their own.

From a buyer’s standpoint, I had more trouble looking past clutter than I thought. I knew the house would look different when empty, but a cluttered house truly was an obstacle in imagining the potential that was there.

The work you put into your home to prepare it to sell will help you get the best possible result when it sells. Decluttering will help your home show well, appeal to more buyers, and give it a winning edge over the competition.

If you’re interested in selling your home, please check out my eBook, From a Buyer’s Perspective: 5 Steps to Help Your Home Appeal to More Buyers. It includes tips on making smart updates, easy ways you can help market your home, and more.

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3 tips for selling used stuff online

sell-used-stuff-online

It’s a lot easier to donate a box of old stuff you’ve cleaned out to charity rather than try to sell it. Plus, it’s a generous and helpful thing to do for your community.

But in some cases, you may have something that might be valuable or your own family could benefit from having the extra money from selling it.

So to make the hassle of selling your stuff worthwhile, you need to find the right place to sell that will give you the most money. This sounds obvious and fairly simple, but can be very time consuming if you don’t know where and how to look.

Here are a few shortcuts and tips to help you find the best and most reliable buyer more quickly and get the highest return for parting with your old stuff.

Cover all your bases

Make sure you’ve looked everywhere before settling on a price. The directory on this site is a quick and easy way to make sure you find all the places available for a particular category of items you’re selling. A google search with the words “sell used camping equipment” or whatever you’re selling can also help.

Comparison websites are a great way to help you speed through this step. They allow you to enter your item and view a list of quotes from several buying sites to help you quickly determine the highest price you can sell.  Here are some reliable sites:

Sometimes the price online won’t be as good as trying to sell locally because shipping costs are a factor. I sold a dozen DVDs at our local movie store for a total of about $5 more than any online offers for the bundle. It would have been $8 more if we accepted store credit instead of cash.

Sell in bulk

It’s most efficient to sell smaller items like books, DVDs, collectibles, and clothes in bulk. Wait until you have a good amount of these items before searching for a place to sell to make it worth your while, unless you have something rare or valuable.

A lot of sites allow you to enter multiple barcodes, ISBNs, or UPNs at once. Look for a button near to where you enter the number that says something like “sell in bulk” and click on it to enter multiple numbers.

Here’s a tip for moving through this step quickly: Open a word processing program or notepad on your desktop. Type the numbers from your items, placing a return between each. You can copy and paste the numbers on multiple sites without having to retype them each time.

Some book or DVD-buying sites require a minimum quote of $5 or $10 before you can sell so it makes sense to wait until you have a bunch because they usually aren’t worth much individually.

Investigate

I’ve come across some innovative companies while compiling the directory for Minimal Me. Some are fairly new and others have been around for a decade or more. Most of the sites look legitimate, but there have been a few that look questionable.

With a bit of research, my suspicions are usually confirmed. I don’t include these sites on the directory and wouldn’t recommend sending your stuff to sites that look untrustworthy.

If you find a site that looks suspicious, a quick Google search of the site name with the words “legitimate” or “scam” will give you more information as to whether it’s a trustworthy company. It can reveal bad reviews from customers, Better Business Bureau ratings, or incidents where people haven’t received payment after sending items.

In my experience, legitimate-looking sites have some of the following things in common:

  • professionally designed website
  • social media pages with a good following
  • email address and phone number or contact form
  • pre-paid postage for submitting your items

These aren’t absolute indicators of authenticity and lack of these things won’t discredit a site. They’re just some good guidelines. The URL Void Blog has a post with tips for checking suspicious sites that apply to buying sites as well: How to Identify Fake Shopping Websites.

Selling stuff online has evolved a great deal since the early days when eBay and Amazon cornered the market. There are a growing number of sites that will pay you instantly for a wide range of used stuff. Plus, they make the process extremely easy!

No longer do you have to wait on a buyer to bid on your listing or deal with collecting payment and estimating shipping costs. Some sites take care of everything for you and will buy your item so they can resell it on their site.

Of course, you always have the option to list your items classified-style, which might earn you more money in the long run. In addition to the original giants, there are now many niche selling sites that help you reach a highly targeted market when listing classified-style.

If you’re ready to declutter your belongings and would like to earn some extra cash, I hope these tips help you get the best outcome. Do you have any strategies for successful selling? If so, please feel free to share them in the comments below.

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Disney-inspired declutter

disney-declutter

I love getting rid of stuff, but not everyone in my house shares this sentiment.

The only thing I love more than cleaning out is making money off the stuff we don’t need. It thrills me!

So this year I’m setting a lofty goal that will motivate my family to declutter and move us one step closer to the minimal lifestyle I dream of. All the money we make from selling our stuff will go toward a Disney World vacation. This goal has lit a fire under us!

Having motivation like this is tipping the scales when it comes to letting go of stuff. I realize it’s not likely we’ll make enough to pay for the entire trip. With plenty of selling experience in the past, I know that used stuff rarely brings the amount I hope it will.

But it’s worth the effort because it’s bonus money that can be used for a fun experience that we’ll all enjoy. An added bonus is that the old stuff stays out of the landfill because we took the time to find someone who wants it.

I’ll share what we’ve sold so far and where to help you determine what might be worth your time and effort as well when it comes to selling your stuff. Here’s a breakdown of our progress:

Consignment event = $243.08 profit

This is a great alternative to having a yard sale if you have kid’s clothes and toys to sell. The profit is much better than a yard sale, even minus the consignment fee. I used to take these things to consignment stores, but a disadvantage was the amount of time I had to wait for my items to sell.

Consignment events are fast-paced and your payout is quick. The best part is that you don’t have to work the sale unless you want to in exchange for some perks, such as a discounted fee and shopping privileges.

There is still plenty of prep work though so it helps to be prepared for that. Clothes have to be clean and secured to hangers with safety pins. I pick up free hangers from the dry cleaners so my supply cost doesn’t cut into my profit too much. Items must be entered into an online database where you can set the price and print a label to attach.

I sold a total 70 items, including video games, a doll house, mostly clothes, and that picnic basket I’ve been hesitant to get rid of. After years of yard sales, this is more money than I would have made and I didn’t have to sit out in the heat and haggle over a few dollars all day.

Kiiboo = $203.67 profit

After researching several sites that buy used electronics, I chose Kiiboo and made way more money than expected. I sent in six used devices, some of which were broken that I had considered recycling because I didn’t know what else to do with them.

The process was easy. Just click through a form on the site, selecting the category and condition of your device. Kiiboo is committed to reducing landfill waste, as well as supporting charities that make a positive difference, so 1% of the sale or more if desired will go to a charity you choose from their list.

They will send you a free shipping kit, or you can choose to use your own box. Either way, shipping is covered. Once your item sells through their patent pending method of reverse sales, you will receive an email, then a check in the mail shortly after that. They are great about keeping you informed at every step. There is a 19% consignment fee when your item sells.

My most surprising sale was a broken Kindle for which I received $10.42. I also sold some headphones without the foam ear covers for a profit of $14.43. An old iPhone that wasn’t in perfect working condition made a profit of $62.55. My success on this site has inspired me to go back through the house and look for more electronics to sell.

Plato’s Closet = $21.70 profit

This isn’t a large amount to report, but the return on what I bought was a nice surprise. I was expecting to receive about half this amount for the few shorts and couple of tops they traded. Not everything I bought was accepted, but over half was.

Unlike consignment stores, Plato’s Closet will inspect your items while you wait and if accepted, you leave the store with cash or you can shop for new-to-you items while there. The store only buys gently used brand-name clothes for teen or tween girls and boys. This includes shoes, jewelry, and accessories.

Plato’s Closet has over 400 locations nationwide. My recent interest in zero waste has made me consider the benefits of shopping second-hand, but I’ve been reluctant to try. The great selection, appealing display, and overall cleanliness of this store was better than most retail stores, so I look forward to shopping there as well.

Total = $468.75 profit

We still have a long way to go to reach our goal, but this is a good start. It’s time to declutter some more and research where I can sell the most profitably. I look forward to sharing the new places I find with you.

I’ve lived minimally for a while now so I can tell you for certain that there is freedom in getting rid of stuff you don’t need. Plus, if you can trade the stuff for an experience your whole family will enjoy, that’s just icing on the cake!

Have you found a great place to sell your used stuff? What about hard-to-sell items like collectibles or larger things? I’d love to hear about your experiences.

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recycling where it’s not easy to be green

recycling-not-easy

Several years ago, our small mid-west town was light years behind the green movement that was happening across the nation.

Curbside recycling wasn’t available, so while I was concerned about the amount of trash we produced, I waited for someone else to make the process easy.

Living in a town that seemed to be on the opposite end of the color spectrum from green, I’ve found there are abundant recycling opportunities once I made the effort to find them.

The following are some manageable and sometimes unexpected ways to recycle that have helped my family of four reduce our landfill waste to just a few bags a month.

Plastic bag recycling bins at grocery stores was the first way I found to recycle in my town. I’ve used these for nearly everything that can remotely be considered a bag, including plastic wrap around products. We have a lot fewer of these to recycle now that I carry my own reusable bags.

It was a happy day when a recycling drop-off became available in my community, although it only lasted several years. The facility accepted standard recyclables that were clean and sorted. Within a short time, it helped cut our household landfill trash in half!

It really wasn’t much effort to rinse bottles or break down cardboard. It also didn’t take a lot of room to store these them until they were dropped off. I cleared a shelf in the laundry closet to hold three bins, and found it was helpful to keep them close to the kitchen because that’s where most trash is produced. When the bins get full, I sort the contents into bags and store them in the garage.

It’s easier to pitch something in the trash, but recycling is contagious and it doesn’t take long for this new habit to set in. Once I started, I questioned everything we threw away. This mindset went with me everywhere, including work and social events. Each trip to the facility was with a carload of recyclables from our house, business, and sometimes extended family.

The more I recycled, the harder it got not to while on vacation. Most of the time, we bring collapsible recycling bags so we can travel more consciously. An online search for a drop-off location in the city we’re visiting has allowed us to collect and deposit recyclables before we head back home on several vacations.

Almost a decade after its opening, our town’s recycling facility closed. It was replaced by the city with drop-off bins for mixed recycling to be transported to a facility three hours away. After years of sorting our recyclables, I didn’t feel confident about mixing my collection in large bins that were unsupervised.

I went online and found some facilities near us that I never knew existed. They’re mainly for industrial recycling but accept some household materials. Although I use the city’s mixed collection bins for plastics, I take paper, cardboard, aluminum, and worn-out clothes to a different facility.

Glass is not accepted in our town, but I found a drop-off an hour away and collect it for when we have other business in that town. Some things like paint and electronics can only be recycled once a year during collection events, so it helps to research and be prepared.

I’ve found recycling opportunities in some unexpected places that might be where you live as well. Best Buy has a recycling kiosk inside its front door and they accept ink and toner cartridges, rechargeable batteries, wires, cords, cables, plastic bags, and used gift cards. Lowe’s will accept certain types of batteries, plastic plant materials, cell phones, and compact fluorescent lamp bulbs. Our police station accepts old prescription medicine and bottles. The local Lion’s Club collects old or broken eyeglasses and sunglasses and has a drop box at the grocery store.

Three Tips for Recycling Success

Here are a few things to consider if your town doesn’t offer curbside recycling or if you’re just getting started:

  • Find a facility: Determine the closest facility and what they accept at the Recycling Guide on earth911.com. Just select what it is you want to recycle, enter your zip code, and this directory provides a list of nearby facilities.
  • Develop a guide: If you’re like me, your small town may not have one location to take all recyclables. Once you know what is within a reasonable distance, get organized by making a list of the facilities, what they will take, plus their location and hours of operation. (Get a free recycle worksheet and other helpful tools for recycling when you subscribe to minimal me.)
  • Sort and store smart: Find the most convenient place to store your recycling containers and label them. When they’re labeled and easy to access, the rest of your household can get on board so you’re not stuck rinsing and sorting everyone’s containers.

Going green is a positive lifestyle change. It doesn’t happen overnight and making the change gradually will help it stick. My dreams of achieving a zero waste lifestyle keep me inspired to be eco-conscious, but are tempered by what I can realistically do in my location.

Recycling has conditioned me to find alternatives for products that either have too much or unrecyclable packaging. Since I began recycling, I’ve made my own cleaning supplies and recently started composting. I’m beginning to enjoy some pretty nice benefits like healthier living and saving money as a bonus.

Do you live in an area where being green is challenging? Have you found solutions or maybe have trouble getting started? I would love to hear from you!

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conscious consumption part two

conscious-consumption-2-a

In my first blog post on conscious consumption, I listed some ways we decrease consumerism in my family. It focused on getting the most out of your products and being conscious of things you use that you may not need.

In my pursuit of a more minimal lifestyle, there are additional things I’ve found to curb unconscious consumerism as I slowly inch toward the lofty aspiration of zero waste. This sequel post focuses on convenience and disposable items and an attempt to ween ourselves from them.

Juice box detox

conscious-consumption-2-b

The addiction was strong for my kids and their friends. It was too easy for them to open the fridge and grab one every time they got thirsty, far easier than getting a cup and pouring a drink. It was convenient for me too because the later resulted in spills.

Juice boxes and pouches are designed for drinks on the go. They are super handy to pack in lunches, but we were using them beyond that, buying one and sometimes two cases each week without a second thought. They are not recyclable in my area and I regret using so many.

At the beginning of last summer, I decided to stop buying juice boxes. There was some resistance at first, but new habits were formed within a short time and juice boxes were forgotten. The kids survived, my daughter mastered pouring her own drink, and everyone drank more water. Now when we need a drink to go, it’s poured in our reusable water bottles. We use a thermos to pack drinks for lunch, and I feel good about eliminating this convenience item from the grocery list, not to mention the money we’re saving!

Bagless food storage

conscious-consumption-2-d

Lunch box packing also wiped out a box of plastic food storage bags in a snap. The longer I recycled, the more I questioned everything we threw away so I was bothered by how many we used.

A really simple fix for lunches was to get reusable containers to fit the food we packed. But our unconscious use of these bags didn’t stop there. I realized how often I use them when there are other substitutes with a little effort and creativity.

Instead of habitually reaching for a bag when cleaning leftovers, I forced myself to find alternatives.  Sometimes I take storage containers out of the dishwasher and wash them if nothing’s left in the cabinet, or use a covered casserole dish to store similar leftovers together.

Mason jars are wonderful for storing all sorts of things I used to put in bags. They have become my favorite way to store food and have moved from the garage to a more prominent shelf in the kitchen.

I recently took them to an out-of-town Whole Foods to carry bulk bin groceries home. I’m also amazed at how well they store dinner leftovers that I never considered putting in jars before.

Now we hardly use plastic bags at all and I rarely buy them. If one makes its way home with school projects or things we’re given and it’s clean, it’s set aside for use with other things such as packing toiletries for travel or bagging items to sell at consignment.

Plastic party purge

conscious-consumption-2-c

Buying disposable dinnerware each time we had a party was second nature. My everyday dishes were several place settings short of enough to serve our guests, and my China rarely fit the occasions, which were most often kids’ birthday parties. Plus, disposable plates and cups that matched the theme added to the décor.

I’m finding now that using real plates, cups, silverware, and tablecloths makes the party seem more special and that there are plenty of other environmentally friendly alternatives to carry the party theme. It has been worth buying the extra dishes to have enough for the usual amount of guests we serve.

When you have white or neutral-colored dishes and linens, the food you serve takes center stage. Nature provides an abundance of decorations that are affordable and available at garden centers, farmers markets, or your backyard depending on the season.

For kids’ parties, my favorite decorations are made with tissue paper, which is recycled after the party. I’ve made pompoms to hang from the ceiling, flowers to decorate tables, the Hollywood hills sign, Winnie the Pooh’s house, tiki torches, and much more all from tissue paper and cardboard.

Knowing what I know now about how unlikely it is that almost any type of garbage will decompose in a landfill, I cringe at the thought of all the plastic silverware, cups, and plates I’ve sent there over the years.

For a while, I switched to paper plates thinking it helped, but I can’t deny that the best option is to avoid all disposables when possible. Cleanup is worth the small amount of extra effort when you think about how clean you’re keeping the environment.

I’m amazed at how easy it’s been to slow or eliminate our consumption of some products that I never considered alternatives to before. Reconditioning hasn’t required any major sacrifices, and going back to the way we did things just a short while ago isn’t appealing anymore.

Have you had luck eliminating disposable products that your family had grown accustomed to? I look forward to sharing new discoveries with you as I search for more myself and hope you will do the same!

This post was shared at the following link parties:

Healthy, Happy, Green & Natural Party Hop
Moonlight and Mason Jars Link Party
Simply Natural Saturdays

farewell to December

farewell-to-december

The stark contrast between the last month of the year and the first one is most welcome by the time the New Year comes. During the height of the holidays, I dream of the quiet and slow-paced days of January.

Meal planning shifts from rich, high-calorie dishes to recipes that are healthy and low-fat. Instead of shopping and acquiring new stuff for everyone, closets get cleaned out and old stuff is given away.

In my post Farewell to November, changes were proposed to some old traditions to make the holidays less hectic. These changes helped simplify our celebration and decrease my stress level.

This was the first year I didn’t mail Christmas cards. Instead, I posted a holiday message on Facebook with a picture of our kids, and sent a text message and photo to some of our friends.

Another change was getting a live Christmas tree. Despite some negative things I heard about it being a chore to water, a fire hazard, and difficult to keep the cat out of, this was my favorite holiday change. I absolutely loved having a real tree instead of an artificial one. The smell was wonderful and there is something magical about the centerpiece of our decorations being organic and alive.

I also vowed to simplify our commitments and we did. This allowed me to be less frazzled at the ones we attended. We still saw most everyone we normally see during the holidays, but chose not to attend some get-togethers and had a few less dishes to prepare and gifts to buy.

Santa also simplified this year and skipped the wrapping paper on the gifts he left and no one even noticed! What everyone did notice was the extra time we had for an impromptu trip to Nashville to visit my sister’s family and a night at the movies to see Star Wars.

Now looking ahead to a brand new year and planning my goals, I’m not too wiped out to dream big, or minimal in my case. I’m inspired by the positive changes that living more simply is bringing. I’m also inspired by the minimalist and zero-waste trailblazers that are making this lifestyle more attainable for me and others. Links to a few of my favorites are below.

One of my goals for 2016 is to decrease the amount of landfill trash we produce by half. We’ve decreased it quite a bit with recycling, but going further will require some changes to what we eat. This will be my biggest challenge yet. My kids are picky eaters and they come by it honestly. My husband and I are not too adventurous when it comes to trying new and healthy food either.

I know that composting is an inevitable part of reducing our landfill waste, but I’m nervous about it. I tried composting a few years ago and it did not go well. I’ll never forget the smell of that failed attempt! Hopefully a little more research and the right kind of composting bin will bring success this time.

Another goal this year is to create a capsule wardrobe. I’m fashionably challenged and wish that everyone in the world would just wear uniforms and be done with all the fuss, so I love the idea of having such a concise, purposeful wardrobe! Just imagine how much easier life would be if the clothes in your closet were things you loved to wear and they could all be mixed and matched so you always have the right outfit for the occasion.

This year I’m ready to spend less time managing my stuff and more time doing the things I love but never seem to have time for. I look forward to the freedom and spontaneity that will come as I get closer to a minimal lifestyle.

Do your goals for the New Year include making your life simpler and living in a way that has a more positive impact on the environment? I wish you luck and would love to hear about your progress!

Helpful Websites

http://www.zerowastehome.com/

I consider Bea Johnson a pioneer of the zero-waste lifestyle. On her website, she provides practical tips and resources to make this lifestyle attainable.

http://www.missminimalist.com/

Francine Jay offers encouragement for your minimal journey through informative blog posts and stories from real-life minimalists. Her books eloquently describe the benefits of living with less stuff.

http://bemorewithless.com/

Courtney Carver serves up some great advice for simplifying on her website, including how to create a capsule wardrobe. Project 333, her minimalist fashion challenge, is something I plan to take part in this year.

farewell to November

farewell-to-november

A few nights ago, I was wide awake at midnight because my internal clock was off track. Setting the alarm for the first time in nearly a week signaled the end of sleeping late and staying up late with the kids. We had some great family meals, watched movies, and took a much-needed break from routine over Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving is the calm before the storm, the last peaceful moment before the frenzied rush of the coming weeks. Christmas is at the doorstep ringing the bell. It desperately wanted in last weekend, and I usually usher Thanksgiving out quickly to accommodate.

I’ll admit that Christmas took over a few hours on Black Friday with some online shopping. Gifts are an inevitable part of the holidays, and I always hope to have them bought early so I can avoid last-minute shopping trips.

Christmas is an exciting time, but the world tends to move too fast for me and I have a hard time keeping pace in December. Each year I have new hope that the season won’t be as hectic as the year before and all the holiday preparations will get done in time to relax and enjoy the activities that make this a wonderful time of the year. But no matter how early I start preparing it’s never enough, so I have to wonder if my expectations for this season are unrealistic.

After practicing some minimal habits throughout the year, I’m starting to have a different view of some of our holiday traditions. My usual planning, shopping, decorating, baking, and gift wrapping are a lot to fit in to a schedule that nearly doubles with events during the month. It’s time to consider the purpose behind our traditions and if they need to be changed up a bit.

We send photo cards to friends and relatives each year, but it’s done in more of a mass productive manner than the way I’m sure the tradition was originally intended. I’ve considered eliminating this tradition in favor of a more environmentally conscious and personalized greeting, but am reluctant because I enjoy receiving cards from friends. Perhaps personalized emails with photo attachments will be my new tradition if time permits.

Each gift I give this season will be done more consciously. This year, there are more experiences on our wish lists than before. Gifts will be given because they evoke joy or make life better in some way. I’ll try to avoid giving gifts that were bought because they were a great deal I couldn’t pass up, or because I feel obligated to give something out of a false sense of expectation. Who knows, maybe others feel the same way and wonder why we exchange gifts at all when the act of spending time together is really enough!

As far as decorating, my daughter and I have set up the nativity scene and hung stockings, but other decorations will wait for a week or so. Our artificial pre-lit Christmas tree has been a source of aggravation with branches that take a long time to separate and fluff and sections that won’t stay lit.

I’ve researched Christmas tree alternatives on Pinterest, as well as what type of tree is best for the environment. There are many different opinions on this, but I decided to get a real tree and gave away our artificial one so there’s no turning back now! The great thing about getting a real tree is that it might die if bought too early, so it graciously gives Thanksgiving its due time.

I’m willing to accept that some traditions can’t be changed overnight. Small changes to our holiday traditions just might start new ones that are more meaningful to us, like having time to bake and deliver cookies to friends, make ornaments with the kids, or do something spontaneous to celebrate the holiday.

My husband and son have a tradition of watching The Lord of the Rings movie trilogy over several nights in December. Sometimes they convince me to sit and watch with them, but I’m always distracted by my long to-do list. A calmer state of mind will allow me to be more present, which is worth changing some traditions.

As we say goodbye to November, not rushing through Thanksgiving has set the pace for a less hectic holiday for my family. I plan to let go of some of my former expectations of a perfect Christmas and lighten up on myself.

Things don’t have to be done perfectly, and in fact, some things don’t have to be done at all. The things I choose to do this holiday will hopefully be more meaningful because of it.

Do you have a plan for making the holidays less stressful by changing some traditions that don’t really fit your lifestyle anymore? If so, I wish you luck and would love to hear about your progress!

5 scary things about becoming minimal

scary-things

Although minimalism is gaining popularity, it still feels like a huge leap away in my world. I’m nowhere near living the minimal lifestyle that I admire in some of the books and blogs I read, but to go much further than I am now, I would have to make some changes that might be uncomfortable.

Here are some of the things that scare me about becoming minimal:

1. I won’t fit in

I’ve always felt socially awkward, but peer pressure doesn’t impact me like it used to and I like being different most of the time, so I’m not sure why fitting in with those around me matters at this point in my life as I make changes from the norm. But it does.

The last thing I want is to remove myself from the people around us. Family and friends are important to me, so I want to be careful about excluding myself from traditions that don’t always agree with what I’m trying to achieve. I’ve participated in many holiday gift exchanges to avoid looking like a Scrooge and bought fundraising items I didn’t need for the sake of being supportive. I know there are other ways to nurture these relationships, so that should be my focus instead.

Also, the more I recycle, the harder it is to watch recyclables be thrown away. I sometimes sneak two-liter bottles out of the garbage after a potluck or take disposable containers home from fast food restaurants to recycle. I’ve taken my own container to the donut shop to avoid coming home with a greasy box that can’t be recycled. This embarrasses my family and sometimes me depending on how brave I feel at the moment.

So how do I stay true to my beliefs without being considered rude or strange? I’m not sure yet but I realize I’m not being true to myself each time I go along with something just to blend in, so maybe that’s a start.

2. My kids won’t fit in

Nothing makes you more aware of all your quirky habits than parenthood. There are measurable milestones at every stage of your child’s life that make you question if your household is normal. I think everyone can relate to feeling left out, but it’s definitely a feeling we try to protect our kids from.

It’s easy to believe that fitting in requires stuff, like the right kind of clothes, the latest electronics, or the season’s hottest toys. Kids tend to want what their friends have, so efforts to instill minimal habits can be met with a lot of resistance at almost any age.

I try to encourage minimal habits by example and give my kids freedom to make their own choices when possible, at least in theory. It’s easier said than done! Imposing my idealistic view of how things should be is a certain guarantee that the opposite will happen, especially with my daughter : ) The goal is to not make my kids resentful of a lifestyle I want to encourage.

Gradual changes are working best with my family for now. If I made major changes to how we celebrate Christmas for example, it would be too different from how everyone around us celebrates and would make a joyful occasion stressful.

Subtle shifts from our current traditions will hopefully be rewarding enough to help us break free from old habits that no longer make sense. For instance, I hope an idea will hit for a really good Christmas tree alternative before December. This tradition has lost its appeal to me, but I’ll still do it for the kids.

3. I won’t have what I need

Next to the water heater in my garage sits a cute picnic basket packed with plastic cups, plates, and silverware. It was a wedding shower gift and has accompanied us on three moves, been stored in several different closets, and has never been used. It’s too big to fit on the garage shelves and I know we don’t need it, but as soon as I get rid of it, that picnic opportunity I’ve waited 20 years for will present itself.

It’s not just the picnic basket, it’s also two bicycles that sit in disrepair, gardening supplies from completed projects, special bakeware for recipes that I’ve made only once, and many other things that rarely if ever get used. I’m definitely not a hoarder, but I’m tight and the thought of spending money again on something I already bought but got rid of keeps this unused stuff around.

Maybe as I get my nerve up to get rid of the stuff we don’t really need, I will have time to take that picnic because I won’t be spending my spare time trying to maintain and shuffle all our stuff around.

4. I will get bored

If I don’t have anything to buy, store, maintain, or clean, then what on earth am I gonna do? Funny thought I know but getting to this extreme point is impossible because we need to have some degree of stuff after all. I’ve never been much of an outdoor person either because taking care of stuff has kept me inside for so long.

But seriously, the fear of being bored keeps me from parting with a lot of stuff like a large collection of movies, books, and board games for our family. There needs to be supplies at the ready to start a project in the off chance I get some free time because I feel like I’m not being productive if I’m not working on something.

I’m so accustomed to being occupied that I have a hard time relaxing when free time finally comes. Sitting still is something that I have bragged about not being able to do, which is silly when I think about it.

It seems impossible to have a hobby or do an activity that doesn’t require a bunch of supplies or equipment. Years of conditioning from the world in which we live has given me a strong desire for a lot of stuff. On the other hand, years of tending to and being distracted by all this stuff has also given me a strong urge to see what life would be like without wanting, needing, or having so much of it.

5. I won’t attract abundance

I believe in the law of attraction, and like anyone else, want to experience the finer things in life. My absolute favorite book is The Secret of the Ages: In Seven Volumes (Complete) by Robert Collier. I’ve read it every fall for five years now because it resets my attitude and makes me feel like anything is possible.

So if I start thinking minimally, will I limit the flow of abundance in my life? I know that what I really need is to shift my focus from attracting things I want to attracting experiences I want. This is challenging when I’m bombarded by opposing messages on a daily basis.

The idea of attracting abundance can work for things like good health, relationships, and experiences just as much as it can mean attracting physical objects. It’s fine for me to want material things too as long as I don’t let them weigh me down.

I am so conditioned to want things though, and I’m starting to see that if I want to attract amazing experiences, there’s no room for them if I’m surrounded by too much stuff. If I limit the amount of stuff in my life, I’ll hopefully save enough money to live in Maui one day and it will make my move a lot easier!

After my husband and I left our jobs to become entrepreneurs, we realized that good things often wait for you on the other side of your comfort zone. It was a risky move, and eight years later, neither one of us regret it. So all fears aside, I’m ready to take the plunge and see what’s on the other side of all my stuff.

How about you? Can you relate to some of these fears? Is your desire to become minimal strong enough to shake things up a bit and leave the security of old thoughts and traditions to see what this new lifestyle has in store for you? I’d love to hear from you in the comments!

 

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