Do you see the trap?

Have you ever heard anyone sigh and say, “I wish I had more stuff cluttering up my life!”

Sure, you will hear people wish for individual things – new towels, a rice cooker maybe, an iPad -but more clutter?

Not likely.

Most people I know want to simplify.  They want to downsize.  They want to dig out.  They want to be free of the mess, the dust bunnies, the crowding, the spill-over, the time- wasting, the constant moving of things in the way, the perpetual putting away of things out of place.
Continue reading Do you see the trap?

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Please don’t feed the dinosaurs

In the film The Legend of 1900, a new-born baby boy is abandoned on a luxury liner at sea at the turn of the 20th century. A piano prodigy, he grows up on the ship and never leaves it. The one time he almost makes it to land, he tries to explain to his good friend and fellow musician, Max, why he just couldn’t do it.

“All that city… You just couldn’t see an end to it. The end! Please, could you show me where it ends? […] It wasn’t what I saw that stopped me, Max. It was what I didn’t see. Can you understand that? What I didn’t see. In all that sprawling city, there was everything except an end. There was everything. But there wasn’t an end. What I couldn’t see was where all that came to an end. […] Christ, did you see the streets? There were thousands of them! How do you choose just one? One woman, one house, one piece of land to call your own, one landscape to look at, one way to die. All that world weighing down on you without you knowing where it ends. Aren’t you scared of just breaking apart just thinking about it, the enormity of living in it?” (emphasis mine)

Enormity.
Continue reading Please don’t feed the dinosaurs

Social Security

In a few years, I’ll be dependent on Social Security (if it still exists) and will have to live on a little over $900 a month. That’s not much money, given the current cost of living (and the fact that I worked and paid into the system for 40 long and mostly miserable years). The average monthly benefit was about $1,230 at the beginning of 2012 – which I could probably get if I were willing to wait a few more years – so lots of us will be in the same boat. There are plenty of people out there who live on less.

But consider this: according to the American Housing Survey, the median monthly rental housing cost in 2011 was $845, including utilities and trash collection. That doesn’t include internet, cable, Medicare Part B, prescription drugs, clothing, or any type of transportation or entertainment.

Oh, or food.

This figure is not broken down by apartment size, so it’s higher than the median rental cost of a studio or one-bedroom apartment. But after spending a lot of time living in the real world, I have to assume that the median monthly rent on even the tiniest of apartments is going to eat through most of my monthly Social Security check.

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A litmus test for clutter

In Repacking Our Bags, Richard Leider writes about his “aha” moment while leading a backpacking trek in Africa. Although the group’s Maasai guide Koyie travels with only a spear and a stick for cattle-tending, Richard is outfitted with a backpack full of “necessities” so that he’ll be prepared for anything. The first evening, as they set up camp, Richard lays it all out for Koyie to see.

“I unsnap snaps, unzip zippers, and un-Velcro Velcro. From pockets, pouches, and compartments, I produce all sorts of strange and wonderful items. Eating utensils, cutting devices, digging tools. Direction finders, star gazers, map readers. Things to write with, on, and for. Various garments in various sizes for various functions. Medical supplies, remedies, and cures. Little bottles inside little bottles inside little bottles. Waterproof bags for everything. Amazing stuff!

“I look over at Koyie to gauge his reaction. He seems amused but he is silent. … Finally, after several minutes of just gazing at everything, Koyie turns to me and asks very simply, but with great intensity: ‘Does all this make you happy?’ “

This seemingly simple question may be all you need to ask yourself in order to de-clutter successfully. Everything in life causes an emotional reaction in us – including clutter. Tune in to the vibe you’re getting from the stuff you’re surrounded with. Ask yourself how it makes you feel.

Ask yourself if it makes you happy.

Continue reading A litmus test for clutter

What rich people have that you don’t

The wealthy – although we already know that they are not necessarily any happier than the rest of us – do tend to have something that I wish I had more of myself. This photograph (from Metropolitan Home magazine, April 1990) highlights plenty of it. The picture is worth a thousand words, but a good editor could knock them down to a handful: minimalist, clean, simple… breathing. When I look at this picture, I feel as if I have taken off my girdle and loosened my belt.

This is my favorite graphic representation of something rich people have that most of us do not: lots of empty space.

Either consciously or subconsciously, don’t we all long for the relaxed calm and the generous indulgence of empty space? Nothing is demanded of us there. There is nothing to do but be. Most of us try to satisfy that yearning by moving into bigger houses. Then – being domesticated humans – we feel the pressing need to fill every empty cubbyhole with stuff. But then, of course, we want an even bigger house.

Maybe more of us should just consider the alternative – clearing out the spaces we already inhabit. It’s a solution with a lot going for it. It’s simple. It’s free! It’s achievable. It’s immediate. And ultimately, it’s extremely liberating.

So take off the girdle and loosen the belt. Breathe easier.

Continue reading What rich people have that you don’t