About Ads

It’s ironic: since I am using the “free” version of WordPress to publish, they occasionally place ads at the end of my posts.  I want to point out that I have no control over the content of any ads that appear, and sadly, they usually advertise products that are the very opposite of the values that I am writing about.

I apologize for these incongruities!  Isn’t that the position in which we find ourselves so often? We are embedded in systems that infiltrate all aspects of our lives, even as we imagine a better way of living.

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Freecycle

As part of our de-cluttering process, we have had such great fun passing along things we don’t need any more through Freecycle.org.  So far in the last week or so, we’ve gotten rid of:

1. A Sleep-Number mattress that didn’t really live up to its claims of better sleep for people with back troubles.

2. Old exercise equipment that was in our basement when we moved in:Exercise Equipment DSC09841

DSC03215And 3. A Training Toilet–that is actually for potty training a child on the big toilet, (and able to be used by grownups too). Why did we have one of those in the first place?  We thought it might help during my attempt to toilet train our cats four years ago. (Sadly, it didn’t work out.)

Each of the people who took our castaways were totally thrilled to get these free new things in their lives.  And we enjoyed meeting the folks who came by our house to disassemble them and take them away.  What a great way to ring out the old year, and welcome in the new!

 

Billie helps with the sorting

Billie helps sorting

This week we really got serious about decluttering and downsizing in preparation for selling our house.  One room at at time.  I started with the hall bathroom.  It has a huge closet in which, among other things, we store our many candle holders of all sorts. I dragged all of them out onto the counter, and Margy and I decided which ones to pack for the new house, and which ones to pack for Goodwill.  Our cat Billie, as you can see, was very interested in helping.  Or at least supervising. I am happy that more of them are going to Goodwill than are coming to our new house.

One room done, many more to go… I went to bed exhausted, but it feels really good.

the not so big house

One of my friends (thanks, Deb!) pointed me in the direction of a great book to add my search for beauty to our search for greener housing. Sarah Susanka’s the not so big house: A Blueprint for the Way We Really Live is not a new book, but it is new to me. (By the way, I bought the book with credits from turning in used books to my local independent bookstore, Longfellow Books. Isn’t that great!)

Susanka also has a website–the book and the website are both on the theme of how to reimagine our homes so that they feel like home–with comfort and usefulness and beauty–without being as big as we might think they need to be. (Her website also has resources and links to green housing as well. The two ideas share a lot of resonance.)

She is responding to the tendency in American culture to expand the sizes of our houses so that they have turned into almost mansions. Now, her not so big house is a little bigger than the one we are looking for–in fact our current house would fit her definition, too. But what I liked most is that she talks about particular strategies that can contribute to a feeling of homeyness.

Simple things, like creating a sense of containment around certain spaces by lowering a ceiling, or putting in some sort of molding around an area that gives it a focus.  She also suggests most of us would do well with a more open living plan, where our public spaces are joined together–in a living, cooking and eating area. We then also can create private spaces. Something I had never thought about was the importance of the entryway for making a home feel hospitable and a joy to enter. It all makes sense to me.

It is the details that make a home beautiful. I find I like the details I have seen in Craftsman Style homes, like in this picture below–the simple wood molding around the upper part of the wall ties the room together. Poring over Susanka’s photos and ideas, gives me a better sense of how to imagine renovating houses that we might see that don’t seem to be what we are looking for, but have the potential to be turned into what we want. My imagination has been lit up!

Craftsman Style Interior Photo by Emack2020JPEG Via Creative Commons.

Craftsman Style Interior
Photo by Emack2020JPEG Via Creative Commons.

I Wish There Was a TV Show Called “Downsizing”

Lately, we’ve been watching house buying and selling shows on Netflix. We’ve picked up a few good tips on de-cluttering as an important step in selling a house. But it is unbelievable to watch these reality show folks looking for new houses. It seems everyone is looking for bigger and better and more “in style.” No one likes houses with decor from the 90’s or 80’s or 70’s. They all want granite countertops in the kitchen, huge walk-in closets, several bathrooms, cathedral ceilings, and thousands of square feet.

Our house’s kitchen has not been updated. We have lovely custom maple cabinets, and the original built in two ovens and stove top. But our reality show hosts would likely have a field day–they’d pull out all the counters and flooring and appliances and upgrade to granite and new tile and probably paint the cabinets, and put in stainless steel appliances.  I’m not sure what they would do with the brick wall–we’ve learned from these shows that exposed brick is so “seventies.”Brick DSC00849

I wish there was a show we could watch in which every episode follows people who are downsizing from a big house to a small efficient home. Even better, the people would be adding insulation, and putting solar panels on the roof, and exploring renewable sources for heating and cooling. They wouldn’t care about the latest in style, but would look for classic and ecological features. They’d have the latest ideas in how to make the most of small space.

Are you listening HGTV?

Stuff

Vase on Mantel DSC00542Today was one of those days when the idea of actually sorting through and giving away or packing our stuff seemed pretty overwhelming. Part of our search for greener housing includes this process of dealing with our stuff. How did I get so much stuff? I remember being able to put almost everything I owned into a backpack, along with a tent, and carrying it on a bus when I went to join the Women’s Encampment for a Future of Peace and Justice in 1985. I must have had a few boxes of stuff stored with a friend back in Chicago, but not much. Now, our stuff fills a house.

Maybe some people feel happy having lots of stuff, but I often feel uneasy about it. I grew up with St. Francis of Assisi as a role model, the patron saint of voluntary simplicity. I had to learn to appreciate the value of creating a beautiful and welcoming household. I was reminding of that value when a friend visited this weekend and remarked about how wonderful it was to be in such beauty. And I do love our home, and the stuff that helps to bring it alive. Some of it is practical–a kitchen table, chairs, beds, desks, bookcases, dishes. Some of it is sentimental–gifts from friends or a few cherished pieces from family. Some of it is just for beauty–the pitcher and cups on our mantel, a wall hanging of the tree of life.

But when I think about having to move it all from one place to another, it feels daunting. Today we were cleaning up some of our clutter in preparation for a visit from an appraiser. Not quite as daunting as preparing the house for showing to prospective buyers, but that will be coming up too. It is funny that as Americans have become more mobile, we have also accumulated more and more stuff. Is our attachment to our stuff trying to make up for our loss of attachment to land and community?

There are a lot of guides out there for helping to get rid of excess stuff. Common questions to help in the process include these: Have you used it within the last year? Does it give you joy? I have added another: Is this worth saving for my permanent personal archives? That one covers the fact that as a writer I am attached to keeping all of my personal journals. The last time we moved I even purchased archival quality boxes to store them in. I understand the process we need to go through. I just can’t imagine how we’re going to find the time to get it all done.

I am reminded of a quote by Wendell Berry. It isn’t really about stuff, but about anything that feels daunting or too big. I have it posted on the bulletin board next to my desk:

“It may be that when we no longer know what to do, we have come to our real work, and that when we no longer know which way to go, we have begun our real journey. The mind that is not baffled is not employed. The impeded stream is the one that sings.”

Or perhaps it would be helpful to take the advice of Dory in Finding Nemo:  “Just keep swimming.”