December 31st, 2014

A Fishy Metaphor: December 31st, 2014

Well, this is it, folks: the very last post for 2014.  I wish I had one of those exciting late 90s style effects to insert here – you know, with the automated fireworks?  Websites used to be so fetching…and flamboyant.

Instead, I bring you a fishy metaphor.  Today I cleaned my aquarium (a task that I really, desperately need to do more frequently).  While this is cause for celebration on its own, it is not the main point of the story.  One of the exceedingly clever tricks I use when adding new water to my aquarium is to keep a bucket of old, dirty aquarium water in my second sink.  As the clean bucket fills, I gauge the temperature of the fresh water by comparing it to the old water.  I do this by putting my hands in each.  But it does not end there.* The trick is that I need to keep switching my hands back and forth because it’s the only way to detect the temperature difference between the two.  Each hand grows immediately accustomed to the temperature of the bucket it is in and it fails to register the difference from the other one.

Do not worry: still plenty of crap for you, my bottom-feeding friend.

Do not worry: still plenty of crap for you, my bottom-feeding friend.

So here is the metaphor: if you keep your hand in the dirty, icky water to which you’ve become accustomed, you’ll never be able to gauge how lovely and fresh the new water is.  We become so accustomed to our surroundings, that is, that we fail to notice how cluttered and overwhelming they really are until we stir things up a bit.

And now you see why the metaphor is not simply a fish metaphor, but a fishy metaphor: it’s kind of a stretch.  But, I think it remains (somewhat) illustrative.

Now is the time that most of us make a fresh start.  It’s the beginning of a new year, the slate has been wiped clean.  I plan to continue with the fresh start we made in November and truly gauge the state of my surroundings.

Trust me, no one wants to keep swimming around in all that crap.

Happy New Year, everyone!

Day 61 Scorecard: 305 down, 1520 to go

* And yes, I know, this is disgusting and probably will eventually cause me to contract some horrible disease which will lead to my agonizingly painful death, but it’s what I do and I’m not about to change it for you.


December 30, 2014

Fancy Isn’t Everything: December 30th, 2014

This is Fancy Nancy.

I am Nancy and I am very, very fancy.

I am Nancy and I am very, very fancy.

Fancy Nancy has books, doodads, and other paraphernalia.  She even has her own world.

This is Aunt Nancy (a.k.a. my sister):

As you can see, Aunt Nancy is also fancy, albeit in a more grown-up, edgy kind of way.  Aunt Nancy is the same Nancy who makes the fabulous purses and she even went to fashion school!

Aunt Nancy, as fate would seem to dictate, gave Fancy Nancy to Clara on a birthday several years ago.  It was all almost too perfect.

But then, this happened:

Oh sad, sad fate.

Oh sad, sad fate.

Poor, poor Fancy Nancy.  Time to go 5Down.  Also sad: we cannot replace this doll as this style is no longer made.  Or, rather, we could replace her if we wanted to spend 100s of dollars.  Clara thinks glue might do the trick.  I think I’ve gotten her to accept Fancy Nancy’s appalling demise.

Sorry, Aunt Nancy: just be happy your head is still intact!

Day 60 Scorecard: 300 down, 1525 to go.

December 29, 2014

The Art of Losing: December 29th, 2014

Today seems like a good day for some poetry.


The art of losing isn’t hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.
Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.
Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.
I lost my mother’s watch. And look! my last, or
next-to-last, of three loved houses went.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.
I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn’t a disaster.
—Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan’t have lied. It’s evident
the art of losing’s not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.
This poem just popped into my head, earlier today, when I was pondering the words we use to talk about parting with things.  Obviously, Elizabeth Bishop was stiff-upper-lipping the very real pain of losing someone loved, but the poem, as it builds to this tragic conclusion, speaks to the reality that stuff is often really just stuff.  Letting it go is not a disaster.  Even when the letting go is unintentional, it is still surprisingly easy to overcome in the long term.
But why do we use such negative terminology?  Throwing away, purging (think of your body: gross), trashing, even downsizing sounds vaguely like something slightly sinister.  It’s the word your boss uses when you’ve been made redundant.  It’s the last thing you hear before you need to write a new résumé.
I am loving the sense of lightening I’m gaining from the “loss” of 5 things every day.  We are all proud of how far we’ve come already.  We’re noticing our surroundings so much more.  Mike, for instance, noticed that our windows have mold growing on them (no, not black mold, just the kind that likes to attach to windows) so he spent hours today, cleaning it off*.  He asked if it would be okay to include the mold as something 5 Down”ed”.   As far as I am concerned, this project is not as much about the exact number of items we divest ourselves of, but rather the things we are gaining, and those things are not physical objects.  We’re gaining a say in how we life our life.  We’re not going to let our family be defined by our stuff.  And we’re going to take pride in getting rid of things we don’t need.  We certainly don’t need mold.  So, to me, the window mold very much fits into this framework.
Take some time to read some more Elizabeth Bishop if you never have before.  Otherwise, at least do what I’m planning to do: I’m going to think “it’s not a disaster” whenever I need to “lose” something that has a sentiment attached to it.  I think it’ll help.
Day 59 Scorecard: 295 down, 1530 to go.
* yes, he pretty much is the best husband in the world.  Yes, he has a brother, but he’s married, too.  Sorry.
December 28th, 2014

How to Stick to Your Resolutions: December 28th, 2014

I’m thinking about resolutions for the obvious reason that it is almost the beginning of a new year, but also for the less obvious reason that we’re about to start on our 3rd month of 5 Down.

Resolutions get a bad rap and for good reason.  Wikipedia (the source of sources) says that 88% of people fail to achieve their resolutions. I’ve heard it said that the secret to success is setting realistic goals such as: eat more, spend too much money, sleep too little, don’t exercise.  Indeed, if these are your goals, I’m happy to bet on you belonging to that special club of the 12%ers who beat the odds.  I’m not sure who’d bet against me, though.

What I am talking about is the real kind of resolution.  The kind where you set a goal and you stick to it.  A goal such as, say, getting rid of the clutter in your house and in your life. Because this blog is all about counting by fives (sometimes more successfully than others) I thought I’d do a list of 5 ways to stick to your resolutions (particularly if your resolution is to clear the clutter from your life).

There were a few reasons I did not start our year of de-cluttering on January 1st.  The most compelling reason, however, was just that it was too far away when I first came up with the idea for embarking upon our journey.  It makes sense to pick an easy-to-remember date in order to look back in awe at all you’ve accomplished, but it’s also easy to have that goal be “next” week or “next” month.  I was worried that if we waited until January 1st, we’d move on to other things and forget that we were going to try.  This brings me to my first point:

1. Grab the nearest memorable date:

This is an easy point when we’re 3 days out from the start of a new year.  But it doesn’t need to be a new year.  It just needs to be memorable.  For instance, we moved into our home 8 years ago on Christmas Day “to make it memorable,” said Mike.  I’m still not clear whether he meant he wanted to make Christmas memorable, or our move.  In retrospect, it worked on both fonts. I started running the day my criminal law class finished at law school.  It made sense because I knew I had the time then, and I knew I would run out of excuses. And speaking of excuses…

2. Go, tell someone you trust!

Or, better yet, tell the whole world.  Put it on Facebook, tell your friends and family.  You can think of them as cheering for you, or keeping you accountable, whichever works for you. Nobody likes to disappoint their adoring public, so make it known that you’ll be available for shaming if you don’t follow through.  With any luck, they will buy into your resolutions and root for you from the sidelines.  Or, even better, they will join you…

3. Recruit:

Seriously – what could work better than having partners in crime?  Within my household, I am absolutely certain I would not be able to stick to 5 Down without the active, participatory* involvement of my entire family.  No matter what your resolution is, it’s amazingly helpful to have someone else doing it with you, or in tandem with you.  This past summer, when I ran my first half-marathon, I helped put together a reasonably large group of us to train together.  While only 3 of us made it to the end, it was amazingly helpful to have other people who knew what I was going through.  On the days I felt worn out, I had a friend to drag me out to run.  When I was raring to go, I cheered on my less-than-enthusiastic running partner.  It’s been amazing to have Mike, particularly, help me work through the process of minimizing and what it means to us as a family.

4. Have more than one goal:

I realize this sounds weird, but to me it is extremely helpful.  Looking around my house right now, I feel overwhelmed with how much work lies ahead of me.  I’m thinking, instead, about each of the milestones I reach.  I cheer (quietly, alone with my computer) when we hit round numbers (100 objects gone, 50 days in, falling into a new “range” on our countdown: we’re almost at the 1400s).  If I focus entirely on the ONE YEAR part, it’s really easy to just get overwhelmed and decide to throw in the towel (as opposed to throwing out the towel. You didn’t need that towel, anyway, even if you did buy it on sale).

5. Be bloody-minded:

I was once called bloody-minded (stubborn) by a professor who disapproved of a particular choice I was making.  It was meant as discouragement, but it might as well have been phrased as a dare. It was not easy – nothing worth accomplishing is easy – but I made up my mind and nothing was going to change it.  I’m not saying you need to persevere in spite of obviously bad results (I don’t want your spouse to leave you because you threw out her/his favourite childhood tchotche) but there is a lot to be said for making up your mind. I want to slap someone every time I hear the hackneyed phrase “failure is not an option” but really, the idea is right. There is a good side to stubbornness.

So why not join us?  I don’t care if you go 1 down per day for 1 month, or if you decide to purge 10 things per day for the next 10 years. It’ll be fun to have company, and it will be good for you.  Many of you have already told me that you’re “downing” things from your home.  I am more convinced with each passing day that this project is helping us become a happier, calmer, cleaner, clearer, and more responsible family.  Make it your New Year’s Resolution, or start tomorrow: it’s Monday tomorrow, after all.

Day 58 Scorecard: 290 down, 1535 to go.

* that one’s for you, Mike, because I love you.  Don’t use this against me.


December 27th, 2014

Stubborn Storage: December 27th, 2014

Way back on November 23rd, I made a mistake.  Instead of counting 5 down from my initial list of 1825 items, I accidentally added 5.  This immediately threw everything off by 10. Because I am dedicated (and a teensy bit of a perfectionist) I went back and diligently fixed that error, right up until today.

The funny thing is, I was prompted to begin this because I could not believe how much progress we’ve already made…and it turns out we are further along than I’d even thought we were!

I was going to make a big philosophical post about how one little thing can snowball and take over without us even noticing, but that would just reiterate how bad I am at math, so I decided not to bore you with it.

Instead, I’m going to let you in on a little secret.  See, when I was a little kid, I was always trying to invent things.  I have an extremely clear memory of my best friend, Natasha, sighing and saying to me “Oh Cheri, why are you always trying to invent a new game?  Everything has already been invented anyway!”

And this was in the days before the Internet.

She was (and is) right, for the most part, though. It is exceedingly rare to have a truly new idea, even if it pops into your head entirely out of the blue.  Today, getting back to the secret, I had decided to do a little poking around the Internet for tips on how to de-clutter.  It turns out that almost everyone has the same idea – sort into keep, throw, sell, trash – then organize what is left.  In the midst of all this poking around, I stumbled onto a less-ambitious version of our project. She downsized by 1 item per day for 1 year and I’m giving you the link, not the title because the glaring grammar error in the name makes my eyes bleed (okay, it’s called 365 less things…but you know it should be 365 fewer things, right? Right!).

So there you have it: I was not inspired by this blog, and I did not read it (it’s far too difficult to find a starting point), but it exists and it proves that Natasha was right!

In any case, I feel as if we’ve hit a new stage at this juncture in the process.  We’ve mostly plowed through all of the low-hanging fruit and we are primed for some more major shifting of items in order to attack the more deeply concealed crap.  The storage room is an excellent example.  It is full of stuff, much of it piled on the floor (I was going to say “stacked” but that sounded far too purposeful and far less hazardous than the reality) and yet there are empty shelves.  There are several other empty shelves with stacked stuff beside them throughout our house.

As you may know, it is in the midst of organization that things appear the most chaotic.  This is an issue that has arisen due to the process we have instituted to divest ourselves of our stuff: because it’s not a giant do-it-all-at-once purge, we need to find a way to minimize the mid-project chaos.  So…I decided to pile stuff onto shelves without worrying whether it is organized at this stage.

This has been an issue for me in the past.  Getting back to the perfectionist part of myself, the idea of putting things onto a shelf before I knew where they would actually reside permanently would throw me into spirals of agony and I’d end up abandoning the project.  I am deliberately muscling through this and telling myself it’s okay, I’ll get back to it.

In the past, this would not have worked because I would not have been able to convince myself because it’s pretty hard to trick yourself with lies.  Nearly 2 months into this project, however, I am not lying to myself.  I will get back to it. It’s a great feeling.

And here we are, at the correct calculation:

Day 57 Scorecard: 285 down, 1540 to go.

December 26th, 2014

A Massive Clean-Up: December 26th, 2014

Mike is engaged in exactly that activity which I’d been attempting to avoid: a massive clean-up.  See, he’s spent too many days home in a row to be dispassionate about the utter chaos that is our office.  Er, his, office.  He built me a tiny desk in our bedroom so I can work in a different place from him when we’re both home.  So far, it’s working out delightfully, but he’s been slowly rising to a boil over the disaster I walked away from.

I don’t want you to get the wrong impression: he hasn’t been complaining or stomping around.  No, he’s just raised an increasingly agitated brow and now he’s run out of raising room, apparently.  I wish him well, and I’m staying out of his way.

Meanwhile, he handily provided the 5 Down list for today.

Day 56 Scorecard: 280 down, 1545 to go

December 25th, 2014

Brief Book Review – Living With Less: December 25th, 2014

It’s Christmas.  It’s been a wonderful day with lots of great surprises and extremely happy children (and grown-ups, too!).

Mike gave me two books about downsizing.  One was mildly interesting – about a woman who downsized to 100 possessions.  I only say “mildly” because it was very repetitive, somewhat arbitrary (her list was item-by-item before the purge, and then grouped in some regards after the purge), it has no real insights about the philosophy behind downsizing, and she’s rather too fixated on the feng shui of things.  Stuff like feng shui make me snake-oil-salesman senses tingle, but I will agree that having clean and minimal surroundings definitely imparts a sense of calmness and relaxation.  Since we’ve emptied our bedroom of most of its furniture, it’s been amazingly soothing in here and I love to gaze at it.  As for the book, I burned through it this afternoon, and you’re welcome to borrow it if you’d like (after that resounding endorsement).

The other book is going to provide me with much more of a challenge and provide far more food for thought.  The writing is absolutely excellent and the premise is intriguing: to become a zero waste household. I am definitely not dedicated enough to commit to such a radical lifestyle change, but it’s fascinating to read how she encounters problems and finds solutions to them.  I’m only on the food waste section, but even so I’ve learned some new things and I’ve looked at my own practices differently.  One dead simple idea she uses is that the grocery list starts from the bottom up, so that a whole piece of paper is not needed: the shopper simply tears off the sheet where the entries stop. How cool is that?

At the beginning of her journey toward zero waste, she and her family moved to a far smaller house in an area closer to town.  This necessitated storing things for over a year. Of course, as most people do, when she’d gone without her stuff for long enough, she realized that most of it (if not all of it) was really unnecessary crap. I’ve said that books are my easy “go to” when I don’t feel like putting much effort into gathering up things for 5 Down, but the other “cheat sheet” location is anywhere that is used for storage.

Many de-cluttering books/sites/advisers suggest you put a time limit on an item and if you don’t use it within that time frame, out it should go.  I can’t say that I totally agree with this. For one thing, our fondue set would have gone long ago if we subscribed to that point of view, but we adore the times we break it out and dip in. I really think it’s okay to have some things like this…as long as there are those occasions.

Our kitchen is very tiny with very limited cupboard space.  Therefore, we have over-flow kitchen storage in a footstool, a wardrobe, a closet in the office, and the two top shelves in Max’s bedroom.   You can be sure many of the items located outside of the kitchen are seldom or never-used items.  It’s a great place to rummage through when looking for 5 Down material!

Today I found some serving dishes which we neither knew we owned, nor what we would do with them.  I also found a vacuum sealer with extra bags that I got from my sister when she was getting rid of it because she never used it (full disclosure: we never used it either).  There were two pots from the set we had owned before we got our new, better, set.  Why did we hang on to the old set?  Well, we had a shelf to put it on and, well, you never know, right?  I do know, now, I know that I will never, ever have need of an extra double boiler or a second small saucepan.  Not a chance.

And finally, the bodum.  This was given to me courtesy of a cousin purge.  I’ve not used it, and I was getting ready to rid myself of it when Mike looked at me with agony written all over his face.  Apparently he would like to take it to his (work) office to make loose tea.  What do I care – it’s out of the house – it’s 5 Down!

I hope you had a fantastic Christmas without burdensome clutter!

Day 55 Scorecard: 275 down, 1550 to go