Less Cluttered is More Relaxed

I love this time of year. The air is crisp but not yet cold (I live in SoCal), the dawn light is available to me in the morning when I walk the dog, and although I hate that it gets dark in the evening so suddenly early (that one hour makes a big difference), the cooler temperature encourages me to walk Buttercup earlier, put on a pot of soup or make homemade tomato sauce, and curl up with a book while Shira does her homework. And this is what being uncluttered on the outside allows me to do better: relax more and enjoy my time after work because I don’t have the constant nagging feeling that I should be tidying or cleaning or organizing. Less cluttered is just more relaxed.

That said, my living room isn’t a minimalist paradise. It definitely has its share of stuff. But it’s all stuff I want. Things that are important to me. Pictures of my kids, souvenirs from trips, music on the piano, blankets on the sofa. My adult kids’ rooms, they are another story…but everything that is in our shared living space is supposed to be there (usually). And that is living simply for me.


Posted in Simplicity | 3 Comments

Difficulty in Decision Making

“I know what my decision is,
Which is not to decide.”
On the Steps of the Palace, Stephen Sondheim

I read an article in this month’s Real Simple Magazine about Making Decisions that has gotten me thinking about how our decision-making process affects how we approach uncluttering and simplifying. The article, which interviewed psychology professor Barry Schwartz, says that there are two types of decision makers: “maximizers” and “satisficers.” That a maximizer looks at every possible choice to determine the strongest contender, and that a satisficer goes with “good enough.” The article states that satisficers are happier with their choices overall and that they also have more free time, since they’re not laboring over all the possible alternatives.

I didn’t have to think too hard about what I am. Definitely a maximizer. I completely agonize over decisions, sometimes to my own detriment. Not so much about which restaurant should I go to, but which event to attend, which dish to order, whether to get rid of that pair of pants, whether to go on that vacation, even whether to get married. And although I have mellowed as I’ve gotten older (some decisions just aren’t that important), there is a running joke (joke?) in my family about my ambivalence about almost everything. It isn’t really that I’m ambivalent; it’s just that I see the good and bad in everything, and that makes choosing very difficult. It’s a great quality in an ethicist and discussion moderator, but not so much when cleaning out my closet.

Before reading this article, I never really thought about the fact that being a maximizer is definitely going to make the simplifying process harder than it is for a satisficer. I just knew that decisions seemed to be easier for some people than for others. So maybe it’s more than I just can’t make a decision about whether to donate that coat (I collect coats like other women collect shoes); maybe it’s because as a maximizer, I am too caught up in making the best possible choice when just letting it go is going to be good enough.

The article states that choosing “good enough” isn’t the same as settling, and that’s reassuring, because who wants to settle? But it also reaffirms the angst that we maximizers go through in making sometimes even small decisions.

So how do we break out of it? Make a series of small decisions and realize that there isn’t a “right” answer. Just keep practicing and it will get easier. Do I give the coat away? Order the pasta or the salad? Stay in the job or move on? Ultimately, we have to have faith that all decisions lead to the next step on our journey. If we keep the coat, we have one more option for winter but less room in our closet. Maybe the next time we purge, we’ll be willing to let it go, or maybe come winter we will be happy we have it. Or maybe we will keep it and someone needy will come along and we’ll be glad we kept it so we could now give it away. Pasta or salad? OK, that one truly doesn’t matter (unless you’re on a diet). Stay in the job or move on? Maybe this job will lead to opportunities down the line. Or maybe leaving the job will do the same. Since we can’t predict the future, sometimes we have to have faith in the universe and just choose.

So with this new information, maybe the next time I have to make a decision, I will remember that the important thing isn’t so much the decision but the decision to decide. Accepting that there is rarely only one right answer should make the entire process that much easier. I hope that is the case. I’ll let you know.

Posted in Simplicity | 1 Comment

Shadow and Light

IMG_2686I was thinking this morning as I was listening to Joel talk about SimpleREV 2015 and
walking Buttercup in the crisp clean November air, that I want my posts to focus more on the spiritual aspects of what I get out of simplicity, in addition to the day-to-day advantages of less clutter. And as I turned my calendar over (three days late) to November and read the new month’s quote by Rumi about lying under the tree of awe (You must have shadow and light source both. Listen, and lay your head under the tree of awe), the universe reinforced this for me.

The world is a wonderful and mystical place filled with beauty and cruelty and despair and miracles. It is a never-ending mix of shadow and light and never is this clearer than at this time of year. When we turn the clocks back, no longer saving daylight, we are suddenly more aware than ever that everything is dark clouds and silver linings.

In commenting on my previous post, “But Now I Need It,Emily Torres told me about The Minimalists’ rule of 20/20 (I like them, but sometimes it’s clear they aren’t mothers winking-face). Reading that post led me to think about whether it was actually the cost of the items or the availability of the items which was truly keeping me from letting go of them, or wishing I had hung on to them. And then in looking back on it, I realized that wasn’t really the point. The point was why am I stressing about it in the first place? It’s just stuff. They are just tights. And then in reading the Rumi quote this morning, it occurred to me that getting hung up on the needing/wanting is what blocks me from letting go and focusing on the shadows and light.

Shira as LinkClean garage, cluttered garage; is either way really that important, especially if I don’t plan to park there anyway? More important, does a clean garage/kitchen table/spare bedroom better represent the person I am or who I am trying to become? It goes deeper than “what will people think about me when they see my awful garage?” It’s closer to “what does this say about who I am and what I think is important?” How I felt when I didn’t have the tights available when “just in case” became a reality [her costume worked out great, by the way] is more a symptom of my own brand of self worth. I should have kept them. I should have known that some day I might need them. They weren’t taking up that much space. Again, that’s not really the point. The point is really that I didn’t need them in that moment, or potentially ever, and I let them go into the universe where someone needier can use them.

Shadow and light, giving and receiving, letting the spirit of generosity flow. That’s what it’s really about. And that’s what I will try more to focus on going forward. Does that object give me joy? Maybe. Will it give someone else more joy? Yes. And that’s the answer I was looking for. That’s what I need to keep in mind. That living in simplicity is also about living in generosity–a truth that isn’t always easy for me to remember, but a truth that in the remembering will make it far more possible to lay my head under the tree of awe.

Posted in Gratitude, Simplicity | Leave a comment

But Now I Need It!

When I was growing up, my parents saved everything. Because you never know! My mother said it was because she was a depression-era baby, and as she and my dad were both born in 1936, I’m sure growing up in Depression era/WWII austerity had a huge influence on them. My maternal grandfather sold fruit from a cart in the streets of San Francisco until the fifties, I believe. My father’s parents were immigrants from Russia (Fiddler on the Roof is their story. They were tailors both here and in the old country), and I think on that side of the family there was an awe that they actually had anything and couldn’t image getting rid of it. They came over on the boat with nothing. Reuse and recycle was a way of life for both my parents. You reused anything and everything because you never knew what you were going to have and when. So this mentality was an intrinsic part of the way I grew up, and has been, for better and worse, a part of my children’s upbringing as well.

And now I am trying to live the philosophy that we should get rid of everything we don’t need right now and think in terms of abundance–to have faith that should we need this item again in the future, we will have the means to buy it again, or borrow it, or find it in a thrift store.

Before... I like to save boxes.

Before… I like to save boxes.

And that works to a point. Except that I have found more and more in the past year that things I have gotten rid of–telling myself I don’t really need it, I haven’t used it in over a year, I don’t plan to ever own fish again, that the gadget or gizmo is just taking up space–I find that I DID NEED IT! Or did want it. Or my daughter or son needed it. Or it would have been perfect for the succulent terrariums that Shira is now obsessed with. Or it would have been the perfect final piece for that Halloween costume. And then I kick myself for getting rid of it. Is it nice to have the extra space on the shelf or in the garage? Of course. But the really frugal part of me that grew up saving, reusing, and finding new life for old things (big on Pinterest, and Real Simple, you’ll notice) is excessively aggravated.

Shira as the Doctor

Shira as the Doctor

And thus the primary conflict between me, simplicity, how I want to be, what I want to do, and REALITY. Oh, such a struggle. My daughter wanted to dress up as the Tenth Doctor (David Tennant) for a concert she recently attended. She has been at college for the past four years, so I haven’t been a part of a lot of her thrift store costume buying, and she had a lot of the pieces already. And I knew I had the perfect pants (“Mom, do you have pinstriped pants?” “Yes! I do!”) But wait…I think I just gave them away in my last closet purge because I really never thought I’d wear them again. Or that anyone else would either. Sigh. No pinstriped pants. Which isn’t really a tragedy, as terrible things go. Just annoying. And in that same purge, I gave away the white tights she could have used for her Link costume (Comikaze this weekend at the LA Convention Center). So…we’re buying white tights from Amazon because it’s after Labor Day and we can’t find them anywhere. Worth the microspace they took up in the drawer to spend $10 on new tights? Not so sure.

And what about the aquariums I gave away? They sat in my garage for years. I freed up space! I freecycled them, which did make me happy to be giving them away to a grateful teenager, but now we need one for the new terrarium she is building. Hmmmm. So off to the thrift shop we go, and yes I am thankful to be able to buy a new one (or that she can, in this case) but it does annoy me that I had a perfectly good aquarium sitting in my garage, hurting no one.

The remaining limes!

Just some of the limes.

And these stories go on. The juicer I rarely used and gave away (also this year) that I desperately needed when several branches on my lime tree broke and after I gave away more limes than my supermarket sees in a year, I still had enough for an awful lot of juice. The picture that used to hang in my living room that then lived in my garage, but now would be perfect to replace the faded picture hanging above my kitchen table. The baby gates and dog carrier I needed for the new rescue puppy (bought new ones). Because who knew that in the span of 6 months I would lose both my beloved dogs? Ah Well. I’m blessed that I am able to buy more.

After! For a while anyway.

After! For a while anyway.

So what is my point? That yes, it is good to pare down and good to give away, and good to think in terms of abundance, but how much of that gets mitigated by the money and frustration I have to turn around and spend because I just gave away the very thing I needed? And that is exactly that fear that runs through the minds of many of us who are decluttering, minimalizing, living simpler and clearer lives. I’m not sure how much more I am really accomplishing because I gave away the aquarium and the juicer. Maybe I’ll have a different perspective on it when I can finally fit the car in my garage. But then again, I live in Anaheim, California. Who really needs their car to live in the garage? On the other hand, I really do love looking at a clean space, so maybe it’s all worth it after all.

Posted in clutter, Simplicity | Tagged , | Leave a comment

The Value of Simple



In the mornings when I walk my dog, Buttercup, I like to listen to podcasts. For the past 25 years, I have been a Books on Tape enthusiast, so I’ve long been listening as I walk, drive, clean my house, etc. It is a revelation to me that these podcast gems of free information now exist out there. This morning, I listened to the latest installment of a favorite podcast, Smart and Simple Matters (Value of Simple) by Joel Zaslofsky. I am about a week behind in my listening, and this episode was actually published October 19, 2015. It was memorable for me for a few reasons: first, he did a shout out to me for my iTunes review (I really do love the show) and second (much more important), because his guest was yet another person I did not know but was absolutely vital that I be introduced to: Greg McKeown, author of Essentialism. It is fantastic how many amazing people are out there who have brilliance and insight to add to the world, and I am ever grateful to Joel (and others) for putting them in my path (many of whom are listed in my second post about the people I am thankful for).

I stumbled upon Joel’s podcast early this year (January? February?) when I was first dabbling in the wonderful world of podcasts, and I searched for “simplicity.” I wasn’t on a minimalist search, but had been decluttering and had also just been introduced to Marie Kondo. So imagine my delight in finding the Value of Simple and the incredible people Joel has interviewed over the past few years. Considering he started the podcast in 2012, I have a lot of catching up to do, and although I’ve made a good dent in the episodes, I still have quite a way to go. The people he has introduced me to, and the concepts they have enlightened me with, are outstanding.

As I mentioned in my iTunes review, (and in my first post), one of the most meaningful insights I gained from listening to Joel’s podcasts is the term “multipotentialite.” It’s a 25-cent word for a concept that encompasses a range of ideas, but specifically it embodies the idea that some of us aren’t destined to be interested in, or even good at, only one thing. The term I previously used to describe myself was usually Renaissance Woman, after the Renaissance definition of a person (OK, Man) who had expertise in many areas. A polymath. And while I don’t claim to be an expert in any areas, I’ve worn a lot of hats over the years: writer, violinist, singer, web designer, ethicist, professor, public speaker, homeopath… and a lot of things I just wannabe. One of the downsides, however, is that I’m always eager to move on to the next thing I find interesting: herbalism, minimalism, author, blogger… where does one stop and take a breath and say, “Yes! This is it! This is what I want to focus on!”? So I loved discovering this new word. Multipotentialite.

And then there’s SimpleRev, Joel’s “intentional, passionate, and generous community–from the local to global level–that wants to connect with you just as much as you want to connect with them.” I whole-heartedly agree with Joel that what this really all comes down to is community. And I admit, I’m now searching for an intentional community of kindred spirits in LA/Orange County. I am starting slowly and, thanks to Joel, who email introduced me to Emily, whose blog MinimalMillenial encouraged me to jump in the metaphorical pool and start blogging, I hope to contribute what I can to a community that understands the Value of Simple.


Posted in Gratitude, Simplicity | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

The Curse of White Walls

window for blog
I am actually a very organized person. I’m also a very cluttered person. Or at this point, a moderately cluttered person. I’m not sure if I have always been organized or if I have learned from all the organization books over the years which offered a thousand solutions for all of life’s disorganized woes. I don’t color code (too much hassle), but I do have everything important in files, in a file cabinet, and I know where that is. I know where the deed to my house is (last time I checked), and I know where my passport is–and where my kids passports and birth certificates are. I have my keys hanging on a hook next to my front door, all the medical files in one place, and so on. On my computer, things are in folders, in folders, backed up on an external hard drive, and so on. So, I’m actually quite organized, but if you walked into my house, you would never guess that in a million years. Well, except for the keys by the front door. I strongly believe in Andrew Mellen’s a home for everything, and over the past 25 years, I have gotten much better about that.

So why do I keep reading organization books? Minimalist blogs? Articles on how to unclutter and find what you’re looking for? Podcasts on how to Organize Mindfully (a great podcast, btw). Because I am taken in by the pictures on all those blogs and magazines and websites that have clean white walls and nothing on the kitchen counters. I believe that if I were truly organized, that is what my house would look like. Yet my house doesn’t. It’s full of color and flowers and mementos and anything blue and beautiful that I can justify spending my life energy on (I have gotten better with the gazingus pins lately). I have houseplants and beautiful sea glass from my trip to Bermuda and the ceramic birdhouse my daughter made for me for my 50th birthday. And my walls are anything but white. Every bedroom has a full wall mural. In mine it’s Diablo Lake in Washington State, I believe. And the other three walls have a soft floral wallpaper. Not white. Not minimalist. Beautiful and it makes me happy.

And thus my dilemma. I know that we all do what works for us. And for me it’s being surrounded by color and things I love. And I am slowly decluttering the things from my life and that of my no-longer-children that we truly don’t need, but it’s a work in progress. And I am coming to accept that it’s OK not to have clean, white, mostly empty walls, and it’s OK to have a lazy Susan on my kitchen table that holds wooden salt and pepper shakers a good friend made me, candlesticks for Shabbat, a tile from my trip to Portugal,  and a big vase with flowers. Next to that is a magazine I want to read, which is next to my daughter’s laptop and calculus homework. It all just means we live there. And, I remind myself, it has no bearing at all on whether I can find my keys.

Posted in clutter, Simplicity | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

The People I am Thankful For, Part 2: The Last Few Years

In addition to all the people and websites that I noted in How I Got to Now (which is what this Part 2 post morphed into), for the past 9 months or so, my attention has gone in a different direction, and that is toward simplifying and mindfulness. Rather than give the entire journey narrative, I’ll just bullet them below. Future posts will elaborate on why I think the people and resources are so helpful.

Simplicity, Minimalism, and Transformation

Herbalism and Chemical-free living



Posted in Simplicity | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

How I Got To Now

This is the story I tell myself: Until my kids were in middle school, I pretty much lived most of my values. I was blessed to be a stay-at-home mom who worked part-time around my kids’ school hours, and I was focused almost completely on being a mom. It was all I really wanted to be when I grew up. In my forties, my life became a lot more complicated (but eventually happier). My husband of 19 years and I separated in 2007 (difficult but mostly amicable), and my life became focused on completing my dissertation (a 20-year process), finding a real job, getting my kids through high school (they were 14 and 16),  dating, and trying to stay generally sane. Honestly it’s mostly a blur.  I met Ken, worked freelance, started teaching, the market crashed, I stopped teaching, my son graduated high school, I found a writing job (three years later), my daughter graduated high school, I got my current job (three and a half years after that), and this past year, my kids both graduated from their respective universities. Whoo Hoo!

Erika, Shira, Dad, Mom, Shea

Erika, Shira, Dad, Mom, Shea

About three years ago, I realized that everything I had been doing before the upheaval had pretty much slid away (simple life, vegetarian living, nutritional coach, homeopath, etc.) and I really wanted to reclaim who I am inside (thank you, Mulan). I became a huge Michael Pollan fan (I’ve read all his books), watched Forks over Knives, which led to reading The China Study, and then John Robbins‘ The Food Revolution, and on to Sugar Blues, and Robbin’s Healthy at 100. I listen to a lot of Books on Tape if you’re wondering where I found the time.

And so in March of 2014 (after I learned my cheese-eating, sugar-eating, sometimes meat-eating self had rapidly rising cholesterol issues), I made a complete change. The biggest change was that I stopped eating sugar.  The initial sugar cravings were tough, but after the first few weeks, they weren’t bad. Now it’s fairly easy to pass on all the cookies, cakes, donuts, etc. that are constantly around me. I stopped eating meat, stopped eating almost all dairy (I make my own organic yogurt), and stopped using as many chemicals as possible (with the invaluable help of the Environmental Working Group, EWG).

With the equally invaluable help of Katie, the Wellness Mama, I  started making my own laundry detergent and deodorant (I use recipe #1). I researched every possible use for coconut oil, from internal to external, and use it for just about everything. After 30 years of slathering on my beloved chemical-laden Neutrogena sesame body oil, I have replaced it with a mixture of organic coconut and organic almond oil (so it doesn’t harden and smells nice). I also wash my hair with Baking Soda and once a week use Dessert Essence Shea Butter shampoo and conditioner (the vinegar rinse did nothing for me)–an EWG-approved compromise. I switched from Natural Instincts to henna for the first year, but now I’m embracing the gray. The jury is still out on that one. I bake my own whole wheat bread, and I try not to buy anything–at home or out–that Michael Pollan’s grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food.

A lot of this wasn’t difficult, and a lot of it was. I hadn’t eaten fast food (except El Pollo Loco) in as long as I can remember. Really. Giving up chicken was tough, but I have those images of baby chicks to keep me honest. Giving up pizza was tougher. Going from lapsed vegetarian to mostly vegan was the most difficult, and I compromised and still eat fish–because a girl has to live in the real world if she wants to keep eating with her friends. I imagine if I lived somewhere other than The Happiest Place on Earth–Portland or Seattle or Northern California, places with more like-minded communities–going full vegan would be easier, but as with everything else in my life, I’ve made compromises.

Fresh from the garden

Fresh from the garden

I’m a little more lax with the sugar now than I was before my lovely daughter moved back home in June. I’ll taste the awesome brownie she brought home for me (“I know you aren’t eating sugar, but…”), and I’ll have some of the limeade she made from our homegrown limes and mint (delicious with local honey!). I’ll eat a bit of feta if it’s thrown onto a salad, but I try to stay away from cheese.

And that’s where I am. My simple eating which can be seen as complicated. It’s not always simple to go out to dinner or even have friends over for a barbecue. But it’s simple for me, and the earth…and my homegrown tomatoes are just about the best you’ll ever eat, and I’m happy to share.

October 16, 2015

Posted in Simplicity | Leave a comment

The People I am Thankful For, Part 1: My Thirtysomething Self

In the spirit of gratitude, I want to pay homage early on to the websites, books, and wonderful group of people (none of whom know me) that have supported, and continue to support me, in my journey toward simplicity and mindfulness. The first is probably Marla Cilley, aka The Flylady, who came into my life about 15 years ago, when my children were in elementary school, and I was frazzled most of the time. I can’t tell you how I found her, the internet not quite being what it is today, but her website,  www.flylady.net was a godsend, and I read her book, Sink Reflections, cover to cover. I jumped right on the Flylady bandwagon (magnets and all) and my life did become a bit saner. If nothing else, her belief that anything can be done for 15 minutes at a time completely revolutionized how I came to think about housework and what I could accomplish. I was definitely one of the “I don’t have time to finish that, so why bother even starting,” women that she directs much of her advice toward. And to this day, I often start the timer, even if it’s just the timer in my head, just to see how much I can really get done in that 15 minutes. I never put my shoes on, though, until I am ready to leave the house, so it was also a lesson in taking what’s useful and leaving the rest.

Cecile Andrews (Circle of Simplicity) definitely had an impact on my 30-something self, as did Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin in their fabulous book Your Money or Your Life. I own the audiotapes (cassette!) from 1986 and listen about once a decade. I have tried to teach my children (an ongoing process) that objects equal life energy. Not entirely sure it has been instilled in them (or me) as ideally as I would like, but I definitely hear Joe’s voice in the back of my head when I want/need/decide it’s not worth the life energy to buy a gazingus pin, you know, those objects you just can’t walk by without purchasing, even though you already have 12.  The questions I still try to ask myself before I buy anything can be found here. Of course, as I have mentioned before, it’s really hard to follow this when you have an eight-year-old who is surrounded by other eight-year-olds who all have Pokemon cards and his life won’t be complete until he has them too. And I had a really hard time saying no… On the other hand, when my daughter was about that age, she was given a new pair of shoes from her aunt who works at Nike, and we still have the classic video of her asking, “why do I need a new pair of shoes when I already have a million pairs?” So it’s a balance…

I relistened to YMOYL again last month and while everything dear Joe has to say is still true, we live in a very different world. Interest rates for savings bonds are no longer 12% and saving enough money to invest seems exponentially harder than it was 30 years ago. But still I strongly believe that money is life energy and you have to weigh what’s important against what you spend. Am I worried about retirement? Hell yeah. But I do what I can for now and hope the best for the future.

Posted in Gratitude, Simplicity | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Simplifying When the Kids are Grown

I have decided that after putting it off, and many fits and starts, that the best advice is to “start where you are.” So this is where I am. In the middle of the process of simplifying my life, my attitudes, my eating, my consumption. I say I am in the middle because I really got back on the path about a year and a half ago, and I still have oh so far to go.

As someone who identifies with the 21st century term “multipotentialite,” I am not only constantly changing what I am interested in, but I am voraciously reading everything that has anything to do with those interests (currently minimalism, herbalism, rightsizing, etc.) and getting what Jonathan Milligan, Joel Zaslofsky and others call “stuck in the research.”

I think the biggest difference between me and most of the other blogs out there about downsizing, simplifying, finding your passion by living with less, is that I am in my fifties. Harsh admission to be sure, but there you have it. And in my fifties (52), I have already been through the simplicity movement once as a younger self, and I find that I am dealing with circumstances in the process of decluttering that (imho) a 20- or 30something can’t really appreciate on the same level as those of us who have raised our kids, lived in our homes for over 20 years, and discovered that an object, while it may not bring us Marie Kondo’s level of joy, can certainly have enough nostalgia to make parting with it–even if we’ll never use it again–a much more difficult process than holding it and then letting it go. And then there’s also the dealing with my kids’ stuff (who are 22 and 24), which holds nostalgia and meaning on its own. But that’s for another post for another day.

So here I go, jumping in where I am. Seeing what the simple life brings now that the kids are grown.

Posted in Simplicity | Tagged , | Leave a comment