Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Can Knitting and Minimalism Coexist?

My current knitting project.  
At the snail pace of a dozen rows knit a week this poncho will take me all year to complete.

I'm having a crafting crisis of sorts.  After scaling back on my hobbies once, then twice I am left with knitting as my sole craft of choice.  Knitting has been my passion for the past eight years often taking up a good chunk of each day until this year that is.  This year my knitting has ground to an unexpected halt.   What's been different?  Well, this is the year I decided to not just downsize, but to embrace minimalism as a lifestyle.  Currently, I'm only on the journey to becoming a minimalist by going through my belongings, doing lots of reading about Minimalism, getting some direction and goals lined up.  In most areas of my life this journey has been an improvement to our lives, but in my hobby of knitting it has really got me stuck.  

Now, there are some aspects of knitting that run a bit contrary to how I see Minimalism working for our family.  The most obvious one is the knitter's stash of yarn.  Knitter's are drawn to yarn like moths to a flame.  We joke about yarn having fumes that mess with our minds as we leave the yarn shop with enough yarn for a sweater , scarf and hat when we only went in for a darning needle.  Yarn has very compelling qualities:  it can be all different textures, fibers, thickness, colors the possibilities are really endless.  And that my friends is what we get stuck on "the possibilities" the dream of what amazing items this yarn could become.  Of course, that's not a bad thing in and of itself but here's the hiccup, you can buy yarn a whole lot faster than you can knit it.  Which brings us to why the knitter has a stash of yarn.  We purchase the yarn with every intention of knitting it up into a wearable item, but knitting is a slow process even for a very fast knitter it takes weeks to finish a sweater.  So, often we will start dreaming of the next project, before being finished with the one we are currently knitting.  The planning process is lots of fun; looking up patterns, figuring out what yarn to use etc.  But why the yarn skeins pile up is that we are fickle and the yarn that we purchased while we were in the middle of knitting endless rows of plain stockinette stitch doesn't still interest us after completing our project.  We want something even newer, so the yarn balls pile up unused building themselves into a proper stash.  

This shopping for yarn, patterns, accessories and tools has become quite epic in scale.  All knitting education events and retreats have shopping, there are clubs that deliver yarn monthly to your house, there are indie dyers that have much built up "shop updates" that if you don't get that yarn now it will be gone forever.  There's pressure to purchase from all these sources and then your knitter friends who enable you to purchase more which I believe makes them feel better about their own purchases.  It's really crazy making.  I know they are out there but I have yet to meet a knitter who buys yarn for a project, knits it to completion and only then buys yarn for her next project.  This is the type of knitter I aspire to be, but right now I'm still the knitter with the stash and lots of half finished projects. 

I've gone through my stash and have sold off lots of yarn.  I kept only that which is currently in a partially knitted project, colors that will go with my now reduced wardrobe (I bought a lot of yarn over the years just because it was "pretty" not that it matched anything I owned) or that is earmarked for a gift.  But, this still leaves me with quite a bit and I don't know how I feel about it.  On the one hand I don't need to purchase any yarn for a couple of years, but then on the other hand I need to store all that yarn for a couple of years.  Will I even still like it by the time I'm ready to knit it?  It's not a dire situation, but it does weigh upon me. 

The next aspect of knitting that I feel is a bit contrary to minimalism is that it makes more stuff.  If I make a sweater I will have another sweater, unless I get rid of a sweater.  Simplistic explanation, but when you're trying to downside your belongings it's hard to consciously make more belongings for yourself to manage.  Now, I get around this by making gifts for others, but even my mom has told me she doesn't need more sweaters.  Then there's making items for charity; hats for cancer patients, warm clothing for the impoverished living in cold climates, socks for the homeless etc.  There are options, I simply don't feel drawn to any of them at this time.  Which leaves me still feeling a bit stuck.  

So, can knitting coexist with minimalism?  Yes, I think it can, but I don't think it's an easy path.  There is a lot of temptation to consume with this hobby at levels with which you cannot possibly keep up.  I'm not sure where this leaves me in regards to my knitting hobby, but it definitely deserves some more thought.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Discovering Empty Spaces

A new empty space in our house where once there stood a bookcase. 

There's a quote from the movie Field of Dreams which says "If you build it, he will come." In the movie the protagonist builds a baseball diamond in his cornfield and his deceased father magically appears.   There is a similar quote about minimalism which follows "If you build it, you will fill it."  And it is similarly magical as stuff just seemingly appears out of nowhere. This has been my discovery over the past week.  I, like many people, thought that if I just had the right shelves, boxes, hooks, what have you, my house would be organized.  Have you ever felt this way?  You are handed that get out of jail free card to shop even more in the pursuit of organization.  This idea avoids the difficult questions like why do we have so many belongings in the first place.  There is no blame or guilt about the mountains of possessions we own.  There is only promised enlightenment that the right organization system has yet to be found.

This feeling of getting the "right" system is why I believe stores like Ikea are so wildly popular.  Sure, they sell great design for low prices, but what they mainly sell you is a dream.  The dream that if you purchase their completely customizable storage system for your media, clothing, or home office you will finally achieve the happiness that only comes from having a truly organized home.  Of course it's complete hogwash.  The dream is so compelling though that we're pretty easily tricked into believing it.  We simply don't want to do the work of figuring out why we purchase so many things, feel we need so many things from the start.  I equate it to people who take anti-depressants without doing any counseling.  Sure the anti-depressants will help, but they are not an instant happy pill that make all your problems or issues go away.  I am speaking here from experience, there is no quick way.  You simply have to do the work.

While looking around my home as I slowly chip away at our belongings for items we no longer need, I realized the fallacy of this organizational dream.  I see the extra wall shelves I purchased for our bedroom that I was sure were essential to curtail our clutter are now cluttered with even more stuff.  The shelves in our living room that would keep our piano clear of belongings simply filled up while the clutter remained in place.  Our many belongings were the issue not our lack of storage space.  I was treating a symptom and not the real problem.  It's similar to when I was dissatisfied with how our living and dining room were decorated.  The walls really needed repainting, but instead of tackling this large project I thought maybe if I simply purchased some new curtains and throw pillows that would be enough to spruce things up.  Shopping was my quick fix.  Of course it didn't fix things for long as now we have even more things to manage, but it gave me a feeling of progress however false.  And, yes those walls still need repainting.

The wall shelves in our bedroom have now been removed along with everything that was cluttering up the tops of our dressers.  I take a deep breath and admire the empty space.  Now I have somewhere to fold clothes without hurting my back by hunching over a bed or getting dog hair over everything while sitting on the floor.  A new space is discovered.  By previously clearing out my wardrobe our closet can now house the laundry hamper that was wedged in the corner between our dressers and the wall.  More breathing space found.  Honestly, when I heard people talking about how having empty spaces allows you more breathing room I had no idea what they meant.  I knew I wanted less stuff, but I never realized the difference an empty space makes until I made some for myself.  There's still a long way to go to having an empty basement, but I am now encouraged by rediscovering these new, albeit small, empty spaces in our home.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

The Burden of Sentimental Items

An antique doll that was my fathers' that I used to play with as a little girl.

My father is a saver.  Born in 1935 in the midst of the Great Depression he was brought up learning frugal ways, saving being high on the list.  He was an only child thus the beneficiary of all his parents belongings upon their passing.  He has saved many of these possessions, along with items from his grandfather and even great grandfather.  It's very cool in its' way.  Everything has a history, a story that comes along with it enriching its' value.  I can see how this practice of passing on furniture and other belongings was popular and actually really needed many years ago.  Things cost more a century ago as they for the most part were made by hand and not mass produced.  What a blessing it would have been for the older generation to share furniture and goods with a newly married couple in need of everything to set up a household.  On both sides of my family my grandparents received some of their parents furniture as wedding gifts to furnish their new homes.  My parents too upon getting married in 1965 received passed down furniture and dishes as wedding gifts.  

When my husband and I bought our house my dad gave us a table that was his great grandfathers' as well as a piano, his mothers' dishes, vases and tchotchkes.  He also brought over the 2 antique dolls that were his and his mothers' that I very gently played with as a child.  Then when my maternal grandmother died I inherited some of her furniture, dishes and jewelry as well.  At first I was happy to receive all these items as I felt blessed to be entrusted with family heirlooms.  But then something happened.  After being on my own for some years, having my own job with money to spend I wanted my house to reflex me and my husband and not be a mini museum to my father and mothers' childhoods.  This desire of mine was met with conflict.

I have a theory that passing down belongings is a way for the older generation to let go of items they no longer want, but are low to get rid of themselves.  My father had no use or desire for all the pieces he gave us, but his sentimentality for these items was fierce.  He wanted to "visit" them, but not live with them as they no longer suited his tastes.  When I started selling a few of the items I had no space to display or no use for my dad was very hurt saying I was heartless.  My first reaction was "ouch" my next was anger.  I explained that when you give someone a gift it is no longer yours.  You have given up ownership.  It is now the recipients' right to do with the gift as they please.  He didn't see it that way.  He saw our house as an extension of his own feeling ownership over everything he had "given" us.  

What do you do when you no longer want (or maybe even never wanted) these sentimental items?  Well, in the beginning I simply packed them away putting the boxes in our basement, but that didn't sit well with trying to downsize.  Then, I started selling items on the sly not telling my father.  Which made me feel guilty and somehow wrong.   Now, I am simply giving these gifts back.  Yup, I have given back gifts saying "Thank you Dad, but I no longer want these things.  Since I know they are important to you I am returning them."  He chafes a bit at this, but when I explain that I'm either selling it or he can have it back, he always takes it.  I know it's disappointing to him that I do not desire these treasures, but that is his issue to solve not mine.  Sounds harsh huh?  It is and it isn't.  My dad is an old dog and teaching him the new trick that stuff is only stuff; that the memories are really in us and not in the object is probably not going to happen which is a bit harsh.  Why it isn't harsh though is that wanting to live my life by my values is a good thing and not at all unreasonable.  

If you have items that are sentimental to you, but you would like to live with less I would suggest that you simply take a photo of the item and let it go.  Photos can trigger our memories just as well as the item itself.  In the end it really is the memory that you want to hang onto.  For us one of the benefits of downsizing is the realization that the things you own are really only stuff and they have no power over you unless you let them.  If we lost our home and belongings to a fire, tornado what have you, while I would be sad of course, I now know that everything can be replaced.  Things are not the important part of life.  Living and really experiencing your life, that's what's important.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Becoming a Paperless Household

 I keep our scanner by my favorite chair to make the process easier.  I hope to purchase this incredibly compact model for the future as this bad boy is a bit big no?

Your working on downsizing you possessions, but did you consider downsizing your papers?  All those files you keep, boxes of your child's schoolwork, mail and correspondence.  They tend to breed and multiple before your very eyes don't they?  How does this happen?   First off I blame the mail.  Now, don't get me wrong I love getting the mail each day hoping for what I call "real mail" from a "real person" whom I actually know.  Basically the type of mail I rarely get.  What I do get with regularity are ads and flyers, credit card and insurance offers, bills and catalogs.  I find the real trick to mail is dealing with it straight away.  Do not let it sit in a pile waiting to get to it later.  My plan of attack on our daily mail is to dump all ads, flyers and magazines directly into the recycling.  I don't peruse the ads or open the catalogs (remember you don't want more stuff so why look at something geared to making you want stuff you don't need) but put them directly into our recycling bin.  Next, I take all those credit card and insurance offers shred them up and dump those as well into the recycling.  You can try to get yourself removed from the mailing lists of all these companies by "opting out" and this website will walk you through the process.  I've had some luck with this, but these types of mailings seem to wheedle their way back into my mailbox.  I'm not saying it's not worth doing, but is does take a fair amount of effort on your part.  Then there are the bills.  Nowadays, most banks credit card and utility companies will even request you go paperless as it saves them money.  Instead of a hard copy coming through the mail all your bills go through your bank account, or to your email account for you to deal with electronically.  It's very simple to switch over to paperless and you can always print out a hard copy of your bill if the need arises.  The last bit of mail, my favorite as I mentioned above, is mail from people you know sending you cards and letters.  These too will eventually pile up on you.  It can seem heartless to recycle these as well, but this is exactly what I do.  The secret though is that before you recycle all those Christmas cards you scan them to save on your computer, in a memory stick, separate hard drive, CDs what have you.  This is the little scanner  doesn't even need to be hooked up to your computer for it to work, but any type of scanner will do the job.
Next up, is that overflowing box of your child's artwork and school work.  All these papers too can be scanned after their stint on your refrigerator door.  Many scanners can store these documents as pdfs and will "staple" many pdf  documents together, or if your scanner software doesn't there arr other free software programs that do like this one.  You can name and organize these files so they make sense to you whether you want to store them monthly, by grade level, separately for each child etc.  You won't then have to experience what I did when I purchased my own home as an adult and my parents happily trotted over with boxes of papers from my childhood all higgledy-piggledy.  Amongst all those papers were lots and lots of photos and these are another difficult item to keep in check.  Photographs evoke emotions and trigger our memory and we don't want to let them go.  Now that most people own a smart phone or a digital camera this problem isn't as dire as it once was, but there are still all those photos from your childhood, wedding, family and school portraits etc.  So scan them, store them digitally and let the hard copies go.  There are even services now that will scan your photos for you like this company.  Then you can set up you computer screen saver to run through your photos or get one of these digital picture frames to enjoy seeing your photos daily, instead of the once in a blue moon when you dig out that box or album. 

Basically, you can become a paperless household with digital scanning.  All those financial records sitting in that big filing cabinet for the "what if" moment of an audit could be shredded.  Scan them into your computer and store the back up copies on a few disks to keep someplace safe.  We recently did this with all the information we would need to rebuild our lives in case a disaster hit our home:  credit card and bank account info, back taxes, drivers license and social security numbers, investment portfolio information, wills, insurance info, family photos - you get the idea.  We gave a copy to each of our parents for safe keeping, but you could just as easily use a firebox in your home or get a safety deposit box at your local bank.

Once you get the back log of your papers scanned it's really very simple to take a few moments at the end of the day to scan any new papers that came your way over the course of the day.  Before you know it the disaster that was once your desk will be gone.  You'll have free up lots of space emptying all those boxes of schoolwork and photos.  The heavy weight of all that paper will be no more.  What a great feeling of freedom.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Don't Get Ahead of Yourself

The path to your goal may be a long one, but see if you can enjoy the journey.

For some people having a long term plan helps keep them on their path.  I am finding that while we have a long term goal of a tiny house, it's better if I don't think that far ahead.  Why?  It's scary for one.  A tiny house is a very unconventional dwelling for anyone let alone a family of three plus dog.  Sure, I talk about it here, but this platform is rather anonymous in its' way.  I'm a woman who needs to talk to process what's going on in my mind.  Writing this blog helps me process what it is we're doing by downsizing without the risk of scaring friends or family members by our unconventional dreams.  Since when you scare someone who really cares about you they want to protect from what they perceive is a risky move.  They try to talk you out of it.  Show you all the pitfalls to your choice. And let's face it dreams can be fragile things.  They need to be nurtured in order to thrive and grow.  My husband always says to me to not share my dreams with people who will not help/support me to achieve them.  While this may seem harsh, for someone like me who questions myself all too often in can mean the difference between moving towards my dreams or a frozen static existence.

My dreams have often in the past stayed just that, dreams, and not transformed into my reality as I had hoped.  I'm trying very hard to shift that paradigm this time by focusing only on what is in front of me now.  Asking myself "What movement can I make right this moment that will get me closer to our goal of living smaller?"  It's about being mindful.  Not letting yourself go down the rabbit hole of the "what if" or "how do I" routes of thought.  Being present in the now is powerful.  You can control what you do with the moment in front of you.  You simply cannot change the past or know what lies ahead.  It is hard letting go of all that we can't control.  It's difficult to not map out the details of all you are wanting to do in the future.  But, if you can avoid thinking too far ahead you can keep disappointments, which lead to inactivity, to a minimum.

For instance, I used to make proclamations like "Today, I will finish painting the bathroom."  Sounds  good huh?  Positive thinking right?  Wrong.  For me it's a set up.  If I don't finish painting the bathroom I feel like I failed, and get disappointed in myself which brings along future inactivity.  See, I couldn't predict that the Spackle would take longer to dry than I planned, or that we didn't have the right paint brush for the trim and I had to go to the store making me run out of time.   Instead of patting myself on back for working on the house all I can see is I didn't achieve my goal.  It may sound like semantics to you, but it makes a world of difference if I say instead "I'm going to work on painting the bathroom today."  Then if I do anything, any little thing, towards painting the bathroom I've succeeded from the get go.  Because I only know what I can do in the present moment.  If I keep my focus on the here and now I keep moving forward towards my dreams, which hopefully will bring them to fruition.