Dream House is (Almost) Home

It’s a funny thing, when I picture my “dream house” I often envision one of four scenarios (I love old buildings!) – a big old Victorian home, a smallish Arts and Crafts style bungalow, an above the store apartment, or a nonconventional building turned house (barn, church, gas station, etc.).  But they all have a few things in common:

  • It’s in a community where I can walk or ride a bike to most every place I’d need to get to, including work and the grocery.
  • It would also be as energy efficient as possible.
  • It would have a space that serves as a library and/or office.
  • There would be a space for all of our various creative supplies.
  • There would be a garage-like space in which The Goat could work on our bicycles and we could store our outdoor gear and tools.  If this space is an actual garage, it would be large enough to also include space for a car.
  • The kitchen is large enough for both of us to cook, can, and brew.  It would include a pantry and a place for the few appliances we do have.  It would also be large enough to be an eat-in kitchen.

Taking all of this, and the few necessary rooms (living room, bedrooms, laundry and bathroom) into account, our current home could come pretty close.  Some of our current spaces just aren’t being used well – like our dining room.  We don’t use it for eating in, entertaining, or in any other “dining room” capacity, so why do we keep it as a dining room?  Would it be a better library/office for us?

One of the big issues for me right now is our stuff.  We’ve got a lot of stuff.  Not enough to be hoarders or terribly cluttered, but enough that it’s not practical to rearrange and repurpose rooms without seriously considering each item and its purpose in our home.

I’ve been really trying to push myself into decluttering and reorganizing.   So far I’ve donated countless boxes to Salvation Army, and am slowly working my way through the house decluttering what I can.  This is difficult because we’ve been married for 20 years (when did that happen?) and items belong to me, both of us or The Goat.  I can only critically sort through those items that are specifically mine or that are broken, beyond repair, or no longer of use.

I’ve also been reading books or listening to podcasts about decluttering, minimizing, and downsizing.   One of the books I just finished reading is “Letting Go: Downsizing Your Way to a Richer, Happier Life” by Peter Walsh (Rodale, 2017).  While this book was more situational because it was assuming there was a life change forcing you or your parents to downsize, it reiterated  a common theme from other books and podcasts – we are not our stuff.

Compared to the KonMari Method, the “Letting Go” method is more unstructured.  Which made the book seem more vague, but not any less helpful, in my opinion.  I realize that sounds like a contradiction, but if the structure of the KonMari method seems strange and unlikely to work for you, a book like “Letting Go” may be more helpful.  While I enjoyed the books by Marie Kondo, many Americans find it unreasonable because of the amount of stuff we tend to accumulate, the “Letting Go” method is a bit more “lax” and never even touches on things like paperwork or discarding family photos.  (See my previous blog to learn a bit more about the KnoMari method.)

However, like Marie Kondo’s books and many minimalism books and podcasts, Walsh’s book, repeatedly reminds the reader that it’s not one’s material possessions that make us who we are.  He also states that downsizing is actually a normal part of life, and that we should view it more as an opportunity.

According to Walsh, what often makes downsizing so difficult for many of us is that we are often forced to downsize due to a major life change, and even if that change is positive, it comes with it’s own stressors and uncertainty.  That in turn makes sorting through our possessions stressful because of all of the “what-ifs” (What if I need this later? etc.) and memories associated with our stuff.

One of the major themes that runs through “Letting Go” is to keep only the “best” of an item.  For example, if someone you loved had a collection of items and you’re now tasked with downsizing their belongings, only keep one or two items from their collection that you feel represents them best.

He also suggests letting go of anything that brings up negative emotions, like sadness.  If and item makes you sad because it reminds you of the loss of a loved one, get rid of it!  It’s likely that you have good memories of that person too, so why hang onto something that makes you sad instead of happy when you think of them?

He also states that your home is your home.  Items that made your parents or loved ones happy don’t have to make you happy.  It’s ok to accept this and find other homes for items that belonged to them – you don’t need to take everything.  Only keep items that bring you joy and mean something to you or that you will use now.  It’s ok to let everything else go.

Sounds simple doesn’t it?  But we all know how hard it can really be.  We tend to attach a lot of sentiment to items, whether we want to admit it or not.  Our homes are full of things we worked hard to purchase, items that were gifts, mementos of long gone family members.  It can be overwhelming to go through it all.

This is where I find myself mashing the information I’ve recently gathered about decluttering.  “Does it bring me joy, do I treasure it?  Does it serve an immediate purpose or function?   No?  Then let it go!  Yes?  Where does it belong or live in the house?

I don’t think I’ll finish this task anytime soon.  It’s exhausting.  But I will keep trying, after all, it’s not about getting rid of everything or living with less.   It’s about creating a living space that helps one live their best life.  For some, that’s a clinically modern apartment, for some, that’s a cozy cottage.  For us, it’s pretty close to what we’ve got.

 

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Toys Will Be Toys

I recently read “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up; The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing” and it’s sequel, “Spark Joy” by Marie Kondo.  Is it going to change my life?  Probably not in the big ways suggested throughout the book, but I’m really glad I read it, and I’m already trying to put as much of it’s information to use as I can.  And believe me, combined, there is a lot of information in these two tomes.

If you’re not familiar with these books, the first one was originally released in 2011.  It’s been a best seller, and has made waves in the news as a revolutionary way to declutter and as an abject failure as a decluttering method – depending on which review or article you read.  Her books have been so popular/ successful that the system she outlines in the books is now referred to as the “KonMari Method”.  Go ahead, Google it, it really is a “thing”; spell check even accepts it.

The naysayers tend to expand upon common themes.  Most of them say the KonMari Method won’t work for Americans.  We have larger homes.  Most of Japan is urban.  At the time of the first publication, the author didn’t have kids, kids come with stuff. We cook differently.  We prioritize things differently based on our cultural norms.  We have larger (generational) families and therefore more family heirlooms.  You get the idea.

To be fair to Ms. Kondo, it says right in the title, “The Japanese art of decluttering and organizing”, so you know starting on page 1, that there may be a few things that don’t make sense to someone who isn’t Japanese.  For me however, that was one of the reasons I wanted to read it – that and I’m feeling overwhelmed by stuff right now.

As Americans, we tend to live in a culture of stuff.  Advertising is constantly telling us we need to upgrade gadget X, replace unit G, eat the latest super food to live a better life, and change our wardrobe for the latest colors of the season.  McMansions are an everyday sight.  Many Americans believe that cars are a right, rather than a privilege of those that can afford them.  Then there’s the whole “He Who Dies with the Most Stuff Wins” attitude that so many of us have.  So sure, for the average American, her books might be an affront to what we don’t realize are cultural ideals.

I’m not saying that if you think her books are hoey that you’re being ignorant of cultural differences or that I think your lifestyle should be criticized.  You’re right.  Her books won’t make sense to many people because of a number of cultural differences.  It’s likely that a similar book on decluttering written by an American author wouldn’t make much sense to the majority of a Japanese readership either.

As mentioned, I’ve been feeling overwhelmed by stuff lately.  Our house, which is plenty large enough for The Goat and I, is still considered small by many Americans’ standards.  Because of this, we naturally don’t have as much stuff as some people simply because we lack the space to keep it.  However, I don’t want to give the impression that we’re minimalists.  I’d say we fall somewhere smack in the middle between hoarder and minimalist.  Which is likely a good place to be if you’re trying to declutter – there’s bound to be some excess, but not enough that the excess will be overwhelming.  Which also means, I was likely at a good place, mentally, to read these two books.

Did I agree with everything in the book and feel the need to jump head first into tidying our home using the KonMari Method?  Yes, and no.

She offers a proper order of attack by categorizing your belongings and working on one category at a time, in a specific order.  For example, start with your clothes, then move on to the other categories, with sentimental items always being last. Which makes some sense, but to my mind, leaves out a lot, or rather, the KonMari Method has really large categories.  She does expound upon the order in the “Spark Joy” and acknowledges that there will be subcategories or additional categories added or removed from each person’s list based on their life and lifestyle.

Based on my personal schedule and obligations, I’m not likely to follow the order given, however, one of the big takeaways from this categorical listing is that we should declutter by use, not by location.  All that means is that if you’re sorting your books, you do ALL of your books at one time, not the ones in your office one day, and the ones in your living room the next time you’re cleaning the living room.  By conquering them all at once, you get a better understanding of how many you actually have and it makes it easier to edit your collection in a methodical manner.

Simple idea, but it made sense to me, and I needed to hear it – especially as someone who keeps shoes by the door and in the closet, books in just about every room, medicine in the kitchen and the bathroom, and cleaning supplies in the pantry, bathroom, and kitchen.  Having to remember where all the same items are, also helps me realize how many of them we have and if they’re being stored in the best place possible.

Which brings me to another idea expressed in the books – the idea that every object “lives” somewhere.  I have a number of family members, myself included, who have been known to say something like, “That doesn’t live there.  I need to put it away.”  Because for some reason, and I don’t know where it comes from, we have a strong sense of where we think things belong, or “live”.  We often us “lives” the way many use “goes” (“The soda lives on the bottom shelf”, for example.)

Another interesting idea expressed in Ms. Kondo’s books is the idea of inanimate objects “wanting” to be of use.  Basically, every item was created for a purpose, and every item wants to fulfil that purpose.  Receipts want to noted, books want to be read, clothes want to be worn, bowls want to hold things, greeting cards want to say “Hello!”.  And once they have fulfilled their purpose for you, it’s ok to thank them and send them on – be it by disposing of it or donating it so that it can serve its purpose for someone else.  Sometimes this is a long term thing, such as with clothes or furniture.  Other times it’s a quick process, like with receipts or magazines.

This is a cultural thing, and she does explain that in one of the books, so it might sound a bit odd, or even new age-y to some.  To some it might even sound a bit sacreligious or as if we’re giving objects souls.  However, as someone who has been known to name and talk to her cars, trees, and appliances, it made sense to me.

Reading about this concept made me mentally sigh in relief while picturing Disney’s Belle chit chatting with a tea cup, candlestick, and other furniture and household items.  I realized that it’s ok to pass along something that I once loved but no longer wear or use – think Jessie the yodeling cowgirl from Toy Story 2, all she wanted was an owner.  These two children’s movies exemplify the same idea, our stuff wants to be of use.  Is it really so simple that children understand it innately, but we dismiss it outright as we get older?

With minimalism being a huge trend of late, there are many people searching for a method of clutter management that works for them.  It is quite possible that Ms. Kondo’s tidy little self help empire (yes, the pun was intended) may have been the result of being in the right place at the right time.  Even though I don’t plan on following all the steps and tips in her books, I would recommend the books to anyone feeling overwhelmed by their stuff.

I know the concepts and ideas she covers may not be new to many, and many of them weren’t new to me either.  It was reading about it from a non-American point of view that helped reinforce a few counter cultural ideas that tumble out of my brain occasionally.  Getting another culture’s overall perspective on something as personal as one’s home and belongings was both inspiring and interesting – I can do something to manage this chaos we call home, even if we don’t have any enviable Japanese style closets.  And I really should pass along a few of my toys, afterall, they just want to be toys.

Another Unsuccessful Year in the Garden

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I’m pretty sure I should quit trying to be a vegetable gardener; I should just accept my failures and move on.

But I keep oohing and ahhing over the beautiful catalogs containing so many tempting and unique varieties.  Especially now, as many of us start planning our fall and winter gardens.  I really do want to be more self sustaining, and growing our own veggies is a big step towards that goal – especially when I’m fairly certain we’ll never have chickens or livestock.

In recent years my vegetable harvests have consistently been a disappointment.  It’s not that I’m a terrible gardener.  As a matter of fact, not to brag, but I’ve inherited a bit of a green thumb from my mother.  And have you seen our yard?  It’s not that far of a stretch when we refer to it as an urban jungle.  The bug and bird noises will keep you awake at night, or wake you up well before necessary.

So what’s the problem?  Location and weather, time, and a very large adorable critter; together these factors make up the perfect storm of vegetable gardening disappointment.

IMG-5073We’ll start with the issue of the adorable large critter.  Earlier this week I found a dead cabbage in the garden path.  Yep, it had been shredded, to the stub, and uprooted from the raised bed – which is a pallet bed with a wire grid over it for protection from said critter.  Obviously the grid didn’t protect the plant from Charlie’s long, thin snout.  And to think I was excited to see that the cabbage was doing so well and hadn’t yet been harmed by bugs or chipmunks.

If you recall, I’ve gardened in the past with the same breed of dog.  But the Jasmanian Devil (our last Airedale) was a bit more discriminating as to when and which crops she would, ahem, “harvest”.  Charlie Brown the Airedale is not quite as discriminating.  With Jasmine I just had to monitor closely and make sure that I harvested before she did.  And while she was fond of cruciferous vegetables, she didn’t like all vegetables, so there  were a few that were safe from her prowling munchies.

Charlie Brown (CB), however,  loves his veggies.  I mean loves them!  He will run through his entire vocabulary of commands for a carrot top.  He’ll steal tomatoes right off the cutting board on the counter –  while I’m standing in the kitchen.  And now he’s discovered that the pallet fences and raised beds contain vegetables.  Oh, and terriers are diggers – so root crops aren’t safe either.

I knew he liked veggies as he ate our entire tomato harvest last summer.  So this summer I moved the majority of the things I thought he liked to a garden area outside of the fence.  So in his domain (inside the fence) I’m trying sweet potatoes, the aforementioned cabbage, peas, radishes, and hot peppers.

So far, I’ve caught him digging in the sweet potato bed once, but I suspect it wasn’t the first or last time he did that.  While he decimated the cabbage, he hasn’t touched the hot peppers (yet)!?  The peas and radishes were spared – for some reason he doesn’t like peas.  And I’m not sure he even knew the radishes were there.

That brings us to location and weather.  As mentioned, I did move much of my veggie gardening to a location outside of the fenced in portion of our yard.  I took over an area on the side of the house and relocated some pots, cleaned up the strawberry containers, and redid the borders to extend the garden that was already there.  I thought it would get enough sun, being on the sunny south side of the house.  But as it turns out, that location is only sunny when it’s sunny in our region.

I understand how silly that statement sounds, but this summer, while warm, has been exceptionally grey and dismal.  And our bright sunny blue sky days have been few and far between.  Which means that while my semi-protected-from-direct-scorching-afternoon-sunlight garden would be ideal in most situations, in this one, it isn’t.  The tomatoes aren’t ripening, good thing I have a good green tomato salsa recipe.  The other veggies are languishing as well.

Since these plants are outside of the fence, those tricky, annoyingly fast and ninja like chipmunks know they are safe from the giant terrier on the other side.  They’ve tried to get into the carrots and smaller crops.  But I did put layers of netting over them with various forms of cages (insert your favorite villain laugh here).  And so far that’s helped.  But then again, the veggies aren’t producing much and therefore don’t look very tempting right now.

Which brings me back to the idea of giving up on veggie gardening.  I don’t really want to!  I want to be successful at it and to be able to can or freeze things that came from our own garden, as little as it is.  I love supporting our local farmers and shopping at farmers markets and buying local produce whenever I can.  I really love when those items are purchased to supplement what’s in our garden.  I worry about food scarcity, monocultures, and Big Agra.  I want to know where and how my food is grown.

But my current track record isn’t the best.  Am I wasting my time?  Should I be concentrating my efforts elsewhere?  Should I switch to herbs or a pollinator garden?

Oooh, look!  A winter gardening catalog arrived in today’s post!  I’ll worry about the failures later.  I’ve got a winter garden to plan.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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