Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Things We Keep

I live in one of the many states experiencing a heat wave last week (this week it's a mere 88-90) and have little motivation to leave the comfort of AC. We did manage to get up early enough Sunday morning to go for a bike ride and have breakfast outside with friends, but other than that I've been hiding out in the cool inside air.

This weather is perfect for inside decluttering, which continues, albeit slowly. I managed to add the following to my outbox: a large glass bowl, a decorative cup I've had since junior high (sad I know), three books, four pins and a magnet. I also spent a few hours last weekend scanning papers and photos and purged over two pounds of paper from my files. Although dealing with paper clutter takes forever, it's amazing how far I've come.

My decluttering has slowed because I've already purged most, if not all of the easy stuff. You know, the stuff you're not really attached to that you can get rid of without a second thought. I had been mulling over the idea that maybe I was actually done decluttering; maybe I've reached my enough. But I didn't feel done. This post by Brooks Palmer confirmed this, especially this bit

Where do I feel the most out of sorts in my home? What areas do I avoid? In the same way you would notice some tension in your body, you're focusing your attention on, "Where's the tension in my home?"

Where do I feel tension is an excellent question to ask myself. While none of the rooms in min hus make me tense right now (except perhaps the attic, and manland depending on how messy the Boy lets it get), there are still hidden areas that bother me, whether it's a drawer, a closet, a cabinet, etc.

There are also certain items that I can't manage to make myself part with yet, even though I feel like I should. These are all items that still have a sentimental hold on me, even if they no longer serve a purpose, or that I spent a lot of money on at one time and may still use...someday.

Things like:
why yes, these are my actual childhood toys that I still have, pathetic, I know!
  • Old toys (Barbies, dolls, stuffed animals) - Doesn't every thirty-something still have a toy or two lying around? Whaddya mean no?!?

  • Video games (PS2 and original gameboy, I'm looking at you!)

  • Clothes that are a little too big or too small - My size has been changing so much lately that I feel the need to hang on to a variety of size options if I really like the clothes in the first place

  • Old Domino magazines

  • Books I haven't read yet, but want to read before passing them on (except that new books from the library look way more interesting)

  • Movies I haven't watched yet, that really don't look all that appealing at this point
What items are lurking in your home that you no longer love or use but can't quite get rid of yet? Or if you did manage to part with those tough items, how did you do it?

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Harvest Time

Last Wednesday's harvest

It's been a pretty good year for the vegetable garden. The zucchini and cucumber plants have lasted longer than they ever have, although they are about kaput for the season. Now the tomatoes and peppers are beginning to ripen and our favorite season of the year, the time of homemade salsa, is almost upon us.

So far this season we've harvested:
  • 14 zucchini
  • 15 cucumbers
  • 7 tomatoes
  • 19 jalapenos
  • green onions (I didn't start keeping count back then)
How's your harvest? And how long do your cucumber and zucchini vines last? Am I just vine challenged?

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Old, New and Blue Kitchen Inspiration

I love, love, love Michael Penny's kitchen spotted today on House of Turquoise. First the gorgeous shade of turquoise chosen for the cabinets jumped out at me but then I noticed an even bigger turn on... old cabinets. Old cabinets just like the ones in my kitchen that blend well with newer additions like the marble countertops and white subway tile.

I just love seeing pretty, renovated kitchens where the original cabinets weren't ripped out and replaced. They provide great inspiration for my maybe someday kitchen renovation which I've been mentally planning nonstop since I first saw min hus. I think my old cabinets add character. Plus, my reno would definitely be done on a budget and replacing the cabinets would easily double a tiny reno budget. But sometimes I worry that my old, but still in great shape cabinets, will look out of place in a renovated space. This kitchen helps quiet those fears!

This one is definitely going in the inspiration file. In fact, the entire house is pretty inspiring. Check it out including great before and afters at House and Home. Awesome job Michael Penny!

Monday, July 18, 2011

What's the Goal Anyway?

Today I'm taking a break from cleaning, purging and simplifying to just rest and reflect on my journey so far. What exactly am I taking baby steps toward, anyway?

I'm not even sure how to classify this change I want to make in my life. It's a combination of a little minimalist, a little green (certainly more green than I am now) and a little more frugal. All of which feels very connected to me.

In the minimalism realm, my goal isn't to get rid of all my stuff and travel the world, living only out of a suitcase. I just want to look around my little home and only see things I use and love.

I'm also not aiming to be the greenest of the green, but I believe we, as a planet, are using way more resources than is sustainable and it bothers me tremendously that we're not rising up as societies to demand change. There are some changes I'm not willing to make yet (riding the bus, I'm looking at you!), but there are a lot of things I can do differently.

I've always been pretty frugal. I don't like wasting money, heck, I don't really like spending money. But even here there are things I can do to stop wasting money, stop being such a consumer, and save more with the goal of eventually working less.

I love seeing what steps other bloggers have taken along these lines, and in the interest of returning the favor, here are my goals and recent progress since I last posted about my small green steps.

  • Reduce the amount of waste I produce using the golden rule: reduce, reuse, recycle. I've been recycling and composting for years now, but occasionally I get lazy in those areas and throw away things I shouldn't. I'm trying to fix that and go farther.

    Next step: Use fewer paper towels and other disposables and try buying from bulk bins to reduce packing waste.

  • Reduce my consumer activity. I'm trying to buy less and avoiding shopping for anything I don't need or really, really, really want. This is a challenge, although I can't really think of anything I need right now. Recently we switched to a simple homemade dishwasher detergent, which is working great and replaces my old, bottled detergent, as well as the need for commercial rinse aid. Vinegar works just find.

  • Continue to pare down items I don't need and love. I took another giant garage bag and box to our local Volunteers of America yesterday, but there are still items in the attic, basement, and garage that can be purged.

  • Reduce the amount of energy I use. This is a tough one for me. What can I say, I hate to be hot, and haven't had the greatest experience using our local public transportation system.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Voila, Painted Bottles

I completed the bottle painting project last week and am fairly pleased with the results. The finished vases look much better than I expected, but are they functional as vases?

If you didn't see my original post about this project, I've been wanting some blue glass vases to display on my mantle, but I didn't want to spend a lot. A Martha Stewart craft project provided the perfect solution and inspiration. Here's how it went down.

The good:
  • It's an easy, fun project, perfect for impatient people like myself.
  • It's cheap and semi-green. You can reuse old paint, bottles, etc. Or buy bottles cheap at a thrift store. My entire cost for the project was $7, for four bottles of craft paint, which I used to tint some latex and white craft paint I already had, and $3 for six bottles purchased at thrift stores. I made a lot more bottles than shown here.
The bad:
  • I wondered how well the latex and acrylic painted bottles would hold up with water and today I found out the answer, they don't. The paint started streaking and separating right away. So unless you want to fork over bigger bucks for real glass enamel, which might hold up better, plan to use these bottles as non-functional decor only.
This week I also ran across another easy craft project along these lines, food-colored bottles, for those who want to try something different.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Quick Tip: Photograph Your Mags

Once again my trusty digital camera is proving itself to be the best decluttering tool ever. Not only does it allow me to avoid having paper copies of photos, but it's also great for snapping shots of sentimental items before you purge them, for those who prefer to keep a reminder of special items. Now I've found another use for my camera.

Over the last few years I've gone from keeping every issue of every magazine I ever subscribed to, to a single stack of Domino mags plus a few random issues. I was quickly able to purge eight more mags today by using a quick tip I picked up at Hei Astrid: take a digital photo of the pages that inspire you, then purge the magazine.

I've scanned inspirational pages in the past, but it took forever. And patience is not my strong suit. Taking a quick pic or two is much, much faster. Though the picture quality isn't as great as a scan, it's perfectly fine for a simple inspiration reminder.

  1. Be honest, how often do you refer to old magazines anyway? If it's seldom to never, keep the inspiration you like and purge the rest.

  2. Shoot twice: If you're not the world's best photographer (like me), take a couple shots of each page to ensure you end up with at least one great one. Keep the best shot of each page and delete the rest.

  3. Download your pics and check them before you get rid of the magazine.

  4. Be ruthless about which pages you'll really want to see again and only shoot those.

  5. Try again: If at first you can't bring yourself to purge some issues, cut yourself some slack and try again later. (Provided you have a place to keep them, of course, and they're not piled on your floor or something. No hoarding kiddies!) This is worked for me with everything but my preciousssss Dominos....I know it's stupid, but I can't quite let them go yet.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

My Kitchen: Then and Now

Once upon a time, when I first toured my house the kitchen looked like this. On a good note, it was larger then most kitchens in the 1940s and 50s houses in my neighborhood and had plenty of counter space. The design was also something I could live with until I had the funds to fix it up. On the downside it was rather, meh, and each of the appliances were different colors.

The kitchen also has the only room for eating space in the house, and as you can see it doesn't leave much space to squeeze a table in.

This is what my kitchen looks like today, courtesy of some paint and two new appliances that match the stove.

The most recent updates we've made is to paint the ugly blue and off-white fake tile backsplash a lovely white. Scroll back up to the first picture to see the before (go ahead, I'll wait) and I think you'll agree that the white is a vast improvement.

This view is also much improved, thanks to a recent hallway makeover, which added shoe storage and more hooks, and brought the blue color of the kitchen into the staircase, which serves as the only "coat closet" in min hus. We also removed a bi-fold door which was never used to block off the basement. It's amazing how much more open this area feels now.

Of course I have grand dreams of a kitchen renovation that would include new countertops, a slight layout change and a pantry, but until then it's nice to have a kitchen that makes me smile.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Review: The New Normal: An Agenda for Responsible Living

I became engrossed in David Wann's The New Normal: An Agenda for Responsible Living after discovering it in the library's new display.

In The New Normal, Wann debunks our current, unsustainable way of life and proposes a new way of living, a way that involves saving the planetary resources that sustain us and a way that just might make her happier.

Wann discusses how we got ourselves in this mess and highlights how unsustainable our current way of living is. He's realistic about the scope of the needed solutions, and points out that unfortunately, saving ourselves isn't going to be a simple matter of changing a few lightbulbs and using reusable bags. Not that those things aren't important, but it's going to take more than that. A lot more.

Perhaps what most impressed me about this book is how Wann manages to set an optimistic tone about the necessary changes. This new way of life will look much different, yes, but those differences may also make it what we've been searching for all along.

Environmentalists and wannabe environmentalists who have done more reading of our current climate crisis and how to solve it may not find Wann's book as enlightening as I did. For readers at the beginning of their self-education in green living, like me, or someone who wants to review these issues, I highly recommend The New Normal. Reading this book helped renew my resolve to complete even minor actions, such as recycling, changing lightbulbs, carrying reusuable bags at all times, etc. Even better, I now feel inspired to take further steps toward a greener way of life.

Rating: 4.5/5.0

Additional steps I want to take since reading The New Normal
  1. Support local farmer's by shopping at the Farmer's Market often. I struggle with this. First, I hate going places before noon on Saturday (yes, I realize that's sad). Second, I'm cheap and often prices at the farmer's market are much higher than at the grocery store. I'm not saying it's not worth it, it's just something I struggle with. Also, our local markets have limited variety of fruits and veggies.

  2. Spend a portion of our weekly food budget on organic food in addition to growing more food.

  3. Buy local beer and wine whenever possible.

  4. Get involved in local government, attend meetings, keep informed and express my opinions. I haven't made time for this, and I should.

  5. Eat meatless one day a week

  6. Install a clothesline outside

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Use It or Lose It Update

my medicine cabinet is already looking pretty minimal

My Use It or Lose It Challenge is going fairly well so far. Just seeing the picture of my messy bathroom cabinet was enough inspiration for me to do some decluttering and lose a few duplicates products and toss others that were almost empty, but I was apparently never going to finish.

I say fairly well instead of great because, confession time, I caved on the whole not-going-to-the-library idea. A book (Simple Prosperity) that I had placed on hold was ready for pick up and, as usual, once I was in the library it was impossible for me to leave with only one book. I find it hard to feel too badly about this though, because (1) I didn't purchase anything new and (2) I can't ever think of reading more books as a bad thing, and I borrowed non-fiction for heaven's sake, and (3) I've already decluttered quite a few books (details coming soon). So I'm scrapping the whole no-library part of the challenge, although I still plan to make a concentrated effort to read the unread books in my collection.

I also bought a bar of honey soap at the farmer's market yesterday, but I don't feel bad about that either since it was benefiting a farmer instead of a box store chain.

More importantly, we also avoided a large purchase. Yesterday we spent a good deal of time discussing changing the queen bed that is currently in the office/spare room. The existing bed is sitting on the floor because we don't have a bed frame for it, and we've thought about replacing it with a new daybed, complete with trundle, that would take up less space. But what would that extra space be used for?

We shopped online at every outlet we could think of, but I didn't really love any of the daybed options. After talking to my mom who raved about how comfortable the current mattress set is, I decided it was silly to buy a new bed frame, mattresses, sheets, etc. just to make the office look more spacious. So instead we're going to buy a simple metal frame for the existing mattress and call it a day. This result isn't necessarily because of the challenge per se, but all the decluttering I've done over the last few years, along with trying to avoid unnecessary purchases, makes the idea of buying something new that might not get much use very painful, especially when there's an alternative solution.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

How My Garden Grows: Veggie Watch

I've spent a good part of my mini-break of pottering in the garden, so it seemed like a good time to give you a tour.

We're entering zinnia season around here, and I can't wait!

I wasn't expecting this bunch of brown-eyed susans, are they volunteers? That's what I love about gardening, there are always surprises.

Mallow vine grown from seed; a new one for me. It's not really growing like a vine, but I like it .

This time of year though, I'm more excited about the vegetable garden. Veggie watch 2011 is on!

The zucchini are are off! We've already harvested three and eaten two. I'm a bit nervous about them though, because this is usually around the time when a fungus or something attacks them and they shrivel up and die. Maybe this year will be different.

I'm still anxiously awaiting my first ripe tomato and cucumber.

But the really, really special moment this week was when we spotted the very rare, very fleeting.....

Pig Flower!!

You can't find these just anywhere!

Now you know why my cat mint is always flatter than a pancake.


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