Category: minimalism

beauty matters

lifestyle, minimalism December 9, 2014

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When I tell my husband I have to brush my hair or change my clothes before I leave the house, he invariably responds with ‘it doesn’t matter’. When I tell him we have to tidy up the house, he usually tells me to relax and let it be, to stop worrying about such small things. For a landscaper, he has a strange disregard for aesthetics in any other area. But when a leaf or branch is out of place, a pair of clippers will appear from nowhere to dispatch with the offending object. You would think he would understand.

I don’t have time for the sub par. Time moves very fast and we live only once (at least that we are aware of). I feel good when I am reading a beautiful book to my beautiful children, while listening to good music in a clean uncluttered home whose large windows looks out onto beautiful vistas, where the air smells good, and after eating delicious food. I want the textures we touch to be pleasing. I want the clothing we wear to be simple and attractive. I want our spaces to be bright and airy and tidy. I want the sights, smells and sounds we are surrounded with to be beautiful.

This extends to movement as well. I enjoy yoga, in part because of the beauty in the forms of the poses. Dancing is an obvious example, though I doubt anyone would accuse me of being a beautiful dancer. Skiing is my favorite example. First of all, what is more glorious than snow covered peaks, expansive vistas, and clean crisp high mountain air? Nothing, except for the feeling of making beautiful turns in the snow, the feeling that comes with good form, muscle control and execution. I love skiing in general, but when I can pull off doing it beautifully, then I feel as if I truly belong on the mountain and all its glory.

It is easy to dismiss these things as lowly, materialistic, or vain and hedonistic. But I believe beauty to be very important to living a good life. And this doesn’t have to be expensive. In fact, having less makes it easier to keep a clean home. A couple quality items costs the same as many cheap ones. Keep less, but make it good. We are also blessed to live in a beautiful place, but we gave up a great deal to make that a priority. Every day I am grateful for that choice.

We perceive the world through our senses. Our experience of the world is through our senses. It stands to reason that the intangibles of thought and love will be filtered through these senses. Our mind and hearts may reflect the beauty that our senses experience. As we roll through the holidays, thinking of gratitude and giving and taking stock of the year and our choices, here’s to maintaining a simple and beautiful life.

Here’s a link to a discussion on Beauty in Western Philosophy as more fuel for the fire.
Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Beauty
I always forget the roll that studying philosophy had in shaping my thoughts and outlook, though I am so far separated from my studies that I can rarely point to any direct philosophic lineage.

Minimalist bed: shikibuton and tatami mats

green living, lifestyle, minimalism, parenting November 22, 2014

Found this post from when I was pregnant:

We are expecting another baby. As with my first, I have already begun the process of trying to purify the world my baby will be born into. This time around, my sights have settled on our huge, expensive, and chemical laden tempurpedic mattresses. With my first, I scoured the internet for a truly non- toxic crib mattress and I found one with a hefty price tag. He sleeps on this, but with another coming, there will be some shifting and another bed will become necessary. Also, being pregnant and sleeping on my fire retardant mattress raises concern. So I decided to take the next logical step: sit my husband down and have him watch the documentary ‘Toxic Hot Seat’ in order to persuade him to get on board with selling the tempurpedics and buying something made of natural materials. 94 minutes later and he was purging the house of foam containing baby accoutrements and begrudgingly listening to my research on alternative bedding. Here is what I found:

There are any number of beautiful natural latex mattresses, but they are expensive! So, my next move was to futons. A little cheaper, but still very pricey. Additionally, we’d have to buy beds because futons need circulating air in order to be properly maintained. Finally, I found a truly minimalist option: the shikibuton mat placed on top of a tatami mat.

The shiki butons are nearly half the price of same quality organic futons. They are very thin, so easily fold up during the day when not in use and allowing air to circulate (eliminating the need for a bed frame). Because of the thinness, however, a tatami mat seems necessary. These are still a little pricey, but I love the idea of folding our beds up during the day and having the tatami as a floor space. (Think Murphy bed but way cheaper). This will also be great when two kids are sharing a room- it’ll keep it tidy and spacious for play.

Also, if we end up missing a little height to our beds, there are many beautiful platform beds out there that will easily hold the tatami/shikibuton combo. There are even beds made specifically for tatami mats. The mats are compact and can be used for travel! Multipurpose really gives you that extra bang for a minimalist buck. The aesthetic is also attractively clean and simple.

All in all, I think this the most financially feasible way to have truly chemical free bedding.

remember the quiet? (before wifi and data and iphones and tablets)

lifestyle, minimalism May 23, 2014

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I am sitting here listening to the rain on my roof (the most beautiful sound there is in the high desert), and trying to recall how I spent the quiet moments, the in between moments, before I had my devices.

When I was in college I never had internet in my home let alone a personal television. How did I spend the ample time alone that I had? I wrote a lot, I thought a lot, and I read. I exercised almost daily in the morning and I cooked meals for myself. I listened to music. Not playlists or radio but almost exclusively whole albums. That is it. That is how I spent time alone.

Later during graduate school I gained a small television with a DVD player. I still didn’t pay for tv but used it to watch videos at night. Still no internet. I spent alone time reading, writing less, but I painted and drew more.

Finally when J, just my boyfriend then, and I moved to the city to go to school we got internet. By then streaming video had become available. At that point I was studying for the LSAT and from then on I began to use my downtime for the internet rather than my previous activities. When I started law school I put down all books besides law books and we got cable tv for the first time. I did not want to think about anything when I didn’t have to think about the law, which wasn’t often. At that point I had less time alone anyway because I had been living with J for years. The quiet moments died away altogether.

Now we don’t have tv but we do have tablets and high speed internet and a computer. And a toddler. My rare quiet moments of solitude are often spent with an iphone. Thanks to this blog I am increasingly spending these moments to write, and I do spend a great deal of time gardening, but there is still too much clutter in my mind. I am trying to plot a break from the addiction and some return to quiet. Our wifi is eradicate so perhaps if I reduced my monthly data I would use the phone or tablet less. The only real way I can see doing it is to get rid of the wifi access in our home. This is rather drastic maybe, but my dad lives very close by so we could go there to pay bills etcetera. I will have a talk with J and see if we can brave this move. In the meantime the rain has stopped and my child is stirring. This quiet moment has passed.

black friday

lifestyle, minimalism November 29, 2013

It is the day after thanksgiving. Many others have already pointed out how interesting it is that we celebrate our blessings, then go shopping. I have never participated in Black Friday, and I assume there are a great many Americans out there who haven’t either. That doesn’t make me immune to the consumerism that underlies it. (Off the subject, I am finding all of the self righteous anti-black friday ranting almost as distasteful as wallmart itself.) In fact, I spend a great deal of time online shopping. I don’t actually buy things all that often but I do spend time looking at things, thinking about things I want. ┬áThis is at complete odds with my ideals, and yet I enjoy it. Is it wrong for me to enjoy it? I don’t know, probably not terrible, I do know I should probably be spending my time doing things that are more enriching, more fulfilling, more wholesome. I’m not sure if I am giving myself too much of a hard time, or not enough.

Part of it is that it is just so accessible. Iphones, tablets, laptops, even good old fashioned catalogs. There is also something about desire itself that is seductive. I don’t actually gain too much pleasure from owning, I actually derive a decent amount of satisfaction from ridding myself of possessions. What it is it exactly about wanting? We learn from Buddhism about the idea that desire and expectations lead to stress/dissatisfaction or dukkha. As we approach the holiday season and as I continue writing, I am thinking hard about how to raise my son free of this burden of wanting. I also need to rid myself of this burden somewhat if we are to continue living on one income, and not a generous one at that! I am not sure I know how to do it since I spend so much time with desire myself. On the other hand I want to give him things, and there is a pleasure in giving and receiving gifts. I don’t want to be so strict in this line of thinking that I do away with some good things as well. Further though my family isn’t particularly extravagant about gifts, people like buying things for children and I don’t want to be the mother that takes gifts away from her child. This like so many other things seems to require balance.

One of the most striking memories I had was upon returning from Africa had to do with this. When there I barely had internet, no TV, and no cellphones. (That was before smartphones anyway). I had books, and those were even somewhat difficult to come by. Once I returned to the states I was inundated with TV, billboards, radio ads, and whatever else there is out there constantly working away at our minds. Almost immediately I decided that I wanted a new lap top. Then immediately after having that thought, I was shocked with myself. Both for having had the thought (I didn’t really need a new lap top), and for the lack of having such thoughts while I was gone. It was probably a combination of being immersed in a different, less consumer driven culture, a lack of constant exposure to advertisements, and being surrounded by real need that drove back all of those wants and desires for things that plague me today. (Most of my desires were for things like hot showers and cheese pizza). The fact that I lived quite happily without much and without wanting much for quite a while reminds me that it is possible.

How do I create a world for myself where these needs and wants do not exists, or maybe are just quieted? I think it is probably part discipline and part habit. So for the weeks leading up to and during our biggest buying season, I am going to try to turn a blind eye to the sales, stop making wish lists, and go on a fast from wanting. I will still get presents for my family of course, but I already have those mostly figured out no shopping required. My son will get snow boots and a kitchen stool. For now however, I am not going to flip through the ikea catalog dreaming of a beautifully appointed home or browse amazon for whatever random things I feel I need from those warehouses. I will delete emails with special deals. I will be happy with what I have, and if I need to imagine improving my situation as daydream fodder, I will imagine improving by doing not buying. I WILL sort through the difference between need and want. Perhaps if I can break the habit of wanting, I will be more free to enjoy what I have. My blessings are many after all, a lovely family, a lovely home in a lovely town, a dream to reach for, very naughty pets, and loved ones within reach. In addition to those wholesome things, I have plenty of kitchen gadgets, a tablet and an iphone, attractive boots for the winter, a good car and any number of the other more base material things that populate our modern lives. (Are snow tires a need or want?) Besides the spiritual freedom from the constant dissatisfaction of not having what you want, there is a practical aspect of not wanting what you can’t afford! Anyway, here’s to fasting until christmas at least, happy holidays, and Black Friday.

if you have a garden and a library…

lifestyle, minimalism November 26, 2013

If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need. – Cicero

When I was a teenager, I had a trunk in my closet filled with my most prized possessions, in case I had to take off at a moment’s notice. I left college and moved back to my home state with only what I could carry on an airplane. While traveling I relished living with only what I could hold in one back pack. During grad school, I lived in a one bed room apartment with a blow up mattress and an easel as my only furniture. I could be packed and moved in one day using one trip in my small sedan. I loved it. Up until now, my possessions have been limited. I now live in a three bedroom house with a carport, a garage, a barn, and a multitude of closets. We have furniture galore and a billion random things. I am continuing in my quest to reduce this burden. I have made it through the kitchen, living room, and dining room. So far I can say this, the space is easier clean and more pleasant to be in. However, i will never be able to move quickly because I have boxes and boxes and shelves and shelves of books.

Books. How do we deal with books? They have an inherent value, they are attractive, and we tend to get attached. Nothing will ever make me get rid of my duct taped copy of Aristotle’s works. Who doesn’t like to flip through the federalist papers during election season? Let us be honest, aren’t we proud to have all the books we have read, whose content or point we have long forgotten, on display? Or is that just me and my base prideful self? In any event I have managed to pare my books down to two categories: classics and books I have yet to read. Cook books, art books, and gardening books are exempt. One reason I keep the classics around is that they are classics. Just that. Sometimes I like to re-read, sometimes I like to search for a quote. Mostly I just look at them and try to remember. Also, when I was a little girl I used to love perusing my father’s book shelves. I would look forward to the days when I could tackle the more mature reads, and was proud when I could enjoy something from that shelf rather than limit myself to the brightly illustrated covers at the school library. I’m not positive if having all these books around will inspire my son to take pleasure in the one way we can truly experience the world through the eyes and mind of someone else, but it couldn’t hurt and may help. So there it is, I have talked myself back into my library, the books stay. How else could I remind myself about the virtues of Jack Kerouac’s rucksack revolution of the Dharma Bums without it?

The temptation to only have the bare necessities is so strong that it is at constant tension with the pleasure and perhaps necessity of having some things. Part of this exercise of editing the dependence and attachment to physical things in our lives involves deciding what should remain. Here is another reason to keep the classics around, because Cicero offered some excellent guidance to this end!

So here I am. I am in my 30s, I have a family and am a mother. I can not jet away at a moment’s notice. My rucksack revolution has taken a different form. The wandering is over for now, I have different things to explore than the curves of the earth. My books are my roots, not shackles. Now for the garden…

living with less

lifestyle, minimalism November 12, 2013

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I have been thinking about how to spend my time pushing our family towards our goal. What is our goal exactly? To spend more, if not most of our time doing things we love or enjoy… Making our short lives meaningful. There are blogs in the gazillions about homesteading, minimalism, mindfulness etc. I suppose if there are so many people writing about this, it could indicate a small cultural effort to re-define purpose and time. I don’t feel like I am writing sentences that haven’t been written a hundred times already. I know I am a chicken raising, organic food buying/soon to be growing, cloth diapering, yoga doing, apple (the company and the fruit) loving, lifestyle blog writing cliche. I also drive a clean diesel station wagon, sometimes I mock myself.

It doesn’t matter though. These are good trends, even if they are marketed and packaged and adulterated and whatever. It is happening, and each minute I spend writing or doing one of these things is one I spend doing something I enjoy, something that is good for me and something that teaches my son a little more about trying to focus one what is important. I am not above television marathons, and I check my Facebook feed probably as often was most teenagers. I like eating greasy pizza and sitting on my butt. I am just trying to not take myself to seriously, to fall into self righteousness and holier than though writing. It is annoying and there is plenty of it out there. I am not sure anyone will ever even read this, and if they they do, I am not sure that they won’t shake their head and move on to Facebook thinking that they just lost 5 minutes that will never be retrieved. Moving on. Living with less.

When we moved into this house, it was more or less just as my stepmother left it when she left for the Mayo clinic not knowing she was never going to return. Some of her family had come in and organized some things, but her make up was here, her dish washing sponges in the sink, and salmon was in the freezer.

By the way, she and my dad had been divorced since I was in college. I suppose this makes her my ex stepmother, and she and I never properly reclaimed our relationship after the divorce. However, she very much raised me, and sadly it wasn’t until after the sudden death of her son that she and I slowly started moving back towards eachother. Something I had hoped would be aided by birth of my son, whom she was apparently never destined to meet. Anyway, to quote the movie Clueless “you divorce wives, not children.” She is and was my stepmother.

So, when we moved into her house 8 months after she passed there was a great deal of emotional and physical baggage that accompanied it. I was overwhelmed by the endeavor, my husband was working long hours, and I had a small baby to care for. My wonderful friends, the same I endured high school with, gathered to help. We went though everything. Silverware, old medication, boxes of photos, dog leashes, cleaning items, old journals, several old printers, you name it. It was an enormous task. My stepmother lived in this house since my dad built it 20 years ago. Before she died, one of the things she said was, I can’t go, I have left everything a mess. Things were a mess, but it got me really thinking about all the stuff we leave behind when we die. All the things the we bought. For each item, she spent time working to earn money to purchase it, only to have me throw it out or deliver it to good will. It seemed disrespectful of me and at the same time, it made the act of acquiring things seem all the more pointless.

I do not mean this to be in any way and indictment of how my stepmother lived, she was a beautiful person who was dealt a painful hand, but still managed to live her life well. Perhaps better than most, but my authority on the topic is lacking. I am commenting on how we all live. Do you or do you not have a defunct printer in your garage, or some expired medication in your bathroom?

I entered this house bringing with it some baggage of my own. At some point in my legal education, I developed a horror of clutter. This was furthered as I entered a job where my caseload was borderline unmanageable. It definitely had to do with the hyper organizational legal thinking that is the benefit and bane of a legal education. It was also a survival tactic, the only way to tackle something unmanageable is to take it bit by bit and to prioritize, especially with a constant onslaught of deadlines and actual potentially dangerous (to someone) consequences. So, efficiency and organization became important to me. Couple this with living amidst someone else’s lifetime worth of stuff, and you have a really crazy making situation. Oh, and add a new baby and all the new mom nesting tendencies that go with it.

I got rid of things by the truckload. Our things, her things, things people inadvertently left on the countertop, my cat’s things. It all had to go. Much of it did. Here I am, nearly a year later, and we still have so so many things. We kept many of the the nice things, potentially useful things, random sentimental things, still so many things. Now I am on the verge of another purge and I truly want to simplify, get us down to only what we really need and really love. This is partly because I hate clutter, this is partly because I like a tidy house, and this is partly because I have a sneaking suspicion that the less we have, the less we will think we need. This is one more step closer to less dependance on the two societal shackles whose grip on us I am seeking to loosen Money and Insurance. I am not sure how stuff and health interacts, but I am not working on developing a dogmatic system here anyway.

I started with the kitchen. When I clean my closet I use the ‘have I worn it in the last 365 days’ rule. I used some tips from the all knowing Google to build on this. Kitchens are an easy place to collect stuff. There are a lot of potentially useful items that you really don’t ever use. New York Times article on point. “I’m looking at you, garlic press.”

So here are the questions I asked myself:

1. Have you used it in the past year?
2. Do you have another item that serves the same purpose as well as others? (Knife vs. garlic press).
3. Is it beautiful AND you love it or use it?