What I learned about consumerism from a retro banana phone

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Yes, friends…this is indeed a taxi yellow retro headset for my cell phone. You know…a basic need for most smart phone users.

At times in my life I have fallen trap to the belief that part of living an ExtraOrdinary life is owning ExtraOrdinary things. I have never been a label-looking-Jones-keeper-upper, but I do like owning something that’s unusual, original and fun. As in, “What is that? And where did you get it?” Enter said retro banana phone. It seemed like a good idea at the time as my finger hovered above the Go To Cart button. The truth is it’s a pain in the tuckus because it takes up valuable real estate in my already heavy purse. Also, the sound is not particularly clear when talking to someone. Novelty aside, it was a silly purchase. Now, as I troll my home for equally superfluous Goodwill-bound faire, I am painfully aware of the waste.

I am also noticing how past beliefs about stuff have clouded an attempt at a simpler existence.

I can’t help but wonder why this realization didn’t bonk me on the head earlier. It seems strange that in midlife I’m just beginning to see the literal and figurative cost of spending hard earned moo-la on such items. Maybe it’s because I’m starting to recognize the same pattern in my teen girls. There’s my oldest’s strip mall monologue of why the ridiculous Chihuahua-faced hoodie would be a good edition to a 13-year-old’s closet….there’s my youngest’s 56th pair of novelty socks (bacon patterned!)…there’s the set of IKEA baskets which will be a magnet for more small doo-dad collections that fall prey to my hungry vacuum. It’s funny, because I don’t see a whole lot of difference between their materialistic fluff and mine. It’s time to set an example, but honestly, I’m just starting to get serious about this on my own. Here’s hoping I can teach the lessons to my offspring as I learn them myself.

My 5 step plan to quell the purchase of THINGS I DON’T NEED:

1.     Go cold turkey with a no spending policyIt’s good to shock the system into obedience, right? Worked with sugar. Why not shopping? I’m going for it in my Project Enough this month.

2.     Install a waiting period before making unnecessary purchases. I know Leo says 30 days…but I’m thinking more like two weeks. My self-monitoring has proven that 14 days is quite enough to completely dismiss an idea and move on. Squirrel!

3.     Avoid stores and cyberspace hot spots that provoke materialistic yearnings. I know that Anthropologie (home of interesting and ExtraOrdinary design) is a consumer trap for me. I also know that a mall trip is flat out inviting my daughters’ gimmees to take center stage. I don’t spend money in either of these places when I am not there. Funny how that happens.

4.     Build a nest egg for travel. One of the core values in our family revolves around travel and adventure. Every time I forgo an unnecessary purchase, my bank account wins one for experience instead of materialism.

5.     Practice gratitude, gratitude, gratitude. So cliché’ these days, but oh-so-true. A daily dose of it works to combat the need for stuff. I’m finding myself more and more grateful for the blessings that have been heaped on this family the more and more I record them and share them.

I guess you could call me a recovering consumer. 

I think most of my gimmees fall in the category of home design (need to toss the West Elm catalog before cracking it open) and supplies for a very creative life (my art closet used to be obscene). The song I’m beginning to see the light is the background music to the minimalist stirrings of my heart. Of course, once I started down this path, I stumbled upon a whole host of simplicity blogs and people on the same quest for less and meaning. I take that back—I don’t think there was any stumbling involved there. I think this is a case of (as I’ve said before) when the student is ready to learn the lesson, the teachers show up. There are days I get down on the process because I feel that we’ll never get there. And then there are times I feel that moving into a 600 square foot home is totally doable after my kids leave for college (in just five short years). In this state I feel the power surge to be the person who can let go of stuff, embrace experiences and travel the world with the man I love. How does one get to this point? I’m not sure….

…..but I’m willing to walk to the edge.

Releasing my grip on material things, I’m finally ready to fully invest in what’s important (and it ain’t a banana phone, I can tell you that).

Is there a particular material thing that you find hard to let go of? If so, how did you manage to stop the madness?

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On my Simplicity Mission Radar

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Beyond excited to be the first guest post over at SimpleLifeTogether! Love those Hayes folks…just good people with a very important message. I am incredibly honored to be on their blog this week. It gave me a chance to hammer out how this whole thing ignited for me. I even learned a few things by getting it all down.

Thanks, Dan and Vanessa!

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Good Reads…

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I love it when passionate, smart people share their journey with the rest of us…and I think it’s cool that all three authors are in different stages of life.

1) Joshua Fields Millburn & Ryan Nicodemus (two hip, single men on the road trip of life) tell the story of an incredible journey towards minimalism.

2) Courtney Carver, veteran minimalist and an incredibly pure voice on the internet for many of us, compiled some terrific articles that are great to read one at a time (for maximum chewing 🙂 )

3) Allison Vesterfelt, newly married and settling down, chronicles her “letting it all go and heading out” tale of adventure.

Inspiring, indeed.

~  Last week I did a separate post on Clutter free with Kids, Joshua Becker’s newest book. I’ve read it twice. What can I say? I’m on a mission! ~

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I’m a documentary junkie.

I could watch one every day. I find it helpful to be informed on all kinds of random topics.

These were my favorites recently:

1) Hungry For Change – terrific and inspiring when you’re on the path to good health (I’m doing theWhole30 at the moment and this keeps me keepin’ on when I’d kill for a bagel)

2) Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead (okay..so I’ve watched this 2 times) – I’m a juicing believer and benefactor…I haven’t been sick in 6 months, and I’m a 3rd grade teacher, for cryin’ out loud! Can you say petri dish?

3) Sprawling From Grace – What the heck is happening to America? Sad, but also hopeful little tale of woe.

4) Happy – Funny how this movie really emphasizes relationships and giving to create happiness  (in fact, owning a lot of stuff proved the opposite)

5) Tiny – I can’t find this on Amazon, but I can’t wait to see it. I’m a bit of a tiny house stalker, even though you could place one in my living room.

6) Wal-mart, The High Cost of Low Price – Okay, so this one just made me MAD. I can’t even drive by that store without having a reaction. My kids watched it with me and they said, “Mom, how can people shop there, knowing all of the bad business they practice?” I had no answer…except to tell the world to watch more documentaries.

7) Kids + Money – Another one the kidlets agreed was a source of good info. We’re really working to teach them smart money practices and this one put it into kid language.

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New blog find…

I’m a bit of a Hawaii fanatic.

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As in, I never miss Hawaii Life on HGTV  (“Don’t bother me, kids…mom’s daydreaming”) and I have a drawer of sand and shells under my desk to put my feet in when it is a rainy, sloppy mess here in the Pacific Northwest.

Exhibit A:

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Yes, I’m aware that this is weird and pathetic…

YET, it’s all part of my plan to will my life there in retirement with my Hawaii-loving spouse. Seriously, I will settle for a shack on the center divider of the King Kamehameah Highway.

I digress.

MauiShopGirl is my new spot to visit and it’s almost as good as putting my feet in the little sand shoebox! Hooray for me, strange teacher-tropics-obsessive-lady!

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Tania Ginoza’s interview on the Hayes’ podcast was terrific–‘loved it.

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Okay, friends.That’s it for this week. My head is swirling with all kinds of things I’m learning and experimenting with. So excited to have a spot to put it all! I’ m working on a good/but simple design post for a simplified home. I’m a recovering interior design magazine addict, but it did help me learn the basics to put it all together, minus the multitudes of STUFF.

I really appreciate you being here. Have a fabulous week!

Thank you!

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Five things to do to help your kids declutter

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Before I wax poetic about closet clutter and the kidlet dilemma, I’d like to point out the resource that supplied my simplifying race car fuel this week. Joshua Becker, a dad and husband and rational minimalism extraordinaire, tells us how to unclutter with our offspring. In a very succinct way, Becker gives advice about each area in the kid declutter journey, but her also reminds us why this process (and all of the other jewels that come with minimalizing our lives) is important. Good stuff, friends.

Helping my kids LET GO.

After reading Joshua’s book I took a good long look at the Scary Abyss, otherwise knows as my teen girls’ closets. I have epic avoidance strategies when it comes to anything closet-related, so overcoming my fear was the first step. Considering I’m as welcome in their rooms as a toddler in a glassware store (they know my intentions after all), it has been challenging to get my hot little hands on the excess. The clothes and shoes remind me of a layer of newspaper in our old guinea pig’s cage…what color is the carpet again? And why is every school paper received this year being horded in a ball the size of Texas? It was clear that both of my lovelies were growing wary of wading through ill-fitting jeans, worn discarded shoes, and sentimental stuffed animals to get dressed in the morning. I do believe the attachment to younger-year-items has waned enough to start the process of letting go, but they weren’t thrilled about trading in a Saturday afternoon for it…until….I did five things:

1) Put on some tunes. Their tunes, specifically. Once we got bopping to some Top 40 and I told them that we could get this thing done in 15 t0 20 songs, it didn’t seem so bad. The energy in the room changed.

2) Let them be in charge. I backed off and sat on their beds, allowing them to pick up each item and hold it up like Simba in the African savannah and we made a group decision about whether it was allowed to take up closet real estate. I allowed the other daughter (the one not in the hot seat) to make creative signs for our carpet piles (“No…Crap I shouldn’t have bought is not acceptable…change, please”) and allowed items to switch from one to the other without protest.

3) Let them pick the charity to receive their clothing. They’ve been watching me deconstruct the house and noted who has inherited our wares. I think it’s more meaningful when they physically walk the bags-‘o-stuff into charitable organizations….especially the toys that have been cleaned, ready for new sets of little hands in shelters and daycare centers.

4) Ask them to try on items in question. Somehow the act of sliding their long legs into high-water pants gets the message home that they are indeed bigger now. Holding on to clothes that don’t fit clouds the good stuff and propels the “I have nothing to wear” state of mind.

5) Know when to quit. Once we finished the closet, I was ready to attack my youngest’s yard sale of a desk. I had a gleam in my eye that must’ve frightened her, because she yawned (twice) and said she was “done for now”. I didn’t push it. If this process was ever going to happen again, I needed to acknowledge the backing off boundary.

The good news is both of my darlings said they felt good about their “new” closets. I believe the word light was uttered in there somewhere, which made my simplifying yearning heart pound like a jackrabbit.

We learned some important lessons in the process as well:

The Mall Crawl (shopping trips that involve meandering without purpose) frequently results in impulse purchases that are destined for the give-away pile after few wearings (i.e., poor use of family funds).

-The 80/20 rule still stands in teen closets…they really do only don 20% of their favorite old standbys.

-Having all items hanging in categories makes it much easier to get dressed.

So….the desks and shelves are next, but I will revel in the glow of their clutter-free closets until it’s time to go at it again…ipod and trash bags in hand.

What are your strategies for clearing out with your kids? I’d love to hear!

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The Stuff Dilemma

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It seems that many people numb themselves with stuff.

By numbing, I mean finding comfort and temporary joy in acquiring things (a boat/fancier car/club memberships/a TV in every room/Imelda Marcos shoe collection/etc) instead of facing the music on what is missing or present (i.e., the elephant in the living room). The gamut of American dysfunction comes in many forms, but what I’ve seen swirling around me is loveless marriages, depression, spoiled children, drug and alcohol dependency, debt, insecurity and loneliness. Not to get all “Why are we in this hand basket and where are we going?” on you, but I’m guessing if it’s that visible in my own small corner of the world, it’s running like rampant rats in all areas.  It seems that the rug where all the ick is being swept is beginning to bulge and buckle. At some point the ick needs to be dealt with or it will wedge itself deep into the grooves. A trip to Europe and a new motorcycle will never be enough to patch a major hole that starts to unravel in the family fabric.

Where do we get these messages that stuff will pave the way to a satisfying existence?

And why do so many folks practice score keeping when it comes to said stuff? Pulling up in the school drop-off zone in a Texas-sized SUV with more chrome than an appliance store may create a puffed up “I totally rock this” feeling, but it doesn’t make the man (or woman).  We know this, don’t we? Somehow the mom cliché’ “If your friend jumps off a bridge, would you jump off a bridge too?” comes to mind with such unnecessary purchases. Sleeping under a wool debt blanket eventually causes one to suffocate…hence the disaster we’ve been recovering from in what appears to be a society of broken hearts and wallets.

I am guilty.  I do know “thou shall not covet thy neighbor’s pink travel trailer”, but I couldn’t sleep until we found the perfect Airstream for the Blair Bunch. It wasn’t necessary, of course, but I did have intentions of family bonding and travel adventures when we pulled it into the driveway…you know..next to all the other stuff in the garage. Yet, I have been practicing restraint this year more than any other. I’m well aware there are children in Africa who don’t eat for days—I know this because I’ve been looking at the sweet faces of the Ameena School in Kenya we support on my laptop wallpaper. Their hollow eyes bore into my heart, asking me to examine where my loyalties lie and what I’m going to do about it. The fundraiser we hosted at our home was great, but it has to go beyond one night of money-raising. It has to slip under my daily habitual living like a pea under a pile of mattresses and eventually become un-ignorable.

First, there is purging.

If you walked past my house in the past month you would be in danger of being nailed by jeans and outgrown shoes flung out of windows.  I actually brought coffee to my new friends at the Goodwill drop-off station. I’ve since learned that purposeful giving is far more effective for the recipients, and not to mention, happier for the giver. My girls and I have been dodging Dr. Seuss-looking mile high pile of kids’ books and women’s clothes that continue to be spread around local charities. The best part of this process is that my children actually see where their discarded, sometimes unused, items have value.  It’s sickening how much gear has been placed in the “don’t want this anymore” section of our utility room dropping zone! We’re not a buy-a-Hummer-love-me-some-bling family, but we have an insane amount of stuff that seems to multiply like amorous rabbits.

I’m kickin’ some consumerism tail and takin’ names.

Rather than my first inclination to become a surly recluse and never leave the house again, I’ve decided to put the ky-bash on purchasing anything that isn’t necessary. For my youngest, the necessity of uber-fancy-running shoes from a certain coveted shoe company is not up for debate—thus begins the negotiations of how much she’s willing to contribute. The “We’ll put in a reasonable amount of  $_________ towards this item and you will need to come up with  $________” seems to decrease the perceived value of spendy (read: ridiculously overpriced, cheaply made) foot coverings.

That’s another thing: sense of entitlement.

I’m not just referring to overindulged kidlets, either. Americans in general—we seem to feel that we deserve certain things (even if they live outside of the budget). In the past month I have found unexpected rewards with pitching my glossies and curbing TV watching and blog reading. Fancy shmancy décor magazines and design blogs give me the gimmees…ugly little buggers that create a false sense of “if I don’t buy this rug, I may never complete the shangri-la that is my well decorated home”. It’s embarrassing, actually– something I don’t even feel comfortable admitting. I know some of you folks are with me on this—the gimmees wrestle common sense with an aggressive take-down move that borders on violent. Stand baaaack, Pinterest.

Banishing the visuals of what I’m missing seems to take care of wanting unnecessary things.

I’ve pretty much been having a Serious Talk with myself about how these changes are going to stick. ‘Wanting so much to make these days count with healthy hearts living in simplified homes…people on a quest to make a difference and have experiences together that shape a content, satisfying existence.

‘No need for numbing because they are truly living in a state of joy.

I’m not going militant with a decision to own only 100 things (good grief, how do people do that?) or moving to a tiny (and very, very cute) house behind my parents’ property, but I can tell that the tide of change has come in and I’m up to my knees in it.  I’m willing to go completely under, even if it gets a little chilly.

How about you? What is your heart crying out for these days? And what are you doing about it?

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It’s time.

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Using a sleek modern chair as visual inspiration, I’m reconstructing a world that is simpler, streamlined and lovely.

It’s no easy task. Frankly, I’d rather take out my own spleen with an oyster fork than declutter the garage…but (sigh) I know what I have to do….and I’m well aware that the declutter part is only the top layer of this journey.

I’ve been churning on this for awhile in my very colorful, complicated life. I do love the color in this vida loca, but I’ve also been craving some serious white space.

I will be looking at simplifying my wardrobe, design in my home, diet and fitness, and most importantly…family life. I am determined to temper the ridiculous schedule we’ve been maintaining. There has to be another way and I’m ready to find it!

Our family has found a wonderful escape in the form of a silver bullet we call The Twinkie.

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Our Airstream has already brought a great deal of adventure and fun into our lives. It will be a blast to show what on-the-open-road excursions can do for one’s state of mind….as well as squabbling siblings.

You can read more about my ever-evolving tale of suburban woe here.

‘Looking forward to sharing what I’m learning and what is inspiring this quest! I’m also ready to hear what works for you in your journey.

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 **A major shout-out and hearty thank you to the following smart humans who have led the way…I’m so grateful I found your message**

Becoming Minimalist

Be More with Less

Simple Life Together

The Minimalists

Rowdy Kittens