Category Archives: Minimalism

How Good Does a Broom Need to Be?

How good does a broom need to be?
I saw this phrase somewhere recently. It resonated with me. Does your broom easily get at dirt? Is the handle long enough?

We spend a LOT of time, energy and money needlessly. If you need a computer to surf the internet, why does it need a dvd burner and 8 gigs of RAM? Shouldn’t you focus on whether you need a larger monitor to see better or built-in wi-fi to lessen the cable clutter in your house?

If you honestly feel like you need another 1000 square feet for your house, then go ahead and try to have it. But don’t pay for all that space (and heat/cool it) if you don’t want it, much less need it.

Years ago, in another life, when I was teaching a “Quality” course, part of my job was to beat into people’s heads that quality = conformance to requirements. Nothing more. Using that formula, the USER or consumer determines whether a device is “higher quality” or not – not the manufacturer, salespeople or advertiser
Yet, look at many of our interactions with our choices and you will certainly see “feature creep” or “quality blindness.” Just because BMW bills itself as unbeatable quality doesn’t make it true, even if we do pay an extra $30,000 for the logo. Is it great? Sure it is, but not when I can buy 3 reliable cars with all my desired features for the same price.

If appearance is a critical factor in your decision to buy one piece of furniture over another, by all means, lean toward the purchase of the prettier furniture – but only if appearance outweighs cost, sturdiness, size, etc. Is it really a quality choice if it doesn’t fit well into your room or if it breaks under normal usage? And buying a chair or recliner because it’s a known brand or made of genuine Gazelle leather is a terrible buying decision.

If you’ve got plenty of money, focus on what you want. If you have less money, focus on the best balance of usability versus cost. If you are broke, buy plastic chairs from Dollar General and go on with your life.

Besides, you can always deliberately pick the ugliest item and then hang really weird art in your house. You’ll be okay and considered to be ‘artistic.’

A Wish for the “Hoarders” Show

(A post from 2012)

Since hoarding is so closely intertwined with addictive behaviors, I wish that Hoarders would try to use the 1st step in Addiction Treatment for a season, instead of TV-friendly drama.

That step would be removal of the addiction immediately and cold turkey. Instead of a drug, the addiction in a Hoarder’s case is stuff.

A meth addict doesn’t get to go to rehab with his stash of meth. It’s taken from him and he is basically locked away for forced withdrawal.

It is disingenuous and illogical of the Hoarders shows to claim that even though Hoarders suffer from a psychological addiction, they should not be treated in the same way as chemical addicts are.

I want  to see a season of Hoarders wherein they use the XMove system. Instead of worrying about condemning the houses, removing the occupants, taking away the children and all the extraneous stuff, they should remove the Hoarder from the house. From there, the teams of helpers go in. If it is contaminated, throw it away, even if it is sentimental in nature. Otherwise, the team should preserve valuables that can be cleaned and made safe, photos and clothing. Everything else goes. Everything, no matter what it is. Family members and friends will be there to moderate the process. One person will be appointed to make all final decisions. All food will leave the house. Items that can be sold will be sold and the proceeds used toward cleanup and repair of the property.

The XMove system will shorten the cleanup by several multiples of time, be more safe, and allow the Hoarder to immediately begin treatment for his disorder, instead of allowing the drama of his or her behavior in denial being the focus. We will still have an interesting TV show – but not one that distorts the Hoarder’s dramatic denial and efforts to avoid change.

Removing the Hoarder from the house will make code inspections easier as well as allow family and friends to discuss how to move forward once the Hoarder returns from addiction therapy.

If a network wants to produce a show based on Hoarding psychology, it should pay for off-site residential therapy for the Hoarder. They can film and air footage of the Hoarder at rehab, talking to family, planning for the future, etc.

If the house is livable after cleanup, it should be made livable for when the Hoarder exits rehab. If it needs electricity, the production company should have to provide that if the family and friends won’t. If the residence isn’t livable, they need to have a place to live after rehab.

We want the Hoarder to be treated like our own family. If they need treatment, provide it. If we are going to be voyeurs into their lives, we must help them, not just make them a spectacle to be viewed and forgotten.
We want to see them a year after the treatment to see how effective it was and how the family is responding.

Impasse For Minimalists

“…Less stuff = less stress. The fewer possessions you have, the less you need to worry about maintaining, repairing, insuring, protecting, and paying for them…”

I understand that minimalism isn’t just about getting rid of stuff just to be getting rid of it. That’s just reduction.

Minimalism is the focus on removing unwanted or dumb distractions from our lives and constantly considering whether stuff is adding or detracting from our lives. Stuff is not harmless, as most people lull themselves into believing.

If you watch Hoarders, you know that almost all sufferers of hoarding believe that their stuff somehow insulates them from the world and captures the essence of their lives and/or the people who’ve been in it, and that this essence will survive forever. As we all intellectually know, this is just plain crazy talk. Even if our piles of stuff live with us 56 years, it will immediately lose relevance once we are gone. Most of it will go to the trash.

Or fire, floor and disaster will remove it and us from the face of the earth.

The tough part of the journey is when you have reduced across all levels of your life – and still need to go further. Much of the resistance is inside us, while some of it resides with our family sharing our lives.

If You Die Today, Imagine For A Moment Where Every Single Thing Must Go

This idea makes minimalism all the more attractive, doesn’t it?

It’s one thing to imagine leaving your stuff to a specific friend or loved one, knowing in general where it might land once you’re gone.

It’s another to think so long about this and to conclude that almost all of it is going in the trash. Not donated, not relegated to someone who can make use of it – but in the landfill.

Granted, much of your stuff won’t immediately go to the trash because people feel mostly guilty about doing that. It will go in boxes or in a pile in someone’s garage, attic, or storage. After a respectable time being piled up, it will be noticeably in the way and discarded.

It’s useful to note that much of it won’t be used because it duplicates what your friends and loved ones already have. Everything else, though, most of what you think is important, is simply toast waiting to be burned.

06052012 Better Way to Give Gift Cards

Gift cards can be great presents for friends or family. They can be bought specifically to cater to the tastes of the recipient.

One aspect that everybody overlooks is how simple they are to wrap. Most people do the most boring option possible: they use the included little envelope or put the gift card in another simple envelope.

How about a more interesting and creative option?

One of my favorite ways to wrap a gift card involves pictures. Whether I use colored paper or black and white photos, I print off anywhere from 10 to 50 pictures, ranging in size from very small all the way through 5X7 and 8X10. Printing on colored paper but yet using black and white images is the easiest method. I place the gift card flat and create “layers” by wrapping the card with one of the smaller images. I carefully tape the first picture around the card and then flip it. I then put the second picture over the card. To add stability, sometimes I use increasingly larger envelopes. It makes unwrapping the gift card even more interesting. I continue to layer pictures one at a time, flipping the card/envelope stack as I go.

There have been times when I have layered 50+ images to the gift card! I’ve never had someone getting a gift wrapped like this not be totally excited by the process. Yes, they will often joke and laugh, but as each picture comes off the stack, they will look at the picture and talk about the memory of the image on it. Many times, my “ordinary” gift card becomes the one gift people will remember years later, even if they don’t remember any of the other gifts given, or the amount of the gift card.

Warning: this method I’m describing is VERY time consuming. But if it true that it’s the thought that counts, it shouldn’t be too difficult for you to spend some time wrapping a card like this, as it shows a commitment to the surprise. (Either that, or that you are crazy for spending so much time wrapping something.)

Above is an example of the resulting mess, about 10 minutes and 50 pictures later, she finally got to the center of the gift. 🙂

The left half of the picture above is someone holding one these “layered gift card” surprises before opening it. The right half is a picture of it after I finished it. The finished picture shows another detail that I sometimes do: I take little contact pictures and affix them to colored slivers of paper, which I attach to the main envelope with the gift card. Again, this takes a while, but it is fun watching a person get one of these gifts, especially a kid. Sometimes, they get frustrated at having to peel their present like an onion, but it always pays off for them at the end. (I’ve had kids almost refuse to tear into the gift cards wrapped this way because they are fascinated by how it looks when it’s not opened.)

01062013 Socks and Underwear – A Metaphor (From early 2013)

In my previous blog incarnation, I wrote a witty essay about the lunacy of folding either underwear or socks. It was lost in the folds of the internet during the changeover.

Last week, another blogger mentioned the futility of folding socks. See how much more dangerously I live? I would prefer to never fold either socks OR underwear. Since I’m not Miley Cyrus, the odds of my underwear being seen in public and not involving me in a horrific car crash are zero. But in what rational world does it really matter if my underwear is wrinkly?

Some of the time-saving tips online are either strange to me, or blindingly obvious. Someone might recommend a particularly quick way to iron and I will wonder to myself “What does the writer recommend for people like me who don’t even own an iron?” I’ve cut out the entire middleman. The person who wrote the article about efficient ironing doesn’t understand how it is possible to live without ironing, even though most of the world seems to do just fine without them.

(On the other hand, I often think one of the best time-saving tips is to simply stop reading or listening to time-saving tips)

A long time ago, someone once looked at me strangely when I had said something about not folding socks, as they wouldn’t match by color. It didn’t occur to the person that ALL my socks might match. I buy a couple of packages of socks and then wear them until I replace them all, simultaneously. I then put the “old” socks in a cabinet and wear then once and then throw them in the trash when I get particularly dirty outside. Having all the same style, color, and type of sock not only guarantees that they will match, but also that they feel the same on both feet. This is quite a luxury you should try for yourself.  As for the person questioning my lack of need to worry about sock color, it also didn’t occur to him that it might be possible to live without even caring if the socks were the same color. Wouldn’t it be a more simple world if you could put any color socks and go out in public?

Try living dangerously for a month. Don’t fold either your socks or your underwear. Call me if this results in famine or tragedy for you.


05062012 A Relatively Easy Birthday Surprise

If it is the thought that counts, for a birthday, I have a sure-fire way to let someone know that you are thinking about them – and willing to put in a little time to prove it.

Go to any store selling a variety of birthday cards. You can buy expensive one-of-a-kind cards or 2-for-a-dollar. Buy a dozen. Make sure that you get some for someone’s grandson, father, uncle, daughter, cousin, co-worker, etc. The bigger the variety and the more strange the assortment, the more fun you can have.

If you want to make it more interesting, sign each type of card as if you are another person and make up details to go with each fake identity with which you sign the card. Mail 1 or 2 per day starting about 10 days before your person has or her birthday.

As your birthday victim begins to receive the cards, it is likely that it will make them wonder who might be surprising them. As the cards pile up, I guarantee that their amusement will also magnify. By the time their birthday arrives, they will have a nice stack of something to laugh about. It is likely that the person receiving the cards will tell everyone about what you’ve done. You can spend either a few dollars or a lot of dollars to make someone know you are wishing them a great birthday. (Let all the other friends buy your birthday person a lizard feeder or keychain with your name on it.)

It’s good for the economy and the postal service, too.

When You’re Gone

Recently, I read another fascinating essay online about how to deal with the organizational aspects of one’s passing, death, or demise.

The author’s contention is that we look at our mortality from the wrong perspective. He pointed out that if you are thinking at all about your mortality, you are doing more than many people. His thesis is that you should practice empathy when contemplating the organization of life after you are no longer a part of it.

Instead of focusing your energy in a traditional sense, his idea is to remind us that we should focus on the person we love the most in this world when making plans, organizing and documenting. We should make our plans with our most loved person in mind, under the assumption that this person will have to personally deal with our passing. Our cherished loved one will have to either bear the burden of our lack of planning, or be at ease because we planned our death in such a way as to make it incredibly easy for them.

It sounds like great practice at imagining our lives no longer being filled by us, as well as to refocus our energies on being less selfish in our attitudes about our passing.

A Rusty Nail Is All I Need

As strange as it sounds, one of my most prized possessions is most of a rusty nail. Seriously.

Years ago, before it was torn down, I visited the last house my maternal grandparents lived in together. I went on the property at great risk, as it looked like it had been abandoned and infiltrated by wasps, weeds, and rain through the old metal roof and tar paper siding. Before moving to this house, they lived to the south, still off highway 39, on the opposite side, near White Cemetery. They had an outhouse at the previous house.

I have an incredible number of memories about that old “house on the hill” as I call it. It was in Rich, Arkansas; not much of a place, really, even its heyday if it ever truly had one.  It was on Highway 39, on the west side of the road. Cook Road was slightly to the south of the old house. Most of the time, cotton seemed to be the crop surrounding it in every direction.

I remember when grandma and grandpa moved in. One of the first things done was to hang a porch swing on the south end of the full-length wooden slat board porch. In that day, one didn’t use complicated screw hooks – a long nail would be hammered in and bent around to hold the chain linked through it. This isn’t the safest of ways to do it, not by today’s standards. Yet I can’t remember seeing one fall when I was young. (The second thing done was to build Grandma Nellie a storm shelter. She was deathly afraid of any weather, having survived the stories of the tornado in 1909 that leveled the town of Brinkley.)

Either Uncle Raymond or Uncle Harold picked me up and held me up high toward the roof of the porch. I held the nail more or less straight while grandpa hammered it in. Once we nailed the two nails, we hung the swing and sat in it, enjoying the simple fun and relaxation of it. I spent a lot of hours on that swing with grandpa. On some level, it is partially to blame for my extreme views on simplicity and comfort. Adding 44 uses and extras to things mostly ruins them.

To this day, when it rains sometimes, I can smell the dirt and cotton blowing across the porch toward grandpa and me sitting on the porch. If weather was coming, we’d usually be listening to grandma cajole grandpa into coming into the house or getting to the storm shelter.

The only thing I was really interested in salvaging that day in the 90s was the swing nail closest to the house, the one I remember “helping” put in. Honestly, I can’t say with 100% certainty that it’s the same nail, although I believe that it is. I’m humbled to think that the first swing installed at that house was balanced there almost 1/2 a century ago. I managed to extract some of the long bent nail from the upper wooden beam above the porch. Everything was caving in as I struggled to use it for footing.

Sidenote: one branch of the Pledger family was the last to live in the house. Their stuff, including pictures, were scattered all around inside. I learned later in life that my grandpa Willie supposedly had an illegitimate child with one of the Pledgers. At the time, he was working for the original Pledger patriarch at a sawmill in Clarendon. My mom didn’t know anything about her half-sister until after the half-sister died. The story is that she and mom looked a lot alike. Although I have delved fairly extensively into the Pledgers, I have avoided any direct linking to their trees or stories

This picture is of the old house on the hill. (The aforementioned porch swing is on the left in the background.) Grandpa Willie is seated center. They are sitting on the porch steps, a series of piled railroad logs. I nailed at least 1,000 nails into those logs. These logs were one of the many reasons that I still love the smell of creosote of all kinds.



10102013 Senti-Minimalist

Today, I saw one of the words I thought I invented a few years ago used on a blog: Maxi-malist.
Here’s the Reference (Great blog, by the way…)

It was used in the way that I had thought of, too, involving the idea of too much stuff, in comparison to minimalism.

I also had thought of another word back in the day: Senti-minimalist. For the way I meant it, it describes a minimalist whose main focus is on concerning himself with items of sentimental value first and foremost. It’s obviously a mashup of both “sentimental” and “minimalist.” For example, if I were to be tasked with an impossible hoard, I would start with identifying and extracting items of strong sentimental value first, even ahead of alleged valuables.

Either a lot of people share many ideas in common, or sometimes I actually come up with good ideas.