Day Twenty-Six: The Real Challenge

I’ve gone back to work. It’s been a while, I’ll say, and I’m finding it awkward to manage. It’s been an embarrassingly long time since I did more than pick up three or four things at the grocery store. My dining room table is covered with random things. My couch smells a little dog-y.

It’s time to remember the priorities: Eating well. Keeping things roughly in order. Enjoying my job. Exercising. Playing with the dog.

And time to let go of that other stuff: Making the perfect grocery list. Cleaning all of the things. Having dinner right on time. Doing all the laundry on the same day.


Day 20: Consuming Simplicity

Something I’ve been thinking a lot about lately is buying one’s way to minimalism. Magazines want you to simplify your life by purchasing this New! Fantastic! organizational gimmick, or to (like I touched on in my last post) replace all of your current, inefficient belongings with new, simpler, better belongings.

Just take a look at, for instance, this set of images from Martha Stewart.

So beautiful! So simple! So expensive!

It isn’t too hard to resist Martha–after all, all but the most die-hard of her fans are often off-put by her excess–but the temptation is always there. When we think about organizing the closet, we think about buying boxes. When we think about cleaning out the pantry, we think about new canisters and bins. There are entire stores devoted to “helping” you with expensive closet racks and shelves.

The truth is, as we all know, that you can’t organize away too-muchness. Owning too many things is owning too many things, pretty boxes or no.

The trick to it is that sometimes those bins/boxes/shelves really are darned handy. My pantry wouldn’t work half so well without some under-shelf baskets. My spice cabinet is terrible even after an extra shelf, and really needs a door-mounted rack. It’s a line that needs constant policing for me, though. It’s easy to think that a box/shelf/label/cabinet can save you, when, at best, it can buy you a little time. But at what price?

Day Fourteen: Minimalizing

Today I cleaned out the closet. I always have issues cleaning out the closet. Not hoarding issues, or keeping things that are obviously useless, but there seem to be a lot of grey areas. Some of these are pretty typical “girl” stuff. Like, “Those pants are one size too big. But, until six months ago, I’d been wearing them for three years. Chances are that I’ll need them again.” Or, “This dress shows off my stomach pudge. Maybe I’ll do more crunches.” I think those things are hard-wired in to the process, because I’m not generally the kind of person who worries about the number on my pants tag. (Which would be crazy, because I have four different sizes of pants that all fit the same. For the record, I kept the slightly-too-big pants and got rid of the pudge dress.)

The real thing that I can’t get around is a psychological conflict that goes something like this: I admire minimalist closets. You know, like they show in those pictures from magazines, in articles like “Your 12 Wardrobe Essentials” or “Dress for Success with Eight Outfits.” Whenever I think, “Today is the Day! I’ll do the closet!” I’m hit with two realizations that stop me in my tracks.

First, I do not wear just one type of clothes. I have professional clothes that I wear, at this point in my life, only a few days a week. I have clothes to wear running errands. I have clothes to wear sitting on the couch with the dog. There’s a certain age where you can wear your business attire out to weekend lunch. I’m not there yet, nor am I going to wear a  cardigan and a silk blouse on a day that I don’t leave home. I’ve never had a knack for dressing things up/down.

More to the point (and this leads directly to point two): I already own these clothes, and most of them are really nice. Why would I get rid of really nice clothes, that I like and have uses for, just so I can own fewer clothes? At a certain point, too many clothes perpetuates itself forever. There’s a deadly trifecta of 1) buying quality clothes 2) being gentle on your clothes and 3) owning a lot of clothes. The combination means that nothing you buy ever wears out, so there is never a concrete reason to get rid of anything. Unfortunately it’s a state that sneaks up on a person.

So, maybe closet minimalism isn’t my natural state. I think I did fairly well, though, and I can always aspire. I’ve cut my clothes purchasing significantly back over the last two years, and I’m promising myself that I will watch what I’m wearing very carefully for the next little while. If I put something on and discover any kind of problem with it, from “this isn’t really a good color for me” to “these pants are really a little short,” it’s going. Life is too short to spend it frozen in closet indecision.

Day Eight: Weekend Recap

This weekend I was in the cooking zone. Pickles, yogurt, scones, cookies, granola bars, and a few other things. Plus the regular meals. Turns out, going to the farmers’ market (where on earth does that apostrophe go, anyway? Lots of people don’t bother. Multiple farmers at one market should be farmers’. But what about the market I used two cities ago, which was one farmer? Is this the reason we’ve dropped it?) was very inspirational. No wonder people go!

It also turns out that when you bake cookies for the first big work meeting of the new year, people are too busy watching their waist-lines to eat them. Their loss. My gingersnaps (really, Dorie Greenspan’s Gingerbread Crackles) are something.

Today I’ll confess that I’m watching mindless daytime TV, for the first time since I resolved otherwise. But the weather has been insane, and I need to keep the dog from fixating on it. I’m finding it . . . distracting. It’s amazing how quickly you get used to either the quiet or the noise.

Day Seven: Farmers Market and Pickles

It was high time to revisit the local market. We live within an easy walk, for goodness’ sake. Pickings were so slim with the summer drought that we stopped going. As we discovered yesterday, that’s all over now. Thanks to mild temperatures and insane amounts of sunshine, the farmers are growing everything they couldn’t in the summer, plus more. The usual winter squashes and greens made a lively appearance, to be sure, but there were more tomatoes than I saw all summer. We even bought a (sadly disappointing) basket of strawberries.

Our total take home was:
Swiss chard
Turnips (don’t knock them until you’ve had tiny turnips sliced thin and sauteed in maple syrup)
Butternut Squash
and maybe another odd or end.

I was pretty pleased. I’m especially interested in the eggs. I’ve been buying humanely-raised supermarket eggs since we moved here, and I’m wondering how much difference there will be. I used to buy farmers market eggs just because I liked the egg guy, who was a young “tough guy” type that stood out in the market like you wouldn’t believe. I never paid particular attention to the quality of those eggs versus my store eggs.

Then I came home and turned those cucumbers into pickles. I’ve never made them before, but I was feeling pretty confident after the marmalade thing. I tasted the first one just now. They aren’t quite as dill-y as I like my pickles, but they’re darned good. I’m putting both the pickles and the marmalade on a list of potential homemade Christmas gifts for this year.

And if that weren’t enough, I also tried making my first yogurt. (Have I mentioned feeling inspired lately?) It’s not bad. And, again, easy enough to make. I was worried that I didn’t have a great way to keep it up to temperature, but I managed. Next time I’ll try to actually document the process. It is a little lumpy, probably because my starter yogurt was also lumpy. I’ll try a different brand in the future. You certainly can’t beat the price–$1.25 for a quart of milk, plus about that much for a container of fancy-ish yogurt yielded a whole quart. That’s 32 oz for $2.25. In individual cups, with the kind of yogurt we buy, 32 oz is more like $6-$7.


Day 5: The Day Off

Today I took the day off from my electronics. I didn’t mean to, really. But the wireless was weird all day and I forgot to watch even Martha Stewart, my one “daytime TV” indulgence. Instead, I read 250 pages of The Old Curiosity Shop (and if ever there were a way to scramble your brains, it is packing that much Dickens into 8 hours). I tidied up. I played with the dog. I had afternoon tea, with the most delicious orange to ever pass my lips. Seriously. I looked through a cookbook and noted some new recipes to try. I sorted out the memory card issue I was having with my camera. I went for a run, though I took my iPod for that.

I did check my e-mail a few times with my phone, but mostly I was disconnected. I survived just fine. Moreover, it was  really, really nice. The day stretched to an almost infinite length, wherein I got real stuff done. I found myself doing those things with more attention, too, when there was no TV in the background or simultaneous Twitter-checking. I’m sensing a very real commitment for the future.

Who knew?