Empty Shelves

The most recent update on our cleaning out and downsizing:

The behemoth bookcase (1 of 2 at this size) is empty and awaiting a good home. Looking at the one that’s still left this means we got rid of something between 100 and 150 books.

Does that sound like sacrilege to you?

Me too, in a way. But if you asked me to list ten of those books cold, off the top of my head, I couldn’t do it. We’re talking leftover college literature books, my husband’s collection of “boys adventure” type books that he hasn’t read since he was 15, hiking guides to parks we’ll never go back to.

Also, a fair number of “A good person ought to have this in their house” books. Where on earth do we get such ideas? “I won’t look like a real intellectual if I get rid of all the philosophy books!” even when I haven’t opened them since college and didn’t care much for it them.

Now I can use the space for something pragmatic, not just intellectual clutter.



We don’t watch a lot of TV with commercials around here. We’re down to two elderly TV shows, with a long enough life and established enough fan bases that watching them online seems completely fair. The commercials in online streaming tend to be completely irrelevant (diapers? a car I’ll never buy?).

I’m still inundated with requests to buy things, though. The “Commerce” folder in my e-mail, which is set up to filter most of these messages, gets 15-20 messages a day, sometimes more. There are always stragglers, too, hanging out in my regular inbox.

I don’t check the physical mail every day, but when I do check it there are, on average, at least five catalogs. If we go too long, our small post office box will be completely full, entirely of catalogs and flyers. Some companies send separate catalogs to both of us, one in each name.

These things bother me, each in their own way. Physical catalogs are a nuisance. They’re extra paper that I have to cart to the recycling. I ask to be removed from mailing lists, and companies answer “It may take a few months, because the addresses are printed in advance” and then I forget which ones I still need to cancel. As a lure to purchasing unnecessary items, they aren’t too bad, because there’s no quick fix. Something I see in a catalog might get a mental note of “oh, that’s cute,” but by the time I’m done sorting the mail the thought is gone.

The e-mail is a subtler enemy. All of the e-mails advertise sales, you see. “50% off, today only!” Or, “Gift with Purchase!” It’s easy to get caught up in this, because (unlike whatever catalog mailing list we got on) all of these e-mails come from online retailers that I use. My husband’s favorite T-shirts. My career wear. Dog food. Vitamins. Books. I think “Oh, while it’s on sale I need to get a [thing X that we use regularly.]” You click through right then to the website, buy the thing that you (might) actually need, and then “while I’m here, I’ll go look at . . . ” or “I’m only $10 away from free shipping, and shipping is $7. ┬áIt would be like getting a $10 item for $3…” (My Amazon Prime membership easily pays for itself by cutting out “filler” purchases.)

It’s a consumerist sink hole.

On the other hand, I hate to unsubscribe from the e-mail lists, even though the link is Right! There! because I don’t want to miss the legitimate benefit of the sale price on something I would have bought anyway.

This is how corporations win, I guess. I’m going right now to sort through that “Commerce” folder and unsubscribe from 90% of those lists.

Summer Wardrobe: Thirty-Three Item Edition

The idea of a capsule wardrobe is, to me, kind of a maximalist way of being minimal. That is, for someone with a truly minimalist wardrobe, selecting an array of thirty or forty items to get you through a season is purely crazy. My husband laughed and laughed, and counted that he only had about 50 things in his closet, for summer and winter, and that includes everything but shorts, sweaters, socks, and underwear. (Also, at least 5-10 of those things are identical duplicates. Not just “this looks the same to me” but 100% identical.)

It’s harder for women. We’re the locus of most of the fashion pressure in the world. Our bodies are the site of conspicuous consumption. Even my best meaning and most feminist of husbands likes me to have pretty new clothes. Also, women’s clothes are more event-specific (i.e., there is a larger gap between my professional and casual wear than there is for my husband.) and usually made to be more disposable. It’s a messy place.

So, we’ve come up with the idea of the capsule wardrobe, to convince ourselves that we could get by with less, if we really wanted to. I thought I’d play along for the summer, because summer is interminable here and you need to do something. And I would like to know if I can get by with less, if I really wanted to. I’d like this set of clothes to get me through until late June, at which point I may reevaluate out of desperation. (It will be well into October before I need warmer clothes in the rotation.)

Caveats and exceptions: I’m not counting accessories, because I don’t have that many and because this is more than a one month project for me. I’m not counting exercise clothes or grubby cleaning clothes, but I am including “take the dog to the park” and “sit around and watch TV” clothes.

Ten Bottoms: 4 pr. shorts (khaki and navy, in various lengths), 3 skirts (grey, khaki, and navy), 3 pants (light and dark skinny jeans, cream “khakis”)

Three dresses: One simple knit, one shirt dress, one fancier but not too fancy.

Five tank tops for layering that could be worn solo: black, orange, purple, blue, and pale grey.

Five tank tops for solo wear, that could be layered: floral, embroidered, green with detailing, navy with detailing, and a green print

Two solid T-shirts: charcoal and lime

Five lightweight button ups for layering: green, white, pale green, chambray, and blue striped

Heavier layers: Sheer grey cardigan, olive cropped canvas jacket, navy wool cardigan



In and Out: Early April

We have a big dream of moving to a tiny house someday. We’re a long way from home ownership of any kind, so we also have a mini-dream of getting rid of all of our surplus junk long before we do.

So, Ins and Outs for the last few weeks:

In: Four dining plates, four small salad/breakfast plates, four bowls, four large drinking glasses, four small drinking glasses, four mugs.
Out: Eight small and large plates and bowls. Innumerable drinking glasses and mugs. This is replacing our old “his” and “hers” dishes with the dream “ours” dishes. We never entertain, so eight place settings was just too many. I’ve got four settings of china that I can stretch the new dishes with if I need to, although they may eventually need to go as well. I valiantly resisted buying the beautiful cups and saucers that match the new dishes.


Patagonia Maha Breathe

One pair of summer ballet flats in a versatile pale grey.
Out: Nine pairs of shoes. Black high heels (I replaced these with a new pair in the winter), clogs (don’t wear in this climate), sandals x 4 that were either worn out or uncomfortable, black flats that were too small, one pair tennis shoes, and one pair of slippers. I could have sworn there were 11, but I can’t think of the other two. This is cutting it a little too close, perhaps, especially in the very small number of black shoes that are left. We’ll see. My favorite summer sandals are on year six, I’m starting to look for a replacement just in case.

In: Two replacement skirts, for ones I wore out and got rid of last year. Two lightweight linen shirts, one a replacement for my most beloved long sleeved top of all time (RIP) and one just a good idea. One new wool tank top, which I didn’t need but that will be well-loved. In general, trying to replace my go-to summer dresses, which are single-purpose (a summer dress with a cardigan still looks like a summer dress) with much more versatile skirts and tops.
Out: a small but hefty stack of clothes. Mostly things that were too worn to serve their intended level of dressiness, and I have too many casual clothes already. A few skirts that were replaced earlier in the winter. A million sweaters leftover from our previous climate. Just don’t need that many here, and in fact still have probably too many.


Excerpted from John Robbins’s book The New Good Life: Living Better Than Ever in an Age of Less:

“In the days to come, I believe that the homes that will be the most cherished will be human scale, chosen to enhance not our egos but our connection with those we love. Smaller homes free up our time and energy to do things other than work to pay the rent or the mortgage. By having lower housing costs and less house to clean and maintain, we can spend more time with our children, our friends, and our partners. We have more time to write poems or paint pictures, to plant gardens or bake bread, to play tennis or build bunk beds, to make love or volunteer for Habitat for Humanity.

“For many reasons, including the increased cost of many resources, the need to reduce waste, and the need many people feel to simplify their lives, our living spaces will get smaller. If at the same time we can make them more beautiful, more humane, more energy efficient, and more supportive of our spirits, we will have taken an important step into the new good life.” (page 103)