Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Making SMART Goals for a Better Life

With 2020 about to pass over my time zone in just a few hours, I'm reflecting once more on what I've accomplished in 2019 and thinking about what I want to accomplish in 2020. Like plenty of other people, I've made some pretty lofty goals in the past that were hard to stick to past a month or two. I'll be trying something different this time by making "SMART" goals.

A SMART goal is specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time-bound. I think framing each goal with those criteria will have much better payoff than making generic goals like "get healthier" and "be better with finances".

Without further ado, here are my top 3 goals for 2020 elaborated into SMART framework:
  1. Lose weight. I'm going to try to lose between 1 and 2 pounds per week leading up to an IT conference and my birthday in September. Of course, losing 2 pounds per week is ideal, but even 1 pound a week is progress.
  2. Drink less alcohol. I'm going to limit myself to 2 drinks per night, and only drink 3 or fewer nights per week. This goal is actually going to help with #1 and #3, so that's a bonus!
  3. Improve my personal finances. The first 2-3 months of the new year will be spent tackling what little is left of my credit card debt. After that, if I adhere to my budget well enough, I should be able to save up to 50% of my take-home pay each month and direct it into savings and investments.
I've set my goals up primarily so that they don't feel like chores to achieve. I could feasibly pay off all of my credit card debt in January, but giving myself through March to do so lessens the burden. In the second half of 2019 I worked to cut down on drinking alcohol, which after a few months gave me a good idea of how much more I could cut back and still enjoy fancy cocktails and wine. Weight's always been a difficult topic for me, but I started an accountability group and most people have similar goals. So this year, my weight goal has some social strings attached, which is a powerful motivator. I don't want to let down my accountability buddies!

I'm not sure that I actually have more than 3 big goals for 2020, but the SMART framework will definitely help if I think of more things I want to achieve.

Sunday, December 29, 2019

Where Clutter Likes to Hide

I'm sure that there are some experienced minimalists out in the world who have managed to keep their homes completely free from clutter. I, however, am not one of those people. A clutter-free space can sometimes take a good bit of effort to attain and then maintain. A solution that's seemed to have worked fairly well for me so far is to target places where clutter likes to quietly or invisibly accumulate, and change the environment and/or my habits so clutter doesn't come back.

I've found that clutter likes to hide in or on:
  • Entryway tables - Having a table so close to the main door makes for an easy spot for paper clutter to accumulate. Junk mail, bills, and local bulletin papers loved to come in from the mailbox and spread out across the table in the entryway. I changed my habit from bringing all of the mail in to bringing in only bills and personal letters. On my way back up to the house from the mailbox, anything that's a promotional or junk mailer gets tossed into the recycling bin. I also decided to move the table deeper into the house, and make it the home of the router and a couple of cute potted plants. There's no room left on it for paper clutter, and it's now located in an inconvenient place for paper junk, too.
  • Kitchen drawers - Everyone has probably dealt with a "junk drawer" or two in their lives, and it's usually one of the awkwardly-sized drawers that's too small for a flatware organizer, but still useful for something or other. My own junk drawer phenomenon has persisted through several moves, and has always been home to random hardware bits like screws, nails, and picture-hanging supplies as well as small kitchen appliance manuals. Many appliance manuals can be found online for free, so I tossed the manuals I had into the recycling bin. As for the miscellaneous hardware bits, those were gathered up and put into the hardware container I keep with my toolbox.
  • Kitchen cabinets and cupboards - When items like cake pans and sets of dishes live behind closed doors, it's easy for them to multiply invisibly over time. Having extra plates, mugs, and cake pans you never use won't hurt you, but they won't help, either. I had a 16-piece dinnerware set that was only ever used for the mugs, and a stash of all sizes of cake pans. When I bake, I typically go for the smaller pans anyway--why keep the larger items if they never get used? Into the donate bin went the pans and plate sets I realized I no longer had use for.
  • Bedside tables - I once had the lofty goal of reading and journaling before bed as a way to wind down for the night. But with those goals, my bedside table quickly became covered not only in books, but several notebooks and no shortage of writing utensils. The reality was I'd usually only want to read, if I wanted to do anything, before falling asleep. I corralled all the notebooks and pens and pencils and placed them with the rest of my stationery goods elsewhere, and now keep just one or two books on the bedside table.
  • Bathroom cabinets - Hair and skin products seem to quickly spiral out of hand when they spend most of their time hiding behind a mirror or a door. Changing this came down to discarding any products I wasn't using or had no genuine plans to use, then I rearranged the items I kept to give them some "breathing room" in the space I'd cleared.
The hardest thing to tackle on this list was the kitchen junk drawer because it's a catch-all for a mix of useful and useless items. If you can eliminate a junk drawer, it should be painless to eliminate clutter anywhere else. The locations I listed above have always been the worst locations for clutter wherever I've lived. Now, being more aware of clutter's favorite hiding places, it's easy to keep clutter to a minimum if I can't manage to eliminate it completely. 

Friday, December 27, 2019

Three Years of Discarding: What I said Goodbye to and Why

I've read a lot of other minimalist blogs that make lists of what their readers should discard, but have yet to see many lists of what the minimalists themselves have discarded. One kind of post I don't like is the "100 (or some arbitrary number of) items you should discard today". Curation of a happy minimalist home takes more than a day. It might take more than 100 discardable items to get there, but it also might take fewer.

Finding useful items and objects that "spark joy" can be overwhelming when first starting a journey toward modern minimalism. When you come from the background of being a broke college student like I did, there's a lot of memory of need and sentimentality attached to objects that helped you get through difficult times. The hardest things for me to get rid of were books and glassware, which come close to last on my list.

At the start of my journey in 2017, I discarded (recycled, tossed, or donated):
  • "Some-day" clothes that I was saving in case I lost or gained weight - I'd kept these initially because I'd either enjoyed the shape, color, or print, or because someone else bought the item for me. Anything that didn't fit me plus or minus 10 pounds ended up in the donation bags. My first swing at discarding clothes and shoes resulted in at least 8 13-gallon bags full to bursting. I even got my husband to join in and he filled 3 bags himself.
  • Notebooks from my undergraduate and graduate studies - I kept these with the lofty goal of revisiting the information within, but in reality they were stuck in boxes for years and I never needed to reference them. I recycled two bankers boxes full of notebooks.
  • Craft supplies that went unused for over a year - I grew up sewing, and when I moved cross-country at the end of 2010 I took a lot of craft stuff with me, or had it mailed to me later. I was at university from 2011 to 2016 for undergrad and grad studies, so I rarely had time to craft. When I finally cleared out my craft supplies, I had 10 13-gallon bags of supplies destined for donation centers.
  • Home decor items I'd never displayed - Any time I went thrift shopping, I had a hard time saying no to any shiny knick-knack that even remotely fit the decoration styles I liked. They spent their time in my possession in bankers boxes and paper boxes, never to see the light of day until I peeked inside for discards and keeps. I didn't take anything out before sending 4 boxes of home decor items back to secondhand shops.
  • Excess bedding - Because I was a broke college student until I got my internship and then salaried job, I generally elected to turn the thermostat down in the winter to save on the gas bill. I stocked up on easy-to-wash blankets from thrift shops to keep warm. I filled at least 3 bags with bed spreads, sheets, throw blankets, and quilts fit for donation once I moved back into a space I shared with others.
Throughout 2018, I discarded more items, though nowhere near the volume I did in 2017:
  • Clothing I had replaced - I tried to adhere better to a "One in, one out" policy for new clothes. If an item that I replaced was still in good condition, I donated it. I also got my husband to give his wardrobe a second look, and together we (mostly he) said goodbye to another 3 or 4 bags of clothing.
  • Crafting books - I only got rid of a few books at first, but they were books I knew I'd never use because I'd outgrown the content. I sent a handful of books off to donation centers.
  • Storage bins/shelves - Because I had less to store, I had removed a lot of the need for storage bins, shelves, and storage containers. I said goodbye to a 12-bin shelving unit and two 5-foot tall utility shelf units.
I revisited KonMari books and read some other books on modern minimalism at the start of 2019. At the end of 2018, my husband and I decided it was time to save for a house, so I wanted to make sure we weren't going to box up so many things that we would only get rid of after the move. This was the year I finally got rid of the last few categories of items I'd had extreme difficulty discarding.

In 2019, I finally discarded:
  • Non-fiction, fiction, and history books - I studied history and read a lot, so I had an affinity for collecting books of all stripes. Many were purchased from secondhand stores, history department book sales, and library book sales. I love to read, but acquiring so many books because they were cheap and seemed interesting led me to have an insurmountable TBR (to-be-read) pile. At the start of 2019, I donated 90 books. Throughout the rest of the year, I donated over 30 more. My TBR pile is more manageable, and I have space now for books I'll acquire because I'll actually read them in the future.
  • Crafting books - Knowing that I would soon have space for a proper craft room, I started to consider which crafts I wanted to dedicate the space to--did I still want to do a little bit of everything, or just focus my efforts on a few? I decided I wanted to keep up with sewing, soapmaking, and mixed media/painting, so I donated about 20 craft books I no longer felt I needed.
  • Crafting supplies - With the book collection whittled down to a few favorites about sewing and soap making, I discarded a few plastic grocery bags full of knitting tools and yarn, jewelry-making supplies, and even some soap molds and other soap supplies I didn't plan on using. Anything in good shape was donated. I cleared out a couple of small bags of items to throw away, mostly fabric scraps too small to reasonably use, and expired/old soap supplies.
  • Excess cocktail glasses - I started learning mixology in 2009, and collected all sorts of specialized cocktail glasses from 2016 through 2018. I always loved the look of collections of  sparkly-clean glassware, but the reality was that I generally used just my rocks glasses or coupes for most drinks. I donated about 60 pieces of glassware. I now have just simple sets of 4 of rocks glasses, coupes, and wine glasses (red, white, sparkling) that I actually use. 
  • Specialized/single-purpose kitchen items - I collected a lot of bakeware, casserole dishes, and single-purpose utensils to support a fantasy of entertaining others--a fantasy I don't often make reality, and when I do I don't need any of the items I thought I would. I ended up keeping a few bundt pans and layer cake pans, two muffin tins, and a baking sheet and cooling rack. I said goodbye to a set of three casserole dishes, excess baking sheets and cooling racks, excess oven mitts and trivets, a garlic press, and several sets of plastic measuring cups and spoons. Several boxes and grocery bags full of kitchen items made their way to a donation center.
There you have it! That's the bulk of what I've discarded over the past few years, and rehashing some of it made me realize I've got more yet that I can do without (namely kitchen and craft items). It's hard to remember the specifics of anything I got rid of, which is proof that they're items I wouldn't miss if I didn't have them. I'll have much less to discard in 2020 thanks to three years of effort already... but achieving just the right minimalist lifestyle does take years and I know my style and needs will change over time.

If you're going to get started with, or even continue discarding, remember that it's a long process. Stay patient with your items and with yourself, and ultimately you'll figure out the perfect amounts and types of items you want to keep.

Thursday, December 26, 2019

My Introduction to Minimalism

If you had asked me five years ago if I ever thought I'd become a minimalist of any stripe, I'd have likely replied that I thought minimalism was a load of porpoise hork. Who would want to live a life of austerity and nothingness... on purpose?

My opinion rapidly changed after reading and being captivated by the charm of Marie Kondo's Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up. Ironically, I'd acquired that book along with a box of junk I didn't really need at a rummage sale. After finishing the book in a few short sittings, I ended up getting rid of pretty much everything I'd acquired with it at the sale. Within a few months, I purged 8 bags just of my own clothes and shoes and 30-some-odd bags of other stuff from just a few small rooms I occupied.

As the next few years went by, I gradually got rid of more and more of my belongings until I had only the things that were useful day-to-day and things that made me happy to have. I've moved twice since reading about the KonMari method, and before each move I was empowered to get rid of more and more as I packed the items I wanted to keep. Instead of a 1,000 square foot apartment, I now own a 2,600 square foot house. Although my space has more than doubled in size, I have made it a point not to acquire more than I need.

When I first picked up the KonMari books, I had just started an internship that promised to turn into a salaried job, but I was a broke college student. My years in college, and low income from the university job, had me shopping secondhand often when I needed anything from clothes to housewares. It was all inexpensive, and shopping took away some of the dread of being broke. Needless to say that shopping turned into an addiction and I'd acquired far too many things. Like a fool, I'd brought a lot of it with me when I moved 2 hours away for the internship. Most of the stuff I had ended up in storage in a small studio building. When I came across it all years later, I sent most of it in for donations and a good chunk became food for the dumpster.

Minimalism isn't just for the privileged few who can choose to give up their belongings and not suffer from it. Minimalism is for anyone who isn't feeling fulfilled by their belongings, no matter their income or class status. After all, I got my start with minimalism while I was living with my mother-in-law during my internship. Minimalism is only as out of reach as you allow it to be.