Awareness of Change

It may seem silly, but I’m not particularly nervous about my wedding. Perhaps I am and I’m emotionally stuffing it (I’ve had some weird dreams about marriage and chickens at a bank), but I think I’m just unsure of how to take it all in. Not only am I getting married, I’m also about to graduate. This will be my second degree and so only another two year period that I’ve spent in a particular academic setting. I think that because my education was broken up into two different degrees, I’ve not quite realized the gravity of it’s impact in my life.

So many changes have occurred recently, and normally, I would be completely bugging out, but I’ve found some sense of peace. If I’m being completely honest, I’m not sure that it is God or medication, or both. Perhaps it’s my reading that has taught me how to clear my mind, or perhaps it’s even still something else; regardless, I’m calm and centered.

Recognizing how calm I am now has shown to me how anxious I used to be. I could not make the entirety of my responsibilities cognitively salient to myself without bursting into tears out of sheer stress. I used to feel so trapped by the demands of my life.

Granted, I had a lot going on, but I also have that now. I guess I should simply be thankful for peace. Here is a list of things I am thankful for:

My husband

My marriage

My apartment

Having money

Graduating

Wine

Counseling

Friends I can trust

A family

That’s all for now. Taking a hiatus to walk some aisles, see you in a month!

Closing Thoughts: GTD

I started this season of my life looking for ways to reduce my waste and clutter. Never did I realize how much of this waste and clutter was occupying the space of my mind. Allen has taught me some powerful lessons this semester, many of which I plan on using for the rest of my life. Ironically, the biggest thing I appreciated about his book was that he presented his information and thoughts in a humble and adaptable manner. It was made clear throughout his book that if the reader gains even just one useful tidbit, that his job would have been done well. It takes guts to present one’s theory of self management with such humility; I believe that is how he made such an impact and became a best selling author.

I find that the approaches I most appreciate from GTD are the ones that taught me that imperfection is okay and that projects are not problems. Some examples of these are the lists, such as in my last post. Something about writing lists of all of the good things that are or that could be in my life make listing out what needs doing less daunting. Rather than teach us what is bad about not having lists, the author simply taught us how to love lists; the habit then came naturally.

Another favorite take away from Allen was probably his thoughts on how Compartments and inboxes work. In this area, I truly did make some radical changes as to how I approach anything that needs storing. My apartment actually stays clean when I clean it now and my fiance is learning to simply put something where it goes or in a place where we’ve agreed is close enough to where it goes so that it may be found later to be used again or put away properly. This has prevented countless fights on our end, which is important in such a time of business.

GTD has had such a positive influence in my life and I can only imagine what good will come from the same book upon a second read through, perhaps even a third! Regardless, thank you for reading my thoughts on this book as I’ve journeyed through learning how to organize and minimize effectively!

Never There Yet

“Never There Yet” …and that’s good. We should never feel like we have truly arrived because frankly, in this life, we won’t. More often than not, when we think we have arrived, we are really entering a point of stagnation in our lives. True satisfaction with where we are at in this life cannot be found by becoming perfect; it can only be found by accepting that we are not and that is fine.

David Allen taps human creativity in his book “Getting Things Done” by asking the reader to build a series of lists. A list can often be considered something tedious; a two dimensional reminder of all of the problems we have yet to face on a particular day or week or even years. Allen’s trick is that he doesn’t just ask the reader to write lists of all the things that need doing or should be doing, he asks us to write down all the things we would like to do. Allen is a genius in that he teaches the reader quite effectively that a project doesn’t have to be a problem and that productivity doesn’t have to be exhausting. I have a few lists in my life. Some of them are responsibilities for my wedding, my schooling, or otherwise, but some of them are lists about the kind of person I aspire to be like one day. Note that I didn’t say “be”, I said “be like”. Remember that the unattainable is not a fair goal but still to be remembered.

I wrote a list of the sort of activities I’d want to participate in if I have money to spend one day; I realized I don’t want anything more in life than upper middle class, which I suppose is a good thing? Anyway, here is that list:

Fresh flowers every week

Quality edition books

College classes for fun

Investing in local artisan products

High quality cleaning products

Fine wines and other foods

Money to donate to environmental and medical research

A few trips to Italy, Scotland, Ireland, and Japan.

The best thing about this list is that they are attainable goals. Note that there is nothing on owning a house or having kids. These are also things that are important to me, but often if something is precious, I try not to hold too tightly to that dream. Call me pessimist or realist, but I find myself in less disappointment this way.

I have many more lists, but I wanted to provide something interesting and perhaps relatable as a sample so that readers could get an idea of how easy this is and the best part is that once these are on paper, they don’t get lost in your head! …As long as you file them correctly.

More to come, thanks for reading.

Using Tools with Intention

I recently started following an Instagram blogger, @simpleishliving. The blogger themes her posts around her household items and a few thoughts on the ethics of their origins, uses, and destination. It’s an interesting flavor of Methodological Minimalism and it closely fits with Allen’s approach in Getting Things Done to our every day tools. If we are not using a tool, such as overbranded pens or Post It notes, should we be? I at least want to be more aware of the tools I’m using every day; I would hope that the ethical questions would naturally develop from the habit.

Cognitive Salience is key to facilitating radical change in one’s life. We often don’t see reason for change until where we’re at is laid out in front of us. Frankly I’m not sure where to even start. I feel like the tools I use change so frequently, as if I haven’t discovered what truly works for me yet. Allen would suggest that I start from scratch and spend a day mimicking my day-to-day routines. Or perhaps this is simply a part of emerging adulthood and once I’ve further established myself, consistency will come more naturally.

It is my opinion that we seek to model ourselves after people who live with intention. My previous post discusses leaders who live with intention by using Allen’s methods to manage their lives. I think this is why I admire @simpleishliving’s blog. I find that most people rarely recognize that intention is often the driving force behind success and so they flounder aimlessly trying to be something that they are frankly incapable of accomplishing in their current state. Don’t dare try simply pointing this out to them. They will never see it unless it’s laid out in front of them; made cognitively salient.

I find myself desiring to be more intentional from an ethically sourced standpoint. I don’t think that’s very common. Many seem to think that they can be better by bettering themselves for entirely self-serving reasons. I think that true success is only going to be found by not only living intentionally, but living intentionally for the purpose of making yourself more serviceable to others and only a motivation such as that, outside of one’s self, is truly sustainable enough to actually achieve that success.

David Allen, Leadership, and Cognitive Science

In David Allen’s revised edition of his book, he includes a few new chapters addressing how his methodology of “Getting Things Done” fits with Cognitive Science. As someone hoping to eventually earn her PhD in Cognitive Psychology, this made for an interesting read. It can also be encouraging to see an author show that their work is validated by hard statistics. Allen often speaks from a perspective of managing a team of employees and what that requires. It seems paradoxical that his idea of how to effectively keep tabs on essentially everything is to only focus on one agenda at a time; but then, how does one eat an elephant?

The right answer is, you don’t because elephants are protected and overpoached, but the correct answer is one bite at a time. As someone who struggles to consistently manage any sort of routine, swallowing the elephant whole sounds easier. the ingenious piece of Allen’s book is that these skills and tips are accessible to virtually anyone. However, that is not the same for actually keeping a management position such as is suggested by Allen’s perspective.

I learned the other day that the most predictive measure of management performance is actually intelligence. That makes sense at face value, but its implications can be discouraging for some. We want a world of equal opportunity at success and we identify higher positions of leadership as more successful and yet the two are simply not compatible ideals. We then have two choices, to one either tell those of average intelligence or less that they’re simply not meant to be top dog, or we try viewing success from a different lens.

Allen would probably agree that higher intelligence predicts better management because most people rely on brain space to accomplish anything. Ergo, those with more brain space are naturally more successful. Allen levels the playing field by teaching everyone the necessary skills to more successfully manage one’s cognitive demands outside of one’s brain space. However, there is also the question of why we see leadership roles as the end all goals of a successful career? It could simply be that we admire those who are leaders, but there are so many crooked leaders in the world that this seems to be a stretch. Perhaps if we are all truly honest with ourselves, what we really desire is power.

Within Christianity, there is a population that is fascinated with the concept of spiritual gifts. Testing tools have even been created to measure this with a fair amount of validity and reliability. I’ve taken these tests and am often labeled as gifted with leadership, teaching, and prophecy. Statistically, as a first born child, I am more likely to have these gifts, but everyone seems to want to have these gifts, which makes me question if I really have them or if I’m instead just really good at tricking the system. Everyone wants those scores and usually disagrees with a type of servant-hood or hospitality because frankly, those three positions come with social power.

Maybe I’m crazy but my recollection is that Jesus and his followers consistently highlighted servant-hood as the ultimate attitude and practice of a Christian. If one really thinks on what Jesus’s biggest influence was, it wasn’t his teachings, it was that he died for us. He lowered himself as much as humanly possible and sacrificed himself in order to accomplish something great for others.

As a minimalist, I’ve found an increasing desire within myself to have an open home for others and to have the time to help others. That is servant-hood and hospitality. I’m not claiming that my test scores are wrong or anything, but that perhaps the test is just plain stupid and that our goals shouldn’t be self actualizing our gifts but Christ-actualizing the attitude and behavior he emulates. David Allen does teach management skills, but instead of interpreting that as how to ascend to a management position, I think his book could be better purposed to teaching the individual how to better use their time for advancing the kingdom of God.

Barring Entrance

I’m not sure what I was thinking when I decided that this point in my life would be the best time to begin introducing Minimalism and Environmentalism into my life. I know how romantic it sounds, beginning my marriage and home in an ethical, sustainable, and enriching manner; but that also translates more accurately into choosing the busiest, most transitional and disorganized period of my life to attempt introducing a higher level of order than I’ve ever previously achieved. Weddings are wasteful and messy and cluttered. Don’t get me wrong, I’m excited to be getting married, but there is so much waste, confusion, and extravagance.

Erin Boyle, who I’ve mentioned in previous blog posts, includes a chapter in “Simple Matters” discussing Wedding Registries and how to navigate Minimalism and Sustainability while allowing those who love and care about your marriage to still feel like they can contribute to building your home. My biggest effort in accomplishing this was registering at West Elm, an ethical branch of Williams Sonoma. Their prices are mid range, their products are predominantly organically and ethically sourced, and they are proud participants of Fair Trade, which is an organization that ensures that the workers and farmers providing wealthier countries with their beautiful products are being paid a fair and consistent wage. While I personally agree with Boyle that ultimately the best way of ensuring a product is sustainable is to locally source that product, I’m not a complete nationalist (neither is she), and for now, this is my best compromise.

I chose to register only for what I actually want and need. That sounds like a no-brainer, but it can be hard to accomplish when one is already so overwhelmed by trying to please at least 60% of the people with vaguely valued opinions. In addition to this, most registries will tell you what you need; IGNORE THIS. I didn’t need an avocado slicer, in fact, I’m already overwhelmed by the knives and other similar tools that I have to accomplish the same task. Think about applying that logic to virtually every item considered for your registry. You’ll find that most of what is on there is redundant and underused.

That vase pictured above is single handedly my most desired item from my registry. This was an incomprehensible concept for most of my relatives and in-laws. Thankfully, a clever girlfriend of mine got it for me, or I probably would have used my own meager funds to purchase it.

Your family and friends care about you enough to tell you when they think you’re making a mistake but it’s important to also remember that most of your family and friends will not understand the changes you’re trying to make in your life until they see it come together. If they get annoyed that you refuse to add another twenty items to your registry, that is okay. Simply thank them for their input and note that you know it’s because they care. They’ll understand when it comes together, trust me. My mother now loves this vase and entryway.

More to come this afternoon!

Not Done Yet

I’ve mentioned David Allen and his book “Getting Things Done” a few times throughout my blog, particularly regarding his advice on organizing. I’m good at organizing as I mentioned in my last blog post… I also mentioned that I’m not quite as good as maintaining, which is what I will be discussing in this blog post about life skills I haven’t quite mastered yet.

Bullet Journalling is a current popular trend that has caught my attention, primarily for its combination of function and aesthetic; something that speaks poetry to my minimalist heart. Bullet journalling encompasses Allen’s method of maintaining: the weekly review. His three steps are

1. Collect: this is taking everything from the week and accounting for what’s there.

2. Current: this is simply getting current. Did I write that paper? Yes I did, but did I submit it? No, that is my Next Step.

3. Create: this is hard to accomplish when I’m tired and it is frankly my biggest struggle in accomplishing this model.

I have lists and I sometimes do review those lists as a way of resetting myself for the day, but I don’t practice it consistently and I don’t include every step that it would probably take to help myself declutter from my day. I’m not done yet. Until then, I can only admire the beauty that can come with organization and in the mean time, refrain from buying glittery pens as a form of motivation. In practice of true Minimalism, function comes first, beauty comes second. If I’m not clean, I can’t cover up what is in disarray.

More to come, thanks for reading!

Defining Minimalism

Now that I’ve offered some preliminary basics of how I think and how I attempt to be successful at life, I’d like to offer some clarity: I’ve given the description “because Minimalism is hard” and following that, I’ve shown some of the minimalist aesthetics in my life and some of the minimalist methodology in my life as suggested by Alan and Boyle, but I believe Minimalism has three perspectives, Aesthetic, Method, and Philosophy.

I was originally attracted to the idea of Minimalism by its aesthetic in clothing design and then my interest in minimalist interior and artistic design followed, however, my minimalist roots begin in its methodology. My mother is incredibly organized and structured in her home and budget and I grew up with those ideas and an entirely different way of applying them. I cannot maintain what I organize very well, so to solve this, I began routinely “purging” my room and closet of things I no longer felt attached to or needed. I did this entirely of my own volition and it drove my mother mad as it meant that I didn’t save the birthday cards she wrote, or the toys, or the little souvenirs or gifts I had acquired, but by the end of my purging, I still hadn’t made my bed which might have been all she had asked me to do eight hours prior.

I identified clutter as a source of discourse and barriers in my life, but I had virtually no rhyme or reason for this concept; it just worked for me, “some people are good at maintaining and some are just good at fixing”. I know I’m a fixer.

I didn’t think of Minimalism as a philosophy until naturally some time after my required Philosophy and Ethics course in undergrad. I had begun to ask “why” in my overarching world view, such as my political decisions in which I transitioned from Conservative Republican to Libertarian primarily because ethically I believed that right of the one is stronger than the might of the many. I became a Methodist when I had been raised in a Post-Campbell, Non-Denominational Sect my entire life. However, just as I was not so good at maintaining, I also struggled to find congruence in my day to day life compared with my beliefs. One of my bridesmaids studies Environmentalism. I care about recycling and accept that global warming is in fact occurring, but I didn’t see much risk in it until she explained that philosophically, we should prioritize human life over nature, but in doing so, we’ve ended up harming the planet so harshly that it is a harm to future human life. She gave philosophy as a reason for why and suddenly Environmentalism mattered to me in my every day life. I play games searching for places to recycle a bottle because it is worth the hassle. I now buy bar shampoo and conditioner and I actually hate my conditioner right now, but the feeling is worth it, that I’ve done some benevolence that gives me a sense of congruence.

It was shortly after this revelation that I picked up Boyle’s book and realized that there might be a reason that I was attracted to Minimalism just as there was a reason for my political and religious views, and that those reasons matter enough that they should be a part of my every day life, not just apart of fixing my life.

As someone who is religious, it was important to me that I had scripturally fueled reasoning for my newfound obsession, but I could not just hunt it out and risk making excuses for myself. I was blessed and the answer hit me in the form of a sermon where the rich young ruler is discussed. The rich young ruler comes to Jesus and asks what must be done to enter the kingdom of heaven. He proves that he has followed the law almost perfectly and that he is a good man, but Jesus then tells him “sell all your possessions, give to the poor, and follow me” and the young man leaves devastated. I was always confused by that story as I know that Jesus was not truly asking that anyone must sell everything, but I was offered some clarity: Jesus asked this man to simplify so that he is free to do God’s will.

We Americans do not realize that we are in fact the richest people in the world if we are making more than 30k a year because wealth is relative. So is clutter. I need to reduce anything that holds me back from doing good in the lives of others. Obsessing over what to wear distracts me from simply appreciating beauty of my body in or out of clothing. Having more stuff means having more stuff to clean until cleaning is no longer caring for my possessions but a chore. Buying everything that strikes my fancy means not having money for the homeless man I met on the way home, or for that trip that grows my fiancé and me.

To me, Minimalism as a philosophy is the idea that we all have the same space; the less stuff that occupies that space is more freedom for us to move in that space, or perhaps enter someone else’s space. We have an ethical responsibility to be free enough of our own burdens to aid others with theirs

Simply Reviewing Matters

Sometimes combining philosophy, aesthetic, and application of an idea all at once can be overwhelming. I know that my journey exploring Minimalism has reflected this. In this post, I’d like to gloat about my life’s biggest blogger influence Erin Boyle and her book “Simple Matters”.

Erin Boyle is an extreme minimalist out of necessity due to the need to provide a safely and conveniently located home for her family of four in Brooklyn. Her background involved an editorial position at Gardenista as well as some experience curating for small museums in the southern and New England coast. Her experiences have led to some poignant ideas about how Americans approach their homes in terms of space, function, and ethics.

Boyle’s key point throughout her book is that we do not need to be completely prepared for anything and everything. Instead, we can be mostly prepared. I can’t recall the last time I’ve heard anyone use the term “sufficient” outside of religion or court. I’d like to bring that term back into my life. The idea of sufficiency is a very Hebrew, biblical term. God never asked for a temple, a tent was sufficient. When the Hebrews opted to build God a temple anyway, it was ultimately destroyed. God was more concerned with the function of the tent in terms of flexibility, mobility, and symbolism than he was with size, expanse, or extravagance.

Continuing with that temple analogy to tie into Boyle’s next point, quality matters. God had rules for what fabrics could or couldn’t be used for that tent and in similar fashion put limitations on how fabrics were made. It’s ironic that Christians today say that anything can be worn because of a New Covenant and yet we see that those mixed or synthetic fabrics are a lesser quality, don’t last very long, and are often from highly unethical origins, such as sweat shops. Quality of what enters the home matters in several avenues: self care, ethics and sustainability, economics, and function.

For example, Boyle harps continuously about the dangers of BPA and other harmful chemicals leaked from plastic products and containers often brought into the home. In practicing self care, we should seek to prevent such exposure. In terms of sustainability, it is clearly harmful to the environment, economically, that plastic product will not increase in value the same way something crafted of wood might. In terms of functionality, a plastic product may be harder to store than something of wood. I’m comfortable leaving a wood handled broom out in the open for stylistic purposes but I don’t feel the same way about a plastic broom.

Boyle offers two areas of focus in reducing the clutter and increasing the functionality of the home: what must go out and what must not come in. Most of those Tupperware containers with or without their lids must leave and be barred from further entrance. I have three Pyrex glass containers. I don’t need more because I can’t actually fit more in my fridge and if I have more than four leftovers, I need to throw something away. More importantly, I need to know how to only cook what food I need to begin with.

Boyle gives abundant grace when offering her methods to minimalist living. She accounts her past mistakes and that she simply chose to move on. She doesn’t insist that everyone must live as extremely as her. I’ve read this book three times through so far and still gain more insight into how I can improve with every reading.

More to come, thanks for reading!

Sarah

Containing Life

Today I want to expand on a concept from “Getting Things Done” by David Allen, a book I’m currently working through from one of my classes. This will be the first of likely a dozen or so posts about Allen’s book and how it is impacting and developing my lifestyle.

Allen’s book is exactly what the title suggests; his approach to getting things done is helping the reader recognize the tools they already use in their own life and aiding them in simply refining those tools. There is no “secret solution”, none of that “doctors hate him!” click bait type of nonsense; I appreciate Allen for how straightforward and humble he is in presenting the information that he feels helped him be successful in a way that is transferable to others. Allen talks about Containers, which he loosely defines as anything that holds anything, not just in the very literal sense, such as Pyrex or the seven boxes of Christmas decorations hidden in your garage. Allen is more specifically referring to what holds our information. For some people, including myself, this container is too often our minds when it could be a planner, a folder, or a flash drive.

One kind of container is a Inbox. This is anything, such as an email inbox, of which I have currently three, or something more literal, such as where all the mail gets dumped as it comes in every day. Currently, all the containers in my life are in an absolute mess of transitional disarray, and understandably; I moved from my parents to Camp where I worked the summer, to my current home where I nanny, and to top it all off, my fiancé moved in October and almost half a year later, I am still playing catch up, just in time for me to finally move in with him in May. Life is messy and understandably, so are the things that contain it.

This is my apartment’s inbox and no, the faux eucalyptus was not “planted” there (I’m punny) for a photo op, it’s there because this is where my mail, my borrowed items, and incoming project supplies get tossed. The cart was originally a bathroom rolling storage cart. I spray painted it copper, which made it instantly pretty and presentable enough to be in the main living space. Eventually when I finally install the breakfast bar, my hope is that from my inbox, I can sit on my stool and quickly and effectively sort through my inbox while sipping on my morning coffee. How idealistic of me. Let us see how that goes…


This is a look into the world of disorganization I actually live with. This everything that was previously in my physical containers of things with no sensible home, now in one messy pile. Frankly I’m at a loss as for how to go about reassigning a home for all of these items; I’ve never needed containers for some of these things before. My parents had their system of storing hardware and tax records. A hard lesson I’ve learned in these past five months is that not having a lot does not automatically equate to Minimalism; as an adult, I am now required to have significantly more stuff than I was required of as a child, such as hardware and tax records. Minimalism is more truly about how we manage the stuff we have. Is our stuff intrusive, redundant, or overly sentimental? When reducing these things, we must simultaneously ask: is our stuff multifunctional, efficient, and as Maria Kunos would ask, sparking joy? These are questions I now have to answer as I sort through these homeless objects, deciding what needs a shiny new container, what belongs to an existent container, and what belongs in my favorite container: my trash can.

That’s all for now, thanks for reading!