Counting treasures

There are many ways to measure wealth and success in this world.  You can hire a financial advisor, who will check your debts and your assets, balance your portfolio, then rank you on your level of prosperity.

You can count houses, or cars.   Take trips- see the world- how far have you gone? How many miles have you earned on your frequent flyer account this year? How may Hilton points do you have?

Buy Coach bags each season. New shoes for every outfit. Stack them in racks, boxes rarely opened.  Hang clothes in full closets, then lay more in piles scattered about.

That is treasure, those are blessings. They are well earned prizes for hard work and long hours on a job.

852689E8-85FF-47F4-B4BC-36CC37CB8010But I have also seen wealth- beyond all imagining- in the joy and laughter of people gathered around a table to share a meal and a drink with a friend.  Friends and family who took time out of their lives to drive an hour, 7 hours, to bake cookies for the birthday guy, – and raise a glass or two (or five) in celebration.   Friends who filled a restaurant with so much laughter you could hear them two rooms away.

With thousands of ‘Connections’ on social media, will one answer the phone for you when you call in a crisis? Once the novelty of the latest gadget you bought wears off, will you forget about it like a child forgets his toys?   When you are at the end of this life, and look back, where was your wealth, what will you take with you?

If we are blessed, some of that wealth will be in the memories of family and friends who were with us on this journey.  If we are blessed, we have little movies to re-watch in our minds when  our bodies fail us, to keep us company when we depart.

“9 Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor:

10 If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up.” Ecclesiastes 4:9-10

Best Day Ever

Despite all the chaos in my life while I was pregnant with my son, I was a very happy person, and I knew instinctively that my baby was a happy baby as well.   All tests and ultrasounds had come back normal, and he bounced along for nine months with no issues.  A truly great pregnancy.

What I didn’t know was that he had a birth defect that in many cases is fatal.  We didn’t find out until I was a week overdue and an ultrasound showed a deformed bladder and severely swollen left kidney.

IMG_0834I was right, however, that he was a happy baby.  Every single day, when asked how he is, he replies with a chipper “Great!”.  And at the end of nearly every evening, he will shout, “Mommy, Dad, this was the best day ever!”.

I was previously a tortured artist at heart- gloom and doom, pessimistic on a good day.  But his joy is infectious- and his stubborn will to see the sunshine on even cloudy days breaks through any dreariness I would have.  He is blissful; at five years old, he has no idea how close to danger he had been.  In truth, none of us realize how close to the end we all are at any given moment.

He reminds me that every day is a gift, wrapped up, shiny, and new with a bow on top. Full of anticipation about what good things can happen if we seek it out, and choose not dwell in the dark past.   He also reminds me that if I am doing something in my life that does not bring some happiness, some joy, each day- that I need to either change my outlook, or change my situation.

Our days are numbered, many or few, but each one should be held like a little treasure.   Maybe we can’t always say we are “Great!”, but we can try.  I thank God every day for sending me Vince to teach me how to enjoy this time I have on earth.

I’ll get to it

My car has a “lived in” look- or as my son says, “Why did we buy such a dirty car?”

We didn’t- I just find it easier to leave things in there rather than make multiple trips to clean it out when there are other things to do once I get in the house.

I get home from a grocery run.  Vince and I had a snack on the way home- the bags are left next to our seat, or a coffee cup in the holder.   When I pull into the garage, my mind is already on the dozen bags of groceries that need to be sorted and put away; all the while I can hear the pups barking since it’s 10 minutes past their feeding time and they don’t understand patience.  I stumble in the door with a 5 year old, the groceries and now happy yappy pups – and the car is forgotten entirely.   Until I need to drive somewhere and have to deal with the mess I left behind.

That is my problem. It is easier to walk away and leave the mess behind- so I thought- to deal with at another time, or that I will get back to it.  The trouble is, that time never comes- I am in a rush to the next item on my list; and left behind me are little piles of “Oh, I’ll get to that” “I don’t have time for it” “It can wait”.   Can it?

At some point, all that is left is half completed piles of good intentions.

I have to find focus that is not born in me to tackle these things.  Sometimes, all that gets done is sorting the mail.  Today, maybe the car.  Piece by piece, pile by pile until I can take back some sanity.

15 Minutes

I am sneaking in 15 minutes of quiet between the time my husband comes home sick from work and the time I dropped off my son at preschool.  Then I will head out into the world to run some errands.

There was a lot I let go while I worked- Career first, of course.  My Mother would watch Vince if he was sick, unless it was a serious fever and then I would leave work (I will admit, not willingly, there was so much to do!).   Housework was done on a emergency only basis- there were conference calls to run.

Even dating my husband was done in the spaces between store visits, market meetings, endless emails and phone calls.  I remember several lunches cut short due to some emergency call from a store, or an email I just had to respond to.  I often wonder how he tolerated me, my schedule, and how rude I must have seemed during all of this.

In my mind, I had to hustle.  I had a lot of pride in my job title, and the amount of work I could accomplish.  Looking back of course, it was all done at a great price to my health, sanity, and the lives of those around me- who with their help, enabled me to hold down my job so I could work till 2 am on reports I don’t even remember now.

That is the trouble with what I was doing.  There are careers that are meaningful, and add value to lives; and that require enormous amounts of time and energy to be done well.   However, I felt detached to the success that I had with my career- People would kill for my job, and there were days (more often than not) I wanted to just walk away from all of it.

I just found myself asking often, is this worth it? Is the paycheck worth it to miss my son all the time? Was the money worth the time I missed while my Grandmother was still alive? Fear of Missing Out. And I did, on so many things I cannot get back. It’s a guilt that I have yet to unravel.  I am angry with myself that I couldn’t do it all, and have that Work Life Balance that is supposed to bring you Joy.  I felt like a failure on so many levels because I could not figure out how to do it all, and I feel like so many other women around me can (or at least that’s what the media says you can do).

Now I pace myself-  I still want the pride of accomplishing ‘work’ and achieving “goals”- but they are not sales targets any longer; I love a few quiet minutes folding clothes.  I cry when I get to see my son playing with his friends at school.  I enjoy that cup of coffee while working on a painting more than any corporate dinner or award I ever had at work.

And when the time comes for me to step back into a career, whenever that will be, I hope I remember what is important this time- and don’t get caught up in the whirlwind like I did before.

Modern Minimalism and Christianity

Philippians 4:11 “10Now I rejoice greatly in the Lord that at last you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. 11I am not saying this out of need, for I have learned to be content regardless of my circumstances. 12I know how to live humbly, and I know how to abound. I am accustomed to any and every situation—to being filled and being hungry, to having plenty and having need.…”

Another reason Minimalism appeals to me is that I find so many similarities to my Christian faith- Besides the obvious selflessness of Jesus, his disciples were also examples of living a Minimalistic lifestyle.   I will, for this article, skip over the modern Prosperity Theology that has been popular in some Christian circles- (I’ll save my thoughts on that for another time).

The biggest difference, it seems to me, is that for the modern version of Minimalism, the reason for going Minimal is purely for self improvement- The shedding of items, wealth, jobs, homes, or at least downsizing is to make oneself feel contentment.  From there, I read blogs about people traveling, having more ‘experiences’ with friends rather than collecting items, and dining out more.   For some, the purge is strictly for self-help and happiness.

On the other hand, Christianity’s version is to emulate Jesus, and by letting go of worldly possessions and desires, a person can focus on God and Jesus. Once the items are gone, one can shift their attention outward to the needs of others.  The act of giving away items to charity,  demonstrated in Luke 3:11 by John– “10The crowds asked him, “What then should we do?” 11John replied, “Whoever has two tunics should share with him who has none, and whoever has food should do the same.” is reflected in Modern Minimalist movement.  You can find great ideas on how to let go of items- I use ideas from the Kon-Mari series as well as the 20/20 rule from The Minimalists.  Our possessions psychologically hold a great deal of power over us, and it will benefit you to find a technique for releasing them from your life. 

Minimalism provides the “How-To”, while Christianity gives me the “Why”.  It allows a shift from being focused on me, and helps me turn my attention to taking care of others; or at least being more aware of the struggles of those around me and how I could help.  For me, it’s a easy to move back and forth between Minimalism and Christianity, and see how each support each other.  This does not make the journey in both any easier- the desire to accumulate things is strong- But the two do provide a roadmap for the trip.

At 65

Why after years in corporate sales did I ever get the urge to minimalize my life? What was so wrong with new electronics, clothes, cars, kitchen appliances, gadgets, gizmos, stuff everywhere?  I had the career to support my habit, I wasn’t excessive in my debt (by my standards those days).  I had enough disposable income to satisfy nearly whatever whim I had for shopping.  $60 Foundation and $30 lipstick? No issue, why not? New phone every 6 months? Business expense.

Nagging me though, in the back of my mind, was the feeling that I was not truly happy, and that my purchases were just temporary rushes.

Around time Kon-Mari was sweeping the nation, I ran across a Facebook group for The Minimalists ( a couple former tele-com guys who left the corporate world behind for a life of less stuff, and more experience and contributing something meaningful to society.

I found it very easy to relate to them because of my shared experience in tele-com, starting in sales, working up into management, managing a territory of 12 stores at one point.   And similar to them, I was burnt out, overweight, unhappy in my marriage, unavailable for my son, and glued to a never ending series of phone calls and emails.

I thought at night, is this all there is? When I am 65 and look back, is this how I want to remember my life?  I asked the same questions when looking at my marriage to an abusive spouse- at 65, was it going to be worth it to stay with him? Would anything change?  To both questions, the answer was a glaring No- the life I was living was not the life I wanted to have.  And it was my choice to make a change.

My conversion to a more minimalist lifestyle has not been easy, and there is no end to the journey that I can see.  Every day brings new challenges, new ideas on what to downsize, or what no longer fits my needs or my life.    For example: when I now shop for a new phone, I list the specific features I need, and which can do the job the best; its not always the latest and greatest phone.  I still ‘shop’ phones, I can’t help it.  But I no longer feel that insatiable need to have the newest, or multiple phones, to use.

My best advice to get you started, that helped me is to ask yourself:

  1. Is this how I want my life to look like when I am older?
  2. What are the potential outcomes if I leave life ‘as is’? Pros and Cons
  3. Can I find areas I can change in myself (since changing others around you is not possible without their express desire and intent to do so).

It will not change you life overnight, but it will get you thinking about what you really want life to look like.  There are plenty of resources online to help you get started- I would recommend the Minimalists, and from there, finding other groups on Facebook to join to see how others are shaping their lives.

Sales and the Puppy Effect

I am in a battle.  My former self whispers to me about all the flashy new electronics on the market, new gaming systems, new kitchen appliances.  And while I don’t buy them for myself, I live vicariously thru my husband who has no hang ups when it comes to purchasing items he wants to have.  Guilty by association, I don’t argue when he wants the Amiibo that are on Clearance at Game Stop (BoGo, who can pass that up?)  Or the Sous Vide unit (that I won’t argue with, since the steaks we get from it are by far better than most I have ever eaten in a restaurant).

I can stand and deny myself little trinkets and toys, proclaiming, No, I am Minimalist, I have given up collecting and hoarding.  Meanwhile, I get my kicks watching my husband stand at the counter making purchases.

What is it about buying and holding onto things?

Part is the thrill of the purchase. You see an advertisement that glorifies an object- “Newest, Best of the Year Product” and you know there is a buzz that comes from getting That specific object and bringing it home.   A guy I dated years ago, who worked in the car sales industry, used to call it the Puppy Effect– For instance, you go to a shelter, and see the animals; and once you have held that animal, part of your brain claims it for yourse24808_386307894283_23892_nlf.  So putting it back and not taking it home hurts.   To ease that discomfort, you purchase the dog.  Or car, or IPhone X.   I learned in sales to put the Puppy Effect into all of my presentations- always let the customer hold the product, then take it away.  In some cases, you could see the customer slightly grimace having to release it back to you- in those times, you knew the sale was closed and you could then move to the soft close “Which color phone would you like, silver or black?”

Being on the other side of the sales counter now, I do enjoy watching a good sales presentation- when I see someone working the deal, and saying all the right things, I want to buy just out of the pleasure of seeing a professional work their magic.   It is hard to walk away sometimes, and I always make sure to compliment them on their skill.

Staying out of stores has helped me with my Minimalist journey.  Online shopping is more difficult, because inevitably, once I leave a stores website, I see ads targeting me with the product I researched on nearly all of my social websites I go to.  I can’t hold the product, or pet the puppy- but I am constantly reminded that if I “Click Now”, I will be happy with my purchase.

I am happy to at least recognize my weaknesses- namely the joy of watching others make purchases; and also that I have a better understanding of the psychological process of sales.  Remember, the sales people you encounter in stores have had countless hours of training, anticipating your “No” and how to counter it with proven techniques to turn it into a “Yes”.   We all have to make a living, so don’t fault them for it; and Not everyone can have a successful sales career, the best sales reps are highly skilled professionals.  But if you are looking to downsize, or declutter, or Minimalize your life, be aware of the tools used to get you to buy- the Jedi-Mind control skills can be overcome if you know they are being used against you.

How to be an Artist (with a capital A)


I listened to a podcast from The Savvy Painter yesterday regarding selling artwork professionally and making the leap from ‘day job’ to full time professional artist.  They discussed imagining what you want your life to look like, and actually writing it down-  For example, what does ‘successful artist’ mean to you- Not someone else’s idea of it.  I had found similar thoughts in the book “The Artist’s Way”- visualizing what it is to be an artist.

Here’s what I thought it was:  You grind your way thru an art school, living on alcohol and sIMG_0510craps of food you find so you can afford your art supplies.  Graduate (or if you are really an artist, drop out to prove you don’t need the establishment to tell you how to paint); after graduation, move to New York, work a handful of odd ball jobs, live on a friend’s floor or a bench if necessary and paint when you can.  Default on student loans if you have them.  Critique everyone else’s art, complaining the entire time that the artist ‘got lucky’ ‘knew someone’ or ‘is sleeping with someone’ to get the gallery exposure.

I won’t admit to which on that list I have done.  I will tell you that I did not default on my loans- Because after college and a brief stint in New York, I chickened out, listened to my fears and the ones of those around me, and got a “real job” in sales.

To this day, I make every excuse not to paint.  I don’t even have a ‘real job’ anymore, and I still find myself surfing Facebook, drinking one more cup of coffee, do a few loads of laundry– even though my new studio is set up and ready to go.

What the hell am I afraid of? Maybe actually selling a painting? I can barely bring myself to tell people that my job is “Artist”- I stumble on the words and mutter something about being a stay at home Mommy until I figure out what I want to do.

I- Am- An- Artist.  Time to get over it, get the paints and canvas out and put them together- come what may.

What I left behind

I left a house full of personal items behind- couches, tvs, entertainment, books, knick-knacks, trinkets- It was easier to walk away then try to sort and box and sell and donate and so on.

But nagging me is that house full of my stuff.  I have brought some here to my new home; selectively, just what I need- the antiques and extras I will need to sort some more and decide if it will bring me more joy with me or if it’s path is out of my house.

My husband’s house still looks and feels like it’s his home.  My tiny additions don’t add to the overall feel- if anything, they are swallowed up in the expanse.

Adding some of my artwork will help.  As Vince grows and adds to his collections, we will soon merge with the space.  It’s the in between time that is difficult.   I never imagined living in a home this large trying to fill the space. I sound out of touch, but I don’t mean it at all in that way–  I was thrilled with my tiny cottage and the cozy space. Bad memories of my last relationship stained the place though, and it may be impossible to get the past scrubbed away from there. Not only the memories, but the anger at what could have been and how it’s now empty and alone.

I left behind my personal things, but I carry their weight with me.

Thoughts on marrying a Non-Minimalist

Just about the time I began my work on minimalizing my life, I met my future husband.  I sorted and donated books; photographed artwork then burned it; packed the most basic and essential clothing I needed for my move– He bought a 3000 square foot home.

If you let it be an issue, marrying a non-Minimalist is akin to marrying someone of the opposite political party- it will stain every conversation, make you question your partners morals, and worse, make you second guess your decision to be in the relationship.

Because I love and therefore respect this man, I have made the conscious decision not to let his differing attitude on material possessions corrupt my otherwise idealized image of him.

I try to understand where he is coming from when we have different points of view on keeping an item that may be past it’s usefulness.

I broke the tip off of an old kitchen knife the other day.  We easily own 15 various kitchen knives, not including the steak knife collection.  As I went to discard the broken one, (after properly thanking it for service, Kon-Marie style)- my husband cradled it, thoroughly inspecting it, and said “Oh, this is still good, we can use it for cutting up the dog’s food”.

I stood dumbfounded.  Instead of trying to convince him, or plead my case, I silently watched him put the knife back in it’s drawer.

I am fascinated by his reasoning for keeping items “just in case”.  Give him an object, and in minutes he can discover a potential situation years in the future that we may need that object, and then safely tuck it back in it’s home. My husband is the most logical and sensible person I have ever met. He is also frugal, but not to the point of cheapness.

We have two couches that are in great shape but 1) Don’t match our décor 2) are Cream White so the dogs and child would destroy and 3) are in the way of me and setting up my art studio.   My husband’s thought on keeping them? “I hate to throw out a perfectly good couch”   To his point, they are good– but they are not for us.  They have other homes, somewhere out there in the world.  On this point, I am trying to convince him to at least donate them to charity.

A few years ago, I was in the same mind-frame as he is now.  I kept items for sentimental value, to remember memories, and again, Just in case I need it.   Now, I have found freedom in letting go- I was able to move my son and I with just some basics when I married, and felt only a small amount of anxiety at leaving behind many items from my past.

But as we travel our journey in this life, now together, it really is about picking your battles, and remembering to see things from the other person’s point of view.  Is a broken knife a good reason to pick a fight to break the marital peace and bliss of a home?  If I had, the argument would not have been about the knife; it would have been about me trying to assert my control over his own- then becoming a power struggle totally unrelated and very much unnecessary in our otherwise loving relationship.  I try to keep that in mind any time I feel upset about decisions- is it really the decision that angers me, or the thought I didn’t get my own way?