Smashed

I was decorating with some handmade coffee cups and was reminded of a lesson I learned while making them.  I had spent the summer at an art camp in Erie Pennsylvania, and was a little bitter that instead of getting to paint all day, my concentration was ceramics.

Part of this was that I wasn’t good at it- anyone who has tried to center clay on a potter’s wheel can attest that it is a hard learned skill.  I have a habit of giving up on tasks that I can’t master in the first or second try; and this class tested my patience at all levels.  There are more steps to creating a simple vase than one can image-  You must spend time kneading all the air bubbles out of your lump of clay.  Then after arm numbing kneading, you attempt to throw the lump of clay at a spinning wheel, aiming for as close to center as possible and with enough force that you ensure there is no air pocket separating that clay from the metal, wet wheel.

Back to the grind, you then use your upper body strength to force the clay down and in on itself; one move the wrong way, and the clay may fly off the wheel, or go off center, and your clay needs to be removed, re-kneaded, and thrown again.

BackIMG_1135 at the wheel, if you are successful, and have “pulled” the clay upwards in a semblance of a vase shape, there is the cleaning of the excess clay, and removing the spinning vase from the wheel by using  a steel wire.

That’s just the throwing.  That’s nothing of the hours of drying; ‘firing’ in the kiln; glazing; re-firing; praying-  and maybe, just maybe, that lump of clay has become a fine piece of art.  The process, start to finish, can take days- sometimes weeks depending on the drying times involved.

After all that- My Professor then had us smash the pieces.

I fail to find the words to fully express the sickening feeling of watching my own work destroyed beneath a hammer swung by my own hand.   The hours, the frustration of the process, the joy at seeing the work finally finished- gone- back to the dust that it had come from originally.

What did I learn?  Don’t be afraid to lose everything you work for.  Don’t be afraid to start over.  Don’t get too attached to material things- they can all be lost in a moment, and you will need to be able to move on.   There is always more art to be made in this life.

 

Document That and Send to HR

20160420_210436000_iOSI have only been a Stay at Home Mother full time for 4 full months.  Going into it, I was sure my management background would translate well into my new gig- I had been a manager at various levels for the past few years; some of those skills would have to come in handy now.

One of the questions my former coworkers and my friends ask is “What is life like outside the corporate world?’  Thank the upper management teams you work with, because out here,                                                     folks, you’re on your own–

  • There is no longer an HR department to work with.  When my 5 year old says he won’t do a specific asked task, I no longer have anyone to document his verbal warning to. How can I keep track of where he is on the performance plan without HR to back me up when it comes time to do the write up?
  • Ran out of milk and bread late at night? Or worse, toilet paper? There is no Ops team to email to get that corrected.  Also, no one provides a P&L statement at the end of the month to make sure my budget is on track.
  • DM market visit have you worried? My in-laws just popped by and my house looks like a war-zone.
  • The Xbox won’t log into Live.  The camera ran out of batteries. Wi-fi is down and there’s no ETA for recovery. Not that tech support used to work the same hours my stores were open, at least I had someone to call.  Now I am tech support.
  • There is no Customer Care department to refer complaints to.  Son doesn’t like dinner? Doesn’t like sock color? Tubby time too long or too short?  1-800-Mommy-I-Don’t-Like-This for assistance.

I tell my friends the truth- I have never been so busy, but never so happy either.  There are things I missed out on that I will never get back because when I worked in sales, the bulk of time was spent on the road or in stores. However, I certainly miss all my coworkers and everyone I worked with over the years.  Especially HR.

What If I Need This?

I am in a prison made of sheets of 8 x 10 inch paper. 

Despite my attempts to minimize my personal belongings, my biggest struggle is with paperwork.  Not that I get massive amounts of paperwork in the mail, but every ‘system’ I have tried to organize, shred, or scan has failed.

I have a pile on the kitchen counter- mixed items, my son’s preschool notices, some coupons, and flyers I “may” need.

There’s a pile next to me at the kitchen table- a dual cd “Learn to Speak Spanish” my parents re-gifted to me. Church bulletin; healthy living magazine; and a folder from Berkshire Hathaway about selling homes.

In the dining room, three piles on the table- More preschool paperwork and crafts; medical bills; checks in and out.

Did I mention I do have an office? My excuse for not using it (although it stores several boxes of Avon business work)- I don’t have enough lighting and a chair.   Simple fixes, right? But it keeps getting pushed to the back of my mind to get both items.

I have made the effort to digitize most of my monthly expA5B00935-BC22-44ED-9C97-48269AA591C9enses- automatic debit, and paperless billing.  I won’t discuss the 22,000 emails sitting unopened in my Gmail account.  That’s a fight for another day.

I feel that with paperwork, I have more of a hang-up on letting go than my physical belongings.   The terror of “what if I need this?” is real- mostly drilled into my mind from my Mom (sorry!) who was constantly telling me not to throw out paperwork ‘in case’ there was an IRS audit.   I am not sure they would need my rental agreement from 2002, but I still have it ‘in case’.   Or documents on how I paid off my student loans- “What if they come back sometime in the future and say it’s not paid?” How will I prove it?

Irrational, believe me, I know.  Those are the crazy thoughts I have while trying to sort paperwork.  I try to apply the same principles that I use for objects, but I struggle.  A vicious circle in my mind of overcoming the silly ideas, that panicked “what if?” that creeps in my chest when I dare to think of burning every scrap of paper I have.

The struggle is real, my friends. I won’t declare defeat, I will adjust the method of attack and fight on.  Knowing there is a peace once the paper is gone keeps hope alive for me.

5 Steps to Minimalize Holiday Shopping

My usual Holiday Shopping routine went something like this:

  • Work 70 hours a week
  • Wait till two days before Christmas
  • Panic shop, over spend, and not necessarily get a gift for people that they actually wanted.

Not everyone in your circle of friends or family may be on board with your Minimal tendencies- and that’s ok, we don’t want to force our beliefs on people, especially around the Holiday season.  I have noticed, though,  in the last few years that most gift requests have gotten more manageable.  Let’s be real- not everyone will be happy if you don’t give them something heartfelt, just because you are not accepting gifts.

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Traditional Thanksgiving Dinner 🙂 Upset child and all

In the spirit of the upcoming holidays, and my relatively new–found Minimalistic lifestyle, I have compiled several tips I use to get you sanely, and on budget, thru the gift giving season. 

Step 1: Plan Ahead. Ideally, you would have been saving money thru the entire year in an account specifically for gift-giving. If not, no need to panic, you can still get a gift people will appreciate.  In planning ahead, draw up a full list of everyone you can think of that needs to have a token of appreciation and love for the year.   This can be everyone from family to your favorite barista at the coffee spot.  Once you have this full list, you can then go thru and really narrow down priorities (and assign dollar amounts).

Step 2: Cull the List and add a column for hobbies or favorite activities.  Little Johnny likes trains- Add his name to the list, and mention trains in the hobby column.   Springboard from there.  I also will add a column to my list for max dollar amount I would like to spend, just to stay on track for debt management and prevention.

Step 3: Never Underestimate the power of Hand-Made and Hand Crafted.  If the item is hand made by you, even better- it will be easier on your budget as well as showing someone that you care enough to make something just for them.  I am not a crafter, but I love shopping on Etsy for one of a kind items that also support artisans in their craft.  For instance, one of my favorite rings is a hand forged silver piece made by jewelers living on the coast of Bali. The story behind it’s creation adds to the beauty of the piece.

Step 4: Experiences vs. Physical items.  This is a concept talked about everywhere these days.  We tend to remember experiences more than getting an item.  Case in point, all the electronics I purchased over the years that when to waste in less than 6 months when the item was already outdated.   Again, you can support local businesses by choosing restaurants that are family or chef owned- you may find some gems in nearby towns that you and the gift receiver would love to try.   Or if you are handy in the kitchen, invite friends over for a post-holiday meal to help them recover from the crazy season.

Step 5: Relax. Even if it’s for 10 minutes a day, try to separate yourself from the swirling chaos that retailers and businesses have made this season into.  As a Christian, I try to remember to take time to reflect on the reason for my holiday season- and remember to calmly think of the gift we were given thousands of years ago.   It has nothing to do with wrapping paper, shiny bows, or expensive lighting on the house.  But it does remind me to take time for my friends, family, and myself to count my blessings.  Enjoy the season, taking in all the simple joys it will bring.

What steps do you take to enjoy this season? I am always looking for new Minimalist ideas on how to slow down, simplify, and step back from commercialization.  Share your thoughts in the comments 🙂

 

Holiday Season

It’s November 1st- The Holiday Season has arrived.  I spent 10 years working in retail sales, and this time of year meant extended holiday hours at the stores, inflated sales goals, and lots of calls with upper management to see “how traffic and sales are today”.

In the next two and half months, most retailers make the bulk of the sales and profits for the entire year.  For those who haven’t worked in commission sales, it’s difficult to describe the mix of excitement and fear that the holiday’s bring.  It’s a combination of the elation of how much money can be made, swirled in with constant pressure to make sales to get that money.

20161120_114129448_iOSWhen I was starting out in my first few sales jobs, I was caught up in the craziness.  I was making silly amounts of money to sell wireless phones (yes, sales is a challenge, but hitting a few buttons to activate a phone is not).  My managers were fantastic sales people themselves- they no longer had to sell phones, but they had to spin up the excitement for rep to get us to make that money.   I happily traded the majority of my time to work the sales floors in exchange for the larger commission checks.

I don’t know the exact moment the novelty wore off.  I can remember spending hundreds of dollars on electronics that by the next year were ‘outdated’ ‘unable to update’ and ‘old’.  All the excitement of seeing the joy on people’s faces with their gifts- by a few months later, they were trading in the item, or had forgotten what I had purchased.

So what was left? I did the same thing with my own gifts.  The “Must Have” item was quickly lost, broken, or outdated.  Purses and clothing went out of style.  Phones were old every six months.  Cars needed repairs, or got scratches and dents.

Then as years moved on, and I watched loved ones pass away, and missed seeing them or their funerals because of work- I grew more bitter. I had no idea why I was so grumpy so often.  Why I dozed off during Christmas Sales motivation calls.  I didn’t understand where my anger was coming from- the money was still as good, the holidays just as glittery as before.

I hope I didn’t let my sales teams down- they worked so hard for so many hours, and sacrificed just as much as I did during these busy times; missed out on plenty of family time during the season.   We all need to make some money to live, and these reps had families to support too.

For many, sales is a lifelong career.  I thought it was for me.  It can provide a fantastic lifestyle, benefits, retirement funds– all that is required for the American Dream.

Perhaps my disappointment is that with what I earned, I barely remember what I purchased with it.  If I had made better decisions, I would be more grateful for all that I was given.   I did have a wonderful home, and new cars when I needed them, and a bit of money in a 401k account.  My son never wanted for anything.   But, if I could have spent more time with my family and friends and stored up memories rather than disposable items, my work may not feel like it was in vain.

 

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.