The Things We Leave Behind (or Three Uses for Everything)

Last week, my friend Lois sent me a link to the show Tiny House Nation. Each week, Zach Giffin and John Weisbarth help people build and move into Tiny Houses–classified as under 500 square feet for the purposes of this show. Zach lives in a 112 square foot house himself and serves as contractor and custom-furniture builder. John does the requisite eyebrow-lifting when he steps into the first family’s 1300 square foot house, and then helps them to scale down–to the point that they can comfortably live in just 172 square feet.

During that first episode, in an effort to help a Jeff and Chelsea Kibert determine what to let go of,  John said, “If you don’t need it, you can’t keep it.”

Ha. I would have said, “If it doesn’t have at least three uses, you can’t keep it.” That advice was given to me two years ago while I was walking nearly five hundred miles on the Camino de Santiago. The pack on my back held everything I thought I would need for the next forty days. Weighing in at twenty-two pounds, however, I started to reconsider my choices.

Rick, a fellow pilgrim on the trail, told me my pack should only contain items with three uses. I immediately liked the idea. After all, I’m the woman who is mystified by–and refuses to purchase–single-use items.

So on days when I walked alone for a few hours, I challenged myself to think of three uses for things I had with me. The words of William Morris floated into my head: Do not have anything in your home that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful. Well, beauty wasn’t much of a concern along the Camino. But useful? Yes. Three times over.

A few days later, at a hostel in Tosantos, I met a fellow pilgrim named Becky. As we sat in the garden outside the hostel, our clothes swayed in the breeze on the clothesline. I shared the everything-must-have-three-uses philosophy with her.

“Only three?” she asked.

Only? Was she serious? Yes, indeed she was. Becky, I soon learned, was a master of packing light. She glanced over at the laundry line and gave me four uses for her bath towel. I was impressed. So far I had only used mine for drying me post-shower. And it didn’t even do that very well–probably because it was only as big as a legal-size sheet of paper.

By the time I finished the Camino my pack was six pounds lighter. Things I thought I needed for the journey (gym shorts, a second pair of hiking pants, a paperback book) had been left behind–and I didn’t miss any of them.

Last week, I watched Jeff and Chelsea decide what they would need on the next phase of their life journey–and knew that, like me, much of what they left behind would not be missed.




Lessons in Simplifying Your Stuff

Our new pope decided he preferred a two-room suite to the 12-room apartment his predecessors have occupied since the early 1900s. He cited reasons of simplicity and community. Simplicity is making news, but it’s not a new concept. Jesus inspired his followers to leave everything behind and, “Come, follow me.” But I don’t think Peter walked away from a 4,000-square-foot home with full closets. Are you inspired by Pope Francis’ choice? Or just looking for a way to bring a little more simplicity to your life?

Click here for more.

Update: Project 333

Should you open the door to my walk-in closet right now, you will find twenty-three items of clothing and four pairs of shoes. That’s it.


I have been participating in Project 333 since October 14, 2012.  That’s the day I went through my entire wardrobe and picked thirty-three items I would wear for the next three months. For me, that thirty-three included clothes, shoes, coats, and jewelry.

The process of choosing wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be. I started with the jewelry. I opted for one pair of earrings, my favorite necklace, and a watch. I chose six pairs of shoes, three coats, and the rest comprised jeans, sweaters, shirts, pants, one dress and one skirt.


I took everything else and put it in a smaller closet in the eaves.

Now, the rules are not set in stone.  I did break out a sparkly dress for New Year’s Eve, and traded out a pair of winter shoes for summer shoes when the weather got unseasonably warm late in October. But for the most part, I’ve stuck to thirty three.

Now that my three months are up, I get to do it all over again.  I get to put everything back together and pick thirty-three for the next three months.

I must confess: when I started this I didn’t think I’d continue it after the three month trial.  But now, I don’t know that I’ll ever go back. Here’s why:

  1. Opening my closet door in the morning makes me smile.  It’s not crammed with stuff. I don’t have to search for anything. There’s space in there! 
  2. always have something to wear.  Ironic since I’ve so severely limited my choices. 
  3. I spend much less time trying on outfits before going anywhere.  I only have a few options – and I know which ones look best for which occasions, and so I just go with those.
  4. Something about fewer options has given me such a sense of relief. 
  5. A less cluttered closet = a less cluttered mind = a less cluttered life. (In place of “closet” you can substitute bedroom, basement, desk, office…same effect.)

A few other observations:

  1. I open the closet in the eaves (the one with all the rest of my clothes) and think, “What on earth is all this stuff?” 
  2. I have two paper bags filled with clothes to be given away. Some are things I initially deemed as worthy enough for my original thirty-three, only to realize I don’t really like them anymore. Others are from that closet in the eaves — I realized I’ve lived through days ranging from 35-70 degrees and haven’t missed much, so it’s easier to let things go.
  3. My first three months is up and I’m not really sick of my wardrobe yet — but I am looking forward to a change. This means three months is an optimal time: long enough to see the positive effects, short enough to not drive me nuts. (I admit I was sick of my choices after two months, but exchanged two items and then was fine.)

I’ve been invited to a swap on Saturday. We can bring anything we want to get rid of: clothes, books, furniture, anything.  So it’s a perfect time for heading into my closets and pulling out all those clothes and letting some more go. And, as I choose clothes to wear into April, it will be a nice reminder how close spring really is:)

To Rest, To Enjoy

“Hey – why not just enjoy your apartment for a while?”  God said.  Hmph.  Imagine that, I thought.  Over the last few months, I have taken time nearly every day to work on paring down my “stuff” in preparation for my year of travels.  I’ve cleaned out files and closets and kitchen cabinets getting rid of those things I rarely use or don’t need.  But lately, I’ve lost my momentum.

After beating myself up for a few days, I said to God, “So what’s the deal with me losing my motivation?”  Like all good teachers, he answered my question with another question.  Didn’t tell me what to do, just led me to a solution I hadn’t considered.

So I’m just going to enjoy my little place for a few weeks.  Read in bed.  People watch out my windows.  Do whatever I feel like doing – especially if that means doing nothing at all:)

On My Way!

I had a purely joyful day cleaning out a closet yesterday.  I know this is not normal.  But neither am I.

As many of you know, I love to declutter.  What do I love more than decluttering my own life?  Helping other people declutter theirs.  But yesterday it was on my home turf.

It all started with a mistake: buying my Christmas tree from Home Depot instead of cutting it down myself.  That poor tree drank hardly any water from the day I brought it home.  So though I usually leave the tree up until the Epiphany, this one was so brittle it just had to come down.  My sister was up the road having breakfast with a friend, and when she offered that I should meet this new guy I said, “Sure – you guys can come over and help me get my tree out of my apartment.”  Men like showing off their manliness.  I like giving them opportunities to do so.  This guy was no exception.  And they’re still in the early dating stages, so of course he would say yes.

The tree was gone, but now I was left with a large pile of needles where the tree once stood and a trail of them out the door and down the stairs.  I lived with the needles for a couple days – cleaning is not my favorite thing.  But yesterday I finally lugged my vacuum out of the closet – only to find it had hardly any suction.  It picked up the needles when I moved it forward, but when I pulled it back it dropped them all down again.  It was one of those temperamental days of mine so this nearly put me over the edge.  Here I was, ready to clean, and my vacuum was useless.  Ugh.  I wished I had a husband or boyfriend who could fix it or run out and buy a new one, but I’m on my own.  I allowed myself a few tears over my inability to attract a mate and then got down to business: I called Grandma.  (Mom and Dad weren’t home – they’re usually my first call for help.)

I got dressed and went to Gram’s to borrow her vacuum.  Then, I came back home and pulled most everything out of the living room so I could vacuum.  And it was then that I decided to deal with the pile of crap I had hidden in the corner behind my recliner chair.  It was crap that had seeped out of the corner closet, so I decided to deal with that too.

This closet is not one I frequent and in helping people declutter I often recommend we start in a place where they don’t have a lot of things they use often as those are easier to recognize as no longer needed and therefore easier to get rid of.

What was in this closet of mine?  Mostly yarn, candles, gift bags, and tissue paper.  I dealt with the yarn first. It was overflowing out of its cardboard box so my first thought was: it needs a bigger box.  Then I thought better of it.  If I’m going to sell or get rid of all my stuff by 7/7/11, I need to get hopping.  How many times had I moved all this yarn from place to place?  Was I really ever going to use it?

So I sorted.  I was easily able to part with most of it – with the exception of a small shopping bag of expensive yarn that I just felt I needed to hang onto for a little longer.   But what to do with it all?  My knitting and crochet group at the library had loved my idea of a yarn swap in January, but now I realized I didn’t want to swap.  I wanted to be rid of this stuff!  So I bundled most of it up and called my schoolteacher friend.  “Oh, the teachers would love it!” she said.  I have found that schools will take a lot of things.  Not just books and arts and crafts supplies, but bookshelves, small furniture, remnant carpets.  Got something you no longer use but not sure where it should go?  Call a local school.

My front hall had become my staging area for items ready to leave my apartment.  Usually it was just a can or bottle to deposit in the recycling bin downstairs.  But today you could hardly get through the space.  When I undecorated, I had also managed to get my Christmas decorations down from five boxes to just two, so I had a couple empty plastic bins to return to Mom and Dad’s.  I won’t get into all the other outgoing stuff.  But let’s just say I wanted that yarn out of there! So I decided to drive the half hour to my schoolteacher friend’s house to give her the yarn.   I also put all my tissue paper and gift bags together and decided I don’t need most of that either. I was going to bring the tissue paper to the new consignment shop – they said they would use it to wrap breakables.  But I told my schoolteacher friend about it and she said the art teachers would love that too.  And the gift bags.

So I’m well on my way to minimizing my belongings.  Appropriately enough, I was listening to Nina Yau’s free e-book Minimalist Freedom while doing some of this work.  Very apropos and inspirational.

Next?  Well, I loved my living room when it had hardly any furniture in it.  So though I’m still six months away from moving out, I think it might be time to get rid of most of it.  Most of it belongs to my mother, so that shouldn’t be so difficult.  Didn’t sell my couch yet – posted it on craigslist, but no real takers.  But am ready to put my favorite recliner chair on there next!

Serendipity and Collages

I got an e-mail that the local library was doing a class on collages.  Yes, collages.  Remember those?  Tearing images out of magazines, arranging them somehow, gluing it all together?  Well, adults do it too…and sell them for quite a bit of money.  (Well, our teacher does at least!)  Realizing I hadn’t been on an Artist Date in a while, I decided to attend the class.

The only problem was that we were told to bring images with us.  I don’t subscribe to any magazines.  And I wasn’t about to go spend a bunch of money buying new ones just to tear them apart.  The whole idea is to use old ones – reuse, recycle.  So, as usual when I need something I don’t have, I figured I’d just go to Mom and Dad’s for it.  I swear they must get twenty magazines a month – at least.

I was in Rhode Island when I got the info about the class, so figured I’d take care of getting my images when I got home.  But God had other plans.

As it turns out, I was in Rhode Island helping a couple of friends declutter – and was actually getting paid for it!  Guess what one of my clients was getting rid of?  Yup.  Old magazines.  She was thrilled to give them to me to use for my upcoming craft project.  I took about ten of them, and put the other hundred in her recycling bin.

The class was yesterday.  I still had the magazines in my trunk.  So I grabbed some scissors, got in my car a half hour before I was due to leave and started cutting.  There’s something meditative to me about cutting out things.  I was responsible for the coupons growing up – dad had no patience for going through the sale papers and cutting them, but he had no problem using the ones I diligently found and presented as we entered the baking aisle for brownie mix.  I was into scherenschnitte for a while – using very tiny scissors to cut beautiful designs.  And now here I was cutting images from magazines.  In my car.  At 10 AM on a Saturday.  And really wishing I had another hour to do it.

Turns out I did: we spent most of the class looking through more magazines and getting more images – the library had plenty to recycle.  With only 20 minutes left of the class, I had yet to find a suitable theme or arrangement.  As a student who always wanted to get the assignment “right” I was tempted to call the teacher over for some advice.  But instead decided to just keep plugging along.  And of course, it came to me.  I had been attracted not to images of “things” in particular, but colors.  Lots of blues, in fact.  I had four different size rectangles of shades of blue which I layered on top of each other biggest to smallest, then made it “pop” with an image in the middle of a white vase with a red design on it.  I loved it.

The lady next to me said, “It looks very geometric and orderly.  Are you like that otherwise?”  I looked at the rectangles, at the splash of color in the middle.  “Well, I am a math tutor, so maybe that’s where the geometric thing comes in.  But I do a bunch of other random creative things, so that’s maybe what the color in the middle is all about.”  And it all made sense.  Our teacher had said collage was very reflective and how it was interesting to see what patterns emerged.  Here, with just five images from the forty I cut out, I had made an abstract image of me.