Saturday, August 09, 2014

Downsizing, Rethinking, Letting Go

"Automat" - Edward Hopper 1927
My favorite thoughtful painting.

About a month ago, we downsized, again. The first big downsizing effort was sixteen years ago when we moved from a large house to a fairly large townhouse. The most recent move was to a much smaller apartment. It's one of the best decisions we've ever made.

We left behind: many, many stairs (bane of my existence!); fifty-year old plumbing that was undoubtedly destined to be replaced at substantial expense; the vagaries of the housing market which, fortunately, was still nicely on our side, even though we didn't sell during the insane peak of several years ago.

We also left behind a lot of unnecessary stuff and things, although that's an ongoing process. We rented storage space but, no, it will not be the black hole that storage space often seems to be for many people. Our plan is to continue to toss/donate/sell much of what's in there, but we also will use it as an active adjunct to our apartment -- in fact, we've been doing that already, and it's helped keep our living space uncluttered. Example: we don't need suitcases, holiday decorations, or all of my artwork close at hand, but we do need to keep them. We have a filing cabinet that's not active enough to take up room in the apartment, but is very handy in the storage space. There are souvenirs of the past that are fun to have, but that we don't need to display at home; it's enough to know we can go take a peek whenever we want. The storage space is in a large, secure, climate-controlled building, so we feel fine about having our possessions there. And the cost per square foot is far less than the cost of more living space, so it makes sense financially, too.

We loved our new apartment when we first saw it, but we're even happier than we had expected to be, now that we're living in it. It has been absolutely liberating. However, the most surprising thing that's happened is that so many people we know, most who haven't seen it yet, have been wistfully envious of our decision. The concept of having less stuff, less responsibility, and a smaller, more efficient, yet still comfortable, place to live is incredibly appealing. I won't be surprised if our move prompts one or two moves by friends who also realize that they could be happy, probably happier, if they downsize, too.

Letting go of excess possessions, as we have been doing, often causes people to reflect on other aspects of life that need to be changed. When I teach my occasional uncluttering workshops, one of the things I tell my students is that you can't do a good job uncluttering until you know who you are right now. How can you judge what's important to keep if you can't figure out if you're the same person today that you were when you acquired something? How can you clear away the past and make room for the now -- and the future -- if you can't see what's changed in you? And everything, everyone changes in some ways. You may still think of yourself as a free-spirited flower child, but it's unlikely that you're still wearing bell-bottom jeans, fringed leather vests, and love beads -- at least, I hope not! You may have once been very interested in a hobby that, when you think about it, now leaves you cold. Why keep the craft supplies if you haven't used them in ages? You may have always wanted to learn to play the piano, but felt you never had time. Why wait?

In my reflections about who I am now, I realized that it's time to let go of The Thoughtful Consumer blog. I took a brief hiatus a few years ago and returned refreshed. This time, I haven't posted for months and I return aware that it's okay to move on.

When I started the blog, it was a way to continue sharing thoughts that had arisen during the first downsizing effort, an effort that continued for several years after we had moved to the townhouse. It was at that time that I let go of almost all of my family antiques -- furniture, dishes, glassware, all lovely and all full of fond memories for me. The experience prompted the writing of Sorting It Out: One Disorganized Woman Solves the Problem of Too Much Stuff, originally published in 2006. I started writing it in 2004, ten years ago. Back then, there was a limited number of books available about uncluttering, and there was certainly a lack of much material written from the point of view of someone who had dealt personally with the situation. Today, the market is glutted with books as well as websites, blogs, and Facebook Pages on uncluttering and organizing. The career of Professional Organizer has taken off. Television series about uncluttering have come and gone. Awareness about consumer issues has become more common, too, as have books, websites, blogs, and Facebook Pages devoted to that topic.

Meanwhile, during the past decade, my attention consistently has been pulled in the direction of making my art and working on other projects, including writing the daily blog for EngAGE, a non-profit devoted to creative aging; and being a producer and host on the Experience Talks public radio show and podcast. My passion about uncluttering has not dimmed -- as anyone who's taken my workshop can attest! -- nor has my deep concern about consumer issues, but it's time to let others continue, quite capably, to carry the public torch.

And yet, I couldn't just disappear without letting you know that I am so grateful to all of you for showing your support for this blog and for my writing. Thank you. The blog will remain online, of course, because it is full of material that is, in most cases, just as relevant today as it was when it was posted.

If you'd like to follow what I'm doing now, I hope you'll find me online:

Art by Cynthia Website 
Art by Cynthia Blog
and on Facebook at

EngAGE Blog
and on Facebook at

Experience Talks Radio Show Website
and on Facebook at

Wishing you the best of everything in the future,


Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Peace [and Quiet] on Earth

"Communion" © 1992 Cynthia Friedlob [hand-colored photograph]

I've been thinking a lot about how my need for uncluttered, open space includes the need for quiet space. Emptiness allows room for reflection, but the reflection won't come easily unless there's also quiet. Kaid Benfield wrote an article for The Atlantic in which this idea is pondered on a larger scale, that of a city:

"I have a theory that, the busier and livelier a city is, the more it needs places of retreat, places where one can get away and be quiet and still."

Parks, gardens, libraries, museums, and places of worship can offer quiet relief from the pressures and fast pace of city life, but what do you do when you're home? Where do you go for relief from your busy and lively day? If you're surrounded by clutter, there's nowhere to go, and that's very unfortunate for both your mental and physical well-being.

During the holiday season, it's common to hear expressions of hope for peace on Earth. For those of us who are fortunate enough to have our basic needs well met, in fact, to have much more than we need, it might be time to acknowledge that uncluttering is not just an aesthetic issue, or even a basic stress-reducer; it's also an important part of finding a deeper, personal peace. And there's no chance for peace on Earth until we can find peace within ourselves.

Best wishes to you for peace, now and in the coming New Year.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Chris Jordan's Three-Second Visual Meditation for Shoppers

"Three Second Meditation" is artwork from Chris Jordan that offers a reminder about how our consumer society has run amok. Click here, then click on the artwork to zoom in and see the details of the composition: 9,960 mail order catalogs, equal to the average number of pieces of junk mail that are printed, shipped, delivered, and disposed of in the U.S. every three seconds.

Friday, November 08, 2013

Perspective: Clutter vs. Collecting and What's Really Important to You?

Did you think I'd disappeared? I took a hiatus that lasted longer than expected. Thanks for waiting for "The Thoughtful Consumer" to return. I've saved a long list of links about some favorite topics that I hope you'll find interesting. Let's start with these:

Clutter vs. Collecting: A New Kind of More:  '"More-ing' is what it sounds like; it's for people who want more, but the giddy surprise is what More-ists want more of. Imelda Marcos, the former first lady of the Philippines, famously filled her closets with shoes, but good More-ists are sly, cleverer than Imelda. They crave more subtly, choosing to hoard what nobody normal has thought to hoard ... for example, bicycle locks ..." Story on NPR's Krulwich Wonders.

What's really important to you? "If your house suddenly caught on fire, what would you grab as you fled out the door? That’s precisely the question Foster Huntington asked himself, so he gathered the belongings he himself would take and photographed them, then asked a few friends to do the same. Then, on May 10 of 2011, he launched The Burning House with 10 such photographs." The project subsequently expanded: "The results — rich, surprising, refreshingly human, from people separated by 80 years and spanning six continents — are now gathered in The Burning House: What Would You Take? (public library)." Read more and see photos on Brain Pickings.

The Principals of Minimalism: One doesn't have to be a minimalist to live an uncluttered life, but some of the principals in Grant Snider's drawing are useful for everyone. Go to Incidental Comics, where you can learn the source of the artwork used in each panel and order a poster.

Clutter and Your Workspace: A study at the University of Minnesota concluded: "Working in a neat or untidy office might affect the way you function, according to the findings of experiments conducted by University of Minnesota researchers. They showed that people working at a neat organized office tended to be more conventional, generous, and inclined towards healthy foods. A messy office, on the other hand, appears to stimulate creativity and a willingness to try new things." Hmm. What do you think?

The World's Largest Record Collection: What happens when you try to sell the world's largest record collection? Timing is everything. Fortunately, Paul Mawhinney's gigantic collection didn't meet a tragic fate. In fact, the end of his story has a bit of a twist. Click here to go to MessyNessyChic to read more and watch a 7:36 documentary by Sean Dunne.

Selling a Hoarder's Home: "The one-bedroom condo on Park Avenue was described by the broker, Jeffrey Tanenbaum of Halstead Property, as a 'hoarder’s paradise, with seven cats, one dog and 12 armoires packed to the brim.'. . . For brokers, showing and marketing a true hoarder property can require considerable creativity." Read a fascinating article in the New York Times.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

A Video Portrait of American Life: Cluttered

This blog recently marked its seventh anniversary, so I wanted something special to post. I found a short video (12:17) from SoCal Connected, a KCET-TV magazine, that could be exactly what you need to break through whatever barriers are preventing you from tackling your clutter.

Life at Home in the Twenty-First Century: 32 Families Open Their Doors, a photo-laden book published in 2012, was the result of a ten-year UCLA study that used "archaeological approaches to human material culture." The families, who were anonymous and considered "typical," gave full access (including video) to the researchers who gathered data that showed how many of us live: with far more stuff than we need.

This segment from the KCET show examines the book and, significantly, two families who decided to go public now, years after they had been subjects in the study. The differences are fascinating, as is the information discovered by the research. Take a look!