Wednesday, December 30, 2009

New Day Resolutions

Bill Vaughn, the late Kansas City Star columnist and author, once observed about New Year's Eve that "an optimist stays up until midnight to see the New Year; a pessimist stays up to make sure the old one leaves." I suspect that most of us combine both of those outlooks, eager to put any unpleasant memories behind us and hopeful that the coming year will provide many happy ones.

I also have mixed feelings about the annual ritual of making resolutions. Sometimes those vows to ourselves can be motivating, but sometimes they set us up for feelings of failure. Part of the problem is the intense focus on making dramatic changes starting on one particular day, January 1st, as if no other day were suitable for such tasks and as if small changes were not important. Fall off the resolution wagon, as so many of us do, and the whole year is shot. Of course, that's not true, but we often feel that way.

So, this year I've decided to abandon New Year's resolutions in favor of the approach that British sculptor Henry Moore advocated: "I think in terms of the day's resolutions, not the year's." I much prefer this option to reinvent myself on a smaller scale every day rather than in some major form once a year. Thinking in terms of daily reinventions will allow me to avoid the usual large, annual goal-oriented resolutions -- even such worthy ones as last year's plan to lose mffwhty pounds (unsuccessful) or the 365 Item Toss Unclutterer Challenge (successful!).

But resolutions, no matter what their scale or how often they're promised, require some sort of structure, so I've come up with one. Rather than making a list of specific things to do (or avoid doing), I'm going to use a few questions to help me make daily choices. I offer them for you to consider using, too:

1. Is what I'm doing either necessary or enjoyable?

2. Could I approach it in a way that would render it either unnecessary or more enjoyable?

3. Is engaging in this activity the best expression of my authentic self?

The last question is especially significant. Are you being the best version of who you truly are, not who you're "supposed" to be, not who other people perceive you to be, not who you used to be some time in the past? Of course, this requires defining who you are now. That can be a fairly daunting, but worthwhile, task that will take some time (probably more than you might think).

And how does all this apply to "thoughtful consumers?" First of all, in what ways does that phrase describe you? Does it mean avoiding certain products or manufacturers because they don't appeal to your own authentic sense of what's "right?" Does it mean using public transportation or a bicycle? Does it mean living in a commune? (Shades of the sixties!) Or does it mean simply avoiding buying things that you and your family don't really need so that you don't live surrounded by clutter? However you define it, that's a reflection of your authentic self and your daily choices can be guided by that knowledge.

Guided, not propelled down some inflexible path to some unimpeachable truth. Many consumer choices are complex and confusing; some options are unaffordable or impractical. Also, situations and levels of awareness change over time and the choices you make today may not be the choices you make tomorrow. The key word in the label, "thoughtful consumer," is "thoughtful."

There's one other thing I'm going to remind myself about every day (if only I remember!) that I hope you'll remember, too: it's not necessary to be perfect; it's only necessary to do the best you can do.

If you're reading this on December 31st, you don't have to wait until tomorrow to start becoming the best version of your authentic self. Happy New Year, but happy new day, too.

(c) 2009 Cynthia Friedlob

Image Credit : (c) 2009 Billy Alexander stock.xchng

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Discardia: A Holiday for Unclutterers

Monday, the 21st, marks the return of Discardia, one of my favorite holidays. I first learned about Discardia two years ago from a post on Jeri Dansky's popular blog; the full story (which is definitely worth reading) is at the website of Dinah Sanders, who came up with the amusing idea for this clever holiday in 2002.

Although it's celebrated throughout the year (between the solstices and equinoxes and their following new moons), the celebration nearest to Christmas is particularly worth noting. I've posted about the spirit of the Discardia in the past, but the basic principle is that it's a time of letting go of unnecessary things, "things that no longer add value to your life." That requires a significant change in the way we think about our possessions. What better time to reexamine the value of possessions than during a holiday season in which the focus too often is on mindlessly giving stuff to other people who probably really don't need it?

I love giving thoughtful presents so I'm not advocating abandoning the practice. I'm just very fond of the idea of using this time to let go of lots of my excess stuff, too. Also, the end of my year-long, 365 Item Toss Uncluttering Challenge is looming, so I've used Discardia to help me make sure I met my goal -- and I have. I've even exceeded it: 486 items have been donated, recycled, re-gifted or sold in the past year! You can get more details about the challenge here on the original blog post (updates are in the comments).

If you celebrate Discardia, you'll find that what you're really doing is giving yourself a gift: freedom from too much stuff!

(c) 2009 Cynthia Friedlob

Friday, December 18, 2009

The Movie Santa Doesn't Want You To See!

Christmas is a tricky time for unclutterers. It makes us painfully aware that we're swimming upstream as far as the general society is concerned, although the tanked economy currently is making that swim quite a bit easier. But even the most confirmed unclutterer is not necessarily a grinch. Except for the ascetics among us, we'd all agree that there's nothing inherently wrong with stuff; the primary issue is the quantity of stuff that so many of us have. True, most of us who advocate living with fewer rather than more possessions would prefer to keep the tangible holiday gifts to a minimum, but that doesn't mean we don't have the spirit of the season. And yet, how does one keep the "correct" balance during a time that's so focused on giving -- or, more accurately, buying?

Bill Talen, aka "Reverend Billy," offers one answer in What Would Jesus Buy? Produced in 2007 by Morgan Spurlock of Supersize Me fame, this documentary film tackles the commercialization of Christmas but has a larger focus on the general excesses of consumerism, too. Talen, a genuinely concerned consumer, is also a comedic performance artist who resembles a younger Jerry Lee Lewis. He travels the nation as a preacher from the Church of Stop Shopping. The Reverend warns of the coming Shopocalypse: "the end of mankind from consumerism, overconsumption and the fires of eternal debt." He exorcises demons at the corporate headquarters of that well-known small business crusher, Wal-Mart. He and the Church of Stop Shopping Gospel Choir put on a rousing good show everywhere from small churches to the Mall of America (surely a place of worship for shoppers), but the message is legitimate: buy less and give more; buy locally; reduce, reuse, recycle. And buy with awareness. Who made the product? Where? At what cost to the environment? Under what labor conditions?

All of these issues are important, even urgent, but sometimes it's easy to get caught up in the seriousness of our concerns and lose the joy of the season and the fun of giving. Sometimes the message has a greater impact when the messenger makes us think and laugh, as Reverend Billy does.

If you live near Greenfield, Massachusetts, you can see the show at the Christmas Revival on December 19th. You can see the Reverend Billy's recent interview on CNN here.

Does the Reverend speak to you?

(c) 2009 Cynthia Friedlob

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Manhattan's Smallest Home

Recently I've noticed quite a few print and on-line articles about small homes. I can only hope that this reflects our society's increasing comfort level with decreasing living space. But this article in the New York Post features the smallest home I've seen that has truly captured my imagination. In fact, had I known it was on the market, I could have been greatly tempted by the opportunity to buy it, even though it's on the opposite coast in Manhattan. Have you ever heard of a place in the city that cost only $150,000? A parking space, maybe, or a broom closet. Ah, well, it turns out that "broom closet" pretty aptly describes it.

On 110th, between Broadway and Amsterdam, sits a pre-war, sixteen-floor co-op building, with a doorman. On the top floor, there is a very tiny room that used to be one of several maids' quarters back during the building's previous configuration. At ten feet wide and less than fifteen feet long, this miniscule studio has space for a bed, a kitchen with mini-fridge and hotplate. There's also a three-foot by nine-foot bathroom (obviously no tub, just a shower, sink and toilet).

The reason this little broom closet might have been such a fabulous buy for an out-of-towner is that it could be used like a hotel room and make a bi-coastal (okay, fantasy) life possible. But what would it be like to live there?

Owners Zaarath and Christopher Prokop think it's great. They even share it with their two cats. Granted they use local dry-cleaning establishments as closets and never cook a meal at home, and I'm certain they keep all of their work-related paraphernalia in their offices, but it's still a stretch for me to imagine squeezing the complete lives of two adults into such a restricted space.

Day after day after day.

Even in the winter when it's freezing outside.

Or during a bout of the flu.

With cats!

Nope. I'll have to pass.

Could you do it? Take a look at the slide show here.

© 2009 Cynthia Friedlob