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!

Saturday, June 22, 2013

George Carlin Talks about Stuff

Awareness of the absurdity of how much stuff most of us accumulate permeated the mainstream quite awhile ago, but it's always heartening to see George Carlin's classic stuff routine trotted out as a reminder. This time, a stuff-struggling writer for the Huffington Post acknowledged the issue and marked George Carlin's passing on this date in 2008. If only we could remember that our homes are just our "stuff with a cover on it!" Click here to read the article and see the famous routine. (In case anyone is sensitive about this: it does contain profanity.)

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

The Psychology of Shopping

I've written in the past about the power of advertising and the psychology of store design and product placement that convinces us to buy things, often things we don't need (scroll down and search for "Advertising" in "Categories" on the sidebar of this blog to read previous posts). The psychology of shopping is endlessly fascinating to me, and I've compiled a few more posts that address aspects of it.

1.  In "Psychology Today," Kit Yarrow, Ph.D, presents five ways that sales make you vulnerable. In her article, "Why Clearance Sales are Psychologically Irresistible," fear of missing out is in first position on her list.

In her research she found that "sale shoppers ultimately spend more money than non-sale shoppers. They often purchase things that aren’t truly satisfying; and because they aren’t satisfied they continue to shop. Additionally, the rush they get from snagging a bargain has an addictive quality - the products they purchase are in some ways secondary." She offers some suggestions about how to counter this vulnerability, including using cash rather than a credit card because cash is "real" and credit isn't.

2.  Here's a rather surprising observation, discussed in a New York Times opinion piece by Oliver Burkeman entitled, "Suffer. Spend. Repeat," about shopping during the holiday season:

"[I]t may strike you that retailers have gone out of their way to make holiday shopping as unpleasant an experience as possible. The odd truth is that they probably have. And there’s a reason for that: evidence suggests that the less comfortable you are during the seasonal shopping spree, the more money you’ll spend."

And once you start spending, chances are you'll continue because, "according to the theory of 'shopping momentum,' as explained by researchers from Stanford, Yale and Duke Universities, we fret far more about whether to buy the first item we purchase during a trip than we do subsequent ones."

3. Martin Lindstrom "has learned a few things about advertising and marketing. He's advised major corporations such as Disney and Proctor & Gamble, and recently wrote a book called Brandwashed, which chronicles the many ways corporations get us to consume their products."

Brandwashing starts very young (Lindstrom says the average American 3-year-old can recognize 100 brands) and it saturates our lives. Example: Those small cardboard boxes in the produce department of Whole Foods that say "Patty's Farm" aren't exactly what they seem to be. The box "[has] actually been designed by a graphic design company in New York City to make us feel this is nostalgia at its peak."

Learn more in an "All Things Considered" NPR interview called, "Products R Us: Are We Brandwashed?" (8 min 26 sec)

Obviously, the solution to functioning in a society that's saturated with marketing ploys is to try to outwit the advertisers by being constantly aware of their efforts and prepared to meet the onslaught that greets us whenever we go shopping. But vigilance can be fatiguing and even the most knowledgeable and sophisticated shopper can be vulnerable to just the right combination of sales techniques.

I find that avoiding "window shopping" and its equivalent, browsing online, help keep my focus on what's needed. But there have been times when that hypnotic "Oh, look! It's sparkly!" moment has taken over my brain and claimed my sanity just long enough to open my wallet and pull out a credit card. Do you have any special tricks your rely on when you're shopping? Please share because we all need as much help as we can get!

(Image credit: Robert Linder on stock.xchng)

Friday, March 29, 2013

What Are Your Most Important Possessions?

When talking about uncluttering or simple living, it's quite possible to be misinterpreted as a spoilsport, a killjoy who doesn't want anyone to have anything beyond a scrap of threadbare clothing, a dented coffee mug, and a tent to sleep in. Those who dare to have more than that are supposed to feel guilty or at least ashamed of being so decadent.

Of course, that's not really what uncluttering and simple living are about. But it can be a fine line that separates gratitude from guilt when we think about our own possessions. The never-ending questions we face are, "How much is enough? How much is too much?"

The images you'll see in the projects linked below are thought provoking, perhaps even shocking. They're not meant to engender guilt or shame; they're meant to offer perspective, which can be helpful when we're trying to answer those difficult questions.
Photojournalist Brian Sokol created a project entitled The Most Important Thing. It features portraits of incomprehensibly impoverished refugees who have crossed the border between Sudan's Blue Nile state and South Sudan's Upper Nile state, with their most important personal possession.


Italian photographer Gabriele Galimberti’s project entitled Toy Stories presents photos of children from around the world with their most important possessions: their toys. Galimberti explores the universality of childhood and concludes, “At their age, they are all pretty much the same; they just want to play.” But he discovered significant cultural differences, too. In wealthy countries, the children were inclined to be possessive; in poor countries, even when they had only a toy or two, the children were inclined to share.


JeongMee Yoon's Pink and Blue project "explores the trends in cultural preferences and the differences in the tastes of children (and their parents) from diverse cultures [and] ethnic groups, as well as gender socialization and identity." The project began as a result of her five-year-old daughter's insistence on wearing only pink and playing only with pink toys.

I've posted about this project in the past, but it seems appropriate to reference it here again, not because it demonstrates the power of marketing, but because of the comparatively large quantity of toys that are displayed. Could a child with this many playthings identify only one most important possession? Does that matter? Do these pictures represent joyful abundance or thoughtless acquisition? How can we know? Are the gender issues more important than the issue of quantity?


How much is enough? How much is too much? ~ It's easier to know how much is too little.

Monday, February 04, 2013

Musing About Minimalism

One of the misconceptions about minimalism is that it requires giving up "everything," suffering with only the most basic requirements for comfort met, and generally embracing a life of sacrifice. Not necessarily. I like the explanation offered by Ryan Nicodemus, co-author with Joshua Fields Millburn of the book Minimalism: Leading a Meaningful Life:
I had an interview this morning . . . where the guy asked what does a minimalist's life look like and I didn't know what to tell him because it's really not that different from anybody else's life. It's just more deliberate. If you were to walk into my home, you wouldn't think oh something's wrong with this guy. You'd just think he's tidy. . . . [Minimalism is] more about living deliberately and more about asking what adds value in your life and cutting out the superfluous stuff.

Defining "superfluous" is, of course, most challenging. Akiko Busch writes in "The Art of Shedding Possessions:"

There are many factors ruling our choices about what to surrender. A force equal and opposite to the impulse buy is the precipitous urge to give something up, which can spring from some combination of regret, disenchantment, a sense of failure, even fatigue.

But beyond such hasty and impetuous housecleaning are the simple facts that we outgrow things, our tastes change, and, maybe most of all, our desire for material belongings wanes. Parting with them may only be a matter of recognizing that we need to end certain relationships and understand how the physical objects around us have served as their emotional accomplices.

Sometimes simplified circumstances can be imposed on us by chance. John Stark wrote of discovering "The Zen of a Small Kitchen" when he moved to a new city:
For the first few weeks, I felt as if I were in one of those PBS reality shows where people are made to live in a house from a bygone era. . . . First, I had to acquire the right mindset. 'The original owners of the house had four children,' my landlord told me. If that kitchen was good enough for a family of six, surely I, one person with a Doberman, could make do.
And that, of course, is the answer to all uncluttering challenges: the right mindset. If one commits to simplifying, to mindfully letting go of unnecessary possessions and thoughtfully dealing with the mundane, life will begin to feel ordered, to flow instead of bump along.
Peter Lawrence, author of The Happy Minimalist, demonstrates the extreme minimalist point-of-view in this post from Treehugger. In the 14-minute video at that link, Peter explains that minimalism requires "constantly examining what resources are needed to achieve your objective."
Most of us will feel that we need more than Peter Lawrence does, but how much more? Well, that's always the question, isn't it?
Photo Credit: "Tranquility 4" by Ove Tøpfer, stock.xchng