Living Lightly

Susan Vogt on living more simply but abundantly

Browsing Posts published by Susan Vogt

Can there be such a thing as “Holy Anger”? Jesus’ message and actions were primarily grounded in love and mercy, BUT, scripture also tells us that Jesus drove the money changers out of the temple. (John 2:14-16) This is the conundrum I sometimes find myself in. How should I deal with my anger?

  • As a child I sometimes was angry at my brother. He was such a pest.
  • I’ve felt anger at colleagues or bosses who seemed to me to be a slave to the letter of the law rather than implementing its spirit.

Time has helped me let go of those angers but, in this never-ending political season it seems that there is an awful lot of anger going round on all sides of the political spectrum. My Lenten political conversations have helped me better understand the positions of those who have different political views from me. But I still cringe as I see the weakening of so many governmental policies that serve the common good, raise up the lowly, insure health care for all, and protect the environment. I feel angry.

My anger turns to those in leadership. While my political beliefs are no secret, I’ve been trying to separate my anger from the person. I remember a quote from Dr. Randy Pausch’s talk, The Last Lecture, “No one is pure evil.” So I start to look for the good in the politicians that I think are doing such damage to our country. The best I can do is to remember the spiritual nugget from my Catholic education – Hate the sin not the person. True as this is, it hasn’t helped me to fully let go of my anger.

After pondering and praying about how to let go of anger I’ve come to several insights. Perhaps they will be helpful to you no matter whom you might currently feel anger towards.

  1. Look for the Good. If “No one is pure evil” then look deeply for a smidgen of goodness or reasons for the objectionable actions you observe. Might there be physical or emotional hurts in the person’s past? Have they been a victim of injustice, had a childhood deprived of good models, suffered from mental illness? If nothing else, the anger might mellow into compassion.
  2. Reverse It. I’m not perfect either. There are probably people who are angry with me about hurts I’ve inflicted. In the process of accepting my own imperfections, I must extend the benefit of the doubt to the other.
  3. Hand the Negative Feelings over to God. This may sound overly pietistic, but sometimes, actively putting the other in God’s care can limit the inclination to whine, complain, and replay in my mind all the evil consequences from the actions of the person I feel mad at. Focus on “remaining in love.” (John 15:9)
  4. Keep the Outrage with Evil. Feelings of anger (just like feelings of fear) can be powerful motivators. Let go of the anger towards the person, but act on correcting the wrong. Ideally, we can be motivated by positive inspiration, but often, it’s the anger from seeing the harm and hurt that others experience that moves us to action.
  5. Don’t depend on the Government. Ideally, government can improve the common good more broadly and efficiently than individual philanthropy or small group actions. But if, for example, we cannot count on our government to protect the environment or provide health care for all, then it’s up to us – ordinary citizens – to band together and create structures that will provide opportunity and make life more fair for everyone. Indivisible is one organization that has risen up to meet this challenge. You may not agree with everything any political action group supports, but choose one or two causes that speak most to your heart and join with others to make a positive difference.

Bottom line? Let go of the anger against the person. Let your outrage with evil move you to ACT for the common good.

It was a normal morning and I was about to walk inside after checking the garden. Then it happened. I slipped on our rain soaked deck. Result: great pain, ER, x-rays, broken arm at elbow, surgery, hospitalization, continued pain. 12 days later; I’m now recovering. I’ve had plenty of down time to ponder what I’ve been learning about taking my health for granted and letting go of good health – at least for a time. This will be short because I can only type with my non-dominant left hand.

9 INSIGHTS & TIPS ABOUT LETTING GO OF HEALTH:

1. Physical (also emotional, mental, or spiritual) health trumps all other tasks I have to do.
2. Be grateful. This may sound like a contradiction, but after I let go of my pity party, it helped to put my accident into perspective.

  • Yes, this is painful and inconvenient; but not life threatening – others have terminal cancer, permanent disabilities, etc.
  • I live in a 1st world country – where there are ER’s, competent medical staff nearby, etc.
  • I have health insurance.
  • I have a support system (family, friends, community)

3. Depend on others. This can feel weak and embarrassing, but perhaps that’s a virtue I’m being called to at this moment.
4. What is really essential? Sometimes I (and perhaps other type A personalities) think we are indispensable. This has forced me to reevaluate what’s really important.
5. Learn some new things. For example, my husband, kids, and body have forced me to learn

  • “Sticky keys” – for making capital letters in emails
  • Media that I haven’t taken time for (movies, TV programs, pod casts, YouTube videos). I’m becoming more tuned in to pop culture thanks to our kids’ media recommendations.
  • Importance of bowel movements.

6. Be an advocate. I always thought I was a compassionate person, but now I identify more deeply with other’s pain, limitations, etc. Compassion is good, but ideally it moves us beyond identifying with another’s pain to helping to decrease or prevent it.
7. Learn to accept uncertainty in life. It beats trying to control the uncontrollable.
8. A window into the future;
I am living through this; but I won’t live forever. Will I be able to face death gracefully whenever it comes?
9. Let it be. It’s not all about me. I don’t have to save the world. I just have to be a decent me and love others. Whatever happens; it’ll be OK.

I don’t wish bad health or an accident on anyone – But wait! Maybe I do. Some lessons can only be learned the hard way. This has slowed me down, but it has taught me a lot.

I’m sure many readers have dealt with health challenges. Please share what you have learned.

Now that one office file cabinet is pretty much pruned and reorganized, I decided to tackle my two bookcases which hold work related books. I had a happy conundrum. Friends who were moving out of town offered me one of their bookcases. It matched my main bookcase in size and style so I was happy to take it. The problem is that I now had 10 shelves available to fill rather than just 8 (My second bookcase was a shorter one.) This seemed like an invitation to save everything plus possibly add some more books – certainly not the goal of a declutterer. So, how did I justify filling 2 more shelves? First I put the disintegrating old 3 shelf bookcase out for the trash. Then I needed to decide how to use my new space.
6 ORGANIZING PRINCIPLES:

  1. Position the books better. Some of the original books were crammed into fewer shelves by stacking extra books horizontally on top of the vertical books. Now I had space for each book to have its own proper space.
  2. Re-organize the books. I had five main categories of books – prayer, marriage, parenting, programs, and miscellaneous (peace, justice, simplicity, environment, and supplies like folders, notebooks, etc.) Now I had room to keep the main categories together so I could find stuff more easily.
  3. Remove duplicates. I found 4 duplicate books that I didn’t know I had. Now I have some to give away.
  4. Remove obsolete items. I realized that my Singapore son was storing an old boom box on one of the bookcases. I hadn’t pressed him to take it with him because it had this clever function of being able to copy tapes. Aha! I may be a baby boomer but even I realize that few songs are on tape these days and even fewer working boom boxes remain that can play tapes. He confirmed that I could take it to the E-waste recycling drive sponsored by Cohen Recycling. My husband added his failing laptop computer to my tech clean-up.
  5. Click to enlarge

    Let go of periodicals. This should have been a no brainer, but only by going through my piles from the emptied bookcase did I realize that I had 87 magazines. Most were dated from 2002-2011. I kept the 7 that contained articles that I had written (a few of them within the past year) and pitched the rest. These were quality magazines and many of the articles were probably worthwhile, but the odds of me finding a relevant article when I needed it were slim. I still get the periodicals but have been regularly recycling them when the next one arrives. Who knows why I kept the older ones? Maybe it was before I realized I’d never go back and read them again.

  6. Fill extra shelves with stored books, thus freeing up table space. Tables are meant to sit around or to hold frequently used items. BUT, I had one table that was mostly holding boxes of my books (and file boxes of my husband’s paper work). I’m not in charge of Jim’s supplies, but I felt good about emptying 3 boxes of my “books for sale” into my extra shelf space.

3 LIFE LESSONS

  1. It’s easier to find things. Periodically going through stuff I’ve had “forever” helped me recognize what’s changed in my profession, what’s no longer necessary, and to find what’s still relevant.
  2. The internet as storage space. As I let go of paper stuff (books, files, handouts, etc.) I kept asking myself: Is this already on my computer or in the cloud? If so, I don’t need to keep all the paper back-up. This presumes, of course, that I also have a logical, useful way of categorizing information on my computer.
  3. It’ll be easier on my kids. I’m not planning on dying soon, but one never knows. Having recently gone through my mother’s stuff after her death, I realize that sorting through another person’s memorabilia is a bitter-sweet experience. On one hand, the memories it evokes are precious and priceless. But on the other hand, a lot of the sorting is time-consuming and wasteful. The temptation is to just throw it all away.
    I’m still in the active working phase of my life so I still need reference books, outlines of talks, and professional resources. There will be a time for me to prune much more of the traces of my life, but I don’t want to save so much that the important stuff is thrown out with the trivial because it’s just too much to review.

I’m in a time warp. Easter was over 2 weeks ago but I’m still finishing up my Lenten resolve to prune my file cabinets. By Easter I had pruned 2 drawers of my first cabinet. (See here ) Once started, I was motivated to keep going. I have now finished the final 2 drawers of file cabinet #1 and continue to have insights about life and myself.

• TIME WAS MY ENEMY, BUT RAIN WAS MY FRIEND
I had planned to spend most of Saturday at the local Climate March but it was cancelled because of heavy rains. This meant that I had a free day plus it was too wet to work in the garden.

• DECIDING WHAT PAPER TO KEEP & WHAT TO PITCH

  1. Will I ever need this paper again? My default position was – Maybe. Therefore, I would keep the paper. BUT, I was in full pruning mode and committed to being realistic and making room for only important stuff and letting go of “just-in-case” papers. Practically speaking this meant wistfully remembering past temporary jobs and saving only documentation for tax, resume, or likely reference purposes.
  2. Is it obsolete or redundant? This is a sub-category of #1 since some documentation (like manuals or talk outlines) were important at the time but if it was over 5-10 years old, even if I was doing similar work, the information would need updating. Besides most recent work I’ve done is on my computer or available online.
    Similarly, I asked myself, “How many prayer services do I really need to save?” I had a humongous file of past prayers that were beautiful but I had multiple copies and others I had on my computer. Besides there were just too many to even find one that was appropriate for a given situation. It took a while, but I categorized the remaining ones. What good is an inspiring prayer if it’s buried with so many that I couldn’t find it?
  3. Technology trumps paper. As an author of 5 books and too many articles to count I found files of background material. Hey, this is not scientific research. The books are written. I don’t need to save the back-up surveys and early drafts. This prompted a reflection on the change that computers have brought. I had 2” of background material for an early book but only ¼” for my latest book. Computers save paper.
  4. Who cares? I found a copy of a letter I had sent Oprah Winfrey, offering to be a guest on her TV show to talk about one of my first books. Later publishers clued me in that it was naïve to presume that an unknown author would have a chance at a big name show. Letting go of pride is sometimes harder than paper.
  5. Become less picky. As I neared the end of a 4 hour stretch of categorizing and pruning, I became much freer to discard papers. Perhaps I hit a learning curve about what was worth saving, or perhaps it was just fatigue. After a while, stuff didn’t seem so important anymore.

• OUTDATED TECHNOLOGY
Does anyone remember “transparencies”? They were helpful visuals for the days before PowerPoint. I realized that even if the information was still valid, I doubt that any institution still had the equipment to project these plastic sheets. It wasn’t paper, but it was filed like paper.

The result of my weekend’s work was a 15” stack of paper to discard. This, combined with my Holy Week binge brings my total to 36” of paper to recycle.

BONUS RECYCLING TIP
On my way to recycling my paper, I found a box full of packing peanuts. Of course Styrofoam packing peanuts are rarely accepted  in curbside recycling but Click Here  to find out how to tell the difference between Styrofoam and biodegradable packing peanuts. Short answer: Just add water. If it dissolves, it’s biodegradable and can be composted.

Lent is over but my Lenten resolve is not. I had 2 goals:

  • TO CLEAR MY MIND OF THE POLITICAL FUNK that was crowding my spirit by trying to better understand those who have different political beliefs than mine and voted for Trump. I spent a lot of time during most of Lent conversing with Trump voters and believe I made progress in understanding their motivations. I restrained myself from entering into a debate mode since my goal was understanding not winning. A number of people, however, asked me how I would refute some of the claims that I disagreed with made by Trump supporters. I have now added what would have been some of my rebuttals had I been asked. Click here to read my revised blog post with my responses in red.
  • TO CLEAN OUT MY WORK FILES & SHELVES
    (see discarded paper photos at right)

Due to a two week trip to Korea and procrastination, it was Holy Week before I could seriously tackle pruning my file drawers. At first I considered this delay to be a failing on my part, but as I finally forced myself to go through my first file cabinet, I realized that it was becoming a very “holy” experience of reviewing my life over the past 35 years. (Some people come to this point through a move, job change, marriage/family change, or retirement. For me I just kept hanging on to papers, filing them neatly, until I no longer had space.) Following are 6 things I learned.

  1. IT WAS HARD TO GET STARTED.
    I had put this off because I knew it meant going through most file folders paper by paper and it would take a lot of time. What helped me get over the hump was:
    a. Guilt/Accountability. Lent was almost over and I had announced to you all that I was going to do this.
    b. Holy Week was timely because much of my work is with church related organizations which were busy with Holy Week liturgical stuff and thus I had fewer meetings. Holidays and Holy days are freer times for me.
    c. Just starting. Once I actually started, momentum started to take over. I committed to an hour the first day but ended up taking two hours since I was on a roll, experiencing progress, and had the afternoon free.
  2. IT WAS TIME CONSUMING.
    a. I ended up averaging 4 hours a day for 4 days. These 16 hours didn’t finish the job but merely got me through 2 file drawers of my first file cabinet. BUT, I now have a plan for the final 2 drawers. That leaves another file cabinet and numerous shelves to go.
    b. Eventually an organizing principle evolved that helped me see what new or different categories I needed and how to differentiate the major categories from minor ones by using labels and different colored folders. (I had enough folders left over from pruning that I didn’t need to buy anything.
  3. IT WAS WORTH IT.
    Going through files from several life stages and jobs gave me a perspective on my life.
    a. What had been worth the time? – Relationships that have endured; Memories of accomplishments and tasks finished
    b. What has changed over the years and no longer is necessary? – I easily pitched resources on helping parents guide their children through the internet and media from 20 years ago. Attitudes about sexuality (especially homosexuality) have changed both in me and in our culture.
    c. Somethings barely change – I found an article titled “The Growing Income Gap” dated 1996.
  4. THINGS FOUND BOTH VALUABLE AND TRIVIAL:
    a. Our wedding liturgy booklet
    b. Handouts that are still relevant for current talks I give. (They were always there, but buried so deep I didn’t know I had them.)
    c. A whole bunch of paper clips from papers I discarded.
  5. THINGS DISCARDED:
    a. Duplicates of agendas, outlines, notes, and rosters long past.
    b. Outdated resources or those that I have on my computer or can get on the internet.
    c. Almost 2 feet of paper stacks so far.
  6. BOTTOM LINE:
    I can now find things more easily. It makes me feel better. Now I can eat my Easter chocolates.

I still have 6 file drawers and 20 shelves to go. It may sound daunting but the fact that I started and have a plan for the future is motivating to me.
What strategies and techniques have helped you organize or review your life?

I’ve spent almost 4 weeks now listening to people with whom I disagree. That might sound like a depressing Lent, but my intention was to better understand people who have a different political stance than mine. This meant I had to find and talk with Trump voters. Since I, like many people, primarily associate with people who are like-minded, finding people outside of my own political bubble who were willing to have a deep conversation with me was the first challenge.

THE WHO: I met with 5 individuals plus 2 mixed composition groups
● All were decent, generous human beings
● I knew most of the people previously but wasn’t always sure of their politics until they responded to my request
● Most were Catholic or Christian but not all currently practiced a religion
● I decided not to interview any of my own family members lest it poison future interaction

THE PROCESS: I explained that my purpose was not to convert or persuade the other to my way of thinking but rather to understand why they voted for Trump. My questions:
● What values do you hold most dear? (I wanted to establish common ground if possible.) The common answers were: Family; To be a good, honest, caring person; Integrity
● What led you to vote for Trump?
● How do you see our government building the common good?
● What disappoints you (angers you) about the Democratic Party or its candidates?
● Does your faith impact your politics?
● Any ideas about the best way forward?

WHY TRUMP: Although this wasn’t a scientific study, the primary reasons most people gave are below. Since I didn’t want this to be a debate, I chose not to refute claims that I disagreed with or that I knew to be unsubstantiated. (Later, a number of people said that they would like to know what  responses I would have liked to make (but didn’t). I have thus recently added some of my thinking in red.)

  1. CHANGE – Washington is corrupt. Congress can’t get anything done. (Our government also gets a lot right, like the EPA protecting our environment, water, food, etc.)
  2. Trump is not a career politician. – This is related to #1 because many felt the reason Congress can’t get anything done was that they were beholden to lobbyists with money to get re-elected.
  3. Over-regulation –Many were entrepreneurs and government regulation made it harder for them to do business. (Regulation also protects us from dishonest or harmful practices.)
  4. Abortion –“I didn’t vote for Trump, I voted for the Supreme Court that would overturn Roe v Wade.” (The law does not force anyone to get an abortion. Better solutions are prevention, adoption, and/or helping women with the societal support to raise a child after birth.)
  5. Big government keeps people lazy. – “Welfare enables folks to just sit around on the couch, watch TV, and drink beer.” (I was once a welfare worker. It’s not this simple. Supporting strong family life, education, mental health services, etc. are the building blocks of a strong society. Some will always fall through the cracks. Are we there to give them a leg up or just to judge.)
  6. Why not! All had serious reservations about Trump as a person, but they overlooked his nasty personal life because:
    *He was a successful businessman who would take action. (He also had some bankruptcies.)
    *He was an outsider who could shake things up (“drain the swamp”) (Many of Trump’s appointments have little experience for their job and often have ties to a different exclusive swamp.)
    *Our system’s checks and balances would rein him in. (With both houses of Congress supporting him, extremely conservative appointments, and use of executive orders, where are the checks and balances?)

CONCLUSIONS: How this impacted me.

  1. Banish Stereotypes. Since I liked and respected all the people I talked with, these discussions helped banish some of the frequent stereotypes of  many Trump supporters as uneducated, unintelligent, or selfish, (One was a medical doctor, many held responsible leadership positions.)
  2. Implementation. Our basic values were the same. We disagreed on how to accomplish our values. I certainly agreed that big money (i.e., Citizen’s United, paid lobbyists, etc.) unduly influence politicians and need to be cleaned up. However, I don’t see Trump as the change agent that will work for the common man and woman, especially those without power.
  3. Getting Heard. Although I could have refuted many of the statements that people stated as fact, I decided not to get into a debate. I wanted the person who was trusting me with their opinion to feel understood. My non-violent communication training has taught me that only AFTER a person feels understood is there any chance that they will actually be able to HEAR my position. Unfortunately, only one person asked to hear why I voted for Clinton.
  4. Style over Content. Repetition persuades some people that a statement is true. A “down home” approach can be appealing. When people feel left out, they are vulnerable and want to hear that someone will fix the “mess” even if it is a hollow promise.

The Media. The media that informed Trump voters’ opinions was heavily conservative and right leaning (Fox News, Drudge Report, cable TV). One person said she was looking for a credible news source so I offered that I listen to NPR, Charlie Rose, and read the New York Times. Of course I believe that my news sources are credible, but I assume someone on the right would consider my sources as biased as I consider theirs. Since these were intelligent people, I presume confirmation bias would hinder either side from believing the other. For example, one person said, “The Democrats have been obstructing everything that Trump wants to do.” I broke my non-debate rule and replied, “And what about Mitch McConnell and the Republican obstructionism under Obama?”

NEXT STEPS
Media Literacy. Honest people of good will may disagree on how to best accomplish the common good. However, it’s going to be impossible to make good political decisions if we can’t even agree on what the facts are. A population that can be swayed by propaganda and biased news is being hacked even if the voting machines aren’t. Our minds are being played with. I think one of the most important steps to building a healthy democracy is not only a free press, but people who know how to recognize false advertising. This can be taught in schools like the Problems of Democracy class I had as a senior in high school. Adults need to learn how to be discerning consumers of the media. Democracy and Me is one helpful resource. The NPR article The Psychology of Fake News gives more in depth understanding.

Be an informed active citizen. I can’t change the world, but I can pick the causes that are most important to me and work on them. Right now for me, that’s health care and the environment.

Get to know and dialogue with people different from myself. If I only talk with people of my own race, class, age, and political position, I will be talking with myself. To come to decisions that will benefit the common good, we need to spend time with each other. To be fruitful, however, this step must go beyond one person’s listening to mutual sharing. My discussions fell short of the mutual sharing. Things I might have shared are in red.

This was a difficult post to write since I may open myself to criticism and I like to be liked and right. I do, however, welcome thoughtful, respectful responses. I’m still listening.

PS: Family Matters – Many people said that their children or other relatives did not agree with their politics, so I asked how they dealt with this. Some avoided the family member, but usually they just avoided the topic of politics. “We talk about sports or other fun, family things.”

PPS: If you’d like to have a conversation with someone of a different political belief, I just found a wonderful website called “Hi From The Other Side.”  It connects you with a person who voted differently from you with whom you can have a respectful dialogue. I’m trying it and highly recommend it.

Click here to listen to a 45 minute podcast I did with Jerry Iversen of Simple Living Works that goes into more depth on this topic.

I had a good two part plan for Lent this year:
*Clean out my work files and shelves
*Clear my mind of the political funk that was crowding my spirit

The process seemed logical:
Step 1: Clear off the ping-pong table, aka my extended desk of papers that were “in process.”
Step 2: File papers in the file cabinets.
Step 3: Prune my file cabinets and shelves.
Step 4: Talk with people who had different political positions than mine so I could understand them better. (Some of this latter step I could do while traveling.)

Here’s what happened:
Step 1: Clear off the ping-pong table. This took longer than I thought because my file cabinets were too full to squeeze more papers in. Even more problematic is that I realized that I no longer had file categories for my evolving life. (During the last decade I’ve added new dimensions to my work and thus need sections like Simple Lifestyle, Environmental Issues, Politics, Travel, and Finances.)
Of course this raises the question of which comes first – clearing the ping-pong table OR pruning my file cabinets to make room for more papers. I continued with the former and just made a stack of papers divided into new categories.
Step 1a: Clearing off the ping-pong table revealed that the table had a broken clasp which allows it to fold up to take less space. Since I needed the extra space soon for guests I decided to repair the table. As is true for any home repair project, it took longer than I thought.
Step 1b
: Folding up the table exposed a dead computer and 2 keyboards stored under it. Aha! I had meant to recycle that computer when I got a new one but never got around to it.
Step 1c: If I’m going to recycle the computer, I might as well recycle the 6 unusable cell phones stored under the nearby table that I had also procrastinated doing. I knew I could take the computer to Best Buy, but what about the phones? I thought I had read where to recycle phones at one time, but couldn’t remember where. Confession – I should have read myself.
Step 1d: I looked up my old blog posts. The two most comprehensive were: Electronics and Cell Phone/Desk Cleaning 5.  The article, 10 Places to Recycle Your Cell Phone led me to an Eco-ATM machine at our nearby Kroger grocery store. It took about 20 minutes to recycle all 7 phones and I got $5. I might have gotten more money if any of the phones worked, but I just wanted to make sure they were safely recycled. I was happy.
Step 1e: The next day I took the computer, keyboards, and one landline phone to Best Buy.
Now I’m ready for Step 2 or 3.

LESSONS LEARNED:

  1. One thing leads to another. Accept the reality that my plan may change based on new discoveries.
  2. Uncovering history can be a sacred experience. In my original ping-pong table reorganization I realized how the “categories” of my life are evolving, I also found several crucial papers that I had left unfiled because I didn’t want to lose them. 😉
  3. Most everything takes longer than anticipated. Exception: Eco-ATM was quick and easy.
  4. Breaking the cycle of procrastination is a worthy use of time. Although  initially I felt that I was “interrupting God” by substituting recycling electronics for cleaning out my file cabinets, I now feel redeemed. Discerning how to use my time should serve a purpose and not just be a slave to an arbitrary plan. Organizing paper can wait.
  5. Put priority on people. I set up several dialogues with people who have different political viewpoints from mine. This will probably be my true transformative work in the next several weeks.

What tasks do you tend to procrastinate on? How do you deal with this?

Lent has begun! As long time readers of this blog know, in the past this has been a jump-start time for me to look at what needs to be transformed in my life like

  1. Letting go of unneeded possessions and self-centeredness
  2. Increasing my solidarity with the poor by eating on a Food Stamp budget
  3. Living more ecologically
  4. Increasing my solidarity with the poor by buying nothing (well close to nothing).
  5. Reducing the paper clutter in my work space  so I could clear my mind to focus on what’s really important.

Well, last year’s Lent was apparently more of a starting point than an ending point. Sure, I got my desk pretty well organized and have become a bit more mindful of being present to the people I encounter each day, BUT, I have become painfully aware that I still have 2 file cabinets, 4 shelving units, and one re-cluttered ping-pong table that need my attention. Unfortunately, that attention has been greatly consumed this past year with thoughts and actions geared to going beyond the stuff in my home to the hurting lives of my neighbors near and far and the environment that supports all life. This has meant a lot of political activity, but it also has left me in a political funk.

I started to realize that perhaps the most life-giving action I could take would be to enter into the world of people who think differently from me on political issues. Instead of fixating on the news and Facebook, which just rile me up, I hope to learn to love those who voted differently from me by under-standing him or her better. I decided to seek several people who had different political opinions from mine and invite them to dialogue with me. Our goal would not be to persuade or convert the other but rather to just understand each other better. I hope this will bring some calm to my spirit and free me to love less judgmentally. I imagine it will also be a journey into deeper humility. I assume and am hopeful that our dialogue will remind me that at the core we have common values but see different ways to reach them.

Bottom line: I have 40 days (God willin’and the crick don’t rise). Half of those days I will be home and can work on continuing to prune the paper in my file cabinets and shelves. The other days I will be traveling and will focus on having caring conversations with those who see the world and solutions to our common problems differently from me. Several people have already agreed to enter into one-on-one dialogues with me in person, on the phone, or by email. If you would want to offer yourself as a dialogue partner, contact me (SusanVogt1@gmail.com). Full disclosure: I voted for Hillary and my bubble of friends are mostly of like mind, so I’m especially looking for people who voted for Trump.

PS: Are there any Lenten practices that you’ve found meaningful or that you want to try? Please share.

My last blog entry was on the pros & cons of online shopping and how it can save time but create unnecessary waste. Here’s another conundrum for you – When does doing a small good take so much time that it’s not worth it?
The culprit: a broken mixer blade
The solution: Buy a replacement blade.
The problem: It’s not as quick and easy as it sounds.

The rest of the story: Last Christmas, in an effort to be a loving sister I decided to make homemade chocolate chip cookies for my out of town brother. I used a 50+ year old Sunbeam electric mixer that had been handed down to me by my mother-in-law. It had been working fine. Unfortunately, cooking is not my strength and in the process I stupidly broke one of the mixer blades. I limped along, substituting a portable mixer which was not nearly as strong. I finished the batch of cookies, mailed them, but realized it did not reflect my best work.

Since I wanted to keep the mixer and virtuously wanted to repair it rather than scrap it, I decided to do what any modern cook would do:

  • I spent an hour searching Amazon for a replacement beater. Having no luck there, I took the next reasonable step –
  • I googled “Sunbeam mixer” and found a “Live Chat.” Since my internet search skills must not be much better than my cooking skills, I tried 3 times to connect with the Live Chat with no response.
  • I finally found a phone number for Sunbeam and after being on hold for 10 minutes learned, “If it’s over 20 years old, we can’t fix it, BUT we suggest you call Kiefer Appliances.”
  • Kiefer Appliances (608) 221-3322, deserves a shout out since a live person answered the phone, told me how to find the “hidden” model number, and said he had a replacement beater in stock. I bought it for much less than a new mixer would cost.
  • Result: I feel good that I could save an old (and very serviceable) mixer but frustrated that it took so much time.

News Flash: Now this may be simply a longer than necessary story which does you no immediate good. So, let me share some useful news that I learned along the way that may help folks no matter what kind of repair job you are faced with. Did you know that there are “Repair Cafes?” Read this New York Times article about how beloved but broken possessions find new life.

Thoughts to ponder:

  • Do you have any experiences of rescuing a broken item? (Please comment below.)
  • How much time do you invest before calling it quits and buying something new
  • And the age-old, probably unanswerable question – How come they don’t make things last as long as they used to (think appliances, phones, computers, etc.)?

Christmas has come and gone. That means that we have gratefully received some nice gifts – often clothes. This also means that a natural consequence is the timeliness of giving away older things that are no longer needed or wanted. This is not bad, but it’s also not sacrificial giving. As I looked over the container in which I put items to donate, I figured there were enough things to say “Yes” when the Viet Vets call came asking for donations. It’s quick, it’s easy, it’s painless.

I had collected 31 items:
A pair of shoes, 2 belts, 5 knit shirts, 15 tops, 5 dress shirts, 1 pair of jeans, 1 fleece jacket, and 1 water bottle.

The strange thing I noticed was that only 2 of these items were mine. The rest were things that other family members no longer wanted.

Now I could look at this several ways:

  1. How nice that my message of passing things on was seeping into the consciousness of my family
  2. How sad that I didn’t have many of my own things to add to my collection
  3. Perhaps I had already pruned my possessions enough that I was beyond the obvious choices.

It’s times like this that I make a conscious decision not to give time to figuring out if I’m giving enough, but rather just keep giving. Trying to be too pure and virtuous about the details can tie up my mind’s energy. In these troubled times I need to free my energy to pay attention to the truly major political issues like caring for the poor, healing relationships, and protecting the environment. It’s nice when the “giving away” dimension of my life can go on auto-pilot.

How have you been dealing with feeling like world problems are getting out of control and I don’t know what to do about it?
To paraphrase an old standby: Observe, Pray, Plan, Act.

December 26 is celebrated as “Boxing Day”  in some countries. The name comes from the tradition that on the day after Christmas well-to-do families would give a box of money or presents to their servants or customers.

I remembered this as I was cleaning up after Christmas and was struck by the extraordinary number of cardboard boxes we had accumulated – at least 20 large boxes, mostly from Amazon. (In our family’s defense, most of our children live out of town so they bought things online and had them delivered to our house before Christmas.) The good news is that cardboard boxes are easy to break down and recycle. The bad news was the embarrassment of so many presents. (Well… the bulk of them were for the grand-kids so that’s somewhat defendable.) I also started wondering about the pros and cons of online shopping which requires more packaging and transportation. Here’s how I’d sum it up.

In Defense of Online Shopping

  1. It can save time – although reading the many reviews in an effort to make a wise purchase can take a lot of time too.
  2. It saves me gas – although it shifts the gas expenditure to delivery trucks. Perhaps economy of scale can make this a plus.
  3. Recyclable boxes – The cardboard boxes that items come in are recyclable. In fact, Amazon and Goodwill have partnered up to create a program called the Give Back Box. You fill an Amazon box with items you no longer need and Goodwill pays the shipping for your donation.

In Defense of Buying Local:

  1. Direct, tangible contact with the product – You can touch, try on, and examine the merchandise to make sure it’s what you want.
  2. It supports local merchants.
  3. Pre-cycling – Buying local requires less packaging and is therefore better for the environment

Toss ups:

  1. Saving money – Buying Online can save money by allowing comparisons and reading reviews. However, there can be shipping costs. Buying local can save money because you can see and handle what you are buying to make sure it’s what you want. The base cost may be less. Often it’s a toss-up.
  2. Returns – Sometimes returns are easier online; sometimes it’s easier to deal with a local merchant who wants your return business.

Seeking your experience and opinion – Online shopping is a relatively recent option in human history. I’m curious as to how each of you weigh the pros and cons when making purchases. Please comment below.

Upon reflection, this certainly comes under the category of first world debates. It’s sobering to remember that some people don’t have the money to pay for necessities, much less gifts, whether online or local. Some of our neighbors on planet earth are hungry, living in dangerous places, fleeing war zones, living with addictions or family violence. Some don’t have the luxury to debate the best way to spend or save our discretionary money. Bottom line? Give a purchase to someone who doesn’t have a choice.

In the spirit of end of the year lists, I offer you my 10 Best Living Lightly Tips of 2016. The first 6 are my own. The last 4 come from other bloggers I respect. Most can be read in under 2 minutes.

  1. The Beauty of Empty – 8 practical steps to unclutter any part of your home
  2. 9 Shopping Lessons from Socks – Universal insights from one shopping experiment
  3. 6 Lenten Lessons – Summary of my paper reduction and mindful listening efforts
  4. TIME- Deal or No Deal – How to evaluate discounts. Try this formula
  5. The Multiplier Effect  – Recycling your own stuff is good. Find out what’s even better.
  6. Pre-cycling and Packaging – 5 insights about how using less is often enough and how retailers often try to fool you
  7. The Cost of Convenience (Joshua Becker) – Convenience is good but often there are hidden costs
  8. One Simple Question to Ask before Any Purchase  (Joshua Becker) – But what if I don’t?
  9. How to Get Rid of Practically Anything (Consumer Reports) – A super compendium of where to take all that extra stuff
  10. 12 Sneaky Ways Online Retailers Get You to Spend More  (Jessica Mai) – Be a wise online shopper. Understand the hidden persuaders.

On October 21 my cell phone died. At first I thought it was just sick and I tried to repair it. I’ll spare you all the gory details. Suffice it to say I spent way too much time on the internet diagnosing the ailment, on my landline phone with 3 different tech support people, and one trip to Best Buy before the illness was confirmed as fatal.

Too bad, but not a deal breaker. I knew I had some old phones around the house which I was ready to resurrect. I am embarrassed to say that I found 6 phones which I had intended to recycle but had not gotten around to it. Of the 6 phones:

  • 4 had no chargers that fit. Since a cell phone is pretty useless without a charger, I dismissed those.
  • 1 could be charged but only with a USB cord which had to be connected to a computer
  • 1 had a charger that worked in a household outlet. Yea! It was an old prepaid TRACFONE. No problem. I figured I’d just call up TRACFONE, reactivate it, and pay for a couple months which would get me to Christmas when I hoped I would be given a new phone. Unfortunately, I was told that TRACFONE had upgraded and my phone would no longer work but they would send me a free new one in 10 days. Since I was leaving town in 4 days and wanted my phone at the airport that wouldn’t work.

Everyone I knew well enough to borrow a phone from couldn’t spare theirs for a week. In the spirit of letting go, I decided to try a Phone Fast. I didn’t expect this to be permanent but I was intrigued to see what it would feel like to be phone-free. After all I survived for over 50 years without a cell phone. (Granted most of those years cell phones were not yet invented.) I wondered what I would learn.

Even though my experience might not be transferable to many people, I wanted to try. For example, my husband and I both have home offices with two landlines. I don’t need to go out much. Also, I would be spending 10 days at a meeting in Rome during which I wouldn’t need a phone plus six day on trips with Jim who had a cell phone. Still that left one work trip and 34 cell phone less days to contend with.

What I learned:

  1. It’s possible, but not easy – Although I had had a smartphone, I’m not a heavy phone user. All I really needed it for was phone calls. I had a small camera to take photos in Rome. I had a travel alarm to wake me up. I had my laptop computer when traveling to get email as long as I could get wifi. The lack of a phone at the airport, however, was a challenge because my arrival flight was delayed and I couldn’t reach my pick-up person. My return flight ended up being cancelled. These incidents caused me some stress, but…
  2. Generosity of strangers – I also relearned to depend on other people. I found fellow travelers to be gracious in letting me make several calls on their cell phones to the people who were meeting me.
  3. Expectations have changed – Once upon a time a missed flight might have meant hours of wandering around an airport looking for someone; or possibly never making the connection. People used to have to make very specific plans about where to meet for dinner, a party, etc. Now we just call when we get near and somebody tells us if the group has moved to a new venue. We don’t have to plan as carefully. But, people also expect you to be reachable.
  4. Inconvenience – I was at the grocery and needed some additional information about a product I planned to get. I couldn’t just call home and ask Jim the details. Another time I was in the car, running late. I couldn’t call my host to explain.
  5. Insecurity – I was surprised that I found myself feeling a little insecure driving to gatherings 30-60 minutes away, especially at night. What if I had car trouble? I’m sure eventually someone would stop and help, but I was used to feeling more secure knowing that I could call for help if needed. 10 years ago I seldom felt this insecurity because I didn’t know there was an option.
  6. Cell phones are more than just for phone calls – Although I could get by with a pocket camera and travel alarm, I forgot that I had come to rely on my phone as a GPS. Back to printing out MapQuest before a trip, or, heaven forbid, actually pulling out a paper map and planning my route. It’s nice to have all these functions in one device rather than carrying around multiple gadgets. I don’t text much but sometimes that’s the least disruptive way to communicate short messages. I like to listen to podcasts on my walks.

Bottom line, I got my Christmas gift early (December 8) since I had learned enough from my Phone Fast and I think the kids were tired of my limited communication and hinting that I was ready for an early Christmas gift. If a Luddite like me has come to depend on a smart phone, I guess the times they are a changin’.

How long could you go without a phone? What electronic device would you least like to break, lose, or fast from for awhile? Why?

days-365135-pre-cycling-shampooI recently ran a little contest among colleagues to find out how folks commonly or creatively tackled the environmental trio of Reduce-Reuse-Recycle. Out of 222 responses I was especially impressed with the clever, albeit human energy intensive, submission of Therese Brennan. She saves the used shampoo bottle, buys the same kind again, then pours ½ into the old bottle and adds water to both to fill. She does the same to the girl’s liquid body soap. Hmmm. Takes some conscious effort but doubles the life of the product. I suppose that one could get the same result by just using less shampoo, but maybe Therese knows her family well enough to know they won’t do that, or maybe we all just get into habits of using a certain dose.

Using Less Can Be Enough
This got me to thinking about what other products I could use less of and still get a satisfactory result. Toothpaste comes to mind. I notice that the ads for toothpaste show a generous glob on a full brush. Since I use an electric toothbrush, I can only fit about ¼ of the toothpaste shown in the ads and it’s more than enough for a 2 minute brushing.

The Mystery of Changing Packaging
I also remembered that a number of years ago my laundry detergent increased the cup size for each load. I called to ask why. They told me they had improved the formula by adding some more powder. (I wondered about that.) Just last year I noticed that the recommended amount was decreased. The explanation was that they changed to a more efficient formula. Hmmm.

A corollary to this is that many grocery store items are starting to come in unperceptively smaller packages in order to avoid raising prices. The amount of product is smaller but you may not notice it. Yogurt, hand soap with curves in it, bottles with crescent cut outs, and thinner cereal boxes are examples. The Wall Street Journal, New York Times, AOL Finance, Consumer Reports, and Boston Globe all have reported on this phenomenon but Rick Lax’s irreverent 1 minute video Why Has Nobody Noticed This??? is more fun.

Consume Less Packaging
So being savvy about deceptive packaging is a start, but the bigger issue is how to avoid undue packaging. You probably already take reusable bags to the grocery and avoid disposable water bottles, but what about the plastic clamshell packaging that many technology products come in? What about all the Amazon boxes. (Well, at least they are cardboard and can be recycled.) But I’m now trying to find the balance between over-packaging and convenience. Sure, I could swear off technology, but I’m not going to. I could only buy  local but sometimes it’s quicker to just order on line. We all make trade offs. What are yours?

Pre-Cycling
This brings me to “Pre-cycling.” It’s a cousin to the Reduce part of our environmental trio. The idea is that if I can reduce the amount of product I need or reduce the amount of unnecessary packaging I consume, there would be less stuff to recycle post use.

The Bottom Line
This is all a matter of making thoughtful decisions about one’s lifestyle and contribution to the common good of our neighbors and our planet. Sometimes the choices are easy or trivial. Sometimes they are tough or impractical. Heck I could raise my own chickens and get eggs plus organic matter for my vegetable garden – but that takes time. Besides, how much packaging does a grocery store chicken actually take? Living Lightly can be complicated.

Please share with me what you’ve found works for you and what compromises, successes, or failures have informed your decisions about staying sane and balanced while trying to live lightly.

days-365134-journal-paper-recyclingA success
I couldn’t fit anything more into the file cabinet drawer assigned to NACFLM, my professional family life association. At this same time, a NACFLM committee I was on decided to archive former newsletters. For many years I had been the newsletter editor. Hmmm. I decided to bite the bullet and go through all the old newsletters (which of course are no longer mailed out in paper form). I saved 2 copies of each issue and put the rest in recycling. It took awhile but I felt like I hit the jackpot.

A semi-success (or at least not a total failure)days-365134-old-photos
While looking through old paper photos to find something else, I realized that I had not put any photos in albums since 1994. Around 2004 I started taking mostly digital photos. This left a 10+ year gap of photos stuffed into a box. One night while watching a tedious TV program (I think it was one of the debates) I decided to multi-task. I went through 360 old photos. I decided to keep 77 – which I suppose I will have to scan at some future date when I am consumed with boredom and have nothing else to do. The good news is that I was able to get rid of 283 photos. Some were duplicates. Some were unidentifiable. Some were just such poor quality that they weren’t worth keeping.

News you can use:
Bad: I would have liked to put the old photos into paper recycling, but upon googling recycle old photos,  I found that this would not be acceptable.

Good: It was a sweet experience reviewing those years of my family life. I would not have taken the time if I didn’t need to prune the photos.

Days 112 Extra - Question markA question for all you organized memory buffs: How do you sort, save, throw away photos and other memories?

A question for procrastinators: What’s holding you back?

I like to think of myself as a pretty decent recycler. I put paper, bottles, cans, and appropriate plastics out for curbside recycling. I decline plastic bags at stores and use my cloth bags instead. I take a reusable water bottle to meetings. I take #5 recyclables to Whole Foods. I compost. I even collect neighborhood recyclables that I find during my daily walk. This is good, but I was recently awakened to how to stretch the good.

days-365133-cardboard-recyclingThe other day while I was walking I saw a store that had quite a few cardboard boxes out for the garbage. It was garbage day but not recycling day so I asked the store owner if he realized that if he just waited a week to the scheduled recycling day, these boxes could be recycled rather than go to a landfill. He did not receive my suggestion well but said with a smirk that I was welcome to carry the boxes home and do it myself. There were too many for me to carry so I declined. Later in my walk I was half a block from home and saw a large box with several smaller pieces of cardboard inside. Since I was close to home I dragged the cardboard home, collapsed the box, and saved it for the next recycling day.

This got me to thinking that no matter how good I am at recycling as an individual, it is a miniscule contribution to an important effort. If just one store which receives multiple boxes every day would recycle them, it would make a difference. If several stores in my neighborhood recycled their boxes, it would make a bigger difference. I call this The Multiplier Effect. It doesn’t mean that individuals should give up their home recycling efforts but I now look upon these as basically consciousness raising actions. It has motivated me:

  1. pachamama-logoTo become involved in an environmental group (The Pachamama Alliance) that works to make a more sustainable, just, spiritually fullfilling human presence in our world.
  2. To alert (some would say pester) my own neighborhood stores to save their boxes for recycling day.
  3. To work on helping the institutions that I am connected with (schools, churches, organizations) to evaluate how they go about their business. For example, My taking a reusable water bottle to a meeting is good, but how much better if the conveners of the meeting didn’t buy cases of bottled water for participants when there are water fountains all over the school. Or pitchers of water could be provided with washable glasses. It might be a bit more work but many individuals would start to carry their own reusable bottles.
  4. days-365133-arcadia-powerTo sign up for Arcadia Power which uses wind energy instead of fossil fuel energy for our home electricity use. The multiplier is that I’ve passed this information on to various groups I’m connected with. As more people do this, it also moves our country toward alternative energy sources. It has cost our family about $5 a month extra to buy this wind energy which is handled through our local energy company. (If you care to sign up for Arcadia and get a $25 discount – we also get the same $25 discount – click here. Once you start using Arcadia you can then pass this discount on to others if you wish.)

The point is to look for ways to multiply your effort by getting friends and institutions to do similar actions. Voluntary changes are wonderful, but also consider working on a governmental level. Supporting legislation that multiplies environmental improvements on a national scale can make a world changing difference. Keep thinking bigger – not getting more stuff but more people doing the little stuff. (You can tweet that.)

My next several blog posts will cover various angles of recycling (Recycling, The Multiplier Effect, Paper Pruning, and Precycling.) Let’s start with the easy one – recycling plastics. 😉 This will be a refresher for many people but I’m throwing in some trickier items for the hard core recycler.

The Usual:
Most municipal curb-side recycling programs accept plastic bottles and jugs (along with paper, glass, and metals). They make it so easy. Simply put these items in the bin or cart they provide. Most conscientious people do this. Hurrah! The challenge for many people is making it easy inside the home, i.e. designating a container to hold the recyclables till recycling day.

days-365132-plastic-bagsPlastic Bags:
I’ve known for awhile that plastic bags should not be put in curbside recycling. I didn’t, however, know why. After all, aren’t these all plastics? Then I took a tour of our local Rumpke recycling plant. Wow! Now I get it. Bags gum up the recycling process and nimble humans need to quickly pull the bags off the recycling lines. Most grocery stores accept plastic bags for recycling. (After all, they are the source of much of the plastic to begin with.) Even if you use paper or reusable cloth bags for groceries, you’re bound to collect some plastic bags. And unless you grow all your own food, you make periodic trips to a grocery. What a deal! Just bag up the bags and take them back. Note: Although the plastic bag your newspapers come wrapped in may seem like a waste on sunny days, dog owners tell me it’s handy when walking a dog. 😉

days-365132-plastics-recyclingHard Plastics that don’t qualify for curb-side recycling
Many curb-side recycling companies won’t take hard plastics that aren’t bottles or jugs. That’s because it’s hard to find buyers for these plastics on a scale that allows them to make a profit. But wait, there’s a solution if you make the effort. Whole Foods stores usually accept these “unacceptable” hard plastics. This includes:

#3 plastic

#3 plastic  cards

  •    #5 plastics

    #5 plastics

    #3 plastic cards (like gift cards, luggage tags, credit cards, etc. (Make sure you cut up the credit cards to protect your identity.)

  • #5 containers. This is part of the Gimme 5 program that even accepts #5 plastics (like hard to recycle yogurt containers). The #5 bin is usually separate from the other recycling bin, so look for it.

Whole Foods may have buyers that deal in small quantities or they may figure that getting you into the store will provide them with a profit from other things you buy

Pill Containers:
days-365132-pill-bottle-recyclingMaybe you’re healthy – most of the time. But most everybody has had some of those orange plastic pill containers. What to do? Peel the labels off and send your pill bottles to an international outreach program, such as Matthew 25:Ministries or Evansburg United Methodist Church  (Cincinnati area) or Samaritan’s Purse  (N.C.) Other possibilities include taking them to an animal hospital or an ASPCA near you to see if they could use some pill bottles for pet medicines. Also, reach out to your local community health center or homeless shelter to find out if they’re accepting donations.

Blessed by Less CoverLately, I’ve been having some troubling feelings connected with my latest book, Blessed By Less: Clearing Your Life of Clutter by Living Lightly. It was published almost 3 years ago and won a number of awards. I’m understandably proud of it, but I find myself feeling dispirited by not getting enough credit for it. For example:

  • Another blogger published a similar book with an almost identical cover a few months ago. I respect this author and our take on living simply are very sympatico, so I sent him a copy of my book soon after it was published. Maybe it was just a coincidence.
  • I was listening to a homily about humility at Mass during which the priest, a good friend, focused on the need for us to let go of self-righteousness and become less smug. Hmmm, One of the sections in my book is called “The Smug Factor.” I would have been honored for him to say something like, “And hey! We have an author who covers this concept sitting right here with us. (I, of course, would humbly, with a half embarrassed smile, nod modestly.)
  • Another well-known author (much better known than I) recently announced a “30 Day Give Away” challenge to his readers. Hmmm, sounds like my original idea of giving away 1 thing a day during the 40 days of Lent.

Now all of these could simply be coincidences of people independently coming up with similar ideas. After all, many in our culture have been moving in the direction of countering consumerism and letting go of extra stuff for the past several decades. Hoarders are pitied, not admired. But still, I found myself wanting to get credit for my work. As I took this to prayer, eventually I came to two rather obvious insights:

  1. Stuff-nothingLet go of wanting credit. After all, where did I get MY ideas – probably they bubbled up from a variety of things I had read or heard others speak of. Is any idea totally original? (Note to my publisher: This doesn’t mean I’m declining royalties. It’s fair to compensate writers for the time they put in to create intellectual property so I can live to write again.)
  2. Give credit. Why not replace my desire to be recognized with finding opportunities to give credit to another for a good idea.

Question to ponder: Who can I acknowledge for a talent, a service, a job well done this week? Give credit to others.

Days 365+130 golf clubsWe were robbed last week. Someone took Jim’s golf clubs out of the trunk of our car and my prescription glasses out of the front seat. Our car wasn’t locked and it was in our open garage. Still it felt like a personal violation and it takes time to replace stuff. After allowing ourselves some time for a pity party, I started thinking more deeply about what it means to be robbed and even more about what it means to be a thief.
Of course it’s wrong to steal. The thief not only stole our goods but also our time and sense of safety. Then I started to think about who would do a thing like this. Surely it wasn’t a terrorist or even a mean spirited, nasty person who wanted to make life miserable for another human being. Probably it wasn’t someone who played golf. People who can afford to play golf are usually at least middle class and don’t have to steal clubs. What are the chances that they had exactly the same eye prescription as I do. The fact that we had these things is a sign of privilege.
No, most probably it was someone who needed some cash. Why? I don’t know. It could have been a teen, an addict, a person down on their luck. Whatever the reason this person needed money more than I do – at least these days.
There was a time that both Jim and I had given up golf because it was a sport that was too expensive for our income and too time consuming for parents of young children. We defaulted to tennis at public courts and later to simply walking. But our kids are grown and now we could pay to replace the clubs.
In an ideal world, I’d like to think that a person who “honestly” needed money could just come to our house and say, “Hey, I’m short on food, or gas money, or whatever – and we would just give it to him or her. Several times we’ve hired folks who came to our door needing money to do some yard work or painting. But that’s not usually how our society works. We farm out charity to churches or the government.
Actually, I don’t think that’s a bad idea since when it works well, institutional programs can provide more than a quick fix. They can offer training, social support, addiction treatment, mentoring, and a way out of systemic poverty. But our society isn’t perfect. Some people take advantage of our tax dollars and generosity – and not all of those people are poor. Some are smart financiers or executives who know how to take advantage of tax breaks and human vulnerabilities.
Days 112 Extra - Question markSo what’s a conscientious, well-meaning person to do?
• Hang out a sign saying “Take what you want.”
• Figure our taxes should cover those in need.
• Lock everything up tight.
• Be generous with panhandlers.
• Complain.
OR, spend some time working or volunteering for organizations that provide education, recovery programs, or other preventive measures that will help people in need develop self-sufficiency. It’s a long, slow slog and there’s no one solution that fits everyone. Electing political leaders who understand this is part of the solution.
Meanwhile, I’m trying to forgive the thief and give my money to causes that help, but not hang out a “Just come and take anything” shingle. The poor will always be with us. How do you manage this conundrum in your own personal and spiritual life?

UPDATE: When looking for replacement golf clubs at a used sports store, Jim found his bag and clubs for sale. The store asked for a police report which he provided. Soon he will get his bag and most of his clubs back. The store has the name of who sold the stolen goods to them. We are curious as to whether they will share it with us or the police and what the next step might be.

My last blog post dealt with when is a bargain not a bargain. (See Deal or No Deal) Now I’d like to expand on that by evaluating a few other items that involve weighing time vs. money. How much is my time worth? The bench mark I’m starting to establish for myself is that a discount or sale should not require me to spend more than $1 per minute. For example, if the discount will be $10, it should take no more than 10 minutes of my time. If the sale will save me $60, it shouldn’t take more than an hour to research and claim it. Of course this is a totally arbitrary rule of thumb, but it helps me assess whether it’s worth my time. Some recent examples:

    • Days 365+130 Swarovski bear 1Valuables: I inherited some nice Swarovski crystal. I’m saving a couple figurines but decided to let go of a crystal bear. The going price on Ebay ranges from $20 -$250. I’ve never sold anything on Ebay. It would take me awhile to figure out the system and then securely mail it to a buyer. Meanwhile, our parish just requested items for a raffle. I decided the trouble to sell the bear wasn’t worth my time since I have a worthy alternative.
    • Phone solicitations: I never donate to anyone who calls me on the phone because they almost always call during dinner and we only donate to causes that we are personally involved with. BUT, how do we respectfully respond to these inconvenient calls without cancelling our landline which we need for our home offices? I researched and signed up on the Do Not Call Registry,  but that doesn’t apply to charities and political campaign calls. Why The ‘Do Not Call’ List Doesn’t Stop Annoying Robocalls — And What To Do About It gives helpful background. Still, the time it would take me to find a solution to this is more than I want to commit. My decision? Answer solicitations with this mantra: “Yes, you have a worthy cause but we have already committed all our donation dollars for this year. Good bye.” (The IRS scam, Cardholder Services, and cruise offers don’t require this courtesy.

Days 365+129 air con home croppedAir conditioner: When we installed replacement windows last year it meant taking out a large window air conditioner. We decided to try to live without the AC. The summer’s almost over. It’s been hot. We’re still not sure if we will get a new unit, get central air, or tough it out in the basement “cave.” Regardless, we won’t use the current one because it’s noisy and blocks our view. After delaying for most of the summer, I felt guilty about having a usable air conditioner sitting unused in the garage when many people were suffering from the heat and didn’t have a basement to retreat to. I could sell it to an AC repair company but it only took a short internet search to learn that Salvation Army is one of the few places that will pick up a used but working air conditioner.

Time expended on air conditioner:
3 months = Procrastination
5 minutes = Internet research & 2 phone calls
1 week = Waiting to get back in town to finalize the deal
1 minute = Schedule a pick-up

LESSON: Even nice formulas (like $1 per minute) still need human judgment about when and how strictly to implement. It’s like most decisions in life.