Living Lightly

Susan Vogt on living more simply but abundantly

Browsing Posts published by Susan Vogt

Covid-19 has caused much disruption and, pain, BUT one unintended consequence is that I’ve spent more time in my garden. At first I was too energetic and planted some pole bean seeds too early in March. Only one stem survived a late frost. I later planted more seeds and vegetables so we had a hearty supply of beans, tomatoes, peppers, kale, etc. during the summer.

As I was weeding my pole bean area at the end of the season I noticed that only one stem was actually still alive and producing, AND it was in the original row that I thought had all been killed by the frost. It had produced many vines that climbed up the strings and spread out at the top.

See photo at right for the beans I got during just one day of picking. I’m calling it a miracle – something to remind  us of the resilience of nature and give us humans  hope that we can survive hard times.

Click on photos to enlarge.

Speaking of lessons from the natural world, Our zinnia flowers were also growing well. Normally, I would bring these inside and make a bouquet for our entryway. Of course no one is visiting during Covid to see their glory. At first I figured I’d just pass them out to neighbors, but many of them have flower gardens of their own. I decided to anonymously drop off about 50 zinnias at random homes that we pass on our daily bike ride which includes low income areas of Covington. Since I didn’t know how long it would be before the recipient found their flower, I got a bunch of single flower water tubes. This was the harder part of the project, but I hoped the flowers would bring some unexpected joy to people I didn’t know.
PS: I also distributed some extra beans.

 

There are plenty of worries to weigh one down these days. In addition to the normal worries that most of us have to fret about (our kids, money, career, health, how to tame the internet etc.) 2020 has now layered the coronavirus, conflicts about race and police relationships, and the presidential election on top of it all. Of course all of these things are interconnected. Covid-19 impacts income, health, family relationships, and politics.

But my heart is especially heavy these days after watching the two political conventions on TV. Of course I have my biases and candidates that I support, but it’s hard to hear very different descriptions of what ails the USA and how to fix it. Where is truth? How did “the other side” become so duped? Of course “they” would say I’m ill-informed. So how do we learn to live together and build a better world? Some would say we need to compromise somewhere in the middle. Others say that to compromise one’s position is selling out and we need to be pure.

So, these conundrums have been weighing on me. Maybe you too? I thought it might be helpful to dialogue about recovering sanity and calm, while still letting my natural anger at injustices motivate me to constructive action.

Here are some strategies I came up with:

  1. Let humor help. While I’m annoyed at some of the changes FaceBook has recently made, still there are some funny clips that come my way. And Zoom calls have changed the definition of “business casual.” Here’s how Jim dressed for a recent Zoom meeting with a government official.
  2. Family and friends. Even when we disagree we know that long standing relationships give us people we can trust will be there through the good times and bad. Keep in virtual touch.
  3. Let nature be your friend. Even in the wake of climate change, practices such as walking, biking, and gazing at the trees and sky have brought perspective when the internet gods have played tricks on me.
  4. Do something. It doesn’t have to be big, but it’s better than doing nothing. Currently I’m delivering signs for my political candidates and mentoring people to write Letters to the Editor. Find what is yours to do.
  5. Be active or take a nap. Be willing to do both.
  6. Pray. For some this may mean saying memorized prayers on your knees. For others it’s quietly gazing at nature or seeing the wonder of the human being in front of me (or on a screen). There is no wrong way but lots of right ways to connect with the creative force in the universe. Give it over to God, by whatever name speaks to your spirit.

What helps you?

During the first 2 weeks of July I challenged myself to discern how much stuff was enough and take at least one step to simplify my life. (Of course this follows a decade of working to declutter and simplify my possessions and life. One would think I had barely anything left to prune. One would be wrong. 🙂 ) I invited you all to do the same.

The result was complicated. I identified 4 areas of clutter:

  1. Workspace Clutter (physical clutter)
  2. Time Clutter (evaluating how I spend my time)
  3. Money Clutter (long range financial planning led to facing the inevitability of death)
  4. Worry Clutter (emotional worries can clutter my mind and heart)

In order to honor the underlying principle of not making this task itself so complicated that I became discouraged and procrastinated I chose to focus on my desk which is my primary workspace and where I spend most of my time. The task was simple – sort of. All I aimed to do was clear off miscellaneous papers from projects that I was still actively working on.

Here’s what I learned in the process:
Throwing out papers is easy once the task is done, BUT these were ongoing projects. Filing papers may seem simple once you have a logical system and place to put them, BUT my file cabinets were already packed and I didn’t want to spend the time going through 8+ drawers to throw out or digitize obsolete papers. That would take way more time than I wanted to spend now.

This forced me to reevaluate the main projects I had been working on. Some of the projects were temporarily on hold or morphed into Zoom meetings because of Covid-19. Perhaps I was just trying to keep up with too many commitments. What would come to the top –

  • Advocacy – for the Environment and Civil Dialogue
  • Working – to reduce Racism and Sexual Abuse
  • Writing – on social justice and family issues
  • Political activism – in light of the upcoming elections
  • Spirituality – both personal and contributing to my broader faith communities
  • Family – spending time tending to my marriage, kids, and grand-kids

LESSON LEARNED: These desk papers reflected the various priorities in my life. Some I could delay or let go of. Others were foundational. Maybe I was being over-responsible by thinking I had to do all the work myself rather than delegating more? So the Workspace project of paper paring bled into assessing my Time commitments which led to evaluate overall life priorities. Of course this blended in with reflecting on end of life issues prompted by Money decisions. The challenge is to not let Worry overshadow what’s really essential. So…Everything is related and it’s still complicated.
How do YOU balance the necessary tasks of your life and what have you learned to let go of? Curious minds want to know.

In my ongoing challenge to clear my life of clutter, Covid-19 has helped me identify four areas:

Before: click to enlarge

1. WORKSPACE CLUTTER: Although I consider myself a pretty organized person, I’ve found that having more Zoom meetings has resulted in more scraps of paper accumulating on my desk. Since I don’t have to actually pick up these papers to go to a physical meeting, they just lay around being lazy and remind me of what I still have to do. I decided that the basic action I would take to fulfill my blog’s Enough Challenge was to clear my desk work space by finding accessible homes for these papers and discard the rest. It took about 1½ hours but now my desk space is neater and I learned some stuff (see upcoming post).

After: click to enlarge

2. TIME CLUTTER: With Covid-19 cancelling most in person meetings, I thought I would have more time (since I wasn’t sick, an essential worker, or homeschooling kids). Even though I work at home, it took time to convert programs to online formats and learn the intricacies of Zoom. I devoted any “extra” time to weeding my vegetable garden and exercise. This required changing my daily routine since it was so hot out that all gardening and bike rides had to be done before 9:00 am.
Because of physical distancing, I’ve had to postpone my plan to use extra time to do more direct service like tutoring children in a mixed race, low income school. I have, however, gotten to know the neighbors on my block better as they have been the recipients of too much kale and tomatoes. Now that’s service too and our neighborhood is of mixed race and income.

3. MONEY CLUTTER: After disbursing our $1,200 Covid-10 stimulus checks to non-profits, it was time for my husband and me to meet with a financial advisor to develop a long range financial plan. It’s a sobering experience to look at one’s projected life expectancy, resources, and the potential need for long term care. None of it is certain since a lot of it depends on knowing the odds and one’s tolerance for risk. Thinking about death and knowing it is certain – at some time – forced me to reevaluate what I’m saving money for. How much is enough?

4. WORRY CLUTTER: Since my work is now more dependent on technology, I’ve become more aware of potential internet scams. Why is my website getting so many hits from Beijing, China? Is there any way to stop those incessant robo calls? Are any of those emails offering tech support or warning me that I need to upgrade my security legit? Should I wear a mask while biking or how careful should I be when visiting immediate family members? Am I an OK human being? Have I led a good enough life? Maybe it doesn’t matter because, after all I’m surly going to die eventually no matter what the actuarial table says. Hmmm…

I was going to summarize what I’ve learned from all these decluttering experiences but this post is already long. I’ll hold those insights till my August 4 post.
But, I am curious to learn how you are dealing with workspace, time, money, or worry clutter?

Now for  the riddle reveal from my #215 blog, How much is Enough?
RIDDLE:
What does coping with Covid-19 have in common with liturgy?
ANSWER: For me, both involved Sitting, Standing, Kneeling, and Walking.
Sit: I spend a lot of time sitting at my desk, working at my computer. This led me to choose decluttering my workspace as my “How Much Is Enough” action.
Stand: I recently took a public stand on a controversial issue. I wrote an Op-Ed for the Cincinnati Enquirer, Being pro-life is messy – elections and purity
Kneel: During Covid I’ve been spending a lot of time kneeling in our vegetable garden to weed.
Walk: I walked about a mile to an unknown neighbor’s house to deliver some stamps she had requested through Nextdoor due to being in Covid-19 quarantine

I have a Challenge and a Riddle for you today. BUT,.. it’s going to take some work on your part. So,…stop reading right now if you don’t want to do the work – unless of course you’re a curious soul like me and don’t want to stop until you find out what the challenge involves.

THE CHALLENGE:
•  Read Fr. Richard Rohr’s meditation, Embracing Enoughness. My Cliff Notes version for those who don’t want to even read 496 words is:
   I have just 3 things to teach: simplicity, patience, compassion. (Lao Tzu)
   We can’t discover the truth until we remove the clutter, (Rohr)
•  Decide at least one action to take to implement Enoughness.
This counts as simplicity.
•  Do it during the next two weeks.
It can involve physical clutter (food, clothing, shelter, and the money to pay for these)
OR intellectual clutter (meetings, information overload, work space),
OR emotional clutter (worries, self-esteem, annoyances)
This counts as removing clutter.
•  Read the “reveal” in two weeks. I’ve already done this challenge.
Waiting to read my experiences counts as patience.

THE RIDDLE:
•  What does coping with Covid-19 have in common with liturgy (ritual prayer)?
For extra credit ponder (and share) what the coronavirus is teaching you.

Check my July 21, 2020 blog (365+#216)  4 Kinds of Clutter for the reveal.

Recycling is virtuous. Most of us at least make an effort to do the right thing. We probably put out stuff for curbside recycling pickups. We may carry a reusable water bottle and take cloth bags to the grocery. BUT, what about when it gets more complicated and time consuming? Here’s my recent story.

FAILING:
It all started with a basement leak that dampened some important papers because they were stored in a cardboard box on the floor.

TRYING:
Solution: Let the papers dry out and find a plastic crate to put them in. Done!
BUT, the most available plastic crate was full of old tennis shoes waiting to be recycled. Good.
I figured this would motivate me to take the shoes to recycle at the Nike outlet I’ve used before. Yes, it was a 45 minute drive, but once every couple years is worth it. So, I called the outlet and found they no longer accepted used athletic shoes. FAILED. Click here for other ideas.

TRYING AGAIN:
No problem, I’ll just send them to Soles for Souls which uses them to provide shoes and jobs for people in poor countries. BUT, I noticed that the donate form specified “gently used” shoes. Hmm. If mine were gently used, I’d still be wearing them. So, I figured maybe they’d look closer to gently used if I cleaned them up some.

PARTIAL FAILURE:
After an hour of cleaning one shoe, inside and out, I realized this was not going to be enough.
I chose the 3 best looking pairs (I even bought new shoe laces for one pair.) and discarded the other 2 pairs. I boxed them up and took them to the nearest UPS store for free shipping through Zappos. It proved the maxim, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try, again.”

PARTIAL SUCCESS:
It took time. It wasn’t a complete success. But it was done and my plastic crate was now available to store the papers. Enough virtue for one day.

LUCK:
But, as luck would have it, I got an email from a friend alerting our environmental group to an upcoming event for difficult-to-recycle items. They accepted #5 plastics, light bulbs, empty Rx bottles, batteries, and more. Hmm, I’ve been saving many of these items for our semi-annual County hazardous waste day but the Spring one had been cancelled. I was in recycling mode and I had the afternoon free, so I carted a bunch of things out of the house and freed up a couple more containers – for awhile.

What’s your story of a recycling failure or hard earned success? What helped your succeed?

As destructive as Covid-19 has been, it’s forced me to learn some new lessons during this time of change. I’ve become more:

  • Grateful for many people (essential workers, family, friends)
  • Grateful for the lifestyle I take for granted (my health, a steady income from Social Security and a pension, ability to work from home…)
  • Aware of my white, middle class privilege
  • Focused on the Fall elections prompted by the increasing dysfunction of our federal government (while also remembering that that’s the source of my Social Security)

But, because of cancellations and physical distancing I’ve also had more time at home this Spring – and that brings me to weeding. Weeding my small vegetable garden has been therapy and taught me:

  1. Not all “weeds” are weeds. Just because a little green spout is not from a seed I had planted doesn’t mean it is worthless. The problem is recognizing the wanted weeds (tomato seedlings from our compost) from unwanted weeds.
  2. I can’t volunteer for everything. Often I needed to pull out even the desirable “volunteer” seedlings to make room for the intended crop to grow. Life needs space and time. I can’t do everything.
  3. Look out for impostors. I have a small strawberry patch but last year I got very few strawberries. Only after some googling did I learn to differentiate the real strawberries (white blossoms) from the mock strawberries (yellow blossoms). Frustration can prompt lashing out with brute force at false enemies. It takes careful discernment to figure out which actions will truly last the test of time.
  4. When to act swiftly and when to be patient. When an opportunistic bug invades a particular plant, I must act right away lest it spread to the rest of a relatively healthy garden. Yet, plants take sun, water, and time. Seeing the fruit of my efforts will take weeks, months, generations. Demonstrations can be an immediate response, but systemic change takes the persistent effort of many over time to make a difference.
  5. Poison Ivy can be useful. I got a bad case of poison ivy. (Some of those weeds really were bad 🙁 ). I decided to let itching be my friend. When speaking I can be too long-winded and judgmental. I let the itching remind me to be concise and kind.

What’s really important? In the midst of keeping up with life (and this blog) I summarized the goal of Living Lightly with the following mission statement.
Minimalism is not so much getting rid of clutter (although that is a worthy goal) BUT rather having enough. That requires a mindfulness of what’s really important in life and not letting my worth depend on my possessions, accomplishments, or the admiration of others. As Elsa would say, “Let it go.”

Life is more than being a good minimalist, but I think living lightly holds the seeds of what’s important. Have you ever written your life’s mission statement?
If not, why not now. Let it grow.

 

LEAKS: Last week we had several days of torrential rains. No problem. Handy Jim had dutifully cleaned out our gutters of tree debris which often causes them to overflow and water seeps into our basement – where my office is! BUT, this time it was a side of the house which has no trees and should be safe. It wasn’t. Water leaked under  my desk, file cabinets, and laundry area. I now had to spend the better part of my day moving stuff, running fans, and sopping up wet carpets. Repeat.

It was a hassle, BUT it also forced me to reexamine all the things I had to move. One large cardboard box on the floor held historical documents about the Marianist Lay Communities I’ve been part of. They could have filled a file drawer. The box was history, but the papers were only damp so I spread them out to dry. Good rescue. However, the box had been on the floor because I didn’t have a free file drawer. I assume this is a sign from above that I should prune the papers – or – my file cabinets. Both are ominous tasks that I don’t have time for. After all, during coronavirus season who has time for anything? 🙁 I guess I’ve been avoiding this task.

The smaller task that I thought I could tackle, however, was to review the stray papers that I had on my desk to help me feel less behind in life. Done!

DUSTING: I’ve been noticing more dust around our house. Covid-19 causes me to spend more time at home which prompted a Holy Week dusting spree. Funny thing about dust – it doesn’t go away forever. Well, I figured it was time to dust again since I had started this new habit and now noticed the dust. BUT, I didn’t want to go to the trouble to take all the little boxes off my dresser again just to dust it. Solution: have fewer boxes of stuff. So I pruned more jewelry and kept only those earrings, necklaces, and pins I actually wear – at least once a year. Result: 1 less box. I also rediscovered a book, Called To Community, that had been resting on my night stand for at least a year, waiting to be read. I committed to at least reading the opening Introduction before I put it in a pile to give away. I was hooked. It has 52 short chapters about living in community so I committed to read at least one chapter a week. Then I went on to giving the rest of the house a quick dusting. And I learned once again that –

Jim is usually right. In our family I’m usually the  one who sweeps and vacuums the floors. BUT, Jim says I should clean the higher surfaces before I do the floors since much of the dust ends up on the floor. Who would have thunk? Well apparently lots of people. I came across the article How to Dust Everything in Your Home if you’re a serious duster, BUT the main take away is dust higher surfaces first.

LESSONS LEARNED:
1. Humility – How dang ungrateful I am. Here I’m grousing about a basement leak when some families have lost their homes in floods. I have furniture to dust and jewelry to spare. Hmmm.
2. Just Start – I procrastinate on many tasks because it would take too much time. Breaking a commitment into smaller steps by just clearing one small pile or reading 3 pages helped.
3. “BUT” – There are usually two sides to every decision/task/problem. One may be burdensome, BUT look for the unexpected benefit.

So, what unexpected benefits have you discovered from doing mundane tasks?

I’m tired. Tired of Covid-19, physical distancing, and not being able to do justice to the worthy Lenten projects I had committed to. I’ve been a “good girl.” I made masks for Jim and me. I complied with social distancing, but I wanted to do more direct service for those in need. It all came down to money.

I don’t consider myself rich but I’ve spent enough time with those in real poverty to know that I am at least comfortably middle class. Certainly millionaires can use their money to do a lot of social good but what can a person on Social Security and a modest pension do to help those in greater financial need? Following are 6 ways that I found to spend my money to serve others.

1. Donate our $1,200 government relief checks to causes we support with our time. So far we’ve donated to Intercommunity Justice & Peace Center, First Shift (a non-profit that gives legal help to mothers in low wage jobs to prevent job loss, Catholic Worker House, and food vouchers to a few panhandlers. Several friends said they were donating to food banks.

2. Donate to political groups that support the poor and marginalized.

3. Buy household products that might cost a little more but save the environment. For example, I’ve recently tested several cleancult cleaning products (so you don’t have to).

  • Liquid hand soap – Cost ($7) slightly more than my previous soap but is thicker, I found I could dilute it with water making it cheaper and it still cleans just as well.
  • Dishwasher tablets – Cost ($8.45) almost double my previous tablets.
  • Liquid dish soap – Cost ($7) slightly more than an equivalent amount of Ajax. (2020-6-25 update: It seems to clean well. but doesn’t create much suds and doesn’t cut the grease as well.)
  • All purpose cleaner – Cost ($7 for a 16 oz. bottle)

When I compared the cleancult products to my previous brands, all seemed to clean as well. I had no need for their laundry tabs, dryer balls, bar soap, or funnel since I already had these.

4. Buy energy efficient products. Certainly the solar panels we installed a couple years ago and our hybrid car apply. On a smaller scale, however, last winter we had an old space heater that worked but used a lot of electricity. We were about to buy a new energy efficient one when I lucked into finding one on neighbor Next Door.

5. Create your own food – Of course strictly speaking one doesn’t “create” food because it comes from seeds but I’m counting all the seeds and plants I’ve recently bought for my garden as an investment in food. I probably spent more money per ounce of food I produce than if I bought it in the grocery, but the coronavirus has given me the time to plant and I can also count it as free recreation since digging in the dirt soothes my soul.

6. Free up money – When we repair something or reduce our desire to buy something we free up money to give to those in greater need. One humble action I’ve taken is to save rags to use for clean-ups so I don’t buy many paper towels.

So, I’d like to hear how you might have bought something more expensive but saved money, time, or the environment in the long run.

When Lent began 7+ weeks ago, I had a 5 point plan to become “Just Kinder.”
1. Eat a vegetarian diet (Be Kind to the Environment)
2. Avoid single use plastics (Be Kind to the Environment)
3. Use more public transportation (Be Kind to the Environment + mix with people in need)
4. Interact more directly with people in need (Be helpful to those in need)
5. Continue to prune more stuff from my home (Live Lightly by sharing my stuff)

Covid-19 was far away in China in January and the first US death didn’t occur till the end of February. As Lent began the coronavirus began to change life in the US – but not mine. It wasn’t till mid-March that closures and physical social distancing started changing my daily life. Now Lent and Covid-19 have become intermingled. Meetings and religious services went on-line. My Lenten plans of using public transportation (#3) and direct interaction with people in need (#4) dropped out of my plan.

So what did I learn and how did it change me?
A. Who am I? –
What am I worth? I admit that my self-regard is closely tied to being competent and achieving goals. Letting go of my Lenten plan challenged my concept of who I was. Privileged? Important? Worthy?
B. Who is in Control? – If I am not in control what is life all about anyway? (Who remembers Alfie?) This led to reflecting about Death, Who is God? Is there an afterlife?, Family. and Time (because my watch battery died and I didn’t know if I should to go to a store to get a new one.)
C. LOVE – The answer that kept coming was LOVE. How can the love that is in me continue after my death?

So What? – So what do I do now? After probing the above theological concepts, I still needed to put my love into action but had to rethink the plan I had carefully developed.

  • Yes I could still basically eat a vegetarian diet and avoid single use plastics.
  • Using more public transportation and tutoring at the inner city school would be delayed. I volunteered to be a “car hop” for a neighborhood free food distribution center, but they haven’t called me to work yet.
  • I could continue to prune household stuff and did. Through the Nextdoor on-line group I found Del Shawn who picked up some remaining give-aways including some clothes, a TV antenna, and baskets. Since she was connected with a small community church, I also gave her 6 Bibles. (If you are wondering why anyone would have 6 extra Bibles, some were children’s Bibles, some were different translations, and some were devotional books.

Three Final Questions:
1. How has the coronavirus changed your life? What have you learned?
2. If you don’t need the $1,200 relief check that the US government is sending out for daily necessities, who (or what cause) will you give it to?
3. What is a daily necessity?

So much has changed since Covid-19 has taken over the world. My Lenten commitments seem almost frivolous or irrelevant in the face of deaths, lay-offs, and closings, but here’s the skinny on them:
1. Eat a vegetarian diet – continues, but with more appreciation of grocery workers & farmers
2. Avoid single use plastics – It’s complicated. In order to support small businesses, we purchased a couple carry-out meals, but that included plastic trays.
3. Use more public transportation social distancing, but I’m not going out much anyway.
4. Interact more directly with people in need – Continue to give grocery gift card. Dropped off food to the local Catholic Worker house instead of eating with the guests.
5. Continue to prune more stuff from my home – With meetings cancelled, I took time to clean house. This included long needed dusting which uncovered more than dust: extra necklaces, holey socks finally got darned, floors got cleaned, and windows washed.

But Lent has grown beyond my initial commitments. Physical social distancing created space for more physical activity like walking to the grocery store, longer bike rides, and gardening.

And now, of course, as Christians embark on Holy Week (Jews celebrate Passover, Muslims observe Ramadan…) my thoughts turn to how do these religious feasts which are usually commemorated in churches, temples, and mosques square with social distancing. Beyond live streaming religious services, what’s a person of faith to do?

Since my background is in Catholic Family Ministry and our own family has experimented with many ways of doing “church at home” I offer these ways to bring religion home which I recently sent out to people getting my weekly Parenting Pointers around the USA.

Check out CORONAVIRUS AS OPPORTUNITY – Holy Week 2020
It includes a
• Home ritual for any time in Holy Week (From Where I Sit)
• Holy Thursday Foot Washing basic service
• Holy Thursday – Marianist Family Retreat Center Footwashing Service
Family Meditations for the Stations of the Cross
Stations of the Cross with a social justice perspective
• Easter morning 15th Station.
(You might wake early and do this last one outside at “sonrise.”)

About 2 weeks ago the world started to change for me. With news of the coronavirus spreading, the cancellations started pouring in. First it was Cincinnati’s annual dance extravaganza, PigTown Fling, then the NCAA basketball tournament. These were sad but not life changing. Then meetings and talks I had scheduled started to be cancelled. Too bad, but it opened up some free time and I wrote an article titled Cancellations – The Gift of Time: What to do when Work, School, Church, Events, or Trips are cancelled? I also distributed a Coronavirus Pandemic Prayer to help put our current life trials in perspective.

But then the whole social distancing thing started to impact my daily life. Schools closed, places of worship cancelled services, businesses closed, and Covid-19 news dominated the airwaves more than politics. (Maybe the latter was a blessing.J)

My Lenten resolves took on a different face.
1. Eat a vegetarian diet – OK, that could pretty easily continue.
2. Avoid single use plastics – This also could continue since I didn’t need any.
3. Use more public transportation – I had already charted some bus routes but buses aren’t social distance friendly. It wasn’t essential. I’m dropping this for now.
4. Interact more directly with people in need – My weekly tutoring was cancelled (social distancing). I did continue to give out grocery gift cards to panhandlers though.
5. Continue to prune more stuff from my home – OK, I could still do this. A stranger took the desk chair that I put out on the sidewalk last week and I gave several reams of 3 hole paper to our son who was preparing take home packets for his inner-city school students.
But distribution was a problem for the blankets and stuffed animals I had collected. The homeless shelters said they were either closed or only took new blankets because of bed bugs.
However it is spring and I have a plethora of daffodils so I distributed flowers as a sign of hope to four neighbors.

So, in addition to minding my diet and looking for more things to give away, I decided to try two new environmental purchases.
Vogt tested SO YOU WON’T HAVE TO:
1. Tru Earth – Eco-strips for laundry detergent.
The eco value of these paper-like strips is that you avoid the plastic jug and the weight of transporting it to stores. But I wanted to test it out first to make sure it actually did an adequate job of cleaning clothes. The cheapest place to order 32 loads from was Amazon for $15. It worked, BUT it came in a plastic bubble wrap envelope which seemed to defeat the eco purpose. Once I knew it cleaned clothes well, I went directly to the Tru Earth distributor and signed up to the bi-monthly shipment which comes in a simple cardboard container. Total cost for the same 32 loads is only $13.00.

2. HelloTushy – a bidet like toilet attachment
I thought the eco-value of this bidet would be the elimination of toilet paper. (With toilet paper flying off store shelves these days, that’s a bonus.) Well, without giving you TMI, I can say that it doesn’t eliminate the need for toilet paper since you probably still want to pat yourself dry but it does reduce toilet paper – about 50% in my experience. Both my husband and I are very happy with the Tushy Classic bidet but it took me 1½ hr. to install it rather than the 10 they claim. It cost $79. It’ll take a while to break even. Contact me if you want more information.

BONUS – Does dusting count as getting rid of something? I’ve got some time. I’m counting it.

Now that ⅓ of Lent is over here are my successes, failures, and 4 lessons I’ve learned. My commitment was to do a daily act of kindness to another person, creation, or myself, i.e Just Kindness. I organized my actions into the following categories. Here’s what happened:

  1. Eat a vegetarian dietThis was successful but too easy since we normally only have a couple meat dinners a week anyway. For lunch I often have a lunch meat sandwich so I just substituted a veggie sandwich or ate leftovers. However, one evening we ate dinner at a friend’s house and they served a meat main dish. It would have been rude (unkind) to refuse it. No problem. In my head I just swapped a Sunday meatless meal for this one.
  2. Avoid single use plastics – I thought this would also be easy since I carry my own water bottle, reusable spork silverware, etc. BUT, we hosted a meal for 12 people and used Chinese carry out for simplicity. I specified no silverware, napkins, or other disposable products, but the main dishes came in plastic containers (thankfully not Styrofoam). Some took their leftovers home in them but I had a few extras. Hmmm. One other time I ate out and I wanted to take the extra home. No problem, I would just get my reusable plastic carryout container from the car. BUT… I hadn’t driven. I sucked it up and ate all of the food. Does this count as gluttony? 🙁  (Click on photo to enlarge and see single use plastics collected before Lent began.)
  3. Use more public transportation – I knew this would be hard since it would take researching the bus schedule and more time. I did take the bus once because the event was not time sensitive. I avoided several other opportunities because it would involve a transfer and I was pressed for time. I tried to be present to the people on the bus and contemplate what their lives might be like. One woman had two small children and several bags of groceries. Now that’s heroism. I biked to one nearby destination rather than take the car.
  4. Interact more directly with people in need – On Wednesdays, I tutor several first graders in a low income school. It was harder than I expected to keep them attentive. I’m learning a lot about early childhood education challenges and developing great admiration for the teachers that do this every day. I donated Kroger gift cards to 3 panhandlers I passed.
  5. Continue to prune more stuff from my home – On most days I took the time to look for things around the house that I no longer needed. This included an extra sun hat, old meditation booklets, a necklace, a large hot pad, a desk chair, ream of 3-hole paper, and a small boom box.

LESSONS LEARNED:
1.  Grocery shopping is a challenge. I’ve reduced but not eliminated clam-shells. (Click on photo to see clam-shells since Lent began)
2. Don’t be pure, but make progress. Once I planned on buying grapes but realized they only came in plastic bags. Well that’s better than a clam-shell and at least I can recycle the plastic bags at Krogers. Carry-out plastics are better than Styrofoam. Being a grateful guest is more important than skipping a meat dish.
3. Let hunger and inconvenience be my friend. I was surprised that on a number of days I felt hungry. Eating vegetarian didn’t mean I had to eat less so I was mystified by my hunger. I decided to let my physical hunger put me in solidarity with those who are hungry because of poverty. My bus ride heightened my compassion for those who don’t have another option.
4. Choosing what to give away is easier than finding a good home for it. I still haven’t found a home for my chair, boom box, or other items. For now I’ve just put them in the give away box. It’s hard to find a good home. 🙂

I’ve spent a week pondering how to make this coming Lent count. It has not been a quick or easy discernment. (That’s why last week’s blog was on 6 simple environmental tips. I wanted to share simple stuff before starting on a more rigorous routine.) Are you ready for Lent 2020?

In addition to my usual Lenten commitment of skipping deserts, I ended up with 5 actions I wanted to take to become a better person.
1. Eat a vegetarian diet
2. Avoid single use plastics
3. Use more public transportation
4. Interact more directly with people in need
5. Continue to prune more stuff from my home
My hope was that the above actions would deepen me spiritually by focusing on others and reducing pride.

However, I wasn’t sure how to keep all these grand goals in focus so they didn’t just fade away. The ideas were broad and often unrelated. (The first 3 connected to my environmental commitment, #4 connected with my desire to serve the poor, and #5 was a realization that I still have stuff that I don’t need. When I die someone else is going to have to go through my stuff and memorabilia. I needed a unifying principle.

I’ve always been fond of Micah 6:8: “To do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God.
My tweak is: DO A DAILY ACT OF KINDNESS TO ANOTHER PERSON, CREATION, MYSELF
– In short: Just Kindness. That’s my vision.
Now I need a plan for how to do at least one act of justice or kindness a day for 40 days.
1. Eat a vegetarian diet: I typically eat a meat sandwich for lunch. That shouldn’t be hard to change. For dinner we only have meat once or twice a week. No problem, EXCEPT that Jim is usually the cook. I’m in negotiation with him but I can commit to most of the 40 days.
2. Avoid single use plastics: Because Jim cooks he usually does most of the grocery shopping. Yesterday I had to pick up a few extras and was amazed at how hard it was to avoid plastic wrapping or containers. This will be a challenge but “avoid” is the key word here. I’m not trying for 100%, just trying to reduce. How low can I go? Click here for video clips about plastics.
3. Use more public transportation: Taking the bus is both ecological and puts me face to face with many people who don’t have a choice because they are poor. Thus, it addresses both goal #3 and #4. However, it takes extra time. I work at home so there are not many places I need to go and most destinations involve a transfer. Solution: “More” needn’t be !00%. I think I can commit to doing this at least once during Lent to see how it feels.
4. Interact more directly with people in need: I’ve already committed to tutoring one day a week at a low income school. Once a month I prepare meals and eat with the guests at the Catholic Worker House. I just bought additional Kroger food cards to more regularly give to panhandlers I encounter about 2-3 times a week. Probably one of these things will happen at least 20 days out of the 40.
5. Continue to prune more stuff from my home: On days that 1, 2, 3, or 4 have not happened, I commit to identify at least one item that I no longer need to give away. This also doubles as an act of justice and kindness.

But, how to assure busyness doesn’t prompt procrastination and backsliding?
Here are 2 strategies for developing a habit:

The T.A.G.S. approach
• Tell/Promise someone (I’m telling you now 🙂 )
• Award yourself – find a pleasing prompt to trigger your habit (Your blog comments can help.)
• Ground it in a root value – faith, justice, love. the common good (Check myself during prayer.)
• Small steps (It’s only 40 days. I will survive.)

The S.I.P. approach – How to motivate yourself to change your behavior – a TED Talk by Tali Sharot (watch especially from 9:40-16:48)
• Social incentives
• Immediate rewards
• Progress monitoring

So what’s this all have to do with YOU?
Review your own life.
What practice(s) would you like to turn into positive habits?
What has helped you in the past? (Let the rest of us know.)

Life has been busy with little time to devote to serious possession pruning or recycling. My current volunteer priorities of environmental work and addressing the sexual abuse crisis in the Catholic Church have been time consuming. Still, I’d like to share 6 more simple life tips before we plunge into Lent next week.

  1. Reduce Paper Towels: A few years ago I realized we had plenty of rags from old clothes that were not worthy of giving to thrift stores. With an abundance of rags, we decided to make it more difficult to use paper towels. We moved cloth towels to the the paper towel rack and moved the paper towels to an inconvenient place under the sink. Sometimes a paper towel is the best material for cleaning up, but usually a washable rag does just as well.
  2. Keep Water Bottles Handy: Both Jim and I have water bottles but often forget to take them with us to public gatherings where too often only disposable plastic cups are available. Solution: Put 2 water bottles in the car so they are handy.
  3. Use the Car for more than Transportation: Same as #2. We keep several reusable bags in the car for groceries and other purchases. I also recently put a collapsible plastic food container in the car glove compartment to use instead of the Styrofoam container that restaurants provide for left-overs.
  4. Color Coding: When our kids were young to reduce how many dishes we needed to wash we assigned each of them a color. Now when the family gathers or guests visit for longer than one meal they are assigned a colored cup (or glass with a colored rubber band). They also get a unique colored or designed cloth napkin.
  5. 7″ high purse

    Take Advantage of Others: Religious or non-profit organizations make it easier. I could drive to a collection point, but our parish collects toiletries, clothes, and food, for those in need. I’m going there anyway so it’s an easy conduit to get stuff to people in need.

  6. Carry my Identity/Silverware/Tools: If you go to a lot of meetings like I do, you get a lot of disposable name tags.  With

    spork+credit card

    my weakening memory, I appreciate name tags, BUT, I decided to carry a generic reusable one in my small purse. I also carry a “spork” in my purse to avoid single use plastic utensils. My unique “credit card”  includes a miniature knife, scissors, screwdriver, magnifying glass, tweezers, and pen.

Here Comes Lent: I love Lent…Well maybe it’s not love but rather it’s the motivation for me to look more deeply at what’s important in life and what is cluttering my mind and space. Research says that it takes between 20-60 days to develop a new habit so the 40 days of Lent are well suited reviewing my life and focusing on a change of spirit and practice. Currently I’m considering:

  • Using more public transportation
  • Eating a vegetarian diet
  • Eliminating single use plastic
  • Fasting from the internet and/or Facebook for 1 day a week
  • No optional restaurant meals (exceptions are the Parish Fish Fry or travel)
  • Finding ways to interact directly with people in need
  • ?? Please share additional ideas that you are considering

Sometimes Living more Lightly is short and simple. Of course there are other times when it takes more time than I would like and feels complicated. This week I’ve had a little of both.

Simple: Over the Christmas holidays we had a lot of guests. One of our guests treated us to a number of bottles of wine which came in a handy cloth bag with separators for  each bottle. Great! But we already had one of those bags and saw no reason to keep two. Easy solution just return the extra bag on our next trip to Krogers. Took 1 minute max.
PS 2020-2: I just did another simple recycling – Since we got several new items as Christmas gifts, I had a clock, robe, and slacks that were now duplicates. I took the easy way and called VietVets for a home pick-up. It’s not the most satisfying recycling effort since it’s very impersonal, but it sure is easy – took probably 30 seconds.

Not So Simple: With the holidays I also procrastinated clearing my desk (and floor) of papers from several different projects I had been working on – wanted to spend the time being present to our family and guests. Good choice. BUT this meant it was complicating my life to find which papers went to which project. Of course I have over the years developed a filing system and trays for my paperwork. One would think that it was simply a matter of sorting the papers into the appropriate locations. One would be wrong. Part of the reason I procrastinated is that even with 2 filing cabinets, 8 trays and 10 file separators, they were all becoming stuffed. I knew I would need to prune through the older file folders and this would take some time.

Finally I forced myself to set aside at least half a day to do this. 3 ½ hours later I was done. Now I have a lot more paper to put in curbside recycling. Yea!

Solutions: So what tasks have you found simple solutions for? What have you been procrastinating about? What has helped you get over inertia? Do you reward yourself? Tell someone to keep yourself accountable? Lock yourself in until it’s done? Give up and let it pile up?

It has been 10 years since I started my Living Lightly blog (Feb. 2010) and I’ve given you all a lot of words. In the spirit of decade reviews, I’m offering you a summary of highlights for those who might feel overwhelmed by looking at even my curated list of posts in the right column. Here are my top 10 topics of the decade with some literary license for years which point you to multiple posts. The order is roughly chronological rather than priority.

  1. Lent: 2010 Clothes – Although I scoured the whole house in 2010, I chose to focus on clothes since that is the most personal area and one that most people start with. For an overview, click here. For specifics see:
    Shoes: 1, 2 
    Tops: (blouses, sweaters) 1, 2, 3, 4
    Bottoms
    : 1, 2
    Dresses/Suits
    Bedroom & Misc. Clothes*
    : 1, 2 
    Accessories
    Coats
  2. 2011+ Other people’s stuff + 1, 2, 3, 4 Once having pruned stuff that belonged to me, I realized that we were storing a lot of stuff for other people (especially our grown kids).
  3. Lent: 2012 Eating Lightly (Food Stamp Challenge)
  4. Lent: 2013 Waste Less + misc. recycling posts
  5. Lent: 2014 A Drawer a Day This was my systematic but time efficient way to “conquer” hidden stuff.
  6. Lent: 2015 Buy Nothing Of course it’s impossible to spend NO money, but check my criteria for what I allowed and what I tried to forego.
  7. 2016-17 Paper Clutter, (Memorabilia, books,,,) Although dealing with paper (and now digital information) is a lifelong task, the key question is: What’s important to save, What’s not? Here’s a start.
  8. Lent: 2018 Kindness – 7 things I learned
  9. Humorous Foibles During Lent 2019 I revisited my Room by Room process of 2010, but in hindsight this can get boring. As a break, here’s a taste of some mistakes.
  10. 2010-2019 Musings As I diligently tried to live more lightly on planet earth, I inevitably learned a lot about myself, what is important and what is not. Pick your favorite and let me know.

* I found that words for under garments apparently trigger spammers and those looking for stuff that is very different from this blog. Most seem to come from remote countries. I imagine that they are disappointed when they learn the purpose of this blog 🙂 .

The joy of Christmas is too often accompanied by over-consumption of presents and plastics. Neither is good for the soul. Over the years I’ve written a number of blogs on simplifying Christmas. Click here to review some of them. This year I offer you Joshua Becker’s list of How to Restore Gift Giving Sanity.
BUT, with Christmas also comes good food, often wrapped in plastic packaging and it’s starting to pollute my Christmas spirit. Here’s my story.

It all started a couple months ago when I learned that Whole Foods would no longer accept #1-7 plastics for recycling. That’s a bummer. Our local curb side recycling accepts plastic bottles and jugs, but what about all those other plastics like the clamshells that berries and cherry tomatoes come in? What about the #5’s that yogurt comes in.

I diligently started searching for alternative places to recycle these plastics and found several. (For N. KY options click here, then scroll to bottom of PACA newsletter.) However, the more I researched I realized that the reason many recyclers were no longer accepting plastics was because their previous markets (primarily China) were no longer accepting our plastic. I also learned some disturbing news about the growing recycling related pollution problems in Indonesia which continues to import our plastics for “recycling.”

Finding alternate plastic recycling sources is only a temporary solution. I was going to have to go hard core – back to the basic recycling mantra REDUCE, reuse, recycle. But what about my beloved yogurt? I took a deep breath and decided to dig out my old yogurt maker from decades ago. Last week I made yogurt. Yea!

With yogurt conquered, I turned my attention to the plastic “clamshell” containers that berries and cherry tomatoes come in. In the summer I grow berries but don’t get many. I’m willing to default to raisins on my cereal for the rest of the year…but my husband isn’t. The jury is still out on how we will resolve this marital recycling difference. (After all he does compassionately release indoor insects to their outside homes; I just squash them.) I’m not aiming for 100% purity, but I can at least REDUCE how many clamshells come into our home. Have you found ways to reduce the use of single use plastics? Please share.

Bottom line:
RECYCLING – Good (Level 1)
REDUCE – Better  Don’t buy as many products packaged in plastic. (Level 1)
MULTIPLY SOLUTIONS – Best  Go beyond individual lifestyle changes by impacting societal change.
Level 2 – Talk with friends about your lifestyle improvements.
Level 3 – Institutional change. Contact local governments, schools, churches, etc.
Level 4 – Go Big – Become involved in national political change.
Click here to watch Will Grant’s 3 minute video describing Levels 2, 3, and 4 from the Drawdown workshops I facilitate. (If you’re ready to get into serious action to reverse global warming, contact me and I’ll put you in touch with a local group.)
Signs of progress: Click here to read or listen to NPR’s 3 minute recent feature on the evolving natural substitutes for plastics.

As we approach the “giving” aka “buying” season of December, my mind turns to a pet peeve – excessive and deceptive Advertising.  For example:

  • Specialized dog biscuits geared to cure your dog of halitosis. Really? I love dogs but this seems over the top.
  • Toothpaste boxes that show a huge swirl of toothpaste overflowing the brush. Since I use an electric toothbrush with a tiny head, only a dab will do it. I presume it’s meant as a subliminal message to kids to put a big hunk of toothpaste on their brush so the parent has to buy toothpaste more often.
  • Fake news political ads. “Fake news” is in the eye of the beholder, but with each campaign season I see ads that portray a candidate or cause with misleading innuendos.
  • How does one know which news source to trust?

As I reflected on these examples, I realized that I had slipped into judgmentalism based on my own biases. So I tried arguing the other side:

  • Dog treats – Hey, it’s just a treat. Don’t I treat myself with ice-cream, candy bars, etc. Just be mindful that it’s a choice. Buying stuff won’t bring lasting happiness, love, and satisfaction. Those are inside jobs.
  • Toothpaste – Should I fault companies for trying to sell more of their product? After all, I have free will and don’t have to use that much.
  • Fake news – I can educate myself about news sources. I don’t have to be a blind consumer. Even if I like my news source I should be aware of how it leans so I’m not gullible to propaganda.  See Strategy #2 below for resources.

Strategies:
1. Take all hype with a grain of salt.
Train yourself to be Ad-Resistant. Question all ads.
2. Check it out with a reliable, neutral source.
See All Sides for a chart of how various news sources lean. For youth, visit Democracy and Me for good basic civics lessons
3. Time is usually your friend. Wait to see if the urge passes.
4. Assess purchases against the Need/Want principle. Treats are OK in moderation
5. Fast from one form of media ads for a week (TV, radio, FB, Instagram, magazines…)
6. OR for the hard core Ad Averse, consider big questions like –

• How would a homeless person view this purchase?
• Would I still buy this if I knew I was going to die tomorrow or next month?
• Can I use the money for something better or donate it to person in need?

My life has been busy lately. My guess is so has yours. Presumably we are both busy about important meaningful responsibilities. That makes searching for convenient, quicker ways to do things attractive. I get that and I’m a consumer of convenience – to a point.

But then there is the dilemma that conscientious consumers face when trying to also live lightly:
• When do I pay more for convenience?
• What is the ecological cost of convenience food, transportation, and outsourcing tasks such as cleaning and repairs?
It all comes down to yogurt and diapers. Well, not really, but consider these two examples:

Yogurt: Yogurt (and like products) usually come in #5 containers. Our curbside recycling does not accept #5s, BUT Whole Foods does – or at least it did until I saw an email saying that they were cutting back on accepting recyclables. What to do? Should I stop buying yogurt? I decided I didn’t need the yogurt with fruit in it. That reduces some. We used to make our own yogurt at home and still have the yogurt maker, but that takes time and is inconvenient. Should I choose convenience or make my own. Solution: Disaster averted. I called Whole Foods and found that they are eliminating accepting all recyclables except #5s.

Disposable Diapers: While this example will not apply to those beyond the early parenting years, the principle applies to everyone. Hold on. Back in ancient history, when disposable diapers were just invented, we used the standard cloth diapers for our 4 children. At home it wasn’t a big deal since it was only one extra load of wash a week. We defaulted to disposable diapers for the diaper bag and especially when traveling or camping. Eventually, we realized that it really was no extra trouble to keep a plastic bag in the diaper bag for day trips. We still made exceptions for longer or camping trips. Not only are they reusable and lasted for several children, when timeworn they make great rags for cleaning instead of paper towels. Since disposable diapers are now the default diaper, however, modern parents do not usually consider this alternative.
Principle: What convenience food, service, or travel do you automatically consume? Think:
• Eating less meat or meals out,
• Turning the thermostat up or down rather than putting on or taking off a sweater,
• Bringing a cloth bag to a store barely takes any more time than accepting a plastic one.
• Walking or biking to do close errands. (Count it as exercise and save a trip to the gym.)
Most of these actions are simply a matter of creating a new habit.

How have you reconciled expense or time vs convenience? What has worked? What has flopped? Curious minds want to know.