Living Lightly

Susan Vogt on living more simply but abundantly

Browsing Posts published by Susan Vogt

I knew this storage closet would be a challenge. It stores camping, canning, and Christmas stuff plus kitchen supplies waiting for our kids’ apartments and toys waiting for grandkids to grow into them. (Don’t worry, Brian, I’m holding off on your 9 boxes of model train supplies.) It also is our electronics graveyard of known and unknown extra parts. In addition, this is our pantry for canned food complete with extra water in case of a natural disaster.
The real find, however, was a container of homemade rockets that started as a science fair project. It takes someone with know how to play with these. I’m no rocket scientist.

Our family loves sports, but contra dancing has replaced many of the sports we used to play as our preferred recreation. Even though both Jim and I grew up golfing, I haven’t played since my back surgery 15 years ago. I’m giving away my old clubs, tennis and golf balls, weights, and the extra ping pong net. (I’m not giving away Jim’s golf clubs, the bike rack and pump, 5 tennis rackets, basketballs, and the volleyball net – most of these are not mine to pitch.) We also have a crate of old tennis shoes that Jim has been saving because he heard you can recycle them. My contribution to this effort was to find out where to take them since they were not in good enough condition for Soles4Souls. Check out Run the Planet, NikeReuseAShoe, and Ecocycle.

We have 9 pairs of skates in our basement (4 kids roller skates, 3 kids in-line skates, and, 2 adult ice skates). Seeing as no one has used any of them in probably 10 years, I think I will give away all but the adult ice skates. Memo to our kids: “If you want any of these (even though they probably won’t fit anymore) better e-mail me pronto.” The helmet I might keep because that can serve multi-purposes. The knee pads will go with the skates.

I always resist the sacrament of Reconciliation even though I know I’ll feel better once I’ve examined my conscience and confessed. I also don’t like the idea of having a church rule about going to confession at least once a year. Still, I have to admit that if this wasn’t the case I would probably let it slip slide away indefinitely. Typically, I do this during Holy Week since parishes usually have Penance Services followed by an opportunity to confess to a priest. I know it’s healthy to wipe things clean periodically and trust that God has forgiven me. It’s time.

At the beginning of our marriage we decided to make candles for relatives as creative and economical Christmas presents. Although we didn’t realize it at the time, we also had more discretionary time BK (Before Kids) so we silk screened Christmas cards. We now have more candles than we can use and don’t send snail mail Christmas cards, so today’s decision was easy – get rid of these arts and crafts supplies. Besides the equipment was so dusty and rusty I doubt it would work anymore. We downsized our garbage can this year but this stuff will fit.

We call it the “tool closet” but it didn’t make sense to get rid of any of our tools. This closet, however, does store a number of other miscellaneous items. I decided to keep all the puzzles since they are good for visiting children – especially if they don’t speak English, but threw away the one that had no picture with it. I discovered that Play-Doh does not last as long as clay so I threw away all the Play-Doh and some of the clay. Then there were the garden sprays for pests. I had 3 ways to rid our garden of slugs – we haven’t had a slug problem for years – and 3 sprays to protect our apple tree from insects. We gave up on harvesting much from this tree awhile ago since it feeds more deer than us. Since our garden pests are now in the past, so also their remedies are now history.

This is the day you’ve all been waiting for: “Dead Pet Day.” Over the years we’ve had a dog, hamsters, mice, lizards, rabbits, fish, and birds. We are now petless. I decided to keep the dog dishes for a grand-dog who visits and I kept the rat trap to prevent visiting rats from staying. I will, however, get rid of the aquarium hood for heating lizards since we no longer have the aquarium. I’m also giving away a bird cage with supplies, a rabbit bottle and leash since we gave away the rabbit hutch years ago. Oh yes, notice the dried out bone on top of the bird cage. It’s not from one of our pets but I found it with the cages and it fit the title of this blog.

Now I’m looking at our historic “entertainment center.” I say historic because I counted 109 VCR tapes. The last time we tried, we couldn’t even get our VCR to work – but that’s mostly because someone messed with the cables and our local son wasn’t handy to reattach them to the appropriate places. I should probably get rid of all of them but some memorialize high school plays and some I still use for presentations. I decided to get rid of at least 27. I know it’s possible to transfer them to DVD’s but I don’t have the time right now. I keep telling myself, “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.”

As I move to our front hall I find stashes of gloves and winter hats. I also counted seven umbrellas (plus one we keep in the car). Even allowing for visitors who may need an emergency umbrella, gloves, or hat, we don’t really need all of these. How many people are really going to visit us in January, gloveless and hatless? Would seven people without umbrellas really descend on us in one fell swoop? Out! Out!

Recently I was forced into “techno-purging.” I was trying to move some e-mails into Outlook folders and couldn’t do it. After the usual amount of fussing, I wondered if the problem was that my folders were too full. Bingo! Reluctantly, I deleted and archived e-mails that were older than 2008. It worked. I also sent out a global e-mail to my 500 dearest friends alerting them to this blog. About 30 bounced back. Obviously I’ve too often just hit reply to incoming e-mails and haven’t always updated my address book. It took time, but uncluttering my computer may save me headaches later.

…Stuff. Perhaps the biggest obstacle to REALLY clearing stuff out of our house is all our kids’ stuff that we’re storing. The last time I asked our 36 year old if I could throw away his grade school papers, he said “No.” Child #2 has stuff from her Peace Corps stint in Mali and later work in Senegal. Not only did she not want me throw any of this away, she saw one of MY skirts on this blog and wants me to keep it until she returns from Afghanistan. #3 lives nearby but refused to let go of any of his three PlayStations (one of which is broken) or any of the other electronics and games stored here. #4 has all his worldly possessions he could fit on a plane to Singapore. The rest are still in our house. Plus, we’re storing stuff for a relative who downsized to a smaller place when his wife died. My plan is to make five piles and tell each person the next time they come to take it with them or it will be history. It’s risky giving other people’s stuff away, but there comes a time… The problem is that it also takes time to collect and pile up their stuff. Maybe things will slow down around Christmas when they’ll all be home. 😕

Storage of the stuff I’m giving away is starting to become a problem. Since it’s not efficient for me to daily take each day’s give-aways to Goodwill or St. Vincent DePaul, I’m collecting all the stuff in a corner. After Easter I plan to put an ad in Freecycle for the bigger items and take the rest to a charity. Meanwhile our home looks more cluttered rather than less because we also have all the dining room furniture stored in the living room till the ceiling gets fixed. Perhaps today, I’m letting go of the peace of mind that an uncluttered environment brings and delaying that gratification.

How small should a piece of wrapping paper be to be useless? How much newsprint of different sizes does one need for banners and children’s art? Since I also store candles in the same area as the wrapping paper, I tackled them both together. I had more luck throwing away wrinkled newsprint than still usable candles. (You never know when the electricity is going to go out.) Wait, the electricity actually was out in this room since we’re still waiting for the drywall person to finish the ceiling which had the only light. It was too dark to sort through the candles. I just put all the paper that was going to recycling in the middle of the floor and took a photo – luckily the camera has a flash.

Our family is pretty competitive and likes to play board games. Now that the kids are only home for short visits and most games take at least three players, most of our games gather more dust than players. I counted 53 board games (some left over from Jim’s childhood like Foto-Electric Football). I’m giving/throwing away at least 8. Our current favorites (Settlers of Catan and Carcassonne) are definite keepers. There are mixed reviews for Monopoly. Risk takes too long (even though we love it). Cribbage and Scrabble are nice for two people.  Simon is great for playing with people who don’t speak English so we kept it for awhile thinking we would repair it so it actually worked. Sorry Simon, you’re gone.

Although we have lots of sports equipment scattered throughout the house, I had forgotten about the balls, gloves, bat,  and Frisbees, that were stored in a cedar chest. I kept about half of what you see, will give half of the rest away and pitch the rest. (Some balls are really not worth saving – even for the dog – which we no longer have either.)
PS: The greenest sports items I could find were the almost green (but decidedly dead) tennis balls so I draped a green cloth behind them. Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

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Knick knacks are a source of clutter in many homes – including ours. BUT, they are also a source of memories and that’s what makes it hard to decide what to give away. Today’s photo is probably most notable for what is NOT in it as there are probably 10 times the number of items shown. Since Jim and I travel a lot, most of our knick knacks are from foreign countries. They remind us of different cultures and especially the people we met that we may never see again. Should one give away memories or just take a photo of them?

Of course then I have to find a way to store the photos so I can find them. Most photos taken during the last decade are on our computers or a flash drive (although the file names may defy easy retrieval). BUT, we still have 19 photo albums (some over 60 years old) neatly stored under a window seat waiting for one of our children to surprise us by converting them all into digital form as a Christmas gift.

There are probably plenty of things that I could give away in the kitchen because I’m not the primary cook in our family and I only have a few standard menus. In order to avoid marital disharmony, however, I decided to take the low hanging fruit. (which were actually quite high) – baskets. As handy as baskets are I counted 23 of them perched on top of cabinets. One even had 17 pairs of sunglasses in it. Who knows what I thought I would do with 17 low quality sunglasses but they were out of sight and out of mind. I got rid of 1/3 of the baskets and almost all of the sunglasses. I probably should have included the fondue set we got as a wedding present 39 years ago and have used perhaps five times. That will have to wait till the next round of purges.

It occurs to me that even with all the things I’m giving away and throwing away, I still have much left. When I put myself in the shoes (now only one of 13 pair of course) of young adults or people with growing families I think this project would be much more difficult, perhaps not even wise. It’s often important to save hand-me-downs, craft supplies for a rainy day, and weird things to make costumes out of so you don’t have to run to the store and buy something new. Then of course there are people who don’t even have the necessities, much less stuff to give away. I’m continually challenged to discern – How much is enough and how much is too much?

Today’s photo doesn’t look like much but I had recently cleaned out the linen closet in our main bathroom so there wasn’t much left to get rid of. I did, however, find an old electric blanket that I never use because I’m not sure I feel safe having something electric on me overnight. I also found a “rag bag” – beyond the “rag crate” in the closet. Is it possible to have too many rags? I have a rag container for each floor of our home. When there’s no more room in these containers, that’s it! I’m just going to bite the bullet and throw them out. So there! I also was ruthless with throwing away all the barrettes and hair ties I’ve collected. I’m really never going to have long hair again.

We had 1,339 books in our house in the year 2000. I know this because our youngest child counted them. It was partly my attempt to give him a simple chore each day during summer vacation and partly curiosity. I’m sure it’s over 1,500 by now because we keep adding and seldom subtracting books. I confess that the picture of the bookcase today does not contain books I am giving away. That’s a much bigger project than I’m up to right now. I did note, however, that I have 13 Bibles. Does anyone need that many? Yes. For my writing I often check different translations plus some are children’s Bibles. What I AM getting rid of, however, are catalogs. I threw away 10 outdated ones. One way to decrease clutter and paper is to reduce the number of unwanted catalogs coming into the home. See for help. When I feel braver, I’ll tackle the books.

Update: Read How Giving Away 1,000 Books Made Me Love Reading Again for inspiration.