Living Lightly

Susan Vogt on living more simply but abundantly

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Lent is over but my 2019 Room by Room pruning is not. I’m taking a breather to reflect on what I’ve learned over the past 6 weeks. The photo at right shows much of what I decided to give away but not all of it since some items have already been disbursed, recycled, or trashed. Following are 10 things I’ve learned along the way:

    • On a Human level it feels good to give extra things away and clear clutter. I can find things more easily, the house has a cleaner look, and I feel virtuous.
    • On a Family level I figure I’m saving our children the drudgery of sorting through closets, papers, and myriad miscellaneous stuff after our death. But wait…
    • On an Emotional level I came to realize that as time consuming as some of the sorting was, it was also therapeutic to ponder one’s life while still in it.
    • On a Social Justice level it seems only right to pass on things we no longer need.
    • On a Spiritual level I am sometimes haunted by the writing of St. Basil the Great: “The bread in your cupboard belongs to the hungry; the coat unused in your closet belongs to the one who needs it; the shoes rotting in your closet belong to the one who has no shoes; the money which you hoard up belongs to the poor.
Despite my well-crafted schedule I came to the end of Lent and still hadn’t gotten to the basement and garage. Sometimes life and people get in the way. I had to remind myself that people are more important than things and schedules. Lent is a helpful motivating concept but being fully present to those who cross my path is a higher value. This is a life long journey.
My plan to spend at least ½ hour a day made sense because it sounded doable, BUT, most pruning took longer. Once I was in the midst of a project it was hard to stop. Some days I skipped and some days I hunkered down for a couple hours.
As I moved from one room to the next, I started to reconsider past items I had decided to save. Originally, I was rather restrained about what to let go of. After all, I might want that dress, that costume, that dish some day. As I continued, I found myself challenging those decisions more vigorously. Sometimes I went back to “finished rooms” and felt ready to let go of more.
5. HOW MANY EXTRAS?     +     +     +     +     +     +     +     +     +     +     +     +
Being a cautious person by nature, a number of decisions came down to “Maybe I should keep this just in case.” I kept returning to St. Basil’s counsel which is sometimes translated as your extra coat is stolen from the poor. I have more than one coat but I’m not a thief. Still this thought helped me more freely cull my extras. (Read Peter Sawtell of Eco-Justice Ministries’ recent challenging article on How Much Is Enough?)
Since it’s often difficult to find a good balance between being prudent and being generous, I found these helpful:
  • The 20/20 Rule applies to just in case items. If it can be replaced in under 20 minutes and costs under $20, let it go.
  • The Half Goal: Sometimes I had multiple items like storage containers or catalogs. I wanted to keep some but didn’t need all of them. To help me decide, I pushed myself to let go of half.
  • 4/5 Year Sweep: I started this blog in 2010. Although I continue to give things away throughout each year, this is my 3rd full house sweep. I really don’t add many new items so I’m not quite sure how I still have plenty to give away. I think the lesson is that periodically it’s good to do a household review – just as it’s also good to periodically do a life review
  • Spouse or child: Of course I can’t force another to cooperate with giving stuff away or to live a simple lifestyle. I can invite, model, and make it appealing but family harmony is more important than a tidy house. This year my husband made it clear that his office was off limits and he had veto power over kitchen decisions since he does most of the cooking. I would have been more ruthless in the kitchen, but I honored his wishes.
  • Adult children: I decided that when they are all home next Christmas I will invite them to spend 1 common hour reviewing the boxes/trunks that each has stored here. I will be within earshot so we can reminisce, but their decisions will be final. It will be their Christmas gift to me. I don’t want anything else.
Probably the hardest decisions were memories and mementos The easiest were my trophies or my clothes because it was only my decision.
Letting go of physical stuff continues to remind me that the trappings, honors, signs of success are not what is most important. Being present to others by letting go of my self-importance is what’s important. This inner pruning is not finished but ongoing.
Looking for things to give away prompted cleaning, organizing, and finding lost items. This Lent I found our bagel slicer. I also found a beloved pendant when searching through too much jewelry. When looking for my husband’s lost biking glove, I found it and 2 more gloves.

  • Basement and Garage pruning
  • Where to take it all – Deciding where to take stuff will be at least as hard as deciding what to give away. I’m allowing myself 1 month.

The 6 weeks of Lent are over but I’m not done. Despite my carefully crafted schedule and efforts to catch up at the end – life interfered. Here’s the skinny on the:

Dining Room: We have a beautiful built in china cabinet which makes it easy to store misc. dining and decorative items. It also makes it too easy to collect misc. things like candles, wrapping paper, and mementos.
Give Aways: My biggest purges were 10 empty 3 ring binders and a 48 piece flatware set, (We already had 2 sets of inherited silverware that we haven’t had a party formal enough to use in a decade.) Add to this a few outdated books and mementos.
Discard: 34 of 68 catalogs some dating back to 1999. (I invoked my “discard half” rule. The reasons I kept any are too complex to go into now.)

Reorganize/Relocate – music for prayer services. (This was prompted by the disintegration of the expandable file I kept copies in. I found a new file folder but the process of sorting took 2 hours. I also relocated 4 wrapped candles to the emergency gift drawer.

Bathroom Closet: This was already pretty trim, but I did find some old hair dye and frosting supplies that I will never use again plus an unlabeled bottle that seemed to contain shampoo. Pitched all of these things.

Catch-all Closet: This closet contained some kid toys and garden supplies.
Useless: Hardened clay. It makes a pretty photo but the clay was hard as a rock.
Give Away: However, the molds that our kids used for the clay are still good. Now I have to find some good kids to bequeath the molds to.
Discard Safely: I was chastised to find too many insecticides that I haven’t used in years and that I now try to avoid using. Finding a place that takes hazardous household waste took most of my time. Most communities have a once or twice a year round up time for citizens to dispose of hazardous waste but that’s 7 months away. After much internet searching I found that Hamilton County (Cincinnati) takes hazardous waste once a week. Now I have to impose on a friend in Cincinnati to take these items for me.

Semi-Conclusion: So I have spent time reviewing what to keep and what to get rid of on the main floor and upstairs of our house. I humbly conclude that this work is by no means finished, but I’ve been learning a lot about my attitudes toward possessions  and letting go of stuff in the process. I still have the basement and garage to go and those are gigantic spaces with many decisions looming, but not for today.

I will write a separate post soon about the lessons I’ve learned from this Lenten project. Then I will continue into the underworld (our basement) and the outside world (our garage).

KITCHEN: I spent 5 days deciding what to keep, give away, or relocate from our kitchen, pantry, and nearby cubby holes. Some days I worked for 1 ½ hours since I had the time. Other days I did nothing because I had no discretionary time. Here are the results:
Cupboard clean-out: I took all the contents out (see right) then cleaned the cabinet, and decided what to keep. (see below)
What would you have kept or pitched?
Keep: plates, bowls, and a generous supply of containers for leftovers and storage.
Give away: 2 extra glasses, 5 carry out containers (out of 10), 2 sandwich containers
Recycle: 5 plastic lids that don’t fit anything
2 #5 lids will go to Whole Foods
Pitched: 4 unrecyclable lids that don’t fit
Misc. give aways tucked in corners of misc. cupboards: mixer beaters and attachments to a broken mixer, never used Bundt cake pan, decorative nut bowl, almost never used flask, 3 of 10 misc. baskets,  several misc. lids and bases that don’t fit anything, duplicate size frying pan, very old can opener, 2 ash trays (We’ve never used the ash trays, but I suppose there was a time 30 years ago when we thought it would be hospitable to have an ashtray available if needed.)
Found: a bagel slicer that we thought had been lost
Pitched: Outdated food
4 costume leis moved to costume box
Ice-melting compound moved to basement
3 kites moved to basement sports equipment
Empty Pepsi bottle from 1989 Soviet Union trip moved to place for commemorative bottles

PANTRY: We have a large pantry for miscellaneous food staples, snacks, and cleaning supplies. I only disposed of 3 carpet cleaning supplies and a huge jug of starch. I don’t know if I ever used liquid starch but it was so old it was separating.


  1. It takes a long time to organize a kitchen. Considering how many separate small items are in a typical kitchen, it takes a while to sort and organize. Food and cooking create crumbs and scum. The cleaning process itself was worth it but took a lot of time.
  2. How many? How many storage containers, baskets, etc. should be saved? A few are handy but there should be a limit. I usually aimed to reduce items like these by about half.
  3. The 20/20 Rule. I wavered about whether to keep rarely used. Maybe someday I’d want to make a Bundt cake. Maybe I should keep the starch just in case some obscure repair instructions call for it someday. I finally summoned up my courage when I heard about the 20/20 Rule. If it can be replaced in under 20 minutes and costs under $20, let it go.


The past 10 days have included a trip to urgent care, 3 days of company, and a weekend of contra dancing so I pruned my finely tuned schedule instead of stuff. Fortunately 2 of those days were Sundays and the rooms didn’t contain a lot of stuff to give away.

LIVING ROOM: Since our furniture is all functional, I turned to drawers and our music cabinet.
Cassette Tapes. I know tapes are dinosaurs but we have a CD/tape player that can still play cassettes. I had 97 tapes and ruthlessly culled 31 leaving 66 tapes, some as current as 2,000.
CDs: I had 104 CDs. I gave away 5 at the dance music swap, so I now have 99 CDs. If this sounds like a simple math process, even though tapes and CDs take up very little room it takes a lot of time to sort them into categories and mark the cabinet with Contra, Musicals, Folk, International, Social Justice, Seasonal, and Background Music labels.
Outdated Directories. The only things I was allowed to ditch from end tables were 2 neighborhood Directories from 2004 & 2008. My husband insisted that all the large atlas’s were his domain including a large 2005 topographical atlas of Denmark. We’ve never been to Denmark.

HALLWAYS: One would think that hallways would have little to prune because all we do is walk through. However, our hallways have secret passageways where the kids have squirreled away precious things like:
131 floppy discs. I’m not sure which young adult left them but many seem to be back-up discs or role playing games.
3 slide carousels. (OK, these are probably parental relics and will go to whichever thrift shop will take them.) Click here for creative uses. I’ll never use these but they’re fun to imagine.
13 political buttons: I was only allowed to throw away 2 duplicates since any serious citizen should not be without buttons from 2008
Things to be relocated: 33 old LP albums from the 60’s-70’s. For now they will go to the basement with 50 other old LPs next to the phonograph that doesn’t work. I’ll deal with that later.
An antique photo album from Jim’s family is barely holding together and I have no idea who the people are (Jim hardly does either and he’s the oldest living relative). Still, it looked so historical I moved it to the trunk with other memorabilia. (Click to enlarge.)

Insights from half way through:
1. Getting permission: I could get rid of a lot more stuff, if I didn’t have to get the kids’ and spouse’s OK lest I risk family disharmony.
2. Guilt: Obsolete items like slide carousels, floppy discs, outdated campaign paraphernalia are easy choices to discard but I get a pang of guilt since I don’t know of a worthy home to give them to and don’t want to just contribute to a landfill.
3. It’s habit forming: The mindset of giving things away is growing on me. Items that I thought I didn’t want to part with yet from past rooms, are starting to feel rather unimportant to save in the grand scheme of life and what I actually use.
4. Catharsis: Emptying out a space, cleaning it, and reorganizing the contents, even if barely anything is deleted, can take more time than just pitching it. But it does make me feel better.
5. Time: Half an hour a day always feels too short once I get on a roll, but some days it’s hard to justify even 30 minutes.

BEDROOM #3  (Click on photos to enlarge)
Days 10, 11, 12 I thought this bedroom would be easy because I knew I dare not remove any of our daughter’s memorabilia. It hasn’t really been her bedroom since she graduated from college, almost 20 years ago, BUT she had personalized it by painting murals and sayings on the walls. Besides, anyone who hangs 26 paper cranes from a ceiling by definition is particular about her belongings. Good, I didn’t plan on going through any of her stuff. It only took about 15 minutes to assess if anything was really extraneous. I relocated about 10 empty frames and a tool box. So, why spend 3 days here? Because one thing leads to another, and other family member’s stuff was stored in this room.

The closet: At right is the before and after picture of the closet. It looks identical, BUT,
Taxes: Our accountant said we only need to store tax returns for 7 years. We had tax receipts from 1987-2009. I’ll shred these but it did free up 51 paper clips. We refilled the box with 2011-2018 information.
Calendars: Jim has saved calendars from 1964-2018 (that’s 54 years). Perhaps his biographer will want these when he becomes famous 🙂. Since I don’t control his giveaways, I merely reorganized them to fit better.
Barbies: We keep these for visiting kids. Maybe they’ll be worth something some day.
HS & College papers: I think most of these can be pitched but they’re not mine and they’re not hurting anything in the closet so I’m leaving them for our grown kids to determine their fate when they visit at Christmas.

File cabinets: My husband loves geography. One file cabinet holds mostly maps organized by state and country. No harm in keeping them and pruning them would be a marital mistake. The other file cabinet held historical files from his tenure on our local school board. It’s not mine. Let it be. It also held back newsletters from Parenting for Peace & Justice. Jim was on staff for PPJ but we both were involved, so I felt I had standing to review these. I saved one copy of each issue from 1981-1999. Anyone want to read some interesting articles from 20 years ago?

Days 13, 14 By the time I got to our last guest bedroom I was tired of sorting through other people’s memorabilia, so I reorganized some stuff, will give away some little children’s toys. I did, however, find 12 old T-shirts that my husband had collected from bike-a-thons. He agreed to let me pass on half. I did find 5 totally useless objects: unopened cassette tape and roll of Kodak camera film, deteriorating candy, broken lighter, and obsolete stamp.

Days 15, 16 The upstairs bathroom may be the smallest room in our house but I knew it would take a lot of time, so I “stole” a bedroom day. The cabinets over and under the sink only took about 30 minutes but the linen closet was almost an all day affair since it included all kinds of medicines and other health related equipment.
• Brace from when I broke my arm. I hope to not need it again.
• Hairdryer: One useful find was an extra hairdryer to give away.
• Medications: I found 31 expired medications of which 8 expired over 20 years ago and many were no longer needed. For example, our kids are way past needing acne medications. Although not all expired medications are unsafe or ineffective, I decided to safely dispose of most of them.
• Useful Tip-Razors: What do you do with 4 extra disposable razors? Gillette is partnering with Terracycle to offer free recycling. April 25 Update: I finally got around to using the Gillette razor/Terracycle “free” return program. I found it not to be as easy as I expected. Apparently Terracycle has not yet worked out the kinks in this so at this time one still has to register to get a mailing label (which is free) but the postage is not. They are working on simplifying this for local recycling of hazardous waste like razors.
Finally, I’ve finished the upstairs!

We’re 9 days into Lent (not counting Sundays) which means according to my master plan I should have spent 4 days pruning our Master Bedroom, 4 days pruning  Bedroom #2, and 1 day pruning the upstairs Bathroom. I’m one day behind (the bathroom), but who’s counting. I know curious minds want to know how it’s going so you can compare your progress (no matter what your Lenten resolution) to mine. Click on any photo to enlarge.

Day 1 – Closet Clothes
: I read somewhere on Google that a garment goal should be to use no more than 40 hangers for my clothes. It’s a totally arbitrary rule but it gave me something to shoot for since I was using 50 hangers. Since I work at home I no longer need daily outfits for an office environment. I thought it would be easy. It wasn’t. I kept 3 suits, 5 dressy jackets, 9 long sleeve blouses, 2 short sleeve blouses, 2 vests, 6 skirts, 8 pants, and 5 dresses = 40.
I decided to give away: 4 long skirts, 2 blouses, 1 dressy jacket, 1 sweater, 1 dress. I relocated 1 contradance skirt to my dance clothes closet in another room. (I’ll deal with that later.)
My criteria were:
Did the tops I kept match my iconic black or blue bottoms (skirts or pants)?
If anything needed repair, I let it go.

Day 2 – Closet Hooks: But what about stuff in the closet that wasn’t on hangers? One surprise was how many belts I had that I no longer use. Out of 15 belts I’m giving away 8. In the belt category I’m also counting many suitcase straps and travel accessories that were hanging on hooks in the closet. My scarf organizer was getting crowded so I’m giving away 3 scarves. I also found 2 tote bags (from conferences) that I don’t need and a hat that I never wear. (See below)

Day 3 – Shoes & Prayer: I hoped to prune my shoes from 10 to 8 but each has a different function. For those who care, I kept the following pairs: 2 winter everyday black shoes, 4 dress shoes (black or white), 1 summer sandals, 1 hiking shoes, 1 slippers, and 1 water-socks.
Since I didn’t prune any footwear, I turned my attention to a little magazine rack near my prayer table. It was crowded with prayer booklets that I  figured I would read or re-read one day. One can never have enough prayer aids, right? Wrong! As meaningful as these seasonal booklets are, many no longer fit my morning meditation style. I’m passing on a third of them to inspire others.

Day 4 – Misc. Drawers: Since I do a lot of travel I’ve collected a bunch of passport holders, mini-purses, conference name tags, and fanny packs. These are helpful but I had a lot of duplicates. After sorting through them I had a happy thought. We’ve invited our 10 year old niece to do an immersion program in Ecuador this summer. I let her pick one of these extra small security pouches for our trip.
I also cleared out a drawer of patterns in my sewing desk to make room for more important memorabilia since I no longer sew as much as I used to. As luck would have it, I ran into a serious sewer when at a local fabric shop and she was happy to receive 30 of my used patterns.

Day 5 – Boarder’s Stuff
: This day was easy. I checked the dresser drawers and found that a friend who stayed with us for the better part of a year had left some of her clothes. No problem, I emailed her and the next time she is in town she will pick up her bag of clothes.
I thought the rest would be easier than my own bedroom since it’s a guest bedroom with almost nothing in the closet. BUT, I forgot that we also store some of our adult children’s “treasures” there. The easy answer would be to just have them come get their stuff and take it to their new homes. It wasn’t so easy because the one who had the most stored stuff lives in Singapore. Two live a 10 hour drive away and the last one lives in a small attic apartment.

Day 6 – Kids Games: After reviewing stuff in the desk drawer I identified about 10 small children’s toys and puzzle games that I thought they no longer wanted. BUT, it wasn’t my stuff so I dutifully emailed them and asked if I was free to pass on these items to a worthy home or shelter. I’m waiting.

Day 7, 8, 9 – The Trunk: I hadn’t looked in this trunk for years since I knew it was old memorabilia that I didn’t need on a daily basis. Well, time’s up. This was a challenge since it contained trophies (mine, Jim’s, our kids’), ancient photo albums, old coins, and other miscellaneous mementos and letters. This project took 3 more days because it involved:
Re-emailing kids about which trophies and diplomas they wanted to keep
Relocating our pre-marriage love letters to a private place
Repairing the hinged tray to make it easier to store small stuff
Sorting through duplicate photos from our children’s exchange programs with Norway, Argentina, Italy, France, Turkey…
Sorting misc. memorabilia for all of us

I eventually decided to give away kid games (once I get permission), my H.S. golf trophy (after taking a photo of it), and a large crucifix (since we already have one in almost every room). I relocated a formal painting of our house and rehung a large poster of Moscow from our family exchange program there. Still waiting for permission for more of the kid’s memorabilia.

How is pruning the inside of your house going for you?

Lent starts next Wednesday, March 6. This will be my 10th Lent of trying to do something in addition to giving up sweets – such as actions that will help me be a better person by sharing my stuff, my money, simplifying my life, spending less, wasting less, eating less, and being less critical. All of these commitments are my way of increasing my solidarity with those for whom having less is not a choice but a necessity. See my Living Lightly blog home page for an overview. (Not eating sweets is a sacrifice but mostly it is a daily reminder to be faithful each year’s commitment.)

This year I decided to go “room by room” clearing out things I no longer need. One would think that by year 10 I would have little extraneous things left since I don’t purchase a lot of new things. In fact, the casual visitor to our home would probably not consider it cluttered. That’s because
1.  We have a big house with lots of closets
2.  I’m a good organizer and can magically hide things.

But, I have become aware that as I age and watch peers deal with disposing of parents’ belongings after they die, that I don’t want to burden our children with sorting through all our stuff one day.

So here’s the plan: go room by room finding things to give away, throw away, or re-purpose. I invite any of you intrepid souls to join me.

How Many Rooms Per Week?
With 6 ½ weeks of Lent I figured I would do a room a week. Unfortunately math is not my strength. As I said, we have a big house with 8 primary rooms (not counting my husband’s office which I figured was his responsibility). It doesn’t neatly fit a 6 week plan. As I walked around I realized that I should also count bathrooms and hallways since they often had closets and stuff to prune. I came up with:
8 primary rooms (4 bedrooms, kitchen, living room, dining room, and my basement office)
2 bathrooms
5 hallways with closets or shelves
1 unfinished basement storage area (laundry room)
16 rooms total
Answer: I decided to take 4 days for each of the 8 primary rooms (that’s 32 days) plus 1 day for each of the 8 ancillary rooms (8 days). This totals the 40 days of Lent.

How Much Time Per Day?
A perfectionist without a life might say, “As long a it takes.” I don’t have a lot of discretionary time each day. Who does? So I arbitrarily decided to commit to 30 minutes a day of pruning. This seemed reasonable amount of time without feeling prohibitive which might block me from starting. I will allow myself to add extra time if I just feel so motivated once I get into a project like a clothes closet or book shelves and just really want to finish it.
Answer: 30 minutes a day (a little more if I feel motivated and have the time.)

Where to Take the Stuff?
Answer:  The usual places. See Where to take it all.  For overall background and national information, see Recycling Revolution. For Cincinnati area resources click here

Any Exceptions?
Answer: Like any good plan there will need to be exceptions. I will be out of town some days. I may get sick. I just sprained my ankle so that may delay me at least 6 months. 😉 It’s OK, The process is adjustable and I’ll forgive myself.

Accountability: I’ll post my progress about once a week. I’d love to have you join me and tell me how it’s going with you.

I’ve got a big plan for Lent this year which will come in a couple weeks so I’m just catching up on smaller things that came my way recently.

Keep your eyes open for opportunities
Some give aways come by chance. We hired someone to do some electrical work at our house and the worker happened to mention that his hobby was making craft projects (like elaborate sailing ships) out of popsicle sticks. Ah Ha! I had recently reorganized some drawers and found a large supply of craft sticks that I suppose I was saving for some art project with the kids that never happened. Why not pass them on to this fellow who would use them soon rather than “maybe someday.” Keep your eyes open. Opportunities to lighten your possessions can come unbidden. Have you ever been blessed by seeing an unexpected opportunity to give or share?

Helping kids give stuff away
Last Christmas we gave each of our grandchildren a gift that we knew they would really enjoy. BUT we also decided to give them a gift that we hoped would stimulate their generosity. We gave them a $50 certificate from Toy Lending Library of Cincinnati (a local non-profit that lends toys or books to needy children in our city).

We also asked them if they wanted to “match” this gift by choosing several toys or books that they were willing to have us give away from our stash of stuff we kept for them when they visited. They chose several books and a few of our many plastic dinosaurs and little cars. I took the books to a nearby Little Free Library but wasn’t sure who to give the toys to.

As it turned out, four children were playing near the Little Free Library so I offered them the toys and they were happy for the unexpected treat. We hoped that taking a step to give away some of Nana’s toys might prompt them to do the same at home. We’ll see.

PS: In the Vogt spirit of giving Christmas gifts that serve others, I was thankful and proud that our daughter, Heidi, gave me an “alternative” Christmas gift called “A Child’s Arrival Bundle.”  from the Choose Love store that gives helpful products to refugees.

What do you do when you buy something that turns out to be a mistake. Perhaps it’s the wrong size, defective, or you just change your mind. Of course you could

  • Return it to the store or Amazon – but that takes time or postage.
  • Suck it up and use it anyway.
  • Or…might you look at it as an opportunity to pass it on?

I’ve recently done all of the above.
Return it: I bought an apron as a gift for Jim but it wasn’t quite the right style. After discussion and more careful washing of his previous apron, we agreed that it was fine to just return it.

Suck it up: I don’t wear much make-up but I was almost out of the color and kind of lipstick I prefer. Unfortunately, the original manufacturer no longer made it. I found something that looked similar on Ebay but when I got it, it was too dark – which of course I only confirmed by using it. It didn’t seem right to return it or pass it on, so I’m dithering and sucking it up. Haven’t yet found the perfect substitute.

Pass it on:

  • I don’t drink coffee but a few of our relatives do so I bought some free trade coffee as Christmas gifts. One bag was decaffeinated because I mistakenly thought our daughter drank that. Once I realized my mistake I couldn’t return it to the Christmas bazaar where I bought it. I put out an email to friends and found I had some decaf drinking friends. Success!
  • I needed new underpants (sorry, no photo) I bought some that I thought would fit but after trying them on at home in a sterile way, I realized they were too big. I couldn’t return them because I had removed the packaging. Solution: give them to the local women’s shelter.
  • Hamilton ticket. This is a long convoluted story, but suffice it to say that in the long, tedious process of working through a lottery to get tickets to Hamilton, we had mistakenly bought one extra single seat ticket.
    *My frugal side said, “Hey, I bet I could sell this for more than I paid for it.”
    *My altruistic, dramatic side said “Maybe, on the night of the play, I should just find a street person and surprise them with the ticket and drive him/her to the theater.”
    *My easy side won when I learned that a friend close to the family was hoping to go to the play, so I just gave it to her.

Moral to the stories: There’s more than one way to skin a cat, but look for the generous one.

Last August I was going to a prayer service and the “price of admission” was to bring some school supplies for children attending inner city schools. See Purging for a Cause #1  It was an easy and painless way to clear extra filler paper, markers, glue, and folders from our home. Tomorrow I’m going to a Civic Dinner at a local church and in addition to stimulating conversation, the Food for the Journey website mentioned that they could use plastic silverware, napkins, foam plates and cups for the weekly meals they host for the neighbors in this low income area. We’ve avoided buying anything styrofoam for awhile for environmental reasons, but we still had quite a few of the other items stored for – I don’t know what  – since we try to use washable silverware and plates. I found:

  • 275 paper napkins (We now use cloth napkins that can be washed.)
  • 250 plastic knives, forks, and spoons

The website also said that they could use coloring books and crayons to amuse the children during their weekly soup kitchen meals. So I’m taking

  • 3 coloring books
  • Half of our stash of crayons (Gotta save some for the grand kids 🙂 )

The moral of the story is: Watch for opportunities where others will provide you with a way to declutter.

I was short of time and didn’t want to figure out where to take these items, By just keeping my eyes and ears alert, others provide the occasion for decluttering and I feel lighter. It’s not always this easy, but hey! not every pruning project has to be a burden.

Before I reveal what “BVG” means, I’d like to share a letter to my grandchild. See if you can guess the BVG.

Dear grandchild,
Once upon a time, a long time ago, BVG, you may wonder what families did for fun. In my own family we played GAMES. Lots of them were board games. We especially did this during the long winter days and evenings when we tired of playing in the snow. Our family was pretty competitive so it was never boring. Yes, we watched TV some too and played outside, but we played a lot of board games when your parents were your age.
Love, Nana

These were the thoughts that went through my mind as the grandkids visited this Christmas and we played Scrabble, Risk, Settlers, plus some more kid friendly games. Of course some of our adult visiting children also played video games. Thus the acronym BVG – Before Video Games. Puzzle solved.

Click to enlarge

PRUNING THE GAMES: The process of rummaging through our board games led my husband and I to realize that it was time to let go of some of our board games. After the kids left, we counted over 50 games and sorted them into 3 piles

  1. Give Away or Throw Away (broken, duplicate, or vintage but seldom played games (15 on left)
  2. Unsure or Move to another place (10 in middle pile)
  3. Keep (25 on right)

SORTING THE REST: Once the broken and Give Away games were out of the way, we made the hard decisions about the Unsure category. Being wimps we added 5 to the Keep pile, 3 to the “Move to another place in the house because they weren’t really games” pile and only 3 to the Give Away pile.

This left me the happy job of sorting the Keep games into categories so we could stack them more neatly in the closet and find them easily in the future. (I love to organize!) Since I could fit 4 stacks in our closet, I decided on the following.

  • Party Games (for example: Apples to Apples, Taboo, Pictionary, The Ungame, Reunion, Clever Endeavor)
  • Party Games + Trivia (for example: more party games plus Trivial Pursuit games.)
  • Children’s Games (for example: Monopoly, Clue, Scruples for Kids, Scrabble, Uno)
  • Strategy Games (for example: Settlers of Catan, Carcassonne, Risk, Wizard, Hanabi)

WHERE TO TAKE: I took our 15 Give Away games to a nearby vintage store. (Some were left from my husband’s childhood.) They took about 10. I offered the final five on our Neighbor Next Door online service and am waiting to see if anyone wants them. Anything that’s left goes to Goodwill.

Do you have any games that are lonely and would appreciate appreciative players? How have you passed on orphan games?

There are several layers to Recycling Christmas:
I’ll start with the traditional religious and gift-giving concepts and the go on to those that fit the more classic ecology dimensions.

1.The SUPER-SPIRITUAL: This approach goes back to the basics and reminds us that Christmas is about the Christ coming into the world as a human being. It is not primarily about buying presents. The focus is on being generous and remembering those who are born into poverty as Jesus was. This is all true and good but the spiritual only approach risks being inhuman if taken to a judgmental extreme as your family calls you the Grinch yelling “Bah Humbug!” Besides, the joy of family gatherings and gift-giving is not bad, even though frequently overdone.

2. The SUPER-FRUGAL: This approach is akin to the super-spiritual but the motivation is not only getting back to the basics but doing it cheaply.I have been accused of this by my family since by natural temperament I tend toward frugality. (They have less neutral term for it.) For ideas on this style see Frugal Gifts for Family & Friends and Nothing New Christmas 

3. The SUPER-ENVIRONMENTAL: Serious environmentalists can be hard to live with at times. They take their water bottle everywhere,refuse straws and plastic bags, may even carry their own reusable silverware,etc. (I plead guilty.) But there are other issues like what about all the boxes and transportation involved in online shopping? For a closer look at complicated decisions like this, click here

The above are all legitimate things to think about as we approach Christmas, but for the weary or lazy, I offer two simpler and less extreme ways to be a good person who accepts that Christmas involves giving gifts but still is conscientious about reducing one’s impact on the environment.

4. THE PRACTICAL: If you are hosting family for Christmas (as we are this year) it typically means cleaning the house. My own modest cleaning this year revealed

  • that my stack of 8 ½” by 11” papers was now 10” high.These are papers that were originally only printed on one side so I used them to print unofficial stuff on the other side.
  • click to enlarge

    Jim noticed some folks sifting through the neighbors’recycling bin for metal. He remembered that we had a bunch of metal remnants in the garage which we planned to some day take to the metal recycling center.

“Some Day” became today for the paper and metals. Itjust took keeping our eyes open.

5. THE “IT’S NOT TOO LATE” APPROACH: So it’s Christmas morning and presents are being opened. It’s not too late to recycle part of Christmas. Consider the wrapping paper.

Many years ago in our super-frugal days when of necessity we didn’t have much discretionary money, we decided to wrap our family Christmas presents in brown paper grocery bags. The kids were young enough that they didn’t complain that we were weird. We said that “Simple brown packaging can hide treasures.” We still do it but few others do.

Solution: Most traditional wrapping paper can be put in paper recycling as long as it doesn’t have glitter or foil on it and you take off sticky tape, ribbons, and it passes the “scrunch” test. Check RecycleNow and Earth911 for details.

Click to enlarge

January 1 – Addendum: Christmas Day is over and I saved all the wrapping paper to recycle. I also reviewed our local recycling regulations. I had a giant garbage bag of discarded paper. I decided to carefully go through all the remnants removing tape and deleting metallic paper. Nothing had glitter on it. The stack on the left can be recycled. The bag on the right holds remnants that cannot go into recycling. I feel virtuous but I doubt that I will do this again. It took over 2 hours to sort what can be recycled and what can’t. Maybe considering we had 10 family members we had too much wrapping paper – most relatives wrapped at our house. Maybe we had too many presents. Maybe we should have used reusable bags… Whatever. I can’t (and don’t want to) control other people’s gift giving, I just wish the paper didn’t feel so wasteful.

My last post on giving away socks was easy peasy. This one took some homework and research. We’re all familiar with the environmental slogan, “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.” This is good; but I sometimes rant about how folks often jump to the Recycle part and overlook the more substantive Reduce/Reuse aspect. After all, we wouldn’t have to recycle so much if we really lived more lightly by consuming less and reusing what we already have. Well, today I’m taking exception to my own advice.

It all started several weeks ago as I was driving through the neighborhood on our weekly garbage collection day (which is also recycling day). I noticed that many homes only had their brown garbage carts out at the curb (no green recycling carts). I wondered why?

  • Maybe they were out of town? But no, they had to be home to put out their brown cart.
  • Maybe they didn’t know that both the brown and the green carts were free?
  • Maybe they didn’t have any paper, glass, cans, or plastic bottles to recycle? (Maybe I’ve been doing too good of a job of picking up recyclables that I see on the street during my daily walk. 😉 )

Hmmm. I decided to do some research. On the next garbage/recycling day, I walked through the neighborhood and counted.
• 102 places had BOTH a brown and a green cart at the curb. Good!
• 160 places had ONLY a brown cart at the curb. (Some of these places had 2 brown carts but no green cart. I assume this was because they were duplex homes rather than one family regularly just had too much garbage to fit into one can.)

Since this was research, I peeked into a few of the brown carts and noticed that recyclable cardboard, cans, etc. were easily visible. Groan.

What to do?
1. I could just swallow my frustration and feel satisfied (smug?) that at least my family and closest neighbors were recycling. After all, I’m busy. I have other important things to do. I’m not my neighbor’s keeper.
2. I could take a step to multiply my recycling effort. This idea came to me because of a workshop that Jim and I are facilitating called the Pachamama Drawdown Initiative based on Paul Hawken’s Drawdown book which outlines 100 solutions to reverse global warming. The idea is to move beyond personal environmental sustainability lifestyle changes to find ways to multiply our efforts on a community and systemic way.

I chose #2 and decided that one way I could influence at least my neighborhood was to put a notice in our local Neighbor NextDoor email group.  Many communities have these private social networks that send out emails about local services. It seems to be especially useful when looking for lost dogs or cats or alerting folks to suspicious activity in the neighborhood. I called our local waste collection company, got some facts and posted this notice.

Dear Neighbor Nextdoor, I care about our neighborhood and about our planet. Today was garbage and recycling day in Latonia where I live. On garbage/recycling day I have noticed that sometimes only the brown garbage carts are next to the curb but no green recycling carts. I decided to do an informal survey of how many people use the green recycling carts provided FREE by Rumpke. 102 homes put out both carts, BUT 160 homes put out ONLY the brown garbage carts. We can do a lot better! Did you know that you can easily get a green cart FREE by calling Rumpke (1-800- 828-8171) and talking to customer service? They will deliver the size cart you want to your home within 48 hours. Recycling is picked up every week on the same day as your garbage day. Website: Email:

So far I’ve gotten 8 responses thanking me for the information and often saying they didn’t know the green carts were free or how to get them.

Click to enlarge

Sometimes life gets busy. A relative dies. Emergencies come up…and this blog is overdue. That’s when it’s nice when an opportunity falls into one’s lap. That’s what happened today during my walk. I saw a sign at a neighbor’s house soliciting coats, sweaters, socks etc. for homeless people in the community. It’s getting cold. I often take our unneeded winter clothes to our local emergency shelter but hadn’t gotten around to it yet and the temperature has been dipping into the 20’s.
Aha! I had some new (but the wrong size) and older (but still useful) heavy socks waiting to be taken somewhere useful. It almost feels like cheating because this decision is so easy – just walk the socks over to our neighbor. An example of not letting the perfect be the enemy of the good. Boring but useful.

If politics, hatred, suffering, and the sorry state of the world is cluttering your mind – welcome to the club. It’s easy to become depressed and want to return hate with hate. But that doesn’t solve anything.

On my last blog post, Let Go of Trivial Judgments, I promised to move beyond trivial judgments to find constructive ways to channel justified anger into action. Following are 7 steps I recommend.

  1. Let go of the trivial – to make room for what’s important. DONE √
  2. Identify the top 2 issues that are worthy of your outrage. Let your outrage with evil motivate you. (Let others take care of the other issues. You are not in charge of the world.)
  3. Become informed. Check credible news sources. Read. Listen. Think. Learn how to recognize propaganda and news bias. Check here, here, and here for resources
  4. Listen deeply to the hurts and fears of the “other.” Try to understand, rather than to hate back. While you are listening include listening to your heart, body, and soul. For me, this means taking my frustrations to prayer. May God open my heart to fully understand and inspire me to discern positive, effective responses.
  5. Strategize. Good intentions are not enough. Think of positive, specific, doable actions. (See Will Grant.) Consult others. As The Pachamama Alliance says, “Together we are a genius.”
  6. Join with others. This multiplies your individual efforts and supports motivation.
  7. Act. Prayer and penance are worthy actions but must be joined with concrete actions for change. The act of acting also relieves depression and feelings of helplessness.

For example, I identified working for a sustainable environment and responding to the sexual abuse/cover-up issue in the Catholic Church as my top two issues. (I also care about making health care affordable to all and many other social issues but I have limited time and energy so I had to choose what I knew most about and was in the best position to influence change.)

Regarding environmental sustainability, I studied resource material and took training to lead workshops on this issue (Awakening the Dreamer and Drawdown). About a year ago I also intentionally sought out people who had a different political stance than I did and tried to understand their fears. I joined a team of local people to lead workshops on environmental sustainability, social justice, and spiritual fulfillment. It takes a lot of time. I can’t do every thing, but I can do something. I must do something.

Contact me if you want to know how I have acted on the sexual abuse/cover-up/clericalism issue.

Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief.
Do justly, now. Love mercy, now. Walk humbly, now.
You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.
The Talmud

About 6 months ago I focused on trying to be kinder for Lent. One dimension of this was to be less judgmental of other people. By the end of Lent I realized that it’s harder to actually change my internal critical self than to give things away. Today, over half a year later, I’m noticing even more judgmental thinking. Maybe this is because of increased awareness, maybe it’s because there’s more to be judgmental about in our recent political climate, or maybe this is just a deeper spiritual issue.

After reflecting on this conundrum awhile, I’ve come to the conclusion that a helpful step might be to separate trivial judgments from substantive judgments that are worth spending emotional energy on.

For example, some trivial energy drainers that I’ve noticed in myself are:

  • On a plane I saw a woman with a full size pillow. I was tempted to say, “You don’t travel much, do you.” (To save space, I like to bring only a small inflatable pillow for long flights.)
  • Or “Whatever possessed that woman hobbling through the airport to think that wearing 3 inch heels was a good idea?”
  • While we’re on airports – Why on earth does CVG have long stretches of carpeting on the floor? It makes it harder to clean. If they want to reduce sound, do it with wall or ceiling sound deadeners. (I emailed this feedback to the management.)
  • At worship services, my internal liturgist sometimes thinks, “That song should be done at a quicker tempo.” Or “The lector should be trained to speak more clearly.”
  • When hearing people give public instructions, I wince at wordy, overly complicated directions.
  • On the radio, when the host ends an interview with, “Thank you for being here.” the guest should simply say, “You’re welcome.” not another, “Thank you.” Also, hosts on serious programs should not open the program with “Hey!” in an effort to be casual and friendly. “Good morning,” “Good Evening,” or “Welcome” work fine.
  • Oh yeah, can we all stop saying, “so…yeah” when closing a statement.

So, these are a few of my pet peeves, and I know they are all trivial. Perhaps venting them once here will help. I’m sure others probably have at least as many gripes about annoying mannerisms that I have. (Note to my brothers and kids: You don’t need to comment on this. 😕)

The point is that as much as I’ve committed to letting go of these trivial judgments of others, it’s taking a long time to free myself of such internal judgments. I welcome comments from readers on how you deal with trivial matters like these.

And why should you care? Because it weighs us down in negativity when we need our psychic energy to go towards actions that can make a positive difference in our world.

Stay tuned for my next blog post which will propose moving beyond trivial judgments to finding constructive ways to channel justified anger into action. Think politics, sexual abuse/cover-ups, global warming. So…yeah!

I’m a speaker and a writer. That means I care about words. I suppose we all do. I recently attended an international meeting that heightened my awareness of how we use words. Because the meeting included people from 23 countries that covered 5 continents we spoke many different languages and had simultaneous translations into 4 languages. When I got past the Tower of Babel, it reminded me of Pentecost when the apostles spoke their own language but were understood by people speaking many different tongues. Translations aren’t always perfect, but being translated and interacting with people who speak other languages taught me a lot about words. For example:

  • I’m too wordy. Many people are. Even introverts who typically think before they speak, can get caught up in over-explaining. I pride myself in getting to the point in both my speaking and writing, but I realized that because I was being translated it was important to use fewer words and to choose them carefully. This can hamper spontaneity but better to be heard than to have a whole sentence missed. Letting go of using too many words is a skill worthy of a Living Lightly blog.
  • Stretch to understand people. Many people at my conference spoke English as a second language. This meant it took more work on my part to understand a person who was not a native speaker. This limited in-depth communication, but forced me to find words that captured the basic meaning and to listen more carefully through unfamiliar accents. This same principle applies to English speakers in the USA whose language sounds different because of geography, class, age, or different life experiences.
  • Not everything has to be said. Some of the most memorable communication took place without words. We played “follow the leader” walking hand in hand to go through complicated corridors to a destination. We danced together (often awkwardly but laughing) at the evening cultural nights. We drew pictures, hugged, and watched people wipe tears from their eyes at sad or joyful moments.
  • Eating together is universal communication. Although I hesitated to sit with people at meals who I knew did not speak English, occasionally I took the risk. Not much was said, but smiles and exchanging names connected us – until a multilingual person could join the table. My lack of languages was humbling.

The experience reminded me of Mindfulness of Words – one of the virtues that as a Lay Marianist I seek to grow in. This used to be called “Silence of Words” but has evolved to an understanding that using words well is not just about silence, but also knowing when and how to speak with intentionality and love,

At the risk of repeating myself (which would be inconsistent with trying to limit unnecessary words) , I decided to check if I had ever blogged on “Letting go of Words” before. Indeed, I had. Click here for additional insights. What aspect of speaking or silence do you struggle with? What has helped you make your words count?

Sometimes you’re in a hurry. Sometimes you’re behind. Sometimes you just don’t want to take the time to figure out where to take your extra stuff. That was me last week. I was being good. I was going to a prayer service. BUT they asked folks to bring some school supplies as a goodwill offering for low income families. A nice idea, but I didn’t want to take the time to go out and buy anything.

But wait! Why don’t I just check our art supply drawers and office supply stockpile? Having raised four children and still having grandchildren who visit, we never purged our crayons, markers, and glue. Having gone to too many conferences (and organized some of them) we have way more folders than one family needs.

It didn’t take long to find:

  • 3 boxes of markers. (We still have 2 full boxes and about 20 loose ones.)
  • 32 unused pencils (We still have plenty. It’s the erasers that go bad.)
  • 2 bottles of school glue
  • 1 child’s safety scissors
  • 1 mega eraser for “Big Mistakes”
  • 150 sheets of packaged ruled paper
  • 66 clean colored folders (that have been used but don’t look like it). This was only 1/3 of our stash.

I think these will get us in the door to the prayer service.

What’s the point?
There’s probably plenty of other extra paraphernalia lurking around our home that I just haven’t gotten around to clearing out the “more than necessary for the grandkids” stuff. So, prayer and the Sisters of Charity did me a favor by prompting my 15 minute search and giving me a good cause to give it to. I didn’t even have to make a trip to Goodwill or one of my other go to donation places.

What if you took 15 minutes today to scan your home for extra school supplies and take them to a school in need? What about extra tools, dishes, towels…Pick a category. You don’t have to do a whole house purge, just perhaps a weekly or monthly review of stuff you’ve outgrown, or just have extra.

See Purging for a Cause #2 for another example of this.

I feel too busy. That seems to be my mantra lately. Maybe it’s yours too. I thought my Taming Time blog post would help me declutter my calendar and life. It did help, but I want more. I’m finding that I’m being led into a deeper dimension of time. Lately I’ve realized that some of my stress comes from feeling that I have to make sure everything I do succeeds. Part of this comes from my sense of responsibility and that is good. But is it possible to be over-responsible?

I’ve had leadership roles in 2 national meetings this summer and a major role in an international one coming up this month. I find myself trying to help others with their tasks and fix a lot of problems. This is also good – maybe. The question that occurs to me, however, is when should I try to “help” others and when am I doing too much because I think I have the best way or I want it to be my way.

Of course this dynamic of controlling and being over-responsible not only applies to meetings but also to marriage, parenting, jobs, and friendships. Sometimes we (I) have to let go of thinking I can control the outcome of a job or relationship and focus on doing what I can, taking a break, and being present to the person next to me – in the house, car, store, or at a meeting. It reminds me of my parenting maxim, “We are responsible for the process we use in raising our children, not the outcome.”

I may make a mistake, forget a task, or be less than perfect. The project I’m working on may not meet my expectations. That’s OK. Life on earth will survive – or maybe it won’t. (I do worry about and work for environmental sustainability.) But how am I lightening the load of my neighbor by an attentive, non-judgmental ear. Sometimes that’s more important than saving the world.

How do you deal with letting go of control? Or maybe you have the opposite inclination – to let other people do the work and worry. How do we balance these two extremes?

PS: And, oh yes, please excuse the fact that this blog post is a week late. I’m sure you noticed.

Now that we have our solar panels installed, I thought I would be so happy. I am, but the feeling is fleeting. The same thing happened after we got replacement windows, or even when I get a book from Amazon, or the perfect all purpose travel blazer. But it’s not just about stuff. Often I wait with great anticipation for our kids to visit or to get an award. Somehow, I keep thinking that this purchase, event, or accomplishment will make me happy – and it does…for a very short time. Bottom line: Happiness of this kind is fleeting. I know that, but the emotional promise is still alluring.

So, is there anything that brings lasting happiness? Healthy relationships, having a spiritual core, working at something you love, finding meaning in life are all things that come to my mind. Usually these deeper satisfactions go beyond material stuff.

It was with this attitude that I watched Graham Hill’s Ted talk, Less stuff, more happiness. By virtue of my organized personality I really liked his super efficient, tiny apartment, which was clear of clutter and employed multiple use furniture. This was appealing. But, I realized that even if I had the perfect tiny house, this would not automatically bring lasting happiness. Some sages say that happiness is an inside job. True, but perhaps even truer is that happiness involves giving ourselves to others. Some examples that come to mind are:

  • Meaningful relationships (friendship, marriage, family)
  • Service
  • Commitment to the common good
  • Helping those in need

Pair these with time to be self-reflective and ponder creation and the prime source (who I call God) – maybe that’s enough.

How have you found happiness that lasts?