Living Lightly

Susan Vogt on living more simply but abundantly

Browsing Posts published by Susan Vogt

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.

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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.
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    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.

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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.

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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?

Yea! A couple days ago our new solar panels were activated. This is probably the opposite of my recent Keep it Simple post, because it wasn’t a simple or cheap endeavor, but it was worth it. Over a year ago we started thinking about getting solar panels for our roof. We contacted an installer, got a bid, and then procrastinated for about 9 months until another email offer woke us up. Now we were ready and we moved expeditiously.

After confirming that our roof was in good enough shape and checking out the payback timing we decided to invest in 16 panels. It took about 2 months and a hunk of money but we considered these 4 principles:

  1. It takes money to save money. Of course saving money over the long haul is good and applies to paying more if the higher quality product means it will last longer and be better for the environment.
  2. Doing our part. But, the bigger motivation was that although we can’t single handedly reverse global warming, we can do our part.
  3. The multiplier principle. As more people buy into solar, the multiplier effect kicks in and makes a bigger impact on reducing greenhouse gases plus reduces the cost because of economy of scale. (Caveat: We were also lucky that we moved fast enough that we bought the panels which were manufactured in China before Trump’s tariff goes into effect saving us more than $4,000.)
  4. Solar panels on Marianist sisters’ convent, Ranchi, India. Click to enlarge.

    We’re not first, but we won’t be the last. As proud as I am to now be contributing to part of the solution for global climate change, I was humbled 6 months ago (January 2018) to observe that the retreat center I was staying at in Ranchi, India was powered by solar panels. Several years earlier I had visited a newly constructed school and parish in a nearby rural area of India that was completely powered by solar. Many of the smart developing countries are leap-frogging carbon based energy sources and going straight to renewables, just like they’ve skipped landline phone installations and adopted cell phones as their primary phones.

I’m happy. Our house is happy. We expect to power about 95% of our electricity needs from the sun. According to the team of scientists led by Paul Hawken, rooftop solar installation ranks #10 among the top 100 ways to reverse global warming by 2050 DrawdownThe Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming  (Jim and I have just finished the training to lead Drawdown workshops  Contact me if you want to learn more.)

How have you saved energy (electrical or human) through modern technology? Has it cost more to do it? How did you decide?

Sometimes life gets messy, complicated, too busy, or painful. We, who like to think of ourselves as responsible hardworking people, can beat ourselves up thinking we’re not doing enough. It might be missing deadlines, not recycling enough, being lazy, or not living up to our values as fully as we would like. This week was like that for me.

I came back from a trip sick, felt miserable, at the last minute had to beg out of a meeting that I was supposed to lead, and felt guilty. I’m behind on my twice-a-month blog posts. I’m still sick. Letting go of my guilt was the first task. Picking an easy blog post was the second.

Here’s what I’ve got – Simple is good.
Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Forgive myself.

For example: We live in Covington, KY but its right on the border of Cincinnati, OH and thus we’re part of the Cincinnati metropolitan area. Covington has weekly curbside recycling for the usual plastic bottles, glass, paper, cans, etc. BUT, I have to search for worthy homes for other household items like clothes and kitchenware. BUT, Cincinnati just started a new curbside recycling option called Simple Recycling. You just put clothing, shoes, and home goods in one of their large orange plastic bags and it gets picked up weekly. The problem is you have to live in one of the participating US cities. We just took our bag to one of our Cincinnati friends who gladly put it out with their curbside recycling. Done!

It’s not perfect, but it’s easy – if you live in the right city. Simple Recycling is not a non-profit but they recommend Donate Stuff  for people who want to go the extra mile and get a tax receipt. Unfortunately, Donate Stuff also does not operate in many cities.

Some questions for you:
*How do you keep your living lightly simple?
*When do you make compromises?
*What gets in the way of doing good because it’s just too complicated or takes too much time.
Others will appreciate your tips.

Our daughter was home for Mother’s Day. Yay! Now that she lives back in the States, I encourage her to take her stuff that’s been stored at our home to her home – a  much delayed goal. In the process Heidi identified 6 books that she said were obsolete and should be pitched.

  1. The Best Colleges, the Princeton Review,© 1992. OK this is fair. A lot has changed in colleges in the last 26 years.
  2. Cracking the GRE, the Princeton Review © 2000. Also fair. Anything you needed to know about this graduate school test has probably changed over 18 years.
  3. Real SAT, by The College Board © 1995. Comments on #1 & #2 apply.
  4. The Internet for Dummies © 1994. Since I’m still pretty dumb about the internet, I thought this might be worth keeping for reference but she said it’s obsolete
  5. More Unix for Dummies © 1995. What is Unix anyway? Same answer as #4.
  6. International Thesaurus of Quotations © 1970. I thought this would be worth saving but she pointed out I could find any quote quicker on the internet. OK.

In order to redeem myself I added one obsolete book of my own, Workbook for Lectors © 2015. Although this is the most current of all the books, since the Catholic lectionary repeats every 3 years, there’s no need to keep anything longer than 3 years.

Normally I take used books like this to Friends of the Library or Half Price Books, but since these are all paperbacks and truly obsolete, I suppose just recycling them as paper is easiest.

Why not take this prompt to do a quick scan of your home for obsolete books. Free your books and some space.

I’d love to know what “no longer needed by anyone” books you discover.

Sometimes our lives are cluttered with things. Sometimes it’s things to do that clutter our mind and time. I wonder if I will ever get my To Do list done before I die. Sure, I make time to nap, read, recreate, and take vacations so it’s not like I don’t take breaks, but still I wonder if I will ever really get caught up. So here’s a collection of tips I’ve developed over the years to deal with taming time.

1. Pray first: Even if you’re not “religious,” taking time daily to contemplate who I am and what’s important – is important. If I wait till there’s time, other priorities crowd out this spiritual time. Now that we are no longer in the active parenting stage of life, first thing in the morning works for me. For those with other bio-rhythms last thing at night can qualify as first in anticipation of the next day.

2. Set priorities: Most time-management gurus advise identifying no more 3 priorities that you hope to accomplish each day. Do those first, starting with the top priority. This is good unless your top priority is to create world peace or it becomes a day long project. Solution: Estimate the time your top priorities will take and if one might take more than 1/3 of your working day, reevaluate. Set deadlines. Exception: 3 Minute Rule. If several things are not top priorities but are quick and easy, do them early.

3. Keep a To Do List: Consider a To Do list not as a burden but rather a tool that frees you of the stress of keeping everything in your head. Some things are necessary and have a deadline; others are nice to do if time allows. One beauty of a To Do list is the satisfaction and joy of crossing tasks off (in red) when accomplished. My daughter recently co-authored a playful Wall Street Journal article, America Is Drowning in Lists, which includes ideas from the Ivy Lee Method to Bullet Journals.

4. Develop Email/Text/Phone Protocols: Only check emails after your basic priorities for the day are set lest you wallow in email purgatory before starting the important stuff. However, email does allow you to identify some 3 Minute Rule tasks from your To Do list and quickly cross them off.

  • Reduce Email:
    – Don’t reply to all unless “all” really need to know.
    – State the goal and deadline clearly. For example: Need a reply by ___.   OR   For your information – No need to reply avoids unnecessary “Thank you for your email” emails
    – Expedite scheduling large group meetings with an app like Doodle.
    – Filter and/or Unsubscribe from unwanted repetitive promotional emails.
  • Texting: Best for short messages, your kids, or times that might interrupt a person’s job. But, don’t overdo it. Don’t contribute to another person’s phone clutter.
  • Phones: Turn alerts off or ignore during meals or meetings unless your mother is in the hospital. The live person in front of you always comes first.

5. Check social media last and only for a limited time – maybe 30 minutes. Use Social Fixer to prune unnecessary Facebook posts.

6. Save Time for Recreation & Relaxing: This might come under setting the day’s priorities if you tend to be a Type A personality like me. Accomplishing a lot is good. Being a balanced person is better. Don’t waste time complaining unless you can do something to fix it.

7. Laugh, Turn it Over Sometimes people and life will interfere with even the best time management system. Think of these as a spiritual call to pay attention to the humans and life around me. Laugh at the folly of trying to completely control my life.

For additional ideas see my past posts under the TIME Tag cloud (bottom of right column), especially Wasting Time/Saving Time.

Arise! Happy Easter

For 6 weeks I’ve been trying to be kinder. This Lenten resolution stemmed partly from my kids kidding me about being judgmental of others. Although their examples were humorous, I recognized that there was some truth in my complaining about others’ foibles, the political state of the world, and also being hard on myself. Being a type A, organized personality, I set out a plan. I would try to be kinder to people by giving things to them, doing helpful acts, and speaking more kindly to and about others.

Here are 7 things I learned:
1. Transformation starts with intentionality and commitment.
As the Pachamama symposium explains:
*A VISION without a PLAN is just a DREAM.
*A PLAN without a VISION is just DRUDGERY.
*But, a VISION with a PLAN can change the world.

If the vision was to be kinder and the plan was to do at least one extra act of kindness a day, I committed to hold myself accountable by each morning anticipating what acts of kindness I might do, writing them down, and then reviewing my progress the next morning. Some days I couldn’t think of a specific kindness to do. On those days I planned to look for opportunities and then check myself the next morning to see if this heightened awareness made any difference. Consciously looking for opportunities helped.

2. Things will seem to get worse before they get better. At the beginning I felt like I was going backwards. I noticed more times that I slipped up and criticized others. The reality probably wasn’t any different, but consciously trying to change a habit heightens perception.

3. Speaking kindly, giving compliments, being “nice” is easier – in the short term because it takes effort to actually do an act of service or give something away, BUT

4. Doing direct, concrete acts of kindness is easier – in the long haul. This seeming contradiction was because I found it was harder to curb my tongue and negative thoughts than to just hand out some money or do a favor. I needed to search for what might be behind another’s behavior such as the needs they were trying to meet or the fears that drove them. This stirred up understanding or compassion rather than seeing the other as an adversary or wrong.

5. Actions, Thinking, and Feelings are all connected. I thought I could think, pray, or believe my way into loving an enemy. Sometimes a spiritual belief can lead to a compassionate act. But sometimes an action has to come first. An act of service or emotional encounter can lead to changed thinking. Any of these can be a entry point and lead to growth.

6. Using physical prompts can help good intentions. When my daily plans to be kinder evaporated into forgetfulness or busyness, I found prompts (like fasting, turning off media, putting tape on my mouth, notes in conspicuous places) could be a reminder.

7. It’s not all about me. In the end, I kept coming back to realize that this whole process of trying to be kinder could actually be a big ego trip. Hey, look how good I am! What helped me to tame undue pride was to call myself back to focusing on the other. Theologians call this “kenosis” or self emptying. This is the real spiritual challenge – to not focus on my own success or failure, but to focus on the good of the other, lest we become puffed up, self-absorbed, or feel guilty. A less academic term, that captures this concept for me is the “smug factor.”

Kindness can mean many things – giving people stuff, helping folks, saying kind words, not saying or thinking mean things about people, protecting the environment, and praying for people. On that last one – praying – I haven’t written much because it seemed like a throw away phrase. Something you say when someone dies and there’s no action to take. Well, it’s time to mention prayer.

PRAYER: You can never have too many rosaries – or can you? I realized that I could only say one rosary at a time and our household had several so we agreed to give two extra ones away. But it wasn’t so easy. I planned to walk to a neighborhood second hand religious goods store and give them the rosaries. Unfortunately it had gone out of business. I ended up taking them to our parish school. Done.

ACTS OF KINDNESS: Then I went on to more direct acts of kindness:

  • Donated 2 dresses and shoes to our contra dance dress swap last weekend,
  • Made applesauce and scones for community meals
  • Gave a Kroger gift card to someone in the checkout lane at the Kroger grocery.
  • Danced with a couple people who didn’t have partners at our dance

KIND SPEECH & THOUGHTS: But I’m still trying to speak more kindly like:
1. Giving compliments
2. Refraining from making a criticism about a person behind their back
3. Going beyond gossip to not even thinking negatively about another
4. Trying to understand why people evoke a critical reaction in me
I’ve done pretty well with #1 and am getting better at catching myself with #2. To help me I decided to put tape over my mouth for two days to remind myself to be mindful of my words every time I spoke. Don’t worry, I took it off and put it on my hand when I was in public.

LOVING AN ENEMY: But trying to really “love my enemies” when they seem to me to be harming others and our country through their political office or votes – now that’s a challenge. I lay a lot of blame on lack of media literacy. As an educated person I believe I read and listen to accurate news. But… it occurred to me that others probably think their news sources are accurate and mine are not. I decided to test my bias. For several days now I’ve been watching a variety of Fox News programs and comparing them to my preferred news sources – NPR and the NYT. I wanted to see if biased news was as readily apparent to me as I presumed it would be.

The results were mixed. Some Fox News was pretty straight news. An interview with the Saudi Foreign minister seemed rational. I didn’t agree with everything but I could see how a reasonable listener could accept it as honest news. But then there were the news commentators like Hannity, Levin, and Ingraham. Surely their over the top sarcasm and exaggeration would be seen through by a thoughtful person. Of course on the other side are the left leaning comedians like Colbert, Oliver, and Meyers. I like them, but hey, they’re comedians. Should a news show be held to a higher standard because people assume it’s factual? I leave that for you to ponder.

SOLIDARITY: As I reviewed this week, however, I realized that I’m trying to be kind to those who live in my bubble or who are public figures. What about those millions of people who live with real poverty, hunger, or violence. How can I be kind to them? That brings me back to prayer. I wanted to put my prayer into action, I am not about to move to Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Mali, Kenya, or North Korea and try to be a missionary (though I’ve been to each of these countries – well, N. Korea if you count the DMZ). But I could try to be in solidarity with those who suffer much more intensely than I do. I decided to make 3 minor sacrifices to unite myself with those who don’t have a choice.

  1. I skipped lunch for two days and plan to eat nothing on Good Friday. I won’t starve but I wanted to feel the hunger.
  2. I decided to walk to the pharmacy to pick up a Rx. I could have driven but I wanted to remember that not everyone has a car or easy access to medical care.
  3. Last Saturday I participated in our local March For Our Lives.

None of these actions will change the world – but they will change me. Each time I feel the hunger, get in my car, take a pill, phone my congressman, I will remember those who don’t have a choice.