Living Lightly

Susan Vogt on living more simply but abundantly

Browsing Posts published by Susan Vogt

IT HELPS TO BE CONNECTED. By this I mean that sometimes giving stuff to the usual places (Goodwill, St. Vincent de Paul, Salvation Army, Lupus, Viet Vets – GSVPSALVV for short 😉 ) seems like a bad match. It helps to have personal links to potential “good homes.” For example:

Days 365+105 Finding Homes-carpet squares SFDSChallenge #1 – Carpet Samples. Several decades ago I collected about 20 carpet samples. They worked well as a temporary carpet for an attic room. Eventually we got real carpeting and then used them as mats for small children. (They helped define their sitting space.). For about 20 years they’ve been just gathering dust. Then, hurrah, a need arose! Our Children’s Ministry at church was looking for alternative seating for the kids. Voila! – the carpet samples. I vacuumed them and took them to church.

Challenge #2 – Bling. I go to a lot of meetings. Often I get bling in the form of little trinkets like magnets, key chains, pens. There are only so many pens or key chains I need so I have developed what I call the “Trinket Basket.” This is handy for visiting kids to go through and move some of the “clutter” from my house to theirs. The parents have not yet complained, perhaps because a new bling feels like a treasure to a young child and can amuse them for awhile – until they pass it on or lose it.

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Challenge #3 – Specialized Bling. Since many of these meetings are with religious groups, however, the give aways tend to be pretty specific to the religious order I’m connected with (holy cards, medals, pins, etc.) These aren’t really kid friendly trinkets but I hadn’t found anyone who wanted 50 Fr. Chaminade medals or holy cards…until I talked with some teachers, many at a local Marianist school. Aha! They could use them in religion class to teach about the Marianist heritage. The rosaries went to another Marianist group. It’s a small thing, but it’s nice to know they have a second life somewhere.

Challenge #4 – Sheets & Towels. When helping to clean out my mother’s home after her death, I  noticed many extra sheets Days 365+105 Finding Homes-towelsDays 365+105 Finding Homes-sheets & blanketand towels. Now these are items that are usually easy to take to the usual GSVPSALVV places, BUT, I had a better plan. Because I volunteer with our local Catholic Worker House and also a place called Mary Magdalene House (which provides showers and washes clothes for homeless people), I personally knew places that could use bedding and towels. Giving stuff away should not solely be for the purpose of self-satisfaction, but it’s nice when there’s a personal connection.

The point? Be alert for good homes that you are already connected with such as:

  • Church programs
  • Schools, teachers
  • Neighborhood children
  • Scout troops
  • Organizations that serve the poor. Of course this assumes that you make rubbing shoulders with those in need part of your ordinary life so you can see the need.

Days 365+104 Misc clothes shoes, paintingWhile pruning the clutter of Too Much Information from my life these last few months has been good, other items have been collecting dust. When I’m ready to let go of miscellaneous stuff around the house I put them in a bin and wait for a time to take them to Goodwill, St. Vincent de Paul, or have one of the pick-up services (Viet Vets, Lupus Foundation, etc.) stop by. That time has come. See past posts for more ideas.

The current crop includes: 3 shoes, 2 pairs of pants, , 2 T-shirts, , 5 sets of earrings 5 hangers a pair of shorts, a skirt, a night gown, a sweater, a slip, a scarf, a purse, gloves, a painting, a table runner, a decorative soup bowl, and a wine goblet.

Days 365+105 Tube TVA bigger and harder item to give away was a large old tube TV. The usual places wouldn’t take it. I’d have to lug it to a electronics store and pay a fee to even recycle it. Our annual community recycling date was past. Besides, it worked! I hated to just junk it. Salvation Army came to the rescue on this one. They send a truck to your door accompanied by 2 people with strong backs. Success.

Often the hardest part of giving stuff away is finding the right place. Please share any tips on where you take difficult items, for example, a mattress.

 

Days 112 Extra - Question markToo Much Information can come in many forms – paper, TV/radio, e-mails, social media, phones, and bad news. As much as conscientious people want to be informed, still collectively it can create mental clutter. The solution is not to become ignorant, but rather to differentiate the important from the trivial or distracting. Having now spent 10 weeks analyzing my own consumption of information, I offer you the following insights:

1.  DECIDE WHAT’S IMPORTANT.
Just as clearing out tangible things from your life require assessment of what’s really necessary, so too clearing mental clutter requires assessing how important is the news, when is it repetitive, and how much time it takes?
A Strategy: Log your news diet for a week.

  • How much time do you average a day consuming info from newspapers, magazines, TV, radio, email, and social media?
  • Rank your life priorities (family time, job, direct interaction with friends, spiritual fulfillment, volunteer work…). Outside of sleep and job, how much time each day do you devote to your priorities? How much time is left?
  • How does your news consumption time compare with what’s most important in your life? The rule of thumb I’m coming to myself is that if my news consumption is more than 10% (2½ hours) of my day, it’s probably too much.
  • If most of the news is trivial or passing, cut it back more.

The 10% rule is arbitrary and will vary depending on whether you are in the active parenting stage of life, retired, media is your job, etc. Still I liked the cleanness of the number 10 and it coincides with the biblical standard of tithing 10% of one’s income. 😕

2.  TRIM LESS IMPORTANT MEDIA

  • Unsubscribe from little read newspapers, junk mail, email bulletins, sales calls.
  • Organize your email. This can be tedious but if you don’t already have a system for filtering and putting things in logical folders, do it now. It will save you time in the future.
  • Get control of Facebook and other social media. I’m tempted to say “Cancel Facebook” since it can be a time hog. BUT, I get too much good information about my far flung family, friends who I don’t see much, and causes that I care about to go cold turkey. Instead I skim and delete purely social posts and retain articles I want to read later for when I’m on hold.

3.  CONSUME NEWS WHILE DOING MINDLESS ACTIVITIES
Since I can’t bring myself to actually skip listening to NPR or an interesting podcast I multitask while walking, folding laundry, traveling.

4.  USE WAITING TIME
Waiting time can also be a time to multitask. For example, waiting on hold for tech support is a time to check Facebook, waiting at a doctor’s office is a time to read the newspaper, waiting in line at a store can be a time to chat with your child (or embarrass your teen). Still these might also be times to consider NOT being “productive” in the traditional sense. Sometimes I try to take this time to pray for the person in front of me in line or for the people in the cars around me.

5.  BEYOND “WAITING TIME” – BREATHE, PAUSE, MEDITATE
As much as I like to maximize my use of time, we Type A personalities, might consider just doing nothing. Sometimes solitude is what I need in the midst of noise, busyness, and crowds. Sometimes the decision to just sit or stand mindfully is the way to handle Too Much Information. Let the pressure go and remember point #1 – What’s important.

For more detail on TMI, see my posts on paper, TV/radio, computers, phones, and bad news.

Days 365+102 bad newsWithin the category of Too Much Information there are the subcategories of good news, bad news, and irrelevant news.

GOOD NEWS: Although you would think that there could never be too much good news, even good news can create mental clutter. For example, how many birthdays, anniversaries, and friends’ awards do you need to acknowledge? My own rule of thumb is if they are close relatives or friends, Yes, I try to celebrate with them. If not, I’m happy for them but don’t feel compelled to do anything more.  Click on my TMI-Computers post and scroll down to the SOCIAL MEDIA part for more.

BAD NEWS: This is the primary culprit of TMI since bad news is not only mental clutter, it’s also depressing. There will always be natural disasters, wars, and  tragedies. Some of these are alarms which awaken us to changes that need to be made in our personal lives and in the world. This is “good” bad news, if we can use it that way. But too often bad news is just a repetitive litany of ills that we can’t do anything about – except feel bad. Some options that occur to me are:

  1. Limit exposure to excessive bad news. Although some bad news can be motivating, the news media tend to grab onto a captivating story and keep repeating it without any significant new information. Be selective about the radio/TV/news feeds that you listen to and turn them off when it starts to get repetitive. Sometimes a “News Fast” is required. Turn off all your gadgets, designate a “News Fast Friend” and ask him/her to inform you if a resolution happens or if something requires your direct attention.
  2. Pray the headlines. The secret weapon of spiritual people is that we always have prayer. It may feel inadequate or far removed, but intentionally using the headlines as a prompt for prayer can turn a depressing situation over to someone who can do something about it. It’s a way of letting go and letting God.
  3. Don’t just pray. Do something. As good as prayer is, sometimes the answer to prayer is to do something proactive to address the problem. Make peace with a neighbor if you can’t orchestrate world peace. Send money to a relief agency if you can’t rebuild houses after a hurricane. Sign a petition if you can’t change the government. At least recycle if you can’t singlehandedly prevent climate change. Doing something, no matter how small helps the feeling of helplessness. Joining with others, multiplies your effort.
  4. Force the bad news out. When the above is not enough, try forcing the bad news out of mind and sight by substitution. If feeling depressed, say to yourself something like, “That’s a bummer/terrible/a tragedy.” Sometimes you just have to cry. Then focus on something you are grateful for such as having food, a friend, health, pleasant weather, sleep… If one of these items is your tragedy, keep searching for something to be grateful for. Another substitution is to do some physical work, perhaps a chore you’ve been avoiding. If you’re already a Type A, overcommitted person, perhaps it’s time to take a break and substitute something fun or funny.

IRRELEVANT NEWS – Skip it. Ignore it – unless you need a mindless escape for a short time.

How do you deal with bad news? What has been most helpful?

Phones are a handy, nay essential, means of getting information and connecting with those we love. Can there be too much of a good thing? Explore with me the pros and cons of the different kinds of phone use – their cost in time and money.

Days 365+101 Landline croppedLANDLINES: The phone rings at dinner time. I can almost guarantee that it’s a solicitation. For example:

  • Charity call. My response – “Yes you have a worthy cause but we have already allocated all of our donations for this year.”
  • Political call during campaign season (which has become all but 6 months of a 4 year cycle) – See above
  • Offers to increase my safety as a senior citizen or to protect me from burglaries. My response – Hang up. (I used to wait till I got a live person in order to ask them to take me off their list, but they disconnect as soon as I start this spiel.)
  • Offers for a “free” cruise – Hang up. (See above)
  • Offers to reduce my credit card interest payments etc. – Hang up (See above)

Yes, I know about the “Do not call” service and have used it but it only prohibits sales calls. You still may receive political, charitable, debt collection, and informational calls, plus telephone surveys. Still, we have a landline because my husband and I both work at home. Having 2 lines is a convenience and part of our internet package.

Days 365+101 TracFone croppedCELL PHONES: Until recently I only had a basic cell phone. This was fine for phone calls, text messages, and marginally passable photos. BUT, I would see colleagues and family using smart phones to check email while at a meeting, on the road, or well,… anywhere. They used it as a GPS, a daily lectionary, and could answer interesting trivia on a moment’s notice. I was impressed but I’m a late adopter and I figured I’d just wait. My TracFone gave me enough annual minutes for about $100. Besides, I didn’t get any solicitation calls.

Days 365+101 smart phone croppedSMART PHONES: However, my kids kept telling me that I should probably “adopt” a smart phone soon since the learning curve was about to increase exponentially and it might be hard to adjust later. This was sweetened by them doing the research for me and giving me a usable hand-me-down smart phone. I’ve been using it for about 6 weeks now to test whether it’s worth continuing. What I’ve learned from my experiment so far:

Pros:

  1. Upon the advice of one son I went with TING,  a low cost provider with excellent tech support (He knew my needs.). It looks like it will generally cost me about $170 – $200 annually. It’s more than my basic cell phone but it does a lot more. Of course the data amount is small but I try to use Wi-Fi connections most of the time.
  2. It’s unlocked so I can buy a sim card when traveling in a foreign country.
  3. I can use “waiting time” and travel time to check emails.
  4. It syncs with my computer for Gmail, contacts, photos, and Dropbox.
  5. It makes phone calls.

Cons:

  1. It’s not very usable for serious emailing and computer work – but then I didn’t expect it to be.
  2. I can see how this could become addictive. I might be tempted to check my phone in social situations which detracts from being present to other humans I am with. I hope I can balance personal presence with internet availability.
  3. It’s possible that my hunger for more data may bump me into getting an unlimited plan which would be more convenient but more expensive.

BOTTOM LINE:
The jury’s still out. I think using technology this way will facilitate my connecting with others, make me more productive, and make my life easier. Let’s hope it doesn’t just complicate life and interfere with being human.

I welcome your comments on the pros and cons of your own experiences with phones.

Note: If this post is Too Much Information for you right now, just wait. In several weeks I’ll do a summary of my TMI series. For those who would like to tame their computer time or have helpful strategies to share, read on.

Days 365+100 TMI computer 4Spending/wasting too much time on the computer is probably my biggest challenge in terms of TMI. Since I am a writer and work at home, it’s not unusual for me to sit in front of my computer up to 10 hours a day. I am boss of my own time and happy doing what I do so this is not a problem, EXCEPT that I also like to be efficient. I take breaks (naps, walks, eat, do hobbies and chores) when I feel like it so I’m not glued to the computer. I have meetings, do workshops, spend time with my husband, travel, and sleep. I enjoy my life but it has been an ongoing compulsion of mine to decrease wasted time on the computer to make room for productive and meaningful time. So…in the interest of saving you all some time, I’ve spent several weeks researching how I use my computer time and analyzing how I might reduce some of the info clutter that beams at me from this device.

Your computer use, family circumstances, and personality might be drastically different from mine, but consider this a step to evaluating your own situation.

Following are the usual ways I use my computer:

Days 365+31 gmailEMAIL: On average I receive 42 emails a day. I only pay attention to about half of these. This is due to the beauty of Gmail’s tabs and filtering system. I glance at the social and promotional tabs maybe once a day and most of them can be quickly deleted. (Caveat: I also send out thousands of emails a week which often go into other’s “Promotion” tab. You can delete all but mine.) 🙂 Because of my stage in life (empty nest) my incoming primary email roughly falls into 1/3 work, 1/3 volunteer commitments, and 1/3 personal.

Time wasters:

  • Email replies “to all” that really only need to go to one person. Solution: I don’t do it myself.
  • Too many newsletters from causes, organizations, or businesses. Because I’m politically active I receive a lot of newsletters, many of them repetitive or asking for money. Solutions: I unsubscribe to most. I sign any petition that I agree with but never send money or inflict them on others. I skim the few newsletters and causes I care about and file those I want to keep in folders. The Gmail Promotions tab keeps them out of my sight.
  • Not being able to find a past email or address. Solution: Gmail has a good search function.

Time savers:

  • A good filing system. I have folders with subfolders for the primary categories of email I want to save. I program most of my emails to automatically go to the correct folder after I read it. I have Gmail set up to auto file or auto trash certain emails.
  • I try to keep my list of active emails few enough that I don’t have to scroll. On my monitor that means under 25. If it gets longer, I’ve got too much information and too much to do.
  • If it takes under a minute, I deal with it right away so I can file it or delete it. Anything from a relative gets priority.

WRITING: I write newsletters, blogs, articles, books, and update my website on my computer. I don’t know any shortcuts to make the actual writing more efficient.

Time waster:

  • Where I waste time is with technology that I don’t understand well enough. I spend some time contacting Constant Contact tech support. (Actually the time waster is the time I spend before I contact tech support trying to figure out the problem myself.) My current headache is trying to figure out how to put my Dreamweaver website on my laptop so I can make changes when traveling. Solution: Resign myself to only editing my website while at home.

Time savers:

  • Again having a good filing system helps me find past work.
  • Having Carbonite back-up my files relieves panic.
  • Being able to work on my laptop while traveling makes it possible for me to keep up with work commitments when traveling.
  • Having a son who lives close by to advise me on computer glitches is a blessing.

Days 365 + FacebookSOCIAL MEDIA: U.S. adults spend an average of 40 minutes a day on Facebook; less on Tumbler, Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter, Snapchat, Ello, and Linked In – in that order. I was heartened, therefore, when I timed my own usage at 20 minutes a day, almost all on FB.

Time wasters:

  • Frequently updated photos, pictures of food, parties at bars that I’m not at, and birthday wishes. Lest you call me a birthday Grinch, let me explain. Perhaps it is just my personality quirk but I’m not a big fan of wishing people Happy Birthday on FB. I celebrate my relatives’ birthdays and the milestone birthdays of friends. Other than that birthdays aren’t a big deal to me. If they are to you, fine. I just wish I didn’t have to scroll through gobs of birthday wishes on FB. In my sample week I counted 263 birthday wishes. (Gratefully, many of them were for the same 6 people so they were grouped together meaning there were only 44 separate posts.) Solution: I don’t want to hide most of these people, so I quickly delete the birthday wishes and suck it up. Please don’t wish me happy birthday on FB.

Maybe yes, maybe no:

  • Trips, brain teasers, and Upworthy. If a friend has gone on an interesting trip and posts a few key photos that’s fine. I occasionally will try one of the brain teasers for fun. Upworthy has been a learning experience for me. If you are not familiar with it, it has tantalizing headlines for human interest stories. Some of them are very uplifting. Some are pleasant but not substantive. The problem is that there are too many. Solution: From clicking on many Upworthy stories I’ve learned to differentiate between those worth clicking on and those that will disappoint. You’ll have to figure it out for yourself.

My personal FB protocols:

  • Sometimes I’ve just finished a computer task and want a little diversion before I plunge into my next task. Often I’m just on hold. This is a good time to check FB. Sometimes I check StatCounter to see my website and blog stats.  7 Facebook Habits You Should Adopt.
  • With rare exceptions, my FB rule for the universe would be: “No more than one post per person per day.” Generally I do 2 automatic posts a week (Marriage Moments & Parenting Pointers), and 2 automatic newsletter posts a month (Gifts & Tasks and this blog). Occasionally my personal life is interesting enough that I might do a personal post – maybe once a quarter. Mostly I communicate by email and an annual family letter.

LOOKING UP INFO: Usually the internet is a time saver since it is quicker than looking through books, calling the library or stores, or asking friends. I do a lot of Google searching.

FAMILY COMMUNICATION: Since only one of our 4 children lives in town, we use Skype and Google HangOut to communicate regularly. This is definitely NOT a waste of time since our children live in Washington DC, Kenya, and Singapore.

NEWS: As noted earlier, we get several print newspapers and listen to NPR on the radio. Still FB and online news articles help with occasional late breaking news or articles.

RECREATION: As you have probably figured out I am mostly task-oriented when on the computer. I don’t play games. I browse FB as a break between other tasks. I watch Survivor online and an occasional YouTube video or movie.

Well, this is way too long a blog post. I welcome comments from those who have been able to streamline their incoming communication without living in a cave.

UPDATE: After having recently received many kind but automated birthday wishes, I pass on the following Facebook fix. Facebook is required to verify your age, but you can hide it from the public. Here’s how:

  1. Go to your Home Page.
  2. Click either About or Update Info.
  3. Click Contact & Basic Info.
  4. Scroll to Birthday.
  5. Hover your mouse to the far right until you see the lock icon & Edit.
  6. Click the Edit triangle and choose “Only Me.
  7. Click “Save Changes.”

Days 365+99 TMI radioAs a result of my previous blog about TMI, a friend commented that he no longer “did news.” I said that I could understand not getting a daily newspaper and not watching TV, “But not even the radio! Do you catch up on news through the internet?” He explained that if it’s important he finds out about it from friends. Even radio takes time he said, and “I have so little free time that I would rather spend it some other way.” This got me to thinking how I spend TV and radio time.

TV: This one is pretty easy since I hardly ever watch TV. I have two shows that I like: Charlie Rose and Survivor. I often watch Charlie Rose at bedtime for in depth interviews. Survivor is my guilty pleasure since I like strategy but it only runs twice a year and I usually watch it online. (Now that The Colbert Report and The Daily Show are no longer on, I’m freed of those addictions. But I also watched them online and only when convenient.) I make exceptions for the Olympics and elections.

RADIO: Now this is the challenge. I am addicted to NPR for news. It’s good news. Well, maybe not good, in the sense of uplifting, but it is basically fair and unbiased. (I’ll cover “too much bad news” in a few weeks.) It covers important stuff. So, how do I deal with the time issue?

  • Multitask – As I reflected on when I listen to NPR I realized that it was usually while I was doing something else like dressing in the morning, exercising, eating breakfast, driving, doing dishes, and gardening. I know, I know, I’ve read the research about how multitasking doesn’t save that much time since each task may take a little longer. Most of the tasks I double up on though don’t take much brain power. When I have a lack of “free time” it usually has to do with having said “Yes” to too many commitments. That’s a different challenge.
  • Turn it off – Even though I tend to be a news junkie, I also want to interact mindfully with the people around me. People always trump news – well, almost always. I also realize that I need doses of quiet and solitude. NPR conveniently provides this through pledge drives and repeating the morning and evening news. I just turn off the repeats and read the paper. If my head is too full of news – good or bad – I just turn it off. I have plenty of compelling things I want to do each day, that limiting my radio time to multi-tasking is usually plenty.

Do you put limits on TV or radio time? How do you manage these media?

Days 365+54 NewspaperThe other day I had a doctor’s appointment. My custom is to take the morning paper with me to appointments since there is always some waiting time and this is a good way to spend it. The doctor saw me and said, “I didn’t know anyone read paper papers anymore.” So, how much news do we consume and is it healthy for us?

This is the first of a series of posts on taming the amount of information that comes into our homes and minds. Too Much Information (TMI) is becoming a burden. I want to be informed about family and friends, political issues, causes that I believe in, and generally what’s happening in the world, BUT it can be a time hog. I’ve been evaluating how I consume information and how it sometimes interferes with being present to people close to me and robs me of time. Consider the following kinds of information:

  1. Paper – newspapers, magazines, catalogues, junk mail, books
  2. Audio/Visual Media – radio, TV, movies, videos,
  3. Electronic Communication – email, social media
  4. Phone – solicitations, cell phone limits, smart phones
  5. Being Weighed Down by Too Much Bad News – wars, natural disasters, tragedies

Let’s start with paper because I think that’s the most tangible and easiest to tame.

NEWSPAPERS:
Days 365+100 TMI trading news at doorWe get 2 daily national newspapers (New York Times & Wall Street Journal) and 2 biweekly religious newspapers (one national and one local). I admit that this is already too much to read. I read the front page, op-ed page, and perhaps another article or two in the NYT. Our daughter writes for the WSJ so I read anything she writes and compare headlines with the NYT.
A Step Forward: The one newspaper strategy that I’m most proud of is our daily newspaper swap. Several years ago we decided to discontinue the local daily paper but we still wanted to know basic local news. Our neighbor agreed to bring us the daily local paper after they’ve read it and we give them the NYT. Everybody wins.

MAGAZINES
Days 365+98 TMI New YorkerWe get 5 monthly magazines (2 of these I read pretty thoroughly – often in the bathtub). I skim 1. The others are primarily of interest to Jim.
A Step Forward: We used to get more magazines but cancelled most since we were getting enough news through the newspapers and radio. After skimming the New Yorker (It’s too long to read everything and I’m still trying to figure out many of the cartoons) we give it to a librarian friend for her school.

CATALOGS
We used to get 15 catalogs (5 garden, 5 professional, and 5 clothing/household). Some were duplicates.
A Step Forward: I used Catalog Choice to reduce our catalogs to 6 since I can get most of the info I need online. Catalog Choice was pretty easy to use but it didn’t list one of the seed catalogs so I had to email the company directly. I like LLBean and didn’t want to drop this catalog but I was getting more than one a season plus sales and Christmas. When I called them, I was pleased to find out that they will reduce your catalogs to your specifications.

JUNK MAIL:
This includes preapproved credit offers, solicitations, campaign literature, and ways to save me money.
A Step Forward: I can’t stop campaign literature (Heck, I’m often the one going door to door distributing it.) but here are several ways to reduce (not eliminate) the others.

  • Direct Mail Association (DMAchoice) maintains a “do not mail” file of Mail Preference Service registrants. Members are required to remove the listed names from their rosters of prospective customers. I found it a bit overwhelming to try to choose among the many options so I ended up asking to be deleted from all the categories. I did this 3 months ago. (It sometimes takes up to 3 months to take effect.) So far I’m not aware of missing anything important. I haven’t noticed much reduction in my junk mail but then I didn’t get much anyway. No harm. Little gain.
  • Pre-approved credit offers. The Federal Trade Commission explains the practice of prescreened credit and insurance offers and refers to
    Opt-Out Prescreen (888) 567-8688 as the primary reference. I was about use this service but noticed that Opt-Out Prescreen asks for personal information including your home telephone number, Social Security number, and date of birth. Although the information  is said to be confidential, I became suspicious. After checking several websites including Snopes, it seems to be legit. Still, I think I’ll put up with this mail. Identity theft is just too prevalent.

BOOKS
As wonderful as books have been in my life, I don’t take the time to read many anymore. Mostly I’m an article reader. I get most of my books from the library. I’ve pruned many books from our bookshelves over the years. What’s left are mostly for reference and historical purposes. Read How Giving Away 1,000 Books Made Me Love Reading Again for inspiration.

Please add your tips and experiences.

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Is there a statute of limitations for hanging on to maternity clothes? The biblical stories of Sara or Elizabeth notwithstanding, I’m long past a possible pregnancy myself. I did think, however, that perhaps some day our daughter or daughter-in-law might want these clothes. I’ve finally resigned myself to letting go. What helped me make the decision was a person who needed them now.

A young college student colleague revealed that she unexpectedly became pregnant. Finally, I realized these clothes were not doing anyone any good stored in my closet. I gave her 9 tops, 3 dresses, 3 shorts, and 2 pairs of slacks. Not all of these items are probably equally useful since I’ve noticed that the style of maternity wear has evolved. The goal for many pregnant women no longer seems to be to hide one’s “baby bump” but rather to just be comfortable. Progress? Probably. What took me so long to accept the obvious? Sentimentality? Inertia? Stupidity? Forgetting I had them? Who knows.

Lesson: Another’s need can awaken generosity.

Full disclosure: I’m still saving my wedding dress even though after 44 years of marriage I have no intention of needing it again. Sometimes sentiment wins.

Days 365+96 Uber recycling earthApril 22 is Earth Day. This reminds me of the importance of decreasing our carbon footprint by the familiar formula: reduce, reuse, recycle. Many families, including us:

Typical recycling:

  • Put paper, cans, glass, plastic bottles, anything with a triangle (Δ), into our city’s curbside recycling service
  • Compost vegetables and yard waste
  • Take reusable cloth bags to the grocery and other stores
  • Take hazardous waste to the once a year collection point
  • Pre-cycle by reducing the packaging that comes into our home

Go the extra mile:

bags eligible for terracycling

bags eligible for terracycling

  • Drive a hybrid car and walk/bike when possible
  • Terracycle stuff
  • Pick up recyclables when walking
  • Take metal, electronics, plastic bags, etc. to appropriate collection places
  • More often than not try to repair and reuse items and decrease our energy consumption.
  • We exchange newspapers with our neighbor.

BUT… I recently discovered my husband doing what I’d call “Ǚber Recycling.”

Days 365+96 Uber recycling OJ can1. It started with a simple orange juice concentrate can. I usually just put the white plastic top strip and metal lid in recycling. But then I discovered that my husband carefully separates the cardboard like container to release the bottom lid also. The film lined cardboard goes in the garbage. The top AND bottom lids go into recycling

2. Later I noticed Jim fiddling with an old teapot since he had just received a new one for his birthday. He wanted to recycle the metal but that meant removing the plastic parts. It took a bit of effort. Was it worth it? If you figure the cost of his time, I don’t know, but it certainly qualified as an Ǚber Recycling effort.
Days 365+96 Uber recycling kettle-2   Days 365+96 Uber recycling kettle1Days 365+96 Uber recycling kettle-1

Days 365+96 Uber recycling sheets3. Not to be outdone, I decided I would Ǚber Recycle something. Even though it was a cold winter day, I decided to hang our sheets out to dry. I usually hang sheets in the Spring, Summer, and Fall – but never in Winter. I wasn’t sure if the sheets would dry or harden? Of course in prehistoric times (like 75 years ago when electric dryers were not common) or in cultures where line drying is common even today, this would not be remarkable. It did take a little longer, but I’m here to tell you that it worked.

Two Questions to think about:
1. Sometimes we have to balance the trouble it takes to recycle vs available time. Have you ever pondered whether it was worth recycling a given object?
2. Do you have any creative recycling tricks or hints you’ve learned? Please share.

Arise! Happy Easter

Arise! Happy Easter

It’s Easter. Hurrah, I can spend money freely again. So.… did my Lenten commitment to not spend any money increase my solidarity with the poor? Yes, but imperfectly. It certainly raised my consciousness of my own privilege. Even though I might choose not to spend money on something or to delay an expenditure, I knew I had a choice and I could change my self-imposed rules if I wanted to. In fact, in addition to only spending money on food, shelter, and transportation, I did make additional exceptions for donations, medical expenses, and bills that came due. The bottom line was that I spent:

$160 Donations (including parish fish fries that counted as both food and a donation)
$132 Medical
$  21 Unallowed but justified payments (see scale, postage, whoopee cushion)

But, more importantly here’s what I learned about myself and understanding the cost of poverty.

7 INSIGHTS ABOUT BEING IN SOLIDARITY WITH THE POOR:

Days 365+90 mouse1. Waiting can be inconvenient and costly.
I delayed buying new things such as gloves, shoes, a magazine subscription, Easter treats etc.  and made do with what I had. Each time I was tempted to just buy my favorite Papas chocolate Easter eggs or order some blush on Amazon, I reminded myself that if I were really poor I’d have to wait. I spent a lot of mental effort, however,  trying to figure out alternative ways to get what I wanted without spending money. For example, I traded volunteer time for dance fees. I imposed on friends to borrow a mouse. I wore mismatching mittens until the end of Lent. None of these were serious losses, but I realized that poor people often can’t take advantage of sales. Their neighbors may not have enough to lend. Waiting for a welfare check may not come in time to buy a necessity.

2. Walk don’t drive.
I like to walk. I normally do it for exercise not necessity. Since I made a commitment to walk instead of drive if my destination was under a mile, this wasn’t a big problem, EXCEPT, this Lent had some of the coldest days on record. As I was walking back from our neighborhood pharmacy one cold day, I saw people waiting at the bus stop. They didn’t have a choice and their “Lent” would not be over in six weeks.

3. Just because it’s sold in a grocery store doesn’t mean it’s food.
Since my husband usually does the grocery shopping I didn’t think much about how many household things he buys that are not actually food. Of course he bought toilet paper, soap, deodorant, OTC medicines, laundry detergent, etc. None of these things could be purchased with Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (Food Stamps). I was tempted to ask him to buy me some gloves at the grocery but I thought that would break the spirit of my commitment.

4. I got a little help from my friends.
I counted 19 meals that others provided for me. Some were people who hosted me while I was out of town, some were parish Soup Suppers, some were just friends who invited us over or paid a restaurant bill. I didn’t ask for this, it’s just what friends do. Of course we also provided hospitality to out of town visitors but I didn’t need to count that. I was lucky to have friends with the resources to host me. I also had a friend with an extra mouse which meant I didn’t have to buy one. Poor people have friends too and I know countless stories of how generous they are with little means. But “little means” means that they probably don’t have a van we could borrow to pick up some used furniture.

Days 365+93 contra dance5. The cost of fun
No one would call Jim or me spendthrifts. Our usual form of recreation is to play cards or board games, to walk or bike, and to dance. Only the dancing costs money and even that is pretty minimal ($4 for an evening dance with live music). Still, dancing didn’t fit my food, shelter, or transportation criteria. It made me think of what forms of recreation are free for poor people. Not much. Walking/biking are usually meant to get somewhere, not for fun. At home entertainment usually requires a TV, technology, and/or an internet connection. Concerts and sports cost money – sometimes big money.

6. I am lucky.
My lifestyle didn’t change much during these six weeks, although I frequently became aware of the advantages I have in life. Some would call it privilege. I have a good education, a job with connections, friends with resources, a home office, a paid for home and car, and general good health. My daily expenses are few. If I were living beneath the poverty level and without these advantages, I would have a much harder life. Some of my advantages I worked for (good grades in school, hard worker at my jobs) but many were just the luck of having good genes, growing up in a middle class family, living in the USA instead of a developing country, being white, etc.

7. Having a supportive spouse helps.
Because Jim chose not to participate in this Lenten commitment, I was shielded from some potential expenses. He pays most of the household bills, so I didn’t notice some of what was being spent that benefitted me. I was tempted several times to just have him pay for something rather than buy it myself. He called me to accountability as I wrestled with juggling a worthy Lenten practice vs. making this just a temporary game.

I know that this was an imperfect Lenten practice. I did forego several meals, but in general I didn’t have to sacrifice anything significant other than time and pride (like when I asked for discounts or to borrow stuff). My biggest learning was an increased sensitivity to the hardships that truly poor people experience everyday. Much of it is invisible suffering since I am not in daily contact with “have nots.”

Days 365+95 pingpong clean Days 365+95 pingpong messyPS: For those who remember, I also planned to prune 23 file cabinet drawers during Lent. Well, it didn’t happen. The closest I got was cleaning off the Ping-Pong table that serves as my extended desk. The file cabinet project is still ahead of me. It would have been good to do, but much harder than not spending money because it would have taken mega time. My excuse is that this was an unusual Lent in that I was out of town 10 days and had company on 22 other days. I may not have spent much money but I did spend a lot of time hosting people. It was good and more important than my files.

Did I spend any money that did not comply with my Lenten resolution  (only food, housing, and gas) during the last two weeks? I’m not sure.

  1. $5 – Fish Fry: I justified this as both simple food (which is allowed) and a donation since it supports an inner city school
  2. $10 – Donation: Since construction prevented my usual donation to the sidewalk panhandler, I gambled the money at the Fish Fry’s “Split the Pot.” If I had won, I planned to donate the winnings back to the school.
  3. $50 – Donation to my professional association which needed extra money
  4. $250 – Professional expense: Registration for World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia in September. I would lose the early bird discount if I had waited.
  5. $65 – Professional expense: Dues to another professional organization.
  6. $15 – 3 Fish Fry meals. (See #1. We had 2 guests that I treated.)
  7. $4 – Contra dance admission: I could have stayed late and cleaned up thus getting a free admission but Jim didn’t go this week and I knew he would appreciate me coming home earlier. Does marital harmony count as a justification?
  8. $10 – Postage: An out-of-town friend left some belongings here. I mailed them back. He said he would reimburse me. Does that make it a non-payment? If I were really poor, waiting for reimbursement may be a bigger deal.
  9. Days 365+94 Whoopie cushion$6.81 – Whoopee Cushion: Now don’t laugh. A friend is in the hospital with a bowel obstruction. Without going into the gory details, suffice it to say that she needs to poop or fart before she will be released from the hospital. In addition to prayer I thought a little humor might lighten her spirit. It makes me feel good to be thoughtful like this but would a really poor person feel that a gag gift was too much of a luxury.

Total non-allowed expenditures for 2 weeks: $415. 81.  ($80 could be justified as donations and $315 as professional expenses. BUT $4 for marital harmony?  $6.81 to humor a friend? I keep measuring myself against what a very low income person would be able to do. My decisions these 2 weeks show that I have a choice. They might not.  What do you think is justifiable? Fair?

In addition to my expenditures I noticed that I received the equivalent of 5 free meals because of eating with others who provided the food. I wasn’t going to a soup kitchen, but I was the beneficiary of other’s cooking.

How do you feel about taking charity? About being able to treat other people?

click to enlarge

click to enlarge

Not counting donations, during this fourth week I spent $7. It was invisible money because my husband paid for something that included both of us and I didn’t notice – till later. That’s what happened when we went to a local contra dance last Saturday. He paid my admission of $7 and only later did I wonder if I should have stayed home. Well, I actually would not have stayed home, but I could have offered to help with clean-up which would earn me one free admission. The next week, I did do clean up. Now there are two more Monday dance nights till Easter. This has prompted me to reflect again on what I’m learning from this experience and whether it’s really bringing me more solidarity with the poor or is just a game.

5 INSIGHTS ABOUT SPENDING, NOT SPENDING, AND DONATING:
1. How do people on a limited income recreate?
Our weekly Monday contra dance only costs $4. Many years ago I used to do clean-up – partly for the free admission and partly to be a responsible dance community member. Weekend dances cost a lot more even after taking advantage of lodging in other dancer’s homes. Recreation and exercise are good for the body and spirit. Certainly there are free kinds of recreation like walking, running, biking (assuming you have a bike), swimming in a public body of water, basketball and tennis (if you have a public court near you), BUT most sports require some kind of payment for equipment or time. Should recreation only be for those who can afford it?
2. Waiting to buy something can be costly.
This week I became aware of several spring and Easter sales. One was at my favorite clothing store. Another was at the DSW where I plan to buy my next pair of all purpose shoes when Lent is over. (See last week’s post.) BUT, both sales end before Easter which means the price will be more. I’ll just Days 365+93 Papas eggssuck it up this time, but if I were really poor, I’d be tempted to put it on a credit card (if I had one) and pay for it later even if it meant debt. On a more serious level, delayed health care can mean more costly care later. I’m also afraid that my favorite Papas chocolate eggs will be all gone by Easter. Can I justify buying them under the “food” category?
3. Some payments are invisible.
The cable TV statement came. It’s $17/month for basic service, BUT, we have it on auto pay so I didn’t  really feel like I was paying out money. If I were poor, would I have cable? Probably. We can’t get even the local stations reliably on our basement TV so we need cable. If I were poor would I have a second TV? Or, would I watch anything I really wanted on the computer like I currently do? Should I assume I would have a home computer with internet service?
Then I was about to renew a magazine subscription to US Catholic. As I was about to write the check I realized that this was a payment. It didn’t feel like it since it wasn’t cash. I decided to wait till Easter since magazine subscriptions usually come way early. I could possible justify this as a work or educational expense but, hey, you can get most of this info online these days anyway – if you have a computer and internet!
4. Is this just a game?
I admit that I have found myself trying to justify expenditures for medical, work, education, etc. that didn’t fit my barebones criteria of food, shelter, and transportation. Likewise, if Jim paid for it, did it count? If I was out of town, I had no choice but to eat in restaurants. It would be unfair or rude not to pay my bills that had been incurred earlier. Preventive house maintenance is better than fixing something after it breaks. Often I’m just delaying payments not choosing to do without. It can be a challenge, but it can also just be an amusing experiment. The whole reason behind it, however, is not just to have fun and feed my compulsive side, but to raise my consciousness and to enter into deeper solidarity with those who don’t have a choice.
5. Donating is habit forming.
I passed my “donating corner” twice this week and thus gave $20 to sign holders. I was planning on a third donation but Jim took a different route to our parish. I was ready and surprised that I felt a little disappointed to miss the opportunity.

dollar signThis past week I spent $335 on bills from prior commitments. (I didn’t think it was fair to make merchants wait for payment because of my Lenten resolution.)
$145  Professional services to self-publish my out-of-print book (Money in the Kingdom of God) on Amazon
$125  Rx renewal for 3 months
$  65  Pig Town Fling registration

I spent $14.51 on discretionary items since they were time sensitive.
$11.65 a scale for son visiting from Singapore
$  2.86 postage to mail forgotten ear muffs to granddaughter

I also donated $20 to men on the street asking for money per the decision I made last week.

What I thought of buying but didn’t was the more instructive part of my money management this week. Some were:
FRIVOLOUS (Am I just making this into a game?)

  • Days 365+90 mouseAvoiding parking fees. I waited in the airport cell phone lot rather than pay for parking.
  • Borrowing a computer mouse. My computer mouse died so I borrowed one from a neighbor rather than buy a new one. (I promised I’d return it when Lent was over. It did, however, get me thinking about how caring for property so it will last is connected to not spending money unnecessarily. Also, even with the best of care, things break. If I were living close to the margin, I might buy cheaper things to begin with. They would break sooner. I might not have a neighbor with an extra mouse, etc. I’m privileged to have the money to buy quality and neighbors who are well enough off to have extras. )

THOUGHT PROVOKING as I experienced what it felt like to go without something I would normally buy like:

  • Days 365+90 shoes gloveShoes. My everyday, all purpose black shoes started to get a hole in the sole. I could still wear them but this was the week the temperature dipped below 0, a record snow fall, and then daylong rains. I could have justified buying new shoes but I figured I would continue to wear them until my socks got wet.
  • Gloves. I lost one of my favorite everyday gloves. Remarkably, I found a similar pair on the sidewalk as the snow was melting. They weren’t in great shape but I decided to wash them and make them do until the end of Lent. I realized that I had some backup older gloves around the house too. I thought of the men on the street asking for donations. They didn’t have any gloves and it was really cold.
  • Laundry detergent. With an extra person staying at our home for several weeks, I forgot to replenish my laundry detergent and today I’m doing laundry. I might not be able to finish it. Is laundry detergent food? I buy it in the grocery store, so it must be. If it’s food, my self-made rule would allow me to buy it. But. alas, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) aka “Food Stamps,” does not cover laundry detergent, toilet paper, tooth paste, soap, diapers, tampons, deodorant, shampoo, cleaning supplies, etc. I thought of cheating and asking my husband to buy the detergent since he usually does the grocery shopping, but he had already done this week’s shopping and wasn’t willing to go out again for my little game. The bigger issue is that I consider these items necessities not luxuries. We may criticize the poor for poor hygiene but it doesn’t rise to the gospel level of “feeding the hungry.”

What did I learn about solidarity with the poor?
1.  Search for alternatives
Not immediately buying something I wanted (a mouse, parking, shoes, laundry detergent) pushed me to look for other ways to meet my wants.
2. Humility
It was humbling to ask to borrow something that I could just go out and buy. (One son made fun of me for being a nitpicker.)
3. Stewardship
Knowing that I won’t just replace an item (like my glove) if I lose it, prompts me to be more careful about how I take care of my stuff.
4. Medical care is not a luxury.
I didn’t hesitate to pay for the Rx that ran out. If I didn’t have good health insurance, I might have waited.
5. Laundry detergent is not a food.
Laundry detergent is not covered by food stamps. So…am I willing to wear dirty clothes?

The above examples are pretty typical of a normal week but this Lent has been anything but typical.
My mother died a month ago and we had a Memorial Mass for her in my home town last Saturday. This meant travel and lodging not only for myself but also for our children in Singapore and Kenya. It also meant starting to deal with inheriting household items, memorabilia, and money. The family decided to take funeral expenses, including travel and lodging out of the estate. So, although I paid out almost $3,000, technically it wasn’t my money, but part of her estate. In addition to the emotional and spiritual aspects of death, there are a lot of financial things to consider. I’ll start to address these in a post-Lenten post on Inheriting Stuff.

As I reflect on my Lenten commitment to buy nothing (other than food, shelter, and gas) in order to grow in solidarity with the poor, it has raised my consciousness of what it means to be poor. Yesterday I wrote about my experiences at the Home & Garden Show and converting a film movie to a DVD format. Both of these “would be expenditures” were magically given to me free. I was happy to stay close to my Lenten resolve, but that can degenerate simply into a miser’s game. Now I am prompted to look at my experience through the eyes of a person earning minimum wage or on welfare.

Days 133 Extra - house-movingHOME & GARDEN SHOW:
House: If one doesn’t own a house, would a low-income person even have interest in going to a Home & Garden Show? The housing materials, hot tubs, deck supplies, etc. would be only a curiosity for them since buying any of the items would be beyond their income. We were going to do research on replacement windows in order to lower our energy costs and be more environmentally responsible. Surely these are admirable goals, but a luxury for someone just making ends meet.
Age 50+ with an AARP membership card: In order to qualify for the “buy one, get one free” entry ticket we had to be at least 50 years old and have paid the annual $16 AARP membership fee. Even if a poor person is over 50 it is unlikely they would have bought a membership.
Car: The fact that we saved money on parking assumes we have a car to drive. It was a cold day. Most people would not live close enough to the venue to walk.

Days 365+90 DVD LentFREE CONVERSION OF FILM TO DVD:
Privileged upbringing: This all started because some 60 years ago my father, a dentist, had the income to buy a movie camera and take movies of our family while we were growing up. This was new technology in those days and most families didn’t do it. So, the fact that I had movies to convert was a result of a privileged upbringing.
Computer & internet access: Our son, who lives in DC came up with the idea to convert the film to DVD so we could use it at my mother’s funeral. He did online research to determine the most cost effective place to do the conversion. This required access to the internet and knowledge of how to do research. Libraries provide internet access but it requires going to the library and sometimes waiting your turn.
Cell phone: He called us long distance to have us find the original 16 mm film and ask if we had a membership to one of the large discount shopping stores since that was the cheapest place to do the conversion.
Friends with resources: We didn’t have a membership but we had a network of friends that did. In the end, we didn’t need to use this, but being connected with people who can help assumes that our social network is made up of people who are not desperately poor themselves.

FREE LODGING:
Job that comes with perks: The nature of my work takes me to different cities to lead workshops. The host organization usually puts me up in a hotel or a member’s home. Most poor people don’t have work that covers those expenses.
Education: It takes a certain amount of professional education to get the kind of jobs that come with perks. The education of course costs money.

BOTTOM LINE:
Why I’m not poor is that even though I got some free things recently, it presumed having a certain level of previous advantage. Advantages such as education, knowledge, assets such as a house, tools, time to research, and beneficial relationships put me in the position to claim a freebie. It costs money to get something for free.

Strange things have happened to me during the past 4 days – 2 merchants gave me free service.

  • There was a Home & Garden show at the Cincinnati Convention Center. Jim thought we should go to research replacement windows for our 100 year old house. I agreed and assumed this would be free since the exhibitors were trying to sell their services. I was wrong. On the way he told me admission was $13/person. Since this was an optional expenditure. I toyed with the idea of asking for a scholarship or discount. I knew this would probably be futile plus embarrassing to Jim, but I have little pride in such matters and figured it wouldn’t hurt to try. When at the ticket counter, however, the clerk looked at us and asked if we had an AARP card because if so, one of us could get in free! We did have to pay for parking but I figured that was a transportation expense and we parked at a meter rather than the $10 lot thus cutting our cost in half (my half 🙂 ).
  • Days 365+90 DVD LentToday I went to pick up a DVD that I had ordered just before Lent. We wanted to transfer movie footage from a 16mm camera that my parents had taken 60 years ago to a DVD format to show at my mother’s funeral next weekend. It was to cost $75. When I went into the store the clerk gave me the DVD but also read a message that said the film was so old, mildewed, and torn that the DVD was not up to their usual standards and I would not be charged anything for it. Wow! Again I hadn’t mentioned my Lenten commitment or that it was for a funeral.

Days 357 Extra - Near DeathThese two incidents may be coincidental but their proximity to my mother’s recent death and another incident that happened today is uncanny if not miraculous.

  • The other incident happened on my way to church today. As I’ve been reflecting about my somewhat artificial commitment to not buy anything during Lent unless it is absolutely essential, I thought that probably I should also increase my almsgiving. (If you’ve read this blog for any length of time, you know that I am basically a very frugal person.) I rarely give money to panhandlers. But I was reading one of Bishop Untener’s “Little Black Book” meditations this morning about the “poor poor.” I decided that I needed to not just give to charitable organizations but to also loosen up and give money to a “street person.” The route I usually take to church passes the Cinti. Reds baseball stadium. Every time I drive by I see a different man with a sign next to the curb asking for help. I usually uncomfortably avoid eye contact and ignore the “man of the day.” I decided that during Lent I would give some cash to whomever was there when I drove by. I was ready. I had my bill. I looked for a man with a sign. It was cold and beginning to rain. No man. There was construction on the usual corner. Then I looked across the street and saw a man on another corner with a sign. I drove around the block and handed him the bill. I’m now committing to do this each time I go to the parish during Lent. Ironic that this happens on my way to church, isn’t it.

So, I don’t know if Mom is lobbying merchants from beyond, or if the panhandler is Jesus in disguise and sending extra grace my way. Still I’m choosing to think of my windfalls as meant for others and as the mysterious presence of God around me during this holy season.

What’s this got to do with being in solidarity with the poor? Read my next blog post, “Why I’m not poor” for more.

dollar signThis is Day 10 of trying to spend no money and prune my file cabinet drawers (I decided to do both.) It’s been an unusual stretch of time because I’ve been out of town for 6 of the days and had company for 3 other days. Jim and I spent several hundred dollars on a weekend contradance (hotel, meals, and gas) but it didn’t count. I had decided that money spent on food, housing, or transportation would be exempt. I then traveled to lead a 3-day workshop. My workshop hosts provided free housing and meals. Once home, house guests arrived and took us out to dinner one night. Our parish provided Soup Suppers on two Wednesdays. Tonight’s Lenten Fish Fry will cost some money but I’ll count that as a donation.

Days 365+29 CaduceusDid I spend money on any non-allowed items? Sort of.
$10.00 Donation to foreign missions on Ash Wednesday collection
$  7.50 My toe was hurting so I bought a pad. I justified this as a medical expense
$  5.00 Lenten Parish Fish Fry. I consider this a donation
$22.50 Total

With my newly revised criteria (now allowing donations and medical expenses) I’m still at 0.

What did I learn?

BENEFITS:

  • I benefitted from other people’s generosity (free housing and meals) Yes, I also provided free housing and meals to our house guests but I probably gained more than I gave. People who are genuinely poor generally don’t have friends who have much more than they do. Social service agencies are their “friends.”
  • I am privileged to do ministry in which offering hospitality is a common expectation. I have friends who are happy to treat me. I don’t have to ask for it. It can be humbling to have to ask for friendship or hospitality.
  • Yes, I donated to our parish, but I also didn’t have to pay for the Soup Suppers.

SACRIFICES:

  • Since I’m fasting on Fridays, I chose not to eat anything at the restaurant Jim and I went to when we were out of town.
  • Learning to wait. There were several things I would have normally bought without a second thought, but this Lent I forced myself to wait. This helped me understand the plight of people on a limited income more personally. My voluntary waiting is a small token of being in solidarity with them. For example:
    • When I was in the drug store to get my toe pads, I noticed a cream blush cosmetic that I had been looking for. Fortunately, they didn’t have it in the color I wanted so I didn’t buy it. Besides, I figured I could probably order it online when I got home. Then I realized that part of what it means to be poor is that I can’t just buy something when I want it. To be true to my Lenten commitment, I will need to wait 5 more weeks till I order it online. Fortunately, I have internet access and a credit card to do this with when my waiting is over.
    • A second similar experience happened today when I was at a pharmacy that happened to be selling my favorite Papas Easter eggs. I figured I’d just buy them now since they were on sale and often stores are out of stock by Easter. I was about to pay when I remembered my “Don’t spend money” commitment.
    • I also realized that if I were really poor, I probably would just put up with the sore toe until it got worse and by then I might need to see a doctor. It’s much cheaper to prevent a medical problem than to pay to rectify it later.
  • Walking to the Post Office, pharmacy, and bank with Jim. It was cold! This was partly for exercise and to give Jim companionship, but I noticed people along the way who were waiting for the bus or walking because of necessity, not a Lenten resolution.

The file cabinets
Since I was only home with discretionary time for 2 days, I didn’t get to prune any file cabinet drawers. Hopefully next week. There are 23 file drawers waiting for me.

Lent is about to start again and I’ve got two ideas for Lenten practices. Help me decide.
Buy nothing graphic1.  Don’t buy anything during Lent.
I wonder if this discipline would bring me into greater solidarity with those who may not have money for the basics much less any extras. Of course there would need to be exceptions like:

  • Groceries don’t count as long as the food is not extravagant or treats
  • Eating out would be a no-no unless I am out of town and don’t have a choice. (The school fish fry would be an exception since it’s a fund-raiser.)
  • Gas for the car wouldn’t count but I would try to walk or bike anyplace under a mile.
  • Our house is paid for but I would have to pay utilities.

I’m sure emergencies will come up, but I’ll have to decide that on a case by case basis. Each time I make an exception I will ponder the reality that many people don’t have the luxury of a back-up fund for emergencies. I also will need Jim’s cooperation lest he just buy things for me. Of course how do I take a picture of things that I don’t buy?

Days 329 Extra - recycling paper 0022.  Prune the information in my home.
Of course knowledge is good and I don’t want to get rid of important information but I have:

  • 11 file cabinet drawers of work related papers dating back at least 30 years.
  • 12 file cabinet drawers of household and family files.
  • Mega file folders on my desk and more in a temporary holding pattern on our Ping-Pong table
  • 4 crates of old photo albums waiting for one of our kids to offer to digitalize all of them
  • Computer files that could use pruning

Basically, I have Too Much Information – much of it obsolete. I don’t relish the task of going through all of it. This will probably be more time consuming and harder than not spending money. But it will make my life feel less crowded if I don’t have to rummage through crammed files to find stuff.
The Process: If I do this, I can already see that I will need to put boundaries around the time I spend sorting paper and files lest I not get my day job done. I’m thinking I will limit myself to no more than:

  • 1 file cabinet drawer a day
  • 1 hour a day

I’m not sure how this will be a spiritual endeavor except maybe to put into perspective how much stuff I thought was important to save and how fleeting and transitory most information is. I’ll be blogging more frequently during the next six weeks as I execute these plans.

If you had the choice which Lenten sacrifice would you choose and why? I wonder if I should do both?

Jim and I have had the opportunity to travel to a number of foreign countries. Sometimes it has been to visit our children who were doing international work and sometimes it was for international organizations we belong to. In the course of our travels we’ve collected quite a few interesting artifacts and mementos. It has been a joy and may sound rather impressive but it also means that we have artifacts from 3 African countries, 5 Asian countries, 2 Latin American countries, and 7 European countries. Some of them we display but we don’t want our house to look like a museum. So what does one do with items that are not really useful for every day life?

Days 365+85 jembe drum w leaves SFDS croppedBlack History month provided me with a partial solution.

Djembe drum – Our parish has a nice racial mix and I love drums. I decided to donate our Malian djembe drum to the Church choir – a win/win situation. I don’t really lose it. I get to enjoy the oomph it adds to our liturgical music.

Kenyan cloth – Since the grade school connected with our parish is close to 100% African American students, Black History Month is a time to celebrate their African heritage. It seemed like the perfect time to donate a cloth that had Kenya written all over it.

Days 365+88 goat bagGoat hide bag – As our daughter, Heidi, said when she brought this bag home as a Christmas present, “Every well-dressed Malian boy has to have a goat skin backpack.” I added that to the Black History Month decorations.

As convenient as these solutions were, we still have plenty of foreign artifacts. Some of them deserve to be displayed with honor as a remembrance, but there’s only so much room for wall decorations before it looks cluttered. It’s hard to find an appropriate place to give primitive sculptures and masks.

What do you do when mementos multiply and become more clutter than cherished? Think schools, scouts, churches, and children.

PS: Interested in doing something as a family for Black History Month or to address racism; see Erasing Racism.

Like most families, we received some nice Christmas gifts. Two weeks later, I also received a call from the Lupus organization that picks up household items to sell. The proceeds go to the Lupus Foundation. I noticed some happy coincidences. Even though I didn’t make a conscious effort to have the gifts coming in equal my outgoing donations, it seems like it’s been happening naturally. Maybe it’s the habit of trying to live a “one in-one out” lifestyle. Maybe it’s good karma. Maybe it’s just dumb luck.

Anyway, as I looked around at what was left in my Give-Away bin, it became apparent that many of the items were there because we had gotten a replacement as a gift. For example:

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

Sweater
This was Jim’s contribution. I had gotten him a flannel shirt for Christmas so he was willing to get rid of the red sweater. The catch was that the sweater had a hole. I sucked it up and mended the hole. Not a perfect job, but good enough to give it away without undue guilt.
Skirt & Top
I had decided to give these away awhile ago but never got around to it. Letting go of these helps to justify the nice dress our daughter gave me.
Long Underwear
I hadn’t planned to give this away but when I put my new wool base layer top in a drawer, it was too crowded. Solution: get rid of the former long underwear that was a little too snug anyway.
Wok
Jim does most of the cooking in our family so I gave Jim a new wok for his birthday which is right after Christmas. Our old wok was still usable but the bottom didn’t sit nicely on our new stove surface. (It works fine on a gas or electric coil burners.)
Tea Kettle
I also gave Jim a new tea Kettle. I know, it sounds boring, but he asked for it. More on this in a later blog because disposing of the old one is a story in itself.
Gloves
I had bought new gloves a little before Christmas because my others had stretched out. I found them in the Give-Away bin.

Working the equation with children:
A variation of this process is what some families with young children do. Either before or after Christmas, a parent suggests that the child donate one toy to a needy family to teach generosity and to keep the net gain of toys under control. We only discovered this idea after our children were grown. I wonder how they would have taken to it.

Days 365+86 Misc water filtersThere were a number of other miscellaneous items that didn’t fit the “one in–one out” formula but were ready to leave home. We also let go of: a cutting board, shoes, cap, purse, necklace, welcome sign, table runner, and 5 unused water filters left over from a long term guest who didn’t like the taste of our city water. Does this mean we can justify bringing 12 new items into our home? I don’t think so. This is not a zero sum game. Don’t forget the spirit is to not accumulate more than we need.

Question: How do you keep control of creature comfort creep?