The Minimalism Game – what I decluttered in 30 days

The Minimalism Game was invented by a couple of guys named Joshua and Ryan, better known as The Minimalists. The object of their game is to declutter unnecessary possessions over thirty days. The rules are simple. The first day you get rid of one item. The second day, two items. The third day, three items and so on.

I heard about the game years ago, long after I’d set on my own path of simplifying my life. Honestly, I was never interested in playing; it was for amateurs. After all, I’ve been simplifying longer than The Minimalists have been alive! There couldn’t possibly be 465 useless items cluttering my tidy house.

Every shelf in our home holds uniform boxes whose contents are identified by my handy dandy label maker:  Lightbulbs, Stationery, Extension Cords, Makeup, Cold Remedies, Office Supplies, Tools, Hair Accessories, Craft Supplies, Holiday Decorations. You get the idea.

Last month, I decided to play The Minimalism Game. I quickly realized just because everything I own has a place, doesn’t mean I don’t have too much stuff.

For example, I’ve always had a big box labeled “Markers.” Since there was room on the shelf and room in the box, I found no reason to question whether I actually needed three large zip-lock bags filled with colored markers, even though I’m not an artist or a fourth grader.

Thanks to The Minimalism Game, instead of opening my closets and admiring my organizational skills, I examined the contents of each bin, box and drawer searching for broken, duplicate, ineffective, unnecessary and unwanted things. Surprisingly, I decided to let go of some categories entirely, including nail polish, necklaces and DVDs.

I think The Minimalists would agree the real point of the game is to build awareness of our possessions and consciously decide if we want an item to take up space in our life. I’m glad I finally decided to play those boys’ silly game. I might even play again next month.

Here’s exactly what I decluttered playing The Minimalist Game during the month of June.

1st – one picnic cooler
2nd – two book ends
3rd – three expired over-the-counter medications
4th – four power-surge strips
5th – five books
6th – one decorative wax burner and five refills
7th – seven autumn decorations
8th – one shower cap and seven towels
9th – nine magazines and catalogs
10th – ten holiday cookie tins
11th – eleven packages of light bulbs that don’t fit any lights in our home
12th – four shoes, one coffee mug, two bathmats and five mismatched hangers
13th – thirteen cooking utensils and kitchen items
14th – three dog brushes and seven articles of workout gear
15th – fourteen articles of clothing and one pair of winter gloves
16th – four lipsticks, two eyeshadow palettes, two blush palettes and eight hair accessories
17th – two bracelets, three necklaces and obsolete earbuds
18th – twelve bottles of craft paint and six cheap paintbrushes
19th – nineteen Christmas decorations
20th – twenty miscellaneous buttons
21st – twenty DVDs and one DVD player
22nd – ten notepads, two binders and ten non-functioning ink pens
23rd – twenty-three sketchy pantry and refrigerator items
24th – twenty-four notecards with envelopes
25th – twenty-five free return address labels
26th – three bottles of nail polish remover, twelve bottles of nail polish, a five-piece skin care system, six sample-size anti-aging products
27th – twenty-six more DVDs and another DVD player
28th – a box of twenty-eight holiday greeting cards
29th – five shot glasses, four terra cotta pots, two can koozies, three wall decorations, five cans of spray paint, three struggling houseplants and (with a little arm-twisting) seven articles of my husband’s clothing
30th – way more than thirty colored markers §

This article was recently published in Minimalism Life’s Mindful Moments. Click here to read this and similar articles: https://minimalism.substack.com/p/mindful-moments-1ef?utm_campaign=post&utm_medium=email&utm_source=email

 

 

 

Less Garbage More Love – a short story written by my son

This story was written by my son, Mac Griffin, who kindly let me share it here.

Again, I forget to take the trash to the curb, so I begin the recurring process of taking it to the dump. I pull the trash cans from the backyard to the driveway and heave them into the back of my truck. By this time, self-defeating thoughts pile up in my mind like the trash spilling from the cans.

Driving to the dump, the negative voices continue. You idiot. How hard is it to remember to take out the trash? My dog, Maverick, sits in the passenger seat. I bring him along for emotional support. His head hangs out the window, drool flying out of his mouth.

I realize Maverick is having a great time. So why is it so terrible for me? The trip to the dump takes only thirty minutes and brings me out for a ride in the sunshine with my best friend. As we pull around the corner a couple of blocks from the dump, I begin to toss the rubbish from my head and allow it to be filled with the sounds of Led Zeppelin blaring through my speakers.

On the corner an old man sits in a lawn chair and waves to the cars passing through the intersection. As I approach the stop sign, I raise my hand in a subtle hello. The man gives me an exaggerated wave, like a person waving to loved ones from the deck of a boat in a cheesy romantic comedy. As I pass he yells, “God bless you!”

On most days I would have responded differently to this man. I’m not religious. Your words have no meaning to me. On this day, however, I feel gratitude. Why disregard love just because it comes from an unfamiliar place? Here’s a man taking time from his day to spread kindness through his community. His belief about the source of love doesn’t really matter. Love is real, and he is sharing it.

This positive mindset is unusual for my brain, which usually hovers between cynicism and criticism, as a hummingbird hovers between two gloomy flowers. I like this feeling. I enjoy stripping the man’s words down to their essence and accepting them graciously.

The man doesn’t seem to care if anyone reciprocates what he has to offer. He cares about giving his neighbors something we need – solidarity, support and love. No, his words don’t erase the pain of losing your job or the fear of not knowing how you’ll pay the rent, but they remind you you’re not alone.

Especially during this uncertain time, I realize we really are all in this together. Perhaps we’re not in the same boat, some having yachts and others barely staying afloat on a piece of driftwood, but if we recognize we are navigating the same waters, we can begin to conquer the waves together.

After I dump the trash, I climb back in the truck, give Maverick a pat and turn up Zeppelin, grateful to be carrying less garbage and more love. §

2020 Vision – a look at our intentions halfway through this wacky year

Way back in late December, most of us looked ahead to the new year with enthusiastic focus and clarity. Six long months later, it might seem our 2020 vision was blindsided.

We never saw it coming!

The coronavirus pandemic. A presidential impeachment. Record-breaking unemployment. Wildfires. A drone assassination. Murder hornets. A global shut-down. Social unrest. Plane and helicopter crashes. Saharan dust clouds. Masks. An imploding economy. It’s enough to forget the UK exited the EU and Harry and Meghan packed up the baby and exited Buckingham Palace.

In times like these, we’re tempted to throw all that vision stuff right out the window, but having a clear focus for our lives is even more crucial during uncertain times. Truth be told, people have always lived in chaotic times. That’s the human condition.

A crazy year is no time to abandon our intentions for living a better life. “The only thing worse than being blind is having sight but no vision,” wrote Helen Keller.

Since we’re halfway in, now is a good time to think about how we’re doing. My own vision for 2020 is encapsulated in the word seasons. Come along with me to see how I’m doing so far, particularly in light of the pandemic.

  • This year I intend to enjoy the natural beauty and seasonal gifts offered by nature. Honestly, the quarantine has made this even easier. Since we’ve been staying home, I’ve spent lots of time watching our world slowly morph from winter to spring to summer. In my stillness, visits by woodland critters haven’t escaped my notice. Against the steady beat of the daily news, I’ve appreciated more than ever the peace and beauty nature faithfully provides.
  • This year I intend to embrace my current season of life. At 58 years old, I’m as comfortable in my own skin as I’ve ever been. In the scheme of things, wrinkles, age spots and wild strands of white hair seem like silly things to worry about. I’m grateful for a body that will never be tall and thin, but is fabulously strong and healthy. When I hear the increasing number of people who have died from Covid-19, I’m reminded of my own mortality and the gift of each and every day.
  • This year I intend to show compassion to those in more challenging seasons of life. Since my husband and I are retired, we haven’t had to navigate working from home. We haven’t faced unemployment or financial insecurity. We haven’t felt loneliness or isolation. The pandemic has given us the opportunity to extend empathy and help to those who don’t have it as easy as we do right now.

A mid-year evaluation of our vision brings it back into focus and reminds us to make it a daily priority. So what was your vision for 2020, and how’s it going? There are still six months left in this wacky wonderful year. What do you intend to do with those months, weeks, days and hours?

Nelson Mandela offers this wisdom, “Action without vision is only passing time, vision without action is merely day dreaming, but vision with action can change the world.” §

Note: This post was published in Minimalism Life’s Journal earlier this week. You can read it and subscribe here: https://minimalism.life/journal/2020-vision

Why I Asked My Community to Remove Confederate Flags

After three months of being cooped up due to the Coronavirus lockdown, we knew our nephews, who live north of Indianapolis, would enjoy a couple of days visiting our home in the woods of southern Indiana.

They filled their stay to the brim with boating, fishing, swimming and kayaking. Wide-eyed, they watched a deer amble into the yard early one morning. Under the setting sun, they saw four young foxes play with abandon on the shore of the lake. It was almost enough to take their minds off these uncertain, tumultuous and frightening times.

Almost.

When they arrived, the boys tumbled out of the car and asked curiously, “Why are there so many Confederate flags around here?” My heart sunk. I hoped they’d be too busy playing on their phones to notice the symbol that dots the hilly drive to our home.

Along the country roads, at least a dozen Confederate flags proudly hang from trees, fly from houses, stick to truck bumpers and decorate front porches. (Note that Indiana was not part of the Confederacy, and the ubiquitous design seen on the Rebel flag never actually represented the Confederacy.)

 While roasting marshmallows one evening, I asked the boys what the Confederate flag meant to them. My eleven-year-old nephew quietly said, “It means they hate black people.” His thirteen-year-old brother added so softly it was nearly inaudible, “They wish the South won the Civil War and that there was still slavery.” Despite the warmth of the fire, a chill went down my spine.

A few days later, something I read by Martin Luther King, Jr. demanded my action, “We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there is such a thing as being too late. This is no time for apathy or complacency.”

Fueled by the fierce urgency of now, I submitted my column to our local newspaper, unsure if it would be published, which read in part –

This is neither a history lesson nor a political discussion. Rather, it is a plea to consider what that flag means to the people who pass by your house or vehicle. Neighbor to neighbor, it is a huge and humble request to consider removing Confederate flags from your property.

The editor of the paper emailed me back almost immediately. She thanked me for my column and assured me it would be featured in the next issue. She also invited me to be part of a newly formed county commission for human rights and told me about an upcoming solidarity rally for racial justice to be held that weekend smack in the middle of Brown County, Indiana.

The Confederate flag has generated controversy and impassioned debates for 155 years. What makes this time any different?

Because right now we are emerging from the unique stillness of a quarantine. Thanks to the pandemic, we were forced to take a collective time-out. Without our usual distractions, we are in a heighten state of awareness to better see the realities of our country and ourselves.

The headlines aren’t any different. But we are.

We find ourselves in what may be a once-in-a-lifetime position to finally open our eyes to the causes of racial injustice, pain and division. It will take much more than removing Confederate flags, but it would be a tangible start to making positive, lasting change for our children and our grandchildren.

And for my nephews – smart, kind, beautiful brown boys – who simply deserve to run among the wildflowers, jump in the lake and feel welcomed when they visit the peaceful rural countryside of America’s Heartland.

Time to Fill the Well

I’ve felt a little drained lately. It seems I’m in good company, so maybe you can relate. When my well is empty, I always trust it will be refilled. And drop by drop, it always is.

A loon singing in the early morning mist. Drip Drop.

A fuzzy green fern unfurling from the ground. Drip Drop.

A red fox sneaking down the porch steps. Drip Drop.

A kind gesture from a loved one or a stranger. Drop. Drop. Drop.

I’m going to take a little break from writing The Simple Swan, but I will return. I leave you for now with the gifts of some other creative souls. I hope it fills your well, as it fills my own.

A haiku and watercolor by my sister, Melinda ~

melinda

A haiku by a reader, Cindy ~

Bulbs

They rise from the ground
After a long winter sleep
Like us in springtime

And one by my husband, Mike ~

Orchid

You’re like an orchid
Simple, delicate, stunning
And quite beautiful

And finally, this week my talented friend Nikki included a poem I wrote in her video about living a beautiful life at home. I’m sure you’ll want to watch the whole video and follow Nikki on YouTube and Patreon at Inspired by Nikki. My poem Forever in a Day is featured at the 10:00 mark. Her lovely voice, painting, music and videography truly lift my simple poem off the page, encouraging me to heed my own words and focus on living a beautiful life day by day by day.  §

Pandemic Poetry ~ It’s Rhyme Time

National Poetry Month couldn’t have come at a better time. The Coronavirus pandemic has extended our stay-at-home orders at least through the rest of April, giving us plenty of time to let poetry soothe and strengthen us.

Last week we explored haikus, and I was thrilled to receive some of your original poetry! This week, let’s write a poem that rhymes. Please share your poem here or email it to me at aliciawoodward4@aol.com. I plan to feature readers’ poetry later this month.

Poetry might be just what the doctor ordered to get us through an unfathomable time in our global history. It helps us express our emotions and fills our heads and hearts with loftier thoughts. Our country’s Poet Laureate Joy Harjo said, “Without poetry, we lose our way.”

Poetry reminds us we’re not alone and nothing we experience is unique to the human condition. I urge you to curl up with a poetry book you have lying around your house or search out poetry online. The Academy of American Poets hosts a wonderful poetry site at poets.org. Reading poetry is also a sure way to get our own creative juices flowing.

Just get out a piece of paper or fire up your laptop and start writing. If you’re anything like me, whatever you start writing about will transform into something completely different and surprisingly therapeutic.

This week I’m hoping you’ll try to write a poem that rhymes. Certainly the pandemic is giving the feels to the most stoic among us. Whatever emotion you’re experiencing could become the theme of your poem.

Here are some common types of rhymes found in poetry ~

  • End Rhymes –  rhyming the final words in the lines of a poem
  • Internal Rhymes – rhyming of two words within the same line of poetry
  • Slant Rhymes – a near rhyming of two words that share the same vowel or consonant sound (like heart and star)
  • Rich Rhymes – a rhyme of words that have the same sound (like raise and raze)
  • Eye Rhymes – rhymes on words that look the same but are pronounced differently (like bough and rough)
  • Identical Rhymes – simply using the same word twice

I don’t consider myself much of a poet, but I wrote this poem containing end rhymes in celebration of Easter morning and every morning. It suggests a simple, gratitude-filled approach to life inspired by the hope and promise of daily, seasonal and infinite renewal and rebirth.

Forever in a Day

To see forever in a day
Wake up and lift your voice to pray
Watch sunlight spread across the land
Just as it’s done since time began

Feel the earth so lush and green
Where brown and dormant ground had been
Hear sweet birdsong fill the air
Smell the flowers everywhere

To see forever in a day
Ask for wisdom come what may
Seek timeless lessons to be learned
Toil for honest wages earned

Heed tales told by wrinkled eyes
Sing a baby lullabies
Reach for a neighbor’s hand in love
We look the same from up above

To see forever in a day
Have faith that stones can roll away
Let starlight fall upon your face
Older than the human race

Allow great mysteries to unfold
Dream of ancient stories told
Sleep peacefully until the morn
Each break of dawn we are reborn §

Pandemic Poetry ~ Let’s Write a Haiku

There’s something wonderful on April’s calendar that hasn’t been cancelled or postponed. It’s National Poetry Month. The celebration is taking on new meaning and importance this year as people all over the world turn to poetry for comfort, creativity and connection during this challenging time.

Each Sunday in April, The Simple Swan will offer a brief workshop of sorts to explore a certain type of poetry and encourage you to write and share your own poems. This week, let’s take a look at a familiar Japanese form of poetry called haiku.

Haikus were always a favorite of my literature students for an obvious reason ~ they’re short. Well-known for the rule of 5-7-5, a haiku consists of just three unrhymed lines. The first and third lines have five syllables, and the second line has seven syllables. (You probably remember tapping your pencil on the desk to learn syllables in school. For example, the word frog has one syllable. The word silent has two syllables.)

Nature often inspires poetry, but a haiku, by definition, is about nature. It can be traced back to 9th century Japan where it evolved as poetry that specifically celebrated the natural world. Matsuo Basho wrote one of the most famous haikus in the 1600s.

“The Old Pond” 

An old silent pond

A frog jumps into the pond –

Splash! Silence again. 

While you keep yourself and others safe by staying at home, I hope you find the time to pen your own haiku. Maybe you can make it a family activity. Find something in nature that makes you happy and form your thoughts about it into a simple three-line poem that follows the 5-7-5 rule.

Please consider sharing your poem by leaving it in the comments or emailing it to me at  aliciawoodward4@aol.com. You might want to get really creative and illustrate your poem. Haikus are often accompanied by simple watercolor paintings. Hang it on your refrigerator as a little food for thought.

Poetic inspiration struck me early this morning when, wrapped in a blanket, I stepped out on the porch for a fresh look at the new day. I inhaled deeply and watched my exhaled breath quickly disappear in the cool spring air. From inside, I heard the television mumble news of virus and ventilators. Closing my eyes, I took a slower, more intentional breath filled with gratitude and hope.

“Air” 

Nothing more precious

A calming, life-giving flow

In and out. Just breathe. §

Staying Home Offers Time for Nesting

My usual enthusiasm for spring cleaning had so far eluded me this year, clouded by cold dreary weather and, oh yes, a pandemic. Fortunately, a lovely pair of doves offered just the motivation to do a little nesting of my own.

As I pulled into a long line of cars at the pharmacy drive-up, I caught a glimpse of an iridescent mourning dove through my rainy windshield. He flew straight into a large evergreen tree carrying something in its beak. Moments later out he darted out on an obvious mission.

He soon swooped back into the tree carrying a twig and a piece of grass. Again he disappeared into the dense foliage for a few seconds, flew out, and returned minutes later carrying more building supplies. Deep in the tree, I spied the bird’s mate busy at work. I watched the pair’s efforts continue for nearly ten minutes until it was my turn at the pharmacy window.

I returned home with the perfect prescription for the blahs. I was inspired to feather our nest! I shared my new-found enthusiasm with my husband by telling him what I’d learned about the nesting habits of mourning doves.

The female dove actually builds the nest with twigs, conifer needles and grass gathered by the male. In an impressive act of teamwork, the male stands on the female’s back and gives her the supplies while she assembles the nest. (I’m not suggesting this exact process, but teamwork is always a good idea.)

Our orders to stay at home during the Coronavirus outbreak is the perfect time to do what comes naturally in springtime ~ nesting. I don’t know what’s on your home to-do list, but it probably falls into similar categories as ours.

Tidying ~ Cupboards, drawers, closets, shelves and surfaces in every room can use a once-over to straighten and reorganize for the new season.

Cleaning ~ In addition to routine cleaning, spring is a good time to do those annual or bi-annual chores we tend to put off. Cleaning behind the refrigerator isn’t very exciting, but it might be more rewarding than another show on Netflix.

Decorating ~ Simply rearranging what we already have can help us appreciate our treasures even more. A few cut daffodils or budding limbs from the yard add a pretty touch of spring.

Indoor Projects ~ We all have those nagging little tasks that need to be done such as patching nail holes, painting chips and tightening loose screws. Make a list and tackle them one by one.

Outdoor Projects ~ When the weather cooperates, get outside and sweep the porch, do some yard work or take on a bigger job. Mike and I are tearing down an old shed and building a new one.

It’s a project that requires teamwork. He tried standing on my back, but it’s easier if I just hold the ladder. §

Some Things Never Change

While we hold our collective, anxious breath and nervously adjust to the challenges of a pandemic, nature seems blissfully above it all. The sun still rises in the east and sets in the west. The moon still lights the darkness, and the Earth still steadily spins. Some things never change.

Everything from school to restaurants to sporting events is cancelled or closed, but nothing is stopping nature from putting on its annual spring show. “That is one good thing about this world,” wrote author Lucy Maud Montgomery, “there are always sure to be more springs.”

Robins have returned with their round orange bellies. They poke their beaks into ever-warming ground with delight. Forsythia bushes bloom in wild sprays of yellow. Willow trees glow with a promising haze of green. Daffodils, crocus and purple snowdrops decorate tired brown corners with cheerful bouquets.

At a time when nothing seems certain, it’s as if nature understands the importance of offering something beautiful on which we can depend. The familiar signs of spring urge us to take notice of other comforts and joys we tend to take for granted.

We still have running water and electricity. There is plenty of food and, despite our concern, enough toilet paper. A free press keeps us well-informed. We stay in touch with loved ones through phones and computers. We borrow a tool from one neighbor and lend an egg to another.

We still sleep, work, play, talk, worry, love and laugh. Some things never change.

We know life may get worse before it gets better. If history tells us anything, we can trust the better angels of humanity will prevail. We will help each other and count on each other just as we can count on the sun to come up each morning.

No one could argue the joys of a pandemic, but it could bring us a positive shift in perspective and gratitude. Poet May Sarton wrote, “Everything that slows us down and forces patience, everything that sets us back into the slow circles of nature, is a help.”

Tonight, billions of stars will shine in our universe and billions of prayerful faces will look up to make a surprisingly similar wish. Some things never change. §

A Poem that Spreads Hope (Not Germs)

Long before the Coronavirus became part of our vocabulary, I planned to write this week about Emily Dickinson’s poem “Hope” is the Thing with Feathers. I thought it a perfect poem to usher us through the last days of winter and into a lovely spring. Little did I realize the Belle of Amherst might help us find hope during a pandemic.

In this well-known poem, Dickinson uses a beautiful extended metaphor to compare hope to a selfless little bird perched in the soul of every human being. The poet reminds us hope and optimism are positive qualities we can all summon, especially during adversity.

In the first stanza, Dickinson creates the imagery of a bird endlessly singing a song of no words, just the purest form of hope. She reminds us in the second stanza that hard times don’t dissuade the little bird. In fact, that’s when the song is the sweetest. The pronoun I appears for the first time in the third stanza, revealing that hope helped her survive the tests and trials of her own life.

Dickinson is often thought of as a hermit, but perhaps she was practicing a healthy form of social distancing. She spent most of her adult life at her family home enjoying nature, writing poetry, and nurturing a close relationship with her siblings.

It seems we can all help stop the spread of the Coronavirus by following her lead and hunkering down for a little while. Maybe we can find time to relish the pleasures of home, watch spring miraculously unfurl, and hear the universal song of hope Emily Dickinson wrote about more than a century ago. §

(No. 314) “Hope” is the Thing with Feathers by Emily Dickinson

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –
And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –
And sore must be the storm –
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm –
I’ve heard it in the chillest land –
And on the strangest Sea –
Yet – never – in Extremity,
It asked a crumb – of me.

The third Sunday of the month, The Simple Swan is devoted to poetry. Nature has inspired poetry for as long as there have been poets. Reading these poems helps us slow down, contemplate the beauty in our world, and connect with timeless and universal themes. As a retired literature teacher, I want to do my little bit in keeping the classics alive. Thank you for joining me!