Category Archives: giving to others

2011 in 2011: taking a moment to reflect on the numbers

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I’m hoping to have my decluttering challenge complete before the next two weeks are up. We’re heading off on vacation for a week to a sunny, tropical location and I really do not want to be thinking about minimalism or decluttering while I’m there enjoying the occasional cerveza around the swimming pool.  I’m closing in on my revised goal of three times my original goal of 2011 items decluttered from my home in 2011.  I’m at 5781, which means I’ve got 252 things left to unload before my vacation starts.  Eek!  I might just have to have another go at the kids t-shirt collection before we go.  Or maybe their bin of stuffed animals.  To be honest, I’m not sure where to look for unwanted clutter anymore – I guess that means my project has been a success!

I was compelled to look back at my list of things I’ve decluttered so far and tally the amount of clothing that has left my family’s closets this year.  And the numbers are shocking.  As of today, the following amounts of clothing and accessories have left our home – most of these items went to several thrift stores we are lucky to have in our neighbourhood, but a few items were passed on to family members and friends.

  • 169 articles of adult clothing
  • 5 jackets
  • 122 articles of kid clothing
  • 10 bags, purse and wallets
  • 21 pair of shoes (includes both adult and kid sizes)
  • 23 pieces of costume jewellery
I think what’s most shocking to me is that at the beginning of the year I had nearly 200 items of clothing in my closet, and I still considered myself a minimalist.  I also am grappling with the fact that I can’t fathom than these numbers include nothing from my husband’s side of the closet – apparently he is already a minimalist and doesn’t need any help from me!

Clearly clothing has been an issue for me in the past – since my teenage years, I’ve always gravitated towards having more clothing as a means to being more secure with myself. I’ve learned, however, that it is possible to feel secure in ones’ self and still have a small (and functional) wardrobe.  If you’re thinking of downsizing your closet, I wholeheartedly recommend it!  It’s freeing to be able to devote that mental real estate to other, more enjoyable things.  I’m looking forward to the end of my decluttering project and getting into the maintenance phase – I’ve noticed that shopping and looking at clothes no longer holds the same excitement for me that it once did, so I’m secure in the idea that I’ll be able to resist bringing a lot of extra, unnecessary clothing back into my home.

Is there a particular item or group of items that seem to be cluttering your home?  Do you favour knick knacks or are you more of a fashionista?  Do you have any strategies for keeping your weaknesses under control?  I’d love to hear from you!

toss it tuesdays: unloading the Halloween haul

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It’s the day after Halloween and there is a general feeling of a sugar hangover hanging over the neighbourhood.  Only a quarter of my son’s class showed up for school this morning. Who knew that one night of sugar highs would have such an effect?  As this is my son’s first year attending school full-time, I wasn’t quite prepared for the highs and lows that would surround Halloween and trick-or-treating.  I’m now faced with 6.2 lbs of Halloween candy (yes, I weighed it – I couldn’t resist!) and am thinking of ways to get it out of my house without tossing it all in the trash in one fell swoop.

A couple of ways I’ll be attacking the stash of candy:

  • I’ll be giving it to my son’s teacher for her candy drawer.  I know not all teachers like to give out rewards or treats in the form of sugar, but I know that my son’s Grade 1 teacher does occasionally give out candy as a reward for good behaviour.  Not a practice I would be endorsing for home, but I don’t mind that she does.  I offered her some candy for her candy drawer this morning, and she gratefully accepted – I’ll be dropping off a third of my kids’ Halloween loot to her later today (only the nut-free treats will be heading to school).
  • I’ll be sharing it with friends.  This is my favourite way to get things out of the house, especially things that are sugary treats and snacks.  I like to spread the love around, so I’ll be serving Halloween treats at playdates and home and taking them to friends houses, and you’ll probably even see me bringing treats to the playground in the coming weeks.  Whatever it takes to prevent ME from eating more than MY fair share of my kids’ Halloween candy.
  • I’ll be letting my kids enjoy it.  Halloween is a festive celebration that seems to come and go in such a short period of time.  I have lots of memories of Halloween from my own childhood, sorting through my pillowcase of loot with my younger brother each night after dinner, choosing our favourites first and finally being left with nothing but small taffy candies at the bottom of our bags.  I’d be remiss to not let my kids enjoy making some of their own Halloween memories.
  • I’ll be throwing it away.  All the sticky taffy-like treats are so bad for kids’ teeth, so I won’t feel guilty about throwing the occasional Tootsie Roll straight into the trash. Same goes for the Double Bubble, or anything with the words “jawbreaker” in the name.  I’m such a party pooper, I know.
How was your Halloween?  Did you go trick-or-treating, or did you have a quiet evening at home? 

the minimaList: school’s out for summer

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As we find ourselves in the last month of the school year, the minds of parents often drift to thinking of buying an end of school year gift for your child’s teacher. For our family, this practice started two years ago when our oldest started preschool.  At the time, he had two lovely teachers and we gladly put together gifts for each of them to thank them for such a wonderful year.  Ditto for the next year, as he was at the same school and had the same delightful teachers.  This year, my son is in kindergarten and again has two teachers.  As I was beginning to consider what sort of gift to buy for each of these two very different people, one of the class parents put together a proposal that money be collected from parents who wanted to participate in a group gift.  She proposed that the gift would consist of a gift certificate for each teacher, as well as a digitally-created memory book that contained photos of the children and some of their personal artwork.  And the amount for all of these fabulous gifts? Only $20.

Let me tell you,  I did a small dance of joy when I got that email.  Here’s why:

  1. The value of this gift is going to be priceless.  The children will each be creating their own work of art with the teacher in mind, and their personal words of thanks and appreciation will be included in the photo book for the teacher.  I can’t speak for the teacher here, but I know if I was given a gift as thoughtful as this, I would be crying like a baby.
  2. Time spent not shopping will be better spent elsewhere.  I will not be required to spend any time shopping for gifts, or any time traveling to a shopping centre where I would surely have spent a considerable amount of time deliberating over whether my gift was “enough.”
  3. Gift cards as gifts means no packaging or wasteful wrapping.  The gift cards will be chosen for each teacher based on their lifestyle or personal interests – one teacher is a young mother and would probably relish a day a the spa, and the other is passionate about music and would love a gift certificate to indulge his passion.
  4. More bang for my buck.  There is no way on earth I could have put together such a fabulous gift for $10 per person.  It just wouldn’t be realistic.  The reality is I would have probably spent a lot more money than that trying to accomplish the same thing, but not coming anywhere near as close to the level of thoughtfulness that the proposed gifts will achieve.
Needless to say, I’m thrilled and I’ve already put in my twenty bucks.  Can’t wait to put the time I would have spent shopping out at the park on a sunny afternoon with my kids.  I think I’ll do that this afternoon.

Now that we’re nearing the end of the school year, are you buying or making anything to thank your children’s teachers?  If you homeschool, do you take the time to acknowledge your own contribution as parent/teacher? 

2011 in 2011: update for May

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As of May 3, 2676 items had left our home.  As of May 31, I am at 3134.  I’ve also sold a couple of items on craigslist, and made $195 from those sales.

How did I manage to rid my home of nearly 500 things in less than 30 days?  I dug deep.  And sometimes I didn’t have to dig that deep at all.  One big contributor was giving 75 items of clothing and 20 toiletry items to the forest fire victims of Slave Lake, Alberta.  I also sold 140 pieces of Lego on craigslist.  Whew, did that ever feel good.  I gave away 31 plastic hangers because my wardrobe has shrunk so dramatically that I only need about a third of the amount of hangers I needed previously.  I finally unloaded my breadmaker and crockpot at the thrift shop.  I also allowed myself to realize that the three pair of high heels I had hiding under my bed hadn’t been worn in over a year, and would be better off at the thrift shop where someone might take them home and actually wear them.

You might think that 3134 things seems like a lot of stuff and you might be wondering if we have anything left in our home.  The answer is yes, we do still have stuff and, quite frankly, a fair bit of it.  But there is a lot more space in our small condo now.  We are down to one set of pots and pans (from two sets), and we are no longer storing a ton ugly glassware in our kitchen cupboards.  Half of our kitchen storage is now dedicated to food, and everything kitchen related now fits in the kitchen cupboards.  This alone is a small miracle given the fact that our kitchen is only about 150 square feet and storage space there is very limited.  But it no longer feels crowded or like I am juggling things on the counter to make the space look presentable.  The kitchen looks bigger because there is less stuff left sitting on the counter as there is more room in the cabinets.

There is more space in the bedroom closets as well.  My kids are down to one storage bin each of off season clothing (winter jackets and pants) and items they haven’t grown into.  They also tend to wear the same things from their closet over and over again, so right now they are working with 5 pair of pants and about 10 shirts each.  It feels great to only have a minimal wardrobe for the kids, as I am doing laundry every couple of days and they can’t manage to wear everything in that short period anyway.  I’m planning to pare the kids wardrobe down even further as they outgrow or wear out some of the items that are currently in their closet, and I’ll be letting go of more items if I notice they aren’t getting any love.  As for my closet space, I’m down to 33 items for the next 3 months and it feels fabulous!  I barely even have to think about what I’m going to wear – limited choices means less time spent deliberating over what to wear and just getting on with it.  Project 333 is already saving me time getting ready in the morning, and I’ve begun to think how I’ll be putting together some of my wardrobe items over the summer (if summer ever arrives in Vancouver).  I also know that by sticking with Project 333, I’ll be saving money too.

Have you considered decluttering in 2011?  If you’ve started the decluttering process, what challenges have you come across and what benefits are you reaping?  I’d love to hear from others who are in the trenches too!

project 333: at the starting line

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One of my goals for the year is to start consciously participating in Project 333.  The main purpose of Project 333 is to have a complete wardrobe with only 33 items in it and wear that wardrobe for a period of three months.  I’m hoping that once I get started, I’ll be able to have no more than 33 items in my wardrobe at any given moment.  You can learn more about Project 333 here.

In my daily life, I’m pretty minimal.  I make coffee at home instead of going to Starbucks.  I eat at home instead of eating out (most of the time, anyway).  But an area of my life that deserves some attention is clothing – specifically my own closet and that of my children.  While I quickly purged about half of the kids’ closet in an afternoon last week by donating three full bags of clothing, my own closet has been getting overhauled over a longer term.  Since I undertook a challenge to rid my home of 2011 items in 2011, I have donated over 150 items from my wardrobe.  I then decided to see if I could get the contents of my wardrobe down to a respectable number, and as I had been playing with the idea of participating in Project 333 for the past couple of months, I decided to jump right in.

So without further ado, here is a list of my current wardrobe items:

  1. Levi’s jeans
  2. Banana Republic jeans
  3. Costco leggings – black
  4. JOE leggings – grey
  5. American Apparel leggings – navy
  6. American Apparel leggings – brown
  7. Old Navy purple leggings
  8. GAP black corduroy skirt
  9. GAP grey corduroy skirt
  10. GAP denim skirt
  11. Dressy/long empire waist striped shirt – black/grey stripes
  12. JOE wrap shirt – violet
  13. Striped overshirt – grey stripes
  14. GAP hoodie – oatmeal
  15. Formal black dress
  16. GAP sleeveless casual dress – black
  17. American Eagle sleeveless casual dress – blue
  18. Casual jersey knit dress – black
  19. JOE t-shirt – purple
  20. JOE t-shirt – black
  21. JOE t-shirt – melon
  22. JOE tank top – pink
  23. JOE tank top – black
  24. JOE tank top – purple
  25. JOE tank top – turquoise
  26. American Eagle t-shirt – grey with sequins
  27. American Eagle tank top – brown with sequins
  28. American Eagle tank top – blue
  29. American Eagle tank top – grey
  30. American Eagle tank top – grey
  31. Lululemon crop pants – brown
  32. Yoga pants from Costco – black
  33. Yoga crop pants from Costco – blue

I’ve come a long way since the beginning of this year, and now recognize which items in my closet are being worn regularly (as well as those which are not).  The purpose of writing all of these items out in a list is for it to act as a reminder to me that I don’t actually need anything, and that I can probably avoid stores altogether at this point.  It’s a means of staying accountable to myself and hopefully will give me some strength if I’m having a moment of weakness.  If I do find myself in a store and poised to make an impulse purchase that I will later regret, I’ll refer to this list in hopes that it will deter me from making the purchase.

What’s not included in this list?  I have one purse.  I have one bathing suit.  I also have one drawer dedicated to socks, underwear and tights.  I considered lumping the leggings in with the undergarments, but there’s clearly too many leggings for one person on this list and it would probably benefit me to clear some of them out as they get worn out.  I also have fourteen pair of shoes, but only half of those are suitable for summer weather and I’m hoping to pare down the size of my shoe collection by the end of the summer.  I’ve got a couple of clothing items in a bag waiting to be donated, and some of the items on this list might make it there as well.  I’ve packed away a couple of sweaters and some winter weight clothing, and those items will be making a reappearance in the fall and incorporated into my list of 33 things, when I’m hoping I can pare down my wardrobe to 33 items in total for the entire year.  Given that the weather is so mild in Vancouver, I think it’s a real possibility.

Do you participate in Project 333?  If so, how far along are you in the project and how has it changed your life?

retail me not: greening your wardrobe at the thrift shop

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I dropped off a few pair of shoes and some costume jewelry at My Sister’s Closet this afternoon, adding another dozen or so items to my list of 2011 items that I’ve decluttered from our home this year.  My Sister’s Closet is a thrift shop in downtown Vancouver where they accept and sell clothing donations from the community (both personal and business donations), and the proceeds from sales go to women in need who are trying to re-establish their lives without the influence of violence or abuse.  I try to do a lot of my clothing shopping there, as I’d prefer to buy something that is gently used and contribute to the practice of recycling, rather than purchasing something brand new when a gently used option was readily available.  I was reading David Suzuki‘s Green Guide, last week and a point he made has really stuck with me.  He writes:

By reducing your consumption of goods by 1 kilogram, you can save approximately 200 kilograms (440 pounds) of natural resources and prevent 200 kilograms of waste and pollution.  By this measure, individual acts of conservation can have a huge effect.

I can honestly say that reading that statement and internalizing that piece of knowledge has done more to limit my consumption than I would have thought possible. I don’t think those numbers will ever leave my consciousness.  Anytime I am in a store now, I carefully consider each purchase and keep this idea in mind.  I think that is what is so appealing about shopping at thrift stores: by shopping at a thrift shop, we are able to limit our contribution to the stream of waste we all generate as human beings on this planet.  In addition to the fact that the proceeds from donations are going to a great cause, shopping at thrift shops is a form of recycling. We all need clothing to wear to protect us from the elements and it’s important to feel good about ourselves in the clothes we do wear, so why not try to limit the environmental effects of those purchases as much as possible?

Here’s how to make the most of thrift store shopping:

  • Shop in thrift stores that are local to you.  I am lucky to have two great thrift shops within walking distance of my home, and there are a couple of thrift stores in nearby neighbourhoods on bus routes.  I tend to stick with things that are easily accessible and don’t require a ton of extra effort – try to find a good local thrift shop in your neighbourhood or that you don’t have to go to far to get to.  Otherwise, it feels more like work than like fun.
  • Visit regularly.  Sometimes items are donated to thrift shops and they are such gems, they end up getting sold quite quickly.  Besides supporting a great cause, My Sister’s Closet often has some fabulous finds!  If you’re pretty selective about what you do own and wear (like me), it’s a good idea to stop by your local thrift shop once or twice a week.  I often find I spend a couple of minutes in the store to see if there’s anything worthwhile, and if not, I am on my way.
  • Shop only in season.  Most thrift stores don’t have enough room to store items that aren’t in season, so try to keep this in mind as a good idea for your own closet too.  If you see a nice wool sweater on the rack but it’s the middle of July, consider foregoing that purchase.  You might not even like your impulse purchase by the time the right season comes around.
  • Donate your own items when you are no longer wearing them.  I love going into the thrift shop and seeing things for sale there that I donated.  I feel like I am contributing a bit to the community by donating items that can be sold to others who will use them, and whose proceeds can go to a cause that supports those in need.
  • Consider a capsule wardrobe.  I’d like to go into this further in a future post, but consider the fact that you probably wear only a certain kind of clothing or certain items pretty regularly throughout the week.  My wardrobe consists of t-shirts, leggings, a couple of skirts and two pair of jeans.  This is my uniform.  If I need a pair of leggings, I stick to looking for those at the thrift shop.  If I find a designer purse or a fancy dress that I will never wear, I leave it for someone else to find, no matter how good of a deal it might be.
  • Bring your own reusable bags.  Most thrift shops provide plastic bags, but consider bringing your own bags if one of your goals of choosing thrifting over shopping at conventional stores is to reduce waste.
  • If you’re looking for something specific but can’t find it in the thrift shop, consider an online marketplace.  If you’re looking for something specific but are getting discouraged because you can’t seem to find it in a resale shop, consider posting a “wanted” ad on craigslist or another local online marketplace site.  Someone else in your community might just have the item you are looking for sitting at the back of their closet, just waiting to go to another home.  These sort of online sites are another great place to find gently used items for a great price.
I am not against buying clothing brand new, as I know sometimes it’s just not possible to find what you’re looking for in the right size.  However, I have a pretty minimal wardrobe and I can manage to get by with what I have already and supplement my wardrobe by making a few select purchases from the thrift shop over the course of the year.

Do you ever shop at thrift shops?  If so, do you find it easy or hard to find what you are looking for in your hometown?

in a panic

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One morning last week, the fire alarm in our building went off and my kids went berzerk.  Like ber- to the -zerk.  You would have thought the walls around us were burning.  I tried to calm the children (easier said than done), while getting them to put on their shoes and coats.  Once that was done, the thought of the potential that this could be a real emergency flickered across my mind.  As I put on my  own coat and started to hustle the kids towards the door, I thought if this were the real deal, what would I want to take with me?  I grabbed my purse, which contained my wallet, my keys and my sunglasses.  I took a second to look around and grabbed our family’s digital camera off the counter and put it in my pocket.

As we started out the door, the alarm stopped.   Magically enough, the crying also stopped.  And then I started thinking, is that all I would really miss?  I realized I would mourn the time lost spent shopping for my belongings and those of my family, but not actually the items themselves.  Don’t get me wrong, I do own nice things, but they are not irreplaceable.  And acknowledging that is really quite freeing.  Everything I own is merely a tool to make each day either easier or more enjoyable.  As I tend to be a pretty consistent minimalist in most areas of my life and home , it’s in the area of clothing (particularly kid clothing) that I like to indulge in sometimes.  Realizing that my kids don’t need any more clothes and they really are quite content with what they already had is a great feeling.

The people of Slave Lake, Alberta haven’t been quite so lucky this past week.  Although all of them have escaped with their lives, their small town has fallen victim to a forest fire, with about a third of the homes and buildings being lost.  A local business has been collecting donations this week for the people of Slave Lake and on Wednesday, I dropped off a couple of bags of the kids clothing.  A lot of what I gave away were clothing items my kids had told me they would never be interested in wearing.

I couldn’t help thinking that there could be kids my own children’s ages who had lost theirs homes and all their belongings, including their clothes.  It felt good to be able to give to them items from our closets when they were going unused in our home.  I’m sure they will be appreciated, and I hope that the people of Slave Lake know that people across Canada are keeping them in their thoughts as they face recovering and rebuilding following this natural disaster.