2 fishing poles and a fishy background

Urgency Day 5

500 Things Items 497-98: Fishing Poles

  • History: Left behind after summer adventures
  • Value: Patience and non-screen time
  • Parting pain: None
  • Unpossessing: Gifts

Something’s fishy.

I listen to NPR. A Lot. I love This American Life and A Prairie Home Companion. I never miss Click and Clack or Wait, Wait! I’m kind of a Science Friday groupie. And I get most of my news from All Things Considered.

Keep your Morning Joe. Robert Siegel is on my “list.”

But something’s definitely fishy.

Radio, real AM/FM radio, is very intimate. It’s just you and a voice. In a shrill world, I desperately appreciate a calm voice. And I really believed the fantastically calm All Things radio voice when it told me NPR wanted to hear about my favorite summer sound.

Of course, I thought. I’ve got a great one!

I had been thinking about this anyway, what with the nostalgia tear I’m on at Sam’s imminent departure. I’m fixated on my rear-view mirror: Sam’s past, my family’s past, my past. Distant summers especially tug at me, like a neglected friend cajoling me to sit and reminisce.

“I’m  busy,” I demur. “There’s so much to do.” I don’t want to lose time to a past that can’t ever be relived. “I’ll catch up with you later, when there’s more time.” Later, I lie to my summer memories, and to myself.

I don’t want later to come. I must be here, be productive, solve problems: figure out how to go on. And that’s what I was doing when I heard the radio voice offer a compromise.

“Send us your short essays about sounds we hear that evoke the summer season.”

The All Things Considered people would consider my memories about the past. If I spent time writing about the past for NPR, that wasn’t self-indulgence; that was self-promotion!

I wrote my essay about my summer sound, just like the radio voice suggested. I had to do a bit of research, asking my sister– who asked our mother who consulted with her cousin– for factual clarification. I wrote and edited and polished. And when I was satisfied, I emailed it to the nice voices at All Things Considered. And then something fishy happened.

I never heard back.

Not even a “thanks for your entry” confirmation. I really don’t know if my sound was ever considered. Maybe it was; maybe they really do consider all things, and this thing was simply rejected. Probably. Or, maybe, the show is really Only Some Things Considered. That would be very disappointing.

Here is the link for the page with my sound essay. It will be less meaningful without the wonderful sound effects I imagined NPR including, and more meaningful for the people with whom I experienced those precious summer days.

 And that is almost certainly why it wasn’t considered.

This is two in a row for fish references. Three, over all. The fishing poles I’m downsizing today were left behind by the same fisher-boys who left the previously downsized tackle. Fishing can be a wonderfully instructive diversion. But my grandfather was a commercial fisherman. He smelled of the raw ocean and of the drink he consumed to forget his hard life. My grandfather’s grizzled smell, and tattooed feel, and his kind and weary voice are tangled in memories as sweet as fresh sea air.

And his name was Sam.

Granddaddy Sam and Suzy, 1964


Shedding New Light


shedding light unintentionally

Urgency Day 14

500 Things Item 479: Floor Lamp

  • History: Years-ago IKEA purchase endured even after the bulb burned through the plastic shade
  • Value: Lights but the burnt plastic smell has been pretty unappealing
  • Parting Pain: Nope
  • Un-possessing: Donation—maybe someone can replace the shade… or doesn’t mind the smell

Who doesn’t love a fresh perspective?

Especially when you’ve been muddling along for a while, stuck in old patterns, just phoning it in.

I definitely have been muddling for much of the recent present, mostly getting Sam organized for his launch. People are often oblivious to their own muddling. I am no exception.

I was aware of a low-level hum of dissatisfaction in the white noise of my routine, but when I’m in The Routine, accomplishing The List occupies most of my attention. I am deaf to how much grumbling and venting peppers my conversation.

Is there a difference between venting and complaining?

Venting seems to be the socially acceptable form of complaining.

  • “I need to vent.”
  • “Just let me vent for a minute, then I’ll be alright.”
  • “Let’s vent over Venti lattes.”

Who hasn’t uttered at least one of those statements and gotten some sympathy? Especially if it includes the offer of coffee. But try this: try substituting the word vent with complain. Suddenly these seemingly innocent declarations are a bit less palatable, even with a coffee chaser.

Occasionally, the Eagle Scout and I have to curtail each other’s complaining. We just have to. It’s not that we don’t support each other unconditionally and want to communicate internal preoccupations. But sometimes it comes down to peace in the household.

We don’t like it when the household inter-com gets stuck on “complain.”

So I’m implementing two new energy-changing ideas. Well, new for me:

  1.  Challenging cycling habits
  2.  Shopping at Costco

Cycling: I love riding my bike. I adore our relatively flat bike trails. I do not love hills. And there are some hills and climbs on our routes I complain about tediously. On last weekend’s ride, however, something clicked. I just decided to Kill a Hill.

It’s an ascent we have to tackle near the end of many of our routes. Usually I fall well off the pace of the Fierce Riders I am with. But I want to be fierce! So I attacked the hill. And you know what? I killed it.

It felt awesome.

Costco. For years, I have complained that buying in bulk simply makes people cavalier in their consumption. It’s the “We have so much; I don’t need to conserve” attitude. I have also contended that our family of 3 has no business shopping at Costco. And now, as our household is about to downsize, I am joining Costco?

Credit my friend Vicky for shedding new light on this debate. As part of the cooking class I help teach for Families Helping Families clients, I have made several recent excursions to Costco with Vicky. She points out the great buys she has found for her own small family and is the perfect role model for conscientious bulk purchasing.

She even says that she and her husband sometimes have date-nights at the Costco Café! No matter the venue, she and I never complain about date night!

The lamp I am downsizing today sheds light in an unintended way. I am very intentionally shedding new light on old complaints. Unfortunately, I’m pretty sure I will never be a perfectly contented person. But with two weeks left until Sam leaves,

I have no complaints about a fresh perspective.

Fraud Alert


sometimes the pen is mightier than the pixel

Urgency Day 27

500 Things Item 468: Laptop Computer

  • History: This is the same dead laptop that sent me aknockin’ on Sam’s desktop last year
  • Value: It’s still dead; Pixie dust couldn’t rescue this pixelated processor
  • Parting pain: Not at the parting, just the replacing
  • Un-possessing: Conscientious recycling

I am a fraud.

I promise: It was NOT my intention. It just kind of snuck up on me; uncomfortable realization after uncomfortable realization. Then, one day– not at all out of the blue– it smacked me in the head:


That day was April 26th. I downsized a small shelf unit that day, April 26th, the day I announced the winner of the Self-Contained Unit’s college search: Vassar College. Corks popped, fireworks sizzled: Hazzah! Sam is a Brewer (BTW: All-time least ironic college mascot). He had successfully navigated high school’s end game: college admissions. Sweet relief.

Yes, I downsized an item that day, as I had for 375 days prior to that and would (and will) for another 125. But do you know what happens after the college selection is made, the college deposit mailed, the college-admissions-process guard dropped?

College shopping.

Methodical, strategic, predestined accumulating.

Lists, lists, lists of absolutely essential stuff… and oh my, I love a list, but every lovingly descriptive, coupon coordinated, Mapquest-aided list I compile, I feel the smack again:


I write a blog about DOWNSIZING, for goodness sake! I am getting rid of one thing every day for (what will be) 500 days. I giddily proselytize about decluttering my shelves, my drawers, my life. I patiently defuse incredulity about how Less Really Really is More. And in the presence of More is More zealotry, I keep the eye-rolling to an absolute minimum.


I am now re-acquiring, magnificently.

See this list?

  • 41 Kitchen items
  • 58 Decorative items
  • 54 Items of clothing
  • 21 Wardrobe accessories
  • 35 DVDs, CDs and tapes
  • 4 Pieces of furniture
  • 8 Electronics
  • 43 (+ one trunk load) Toys and games
  • 28 Household items such as tools
  • 1 Christmas Wreath
  • 1 Box of Mouse Memorabilia
  • 186 Books

That’s the list I posted on May 17th of the first 400 Downsized Things. Since then, I have downsized an additional 67 items. More books, more household items, more CDs, more toys. Or I should say fewer. We have 67 fewer Things, because of this Project. Except…


College. Requires. Stuff. Apparently.

Yes, some items on the lengthy college-stuff list will come from the family collection. He doesn’t need brand new mugs or utensils. A blanket? Plenty of those to contribute. And we’re tickled to send him off with the trusty corkboard that aided and abetted his four-year dash toward independence.

I just don’t happen to have any extra-long sheets kicking around. A shower caddy? In our home, we encourage him to keep the soap and shampoo in the showering area. And a suitable portable computing device? What a revelation.

I have heard that— and I intend no bias here; I’m simply reporting a pattern— many girls are very interested in the college shopping process. Some even take charge. My boy hasn’t shown a similar level of investment in tracking down sheets and stuff. Except for the suitable portable computing device. Suddenly, the boy was all about the hunt. And the kill.

One down.

And I don’t mean down-sized.

Next post: My thoughts on resolving this conflict of interests.

House Keeping


not keeping

Urgency Day 100

500 Things Item 400:  Sponge Mop

  • History: From another era
  • Value: Mine never fully wrings out and gets icky
  • Parting Pain: I really only use Swiffers, so no
  • Un-possessing: Free-cycle (i.e. out next to the garbage)

People expect empty shelves.

Since starting this project 400 days ago, I’ve gotten rid of 400 things from our home. More, really. So, when people come to our house, they truly expect to see empty shelves, bare walls, closed off rooms.

And you know what they find?

Full shelves, decorated walls, open doors.

The most dramatic realization in this project is that more than 400 things can lift right out of a home, and no one will notice. And I don’t mean 400 Lego pieces:

  • 41 Kitchen items
  • 58 Decorative items
  • 54 Items of clothing
  • 21 Wardrobe accessories
  • 35 DVDs, CDs and tapes
  • 4 Pieces of furniture
  • 8 Electronics
  • 43 (+ one trunk load) Toys and games
  • 28 Household items such as tools
  • 1 Christmas Wreath
  • 1 Box of Mouse Memorabilia
  • 186 Books

480 items, right there. Over 20% more stuff than planned: That’s a lot of wiggle room– and even that’s not completely accurate. I often underreported whole categories of items. Take clothing. A bag bulging with clothing to be donated would add just a couple of ticks to the Project counter. And books! One day I counted 127 books as a mere 4 items!

The idea was to stay on track, one thing a day for 500 days. If some days more downsizing was accomplished, well, this is one case where I will admit more is better. Only one, though.

So here we are: The last 100 days of my 500 days of highly monitored downsizing. And friends of this Project are aware that #500 will be a doozy. But I’ve known it from the start; it’s part and parcel of the entire endeavor. I knew I would be launching Sam at the end. Launching is necessary and exciting and heartbreaking and wonderful.  In terms of your child, launching sounds a whole lot better than downsizing.

What I did not know for a very long time during this process, was whether Paul and I would also need to downsize another very significant thing in our lives, at the same time we were launching our son.

For a very long time, we thought we would also need to sell our house.

Now “need” is an interesting word. On paper, we probably do still need to sell our house. But we can’t, not now. Right now, very few people can.

So we are keeping the house. We are profoundly grateful that this is even an option, grateful to every person who helped and prayed and employed and loved us to this point. We’re digging deep and digging in. We’re keeping the house, and launching the child.

Launching #500

in 100 days.

Why I Hate Summer


It's 90 degrees out. Am I mad?

Urgency Day 106

500 Things Item 391: Winter Coat

  • History: c. 1999, I meant to un-possess it last winter
  • Value: It’s a good warm coat which someone will enjoy
  • Parting Pain: Embarrassed that I have so many coats, so no parting pain
  • Un-possessing: Donation

I hate summer.

I take a lot of abuse for saying this.

I also receive a fair amount of support.

Summer seems to be a more divisive topic than you might expect.

If you’ve been so kind as to take notice of the 250 Books list I’m methodically compiling, you may have observed a wonderful children’s book at #23, Summer by Alice Low. Occupying position 23 on my list should not suggest it is my 23rd favorite book; that is merely the order in which it was added. Actually, this little picture book is probably one of my top 5 favorite books.

It’s a sweet, funny tribute to all the things I used to love about summer-time, back when summer was about time: Time off, time to relax, time to do absolutely nothing. Summer-time is quantifiably different from other-time.

And it’s ridiculous to say we did nothing in summertime. We did everything in summertime!… except go to school, and that made summer the absolute perfect time.

Being done with school now, the lack of school doesn’t make summer perfect anymore. That’s not what is missing for me. The beach is missing for me. Has been for years now, and I miss it with an ache as potent as the loss of a soul mate.

But wistfulness is not hate. And I hate summer.

  • I hate the heat AND the humidity:
  • I hate perspiring glasses and people;
  • I hate that panicky space of time between shutting the passenger door on your buckled-in child or panting dog and dashing around to the driver’s door to start the car and crank up the air conditioning;
  • I hate air conditioning;
  • I hate when the air conditioning breaks;
  • I hate spider veins, month-old pedicures, self-tanner stains, bikini waxes, needing bikini waxes.

And there’s the ugly truth. I hate that aging means I’ve become high-maintenance in summertime. It’s not the aging; it’s the maintaining.

Summer used to be about a tank top, a pair of shorts and maybe some flip flops. Not anymore. Now, I need time to be presentable; more time than in the wintertime; too much time, to present myself comfortably, and I hate wasting time.

What am I working toward in this project?

Less stuff, more time!

And I don’t want to do nothing anymore; I want to do everything! Except preen. What a waste of time.

But that’s what it’s come to for me: Self-consciousness. I hate that.

Ditto, summer.

Signs of Life


a sign

Urgency Day 112

500 Things Item 388: Secretary Desk

  • History: Family piece
  • Value: I think the Antiques Roadshow people would demur
  • Parting Pain: Only in the shipping
  • Un-possessing: A gift

Stop deep breath listen

When you read those words, where did you put the commas? Did you put commas?

Even in the very clutter-free world toward which I am working, there will still be commas. Commas are simply pauses. In fact, I think I will have a few more pauses in the clutter-free world, because I will have more time.

Less time managing my clutter. More time experiencing my life.

Uber-organizer Peter Walsh defines clutter as “anything that gets between you and the life you want to live.” (Natural Healing 3/10. 74) I think this is an enlightening statement.

Clutter is subjective.

I was in my garden yesterday with a young friend who was helping me pull some weeds. He asked what a weed was. I offered him the classic definition: “A weed is anything growing where you don’t want it to grow.” He paused, and– smart six-year-old cookie that he is– he asked, “So if you didn’t want a rose bush right here, it would be a weed?”

“Yes, Luke. Even a rose bush can be a weed.”

We both paused, mid-weed pull, and breathed deeply. Then we both cracked up at breathing so deeply at the exact same time. Six-year olds are great levelers.

The sweet desk I am gifting today has become a weed to me. It is clutter. But, when I offered it to my niece, Laura, she was thrilled. As a newly-minted, first-time home owner, it isn’t clutter to her at all. It’s a sign of starting a new life.

Signs of life. Every scratch, every dent, every nick and scrape on the desk represents a moment of engagement. Even if the engagement was only to catch my mail or store Sam’s music or hold a vase of roses from my garden, there was a purpose. But the desk has long since been replaced as a mail catcher, a music stand, a room brightener. At one time, I was so pleased to have it, and now I am even more pleased to give it to Laura.

I wrote about Laura last year, on this same day, May 5th, Laura’s birthday. Laura is a force of nature who is off right now having adventures, experiencing life. I hope this old desk will brighten her new life. It can’t even hint at the dazzling brightness she has brought to mine.

At one time, this desk held a box of my most beloved pictures. One is a picture of baby Laura, at the beach, delicately handing me a sand crab. But the picture captures the moment just before she places the treasure in my hand. We are paused, forever, in the moment just before. I’ve stared at this picture so often, I can conjure every sound and every smell, and remember experiencing the magic of a small, wondrous life.

Stop, deep breath, listen.

Happy birthday, Laura

a gewgaw by any other name

Urgency Day 123

500 Things Items 370-75: 6 Delicate Tea Cups

  • History: 25 years of tepid acquiring
  • Value:  Intrinsic only (too many chips)
  • Parting Pain: Only in the careful cleaning
  • Un-possessing: Gift

Gewgaw: Great word. Bad idea.

At least if you want to live an uncluttered life.

At what point do a few gewgaws become a collection? And is a collection a more desirable thing than a few gewgaws?

Depends, right? One person’s small collection of gewgaws is another’s assemblage of worthless tchotchkes.

Tchotchkes, gewgaws, knick-knacks, bric-a-brac, trinkets: So many charming words for the same things, and each conveying a sense of inconsequence and whimsy; of the ephemeral. I enjoy the words for stuff so much more than stuff itself.

Henry Thoreau said, “Our life is frittered away by detail. Simplify, simplify.”

Oh Henry, I am trying:

I chant it: Simplify, simplify, simplify.

I proclaim it: Downsize, downsize, downsize.

I live it: Donate, donate, donate.

Simplify, downsize, donate. No room for trifles there. But then, for all my focus and commitment, then for all my routine affirmations…

Then, I am undone. Not philosophically, not morally, not essentially. No, I am undone by a singular task, a task with which I am faced from time to time.

I am undone by packing. Packing for a trip.

I’ve blogged it before: I can banish every burdensome trinket, streamline my entire house, and still spectacularly overpack for a mere three-day journey.

Bless me, Henry, for I have sinned, the sin of travel-excess. Just to make me feel worse, Henry also said, “After the first blush of sin comes its indifference.”

Oh no. Not yet. I feel my sin, deeply.

I have to pack today. Here’s what should simplify it for me, theoretically:

  • It’s a short trip, just 3 days, plus travel days;
  • No extreme weather or activities expected;
  • If I do neglect to bring something essential, there will be no lack of a Walgreens or a Gap (In our family, we call this the “We’re not going to Albania” Rule—i.e. no where exotic or underserved by American commerce. Sorry if I’m unintentionally maligning Albania.).

I detest clutter and needless stuff fantastically; therefore, This Time, I am going to make a connection between over packing and clutter. Why have I failed to make this connection in the past? Dunno. Will it work this time? Again, not sure.

But I would really like to take my uncluttered, my gewgaw-less life for a test drive.

Buckle up and mind the Gap.

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